The Strange Logic of the Overclass

Financial advisor Mike Donahue whines in the WSJ: “I have more than most only because I’ve worked harder than most and because I am a saver.”

I find it literally shocking that people say things like this. And I always go back to the case of the Salvadoran guys who moved all my furniture into my current apartment. I certainly make more money than those guys. But whether or not I work longer hours than they do (which is definitely possible, I work pretty long hours), you’d have to be clinically insane to think that writing my blog entails working harder than they do. In the real world, the reason I earn more than Salvadoran movers is the same as the reason I work less hard—I have more valuable skills, and people with valuable skills can demand both more money and cushier working conditions. But it’s not as if those guys were too lazy to become American political pundits, they were born in El Salvador in the middle of a civil war and never had a chance to obtain the relevant skills.

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It’s great that America is the kind of country where a poor Salvadoran can come and, through hard work, obtain a higher standard of living than would have been possible in his home country. That’s an important part of what America is all about. But it’s almost the reverse of being a country where socioeconomic outcomes are determined entirely—or even mostly—by differentials in how hard people work. The reality, depicted above, is that there’s relatively little social mobility in the United States, since when the rungs on the ladder are so far apart it’s difficult to overtake the people who are closer to the top.