In its report Going For Growth 2010, the OECD examines intergenerational mobility across its member countries. It also provides a good definition of intergeneration mobility:
So, how do OECD countries fare when it comes to the transmission of privileges (and disadvantages) and intergenerational mobility?
So, the UK, Italy, US and France are the countries with the least amount of intergenerational mobility and persistence of earnings across generations whereas Nordic countries tend to have more mobility.
As Filip Spagnoli notes, these data (and others that can be found in one chapter of the Report, which is to be fully published in March) debunks the myth of the efficiency and openness of the Anglo-Saxon model of public policy as opposed to the continental (or mainland, as Spagnoli calls it) model based on stronger social safety net:
The neoliberal framing of public policy has worked as the continental model is believed to be less efficient, less motivating (“why would people work hard if they are going to pay taxes to support welfare-dependent deadbeats?”), more flexible (FSM knows neo-liberals love flexibility!) and that inequality is a reflexion of individuals’ work ethics and motivation and a small price to pay for the freedom to succeed.
Data such as those above are not new but they do highlight how simplistic these beliefs are. As Spagnoli notes,
Actually, as The Spirit Level notes, high inequality is bad for society, even when accompanied with economic growth in affluent countries. And as Lane Kenworthy has noted as well, the often-mentioned trade-offs to greater equality are weak to non-existent once one looks at the data.
Actually, I would argue that if we truly believed in meritocracy, we would ban inheritance so that everyone truly starts with an economic blank slate and provide education to provide equality of opportunity on the social and cultural capital fronts.