James Heckman on Inequality and Economic Mobility

EconTalk | 26 July 2021 | 1h 23m | Listen Later | iTunes
Interview with James Heckman about inequality and economic mobility. Drawing on research on inequality in Denmark with Rasmus Landerso, Heckman argues that despite the efforts of the Danish welfare state to provide equal access to education, there is little difference in economic mobility between the United States and Denmark. Includes a general discussion of economic mobility in the United States along with a critique of Chetty and others’ work on the power of neighbourhood to determine one’s economic destiny.

Heckman criticises the progressive belief that increased social spending will open up opportunity for the less advantaged. But he too appears to have a blind spot – attributing the persistence of advantage to family factors. Gregory Clark’s work points to that being due largely to genetics, rather than behaviours of the family. And if genetics is truly the source of persistent advantage, doesn’t that suggest that it’s only fair to use high taxes and transfers to even things out?

1 thought on “James Heckman on Inequality and Economic Mobility

  1. Yes, it’s amusing that Prof. Heckman focuses exclusively on how children are raised, when we know that IQ, conscientiousness and many other important traits have a strong genetic component.

    Is it fair to use high taxes and transfers to even things out? Depends what you mean by fair. There are many differences between people that are largely genetic (height, for instance), and in general we just accept that some people were born with more luck than others. But we should try to help those who’ve had very bad luck, such as children with cystic fibrosis.

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