"There is no equality of opportunity in the U.S., nor anything remotely approaching it. Children’s outcomes are closely correlated with the incomes of their parents, more so in fact than almost every other similarly developed country. Year-to-year economic mobility is also very uncommon.
Since vigorously celebrating equal opportunity that does not actually exist has not managed to soothe the masses, a new tactic has evolved: dismissing the whole inequality discussion as an unfortunate bout of envy.”
If you’re lucky enough to have a job, you probably work extremely hard. Thanks to the power of technology and successive waves of downsizing, people today are doing the work that it took two or three people to perform decades ago. Employees put in frequent 10-hour days to meet their bosses’ demands, and often work remotely from home on nights and weekends. With productivity continually climbing, corporate profits have soared to all-time highs; the stock market gained more than $6 trillion in value in 2013. Yet Americans’ real disposable income went up a mere 0.7 percent the same year. What happened to the workers’ raises? Don’t ask. Remember: You’re lucky just to have a job.
A bit of moderate inflation is no big deal — the Fed has the tools to easily rein inflation back in if it rises above the central bank’s target rate. In fact, a little inflation could even help matters, by eroding household debt burdens and reducing real interest rates.
On the other hand, mass unemployment is an ongoing economic and humanitarian catastrophe.
It’s like if your house is on fire, and you’re worried that spraying it with a firehose might break some windows. Maybe true! Also a terrible set of priorities!
At the loftiest heights of the income pyramid, American meritocracy is broken, replaced by the shameful self-dealing of the superrich.
All of us recognize the way the breakdown in meritocracy is playing itself out closer to the middle class. In theory, capitalism provides equal opportunities to every individual, allowing him or her to use innate talent and ambition, combined with more than a dash of luck, to achieve economic success. Also in theory, economic failure is supposed to be justly earned, a product of a deficiency of talent, ambition, and luck.
The reality, of course, is very different — and becoming more so with every passing year. We start out our lives profoundly unequal. Some Americans grow up impoverished, attending chaotic, academically worthless schools, and exposed to an enormous range of social and cultural obstacles to achievement both at home and in the local environment. Others, by contrast, receive a world-class education at school, continual emotional and scholastic support at home, access to tutors, test-prep, and even pharmaceuticals to compensate for a range of cognitive and behavioral deficits.
First of all, the “rich” are not a homogeneous minority group. Rich people come from all kinds of ethnic and gender backgrounds, sexual orientations, age groups, and political beliefs. And they are not in any way unrepresented in power. Rich people by definition have access to wealth, and thus political influence. This by definition makes them a political and economic powerhouse. Over half of the people in Congress are millionaires, compared to less than 10 percent of Americans generally.
The proportion of gift-giving money that’s wasted on presents the recipient doesn’t want.