By distinguishing between social and economic mobility, we can remind ourselves what’s great about America—and yet acknowledge that it has a lot to learn from Europe. America’s class system may be less snobby, but there are tangible reasons why Europe has higher levels of economic mobility. From much better public schools in bad neighborhoods to much greater financial support for children born into poverty, most European countries simply do more to ensure that everyone has a real chance to succeed.
American politicians have finally started to acknowledge this point. But most of them still ignore another, equally important lesson. It is that mobility, important though it is in a society that aspires to be meritocratic, should never become the be-all and end-all of economic policy. As John Stuart Mill once pointed out, “if some Nero or Domitian were to require a hundred persons to run a race for their lives, on the condition that the fifty or twenty who came in hindmost should be put to death, it would not be any diminution of the injustice that the strongest or nimblest would […] be certain to escape.”
Does the American Dream Exist Only In Europe? (Slate)