Much attention has been given to the fact that Melania Trump, or her handlers, couldn’t come up with an original speech for her to endorse her husband at the Republicans’ nominating convention. Instead she/they lifted shamelessly from a speech given on the same occasion, at the Democrat convention, by Michelle Obama eight years ago. The unfortunate Mrs. Trump has come in for a great deal of ridicule. A plagiarism blame game has ensued.
But this all seems to miss the point. Lazy plagiarism is embarrassing, whoever was responsible. But the real problem is the content of the hackneyed, recycled phrases, and in particular:
Because we want our children <MO: all the children> in this nation to know that the only limit to <MO: the height of > your achievements is the strength <MO: reach> of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.
No children, least of all in the US should “know” this, because it is Disneyesque pap, at odds with what we know about socio-economic outcomes in our societies, and the US in particular. The happenstance of birth dictates outcomes later in life to a very considerable extent in all modern societies. It does so to a markedly greater extent in the US than in other countries. And the extent to which such “socio-economic determinism” is decisive appears to have increased markedly in recent years.
These facts could be illustrated with any number of statistics, but to keep it simple, the (inappropriately titled) Great Gatsby Curve shows a clear positive correlation between the extent of inequality (the current Gini coefficient) and the degree of intergenerational immobility in socio-economic outcomes. Among the OECD countries the US comes “top” on both measures.
This is a correlation across countries, and does not necessarily imply that rising inequality in a country raises intergenerational immobility. However, there are good reasons to think this is likely. Rising inequality is associated (in a bi-directional way) with a weakening and/or commercialisation of welfare provision and public goods provision (most notably of education). Euphemistically called “network” effects are more salient the greater is existing inequality. (For more see the first article here.)
Last but not least, the work of Piketty and some of his collaborators has pointed to the substantial and growing importance of inherited wealth, a path to riches that requires no hard work, and not even a strong dream.
It is facts like these and not deceptive (and manipulative) “dreams” that children should be taught. Not to quash their dreams, far from it. But to encourage them to fight for better social institutions.