Brooks: We need aspirational leaders to unite America around the idea that you can still earn your success

by Ryan Streeter on March 3, 2014. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

We need aspirational leaders willing to do the hard work of uniting Americans around an optimistic vision in which anyone can earn his or her success. This will never happen when we vilify the rich or give up on the poor.

That’s Arthur Brooks writing over the weekend about the threat envy poses to the opportunity society in which we Americans have long believed we live.

In his own research Brooks has found that people who strongly disagree with the Gallup statement that they are “angry that others have more than they deserve” are five times happier with their lives than people who strongly agree with that statement.

The trouble is that the balance in America seems to be shifting toward an angrier populace. Brooks cites high levels of support for redistribution and a trend toward a weakened faith in the idea that if you work hard in America, you can get ahead and fulfill your dreams.

He writes:

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.