Opportunity in the U.S.

Menshevik

Ad Honorem
Dec 2012
9,407
here
I've had a ongoing argument with one of my friends. He has a unrealistic way of looking at things, in my opinion. After I present my argument, feel free to tell me it's my logic that is flawed. I think that you can be whatever you want, if you put your mind to it. If you have a vision, if you have drive, and with a certain amount of luck, you can be successful in life. My friend thinks that some us are forever stuck in whatever situation were born into. I disagree. I think being born rich and having money, gives you huge advantages in life, it makes achieving your goals easier( i.e. it pays for education, amenities, etc.). But I think someone born into a broken family from the ghetto is still has a shot at achieving something. Becoming a doctor, lawyer, or teacher is still very much a possibility for them. I agree that it would be harder given their situation, but it's very much possible and feasible. He says there aren't any real rags-to-riches stories. He says you either get lucky and be handed a silver spoon, or you remain in your 'caste'( I'm definitely paraphrasing, but I believe I'm giving you guys the gist of his argument). I think a certain amount of luck is necessary for all success, but nothing is going to just fall into your lap. He also thinks that the rich should be paying more in taxes, that somehow , that would make his life better. Whether or not you agree with his tax agenda, I don't see how the rich paying more in taxes would make his life better. He says that more taxes would pay for more education. I suppose it might, but people still have to want to get that education, and in my experience, most people wouldn't go to school even if it was paid for. My main point here, is that I think it a foolish and irresponsible way of thinking, to say that your life sucks because of a disproportion of wealth that we have in this country. I won't deny that we have quite a gap between rich and poor, but that doesn't mean we can't get our own piece of the pie. We should focus on ourselves, we should play the cards dealt to us, and do the best we can. We shouldn't dwell on what we don't have, envy will get us nowhere. I believe that saying that says you can be whatever you want to be. So, Historumites, am I naive? Does my friend have it right? Should I hold out for that great and righteous Jubilee?
 

Fox

Ad Honorem
Oct 2011
3,937
Korea
I think that you can be whatever you want, if you put your mind to it. If you have a vision, if you have drive, and with a certain amount of luck, you can be successful in life.
Let's accept a basic truth of a capitalistic system: merit within such a system is relative, rather than absolute, which is to say being better than the competition is of primary importance. Given this, it's clear that for each winner, there must be losers. People who pursue a law degree, but graduate at the bottom of their class and struggle to realize their dream of being a practitioner of law. People who work to become an English professor, but for all their merit, are still slightly less meritorious than the fierce competition.

Given this, while work and vision are obviously advisable, the entire population working harder wouldn't make everyone rich, and failure would be all the more bitter. One obviously cannot speak of impossibility at an individual level, but at a group level, it's clearly impossible that everyone succeeds at achieving their dreams within America's current framework. Every doctor, lawyer, or professor necessitates a far greater number of Wal-Mart employees, grocery store clerks, and gas station attendants.

What I'll say is this: I think your attitude is the more constructive attitude to possess. Hard work may not guarantee success, but lack of hard work will nearly guarantee failure, so even if I don't agree with your fundamental position, I certainly agree with your advice.

He also thinks that the rich should be paying more in taxes, that somehow , that would make his life better.
Whether or not he is correct depends purely upon how those tax revenues are used. Letting wealth pool at the top of society will retard the economy to at least some degree, and downward redistribution, if handled carefully, can have a stimulative effect, but foolish redistribution (such as to the usury-practicing economic elite) can be outright harmful as well, so it's not a question which admits to a simple answer. Pissing away hundreds of billions in additional tax revenue on poor urban schools, for example, would probably not manifest very effective results. America's educational problems, to the extent that they exist, are largely about things other than funding.

We should focus on ourselves, we should play the cards dealt to us, and do the best we can. We shouldn't dwell on what we don't have, envy will get us nowhere.
I should mention that envy has nothing to do with my position. My father is a reasonably wealthy CEO, so when I speak of redistribution, it is to my "detriment," not my benefit. I'm willing to sacrifice personally to see a more broadly prosperous and flourishing society though, so I'm not resentful at the notion of losing a bit of my "pie." I don't want to focus on myself, at least not exclusively. Once my family and I have enough for our security and stability, my concern turns to whether other families have the same.
 

antocya

Ad Honorem
May 2012
5,778
Iraq
I think in general it's harder for people to become successful if they're from a lower-economic background but they do certainly have a shot at it. My father is pretty successful and he grew up in Appalachia, one of the poorest regions of the US. They didn't even have indoor plumbing when he was a kid and his parents had never even gone to high school.

I'm not against a greater taxing of the rich but when people think they want the same kind of system in America that exists in Western Europe, greater social benefits, they also have to look at the overall picture. It would be excellent to have healthcare and free education but do you want to have a 25% sales tax?
 

Edgewaters

Ad Honorem
Jul 2007
9,098
Canada
I've had a ongoing argument with one of my friends. He has a unrealistic way of looking at things, in my opinion. After I present my argument, feel free to tell me it's my logic that is flawed. I think that you can be whatever you want, if you put your mind to it.
That's not universally true. If you are born in the wrong place, you might not even live to adulthood, and if you do, you could be trapped by circumstance very easily. People working in Indonesian sweatshops do not lack will - most Westerners (including ... perhaps even especially ... the ones who attribute their good fortune to their will) would be hard-pressed to summon up enough will to do what they do for even one day, let alone a lifetime.

That being said, many people do not reach the potential they are capable of, given their talents and the circumstances of their life. But it is hard to say in any individual case whether they have or not, because we rarely know everything a person has experienced or fully understand their capabilities or lack thereof ... people have instincts to conceal their weaknesses, they are sometimes modest (even with themselves) about their talents, their history is never fully known, etc

For what it's worth, most people I know who were born to unlucky circumstance yet succeeded caught a lucky break somewhere along the line ... usually quite a few. Something as simple as a friend letting them sleep on a couch when their partner tosses them or they've lost their job and can't pay rent or something like that, can make the difference between a successful individual and somebody who winds up on the street and spirals down the drain.

He says that more taxes would pay for more education. I suppose it might, but people still have to want to get that education, and in my experience, most people wouldn't go to school even if it was paid for.
You do realize that literally millions of people take loans to go to school, right? With rising tuition costs many of them graduate, take a job in their field, and end up worse off than before, due to the crushing debt load. A student whose parents paid for his education has a completely different experience.

Contrast this with the economics of growing up in the Boomer generation, when education was cheap (people could often afford to pay out of pocket with only a minimal wage) and there was what is often referred to as an economic "party" that succeeding generations missed, because it was relatively simple to get an education and a decent job (or even obtain a decent job without an education - manufacturing jobs paid well and often didn't even require high school).
 
Last edited:
Sep 2011
24,135
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In regards to your friends point of view.... There is also the 'mental trap' which can prevent someone from a poorer background 'achieving' anything. It is all very well saying the opportunity is there if they work hard enough, but until one is in a situation surrounded by doom and gloom with no hope... you get the picture...

Sure some people manage to break free of it but environment has a big impact on us and it is not easy to be ambitious when the road ahead looks dead from the get go.
 
Aug 2011
7,045
Texas
Sure some people manage to break free of it but environment has a big impact on us and it is not easy to be ambitious when the road ahead looks dead from the get go.
The road ahead has always looked dead ever since i could remember, but i remain hopeful.

D@*n my optimism. :)
 
Sep 2011
24,135
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Something as simple as a friend letting them sleep on a couch when their partner tosses them or they've lost their job and can't pay rent or something like that, can make the difference between a successful individual and somebody who winds up on the street and spirals down the drain.
This describes it for me. Sometimes those little glimpses of hope can be like a ray of light that a person homes in on for the better, but not everyone is lucky to even experience these small glimmers of hope and even if they do, they could be so consumed by hopelessness that nothing even then seems worthwhile, and sometimes for many it isn't.

The road ahead has always looked dead ever since i could remember, but i remain hopeful.

D@*n my optimism. :)
Oh, I have my optimistic streak sometimes!;)
 

RoryOMore

Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
3,398
USA
I come from as modest a background as one can have in America. Neither of my parents went to high school. I was nearly 30 when I graduated college, nearly 40 when I got a law degree. Along the way, I've made nearly every mistake possible. There's nothing about me that stands out from a crowd. The only thing I have going for me is a stubbornness that sees every failure as a setback rather than a defeat.

I have a cleaning lady who comes in once a month. She came to the US about 25 years ago, and set to work. She has more than 80 clients now, two crews. She has one kid through college, another just starting. She has much more lucrative clients than me, and I suspect she just keeps me around out of loyalty now.

Opportunity is all around us still.