Horatio Alger's America

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As President Bush cuts another tax, the latest on stock dividends, critics complain that it is one more blatant giveaway to the rich, but the outcry from the middle class and the poor has been, if anything, a whimper.

Social critics tell us that’s because Americans have learned to live in a world of hope, imagining lives of wealth. Since the 19th century author, Horatio Alger, planted the phrase “rags to riches” in the American psyche, nothing has defined what it means to be American more than that the belief in opportunity for everyone.

Even today, when all the facts argue against social mobility, popular culture hews to the same message, that America is a classless society.


Neal Gabler, cultural critic and author of “Life: The Movie”;
Jean Kilbourne, visiting scholar at Wellesley College and author of “Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes How We Think and Feel.”