Beyond Labels

A 360° Discussion of Foreign, National and Local Policy Issues

Is America a “Classless” Society?

This topic was discussed on November 25, 2013.

No we’re not going to discuss “boorish” behavior! There has been widespread focus (and concern) about the growing disparity between various groups of Americans in terms of race, education, economic resources, geography, family structure, etc. Which raises the question: “Does American society have a “class” system analogous to the feudal systems of centuries past?”  In addressing the question, we may want to grapple with the following general and specific questions:

  • What do we really mean by a “class” system? Once defined, is it inherently bad, or undesirable, or is it simple “to be expected?”
  • How important is the disparity of income (and, probably more importantly, “well-being” or “opportunity”)?
  • Are “classes” at a point in time a significant issue if there is substantial mobility between classes (however defined) over time (years, decades, generations)? What does the data about Americans’ income (or education or wealth) mobility indicate?
  • How does one identify a “balanced” disparity of income? Absolute equality leans more heavily toward socialism, which may dampen individuals’ enthusiasm for creating, innovating and trying to excel. Enormous disparity may destabilize the society and lead to revolution (“let them eat cake”). But where in between?

During the meeting, we discussed several studies on social and economic mobility. For those that are interested, here are some links to articles or studies on the subject:

A US Treasury report on income mobility:  20071113 Income Mobility in the US 1995-2005 (US Treasury Report)

A July 2012 Pew Charitable Trust report on mobility:  20120700 Pursuing the American Dream (Pew Charitable Trust)

A response to the Pew report published in American Spectator:  20131125 The Mirage of Income Mobility (Am. Spectator)


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