Tuesday, January 25, 2005

 

Bobo gets "Sticky"

And if that thought isn't enough to cause mass suicides, then nothing is.
The Sticky Ladder

By DAVID BROOKS

In his Inaugural Address President Bush embraced the grandest theme of American foreign policy - the advance of freedom around the world. Now that attention is turning to the State of the Union address, it would be nice if he would devote himself as passionately to the grandest theme of domestic policy - social mobility.

The United States is a country based on the idea that a person's birth does not determine his or her destiny. Our favorite stories involve immigrants climbing from obscurity to success. Our amazing work ethic is predicated on the assumption that enterprise and effort lead to ascent. "I hold the value of life is to improve one's condition," Lincoln declared.

The problem is that in every generation conditions emerge that threaten to close down opportunity and retard social mobility. Each generation has to reopen the pathways to success.

Today, for example, we may still believe American society is uniquely dynamic, but we're deceiving ourselves. European societies, which seem more class riven and less open, have just as much social mobility as the United States does.

And there are some indications that it is becoming harder and harder for people to climb the ladder of success. The Economist magazine gathered much of the recent research on social mobility in America. The magazine concluded that the meritocracy is faltering: "Would-be Horatio Algers are finding it no easier to climb from rags to riches, while the children of the privileged have a greater chance of staying at the top of the social heap."

Economists and sociologists do not all agree, but it does seem there is at least slightly less movement across income quintiles than there was a few decades ago. Sons' income levels correlate more closely to those of their fathers. The income levels of brothers also correlate more closely. That suggests that the family you were born into matters more and more to how you will fare in life. That's a problem because we are not supposed to have a hereditary class structure in this country.

At the top end of society we have a mass upper-middle class. This is made up of highly educated people who move into highly educated neighborhoods and raise their kids in good schools with the children of other highly educated parents. These kids develop wonderful skills, get into good colleges (the median family income of a Harvard student is now $150,000), then go out and have their own children, who develop the same sorts of wonderful skills and who repeat the cycle all over again.

In this way these highly educated elites produce a paradox - a hereditary meritocratic class.

In his State of the Union address, President Bush is no doubt going to talk about his vision of an ownership society. But homeownership or pension ownership is only part of a larger story. The larger story is the one Lincoln defined over a century ago, the idea that this nation should provide an open field and a fair chance so that all can compete in the race of life.

Today that's again under threat, but this time from barriers that are different than the ones defined by socialists in the industrial age. Now, the upper class doesn't so much oppress the lower class. It just outperforms it generation after generation. Now the crucial inequality is not only finance capital, it's social capital. Now it is silly to make a distinction between economic policy and social policy.

President Bush spoke grandly and about foreign policy last Thursday, borrowing from Lincoln. Lincoln's other great cause was social mobility. That's worth embracing too.
Of course, George W. Bush is precisely a beneficiary of the system Brooks decries - "the top end of society we have a mass upper-middle class. This is made up of highly educated people who move into highly educated neighborhoods and raise their kids in good schools with the children of other highly educated parents." Not that Bush has those "wonderful skills" Brooks extols, but you get the picture.

In any case, saying "the crucial inequality is not only finance capital, it's social capital" is kind of silly when you've just said that money talks, the lower class walks. But a sensible consistency is never the hobgoblin of Bobo's mind.

We have this system because the political class is more and more owned by the hereditary meritocracy and they are experts at calling the tune and getting everyone to dance. They want their kids to have most of the chances to run the future and they will do almost anything for their kids (except, you know, actually spending time with them and raising them). And, since they own the media or are bigwigs in the media (Tim Russert, for example, or - hey! - David Brooks!), they can make it sound like they deserve their enormous salaries and privileged positions.

And then Bobo, who just a few weeks ago was extolling the middle classes and lower middle classes for their exemplary fecundity and their devotion to their proliferating progeny, now castigates his wealthy next-door neighbors for hogging all the places in Harvard's Class of 2027. As if all those fertile exurban mothers even want their kids to abandon the Red States for Harvard; or as if they should, in Bobo's mythology.

Social mobility is a good thing, like genetic diversity. And Brooks is right, America is becoming a closed society at the top. But Brooks acts like this is a natural but regrettable development instead of a deliberate choice by those at the top (on both sides of the aisle, to be sure, Democrats as well as Republicans, liberals and conservatives alike) to pull up the ladder behind them. And as if George W. Bush is not the avatar of that closed society. Brooks could at least have the decency, to say nothing of the honesty, to admit this.
Comments:
i was just browsing through the blog world searching for the keyword posters and it brought me to your site. You have a great site however it is not exactly what i was looking for. Good luck on your site. sincerely, antonio.
 
i was just browsing through the blog world searching for the keyword posters and it brought me to your site. You have a great site however it is not exactly what i was looking for. Good luck on your site. sincerely, antonio.
 
i was just browsing through the blog world searching for the keyword posters and it brought me to your site. You have a great site however it is not exactly what i was looking for. Good luck on your site.
 
Well done on a nice blog Blogger. I was searching for information on astronomy for kids and came across your post Bobo gets - not quite what I was looking for related to astronomy for kids but very interesting all the same!

Well, it's a new year - in fact it's almost the Chinese New Year. I'm still putting together astronomy lesson plans for the first and second semesters. This year the budget allows us to purchase a new telescope for the science group. That's great so we're still juggling the numbers how to get best bang for the buck! Not the 'big bang' you understand LOL. I'm coming down on the side of the Meade LX200GPS 12" Schmidt-Cassegrain. Let's wait and see.

If you do have a moment, please take a look at my new site on: Astronomy for Kids .

A happy new year to everyone!
 
Post a Comment

<< Home
Comments: "
i was just browsing through the blog world searching for the keyword posters and it brought me to your site. You have a great site however it is not exactly what i was looking for. Good luck on your site. sincerely, antonio.
 
" "
i was just browsing through the blog world searching for the keyword posters and it brought me to your site. You have a great site however it is not exactly what i was looking for. Good luck on your site. sincerely, antonio.
 
" "
i was just browsing through the blog world searching for the keyword posters and it brought me to your site. You have a great site however it is not exactly what i was looking for. Good luck on your site.
 
" "
Well done on a nice blog Blogger. I was searching for information on astronomy for kids and came across your post Bobo gets - not quite what I was looking for related to astronomy for kids but very interesting all the same!

Well, it's a new year - in fact it's almost the Chinese New Year. I'm still putting together astronomy lesson plans for the first and second semesters. This year the budget allows us to purchase a new telescope for the science group. That's great so we're still juggling the numbers how to get best bang for the buck! Not the 'big bang' you understand LOL. I'm coming down on the side of the Meade LX200GPS 12" Schmidt-Cassegrain. Let's wait and see.

If you do have a moment, please take a look at my new site on: Astronomy for Kids .

A happy new year to everyone!
 
" Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?