Every once in a while, some Progressive politician will look at 'the world' and find a way to make the US look bad. I've grown accustomed to the style. Now we're coming to a sacred cow of mine, which is mobility. Yesterday I was too busy hanging out with my son to be bothered commenting. Today I feel marginally more wonky.
The relationship between parent's and children's income is the indicator of relative mobility. I'm going to make two basic criticisms and then let this sleeping dog lie.
1. Scandinavian countries are not good benchmarks for America. I'm not sure that they are for Europe either, but they always lie at the up end of some hockey stick of arbitrary predictors of the good life. In their socialist way, I suppose such things are predictable like cost of living increases mandated by the state, but they are also relatively small countries. Their isn't a lot of dynamism at work in those places. I tend to think of them as partial demographics. That is to say, anything you can say about Finland, you can say about any particular American suburb or university. It's small and isolated enough to be artificial.
2. The difference in mobility (as defined) in America is always going to be harder to make upward given the breadth of income disparity we have. Which is to say that if you take me as an example, I think it might explain a lot. Right now I'm making a relative ton of bucks. Or I should say that I have consistently, over the past decade, made better than 70k every year, to be conservative about it. That's pretty good. In a country like Denmark, I think it would be damned spectacular. Last year I did way better. I'll say that I paid something like 32K in taxes (so way better than 70K in income). Now if my kids grew up and only made 60K a year, I'm not going to sweat it.
So in absolute and relative numbers, there are a lot more high income Americans whose children are not going to make high incomes, and that's OK. That doesn't say so much about mobility as it does about high income, the upper end of which is uniquely American. I think this is a significant fact that father/son mobility in these terms doesn't account for.
I would note that that, macroeconomically speaking 1974 is a significant year. Even I have heard that the American boom ended right about a the beginning of the Carter years. I still remember the inflation and the shock when I left high school to find that everything I knew got priced out of sight. So I'm not particularly surprised about the macro trend. I'm also very much aware of how the employment picture has changed in America, relative to what was business as usual in the 70s. The idea that I wouldn't work for Xerox, the way we used to think of Xerox, for my entire career and get promoted predictably in a meritocratic way, is a new idea. Contract employment, virtual corporations and global outsourcing are all new phenomena, as are the way public corporations are evaluated by the market. All of that makes for less predictable patterns of employment in the US, and I think very little of that is happening in Scandinavia.
I can't find my copy of 'America Alone' which is guiding my belief that these native populations are not reproducing, so I'll leave that and the gay marriage tangents alone.
Note the following populations:
- Norway: 4.6 Million
- Finland: 5.3 Million
- Sweden: 9.1 Million
- Denmark: 5.4 Million
- Iceland: 320,000
Such are the size of controllable populations.
Note also some ugly truth:
The myriad successes of the Nordic countries are no miracle, they were born of a combination of Lutheran modesty, peasant parsimony, geographical determinism and ruthless pragmatism ("The Russians are attacking? Join the Nazis! The Nazis are losing? Join the Allies!"). These societies function well for those who conform to the collective median, but they aren't much fun for tall poppies. Schools reign in higher achievers for the sake of the less gifted; "elite" is a dirty word; displays of success, ambition or wealth are frowned upon. If you can cope with this, and the cost, and the cold (both metaphorical and inter-personal), then by all means join me in my adopted hyggelige (home). I've rustled up a sorrel salad and there's some expensive, weak beer in the fridge. Pull up an Egg. I hear Taggart's on again!