Apparently, Jonathan Sperber wants to offer a more accurate translation of that famous phrase, the one that begins in the original “Das stehende und das ständische verdampft.”
The problem is, “everything that firmly exists and all the elements of the society of orders” are not in fact evaporating. They are become even more fixed and frozen, at least when it comes to economic mobility in the United States.
According to the latest report from the Economic Mobility Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts, 43 percent of Americans raised at the bottom of the income ladder remain stuck there as adults, and 70 percent never make it to the middle.
Looking at the other end of the distribution, a 2012 study from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco showed that those born into the top income quintile are quite likely to remain in the top. Among children born into the top quintile, 47 percent are still there as adults. Only 7 percent fall to the bottom quintile.
if the American Dream means rising in rank in the income distribution, then the findings are not so encouraging. In this case, an individual’s ability to reach the highest economic ranks of society seems at least partially determined by the income rank into which they were born.
Maybe, in the end, it’s the Horatio Alger myth—and, with it, the American Dream—that is being melted away.