Robert Putnam, author of the unfalsifiable big-think text Bowling Alone, told Maclean’s last week that “America is moving toward a caste society.” His next book is called Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, which sounds pretty exciting if you, like me, are obsessed with the question of whether life in America is easier or harder than it was 30 years ago. In this case, “easier” means “more fair.” I think we can agree that in the ideal America, the decisions an individual makes would be more important to the course of her life than the circumstances of her birth. Getting born to two married, upper-class parents is difficult to pull off, and we should probably offer a second chance to the kids who blow this crucial first choice.
“I don’t see myself as a man of great wealth,” says Arizona representative and millionaire Ed Pastor in this article from the Times. “To say that I’m enjoying a millionaire’s lifestyle—well, I can tell you, I guess a millionaire’s income doesn’t go very far these days.” He’d be surprised what it’s like to be a thousandaire. The median income for Americans not elected to Congress sits around $31,000 a year. Net worth—assets minus debt, which means house minus loans for a lot of people and World of Warcraft character minus rent for the rest of us—medians at $100,000, and it’s dropping. Even the richest 10% of Americans have stagnated since George Bush Jr. vied for the presidency against John Kerry, and the overall net worth of Americans has dropped eight percent. Yet over the same period, the median worth of a member of Congress has increased 15%. That seems like a troubling indicator.