Horatio Alger Lives!

David Brooks outlines the “human capital agenda,” which has to be the least catchy name for a political ideology ever:

[P]olitically, a human capital agenda exploits the divisions between liberal populists and independents. Liberal populists, about 26 percent of the country, believe in redistribution policies. Conservatives and independents do not. Liberal populists believe the global economy is so broken all the benefits of it go to the top 0.01 percent. Independents and conservatives observe that hard work still leads to success. Liberals emphasize inequality. Moderates and conservatives believe inequality is acceptable so long as there is opportunity.

The belief assigned to liberal populists about the distribution of the global economy’s benefits is a complete and utter stray man, and Brooks knows it. Obviously, no one thinks that all the benefits of globalization go to the top 0.01%, which, for the record, is about 30,000 people. However, everyone who is not a total hack knows that it’s an empirical fact that the divide between the rich and poor is at its highest level since these things began being measured.
But what surprised me more was the “independent and conservative” counterpoint to this. These groups believe that “hard work still leads to success”? Really? They’re that delusional? Because to believe that the US is, or ever has been, some kind of Horatio Alger novel is very, very delusional. Moreover, as the LSE study shows, these groups explicitly oppose social democratic policies that, as implemented in Scandinavia, result in far, far greater social mobility than exists in the US.
I usually at least respect Brooks, but here he’s just plain incoherent.

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