The Wall Street Journal

April 1, 2003


Is This a Great Country?

Few Americans see a rich person when they look in the mirror, but nearly a third see a rich person when they look into a crystal ball. That's the striking result of a Gallup poll that goes a long way to explaining why class war fails as an American political strategy.

The recent survey of 1,000 adults found that only 2% of Americans consider themselves rich today, but a whopping 31% expect to become rich someday. Understandably, young people are most optimistic, with 51% of those age 18 to 29 anticipating the life of a sort-of Rockefeller. But the hopefulness extends across all age groups, with even 22% of those between ages 50 and 64 figuring they'll hit the jackpot someday, though only 4% of them are rich today.

Even more revealing is the fact that many low-income people expect a fat future payday. The Gallup survey found that more than one in every five persons earning less than $30,000 a year has that belief, with the share climbing to 38% for those earning between $50,000 and $74,000, and all the way to 51% for those who make more than $75,000.

We suppose this could all be chalked up as the triumph of hope over experience (especially for the 8% of those over age 65 who still think they'll get rich). But we think these expectations have more to do with the broad American belief that our society offers opportunity and upward mobility.

Class-war rhetoric may work in the more socially and financially immobile cultures of Europe, but Americans understand that people make and lose fortunes here all the time. Americans vote not on their envy but their aspirations -- something that maybe even our politicians will figure out someday.

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Updated April 1, 2003

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