Sunday, July 05, 2009
On this Independence Day, let us not just remember those who died that America might have its freedom, but also what they died for. The truest respect for sacrifice is not to hold a parade, to speak of gratitude or to say fond words; no, the truest respect is to value that which the dead fought for and to continue their fight.
America's founders fought for freedom, we're told, and there's a lot of truth to that, though it wasn't, then, freedom for all. In the context of the 18th century freedom meant some of what it means today: all men equal before the law, no taxation without representation, freedom to worship as you chose, and so on, but it also meant freedom from the aristocracy, and freedom from inherited power. "All men equal before the law" was a strike, not against slavery, but against the nobility. No man should have more rights than another; no man should have power because of who his father was.
America is the land of opportunity, it was said. Some still say this, and perhaps it's still true. But the deeper truth is dying. Inherited wealth and inherited power are on the rise. For centuries, indeed until somewhere between 10 and 20 years ago, America, amongst all the nations in the entire world, had the most inter-generational mobility. To put it another way, no matter who your father was, or who your mother was, you could make it in America. More than in any other nation, in America you had a fair shot.
Now no one would say you can't still make it in America. No one would say that opportunity isn't still available in the land of the free and the home of the brave. But the fact, the sad fact, is that amongst Western nations the US now has the most income inequality and the least inter-generational mobility (along with Britain, the nation which follows American policies most closely). In America it now matters more who your father is, who your mother is, how much money your family has and how many connections it has, than in any other Western nation. The old European nations are now the land of opportunity, the land where who your parents were matters least....(Remainder.)