[ The Brookings Institution has been having an online discussion of Bottlenecks: A New Theory of Equal Opportunity, a book by Joseph Fishkin. This post is a re-blog of my contribution, “Money: a Bottleneck with Bite.” ]
[ This post is a summary of a presentation called “Public insurance to promote social mobility” that I made to the “Social Mobility Summit” held at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC on January 13th, 2014. It is intended for an American readership, and is also posted in an abridged form on the Brookings website. ]
“The idea that all citizens should have an equal chance to succeed in life, regardless of where they start, is fundamental to liberal societies and emblematic of the American—and Canadian—dream” is the way a Canadian think tank, Canada2020, introduces a panel discussion it hosted that explored the idea of economic mobility, why it is important, and how it is related to inequality of outcomes.
I was a member of the panel and had a very interesting—and at times humorous and entertaining—discussion with Zanny Minton Beddoes the economics editor of The Economist, Carolyn Acker the founder of Pathways to Education, and Ron Haskins a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. You can view the entire discussion, which was moderated by Diana Carney, by clicking on the following screen shot (and waiting a bit for it to load):
The short presentation I made at the beginning of the talk is, if you are interested, available here: Equality_of_Opportunity_A_Canadian_Dream_for_Canada2020
I plan on revising the background document I wrote for the event—which you can download from the Canada2020 website—and would therefore be very pleased to hear your views on the discussion, and any specific feedback you might have.
This is the question Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution asks in a tightly written discussion of the factors relating inequality with opportunity.
Sawhill’s answer: “at current levels of inequality in the U.S. it likely does. However, this answer is qualified in several ways.”
There is nothing wrong with inequality … until it starts limiting opportunity.
Well that might be a bit too strongly put, but it is certainly one thing to live in an unequal society where the chances of changing places with the rich, of seeing your children move on and upward, are high. Indeed, if this is the case we may even want a certain degree of inequality: people would have both the incentive and the possibility to better their situation.
But it is another thing altogether to live in an unequal society where there is little chance of moving on, where there are barriers preventing our talents and energies from being rewarded, where the accident of birth determines a child’s life chances.
This type of inequality should worry Occupiers and the 99% because it cuts sharply against what we commonly understand to be the American Dream.