Friday, December 20, 2013

The Lottery of Modern Life

Robert Reich asks, "what will it take for us to get back to being a decent society?"   While he's speaking of his United States homeland, he could easily be speaking for many other countries now following in America's path.

Reich laments the lottery of modern life - what family we're born into. 

Our life chances are now determined to an unprecedented degree by the wealth of our parents.

That’s not always been the case. The faith that anyone could move from rags to riches – with enough guts and gumption, hard work and nose to the grindstone – was once at the core of the American Dream.

And equal opportunity was the heart of the American creed. Although imperfectly achieved, that ideal eventually propelled us to overcome legalized segregation by race, and to guarantee civil rights. It fueled efforts to improve all our schools and widen access to higher education. It pushed the nation to help the unemployed, raise the minimum wage, and provide pathways to good jobs. Much of this was financed by taxes on the most fortunate.

But for more than three decades we’ve been going backwards. It’s far more difficult today for a child from a poor family to become a middle-class or wealthy adult. Or even for a middle-class child to become wealthy.

The major reason is widening inequality. The longer the ladder, the harder the climb. America is now more unequal that it’s been for eighty or more years, with the most unequal distribution of income and wealth of all developed nations. Equal opportunity has become a pipe dream.

Rather than respond with policies to reverse the trend and get us back on the road to equal opportunity and widely-shared prosperity, we’ve spent much of the last three decades doing the opposite.

The underlying issue is a moral one: What do we owe one another as members of the same society?
Conservatives answer that question by saying it’s a matter of personal choice – of charitable works, philanthropy, and individual acts of kindness joined in “a thousand points of light.”

But that leaves out what we could and should seek to accomplish together as a society. It neglects the organization of our economy, and its social consequences. It minimizes the potential role of democracy in determining the rules of the game, as well as the corruption of democracy by big money. It overlooks our strivings for social justice.

In short, it ducks the meaning of a decent society.

Reich concludes by noting that economic reform alone  won't restore America to a decent society.   It will also take democratic reform of the very sort that those who have manufactured today's "bought and paid for" Congress will fight hard to resist.


Owen Gray said...

Two generations ago, Ayn Rand argued that selfishness was a virtue, Mound. It was a preposterous argument. But neo-conservatives bought it.

They don't like to mention that, in her declining years, she quite happily accepted the largesse provided by the government.

The Mound of Sound said...

I think the Ayn Rand factor at least partly underlies the civil war underway between Republican factions. Conservative Republicans know it's madness but the Tea Party ideologues cling to it out of sheer "don't confuse me with the facts/my mind's made up already" belief.

e.a.f. said...

As the .01% continue to hang on to their money and refuse to reinvest it in their own country, things will not go well for the country. Of course voters have continued to put them in office. People who vote for these financially elite teabaggers ought to ask themselves, what do they actually have in common with these financial elites. they certainly don't go to the same schools, live in the same neighbourhoods, go to the same schools, etc. As a matter of fact they have nothing income with people like the Koch brothers, If they had their way the average American would be even further impoverished, if it increased their profits.

Perhaps when they can no longer afford their homes, put gas in their vehicles, can only look at t.v. to see what they no longer own, will they wake up. They elected politicians who tied themselves into the financial elite and then the politicians did whatever the financial elite wanted them to. What happened to the average working person? Nothing, beyond no jobs or jobs which didn't pay as much as they once did; mounting debt, loss of their homes, dying younger because they couldn't afford health care, or wound up in private prisons because they also wanted a piece of the action.

With so many Americans in prison, how can a society florish? Once people have a criminal record it is hard to become employed. The American justice system has created a whole new class of people, those who have been incarcerated. The U.S.A. is well on its way to becoming a third world country with a large military. the military will become useful to suppress the citizens.

The Mound of Sound said...

e.a.f. - the American Right likes to warn of a 'culture war' being waged by the Left when, in fact, that war was fought and won by the Right a long time ago. Instead of making the country work for the overwhelming majority, the middle class, it was restructured to serve an elite and much of that service involved a massive transfer of wealth out of the middle class to that very elite. The rich kept getting richer even as their country was running huge deficits, huge balance of trade deficits and financing two foreign wars, all on borrowed money, even as it cut the top taxes. That was sheer larceny.

Purple library guy said...

The whole "rags to riches" idea itself bears the seeds of its downfall. It assumes a dizzying distance between different status levels, which in the end is never compatible with flexible movement between them.
You can have vast inequality, with the top level of society possessing vast enticing fortunes to aspire to. Or you can have social mobility and justice. You cannot have both for any length of time. Rapid growth and social change can mask the problem for a while, but basically, the rich don't like the poor having opportunities--widespread opportunities for the poor represent money, control and power the rich have not monopolized.