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IGE is now higher here than in almost every other developed economy.On this measure of economic mobility, the United States is more like Chile or Argentina than Japan or Germany.A few years ago, Alan Krueger, an economist and a former chairman of the Obama administration’s Council of Economic Advisers, was reviewing the international mobility data when he caught a glimpse of the fundamental process underlying our present moment.
At the age of 11 or 12, I gathered from him, between his puffs of cigar smoke, that we owed our weeks of plenty to Great-Grandfather, Colonel Robert W.Stewart, a Rough Rider with Teddy Roosevelt who made his fortune as the chairman of Standard Oil of Indiana in the 1920s.I was also given to understand that, for reasons traceable to some ancient and incomprehensible dispute, the Rockefellers were the mortal enemies of our clan.Throughout history, moreover, one social group above all others has assumed responsibility for maintaining and defending these walls. Krueger liked the graph shown in Figure 2 so much that he decided to give it a name: the Great Gatsby Curve.It’s a good choice, and it resonates strongly with me. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel about the breakdown of the American dream is set in 1922, or right around the time that my great-grandfather was secretly siphoning money from Standard Oil and putting it into a shell company in Canada.
For about a week every year in my childhood, I was a member of one of America’s fading aristocracies.