Monday, October 4

the class ceiling -adam haslett

Interesting read in the Financial Times linking Preppy to increased income divergence in the US and US/UK attitudes towards class and success generally. Not hard science or even freakonimcs but may interest. Some excerpts below, and slight irony that this is in the FT does not escape;
The US now has the sad distinction of having created the greatest income inequality in the developed world: 1 per cent of the country owns a quarter of all the wealth. Americans still rank first in the belief that “people are rewarded for intelligence and skill,” ie in meritocratic advancement.

...If you thought the great recession, having focused the public’s rage on bankers’ profits [being] not exactly tied to their “intelligence and skill”, might endanger this belief and spur something more like class politics, you’d be wrong. As the drab, farcical midterm elections approach, the supposedly populist Tea Party is being funded by a billionaire patron of the fine arts and Democrats are tossing aside their fleeting Keynesianism like last year’s iPhone. Meanwhile, preppy is back and as strong as ever.

...The national myth that any school child can grow up to be president occludes with remarkable completeness the “Great Divergence” going on all about us. The walls of privilege are getting higher, not lower. A good friend of mine teaches at a private middle school, a very preppy place in Massachusetts, where some 11- and 12-year-olds have chauffeurs to drop them off and take them home, where nannies and French tutors await. These students will “compete” in our “meritocracy” for positions at the best universities against children whose teachers have to buy basic supplies out of their own meagre salaries.

...It is the illusion of classlessness that underwrites Americans’ famous capacity for optimism... The mildly grim ethos of “making do”, that long shadow of the old “Blitz spirit” simply doesn’t exist in the US. It’s foreign to the American make-up.

...A campaign to raise awareness of prostate cancer in Britain featured a comedian standing at his own grave, telling the audience that the disease killed more men than his wife’s cooking. Meanwhile, Virgin Active’s advertisements on the Tube for its health clubs featured the torso of a man with sagging breasts (moobs) and the tag line: “Leave the cleavage to the ladies!” You don’t see a lot of decaying bodies or dead comedians on New York City subway posters, let alone billboards in Nebraska. ...Perfection is always available in the US, death always avoidable. If class represents a form of boundedness, a limit on the individual’s capacity to transcend circumstance, then it must not exist. It must be an illusion – an idea that in Britain simply makes no sense.

So – despite the economic gloom, the unemployment, the slumping housing prices, the worries over a double-dip recession – in the US there remains the perfectly equal opportunity to get lost in dreams of wealth and fame. And to dress like the last scion of a dwindling industrial fortune while you’re at it.