My Interview with sociologist Dalton Conley in The Sun


And since that excerpt on The Sun’s website is so cruelly brief, here’s another snippet for you:

Conrad: What are the practical applications for your findings?

Conley: Personally I’m interested in shaping policy. I want the research that I do to be relevant to the choices we make as a society — for example, in our government programs.

Take welfare, for example. If we want to make it a temporary way station and not a way of life — as the 1996 welfare-reform act purported to do — we need to eliminate the asset limitations on those who qualify for it. Right now a family has to spend all its savings and have next to zero home equity in order to qualify for benefits. By that point people have dug themselves into a financial hole that is difficult to escape. If they could receive income assistance before they reached that point, they would have an easier time getting back on their feet. And, at the other end of the economic spectrum, the use of estate, gift, and inheritance taxes can limit the effects that wealth accumulation in one generation has on succeeding generations. These policies need not be embraced to punish those who amass wealth and inherit it, but can be targeted specifically at those instances in which the buildup of assets by some thwarts the chances for others to acquire wealth of their own.

The reality is that it’s going to take a million small policies to nudge us in the right direction. Of course, there are some big things we could do, too. We could put funds into a college-savings account for every American child at birth, so that, by the age of eighteen, each of them will have enough to attend a four-year university. Or we could grant every citizen a share in a government-run investment fund as a birthright. We should all be investors in and receive dividends from the most efficient economy in the world. Then maybe we could relax our obsession with work and wages and job creation.


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