In an essay in the Wall Street Journal plugging his new book “Coming Apart” (which I haven’t read yet), Charles Murray writes about a new American divide: “We have developed a new upper class with advanced educations, often obtained at elite schools, sharing tastes and preferences that set them apart from mainstream America. At the same time, we have developed a new lower class, characterized not by poverty but by withdrawal from America’s core cultural institutions.”
Conservatives like Richard Vedder see this as the inevitable result, not of a system rigged to favor the elite, but of bad government policies, particularly in education: because of government-sponsored grants and students loans, too many people are in college who shouldn’t be there; decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and other legislative actions have virtually eliminated employment testing, which paved the way for certification inflation and the need for a college degree; laws protecting labor unions have virtually allowed them to put a choke-hold on the K-12 public school system.
These points have merit. But will less (or no) government support and more “vouchers and other pro-competitive measures” at all levels of education reverse the decline of real opportunities that Professor Vedder finds so disheartening? Should the free market determine who has access to higher education and can advance economically, culturally, even socially?