Kindergarten showcases many basic principles which most of us learn there or at our parents’ knees: take turns, share the toys, fair is fair, and so on. Later on, “fair is fair” gets refined in many ways, one of which is “you get what you earn”. You reap what you sow. Hard work earns success. Rags to Riches. Horatio Alger. We cherish this belief so strongly that it has a Title in Capital Letters :
The American Dream.
To an extent, all of this is true. Work longer hours, or a better job, and holding all else equal, you’ll have more money at the end.
To an extent, it’s not true. You can be brilliantly successful today and quadriplegic tomorrow, courtesy of a drunk driver or the rot in the basement stairs.
In an open thread awhile back, I pointed this out. (edited slightly for clarity):
Fundamentally, the assumption behind the American rags-to-riches ideal is meritocracy; everyone starts out equal and gets what they earn based on merit.
But that’s a legal fiction. It’s not true. American society is not a meritocracy. In fact, measuring by social mobility, it’s less of a meritocracy than many other Western nations. Americans, and especially “Conservative” Americans, don’t want to pay the price of a real meritocracy.
If Americans really wanted a merit-based system, they would advocate for universal health care for children. What is merit-based about a child receiving healthcare, or not, on the basis of whether her parents have work with benefits or oodles of money?
If Americans really wanted a merit-based system, they would advocate for a very large inheritance tax, even a 100% tax. What’s merit-based about getting money for free from parents whom you could not choose?
If Americans really wanted a merit-based system, they would advocate for health care for people who were injured through no fault of their own, like a passenger in a train which crashes. What’s merit-based about losing your hard-earned life-savings because a conductor was texting while driving?
We could come up with examples all day. Conservative Americans advocate against all of these things (and so do many “Liberal” Americans). They want to call it a meritocracy, and they want everyone to buy into that notion, while at the same time passing along every unfair advantage they can to their children.
I love my children, and I want them to do well, and have access to opportunity. But I want them to have it because everyone has it, not because resources are limited, I happen to have more, and I actively worked toward kneecapping the people who have less.
It’s all well and good to advocate for whatever you want: no inheritance tax, reduced public funding of education, minimal public funding of healthcare, etc ad nauseum. But if you do, you can’t then honestly turn around and say, “Our system is awesome because it’s not a lottery.”
It’s a lottery. Humans can’t control or compensate for everything, so to some extent it will always be a lottery. But there are plenty of ways in which we could make it LESS of a lottery, and we don’t do them, and then we praise ourselves for living in the land of opportunity.
And that’s hypocrisy.
Such was the force of my reasoning that our resident libertarians and/or conservatives were stunned speechless; my comment stands to this day as the pinnacle of that open thread, the very summit of its many achievements, the ne plus ultra of commentary on conservative political thought.
That’s right. No one dared to reply.
More recently, Susan applied some magnification:
But let’s talk about vulnerable people. For example. Old people (which increasingly means anyone over 40) who need to buy health insurance on their own usually cannot afford it. This means, among many other things, that enterprising 45 year olds who would like to start businesses (remember, small businesses are responsible for the majority of job growth) cannot do that because they cannot afford health insurance on their own string if there is anything at all (including a hangnail) wrong with them or with anyone in their family. (Hint: don’t dispute me on the facts here, I really do know what I am talking about.) This is OK? This is hurting the economy big time, and I can prove it.
Then, the hopelessly disabled. You’d cut them off without public support? Good luck to them? Nice guy. They should have families to take care of them? What if they don’t, they should just die and get out of the way?
The 85 year old woman who took care of her family all her years, her husband is dead, no pension from the bankrupt former employer? Her only son died in a car accident? She’s just out of luck?
joe then pointed out that delving into her point would take the thread off-topic, and she agreed and dropped it.
I would like to explore her point, so I’m creating this thread to do it in.
Would anyone care to answer Susan’s questions?
Would anyone care to argue that the policies which conservatives advocate do, in fact, make the American social system more meritocratic and not less?
If there are no replies to this one, I’ll be forced to conclude that Robert, RonF, and others are saying to themselves, “Well, damn. She’s right. Can’t argue with that one. Best pretend we didn’t see it and move on.”