# Is America The Land of Opportunity ?

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Is America "The Land of Opportunity"?

I seem to remember posting a poll on this as much as a year ago. Recent threads have gotten me thinking about it again. I'm looking for opinions and arguments, so a yes/no poll won't be sufficient.

My basic thesis is that yes, America is, "The Land of Opportunity." By this, I mean socially: class mobility.

One of the justifications for modern liberalism seems to me to be that people reject this idea. If so, that means we've failed to be what America was created to be - equality of opportunity is the fundamental principle by which this country was founded (its the first point in the body of the Declaration of Independence). The idea that we've failed at it is the basis for things like Affirmative Action (that's its specific, stated purpose), welfare, unemployment compensation, social security, medicare, etc. So the reason I object to these social programs except in extreme circumstances, is my belief in the "American Dream" of class mobility.

My example of class mobility, from another thread:
A little reality check: http://www.census.gov/hhes/income/histinc/h01ar.html [Broken] is the military pay chart. If you're a real screw-up who has done everything but get arrested, you should be an E-4 by the end of 4 years (just treading water, you should be an E-5, and if you're a good sailor, you should be waiting on the results of the E-6 test), by which time you are 21. At $1,957 a month, not including a housing allowance(or other special pay like sea pay), which starts at about$600 if you live in a poor area and are not married , you're already well-into the second fifth. All it takes is keeping the multiple screw-ups relatively minor and making one big decision (joining the Navy).

Case-in point: one of my co-workers was, iirc, 32-years-old when I left. He'd just passed his E-6 exam, having gone up and down the ranks several times to that point (he was arrested several times). By age 28 or so, he had settled-down a little. At $2,888 a month, not including his housing allowance or sea pay, he's cracked the 3rd fifth. I utterly reject the contention that America is not "the land of opportunity." Opinions? Last edited by a moderator: ## Answers and Replies Related General Discussion News on Phys.org member 5645 I agree with you and your example, but other are going to whine about the fact that the military or being poor isn't much of an option (I'm not one of them, I still plan to join the military after med school). I'd like to add that there is no country friendlier to the entrepreneur right now. As one, I can speak for the fact that there are a million government rules made to assist in business creation, growth, and rewards for hiring others. But let's go one step further down. A person with no education beyond highschool (free) can get a job at any grocery chain in the area. Here in Texas, that job pays ~10/hr starting with a cap of ~13.50 after 2 years. Doesn't sound like much, until you realize that all of them offer full benefits with this. That is 13.50*40*50 (Brought down 2 weeks for the two chains that offer time off, but not paid vacation) =$27,000 + health insurance

That's right!! 27,000 for nothing more than completing highschool and showing up to work on time to do your job properly. Basic math, the ability to read, and a polite smile earns a ticket to stay out of poverty. I haven't even begun to mention if you were to break into a management position.

For those of you reading that are in LA and NYC, bare with me. \$27,000 doesn't sound like a lot, but cost of living is not equal here.

EDIT- do I need to tell my own story of being 20 year-old college drop out turning down 50,000/yr+ jobs because I can make more being self employed? Hard work and positive thinking is the key. The opportunity is fully here!

um... yeah i want to start up a automobile company in the US, and nobody will try to stop me... sure... :uhh:

I'd agree with someone if they said there was a great deal of opportunity for almost everyone in the US.

On the other hand, I'm pretty sure I hate Russ' example. Showing class mobility by dividing up income brackets doesn't make much of a case. Russ showed that people in the first bracket could move to the third by joining the military. Well let us suppose, for a moment, that the military would take every human being in the bottom 2 brackets, and that every one of them joined. Then they'd all increase their pay to somewhere around the same levels. Sounds great, except that the next time you divided the US pay scale up into 5ths, a substantial number of them would be in the bottom.

Obviously they'd be better off, yet they'd still be lowest income brack in the US. If you are going to divide the US up in 5ths, then when you make your case that one person goes up, you've also made another case that another person has gone down. I don't mean this to sound like I don't think people can progress in the US: I mean that by comparing people to each other, and arbitrarily setting the bar, we don't make a case that they can.

Which leads to the following question:

When we say the US is the land of opportunity, what do we mean by opportunity?

You can't just argue money, because money is an abstract. Maybe we should argue that opportunity means the opportunity to buy things, which is an extension of the money argument. It seems to me the only meaningful argument is made by taking opportunity to mean the opportunity to be happy.

It's just that that argument is the hardest to make.

loseyourname
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fourier jr. said:
um... yeah i want to start up a automobile company in the US, and nobody will try to stop me... sure...
Is that your idea of an argument? You pick what is probably the second-most difficult industry to break into due to initial cost (the airline industry is the only one I can think of that is harder) and conclude that, since you cannot start up there, you cannot start up anywhere? The upper echelon of Forbes magazine is littered with self-made success stories (Paul Allen, Mark Cuban, Bill Gates, the entire Walton family, Michael Eisner). My own little neighborhood here in Long Beach is chock-full of small business owners who have worked their asses off to bring themselves up from the lower middle-class.

ok then, i'll try to start up a software company and/or make computers, and nobody will try to stop me... (especially not microsoft)

loseyourname
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fourier jr said:
ok then, i'll try to start up a software company and/or make computers, and nobody will try to stop me... (especially not microsoft)
Of course they will! That's called competition, silly. If you start up a lemonade stand and manage to make a non-trivial profit, someone will come along and try to put you out of business. That's the way it works. It doesn't mean the opportunity isn't there. There are plenty of people trying to stop Microsoft, but that doesn't mean they turn no profit.

I believe this country is filled with unlimited opportunity for indaviduals willing to work hard to achieve success. Opportunity is useless unless you are willing to take advantage of it.
For all interested parties, I say this primarily because of the life my father has led. He was born in a refugee camp in WWII where his first cradle was an old flour crate. Thanks to working hard in high school and throughout college he got a full scholarship to one of the best universities in the country and eventually got a doctorate in electrical engineering. Later on he founded a successful computer software company that now employs hundreds of other people. Had my family stayed in the "old country" or emigrated to any other country I sincerely doubt all this would have happened. There is a reason people desperately want to come to the US and why it is the wealthiest nation: such things never happen by chance.

Gokul43201
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Can't disagree.

PerennialII
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Agree very much when tieing this to what is typically meant by 'the land of opportunity', the nonexistence of economic restraints and as such the created free opportunity is what leads to best possibilities for class mobility. Whether its a good social construct is another thing, introduction of structures like welfare etc. which don't really belong in it is to me wrestling over this harsh aspect of it.

For people who's goal in life is "The American Dream" so to speak, meaning their goal is to make some money, turn that money in to more money, turn that money into even more money and then die an old rich man with lots of Cars and a Big house and has the ability and will to get there. Then Yeah, of course it is (but declining I think, if Europe or China ever get its act together it will be replaced entirely - mind you thats not saying I want that)

Gokul43201
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Smurf said:
For people who's goal in life is "The American Dream" so to speak, meaning their goal is to make some money, turn that money in to more money, turn that money into even more money and then die an old rich man with lots of Cars and a Big house and has the ability and will to get there. Then Yeah, of course it is (but declining I think, if Europe or China ever get its act together it will be replaced entirely - mind you thats not saying I want that)
Umm...I came here to learn and do research in Physics. I'm working under a professor who was the first person to measure an effect first proposed in the 80s but thought to be undetectable. There are currently about 6 groups in the world that can do the kind of measurements that we do. I get to talk to some really interesting physicists, attend and give talks at some of the biggest physics conferences. I'm happy with my choice.

We need to unpack the idea. Opportunity to do what - join the military, open a car factory, be a top academic? Depending on what your starting point is, some opportunities will be more open than others e.g. the working class kid might join the military & the middle class kid work at a university.

I don't know about the US so much, but certainly in the UK only people who are born into families that can give them opportunities can take advantage of them e.g. someone born into an area with lots of social problems is more likely to go to a worse school, surrounded by unmotivated peers, go home to parents who don't help with homework, won't or can't pay for private tuition, or don't/can't monitor what mischief they are getting up to. No, I won't apologise to these schools and parents, as these things are broadly true, and it not being PC to say so doesn't make it less true. There will be many exceptions to the rule, and this includes the bright kid whose parents (or parent) don't care about their academic ability, but the kid goes ahead and achieves anyway.

Now if we talk about making money i.e. being a self-made man, well thats a different story. I think most societies have their people who do well for themselves no matter what circumstances they are in, and it doesn't require a formal education. Has anyone see the film (or read the book) King Rat? In the UK we tend to be less proud of money for its own sake, and that's not a bad thing in my opinion.

Finally, we could do a nature/nurture debate on this one, but lets not. If we assume that all people are born equally able to kill, and all people have the same IQ, it will keep the discussion simple.

I'll say whatever you say darling :tongue2: . Seriously like a self-made man in Hong Kong used to say a piece of wood will float in any waters. This is extrapolation again, but people can be ingenious in doing a bit better whatever the system. My mother's youngest brother was forced out of high school when he was "seduced" by a slightly older woman at the age of 18 (he is incredibly handsome and women, good decent women, bad beautiful women threw themselves at him. One of his live-ins is the hottest most curvy woman I have ever seen). Anyway bad company and his natural "entrepreneur spirit" got him in and out of jail many times. And he got better and better with his connection and know-how. You will be surprised that in an oppressive communist system in the PRC, he never ran out of scams to make money, it could be speculation of currency, making some agency-fees or making false antiques (made chunks of money out of it). One cannot deny that he could have done much better in a free society of course but his story also shows there are opportunities everywhere and it depends on whether we are smart enough to spot them.

Kerrie
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Polly said:
...his story also shows there are opportunities everywhere and it depends on whether we are smart enough to spot them.
that and smart enough to create opportunity.

yes, america is the land of opportunity, but the competition is much higher today then say 50 years ago. there are more regulations, laws, fees. etc that can create some obstacles, but not entirely possible. one must be diligent in their efforts to acheive the goals they have set upon themselves. along with being persistent in this effort, a little bit of luck and nice sum of cash always helps the process easier, this you cannot deny.

along with being persistent in this effort, a little bit of luck and nice sum of cash always helps the process easier, this you cannot deny.

You can't deny it but then was there ever a time it was not the case? It's just in many other countries if you don't have a lump of money and a good name say goodbye to your dreams whereas here you've got a chance no matter what. And no matter where you are and what you do luck will play a part of it regardless of what situation you find yourself in.

Mentor
Smurf said:
For people who's goal in life is "The American Dream" so to speak, meaning their goal is to make some money, turn that money in to more money, turn that money into even more money and then die an old rich man with lots of Cars and a Big house and has the ability and will to get there. Then Yeah, of course it is (but declining I think, if Europe or China ever get its act together it will be replaced entirely - mind you thats not saying I want that)
I have never met someone who believed that money itself was an ends. This is another straw-man argument (though if you can name one, please do). The American dream is (in my view) class mobility, and in that case, money is a means to an end. There is a huge difference.

A few examples: Paul Allen quit Microsoft after making his pile - If I can find the quote, I will, but he said something to the effect of 'I've made enough.' Bill Gates continues to work for Microsoft - but no longer as CEO (though I'm sure he still has considerable power). He's sold most of his MS stock, so he won't be making more money from MS. He continues to work for MS because he enjoys it.

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No, the USA is the not the land of opportunity. It is a land of opportunity. There are increasingly many other such lands in this world. But, as some have mentioned, it is getting a lot more competitive. Woe to those who lack the intelligence to compete. No more (or rather, not enough) manufacturing and manual labour jobs for them to rely on as before. I don't know if it's PC to feel sorry for people who aren't particularly gifted in the brains stakes. A desire to work will probably not be enough in the future.

russ_watters said:
I have never met someone who believed that money itself was an ends. This is another straw-man argument (though if you can name one, please do). The American dream is (in my view) class mobility, and in that case, money is a means to an end. There is a huge difference.
Of course money is not an ends, it's little peices of paper, money is a means to stuff. America, being the emblem of capitalism and consumerism is all about getting more stuff. Yes I do buy into these (what you would call) "conspiracy theories", I do believe my views on this would be identicle if I did live there; and yes, I have been there several times for weeks on end.
I'll ask you what your definition of Class Mobility is if not the ability to move to a nicer area, get a better education and have a wider TV? (Yes, I am over emphasising).

Mentor
Smurf said:
Of course money is not an ends, it's little peices of paper, money is a means to stuff. America, being the emblem of capitalism and consumerism is all about getting more stuff. Yes I do buy into these (what you would call) "conspiracy theories", I do believe my views on this would be identicle if I did live there; and yes, I have been there several times for weeks on end.
I'll ask you what your definition of Class Mobility is if not the ability to move to a nicer area, get a better education and have a wider TV? (Yes, I am over emphasising).
Well, so long as you realize that by overemphasizing, you change the whole point....

For the vast majority of Americans, "class mobility" is a positive thing that has nothing to do with greed, as you are trying to imply. Obviously, to those in the upper 5%, class mobility doesn't apply at all: they have nowhere to go but down!

loseyourname
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Smurf said:
Of course money is not an ends, it's little peices of paper, money is a means to stuff. America, being the emblem of capitalism and consumerism is all about getting more stuff. Yes I do buy into these (what you would call) "conspiracy theories", I do believe my views on this would be identicle if I did live there; and yes, I have been there several times for weeks on end.
I'll ask you what your definition of Class Mobility is if not the ability to move to a nicer area, get a better education and have a wider TV? (Yes, I am over emphasising).
It's not always about the cars and the TV, you dork. Many people just want to not live with the constant threat of violent crime in their neighborhood and not live from paycheck to paycheck. Both physical and financial security is a big part of it. There are plenty of people that stop once they have those and could care less about additional buying power.

Jesus, you're cynical, especially for a 17 year-old.

Smurf said:
Yes I do buy into these (what you would call) "conspiracy theories", I do believe my views on this would be identicle if I did live there;
Identical to what? What are you suggesting? I find myself on the other side of an argument with other US citizens as often as not. Heck, if anything, the country is pretty split right now, with extremely varying views on a number of issues. These views aren't as polarized as you might think either; they are wide reaching and contain many middle positions.

Nobody's views are identical. Yours wouldn't be either, if you lived here.

As Polly (*mwah* *mwah*) quotes:

Polly said:
...a piece of wood will float in any waters.
It sounds as if the general argument supported by members is that the US may be one of the best places in the world for such floaters to reach the top.

But so far nobody has taken up my point about the type of opportunities available e.g. academic. Are these equally open to everybody, or should this thread be entitled "The Land of [Business] Opportunity"?

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Dearly Missed
I recently saw again references to studies that I had been seeing for a couple of years, to the effect that social mobility in the US is in fact notably less than in many other countries. Google has failed to find these sites for me again, but I assure you this was good sociology, not partisan sniping. Has anyone else seen this?

PerennialII