Friday, July 20, 2007

It's all about opportunity, maybe...

I have puzzled over inequality of assets and income in the US, leaning often to the widening gap in both as a major cause for discontent in a nation that seems to be generating wealth by the ton. And we are not alone.

This OpEd piece from the WSJ is mercifully on their free page and also well thought out.

The data do tell us that economic mobility -- not equality -- is associated with happiness. The GSS asked respondents, "The way things are in America, people like me and my family have a good chance of improving our standard of living -- do you agree or disagree?" The two-thirds of the population who agreed were 44% more likely than the others to say they were "very happy," 40% less likely to say that they felt "no good at all" at times, and 20% less likely to say that they felt like failures. In other words, those who don't believe in economic mobility -- for themselves or for others -- are not as happy as those who do.

Perhaps in a world where there is no opportunity for advancement, an important concern is how one's income measures up to others. In the real world where people believe there is opportunity, however, one's own income potential matters a great deal more than what others are earning. Some studies even find that the happiness of workers rises as the incomes of others climb relative to their own, because they see the incomes of others as evidence of what they themselves can achieve. [More]

This rings true. Gamblers flocking to Las Vegas don't resent winners, they celebrate with them - and it may be because they figure (wrongly, of course) they can duplicate their good luck. But the same guy may be angry about the perception he will never make group leader or sales manager and earn the big bucks. In fact, as more Americans are constantly admonished to shape up or see their job outsourced, mobility for many looks mostly downward.

Tied to this is the much shakier ground many of us feel we have to build futures on. To be fair, it may be a generational affliction. While my sons seem confident that disconnected "employment episodes" can constitute a career, I wonder if their attitude will change as they wander into that fun period called Middle Age.

Loss of a sense of security can be an issue for farmers as well. I will be writing about some ideas to address this in Top Producer this fall.*

*BSP - Blatant Self-Promotion

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