Saturday, January 31, 2004

It is election season and many out-of-ammunition candidates reach for the class warfare rhetoric. This probably resonates in much of the world. So, the suggestion that more Americans aspire than envy is intriguing. What data there are on social and economic mobility gives hope that the suggestion has substance. If so, the class warfare rhetoric may not work at the polls. The idea of American Exceptionalism has been construed in many ways. Perhaps the fact that aspirants outnumber the envious is its essence. The back-up position for the pessimists is that aspirants are just being fooled. If that is the best they can come up with, they are not an intellectual (or political) force to be reckoned with.

W. Michael Cox and Richard Alm have written Myths of the Rich and Poor: Why We're Better Off Than We Think (Basic Books, 1999). The data are refreshing. The fact that most people already know all this without ever having read the book is even better.