The Vulgar Trader

Our Business is Bullshit, and Business is Booming.


The New York Times finally runs a piece on the decline of social mobility in the United States.

42 percent of American men raised in the bottom fifth of incomes stay there as adults. That shows a level of persistent disadvantage much higher than in Denmark (25 percent) and Britain (30 percent) — a country famous for its class constraints.

Meanwhile, just 8 percent of American men at the bottom rose to the top fifth. That compares with 12 percent of the British and 14 percent of the Danes.

Despite frequent references to the United States as a classless society, about 62 percent of Americans (male and female) raised in the top fifth of incomes stay in the top two-fifths, according to research by the Economic Mobility Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts. Similarly, 65 percent born in the bottom fifth stay in the bottom two-fifths.

But it can’t be that simple or real can it?

Skeptics caution that the studies measure “relative mobility” — how likely children are to move from their parents’ place in the income distribution. That is different from asking whether they have more money. Most Americans have higher incomes than their parents because the country has grown richer.

Some conservatives say this measure, called absolute mobility, is a better gauge of opportunity. A Pew study found that 81 percent of Americans have higher incomes than their parents (after accounting for family size). There is no comparable data on other countries.

More money = positive social mobility? Much like how most of the top grossing movies are from the last 5 years (even as movie attendance has fallen), inflation makes comparisons on simple monetary terms impossible. Because you know the #9 best movie of all time was Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.

I was paid more starting money out of college than were my parents, also cost of living has increased. In 1975 when they were my age the median household income was on $11,800, gas was $0.57, and a new home was $42,600. My flat out income is more, but everything has increased in price as well (at a higher proportional rate to my income as well).

I would have thought by now we’d realize that quantity did not equal quality. We may have the most things, but we sure don’t make the best of it.