THE CLASH: Inherit social class, true or false?

Point: Differences determine social class


Of all the rhetoric propagated within political discourse, the appeal to the ‘middle class’ seems to be the most universal. This is likely due to the meritocratic association between the concept of ‘middle class’ and the “American Dream’ present in the American consciousness.
Most Americans believe everyone should have an opportunity to achieve success in their life through hard work and intelligence, regardless of their beginnings. However, according to a recent study by the Brookings Institute, most Americans favor increasing the equity of opportunity for economic success rather than actually increasing income equality.
Unfortunately, the opportunities for success are far from fair and the social class a person is born into severely impacts their opportunity for achieving success in life. The aforementioned study notes that in 2012 the chances of a rich child achieving middle class or higher standing in the U.S. is more than twice that of a poor child. On top of that, a child born into the lowest income quintile has only a 40 percent chance of attaining middle class status by mid-life as opposed to 75 percent for a child born into the middle class.
Social class may not be an overt determinant of one’s future success like it is in India where the social caste one is born into is the caste they will die in, but it is indicative of the structural impediments that are weaved into the very fabric of American society.
A comparison of Detroit with Rochester exemplifies how these impediments function. A child born in Detroit will most likely only be able to attend Detroit Public Schools, one of the worst school districts in the country on a continual basis. A child born in Rochester has the opportunity to attend Rochester Community Schools, a substantially better-funded district.
An adolescent in Detroit has limited-to-no opportunities for legitimate work in the city. An adolescent in Rochester can find employment on almost any corner. A high school graduate in Detroit averages a 15 on the ACT, while a high school graduate in Rochester averages a 22.7. Clearly, the relative social classes consistent with each of these places of residency either have a limiting or enabling effect on the set of opportunities available to the people born there.
Diligence and ingenuity as guaranteed means of social mobility are the exception rather than the rule in America. Social class is capitalism’s greatest guarantee.
Counter-point: Individuals decide destinies
Layers in a steel cake. Trapped in a system from which there is small chance of freedom. Helpless against vague yet all-powerful forces which keep us enslaved. Such are the attitudes of those who believe that the so-called “lower class” is “held back” by the evil might of the “upper class”. Such an attitude is completely incorrect and harmful to the greater structure of society.
Before refuting the point made by my colleague, it is necessary to have a disclaimer. The arguments regarding social class are not completely unfounded. In most of the world, and in Europe, from whence our pilgrim forefathers came, social class is an ever-present reality and a societal evil. Where you are born is where you will stay, period. There were those who tried to implement this same system in America during the time of the Industrial Revolution. However, because of the actions of concerned citizens, this threat was curtailed.
The basic argument in my colleague’s paper was that the statistical probability of a rich kid staying rich is far greater than that of a poor kid getting rich. The article then continued on to say that this difference was “indicative of the structural impediments that are weaved [sic] into thevery fabric of American society.” In other words, social class.
(As a side note, it is amazing how these “classes” are designated. When we are born, so the theory goes, we are mysteriously branded: “You belong to the upper class. You belong to the lower class. You belong to the middle class.” I’ve even heard that there are now subdivisions: “You belong to the lower middle class. You belong to the upper upper class. You belong to the fourth percentile of the sub-branch of the lowest middle class section of half-Irish Pacific Islanders with 2 grandparents from Zimbabwe.”)
However they are assigned, all Americans, so the theory goes, are in a social class of some level.
However, this argument is fallacious. It would be like if someone said that a fish born in the Pacific is more likely to live in the Pacific than a fish born in the Atlantic. Well, true, but so what? It is utterly false to declare that because some people are poor and others rich, there is a class structure set up by the rich to oppress the poor.
A person born in poverty can become fabulously rich. It just might take more work.
Examples, to name a very few: a college dropout becomes the founder of a multi-billion dollar company (Steve Jobs). A social worker from nowhere becomes President of the United States (Barack Obama). A Hispanic with parents from the slums of Cuba becomes a U.S. Senator and 2016 presidential contender (Marco Rubio). A kid from inner-city Detroit becomes a world-famous surgeon and speaker (Ben Carson).
To argue that we should change the system is to declare that it is unfair that you and I are born to different parents. In that case, the only way to have true, unadulterated, complete “equality”, as it is so called, is if we were all born with the same gender at the same time to the same parents in the same country with the same background with the same genetic structure.
In short, then, the argument that social class exists because there are differences in society is baseless. Our “status” (what a disgusting, discriminatory term) in society is not determined by our parents. It is not determined by our environment. It is determined by our own individual actions. It is choices, not chances, that define the individual.
What are your thoughts?