Clark essentially argues that income inequality will withstand most or all economic systems over time. Specifically, he argues that families with money will maintain it and that families without don’t advance much over many generations. Thus we’d be better off focusing on the social safety net and minimum benefits rather than “fairness”. His conclusions are heavily drawn from analysis done on Sweden and the US, among other places.
I agree with his policy conclusion. But I have to think he comes to a conclusion about absence of social mobility by controlling for im- and emigration, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. IE, emigration is social mobility. In Clark’s view, my own lineage would be problematic in the data, and probably be filtered out.
I’m half Scandinavian, that half being equal Norwegian and Swede. These families left Scandinavia between 1850 – 1900 and came to the US Midwest. They were commoners, low status families without “high” surnames. Typically they had farm names, ie “Nygaard” or they used the paternal / maternal Scandinavian naming convention. IE, Erik is Peter’s son, so he is Erik Peterson.
In Scandinavia then, tenant farming was getting to be a very unproductive business / livelihood model. The land wasn’t great and population was rising, so rents were high. There was also some codified suffrage discrimination, ie commoners didn’t have the vote. So when James J Hill of St Paul beckoned for Scandinavians to work his railroad or build farms along it, most of those commoners left.
My wild ass guess is that the prosperousness of these families that departed, now that time has advanced, is enormously above those who stayed. The ones who stayed are the ones who Clark ostensibly measures in his survey, and they mark the bottom signal essentially. If so, not sure I buy this as a methodology.
Now with the land and business income in the US, the immigrants were doing better, but still all those gains were not immediate. Fair to say the social climb of the immigrant family goes on generations.
Most of those Scandinavian families did not stay farmers, by the way, much as they might have tried. The common experience of the Midwest, Scandinavian farm family is the same as that of the Okie, whose archetypical narrative is maybe better known. Most / many Scandinavian families lost their farms in the 20’s to banking problems. The rest lost them in the Depression. So they moved to the cities, The Twin Cities, and Des Moine, Milwaukee, Chicago, where they took up trade work, and the boys went to the war, and girls to the factories, and when that was over their kids went to college and got professional jobs.
Maybe now, 2014, we get to a point here where there is a plateau of some sort. Notwithstanding, I got to think the income of the contemporary Scandinavian-American is quite a bit better than their Great Grandparent, etc, etc. You control for inflation and I know those gains don’t look like a lot, but the increases in material well being are huge.
My family history as metaphor is not going to work as well for Black Americans, for obvious reasons. But it’s about as instructive for everyone else who left Europe because it sucked for their family, IE, 19th century Irish, Eastern European Jews, others. Emigration breaks the immobility chain.