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Upward Mobility

Are we experiencing the second coming of the Gilded Age? According to The Economist it sure looks like it, and that's not a good thing...

Comments (8)

The article focuses entirel... (Below threshold)

The article focuses entirely at the top, and ignores conditions at the bottom, where things are getting better too. Todays poor have it better in many ways than the wealthy of the Gilded Age.

As for the charge that Republicans are trying to get rid of the inheritance tax, is it not in fact more correct to say that they are trying to adjust it for inflation?

Hard to know what to make o... (Below threshold)

Hard to know what to make of this. The research is rather poor. One gets the impression that social mobility has declined, or maybe it hasn't. And since the entire point of the article was to complain that mobility had stopped, one would think the most important thing is some sort of critique about how robust were the conclusions about this, and ask prominent economists on both sides to comment. Absent this, the article is worthless, because all it says is "maybe, maybe not". So what?

Since lifestyles have clearly improved over the last 20 years, it matters little whether the rich got richer faster than the poor got wealthier. Except of course to egalitarians.

Yet another example of 'sta... (Below threshold)

Yet another example of 'starting with a conclusion and arranging the facts to support it'.

While bemoaning the lack of traversal from the bottom quartile to the top quartile, the article misses the point that there was ANY MOVEMENT AT ALL! How many countries in this world had exactly ZERO movement between these quartiles.

Here's a statistic I'd like to see: Upward mobility figures for Red State residents vs. Blue State residents.

And another interesting fact I'd like to see: A comparison of the 'membership stickiness' of Congress vs. the top 1% (or 0.1%) of earners. I bet it's easier to stay in Congress once you get there than it is to stay at the top of the income ladder.

The greatness of this country is that we all have the opportunity to better ourselves. Going from the bottom to the top, while unlikely is - at least - POSSIBLE in America.

That's what dreams are all about - the chance to turn possibilities into realities.

It is not rare that The... (Below threshold)
Arctic Fox:

It is not rare that The Economist takes a position at variance with the facts. To say, as Triticale and Pogo do, that the research is questionable, almost goes without saying.
The important thing in any such a discussionm is disaggregation of the data. Mobilitty remains high in the US but it differs massively by cultural/racial groups and by family structure.
It is absolutely predictable that a black kid born of an unmarried welfare mother, who embeds himself in the hip-hop culture and disdains education will do terribly. OTOH an immigrant black West Indian boy born into an intact family in which the father remains employed NO MATTER HOW LOWLY HIS JOB, and who identifies with a personal responsibility based interpretation of his religion, as well as finding emotional satisfaction in learning will do well.
These are about as predictable outcames as Mike Tyson versus Don Knotts.
Unfortunately, in the US, the rise of the hip hop culture among all races and the moral support for such stupidity from the chattering classes
has injured the chances of many a child. Liberals have a great deal to answer for.

Aside from the fact that it... (Below threshold)

Aside from the fact that it seems to focus mostly on the top portion, I see some other problems with this.

One thing it ignores is that if everyone's income increases, people can be better off despite not moving quintiles. It seems likely that people's standards of living have improved even if they haven't moved - that someone in one quintile is better off than they would be x number of years ago even if they haven't moved.

Secondly, it ignores movement within quintiles - going from the bottom 2% to the bottom 28% probably represents a decent jump in standard of living, even though you are in the same quintile.

I also think that there are a lot of people who do things that make it likely they will remain in the bottom - use drugs, drop out of high school, get pregnant at 14 - and it's unlikely that what we do, no matter how perfect we make the schools, that things will change

On the other hand, a child ... (Below threshold)

On the other hand, a child of wealthy parents who "use(s) drugs, drop out of high school, get pregnant at 14" will probably not end up poor. In a similar fashion, a child from a poor family who does not apply himself in school and later on in life drinks heavily, uses drugs and runs a business into the ground will probably not be saved by Arab investors and local taxpayers so that he can later go on to become Governor of Texas and President of the United States.

What would Paris Hilton and her ilk do if they were not born rich?

Sure kids of wealthy parent... (Below threshold)

Sure kids of wealthy parents can mess up their lives and still not end up poor. So what? All of our situations are, in my opinion, due primarily to two factors - environment and energy. The combination of a good (rich, in this case) environment and low energy (drugs, alcohol, etc) will usually lead to a better situation than a bad environment and low energy. That's just common sense.

Paris is benefiting from the toil and efforts of her family that came before her. So what? It doesn't matter whether anyone thinks she deserves it or not. The only thing that matters is what her parents think and how they choose to allow her to benefit from their fortunes. That's the beauty of economic freedom - that Paris Hilton's family can do anything they want with the money they've accumulated, including giving it to their daughters, regardless of what anybody thinks.

As the richest country in the world, we've proven that taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor only accelerates the increase in the size of the poor population and (getting back to the article) also helps to dissuade people in the bottom quartile of wealth from endeavoring to move up the economic ladder. The irony of our 'War on Poverty' has been to reduce the ROI (and therefore the incentive) of working for the poorest segment of our society. We're the only free society in the world where someone on public assistance (New York) can make more than 40% of the people who choose to work and forego the assistance.

If you want to talk about n... (Below threshold)

If you want to talk about nepotism and entrentched aristocracy, you need luck no further for a better example than Hollywood.

It's true that there are lots of Yalebots in Washington, at present. But who knows if that will be the case in five years, or especially twenty years. I'd like to think our Presidential candidates in thirty years could be any one of us: bloggers, soldiers in Iraq, grad-school roustabouts. Okay, maybe not the latter.

If a Democrat candidate could convince the Electorate, by hook or by crook, that upward mobility in America is broken and he (or she) could fix it, he (or she) would win in a landslide. But upward mobility these days means "I want to be a millionaire, and that shouldn't be impossible." And the Dems don't tell that story, the Republicans do.






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