Liberals and other whiners are bothered by the decreasing social mobility in the US. Statistics show that the US does poorly on measures of social mobility compared to Europe or our own recent past. Michael Barone knows the reason, and it's not any of those silly things like a strongly regressive tax policy or the various anti-labor policies of the Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush decades. He quotes with approval one John Parker:
"America," concludes Parker, "is becoming a stratified society based on education: a meritocracy."
Meritocracy may mean less mobility, but that is bearable if, as [David f&%#@!g] Brooks says, "America is becoming more virtuous."
The rich are rich because they deserve to be. I don't want to try to argue with that. (Brad DeLong is less standoffish: He lays some heavy Econospeak on it.) I'm not rich nor especially meritorious, and who could doubt that we wouldn't all be poorer if Paris Hilton were.
Instead, I want to examine the policy implications of assuming that the rich constitute a natural genetic aristocracy. If that be so, clearly we are doing all these ambitious, brainy people a huge disservice by letting them coast on inherited wealth. Few things are more sapping of ambition than the knowledge that your needs will be generously provided for whether you lift a finger or no. More tragic, though, is the loss to the nation. What nation can afford to waste the cream of its youth on frivolity and dissipation?
The cure is simple but not quite pain free. Abolish inherited wealth, or at least most of it. Let the government take everything but say a million bucks. The natural genetic aristocracy will hardly be hindered by that - their superior brains and ambition, unburdened of the oppression of unearned income, will spur them to ever greater heights - lifting the nation with them.
And if Mr. Barone's theory is bullshit, it ought to be clear in a generation or two.