Thursday, June 1, 2017

Veneer of classless meritocracy

Richard Reeves wrote the book Dream Hoarders. He was interviewed by Steve Inskeep on NPR. Reeves says the ones hoarding dreams are the upper middle class, those making $100,000 a year and more, about 20% of the population. We’re used to hearing what the 1% is doing to the country. Reeves focuses a bit wider. Some of the things these people are doing to our society:

The tax system helps people buy houses. The more expensive the house the bigger the tax incentive (perhaps there is a cap somewhere?). Most of the benefit goes to the wealthy. The effect is those in the upper middle class and above can seal themselves off from everyone else. They don’t live in areas of mixed income.

Colleges have legacy preferences. A student is much more likely to be accepted at a college if their parent was a student there. This means enrollment isn’t based on merit and a lower income student doesn’t get in. This practice was abolished in Britain at least a half century ago and no other country uses it.

Internships, usually a boost in eventually getting a job, are awarded based on who one knows, not on merit. The rich have a much more useful network than the rest of us. The eventual job searches are done through the same network.

So the 20% have advantages in housing, education, and getting a job.

Reeves is from Britain, also very class oriented. But Reeves thinks America is worse:
I never thought I'd say this, but I sort of miss the class consciousness of my old country which I grew up hating. The reason I miss it is because at least we're aware of it. It seems to me that in the U.S., you have a class system that operates every bit as ruthlessly as the British class system but under the veneer of classless meritocracy. So there isn't even a self-awareness.
The roots of many of these advantages are in racism. Though now they affect all poor.

The consequences of these policies, says Reeves:
I have come to believe that the dangerous separation of the American upper middle class from the rest of society is a huge problem for politics because there's a sense of a bubble. There's a sense of people who are kind of making out pretty well from current trends and who are increasingly separate occupationally, residentially, educationally and economically from the rest of society.

They are also disproportionately powerful. And the fact that they are not only separate from the rest of society but unaware of the degree to which the system works in their favor strikes me as one of the most dangerous political facts of our time.
Reeves says support for the nasty guy came from anger at these preferences, which keep the rest of us out. Until the rich admit that the system is rigged in their favor the lower classes will continue to be angry. He adds:
I discovered that the idea that some people should be downwardly mobile in order to allow other people to be upwardly mobile is a deeply unpopular one around upper middle class dinner tables. Especially when you start sort of trying to identify which of your own children are being identified as the downwardly mobile ones. But, you know, these are very uncomfortable conversations in many ways. But I think that unless we're willing to tolerate a little bit of discomfort in our conversations, then really we're in really deep trouble.

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