The Editorial in Wednesday’s Messenger focussed on recent observations that upward mobility is largely nonexistent, no matter where in the world one might live.
This comes as no real surprise, but it got me to thinking about the price we pay for the myth of upward mobility in America. It may be the single most paralyzing factor in our failure to reverse growing income inequality.
The editorial mentioned that inability to rise from one’s birth class is so universal that it exists even in Sweden. But there are notable differences between the U.S. and Sweden, like universal access to quality healthcare, and quality education through University, which make the life of the “unequal” Swede far superior to what it is in the U.S.
Our own Horatio Alger-style fantasy around the lifting potential of “bootstraps” has been endlessly abused to justify an ever-narrowing commitment to social welfare. In the face of this persistent and debilitating myth, it is the instinctive knowledge held by impoverished Americans that they will never escape their miserable existence, which drives so many to make truly desperate choices.
The social safety net that was built over a century ago, was the shrewd concession of American oligarchs who had seen the lengths to which desperate poverty and a callous ruling class had driven Russian peasants.
Now that same class of oligarchs has forgotten lessons learned and is bound and determined to dismantle what remains of that social safety net.
The editorial correctly opined that income “redistribution” and education are the only real ways to achieve class mobility; but people like the Koch brothers and the (Walmart) Waltons, who truly are the “1%,” are betting their bankrolls on the end of public education.
As for income redistribution? So long as the SCOTUS Citizens United decision stands, individuals have only as much representation in Congress as their money can buy. How likely is it that the poor will be fairly dealt with under those circumstances?
We are told that individual American’s accept this inequity as a strictly “temporary” situation as far as they themselves are concerned. They don’t raise a louder objection to the rich having it all because they still hope to be numbered among that anointed few. Once again, the Kochs and Waltons can count on our worst instincts to keep them secure at the top of the pile; because the myth of upward mobility enshrines selfishness as a national value.
That’s where the real work must begin: in disabusing the gormless of the idea that, somehow, they, too, can be super-rich.
It is far more likely that you could find yourself in the shoes of the poor and homeless.