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Friday, May 20, 2005

Smokey Briggs

Sage Views

By Smokey Briggs

America - The
land of opportunity?

“As Rich-Poor Gap Widens in the U.S., Class Mobility Stalls,” proclaimed the headline in last Friday’s Wall Street Journal.

The report states that since 1970 the gap between rich and poor has widened and that at the same time the chances of children rising above or falling below their parents’ economic class have not changed.

The report also states that those born to the poorest parents have a better shot of rising out of poverty in socialist Europe than here.

The barely unspoken cry of the author is that something needs to be done to fix this “problem.”

The barely unspoken solution is a couple more steps toward pure socialism instead of the socialism-with-lip-service-paid-to-capitalism that we have today.

Poor, opinionated reporting usually catches my eye.

Anytime an author makes such a statement such as “Rich-Poor Gap Widens,” I expect to be educated with a few details. When the author does not bother I get suspicious.

In this case the author did not bother to fill me in on how much the gap between rich and poor has grown, or even what the gap is.

Logically there must be a gap, or we would not need two different adjectives to describe a person’s economic status now would we?

So, that there is a gap does not surprise nor should it alarm. What man or woman worthy of the name would want to live in a world where the same ration of stuff was handed out no matter the effort expended.

Not I.

I have done just about every kind of work there is to do, from pouring concrete to writing.

In every job I ever held there was always a cross section of individuals with different ambitions for lack of a better term.

Some of us went at it like a job, and some seemed to work hard trying not to work at all.

I expected to be rewarded for busting my tail - and I expected a better reward than the slacker that humped one wheel barrow of concrete to my two.

When I was not so rewarded I went looking for an employer who knew the difference between hard work and goofing off.

So, a gap between rich and poor does not worry me. There will always be a gap until this world is done.

But a lack of upward (or downward) mobility? That bothers me. I believe that America really is a meritocracy as much as any society can be.

I really do believe that you can better yourself through hard work and talent and brains (and mostly hard work).

The Wall Street Journal reporter makes it clear that he does not approve of the fact that statistically nothing has changed since 1970 - that poor people are not rising faster and rich people are not sinking faster from generation to generation.

He argues unashamedly for more European-like government intervention such as government imposed wages and government imposed health insurance.

How government imposed wages and the like will help close the gap he does not bother to explain.

The point he misses totally is that people are still moving in both directions from generation to generation.

They were in 1970 and they are today - in equal numbers.

At some point, you have to reach a level of stability - a point where, from generation to generation, you are going to have about the same number of people moving up and down.

Does everybody born on the bottom-rung rise above it?


Does everybody born on the top rung fall off it?


But you can.

If you goof off hard enough all the Connecticut-Blueblood-Ivy-League money in the world can slip through your fingers.

And, if you work hard enough and catch a bit of luck here and there you can move up a rung or more.

And, most of us hang in somewhere near our dad’s rung.

Which is normal, not bad.

I was not born with a burning desire to be rich. I had other burning desires. You make your choices and you live with them.

Does a kid born on the bottom rung have a tougher row to hoe than a kid born into the Bush family?


But life is not fair, nor can it be made to be fair. It is life.

What we have, that most countries and societies do not, is a shot. Not a hand out, but an opportunity.

This is where me and Wall-Street-Journal-reporter-boy really part ways.

Obviously he wants the world to be fair and thinks that with just a bit more government intervention we can achieve fairness.

That makes him an absolute fool in my book.

Granny told me early on, “The world is not fair. You can sit here and cry and whine or you can go get to work and make something of yourself.”

I liked Granny.

In the middle of his story I think the Wall Street Journal reporter proved Granny right when he revealed that his data did not take into account the awesome success of immigrants in this country - especially the sons and daughters of very poor, often completely uneducated folks who came to America with nothing.

He reports that 52 percent of the undergraduates at the University of California at Berkley were from families where both parents were immigrants.

Immigrants continue to thrive in America - even the illegal ones - without more handouts and without more government redistribution of wealth schemes.

They understand Granny’s words to me no matter what language they speak.

For these folks the American Dream still exists and many are living it.

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