Yes, Wall Street Helps the Poor

By Ferguson, Niall | Newsweek, October 31, 2011 | Go to article overview

Yes, Wall Street Helps the Poor


Ferguson, Niall, Newsweek


Byline: Niall Ferguson

The '1 percent' the protesters love to hate may just save our schools.

It was a scene to curdle liberal blood. A ballroom full of New York hedge-fund managers playing poker ... to raise money for charter schools.

That's where I found myself last Wednesday: at a Texas Hold 'Em tournament to raise money for the Success Charter Network, which currently runs nine schools in some of New York's poorest neighborhoods.

While Naomi Wolf was being arrested for showing solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement, there I was, consorting with the 1 percent the protesters hate. It's no surprise that the bread-heads enjoy gambling. But to see them using their ill-gotten gains to subvert this nation's great system of public education! I was shocked, shocked.

Except that I wasn't. I was hugely cheered up. America's financial elite needs a compelling answer to Occupy Wall Street. This could be it: educate Harlem ... with our poker chips.

Life, after all, is a lot like poker. No matter how innately smart you may be, it's very hard to win if you are dealt a bad hand.

Americans used to believe in social mobility regardless of the hand you're dealt. Ten years ago, polls showed that about two thirds believed "people are rewarded for intelligence and skill," the highest percentage across 27 countries surveyed. Fewer than a fifth thought that "coming from a wealthy family is essential [or] very important to getting ahead." Such views made Americans more tolerant than Europeans and Canadians of inequality and more suspicious of government attempts to reduce it.

Yet the hardships of the Great Recession may be changing that, giving an unexpected resonance to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Falling wages and rising unemployment are making us appreciate what we ignored during the good times. Social mobility is actually lower in the U.S. than in most other developed countries--and falling.

Academic studies show that if a child is born into the poorest quintile (20 percent) of the U.S. …

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