Whenever I read David Brooks talk about how we need to worry about social mobility because inequality is “divisive” or whatever, I forget that his job is to be super cereal.
America’s youngest female billionaire didn’t build an empire, but instead did what many American billionaires do: Lynsi Torres was born into the right family. Her grandfather founded In-N-Out Burger in 1948, and in 2010 she became the president. When she turns 35, she’ll become full owner.
In America, where you end up is increasingly tied not to your own drive, talents, and perseverance, but to being born with the right last name. While Torres is the most extreme example of this trend, her experience is far from unique — where you grew up and to whom you were born have big implications for socioeconomic mobility.
Torres has also had some marital issues. The Huffington Post reports that the 31-year-old is on her third marriage and pays $19,000 per month in child support to one of her ex-husbands. It would be boorish, of course, to bring up Torres’s marriages, except this is exactly how 1%-loving right-wingers like David Brooks explain the increase in inequality: “I’d say today’s meritocratic elites achieve and preserve their status not mainly by being corrupt but mainly by being ambitious and disciplined. They raise their kids in organized families…” (Brooks is currently going through a divorce). For thee, not me, says Brooks.
AP/Nam Y. Huh
In truth, the increase in inequality is due to a series of policy choices taken (union-busting, globalization, tax cuts) or not taken (increasing the minimum wage, mandating parental leave, establishing universal healthcare, regulating the financial industry). It happens that as families struggle they find themselves in financial hardship, which frays marriages and encourages debt. As I’ve argued elsewhere, almost every social or cultural factor blamed for the plight of the middle-class is directly attributable to the plight we created as a society through political choices.
People who are born rich tend to stay rich. They benefit from parental connections, parental investment, and favorable laws which they help craft and maintain through their influence. James Truslow Adams defined the American Dream thusly: “Each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”
And yet in our society, you are better off being born rich and dumb than poor and smart. For the middle class, any hardship (medical bills) or bad decision (credit card debt) are multiplied manifold. For the wealthy, it’s no problem.