Larry Summers argues that the key to solving the inequality problem is to equalize opportunity, and that "By far the most important step that can be taken to enhance opportunity is strengthening public education." I agree we should try to improve public education, but it will take much more than that to solve the inequality problem (the kinds of things he mentions elsewhere in his argument are a start). We've been trying to improve education for decades and it hasn't solved the inequality problem yet, and it's folly to think some magic education bullet is just around the corner:
Changing focus to inequalities in opportunity, by Lawrence Summers, Commentary, Washington Post: Even if the process proves protracted, the U.S. economy will eventually recover. When it does, issues relating to inequality are likely to replace cyclical issues at the forefront of our economic conversation. ...
The global track record of populist policies motivated by inequality concerns is hardly encouraging. However, passivity in the face of dramatic economic change is equally unlikely to be viable. Perhaps the debate and policy focus needs to shift from inequality in outcomes, where attitudes divide sharply and there are limits to what can be done, to inequalities in opportunity. ...
By far the most important step that can be taken to enhance opportunity is strengthening public education. ... Over the past 40 years, with the strong support of the federal government, the nation’s leading universities have made a major effort to recruit, admit, support and graduate minority students. These efforts will and should continue.
But as things stand, a minority youth with strong test scores is considerably more likely to apply and be admitted to a top school than a low-income student. The leading U.S. institutions must make the kind of focused commitment to economic diversity that they have long mounted toward racial diversity. It is unrealistic to expect that schools that depend on charitable contributions will not be attentive to offspring of their supporters. Perhaps though, the custom could be established that for each “legacy slot” room would be made for one “opportunity slot.”
What about the perpetuation of privilege? Parents always seek to help their children. But there is no reason the estate tax should decrease relative to the economy at a time when great fortunes are increasingly dominant. Nor should we continue to permit tax-planning techniques that are de facto tax cuts only for those with millions of dollars of income and tens of millions in wealth.
These are just a few ideas for advancing equality of opportunity. There are many more. It is an aspiration those of every political stripe should share.