The idea of this book is to present statistical research showing increasing division of America into classes of people with unequal opportunities and support this research with real live stories from lives of people belonging to different classes in order to demonstrate that this separation is relatively new phenomenon practically unknown in America of 1950s and 1960s. Author believes that this process is very unhealthy for wellbeing of the society and threatens not only to economic development, but also to democratic political system.
Chapter I: THE AMERICAN DREAM: MYTHS AND REALHTIES
This chapter starts with author’s recollection of his high school town in Port Clinton Ohio and brief review of several live stories of his classmates some of them from rich and some from poor families. This review demonstrates one of the main points of this book that America of 1950s provided clear path to success as achievement of solid middle class live for everybody, providing they worked hard and played by the rules. After that author compares it with similar lives of people in XXI century and concludes that it is not the case anymore because country clearly divided into rich and poor with poor having very little chance to improve their lives. He provides comparative maps for this town showing that instead of mixing rich as it used to be in 1950s, poor moved to separate place geographically:
He traces this separation to income inequality, which is highly correlated with education and family structure:
Chapter 2: FAMILIES
In this chapter author uses another small town Bend, Oregon to discuss changes in family structures demonstrating that sexual revolution destroyed family structures of uneducated people, but did not have such impact on family structures of educated people, creating huge difference in lives of children whose chances for good live are dramatically decreasing without support of strong families. Here are data provided for children in complete families depending on education of parents:
Chapter 3: PARENTING
This chapter is a very interesting review of differences between parenting of educated and successful versus uneducated and unsuccessful. The graphs provided demonstrate that educated parents raise children in traditions of American culture with high value put on self-reliance and self-control, while uneducated poor transfer values of welfare state: obedience and external control by authority figures:
Chapter 4: SCHOOLING
This chapter is about education with explicit assumption that higher education means higher income and better life. It includes comparison of two high schools on of them rich and another poor:
Interesting fact is that money per student are pretty much the same, teacher per student ratio is the same, quality of teachers also the same, but outputs are dramatically different. This difference is persistent throughout total range of educational achievement indicating its dependence on family:
Chapter 5: COMMUNITY
This chapter looks at another parameter: social network outside of family and quality of this network with inescapable inference that it also has significant impact on outcome:
Chapter 6: WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
This is discussion about causes and recommendation and author seems to believe that one of the most important is separation of classes into different communities that do not communicate with each other and do not know how other part lives. Author is making case that it results in unequal opportunity and that this situation has do be fixed because it represents problem for economic development and for democracy itself, besides it is moral obligation of upper classes. Author provides list of areas and what he believes should be done in each of them.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I believe that process of country breaking down is well underway and could not be stopped without significant changes in the whole way of how we create and allocate resources. America of 1950s become much more egalitarian country than it was at the beginning of XX century due to two very special circumstances. One was ongoing process of substitution of plutocrats by bureaucrats as main force of society when plutocrats were on the way down in their ability to grab wealth, while bureaucrats still were on their way up in such ability so both these groups were somewhere above middle class, but not to such extent as it was before 1930 for plutocracy when government intervention was small and after 1960s for bureaucracy when government intervention become huge. Another one was the fact that Europe and world was practically in ruins after WWII and everybody everywhere desperately needed everything, so America, being untouched by destruction, had very good jobs for everybody who wanted to work and did not have or need welfare state for people who did not want to. Both these circumstances are long gone. Bureaucrats are firmly in control of government, which in turn is in control of just about everything with plutocrats playing just supporting secondary role. Plus the world expanded dramatically with free trade and dissolution of socialist model, bringing in huge amounts of cheap labor and pushing out of productive activities uncompetitive low skills Americans to such extent that their children find themselves in isolated communities with environment not conductive for skills acquisition. The key to solution would be such change in the system that would provide people with additional resources directly linked to their effort so the way up would be unimpeded. The current welfare state that provide resources independently of effort is bound to fail because humans are not animals and need much more than food and protection from elements.