Skip to content

Social Mobility

Social Mobility is an issue that comes up time and again in the comments section of Atlantic Review and other blogs. Why? Because fairness and equal opportunities are so important to the US and European self-image. Or in the words of the researcher of the London School of Economics: "The level of intergenerational mobility in society is seen by many as a measure of the extent of equality of economic and social opportunity."

In 2005 they published these "disturbing findings" (HT: Influx):

A careful comparison reveals that the USA and Britain are at the bottom with the lowest social mobility. Norway has the greatest social mobility, followed by Denmark, Sweden and Finland. Germany is around the middle of the two extremes, and Canada was found to be much more mobile than the UK. Comparing surveys of children born in the 1950s and the 1970s, the researchers went on to examine the reason for Britain's low, and declining, mobility. They found that it is in part due to the strong and increasing relationship between family income and educational attainment.

My guess is social mobility declined in many countries in the five years since the publication of the survey. Fortunately, the situation is still better than in North Africa. The lack of social mobility was the key factor in the protests/revolution.

Social Welfare in Europe and North America

This is a guest post from Andrew Zvirzdin.  Originally from upstate New York, Andrew is currently pursuing a Master's degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Bologna, Italy. He previously studied at Université Libre Bruxelles, University of Rome Tor Vergata, and Brigham Young University. He has worked on the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament and as an Assistant Editor for Scandinavian Studies. Andrew specializes in political economy, international finance, and EU–US relations.

Andrew ZvirzdinFreedom Fries are out of style, but Europe is still taking a beating this campaign season. Republicans are gleefully using Barack Obama's recent visit to Europe as evidence that he wishes to import European-style welfare states back to the United States “to grab even more of our liberty and destroy our hard-earned livelihood,” as Mike Huckabee recently put it.

Just how evil are European welfare states compared to the United States?

OECD data indicates that the differences may not be as large as we may think. Consider two key indicators:
Continue reading "Social Welfare in Europe and North America"

Empower the People of Myanmar to Help Themselves

My sister Daphne Wolf studied Burmese music in Yangon. Her music school is organizing relief aid. Daphne wrote this guest blog post:

Small and local aid agencies are best equipped to help the victims of cyclone Nargis because they are already operating on the ground. Donations to these agencies are more effective since big aid organizations are still struggling to access the affected areas.
Local relief groups such as the Music School Gitameit, are providing the most urgently needed first-aid supplies.

For two years I lived in Yangon, studying Burmese traditional music and teaching classical flute at the Gitameit Music Center, a private school founded by the American pianist Kit Young in 2003. I returned to Berlin in December 2007 to finish my masters in Musicology and Southeast Asian Studies.

My friends, former colleagues, and students all tell me that Yangon, the old capital, is widely devastated and that the fertile delta of the Irrawaddy River is still flooded:

Continue reading "Empower the People of Myanmar to Help Themselves"

NYT: United States is not the Land of Opportunity

Today's New York Times editorial:
When questioned about the enormous income inequality in the United States, the cheerleaders of America’s unfettered markets counter that everybody has a shot at becoming rich here. The distribution of income might be skewed, but America’s economic mobility is second to none. That image is wrong. (...)
Recent research surveyed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a governmental think tank for the rich nations, found that mobility in the United States is lower than in other industrial countries. One study found that mobility between generations — people doing better or worse than their parents — is weaker in America than in Denmark, Austria, Norway, Finland, Canada, Sweden, Germany, Spain and France. In America, there is more than a 40 percent chance that if a father is in the bottom fifth of the earnings’ distribution, his son will end up there, too. In Denmark, the equivalent odds are under 25 percent, and they are less than 30 percent in Britain.

Americans are World Champions in Philanthropy

USA Today:
The biggest chunk of the donations, $96.82 billion or 32.8%, went to religious organizations. The second largest slice, $40.98 billion or 13.9%, went to education, including gifts to colleges, universities and libraries. About 65% of households with incomes less than $100,000 give to charity, the report showed.
"It tells you something about American culture that is unlike any other country," said Claire Gaudiani, a professor at NYU's Heyman Center for Philanthropy and author of The Greater Good: How Philanthropy Drives the American Economy and Can Save Capitalism. Gaudiani said the willingness of Americans to give cuts across income levels, and their investments go to developing ideas, inventions and people to the benefit of the overall economy. Gaudiani said Americans give twice as much as the next most charitable country, according to a November 2006 comparison done by the Charities Aid Foundation. In philanthropic giving as a percentage of gross domestic product, the U.S. ranked first at 1.7%. No. 2 Britain gave 0.73%, while France, with a 0.14% rate, trailed such countries as South Africa, Singapore, Turkey and Germany.
Philanthropy is on the rise in Germany, and various organizations and media outlets describe the US as a role model for Germany.
One reason, why Germans do not donate as much as Americans could be that the German welfare state is bigger, i.e. Germans pay taxes rather than donate money to help the poor, the sick, and to finance religious groups. German solidarity is organized via taxes rather than donations. Both systems have advantages and disadvantages.
Still, Davids Medienkritik has a good point: "Why aren't these amerikanische Verhältnisse headline news in German media?"

Related posts in the Atlantic Review:
Learning from America: Philanthropy and Immigration
Importing the American Spirit of Civic Responsibility to Germany
Americans donate and volunteer a lot for good causes abroad

Democrats Authorize Iraq War Funding to Increase Minimum Wage

CNN about the comprise between Republicans and Democrats:
Congress passed the first increase in the federal minimum wage since 1997 late Thursday as part of the measure for supplemental funds to fight the war in Iraq. The minimum wage portion of the legislation provides for a increase - over a two-year period - to $7.25 an hour from the current $5.15.
Scot W. Stevenson explains the issue of the US minimum wage in his German language Blog USA Erklärt, which was just nominated for the prestigous Grimme Online Award. Congratulations, Scot! There are several categories. Users can vote for the Publikumspreis here.

Germany does not have a statutory minimum wage, but the issue is debated. Euro 6.50-7.50 are in the discussion. The Atlantic Review wrote about it.

Afghan Narco-Trafficking: Europe is Financing the Taliban

Robert I. Rotberg with Harvard's Kennedy School of Government writes in The Boston Globe about "Losing the war in Afghanistan:"
THE UNITED States and NATO are about to lose the war in Afghanistan to an insurgent, revived Taliban. Deprived of sufficient firepower and soldiers, Allied forces are failing to hunt down and contain the Taliban, especially in the southern part of the country. Moreover, the crucial battle for Pashtun hearts and minds is also about to be lost. Only the rapid provision of security, roads, electricity, and educational and health services can counter the appeal of the renewed and reinvigorated Taliban. Urgently required are more troops for security and more funds for rebuilding essential services.
The op-ed focuses on the drug problem:
Narco-trafficking is fueling the Taliban, and fat profits from poppies and opium are partially responsible for the militants' resurgence. Indeed, Afghanistan is supplying about 90 percent of the world's opium and nearly all of the heroin that ends up in Europe. A recent study by the UN Office for Drugs and Crime forecasts a record crop of poppies this year, on top of last year's bumper harvest. To undercut the ability of the Taliban to purchase arms, pay soldiers, and buy the support of villagers, the United States and NATO need to break the back of the drug trade in and out of Afghanistan. However, reliance on eradication -- the current weapon of choice -- is foolish and wasteful. Uprooting crops and spraying have both had limited local effect. What is needed is a radically new, incentive-based method to provide better incomes to farmers from substitute crops.
Personal comment: So, basically, Europe is financing the Taliban, if the above mentioned numbers are correct. A few months ago, I read some criticism about these statistics, but I don't think it matters much if 90% or "just" 60% of Afghanistan's opium end up in Europe. It is a disgrace that our drug addicts finance criminals, insurgents, terrorists etc.
The "war on drugs" is not very effective, but is doing a lot of harm. A recent example: "Austrian sniper rifles that were exported to Iran have been discovered in the hands of Iraqi terrorists, The Daily Telegraph has learned. More than 100 of the.50 calibre weapons, capable of penetrating body armour, have been discovered by American troops during raids. The guns were part of a shipment of 800 rifles that the Austrian company, Steyr-Mannlicher, exported legally to Iran last year."
Iran has a big drug problem as well. Iranian drug addicts finance the Taliban and others involved in narco-trafficking as well.

Legalizing drugs in Europe would cut the huge profits the Taliban and other middle men make. Adult drug consumers could take their drugs under supervision in European hospitals, who would buy opium and heroin from some small Afghan coops, i.e. providing an income for them. All the money wasted in the "war on drugs" could be used to tell every European once a week that drugs are bad. If they don't listen, it is their problem. I don't mind if people are stupid and ruin their health by taking drugs; that's freedom of choice. I just don't want Europeans to finance militants in Afghanistan and elsewhere, because that causes international problems and makes Europe less secure.
Alcohol is causing big problems in European societies as well, but it is still legal. A few days ago, a sixteen years old Berliner died after drinking dozens of Tequilas in one of the popular "flatrate" parties.
What do you think? Am I underestimating the risks and overestimating the benefits of the legalization of drugs?

UPDATE: Our reader Axel brought us this interesting story in Spiegel International:
Governments in Berlin, Paris and Rome, along with NATO leadership are discussing a potentially explosive new idea: the legalization of Afghanistan's opium production. The plan envisages farmers being able to sell their poppies to officially licensed buyers for the same price they currently get from the drug barons. The product could then be sold to the pharmaceutical industry for pain medication and other products.

Discouraging Statistics About NATO's Afghanistan Mission

A poll commissioned by the Der Spiegel found that 57 percent of surveyed Germans wanted a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan, while 36 percent were in favor of continued engagement, writes DW World. Only four percent backed increasing the German military presence in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan Watch has more discouraging  numbers:
Number of daily bombing missions, June-Nov 2006: 18.
Ratio of bombs dropped in 2006 to 2005: 10 to 1.
Number of counternarcotics police in all of Helmand province: 38.
Number of vehicles they have: 3.
Percent of Americans who believe the war in Afghanistan “was worth fighting”: 56; Percent who do not: 41.
Percent who think the U.S. is “doing enough” to rebuild Afghanistan: 63.
Kabul is home to 3.4 million people but has no public sewage system, writes the Christian Science Monitor:
Larger than the next 10 largest Afghan cities combined, Kabul estimates its most basic needs require $55 million this year; its budget is $4.5 million. Residents complain, but they cope. Despite the smell of sewage and mile-long walks to get drinking water, Kabul finds ways to function.
American Footprints therefore asks "Can't we find $50 million somewhere?"