The Great Illusion: Dominant Ideology and Social Mobility

Via Paul Krugman, this is what Americans believe (click on the image for larger view):

Dominant Ideology

And this is what is (partly) leads to:

Mobility Compared

I especially like this paragraph from Krugman:

“So when you hear conservatives talk about how our goal should be equality of opportunity, not equality of outcomes, your first response should be that if they really believe in equality of opportunity, they must be in favor of radical changes in American society. For our society does not, in fact, produce anything like equal opportunity (in part because it produces such unequal outcomes). Tell me how you’re going to produce a huge improvement in the quality of public schools, how you’re going to provide universal health care (for parents as well as children, because parents in bad health affect childrens’ prospects), and then come back to me about the equal chances at the starting line thing.

Now, inequality of opportunity is only one reason for the inequality in outcomes we actually see. But of what remains, how much reflects individual effort, how much reflects talent, and how much sheer luck? No reasonable person would deny that there’s a lot of luck involved. Wall Street titans are, no doubt, smart guys (although talking to some of them, you have to wonder …), but there are surely equally smart guys who for whatever reason never got a chance to grab the 9-figure brass ring.

So economics is not a morality play; the social and economic order we have doesn’t represent the playing out of some kind of deep moral principles.”

More than that, this means the almost complete success of the dominant ideology of meritocracy notwithstanding the opposite results in terms of mobility. Indeed, behind the discourse of meritocracy, one finds massive redistribution of wealth to the top of the social ladder as a matter of policy rather than merit accompanied with increased social control through surveillance society mechanisms and massive extension of the criminal justice system / homeland security complex.

And the fact that the social democracies of Europe do a better job when it comes to social mobility must absolutely remain off-limit to policy discussions.

What this points to is the fact that the dominant ideology hides the high levels of structural and interpersonal violence in the US society, the former as applied puritan ethic and the latter as a consequences of it. A structurally violent society is also at the same time more interpersonally violent as a consequence.

6 thoughts on “The Great Illusion: Dominant Ideology and Social Mobility

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  6. We seem to be blind to the high cost, and even the existence of, inequality contrary to all the evidence. “The Spirit Level” by Wilkinson and Pickett laid out the data rather thoroughly.

    Are there groups actively working at public education of the data and putting the issue on the political agenda? Simply publishing books and articles doesn’t seem to be having enough impact.

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