“Contrary to the cherished beliefs of most Americans, the United States has less social mobility than any other developed country. As Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution have shown, 42 percent of American men with fathers in the bottom fifth of the income distribution remain there as compared to: Denmark, 25 percent; Sweden, 26 percent; Finland, 28 percent; Norway, 28 percent; and Britain, 30 percent. The American Dream is fast becoming a myth.”
— John Quiggin
I’ve posted information similar to the above on an internet forum. Often enough, I am told in response the lack of social mobility in America reflects, not a structural problem, but rather a decline in the personal habits, morals, and virtues of Americans. “If only people would work harder, etc.”, the argument goes, “social mobility would be restored in America.”
When I brought this issue up with Ed Darrell over at the award winning, Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub, he responded with what I believe is the best counter I’ve yet seen to the notion, “If only people would work harder, etc., social mobility would be restored in America.” Here’s Ed’s counter:
Were it personal flaw, shouldn’t that negatively affect the social mobility in nations where the personal morals are, collectively, much lower than in the U.S.?
Those nations named by Prof. Quiggin are usually held out to be bastions of libertinism for most such discussions — socialist nations, where single parents get time off from work to look after babies, and payments from the government to insure the kid gets enough to eat and can get into a decent school.
Which personal habits, morals and virtues do they speak of?
The southern U.S., and especially the Bible Belt, shows a greater lack of social mobility than the rest of the nation. Do your critics mean that people should attend less church, be less religious, have more babies out of wedlock, etc.?
I think your critics aren’t paying attention, and they’ve missed the boat.
I would be pleased, dear reader, to know what you make of (1) the argument, “If only people would work harder, etc., social mobility would be restored in America.”; and (2) Ed’s counter to (1)?
By the way, you can find Ed’s original post on this matter here, complete with comments.