Upward mobility is an issue throughout the world, and the U.S. is no exception. In earlier blogs and newsletters, I reported on Raj Chetty’s work. A defining feature of the “American Dream” is upward income: the idea that children have a higher standard of living than their parents. Chetty’s work shows that children’s prospects of earning more than their parents have fallen from 90 percent to 50 percent over the past half-century. The motivation of his Equality of Opportunity Project is understanding what has led to this erosion of the American Dream— and how we can revive it for future generations.
To provide a wider context for this work, several recent books have helped frame the issues of what policies would be most effective to attack the important mobility challenge.
William Egginton wrote The Splintering of the American Mind: Identity Politics, Inequality, and Community in Today’s College Campuses and Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt wrote The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting up a Generation for Failure. Both books show that if we are going to beat back the current regressive populism, mendacity, and hyperpolarization, we need to educate our young people how to discuss issues uncomfortable to them and go beyond being traumatized or consumed with identity correctness. And, the university is exactly the place for open, frank, and welcoming discussions and debate. They also need to be exposed to the challenges of people unlike them.
Francis Fukuyama (of the end of history fame) wrote Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment and Kawme Anthony Appiah wrote The Lies that Bind. Rethinking Identity: Creed, Country, Color, Class, Culture. These two books continue the discussion of how we got to a state of populism, identity politics, and lack of ability to discuss diverse points of view. The two books latch onto the concept of identity. Who am I? To what do I belong? Has identity politics become a cheap substitute for deep thinking? Can we get humans to see themselves as humans first?
Taken as a whole these books should challenge us to consider what are our identities and how do these identities facilitate or inhibit discussions and actions to improve our world. We are also challenged to create or reshape institutions that educate and influence citizens, using this knowledge. Sp3 Capital is working on upward mobility. This work must be informed by what kind of world do we expect to create and how do we, as investors relate to that world. These books and other companion readings have helped us shape our investment philosophy and approach to the communities in which we are working. A small example of this shaping is how we are building our firm, full of people unlike each other, and our partnering to create a viable ecosystem. Ecosystems are living, changing, systems full of diversity. This metaphor is precisely the way we view our work and the outcomes we are creating. If we want to influence upward mobility in any meaningful way, we must be part of the interacting parts of society. We must be investing to create stronger systems, not separate people into isolated places (identities) that do not interact.