So­cial­ism and a ‘self-made’ woman

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY PAUL KRUGMAN

If you’re like me, you could use at least a brief break from talk­ing about Don­ald Trump. So why don’t we talk about Ivanka Trump in­stead? You see, re­cently she said some­thing that would have been re­mark­able com­ing from any Repub­li­can but was truly awe­some com­ing from the Daugh­ter-in-Chief.

The sub­ject un­der dis­cus­sion was the pro­posal, part of the Green New Deal, that the gov­ern­ment of­fer a jobs guar­an­tee. Ivanka Trump trashed the no­tion, claim­ing that Amer­i­cans “want to work for what they get,” that they want to live in a coun­try “where there is the po­ten­tial for up­ward mo­bil­ity.”

OK, this was world-class lack of self-aware­ness: It doesn’t get much bet­ter than be­ing lec­tured on self-re­liance by an heiress whose busi­ness strat­egy in­volves trad­ing on her fa­ther’s name. We know a lot about up­ward mo­bil­ity in dif­fer­ent coun­tries, and the facts are not what Repub­li­cans want to hear.

The key ob­ser­va­tion, based on a grow­ing body of re­search, is that when it comes to up­ward so­cial mo­bil­ity, the U.S. per­forms ex­cep­tion­ally badly. Amer­i­cans whose par­ents have low in­comes are more likely to have low in­comes them­selves, and less likely to make it into the mid­dle or up­per class, than their coun­ter­parts in other ad­vanced coun­tries. And those who are born af­flu­ent are, cor­re­spond­ingly, more likely to keep their sta­tus.

Now, this isn’t the way we like to see our­selves; there’s a cu­ri­ous dis­con­nect be­tween re­al­ity and per­cep­tion: Amer­i­cans are much more likely than Euro­peans to imag­ine their so­ci­ety is marked by high so­cial mo­bil­ity when the re­al­ity is that we have con­sid­er­ably less of it than they do.

Much of this ap­pears to re­flect sys­tem­atic mis­in­for­ma­tion. In some places hered­i­tary mem­bers of the elite boast about their lin­eage, but in Amer­ica they pre­tend that they pulled them­selves up by their own boot­straps. For ex­am­ple, large num­bers of Amer­i­cans ap­par­ently be­lieve that Don­ald Trump is a self-made man.

Amer­ica’s ex­cep­tion­ally low so­cial mo­bil­ity is dis­tinct from its ex­cep- tion­ally high in­come inequal­ity, al­though these are al­most surely re­lated. Af­ter all, huge dis­par­i­ties in par­ents’ in­come tend to trans­late into large dis­par­i­ties in chil­dren’s op­por­tu­ni­ties.

And peo­ple do, by the way, seem to un­der­stand this point. Many Amer­i­cans don’t re­al­ize how un­equal our so­ci­ety re­ally is; when given facts about in­come inequal­ity, they be­come more likely to be­lieve that com­ing from a wealthy fam­ily plays a big role in per­sonal suc­cess.

Back to the “po­ten­tial for up­ward mo­bil­ity”: Where do peo­ple from poor or mod­est back­grounds have the best chance of get­ting ahead? The an­swer is that Scan­di­navia leads the rank­ings, al­though Canada also does well. And Nordic coun­tries don’t just have low inequal­ity, they also have much big­ger gov­ern­ments, more ex­ten­sive so­cial safety nets, than we do. In other words, they have what Repub­li­cans de­nounce as “so­cial­ism” (it re­ally isn’t).

And the as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween “so­cial­ism” and so­cial mo­bil­ity isn’t an ac­ci­dent.

To see why, put it in a U.S. con­text of the right wing of the Repub­li­can Party or pro­gres­sive Democrats.

If Tea Party types got their way, we’d see dras­tic cuts in Med­i­caid, food stamps and other pro­grams that aid Amer­i­cans with low in­come – which would in many cases leave low-in­come chil­dren with in­ad­e­quate med­i­cal care and nu­tri­tion. We’d also see cuts in fund­ing for pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion. And we’d see tax cuts that raise the in­comes of the wealthy, and the elim­i­na­tion of the es­tate tax, al­low­ing them to pass that money on to their heirs.

By con­trast, pro­gres­sive Democrats are call­ing for uni­ver­sal health care, in­creased aid to the poor and pro­grams of­fer­ing free or at least sub­si­dized col­lege tuition. They’re call­ing for aid that helps mid­dle- and lower-in­come par­ents af­ford qual­ity child care. And they pro­pose pay­ing for these ben­e­fits with in­creased taxes on high in­comes and large for­tunes.

So, which of these agen­das would tend to lock our class sys­tem in place, mak­ing it easy for chil­dren of the rich to stay rich and hard for chil­dren of the poor to es­cape poverty? Which would bring us closer to the Amer­i­can dream – cre­at­ing a so­ci­ety in which am­bi­tious young peo­ple who are will­ing to work hard have a good chance of tran­scend­ing their back­ground?


Ivanka Trump waves as she is ac­knowl­edged by her fa­ther, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, as he speaks dur­ing the 2019 White House Busi­ness Ses­sion with Our Na­tion’s Gover­nors Feb. 25 at the White House.

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