“The American Aristocracy” from “Remembering Eternity”

“The United States had supposedly turned its back on the old-country ways of class stratification in favor of equality; hence, it could never, in good conscience, acknowledge any system in the country that smacked of aristocratic privilege.  So the wealthy gave lip service to upward mobility and told stories of walking ten miles in the snow to school as part of the propaganda intended to reassure the masses that big-stakes poker is played in America with a fair deck of cards and no sleight of hand.  Every story of a millionaire shared the same script: a hard-working, never-say-die adherent of the free enterprise system clambered over every obstacle put in his way, survived the days when his empty stomach growled at him, and finally pulled his way to the top.  The wealthy elite relished these homilies about success, for they convinced average people that, indeed, all opportunities remained open to them and that victory depended almost entirely on their own efforts.  The reality behind the scenes contradicted this facade.  The game was rigged; the deck, stacked; the rules, bent; and the big-stakes players, in cahoots with one other.  In reality, a single phone call accomplished more for the right caller than a year’s worth of research for the unconnected investor.  In reality, the early stockholders defined preferential terms for themselves guaranteeing that they would wind up in a far more lucrative position than the electrician who bought common stock with the hope of putting his children through college.  In reality, the local politicians, their tongues loosened by the passage over them of too much vintage Bordeaux in the course of a country-club dinner and their spirits of sharing encouraged by preferred stock to which they were sometimes given access, divulged the routes of new highways to real estate magnates who, the next day, bought cheap properties in what later proved to be perfectly chosen locations.”