Horatio Alger Matters
The traditional—or at least doctrinaire—response of conservatives and libertarians to the phenomenon of income inequality has been, “So what?” The common attitude of many on the Right is that, in a free-market economy, individual differences in ability, skill, and effort will lead to inequality of income. James Madison summed up the sentiment nicely in Federalist 10 when he stated that the “first object of Government” consists of “the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property,” which “immediately results” in “the possession of different degrees and kinds of property.” In a free society, it is often believed that unequal results are inevitable—for some, even desirable.
Charles Murray challenged the sanguinity of that position in his 2012 book Coming Apart, which documented a large and growing wealth gap between America’s highly educated elites and the blue collar workers who formerly comprised the middle class. Even more troubling than the yawning economic chasm was Murray’s depiction of the accompanying cultural decay among working class whites, reflected in their rising display of the illegitimacy, unemployment, criminality, and drug use that burden the black underclass in this country. Over the past 50 years, our society has become highly stratified, and the trends Murray identified in the “new lower class” four years ago have only gotten worse.
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