The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


David Brooks is an opinion writer for The New York Times. Unlike most of his fellow writers at NYT (e.g., Charles Blow, Paul Krugman), his thoughts are generally well-constructed and his arguments are worth considering. But in a recent article, Brooks falls under the influence of his more progressive colleagues and adopts the meme that "privilege" is the new demon that keeps all others from achieving the American dream. He writes:
Over the past generation, members of the college-educated class have become amazingly good at making sure their children retain their privileged status. They have also become devastatingly good at making sure the children of other classes have limited chances to join their ranks.

How they’ve managed to do the first task — giving their own children a leg up — is pretty obvious. It’s the pediacracy, stupid. Over the past few decades, upper-middle-class Americans have embraced behavior codes that put cultivating successful children at the center of life. As soon as they get money, they turn it into investments in their kids.

Upper-middle-class moms have the means and the maternity leaves to breast-feed their babies at much higher rates than high school-educated moms, and for much longer periods.

Upper-middle-class parents have the means to spend two to three times more time with their preschool children than less affluent parents. Since 1996, education expenditures among the affluent have increased by almost 300 percent, while education spending among every other group is basically flat.
And this is something new—how?

Class stratification has been a reality since humans began to record their history. Any lamentation about its existence or suggestion that it must be eliminated it is not only unrealistic, it exemplifies a disconnect with reality.

I don't know Brooks' background, but if he has, in fact, just discovered that "privilege" exists, he's been living in a bubble.

Like millions of other Americans, I grew up in a lower middle class family in a two-story walk-up in a mill town in the Northeast. Our schools were poor and had few resources (36+ kids in a class) and our neighborhoods were gritty. "After school activities" involved going out into the street (without any semblance of adult supervision) to play ball as we dodged traffic. We moderated our own conflicts. We learned very early that life isn't fair and accepted that without too much complaint.

At the same time, our more affluent (upper middle class) contemporaries lived in upscale communities with far better schools and far more opportunities. Those of us in the mill town were persona non grata in those more affluent communities. We were, in effect, like the ragamuffin who presses his nose against the window of a fine restaurant, envying the fine food and the elegant diners.

And yet, we didn't whine about "privilege."

Millions of us pushed forward and created good lives for ourselves, despite the disadvantages of a lower middle class upbringing. Many of us became tradespeople, some became white collar workers, others started businesses, a reasonable number were college graduates and more than a few—doctors, lawyers, and engineers. A few of us even became members of the 1 percent. We did this despite the reality that Brooks laments. Sure, some of us didn't make it, ending up in dead-end jobs or far worse, in prison or dead. But sadly, that's also reality.

Suggestions that "privilege" is (to use Brooks' words) "ruining America," would lead one to believe that America has been "ruined" since the 1700s. If that's the case, how has this country achieved so much, provided opportunity and advancement for so many, and become the preferred destination for the tens of millions who have immigrated here?

I suppose that the American dream is, in effect, the journey toward the "privilege" that is earned by traits that some have forgotten—hard work, and the character to accept small (or large) defeats and keep moving toward a goal that each of us must define for ourselves.