Many people apparently agree with me: the issue of income mobility has become more prominent in policy debates over the last few years. And yet I submit that this agreement is entirely theoretical. How many of the people reading this blog would actually tolerate a one-in-five chance that their children would end up poor?It strikes me that this becomes less of an issue if mobility is more an issue of reverting to the mean: people who are poor having a decent chance of their children doing better than them, people who are quite rich having a good chance their children will be middle class rather than wealthy. But, the thing is, most people live in moderately restricted social sets, so the falling half of the equation seems like "being poorer than everybody".
Because that's what income mobility actually means. It doesn't just mean giving a lift to the folks at the bottom--superior health care, better K-12 education. Everyone in the country cannot be above average. For the poor to have a better shot at ending up in the top quintiles, the folks in the top few quintiles have to run the risk of ending up in the lowest.
Who among the parents fighting so hard to get their kids into a good school is going to volunteer to have their kid give up the slot in the upper middle class?
The piece itself is rather long and worth reading. I'm trying to make up my mind what I think about it. Certainly, the "American Dream" tends to be all about your children being better off than you -- not about half of your children being worse off so that half of someone else's can be better off. In this sense, the American Dream is highly dependent on the assumption that the country as a whole will become increasingly well off, and that that increase will be widely shared.
Thoughts? (Are you still out there, Joel? This one seems right up your alley.)