“Dream Hoarders” (Richard Reeves): what about equality of opportunity?

I used to rehearse the phrase “equality of opportunity” in my own mind when I was younger, because I thought providing that would provide a moral basis for looking at people through my own distant guise of meritocracy.

Richard Reeves, senior fellow in Economic Studies and co-director on the Center on Children and Families in the Brookings Institution, and himself a naturalized U.S.  citizen from England, takes on this aspect of inequality in his brief new book “Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What We Can Do About It”.  That’s a mouthful of words for a book title.

One of Reeves’s key observations that it’s not just the top 1% who show their privilege, it’s more like the top 20%.  And it is true, kids of affluent parents tend to do better in life than kids of poor people. And it’s true that affluent parents are more often European or Asian and Christian or Jewish.  Poor parents are more often African or Latino or Native descent.

And affluent parents to dote on their kids. David Callahan had covered this problem in his 2004 book “The Cheating Culture”.

But Reeves goes particularly after policy patterns that give affluent parents to “hoard” opportunity fr their kids in what he sees as a zero-sum game of “positional play” (as in chess, you have a finite set of pieces and sometimes you make small sacrifices).

He does support individualism (as supported by meritocracy), for adults.  He thinks that grownups need to accept the idea of downward mobility to balance things out (I remember that period after my forced “retirement” at the end of 2001 and what the pimpy job interviews were like). But for kids, we need to keep them raised up.

He has a number of specific policy proposals.  These include backing down on exclusionary real estate zoning laws so that people of different incomes and their kids mix, and the end to legacy preferences in college admissions and internships.  He does take up the student loan problem to some extent, not going as far as Peter Thiel to call it a scam.  And he waffles on condemning unpaid internships (compare to Ross Perlin’s 2011 book “Intern Nation”). He thinks that Charles Murray (“Coming Apart”) and Robert Putnam (“Our Kids”) are too nice to rich people, for different reasons.  He does take a swipe at the lenient treatment of inherited wealth in our tax code.

Putnam thinks that much more needs to be done to help disadvantaged kids in person, but he seems to want big government behind it.  He wants teachers to pay their dues by working in poor neighborhoods, and he wants to see home visits.  He sees this sort of escalated interpersonal intervention into poor families as a job creator.

Reeves makes the point that legally married parents who wait until marriage to have kids raise better kids.  He takes a libertarian position on adult consensual sex as long as unplanned pregnancies don’t happen. (There’s a whole world of population demographics that he does not touch.) He supports planned parenthood programs and criticizes the GOP for its hypocritical moral squeamishness. He would not be too sympathetic to single moms because they usually result from carelessness.  He also notes that higher income and better educated people are more likely to marry and also more likely to avoid bad health habits (like cigarette smoking) and generally avoid obesity – and indeed higher income teens are much less likely to be obese and generally are better able to balance screen time and Internet use with real world physical activity and opportunity.  He does not consider same-sex marriage but probably the same observations would hold;  same-sex couples seem able to provide the same supervision for kids.   There’s one outlier he does not mention:  single gay men, who don’t fit the marriage profile.  But in upper classes single gay men often compete very well because they have more disposable income and haven’t had kids, ironically part of Milo’s (and my) “dangerous” argument.

Author: Richard V. Reeves
Title, Subtitle: “Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What We Can Do About It”
publication date 2017
ISBN 978-0-8157-2912-9
Publication: Brookings, Washington DC; 196 pages, hardcover, endnnotes, indexed
Link: Author

(Posted: Friday, July 7, 2017 at 12 Noon EDT)

“Aquarius”: a woman in Brazil holds of greedy real estate developers, while her recovery from breast cancer provides another metaphor

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Name: Aquarius
Director, writer:  Kleber Mendonca Filho
Released:  2016
Format:  2.35:1 (Cinemascope)
When and how viewed:  2016/10/21 Angelika Mosaic, QA, festival, nearly sold out, large auditorium
Length 142
Rating Not available (would be NC-17, necessarily [because of cancer issues] very explicit in some scenes; this film provides a good argument for why NC-17 should be regarded as legitimate for some content intended for “grown ups”, as did the film yesterday)
Companies: Vitagraph
Link: official

Angelika theaters provided QA with actress Sonia Braga before or after shows of “Aquarius”, by Kleber Mendonca Filho, the new Brazilian drama about an elderly widow fighting off real estate developers who want her to sell her unit in a condo.  She is the last holdout.

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The film is largely “interior” (remarkable when it seems to be shot in true “Cinemascope”) and it’s not clear from the exteriors (in Recife), which building t is – although the script says that it is the two-story building “Aquarius” built in the 1940s as an old-fashioned family resort..  The developer apparently wants to raze the building and replace it with a 60-story luxury high-rise (resembling Miami Beach), an event that would exacerbate the issue of affordable housing in the city.  The film occasionally opens up, to show the coastal city with the divisions of rich and poor, and opens with some black and white historical stills.

But it is metaphor behind the story of the widow Clara (Sonia) that sets up the tricky ending – which may send any homeowner to look at his pest control situation. The film (142 minutes) comprises three parts. “Clara’s Hair”, “Clara’s Love”, and “Clara’s Cancer”, the last of which transfers as a metaphor.

The first part takes place in 1980, at a party, when Clara is a young woman who has undergone one breast removal and chemotherapy for cancer occurring unusually young.  At the time, the use of combination chemotherapy was still relatively new and grueling.  The film, while in still in part one, jumps forward three decades to show Clara fully recovered, able to unwind her hair.

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The middle section sets up some intimate situations, at least two where men come on to Clara and have to deal with discovering one breast gone.  The film obviously makes a statement about sexual attractiveness (of women) after cancer, or after any personal catastrophe (like in the film “Marathon” Oct. 18).  In the meantime, the pressure on her to move increases as the developers encourage loud parties and sex orgies in the unit above.  The film moves into NC-17 territory here. The film also brings in other families, especially several younger men, as well as a character, Diego (Humberto Currao) who has learned how to sell ruthlessness (Donald Trump style) in business school.  (Is this about Making Brazil Great?)

The third part sets up the nauseating (for the developers) conclusion, with the help of Cleide (Calra Ribas).

QA Clips:

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Posted: Saturday, October 22, 2016 at 11:30 AM EDT