Doubling down

First, from Andrew Leigh, discussing Gregory Clark’s work showing that low social mobility persists across countries and policy environments:

How do we break the pattern? Part of the answer must lie in a fair tax system, a targeted social welfare system, effective early childhood programs, and getting great teachers in front of disadvantaged classrooms. We need banks willing to take a chance on funding an outsider, and it doesn’t hurt to maintain a healthy Aussie scepticism about inherited privilege.

As an aside, it appears Leigh (with Mike Pottenger) is finding the same low mobility in Australia as Clark has found elsewhere.

In contrast, from Arnold Kling:

For libertarians, the implications of Clark’s finding of strong heritability of social status are ambiguous. On the one hand, his findings argue against extensive efforts at social engineering that try to achieve parity across groups. … Attempts to engineer different outcomes tend to produce perverse results. …

On the other hand, his findings argue against the need to create strong incentives to succeed. If some people are genetically oriented toward success, then they do not need lower tax rates to spur them on. Such people would be expected to succeed regardless. The ideal society implicit in Clark’s view is one in which the role of government is to ameliorate, rather than attempt to fix, the unequal distribution of incomes.

Kling’s approach to Clark’s argument seems preferable to doubling down on measures that don’t appear to increase social mobility. That is, of course, if increased social mobility is what we should be chasing.

3 comments

  1. Quite the contrast in how to go about the issue.

    As an individual who still isn’t able to make up his mind about his political belonging, posts of this caliber bring further complexity to the issue (I welcome it). For some time, I was thinking that I was on to something with libertarianism. As the ideas mature though, you begin to identify errors or problems inherent in the ideology.

    There probably is no such thing as a final solution or end ideology when it comes to politics and economics. That doesn’t mean that the search for it is a fruitless endeavor.

    I would consider it progress if some of our policy makers (I’m Swedish) could keep an open mind about that last sentence of yours.

  2. re. leigh’s solutions — don’t they already have all that in sweden? in spades? sweden being, of course, another place where clark found social mobility to move at a glacial pace.

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