Equality of Opportunity

Recently here, there have been a few discussions about wealth inequity, which often devolved into philosophical differences about whether or not distribution of wealth was a good thing (as well as whether or not our current systems actually function to distribute wealth to the top).

One thing that most seemed to agree on was that wealth inequity was not a bad thing per se, as long as there was equality of opportunity. In other words, if everyone had an equal chance to gain wealth if they set goals, worked hard and avoided stupid economic and personal decisions. As long as everyone had a more or less equal chance to achieve success and wealth, then everyone should be content.

A recent study seem to show that there is less equality of opportunity in the United States, as compared with other countries:

It’s not a minor difference either:

The original study is centered around children from lower economic status, and how they can rise out of these circumstances. Canada seems to have policies in place that are more family-friendly than the US, which help lower income people have a good quality of childhood:

What do you think? Is economic mobility important to the well being of a country? Is it acceptable to have an economic underclass where it is increasingly difficult for their children to get out from poverty and rise up economically? Is it important to put policies in place that help, rather than hinder the goal of increasing economic mobility? Or does this not matter? Is the “American Dream” dead?

Here’s the link to theactual published paper for reference

Economically, surely one has to look no farther than the economies of Hong Kong and Japan where the institution of the family is so strong?

On the parenthood side, I wonder if physical mobility has anything to do with it? In days of yore, when the parents were out working, elderly female relatives or neighbours would look after the children. These days, grandmother is likely to be working herself and great-grandmother is probably a thousand miles or more away, and the neighbours are out working too.

Perhaps, but this does not explain the disparity between Canada and the US, as I expect that the mobility issues would be similar.

It seems to be more explainable by social policy and government support for children and families who are less well off, which then helps to remove disadvantages which will lead to poor economic outcomes for those individuals in the future.

The conservatives in the US, influenced by radical libertarians and driven to a certain extent by hidden (and in Rick Santorum’s case, sometimes not so hidden) racism, are out to destroy the social safety net, every fiber and thread of it. They want to see people starving in the street. Of course this makes it harder for people on the bottom of the ladder to get up it. Or even survive.

Well, I think ascribing motivation of “evil” is a little extreme.

Perhaps we could focus the discussion on “is this even happening” at this point.

Is your polemic actually relevant? This is happening in Democrat states as well as Republican ones, and has been for a long time.

I’ve just read in the print copy of this week’s The Week a precis of an article by Ruth Marcus in The Washington Post.

She appears to blame the problem of lack of economic (and thus social) mobility on lower-income people not getting married and thus not providing a stable environment for their children. So, according to her and contrary to Evil Captor’s diatribe, it’s not the conservatives but the working classes working against themselves.

It this author is correct, and the victims are completely responsible for their own lack of economic mobility for this reason, then she’ll have no problem explaining how Canadians are up to three times more economically mobile than Americans, when the rates of marriage are similar in both countries?

How does she explain the difference between the economic mobility between Canada and the US?

I skimmed the article, and I notice that they mention, but do not really include that in their study, the difference in how education monies are collected and distributed in the two countries. This, it seems to me, would be a leading suspect, and I’m not sure why they didn’t include it in their study. In the US, school funding is tied, more or less, to local property taxes whereas it is taken from general income taxes in a given Provence in Canada. So, in the US rich kids go to really good schools and poor kids generally go to shitty ones.

But, can the OP put more flesh on what it means to have “three times” the social mobility? I didn’t get to that part of the article. I’m having trouble visualizing what that actually means in terms of someone’s life.

The health care differences alone could count for a lot of what you’re seeing. If you have an ill child, you won’t be pushed into poverty because of it. Sudden illness will not bankrupt you, etc. The elderly get their prescription drugs, chronic illness gets ongoing treatment. These seem individual issues but they affect the whole family and their financial success in the US.

I think you’re correct about the schools, and it is mentioned in part in the article:

I’ll have to get back to you on details of the “three times the social mobility part”… I believe though that essentially the poorest in Canada are able to move up the income ladder more easily than the poorest in the US, who stay mired in poverty.

Yes, it’s mentioned, but they also say they “highlight but leave unaddressed” that issue. Seems like a pretty big hole. That would seem to me the first place to look, and by leaving it “unaddressed”, I have to wonder if they are missing a first order factor.

Yes, it clearly means “more”. But what does that mean in terms of numbers of people, or the chances of a poor person being not poor later in life?

Completely? I don’t believe she says that.

You’ll have to ask her that.

This is a very good point.

No thanks. You’re the one that brought up the possibility that it is lack of marriage that prevents the poor from being economically mobile. It is up to you therefore to provide evidence that there is a difference in marriage by the poor between Canada and the US.

Otherwise, this theory of fewer marriages in the poor leading to less economic mobility does not explain anything,and is merely blaming the poor based on no evidence.

From the actual paper:

In looking at the more technical part of the paper, what they are measuring is intergenerational mobility, essentially by looking at the earnings of father-son pairs. (sample size 340,000) The examine this data in some detail, and give several comparison charts.

One of the findings is that:

So basically in the US if your father does not earn much, chances are 40% that you not earn much more. In Canada, chances of the same person not earning much more than his father is 30%

The “three times” figure comes from a more complex calculation of “Intergenerational elasticity of earnings between fathers and sons”

The paper has a lot of analysis and data, and is an interesting read.

Well they oppose social security, medicare, medicaid, Obamacare and most ANY attempt at universal health care, welfare and unemployment insurance. So, yah … it’s happening.

yes it is relevant. The issue is, in part, why is there so little economic opportunity at the bottom of American society? And I am pointing out that conservatives are intent on dismantling the American social safety net that helps the poor survive and maybe get a leg up when a chance to do so comes along.

As for Dem vs. Rep. states, irrelevant, as most social safety net programs are federal.

I don’t know much about mobility in the US, but I certainly agree it’s present here in Canada. I think my family’s a good example. My grandparents on both sides were dirt-poor. On my father’s side, they were immigrants from Eastern Europe. On my mother’s side, the immigration had happened a few generations before, but my grandmother was left alone with four daughters to raise. My father worked his way up from doing odd jobs to being an independent car dealer, building up savings along the way. My mom went to secretarial school and lived very frugally while working at pink-collar jobs. They finally went from renting apartments to buying their own house after being married for 30 years. Now I’m the first person in my extended family to go to university. I’ve got a professional job and own my own condo.

What do I credit with this mobility? Universal health care is a biggie: My parents have been through several surgeries but are still able to maintain their place in life. It also lets us take risks. I’m able to further my career by changing jobs for better salaries and challenges without worrying about losing my health insurance.

Relatively inexpensive education and housing are big advantages too. I was able to pay for my university through part-time jobs and paid internships. I live in a large city (Montreal), but have never had too much trouble finding a clean and reasonably-priced place to live.

Of course I could mention hard work and luck, but I don’t see why those wouldn’t be equal on both sides of the border :wink:

Not correct: I reported that someone else had said it. I felt it sufficiently interesting to contribute to the thread.