The American Dream Isn’t Alive in Denmark
Citation (APA): heckman, j. (2016). The American Dream Isn’t Alive in Denmark [Kindle Android version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com
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The American Dream Isn’t Alive in Denmark By james heckman
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The standard social mobility statistic measures how much each generation's income is determined by its parents' income. By that measure, northern Europe and Scandinavia have the highest social mobility in the advanced world, and Denmark tops the list.
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But this Danish Dream is a “Scandinavian Fantasy,” according to a new paper by Rasmus Landersø at the Rockwool Foundation Research Unit in Copenhagen and James J. Heckman at the University of Chicago. Low-income Danish kids are not much more likely to earn a middle-class wage than their American counterparts. What’s more, the children of non-college graduates in Denmark are about as unlikely to attend college as their American counterparts.
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If that’s true, how does Denmark rank number-one among all rich countries in social mobility? It’s all about what happens after wages: The country’s high taxes on the rich and income transfers to the poor “compress” economic inequality within each generation:
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Its high social mobility is not the result of an economy that is uniquely good at helping poor children earn middle-class salaries. Instead, it is a country much like the U.S.,
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Social mobility in Denmark and the U.S. seem to be remarkably similar when looking exclusively at wages— that
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The second big idea in the paper is that Denmark’s large investment in public education pays off in higher cognitive skills among low-income children, but not in higher-education mobility— i.e.,
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a tiny share of Denmark’s college graduate population comes from homes where neither parent finished high school.
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The third big idea is that Denmark’s welfare policies might reduce its citizens’ incentives to go to college.
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WELFARE E UNIVERSITÀ
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Denmark makes it more comfortable to be poor and less lucrative to be rich, so many young people decide to end their education after high school.
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Democrats can say: Despite conservative arguments that a welfare state could destroy poor young people’s ambition, Denmark’s educational mobility is no worse than the U.S. But Republicans can say: Despite liberal arguments that Denmark is so much better than the U.S. at social mobility, its poor kids are no more likely to go to college. “There is something here for the Republicans and for the Democrats,” Heckman told me.
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Equality of opportunity is a fantasy. It does not exist in the U.S., it does not exist in Denmark, and it probably doesn’t exist anywhere.
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For the government to make equality of opportunity its singular and absolute policy goal would probably mean breaking up neighborhoods, forcing arranged marriages, enrolling all children in a unified curriculum, and having them all taught by a mass-produced robot; that would eliminate neighborhood effects, assortative mating, peer effects, curricular differences, and the problem of unequal teaching quality.
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But the U.S. mythology of social mobility is also self-defeating,
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