Equality and Mobility

by Yuval Levin
Last week, Alan Krueger (chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors) gave a speech at the Center for American Progress laying out the administration’s case on economic inequality and immobility in America—a case the president clearly intends to make central to his re-election campaign. But as Scott Winship points out this morning on Reihan Salam’s Agenda blog, the figures Krueger used were highly misleading, and some of the claims he based on those figures are just downright false.
Krueger argued, for instance, that the middle class has shrunk some in recent decades, but failed to note that, as Winship shows, this is entirely the result of people moving up from the middle class: The proportion of Americans in the middle class is lower than it was in 1970, but the proportion of Americans in the middle class and above is the same as it was in 1970, it’s just that more of that total is above the middle class than was the case 40 years ago. 
The lack of economic mobility for the poorest Americans is certainly a major problem—easily among the most difficult and important social problems we confront. But, as Winship again shows, it is not a greater problem than it used to be: mobility has remained unchanged for decades. And intentionally distorting our understanding of our economic realities to encourage class warfare and a resentment of wealth is not going to solve that problem. Maybe it makes sense as a political strategy (though maybe it doesn’t), but it certainly doesn’t make sense as a way to help the poor rise and so to sustain and to strengthen the American dream.
Like everything Winship writes, this is a must-read.
(Speaking of which, you should also read his essay on the left’s false narrative of economic risk in the new issue of National Affairs).

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