Richard spent Black Friday at a Jacksonville, Florida Toys ‘R’ Us and wrote a good story about how Black Friday is changing for the Florida Times-Union. On his Twitter account he reported that he was amazed at how little the store layout had changed from the last time he went to Toys ‘R’ Us as a kid.
The mention of Toys ‘R’ Us made my skin crawl and brought back some memories — all of them unpleasant. I absolutely hated going to that store — in our case, the outlet near the intersection of Sawmill Road and 161 in northwest Columbus — and ‘m not sure exactly why. Maybe it was the greedy, screaming kids who always seemed to be found there in terrible abundance. Maybe it was the fact that all of the products for sale seemed cheaply made and grossly overpriced. Maybe it was our bad luck in always getting a shopping cart with a broken wheel that stopped rotating when we were on aisle 3.
When you are a parent, you go through a number of rites of passage with your kids — some good, some bad. When Richard and Russell were past the age when they wanted toys, and we were blissfully relieved of the need to every again go to a Toys ‘R’ Us, it was a milestone worth celebrating.
An economics professor at the University of California Davis has crunched some numbers and concluded that the American Dream is a myth.
In fact, Professor Gregory Clark’s review of the data concludes that there has been no more social mobility in America over the past 100 years than there was in medieval England or pre-industrial Sweden. Hard work, education, seizing opportunity, and saving doesn’t make a difference, he says. Instead, the socioeconomic status of your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will be closely related to your status.
Professor Clark’s students apparently are skeptical of his data — how did he get it, how did he analyze it, and did he manipulate it? — and his conclusions. So am I. The reason for the skepticism is that many American families have featured living examples of the American Dream who lifted themselves up by their bootstraps and radically changed their circumstances.
In our immediate family I can think of at least two: my grandfather, who was born into a Kentucky hill family so poor he was thrilled to get a single orange for Christmas, moved to Akron because there were jobs there, took a messenger job with a bank, rose through the ranks, and retired 55 years later as the bank’s president and chairman of the board; and my father, who made it through law school without buying a book because he couldn’t afford it, had a facility for numbers, and achieved great success as a businessman that allowed him to retire at an early age. I don’t care what Professor Clark’s numbers say — I know from direct family history that America is truly the Land of Opportunity.
Professor Clark seems to think he is some economics truth-teller who is bursting the bubbles of his students. He isn’t, because family example is far more meaningful and real than an economics professor and his dusty statistics. The American Dream is powerful precisely because we know it has happened. It sounds like Professor Clark could stand to do some dreaming himself.