Here is some information from a February 19-23, 2014 CBS News poll:

Americans are still pessimistic about both the economy and the direction the country is headed in overall. Sixty-two percent think the economy is in bad shape, while just over a third rates it as good. These perceptions have not wavered much over the past year.

By a wide margin, more continue to think the country is off on the wrong track (63 percent) rather than headed in the right direction (32 percent).

Those are pretty bad numbers. Americans seem kind of glum. It’s strange. After all, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) is within a few hundred points of its all-time high. Last year the DJIA hit a record high on 52 separate occasions. With investors getting so fabulously wealthy, why are Americans feeling so pessimistic about the future?

If Arthur Brooks has the answer, he sure isn’t expressing it in his Sunday Review piece. He thinks Americans are just envious of the rich.

Moreover, he ignores evidence in his own presentation:

This is the direction we’re heading. According to Pew, the percentage of Americans who feel that “most people who want to get ahead” can do so through hard work has dropped by 14 points since about 2000. As recently as 2007, Gallup found that 70 percent were satisfied with their opportunities to get ahead by working hard; only 29 percent were dissatisfied. Today, that gap has shrunk to 54 percent satisfied, and 45 percent dissatisfied. In just a few years, we have gone from seeing our economy as a real meritocracy to viewing it as something closer to a coin flip.

How can we break the back of envy and rebuild the optimism that made America the marvel of the world?

Do any of you know what happened between 2000 and 2014? Do you know what happened between 2007 and 2014. We had the Bush presidency with its unpaid for tax cuts and ill-advised wars, and we had the Great Recession that the Republicans have done everything they can think of to deepen and extend. Wall Street made all their money back and then some, but everyone else is worse off than they were before. Folks aren’t envious; they’re pissed off.

A lot of people figured out that the American system isn’t anywhere near as meritocratic as Arthur Brooks and his minions at the American Enterprise Institute would like them to believe.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at