RobertD

In his new book, “Our Kids,” Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam looks at how income inequality is creating an opportunity gap that puts the American Dream out of reach for many families. Putnam uses examples from his hometown of Port Clinton, Ohio and across the country to illustrate the challenges of rising from poverty. Author of the influential 2000 book “Bowling Alone,” Putnam joins us in the studio.

Guests:
Robert Putnam, professor of Public Policy at Harvard University

  • jurgispilis

    “income inequality is creating an opportunity gap”.
    Great, so now we got opportunity inequality.

    What are the causes of income inequality?

    • Hardworker

      The world is fair and equal. Everybody has 24 hours in each day. It is upto them to spend it the way they want.

      • geraldfnord

        Of course, since initial conditions never shape the correct solution to one or more differential equations—this is why someone at third base can get to home plate no sooner than someone at second when they’re equally-apt runners.

        • Hardworker

          Ya…and their parents worked hard to get to the third base to begin with. Don’t discount their hardwork and sacrifices. They sacrificed many many things to make their kids start at the third base.
          If parent’s action should not have any impact on child’s future, should government be responsible for EVERYTHING from day 1 of the child?
          Please stop beating successful people and rather learn from them how they got there.

          • Aaron

            I don’t think anyone is beating anyone else up for being successful. Nobody is asking government to guarantee outcomes, only to consider shrinking the opportunity gap.

            Also, consider adults who do make bad choices. Let’s say someone is an addict and ruins their life. But they have a 2 year-old child. Should we penalize that child? Is there no moral obligation to give that kid a fighting chance through access to preschool, health care, etc…? On top of which there is an economic argument for helping that kid, who is clearly behind in many ways no matter what the government does for him. But can’t we at least do something to avoid having another person who is now more likely to drain public services and less likely to contribute to the tax base in 20 years?

          • Hardworker

            The lady who cleans my bathroom has 7 kids and brings them along sometimes to her work to help out. Now would you say that it is our responsibility to take care of her kids so that they don’t have to work? or do you arrest that woman for child labor? but then what will happen to her 7 kids??

            This cycle will stop when we stop showing everyone as victims and start focusing on something called “personal responsibility”. Sure the poor 2-year old had nothing to do with his/her mom being a drug addict, but then why not have the government take those kids out of the hands of irresponsible parents and raise them to work for the country for some time in exchange for their upbringing. At the same time send the irresponsible parent to the jail and make them work in the jail to (at least) partially pay for their kids expenses to the government.

            My whole point here is that the gap is not between rich and poor; the gap is between people who make good choices vs. bad choices. period. Even 4 yr preschoolers know this.

          • c_woof

            And what would you call this program of taking kids away from parents making bad choices and having them “pay back” for their subsequent upbringing?

          • Helen

            Indentured servitude?

          • geraldfnord

            We did that for a very long time—roughly since the invention of agriculture until an eye-blink ago—and people still lived so poorly they believed in gods and were otherwise easily manipulable. About that augenblick back, some people lived well enough and were able to contemplate empathy so well that they decided that they wouldn’t be content with being lords of a dung-heap, and started to allow more and more of us to live decently.

          • Helen

            It’s much easier to take your own advantages for granted or else to credit yourself for “making them,”aAnd then conveniently ignore what they’ve meant to your current good fortune. Not to discount your personal struggle, which I don’t know. But it’s clear that the hardest workers in our country are farm workers who pick tomatoes and fruit etc. in the hot sun day after day…and it’s hard to believe they don’t deserve something better than their small daily wage…

          • c_woof

            Well said.

          • geraldfnord

            No, you have it wrong: everyone gets exactly what they deserve—if I believed anything else, it’s just possible that maybe I won’t naturally get all the things I love and think are due me…and that would upset me, and further also imply that maybe some other people aren’t getting something they ought, and something ought to be done about that.

      • Kurt thialfad

        All men are created equal. It is after birth that status diverges.

        • Helen

          baloney – children from richer families are likely to have had better prenatal environments than children of poorer families – look at the health results of newborns whose mothers live along a freeway compared to those who don’t, or whose have good nutrition, rest, exercise compared to those who don’t. Inequality hurts at all ages of child development, just like it hurts or helps the “born”.

  • EIDALM

    The end of the American dream and the destruction of the American middle cl;ass was no accident ,it was well planed plot by the Wall Street crowed ,the so called Neoliberals ,headed by Milton Friedman ,Erik Greenspan , David Rubin ,Ben Bernaki ,Larry Summers and few others who sold us bill of goods to then president Reagan of their voodoo economics ,of Reaganomics and trickle down economy ,all were made to enrich their Wall Street ,while robing most Americans of their assets ,jobs ,homes ,and everything else that was not nailed to the wall ,they closed our manufacturers ,including U S steel ,all consumer electronics ,large part of the auto industry ,and other factories that made American products ,they exported American jobs to other countries and pay slave labor ,brought in the HB1 visa people mo0stly from India to replace well qualified high tech Americans but pay them fraction of their salary ,they entered in many trade agreements like GAT ,NAFTA ,KAFTA ,and now they are pushing the T.P.P all were made to enrich the Wall Street ,while sending most Americans to the poorhouse and ending the American dream …The free trade was never free ,and the fair trade was never fair ,the created the bubble after bubble economy including the real estate bubble and their piece of plastic they called credit card to rob the American people of every thing including their homes ,that changed the American middle class and great wealth into a country of debiters and bankruptsy and poor , they used their casino the so called Stock Market to rob Americans including senior citizens of their cash ,pensions ,and savings ,and pay near zero interest on whatever little lift ,they engaged in lots of fraud and criminal activities gambling the American people money with trillions dollars lost and yet the government give them more money to do do their evil deeds while doing nothing to the hard working Americans in the tens of millions that were send to the poorhouse and more to come.

  • EIDALM

    We should do what Iceland did few years ago ,put all the guilty Wall Street bankers in prison for their entire stinky life ,and forgive all of the fraud loans and give back the money to the rightful owners ,the American people.

  • EIDALM

    The same filthy groups are behind the demise of the European economy in Greece ,Spain , Italy and else where….After robbing the people blindly ,they preaching then on austerity ,what a great shame…..What happen to the world economy within the last 33 years is by far the largest train robbery in history all committed by the Wall Street and their puppet government in the U S and in Europe .

  • EIDALM

    Prior to the T.P.P , we were sold on NAFTA by then president Clinton ,which destroyed millions of American jobs ,and did lots of damage to the American middle class not only with lost jobs ,but also with far lower wages….NAFTA also led to the destruction of near all small family owned farms and businesses in Mexico that resulted in mass unemployment ,which lead to the current drug war ,that made Mexico near failed state ,and led to the mass illegal immigration by millions of unemployed Mexicans to the U S..At the same time the Wall Street goons are getting richer and laughing all the way to their banks.

    • Skip Conrad

      TPA authority is now before the House for a vote. If this passes, the president can write virually any TPP he wants, and put anything into this treaty. Good-bye democracy, hello tyranny.

      • c_woof

        So, TPP passed, but TAA failed.

  • EIDALM

    One way to solve the inequality in the U S is to put ceiling on wealth ,perhaps one hundred million dollars per family ,their is no sense to have few hundred billionaires while near 100 million Americans have hard time surviving ,and near 80 million go to bed hungry…after all the money shift to the top one percent was done through fraud by the Wall Street criminal goons .and there no sense for one family the Waltons to fave more money than the bottom 40 million Americans….Please don’t call socialism ,it is just correcting what was done wrong to the once was the American middle class..

  • Ben Rawner

    Recently there was an author of a book titled The Son Also Rises on this program. His research has shown that social mobility has been basically exactly the same throughout the world for centuries. It seems that “moving up” is a great fantasy that is perpetuated by the rich who want to feel good about themselves. Everyone’s altruism stops at their wallet.

  • Ben Rawner

    Isn’t reasearch and conclusions like your guest has come to, self perpetuating a particular fear that leads those who are “wealthy” to hoard even more while making the poor feel even less hopeful?

    • geraldfnord

      Well, he’s only talking about hopelessness under current conditions, and in the aggregate; this both leaves hope for any given individual, but also indicates where hope might be misplaced, and better shifted elsewhere.

  • Sam Badger

    Doesn’t the elite have an incentive to maintain this system, since a weaker, more hopeless poor makes for a more easily exploited workforce? This problem stems from the nature of political and economic power in our modern capitalist society.

  • EIDALM

    There is a war on education by the elites in the U S ,because the elite can not rule an educated society. ,

  • Hardworker

    Public schools are free, lunches are free for these kids. Even for illegal immigrants. So me having kids is somehow government’s responsibility? My dad came from 0 bank balance and worked his way up to what he is today and always taught me that there is no alternative to hard (and smart) work.

    Go ahead, turn America into bunch of whiners. Exactly opposite of what made America what it is today in the world. You will see people leave this country and make something else. Exactly why top brass of other countries come here leaving their home countries’ “beat the hard-worker” politically favorable policies.

    • geraldfnord

      Even if there were no alternative to hard and smart work, that wouldn’t mean it were anything like a guaranty.

      There are strong cultural and historical reasons why actors tend to be lefty, going back, e.g., to when Holy Mother Church wouldn’t bury them, but I’ve often thought that part of the reason is that no successful actor with any degree of honesty can avoid the knowledge that there are likely five (or ten) unsuccessful actors of roughly equal talent…the moral certainty of meritocracy is a real stretch for them. (Our society is certainly more meritocratic than most, but to be content with that would be to set an extremely low bar.)

  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    Don’t poor schools have two things in common that can not be fixed by more money? Like single parent families? Non English speaking parents? Two things that even $20k per child would not fix. If you do not have a home that values education, money wont fix the problem.

  • Ana

    Race and class differences in this country are very tightly linked. I think it’s important to acknowledge white privilege in this conversation. Let’s talk about all the Federal policies (Jim Crow, FHA loans for white veterans, social security benefits that excluded farmers) that explicitly excluded African Americans, Latinos and other minorities from key builders of wealth, such as credit and mortgages. Urban renewal, suburbanization, subsidizing the construction of highways, devastated our cities and benefited White Americans, almost exclusively. The economic gap we see today is an extension of this history. What does Mr. Putnam make of this? How can we bring race and a history of white privilege to the center of a discussion on the economic gap?

    • geraldfnord

      More generally, there is always a contingent whose real reason for opposing Evil Gummint Programmes is because some of the money is believed to go inevitably to [by-their-natures-unworthy] Mud People.

      As long as the New Deal mostly discriminated against black people and the Federal government left Jim Crow alone, Southern Democrats were all for tonnes of Statist stuff; it’s only with the State no longer backing segregation and even occasionally trying to do some good for people browner than they that they and their ideological descendants decided they didn’t like the State, leading to a pseudo-‘libert’arian ideology leavened with theocratic leanings taught in the ‘Chrisitan’ academies opened-up to by-pass integrated schools, and for that matter Ron Paul’s newsletters as ghost-written by Lew Rockwell (a strong proponent of Miseskeit).

  • Kurt thialfad

    Bingo, Putnam said it. The Guilded Age. High immigration. Today, in the Information Age, we are importing poverty. We are importing English-learners. We are importing income inequality. We should adopt the Australian point system on immigration. What could be more obvious?

  • geraldfnord

    For decades we in the middle class have been subjected to propaganda designed to make us hate and fear the poor, and to belueve that we are not at all like them. Hating the poor helps us feel like we are fundamentally different from them, and to some extent assuages the fear that we might join them in their condition, even as the absence of solidarity this breeds makes that all the more likely.

    Property rights absolutism, which holds that a Gates’ or Soros’ or Koch’s first dollar is morally equivalent to a poor man’s last, is propped-up by this campaign, as it makes middle-class people believe that their interests are identical to those of people with literally thousands of times greater wealth….

  • Putnam is correct in seeing how social change happened a century ago. Today, as Brooking’s Bruce Katz points out, the basic unit of the national economy is the metropolitan area. So the answers, the changes must bubble up from place like here, in the Bay Area. What are civic, political and business leaders right here doing about this?

  • Sam Badger

    Does the author think that Native American and Black people really ever had a chance of social mobility, even during the times of “greater mobility” he identifies? What of the people abroad who are exploited by American companies, since we live in a global capitalist economy and not an autarkic one?

  • Robert Thomas

    Whether it’s a big or small thing, I don’t know but with respect to technological access, while rich and poor kids alike may possess smart phones, neither has paid for these expensive devices – they’ve entered into expensive contracts that pay for them over time and extract a substantial rental burden from them over extended periods.

  • David

    Any reform needs to be careful to not create unattended effects. Good things are hard to get for a reason. It is counterintuitive but challenges can make you stronger. And please consider that recent immigrants (Asian phenomenon) often do very well under the current system, because they are focused on achievement rather than materialism.

  • Charles Templeplate

    Look at the state schools and the new rules that keep locals from starting school during the Spring semester. They take internationals for that term, but not the people who pay state taxes! Additionally, if you look at the decrease in state funding for the CSU over the past 10 years in conjunction with a continuing limit of revenue collected through corporate taxes, especially in the Bay Area, schools like San Jose State are essentially subsidizing the industries. Those companies, like Apple, protect their off-shore money from state taxes and hire students trained and prepared for Apple jobs at San Jose State.

  • geraldfnord

    Probably redundant, but I have to say that it’s hard to get society to change when at least half the political powers’ favourite leader said `”Society” doesn’t exist.’.

  • Livegreen

    We’ve experienced wonderfully socio-economically diverse public schools in Oakland, from K through 12. This is especially true in the foothills, where hills meets flats. The mix brings real, meaningful benefits: middle class families bring just enough PTA funds to add enrichment programs that include scholarships for kids who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it. The cultures & backgrounds that everyone brings is simply amazing.

    Ironically rich & poor schools alike look down on this: rich families are either too scared or too selfish to participate, and school activists for poorer schools want to take the PTA money and dilute across the entire district until it becomes a meaningless drop in the bucket.

    Many of us believe diverse schools where we mix it all up was a central tenant of the Martin Luther King Jr. dream…

  • David

    Putnam just made a comparison of parents earning $200k and $16k. Isn’t it a parents responsibility to have the resources to raise a child in the world today, and if they don’t have the resources then why would they expect a handout? I don’t get it. I was raised in a poor household and I never expected the government (or anyone else for that matter) to give me a handout. Any life based on a handout will always be insufficient in my mind.

    • Beth Grant DeRoos

      Having children you cannot support and thus expecting others to support you and ones child(ren) is the start of a downward spiral. Yet some people tip toe around the problem for fear of offending or being politically incorrect/insensitive.

      Didn’t grow up in a well to do home, yet I was told that poor choices would hold me back. And the fact is there are Hispanic, Black families who insist their children do well in school. And who note that their children are often mocked by peers for being to ‘white’. White being equated to being successful.

      • c_woof

        When being successful is looked upon as just being American (or, merely successful) instead of some race or another, all will benefit.
        And when being unsuccessful is de-linked from race, that, too will benefit everyone. After all, anyone can wind up on the street — if the financial collapse/housing fiasco has taught us anything it surely has taught everyone that.

    • Aaron

      I think the next question is: why penalize the child? There’s also the inconvenient truth that many poor people don’t have children, they do work very hard, they try to get college degrees, and they may fail because they don’t have the cognitive skills and social resources that can help them. Some people do overcome being born into poverty, but that’s anecdotal evidence.

      It’s simplistic and (in my opinion) cruel to assume that poor people don’t have work ethic, want handouts, etc…

    • Chris OConnell

      I hope you are not taking the Craig Nelson position: “I’ve been on food stamps and welfare. Anybody help me out? No. No,” Nelson said.

      But at any rate, you had roads, electricity, infrastructure, safety and stability, clean water and air all built by taxes NOT on the poor since you can’t get blood from a stone.

      You must really hate what Jesus did with the fish and the bread, “handing out” all those freebies.

      • David

        Not sure what the Craig Nelson refers to. The point about roads etc, is interesting, however. But that is why I said “world today” where we have tax supported schools, roads, safety, etc.; which is supported by all including the poor. There are lots of kids/parents that are successful with the way the system is now; relying on something extra from others is not the best way to live. It is just a better way to expect nothing extra for yourself or your kids, otherwise is likely to lead to dependence and a much less satisfying life. In other words, we are all responsible for or lives and what we were dealt is done, so plan accordingly. After the kids are here, of course, we don’t penalize but there will not ever be enough resources or altruistic societies to help the majority live real satisfying lives.

        I heard Stephen Curry say that another famous bb player told him that ‘there is a lot that he cannot control in the game, but the one thing that is in his capacity is to be as prepared as possible’. It is fine and humane to have a safety net, and some people just need a little help to make it. But most people that are counting on a safety net or something extra to make it, are going to be stuck at the bottom or very disappointed in the end.

        • Chris OConnell

          Sure parents should have resources before bringing children into the world. And everyone should be nice to each other. But it seems the less resources people have, the more children they have so that is not the world we live in. People can literally make kids, but making (sufficient) money is harder.

          Craig Nelson admitted to being on food stamps and welfare and in the same breath claimed that no one helped him out. He’s self-made!! You claimed to never expect (never get?) a handout and so I was wondering if you might be overlooking something the way Nelson did. Maybe Unemployment benefits? Maybe medical care or some other form of assistance.

  • geraldfnord

    Personally, I’d be in favour of a tax cut…Kennedy’s tax cut, that set the highest marginal (I repeat, marginal) rate to 70% (personal) and 48% (corporate).

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