Video by Pavel Gazdyuk.
In this exclusive interview with Russia Direct, Jack Goldstone, sociologist, political scientist, and professor at the School of Public Policy at George Mason University, shares his thoughts on why it’s getting harder to climb the social ladder.
RD: Do you agree with the opinion that social mobility is dying out?
Jack Goldstone: It’s sad but I do agree. The gap between the rich and the poor is growing in almost every rich country in the world, especially in America and the UK. As the gap between the rich and even the middle class grows, the advantages the rich have in providing for their children also grow. The difficulty of getting the same kind of education, security, extra training, extra experiences – that increasingly separates the well off from everyone else.
And for those who are poor, even finding an adequate place of where to live is difficult. America used to be good at providing public schools of high quality for everyone, public parks for every neighborhood, but that is simply not funded as well as it once was. Even the great public universities are not as well supported. I feel that it will be more and more difficult for people, who we would call “average middle class,” to have upward mobility in the future.
RD: What countries are facing a lack of social mobility?
J.G.: Well, the lack of social mobility is greatest in countries that have high levels of corruption. If the rules are not fair than the people who can use these rules to their advantage will always come out ahead. Those poor countries that have reasonably good governance and opportunities do provide lots of opportunities for social mobility because income levels are currently low and there are many opportunities still to start a business, to go into the service sector, to build property. So, for those who are able to do it there can be great opportunity.
RD: What consequences might the lack of social mobility bring about, both short-term and long-term?
J.G.: You might expect that greater inequality and the lack of mobility would produce social protest. Yet we are not seeing it, particularly, in the rich countries. There are protests against austerity when the government raises taxes or takes away benefits. But this general decline in rates of economic growth and in rates of social mobility has been gradual enough not to draw a lot of attention. People are simply becoming accustomed to slower rates of increases in income and lower rates of mobility: They blame themselves if they are not getting ahead.
So, I think the richer countries, especially, because they have a smaller number of young people, will not have the type of protests you might expect. Where you may see quite substantial protest activity and even political instability is in low-income countries where people have very high expectations of social mobility, especially, among young people who’ve gone to college. These young people expect to get a good high-paying job and those jobs are not available or they are closed off because of corruption – then you will see protest.
That’s the kind of thing that’s started in Egypt just last year and we are going to continue to see it in developing countries.
RD: What external and internal factors have an impact on social mobility and how can we encourage it?
J.G.: Let me give you, first, the American perspective on social mobility. There are always two forces that matter. One is technology. Americans love innovation, technological growth and a lot of social mobility comes from the discovery of innovation.
But, at the same time, we rely on government to keep the playing field level, what we call a “fair entrance” for everybody. So, government and the private sector in technology have to work together to keep opportunity open, but this is not happening now.
We are seeing technology advance and often eliminate many of the jobs – the jobs in manufacturing, retail and service. They will be replaced by a digital apparatus or by machines. And the government is really not working hard to improve opportunity.
The government should be investing more in education, in training and supporting workers. Technology is moving in one direction to reduce the number of jobs for people without higher education, but we are not seeing government step in to raise education and help people catch up.
That’s why the problem of diminished mobility will probably be with us unless there is a major change in government activity and government policy.