Monday, March 25, 2013

A thought about America's failing economic mobility.

I heard Lani Guinier, a professor at Harvard Law School, talk yesterday about the fundamental myth of the United States -- if you work hard and follow the rules you can get ahead. I can see how the myth began. Pilgrims arrived and the survivors multiplied and grew prosperous. Lots of English arrived as indentured servants, served their time, got their own land, and prospered.

I suppose that hidden behind that myth was a racist myth -- that American Indians, African immigrants, and Asian immigrants were not doing well, so it must be their own fault. Was that why they were separated or excluded from the majority white population. Remember too that there was a eugenics movement in the United States that included forced sterilization of tens of thousands of women "to improve the race".

Remember that in the bad old days, the dominant American society considered Jewish, Irish, southern European and eastern European immigrants as different races, each with their own racial epithet. Perhaps it was only when members of these ethnic groups succeeded economically and socially by working hard and obeying the rules that they were accorded entry into the "white" socio-economic class.

Now there are many countries offering more economic mobility than does the United States. There are millions who see themselves as working hard and following the rules but not doing well. Indeed, many of them feel that this is true even though they were members of the dominant elite.

Lani Guinier suggests that these folk are seeking to place the blame for their lack of success somewhere, and doing so by reversion to racism.

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