Thinking Aloud: Equal Opportunity

As I mentioned recently, I follow politics. Usually to the detriment of my blood pressure.

And here’s the epiphany I had yesterday as I was driving home (I have a lot of drive-time epiphanies): I don’t really understand how Republicans expect — if they expect — to close the humongous gap between poor people and rich people. The middle class is shrinking, and I just don’t understand how Republicans propose to end that. If they even care.

Truth be told, I’m not 100% sure how the Democrats propose to close this gap decisively in the long-term either (or if *they* care). I am in the camp (is there a camp?) that firmly believes that government aid is an unsustainable solution in the long term.

Anyhoo, here’s where my mind went:

To Michael.

Let’s do a comparison of Michael and, say, two other babies born in America on December 1, 2010.

The other two babies are, for the purposes of this exercise, an African American boy and an Hispanic girl.

Michael is the son of two white, college educated, married people. We are in the still viable middle class, although, as much of the still-viable middle class, rather in debt. Some of the debt is good (i.e. a mortgage we can afford); some not so good (but shrinking — i.e. credit card debt). We are currently employed; we have employer-subsidized health care; we are sending our children to private school. Seems to me, Michael has some pretty good prospects ahead of him, due to no more than his situation at birth.

(I realize that this could all change, literally in a heartbeat, and the way we raise our son — so that he stays healthy, doesn’t choose to do drugs, doesn’t have a child out of wedlock, etc. — will all factor in as Michael gets older. That is, how our choices and Michael’s choices will factor into whether or not he continues to thrive, and even possibly becomes wealthy, is still a crap shoot. But the baseline is fairly solid, I’m thinking.)

Now, the other two babies in this hypothetical situation, by simple dint of their births, may not be on the middle class baseline. Maybe our African American boy is born to a single mother already living on social aid. Maybe she is working three jobs to provide for her child or children — at least so they can be fed and clothed. She’s not there to help with homework; she’s depending on the public school system to educate her child, etc., etc. Totally different situation from Michael’s.

And our girl. Maybe she’s the child of immigrants, illegal or otherwise. Maybe her parents are married, but live below the poverty line because of their immigrant status.

So, it seems to me these other babies start off at a disadvantage.

What — if anything — equalizes those disadvantages? As much as I would love to believe the myth of “hard work” alone and “pulling oneself up by his/her bootstraps”, I have my doubts. Michael’s education, if we are able to continue to send him to private school in a safe neighborhood (knock on wood) is going to be better. (Feel free to argue this point, respectively of course — I’m not trying to assert anything, I’m really trying to explore the question.) By seeing the examples that we, his parents, provide for him, he is likely to be a hard worker, loving and respectful toward others, and, probably, religious.

There are other advantages, too, like those of genetics, those of environment. If Michael gets sick, we don’t have to worry about taking him to the doctor. I mean, we just consented to have ear tube surgery — right there, he’s got an advantage over a poor, Hispanic girl who also may be plagued with ear infections, but unable to get the treatment that will stop them and, in the long run, contribute to successful language development and learning.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea, right? How do these children end up in the middle class, or end up wealthy, as business owners for example? From where Michael starts, it seems like a not-difficult climb to me. But for these other two babies… I don’t know, I have my doubts about the obstacles they may have to face through no fault of their own.

I no more want a governmental nanny than I want anarchy. From where I am standing, Republican policies look cruel, and Democratic policies look naive (or idealistic). But neither set looks particularly helpful to those other two babies, and potentially none of them is good in the long run for all three.