On Facebook I follow I Acknowledge Class Warfare Exists, which on Sunday shared a link to an excellent Krugman op-ed about how the American playing field is the least level of any developed nation, and how the people claiming the loudest that they are in favor of a meritocracy are doing the most to prevent leveling that field and even work to make it steeper.
Americans are much more likely than citizens of other nations to believe that they live in a meritocracy. But this self-image is a fantasy: as a report in The Times last week pointed out, America actually stands out as the advanced country in which it matters most who your parents were, the country in which those born on one of society’s lower rungs have the least chance of climbing to the top or even to the middle.
He goes on to place the blame exactly where I would place it: the lack of health care options that result in many being unable to advance due to incomplete care of debilitating conditions coupled with crushing medical debt and an education system that is stacked towards the wealthy. As noted in the op-ed:
One long-term study by the Department of Education found that students with high test scores but low-income parents were less likely to complete college than students with low scores but affluent parents — loosely speaking, that smart poor kids are less likely than dumb rich kids to get a degree.
How is this a meritocracy?
How would dismantling the public school system altogether, as the most radical advocates of the free market propose, fix this? Consider that the basic problem with public schools is that they are funded primarily via property tax, meaning funding is poorly distributed between rich and poor areas. If public schools are abolished in favor of vouchers, the funds for those vouchers would be just as unevenly distributed, and any system of equal distribution of funds for vouchers (almost certainly through the creation of a new tax that wouldn't be subject to the limitations property taxes are subject to) could just as easily be used to even-out the funding distribution in the existing public school system.
Judging by their actions, they seem to prefer a society in which your station in life is largely determined by that of your parents — and in which the children of the very rich get to inherit their estates tax-free. Teddy Roosevelt would not have approved.
The American Dream — a meritocracy with upward mobility — is, in reality, the American Lie.