Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Richard Delgado (Pittsburgh) has published The Myth of Upward Mobility, 68 U. Pitt. L. Rev. 879 (2007) (reviewing Michael J. Graetz & Ian Shapiro, Death by a Thousand Cuts: The Fight over Taxing Inherited Wealth (Princeton University Press, 2005), & Charles Murray, In Our Hands: A Plan to Replace the Welfare State (American Enterprise Institute Press, 2006)). Here is the Conclusion:
Joseph Campbell and others have argued that a society's myths say much about it and are important ways it organizes its business. With upward mobility, society needs a better myth. The current one is dysfunctional -- individualistic, unrealistic, and prone to promise more than it can deliver. Descriptively, or even aspirationally, it lacks any mooring in our current circumstances.
American society, and especially ordinary workers, would do better to substitute a new narrative -- that of working-class solidarity -- for the current version that does such mischief. An emphasis on working class solidarity would assure steady group progress and would include such aims as better education, stronger unions, better occupational health and safety requirements, a higher minimum wage, and a safety net of services, including health care, for those who need them. It would seek changes that would benefit everyone, substituting genuine progress for mythical dreams or misnamed TV shows that do not depict reality at all.
It would capture the teaching of Graetz and Shapiro that dreams do not happen merely because we desire them, but require work, vigilance, and resistance to false rhetoric. The new myth would reject simplistic remedies such as Murray's flat-grant solution, substituting programs that rekindle hope, inspire community, and do not dissipate our national treasure in trivial ways that have little chance of making a lasting contribution to the fair and just society that we aspire to be.