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May 15, 2005 7:13 AM   Subscribe

Class Mobility within America - The mythology surrounding Horatio Alger is a powerful force within American culture: the idea that anyone can pull oneself up by the bootstraps to become financially successful. Surprising research by statistician Miles Corak shows that Americans have no more income mobility than Europeans — contradicting cultural presumptions of egalitarianism — and even less than Scandinavian countries, despite their heavy taxation. Marketing slowly meets reality in the American Dream...
posted by AlexReynolds (83 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
And some tips on how to get above the pack.
posted by peacay at 7:39 AM on May 15, 2005 [1 favorite]


The point about working your way up that goes to people's hearts is not that it's more common by some percentage points here or there but that some believe it can be done and it's shameful not to try, while others believe it can't be done and therefore trying is stupid. The folks at Pew have a large new report saying, among other things, (as David Brooks' NYTimes reading has it) "Many people have wondered why so many lower-middle-class waitresses in Kansas and Hispanic warehouse workers in Texas now call themselves Republicans. The Pew data provide an answer: they agree with Horatio Alger. These working-class folk like the G.O.P.'s social and foreign policies, but the big difference between poor Republicans and poor Democrats is that the former believe that individuals can make it on their own with hard work and good character."

Not, notice, that it's harder for a brown guy in Houston than for a white guy in Denmark, but merely that it can be done. It'll take a bit more than Barbara Ehrenreich's odiously class-snobbish little book to change that.
posted by jfuller at 7:42 AM on May 15, 2005


Given both my parents' history of rising from practically nothing to the top of their (upper middle-class) professions in Canada -- oft decried here as well as elsewhere as some sort of socialist quagmire -- I must say that the idea that the US as the only place where one can get ahead is little but jingoism and, frankly, meaningless marketing.
posted by clevershark at 8:01 AM on May 15, 2005


clevershark, I don't know that anyone puts forward the idea that the US is the only place where you can get ahead, but it is true that many believe that it has the most open class system in the world. Actually, social mobility patterns have been fairly similar in most of the industrialized countries for about a century now, and aren't even that different from what can be found in more traditional societies, as Sorokin noted.

As to why people continue to believe that it is possible to make it, well, first, it obviously does happen - and happens more easily at periods when there are large-scale technological and economic shifts, opening avenues and opportunities which did not exist previously - and second, people are seemingly programmed to believe in luck. If they can believe sufficiently that they are going to win the lottery to spend a large amount of their income on lottery tickets each month, then they may be even more likely to believe that a little hard work and a lot of luck will make them millionaires in the near future.
posted by TimothyMason at 8:19 AM on May 15, 2005


I don't know that anyone puts forward the idea that the US is the only place where you can get ahead

I've heard this said, or at least strongly implied, by Americans many times. It's often accompanied by the Freedom Statement ("well, x is currently bad in American right now...but at least we're free", implying that the U.S. is either the only or by far the most free nation in the world). Here's Barrack Obama in his wonderful speech at the Democratic National Convention last year:

They [my parents] imagined me going to the best schools in the land, even though they weren’t rich, because in a generous America you don’t have to be rich to achieve your potential.

They are both passed away now. And yet, I know that, on this night, they look down on me with great pride.

I stand here today, grateful for the diversity of my heritage, aware that my parents’ dreams live on in my two precious daughters. I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all of those who came before me, and that, in no other country on earth, is my story even possible.

posted by Turtles all the way down at 8:33 AM on May 15, 2005


In Alger's stories, it was never success-by-bootstrap-pulling anyway. The hard-working character always finds a rich sponsor. He works hard enough to get noticed, then someone else dumps money or opportunities on him.
posted by goatdog at 8:39 AM on May 15, 2005


The piece in theNY Times is big on what this and that person believes in (bullshit) and offered little (for me) of interest. Class, as Pal Fussell has said in his book (CLASS) is America's guarded secret--we know it exists but in a democracy we feel it is wrong to be open about it.

Traditioanly,it was education that for so many years allowed many to up their status. But in discussions of class, there is much more to be considered than "mere" money, though money as useful start, for sure. Even there, we have "new" money and "old" money...

A quick suggestion: the gap between classes has been widening over the years in America. We have fast food places for those down on the scale and very expensive restaurants for those with money. Community colleges and Ivy schools; clothing, cars, homes, drinks--you name it for those further down the scale and better (?) ones for those who can afford it...Do you own your home or rent? do you have a vacation owned home too? etc etc

In sum: a very big topic NY Times has touched upon. And they plan two addtional reports to follow.This is good because it b=gets people interested in the topic. And how many read the NY Times, even though it is totally free online? If not, what do you read? Magazines? music, films, theatre--all these are "markers."
posted by Postroad at 8:43 AM on May 15, 2005


businessweek covered this awhile back (so did the onion :) and most recently, the wsj last friday; first in a series!

btw, BW also had a nice issue last week on "why so many americans aren't buying into bush's ownership society" (because "americans believe in self-reliance -- and in a government that protects them when needed" :)

cheers!
posted by kliuless at 8:44 AM on May 15, 2005


And yet 80% of millionaires in America are first generation. Which I think is a helluva good number.
posted by PenDevil at 8:50 AM on May 15, 2005


I don't know that anyone puts forward the idea that the US is the only place where you can get ahead

Whether you know it or not, it is absolutely central to America's mythology that it offers levels of freedom and opportunity that not only are not but cannot possibly be duplicated anywhere else. Often such sentiments are expressed in sentences beginning with Only in America . . ., which is common enough to have become a sort of catchphrase.

Or, as Trong Van Dinh put it in the patriotic essay that beat out Lisa Simpson's "Cesspool on the Potomac" in the Reading Digest contest:

When my family arrived in this country four months ago, we spoke no English and had no money in our pockets. Today, we own a nationwide chain of wheel-balancing centers. Where else but in America, or possibly Canada, could our family find such opportunity? That's why, whenever I see the Stars and Stripes, I will always be reminded of that wonderful word: flag!

Part of the reason this is funny is because in actuality no jingoistic American speech would acknowledge that Canada (or anywhere else) offers similar opportunities.

See also exceptionalism, American myth of
posted by gompa at 8:57 AM on May 15, 2005


Do you own your home or rent?

That just reminded me of something I found strange when I moved to California from Canada: when my wife and I would meet people at parties, they'd ask within a minute of being introduced "do you own or rent?". I hadn't ever heard, and haven't since I've moved back to Canada, that phrase, and I've always been puzzled as to why these people cared how the roof over our heads was paid for. The only thing I could come up with was that they were trying to determine our place in the (monetarily based) class system--worth knowing/not worth knowing, which seems to be what Postroad is saying.

All I know is that if I met someone at a party in Vancouver and asked them out of the blue if they owned or rented they'd either look at me like I was insane or tell me it was none of my business.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 8:59 AM on May 15, 2005


Well, heck. Perception beats reality once again.

The whole "rugged individualist / Horatio Alger" mythology was a PR scam put together by hacks working for a bunch of predatory monopolists, robber barons and land pirates.

They needed a cover story for how they got their pile that reflected better on them than the fact that they stole it.

Though even the worst of those hacks would probably have slashed their wrists over a garbage can if they had known their little fairy tale would have evolved into Ayn Rand, Objectivism and the Libertarians.

"Thanks for the dime, Mr. Rockefeller."
posted by warbaby at 9:10 AM on May 15, 2005


oh and that's sorta richard florida's thesis, that some members of the 'creative class' (of human capital) are starting to move to places like "canada, scandinavia, new zealand and other countries with more open political climates," whereas previously economic migrants preferred the US or something. like it's only where there's "'technology, talent, and tolerance' (i.e. that together, they generate economic clout, so the U.S. should be more progressive on gay rights and government spending)" that you find upward mobility. maybe that's why microsoft reversed themselves on supporting gay rights legislation?
posted by kliuless at 9:19 AM on May 15, 2005


Most people in America are barely treading water; a lot are downwardly mobile by no fault of their own, their jobs "outsourced" and their workplaces "downsized". Consider too that most new millionaires got rich by screwing lots of other people over, such as by being executives who profit from the aforementioned "downsizing" and "outsourcing".
posted by davy at 9:19 AM on May 15, 2005


oh and that's sorta richard florida's thesis, that some members of the 'creative class'

Screw the creative class with a chainsaw. I feel the need to say that whenever I see that infuriating term.
posted by jonmc at 9:23 AM on May 15, 2005


As to why people continue to believe that it is possible to make it...

Partly it is because it is news when a coal miner's daughter makes it big and it is not news when a coal miner's daughter marries a coal miner and works in a grocery until she can collect social security.

Schoolkids playing sports or guitars often have much higher hopes of stardom than they should, partly because they don't hear (or they ignore) stories about the high school basketball stars or guitar masters who went on to careers in shoe sales. Programmers imagine they'll be the next Bill Gates (but cool), not the next Bill Smith, middle-class code maintenance guy. All they (want to) know about is the one in a million who made it. People love the Ragged Dick mythology.

I know this sounds mean, but maybe a school counselor should start by telling kids what they are very, very, very unlikely to be able to do. Show them some math: there are about 400 NBA players; the chances that any kid in school will ever be one of them are pretty close to zero. And how many rich rock stars are there? How many astronauts? Let them know how much more likely it is that they will become garbage collectors or burger flippers. Then show them how to do what they love as a hobby while improving their odds of becoming something satisfying if not particularly worthy of the gossip column. (And if they're lucky, they'll end up loving their work, even if it isn't what the kid dreamed about.)
posted by pracowity at 9:24 AM on May 15, 2005


Why is it that America can not have a "national myth" or hyperbolic pride in itself when most nations also have those feelings? A disingenuous question perhaps, but it's not the kind of argument anyone is going to be "right" about.

I would make the assumption that most people, based on nothing more than their birth there, feel that their place is the best one in which to live. I left my home town long ago, but damn anyone who never grew up there and trashes the place.

Anecdotally, I've heard this expressed often enough from the UK, China, France, Russia, Japan, Australia, &c., often from members of a nation's mission to the U.N. or tourists, or while traveling abroad. It doesn't sound any different in kind from the American "mythos," though the situations and wording involved may be different.

So I'm left to assume it's just the fact that we are the most powerful single nation on the planet and therefore the attention's on us. That's fair. Just remember that Americans are not the only ones who behave in such a fashion and aren't even part of a minority in that regard.

I'm not even sure why speaking that way is wrong. One would hope that as long as the idealism is balanced with a dram of realistic identification of a nation's character there's not much harm in such belief. Certainly many of you don't believe this is the case with Americans. Damned if I have any answer to that.
posted by Captaintripps at 9:24 AM on May 15, 2005


Screw the creative class with a chainsaw. I feel the need to say that whenever I see that infuriating term.

What about that term bothers you? (Just curious.)
posted by AlexReynolds at 9:27 AM on May 15, 2005


So I'm left to assume it's just the fact that we are the most powerful single nation on the planet and therefore the attention's on us.

actually, i think it's that you're reading mefi, which is largely populated by americans.
posted by andrew cooke at 9:30 AM on May 15, 2005


>> I don't know that anyone puts forward the idea that the US is the only place
>> where you can get ahead
>
> I've heard this said, or at least strongly implied, by Americans many times.
> It's often accompanied by the Freedom Statement ("well, x is currently bad in
> American right now...but at least we're free", implying that the U.S. is either the
> only or by far the most free nation in the world). Here's Barrack Obama in
> his wonderful speech at the Democratic National Convention last year:

I can't find the word "only" in your Obama quote. You sure you aren't mentally supplying it, when you hear it "strongly implied"?


> Often such sentiments are expressed in sentences beginning with
> Only in America . . ., which is common enough to have become a sort of catchphrase.

More of an (affectionate) joke. It was helped along very much toward catchphrase status by being used as a song in the Bernstein/Sondheim musical West Side Story from ... 1957. I expect most folks would be aware of progress in various parts of the world today that hadn't happened in 1957. China, India et al., ... actually it's quicker to list the limited number of places that are now declining (Russia, chunks of Africa) or stagnating (Eurozone) than the ones that are progressing at a rapid pace.
posted by jfuller at 9:31 AM on May 15, 2005


MetaFilter is not the only source for conversation on the interconnected network. There are plenty of other places where the same feelings towards America are expressed by non-Americans.
posted by Captaintripps at 9:33 AM on May 15, 2005


I know this sounds mean, but maybe a school counselor should start by telling kids what they are very, very, very unlikely to be able to do.

It's not mean at all. It's just logical. Our culture pumps everybody up with illusions of greatness* and acheivement that will never happen for the overwhelming majority of people, all in the name of "self-esteem," and "potential."

Truth be told, most people don't have much potential, and it's time we all embraced that, and our own mediocrity, and saved ourselves a lot of frustration and heartbreak.

Or as a wiser man than me put it: "Knowledge is power, got your books go read 'em Wisdom is ignorance; stupidity I call freedom"

*also, if anyone can acheive greatness, then what the hell does the term actually mean?


On preview: What about that term bothers you? (Just curious.)

Well, first of all the obvious implications (NTM the smack of self-satisfaction). If they're the "creative class," what are the rest of us, the "destructive class." Plus, I refuse to be thrilled that someone's created a term for a new aristocracy.
posted by jonmc at 9:34 AM on May 15, 2005


Why is it that America can not have a "national myth" or hyperbolic pride in itself when most nations also have those feelings?

You're kidding, right? You're not actually under the impression that the US has less faith in its own mythology or less nationalistic pride than most other countries? Or that its "hyperbolic pride" - by which you presumably mean patriotism - is being unfairly hindered by some outside force?

Or are you under the impression that France or Japan or any of the others you listed is also in the habit of launching global missions to remake the world in its image, and using its own sense of its inherent (possibly divine) goodness to justify that mission to its own people?
posted by gompa at 9:37 AM on May 15, 2005


So I'm left to assume it's just the fact that we are the most powerful single nation on the planet and therefore the attention's on us.

Read Barack Obama's absurd comment quoted above. Americans (and particularly Americans politicians) boast about their exceptionalism like people in no other western democracy. That's what's so annoying to other people: it's not enough to believe they have something valuable, they also have to pretend that nobody else has it. It comes across as childishly insecure, which is a bit sad for the "most powerful single nation on the planet".
posted by Armitage Shanks at 9:38 AM on May 15, 2005


I don't doubt that you hear jingoistic dingbats saying it, but:

I must say that the idea that the US as the only place where one can get ahead is little but jingoism and, frankly, meaningless marketing

You could neatly replace that with

"I must say that the idea that [ANYWHERE] as the only place where one can [ANYTHING GOOD] is little but jingoism..."

Unless you want to include silly truisms like "Denmark is the only place you can work for the Danish civil service."

Turtles: I don't live in CA, but there's probably also a component of talking about what amounts to a local sport; talking real estate in CA must be like talking weather in Britain. In addition to class snobbishness, not instead of.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:39 AM on May 15, 2005


gompa: You're kidding, right? You're not actually under the impression that the US has less faith in its own mythology or less nationalistic pride than most other countries? Or that its "hyperbolic pride" - by which you presumably mean patriotism - is being unfairly hindered by some outside force?

To the first part of your question, I don't believe I expressed that particular opinion at all.

To the second part of your question, stop being obtuse.
posted by Captaintripps at 9:40 AM on May 15, 2005


Armitage: Do Americans actually express it more often, more obnoxiously or do you hear it more because Americans have the spotlight on them?

It would be absurd for me to ask for proof that what you say is true, but it's also absurd to stand up and proclaim the converse as fact.
posted by Captaintripps at 9:46 AM on May 15, 2005


i might agree that this is the case now. however, i just want to say that the phrase 'rags-to-riches' was invented in order to describe a particular phenom., one you don't hear or see a lot of these days.

so the question is - what's changed in the last 50 - 100 years?
posted by Tryptophan-5ht at 9:51 AM on May 15, 2005


I don't know that anyone puts forward the idea that the US is the only place where you can get ahead

If Americans bragged about how America has air ("America, land of air!"), you'd naturally get the impression that Americans think it's something unusual about America. Otherwise, why brag?

It's the same with the old "land of opportunity" slogan. Quick, which country is that? America, of course. And who says it? Americans.
posted by pracowity at 9:52 AM on May 15, 2005


The American curse: where everybody is somebody, nobody is anybody.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:59 AM on May 15, 2005


And yet 80% of millionaires in America are first generation. Which I think is a helluva good number.

That's 80% of 3.4%. Because of inflation, an expanding economy, it is naturally the case that there will be more millionaires. Moreover, the rich are paying themselves more than they ever were before; more millionaires is not good news if it is at the expense of the poor.
posted by TimothyMason at 10:10 AM on May 15, 2005


Armitage: Do Americans actually express it more often, more obnoxiously or do you hear it more because Americans have the spotlight on them?

It has nothing to do with a "spotlight". In my experience, American politicians express this myth of exceptionalism more often and more obnoxiously for a domestic audience than politicians do elsewhere.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 10:11 AM on May 15, 2005


> Quick, which country is that? America, of course. And who says it? Americans.

Ayup. Most recently said to me live by my neighbor Watorek, an immigrant from Poland.
posted by jfuller at 10:12 AM on May 15, 2005


I wrote:

> It was helped along very much toward catchphrase status by being used as
> a song in the Bernstein/Sondheim musical West Side Story from ... 1957.

Hmmm, now I can't even find the "only" in West Side Story. Maybe nobody ever said it. (Except the kid on The Simpsons, that is.)
posted by jfuller at 10:16 AM on May 15, 2005


what are the rest of us

the eloi? :D florida could just as well have used robert reich's 'symbolic analysts' (semioticians!) and probably not raised your ire! but he has a book out and an idea to promote (like the rest of us :) hence the catchy phrase to encapsulate his message! (see how well 'the tipping point' did! better than self-organized criticality :)

i prefer bob black's classification scheme, btw :D

cheers!
posted by kliuless at 10:21 AM on May 15, 2005


Armitage: Thank you for the clarification.
posted by Captaintripps at 10:23 AM on May 15, 2005


People love the Ragged Dick mythology.

Circumcision with pinking shears?
posted by five fresh fish at 10:25 AM on May 15, 2005


Hmmm, now I can't even find the "only" in West Side Story.

Heh. QED.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 10:25 AM on May 15, 2005


the eloi? :D florida could just as well have used robert reich's 'symbolic analysts' (semioticians!) and probably not raised your ire

Actually, he still would've. I have a massive reservoir of ire.
posted by jonmc at 10:26 AM on May 15, 2005


jfuller: I can't find the word "only" in your Obama quote. You sure you aren't mentally supplying it, when you hear it "strongly implied"?

Oh man, did you even read it? "...in no other country on earth, is my story even possible. " I found that speech gag-inducing too when I first read it.

Captaintripps: Do Americans actually express it more often, more obnoxiously or do you hear it more because Americans have the spotlight on them?
Turtles, Clevershark, Gompa and I are all Canadian. Being uncomfortable with American nationalism is part of our national ethos.

Back on topic, I think the reason the poorest often are the biggest opponents of wealth redistribution is that we find it difficult to look past our own difficulties to see the structural flaws that contribute to them. It's difficult to link "I can't make rent this month" or "I can't afford the medicine I need" to "My company / government are taking advantage of my weak position to gain a bigger slice of the economic pie"
posted by Popular Ethics at 10:26 AM on May 15, 2005


Popular Ethics: I travel to Canada to visit my father six or seven times a year. I definitely agree that it is part of your national ethos, but it doesn't seem to be as big a part as the filtered view that Americans get of Canadians in our press, from your press or on the interconnected network.

On a personal level, either with Canadian friends or eavesdropping in Canada day to day, it is definitely not as pervasive (or sometimes rabid) as what I see on web based or printed media (which is true for just about any subject).

Further, I'm not sure how your statement really addressed the question you quoted. Was that more a general response?
posted by Captaintripps at 10:34 AM on May 15, 2005


I expect most folks would be aware of progress in various parts of the world today that hadn't happened in 1957. China, India et al., ...

Excuse me, China ?

Pollution is pervasive in China, as anyone who has visited the smog-choked cities can attest. On the World Bank's list of 20 cities with the worst air, 16 are Chinese. But leaders are now starting to clean up major cities, partly because urbanites with rising incomes are demanding better air and water. In Beijing and Shanghai, officials are forcing out the dirtiest polluters to prepare for the 2008 Olympics.By contrast, the countryside, home to two-thirds of China's population, is increasingly becoming a dumping ground. Local officials, desperate to generate jobs and tax revenues, protect factories that have polluted for years. Refineries and smelters forced out of cities have moved to rural areas. So have some foreign companies, to escape regulation at home. The losers are hundreds of millions of peasants already at the bottom of a society now sharply divided between rich and poor. They are farmers and fishermen who depend on land and water for their basic existence.

Rivers Run Black, and Chinese Die of Cancer

Hu Jintao, China's president, party chief and military leader, has said he intends to make the economy work for those left behind. The government has promised to limit the financial burden imposed on peasants. But leaders before him have said similar things, and Beijing's priorities have remained consistent. The government uses China's 800 million farmers to provide grain, labor and capital for urban development. State banks take deposits in rural areas but make loans almost exclusively to richer ones. The authorities pour resources into prestigious urban projects, like the $1.24 billion Shanghai spent to build a state-of-the-art Formula One racetrack and play host to the European event through 2010. Villages rarely get such help. All farm families, regardless of income, pay land and agriculture taxes as well as fees for social services, often exceeding what wealthier urban residents pay.

China Crushes Peasant Protest, Turning 3 Friends Into Enemies

Modern china is really two countries. Though Communist Party leaders insist China is a socialist haven, the unprecedented economic boom over the past two decades has made some Chinese wealthy and left many more behind. One China is urban and rich, with BMWs, weekend villas and designer clothes. The other is a world of dirt huts, punishing taxes and parents who pull their kids out of school because they can't afford tuition--or simply because they need more earners in the family. In the past five years, the gap between rich and poor in China has grown so fast that the country now ranks among the worst in Asia when it comes to income disparity. China's Gini-index score, a measure of income inequality where zero is perfect equality and 100 perfect inequality, rose from 30 in 1978 to 46 last year, according to the country's National Bureau of Statistics. (By contrast, Japan and South Korea scored a 24.9 and 31.6, respectively.) A recent report cited in the state-run People's Daily showed that urban Chinese earn on average more than three times what their rural counterparts do--and the disparity widens if the social-welfare benefits the government doles out to city dwellers are included.

China's Campus Killers

China, with 800 million left behind, is hardly a poster child for the wonders of capitalism in a thread about the growing divide between rich and poor.
posted by y2karl at 2:17 PM on May 15, 2005


CaptainTripps: The question was raised whether the US actually expressed more (unfounded) nationalism than any other country, or whether it was just more noticed. In the Canadian case at least, I was agreeing with the latter. (Though it may still be unfounded)
Perhaps I misunderstood?
posted by Popular Ethics at 2:21 PM on May 15, 2005


China, with 800 million left behind, is hardly a poster child for the wonders of capitalism in a thread about the growing divide between rich and poor.

It wasn't exactly a poster child for Marxism during the Mao years, either. The poster child business has not been good to China, frankly.
posted by jonmc at 2:35 PM on May 15, 2005


But they did make some very nice posters.


The reason people are concerned about the myth of greater opportunity in America is that we see it as a destructive myth. The idea that is is possible (if highly IMPROBABLE) to have social mobility has been used to justify policies which have allowed the US to have one of the highest levels in income inequality in the first world. Some people argue that this isn't a problem, because people can always get out of poverty, but that just isn't true - a small minority leave poverty. I did; I am the only one in my family, and that was in Canada, with a healthy public health care and education system and a higher rate of social mobility (similar to that of Scandinavia).

For the majority left behind, living conditions in the United States are worse than elsewhere in the first world. Very few middle class people even begin to understand what it is like to live in poverty - that's what Ehrenreich's book was trying to do. To show people who have always owned a car, always expected to have a house, who have to budget, but have never seen their children malnurished because they can't afford proper groceries, just what is is like to live in poverty. I have never experienced extreme poverty (thanks to a good social welfare system and a mother who bugetted very well), but I could still shock middle class friends with the conditions where I lived. And yet I am aware that many people live in much worse conditions than I ever have.

This myth keeps many people from taking poverty seriously. They use social mobility as an excuse for inequality. It doesn't matter how socially mobile your society is - inequality is inherently immoral, and unhealthy for your society.

Also, I get pissed off, because some Americans do claim that the US provides the best social opportunity in the ENTIRE world and ONLY in America is there freedom and opprotunity, and this research just shows how insanely empiracly wrong they are.
posted by jb at 3:36 PM on May 15, 2005


Part of the dynamics is that the USofA was founded on the edge of a relatively uninhabited temperate continent. Our national story 1756-1900 was just filling in. Anybody (white) with an axe, a plow, and a buckboard could make himself a living when good, workable land was free for the taking.

Once the frontier was filled, things got dicier in a boom/bust manner, then the twin blows of the Depression and global war knocked everything sideways. Suddenly the US was standing astride the world as Collossus, with every other industrialized power indebted and/or largely ground to powder.

This gave us a new injection of american-exceptionalism, which began to fade as enthusiasm for the Vietnam War wound down, the race riots, the first oil shocks hit, and the rank ugliness and unconveniences of the postwar exurbanism we had created for ourselves became apparent.

For the past generation we've been kinda wandering in a dreamland, not really addressing our core problems.

That war apologists could assert an american soldier has a better chance of survival in Baghdad than DC or Compton says more about America than it does about Iraq.

My 4-year UCLA education that cost ca $6000 in the late 1980s now costs $50k today. Don't know what you've got, 'til it's gone I guess.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 6:41 PM on May 15, 2005


Screw the creative class with a chainsaw. I feel the need to say that whenever I see that infuriating term.

Because, of course, you are a classist.

"screw the negros with a hemp rope. I feel the need to say that whenever I see that infuriating term!"
posted by delmoi at 7:10 PM on May 15, 2005


A slightly more lighthearted look at the secrets of highley successful people.
posted by Hactar at 8:47 PM on May 15, 2005


he still would've...

and so it shall ever be (by sheer dint of their merit creativeness :)

I have a massive reservoir of ire.

eire or arrr!? :D

cheers!
posted by kliuless at 8:53 PM on May 15, 2005


re: china

not saying everything's great there, but there are some signs that the leadership is at least becoming belatedly responsive about a "green drive" (altho their efforts at trying to keep the gobi at bay remain suspect, cf. the sahara :)

as for china's political economy, i think there too you can see at least some tentative steps in the right direction (journey of a thousand miles and all :)
When historians look back at the last decades of the 20th century, they might well point to 1979 as a watershed. That year the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, digging its grave as a superpower. It was also the year that China began its economic reforms. They were launched at a most unlikely gathering, the Third Plenum of the 11th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, held in December 1978. Before the formal meetings, at a working-group session, the newly empowered party boss, Deng Xiaoping, gave a speech that turned out to be the most important one in modern Chinese history. He urged that the regime focus on development and modernization, and let facts—not ideology—guide its path. "It doesn't matter if it is a black cat or a white cat," Deng often said. "As long as it can catch mice, it's a good cat." Since then, China has done just that, pursued a modernization path that is ruthlessly pragmatic and nonideological.

The results have been astonishing. China has grown around 9 percent a year for more than 25 years, the fastest growth rate for a major economy in recorded history. In that same period it has moved 300 million people out of poverty and quadrupled the average Chinese person's income. And all this has happened, so far, without catastrophic social upheavals. The Chinese leadership has to be given credit for this historic achievement...

Experts say that the Chinese Communist Party has been seriously discussing political reforms and studying dominant single parties from Sweden to Singapore, to understand how it might maintain its position in a more open political system. "The smartest people in the government are studying these issues," a well-placed Beijing resident told me. But politics is often about more than smarts. In any event, how Beijing's mandarins end up handling their own people might have much to do with how China ends up handling the world.
...recent sabre-rattling notwithstanding!

cheers!
posted by kliuless at 9:09 PM on May 15, 2005


This myth keeps many people from taking poverty seriously.

I'd go so far as to say that this myth keeps even the poor from taking poverty seriously. We are now seeing legions of lower-strata citizens voting themselves further into the poor house, voting their jobs overseas, voting for tax cuts for the wealthy, voting for an end to social security.

And I think we're all used to (if tired of, from the first time we heard it) the "GREATEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD!" meme coming from the country with the continent's name, America. But hey, I find the Swedes to be overly nationalistic.
posted by dreamsign at 10:04 PM on May 15, 2005


reminds me of lakoff's second law, "voters vote their identities [aspiration], not their self-interest [condition]" :D

cheers!
posted by kliuless at 10:31 PM on May 15, 2005


Ayup. Most recently said to me live by my neighbor Watorek, an immigrant from Poland.

One neighbor does not of course disprove anything. In any case, regardless of where he used to live, he's an American now and it sounds like he's picking up the slogans pretty well. Or maybe he even learned them in Poland from exported American shows - Dynasty and so on used to be hits in Poland, too.
posted by pracowity at 11:41 PM on May 15, 2005


One neighbor does not of course disprove anything. In any case, regardless of where he used to live, he's an American now and it sounds like he's picking up the slogans pretty well. Or maybe he even learned them in Poland from exported American shows - Dynasty and so on used to be hits in Poland, too.

Given the choice between believing a smug NYTimes article and a polish neighbor, I'm tempted to put my stock in the man-on-the-street wisdom instead of NYTimes elitism.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 11:54 PM on May 15, 2005


My 4-year UCLA education that cost ca $6000 in the late 1980s now costs $50k today. Don't know what you've got, 'til it's gone I guess.

Interestingly, Harvard and Yale have both eliminated tuition entirely for familes that earn under $40k per year, and there's a long phase-in into paying anything above that. You can still get a word-class education for free.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 11:55 PM on May 15, 2005


You can still get a word-class education for free

Interestingly, that only covers about 3,000 students nationwide each year.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 2:51 AM on May 16, 2005


Given the choice between believing a smug NYTimes article and a polish neighbor, I'm tempted to put my stock in the man-on-the-street wisdom instead of NYTimes elitism.

Everyone here is offering "man-on-the-street" wisdom.

Listening to immigrants who stayed and who happen to live in the nice part of town (where they can chat about their success over the back fence) is not the way to hear the whole story. Poland, to continue with the example of the Polish neighbor, is well stocked with people who went to the US, worked, did not become rich (or powerful or happy or...), and went back home. Others are still in the US, but maybe not in the nice part of town and not leaning over some well-to-do American's back fence and bragging about just getting by.
posted by pracowity at 4:14 AM on May 16, 2005


Given the choice between believing a smug NYTimes article and a polish neighbor, I'm tempted to put my stock in the man-on-the-street wisdom instead of NYTimes elitism.

Fortunately, that's not the only choice on offer. Well-researched statistical analyses of comparative life-chances in the United States and elsewhere show that the United States does not have as open a class-system as some would imagine, and that it is no more open than those of a number of other societies.

If I may suggest a more interesting tune for you to dance to, a contrapuntal development of social mobility in the USSR and that in the USA during the same period might fit the bill. By many measures, the USSR afforded more opportunity for mobility - both up and - courtesy of Uncle Joe - down than the USA. Which may, in turn, lead us to wonder whether social mobility is all it's cracked up to be.
posted by TimothyMason at 4:30 AM on May 16, 2005


By ignoring immigrants and the effect of mass immigration since the mid-1960s, the Times produced an almost entirely useless piece.

Today's top quintile is heavy with Asian immigrants and their children, virtually all of whom were earning pre-emigration homeland incomes which were bottom quintile in dollar terms.

Moreover, by their immigration, they made it that much more competitive to get into the top U.S. quintile in the first place, displacing less enterprising or talented native-born Americans who might otherwise have made it up.

While the immigrants and their children are the greatest beneficiary of this, the second greatest beneficiary are the second-quintile Americans who are reaping the benefits of the fantastic increase in national wealth and resources which immigration provided. I can't imagine that any second-quintile Americans would gladly change place with a first-quintile American of 1965, where every doctor, engineer and business executive was likely to be a non-immigrant.
posted by MattD at 6:40 AM on May 16, 2005


But hey, I find the Swedes to be overly nationalistic.

really? how so? (just curious)
posted by mr.marx at 6:47 AM on May 16, 2005


Fortunately, that's not the only choice on offer. Well-researched statistical analyses of

Hold it right there mister.

Given the choice between believing well-researched statistical analyses and a polish neighbor, I'm tempted to put my stock in random anecdotal bullshit instead of academic elitism.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 7:12 AM on May 16, 2005


Michael Young's book (which I higherly recommend, by the way) wasn't against social mobility, but exactly what I was talking about above (which is heavily influenced by Young) - using sprurious claims of being a "meritocracy" to justify inequality. Young, who was a long-standing advocate for the working classes and poor and for comprehensive (as opposed to streamed) secondary education in Britain, supported policies to increase social mobility in Britain, but wrote the book to express his idea that it wasn't right to just switch aristocracies - he wanted to reduce inequality itself. Actually, the school system he wanted to replace, the grammar school system, which one entered by rigorous exams at age 11, was very flawed; I know someone who didn't make it into grammar school who later got a Ph.D. At 11, he just wasn't very bookish.

I, too, would trust statistical analysis over anecdotal evidence anytime, though I do provide plenty of anedotal. These numbers are fuzzier than those in the links, but I can tell you that while Ivy League schools do give very generous financial aid support to poor students, poor students are a very small minority of those who attend. Something like about 50% of undergraduate students at Yale attended prvate schools.* Interestingly enough, about 50% of students at Oxford, which has the same tuition as any other British university, also attended independent schools. Which suggests to me that many student advocates on both sides of the Atlantic are wrong, and it isn't money that keeps talented poor students out of elite schools, but a host of educational and cultural factors - parental literacy and encouragement, quality of education from kindergarten on, both support and expectations in high school (more anecdotal - I know someone who was told not to apply to Notre Dame, because she wouldn't get in, but did, and is now at Yale for graduate - take that, anonymous guidence counselor).

What is interesting is that if you read on in the introduction to the book is that social mobility overall is lower in the U.S., but social mobility for the talented is suposed to be higher. I am a bit confused by this (since just from my own experience, I would have thought that the social institutions that allow for social mobility of the talented would be those that allowed for more overall social mobility), but I would be interested in reading further to understand just how the "talented" were determined. It could be that those who do stand out in standardized tests in the U.S. are granted opportunities they would not otherwise have at their income level, but these are very specific measures which may or may not identify all with talent. At the same time, Canada (which was found to be more like Scandinavia) does not have standardized testing except for school evaluation; our universities are also not as tiered as in the United States. It may be that because we do not have elite universities that give greater social mobility opportunities, that this does affect social mobility for the few "talented" (of which I would never have been one - I was an average student in high school, though in graduate school now) - though the overall social mobility is greater and the inequality (as measured through the GINI index) is lower.

Knowing how he felt about equality, I know which system Michael Young would have perferred.

*There are no similar stats on graduate students (to my knowledge) in the Ivy League, but my experience has been that they are split between those who attended prestigious undergrad insitutions, and those who did not, and their abilities have little to do with where they attended.

------------------

MattD - do you have evidence that most Asian immigrants were lower class before emmigrating? Again, this is just anecdotal, but in my experience, most Asian and African emmigrants, including many refugees, were very well to do in their home countries, and some even have taken considerable losses in lifestyle to live here. I lived in a Somalian neighbourhood for several years, and most of the people I met had university degrees and spoke several languages before emmigrating; I had a friend whose parents were from Vietnam, from a well-to-do family with estates and servants, but in Canada were factory workers (due to language barriers). I'm sure it is very mixed, but for many immigrants the cost of getting to North America is high enough that the poorest cannot even come.
posted by jb at 7:16 AM on May 16, 2005


Given the choice between believing well-researched statistical analyses and a polish neighbor, I'm tempted to put my stock in random anecdotal bullshit instead of academic elitism.

Great, I'm glad you feel that way. That will save the airline companies so much money - why don't they just eyeball those plane designs before sending them up into the air. Statistical analysis of design and safety is such academic elitism.

I realise now that you may have been sarcastic, but I am really very, very tired of people who respect expertise in science and technology, but think the disciplines of sociology (and history and psychology and political science) are "elitist" just because they think that they know something more about their areas of study, after studying them for fricking years. We may all have fun being armchair sociologists here (I know I do), but these people do know better than us, and pretending otherwise is just sheer ignorance.
posted by jb at 7:25 AM on May 16, 2005


Given the choice between believing a smug NYTimes article and a polish neighbor, I'm tempted to put my stock in the man-on-the-street wisdom instead of NYTimes elitism.

TDDL, the core issue highlighted by this FPP is that this approach of yours is the very problem: that is, anecdotal perception of wealth redistribution is false, but trumps scientific reality that economic potential and mobility are worsening.

The more interesting question is not whether the NY Times is "elitist" or not, but why a majority people — mostly poor — continue to believe that the United States is a "fairer" country, economically, even when the peer-reviewed statistics show that is a false assumption.

For me, this perception boils down to better advertising. American culture (movies, music, etc.) is exported to other countries, promulgating the notion that "anything is possible" in the United States if you dream it and work hard enough.

What I think this does is promote immigration into the United States, keeping labor markets loose and putting downward pressure on wages. With globalism, however, if you're in the elite of society (you run a corporation) you now simply export your labor needs to China or Indonesia or the like.

Economic strata are firming up because of globalisation.

The real elites (most certainly not the NY Times) in this equation seem to have little need any more for advertising the US as a home for immigrants, save for the purpose of filling minimum-wage service jobs.

Minimum-wage earners are not going anywhere, as the independently-culled statistics are showing.

Yet the perception remains with poverty-level and sub-poverty-level poor that they can make it in the US: Why?

The more interesting question is to ask what marketing techniques are being used by the elite to promulgate this idea, and to what end?

Whatever the techniques, I think this "hope" keeps people from storming the streets. Perception (marketing) trumps reality — and keeps the elites from losing their heads.
posted by Rothko at 7:29 AM on May 16, 2005


Perception (marketing) trumps reality — and keeps the elites from losing their heads.

People say similar things about 18th century Britain, where social mobility into the gentry was not actually higher than 18th century France.
posted by jb at 7:52 AM on May 16, 2005


Yet the perception remains with poverty-level and sub-poverty-level poor that they can make it in the US: Why?

Pride. People, especially those raised on the work ethic, are loathe to admit that hard work and hustle might not be enough to save them, and that they'd have to rely on government help in some kind of permanent fashion. On a certain level, I can't really blame them.
posted by jonmc at 7:53 AM on May 16, 2005


That damnable Protestant work ethic rears its ugly head once again.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:37 PM on May 16, 2005


This thread is filed with half-truths and so many hidden agendas that I would like to barf.

By the way, the issue isn't going from poverty to lower-middle-classdom; it's going from the latter to affluence. That's where the US ROCKs, and where Europe blows.

As for Canada, it's basically a version of the US with more plentifully, more mediocre healthcare, and arctic winters. In fact, although Canadians need to feel somewhat important and unique to justify their existence, where would they be, really, without their Big Evil Neighbor To The South?
posted by ParisParamus at 1:50 PM on May 16, 2005


but that some believe it can be done and it's shameful not to try, while others believe it can't be done and therefore trying is stupid.

no, it's not a question of whether it is possible at all; it's a question of how fair it is across different classes. If GWB had been born in the ghetto, there's not a chance in hell he'd be where he is today. Some people are born with enormous advantage, and for the most part don't even realize it. Others are born with major disadvantages, and likewise commonly just don't really know how the other half lives. I know prep school kids who have never really had to work a day in their lives (they've worked, but they have always been able to afford to take low paying internships, or wait until something good comes along, or spend some time networking, etc). I also know people who run themselves ragged working multiple jobs just to make ends meet.

An old friend of my mother's is in her 60s and still always scrambling for the rent. She's an artist/illustrator, incredibly reliable, has done the illustrations for lots of those "Whatever for Dummies" books, has taught (adjunct) at FIT and Parson's, has been a freelance caterer (as she's a great cook), has done the set paintings for Showtime at the APollo, and all sorts of other pretty respectable projects. But, she's very honest and generous, and isn't enough of a hardass about what she's worth, and has never managed to bring in enough income to set up much of a retirement fund. She has worked so much harder than any of my prep school acquaintances, but who's ended up ahead?

I don't think anyone's suggesting that people shouldn't expect to work. In fact, I think this gets heavily skewed backwards: the people most likely to actually expect never to have to work are not "welfare queens" but are those who are just plain born rich.

Many of the born rich types don't even really get the concept of work: they have always been able to choose whether the job is enjoyable enough to take on or not. There is a difference between owning a sports team or getting into a position of power through family contacts, and having to actually slog through an 8 hour workday doing some demeaning or draining task.
posted by mdn at 2:13 PM on May 16, 2005


Wasn't Bill BJ Clinton kind of poor as a kid? Huh? Huh?
posted by ParisParamus at 2:55 PM on May 16, 2005


MDN, yes there are slacker rich kids. But there are also incredibly ambitious ones, who feel obliged to achieve because they started with so much, e.g., Donald Trump, and millions others. It's just foolish to generalize. As for the President, sure, he was never poor, but you can't say he's not ambitious. Or, is this just a hidden argument for socialism, i.e,m NO ONE should be born rich?
posted by ParisParamus at 2:59 PM on May 16, 2005


...almost every word on this page is an argument for the destruction of nation-states and the elimination of nationalism as a belief system.
posted by aramaic at 3:41 PM on May 16, 2005


Good luck with that, aramaic.

Some people are born with enormous advantage, and for the most part don't even realize it. Others are born with major disadvantages, and likewise commonly just don't really know how the other half lives.

There's also the large majority that's somewhere in between. Not that it invalidates anything else you said, but it should be acknowledged that the US has often been ahead of the game in creating a large middle class, that lives fairly well compared to a lot of the world.
posted by jonmc at 4:33 PM on May 16, 2005


I've lived in Europe. I grew up there. Social class movement seemed fairly stagnant to me. Things may have changed since the EU but it can't be by that much.

I think the difference may be in the consumption culture and material trappings. It's possible the study did not take these into account.

IOW I think the in the US it far easier to acquire "stuff" - assets - and not so easy to acquire security.

I think we in the US have certainly traded away our security in this kind of gamblers frenzy of getting stuff. Even if it means debt.

That said my own family went from abject poverty in the depression to a very good living in one generation. My wife and I started a business from less than nothing (me from a terrible layoff and her from serious debt) and now we are debt free and thriving.

I work out with a second generation Vietnamese guy who worked himself though college and is now a fairly well-to-do immigration lawyer. I can tell you these stories all day. Though still all of us live with more risk than our European counter parts. I think it's a trade off in that regard.

If there is not much social mobility in the US then why the hell for the last fifty years have people been moving here in droves? The rate of immigration to Europe has only caught up to the US fairly recently... in the last ten to twenty years or so? Right?

So people evidently want stuff.
posted by tkchrist at 4:52 PM on May 16, 2005


that lives fairly well compared to a lot of the world.

Understatement. Everybody on MeFi lives better than 90% of the rest of the world. If you own a car and a house and a TV and are not calorie deficient you are RICH.
posted by tkchrist at 4:54 PM on May 16, 2005


Why do we call these things "social classes" when clearly they are really "financial classes" - if you will, "tribes" of people dividing themselves up by counting how many currency units/material objects costing lots of currency units each other has.

I'd like to increase my financial class, but that wouldn't change who my friends are, so "socially" I wouldn't move anywhere. I don't want to be friends with people just because they have as much money as I do, that's silly.

I've managed to go from dirt-ass poor to solid "middle class" pretty successfully (tho it took 20 years), and if things work out might even manage to get up to the "upper class" cash level by the time I retire... but I still hang with the same people.

BTW jonmc, my "mobility" has been fostered by being an artist, so I guess technically you could call me "creative class"... heh. :)

I dunno, to me all this class crap is the same moronic clique-ery that went on in high school... heh, and kind of for the same reasons, huh? The preps/jocks had the rich and upper middle parents, the burnouts were mostly from poor families.

Grow up, humanity, will you please? It's boring and stupid to stay in high school.
posted by zoogleplex at 5:49 PM on May 16, 2005


tkchrist - There is social mobility in the U.S. Just not as much as in certain European countries. No one is arguing that the U.S. lacks social mobility, but that its image of itself as the most socially mobile first world country, an image on which a great deal is staked, is a false image. It is empirically, demonstrably not the place where the average person has the most chance of moving up in their social/financial class (though of course they still have some chance. More chance than 18th century England? I don't know - I don't have that stats on that). I think your point about consumption is very interesting, and other people have noted it. I have only ever been in Britain, and I find things very nice there, but they are more expensive (and I tended to see either students' or upper middle class homes when I was there). But some very middle class people I know who have lived in both places say that appliances are of a notably better quality in Britain than in North America. Perhaps because people buy less, they are built to last.

If Americans want to claim to be the richest country in the world, fine. If they want to claim to be the most powerful, this is also true. If they want to claim to be the most equal in income or in social mobility, this is not true.

jonmc - Similarly, no one is arguing that the U.S. has a lower standard of living compared to the third world. The U.S. has a very high standard of living. However, there is a great deal of evidence that suggests that the average standard of living in the U.S. (if you take average to be "middle class", which may not be so, depending on how you define it, but is often assumed to be so in the US) is lower than many other developed nations which have lower GDPs. I certainly am quite swayed by the fact that the U.S. has a lower life expectancy and higher infant mortality than many developed nations. This may not reflect a poor middle class standard of living, but if it does not, it suggests that the middle class is not so average as they think, and that there are a great many Americans living in very poor conditions. Poverty in the U.S. is a serious problem, just as it is in Canada, and the UK, and Europe. But do Americans take it as seriously, considering that there is a not universal but all too prevalent American national myths that no American is poor. I actually attended a very interesting talk on how poverty is rising in the US (as measured by certain constants), but the number of people who believe poverty is rising is going down.

The differences are slight, but meaningful - why is infant mortality notably higher in the US? Why is it so much lower in Scandinavia than Canada, which is richer, has higher life expectancy, but also higher infant mortality? (I suspect Canadian native and rural poverty, myself, but that is just a guess.) I don't know - these are complex issues. But GINI and equality and average social mobility do matter.

From the CIA Factbook (one of the most useful pages on the internet):

(all life expectency and infant mortality for male and female - broken down was just too much info)

United States

per capita GDP of $40,100

Life expectancy at birth: total population: 77.71 years (2005 est.)

Infant mortality rate: 6.5 deaths/1,000 live births (2005 est.)

Distribution of family income - Gini index: 45 (2004)

(GINI - 1= perfectly equal, 100 = perfectly unequal.)


Other Developed Countries, in order of GDP per capita

New Zealand

GDP - per capita: purchasing power parity - $23,200 (2004 est.)

Life expectancy at birth: total population: 78.66 years (2005 est.)

Infant mortality rate: 5.85 deaths/1,000 live births (2005 est.)

GINI - not given (but I think it is quite high by other stats given)


Sweden

GDP - per capita: purchasing power parity - $28,400 (2004 est.)


Life expectancy at birth: 80.4 years (2005 est.)

Infant mortality rate: 2.77 deaths/1,000 live births (2005 est.)

Distribution of family income - Gini index: 25 (1992)


Germany

GDP - per capita: purchasing power parity - $28,700 (2004 est.)


Life expectancy at birth: 78.65 years (2005 est.)

Infant mortality rate: 4.16 deaths/1,000 live births (2005 est.)

Distribution of family income - Gini index: 30 (1994)


France

GDP - per capita: purchasing power parity - $28,700 (2004 est.)


Life expectancy at birth: 79.6 years (2005 est.)

Infant mortality rate: 4.26 deaths/1,000 live births (2005 est.)

Distribution of family income - Gini index: 32.7 (1995)


United Kingdom

GDP - per capita: purchasing power parity - $29,600 (2004 est.)

Life expectancy at birth: 78.38 years (2005 est.)

Infant mortality rate: 5.16 deaths/1,000 live births (2005 est.)

Distribution of family income - Gini index: 36.8 (1999)


Australia

GDP - per capita: purchasing power parity - $30,700 (2004 est.)


Life expectancy at birth: 80.39 years (2005 est.)

Infant mortality rate: 4.69 deaths/1,000 live births (2005 est.)

Distribution of family income - Gini index: 35.2 (1994)


Canada

GDP - per capita: purchasing power parity - $31,500 (2004 est.)


Life expectancy at birth: 80.1 years (2005 est.)

Infant mortality rate: 4.75 deaths/1,000 live births (2005 est.)

Distribution of family income - Gini index: 31.5 (1994)


Norway

GDP - per capita:

purchasing power parity - $40,000 (2004 est.)

Life expectancy at birth: 79.4 years (2005 est.)

Infant mortality rate: 3.7 deaths/1,000 live births (2005 est.)

Distribution of family income - Gini index: 25.8 (1995)

(Do I win for the longest single comment? Or did I cheat by taking too much content from the U.S. government?)
posted by jb at 8:06 PM on May 16, 2005


Presented as a table:

Sorted by Purchasing Parity:
$40,100 77.71 years 6.50 deaths gini 45 -USA 1
$40,000 79.40 years 3.70 deaths gini 26 - Nor 2
$31,500 80.10 years 4.75 deaths gini 32 - Cda 3
$30,700 80.39 years 4.69 deaths gini 35 - Aus 4
$29,600 78.38 years 5.16 deaths gini 37 - UK 5
$28,700 79.60 years 4.26 deaths gini 33 - Fra 6
$28,700 78.65 years 4.16 deaths gini 30 - Ger 7
$28,400 80.40 years 2.77 deaths gini 25 - Swe 8
$23,200 78.66 years 5.85 deaths gini ?? - NZ 9

Sorted by GINI:
$28,400 80.40 years 2.77 deaths gini 25 - Swe 1
$40,000 79.40 years 3.70 deaths gini 26 - Nor 2
$28,700 78.65 years 4.16 deaths gini 30 - Ger 3
$31,500 80.10 years 4.75 deaths gini 32 - Cda 4
$28,700 79.60 years 4.26 deaths gini 33 - Fra 5
$30,700 80.39 years 4.69 deaths gini 35 - Aus 6
$29,600 78.38 years 5.16 deaths gini 37 - UK 7
$23,200 78.66 years 5.85 deaths gini ?? - NZ 8
$40,100 77.71 years 6.50 deaths gini 45 -USA 9

Sorted by Life Expectancy:
$28,400 80.40 years 2.77 deaths gini 25 - Swe 1
$30,700 80.39 years 4.69 deaths gini 35 - Aus 2
$31,500 80.10 years 4.75 deaths gini 32 - Cda 3
$28,700 79.60 years 4.26 deaths gini 33 - Fra 4
$40,000 79.40 years 3.70 deaths gini 26 - Nor 5
$23,200 78.66 years 5.85 deaths gini ?? - NZ 6
$28,700 78.65 years 4.16 deaths gini 30 - Ger 7
$29,600 78.38 years 5.16 deaths gini 37 - UK 8
$40,100 77.71 years 6.50 deaths gini 45 -USA 9

Sorted by D/B Rate:
$28,400 80.40 years 2.77 deaths gini 25 - Swe 1
$40,000 79.40 years 3.70 deaths gini 26 - Nor 2
$28,700 79.60 years 4.26 deaths gini 33 - Fra 3
$30,700 80.39 years 4.69 deaths gini 35 - Aus 4
$31,500 80.10 years 4.75 deaths gini 32 - Cda 5
$23,200 78.66 years 5.85 deaths gini ?? - NZ 6
$28,700 78.65 years 4.16 deaths gini 30 - Ger 7
$29,600 78.38 years 5.16 deaths gini 37 - UK 8
$40,100 77.71 years 6.50 deaths gini 45 -USA 9


TOTALS (lower is better):

Nor 2+2+2+5 = 11
Swe 1+1+1+8 = 11

Cda 3+3+4+5 = 15
Aus 2+4+4+6 = 16
Fra 3+4+5+6 = 18

Ger 3+7+7+7 = 24

USA 1+9+9+9 = 28
UK 5+7+8+8 =28
NZ 6+6+8+9 = 29

Huh. Can you spot the trend?
posted by five fresh fish at 8:50 PM on May 16, 2005


Huh. Can you spot the trend?

You forgot Poland. Or the Polish neighbor.
posted by AlexReynolds at 9:04 PM on May 16, 2005


Duuude. Links are your friggin' friends, man.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:01 PM on May 16, 2005


There's also the large majority that's somewhere in between.

one complication of this is that practically everyone imagines themselves to be "middle class" - those prep school kids for the large part consider themselves "upper middle class", while a good portion of people living on pretty meager incomes but officially over poverty - e.g., $22K/yr, or something - will imagine themselves "lower middle class". It's not as if living on $22K per year is that tough - as a grad student I'm actually living on quite a bit less than that and it's no big deal. But the point is, the disparity is real but often unrecognized, because you compare yourself with who you see on a regular basis.

I've done a lot of different freelance type of work in NYC that has given me access to a lot of different lifestyles, and I was a scholarship kid to a rather scholarship-friendly prep school where I met kids from all over the country (and a fair number of internat'l students as well) with a fairly significant range of incomes, although those with less money were aware of the disparity, while those with lots of money would often just be confused by people being limited financially (i.e., well- just get a new one!, etc). For one year I also went to a different boarding school where almost everyone was rich (and I had absolutely no friends there because I was obviously somehow different - I don't think it was especially conscious, but my clothes were from Marshall's, and I wasn't familiar with lacrosse or horseback riding or whatever) - that made me more aware that some rich kids have no idea how different their lives are.

There was a documentary on HBO some time back about kids who were born rich, and I remember a quote from the kid of the Whitney family, about how he used to think, 'doesn't every family have their own museum?' Or about the first time riding the subway as an adult, never having really known what it was... Until your consciousness is specifically raised about this issue, it is really easy to just assume that pretty much everyone lives pretty much the same as you.

MDN, yes there are slacker rich kids. But there are also incredibly ambitious ones, who feel obliged to achieve because they started with so much, e.g., Donald Trump,

Right, or there's Bill Gates, another rich kid who stuck with it and is now an even richer kid. Sure, rich kids can get even richer. I never said "all rich kids are lazy fucks," and I would never say "all working class people are working their butts off". If you read what I posted, the point was simply that it's much easier for some people.

Success is a complex equation... it's a combination of natural resources (inherent ability, intelligence, etc), 'nurture' resources (education, encouragement, etc), financial resources, social resources (network, status), a certain amount of luck, and hard work. People who put in the same exact amount of work, and have exactly correspondent abilities, can end up in radically different places if they have very different financial and social resources.

As for the President, sure, he was never poor, but you can't say he's not ambitious.

Do you think he would be president if he'd been born into a poor family? Because I really do not. He didn't get off his ass until he was in his 40's. He still does not come across as a hard worker. He got into the position he's in through daddy more than anything else.

Or, is this just a hidden argument for socialism, i.e,m NO ONE should be born rich?

a) how would suggesting that no one ought to start out ahead be an argument for socialism? Wouldn't it simply be an argument for a meritocracy? Isn't arguing that people deserve to be born rich an argument for aristocracy?
b) I wasn't even arguing for that to start with; I was just pointing out that our awareness of disparity is lacking.

It does seem to me that reasonable levels of inheritance taxes etc, are a good thing, so that no one starts out so ridiculously ahead or behind. Why punish or benefit the children for the deeds of their parents, really? I understand that parents want to be able to leave something for their kids, and that's fair enough, but putting some sort of limit on it, or taxing it after a certain threshold, seems fair to me.

Duuude. Links are your friggin' friends, man.

well, I appreciated the data in the thread. Interesting stuff.
posted by mdn at 8:35 AM on May 17, 2005


one complication of this is that practically everyone imagines themselves to be "middle class"

You don't have to tell me. mrs. jonmc teaches in a public high school in very rough area of the Bronx. We're talking welfare and housing projects. Yet when she did an exercise about identity, nearly all of her students described themselves as "middle class."

Now, many of her students are (or the children of) recent immigrants from the Caribbean and Africa, and by the standards of their homelands, they may certainly be fairly priviliged. And the kids who's parents have jobs and live in private apartments feel middle-class compared to the kids who parents collect welfare and live in the projects.

When I was growing up, most of my peers parents were skilled blue-collar workers, small businessmen, low-level white collar workers, cops and firemen; the hypothethical bedrock of the middle class, and that's how we percieved ousrelves more or less. But when we got older and went to high school and met kids who's parents were brain surgeons and corporate VP's we realized how wealthy we weren't in some ways.

So, a lot of class consciousness in based on perceptions of where one stands in relationship to one's immediate enviornment, and again, pride comes into play in the students calling themselves middle class (in earlier time they might have said "working class,") since to call oneslef poor or lower class is tantamount to admitting failure.
posted by jonmc at 10:06 AM on May 17, 2005


Also, in this country class is definitely related to income, but it's not the whole story. For instance, a journalist or a professor may make an very modest living, but because of the esteem their profession is held in, they may be percieved as being in a higher class than say, a furniture salesman or a plumber, even though the latter may have higher incomes. I think the phrase for this is "cultural capital," although i could be wrong.
posted by jonmc at 10:23 AM on May 17, 2005


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