The Post's Harold Meyerson notes that "Research by Julia Isaacs of the Brookings Institution ... has shown that intergenerational mobility in the United States has fallen far below the levels in Germany, Finland, Denmark and other more social democratic nations of Northern Europe" (my emphasis). This reminded me of a poignancy I recently read in Atlantic magazine from book reviewer (of Fairness and Freedom: A History of Two Open Societies, New Zealand and the United States) Benjamin Schwartz. I quote extensively, because the essential point cannot be over-hammered:
New Zealand ... is a particularly successful polity and society. In some ways its achievements seem all the greater when compared with those of the United States. In 2010, its unemployment rate was nearly half of ours. Our economic inequality is the highest of any developed country’s; New Zealand’s hovers much lower on the list. New Zealand ranks first in Transparency International’s global survey of government honesty; the United States ranks 22nd--just ahead of Uruguay! And comparable divergences, Fischer shows, are found "in trends and measures of political partisanship, legislative stalemate, judicial dysfunction, infrastructure decay, home foreclosures, family distress, drug consumption, and social violence." Fischer’s rich cultural analysis leaves little doubt that New Zealand’s achievements are largely rooted in its "highly developed vernacular ideas of fairness," a complex set of values that Kiwis prize and pursue earnestly. The result: by virtually every measure, New Zealand has a more just and decent society than ours--while resorting far less readily to legalistic and legislative remedies.
The more time we spend ballyhooing American exceptionalism, rather than getting down to the yeomanly work of cultivating a society truly exceptional, the farther both slip from our grasp. The Sarah Palins and Mitt Romneys of our national politics would replace our creeping international image as a paper tiger with that of a raging, self-blinded Cyclops; but what's so extraordinary is that so many Americans fall for this self-destructive chest-thumping.