The Null Device

Death of the American Dream

According to Paul Krugman, the American Dream of social mobility and the possibility of anybody becoming successful and transcending their humble roots through hard work is stone cold dead:
The other day I found myself reading a leftist rag that made outrageous claims about America. It said that we are becoming a society in which the poor tend to stay poor, no matter how hard they work; in which sons are much more likely to inherit the socioeconomic status of their father than they were a generation ago. The name of the leftist rag? Business Week, which published an article titled "Waking Up From the American Dream."

Social mobility has declined over the past two decades, with the gains of the New Deal being wiped out; these days, not only do people on low incomes stay on low incomes, but so do their children. Furthermore, politicians are doing their best to reinforce this, and accusing anyone who objects of "class warfare".

Australia isn't quite there but is probably following (the GST and the gradual phasing out of government-subsidised university places in favour of US-style upfront fees are two Howard policies which are pushing us that way); we may see a state funeral for the Fair Go sometime soon. (Though, in reality, we won't; the Fair Go will live on as a piece of meaningless cant, much like the word "liberty" in Ashcroft's America; the expertly stuffed carcase of a long-extinct national mascot, still paraded about in televised pep talks to boost the morale of worker-drones.)

There are 5 comments on "Death of the American Dream":

Posted by: Anton the Ignorant Fri Dec 26 16:35:57 2003

Did the New Deal increase social mobility? I don't know if I've heard that claim before. On the contrary, it has become quite common to say that welfare-statism chills mobility.

Posted by: gjw Fri Dec 26 22:45:39 2003

It's probably quite common for neolibertarians to say that the welfare state has chilled mobility, but I'd like to see some proof of it.

Posted by: msg http:// Sun Dec 28 04:32:06 2003

By making the argument solely around the pole of social mobility, the untouchable purity of that concept goes unchallenged. What about people who are ok with where they are? There have been historically people like that, though not too many these days. People who inherit a way of living, of being, from their elders and pass it to their descendents with improvements and as much carried over inherited knowledge and resource wealth as possible. What we have now is a kind of oxidization of human possibility. The unstable society provides what looks like access to stability, and it is for a micro-minority for a while, but overall the dynamic is roaring toward escape velocity, creating a desperation in most that in turn fuels the instability. People in the US, as their local economies slip gutterward, head toward Wal-mart to stretch their shrinking paychecks. That successful Wal-mart is a primary indicator of the likelihood of that slippage increasing, terminally, is outside the view of most shoppers. In the US.

Posted by: msg http:// Sun Dec 28 04:34:25 2003

In the US. Now. By making the choice between the colorless and stagnant welfare state and the frantic dog-eat-dog free market, and social mobility the unquestioned grail, the argument is closed before it opens.

Posted by: kenny http:// Tue Dec 30 03:29:11 2003

fwiw, here's the BW article krugman talks about...

the onion even did a "parody" of it! not krugman :D