Shattering the Myth of Meritocracy and Recruiting the Lower Income to Elite Education

New Orleans   I hope people don’t hurt themselves with all the hand-wringing they are doing as they suddenly act as if they are shocked that the myth of American being a meritocracy is, you know, just a total scam bearing no semblance to reality.  Pundits, parents, and of course some students that had bought into the carrot are expressing shock at finding how much it was nothing but stick.  College admissions offices can’t decide whether to act aggrieved, apologize, hide, or finally admit that it has never been a fair system, and that they have no idea or mandate from their bosses in the presidents’ offices or certainly the development offices to actually embrace reform and construct a level playing field.

Of course, I’m again talking about the fact that 33 parents and a score of enablers in college and university athletic departments and admissions officers, joined together with the sharpie who ran a college advice and tutoring service in southern California.  Over a seven-year period they shared about $25 million according to the allegations from the Justice Department.

The tut-tooting about this scandal from the pundits is a hoot.  Some have bemoaned the skewed emphasis on getting into a school, rather than what you get out of a school.  Others have pointed out how little it matters elite or not elite, except for class status and social capital, as if that wasn’t exactly what they hoped to buy!

Another perspective was offered by a writer from the Miami area who had busted her butt to get into an elite school as the first from her family to ever go to college and her shock at hearing from a new friend who had slid into Cornell on the backs of family legacy, and laughed at her naivete.  I can remember my own initial head scratching, coming from a New Orleans public high school to Williams College, when I read the bold headline in the Williams Record that my class was the first to be admitted where a majority were from public schools and wondering how so many had gotten in from parochial school.  I should have known better of course.

Was it only last year when so many of these elite institutions were boasting of their supposed ramped up efforts to recruit disadvantage students in order to try to put a lipstick on this pig and pretend there was still a heart beat in the myth of the meritocracy?

Recent reports indicate that they don’t even have a real chance at big state universities, especially as tuition increases have soared there just as they have in elite private institutions.  The review of 2.4 million FAFSAs, the standard financial aid form, submitted between Oct. 1, 2017, and Oct. 31, 2018, for aid that would cover the 2018-2019 academic year, found that 30% of students whose parents’ adjusted gross income was in the lowest quintile submitted their FAFSA after March 1, 2018. Meanwhile, two-thirds of those whose parents were in the highest income quintile, earning upward of $133,000, submitted it by Feb. 1.   Illinois, North Carolina, Washington and other states make awards on a first-come, first-served basis, while some states set hard cutoffs in January or February. By mid-March, when many older, independent and low-income students start filing for aid, deadlines have passed for grants in Connecticut, Maryland, California, Michigan, Missouri, West Virginia and elsewhere.  You get it, right?  The door is slammed before many of these lower income students can even get their foot in.

Meritocracy, horse manure!  The Justice Department might get these deep-pocketed strivers, but we all know the Department of Education under billionaire Betsy DeVos is not going to lift a finger to level the playing field for all students applying for slots in higher education, quite the contrary.  Neither will we hear anything from President Donald Trump and his family, including Jared Kushner, since both of them were alleged to have benefited from contributions and connections to get into their schools.

This is such a farce though that it demands all of us get into the barn with shovels and demand a cleanup.


Opportunity Zones Open the Door to More Rip-offs of the Poor

New Orleans    The Trump-McConnell-Ryan tax giveaway of 2017 is a bad penny that just keeps coming up again and again.  Although it was a stupendous tax break for corporations and the rich, the president tried to disguise its real purpose by claiming it would give working- and middle-class taxpayers a break.  Headlines abound now about unhappy tax filers who are shocked at the lower level of their refunds and the denial of longstanding deductions.  High property tax states on each coast are still screaming as well.

Unfortunately, that’s not even all of the bad news.

The act included a provision creating “opportunity zones” that provided an additional tax break for investments in areas that were economically hard-hit.  As desperately as poor and depressed areas need new opportunities, once again, as these zones are designated by state governors, they are being diverted to benefit investors and real estate developers instead.  With a real estate promoter, speculator, and sometime developer as president, why are we surprised, no matter how cynical and corrupt this distortion is becoming.

Financial firms are creating special pools for investors to get-rich-quick or probably more accurately keep-rich by putting money in these funds and harvesting the tax benefits while they wait for the projects’ payoffs.  Even some business observers are noting that the program will largely add additional tax savings to projects that were already in development and under any circumstances would have happened anyway.  A legion of others examining the political lobby and the determination of the zones note that they are unlikely to benefit the poor and in fact in many cases will displace those very families by accelerating gentrification.

Equally unsurprising is that much of this idea can be credited to the same tone-deaf, libertarian business-myopia of Silicon Valley since it originated in a supposed think tank funded by tech maven Sean Parker, originally of Napster, then Facebook, and other projects.  In typical tech fashion there is no accountability, no reporting requirements, no cap on the amount of benefits allowed each year, and, this hurts to say, no requirements that local residents benefit.  In fact, if the investor sticks with the project for ten years, they would owe no capital gains on any profits ever making this a super sweet deal for them, rather than the lower income and depressed communities meant to benefit.

In Louisiana for example, much of the Central Business District is now a zone in New Orleans, as is all of downtown Baton Rouge as is “parts of the city’s MidCity corridor, which has in recent years attracted a rush of investment,” according to the The Advocate.  Their reporting also found that the undeveloped area near the New Orleans convention center and an old power plant, both owned by big time local real estate and hotel operators.  Of course, none of these qualifies as a low-income area, but there is a provision in the tax giveaway law that allows some areas that are “contiguous” to also be designated.  The policy director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, Maxwell Ciardullo, noted to The Advocate that developers “could bring mixed-income buildings with some affordable and some market-rate housing in areas where some residents are being displaced.  They also could bring luxury apartments.”

Since there’s no accountability and no requirement that the residents’ benefit, let’s be honest, developers and investors can do any damn thing they feel like doing and be subsidized by all of us as taxpayers while they walk back and forth to the bank over and over, ripping off lower income and economically distressed area for their own greed and benefit.