We sacrifice most of our young talent on the altar of privilege … and Chuck Grassley blames them. (More)

“There are many ‘lost Einsteins’ … in the under-represented groups”

Y’know who grows up to create the innovations that improve our lives? A new study found it’s mostly white boys born to wealthy families in tech-heavy regions:

Children with parents in the top 1% of the income distribution are ten times more likely to become inventors than children with below median income parents[.] There are analogous gaps by race and gender: white children are three times more likely to become inventors than black children and only 18% of inventors are female.
Children who grow up in areas with more inventors – and are thereby more exposed to innovation while growing up – are much more likely to become inventors themselves. Exposure influences not just whether a child grows up to become an inventor but also the type of inventions he or she produces.[…]

Exposure matters in a gender-specific manner. Women are more likely to invent in a given technology class if they grew up in an area with many female inventors in that technology class. Growing up around male inventors has no impact on women’s propensity to innovate. Conversely, men’s innovation rates are influenced by male rather than female inventors in their area.

Yes, the study’s authors – Alex Bell, Raj Chetty, Xavier Jaravel, Neviana Petkova, and John Van Reenen – factored individual talent into their analysis. Specifically, they looked at one million people who filed patents for “meaningful inventions,” the stuff that creates significant markets. They used a de-identified database that linked patent records to tax data – including parents’ data when the inventors were children – as well as school district records.

To estimate scientific talent, they looked at third-grade math scores. And their findings are … disturbing:

Differences in ability, as measured by test scores in early childhood, explain very little of these disparities. Children at the top of their 3rd grade math class are much more likely to become inventors, but only if they come from high-income families. [Emphasis added.) High-scoring children from low-income or minority families are unlikely to become inventors. Put differently, becoming an inventor relies upon two things in America: excelling in math and science and having a rich family.

Much of that seems to lean on exposure effect. That is, whether a child’s parents and/or other adults in the community are inventors, and what those adults invent:

Our findings are consistent with recent evidence that exposure to better neighborhoods in childhood improves children’s life outcomes. Neighborhood effects have typically been attributed to factors such as school quality or residential segregation. Since it is implausible that some neighborhoods or schools prepare children to innovate in a single field, such as amplifiers, the exposure effects here are more likely to be driven by mechanisms such as mentoring, transmission of information, and networks.

Children from low-income families, minorities, and women are less likely to have such exposure through their families and neighborhoods, helping explain why they have significantly lower rates of innovation. For example, our estimates imply that if girls were as exposed to female inventors as boys are to male inventors, the gender gap in innovation would fall by half.

And that has real costs:

Women, minorities, and individuals from low income families are as underrepresented among star inventors as they are among inventors as a whole. Given our finding that innovation ability does not vary substantially across these groups, this result implies there are many “lost Einsteins” – people who would have had high-impact inventions had they become inventors – among the under-represented groups.
If women, minorities, and children from low-income families were to invent at the same rate as white men from high-income (top 20%) families, the rate of innovation in America would quadruple. [Emphasis added]

Simply, we sacrifice three-fourths of our young talent – and the potentially life-changing inventions they might have created – on the altar of privilege.

“I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies”

And Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) blames them:

In a Nov. 29 interview, Grassley was adamant about the need for change, even if farmers and small business owners represent a tiny minority of estate tax payers. The reason, he said, is as much philosophical as practical.

An estate tax effectively and unfairly taxes a person’s earnings twice, he argued: first when they earn it and again when they die. And, he added, it penalizes savers without touching spenders.

“I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing,” Grassley said, “as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”

First a technical point. The estate tax does not tax “a person’s earnings … when they die.” It taxes the heirs’ income from the estate. The heirs did nothing to ‘earn’ that, apart from being born into a wealthy family. A very wealthy family, because only about 5% of estates reach the $5.5 million individual or $11 million joint family thresholds. And for two-thirds of those heirs, other deductions wipe out the tax bill. Less than 2% of heirs end up paying any estate tax at all.

Second, a practical point. You can’t save what you don’t have. The current median family income is about $57,000 per year and the median cost of living is about 105% of the median family income. In other words, most working families struggle to stretch their paychecks to the end of each month. If they’re not saving, it’s because they have nothing left over to save. Not because they spent it “on booze or women or movies,” but because they spent it on housing, utilities, groceries, clothes, transportation, medical care …

… an issue that Grassley might understand if he weren’t a multimillionaire whose $3,760,000 net worth equals that of 83 median American families combined.

Thus third, a moral point, via Iowa Starting Line’s Pat Rynard:

It’s difficult to think of a more condescending, elitist worldview – that if you’re not ultra-wealthy, it’s clearly because you’re wasting all your money on alcohol, frivolous fun and prostitutes (I assume that’s what he meant when he said women). Certainly it couldn’t be because people are struggling to find decent-paying jobs, are straddled with debt from the college education they need to attain better jobs, or are paying outrageous sums for health insurance and medical bills. Nope, it must be because they’re all getting hand jobs from hookers in the back of a dark movie theater while downing a bottle of Jack Daniel’s.

That’s also an interesting assumption that perhaps only the men in a household make and spend money.
For a lot of working-class people, there is a sense that lazy people living down the street from them are mooching off the government (and hey, there are some bums out there), which draws them to Republicans’ policies. But here’s the thing: Republican elected officials see everyone in the working class as bums. They’re not making a distinction between you and some of the folks around you. They think all of you are worthless if you don’t have a multi-million dollar estate. That’s the Republican Party.

Rather than pampering trust fund babies, we should invest in finding and nurturing the three-quarters of “lost Einsteins” who get left behind because they’re not white enough, male enough, or rich enough. Their creativity would generate a lot more jobs than those trust fund babies. Just sayin’….


Photo Credit: Brendan Smialowsky (AFP/Getty Images)


Good day and good nuts