Trump turning US into ‘world champion of extreme inequality’, UN envoy warns

Special rapporteur Philip Alston, fresh from fact-finding tour, issues devastating criticism of US society and denounce private wealth and public squalor

The United Nations monitor on poverty and human rights has issued a devastating report on the condition of America, accusing Donald Trump and the Republican leadership in Congress of attempting to turn the country into the” world champion of extreme inequality “.

Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, has completed a two-week official tour of the US by releasing an excoriating attack on the direction of the nation. Not merely does he alert that the tax bill currently being rushed through Congress will hugely increase already big disparities between rich and poor, he accuses Trump and his party of consciously distorting the shape of American society in a” bid to become the most unequal society in the world “.

” American exceptionalism was a constant topic in my dialogues ,” he writes.” But instead of realizing its founders’ admirable commitments, today’s United States has proved itself to be exceptional in far more problematic ways that are shockingly at odds with its immense wealth and its founding commitment to human rights. As a result, contrasts between private wealth and public squalor abound .”

In his most stark message, Alston warns that the Republican’ declared intent to slash crucial welfare programs next year in order to pay for some of the $1.5 tn tax cuts could cost American lives.” The outcomes for an already overstretched and insufficient system of social protection are likely to be fatal for many programs, and perhaps also for those who rely upon them ,” he writes.

Alston’s piercing findings present the Trump administration with a challenge. The charge that the US president is actively seeking to harm millions of Americans may be difficult to ignore, given that the report carries the imprimatur of the UN human rights council in Geneva.

Trump has frequently been dismissive of the world body, complaining during the 2016 presidential campaign that” we get nothing out of the United Nations other than good real-estate costs “. But he has also shown himself to have a thin skin when it comes to criticism of him or his government. At a press conference launching his preliminary is present in Washington, Alston quipped about possible Trump reaction:” I’m hoping for a tweet “.

Bernie Sanders, the US senator who has led the debate on inequality, has waded into the fray. He fulfilled the UN monitor on Friday and sounded his own alarm about the future of the country.

Sanders said that as the” wealthiest country in the history of the world” the US should be providing a model in how to treat all of its citizens with dignity.” Sadly that is not the case. We are moving into 2018- we should not be living in a country with 41 million people living in poverty and so many more in extreme poverty, and nobody even talks about it .”

Alston invited Paul Ryan to meet him but was told the Republican speaker of the House was too busy.

LA resident Ressy, who is homeless. Alston will make a final report next May, which will then go before the UN human rights council. Photograph: Dan Tuffs

In his 15 -day fact-finding mission, Alston, an Australian academic and statute prof at New York University, visited Los Angeles and San Francisco, Alabama, Georgia, Puerto Rico and West Virginia, talking to low-income households as well as governmental officers. He will make a final report next May and that in turn will go before the UN human rights council.

Alston takes a strip out of the US for what he suggests are its double criteria over human rights. The Trump administration, in line with previous US governments, preaches about human rights to other countries while refusing to be bound itself by international rules.

” The US is alone among developed countries in insisting that while human rights are of fundamental importance, they do not include rights that guard against succumbing of hunger, dying from a lack of access to affordable healthcare, or growing up in a context of total deprivation. But denial does not eliminate responsibility or negate obligations .”

Alston is also scathing about the attitudes of some of the politicians and officials he fulfilled on his tour, who subscribe to what he calls the caricature of rich people as industrious and entrepreneurial and poor people as” wasters, losers and scammers “.

He writes:” Some politicians and political appointees with whom I spoke were completely sold on the narrative of such scammers sitting on comfy sofas, watching colour TVs, while surfing on their smartphones, all paid for by welfare. I wonder how many of these legislators have ever visited poor regions, let alone spoken to those who dwell there .”

At the press conference, Alston said that current US trends were undermining republic.” Democracy is the foundation stone upon which this country is construct, the contribution of which it has been most proud internationally. And yet what we see is the lowest voter turnouts in any developed world .”

He pointed to the disenfranchisement of former captives, as well as covert voter suppression endeavors such as the imposition of voter ID requirements as examples of the route the political rights of low-income people were being eroded.

Latest figures put the number of Americans living in poverty at 41 million- nearly 13% of the population. Of those, almost half( 19 million) are living in deep poverty, defined as having a total family income that is below one-half of the poverty threshold.

In a report packed with depressing proof, the UN rapporteur tries to give a positive spin to his findings, went on to say that with the wealth that abounds in the US the country is in a position to solve its poverty and inequality crisis.” The persistence of extreme poverty is a political choice make use of those in power. With political will, it could readily be eliminated .”

In a phrase that might resound around Capitol hill and the White House, Alston concludes:” The American Dream is rapidly becoming the American Illusion since the US currently has the lowest rate of social mobility of any of the rich countries .”

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Living in cars, working for Amazon: meet America’s new nomads | Jessica Bruder

Rising rents are resulting Americans to live in vehicles and other vehicles

Millions of Americans are wrestling with the impossibility of a traditional middle-class existence. In homes across the country, kitchen tables are strewn with unpaid bills. Lights burn late into the night. The same calculations get performed over and over again, through exhaustion and sometimes tears.

Wages minus grocery receipts. Minus medical bills. Minus charge card indebtednes. Minus utility fees. Minus student loan and auto pays. Minus the biggest expenditure of all: rent.

In the widening gap between credits and debits hangs a question: which bits of this life are you willing to give up, so you can keep on living?

During three years of research for my volume, Nomadland: Surviving America in The Twenty-First Century, I expended period with hundreds of people who had arrived at the same answer. They gave up traditional housing and moved into” wheel estate “: RVs, traveling trailers, vans, pickup campers, even a salvaged Prius and other sedans. For many, sacrificing some material conveniences had allowed them to survive, while reclaiming a small measure of freedom and autonomy. But that didn’t mean life on the road was easy.

My first encounter with one group of the new nomads came in 2013, at the Desert Rose RV park in Fernley, Nevada. It was populated by members of the “precariat”: temporary laborers doing short-term jobs in exchange for low wages. Its citizens were full-time wanderers who dwelled in RVs and other vehicles, though at the least one guy had only a tent to live in. Many were in their 60 s and 70 s, approaching or well into traditional retirement age. Most could not afford to stop working- or pay the rent.

There’s no clear count of how many people live nomadically in America. Photograph: Jessica Bruder

Since 2009, the year after the housing accident, groups of such workers had migrated each fall to the mobile home parks surrounding Fernley. Most had traveled hundreds of miles- and undergone the routine indignities of criminal background checks and pee-in-a-cup narcotic tests- for the chance to earn $11.50 an hour plus overtime at temporary warehouse tasks. They planned to stay through early winter, despite the fact that most of their homes on wheels weren’t designed to support life in subzero temperatures.

Their employer was Amazon.

Amazon recruited these employees as part of a program it calls CamperForce: a labor unit made up of nomads who work as seasonal employees at several of its warehouses, which the company calls” fulfillment centers “.

Along with thousands of traditional temps, they’re hired to meet the heavy shipping demands of “peak season”- the consumer bonanza that spans the three to four months before Christmas.

While other employers also seek out this nomadic workforce- the available undertakings range from campsite maintenance to selling Christmas trees and operating amusement park rides- Amazon has been the most aggressive recruiter.” Jeff Bezos has predicted that, by the year 2020, one out of every four work-campers- the RV- and vehicle-dwellers who travel the country for temporary employment- in the United States will have worked for Amazon ,” read one slide in a presentation for new hires.

Amazon doesn’t disclose precise staffing numbers to the press, but when I casually asked a CamperForce manager at an Amazon recruiting booth in Arizona about the size of the program, her calculate was some 1,400 workers.

The employees’ shiftings last 10 hours or longer, during which some walk more than 15 miles on concrete floors, stooping, squatting, reaching, and climbing stairs as they scan, sort, and box merchandise. When the vacation rush objective, Amazon no longer requires CamperForce and terminates the program’s workers. They drive away in what managers cheerfully call a” taillight parade “.

Amazon has been the most aggressive recruiter of this nomadic workforce. Photo: Jessica Bruder

The first is part of CamperForce I corresponded with at great length, over a period of months, was a man I’ll call Don Wheeler. Don had expended the last two years of his main career as a software executive, traveling to Hong Kong, Paris, Sydney and Tel Aviv.

Retiring in 2002 entail he could eventually stay in one place: the 1930 s’ Spanish colonial revival house he shared with his wife in Berkeley, California. It also devoted him time to indulge a lifelong obsession with fast cars. He bought a red-and-white Mini Cooper S and souped it up to 210 horsepower, practising until he was named third overall in the US Touring Car Championship pro series.

The fast days didn’t last.

When I started exchanging emails with Don, he was 69, divorced, and staying at the Desert Rose RV park near the warehouse in Fernley. His wife had get to keep the house. The 2008 market accident had vaporized his savings. He had been forced to sell the Mini Cooper. In his old life, he’d spent about $100,000 a year. In his new one, he learned to get by on as little as $75 a week.

By the end of the 2013 vacation season, Don anticipated he’d be working at the Amazon warehouse five nights a week until just before dawn, on overtime changes lasting 12 hours, with 30 minutes off for lunch and two 15 -minute violates. He’d spend the majority of cases on his feet, receiving and scanning inbound freight.” It’s hard work, but the money’s good ,” he explained.

Don told me that he was part of a growing phenomenon. He and most of the CamperForce- along with a broader spectrum of itinerant laborers- called themselves “workampers”. Though I’d already stumbled across that word, I’d never heard anyone define it with as much flair as Don. He wrote in a Facebook direct message to me 😛 TAGEND

Workampers are modern mobile travellers who take temporary jobs around the US in exchange for a free campsite- usually including power, water and sewer connects- and perhaps a stipend. You may think that workamping is a modern phenomenon, but we come from a long, long tradition.

We followed the Roman legions, sharpening swords and repairing armor. We roamed the new the two cities of America, fixing clocks and machines, repairing cookware, constructing stone walls for a penny a foot and all the hard cider we could drink .

We followed the emigration west in our wagons with our tools and skills, sharpening knives, fixing anything that was broken, helping clear the land, roof the cabin, plow the fields and bring in the harvest for a snack and pocket money, then moving on to the next job.

Our forebears are the tinkers. We have upgraded the tinker’s wagon to a comfortable motor coach or fifth-wheel trailer .

Mostly retired now, we have added to our repertoire the skills of a lifetime in business. We can help run your store, manage the front or back of the house, drive your trucks and forklifts, picking and pack your goods for shipment, fix your machines, coddle your computers and networks, run your beet harvest, landscape your grounds or clean your bathrooms .

We are the techno-tinkers.

Other workampers I spoke with had their own ways of describing themselves. Many said they were “retired”, even if they foresaw working well into their 70 s or 80 s. Others called themselves “travelers”, ” nomads”,” rubber hoboes”, or, wryly, “gypsies”.

Outside observers dedicated them other monikers, from” the Okies of the Great Recession” to” American refugees”,” the affluent homeless”, even” modern-day fruit tramps “.

America’s modern-day nomads show great resilience. Photograph: Jessica Bruder

There’s no clear counting of how many people live nomadically in America. Full-time travelers are a demographer’s nightmare. Statistically they blend in with the rest of the population, since the law requires them to maintain fixed- in other words, fake- addresses.

Despite a lack of hard numbers, anecdotal proof indicates the ranks of American itinerants started to boom after the housing breakdown and have kept growing.

The cause of the unmanageable household math that drives some people to become nomads is no secret.

Federal minimum wage is stalled at $7.25 an hour. The cost of shelter continues to climbing. There are now merely a dozen districts and one metro area where a full-time minimum-wage employee can afford a one-bedroom apartment at fair marketplace rent.

At the same time, the top 1% now makes 81 times more than those in the bottom half do, when you compare average earnings. For American adults on the lower half of the income ladder- some 117 million of them- earnings haven’t changed since the 1970 s.

This is not a wage gap – it’s a abys.

The most widely accepted measure for calculating income inequality is a century-old formula “ve called the” Gini coefficient. What it reveals is startling. Today the United States has the most unequal society of all developed nations. America’s level of inequality is comparable to that of Russia, China, Argentina and the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo.

And a bad as that economic situation is now, it’s likely to get worse. That constructs me wonder: what farther contortions of the social order will appear in years to come? How many people will get crushed by the system? How many will find a way to escape it?

Despite mounting pressures- including a nationwide crackdown on vehicle-dwelling- America’s modern-day nomads show great resilience. But how much of that toughness should our culture require for basic membership? And when do all the impossible choices start to tear people- a society- apart? The growing ranks of folks living on the road suggest the answer might be: much sooner than we think.

Excerpted from Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder.( c) 2017 by Jessica Bruder. Utilized with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton& Company, Inc. All rights reserved .

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If you tax the rich, they won’t leave: US data contradicts millionaires’ threats

Does raising taxes on the rich really trigger their migration to more obliging countries or countries? This survey of every million-dollar earner in the US shows otherwise

In the classic Ayn Rand novel Atlas Shrugged, the rich run” on ten-strike”- receding their services and vanishing from society in protest against taxes and regulation. Weary of carrying an ungrateful world on their shoulders, business leaders and other top income earners ultimately shrug, and leave the world without them.

The book’s metaphor inspires political rhetoric to this day: if you tax the rich, they will leave. Fluctuations on security threats are issued by well-off individuals all over the world– not least in the United States, where all the states decides its own tax policies, and periodic warnings are issued that taxes on the rich will lead to millionaire migration to more obliging US states.

When Oregon voters passed a millionaire tax in the early stages of this decade, for example, the state’s richest resident, Nike CEO Phil Knight, alerted the tax would set off a” death spiral … in which thousands of our most successful residents will leave “. As California held similar taxes, policymakers cautioned” nothing is more mobile than a millionaire and his money “. In New Jersey, governor Chris Christie simply stated:” Dames and Gentlemen, if you taxation them, they will leave .”

But does this rhetoric stand up to statistical scrutiny? To better understand upper-class migration across nation lines, I analysed tax return data regarding every million-dollar income-earner in the United States. The dataset includes 3.7 million top-earning individuals, who collectively filed more than 45 million tax returns over more than a dozen years- manifest where millionaires live and where they move to.

And it turns out that place still matters for the rich- much more so than we might gues.

Only about 2.4% of US-based millionaires change their state of mansion in a devoted year. Interstate migration is actually more common among the US middle class, and almost twice as common among its poorest residents, who have an annual interstate migration rate of 4. 5 %.

Source: US Department of the Treasury( 1999 -2 011)

While travel may be a classic” luxury good”, migration is not. Moving one’s home, life and family to a different place is largely about people who have a poor economic fit with where they live, earn below-market incomes, and are struggling to find a subsistence. Higher income earners show low migration levels because they are not searching for economic success- they’ve already received it.

When millionaires do move, they admittedly tend to favour lower-tax nations over higher-tax ones- but only marginally so. Around 15% of interstate millionaire migrations bring a net taxation advantage. The other 85% have no net tax impact for the movers.

Furthermore, almost all of the tax-migration moves are to merely one low-tax country: Florida- where low-income taxes comingle with sun, sand and palm trees. Other low-tax countries such as Texas, Tennessee and Nevada do not pick up any net tax-migration. So while some millionaires have moved to lower taxation nations over the years 1999 -2 011, the flows have been too small to change the geography of the economic elite in America.

The world view

The Forbes list of the world’s billionaires offers an international look at elite migration, and takes us higher up the food chain to the greatest corners of wealth.

Analysis of this list reveals most of the world’s billionaires- about 84%- still live in their country of birth. And among those who do live abroad, most moved to their current country of residency long before they became wealthy- either as children with their parents, or as students running abroad to analyze( and then remaining ).

Only about 5% of world billionaires moved abroad after they became successful. These people readily fit the stereotype of a” transnational capitalist class”- unplugged from their nation country, travelling the world for some combining of tax avoidance and cosmopolitan lifestyle.

Many of them can be found in London claiming “non-dom” status to avoid the tax laws of both their homeland and those that apply to British citizens. Others are located in tropical tax havens- such as Sir Richard Branson, who moved to the British Virgin Islands after becoming a billionaire.

These jet-setting billionaires generate a lot of headlines and cynicism about taxation flight. But they are anecdotal exceptions. The world’s billionaires largely live where they were born or where they began their careers. The British elite live in Britain, the Chinese upper-class live in China, and the American elite live in America. After making it on to the Forbes billionaire list, elites are actually more likely to die than to move to a different country.

Source: American Community Survey( 2005 -1 4)

Why do the rich have such low migration rates? And why is common intuition about upper-class migration so incorrect? It turns out that education is a big part of the remaining puzzle.

People with high levels of education have very high mobility- but merely for a short period after finishing their education. If you know people who have been geographically mobile, the opportunities are they have a higher-level education. However, once they have made a solid start to their career, the opportunities are also that they will not move again.

Migration is a young person’s game, and moving overwhelmingly occurs when people are starting their careers. By the time people make their early forties, PhDs, college grads and high school drop-outs all demonstrate the same low rate of migration.

Typically, millionaires are society’s highly educated at an advanced career stage. They are typically the late-career running rich: established professionals in management, finance, consulting, medication, statute and similar fields. And they have low migration because they are both socially and economically embedded in place.

In the US tax data, while most of the millionaires’ incomes come from wages and wages, a one-quarter of them also own a business. Almost all of them are wedded, and most have children at home. For all these reasons, places are sticky- it is hard to move after making a career and family in a place.

If millionaires were mostly college-going twentysomethings has still not been tied to place by career or household responsibilities, place-based income tax systems would face serious challenges. We would be trying to taxation the rich exactly when they are most mobile. But this is not the case. Typically, people make decisions about where to live virtually two decades before they hit their peak earnings.

This depicts a kind of unexpected genius behind taxes on the very highest incomes. A taxation on million-dollar income serves as an intergenerational transfer, since those who pay it are the late-career running rich: socially and economically embedded in the place.

In contrast, most of the people who are mobile- early career professionals- does not necessarily care about the” millionaire tax”, because if they ever pay it, it will be decades in the future, and only if they are wildly successful.

Millionaire tax revenues could be used to invest in things that matter to young people starting out: education, infrastructure, public service, urban amenities, quality of life. And this would help to attract and retain a gas pipeline of future top-earners, creating a virtuous taxation circle.

This is why places with highly progressive income taxes- such as New York and California- still thrive as centres for talent and elite economic success. Their policies focus on the pipeline of future top earners. They invest in what attracts mobile young professionals- quality of life- and only send them the bill if and when they achieve their highest aspirations.

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Us vs them: the sinister techniques of Othering and how to avoid them

Rapid social change causes all humans anxiety but our response to this need not be negative, despite the best efforts of our political leaders and media

We are in the midst of a rapidly changing world. More than 300 million people are currently living outside their homelands. Ethno-nationalism is on the rise- from the Rohingya people forced out of Myanmar in what many are calling the world’s latest genocide, to neo-Nazis marching through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, in an action President Trump pointedly refused to condemn.

Humans can only process a limited amount of change in a short period of time without experiencing anxiety. It’s a natural human reaction- but how we respond to that nervousnes is social.

When societies experience big and rapid change, a frequent reply is for people to narrowly define who qualifies as a full member of society- a process I call” Othering “. An alternative response is watching the change in demographics as positive, and regarding the apparent other as enhancing our life and who we are. This is what I refer to as” belonging and bridging “.

Othering is not about penchant or detesting someone. It is based on the conscious or unconscious assumption that a certain identified group poses a threat to the preferred group. It is largely driven by political leaders and the media, as opposed to personal contact. Overwhelmingly, people don’t “know” those because this is Othering.

So while today’s global nervousnes has been precipitated by globalisation, technology and a changing economy, demographics play a crucial role in the process of Othering. The attributes of who gets defined as Other was different from place to place, and can be based upon race, religion, nationality or speech. It is not these attributes themselves that are the problem, of course, but how they are made salient, and how they are manipulated.

Rohingya refugees at a makeshift shelter after fleeing violence in Myanmar. Photo: Rehman Asad/ Barcroft Images

I am therefore particularly concerned with how Othering shows up in today’s power structure: how it is used to divide and dehumanise groups, and capture and reshape government and organizations. For society’s leaders and culture play an oversized role in helping us make sense of change- and so greatly affect our responses to nervousnes.

In the United States, politicians used to engage in what scholar Ian Haney-Lopez calls” dog whistles”- they could construct references to Others but only in a coded style; never saying ” those Mexicans” or” those Muslims”, for example. President Trump, however, has opened a space where people are emboldened to be more explicit. We now have not only our nation’s leadership but many of our information networks amplifying these explicit calls to omit and dehumanise.

The rhetoric and speech coming from Trump has begun to both define and normalise Othering. This is a threat to all the things we value. When Mexicans can be called ” rapists and drug dealers” in direct contradiction to the facts, it becomes a much easier step to call for their deportation, and for a literal wall to divide us.

Exclusion and dehumanisation

The language being used by many national leaders not only activates people’s anxiety and fear around a perceived Other, it creates new procedures of exclusion and dehumanisation.

While it is common to focus only on economic changes to explain the rise of right-wing nationalists and Othering, the loss of economic power is not the only thing stirring nervousnes around the globe. Sweden is experiencing a rise of group-based patriotism, yet its economy is not suffering. Trump voters included a large number of affluent whites , not just the poor or working class.

It’s not that the economy is unimportant, it’s just that it doesn’t tell the whole story. After a number of important civil rights victories in the US in the 1960 s, the conservative upper-class strategised how to trade on smouldering white Southern rancour of these gains. With the Southern Strategy of stoking white rancor, they succeeded in remaking the Republican Party- ultimately moving government away from protecting people and towards protecting capital.

Conservative elites know how to strategically create and use fear of a perceived Other, by organising and fabricating anxiety. When Nixon began employing the term “law and order”, his popularity was cemented among a certain base because he was appealing to a specific kind of conservative white anxiety: not primarily about chores, but instead the changing social order. This was not precipitated by a specific economic downturn, yet the outcome of Nixon’s strategy was the securing of an economy rigged for the rich.

People don’t just figure out on their own that collectively they need to be afraid of another group. Leadership plays a crucial role. Often people who have been living with one another for years are made to feel abruptly that those changes have become threatening.

Richard Nixon cemented his popularity by appealing to conservative dreads about the changing social order. Photograph: Wally McNamee/ Corbis via Getty Images

The recent rhetoric around people who are undocumented in the US, many of whom have lived here for their whole lives, has created a culture of anxiety for millions, has demonised children, and has created distrust and anger in communities where none had existed before.

A friend from the deep south tells the story of her parent asking with all honesty if he should turn in to the authorities a waiter at a restaurant he suspects doesn’t have “papers”. Five years ago, such concerns wasn’t even part of his consciousness, and the same waiter had been serving him for far longer than that. Who activated that fear? A demagogue understands the power of speech and the deep ontological forces that are essential to how people experience their lives. It’s not necessary that these demagogues believe what they say.

The narratives we tell, and live, are not about facts but our values, fears and hopes- all of which, to a certain degree, are malleable. Our narrations don’t just reflect them, they also shape them. While anxiety about change is natural, Othering is not. Othering is socially and culturally constructed.

So how do we respond to our collective nervousnes today? Either we “bridge”, reaching across to other groups and towards our inherent, shared humanity and connect, while recognising that we have changes; or we “break”, pulling away from other groups and making it easier to tell and believe false stories of” us vs them”, then supporting practices that dehumanise the “them”.

Part of the solution to Othering must come from the tales we tell. As the world undergoes profound shifts, how do we construct true societies of belonging? We can look to Canada as one positive example. While it still has its difficult issues, Canada has said to its multi-racial, multi-ethnic population,” Keep your identity “. Canadians have held on to their religious and ethnic backgrounds while they also connect with others. And the far right-wing in Canada has not cracked 10%.

If we are to combat the rising tide of extremism across the globe, we must actively create bridges across change, and resist strategic exploitation of our collective anxiety. For when we bridge, we not only open up to others, we also open up to change in ourselves- and actively participate in co-creating a society to which we can all belong.

The opposite of Othering is not “saming”, it is belonging. And belonging does not insist that we are all the same. It means we recognise and celebrate our changes, in a society where” we the people” includes all the people.

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How the middle class hoards wealth and opportunity for itself

American society is dominated by an upper-class 20% that ruthlessly protects its own interests

When I was growing up, my mother would sometimes threaten my brother and me with electrocution. Well, thats not quite right. In fact, security threats was of lessons in elocution, but we wittily, we guessed renamed them.

Growing up in a very ordinary township simply north of London and attending a very ordinary high school, one of our several linguistic atrocities was failing to pronounce the t in certain words. My mom, who was raised in rural north Wales and left school at 16, did not want us to find doors closed in a class-sensitive society simply because we didnt speak what is still called the Queens English. I will never forget the look on her face when I managed to say the word computer with neither a p nor a t.

Still, the lessons never materialised. Any lingering working-class tracings in my own accent were wiped away by three disinfectant years at Oxford University.( My spouse claims the adolescent accent resurfaces when I drink, but she doesnt know what shes talking about shes American .) We also had to learn how to waltz. My mom didnt want us to put a foot incorrect there either.

In fact, we did just fine, in no small component because of the stable, loving home in which we were raised. But I have always been acutely sensitive to class distinctions and their role in perpetuating inequality. In fact, one of the reasons I came to the United States was to escape the cramped feeling of living in a nation still so dominated by class. I knew enough not to think I was moving to a socially mobile utopia: Id read some of the research. It has nonetheless gone as something of a shock to discover that, in some significant respects, the American class system is functioning more ruthlessly than the British one I escaped.

In the upper-middle-class America I now inhabit, I witness extraordinary endeavors by parents to secure an elite future status for their children: tutors, coach-and-fours and weekend lessons in everything from French to fencing. But I have never heard any of my peers try to change the style their children speak. Perhaps this is simply because they know they are surrounded by other upper-middle-class kids, so there is nothing to worry about. Perhaps it is a regional thing.

But I think there is a better explain. Americans tend to think their children will be judged by their accomplishments rather than their accents. Class position is earned, rather than simply expressed. The route to secure a higher status in a market meritocracy is by acquiring lots of merit and ensuring that our kids do, too. What ones mothers are like is wholly a matter of luck, points out the philosopher Adam Swift. But he adds: What ones children are like is not. Children raised in upper-middle-class families do well in life. As a result, there is a lot of intergenerational stickiness at the opening of the American income distribution more, in fact, than at the bottom with upper-middle-class status passed from one generation to the next.

Drawing class distinctions feels almost un-American. The nations self-image is of a classless society, one in which every individual is of equal moral worth, regardless of his or her economic status. This has been how the world insures the United States, too. Historian Alexis de Tocqueville observed in the early 19 th century that Americans were find to be more equal in luck and intelligence more equally strong, in other words than they were in any other country, or were at any other time in recorded history. So different to the countries of old Europe, still weighed down by the legacies of feudalism.

British legislators have often felt the need to advise the creation of a classless society, looking to America for inspiration as, what historian David Cannadine once called it, the pioneering and prototypical classless society. European progressives have long seemed enviously at social relations in the New world. George Orwell noted the lack of servile tradition in America; the German socialist Werner Sombart “ve noticed that” the bowing and rubbing before the upper class, which produces such an unpleasant impression in Europe, is wholly unknown.

This is one of many reasons socialist politics struggled to take root in the United States. A key attraction of socialist systems the main one, according to Orwell is the eradication of class distinctions. There were few to eradicate in America. I am sure that one reason Downton Abbey and The Crown so delight American audiences is their depictions of an alien world of class-based status. One reason class distinctions are less obvious in America is that pretty much everyone defines themselves as the states members of the same class: the one in the middle. Nine in ten adults select the label middle class, exactly the same proportion as in 1939, according to the pollsters Gallup. No wonder that legislators have always fallen over one another to be on their side.

But in recent decades Americans at the top of the ladder have been entrenching their class stance. The convenient fiction that the middle class can stretch up that far has become a difficult one to sustain. As a result, the modifications upper or lower to the general middle class category have become more important.

Class is not just about money, though it is about that. The class gap can be seen from every slant: education, security, family, health, you name it. There will also be inequalities on each of these dimensions, of course. But inequality becomes class division when all these varied elements money, education, wealth, occupation cluster together so tightly that, in practice, almost any one of them will suffice from the operation of class definition. Class division becomes class stratification when these advantages and thus status endure across generations. In fact, upper-middle-class status is passed down to the next generation more effectively than in the past, and in the United States more than in other countries.

One benefit of the multidimensional nature of this separation is that it has reduced interdisciplinary bickering over how to define class. While economists typically focus on categorisation by income and wealth, and sociologists tend more towards occupational status and education, and anthropologists are typically more interested in culture and norms, right now it doesnt truly matter, because all the trends are running the same way.

It is not just the top 1% pulling away, but the top 20%. In fact, only a small proportion of US adults 1% to 2% define themselves as upper class. A significant minority about one in seven adopts the upper middle class description. This is quite similar to the estimates of class size generated by most sociologists, who tend to define the upper middle class as one composed of professionals and administrators, or around 15% to 20% of the working-age population.

As David Azerrad of the Heritage Foundation writes: There is little appetite in America for public policies that significantly restrict the ability of parents to do all they can, within the bounds of the law, to give their children every advantage in life. That is certainly true. But then Azerrad has also mis-stated their own problems. No one sensible is in favour of new public policies that block mothers from doing the best they can for their children. Even in France the suggestion floated by the former chairperson, Franois Hollande, to restore equality by banning homework, on the grounds that parents is different than their ability and willingness to help out, was laughed out of tribunal. But we should want to get rid of policies that allow mothers to give their children an unjust advantage and in the process curtail the opportunities of others.

Most of us want to do our best for most children. Wanting ones childrens life to go well is part of what it means to love them, write philosophers Harry Brighouse and Adam Swift in their 2014 book Family Values: The Ethics of Parent-Child Relationships . But our natural preference for the welfare and prospects of our own children does not automatically eclipse other moral asserts. We would look kindly on a parent who helps his son get picked as starting pitcher for his school baseball team by practising with him every day after work. But we would probably feel differently about a father who procures the slot for his son by bribing the coach-and-four. Why? After all, each parent has sacrificed something, time in one case, fund in the other, to advance his child. The difference is team selection should be based on merit , not money. A principle of fairness is at stake.

So, where is the line describe? The best philosophical treatment of this question I have found is the one by Swift and Brighouse. Their suggestion is that, while mothers have every right to act in ways that will help their childrens lives go well, they do not have the right to bestow on them a competitive advantage in other words, to ensure not just that they do well but that they do better than others. This is because, in a society with finite rewards, improving the situation of one child inevitably worsens that of another, at the least in relative terms: Whatever parents do to confer competitive advantage is not neutral in its effects on other children it does not leave untouched, but instead is detrimental to, those other childrens prospects in the rivalry for jobs and associated rewards.

The trouble is that in the real world this seems like a distinction without a difference. What they call competitive advantage-conferring parental activities will almost always be also helping-your-kid-flourish parental activities. If I read bedtime narratives to my son, he will develop a richer vocabulary and may learn to love reading and have a more interesting and fulfilling life. But it could also assistance him get better grades than his classmates, dedicating him a competitive advantage in college admissions. Swift and Brighouse suggest a mother should not even aim to give their child a competitive advantage: It would be a little odd, perhaps even a little creepy, if the ultimate aim of her endeavours were that her child is better off than others.

I think this is too harsh. In a society with a largely open, competitive labour market, it is not creepy to want your children to end up higher on the earnings ladder than others. Not only will this bring them a higher income, and all the accompanying choices and security, it is also likely to bring them safer and more interesting run. Relative position matters it is one reason, after all, that relative mobility is of such fear to policymakers. Although I think Brighouse and Swift go too far, they are on to something important with their distinction between the kind of parental behaviour that merely helps your own children and the kind that is detrimental to others. Thats what I call possibility hoarding.

Opportunity hoarding does not is a consequence of the workings of a large machine but from the cumulative effect of individual choices and predilections. Taken in isolation, they may feeling trivial: nudging your daughter into a better college with a legacy preference[ devoting applicants places on the basis of being related to alumni of the college ]; helping the son of a professional contact to an internship; a single vote on a two municipal councils to retain low-density zoning limiteds. But, like many micro-preferences, to borrow a term from economist Thomas Schelling, they can have strong consequences on overall culture and collective outcomes.

Over recent decades, institutions that once primarily served racist objectives legacy admissions to keep out Jewish students, zoning statutes to keep out black households have not been abandoned but have been softened , normalised and subtly re-purposed to help us sustain the upper-middle-class status. They remain, then, barriers to a more open, more genuinely competitive and fairer society. I wont insult your intelligence by pretending there are no costs here. By definition, reducing possibility hoarding will mean some loss for the upper middle class.

But they will be small. Our neighborhoods will be a little less upmarket but also less boring. Our children will rub shoulders with some poorer kids in the school passageway. They might not creak into an Ivy League college, and they may have to be content going to an excellent public university. But if we arent willing to entertain even these sacrifices, there is little hope. There will be some material costs, too. The big challenge is to equalise opportunities to acquire human capital and therefore increase the number of true competitors in the labour market. This will require, among other things, some increased public investment. Where will the money come from? It cant all come from the super-rich. Much of it will have to come from the upper middle class. From me and you.

This is an extract from Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That is a Problem, and What To Do About It by Richard V Reeves( Brookings Institution Press, 2017)


As mothers, we naturally want our children to flourish. But that laudable passion slides into opportunity hoarding when we use our money, power or position to give our own children exclusive access to certain goods or chances. The effect is to strengthen class barriers.

1. Fix an internship use our networks. Internships are becoming more important but are too often stitched up privately. Its worse if theyre unpaid. Instead: insist on paid internships, openly recruited.

2. Take our own kids to work for the day. Children learn what work is from adults. Instead: try bringing somebody elses kid to run, perhaps by partnering with local charities.

3. Be a Nimby . By shutting out low-income housing from our neighbourhoods with planning regulations, we maintain less affluent kids away from our local schools and communities. Instead: be a Yimby, referendum and argue for more mixed housing in your area.

4. Write cheques to PTA monies . Many of us want to support the school our children attend. This tilts the playing field, however, since other schools cant do the same. Instead: get your PTA to give half the donations to local schools in a poor area.

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