Nobel Laureate Gives Jon Stewart Some Bad News About the American Dream

Posted by Liz Dwyer

Will getting an education help you achieve the American dream? College graduates still earn twice what their peers with only a high school diploma earn, but if you don't have the educational and social opportunities you need to actually get into college and graduate, your chances of raking in a higher salary are pretty slim. Indeed, in an appearance this week on The Daily Show to promote his new book The Price of Inequality, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz told Jon Stewart that the life chances of "a young person born in the United States" are "more dependent on the income and education of his parents" than in any other other advanced country in the world.

Although the 1 percent of Americans who control 40 percent of the nation's wealth have access to better education opportunities, we still tell ourselves that kids growing up in low income communities with parents who don't have an education can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and end up as a Harvard grads if they just work really hard. We saw this attitude at play earlier this year with Forbes columnist Gene Marks' much derided "here's how you poor minority children should try to get an education" advice column, "If I Was a Black Kid." And, although there are incredibly inspiring of examples of kids making it out of the hood and getting accepted to top-notch schools, that's not the norm.

Stiglitz says the inequality of opportunity we're facing now is worse than it was in Old Europe, which means the American Dream has become a myth. His conversation with Stewart raises some great questions about why we're accepting an institutionally driven system that lets people who have wealth play by and create a different set of rules. Stiglitz also goes on to question the way banks were bailed out in the financial crisis but student loan debt can't be discharged in bankruptcy.