When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

18 July 2005

The Economist looks at social and economic class in America

Degrees of separation | Economist.com:
Most accounts of America's arguments about itself concentrate on divisions within the country: red v blue states, religious v secular voters, the 50-50 nation. This survey takes a different route. It looks at things that Americans have always had in common: mobility (the willingness to up sticks and move); immigration; equality of opportunity; and a love of clubs and voluntary associations (“nothing, in my view, deserves more attention,” wrote Alexis de Tocqueville).

Ideally, all these things work together to create an open, forward-looking society. The restless and ambitious move to the frontier, setting up new industries and opening up new avenues to wealth. More opportunities attract more people, and greater equality of opportunity adds to the supply of wealth-seekers, so social and geographic mobility reinforce one another. A dynamic country attracts immigrants who refresh its stock of ambition. Voluntary associations flourish in the midst of all this activity, making for a stable as well as a dynamic country.

Yet this survey will argue that the cycle no longer works as it did. Some component parts —notably geographical mobility and immigration—continue to whirr merrily. Voluntary associations are reviving, though only after a long period of decline. But disturbingly, there are signs that social mobility is dwindling. The political system, for its part, is adding to social rigidities instead of counteracting them.

The problem is not that America has become less dynamic. Its society continues to grow and change as fast as ever. But traditionally the country has been seen as a melting pot, which after much stirring produces greater integration. Now some of that activity may be causing separation. Has America become a centrifuge?
Stories included in this survey:
(Hat tip: Metafilter.)

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