Social mobility has become a kind of political sublimation for policymakers who have been largely unable (or unwilling) to tackle the fundamental causes of wage polarisation, and rising wealth and earnings inequality, in the domain of the economy itself. There is now a voluminous academic literature on these issues, citing various causes of rising inequalities: technological change and increases in the wage returns to education and skills; the decline of trade unions and the weakening of the power of labour in advanced economies as globalisation has brought millions of low-paid workers onto the global labour market; and the rise of the financial sector and its ability to capture an increased share of GDP in profits paid in bonuses.
What is noticeable about this list is that only education and skills have been the explicit target of social mobility strategies. Improving educational attainment and skills levels is amenable to policy intervention, even if it takes considerable energy and policy resources. That it is why it has featured so heavily in the lexicon of social mobility policy documents. But it also delineates the limits of modern statecraft: governments have not gone beyond the supply of skills into the deeper terrain of political economy.
Pearce may be writing about the United Kingdom but his analysis is equally applicable to Australia.Tweet