Reality breaks through the Overton window

by John Quiggin on February 7, 2013

While I was looking at sources for my post on declining middle class access to first-tier college education, I came across this piece by Arthur Brooks, President of the American Enterprise Institute His main point is the possibility of reducing education costs through low-cost distance/online learning, on which I might say more another time[1]. What struck me, though was this passage (emphasis added)

my 10K-B.A. is what made higher education possible for me, and it changed the course of my life. More people should have this opportunity, in a society that is suffering from falling economic and social mobility.

The change on this point has been striking in a matter of a few years. When I was writing Zombie Economics in 2009 and early 2010, I spent a lot of time citing work going back to the 1980s and 1990s to show that the US has less intergenerational income mobility than most European countries. At that time, the conventional wisdom was definitely that the US was characterized by equality of opportunity – there were still plenty of hacks willing to deny that inequality of outcomes had increased, including plenty at AEI.[2]

The Occupy movement played a big role in focusing attention on the general issue of inequality, and once attention was focused, the facts pretty much spoke for themselves. At the other end of the political spectrum, the intellectual collapse of the political right became more and more evident, to the point that they were unable to put up any effective resistance. Instead we got arguments like this from Tyler Cowen, suggesting that maybe social immobility isn’t so bad after all.

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