Economic Mobility

By:  Thomas Sowell
03/06/2013
       
Economic Mobility

Most people are not even surprised any more when they hear about someone who came here from Korea or Vietnam with very little money, and very little knowledge of English, who nevertheless persevered and rose in American society. Nor are we surprised when their children excel in school and go on to professional careers.

Most people are not even surprised any more when they hear about someone who came here from Korea or Vietnam with very little money, and very little knowledge of English, who nevertheless persevered and rose in American society. Nor are we surprised when their children excel in school and go on to professional careers.

Yet, in utter disregard of such plain facts, so-called "social scientists" do studies which conclude that America is no longer a land of opportunity, and that upward mobility is a "myth." Even when these studies have lots of numbers in tables and equations that mimic the appearance of science, too often their conclusions depend on wholly arbitrary assumptions.

Even people regarded as serious academic scholars often measure social mobility by how many people from families in the lower part of the income distribution end up in higher income brackets. But social mobility — the opportunity to move up — cannot be measured solely by how much movement takes place.

Opportunity is just one factor in economic advancement. How well a given individual or group takes advantage of existing opportunities is another. Only by implicitly (and arbitrarily) assuming that a failure to rise must be due to society's barriers can we say that American society no longer has opportunity for upward social mobility.

The very same attitudes and behavior that landed a father in a lower income bracket can land the son in that same bracket. But someone with a different set of attitudes and behavior may rise dramatically in the same society. Sometimes even a member of the same family may rise while a sibling stagnates or falls by the wayside.

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