This article leads off our debate on using early intervention to reduce inequality, with responses from Mike Rose, Robin West, Charles Murray, Carol S. Dweck, David Deming, Neal McCluskey, Annette Lareau, Lelac Almagor, Adam Swift and Harry Brighouse, and Geoffrey Canada.
The accident of birth is a principal source of inequality in America today. American society is dividing into skilled and unskilled, and the roots of this division lie in early childhood experiences. Kids born into disadvantaged environments are at much greater risk of being unskilled, having low lifetime earnings, and facing a range of personal and social troubles, including poor health, teen pregnancy, and crime. While we celebrate equality of opportunity, we live in a society in which birth is becoming fate.
This powerful impact of birth on life chances is bad for individuals born into disadvantage. And it is bad for American society. We are losing out on the potential contributions of large numbers of our citizens.
It does not have to be this way. With smart social policy, we can arrest the polarization between skilled and unskilled. But smart policy needs to be informed by the best available scientific evidence. It requires serious attention to the costs of alternative policies, as well as to their benefits.
This article has become a book!
James J. Heckman
MIT Press / Cloth / $14.95 / March 2012
In Giving Kids a Fair Chance, Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman argues that the accident of birth is the greatest source of inequality in America today. Children born into disadvantage are, by the time they start kindergarten, already at risk of dropping out of school, teen pregnancy, crime, and a lifetime of low-wage work. This is bad for all those born into disadvantage and bad for American society. Heckman calls for a refocus of social policy toward early childhood interventions designed to enhance both cognitive abilities and such non-cognitive skills as confidence and perseverance.
James J. Heckman is a Nobel laureate and the Henry Schultz Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago. His article is based in part on his paper Schools, Skills, and Synapses.
What to Do About Inequality, a forum on correcting gross inequities in pre-tax income with lead essay by David Grusky and responses by Anne Alstott, Glenn Loury, Rick Perlstein, Emmanuel Saez, and others
Occupy the Future, a forum on lessons to be drawn from the Occupy movement with contributions from Kenneth Arrow, Doug McAdam, Prudence Carter, and others
Solving the New Inequality, a forum with lead essay by Richard Freeman and responses by Frances Fox Piven, Paul Krugman, James Heckman, and others (archive)