Saturday, January 11, 2003

I did enjoy the editorial today by David Brooks about a lack of class consciousness, particularly class envy, in Americans.
Time magazine survey that asked people if they are in the top 1 percent of earners. Nineteen percent of Americans say they are in the richest 1 percent and a further 20 percent expect to be someday...

[Americans] always had a sense that great opportunities lie just over the horizon, in the next valley, with the next job or the next big thing. None of us is really poor; we're just pre-rich...

Every few years a group of millionaire Democratic presidential aspirants pretends to be the people's warriors against the overclass. They look inauthentic, combative rather than unifying. Worst of all, their basic message is not optimistic. They haven't learned what Franklin and Teddy Roosevelt and even Bill Clinton knew: that you can run against rich people, but only those who have betrayed the ideal of fair competition. You have to be more hopeful and growth-oriented than your opponent, and you cannot imply that we are a nation tragically and permanently divided by income.
However, Income mobility *is not* that much higher in the US. Although it's the classic location for a rags-to-riches story, other developed countries have similar income mobility. In addition, at least one very pessimistic economist has argued that many American adults remain stuck in poverty (see also this course plan which is practically a rebuttal). Anyway, it's all very confusing and there don't exist very many international comparisons of income mobility.

So is the reluctance of Americans to penalize the rich based purely on a hopeful and/or egalitarian outlook, rather than on a real economic difference? David Brooks' point may still be valid, but now I wish some economist/sociologist would link American attutides to income mobility to their actual opportunity for income mobility.

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