On Monday, Jeb Bush's Wall Street Journal op-ed raised conservative hopes that the former Florida Governor would jump in and grab the wheel of the clown car that is the 2012 GOP presidential field. But if Republicans were disappointed when Jeb squelched the nascent "Draft Jeb" movement, the American people should be relieved. After all, the American social mobility that Jeb touted in "Capitalism and the Right to Rise" is at modern lows after the decade of economic devastation presided over by his brother. And despite Jeb's mythmaking about taxes, regulations and so much else, the record shows that more Americans can climb the economic ladder when a Democrat sits in the White House.
What Upward Mobility? Whose Right to Rise?
Congressman Paul Ryan recently coined a smart phrase to describe the core concept of economic freedom: "The right to rise."
Think about it. We talk about the right to free speech, the right to bear arms, the right to assembly. The right to rise doesn't seem like something we should have to protect.
But we do. We have to make it easier for people to do the things that allow them to rise. We have to let them compete. We need to let people fight for business. We need to let people take risks. We need to let people fail. We need to let people suffer the consequences of bad decisions. And we need to let people enjoy the fruits of good decisions, even good luck.
Unfortunately for Jeb Bush and Paul Ryan, the supposed "right to rise" is now in tatters after the very years in which their ideology reigned supreme. As Fareed Zakaria pointed out in "The Downward Path of Upward Mobility":
Some believe we're still doing fine. In his address to the Heritage Foundation last month, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) declared, "Class is not a fixed designation in this country. We are an upwardly mobile society with a lot of movement between income groups." Ryan contrasted social mobility in the United States with that in Europe, where "top-heavy welfare states have replaced the traditional aristocracies, and masses of the long-term unemployed are locked into the new lower class."
In fact, over the past decade, growing evidence shows pretty conclusively that social mobility has stalled in this country. Last week, Time magazine's cover asked, "Can You Still Move Up in America?" The answer, citing a series of academic studies was, no; not as much as you could in the past and -- most devastatingly -- not as much as you can in Europe.
As Zakaria noted, according to the OECD, upward mobility from the bottom was "was significantly lower in the United States than in most major European countries, including Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark." And as TPM reported, an analysis by the Economic Mobility Project suggested that Jeb and George Bush could be the poster children for the limits of social mobility in the United States:
"Most studies find that, in America, about half of the advantages of having a parent with a high income are passed on to the next generation," their report concludes. "This means that one of the biggest predictors of an American child's future economic success -- the identity and characteristics of his or her parents -- is predetermined and outside that child's control. To be sure, the apple can fall far from the tree and often does in individual cases, but relative to other factors, the tree dominates the picture. These findings are more striking when put in comparative context. There is little available evidence that the United States has more relative mobility than other advanced nations. If anything, the data seem to suggest the opposite."