Matt Yglesias caught something in President Obama’s speech for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. As with most professional liberals, Obama can’t make a speech without attacking his base. In this particular speech, he said, “And what had once been a call for equality of opportunity, the chance for all Americans to work hard and get ahead was too often framed as a mere desire for government support…” I don’t know why Paul Ryan didn’t come to the event. It sounds like he would have been right at home with that kind of rhetoric.
As Yglesias noted, “But this business on equality of opportunity versus a ‘mere desire for government support’ is pernicious nonsense. Unless equality of opportunity is going to be nothing more than a hollow formalism, you need a lot of government support.” But I think it goes further than Yglesias would like to admit. For Obama and pretty much any politician on the national stage, “equality of opportunity” is exactly a “hollow formalism” and they know it. It is just a phrase offered to the prols to justify why nothing can be done about our incredibly unfair economic system.
We now live in a nation that has more income inequality than it had during the terrible Gilded Age. And this is not just globalization—something we just can’t do anything about. Indeed, it is the direct result of government policies. In 1947, the federal government started its attack on unions (not that it had ever been keen on them), with the Taft–Hartley Act. That pretty much put a stop to union growth. Then in the 1980s, Reagan started policies that actively destroyed unions—mostly by simply not enforcing existing labor laws. And since then, no Democrat has done anything to improve the situation. In fact, one of the primary characteristics of New Democrats is their hostility toward unions.
So when Obama talks about “equality of opportunity” I know that he doesn’t mean anything by it. He doesn’t even mean a level playing field. He supports the Federal Reserve and their inflation obsession, even though a little inflation would help American workers. He supports Larry Summers and his strong dollar obsession, even though a weaker dollar would help American workers. And of course, he supports elite unions for doctors and lawyers, even though cheaper medical and legal costs would help American workers. He supports “equality of opportunity” in the sense that there shouldn’t be explicitly racist laws, which would make him very forward thinking if it were 1952.
Liberal politicians especially love to talk about how people should be able to get ahead if they “worked hard and played by the rules.” It’s bullshit of course. The last three presidents didn’t “play by the rules.” They all broke federal drug laws and yet life worked out pretty well for them. And they know (as do we all) that the best way to get rich is to inherit money. They are all involved with a federal government that constantly gives out contracts and other gifts to well connected businessmen. Working hard and playing by the rules has absolutely nothing to do with success in America. That’s because opportunity isn’t even close to equal in our society. And these people who talk about it are doing nothing to improve the situation.