Meritocracy no more
Opportunity makes America exceptional. Belief in meritocracy, that the best and hardest working earn their success while the lazy suffer, is a fact of American life burned into the cortex of every patriot. But perhaps it shouldn’t be. In 2010, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development studied social mobility, what others call climbing the economic ladder and what we call the “American Dream.”
Of the developed nations, America is not the first, second or even third best place in which to pull yourself up by the bootstraps. In ability to live the American Dream, we rank 10th. The study labeled America the 10th happiest nation as well. Better than Sudan, yes, but miles from exceptional.
If America’s heart is capitalistic, our soul mate is quality. Perpetual demand for greater products catalyzed our development of not just the greatest economy the world has seen, but the strongest, most advanced military as well. Capitalistic competition directed at tangible products bought America its status as the world superpower. These products were not limited to manufactured goods and innovations. Education should create capable, contributing adults. A healthy economy should give everyone the chance to advance. The pursuit of superior products would ultimately return the highest profits.
This product-to-profit perversion maintained the best for least ethos at the expense of labor. In today’s world, we see it in the form of executive salaries increasing while labor salaries stagnate. Corporations report record profits, but the wealth will not trickle.
It would be simple enough to blame the perversion on our elites, but it infected us all, leaving Americans as a people of exceptional irony. The Internet we created spreads knowledge like nothing before, yet at all levels of education, universities included according to the Collegiate Learning Assessment, we churn out less and less capable contributors. We have an ocean of media delivering at best ankle-deep analysis. Our medicine continues to improve, but this generation is the first documented to have a shorter life expectancy than its predecessor. When considering our quality of life, the potential we squander is a national tragedy.
In many ways, America needs a rebirth. At some point we will discover the cheap products of our health, education and financial systems are not returning an ultimate profit, but a collective populace that is too fat, too dumb, and too broke to cope with a shrinking world. When America understands means matter as much as ends, it will be as President Ronald Reagan said, “Morning in America.” Until then, get used to the dusk.
Brian Marceau can be reachedat email@example.com