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"Social, Economic, and Political Impact of Individualism in Capitalism" by Mark Crisci

Social, Economic, and Political Impact of Individualism in Capitalism

Mark Crisci, SUNY Orange




Abstract: Neoliberalism argues in support of eliminating price controls, deregulation, and the minimizing of government oversight by suggesting that they will increase profits, market participation, and competition that lead to more equal societies (Adams, Sullivan, & Markus, 2019, p. 191). However, this is not entirely incorrect, it also promotes rampant individualism that ensures the wealthiest individuals can control societal constructs and maintain an exceedingly hardworking workforce to boost profits. US capitalism is hostage to neoliberalism, and the consequences of unrestrained competing self-interest. Certainly people have exploited others for personal gain throughout history and across geographies, but cooperation to solve problems often is suppressed by rampant individualism in combination with capitalism. This paper will examine how modern capitalism fuels rampant individualism to exploit the labor force that drives it, identify how persistent underlying issues routed to neoliberalism are compounded to plague the people who fuel the economy, and ensure economic and political mobility is achievable for a few but out of reach for many. Some economists suggest that exploitation and discrimination of the working class are subdued by the free market—contending that over time, capitalism drives more people out of poverty and gradually eliminates more social, economic, and political barriers than past and present economic systems. Despite this argument, data indicates capitalism promotes rampant individualism that exacerbates social, economic, and political inequality to restrict opportunity and maintain a low-wage working class.



 

Introduction: Individualism in a Zero-Sum Game


Rampant individualism can be defined as society's collective proclivity to pursue an undefinable, subjective, and continually-changing view of success—independent of help—fueled by the notion that the US is rich in opportunity and success, limitless. The absence of opportunity combined with rampant individualism, however, ensures issues persist, and a large portion of the population is unable to compete in the capitalist system (Stiglitz 2015). By and large, most Americans still believe that success is the product of individual effort. The myth that hard work will allow anyone to overcome even the most difficult circumstances has endured across centuries—even faced with evidence to the contrary. Though this 'boot-strap' mentality is not entirely false, this myth creates the idea that the poorest in America can work hard and achieve anything. The notion that the US is a mythical land of plenty" in which the individual is free to secure success is belied by the fact that success is shaped, and at times pre-conditioned by forces largely outside of individual control: class, race/ethnicity, and gender.


Despite these realities, the ‘boot-strap’ mentality fuels rampant individualism using a false notion to economically control people by equating wealth acquisition to how hard a person works. This creates a degree of separation between individuals and manifests a zero-sum game. Mahault, Saxena, Nisoli, Montoya, and Raul (2017) contend that in the law of the jungle setting, each person "can gain or lose wealth" (p. 3) to any other person without limiting extreme differences that arise; this assumes that the total wealth in "society is fixed," so when one person gains, another must lose (Mahault et al., 2017, p. 3; Rubin, 2018, p. 2). The impact of a law of the jungle setting promotes "savage inequalities," where lower classes account for more than half the population of "dispossessed individuals, with no wealth at all," while for upper-classes, opportunities remain infinite (p. 3).


This section examines social class issues that impact opportunity and uses the current poverty line standards set by the U.S. Census Bureau states that an annual income below $14,097 for a one-person household (under the age of 65) and $27,479 for a four-person household as poverty thresholds (Poverty Thresholds by Size of Family and Number of Children 2022).


Social Impact of Individualism


Rampant individualism, in combination with capitalism, favors the maintenance of social classes that divide opportunities among Americans unequally; it fortifies social constructs, patriarchal ideals, and social inequalities and renders inaccurate the notion that in a land of opportunity, people can pull themselves up from their boot-straps, work hard, and overcome barriers.


Capitalist Ideals Influence Social Constructs


Supporters of neoliberalist ideals of capitalism contend that patriarchal social constructs have diminished over time because capitalism promotes free markets that favor inclusion. Black and Brainerd (2004), examine the impact of the increase in globalized trade and how it impacts gender discrimination and the gender wage gap stating, "Theory predicts that product market competition will drive out discrimination in the labor market" (p. 556). This text highlights theory rooted in neoliberalism. The “discrimination is costly in the sense that discriminating employers must forego profits to indulge their 'taste for discrimination,'" which may reduce employment discrimination and increase women's wages (p. 546). Theoretically, the quality of the discriminated workforce would suffer, thereby reducing production and profits; the combination suggests that competition may be the catalyst that speeds up the decomposition of patriarchal hierarchies that reduce wage equality.

A study conducted by Chen (2019) suggests that though the gender wage gap is "20%," (p. 1337) it has improved over time; another study by Mandel and Semyonov (2014) concludes that "empirical evidence" suggests a reduction in "gender earnings disparities over recent decades" (p. 1613). Such beliefs follow neoclassical contentions that competition in the private sector erodes discrimination.


While these points have merit, further examination shows they are problematic. Neoliberal ideals of capitalism promote individualism that favors the persistence of patriarchal constructs. Research suggests that current trends show the reduction in "gender-linked earnings disparities" spurred in the 1980s and 1990s has stalled "since the mid-1990," likely attributable to the financial advantages of hiring female candidates with lower wage expectations (Mandel & Semyonov, 2014, p. 1613). The combination promotes individualism that creates an equilibrium that ensures if one person can manifest a competitive edge over another—he will; and it will reduce equality.


Chen and Crown (2019) highlight the persistence of a gender pay gap in the US, explicitly noting the gap between professors in academia: "Even accounting for differences in education, work experience, occupation, and collective bargaining coverage, the gap remains substantial, with women earning 8.4% less than men" (p. 1337). Pay gaps between professional females and males reflect the marginalization of females in the workplace and suggest that individualism in pursuit of profits has caused "progress on narrowing the gender pay gap" to stall (American Association of University Women, 2018). Chen and Crown (2019) prove that universities are no exception, as the overall national gender pay gap average from 2016 data was 20%, and efforts to close the pay gap plateaued, they use professor salary data gathered at the Ohio State University between 2006-2016 that indicates male professors "earned 15%," more than female colleagues at U.S. universities (1337). This data highlights a gap in pay averages between tenured male professors and tenured female professors: in 15 of 17 departments, male professors earned a higher salary than their female counterparts; in 6 of 17 departments, males earned between $7,000 to $15,000 more than female professors; 7 of 17 departments had male professors who earned between $20,000 and $39,999 more; and in 3 of 17 departments, male professors earned between $40,000 and $61,000 more than their female colleagues (p.1343).


Sheridan, Gray, and Chernew (2020) suggest that female primary care physicians average 11% less annual salary than their male counterparts at the same practices; another clear earnings disparity.


Similar trends exist in business, where female employees with MBAs also experience wage gaps based on gender. Though salaries are similar early in the careers of people with MBAs, evidence demonstrates that in workplaces dominated by males “talented female MBAs” (p.229) with degrees from top institution confront challenges that cause wages between the sexes to diverge as careers progress (Bertrand, Goldin, & Katz, 2010, p. 228-229). This data indicates that 10 years “nine years after of MBA completion,” 13% of females were not working compared to 1% of males (p.229-230). Though efforts to close the gender pay gap exists, such as increasing educational opportunities and support for women to pursue advanced degrees, data suggests that multiple factors collectively result in competitive disadvantages for women and promote gender pay inequalities.


Economic Growth and Low-Wage Work


Another point raised in social class discussion concerns the impact of neoliberalist ideals on poverty. Debates surround neoliberalism’s negative impact on social class divides. The opposing side suggests that stimulating economic growth for businesses reduces poverty, while social safety nets stimulate dependency that increases poverty rates. Some argue that evidence supports conservative goals to reduce social funding as demonstrated by the Clinton Administration in 1996. Iceland (2013) reflects on debates surrounding government policy on how to best address poverty in the United States. He notes that the primary objective of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act was not only to reform welfare policy but to reduce dependency on government programs and help "able-bodied poor become independent through employment" (p.138). Iceland describes that "the number of people receiving cash assistance" was reduced by 44% between 1994 and 2000 (p. 138). The author attributes the decline to multiple partial factors such as the bill, improving economic conditions, and "the expansion of the EITC, which made work more appealing" (p.138). Iceland’s data suggests that welfare reform of the mid-1990s, rooted in neoliberalist ideas, appeared effective in reducing dependency and poverty, but it shifted the job landscape from full-time to part-time, creating more jobs with no benefits.


Though this has merit, when examined closer, clearly the combination of capitalist goals and neoliberalist ideals—motivated by individualism—create a motive to reduce tax-funded social programs and minimize government funding for programs that collectively make up a social safety net that could help reduce poverty and class divisions. Rank, Eppard, and Bullock (2021) state that individualist goals and capitalist values in the US shape policies to stimulate economic growth despite the benefits of providing an adequate safety net that too save people who encounter unforeseen challenges from falling into poverty (p.14). Because people identify poverty as unlikely, many people fail to perceive the benefits of "antipoverty policy or economic safety net" and neglect "their self-interest" (p.14). Considering that "three-fourths of Americans will experience poverty or near poverty" (p.10), coupled with the fact that many maintain an anti-social safety net view, suggests that rampant individualism promotes a boot-strap mentality to reduce social funding that was proven effective by the War on Poverty (p.65, 2021).


Rank et al. (2021) show that poverty rates reduced from 22.4% in 1959 to 11.1% in 1973; while the poverty rate for those 65 years and older in 1959 declined from 35.2% to 10% by 1973 and remains below 9% as of 2019 (p. 65). This success is attributed to a dedicated effort by the federal government to ensure that programs such as social security benefits are adjusted with changes in inflation to meet increases in the cost of living. This is primarily because public support has remained consistent as people view social security as something they pay towards—insurance they earned—which differs from the public's view of poverty. This suggests that uninterrupted aid reduces poverty rates. Data highlights that funding for social insurance programs, such as social security, increases over time and receives continued policy support, while means-tested programs that help reduce poverty rates have experienced little to no increase in spending since 1970. Basically, public opinion encourages policies that roll back government support for means-tested programs.


This demonstrates that policies still aim to address the needs of people deemed worthy of aid because being elderly, disabled, or involuntarily unemployed are factors beyond one's control. Iceland (2013) says that programs that meet immediate needs receive significantly less funding and support; policies fail to benefit many who experience pockets of poverty because of the ethos that promotes the notion that any person can overcome obstacles and achieve success—independent of help from others—to reduce "socially undesirable behavior" like dependency (Iceland, 2013). Therefore, though aid policies have evolved, the American ethos of a rugged individualist hinders policy development that can provide opportunities for people who experience poverty. This ideal remains and periodically reverts public views on poverty to those of the past that blame social programs on the "able-bodied" unemployed and low-wage workers for the cyclical economic downturns (Iceland, 2013). Consequently, policies fail to address the causes of poverty and ensure that a percentage of the population remains economically insecure.


The Impact of Individualism on Child Poverty


Another point to consider concerns how individualism impacts child poverty rates and how child poverty influences future poverty as adults. This is important to discuss to understand the way child poverty rates influence future rates in adults.


According to some, child poverty is not influenced by individualism but instead results from parents with poor decision-making skills, not individualism; which is why social safety needs fail to impact child poverty rates positively. Sawhill (2003) references Susan Mayer, who suggests that children from high-income backgrounds experience more educational success than children from lower-income backgrounds "because they have better parents," (p. 82) equating future economic success to the economic background of parents whether or not children inherit advantageous traits, knowledge, and decision-making skills, from parents (p. 82). Sawhill (2003) argues that to reduce child poverty, the decision-making habits of lower-income families must be altered: "we need to nudge [lower-class adults with children] toward a different set of behaviors by linking generous governmental assistance to staying in school, delaying childbearing, getting married, and working full-time" (p. 82). She contends that child poverty results from poor decision-making and social safety nets that fail to reduce poverty rates because they teach poor habits of dependency. She suggests that improving decisions that people in poverty make is a more effective tool to reduce poverty than social programs. While providing assistance can help, the root cause of poor choices does not change. Social welfare programs only increase dependency on aid programs rather than adjusting the thought process that creates someone's circumstance.


Though some truth exists that personal decisions impact financial security, capitalism and individualism create an environment that constrains people's ability to navigate the challenges of poverty to secure the futures of subsequent generations. Though evidence suggests that "poverty extracts a high cost from individuals and families" (Rank, Eppard, & Bullock, 2021) and negatively impacts decision-making, poverty is not simply the result of poor people's bad decisions (p. 82). Often poor decisions are a scapegoat for the primary cause of child poverty, rampant individualism that provides no reason to prevent future generations from experiencing poverty. To view the lack of social class mobility, the circumstances that reduce opportunity and mobility must be examined, including the likelihood a person in the U.S. will experience poverty or near poverty. Rank, Eppard, and Bullock (2021) indicate that 34% of children (ages 0-17 years), will spend a minimum of "1 year below the poverty line" (p. 12); their research suggests poverty inflicts a high psychological cost that impairs "cognitive functioning," and reduces people's ability to reason and make good choices (p. 60-61). This combination secures a high probability that every constrained decision by impoverished parents will carry heavier consequences than those of affluent backgrounds because they lack the resources to address problems that arise and will cause the negative impact of poverty to be passed down to their children—promoting a social class hierarchy that reduces opportunity for a portion of the population (p. 61).


Li, Johnson, Newman, and Riley (2019) examine the negative impact on social mobility that increases based on more prolonged exposure to impoverished environments for children. "Timing and accumulation of exposures," (p. 69) during childhood due to poverty and disadvantaged neighborhoods negatively impacts graduation rates, mental health in adulthood, and social mobility (p. 69). The study illuminates that "children born into poverty are likely to experience early, protracted poverty," (p. 69) and reduces social mobility and exposure to quality opportunities compared to those that do not experience poverty (Li et al., 2019, p. 69). Though, to a degree, decision-making skills impact parents and their children's circumstances, cycles of child poverty are fueled by the impact that poverty has on parents' cognitive function under constrained conditions and increased pressure.


For many children, poverty is cyclical, and social safety nets only act as an insurance tool, not a complete solution, because the consequences continue to impact individuals into adulthood. Rank et al. says that the prolonged impact of child poverty creates a life of reduced opportunity despite good decisions (p. 56-57). Therefore, prolonged bouts of poverty in childhood fuel cycles of poverty that increase the probability they continue for generations if the pressures of poverty are prevalent.


Effects of Unrestrained Competition and Individualism


Lastly, social class divisions persist because the combination of unrestrained competition and individualism encourages people to identify disadvantages of others to achieve success, which helps preserve class inequalities in the United States. Alon (2009), argues that class inequalities continue because the "magnitude of class inequality" is closely connected to the highly competitive climate of college admissions (p. 749). He states that students from a lower socio-economic background encounter significantly more disadvantages than students from middle and upper classes, and is worsened by a college selectivity in an environment where "demand for college diplomas," has increased competition and consequently increases the "polarization of resources," and fosters a class divide that promotes inequalities at higher education institutions (p. 749). This promotes social class divides by ensuring that a portion of people can be denied from attending top universities because of their socio-economic standing. Ikerd (2014), contends that unrestricted competition is not a sustainable attribute in society (p. 15-16). He suggests that though "unrestrained competition" (p. 17) is not sustainable, if winning and losing are removed from the equation competition becomes an asset to use skills and advantages in cooperation. Though specific groups have experienced more severe marginalization than others, the lower classes in the US, composed of lower-income individuals, remain the most marginalized group and is not restricted to a specific race, gender, or region. Therefore, the combination of unrestricted competition and individualism nurture inequalities that persist for people of lower socio-economic status.


In conclusion, evidence highlights that gender pay gaps remain constant in multiple industries despite the increasing number of women with advanced education. Policies continue to fail to remove the causes of poverty and ensure a percentage of the population remains economically insecure. These factors combine with the impact of child poverty by influencing future cycles that reduce social mobility because of a person's background. These factors combined with unrestricted competition and individualism promote the social class divide in America.


Economic Impact of Individualism


The discussion requires a look at the economic impact of individualism. To understand how individualism paired with capitalism leads to socio-economic barriers that expand wealth inequality in the United States. Neoliberalism propagates ideals that reduce the quality and quantity of opportunity available, promote under-regulated markets that drive inequalities, and reduce socio-economic opportunity for most citizens. These ideals promote an economic environment where most Americans do not possess the economic power to withstand economic downturns compared to upper-class citizens and expose most to low-wage employment that reduces socio-economic opportunity while increasing the concentration of wealth in fewer hands. Undoubtedly, socio-economic equality cannot progress without hard work and determination, but capitalism ensures economic barriers that prevent most Americans from experiencing socio-economic mobility.


Progressive Benefits and Wages


A point to consider is how stagnant hourly wages impact economic equality. In recent years wages have risen slightly but remain insufficient to counter rises in the inflation rate that increase the cost of living.


Wages remain insufficient, in relation to inflation, and is evident through major employers such as Amazon. In regions across the US some companies continue to pay near-poverty wages.


Some contend that this is offset by new incentives that suggest companies like Amazon and Target, who now offer benefits such as paid tuition, health benefits, and new employment bonuses. Despite increased benefits, wages have remained stagnant since the institution of a minimum wage of $15 at all Amazon warehouses ("Amazon Hiring," 2022, p.1). “Amazon Hiring” (2022) suggests that it is more impactful to help low-wage employees through benefits which advance their education, and reform efforts to expand employee benefits show progress. For example, Amazon announced it would "cover the full cost of college degrees for," all hourly employees, demonstrating how private business can effectively help to increase opportunity when efforts are concentrated on that goal (p.1). Amazon fully covers relevant costs, including tuition, classes, books, and fees—an increase from 95% of tuition, books and only offered to cover associate degrees and certifications previously. Some argue that educational benefits offset low-wages because of an increase in future earnings potential.

The article "Amazon hiring," (2021) cites Business Insider that states, "In July 2021, business insider is cited that Walmart announced it "will follow Amazon's lead and pay "employees' tuition and book costs” at 10 specific educational institutions. Similarly, more and more businesses are following this trend, such as Target, which will pay for undergraduate degrees for all employees, while "Starbucks, Chipotle, and Verizon," now offer "tuition assistance" ("Amazon hiring," 2021). The list of companies that offer low-wage workers education opportunities suggests that private sector business provides educational opportunities that can help people who otherwise do not earn enough to pay tuition and earn too much to qualify for federal tuition grants—helping employees avoid the burden of college loan debt. Thus, progress and continuation of this growth demonstrate that while competition reduces and maintains low-wages for employees, new and progressive benefits offered by large companies provide avenues to opportunities to work hard and succeed; thus, capitalism stimulates economic growth and innovation that can increase avenues to opportunity and success for low-wage employees.


Undoubtedly, recent trends highlighting the pivot of private businesses to increase benefits offered to employees help low-wage employees overcome barriers they encounter. Still, it does not remove poverty from the equation—that must be accomplished through increased wages that satisfy the cost of living. Rank, Eppard, and Bullock (2021), state that one way to recognize that the ethos of hard work does not end poverty when about 40% of US jobs are called “low-paying” because they pay less than "$16 an hour" (p. 50). And, with the "nature and structure" of the labor market, people can work two or three low-wage jobs and still earn annual income below or near current poverty standards, demonstrating that hard work is not enough when wages are too low (p. 50).


Some companies increased profits significantly in recent quarters by meeting the supply and demand of a socially distanced consumer base. While capitalizing on COVID-19 restrictions, corporate growth increased wealth inequality and furthered the income gap. The pandemic demonstrated that as opportunities for some decreased, and despite significant economic growth, competition in the labor market prevented an increase in wages that paralleled economic growth (Rank, Eppard, & Bullock, 2021, p. 53). For example, Amazon grew tremendously during the COVID-19 pandemic because people relied on platforms that allowed social distancing. Lee (2021) states, "Amazon's [first-quarter] results" far exceeded predictions by reaching well over $2 billion while improving "operating margins despite meaningfully increased spending," such as in infrastructure and employee benefits that reflect a "positive impact" of the investments that "support the surge in retail volume," because of the pandemic (Lee, 2021, p. 2). This suggests that despite an 80 % increase in spending, the increased volume that arose due to the COVID-19 pandemic offset profit margins and exceeded expectations. The company, investors, and owner, Jeff Bezos, grew richer, while Amazon warehouse employees in states such as Texas, California, Georgia, the Carolinas, and the Midwest, continue to earn low wages that range from $15.00 to $16.30 (Amazon Hiring, 2022). Revenues increased by 44%, benefiting shareholders whose earnings per share rose to $15.79 per share—exceeding analyst expectations for "earnings per share to come in at $9.54," while employee's wages remained low (Lee, 2021). Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 35 counties shows warehouse workers in regions with Amazon fulfillment centers "earn about $41,000 per year, compared with $45,000 per year in the rest of the country, a difference of nearly 10%" ("Unfulfilled," 2018, p. 1). Data also demonstrate that 10 quarters prior to the arrival of an Amazon facility, wages are at an average increase of 8%, but ten quarters after Amazon's arrival, the average warehouse wage dropped by about 3% (p. 1). Though this data was gathered prior to the pandemic in 2018, it illuminates a trend in regional warehouse wages throughout the US. With the dramatic increase in facilities since the pandemic, this trend, unfortunately, will impact more low-wage warehouse workers than previously.


An average of $16 per hour at 40 hours a week yields about $30,720 per year, not including work absences due to unexpected events such as illness, funerals, and accidents. This figure represents a difference of $3,241 before falling below the poverty line for a four-person household at $27,479 while leaving workers earning $15 per hour with about $1,300 before falling into poverty (Poverty Thresholds by Size of Family and Number of Children 2022). That leaves little room for error. Undoubtedly, living near poverty makes overcoming obstacles improbable and reduces opportunity. Therefore, though companies like Amazon are considered more progressive by offering progressive benefits, the benefits do not negate the impact of individualism’s pursuit of profits that subject workers to low hourly wages.


Distribution of Wealth and Opportunity


A final point in this economic discussion concerns wealth inheritance when large sums of inheritance distribute wealth and opportunity unequally because wealth becomes concentrated in the hands of fewer individuals. According to Stiglitz (2015), "In terms of wealth rather than income," 1% of the wealthiest Americans possess 40% of the wealth, suggesting their socio-economic position improved greatly from 25 years ago when 33 % of wealth was held by 12 %, of the US population (p.88). The impact of generational inheritance shows that the top 10% of the population owns about 73% of the country's wealth, while the bottom 50 % dropped below 0, to negative 0.1 % (Rank, Eppard, & Bullock, 2021). Wealth inequality increased and it continues to divide wealth unequally; as economic capital in the US became more concentrated than in previous generations (Rank, Eppard, & Bullock, 2021). Wealth in long-term investments has the potential to increase over time and becomes the foundation for the inheritors. Generally, inheritance benefits descendants, but large inheritances skew the limited opportunity available for individuals with more economic capital. This advantage provides more education and network opportunities to translate into a successful future. Wealth inheritance perpetuates socio-economic inequalities by dividing opportunity between socio-economic classes unequally from birth.


Failure to address wealth inheritance will result in further concentrated economic opportunity in a limited portion of the population. Economic constraints remained constant when companies such as Amazon grew tremendously during crises but failed to increase hourly employees above poverty. Though companies are trending toward more progressive benefits, benefits do not negate the impact of individualism that subjects workers to low hourly wages. Thus, massive sums of inheritances promote an economic landscape that divides wealth unequally, and these issues collectively impact economic mobility negatively for most U.S. citizens.


Impact of Individualism and Capitalism on Democracy


Lastly, it is vital to briefly examine how an inegalitarian political landscape erodes the foundation of US democracy and the promise of freedom and opportunity that many believe it secures. A governing body made up of individuals whose campaigns are mostly contingent fundraising ability, is not representative of the constituents from the middle and lower-classes who lack capital to not only run for office but also sway political decisions.

A final point is the barrier that public office costs create. Gilens (2015) states that the fundraising cost for a seat in the House of Representatives is "about $1 million, while winning a Senate seat can cost upwards to an average of $10 million (p.226, 2015). Campaign financing and fundraising prevent a large portion of the population from running for federal office and influencing significant change. Capitalist goals fuel a high cost to run for political office. Undoubtedly, economic power corresponds to political influence, and removing those who don't have enough capital to compete in politics fails to establish a governing body that is truly representative. As of 2014, over half of the members of the U.S. Congress were millionaires whose congressional salaries alone place them in the top tier of income distribution in the United States. Since 40 % of Americans earn wages below $16/hour, and ¾ experience poverty or near poverty during life. Thus, most lack the financial means to consider political participation or independently promote one's political mobility.


Conclusion


The US lower-classes make up more than one-half of the population— and is composed of people with no wealth to participate, while the upper-class experiences every opportunity satisfied. Therefore, capitalism and individualism enable the upper-class in the U.S. to gain privileges, raise social status, and experience political opportunities at the expense of the middle and lower classes.


Unrestrained individualism in pursuit of capital constructs society on recurrent inequalities, despite the American ethos myth. Social safety nets effectively reduce poverty's constraints, but the blame is placed on parental choices rather than acknowledging that a system that encourages self-interest through individualism has no cause to promote an equal social, economic, or political landscape. This results in individuals who work hard to promote individual success while ignoring barriers that exacerbate inequalities and cause most Americans to experience minimal mobility. Steinbeck states that support for redistribution of wealth and power is absent because working-class citizens view "themselves as temporarily embarrassed millionaires," who choose to accept a "high level of inequality," because they believe everyone controls their individual mobility. In conclusion, individualism combined with robust support for the current form of capitalism—to secure democracy—ensures that the wealth gap will continue to reduce social, economic, and political mobility, by promoting barriers that maintain a low-wage working class, despite the promises of the American ethos. It is vital that we act in cooperation to address this misconception to create a more equal society that manifests a realistic American Dream.


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