How We Are Ruining America

College-educated Americans have become devastatingly good at making sure children of other classes can’t join their ranks.

Comments: 293

  1. '' As soon as they get money, they turn it into investments in their kids. ''
    ~ and there is the problem ''right'' there.

    I have had extensive conversations about this over and over again, with friend and foe alike. It always goes one of two ways; Either they can pull themselves up by their bootstraps, or there is not enough ''help'' out there. I fall on the latter scale ( which I believe there should be at LEAST 2 years higher education for free and available to all that can apply ) , but the last word that I give ALWAYS creates a look of puzzlement upon those across from me.

    Kids are NOT investments. They are human beings.

    We, as parents must allow our children to make mistakes, then we give advice on how to get back up. ( if they ask ) If we are to give anything to them; wisdom, the latest smart phone or even ...gasp ... a full ride to any college\university, then it is a donation. If they come out of it worse off ( beer pong might contribute ) then, so be it. We tried.

    Although, I like to tease me little ones all the time with; I brought you into this world and I can take you out ~ if you don't go to college ''

    They are going.

  2. Yes, Kids are human being, the article mentioned not about investing kids. They are investing the education of kids. I compared the zoning restrictions policies in US, UK and China (big cities only). In China, the properties with good quality education resources price is now in exaggerate level, parents in China are so much anxious of being pulled out.

  3. @Li
    Thanks for the comment. You may be right in the perception of the article, however, my point was that those that see an investment in their children almost treat them as a status symbol of sorts.

    I know all about the levels you speak of ( having lived in Vancouver ) and seeing the flood of Chinese sons and daughters streaming into the city ( UBC \SFU ) to get an education at a fraction of the rate for higher quality. ( Even if it is hard to compare to a totalitarian state )

    We all should have access to a higher education for significantly lower costs. ( and dare I say freedom )

  4. Li, here in the north west suburbs of Boston, we have had a continuous stream of Chinese home buyers for past decade or so. They pay in cash. Sometimes multiple families pool together just do they can send their kids to the best public schools on the area. Some of the education elite towns now have as many as 25% Asian students making up the high school population. As it's getting more competitive in china, Chinese are able to buy properties here in America, avail of free public school education and send their kids to the top universities in the country. Some elite universities are consciously selecting fewer Asians to reverse the diversity dominated by Asian students among higher education applicants. Our science labs, biotech industry, engineering schools, math PhDs are overwhelmingly Asian (Indians included). Here in America no one is watching, real estate brokers are beyond estactic because they get cash for selling homes. There was a time when Jewish students had similar work and study ethics, don't know where they have disappeared to, perhaps they too have joined the Israeli defense forces. David was so against tiger moms at one time, now unless you have a tiger mom in charge our kids will not be shaken away from snap chat, YouTube, instagram...(sarcasm intended).

  5. "Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop."

    I have 4 college degrees and had to look up every word in that paragraph (e.g. capicollo, soppressata etc.). Of course (were I in the US) I would never set foot in restaurants like Padrino, for religious and not culinary-class reasons, but the inference that high school graduates cannot be gourmets or "gourmets" is absurd as well as the counter claim that education makes you a higher level cultural-culinary epicure. One very rich and educated person we all know of claims to stay healthy by eating like a 6 year old (eating junk food).

    There are cultural and status markers, but they are more often tied to money and not education. An outstanding Ph.D in history does not mean that one will ever be comfortable shopping in Tiffany's unless there is a personal endowment to back it up.

    Try lowering tuition in the US and making college affordable and many "codes" might be broken.

  6. I am a chef, and I know a lot of food workers with only high school diplomas who would know what every one of those terms (all cured meat items) were. Go figure. Of course, the totally driven vegan helicopter mom would avoid all of them like the plague.

    Of course Lord Brooks completely omits that college administration rapaciousness has reduced many Ivy educated PhDs to subsistence living adjuncts doing the academic version of piecework, some earning less than the groundskeepers who maintain perfecttly manicured quads.

  7. Thank you! I'm pretty darn upper class with two masters degrees, and I didn't know those foods either. That was one of the most classist paragraphs I've read in a long time. Having a high school degree hardly makes one stupid or unsophisticated.

  8. Grandma in the North End knows all about those "gourmet" meats. Unfortunately, I do to. I grew up on Wonderbread and Skippy, but the other day, when the supermarket ran out of Genoa salami, the clerk didn't know and gave me Sopressata, until her colleague from Xinjiang, who hates Xi Jin Ping because of his treatment if the Uighurs, pointed out her mistake. I tasted the Sopressata and thought my daughter wouldn't know. I got an earful, and felt excluded and ignorant because my tastebuds are so undiscriminating. Next time I tried the Capicollo, but it just wasn't spicy enough.

    Feeling excluded and ignorant may have more to do with Mr. Brooks' friend who was scared of the fancy sandwich than the restaurant serving the fancy sandwich. I always feel awkward in a homogenous group I'm unfamiliar with, but after a little exposure get comfortable. Then, as you know, familiarity breeds contempt, and I'm happy with the Wonderbread. I like food carts, too.

  9. Have you noticed the collapse of state funding for public colleges and universities?

  10. When I went to Cal, it was the University of California. Now it's just a university in California. Thanks Ronnie you started a wonderful thing.

  11. In addition to the collapse of state funding students with Pell grants and other federally funds can no longer apply that funding to courses outside their major. There goes community college students' access to electives of the arts and humanities. Yet again, the system hamstrings minority and lower-class students by limiting their worldview. I know because I have been teaching an Asian art history survey course for 30 years at a community college and the past three semesters it has been under-enrolled. I used to feel a satisfaction that I was broadening my students' horizons introducing them to the cultures, philosophy and art of India and China. Where the workforce is seeking employees with integrated majors, community colleges are keeping the blinders on their students.

  12. States are now spending all their money on Medicaid and back contributions to pension funds. They didn't have these expenses in the 60s.

  13. There would also be a significant use of tax avoidance measures by some of the wealthy, allows them to continue to enjoy their privileged lifestyle without contributing much back to society.
    We know income and wealth inequality is worsening. With millions stuck in jobs paying less than $10 per hour, while the lucky ones earn millions, yet don't contribute more than expected to internal revenue. Tough schools don't get the donations a wealthy school would receive.
    Having parents who value education and pass that on to their children, also explains how the privileged maintain their status through the generations. This is not to be despised or looked down on. It is good parenting leading to great outcomes for those lucky to have well educated, concerned and supportive parents.
    Let's see if the Republican tax proposals are simply a means to direct more wealth to those who really don't need it. So far their policies seem to want to skew the tax system even further in favour of the wealthy. Depriving millions of Americans from receiving the best education possible will continue the status quo, where success or failure, is often determined at birth.

  14. You completely miss the fact that it is the level of income that dictates the time a parent has to devote to their children. If the income levels were more equal the raising of the children would be more equal. In a finite economy that means that more would have more and those that had the most would have less. Why is it an immutable fact that one persons time on earth should be compensated at the rate of $5,000 per hour when another persons time on earth is compensated at $0.10 per hour? I have never heard an explanation for how anyone ever did anything to justify this inequality. The people who have given the greatest benefits to mankind have never been the wealthiest. The hoarders of wealth benefit only themselves and do not concern themselves with the masses. The few who find themselves in the position later in life after amassing great wealth to create programs dedicated to the betterment of the masses fail to understand that they would have done so much more for the world if they had shared that wealth with others instead of hoarding it. Progress comes from the bottom up, moral leadership comes from the top down. It has been proven time and again that a small loan to an impoverished person provides the greatest multiplier in economic increase, give a person a better chance at life and they will make good use of it, give a person great wealth and they will abuse it every time.

  15. Ed,

    You are on the right track. The greed knows no bounds. There is no reason that one person should struggle on minimum wage while others make $5,000 pr hour. The elite set in the US operate an insiders club in business. The boards of corporate America decide how much the C-level executives earn each year. Common practice is that one college friend, Chip, on one board recommends a classmate to the board, his old buddy Biff. Biff then recommends his old buddy Chip to his board. Then they push to raise each others salary. Nice work, if you can get it.

  16. “ ... keep the poor and less educated away from places with good schools and good job opportunities.”

    Good Schools? My son went to an old, dilapidated NYC public high school. Unlike almost every other American school, this school had no lockers, so students had to trudge up multiple staircases and take mass transit carrying all their books and clothing. Racially, spending was distinctly less than schools with other racial balances. Many students were from low income families with little or no ability to help with English.

    Still, I probably should mention that this school, Stuyvesant High School, was often called America’s top high school.

    And, showing how ideology triumphs over reality, after many years of living in suburbs and city, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone whose “good job” was located where they lived.

  17. Do cultural barriers create economic ones? A number of the examples Brooks cites seem associated with life in coastal enclaves that may not reflect the experiences of even solidly middle class people elsewhere. It may be that, in cities like New York or San Francisco, access to the upper strata requires familiarity with their culture, but elsewhere practical achievements matter far more.

    A degree from a reputable university surely tops the list. An employer who ranks familiarity with exotic sandwiches higher than the mastery of job-related skills will not remain in business long enough to make an employment offer worth much. And a new hire whose tastes in food or exercise routines vary from those of her coworkers can easily change her preferences or gain respect by excelling at her job.

    Rather than focus on differences between elite and working-class culture, surely our society would benefit more by easing the crushing burden of college debt and ensuring access to higher education for the economically disadvantaged. To address David's concerns, the universities could always include a required course in the cultural practices of the housewives of Beverly Hills.

  18. I actually think you're incorrect about your second paragraph. There's scores of research showing that companies/employers - sometimes consciously, usually unconsciously - use all kinds of cultural and social codes in their hiring processes in addition to (or instead of) skill. Skill is actually difficult to objectively compare in most fields; even in quantitative fields employees rarely take tests or anything before hire, and usually managers hire based on subjective perceptions of skill and cultural "fit" with the team. And people tend to like people who are similar to them. For example, an employer who is upper middle class and likes fancy sandwiches may find herself unconsciously preferring the candidates who praise the fancy sandwiches place she selects for lunch interviews and seem more comfortable ordering the fancy sandwiches. There is also a lot of evidence (search articles written about Silicon Valley's culture issues, for example) that simply changing your preferences or working hard to prove yourself aren't actually powerful enough to overcome prejudices, not on their own and not at scale. The world is unfortunately not s meritocracy.

  19. I've been a mentor to high school students throughout various low-income neighborhoods in Seattle for the past few years. We focused on college access and the issues it presents. The biggest obstacle is not money, as the op-ed seems to suggest: it's a lack of confidence. The high school students I worked with came from backgrounds that did not treat their children as "investments" and they grew up believing that they were not a good fit for college. They felt like they couldn't measure up.
    University of Washington (where I recently graduated) has some of the best financial aid available an 8500 students get tuition exemptions every year. I went through with full financial aid, scholarships, and careful budgeting.
    As an admissions mentor, I'd like to put in my final 2 cents: hardly anyone cares what elite college you went to, SAT/ACT scores are often overlooked in favor of GPA and the personal statement, and colleges are looking for diversity now more than ever. A student is never completely a victim of circumstance. What matters is the support they have and their personal work ethic, which are cultivated by their upbringing and not entirely influenced by wealth.

  20. You live in a different world than I. Though I've been out of University for 20 years I often still see jobs looking for people from "top tier" Universities, whatever that means. And I often have interviewers remark on my academic background.

  21. The "confidence" you allude to comes from the enormous amount of money upper-middle-class parents pour into their kids' enrichment. Cultural capital and social capital are both very interconnected to economic capital. Without economic capital, it is very difficult - but not impossible - to achieve cultural and social capital. Conversely, having a large amount of economic capital does not necessarily afford one cultural and social capital - but it certainly can grease the wheels of social mobility.

  22. It's unfortunately -- not so amazing to me -- that there are 4 comments here. The UWS of Manhattan and other towns of a similar nature -- that love to speak only to each other -- but refuse low income housing and refuse integration of their school systems. How about a march for equal education and intellectual honesty.

  23. You nailed it!

  24. Pediacracy, of course, but what parent (or benighted off spring) acknowledges it? They see a pure meritocracy, oblivious, by choice, to the disadvantages of those poorly positioned to join the club.
    It must be thus, because many could never gain entry were it a level playing field. Two "funny" examples: in Vancouver public school teachers worked reduced schedules for years and ultimately, in 2014, went on a 3 month strike - the gov't ministers (and their 'set') were happy to see public ed decline as it advantaged their private school educated teens, who might otherwise lose university placement to brighter public school kids. Another: a colleague's daughter had moderate academic gifts, but with inside info (friend in Ivy League admissions) and money for private lessons (dentist husband) they found a way - the bassoon!! Ivy League orchestra seeking female bassoonist, et voila. Never touched the bassoon after her third year.
    Even parents who would admit that it's about connections, cunning and resources would likely give it a yawn and "so what?" They live in a society that values affluence and position, not ethics. If we want to look for reasons why America is disintegrating, that's a good place to start.

  25. There is hope...not all affluent children are blind to this..

    My sons Law school essay was essentially this editorial..pointing out all the advantages, and how he would work to change the playing field to help the less fortunate

    he turned down some of the best of the top 10 on the east coast and NYC to go to the most progressive one out west...while its not a crime to be born with a silver spoon in your mouth, we taught him it is a crime to not know it and help the less fortunate...that's how judge a society

    my how this country has lost that simple idea

  26. Under this unconscionable free-market, economic rationalist system, the rich just keep on getting richer, while the poor just keep on getting poorer, the gap between the haves and the have-nots widens and the chasm between the well-educated and not-so-well educated grows ever wider also.

    A revolution is needed to address this iniquitous situation.

  27. Robert please a revolution? Given the divisions in the electorate, what you mean is a coup. which would of coursr be followed by a civil war. And how do you imagine you would win? And how would you stop the bloodshed even if you did win?

  28. But they have all the fire power, so a violent revolution is doomed to failure. Even a peaceful revolution by a small group of "leaders"is doomed, because leaders are easy to bribe, extort, blackmail, assassinate, or otherwise compromise.
    What we need is a distributed revolution, where a large part of the population decides to stop believing the lies, gets informed, gets involved, educates those that are lost in the "work to shop with no interest in politics" Matrix, and actively changes the system so that it is responsive to the needs of the people, and stops letting a few steal the productivity of the rest.
    It is not impossible. You do not need permission. You do not need someone to lead you. You need to take a little time every week and devote it to justice and peace and equality, and moving the world to a better place.
    The world is at a confluence of tipping points: the economy, climate, democracy, internet (freedom or surveillance), government, the meaning of work itself, are all at decision points, and the decisions we make as humans will have a huge impact on what direction will go in.
    Do we want a corporate serfdom, where you are always in debt to a global bank, with a few people protected by robot police and military, who think that the world's people are just a nuisance, now that everything they need can be created by machines, and the Earth is just a bunch of resources and a place to put their garbage?
    Or is there a better way?
    Another world is possible!

  29. Don't bet on it, Oprah and Rikki Lake coincide with prime protest time.

  30. I'm always a bit baffled that the real estate industry isn't a major financial supporter of "progressive" causes like gun control and superb public education. Nothing would spur home sales and increase home prices (and thus agent commissions) in lots of areas of the US like making neighborhoods safe and making all public schools in poor areas as good or better than ones in wealthier areas.

  31. It is in some places, our town for example. Our home prices have always been supported by attention to our public school district.

  32. This phenomenon is caused by increasing economic anxiety due to rising inequality and the perceived threats of globalization.
    People are more afraid than ever that their kids will need an extra boost to get ahead and keep from slipping back.
    When I was growing up, there was widespread middle class optimism. Not any more.
    The conservatives with their winner-take-all economic philosophy that has dominated America in the last few decades are mostly themselves to blame for this.

  33. It's not just conservatives; it's the elites oF the so called liberals who also look down on those of lesser means, lest their own lose that leg up
    Money still rules.

  34. I note the emphasis on jobs and privilege, not skills and economic values. This is a catastrophic approach to education as a whole. The net effect of this process is that a diminishing number of people have access to high value education. At a time where innovation and real talent are top values in commerce, science and progress, America is showing the way to avoid them. Any theories on why "just don't do things the way America does" is the mantra around the world in education? As proof - The entire Trump administration is college-educated. Not a great recommendation, folks.

  35. It was "the best and brightest" from the top Ivy League colleges, who -- in the 60s -- dragged us into the quagmire of Vietnam.

    It was "the best and brightest" from the top Ivy League colleges, who -- in the 00s -- dragged us into the quagmire of Iraq and Afghanistan.

    It was "the best and brightest" on the Supreme Court -- where nearly everyone comes from the Northeast, usually NYC and attended Harvard or Yale -- who decided "Citizens United".

    I remain unconvinced that the elites have some magical right to rule over us....

  36. Do you mean "rule" or "drool"? Not that it seems to make much difference. They've been circling overhead for decades, and now they've decided to drop in and have another free lunch, apparently.

  37. CC,

    There are different kinds of "elites", however conservatives, those glued to Rush and Hannity propaganda, have chosen the worst kind to lead this country. The most corrupt, the most ignorant and the most anti-American in US history.

  38. I assure you that paying $100k more for a home in a good school district is a larger barrier than learning to read a strange menu. Or any of the other social elements listed here. Does Mr. Brooks seriously suppose the benefits of college education are outweighed by someone's discomfort with understanding why some people like yoga? If that was all poor parents had to do to move their children up in life, I assure you yoga classes would become instantly more economically diverse.

  39. And now do you understand where the anger comes from in middle America? There are two very unnerving aspects to this. The first is education is bad. I don't agree with that concept. People become educated for reasons other than maintaining and advancing their social status and wealth. Many of the jobs available like research, becoming a college professor, being a writer, a musician, social worker etc are not lucrative and won't ever be. But pursuing one's passion is rewarding even if there is no hitting the lottery salary-wise. I would bet that, if David looked at them closely, he would find they are very happy people. The other problem here is the idea that the playing field no longer needs to be leveled . The lower income folks don't need protection because we have gone too far in protecting them and the well to do are now the ones "suffering". I guess David is pointing out that all the efforts to even the odds really have not worked. The view is "I am entitled to hold you down. You are not entitled to prevent me from doing so". I get why people would be angry about that. Next time pick a president who really has your back. A professor or musician or researcher or social worker or child care worker. Someone who has walked in your shoes. And really does feel your pain. Then, maybe, your voice will be heard.

  40. "Next time pick a president who really has your back. A professor or musician or researcher or social worker or child care worker." That sounds like good advice, but those are just regular people. Same as in congress. There are MDs, Lawyers, businessmen, engineers, and some non-college grads. What they all have in common, and what really messes things up, is that all of them are politicians.

  41. We recently had an election for City Council in my smallish, poor, inner ring Midwestern suburb (44,000 residents) -- and the winner spent over $30,000 on advertising and marketing in order to win.

    The job of City Councilperson is part time, and pays $8500 a year.

    But it's a stepping stone into politics at the county level (which is where our last Councilperson left for, after she vacated her seat) and so highly desired. That's why anyone would pay $30,000 out of pocket, to run for a job that pays $8500 a year.

    I've lived here over 30 years, and I'd LOVE to sit on City Council -- could make a real difference! -- but even with my long time residency, loyalty to the area, and in-depth knowledge of local issues -- I have zero chance. LESS than zero, in fact. Because I don't have $30,000 to run for office.

    If a City Council seat now costs $30,000.....what does it cost to run for Congress? or the US Senate? So that is a clear barrier, keeping out ALL but the very wealthy.

  42. Concerned -- What it costs is selling yourself to donors. They'll then decide for you what you can contribute. Of course, that means it isn't worth doing, they won't pay for you to do what are your reasons for running.

  43. It's a glaring omission for David Brooks never mentioned the thousands of students who attend elite private schools and are completely unaffected by zoning restrictions, local public school budgets, or living in the right public school attendance zone that were alluded to in the column.They have a significant advantage when it comes to obtaining entrance to prestige colleges. Over 90% of the top 100 feeder schools for Ivy League colleges are private schools. Legacy admissions are affirmative action for the affluent and always been a factor in elite college admissions. The correlation between wealth, educational level of parents, and admissions to prestige schools, is a social reality and not based on some nefarious plan by some parents to limit the opportunities of someone else's children.

  44. It is not even close to correct that 90% of feeder schools to the Ivy League are private. At Harvard , there isn't a private school in the top 10. Admittedly many of the top feeders are exam schools (Boston Latin, Stuyvesant etc). Blessedly, less than a third of the kids who go to Harvard went to private schools.

    As my kids get closer to applying into college, we will focus on the elite schools with enough of a financial grounding that the private school percentage is less than 40%.

  45. If Mr. Brooks is talking about the difference between Harvard, Yale, and Stanford graduates and those of us who graduate from "lesser" institutions, I suggest that only in relatively few scenarios does that difference matter. Sure, if one wishes to join the SCOTUS, a Harvard Law degree matters. For some high-end financial jobs, a Wharton School degree may matter. For PhD jobs in high-end research, a high-end education may matter. But, as a physician-educator at a medical school, I once took care of a Yale-educated Dean/VP of our institution who said, "a great foundation with great intuition matters more than which college a person graduates from." That foundation of self-studied knowledge and how it is practically applied has dramatically greater frequency than being a graduate of an elite school system.
    The real challenges are not between well-educated from elite colleges and the rest of us. The real challenges are between those who are functionally independent and those who for a large variety of reasons never quite develop the skills to develop and maintain the social and knowledge-acquisition skills critical to being economically independent. Dependency in our culture is what we have striven to lessen but in spite of trillions of dollars spent in trying to give many a leg up, we have not made much progress since the 1960s. I think we have genetic as well as social reasons that limit how many pediatric neurosurgeons arise from poverty to become nationally prominent.

  46. Totally agree, but for the last sentence. To bring Carson into this spoils the entire otherwise excellent argument.

    One more thing, though: What the dean failed to mention is that admission committees are still largely blinded by pedigree. On the other hand, once free from the confinement of formal education, how one applies that creatively in the real world determines who really belongs to the cream that is rising to the top.

  47. Well, doctors are rather an exception. Anyone in the US with an MD and a license to practice is nearly certain to be in the top 5% in income. Things are very different among lawyers, accountants, engineers. Those from the not-so-good schools will struggle to find any job at all.

  48. Samuel Johnson tells us, "Every state of society is as luxurious as it can be. Men always take the best they can get."

    Are upper-middle-class Americans "good at" and guilty of keeping other people's children out of good schools, or of giving their own a socially pernicious advantage, because they live where good things can be had? One may conceivably argue that they should use what influence they have to change those zoning laws you mention, but do you seriously mean to imply that a mother who can breast-feed her children for a long period ought to refrain until others have the same opportunity? Surely not, but then what point are you making?

    Unequal access to education is a serious problem, but it's not due to a lack of social conscience in individuals who do what all people do in their current spheres: take the best they can get.

    This is not the first time I've seen a Times op-ed -- by you, if memory serves -- that treats social oppression as the doing of an affluent, educated elite. The guilty elite in question is affluent with a vengeance and may be educated as well (even Donald Trump has a university degree), but its salient characteristics are political: self-serving fiscal conservatism and social exclusivism.

    Neither education nor garden-variety affluence should let people in for shaming. When today's disadvantaged Americans have the means to gain the same advantages, social conscience won't stop them.

  49. The real issue is whether these people are just doing the best they can for themselves, or whether they are using their control of the levers of power to selfishly exclude others.

    There are many laws being passed that have the effect of lessening opportunities for poor people, although they are usually dressed up as environmental protection, consumer protection, or worker's rights. The upper middle class is the source of these laws.

  50. Now, I can see that. It's a controversial argument to make here in the NYT community, and not one contained in David Brook's essay as far as I can tell, but I think you've raised a point to ponder. Thanks.

  51. The obvious example I always use is the Earned Income Tax Credit. This was designed to give money to working poor families, but the tax laws are so complicated the poor people have to hire a tax accountant to do their return and figure out what they get. So a lot of this money goes not to the poor, but to H&R Block and its stockholders.

    I'm sure this wasn't intentional....

  52. This is a rather misinformed view of culture, which, when it exists, includes and does not exclude. Mr. Brooks is referring to something else when he writes, and there is no doubt a lot of truth to it. It's better referred to us tribalism, the sole intent being to exclude anyone who does not qualify to belong, either because of failing to meet the financial, religious, ethnic or racial criteria of the group. The US is really cultureless in the truest sense of the word. In its place are barriers of many kinds.

  53. No, Mr. Brooks, it's not a simple as that. The mantra that upper middle class kids are crowding out middle class kids is belied by the almost unbelievable growth in the size of student bodies during my lifetime.

    The undergrad college I attended had a study body of 18,000, now up to 55,000. A nearby university chartered only 22 years ago already has a study body of 64,000! During that same time period, the overall population of the U.S. has increased by only 50%. More kids, per capita, are being admitted to universities than ever before. There's something else going on.

    It's not soccer moms infusing their upper middle class kids with notions of being special or more likely to succeed, and it certainly has nothing to do with anyone being intimidated by the menu at a posh restaurant.

    What you're describing is a very narrow part of American society. I live in a metropolitan area much larger than - say - San Francisco, and it's diverse, multicultural and multi-economic. Zoning regs are designed to prevent the overlap of commercial with residential areas, rather than aimed at separating the "upper-middle" from the middle and lower income "classes". And my city is hardly unique among growing metropolitan centers across the U.S.

    You're driving at the "income gap", and that's a result of the right-wing attack on unions, the degradation of "the welfare state as we know it", and the general up-turned noses of the political class you occupy. It's self-perpetuating.

  54. You think conservatives are the ones with "up turned noses"??? Do you ever talk with people whose views and/or background are different from yours?? Did you read even one column about how Trump won? You don't have to be a conservative or even a Republican to recognize what Mr. Brooks is talking about. Michael Moore is no conservative, but he definitely "gets it".

  55. Mr. Brooks never said that the problem or it's solution is simple. Here, he discusses only a couple of barriers to upward mobility. Of course there are more, some of which you have raised.The truth is that we are talking about complex systems that have evolved to limit access to "the good life." We need to work on multiple fronts to open them up for everyone.

  56. No, what Brooks speaks of are very real and exclude you to the point that you don't even know it's there. It's invisible to you. Just because you can't see it does not mean it isn't there. That's the point. To keep you out like a Muggle from the wizard world.

  57. I work with high net worth individuals in Europe, many of whom have titles and ancient pedigrees. They are all very nice people. Often they're extremely charming, and they contribute a fortune to charity and good causes. What they all have in common are two things: One, attack dog staff. They can be nice and charming because there is someone around them to do the screening and the unpleasant stuff.

    Two, confidence. Knowing the names of Italian ingredients is neither here nor there. It's having the confidence to ask questions about them in public, and to see it as an opportunity to try something new that's key, rather than shrinking from embarrassment, as per David Brooks's friend. Confidence is like a magic elixir than opens every door - and you get it by growing up with such privilege, that everything seems possible.

  58. Exactly! Never be afraid to as questions, challenge the dogma, develop the confidence of grasping the world around you, while always ruthlessly assessing what you know and what you don't know. Then fill the gaps. It's a lifelong process, but it's exciting!

  59. So true. The rich know they don't know everything, and they don't care. Don't know? Just ask. Then you will know, at least for as long as you need to. People will tell you useful stuff if they know you could do something for them.

  60. Confidence! You are so right, Fenella! Instilling confidence without arrogance is probably the absolute best thing we could do for everyone. All the time I see parents diminishing their children because of making a mistake in public. It costs nothing to be a confidence building parent or teacher rather than a defeatist.

  61. Here in Switzerland, arguably the wealthiest country in the world per capita, the distribution of income is far more egalitarian. It is considered just as honorable to go to trade school and become a handwerker as it is to go to medical school. The result is a real society that would never dream of denying anyone health care based on whether they have the money.

    Things work here and every day there are reminders of how this model is far superior to what has taken shape in the US since wage increases parted ways with productivity back in the early 70s.

  62. Honest question: how do doctors in your country feel about the social situation? What is the difference in compensation between a trade worker and a physician? I'm genuinely curious about whether or not young people in such societies are still motivated to put themselves through over a decade of misery to become a doctor if they can choose another profession that requires far less education and training but still pays well.

  63. And keep in mind that in Switzerland, completing school without a trade or college path is not an option... a university degree may not be for everyone, and the Swiss educational system provides a meaningful path for everyone

  64. @GK - More egalitarian does not mean exactly equal. The average salary of a GP doctor in Switzerland is $120K, compared to $180K in the US.

    The big difference is at the top end of the range. In the US, gastroenterologists average $375K, and orthopedic surgeons average $405K. They don't have doctors with huge salaries like that in Switzerland.

  65. I am first generation-parents came to this country with almost nothing. I have succeeded in life and did see that my children could get the education they needed to be successful in their lives. My wife, with similar upbringing, spends time several evenings each week teaching GED students. I am willing to pay more in taxes to make our society more equitable. Yet we see our politicians taking health care, a basic right, away from folks, and see elementary ,secondary and college funding reduced all over the country, and keep the minimum wage artificially low. We are now a society that has forgotten, if we ever really knew, how to be fair to all our people, not just a few. We value individualism rather than collectivism, and those who have put up barriers to those who do not have instead of making life better for all. It is not about gourmet sandwiches, it is calling out those politicians and businessmen who foster this attitude in every way possible. Stop health care and increase tax rebates. Where is the basic humanity?

  66. It's good business and necessary to keep wages low. Otherwise the upper classes, except for the 1%ers, would be unable to afford large houses, fancy food names, etc. Everything would be twice as expensive.

    Every society needs its slaves. We just don't call them by that name anymore.

  67. It is an ugly lie that the poor don't receive free healthcare. Prove it before repeating this careless dishonesty. You should be grateful enough being here to show some respect for the taxpayers who do, in fact, pay vast amounts to subsidize the underclass. What we prefer is to not subsidize their bad choices so much.

  68. Let me guess Tina Trent,

    You believe everybody who is poor makes bad choices? You also sound condescending acting like paying taxes is some sort of charity and not a condition to living in a society.

  69. Several years ago I was fortunate enough to benefit from the annual gift given by the then-owners of Canyon Ranch -- a free week at the spa for local residents with health problems. We could learn about nutrition, have medical counseling, and enjoy the benefits of its classes.
    One of our group left after the first day. Reason: we were being lectured on eating organic food. She was unable to envision herself being able to afford such nutritious, but expensive, meals, and she was too embarrassed to stay and be reminded that she was poor.
    Expensive food, expensive neighborhoods, expensive educations, expensive leisure -- all are beyond the grasp of so many that they simply give up, and don't even envision a different life for their children.

  70. What do you imagine a working class parent thinks, when his child wants to apply to Harvard or Yale, and the parent sees the tuition is more than DOUBLE their annual salary? Even with scholarships, there are other costs to college -- travel, dorms, books, fees, requiring expensive things like Macbooks -- and your fellow students will all be taking expensive ski vacations and doing "projects" in third world nations to pad their educational CVs. A working class kid (or his parents) simply cannot compete with that.

  71. Isn't it elitist to presume that poor people need organic food more than they need traditional martiage norms?

  72. I wonder if somebody told the rich that organic foods are trash.

  73. Instead of eating Mexican, you could have broadened your friends cultural horizons and defined the culinary terms for her, assuming of course, that you knew all of them, which if you did would put you among the truly elite (in the culinary world anyway). Having encountered my first bagel when I entered college, eaten sushi for the first time in my twenties, and discovered a whole lot of things you would classify as elite as an adult, I am confident that someone wanting to navigate the aisles of whole foods or the halls of a prestigious law firm can learn to do so, regardless of what social class they come from.

  74. Indeed, it's actually quite condescending that you feel your friend couldn't handle being in a trendy sandwich shop because they only had a high school education. I see tons of construction workers buying their lunches in places like that and they don't seem to be uncomfortable about it at all.

  75. Your point is great, but it wouldn't matter if Brooks knew all the terms or not. The curiosity to discover their meaning, and a few questions put to the staff, would have sufficed.

  76. Whole Foods has the same (mostly junk--and organic junk is still junk) stuff as any other supermarket. Many supposedly well-educated people simply are not very well educated in basic science and fall for the fallacies on which WF is built. They do have a few things that are hard to find elsewhere, and they do have some policies that are pro-environment, but I don’t see where their aisles are any different to navigate from WalMart's.

  77. David Brooks starts strong in citing competition for resources that are, for whatever intention, kept scarce relative to actual need and potential demand. To preserve the character of their neighborhood, residents in nice parts of coastal cities support zoning rules that restrict construction of multifamily housing projects that happen to set aside units for low income families; to ensure their children get the best education they can afford, college-educated parents choose to live in reputable (usually expensive) public school zones, or send their kids to private K-12 schools, or prep their kids to test into competitive public schools (Stuyvesant, for example). Government that is most responsive to the affluent, whether conservative or liberal, is disinclined to spend a lot of tax dollars to enlarge that pool of premium housing and schooling enough to admit significant numbers of "others", thereby diluting its distinguishing prestige and privilege.

    Brooks skates onto thin ice when he speculates on social preferences as a cause or enforcer of hardening class division. His examples of upper middle class preferences reads like a summary of the "Stuff White People Like" blog, and such caricaturing is ineffective to his thesis. There are lots of rich folks who dig hip-hop, or who would rather drink Jack Daniels than wine, or who eat pho because it's what they grew up with. There are plenty of affluent subcultures in America, and their common price of admission is pecuniary.

  78. One of the other "benefits" of using our tax codes to concentrate wealth in the hands of the already wealthy. We have developed a class of American Royalty. As with all royal classes, it is the little things that matter, like proper dress, speech and etiquette. Doors open to royals and their children and the rest of us are supposed to cheer their success and assume that their concentrated wealth and power are good for us.

    The founders of our nation would be proud of our accomplishments.

  79. I'd always like Mr. Brook's article, but not this one. It's only natural that the 20 percent upper middle class guarded and, yes, block the progress of the 70 percent with all their might. It's called loving your own children more than your distant neighbour's offsprings. Courageous and hard working Moms are not members of the Ursuline or the Sacred Heart Orders. The 20 percent we are talking about here are successful financially, but they are not yet very secured for generations like the top 10 percent.
    However, it is the government's job to make sure that the 20 percent (upper) middle class would grow into at least 60 percent, through wise investment in the quality of our children's education, superb healthcare and reliable public infrastructure. Something that our current - deeply Nepotistic - government neither interested nor has the ability to do so.

  80. Bingo! Well said. I am myself quite aware of the role zip codes play in the education children get -- I am guilty of living in a neighborhood that has high taxes, expensive houses and "public" schools that are essentially private -- to those who can afford to live in the school's tax heavy district.

    It's a scam. It affects housing prices everywhere. It results in downrun neighborhoods where housing prices plummet because of poor schools. And I cannot help that the whole scheme is perpetuated by developers and realtors who make sure that nothing changes -- they love it this way.

    All men are created equal. Yeah -- whatever.

  81. Or, as George Orwell said in Animal Farm: 'All animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others.'

  82. On any given day, half of Baltimore high schoolers are truant from their $15,000-per-pupil schools (near the big city top).

  83. Now the middle and upper middle classes of America must feel guilty for their successful upbringing habits and culture. The so-called statistics which Brooks pains to tilt in the direction of his "coming of mind" comments do not provide objective reality and are instead presented in subjective narrative. Yes avoiding the use of drugs and alcohol, attending class and studying hard, belonging to productive and charecter building programs and activities, keeping the family unit together as well as the community, does provide advantages to children who grow up in this environment, and so much more. Free education is available to everyone in this country but the individual must avail themselves to this. Just take the lessons of the Mexicans who pour into the U.S. for work and a better life for their children, who by the way somehow manage to attend public schools in the most affluent communities in this countries. Family values!

  84. Bongo,

    There are vast differences in the quality of free education available, depending on where one lives. That is precisely the problem. Too many of us are ignorant of reality and prefer to believe that the opportunities are there for everyone, if only they are willing to work hard enough. One of my daughters is a public school teacher and she has to pay for basic supplies, like pencils, out of her own pocket. I suspect that wealthier school districts do not have that problem and that many of the nation's privileged children go to private schools anyway.

    I have an Ivy League education and am financially comfortable. However, I do not delude myself that it was only my hard work that provided me the opportunity.

  85. All the college educated kids with 6 figure loans and few job prospects might disagree.

  86. No, what they come to know is the price of pretense.

  87. Amen. Bernie screamed yelled warned hyperventilated but David Brooks was plain, Tone Deaf, as was the nyt editorial board. Clearly not a single one of them has kids with student loans. Clearly they raised trust fund kids. good forvthem they will never ever understand the rest of America.

  88. Brooks emphasizes the cultural side of the affluence gap -- because that way maybe nobody will notice that Republican policies are intended to, and do, perpetuate and deepen the structural side of the problem.

    He will never mention how to change policy to improve problems - just wave his hands in the air because of the supposed difficulty and futility of ever changing "cultural differences".

  89. He does not really explain the cultural side though. How would he explain that Jewish wealthy overwhelmingly vote democratic (do they?), yet they, as lawyers and accountants, protect their wealthy clients (irrespective of their religious or cultural affiliation) through Republican policies and tax loopholes?

  90. The bulk of the affluent professionals are Democrats. Like the readers of the NY Times, they regard Republicans as evil racist rednecks from the midwest.

    Not only are they Democrats, they are the core of the Democratic party, and provide the money, candidates and policies.

  91. The places Brooks mentions, and one of which I live in, are mostly Democratic Party run. In New York City, I can assure you, the Republicans have had very little influence the past 100 years. Yet there is rampant inequality, a subpar public education system (especially for Blacks) and a crumbling infrastructure. Political corruption is widespread.
    This is the Democratic Party. Own it. Change it.

  92. When will we recognize education is far more than a perk of wealth? When will we recognize that educating each to the extent of their ability and interests benefits all?

    The rest of the world seems to have figured this out while we recede into myths of American supremacy that hide our plutocratic destiny,

  93. Trouble is, we can see it coming, this robot revolution. Chairs are being removed in the labor musical chairs game, and they aren't coming back. Make sure your kid is one of the lucky few with money, connections, or a skill set that can't be automated.

  94. what "rest of the world" are you talking about? Do you think the ruling classes, finance ministers, cabinet members, NYT editorial writers in other countries are coming out of their gehttos and poorer neighborhoods?

    Maybe a few do, but in Sweden, Denmark, England, etc. it's by far the upper crust who become the govt and industry leaders.

  95. Plutocracy is our current path, but not our destiny.
    Our destiny is true democracy. A world that works for almost everyone.

  96. At the extreme risk of incurring the wrath of readers on the Upper West Side, Newton, MA, Pacific Heights, and Beverly Hills, and with the observation that, statistically speaking, correlation is not necessarily causation, I will neverthess note that thes upper 20% folks are most probably center-left Democrats in their voting patterns.

  97. A particular sort of left-wing, though. The save the earth, support gay marriage, down with evil racists in the South kind of left-wing.

  98. So what?

  99. Jack,

    Republicans tend, tend, to be wealthier in general than Democrats. Democrats were the party of the Working Man, Republicans the party of the owners.

  100. No David, the wealthy didn't consciously build a system of exclusion and it is not helpful to suggest they have because the solution is not in their changing their desire to give their children every possible advantage towards becoming successful. You can't guilt people into not favoring their own children.

    If we want to help the less advantaged children we need to think of them as a resource capable of helping all of us but also capable of sapping resources (our money) if we don't nurture them and compensate for the disadvantages they've been born into.

    Other nations do a much better job of this than we do and they don't do it out of guilt or a desire to be good- they do it out of a desire to be competitive globally in a very competitive world.

    The United States behaves like a spoiled heir, squandering the immense natural resources of our nation and not properly exploiting (utilizing) our human capital.

    Equal education is an essential component of a functioning meritocracy and a functioning meritocracy is the only sustainable model for a nation's greatness.

  101. Yes, it's true that equal education is essential, but children are "a resource" with individual will and motivation. They need to want to be educated, and to cooperate with the process. The institutional culture and outcomes of a first-rate school in a wealthy area will differ depending on whether its students are drawn only from the local area or from a wider region. The home and neighborhood environment plays a crucial role in setting up children for success in school, not least because it determines expectations and attitudes toward education.

  102. The rest of us can do little to improve what happens in homes, but we all live with the consequences of shortchanged children.

    If we blame the parents and shrug our shoulders we will continue to fail to utilize their potential. It is no mystery and we need only look to the educational models of a nation like Germany that does so well with much more limited resources than what we have as a nation. The U.S. falls far behind other industrial nations in limiting inter-generational poverty.

  103. You don't have to do things consciously to get them done. A thousand little decisions can make a big thing happened that wasn't intended.
    Likewise, you don't need a "conspiracy" for the few thousand people that control over half of the world's wealth, to have their teams of lawyers, lobbyists, economists, publishers, working in the same direction: bleeding the world political economy by a thousand little cuts.
    People with common interests make common decisions. When you have a choice between creating an advantage for people like you, and creating an advantage for people you consider beneath you, the choice can seem obvious.
    No one has to have secret meetings in underground secret temples for them to want zero taxes on themselves, while they collect billions from government contracts. They don't have to decide to pop that real estate bubble, just have the fastest computers designed to sell as soon as the bubble pops to cash in, while the rest of us find about it two hours or days later.
    Our mythology of the rich being better humans is not new. The troubadours that told the ancient stories were paid and tolerated by the Kings when they made the kings look god like, and were fired or murdered when they did the opposite. It continues to this day, with TV pundits calling the rich "Job Creators," as if they are not the ones firing people to replace them with machinery.
    The most important barriers that have been put up are in people's minds.
    You are not inferior.

  104. Decades ago California sued to make local property tax funding for local public schools illegal on the basis of discrimination, but the Supreme Court declined to hear it. It would be a relatively simple fix to allocate public school funds equally, but Republicans like Brooks have argued against it for decades.

  105. That would be of little use. The big advantage these school have is not money, but being attended exclusively by the nice, well-behaved children of upper-middle-class professionals who are eager to learn and advance themselves. You could give kids like these a good education for very little money.

  106. In Ohio, our State Supreme Court has declared our funding system for public schools -- based on property taxes, ergo favoring the wealthiest white areas -- was ILLEGAL. They found this not once, not twice, not 3 times but on FOUR DIFFERENT OCCASIONS.

    It is 100% illegal under the laws of our state. Yet...this is how all schools in the state are funded.

    Why? because this benefits tremendously a small, wealthy powerful group of people including virtually all people in positions of power. They are not going to give up their nice green leafy suburbs -- their expensive, valuable homes -- the privileged lives of their children who are virtually guaranteed spots at Ivy League colleges and a bright shining path to the upper middle class jobs that are not available to the rest of us.

    So essentially: nothing will ever change.

  107. I am lucky to live in a upper middle class neighborhood. We have a nice home and a very good school system. It stops there.
    I watch my neighbors send their kids to summer sleep away camp at $25,000 per kid. My kids didn't but they loved summer. They pay for expensive sports leagues when there are free sports leagues. My kids didn't but they loved their teams. They spend incredible amounts of money to attend elitist colleges. My kids attended the in-state university and they loved the experience
    We could have afforded to pay for all those things but we didn't, and I am glad we didn't, and so are our kids.

  108. For every Sonia Sotomayor who arrived at Princeton never having read "Alice in Wonderland," look at all the other Supreme Court justices, Members of Congress, Presidents, White House staff, and Cabinet Secretaries.
    We applaud Ms. Sotomayor, but she is one of the lone examples of a survivor in a world stacked completely against her.
    It still is.
    And remind me again why Alice in Wonderland is an important part of Western civilization?

  109. You could achieve a great deal of success in life without ever having read "Alice in Wonderland" -- but oh, what a diminished life that would be, lacking one of the greatest works of children's literature in the world.

    I didn't know that about Sotomayor and I'm sorry to know that. Though I still love "Alice" (and even more so, "Through The Looking Glass") -- you really must experience them as a CHILD to get the full appreciation and love for Lewis Carroll's amazing and imaginative work. There is something missing if you only read this as a sophisticated, analytical college student.

    Though I must say: I wonder why? "Alice" is one of the most popular books ever published, and it is translated into hundreds of languages, including SPANISH. It defies imagination that Sotomayor did not read books in the public and school libraries, along her path to immense personal achievement and success -- did nobody -- no school librarian -- ever put a copy of "Alice" (maybe in Spanish?) into this child's hands? and if so, why not?

  110. It's natural for parents to want the best for their kids.

    Although I slept on the floor when I was a child because my dad had to save for a mattress and my mother bought powered milk because real milk was too expensive for 7 kids, somehow my parents were able to buy a World Encyclopedia set.

    I read the entire set of books from Aardvark to Xylaphone. It made me curious and set the fire for continuous learning. After years of studying and working multiple jobs to pay for college, I ended up with a Masters degree in engineering. I eventually became the R&D manager for a large electronics firm.

    My kids had an entirely different life. But that quest for learning remains. They graduated from Ivy league schools and are now raising their children with that same focus on education.

    If we could do just one thing to elevate the classes, it should be to assure that everybody gets a chance to learn. Make all school districts equally excellent.

  111. Pure learning is a beautiful thing but I'm not sure everyone has the potential to be a professional. Also, getting a professional education doesn't necessarily guarantee a safe or good income anymore. I've watched lawyers, doctors and engineers struggle to find work. The incomes for these jobs are not across the board good these days. Business people are laid off frequently now, too.

    I think both Canada and the US are experiencing a tragedy with the incomes of this generation falling compared to the baby boomers. Where I live inheriting the money for a down payment on a house is how most people afford a home -- if you don't have that you can really struggle. Houses are expensive, daycare is expensive, income is precarious, commutes are long, competition is rife. Life is just harder now.

  112. Also turn off the teevee and really make kids study. Who is going to tell America that we pay too much attention to passive entertainment whose revenue comes from selling us stuff that's bad for us? The rich know how to turn off the teevee.

  113. @billd: in our era, when we were children -- they sold encyclopedia sets door to door, on payment plans. The cost was very moderate, probably less than today (when hardcover books are so passe).

    I remember when the big supermarket chains offered encyclopedia sets -- one volume at a time -- with every $10 purchase. If you shopped weekly, you could acquire a whole set over a year, at a very low cost -- maybe $1-$2 a volume. I can't imagine anyone doing this today! or a store holding such a promotion!

    In my junior high and high schools, they kept old, outdated sets of encyclopedias in the school cafeteria, on big carts. This was because study halls were held there and kids could consult the books without having to go to the library. I would sit during study hall and read the old encyclopedias, with their quaint old photos and line drawings -- still pretty good sources of basic history and science information! -- and it helped form my love of all types of learning.

    Unfortunately today, all such information in one the internet -- excellent at finding a precise fact -- but less good at simply reading stuff randomly and being drawn to a variety of types of information to stimulate your mind.

  114. Regarding your friend's "freeze-up" when confronted with a list of Italian sandwiches and meats: I'm sure there are PLENTY of people with "only" high school diplomas who know perfectly well what each of those words means. Especially, if they already live near a shop that sells that stuff. I live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Outside of maybe the city of Marquette, I don't know of any mom/pop deli operations that sell these, but I'm sure they are out there. But I do know one thing: Meijer's stores (a Michigan franchise) sells all of the meats to make those sandwiches, and, in the age of Google, people with "only" high school diplomas are more than capable of figuring out how to make one of the sandwiches your friend was so perplexed about. But that is secondary to them. They are just trying to put food on the table with the meager means they have. They're where they are because all the good jobs have dried up or moved overseas, in addition to the high cost of higher education.

    I think this column, in it's tone and substance, is about as elitist as anything you reference in the editorial.

  115. Brooks also implies that his guest was not capable of learning about these things, be it sandwiches (such a silly example), or all the other rather silly things he lists as “upper class” requirements. I am well-educated, and I don’t eat at delis or shop much at Whole Foods, but I do cook plenty of ethnic food in my working-class neighborhood kitchen, and I drink craft beer with my less-educated neighbors as well.

  116. Indeed. It's virtue signaling, to use a term from the right. I doubt Mr. Brooks would send his son to an auto-body shop to apprentice for the summer or his daughter to a nail salon to earn her spending money. Shall we close all elite colleges around the country and send America's youth to farms in the country to pick strawberries or to construction sites to lay bricks, instead of having such menial jobs be done by Mexican immigrants? It was done during the Cultural Revolution in China, by the way. Go ahead, Mr. Brooks. Take a lead to advocate that.

  117. He could have told his friend, "It's ham," but that would have meant no condescending anecdote.

  118. Spot on, as they say. But this is nothing new for the wealthy. I think the difference now is that the wealthy class is left-leaning and feels compelled to harmonize its aristocratic life-style with lip service to social justice ideals.

  119. It is always someone else's fault for failure. Teachers are as good as their students. When children, including teens, have no parental guidance and don't know their fathers, classes are disrupted and no one learns.

    All children need to be taught at home in order to succeed in school. One disruptive student can ruin the class for everyone.

  120. Disruptive students belong in reform schools, where they can be disciplined and taught to behave without destroying education for their peers.

    Students who simply don't show up -- sleep late -- lazy shiftless parents (of all races!) who don't MAKE their teens attend classes -- that problem could be solved simply by A. truant officers and B. simply do not permit dropping out. Schools should be mandatory until age 18 or graduation.

  121. I agree with the writer who pointed out tribalism as a key attribute of cultures (not just in the US) that seem to be withering rather than strengthening. I'm not particularly interested in where the upper-middle-class folks send their kids to college but rather in the factors that seem to be interfering with students at all levels developing the attitude that if they work hard they can learn almost anything they want to or need to. When I was teaching high school mathematics I had too many students (and their parents) who thought they should be given a passing grade because "at least they came to class." US students can get an excellent undergraduate education at many state-supported universities as long as they are prepared to challenge themselves, work hard, and READ! People who have learned how to do those 3 things consistently will be successful no matter where they live or what career they choose.

  122. The disadvantages to lower income students also reach into state universities with the dramatic decline in state funding. Trading a debt level that looks like a mortgage for a degree from a state school is one of the results.

  123. It's not surprising that Brooks would see the informal cultural barriers as more problematic than the formal structural barriers. That's a nice way of pinning blame on the so-called coastal elites instead of taking a hard look at the systemic inequalities that exist in our nation, inequalities that can only be ameliorated by a coordinated effort from both government and private industry. There's no doubt that the so-called educated class can be exclusive, and that we can all be more sensitive to the way our cultural norms may shut out those from different backgrounds. However, to suggest individuals in the educated class hold the primary responsibility for our social inequalities seems to me to let everyone off the hook for the hard work that really must be done, primarily through changes in the way we as a society allocate our resources.

  124. Well, these people do run 'government and private industry'. Maybe that's why there's no coordinated effort to help the bottom half - they like things the way they are.

  125. Its not clear how zoning restrictions keep people away from places with good jobs, nor is it zoning restrictions that determine who can live in which exact neighborhood. The primary factor that determines who can get to reside in which area is price.
    However to get a job in NYC all that is necessary is to live within commuting distance by mass transit, which includes just about the whole NY metro area.
    The only exception to that is how the public schools in upper middle class areas are rated. And that is that since schools are rated by the percent of students that do well, it only makes sense that parents who are both well educated and understand how important a good education is will make sure their children don't slack off and do well in school. Still for a parent to make sure their child does well in school does not require a college degree, all that is needed is that the parents really care about it and understand its importance.
    And the idea that those neighborhoods in which people feel the need to "sport the right baby carrier", " tea, wine and Pilates tastes" and "the right attitudes about David Foster Wallace" are places that normal middle class people are "excluded" from by cultural codes is absurd, as normal people feel that those are the most ridiculous criteria to use to assess people by and want nothing to do with that culture, or those people.
    And not having the right tastes in tea definitely has no effect on ones opportunity at a good education.

  126. Well said!

  127. See my response

  128. Mr. Brooks frequently dwells on the inequities of our society. He sympathizes with the downtrodden, and is critical of the upper echelons' failure to help their fellow citizens. But he always sees the solution as society magically becoming more spiritual, charitable and equitable. He will not admit that unfettered markets exacerbate the disparity he decries, and only the government can create the incentives to solve the problems.

  129. We have become a more regulated society than ever before. At no time in US history has an individuals property been subject to government control as it is now.

    More government hasn't prevented the problem - it has created the problem.

    Regulations impose costs that are real burdens to lower and middle economic strata that the wealthy do not feel. Fees and taxes inhibit savings and investments. Though those fees and taxes may well go to a good purpose the burden they bring prevents opportunity.

    After 50 years of increasing regulatory and welfare spending we have only seen a worsening of social and economic conditions. Doubling down on a failed policy isn't a solution - it's hubris.

  130. Agreed. BUT. As far as he goes, he is right. We do need the government to help put things right, but the government reflects (however imperfectly) the attitudes of the citizenry. Better government policy would reduce these problems. a more "spiritual, charitable and equitable" society would improve the policies of the government.

  131. The government is elected and run by the citizens you've got. If they are all ruthless competitors out to help themselves, how is government going to be the nice guy?

    If I said that most politicians look at government as a way to gain money and power for themselves and their friends, how many here would disagree?

  132. I'm not sure Brooks is right about this. I'm an incredibly picky eater who loves McDonald's and I've been made fun of for this -- maybe even rejected by some close-minded folks.

    But my kids are still firmly in the upper (middle) class. That has a lot more to do with being married (despite the hard times) and planning our lives, than with knowing what to order on a fancy restaurant board.

    My real question is would working class people be okay if they only had children within permanent marriages? In Toronto I see successful construction workers and landscapers who have big houses and middle class family structures. As Canadians, I'm sure having public health care, cheap university, and solid benefits probably helps. I think, though, we could all (even Canadians) use a little more security (more labor laws, more benefits) funded by greater tax on those executives who earn 300 times what the average worker does. It should be as shameful to offshore taxable income as it is right now to disregard the environment.

  133. Do you seriously think that in the USA, construction workers and landscapers do not own their own homes? and many achieved wealth through their work?

    Also: it seems unlikely that construction workers and landscapers got their jobs via a "cheap university education".

    The cost difference between a public college in Canada and one in the US is fairly minimal anyways, once you adjust for the cost of living and the difference in value between the Canadian and US dollar (which many people forget to do!).

  134. @ Concerned citizen,

    A surprising number of the construction workers who worked on my home were university dropouts, or men who had abandoned office work. My impression is that in the US people like that might be hobbled by student loans. Also, I was in NYC last week and the construction workers didn't look as well off as in Toronto. In Toronto they often are white university educated men, often a little bit entrepreneurial.

    My impression, too, is that in the US a lot of landscapers are illegal immigrants, not upstanding, strapping, healthy young white men from good families.

    Regarding the cost of university, U of T is the equivalent to the Ivy League here and unless you do an MBA it's usually 7K a year. Lots of teens who are first generation immigrants live at home and go to school. There's fewer frats and hard drinking partying. Little emphasis on sports (no one I knew ever went to a football game). U of T also admits 10,000 undergrads a year. This is an incredibly more equalitarian experience than, say, Yale -- in every way.

  135. I've said it before; I like Brooks. But how is what he writes here a revelation? There are structural barriers to lower and middle class children moving up the social ladder. Upper middle class parents use education to maintain their privilege. There are cultural signposts -- social practices, words, places -- that signify unwelcome exclusion to the economically disadvantaged. This is all basic social science throughout the last century. It's no revelation to be descriptive here; be prescriptive in terms of policies and practices to address this. Now, either Brooks is either stuck in his tracks or no longer Republican in any meaningful way that I see. Which is it, man?

  136. Mr. Brooks, I agree with much of what you have to say, but you leave out two vitally important things: first, a major reason the lower classes can't get a step up is because Republicans have eroded the social safety net over the past few decades. This includes a lack of spending on educational resources and teachers for people living in poor neighborhoods. The second thing to keep in mind that if by lower class you are referring here to white, working-class Trump supporters, they are arguably more exclusionary than the upper-class cosmopolitans you describe. Frankly, I'd rather belong to a group that supports people for their education and achievements rather than a group that supports people because they are white, Christian, Rush Limbaugh listeners. I do think everyone in our country should be more supportive of everyone else, but frankly, raising taxes to better support the poor would go along way toward helping those in need.

  137. Interesting point, one that reminds me of issues related to gerrymandering in politics. You might call it the problem of "gerrymandering life". As you point out, we've been using the wrong metrics to measure success in class advancement.

    The consequences of gerrymandering voting districts for the GOP are clear. They've grown in power but declined in civility and cooperation. You can't only listen to your own mob and expect to truly connect with others.

    The consequences of gerrymandering lives are even worse - some children have "done well" if you look at their income and education, but we've created nutrition, culture, educational deserts for vastly many others. We've also grown to distrust and fear others because the echo chambers of our gerrymandered lives deprive the upper middle class of something too, our shared, fundamentally social humanity.

  138. Yes, in part. But I'd say you're off base by proclaiming the divide as between the college educated and the not. The upper class you speak of is not just college educated. There are many of us with one or more degrees who are under-employed or basically just lower middle-class. The lingo and mores of the upper class that you speak of is a foreign language to us as well.

    The class that you refer to, who are able to afford to live in locales way beyond most of us, shop at Whole Foods, provide their kids with the activities that get them into the best colleges; that's a more rarified class David. Even if it's the top 20%, it's not just having a college degree that provides this. Sadly though, far too many families have been sold the idea that a college degree WILL propel their children into the upper class. Far too many are now saddled with heavy student loan debt and a degree from a lower tier college. As they work the counter at Starbucks, they wonder when they too will join the upper class.

  139. The constitution may suggest otherwise, but actual American history has always been shaped and continues to be shaped by a mind set of "us versus them." We may have the constitutional law to strive for egalitarianism but we lack the cultural-psychological constitution for it. Hence the chronic and embarrassing inequalities and injustices that are everywhere staring us in the face, and that we stare at on a daily and hourly basis on our computer, smart phone, or television screens. As long as the notion that we are "different but not separate" is just a concept in the head but not a felt and lived reality in the heart we continue to bark up the wrong trees with our political and social ideas. I tend to subscribe to what two greats have to say. Gandhi: "There is enough for everyone's need but not for everyone's greed." And Balzac: "Behind every great fortune there is a great crime." But we are too enamored of "individual differences" that make us separate to get either Gandhi or Balzac. And so, paradoxically, we remain a small nation at heart. We now have a president to match that heart condition. And so we voluntarily go sit on the side lines of world history as the truly great G 19 do their more inspired and inspiring work. While a European student can study in any country of his or her choosing his or her American counterpart has to go into life-long student loan debt to even get going.

  140. We've met the enemy and it is.... us?? Fueled, of course, by a form of "self interest" more rooted in Reagan and Rand than traceable to Adam Smith.

    We progressives have been co-opted by the very strands of thought and being that we decry. Any wonder why the seething despair all around us?

  141. This is based on local mores, because rural towns have fewer choices for food and other cultural items, thus every one shares the same cultural. The lower classes definitely share less of certain items than the rich, and the rich do not frequent the same bars as the poor. But, for the most part, the smaller town is more closely knit.

  142. Thank you. Easterners and Californians think I'm crazy when I tell them I REALLY miss Kansas.

  143. We have been hearing about this elite segregation for a long time and nothing has changed and nothing will until we demand it from our state and federal governments. Laws such as public schools are paid by local taxes ensures the "less worthy" do not infiltrate their world. Currently Vermont is trying to pool school taxes into one fund to be distributed on a per capital basis. Low and behold, and not surprising, Stowe Vermont, the rich ski area is fighting tooth and nail against it. I bet they consider themselves good stewards of their children's education but could care less what happens outside their bubble. Maybe public shame and organized protests like we are seeing in healthcare will move our governments to do the right thing. Good education, like healthcare is a right. It's no surprise that in the larger view the country will actually make more money since the biggest problem facing businesses is lack of skills.

  144. There are many facets of this problem that are worthy of discussion but I'd like to emphasize the importance of universal health care and low cost public higher education in addressing this problem. There are no more powerful initiatives available that would help to level the playing field for all Americans. Wealth is the great separator in our society not education but these programs would be the most effective in making a middle class lifestyle available to all our citizens.

  145. I'm less concerned about the poor being able to walk among the ivy-encrusted elite institutions than their lack of opportunities at state-supported public universities due to crippling student loan debt. Until higher education, like health care, is affordable for all, the U.S. will continue its decline in the global competition for talent.

  146. Decades ago, the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled Ohio's funding of public K-12 schools, based on local property taxes, is unconstitutional. The Ohio legislature took no action to change how schools are funded. The result is the best schools are in those areas with the highest priced houses and the highest property taxes that fund the best facilities and best teacher salaries. This simple fact transcends all the pontification by authors of books on the issue -- equalize school funding across all school districts and rich and poor students alike will have equal opportunity to excel and attend the college of their choice!

  147. Outlaw private schools and equalize school funding if you want to get the people with power's participation in helping schools succeed.

  148. What would the point be in outlawing private schools? Many in my town, including those of us with limited income, send our children to private schools, while still paying the city taxes that support public schools. We take nothing away from children at these schools, while doing what we feel best for our own children.

  149. I agree about equal funding, but you also have to equalize the parenting among the poor and disadvantaged. And that comes down to economic opportunities and programs that genuinely help those obliged to work for less than $10 an hour at multiple jobs.

    I volunteer at a high school with stunningly dedicated teachers that's just been gifted a brand new set of forward-looking buildings by the taxpayers of our city property tax district, but where the life stories of the kids who attend are disheartening from the get go. Broken families, mental illness, drugs, alcohol, gangs, you name the challenges.

    One of the ironies of our current political climate is that those who come to this country to pursue economic opportunity and the so-called American dream more generally manage to keep their heads down and push through the dysfunction surrounding them in the poor neighborhoods where they must live, while the native born wallow in the muck of poverty, a muck that is not of their own making.

    Maybe because it's the most determined who make their way to our shores and they see opportunity even here where back in the home country there was none. But the question remains: how did we become this country of have everything and have nothing so determinedly after the post-WWII boom?

    And Betsy Devos, with her profiteering zeal about for-profit education, must be stopped!

  150. "zoning restrictions in the nation’s 220 top metro areas lowered aggregate U.S. growth by more than 50 percent from 1964 to 2009"

    Huh? While agreeing with Brooks general points, the above needs to be verified and validated.
    A 50% reduction in growth, caused by residential zoning rules seems a ridiculous assertion.
    Zoning tends to limit some development but at the same time, it increases underlying property values I.e. growth . Can't have it both ways.

  151. For the first time in my career I work for an organization where many coworkers come from a privileged background. I thought I was imagining things until two supervisors who were new hires from backgrounds similar to mine mentioned it. I am not ashamed of where I come from. I have two college degrees and support from parents who valued hard work. However, I have had questions from colleagues asking if it was rough where I grew up and I had to explain it was a safe neighborhood of immigrants who were city workers and owned their own home. This organization has enormous trouble attracting and retaining a diverse workforce. I believe part of this is due to a lack of economic diversity. When the interns talk about their travels and you were never on a plane until your twenties it may be harder for the younger generation to feel like they belong there. I have mentioned this to our diversity and inclusion head.

  152. Thanks for this column. Your readers might also look at Chuck Collins' book, "Born on Third Base" for an in depth view of structural inequality.

  153. Yes, privilege exists. My parents were blue collar. We made shoe parts in the evenings. My parents instilled a desire for education in my brothers and myself.
    One brother went to the local high school and then the state University. Masters Degree. The next one went to a top rank boarding school as a day student and then attended the same state University. Masters Degree. I went to that same boarding school and then Ivy League. CAGS.
    The scholarships we were awarded made the educational costs achievable. We didn't share the "lifestyle" of our more affluent classmates. We had to decline participating in some activities for lack of funds.
    Working class membership does NOT prevent attainment in any discipline. You DO have to be motivated and work hard. Then you can take advantage of chance opportunities.
    There were more affluent people in the town in which I was raised. Some of their children have done well, other not so well.
    Correlation is NOT causation.

  154. I think David needs to be careful to distinguish the aspirational marketing signing used by Whole Foods and the upscale deli he took his friend to and true cultural barriers to the middle and lower classes. Americans of all classes tend to be clueless about what constitutes culture and what is yet another marketing gimmick hoisted at the hopelessly receptive upper middle classes.

  155. I was also thinking of the phrase "Whole Foods liberal", because it's such a precise and accurate phrase. I don't think it's just an advertising campaign, but sometimes it's hard to pinpoint which came first - the chicken or the egg.

  156. Oh, I'm quite sure Trumpers are shopping at Whole Foods. The marketing is so potent and spot on. Oh yah, and the product is terrific. LOL.

  157. There is something missing in this discussion. We live in a democracy; majority rule. The 1% cannot rule without the support of the 99%. As long as voters keep electing people who do not have their best interest in mind, this situation will continue. Government paid health care and education is just as simple as voting for legislators who will implement them.

  158. I think the divide between the bottom 80% and the top 20% explains a lot more. The top 20% in income contains 30% of the adults and 40% of those who actually vote. It also supplies all the candidates, ideas and money.

    Those at the bottom get to chose between a limousine Liberal from Scarsdale and a ruthless capitalist from Texas. Both are rich, and are sympathetic to the interests of people in their circle.

  159. Yes, a few thousand people on the planet control more than half of the world's wealth (and with it control most governments, even our own). They didn't get that money creating half of the world's wealth. t is impossible for one human to be that productive. They got that much wealth by inserting themselves into the world's financial system and taking a piece of everything that goes by. They also use their positions to manipulate markets, since they are the gate keepers, and also by using government to deregulate controls on bad behavior, but also making regulations that are bad for small competitors.
    The other 7 billion of us don' have to put up with this. We outnumber them about a 10 million to one. But they pay the media, police and the military and control the surveillance systems. (See how Mexico uses their surveillance system to protect their corrupt government, for example.)
    The global billionaire class owns 75% of corporate shares, including global corporate mass media, giving them veto power over the content of both entertainment and the news. It is a subtle system that only hires those that follow the neoliberal line (even if they describe themselves as "liberal"), telling us it would be nice to have healthcare, but there is no money (not mentioning that a few people have half the world's wealth, which they use to play the derivatives market, or create and pop asset bubbles, destabilizing the economy.
    Trump is a symptom not a cause.
    Take back the world.

  160. Capitalism does not believe in the kind of fairness that Brooks indicates is lacking. It is the ugly side of capitalism. More enlightened countries (see Europe) have socialized capitalism so as to ameliorate its deficiencies. It is demographically a different problem, however. If you think Trump is having a difficult time with the establishment, wait until someone like Bernie gets elected to see all the knives come out. Never mind, they would never allow such a person to get elected.

  161. I started out reading expecting to end thoroughly chastised for I come from an educated family (both of my parents had master's degrees) and have a doctorate myself. Yet, as I finished, I found myself wondering if you speak of a particular sub-set found on the coasts, or at least the East Coast. I, too, have no idea what soppressata, capicollo & a striata baguette are. When Mr. Obama was elected and disparaged for eating arugula, I also was clueless as to what that might be.

    I do not make lightly of your point for I would agree that societal structures continue to advantage those of us who are already advantaged. I had parents who helped me become a good writer, religiously checked my homework, attended every teacher's conference, had clear ideas about what it meant to be an "educated person" (including some knowledge of the arts, literature etc., no matter what else we majored in), and worked to get us there. Still, I do wonder if you live too much in a particular bubble of the educated which even some of us who are would find elitist and stifling.

  162. Agreed. Also, willingness to be open to new knowledge and experience is a necessary (but not always sufficient) prereq for certain kinds of success. (Although plenty of high earning ignorant 'rednecks' who still consider themselves successful - indeed, pride themselves on not being open to new experience or knowledge). Often that willingness is learned by example (e.g. parents, teachers), but some are immune despite ... and some others can be willing to learn despite never having had the benefit of such examples. Not sure society can do too much to change peoples' natures.

  163. Eating arugula is "elitist and stifling"? Try it, you'll like it!

  164. Thanks, David,
    Now I know why I somehow feel slightly uncomfortable around my wealthy friends. It IS hard to put in words. Somehow I just don't feel as adequate when I am around them.
    We are indeed good friends. I am as educated, if not better educated than they are, highly competent in what I do and have traveled around the world more than they have and I enjoy their friendships.
    I doubt if they know how I feel. I know they admire me and the things I have done and would never understand my feelings if I were to share them. It's just there and very hard to explain.
    And I am aware that these my feelings and I try very hard not to let them interfere with our relationships.

  165. In school, I was one of a handful of poor kids in a G&T program. 80% of the other children in this class were from wealthy families that had incredible levels of support and tutoring at home.

    Let's just say that every invitation to my house was eventually turned down and that we never made lasting friendships, mostly because their parents didn't want to drive over to the lower class area where I lived. Yet, I was always invited over by some well-meaning parent. Some of those kids were always shocked and possibly resentful at the fact I could do everything they could do without tutoring.

    Believe me, those barriers go back a long way and even children are well aware of them. Those social norms that I didn't seem to know echoed loudly and embarrassingly through various moments of my childhood. There was often tension in my class because I gave some sort of backward, farmy answer that the teacher wanted to explore, and a lot of eye-rolling from other folks.

    Giving kids credit for understanding those barriers and giving them access to quality education is just the first step. The first time I felt it was likely 1st or 2nd grade. Feeling that to the end of HS is an eternity! Those have/have not feelings about the invisible social barriers set up some nasty feelings in some of my peers, which possibly set part of the political divide we are feeling now.

    We did this to ourselves. Willingly.

  166. The observations are essentially correct, but the piece lacks insight. What are the underlying economic and political causes and what is the solution? They seem pretty obvious to liberals...maybe not so much for conservatives.

  167. None of this is lost on anyone who studies issues surrounding inequality: http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/topic/inequality/ . Studies and books go back decades.

    We have more college educated people in the USA than ever before, including more women than with degrees than ever before. And yet there is not much evidence that increasing direct democracy has helped improve our voting behaviors and social policies: https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/more-professionalis... . That piece is not from a right wing think tank.

    These issues are not the sole fault of one party: although our hyper-partisan congressional representatives play on wedge issues that feed our divisions. At the moment, Republican congressional representatives are making the worst show of things, pushing a "health plan" (not) that is approved by about 17% of the population. But that is just one current example.

  168. Once again it comes back to the fact that equal opportunity no longer exists in this country. Unless and until every child has equal access to a quality education, there will be a problem. Unless and until those who do succeed stop pulling the ladder of opportunity up behind them, there will be a problem. Unless and until government policies stop favoring the well off at the expense of equal opportunity, there will be a problem.

  169. Tom: "equal opportunity no longer exists in this country." It never did. Part of the disaster wrought by the Ed system and all its media cohorts was to convince Americans that the USA had reached a state of perfection, Therefore, all that was left was for individuals to strive to get as much of the pie as possible for themselves. No need to work together to preserve the advances already made and to forge a way to something better.

  170. There's a word for what you describe.

    It was tries in the soviet place in and failed.

    I'll stick with our current system.

  171. It's time to write a zoning rule outlawing parental assistance with homework.
    Let the kids struggle with it on their own. It's unfair to the kids with parents that can't or don't help their children.
    Cellphones out while in the building might be the next rule to write.

  172. The key to social mobility is an effective public education system. Many of the upper middle-class people Mr. Brooks writes began their lives in working class and immigrant families. They advanced socially and economically because the United States invested in public education programs including subsidized student loans and the GI bill during my Father's generation.

    Effective public education is difficult to implement and expensive. A wealth redistribution will be required to pay teachers competitive compensation, keep class sizes small and provide tutoring and enrichment programs. Americans will have to value academics more than school sports programs. Teachers and Administrators will have to prioritize student needs over their own. And intellectuals and politicians will have to explain to our citizens that the key to prosperity and a just society is respect and support of education.

  173. Good education, like healthcare, should be a right, not a privilege.

  174. And the first start needs to be to stop funding schools based on local income taxes. That ensures wealthy areas will get the good teachers, good equipment, good buildings, best education. We need to make school funding based on per capita. Otherwise which we see now, there will be very very few able to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps".

  175. Yes,the general attitude in this country is that education is a bad thing. Much of the propaganda coming from global corporate mass media is that only learning a skill to make money is important. History, literature, art, music, are all just a waste of time, and people that learn for the sake of learning are snobby weirdos. Most people can name numerous sports stars and their salaries and other statistics, but have no idea who their representatives are, or what years WWII spanned.
    The right's attacks on college professors and public school teachers is similar to the Cultural Revolution in China where Moa's stooges broke the glasses of the educated and sent them to work on farms, instead of educating everyone.
    And since we, as a culture are more interested in tearing other people down than lifting ourselves and them up, most people are convinced that they are too stupid to do high level work, and keep themselves down.
    The mega rich own global corporate mass media, and from Disney Princesses to the Apprentice, use it to tell the majority of the people that they are poor, not because the rich manipulate markets at every level to slice off a large piece of your productivity everyday, but because you are lazy and stupid and cant't understand government, economics, or physics.
    The average person can do all of these things, but have been told since birth that they can't and believe it. We hold ourselves down, while people like Trump steal money from us because they "deserve it."

  176. If my parents were still alive, they would think that your fancy sandwich shop story was a bit funny. As first-generation Italian-Americans, they loved their food, but thought most Americans would think it strange. In fact, they used to call it peasant food or Depression food. Remember, it wasn't until the '80s that Italian food was considered fancy or gourmet. Before, Italian restaurants were family-owned and usually patronized by very blue collar people.

  177. I had the same reaction. All my relatives would have recognized those sandwich ingredients and they certainly weren't upper class!

  178. "From those to whom much has been given, much is expected". Can the well-to-do parents teach their children this concept? Do they even know it?

  179. Apparently not.

  180. David Brooks talks about upper middle class mobility like it's some kind of weather phenomena. He blames parents instead of his own political party for creating the environment for political exclusion and the growing inequality by the GOP to redistribute income to the elites.

  181. if you think this is a partisan issue, then the blinders will never come off.

  182. Reeves also wrote another book about how simply taxing the 1% at early 1980's levels will not bring in enough government revenue to pay for the social welfare needs of the modern state.

    The top 20% will not vote to raise their taxes.

    Most people, even the top 20%, think they are in the middle class.

  183. I favor more taxes. I favor more taxes on me ( a 20%'er). What Brooks points out is the fabric of barriers - from zoning and tax law to sandwich shops and neighborhood mores of misguided culture (self elitism).

  184. Wrong, many in the top 20%--and even the top 1%--do vote to raise their taxes. But when we do, even if it passes, our Republican politicians do whatever they can to undo it.

    Here in Maine, citizens recently passed by referendum a 3% tax increase on incomes over $200,000. The funds were designated for K-12 education. I voted for the increase, which would have affected me. The funds would largely have been directed to school systems outside my own community--i.e., schools with more need. However, during the recent budget impasse (shutdown) in our state, the Republican-dominated legislature and the Republican governor managed to put through a budget that overturned the 3% tax increase, *against the will of the people.*

    Why politicians who refuse to raise taxes under any circumstances get elected is another question. In my state, at least, the republican governor won his seat with only 38% of the vote.

  185. More important than raising taxes is how we spend them. With so much of our taxes poured into the largest military budget in the world, the "help" offered underprivileged youths in our country is a career regime-changing on the other side of the world. This maintains the status quo of separating them from their peers at home on campuses, physically and otherwise..
    At least in the past when the military returned to civilian life there was the GI Bill that gave them the chance to equalize their status with the more privileged. Now we entrench an unjust system that divides us as a nation.
    Yes, we could, maybe should, raise taxes but not unless we have better priorities in spending them.

  186. Really David, sandwiches and informational barriers separate the wealthy from the rest? No, crazy food names and zoning regulations are only the symptoms. Money remains the root cause of inequality. It buys privilege of better education, jobs and health. It builds a society that caters to the rich and their whim, caprice and mood.
    Equal opportunity societies do better over the long run, because rather talent and hard work determine success and not the family bank account. And it all starts with a fair distribution of money by progressive taxes on every form of income and inheritance.
    Equality eroded in this country parallel to cutting taxes starting at the peak of the Eisenhower era to the nadir of the second Bush.
    What trickles down are only crumbs of bread, cake or fancy sandwich.

  187. One added note, why the angst on zoning. Most zoning restrictions evolve because there is a finite amount of actual land and too many people creating too much demand. They aren't making any more land.

  188. Zoning does play a significant role. Anyone who even suggests a plan for affordable housing is figuratively run out of town. There have been so many towns placing strangleholds on zoning that building affordable housing is impossible. How can a family even dream of upward mobility when skyrocketing increases in their rent, utilities, insurance, food and other necessities severely outpaces income increases. This makes the ability to save extremely difficult at best and most often totally impossible. Ergo, the dream of "moving up" or "climbing the socio-economic ladder" is destroyed.

    Just an aside ... towns willingly allow/encourage houses to be rented to college students ... no zoning restrictions for that ... and there is nothing neighbors can do about it. Have you ever lived next door to a college house? Have you ever lived in a area where these college houses are taking over? The mayhem is truly shameful. But people don't want and won't allow affordable housing for families. Real estate gangsters are ruining once working class neighborhoods. The working class is being driven out. Affordable housing is being denied. Who and what will be next?

  189. Much of this is spot on. Brooks does not mention it, but standardized testing plays a huge role in the college admissions process. Parents with the means pay thousands of dollars for tutors to prepare their kids for the SATs and ACTs. Underprivileged students lack the resources and are at a massive disadvantage when it comes to competing for slots at elite schools. Of course economic disadvantages play out in many forms, but standardized testing remains an egregious example of the disparities that exist in the college application process.

  190. I disagree. Spending money on test prep is a big waste of money. My daughter received a 35 on her ACT with nothing more than a $20 ACT test guide.

    And given that I will be paying college costs of about $70K per year, I could certainly have afforded test prep if I thought it to be useful, but made the right decision to avoid it.

  191. Nuts! Both my wife and I come from financially marginal families. Both we and our 5 kids went to Ivy League or equivalent public colleges, and none of us had any coaching for the SATs. Not having coaching is an excuse, not an explanation.

    Oh, and we live in a 'privileged' suburb.

  192. Why pick on David Foster Wallace? Infinite Jest to a great extent was about putting materialism and narcissism aside to serve a greater purpose. He pretty much predicted the political and existential mess we are in right now.

  193. Why is everyone so pro-DFW? Most haven't read him and even more don't get it. FInally he is not everyone's cup of literary tea. What Brooks points out is not that DFW is a negative, but the rarified nose in the air crowd cares if you have embraced that token of elitism.

  194. Ironically, David Foster Wallace himself was pretty working class and ordinary, and proud of his humble roots -- not a snob at all.

    I recommend the very good recent film "End of the Tour", about Wallace.

  195. David Brooks changes the subject here from things we can remedy by passing laws like zoning neighborhoods and college admissions to things we can't do anything about like sandwich shop menus. To say as he does that informal social barriers are more important than housing and education policies is to say that inequality is about our behavior and not something government can or should do anything about. This is the usual bait and switch.

    I don’t care about the invisible take care of the visible, force low income housing in upper middle-class neighborhoods and create more class and race based affirmative action in college admissions, then the invisible will take care of itself.

  196. Benjamin: I agree wholeheartedly. I care less how a menu is described, or how a particular business caters a clientele. That is irrelevant. We should find a way to insure that all social strata live together in the same neighborhoods. The whole concept of gated community living is repugnant (to me). It's simply segregation of an elitist kind. Be you wealthy or be you poor, all should live together within the same community. The same idea applies to education as well. That is, after all, the whole definition of community is it not?

  197. American upper-middle-class culture (where the opportunities are) is now laced with cultural signifiers that are completely illegible unless you happen to have grown up in this class and they play on the normal human fear of humiliation and exclusion? The educated class establishes class barriers not only through material consumption and wealth display but by establishing practices that can be accessed only by those who possess rarefied information?

    It appears to me a strong sign of limitation of, at best, education method and genetics of the leading or elite or cutting edge of a society if it does not exist in something of comet fashion and embody the virtues of clarity, courage, consistency, honesty and radiate these values outward, all around, and back through tail of society. When the leading edge of a society gets bogged down in material consumption, wealth, and practices and cultural signifiers which do not clarify, do not aim toward genius, but exist along eccentric or jargon or difficult or own sake lines then obviously education and/or genetics has failed.

    The less a society plumbs its people for talent, genius and forms a peak of light for itself the more the peak of society is limited and falls back to not genius but in direction of monarchy and class distinguished by particularity and not universality, by eccentricity, peculiarity, ways of doing things which exclude, a narrow view not equal to the totality and mystery of existence and realization of human life.

  198. Interesting article - and strange at the same time: is Mr. Brooks suggesting that parents shouldn't actively seek better education and then opportunities for their kids? He seems to mix what he calls "upper middle class" focus on raising children well with what we used to call "Yuppie" culture - Whole Foods markets and Panera's sandwich naming conventions. Not really connected.

    The problem is that all parents aren't pushing for the best for their children, their children aren't the center of their attention as they should be. I live in Northern Virginia where we have a racially-diverse population in full flower. The families who support and maybe push their children are seeing dividends in their children's achievements and higher education and upper-level jobs are there for all.

    Other people - families that have only one overwhelmed parent or don't care about their child's education see the opposite effect and yet another generation at the bottom stays there. My wife teaches in the public school system here and the teachers and the support are uniformly excellent. The attitudes and commitment of the students and parents are vastly different from district to district and it's very easy and tragic to see who will succeed and who will not.

    The "System" is not ruining America, it's the destruction of families and cultures that don't value the education that is available that are ruining America.

  199. As for the "ruining of America", I would posit that the lack of empathy also plays a part.

    Perhaps if that one overwhelmed parent had guaranteed paid maternity leave? Perhaps if someone bothered to ask about the potential toxic stress in the lives of those who seemingly "don't care about their child's education"?

    When we see those around us as worthy of all we are worthy of, perhaps then the societal barriers spoken of in this piece can start to be broken down.

  200. The median income in your area is twice or thrice the income in our county in Maine. The academic trajectory of a child can be measured in the home shelf space devoted to books compared to the home shelf space devoted to electronic devices. The poor cannot afford books, but they will afford a TV.

  201. To Jen R: no, empathy is all-consuming to my dear wife, the teacher. She has spent many extra hours trying to reach and support all of the children in her classes. The unspoken and unmentionable issue is that some of her students come to class without any intention of participating in the learning process and zero help from their parent(s).

    She has had to deal with children that should have been classified as behaviorally disabled, children who become violent in the classroom, children who ransack the classroom facilities and steal from her purse. She has had to deal with parents just released from prison threatening her and she is unable to impose any penalties because of restrictions on punishments for certain groups. Their indiscipline and resistance to education damages the opportunities for the remainder who do want to have a decent education.

    The "toxic stress" is on the poor, hardworking teachers, not the students. Go ahead, visit a school and see what you see. Better yet, become a teacher. Good luck.

  202. The rich being more culturally sophisticated and living in exclusive neighborhoods? How about something you can do something about? Teacher quality is the most important controllable factor in a student's performance.
    Let public school superintendents select and de-select their employees just like privatized schools. Give all children the benefit of teachers selected and managed based on performance, like all successful institutions. Who speaks for that alternative? Not many. Here's where the public interest slips between the interest of unions and privatized schools.

  203. Maybe a large percentage of people are not interested in spending all of their waking moments in education? That somehow, credentialed education, became the be all, end all. Which is great for 10 to 20 percent of the population.

  204. Parent and Teacher partnerships are the most significant factors in high student achievement. Moreover, it's interesting that adults no longer hold students accountable anymore for high learning expectations. In Africa, Europe, and Asia students know that education is a priority. That used to be the cultural ideal in America; however it's easier to bash unions and teachers and allow students the freedom of mediocrity. Sad!

  205. Very true, David.

    It is, therefore, ironic that Charles Murray, who famously articulated this in his book "Coming Apart", was silenced at Middlebury by privileged students of this ilk.

    Middlebury students apparently know what should or should not be spoken aloud in a free society. Or think they do.

    Or, perhaps, their total lack of self-awareness, underscored by piety, brings the American Progressive to this unique point in history. The Progressive, arm in arm with educated and largely upper class elites, seems to have a very narrow and patronizing view on the path forward.

    We live in Brookline and Palo Alto. Please take this money and stay away from us and our children.

    Hence we have Trump.

  206. My father went to Brown University and so did I. I was lucky enough to grow up in that period immediately after WWII where the sky was the limit for middle and working classes of America. The GI Bill made the Ivy League affordable for my father and my father made it affordable for me. That kind of opportunity was rare before WWII in America, and it has become rare again. The wealthy funders of the Republican Party have forgotten how high taxes for the ultra rich (90%+ for the highest brackets) and incredible opportunity for the masses lead to one of the greatest flowerings of economic expansion in our history.

    It is normal for humans to work to protect what they have and to seek the betterment of their children. It is immoral to manipulate laws and regulations to your own advantage while blocking the access of others. America benefitted enormously from the creativity and energy of the mass of its people in the post-WWII period --- perhaps our nation's high-water mark. Why does the Republican Party so fear doing it again. The average Conservative will tell us that too much opportunity for the masses will make us soft. I say that it once made us great.

  207. Nobody paid 90% in the 50s. IRS records from that era show that the rich paid about 35%, and the middle class paid 25% in Federal income tax. Now the rich pay about the same, but the middle class pay less than 10%.

  208. Jonathon,

    I beg to disagree. If I remember correctly, the highest rate was 98%. That means the any money earned at that level was taxed at 98%, not that all that individual's earnings were taxed at that rate.

    I'm in the middle class and last I looked at my Federal tax return, it was at a rate of 28-30%. I wish I knew where these myths start.

  209. Dick - The highest rate was 90%. But I am talking of a study based on actual returns, after all deductions and allowances.

    Today, if you are in the statistical middle, you are a family of four with an income of $55K. The standard deduction of $12,600 plus four personal allowances of $4050 will wipe out $28,800 of this income, leaving $26,200. Tax on that is $2620 - and that's without the child tax credit.

  210. I'd like to think that you offered to go with Mexican food because it's popularity makes the menu items well-known. However your offer comes across (to me) as agreeing to take a step down to comfort the less fortunate.

    Why not choose Mexican (or Mcdonalds) in the first place or why not use this as a teaching moment and expose this person to a new dining experience?

    I see you've managed to exclude the less educated from learning about Italian sandwiches!

  211. gastronomic discrimination is VERY real, Sir. And it HURTS those excluded. Your comment is a classic example of micro-aggressive exclusion that makes those less fortunate in this country suffer and hurt.

  212. Thank you for articulating my own observation so well

  213. I grew up in a very blue-collar neighborhood. My father had a 10th grade education. I paid my way through college (3 degrees) - no debt. I had a brand new car (VW) and an apartment on my own as an undergraduate - all of this while I worked for the Parks and Recreation department - not a high paying job. I received no financial assistance except for a minor $500 scholarship one semester. There is no way that I know of that this could be done today. Quite simply, the costs of goods and services have accelerated while salaries have stagnated and created even greater class divisions. The opportunities have diminished for the lower class and they, and/or their parents, cannot make up for the differences in the cost of living. It's much harder now to break out of the lower or middle class.

  214. Thank you for your clarity. I immigrated at age 20, bussed tables in a pizzeria at minimum wage until 2 AM on weekdays and 4 AM on weekends: no big deal, no complaints, happy to do it because the money I made was sufficient to get me though college until I got to grad school with a teaching assistantship which led me to 2 MAs and a PhD.

    When I tell my students now, they look at me like I am from Mars.

  215. but why would one even want to?! I know of no religion emphasizing wealth as virtue, and over 70% of Americans reliably claim they are religious. Being poor is of God; rich - of the Devil, and that is that. As such, then, emphasis on wealth is grossly misleading and, in fact, undermining this country's special calling - so-called, American exceptionalism, no?

  216. Thank you for stating this, Don. I hear too many parents refuse to help their own kids with college because they did it on their own. While in college, my son had a summer job at an auto factory. He was paid over $20 per hour and worked all the overtime he could. He made enough money to pay for one semester tuition at the cheapest state school in our state.
    I was the first generation from my family to attend college. This was in the mid-seventies, my tuition and housing at a state school was less than $5000 per year, which I could easily make by getting a decent summer job and working part time during the school year.
    As you say, it's much, much harder now to break into the upper echelons.

  217. I grew up in a country (Belgium) with tuition-free and selection-free access to all colleges, in fact for most degrees anyone showing up with any high school diploma is enough to be allowed. It creates an equal, but brutal first few college years with many drop-outs. At a public cost of roughly 15K$ per student per year the system creates a lot of waste and the first two years of popular degrees are mostly taught 'ex cathedra' with auditoria packed like sardines in a tin, so there are definitely downsides. Still, children coming from a modest background who work hard get every chance to earn a coveted degree and subsequently start a career in e.g. management or financial consulting, become a doctor or dentist without student load debt. The system puts a lot less pressure on parents to build their children's curriculum in order to make it into the best colleges, but excellent high school grades (i.e. a mix of talent and self-discipline) are naturally still key to success. Of course, in later life, the best job opportunities in the corporate world are only open to those with the right connections but this is of all times and places.

  218. If David Brooks wants lower middle class kids to go to Ivy League schools, he needs colleges to change the rules. If colleges reward enriching travel and internships, parents with the financial ability to do so will see that their high school age kids get those experiences. But what would happen if colleges admission departments rewarded kids who work hard at blue collar jobs? Asking parents not to act in what they perceive is in the best interests of their kids in the name of equity is to defy human nature. Colleges need to change the rules.

  219. "But what would happen if colleges admission departments rewarded kids who work hard at blue collar jobs? "

    They actually do. A kid that earns top grades in the most challenging courses while working 20 hours per week to support himself and/or family is considered very appealing to elite colleges.

  220. Most have begun doing so - huge interest in First In Family. The biggest problem is once in is staying in.

  221. Bingo, DF! Some of the biggest purveyors of inequality are the elite colleges, who always (surprise!) find a place for a mediocre off-spring of rick and famous (case in point: Jared Kushner), while talented lower-middle-class youth is left to pound pavement at Mississippi State and such (no offense to MSU). The liberal elites are the biggest hypocrites; at least the President has stopped pretending (long ago) he cares about the little guy. I am convinced that what did Hillary in was precisely that: her unabashed and poorly disguised hypocrisy.

  222. Wow, talk about avoiding the elephant in the room. The base of inequality starts at the foundation which is economic. When middle class families had earners who were in unionized jobs or well paid government positions, both with dependable benefits, these families had the time and resources to help their children make it to the next level. When family earners are underpaid, forced to accept unpredictable working hours, and have meager benefits, they do not have the time to devote to boosting their children's prospects (or time to devote to civic and social activities that make their communities stronger). They are in full time survival mode. It is fashionable to bash unions and government workers, but these were important sources of civic and social stability - built on economic fairness.

    Companies like Walmart, Amazon, and Uber are concentrating wealth in the hands of a very few and preventing the vast majority of the folks who work for them to build the future for their families.

  223. Agree 100%. Only want to add: civic and social stability is the essence of "conservatism". Oh, the irony!

  224. Yes, the elephant in the room, namely, the Grand Old Padrinos who, at the behest of libertarian psychopaths like James M Buchanan seek to prevent the government from overturning racist ways.

  225. Interesting article, interesting book. But the book at least does miss one key point in its discussion of the upper middle class as responsible for growing income inequality in the US. The "nineteen percent" (those whose incomes fall between the 80th and the 99th percentile) have seen outsized income gains, and do hoard their privileges, consciously or unconsciously. But the one percent have seen far more outsized income gains, accounting for over 90% of income growth since the recession. Let us not forget the one percent in looking for targets that need reform.

  226. Excellent point, Anne May. Is the "19th percent" your term?

    Whoever's term it is, let us all advance its use, for it illuminates discussion of inequality a almost as much as the "1%," indeed enhances thinking about the "1.%."

  227. Public schools have enough resources to help any child who wants to do the hard work, to move ahead accordingly.

  228. Oh my. Being a public school educator in a large urban Maine city, which is located amongst some truly wealthy towns, I can say unequivocally that a student struggling in my public school system has a far more difficult road ahead of her than a like-struggler in a richer and more resource wealthy neighboring town. All public schools are not created equal, but rather depend on local tax dollars for their funding, as well as their state, and therein is a world of difference in student opportunity and access.

  229. This is not true. I was in elementary school classrooms with teachers who not only didn't teach, but didn't assign any work either. How do you work hard when no work is assigned? I'm probably the only child in history who begged my parents for tutoring so that I could be allowed to learn something. At least three times during my elementary school years I had adults who identified me as being placed in the wrong classroom for my ability level. After a few weeks they would sigh and give up. The "good" classrooms were already over-subscribed.

  230. Perhaps you are not acquainted with the vast disparity in the resources available to schoolchildren which are dependent solely on the economic strengths of their community. The column specifically points to these differences in schooling - physical plants, teachers, books, activities, and cultural opportunities - that are everyday benefits to upper middle class children, and completely out of reach to a child living in a lower class neighborhood. Being cavalier about the issue and placing all the onus on the child to prosper is a cruel mythology developed by the comfortable to ignore the injustice visited upon those born into poverty and need.

  231. The root cause of social inequality is the inequality in the basic intelligence of people. Contrary to a popular myth, people are not created equal. People who possess a higher IQ not only do better at math but they also make better, more informed, life decisions. Having a higher IQ also means that they prefer to associate with people like themselves, people they can interact with and have serious conversations. No amount of social engineering is going to change basic biology.

  232. I think the issue is one of equal opportunity, not equal outcomes.
    Certainly some people are more gifted than others. Most of us are bright enough and given the opportunity able (if willing) to make something from it. I've spent most of my life surrounded by other physicians, highly educated people, etc. Not many "geniuses" amoung them. Mostly a lot of consciencious and very hard working people. Then again, it doesn't matter much if you're "smart" -whatever that is- is you never get a chance to reach your potential.

  233. You might be interested in Carol Dweck's work. "Mindset" is a good place to start.

  234. Your comment demonstrates the myth of a Higher IQ and the correlation of drawing logical conclusions. Thank you for demonstrating your lack of "advanced proficiency"!

  235. At long last from the conservative quarter comes an honest assessment of the lamentable state of education for the many in the world's richest country. For the select few it is money that grants access to the best education. And the U.S. has already begun to pay a price for this regrettable elitism. Education, like the arts, are not self-supporting, they need to be nurtured financially. Society as a whole benefits. Public education cannot be scorned by those in power. Imagine for one minute the same trillions that were spent on a bogus, devastating war in Iraq directed instead to a national standard of opportunity and excellence in our public education system - priorities need to change.

  236. Aristocracy was drive from the culture slowly and painfully beginning in America in the 1760's and ending with the Russian Revolution in 1918. At that point the message was clear, and most Western familial rulers faded quickly into the past. A few hung on, but only with weakened political powers and little real influence over society in general.
    What you describe is a new aristocracy, rising to dominate our society; set the norms; define who we are and what we think. I suppose it is human nature to want to better the next generation. I think the isolation and grouping you describe will lead to conflict and open revolt in the end. There is an other out in America being held down by a lack of economic opportunity. They will not sit still for long. They will rise.

  237. July 14, 1789.

  238. Interesting how race is not mentioned in this piece. I don't want to want to say it's all about race (it's clearly not), but as our society has moved from a more homogeneous (European) to more heterogeneous (polyglot), or from segregated to less segregated, the trends and practices highlighted in the article became more acute. Self sorting is a personal way to segregate as opposed to segregation which is structural.

  239. The US was never homogeneous. The Irish were not thought of as English or anything like the English, much less the Italians or Spanish. The country was full of Native Americans. Blacks were always here, both as slaves and free men. At least 10% of the Continental Army that fought the civil war was black. When we but the Liousiana Purchase we inherited both French and Spanish speaking people, and when we took half of Mexico we got even more Spanish speaking communities (who are now treated like they weren't here for more generations than most English speakers.
    With modern modern communications, especially TV, the whole world is more homogeneous than Europe was 2000 years ago. Everyone eats all kinds of food, and listens to all kinds of music, etc.
    But in order to get into the top jobs everything has to line up from birth to promotion. Being able to afford preschool, Going to a school with kids with connections, getting into elite collleges with more students with connections, all adds up. Getting in trouble with the police is completely different when your parents have money and influence.
    The US once made great inroads toward making our country a meritocracy where everyone started equal, and their own hard work determines your future (although even much of that was an illusion), but since greed became good, we have been going in the wrong direction.
    What those with money and connections forget is that demand drives the economy and depends on everyone having money to spend,

  240. This column is steering toward the vacuous. First, the differences in cultural norms described would have been equally true fifty or 100 years ago. People in different socio-economic classes now live and have always lived (at least in my memory) in different neighborhoods, eaten different foods, created cultural patterns that are distinct. It's not zoning restrictions, it's the cost of the housing and the location of employment opportunities that create the neighborhoods. Second, one of the primary purposes of acquiring any property, including money, is to benefit your children. That is a fundamental purpose of all society - the preservation of private property. Read John Locke. Are upper-middle class people 'bad' for wanting to benefit their children? What would be the point of accumulating any private property, if it could not be passed on to benefit your children? This op-ed assumes that everyone, everywhere, is really aching to leave their friends, families, neighborhood, social customs, etc. to eat at gourmet sandwich shops and mix with the upper middle class. Really? Nobody is being 'kept out' except by the normal operation of societal interactions. Everyone in America is entitled and encouraged to ignore cultural codes, if they so choose. That's why people keep coming here - for the opportunity to change, if they want, to the degree they want, in the neighborhood they want. Brooks is edging toward the fatuous political views of the nanny-state.

  241. You start out making sense, but then you miss the whole point. The point is not mingling.The point is making a decent income. Obviously half the people will make more than the median and half the people will make less, but the spread between the top and the bottom is too big and getting worse.
    There are real barriers erected by the upper classes that make it almost impossible even for a genius to go to a top school and make top 20% pay, much less accumulate top .01% wealth. The top 20% owns 88% of all wealth, leaving the other 80% with 12% between them while the richest 400 people have more than the bottom half of the country.
    The bottom 40% have less than 1% of the money.
    Even a super genius with great parents is at an extreme disadvantage growing up in a poor neighborhood with environmental poisons far more prevalent (since NIMBY only works for the upper classes), schools that are under funded (and not supplemented by a wealthy PTA), with private school not an option. The working class often work multiple jobs and can't afford nannies like the rich kids who never see their parents have.
    Another insidious barrier is the idea that school, especially higher education, and willingness to read and write and speak clearly are signs that you are some kind of "liberal elite" sell out. The upper classes use FOX and other propaganda outlets to tell the bottom 80% that education makes you a snob and disconnects you from what is important. (Some presidents barely speak English.)

  242. My objection is not with those who pass on a nice estate to their children. It's with those who financialize all the goods on the planet; and then buy and sell huge swathes ignoring the humans involved and avoiding taxation (which might benefit the humans involved.)

  243. The problem is the currently vast inequities and the tendency to blame the victims (and double down) in public policy: aka charter and voucher schools foisted on the underclass, reduction in welfare, WIC and SNAP ( requiring drug testing--i.e. All poor are drug addicts and deserve their lot cf Florida.)

  244. Once upon a time in New York, Italian-American kids growing up in decidedly not upper middle class neighborhoods were having soppressata and capicapicolla regualrly for Sunday night supper. Some of them obviously had the smarts and the entrepreneurial know how to convince the upper middle class that this was gourmet fare rather than peasant food. But what they also had was access to a world class city educational system and largely free cultural resources and affordable transportation to get them to all that the city offered. Those advantages propelled them into comfortable middle class livelihoods. In the age of austerity. kids in the equivalent of those lower middle class ethnic neighborhoods could hardly expect the same trajectory.

  245. I believe that it is the fundamental nature of a like-minded group of people to have "invisible rules" about behavioral norms. The intent is to create distinguishing markers for the group that separate "us" from "them."

    Education is the barrier to economic advancement. Free, or low-cost state universities would be a good investment to ensure that the rungs of the economic advancement ladder aren't spaced beyond the reach of those below the upper-middle class.

    In college, the woman I dated had to couch me on the finer aspects of behavior for a gathering (not a party) of her parent's very wealth friends.
    1> don't ask what the do ... they are wealthy
    2> stay away from (largely numerical) comparisons ... if you have a 32' boat they have a 120' yacht
    3> don't praise anything ... say that the wine is pleasant, otherwise they will send you a case and expect resiprocity in the future.

  246. Is the premise that attending a "big name private" university pay off more highly than attending a public state university true? I know in my field, medicine, people were paid the same whether they graduated from Harvard or U of Ky. If what truly matters is going to college, that undermines some of the focus of this interesting opinion.
    As to the culture of communities, this is unique everywhere. It is a function of humans living in groups, tribalism on a geographic scale. Lower classes have their own rituals, words and accepted dogma. People feel uncomfortable not in "their" group. This is not new, nor is it anything to write home (or here) about.

  247. Of course it makes sense that people in similar jobs get paid roughly the same, regardless of prior education or experience. But that is not the complete picture.

    What is missing are the differences in opportunities that could lead to different jobs. For example, both an MIT grad and State U grad could end up working for Google, and get paid the same. But only the MIT grad would likely get invitations to join a hedge fund, or a McKinsey.

  248. Mr. Brooks, the solution is easy. Decouple school funding from local estate tax. Instead, states collect all real estate taxes and provide school funding on a per capital basis.

  249. There is even more stratification than is discussed here even among those who are college educated. As an IT employee of a financial services firm and native southerner, I've watched the ivy league and Northerners take over the executive ranks over the years. A new CEO from the Northeast was brought it, and almost overnight most of the established executives and managers were let go and replaced by Yankees. There is a clique of executives among the large Wall Street firms that all know each other and hire each other from firm to firm. It is very difficult to break into this group and talent is only a small fraction of what gets you there. I'm willing to bet this is true in other industries as well.

  250. The geographic college culture is big in the South, too, though perhaps not in your particular firm. There's quite a network from the top southern colleges as well - and it's still mostly dominated by the "good old boy" network...they're just in their 30s and 40s now reaching down for their sons and a few daughters who just got out of Old Miss, UNC and other well known southern colleges.

    None of this is new, though I agree it is not good.

  251. Yankees?

  252. And is it not significant that every Supreme Court Justice, and most of their clerks, are all graduates of Ivy League schools? Where is the perspective of the "average person"? And why do we assume that Ivy League grads are by definition, superior to all others?: Harvard educated (insert profession), but never a University of Buffalo trained (insert profession). The lower middle class people who got to attend college through the GI bill, especially at the end of WWII, epitomized the social and economic mobility that made the United States the envy of the world. Now, according to Reeves, we are dominated by the richest one-fifth of our population, which is causing a "fracturing of American society along class lines." Just look at the debate over healthcare, for example.

  253. It is interesting to note that most comments (at least most of them that I have read) favor class distinctions and reflect an "I got mine attitude." To the extent that such comments might come from progressives, it is no wonder why the Democratic party (of which I am a member) has such difficulty connecting with voters in non-urban areas. Orwell was correct in his view that in the modern world there is an abuse of power by both the left and the right, according to Thomas E. Ricks, in "Churchill & Orwell".

  254. Good schools don't just drop from the sky.

    Good schools take generations to develop. They start with households built on family traditions and stable incomes. Families willing to carry the burden of higher taxes, to look over test scores and teach work ethics and discipline. To attend school committee meetings and push for higher standards.

    There is no simple formula. Pumping money into failing schools has never been shown to work. Busing kids around creates more problems than it seeks to solve and doesn't fix the problems back home.

    What is needed are new ideas about how to rebuild American family.

  255. See MegaDucks post. The way we finance public education through local real estate taxes is a big part of the problem. Too many school districts, constant voting on levies, and too much variation in quality.
    Another issue is the failure of Americans to truly value education and teachers. We have never allowed k-12 teachers true professional status or compensation.
    We have all heard these things, "part time job", "women's work", "anybody could do it", "glorified babysitting".
    Why did teachers form unions? Because society would not grant them proper compensation. Now those unions are being blamed for all the problems in K-12.
    Until we truly value education and teachers, until we see education (and healthcare) as rights of citizenship, we will be losing this fight.

  256. This article deserves lots of points for laying the concern/problem on the table. It misses a proper punchline though. What we do about it - at least who (what) becomes responsible and where do we start.

    Whoever responsible must have the ability to inflict change on a broad scale; clearly Fed Government leads way.

    Where to start ain't the herculean task of changing basic human drives to nurture their progeny over that of others; clearly structural changes have to be instituted to "force" a level playing field without threatening the well being of others.

    To sum up my game plan at a 30,000 foot level - education quality must be zip code independent.

    The Federal Government must help and encourage States and their Locals to make the legal and structural changes necessary. No messing around; big sticks and big carrots.

    Level the public school education playing field not lowering peaks but rather rising valleys. How?

    Replace archaic land tax based funding with general funding methods.

    Corporations must BROADLY contribute more money, time/talent, internships, and/or resources.

    Desegregation must be achieved not by forced busing type desegregation but rather by forming exceptional education centers that have few geographic boundaries, are open to all, and that will attract all worthy candidates.

    Potential talent must be actively ferreted out and nurtured in all students; yes this will involve some forced affirmative action but it must be done.

    Not easy but doable!

  257. I grew up in the 50's and 60's. and it was pretty much the same only we didn't know about it. The wealthy have always been different - they have always had a "protective cloak" around them. The only difference is that the media wasn't 24-7, and the rest of us weren't aware of it. If we were, it was because we saw it on the fringes of our middle class and blue collar lives. The changes you address came about with growing global competition in the 80's - a Greed is Good mentality, the drive from Wall Street for ever improving quarterly results, the destruction of the employer/employee relationship, and the complete lack of understanding of the winds of economic change by both of our political parties. Is it any wonder that all of us feel the pressure to provide as much for our children as we can? Our government has failed totally to comprehend and deal with these challenges for the good of the nation. So we are left with survival of the fittest.

  258. So knowing a little Italian that helps you navigate the menu of a pretentious sandwich shop is a sign of "possessing rarified information?" I grew up poor, but thanks to a lot of time, hard work and enough mistakes to (I hope) make me both humble and appreciative of what I have today. And while I don't have any children, it makes perfectly good sense to me why those who do tend to want to live in neighborhoods that are relatively safe and comfortable. It is human nature to want to maintain a healthy degree of security once you've obtained it. I have not forgotten the life and neighborhood I came from, but neither do I have any intention of going back to it. There is, in my opinion, no shame in that, and I certainly don't begrudge anyone who's managed to do the same and who is willing to fight to hold on to what they now possess.

  259. Yeah, I feel really bad that my wife decided to stay at home instead of continuing in her career when the kids were young. Think of all the lovely things we could have accumulated with a second salary. Fortunately, we did the math and realized that after all the taxes were paid and replacement services were purchased, we weren't going to be that far ahead monetarily. We invested my wife's time and talents in our kids instead of a bigger house and nicer cars. Neither of us has any regrets.

  260. Another show of wealth. We just had my wife stay home. why don't you McDonald's cashier, laborer, Walmart associate? Why don't you have your wife stay at home. Well, Earl, I did when I worked in the mill but those jobs went to Mexico then China and I had to take what I could get and my wife had to go to work as we couldn't cover rent on our cheap ghetto apartment after we lost our house in the Great Recession.

    I worked because my husband didn't make enough for us to have food and clothing, retirement saving was a luxury we could not afford, and then I lost him so I sold my soul to business to get us through. Are you kidding, you are the privileged ones of the middle class who can afford to have Mom stay home. Sure a lot of people have both parents working for stuff but in these privileged homes that Brooks is talking about both work most of the time but can afford posh day cares or nannies as well as house staff. Are you kidding that the solution is to have Mom stay home? Maybe you have a job that can support a family but for those that did not go to college as they thought they would have jobs in the mill for life well college is out of reach and jobs are scarce. So keep up the story that it is the fault of the people who had the rug pulled out from under them by the government, and the government further abandoned them to bail out the billionaires but you are going on only your own story and not the millions of stories of the those we left behind.

  261. I did the same. Doing the math in this situation is an upper middle class thing. Point of this column proven.

  262. Basically, a college degree today is what a high school diploma was in 1950 - the pass to get into a good job. And, the working class (mostly whites) are excluded from the top colleges, even if they have the ability, by the system that reserved spaces for (1) legacy students, (2) athletes, (3) foreign students who can pay the full price, and (4) affirmative action admissions. Take these out of the mix, and the rest are fighting for 10 to 20 percent of the spaces.

    What we need now is:

    A recognition that a skilled trade is the equal of a college degree;
    A recognition that income inequality must be addressed (bringing back unions would be a good place to start);
    A recognition that we need legal immigration to overcome the aging of America, and that we need, unfortunately, to legalize the illegal immigrants here who have not committed serious crimes;
    A recognition that race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion are not things that divide us;
    A recognition that certain things (health care for one) are public needs and must be provided by the government to all;
    A recognition that zoning has gone far beyond its original health and safety purpose and now exists primarily to enhance real estate value; and
    A recognition that this country cannot long exist if divided into two classes that are as divided as those in early 19th century England.

    In short, Mr. Brooks, we need a progressive Democratic Congress and White House.

  263. No, no, no and no. We will NEVER accept illegal immigration and the more the left forces this issue on us -- as if we cannot defend our borders and our LAWS -- the more you will lose elections.

    We cannot have "continual population growth" without destroying further our environment and the quality of our lives, let alone JOBS.

  264. While Brooks reads books and writes about them as though everything in them is Holy Grail material, his Republican party and president are dismantling the very institutions that have made this country great. That's the story.

  265. Some of what Brooks is writing about exists, yet lets not forget about all the immigrants, sons and daughters of immigrants, that usually arrived with very little, worked, studied, and achieved the, "American Dream." They overcame all the impediments in their way, the discrimination, language, culture, religion, etc. And don't forget these groups when they rise up also provide their children with every opportunity and move to better neighborhoods with better schools.

  266. There is truth to this essay. Economics and education and cultural choices do segregrate people and contrubute to tribalism of privilege on one side and tribalism of resentment on the other. Obama, though very honest and honorable, is still viewed as an elitist by a certain segment of our electorate. Trump, despite his wealth and privelege, gets a pass because of his crassness and his lack of cultural competence. Public schools, though mixing all segments of society, still separate into classes of elites(in advanced classes, sports and music) and less priveleged(who resent the elites, barely get a passing grade and do not participate in extracurriculars). It is all so self-sustaining.

  267. A neighbor's 16 year old son is leaving this week for a three week camping experience in Spain. His mother and her siblings are college educated. One is a doctor. The grandfather had an eighth grade education. The difference? He was an auto worker with strong union wages that was able to send his children to top quality state university on a working man's pay. I can't see that happening in today's America.

  268. You cannot change people segregating themselves and wanting the best for the children. However; the country use to have a way to get the classes mixing. It was called the Draft. Bring back a non military draft where all children reaching a High school graduating age spend about 2 years serving their country. It could be teaching the underprivileged to read and write, it could be doing childcare so that mothers can go to work if they must and not spend a fortune caring for their children, it could be the military, etc etc. In return those who serve America get free public university or learn a trade; and maybe 10 years of free healthcare. They would also, all serving together, learn about all Americans and develop some empathy and understanding for the entire USA population, not just their niche. It was this way over 70 years ago. After the Vietnam war we go rid of the draft and threw out the baby with the bathwater. Its time to update the concept.

  269. In my day the melting pot was gym class. There I learned humility and an appreciation for different types of skills.

  270. Martin,

    Bless you! I have long been in favor of re-instituting the draft in much the way you describe it. 2 years of national service with the military being one of many options (for one, I am in favor of reviving the CIvilian Conservation Corps). I firmly believe that this is the long term solution to the social, emotional, and economic woes plaguing our country.

  271. Rather than depending on military actions to balance education, which will then mostly go to men and will require wasting resources killing people in foreign Country's why not not raise taxes where needed and start dispersing education funding based on per capita rather than local funding? This would be cheaper, fairer and educate more Americans.

  272. Much of what Mr. Brooks reports makes sense. It is a solid presentation that highlights with a somewhat new spin what has long been characterized as institutional racism, but which is actually a system which we have long known is stacked in favor of the economically privileged. A rising tide clearly does not raise all ships...no news there.

    In spite of this, Starbucks has managed to building its business by cajoling a huge swath of the public into understanding strange words like Grande, Venti, and Doppio, and its customers, who are not limited to the elite, are willing to pay ridiculously high prices for the privilege. Having seen many a construction worker in their stores, it appears that blue collar workers are, in fact, capable of comprehending such exotic nomenclature, with or without a college education.

  273. I'm a (retired) lawyer who always says, "small, medium or large" at Starbucks. I'm pretty sure (younger) blue collar workers do much better than I do.

  274. I am an upper middle class white collar worker who was a bit intimidated at my first Starbucks encounter, having been raised on Chock full of Nuts ("heavenly") coffee. But I perserved. And that's the key, as the book Hillbilly Elegy highlighted.

    If you have been brought up to expect and accept that you are not suppose to be comfortable in mainstream or elite culture, you will not push yourself beyond what is familiar. everyone must be encouraged to develop the confidence to be more than what a class or community or society implicitly or explicitly tells you to be.

  275. My husband and I just moved with our kids to a different state. We are upper middle-class and could afford to move into one of the top school districts in the area. As we are looking for a new house right now, we have had many discussions about school quality and its effect on children's success in life. After much soul-searching, we have decided to chose a "middle of the road" school district because we want our kids to break out of their privileged bubble and see that there are many less fortunate families out there. Our realtor is shocked, my husband's co-workers are concerned but we feel it is time to walk the walk, not just talk the talk of social justice. As I write this, I realize how privileged I must sound. My apologies.

  276. Gosh, when I gave up my corporate job--at a catastrophic cost to my personal earning capacity and lifetime career opportunities-- at age 35 to go freelance so I could be home to raise my first child, I thought it was because my husband (himself the son of refugees to this country) and I were choosing to do everything in our power to raise a child who had the emotional security to develop into an empathetic, thoughtful human being ultimately capable of critical thinking, a sense of civic duty, emotional and behavioral self-regulation, and the caregiving capacity to be a good father or partner or friend or colleague or neighbor once he is grown. I guess I was foolish not to realize that my actual intention was to prevent other babies from sharing in the fruits of my privilege. Thanks to David Brooks for revealing that my sense of obligation to and for the new life I had created was in fact greed and self-serving perpetuation of social class.

  277. @L David

    Self-awareness is the beginning of healing.

    When a family has two incomes, as you do, you should look more carefully at the amount which becomes discretionary use, and why the first impulse is personal consumption rather than charity.

    Progressives want the government, and other anonymous citizens, to do for the less fortunate what the Progressives themselves choose not to do of their own volition.

    And you call humans natively altruistic.

    I think not.

  278. It is good that you took care of your family. Nothing is more important than family.
    But, what about your larger family? Your community, town, city, state, country, world?
    Do you advocate for a position, or ignore politics?
    Do you vote for politicians that are all about tax cuts, deregulation, and cuts in services for everyone else?. Or are you pushing for universal healthcare, cheap education, jobs, infrastructure spending (including renewable energy), etc,
    Do you think that the world is all about competition and that greed is good, or do you push models of cooperation that are more than paying people the least amount possible, so you can get the most possible?
    No one expects you to sell your children to pay for someone else's welfare payment. Just to understand that we are all in this together, and pretending otherwise might be good for your peace of mind, but in the long run is bad for your family, because a world based on greed (putting money above all else) is a self destructive world, a world that is harder, not easier to raise a family in.
    For just one example, denying people healthcare because they can't afford it makes the probability that dangerous diseases will spread to those with health insurance far more likely.
    To truly take care of your family, you need to take care of the world.

  279. This is well-worn territory (social class reproduction, symbolic capital and its lack). Mr. Brooks should be smart enough to know that these durable structures as well as the gatekeeping social relations that he privileges are not mutually exclusive precisely because both are tied up in the same exclusionary processes. It's not either/or but both/and. But income and wealth equality is an easier road toward cultural capital (fancy sandwiches, etc.) than symbolic capital is toward income and wealth. Income and wealth inequality is what condemns most of our young people to poor health, inadequate education and uncertain lives. Oh, and Mr. Brooks's friend was probably less shocked at the names of those sandwiches than she was at the prices.

  280. It'd be interesting to read Mr. Brook's take on those of us who do manage to eek up those teeny step ladders to culturally join the upper classes, but still remain excluded in terms of wealth. There are some of us who come from non-privileged backgrounds and majored in fields that do not produce upper-middle class amounts of wealth (i.e., didn't major in medicine, law, finance, or tech.) who perceive the barrier of cultural norms to be permeable, but instead of being turned off by names like "Padrino" and "Pomodoro," are turned off by paying $14 for a sandwich. I think it's important to not conflate holding a college degree with wealth production and accumulation.

  281. You brought up something I didn't even think of -- is it possible that Brook's "friend" was NOT confused by the names of Italian lunchmeats....but intimidated by $14 sandwiches? there is no indication here that Brooks was treating to lunch! Mexican food is reliably cheap and affordable -- a "fancy" sandwich shop could be path to a $28 lunch bill!

    BTW: a college degree is not the sole marker of success...some of the richest people in the world did not finish college. Three of them are Bill Gates, the late Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.

  282. It's an ever tightening circle of money and status rules, formerly known as keeping up with the Jones'. The more money you make, the more you need to spend to maintain your membership in the status club. This is why seemingly wealthy people always think that they need to earn 20% more to "make it." A huge part of that effort is your kids' college choices. Just like the BMW in the driveway (or the Prius), your kids' college tuition serves as dues to maintain your social status. So long as it's the right college, of course. The rule of spending huge amounts applies to everything - expensive schools, neighborhood, groceries, bicycles, gardens (perennials over annuals), apartments, clothes; with the occasional downmarket indulgence to prove your progressive bona fides. But mostly, status rules are enforced by ever rising prices for everything. I'm not sure how this is anything new.

  283. Keeping up with the Joneses is not new. What is new is the accelerating structural advantages of one group (the top 10-20%) over all others.

  284. The problem with degrees from elite schools is that they do very little for you unless you also know the right people and can leverage the right connections. I have yet to interview with anyone who knows the names or significance of where I went to school - that information is relevant only for jobs where one goes around HR to get interviews in the upper echelons. It's not the money; it's whom you know that is willing to lend their influence.

  285. Among the many things that need comment here is Mr. Brook's use of the word "degree" to describe a high school diploma ("Recently a took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch."). This not only reveals his own elitism –he cannot imagine, it seems, anyone who graduates without something other then a degree– but the conflation insidiously tracks and performs the devaluation of college degrees granted outside of the systems of privilege mentioned here, including the "most competitive schools" that retain their value as markers of status upper mobility.

  286. I grew up blue collar to the son of a farmer who never went to college. My mother never went to college and then stayed home to care for 4 children under the age of 5. I, however it was possible, knew that I would find a way to go to college and graduated with an undergraduate and graduate degree - both of which I personally paid for by starting work when I was 11 years old. I'm now in that 20%, having worked 60+ hour weeks most of my life and yes, I'm trying to get my children the best education possible. How is my ambition, determination, hard work, and sacrifice taking away from someone else? I didn't have anything handed to me; I earned it. And I have to keep earning it everyday. And yes, there have been ups and downs and I nearly went broke a few years ago but I have the internal drive, determination, and ability to adapt that has kept me going and kept me striving for a life that isn't quite as hard for my children. Isn't this the American dream? Please don't lump together what is handed to some people with what is worked for by others.

  287. Um, mortgage red-lining, better rates on auto financing and cops who shoot first and think later are three examples of "taking things away from someone else" that I, as a white person, don't have to think about.

    Many other people do.

  288. I find the example of David's friend in the sandwich shop to be a bit much. If you are Latina, living in American culture, it can't be surprising that high-end sandwich shops sport Spanish names, when Taco Bell and Mexican food have been staples for decades.

    I don't think the food is the problem--as David points out it 's the attitudes. Are lower income people excluded from the high school cliques t hat confer stat us on students and can possibly be ties for life, with all that entails?

    Growing up in the 50s and 60s, we too had determinants of culture that kept closing out to only one's "kind". My high school, in the fairly rich town of Ridgewood NJ, was horribly cliquish--but it wasn't only middle vs upper middle classes that created that culture.

    It was sense of place and how long you lived in the town, where you lived in the town, whether you did college track or professional track.

    I believe the barriers to mobility have been a part of America for a long long time. It's not just today. Look at the city cultures in 1920s, where wealth was celebrated and hoarded in places like Boston, NY, Chicago and the like.

    Barriers aren't insurmountable, but it takes a lot of achievement to overcome them and penetrate the groups of friends who can help you get places.

    As the nation moves further in to income inequality, an oligarch as some suggest we already are, this is bound to get worse.

  289. My Mom grew up during the depression and said there wasn't the kind of consumption divide there is nowadays. No one had a lot. Everyone went to the same schools. She had a dress and two pair of overalls. Period.

    Compare that to today, when you need a cell, laptop, and internet to effectively compete for a job. Internships are for those whose parents can get them jobs where they work or where their friends work - then you leverage that into a full-time job, and you are on the fast track.

    The social divides you are talking about were within the same schools; nowadays social divides are between the schools.

    You have to be on the other side of monetary security to know the difference between walking into Taco Bell and spending $5, and walking into a high-end shop and spending $10. Dunkin Donuts with a coffee and donut for under $2, versus Starbucks where all you can but for $2 is a small coffee. Ever heard Castillians put down Mexicans? All Spanish is not deemed equal...

  290. @I'm for tolerance: thanks for the point about Castillian. I lived in Italy (Milan) for 10 years in the 70s, and there were deep divides in attitude among northerners and southerners, who many Italians lived off the government vs the productive hard-working north. I think many cultures look down on the language (think France versus French Canada) and how it evolves when distant from the mother country.

    But you are right: growing up today is not easy. In my high school years, there was competition to look the right part (circle pins, A-line skirts from the "right 'stores). but certainly no "device" envy. It was just about who the cool kids were versus the nerds or professional/vocational track kids.

  291. Something not mentioned here is the current Administration's war on science and public education. Such efforts can't help but reverse the demographic challenges described in this article. By reducing demand for education, for example, the "flattening out" of society as a whole can progress, the result being that only those at the very top will be able to afford the "luxuries" we now associate with middle class child raising.

  292. Two things Mr Brooks fails to mention: student loan debt burdens and unpaid internships. Both act as barriers to entry for folks outside the top 1%. Students whose parents can pay for college out-of-pocket have a great advantage over the rest of us.

  293. I actually agree with much of Mr. Brooks' comments. I've seen it in more subtle ways manifested largely by how the wealthy vote. I do make a distinction between the educated and the wealthy educated classes. Many wealthy, educated folks with whom I interact, voted for Trump exclusively because their taxes would come down, despite knowing he was corrupt and incompetent. They still hang on to this notion and continue to support him. They tend to oppose the ACA, school millages, and infrastructure repairs etc. Here in Michigan they voted in a Republican regime who slashed taxes, underfunded schools, taxed teacher pensions to alleviate a business tax, and instituted a regressive gas tax to fund road repairs. They have never met an unpopular tax break. It truly is class warfare at a base level.