Inequality Begets Inequality

Pete Davis mentions a new book that sounds interesting. He observes that we like to think of the United States as a land of opportunity, “but a new book, Creating an Opportunity Society, by Ron Haskins and Belle Sawhill of the Brookings Institution proves otherwise.”

That’s what we like to think, but a new book, Creating an Opportunity Society, by Ron Haskins and Belle Sawhill of the Brookings Institution proves otherwise. They took a close look at intergenerational mobility and found that 42% of American men with fathers in the bottom income quintile remain there as compared to: Denmark, 25%; Sweden, 26%; Finland, 28%; Norway, 28%; and the United Kingdom, 30%. They present a wealth of new and old research evidence to support the conclusion that if you’re born poor in America, you’re likely to remain poor.

This basic result has been known for quite some time, at least in liberal circles (conservatives like Greg Mankiw believe the U.S. is ruled by a genetic aristocracy). And the interpretation seems pretty clear. The high level of income inequality in the United States leads to highly unequal opportunities for American children, whereas the low levels of income inequality in Nordic countries lead to more equal outcomes.

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Davis says the book “is not a liberal polemic,” but I’m not really sure where else any analysis of this issue would lead you. One of the co-authors, Ron Haskins, has definite conservative credentials so I’ll be interested to see what kind of conservative ideas are in here, but “make America more like Sweden” doesn’t strike me as a very promising foundation for bipartisanship.