Skip to main content

Public Lectures, often hosted by the Philosophy, Politics & Economics Program or the Department of Philosophy, are designed to be open to all members of the UNC Community interested in learning about issues related to ethics, often as they arise in interdisciplinary topics surrounding ethical issues and dilemmas.

To learn about upcoming Public Lectures, visit the events schedule.

Event Summary:

Richard V. Reeves’ talk delineated America’s classism, its causes, and its implications. Reeves began with outlining separation between classes through income, wealth, health, family structure and stability, life expectancy, culture and social capital, neighborhoods, and education. He went on to say inequality endures across generations, as wealth or lack thereof will follow through families to be passed down. Reeves continued with a discussion of absolute and relative mobility. Absolute mobility determines whether people are making more money than their parents did at the same age, controlling for cost of living and inflation. Absolute mobility is increasing today, but at a slower rate relative to the prosperity of the 1940’s to 1970’s. Conversely, relative mobility is how a person compares to their parent on the scale of income distribution. In modern times, relative mobility is becoming less feasible, as it has become more difficult and less statistically likely for people to move up in class. Reeves also considers the case for downward mobility, or the necessary reality that because some people will move up on the scale, others must move down.

To explain the present inequality, Reeves delves into two mechanisms: market meritocracy/education and opportunity hoarding. He defines market meritocracy as: the system designed to filter merit often leaves behind those without opportunities to hone their merit, that is to say, wealthier kids are generally going to be more prepared for demonstrating merit through testing than poorer kids, due to increased access to available resources. Reeves then defines and describes opportunity hoarding as methods like zoning laws, legacy admissions, and internships that keep the wealthy together, and the poor out, allowing the kids of the wealthy to more easily further themselves.

To address this problem, Reeves’ proposes the need for change in the collective mindset of the top 20% of people within the income distribution; to allow others lower in the income distribution to prosper by not pushing segregatory zoning laws, legacy admissions to ivy colleges, and de-facto exclusionary internship opportunities.

Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do About It

About the Speaker

Richard V. Reeves is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, where he co-directs the Center on Children and Families. His Brookings research focuses on social mobility, inequality, and family change. Richard also teaches at the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University. He writes for a wide range of publications, including the Atlantic, National Affairs, Democracy Journal, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. He is the author of Dream Hoarders, and John Stuart Mill – Victorian Firebrand.

Other Works with Richard Reeves

College and the End of Upward Mobility

In Defense of Immigrants: Here’s Why America Needs Them Now More Than Ever

Recent News & Readings