The ultimate LIFO

I’ve been trying to carve out time this week to read José Vilson’s This Is Not a Test, and also continue with Thomas Piketty. The combination of the two has sparked a few musings in the back of my mind, including the fact that someone else has noted, that Piketty’s hundreds-of-pages-long book doesn’t have much on human capital.

And then I had this thought: the accumulation of wealth is the ultimate “last in, first out” (LIFO) practice. Those that have, get more. Those that don’t, don’t. Passing on wealth to further generations is anti-meritocratic, letting those who have inherited a sinecure rest on other people’s laurels.

I’m not a defender of the more absolutist versions of LIFO practices, or guidelines that give at least some protection to more senior teachers in a school in layoff conditions. I am also skeptical of claims that LIFO is the worst thing since … well, the last worst thing that education reformers complained about. I have seen no evidence that ending LIFO has improved schools where that policy change has happened.

Beyond that, it strikes me that if one is going to complain about LIFO policies in schools, one can ask about your approach to the retention of institutionalized privilege in society at large. Do you really believe that we need to eliminate the security of long-held positions, or does that only hold within school walls? If you truly believe in ending LIFO in schools, to be consistent you should also believe in and argue for ending LIFO outside schools, in terms of intergenerational wealth transfers and unearned wealth.

I mean confiscatory-level estate taxes — say, 100% above $3 million per family member that you transfer your wealth to. I’m not wedded to that as a definition of high estate taxes that ensure each generation only makes it on their own efforts; that is just an example.

So, while reading Vilson and Piketty, I have become curious whether anyone who has argued against LIFO has also argued in favor of confiscatory estate taxes. I’m not holding my breath, but it would be evidence of consistency in policy preferences.

Addendum: Since I’ve been asked: No, I’m not advocating confiscatory estate taxes here. I’m pointing out a bit of inconsistency, which is often the case when people talk about education policy issues in isolation from the rest of social policy.

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