James Surowiecki reminds us that social mobility has never been very great at any time or in any place. But if that is so, he says, then it makes more sense to shift our attention to people's standard of living:
. . . in any capitalist society most people are bound to be part of the middle and working classes; public policy should focus on raising their standard of living, instead of raising their chances of getting rich. What made the U.S. economy so remarkable for most of the twentieth century was the fact that, even if working people never moved into a different class, over time they saw their standard of living rise sharply. Between the late nineteen-forties and the early nineteen-seventies, median household income in the U.S. doubled. That's what has really changed in the past forty years. The economy is growing more slowly than it did in the postwar era, and average workers' share of the pie has been shrinking. It's no surprise that people in Washington prefer to talk about mobility rather than about this basic reality. Raising living standards for ordinary workers is hard: you need to either get wages growing or talk about things that scare politicians, like "redistribution" and "taxes."True, it's politically easier to talk about mobility than inequality, but that's because we live in a plutocracy. In a genuinely democratic society it shouldn't be so difficult for politicians to raise, much less tackle, the issues that affect the economic well-being of the vast majority of the population.