Note: This blog draws in part on my experiences and observations interviewing political figures, writers, and analysts for "The Campbell Conversations" on WRVO. To hear past interviews I refer to in these posts, please go to the show's website. The views expressed here are solely my own, and do not represent Syracuse University, the Campbell Institute, or the WRVO Stations.

In addition to comments, I'd love to have guest posts. Please send ideas or full-blown posts to me at

Friday, November 5, 2010

Smilla's Sense of Justice

Tim Bunn had an interesting piece in The Post Standard the other day, about the political economy of Denmark. 

Some other factoids to add in:  The New York Times did a study a while back, which showed that upward mobility in the Scandinavian countries was actually higher than in the U.S., which ranked similarly to Britain.  An article of faith about our high levels of inequality and poverty (the latter defined relative to our own society and not in absolute terms) is that we also have high levels of upward mobility--hence the American Dream.  It turns out that we've slipped in this area over the years, compared with our peer nations.  By providing a firmer springboard at the bottom tiers of the income distribution, it appears that some other Western countries enable more people--or at least their kids--to jump into the middle and upper tiers.

Also, and perhaps counter-intuitively, many of the higher tax nations in the Western world have comparatively flatter income tax schemes.  Countries with smaller public sectors like the U.S. and even Britain favor more progressive arrangements.  This might be connected to the upward mobility statistics in ways that conservatives would recognize--their taxes bite the same from the get-go, so there's no disincentive to earning more.  And if you're going to have much higher taxation, as Denmark does, then it might also make more sense to have fully inclusive social programs and a revenue stream that takes the same from everyone.


Ellen Edgerton said...

It seems to me that jumping into the middle tier and jumping into the upper are two different things. In the U.S. we've had a growing middle class for decades, with all the comforts and trappings thereof, but now we have second- and third-generation middle-class denizens who are sort of just squatting there. (And now falling out of it, thanks to the economy.) The middle class was supposed to be a workspace, not a "class" - a staging area where more working-class people could jump off into the upper class. But how much bigger has the real upper class gotten - in the U.S. or any other country?

Grant Reeher said...

Ellen, Those are good points. I'm not sure off-hand what the relative size of the wealthiest groups are in these countries, but the recent trend--last 30 years--is that the group of very, very rich has increased its distance from the regular rich, the better-off, and the middle class. In the U.S. this change has been particularly pronounced, and is a main driver of our overall inequality figures. But I'm not sure whether the funnel leading into that very top category has widened.