Upward mobility isn’t the most important thing

Click to enlarge.

Double click to enlarge.

It’s good if hard-working talented people can rise in the social scale.  But measures of social mobility shown on the map and the New York Times link in the previous post are not measures of objective well-being.  They only show how many Americans improve their income ranking compared to other Americans.  They do not show how well we Americans as a whole are doing.

Improvement in income ranking is a zero-sum game.  For everybody that rises to a higher percentile in income rank, at least one other person must fall.  Nothing wrong with that—but how Americans are sorted into winners and losers is a different question from whether Americans as a whole have an opportunity to better their condition.

The United States in the early 19th century was justly reputed to be the best country in the world for working people, at least for white working men.  The American dream was not just that an unschooled rail splitter like Abraham Lincoln could become President of the United States.  It was that all rail splitters could earn a sufficient living to support their families, and could expect their children could have better lives than they did.

It’s better to have fluid economic classes than hereditary poverty and wealth.  But it is more important to have a system in which all hard-working, law-abiding people can have a decent standard of living and realistically hope for a better future for their children.   It matters little if a select few can aspire to wealth if the economic system is set up so that a large, fixed number of people are going to be poor.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Tags: , , , ,

One Response to “Upward mobility isn’t the most important thing”

  1. EthnicKonflict Says:

    This is a very good point. I spent the last couple of days talking to a young man who feels extremely ambitious and driven, and he has developed some technical skills. He talks about owning his own company soon and moving up. But he lives in a public storage unit. With a roommate. Granted, it is the tidiest, most well organized storage unit ever designed to be a home.

    He says he’s going to write this story soon on the old computer he owns or on his smartphone. I look forward to having his piece.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: