Admirable Leftists Are Teachers

In my last post, I criticized the argument for redistribution as justice; People below a certain standard of living have claims on the property of others by virtue of their existence alone. I find this line morally repugnant in the same way I imagine its proponents see vast inequities in wealth as morally repugnant. It’s truly an impasse of sentiments for which I can hardly imagine an agreeable form of adjudication.

The most popular alternative argument for progressive wealth redistribution is a pragmatic one. This argument is far more noble in my view for more than just its susceptibility to empirical and theoretical testing. The view simply states that a more even distribution of wealth allows for larger swathes of the population to have the time and resources to grow both in number and human capital leading to a bigger pie for all. The argument is more pro-human, pro-progress and anti-the political vitriol of the “soak the rich because they’re rich” entitlement argument.

Proponents of this latter view are environmentalists, not the kind that like trees, but the kind who think your low productivity is a consequence of your father hitting you rather than your having the genes of a father who would hit his own child. If our experiences, exposure and guidance were right and well focused enough, any one could be nearly as productive as anyone else. The reason the low-productivity workers live relatively worse and have children who follow in their footsteps can be put up to a lack of resources which is very difficult to overcome. Obviously, people have broken the cycle in the past and some do today, but the theory is that only a little cushion between each pay check and the hours of work that go into them would give the poor time to develop human capital and be more productive, have better pay, and a greater bounty from which to consume.

So, if you believe this and find yourself a young person in in the 60+ percentile of a developed nation, you become a teacher. The young poor have the time and resources (public education) to improve their human capital and build a better life for themselves and their children if only they’re properly motivated and directed in that time. Thinking as you do, who better to give them that motivation and direction?

As admirable as both the form of the argument and the follow-through of its adherents are, another merit of the argument, its falsifiability, lets it down, if only somewhat. The social science research comes down markedly in favor of genetic explanation for variance in income and intelligence. For income, genetic effects account for about 50% of income variation among men in Finland, a much less genetically diverse country than the United States. IQ studies trend toward 75% heritability. This means that environment can still account for up to half of income variation, but much of this can be put up to extremities much greater than the quality of individual educators.

This is, of course, one of the most contentious debates in academia and all I wanted to say is that there is a more admirable argument for redistribution than the one from justice and it happens to explain why teachers are so much more likely to be democrats without relying on the shoddy self-interested voter hypothesis.

  1. Consider this: Environmental genetics may play a role in the sense that some gene expressions seem to be congenital as opposed to hereditary. Environmental impacts upon the gestating mother seem to be able to cause different mutations of key genes to take place in their offspring. The MAOA gene being one of these.

    • Excellent point. I think it’s also interesting that teachers tend to hone in on things like fetal alcohol syndrome etc. when they come across hopeless cases. Seems an attempt to reconcile their idealism with their environmentalism.

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