Land of (unequal) opportunity
A little late to the game, the NY Times has quite a good piece by Jason DeParle on the well-established finding that the US is not only the most unequal of developed societies but is also at the bottom of the scale for social mobility.
I’ve been arguing since the Triassic era of blogging that this isn’t a coincidence – a society with highly unequal outcomes can’t sustain equality of opportunity, but until this year (in fact, until the emergence of the Occupy movement) I didn’t see any evidence that the facts were sinking in, even among the majority liberals. Now it’s as if a dam has broken. Some thoughts, cautionary and otherwise over the fold.
* As I mentioned a while back, the research evidence of low social mobility in the US has been around for at least a decade, but seemed to have no impact on the policy debate. That’s changed, but I doubt that Americans who don’t follow the debate closely have had their beliefs on the subject challenged. In this context, I’m not sure if the NYT piece will have much effect. It was very briefly on the front page of the website earlier today (Oz time) but is now almost impossible to find unless you know what to search for.
* It’s striking how limited, and ineffectual, the pushback from the right has been. There’s been a huge effort to deny the glaringly obvious increase in inequality of income and wealth. By contrast, social mobiity is hard to measure and it’s never difficult to find examples of people who’ve done very well despite deprived backgrounds (Obama, for example). Yet even the National Review has accepted the evidence on this point (OTOH, DeParle quotes a lame rejoinder from Heritage and some predictable spin from Reihan Salam).
* The most significant move on the right is Rick Santorum’s adoption of this theme. It’s not hard to work out the political logic of concern about the emergence of a society where your prospects depend mainly on who your father was. But it raises some interesting possibilities. For example, how long before Santorum, or an attackPAC working for him, runs an ad with this “money shot” photo?