Not one to be an economic cheerleader on the sidelines of a rigged game, economist James Heckman instead works to level the playing field before the game begins.
Giving Kids a Fair Chance (2013) By James J. Heckman
- Publisher : The MIT Press (March 22, 2013)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 148 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0262019132
- ISBN-13 : 978-0262019132
- Reading age : 18 years and up
- Item Weight : 7.7 ounces
- Dimensions : 4.5 x 0.44 x 7 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #326,786 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #193 in Inclusive Education Methods
- #339 in Government Social Policy
- #508 in Education Reform & Policy
- Customer Reviews: 4.0 out of 5 stars 29 ratings
About The Author:
Nobel Prize winning economist James Joseph Heckman is currently the Henry Schultz Distinguished Service Professor in Economics at the University of Chicago, where he teaches at the Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies, and is also a Professor of Law at their Law School. He is also Director of the Center for the Economics of Human Development (CEHD), Co-Director of Human Capital and Economic Opportunity (HCEO), senior research fellow at the American Bar Foundation, and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research.
In his personal mission to address the negative externality of inequality, caused by current economic ‘ideology’, Heckman often steps outside his economic ‘sub-discipline’, in order to see a bigger picture view of the problem. His interdisciplinary approach to problem-solving is slowly being understood as the only way to tackle the more complex issues facing us. To this end, Heckman immerses himself in law, philosophy, education, arts and sciences, and also draws upon “psychology, genetics, epidemiology, and neuroscience” in order to encompass the entire human life cycle within his research. What he has found is the subject of Giving Kids a Fair Chance.
About the Book:
“Kids born into disadvantaged environment 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…We can better ‘promote the general welfare’ by mitigating the unfair disadvantages that come from unfavorable early conditions.”
Inequality, at the surface, is about educational ‘skill level’, but Heckman digs below that surface to understand what bolsters the self-confidence, perseverance, determination, and motivation of kids in order to put forth the effort necessary to achieve; the answer, Heckman finds, is in early familial relations, that shape how children perceive themselves in the world.
“The effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACE) – abuse and neglect, as well as domestic violence – correlate with poor adult health, high medical care costs, increased depression and suicide rates, alcoholism, drug use, poor job performance and social function, disability, and impaired performance of subsequent generations.” Regardless of who does the research, the conclusion is the same: “severely neglected young children often have persisting cognitive, socio-emotional, and health problems.”
To break the cycle of inequality, from an economics perspective, we need to ensure ‘equality of opportunity’. To remove any impediments to social mobility, Heckman prescribes a shift in public policy that invests in early childhood intervention, rather than continuing to spend money on prisons or other back-end deterrents that only reinforce the negative self-image already established by family and community.
Third Option Takeaway:
Professor Heckman has ‘run the numbers’ and found that the ‘pre-distribution’ of funds, in order to create a more positive environment early in each child’s development, is less costly than the ‘redistribution’ of funds, spread inefficiently and ineffectively around after the damage of inequality has already been done.
Because current economics puts profits ahead of all but a few people, it has no need to understand people except as either an ‘asset’ or a ‘consumer’. Only when economics is set up to serve people – rather than utilize them – would the whole person ever need to be considered.
In case this day ever comes, The Third Option wishes to file a ‘missing persons report’ to assist this future economic paradigm shift.
In the old days, Oppressors were easy to spot; now they hide behind the Ideology they peddle, and we are happy to comply, apparently relieved that we are serving an Ideology and not the oligarchy who runs it. Meanwhile, some economists (Professor Heckman included) are beginning to see behind this thin veil, where even economists and economics itself have become the tools of this ‘dummy corporation’ called Capitalism, that writes checks to itself and even bought itself the rights to ‘personhood’.
In this simple bait and switch, Capitalism, as an ideology, took on full religious status, as something unknowable, except when it comes down to Earth in its ‘corporate’ form. Economics is the new scripture, whose predictions never quite come true at the ordained time, but no matter – the general human need for Certainty has been served: the comfort of knowing some larger power oversees all things for which the mass of people remain ignorant.
Simple fact: People are on top of the world, not because we conquered it, but because we adapted to it. What we call ‘innovation’ is merely the more efficient, effective ‘evolving’ ways we find to adapt within these earthly confines. Not unlike a virus, we intuitively adapt to our surrounding environment and navigate accordingly, often through mimicry of that we observe. It is only when one attempts to force Control that there can be ‘pushback’, in order to maintain equilibrium within this clearly finite (or enclosed) space. The downside of ‘adaption’ is that change happens slowly; a large percentage of us are evolutionarily trained to ‘fit in’. Even the vaulted 1%, born into the ‘Control’ group, often simply play out the role into which they were born.
If economics wishes people to react in more similar ‘positive’ ways, then we must surround everyone with a similar ‘positive’ environment, infused with whatever values we wish to instill, in order to ‘nudge’ us closer together, through shared experiences that are positive. Certainty, Inclusivity, and Fairness are three ingredients of a positive and hopeful environmental setting. Sustainability is a natural ‘preservative’, a necessary fourth ingredient for the longevity of both people and planet.
In our current economic arrangement, for example, we may all share the common experience of eating Spam, or perhaps Jell-O , but not all of us have been smacked around or sexually assaulted by our parents, harassed by police, or locked up in some detention facility. Not all of us have gone without food for days or been raised without one (or both) of our parents present. Several of us have had negative ‘adverse childhood experiences’, and these experiences have shaped our perceptions, and informed our navigational choices. The burning question is whether or not economics can offer people more than Jell-O. Economics is the clothes and makeup that help us look and feel good on the outside, while internally we are falling apart. Each generation, as people are faced with deprivation that wears them down from the inside, the bar gets continually lowered for the next generation to experience and adapt accordingly.
Hope empowers people, who then strive to better themselves or their ‘current situation’. Lack of it is the cancer that eats at us from within. Belonging – to be loved and included – is the main source of Hope. Amorality is caused by a complete disconnection from others; NOT Belonging turns love, generosity and self-discipline into lust, envy and greed – those empty un-fillable holes of an oppressive mind, who sits on the outside of Belonging, looking in. Quite logically, the evil men do is born of the evil they have been shown.
Fairness is connected to Belonging; if the ‘environment’ is a desert, people can adapt to it, as long as they all do it together. If one group is forced to live in a desert, while the rest live at the beach, Fairness is in question, which consequently brings Belonging into question. The lack of Certainty being pushed upon Group A, so that Group B might prosper, also raises doubts among Group A about whether they actually Belong. Being born into a neighborhood that is an environmental hazard, a toxic dump, a food desert, or a police ‘war zone’ does not feel Fair or Certain, nor foster feelings of Belonging. When freedom and liberty are constrained, a desert can feel just like a prison, which consequently starts making prison feel a lot more like home (i.e., where one ‘belongs’).
Every time gun shots are fired, sirens are blazing, yellow water comes out of the tap, the electricity goes out, addicts steal your stuff – it reminds residents that they are right where they belong, as an individual of lesser economic value, never capable of being where they ‘don’t belong’.
Besides the mother / child connection, Belonging also serves another crucial role in how the human organism connects. Although we function independently of each other, we retain a hive mentality of viral networking; we are information-sharers. Whatever we know, we pass onto those around us. When we ‘connect’ sexually, will it be through love or through rape? When we show the affection we learned as children, will that manifest itself as a hug or an assault? Kind words or verbal abuse? When someone commits violence, are they not simply sharing information that has been passed onto them?
Instead of always wondering why certain people act the way they do, we should instead start assuming that they act exactly how they should be acting – exactly how they have been trained to act. The difference, when we see it this way, is that now we all ‘Belong’; we fit into the same equation. Everyone becomes one of ‘Us’; nature is ignored, and nurture becomes the only relevant indicator. It is then we might open our eyes to the incredibly self-destructive ways some of us are being nurtured, which logically results in the destruction of the self, and consequentially, the surrounding society, which is now seen for what it truly is: an information-sharing ‘cry for help’.
When the dice are rolled during the ‘accident of birth’, why not let everyone start out feeling a little lucky, and see if they more optimistically expect good luck, which may lead to them making ‘their own luck’. A major component of hope is that the individual must see a clear path out of trouble. Everyone deserves a legal path out of their troubles, or else how can we really expect them not to take the illegal one?
Heckman is one of many economists dismayed that economics has been the tool of various ‘Ideologies’ throughout its existence. The Third Option is rooting for economists to start getting more – not less – ‘political’. Politics has pushed economics around for a while now; economics did not start this fight, but needs to get up and stop being the whipping boy for every oppressive Ideology that comes along. The Third Option welcomes the meeting of all economic minds toward a Unified Theory of Economics, that represents a third way forward: one that is more Certain, Fair, Inclusive and Sustainable, and utilizes economics for the benefit of the many, instead of it continuing to utilize the many for the benefit of just a few.
Other Works By James J. Heckman:
The Myth of Achievement Tests, Inequality in America, Law and Employment
- “Early Childhood Education and Life-Cycle Health“
- “Publishing and Promotion in Economics: The Tyranny of the Top Five”
- “The Race Between Demand and Supply: Tinbergen’s Pioneering Studies of Earnings Inequality”
- “A Conversation With James Heckman”
- “On the Role of Families in Human Flourishing”
- “On the State of Innovation in Early Childhood”
- “Early Interventions Lead to Higher IQs”
- “The Future of Economics”
- “The Heckman Curve”
- “On Early Childhood Investment”