Skill Sets and Social Immobility
By Alice Temnick
In this episode, Nobel laureate James Heckman and EconTalk host Russ Roberts delve into issues of inequality and economic and social mobility with emphasis on Heckman’s paper (with Rasmus Landers) on inequality in Denmark. Heckman describes his access to the rich longitudinal datasets on all Danish citizens that enabled the research that led to a finding about social mobility that surprised him and many others. We hope you, too, are challenged and intrigued by this multi-faceted conversation. Now we’d like to hear your thoughts!
1- According to Heckman, what Danish social and economic policies are most significant in providing a basis for social and economic equality among households, and why? How directly does each policy mentioned affect children?
2- If intergenerational mobility is measured in skill attainment and equal educational access is available to all Danes, what specifically does Heckman conclude from the findings, given that social mobility is no higher than in the U.S.? How do economic and social policies ignore this fundamental source of inequality?
3- How does Heckman compare the role of the state in shaping the “final consumption bundle” through boosting and limiting disposable income to the Universal Basic Income approach that is focused more on boosting? What great costs, beyond financial, do direct subsidies to individuals incur?
4- Education, social and emotional skills, striving/grit, and engagement in society are all identified as valuable life skills. How does Heckman explain the disincentives of programs attempting to target and subsidize disadvantaged students?
5- How do Roberts and Heckman assess the Danish “model social welfare state” provision of material improvement and access to opportunity? If it’s not money, what do you believe can or should be done to target family life so that children might flourish to their full potential?