Letter: Land of Mythical Opportunity

To the Editor:

New York Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg quotes Thomas Donahue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, saying, “Free enterprise isn’t perfect ... but it provides one thing that most other systems don’t, and that’s opportunity.”

The view of the U.S. as exceptional and a “land of opportunity” has been an integral part of American folklore since John Winthrop sermonized in 1630 that the new Massachusetts Bay community would be a “city upon a hill” watched by the world.

Our current reality falls far short of this image. The overall economic mobility in the U.S. is actually lower than in the rest of the developed world. According to The Economist, fewer than half of all adults expect their children to have a higher standard of living than theirs, and more than a quarter say it will be lower. Forbes calculated that in the last year the cumulative net worth of the wealthiest 400 people in the U.S. rose by $200 billion compared with a 4 percent drop in median household income, according to the Census Bureau. The worry is that America’s political system is increasingly vulnerable to the power of well-endowed individuals and narrowly motivated domestic and foreign lobbies. U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., says, “We’re now in a situation where a lobbyist can walk into my office ... and say, ‘I’ve got $5 million dollars to spend, and I can spend it for you or against it.’”

Have our congressional leaders become the system’s pawns?

Bob Scobie