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Privilege, Bootstraps, And Reality

Wednesday, June 14th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/littlehuw/9410579316/

Yesterday we looked at the hypocritical nature of Walmart’s culture, but perhaps it’s a reflection of what’s happening across the US, as opposed to an attitude unique to Walmart.

In the last half century, economic, political and social changes have altered not only the makeup of the workforce, but also what it takes to get a job and support oneself, let alone a family. 

Public policy does little to mitigate what’s happening, and much of enterprise is retreating.

“You end up with this perfect storm where workplace and public policies are mismatched to what the workforce and families need,” said Vicki Shabo, vice president at the non-partisan National Partnership for Women & Families (NPWF). (…) Overall progress for workers has been slow, because the country is attached to an “ideal myth of America.” One where you pull yourself up by your bootstraps [emphasis mine].

Assuming bootstraps were once real, do they still exist?

Of course, there is no doubt that privilege is real — no matter how often and how much people deny it.

We all need to remind ourselves of our advantages: whether it’s straight privilege, or financial privileges, or able-bodied privilege, or whatever extra boost we’ve gotten. Humans are prone to credit our successes to our own ingenuity, true or not. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, asked randomly selected subjects to play Monopoly. But the game was rigged. The winner of a coin toss got twice the starting cash and higher bonuses for passing Go.

Not surprisingly the advantaged players won. But as they prospered, their behavior changed. They moved their pieces more loudly than their opponents, reveled in triumphs and even took more snacks. Some, when asked about their win, talked about how their strategy helped them succeed. They began to think they earned their success, even though they knew the game was set up in their favor [emphasis mine].

Bootstraps depend on who you are.

Thorstein Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class was published in 1899 and in it he coined the term “conspicuous consumption” — no definition required.

Although you still find that in the 1%, Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, a sociologist, has a new book, The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class — a new term that better represents the far-reaching consequences of what’s happening today.

Who is the aspirational class?

Highly educated and defined by cultural capital rather than income bracket, these individuals earnestly buy organic, carry NPR tote bags, and breast-feed their babies. They care about discreet, inconspicuous consumption—like eating free-range chicken and heirloom tomatoes, wearing organic cotton shirts and TOMS shoes, and listening to the Serial podcast. They use their purchasing power to hire nannies and housekeepers, to cultivate their children’s growth [emphasis mine], and to practice yoga and Pilates.

These kids grow up with better health, better education, more enrichment, a solid belief of their place in life.

No matter how liberal their parents’ politics, they consider the world they inhabit the norm.

Few consider it privileged — after all, their parents aren’t actually rich.

Most of these kids are white.

And so the cycle continues.

(Thanks to KG for sending me the first article.)

Image credit: Huw

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