Mobility

A Must Read: Inequality Matters

A blog post by Mark Price, originally published at Third and State.

A debate has been simmering in this country since the early 1980s about rising inequality, a debate aided by more powerful computers and readily available income data that labor economists use to analyze inequality trends.

The debate has oscillated between two camps — the first arguing inequality trends are troubling, the second arguing a combination of there is no rise in inequality and even if there were it is OK or even good (for the vitality of our economy, for example). The battle of ideas spurred new research using new datasets, but the debate always breaks down in the same way.

Part of the argument about inequality being OK has been that what matters is intergenerational mobility. As long as people born of modest means have the opportunity to vault into the top of the income distribution, the American Dream of widespread mobility is alive and well.

In telling this story, Americans often compare themselves favorably to class-bound Europe where, according to the standard narrative, millions toil generation after generation eating gruel under the jackboot of cheese-eating aristocrats. A New York Times story this morning provides fresh evidence that, well, actually there is less intergenerational mobility here in the U.S. than in Europe. The story even has some conservative voices suggesting maybe this is a problem. (Side note: could Rick Santorum maybe let Eric Cantor know about this problem?)

OK, here's a tough one. Now that we agree that the American Dream is on life support, what's the conservative plan to revive it?

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