American-style family values

Most Americans still believe they live in something close to a meritocracy, and most believe in the family, whatever they mean by that. It turns out that most Americans are half right.

It has always been good to have a rich or powerful father. Last week my Princeton colleague Alan Krueger wrote a column for The Times surveying statistical studies that debunk the mythology of American social mobility. "If the United States stands out in comparison with other countries," he wrote, "it is in having a more static distribution of income across generations with fewer opportunities for advancement." And Kevin Phillips, in his book "Wealth and Democracy," shows that robber-baron fortunes have been far more persistent than legend would have it.
But it's probably gonna get worse, before there's a revolution.
The official ideology of America's elite remains one of meritocracy, just as our political leadership pretends to be populist. But that won't last. Soon enough, our society will rediscover the importance of good breeding, and the vulgarity of talented upstarts.

For years, opinion leaders have told us that it's all about family values. And it is — but it will take a while before most people realize that they meant the value of coming from the right family.

can you name one country that has more upward mobility than the USA? My family on both sides went from rural Southern 'povery'to middle class with 8 self made millionaires in two generations honestly and legally. Perhaps their mansions are merely an illusion.

Immigration patterns should be a clue to the astute to which countries have upward mobility and which don't. Nice try though.

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Published on November 23, 2002 2:29 PM.

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