business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

The New York Times reports on the results of a new poll suggesting that "despite an improving economy and jobs picture, the public is more pessimistic than it was after the 2008 financial crisis that it is possible to work hard and become rich."

In fact, the poll suggests that only 64 percent of the US public believes that it can work hard and get rich - lower than even in 2009, early in the financial crisis and the Great Recession, when 72 percent felt that way.

The Times writes: "Notwithstanding the bleaker view of upward mobility, the majority of those polled said they were more concerned about the possibility that too much regulation in Washington could stymie the economy than they were about the prospect of inequality. Fifty-four percent of respondents said that 'over-regulation that may interfere with economic growth' was a bigger problem than 'too little regulation that may create an unequal distribution of wealth.' Only 38 percent said that too little regulation posed a bigger problem."

The story goes on to say that "the poll showed that a slim 52 percent majority of Americans think the country’s economic system is fair, giving everyone an equal opportunity to succeed; 45 percent think it is unfair. Those with higher household incomes were more likely to believe the system is fair."

You can see the entire story and poll results here.

If I were asked this question, I would probably say that I continue to believe it is possible to work hard and grow rich in this country … though I do think that it may be more problematic than it used to be. On the one hand, a society that values innovation and entrepreneurialism can make it easier to achieve success, but I do think that it many ways, there are ways in which the deck is stacked against people not born with certain advantages.

I also think that "rich" and "successful" are two entirely different things, and one of the problems we have as a country is that "getting rich" is the way in we gauge success. (Also, "rich" is an incredibly subjective term…which is one of the reasons I think is is a lousy way to keep score.)

I'd love to meet the 38 percent of people who believe that "too little regulation" is the biggest factor inhibiting economic growth; my argument would be that while regulations can inhibit economic growth, sometimes economic growth is not the only end game. There are other things that are more important or as important than economic growth … and again, one of the problems we have in this country is that economic growth is seen as the only end game. It's important, it's critical, but it's not the only thing.

I would actually suggest that the problem isn't too much regulation or too little regulation, but rather regulation that doesn't do what it is supposed to, or is prompted by lobbying dollars rather than considered, negotiated agreement between the two ends of the political spectrum.

But maybe that's just me.

Still, it is a fascinating poll. And Eye-Opening, especially considering the irony that, as the Times writes, "The significant drop in faith comes as the nation added 321,000 jobs last month and average hourly earnings for ordinary workers increased much more than expected. The economy is also being buoyed by a drop in oil prices, putting more money in the pockets of average Americans as the holiday season approaches."
KC's View: