Media Shocker: You Are Not Upwardly Mobile

Harvard academics being studied by ordinary people.

Harvard academics being studied by ordinary people.

The American media has been shocked by the latest study out from the Equality of Opportunity Project at Harvard which examines social mobility in the United States on a 40 year timeline. Stunned and confused journalists are trumpeting the finding that social mobility “hasn’t changed” in the past 40 years despite the massive economic inequality that exists today in the U$A.The news, however, is no surprise to ordinary people and those who are not lost in jingoist nostalgia for the better times of the racist, sexist, homophobic, oppressively hazy days of the 1970s.

Journalists themselves belong to a peculiar caste in American society. As the most intellectually-challenged members of the intellectual bourgeoisie, they think positively of their country in the past tense, if not the present. Things are bad now, so they must have been better 40 years ago, when the average person just had a high school diploma, and being black or female or gay meant you might as well emigrate or start protesting in the streets. This view is characteristic of their profession, which supposes to require a liberal arts degree but does not technically require actual comprehension of history, politics, or culture. Or literacy.

Some older journalists who have yet to succumb to full dementia, such as the undead who host the PBS Newshour, vaguely recall that opportunities have increased for a number of social groups in the United States since 1970. In occasional lucid moments away from the teleprompter, however, these ancient mummies are now becoming aware that a decrease in social oppression does not equate to an increase in economic egalitarianism.

Which basically amounts to a loss.

JEFFREY BROWN:I mean, first of all, is it a glass half-full or half-empty situation?  How do you look at the problem that we have today?

RAJ CHETTY:  Well, I think you shouldn’t interpret the lack of a decline in upward mobility as good news, in the sense that intergenerational mobility in the U.S., social mobility, is lower than virtually any other developed country for which we currently have data.

And so the way to think about this is that upward mobility is quite low, unfortunately, on average in the U.S., and it has remained — it’s been persistently low for the past few decades.  And so, in that sense, I think it’s still an important and urgent policy priority to focus on identifying ways of improving upward mobility.

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/business/jan-june14/mobility_01-24.html

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Prohibition and Prejudice: Demonization of the Drug User

After I quit methadone, people began to treat me like a different person. I unwittingly transcended the untouchable caste of the junky and became accepted as a normal member of this society that so conveniently allows for reinvention. I might as well have been a black man who turned white overnight.

Anti-Mexican racism contributed to the criminalization of cannabis

Anti-Mexican racism contributed to the criminalization of cannabis

Drug users are among the untouchables of the American class system, the melting pot’s social cousins of the Dalit of India, the Romani of Europe and the Burakumin of Japan. In America, like most places, you are treated more or less like a pariah for being on methadone maintenance. Years of negative drug tests will only make you seem to most people a somewhat more trustworthy and less repulsive specimen of your untouchable caste. Get your methadone prescription from a doctor, take the medication for pain (instead of requiring it to be able to function), and miraculously you are considered a normal human being.

Anti-Chinese racism was largely responsible for the criminalization of opiates.

Anti-Chinese racism was largely responsible for the criminalization of opiates.

I quit methadone a long time ago because I was sick of the discriminatory regulations and travel restrictions. I developed medical problems soon after–problems unrelated to methadone or withdrawal. I didn’t know it at the time, but methadone had alleviated the symptoms and functioned as a therapeutic treatment. Now I have to suffer the irony of doctors forever congratulating me for discontinuing the only medication that relieved symptoms they are trying, with little success, to address with drugs and surgeries that are objectively no better, and often worse than being on methadone.

Not many people are aware that opiates treat conditions other than pain, but as late as the 19th century opium was as widely used as aspirin is today. The public today is encouraged to believe the 19th century opium cure-all was quackery. This is a convenient lie that even most doctors believe. Of course, most doctors alive today have very little understanding of opiates. Like most people, they are prejudiced against their use.

Drug prohibition was founded on prejudice. San Francisco enacted the first U.S. opium ban in 1875, motivated by anti-Chinese xenophobia and racism. Similar laws were passed around the world for similar reasons, often by governments and groups with ulterior motives. Before Harry Anslinger demonized cannabis in Hearst newspapers with scare stories about African Americans raping white women, southwestern states were targeting “marihuana” smoking Mexican immigrants. Japan’s right wing government outlawed the same drug when confronted by a red scare and widespread left wing student protests. Many of the students used marijuana, which became a convenient cause for their arrests.

Naturally, these prejudices against targeted groups expanded to include drug users in general. The use of prohibited drugs became synonymous with belonging to a despised race or subculture. Soon, the idea of drugs—the excuse to demonize—became entangled with the act of using the drug, and thus began the demonization of the drug user in general.