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The Myth That Made Us

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The Myth That Made Us

How False Beliefs about Racism and Meritocracy Broke Our Economy (and How to Fix It)

MIT Press,

15 min read
7 take-aways
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The US economic ladder is broken – but it can be fixed.

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Economist Jeff Fuhrer looks at American society and sees an economy constructed atop a fairy tale. According to what Fuhrer calls “The Myth,” the rich get rich through relentless toil and constant sacrifice, while the poor stay poor because they’re unwilling to do what it takes to better themselves. Fuhrer meticulously unpacks these assumptions, and he prescribes undoing US inequality through a variety of progressive policies, such as raising the minimum wage and investing heavily in education and child care. But Fuhrer’s policy suggestions seem unlikely to find traction in a nation in which so many still subscribe to The Myth.


The US economy is built on a distorted view of how and why some succeed while others struggle.

American society has fallen victim to “The Myth” – the deep-seated notion that modern capitalism rewards those who deserve it. Billionaires are successful because they’re simply smarter and harder working than everyone else, The Myth proclaims. And those left behind get what they deserve, too. They’re not savvy enough, not industrious enough and simply not motivated enough to thrive in a ruthlessly competitive marketplace. Those who accept The Myth dismiss many other realities, too, such as that race and class disadvantage millions of Americans, and that individual prosperity isn’t determined solely by individual effort. The Myth lets policymakers and business leaders look past systemic solutions and blame personal failings.

The Myth is deeply ingrained in the American citizenry. The earliest seeds are planted with the tale of America’s founding. The narrative stresses the nation’s roots as a place of equality and meritocracy. Anyone can succeed, The Myth says, regardless of color or creed, as long as they’re willing to work hard. Mainstream economics reinforces...

About the Author

Jeff Fuhrer is a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution and a foundation fellow at the Eastern Bank Foundation. He was previously executive vice president and director of research at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

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