David Brooks, my favorite NY Times columnist, writes today about social mobility. His hypotheis is that social mobility is on the decline:
[T]here are some indications that it is becoming harder and harder for people to climb the ladder of success. The Economist magazine gathered much of the recent research on social mobility in America. The magazine concluded that the meritocracy is faltering: "Would-be Horatio Algers are finding it no easier to climb from rags to riches, while the children of the privileged have a greater chance of staying at the top of the social heap."
I am not entirely convinced this is true. But the following paragraph, I think, contains important insights:
At the top end of society we have a mass upper-middle class. This is made up of highly educated people who move into highly educated neighborhoods and raise their kids in good schools with the children of other highly educated parents. These kids develop wonderful skills, get into good colleges (the median family income of a Harvard student is now $150,000), then go out and have their own children, who develop the same sorts of wonderful skills and who repeat the cycle all over again.
If social mobility is really declining, then the preceding paragraph provides a window onto the two most important reasons.
(1) The de-urbanization of America has led to less comingling of social classes. Prior to the 1950s, the middle class and upper middle class lived in cities and raised families in cities. But after forced desegregation of schools, and other leftist policies that ruined the cities, today only the very poor and very rich (who don't mind paying for private schools) raise families in cities.
Today, the middle class and upper middle class with children live in class-homogeneous suburbs defined by school disctricts.
(2) The increasing percentage of Americans graduating from college has, paradoxically, led to decreased social mobility. When few went to college, lack of a college degree wasn't the least hindrance to entering most career ladders. And furthermore, when fewer people went to college, college meant something.
Today, with so many graduating from college, the mere fact that one has a college degree is close to worthless. Instead there has arisen a complicated pecking order of colleges with expensive private schools for the rich on top. The new order favors the rich and well connected to a greater extent than the old order.
The Left Coaster wrote about the David Brooks column today, and predictably blamed Republicans for the problem. But, if he reads my post, he'll learn that it's really leftist policies that have caused the problem.