The only thing we seem to believe in anymore isfreedom.Freedom has become the be-all and the end-all of our political expectation, the full meaning of the American experiment.Justice is gone, and even more conspicuously banished is that term of terms for movements from abolitionism to feminism, for Lincoln and King:equality.
Tony has been presented as another George Orwell. This is wrong, because while both were enormously gifted and profoundly polemical, they were very different. Tony lacked Orwells combination of prejudices, forward and backward-looking Old Testament prophecy and imaginative denunciation he could never have written1984orAnimal Farm. And Orwell, the more powerful writer, had neither Tonys remarkable range of knowledge, nor his wit, intellectual speed and manoeuvrability: there is no way he could have doubled as an academic.
Even if you think that all a good society requires isaccording to the debatable conservative mantraequal opportunity for every citizen, you ought to be a little shaken right now. Opportunity is increasingly tied to education, and educational performance is tied to income and wealth. When it comes to social mobility between generations, the United States ranks near the bottom of developed nations.
Academics have been studying income distribution for a century; the National Bureau of Economic Research was founded with the avowed purpose of producing objective, non-ideological research on this topic. America's ruling class used to worry quite a lot about income inequality because it feared it might lead to the radical overthrow of the U.S. government. When it discovered, in recent decades, that all growing income inequality did was boost sales of crystal meth, increase out-of-wedlock pregnancies, and lead to a variety of other self-destructive behaviors on the part of an ever-more-despairing working class that no longer had much of a labor movement to defend its interests, the plutocrats lost interest in the subject.
About the Author
Matthew Boudway is an associate editor of Commonweal.