We've all heard it million times, the core precept of the "American Dream." It says that anyone who is willing to work hard should be able to live in relative comfort, support a family and, essentially, "find happiness."
Forget it. It's gone.
The richest Americans are seeing to it that the poorest Americans never come close to such a way of life, no matter how hard they work, or are willing to work. And what used to be called the "middle class" has a harder and harder time of it too.
There are lots of reasons, from pure greed at the top, to a pathetically low minimum wage, to the inexorable shift away from decent jobs that required only marginal skills.
Which of course brings us to education. You may have seen the stories over the last few days about how poorly 15-year-old American students placed on a battery of tests that were given to students in some 65 countries around the world.
Some scholars warned that the lagging performance of American students would eventually lead to economic torpor. “Our economy has still been strong because we have a very good economic system that is able to overcome the deficiencies of our education system,” said Eric A. Hanushek, an economist at Stanford University. “But increasingly, we have to rely on the skills of our work force, and if we don’t improve that, we’re going to be slipping.”
The United States’ underperformance was particularly striking in math, where 29 countries or education systems had higher test scores. In science, students in 22 countries did better than Americans, and in reading, 19 countries.
So let's see, we're the greatest country on earth, except that our education system is mediocre at best, our government is dysfunctional, and far from the "socialism" that so many worry about, the evidence is that a smaller and smaller group of the very rich are controlling larger and larger portions of our national wealth, and through their political contributions our national policy
, at the expense of the poor and middle class. Unemployment and underemployment are stubborn and pernicious, for reasons that are all to obvious. And a fair number of citizens--and especially legislators--are advocating the continuance of an old and broken health care system that is financially draining and cruel to the least among us.
The nations of the world, including many of the social democracies whose students are running rings around us, look at the greatest country on earth in disbelief.
I do too.