LP: There’s a persistent myth that America is still the “land of opportunity.” Why is that myth so prevalent, even in the face of so much evidence to the contrary?
JS: Well, there are two reasons for this. One of them is that the myth is so much part of our sense of identity as Americans that it is devastating for us to give it up — for us to say we are less of a land of opportunity than old ossified Europe. It was one of the things we were most proud of, and clearly, it’s not true. When you have something that’s so inconsistent with your self image, it’s really, really hard to face the facts.
The second reason has to do with the nature of evidence. Everybody know examples of people who make it from the bottom or the middle-bottom to the top. And our press talks about them. The media calls attention to the successes. But when they call attention to successes they don’t say this is one of a million or one of a thousand. In fact, the reason they write about it is because they are so unusual. If most people did it, it wouldn’t be an unusual story. So, in a sense that’s how our media works. It encourages us to think of the exceptions as the norm.