Sunday, November 30, 2014

There is NO American Dream?

Gregory Clark is very good at both social history and economic history.  His latest work, however, leans on what I see as a very weak reed.  He finds surnames that are associated with wealth and tracks those surnames down the generations.  And he finds that in later generations those surnames continue to be associated with wealth.

That is all well and good but he is using only a very small sampling of the population so can tell us nothing about the society at large.  The well-known effect of a man making a lot of money only for his grandchildren to blow the lot is not captured by his methods.

So if the American dream consists of raising up a whole new lineage of wealth, we can agree that such a raising up is rare, though not unknown.  But if we see the American Dream as just one man "making it" (regardless of what his descendants do) Clark has nothing to tell us about it.  And I think that latter version of the dream is the usual one.

But his findings that SOME lineages stay wealthy is an interesting one.  And he explains it well.  He says (to simplify a little) that what is inherited is not wealth but IQ.  As Charles Murray showed some years back, smarter people tend to be richer and tend to marry other smart people.  So their descendant stay smart and smart people are mostly smart about money too.

And note that although IQ is about two thirds genetically inherited, genetic inheritance can throw up surprises at times.  I once for instance knew two brown-haired parents who had three red-headed kids.  The hair was still genetically inherited (there would have been redheads among their ancestors), but just WHICH genes you get out of the parental pool when you are conceived seems to be random.  So you do get the phenomenon of two ordinary people having a very bright child.  And that child can do very well in various ways -- monetary and otherwise.  I was such a child.


It has powered the hopes and dreams of U.S. citizens for generations.  But the American Dream does not actually exist, according to one economics professor.

Gregory Clark, who works at the University of California, Davis, claims the national ethos is simply an illusion and that social mobility in the country is no higher than in the rest of the world.

'America has no higher rate of social mobility than medieval England or pre-industrial Sweden,' he said. 'That’s the most difficult part of talking about social mobility - it's shattering people's dreams.'

After studying figures from the past 100 years and applying a formula to them, Mr Clark concluded that disadvantaged Americans will not be granted more opportunities if they are hard-working.

Instead, they will be stuck in their social status for the rest of their lives - and their position will, in turn, affect the statuses of their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, he said.

'The United States is not exceptional in its rates of social mobility,' the professor wrote in an essay published by the Council on Foreign Relations.  'It can perform no special alchemy on the disadvantaged populations of any society in order to transform their life opportunities.'

Speaking to CBS Sacramento, he added: 'The status of your children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, great-great grandchildren will be quite closely related to your average status now.'

However, not all of Mr Clark's students agree with his findings, with some pointing out that although parents' wealth has an effect on a child's life, 'it is not the ultimate deciding factor'.



Doom said...

I agree with your assessments of his assessment. I have watched as wealth travels. Attachment to wealth, as well, doesn't mean access to it. Wealth simply will not be contained, as a river. Oh, you can dam it and, for the most part, contain it (until the 100, or 500, or 1,000 flood comes). But it flows as it will. Either you know how to sip, safely, from that flow, or you don't. You can't own it any more than you can grab a handful of river.

I have gone back and forth on the American dream. If it is seen as an ideal, a notion, and one that takes generations to fulfill, then yes. I think many think it is a single life-time, or even just something "you do". It is not.

I disagree that is an IQ based thing. I do see where that plays a part, but as one of several keys. IQ, or rather intelligence as the two are not the same, is next to useless without basic, fundamental, education. Reading, writing, and various exposure to math and science, as well as exploration of other matter, much as a chef must taste much to know what works together... allowing for some subjectivity of course. Another of the keys is civility, to include strong family bonds and a reasonable belief in government (and a reason to have that). One can't believe in a totalitarian state, for example, or a dysfunctional family system. There are other keys. These not only must have existed, nothing comes from nothing, they must have support from various elements of civil life. As well, access to wealth has to be fluid. Dammed as socialism and communism do, competition is limited by the government. No access, no chance at achieving wealth, though that eventually falls. Often with the coup just becoming the new dam, rather than opening up access. Many keys, and a social, religious, and governmental support for those is required.

The American dream is real, as I see it. Right now it is being curtailed by government, academia, media, and even most churches. I don't know if it is irreparably damaged, but it is on it's knees. I think it was Gates (while his parents are filthy rich, that is beside this point) who said that he wouldn't have been able to start MS in these times. Too many limits, laws, biases to old industry, and such. Time will tell, if I think the possibility is there that the American dream will return. Perhaps not probable, but possible. But it isn't what many think, either... that being something you just "do".

Wireless.Phil said...

Ran across this article the other day.
Did I read it?
The American dream has left the country long before I was born!

Wireless.Phil said...

Ran across this article the other day.
Did I read it?
The American dream has left the country long before I was born!


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