It is harder for Americans to rise from poverty to prosperity than citizens of almost any other nation in the so-called first world, according to an article in today’s New York Times. Actually, scholars have debunked the “rags-to-riches” story for years, beginning with studies showing that Horatio Alger’s heroes rose not to great wealth but to middle-class respectability. The lesson of the stories was more about hewing to the corporate line than accumulating great wealth. Ragged Dick was not the last tycoon so much as the first organization man. And even though upward mobility might mean only a slightly better life for your children, the American Dream was that opportunity was there for all to seek. But now even that fluidity seems to be going in the wrong direction. Because the frailty of America’s safety net condemns the poor, and our current tax policies insulate the rich, we live in a society that looks ever more like a banana republic than the land of opportunity. America’s poor have become not just a separate class, but a distinct caste – especially in the cores of our cities, where crime, poverty and vast and chronic unemployment are both epidemic and ignored. And yet we continue to insist that our politicians demonstrate their reverence for an American Dream that has become a nightmare for so many.