America still gives opportunity to everyone

I read a story today about a smart kid, son of African immigrants, who got accepted to all the Ivy League schools. I wonder why he applied to all, but no matter, this is a great story. The media is all over it when a university snags some guy who has great aptitude in tossing a ball through a small hoop or catching an oblong object while running down a grassy field. It makes no difference. There will be exactly the same ratio of winners to losers whether sports stars play well or poorly.

The smart kid, on the other hand, has a good chance making the world better by building knowledge and contributing to the development of better techniques. I dislike the emphasis on sports in university. This is not because I resent the fact that coaches are often the highest paid public employee in the state or that so much money is poured into these programs that could go to academics, although I do.

What I object to in sports recruiting as tournament aspect with few winners and lots of losers. Consider Lebron James. He was born with talent, which he developed in an admirable way and now he makes millions of dollars doing something he loves. Great. But what about the millions of others with similar but not quite as good talent? They work hard to develop sports skills and get very good. They get their shot at the big time and fail. What are they left with? An excellent but not outstanding basketball player is no better off than a weekend player. He gets bupkis.

On the other hand, kids that study hard and don't quite make it into the academic firmament are still going to be able to use their talents and skills to improve their own prospects and the world. In other words, a good but not great mathematician can do more than show off to friends on the weekends.

If you are looking for role models, do you want a role model doing something that you can never achieve or one that can help you succeed even if you fall short of the sublime excellence of the very best? This is also the classic American story of the children of immigrants who succeed in America through hard work and intellectual talent. You can still make it if you work hard. This is the kind of story that good parents should teach their children.

Posted by Christine & John at May 1, 2014 2:39 PM
Comments
Comment #378160

That’s a rather unrealistic extention or a play on words. Of course “nurture” is important but believing that all you need is hard work to succeed is a pipe dream. Further, claiming that one smart kid with some exceptional talent or talents getting into elite colleges is proof of equal opportunity is quixotic. Everybody gets a chance of some kind but the best chances go to those already with and the evidence is US class mobility is the worst among first world nations.

in recent years several large studies have found that vertical inter-generational mobility is lower, not higher, in the US than in (other) countries. Studies differ on whether social and economic mobility has gotten worse in recent years. A 2013 Brookings Institution study found income inequality was becoming more permanent, sharply reducing social mobility.
No one expects equal outcomes but the level of opportunity is stacked against the 90%.

Posted by: Dave at May 2, 2014 11:27 AM
Comment #378161

Dave

Equal opportunity does not produce equal results. The kid is smart by nature and improved by nurture. I am not even very interested in perfectly equal opportunity, BTW. I rather believe in diversity.

This case indicates that the deck is not stacked against the 90%. It is hard for the absolute lowest to get ahead, but it is mostly a matter of bad habits and behaviors and that indeed can be generational.

You know that equal opportunity will eventually lead to less mobility, as the smart and hard working lower class people do well and then pass on their talents and good habits to their kids. This is the danger of equalizing things. Eventually, if you equalize everything you can, you are left with genetic determinism and a little bit of luck.

Posted by: CJ at May 2, 2014 5:41 PM
Comment #378169

CJ,

That’s all wishful thinking. The data shows that economic mobility in the US is the worst among first world nations. That means it doesn’t matter how hard you try, or how good you are, the deck is stacked against you more here than anywhere else. I have no idea what “case” you’re talking about. The one kid? What about the other 317 million?
By the way, I have never stated I believe in equal outcomes. I believe in a substantial degree of equal opportunity. “Equal” anything has never existed in absolute terms but it is the worse here it’s been since at least the great depression.

Posted by: Dave at May 3, 2014 9:39 PM
Comment #378178

Dave

I have particular love of the very rich, but attempts to get at them tend harm people lower down.

I celeberate this kid becuase he is NOT only 1/317 million. Anybody has a chance for this AND lots of people can do it, unlike in sports, for example, which is truly zero sum. In fact, the big inequality plays come in sports and entertainment. Is LeBron James really worth all that money? If he was eliminated from the game, there would remain exactly the same # of winners and losers.

This is a tangential discussion, but I have a problem with the whole equality things. We talk way to much about it and I don’t think equality is a good thing.

The impression given by the equality debate is that society is random, much like a game of chance. In fact, people who work harder deserve more AND those who are getting less are often the ones letting us down. A non-working welfare recipient is NOT oppressed. He is the oppressor taking away from us and not doing his part for our common good.

I always wanted to be one of the 1%. A recent study indicates that the 1% is very fluid. As many as 20% of Americans are members of the 1% at some time in their lives. Actually, I think I WILL be a member of the 1%, maybe in 2016/17 when I will sell a lot of timber that has been growing for 30 years. Sorry, I don’t want to share a lot of that with people who I don’t think as worthy.

Posted by: CJ at May 4, 2014 1:17 PM
Comment #378200
A recent study indicates that the 1% is very fluid.
My linked studies show the exact opposite. Unfortunately, what I see in reply are talking points and that it appears you made a good investment that “you don’t want to share”. Congrats by the way. Other issues: - No one said anything about “getting at them”. It’s about equal opportunity and, off topic but related, the top 0.01% owning the political system guarantees them unequal opportunity. .

- The studies I linked showed that the US economy provides the fewest opportunities for improvement, Please, where is your source?
.

- I never said “oppressed”, I said unequal opportunities
.

- I never said “equal outcomes”, I said equal opportunity

Posted by: Dave at May 5, 2014 5:31 PM
Comment #378204

Dave

Re my investments - I did alright. I am willing to share, but I have earned the right to share on my terms. I prefer my generosity to be sustainable, which means that the recipients will be able to benefit from it, since their habits and behaviors will be worthy.

Re equality - I don’t think I like the concept in general unless it is closely bounded. It is impossible to create truly equal opportunity and would be bad if we did achieve it, since then the only thing that would count would be genetic potential.

It doesn’t sound as good on a bumper sticker, but our goal should be to create reasonable opportunity, which I think America offers.

BTW - I posted an article from today that talks about the 1%.

Posted by: CJ at May 5, 2014 8:49 PM
Comment #378212

CJ,

I understand your ideology. Todays American right wing primarily says that poor people deserve to be poor because their choices made or keep them poor. Their problem is the lack of evidence because the data says the US has the worst class mobility in the first world.

You believe that people here have reasonable opporunity. But, if they have the opportunity why isn’t there more mobility?

The right wing here tends to say welfare creates lazy. But we have amongst the worse social support system in the first world right now and proof exists in the rest of the world that says the opposite: welfare=opportunity by ensuring food, housing and education which allows for growth. For example, Sweden has guaranteed minimum income for everyone yet their elasticity of class mobility is amongst the highest.

So, I’ll repeat: You believe that people here have reasonable opporunity. But, if they have the opportunity why isn’t there more mobility?

Posted by: Dave at May 6, 2014 9:25 AM
Comment #378267

Dave

I think we are suffering the effects of earlier mobility, i.e. the smarter and harder working poor have become not poor, leaving behind the less active and able, who now are in rather worse positions since their erstwhile companions have moved on up.

But I am less concerned with whose to blame than what to do about it. We need to change the habits of the poor in order to help them become not poor or mitigate their misery. The poor in America today enjoy significant material wealth, or at least access to it. In Brazil, where I live now, the middle class is happy with less than our poverty rate folks consume. Even in a place like Sweden, the material well being of the poor in the U.S. compares favorably. That is why I say it is a matter of habit.

IMO, we took a serious wrong turn the 1960s when we started to identify poverty as kind of disease the just afflicts people. It is great to be non-judgmental, but I think we all must agree that poverty results from choices made and neglected.

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