Is America Still the ‘Land of Opportunity?’

Christina Bradee

Period 7


            Throughout most of the world, America is often portrayed as the land of the free or the land of opportunity. However, do these titles truly bring all that they claim to entail?  As evidenced by Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum and the great economical divide between economic classes, America’s capitalistic economy proves to entail less freedom for all of the participants through the hindrance of each class in different ways. While the less fortunate classes are hindered by the opportunities of economic success, the higher classes are proven to be less free in regards to their enslavement of work and greed; both of these situations are presaged by Rerum Novarum and are demonstrated by America’s current society. Through this, the prevalent image of America as the land of equal opportunity is diminished.

While Rerum Novarum does state the detriments of socialism, the writing also proclaims the faults of unrestricted capitalism. Pope Leo begins by demonstrating the flaws of socialism stating how “every man by nature has the right to possess private property as his own” (Rerum Novarum 6). Through implementing socialism, the government hinders every man’s undeniable right to own property. Pope Leo XIII continues to prove his point by claiming that the Earth was given to humans as a gift and humans must cultivate it. As a reward for their work, humans should be granted property. Because of this, any type of government that takes away this God-given right cannot be justified. Also, in regards to the economy, the opportunity to obtain property provides great incentive for the workers to work harder. Therefore, the opportunity to gain property allows the economy to grow further. Through this, socialism is declared as unjust because of the demeaning man’s natural right to own property and the hindrance of incentive which allows for economic growth.

Because of Pope Leo XIII’s portrayal of the detriments of socialism, capitalism could be portrayed as appealing at first glance; however, while establishing capitalism does entail man’s right to own property and is justified, it remains to pose other issues. Pope Leo XIII warns that “riches do not bring freedom from sorrow and are no avail for eternal happiness, but rather are obstacles” (Rerum Novarum 22). Although man has the right to the obtainment of private property, what he does with it defines him. A man must remember that the gift of ownership of property was given to him by God and he must not allow this gift to interfere with his relationship with God. Although this grants man the freedom of owning property, man also becomes enslaved through his inner turmoil that he experiences as a result of this freedom. Even though man has this right to spend in whatever way he pleases, this often results in jealousy of others and greed for more material goods. If a man continues to live this lifestyle, they will get caught up in the materialistic aspect of life and stray from their true purpose in life. The wealthy become incarcerated to the idea of money and forget where their gifts of life originate from- from God.

Through America’s implementation of capitalism in the nation, the government allows for a greater divide in social classes; therefore, limiting the economic freedoms of the lower classmen. There is a harsh difference between the wealth of the lower class compared to that of the higher class. Over the past several decades, the middle class has been hollowed out. Each year, the gap between the two perpetually grows. Due to the capitalistic economy, the rich benefit off of the poor. While the rich produce goods, the poor are the consumers and have little opportunity to grow in status or earnings; therefore, this causes the poor to get poorer while the rich become richer. In the year of 2010, according to a statistic provided by Mr. Rattner, 93 percent of the economic growth in the United States went to the upper 1 percent of Americans. While the lower class in society contributes by doing the actual physical labor of the production of goods, the affluent owners of the businesses receive the majority of the wealth. Due to this situation, the bottom class workers have little opportunity to work their way to a higher esteemed position or move to a higher esteemed job. Since there is such a great divide in the economic ladder in society, many Americans either experience great financial difficulties or are very well off; those few who are very well off contribute a substantial amount to the United States’ GDP (Marby). Therefore, because of the capitalistic economy the United States’ implements, there is a great divide between the rich and the poor and as a result, the poor have limited economic freedom because of their hindrance in their opportunity to climb the economic ladder.

In addition to the hindrance of growth in the workplace, the lower class civilians do not share an equal opportunity in the educational system. While the United States’ government declares the key to a decent job is receiving an esteemed education, many lower and middle class families are not able to afford an education past a high school diploma. With college tuition increasing perpetually each year, affording college is becoming more and more difficult for lower and middle class families. Through this, the government is permitting only the already wealthy families to allow their children to attend college, and therefore, their children will have greater freedoms in their job opportunities due to their attained college degree. While the government does make an attempt at diminishing the great divide within the economic backgrounds of students in college through their FASFA, or financial aid program, more than likely, the amount of money provided is not substantial enough to allow the families to send their children to the college of their choice for the lower class families. While there are community colleges that are affordable for these families, they only provide two-year degrees and therefore limit their students in regards to their chosen degrees. A degree at a community college would not compare to a degree attained at a globally recognized school such as Harvard University, which has a tuition cost of approximately forty-thousand dollars a year. With a substantial divide in the dispersion in regards to the money in America between social classes, the government is limiting the opportunities of the lower and middle class citizens through their education freedoms, which, as a result, limits their economic freedoms.

In America’s current society, Pope Leo XIII’s theory of private property entailing greed and envy, contributed by capitalism, is evidenced within the upper class in society. Through the freedom of owning personal possessions and material goods, people become enslaved to their greed and desire for more goods. They also become incarcerated to their jobs in order to attain more wealth for purchasing more goods. This theory is greatly evidenced by the popular culture of America. Americans have become highly obsessed with the idea of wealth. Some of America’s most popular television shows include shows that are centralized around the lifestyle of the rich, such as Keeping Up with the Kardashians and E! News. More magazines are devoting their cover pages to rich celebrities due to their increase in influence in society. These examples feed America’s addiction to attaining wealth and material goods. Many people lose sight of the meaning of life and spend the majority of their day working in order to gain more money. Through gaining more property or possessions or having the popular culture of American being focused on the rich, one’s sense of greed and envy are augmented. Through this entitlement, their love for the family or friends may be replaced by their love for money or material goods; as a result of this, many lose their humanity through their greed. These feelings of lust for money, which causes people to become captivated by work, are a direct result of capitalism and the right to own private property.

While the initial idea of capitalism seems appealing, the effects have proven to be detrimental to the economy and the mortality of the nation’s individuals. Through America’s implementation of capitalism, Americans have lost a sense of freedom through the unequal opportunities of economic success and the enslavement to their jobs, due to the difference in education opportunities and feelings of greed and envy in which capitalism inspires. Through this, the motif of America has been skewed from the “land of opportunity” to become a materialistic society where the poor are neglected and the rich are idolized. If the nation were to restrict the magnitude of capitalistic attitudes being implemented, then the equality of freedoms in the nation would improve.

Works Cited

“Is America Still The ‘Land of Opportunity?'” Interview by Michel Martin. NPR. N.p., 1 July 2013. Web. 10 Dec. 2013. <;.

Jessup, Meredith. “Is America Still ‘the Land of Opportunity’?” The Blaze. N.p., 25 Oct. 2013. Web. 13 Dec. 2013. <;.

Kling, Michael. “Gallup: US No Longer Seen as Land of Opportunity.” Moneynews. N.p., 1 Nov. 2013. Web. 13 Dec. 2013. <;.

Pope Leo, XIII. “Leo XIII – Rerum Novarum.” Leo XIII – Rerum Novarum. N.p., 15 May 1891. Web. 12 Dec. 2013. <;.

Marby, Marcus. “Is America Still the Land of Opportunity?” IHT Rendezvous Is America Still the Land of Opportunity Comments. New York Times, 1 Jan. 2013. Web. 13 Dec. 2013. <;.


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