Old-Fashioned Virtues Can Fight the Wealth Gap

By Lewis J. Walker

NEW YORK (AdviceIQ) -- The shrinking middle class, the tilting of more wealth toward upper-income people, rising inequality -- all are political flashpoints. But no matter how much you try to address this by tinkering with the tax code or using some other means, no other remedy is better than increased education.

Much political noise reverberates relative to the "wealth gap." Economist Paul Krugman, in his Jan. 23 New York Times column, decried an "arbitrary and inequitable distribution of wealth and incomes" in American society. President Barack Obama posits inequality as a target for government activism. No matter how you address income disparities, education is the clear answer to fix economic woes.

The primacy of education's role in bettering people's lot has a long history. Among the first to advocate for mass education was John Knox (1514-72), a Scottish clergyman and reformer and the founder of the Presbyterian denomination. In his day, only the rich were educated. Most of Scotland's population was poor and illiterate. Ignorance bred superstition and immoral behavior, he thundered.

Believing that everyone should be able to read the Bible, in 1560 he detailed a plan for "the vertue and godlie upbringing of the youth of the Realm." He saw education of rich and poor alike as a responsibility shared by the family, the school "and the Kirk," meaning the church. That same year, the Scottish Parliament made education a national priority.

The Wall Street Journal last year reviewed a report from the National Marriage Project, The New Unmarried Moms. There is a clear link, it said, between unmarried childbearing and educational achievement, which in turn affects social mobility and lifetime earning power.