mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Monday, January 03, 2005

The rich get richer and the poor get something or other...

Via wizbang comes this Economist story on the upward mobility and a claim that it's dying, or something.

The article starts with the headline Whatever happened to the belief that any American could get to the top?. Which is a belief I've never heard of, and if you set your standard that everyone can get to the top, not just a few, of course the current situation will not meet your standards. Upward mobility doesn't say that everyone will get rich, just that people have the opportunity to get wealthier if they are smart, clever, and/or lucky.

One of their complaints is that those in politics tend to be dynasties - ie Gore, Bush, ect. But the idea of upward mobility has been aimed more at business than politics. And there is much more upward mobility in business than in politics, because you are judged by the market for what you can produce rather than by people who vote based on reasons like whoever is taller.

Another problem is that the article focuses on quintiles - fifth - which ignores two things. First of all, people can move within a quintile. They can go from the bottom 2% to the bottom 18% - which is probably a decent jump in standard of living - but are still in the quintile. Furthermore, it doesn't count if things get better for everyone. Chances are that someone in the bottom 20% is better off now than they were years ago in terms of standard of living - but they are still in the quintile.

The article focuses alot on the top 1% and the top .01%, and finds the US a failure because poor people aren't getting there much. But few get that high - and moving up is good even if you don't move into the top 1%, and you can have a very comfortable life well below that top 1%. The same goes for their complaints that many poor don't get into ivy league schools - but few people get into Ivy league schools, and once again you can have a very nice life going to a good, but not Ivy League school.

They look at education as a point of failure - and yes, it can be improved but the government can only do so much. Part of the reason that people don't move quintiles is that they make poor decisions - using drugs, dropping out of high school, or getting pregenant at 15. These are things that are going to happen no matter how good education is.

I think that higher education - and the upward mobility that comes with it - is also something they underestimate. Yes, not everyone gets into Harvard - but lots of students are going to some very good schools. Neither of my parents went to college - my dad went to a 2 year technical school - but both my older brother and I graduated from fairly good colleges, and both of us are currently in Master's programs - my brother in Math Education, myself in an MBA program. I'm sure I'm not the only person in a similar situation.

I think there are lots of opportunities for upward mobility - but it's not easy, and that seems to be the main complaint of this article.


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