One of the greatest things about the United States is social mobility—and that was one of the issues Rep. Paul Ryan addressed in his very important speech yesterday at the Heritage Foundation:
Class is not a fixed designation in this country. We are an upwardly mobile society with a lot of movement between income groups.
The Treasury Department’s latest study on income mobility in America found that during the ten-year period starting in 1996, roughly half of the taxpayers who started in the bottom 20 percent had moved up to a higher income group by 2005.
Meanwhile, half of all taxpayers ended up in a different income group at the end of ten years. Many moved up, and some moved down, but economic growth resulted in rising incomes for most people over this period.
Another recent survey of over 500 successful entrepreneurs found that 93 percent came from middle-class or lower-class backgrounds. The majority were the first in their families to launch a business.
Their stories are the American story…
President Obama, by contrast, is peddling the bitter rhetoric of class warfare–Us vs. Them—and in so doing is at least partly responsible for the Occupy Wall Street movement. Occupy, as far as I can tell, is based on the idea that that class is static and that the rich should be forced to give Occupy types their money. Neither idea is very American.
The economy is bad now and it is sometimes hard to believe in social mobility, unless it’s going down. But the answer is not class hatred. It is policies that allow businesses to prosper, reviving social mobility. In promoting class warfare, the president is basically saying that we are no longer an upwardly mobile society, and government must step in to redistribute resources.
Ryan and Obama couldn't be more different in their views about income mobility. In a terrific column today, Peggy Noonan contrasts the two men, Ryan (“the thinker”) and President Obama (“the divider”). Of President Obama, Peggy notes:
He doesn't seem to be as worried about his country's continuance as his own. He's out campaigning and talking of our problems, but he seems oddly oblivious to or detached from America's deeper fears. And so he feels free to exploit divisions. It's all the rich versus the rest, and there are a lot more of the latter.
Focusing on the rich versus the rest of us is a denial of the great social mobility that has long been our greatest asset. For some hints on how to restore this, I encourage you to read Ryan’s speech in its entirety.