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In which John discusses moving to New York, equality of opportunity, socioeconomic mobility in the United States in the 21st century, the American dream, and the underratedness of Slovenia.

A much better exploration of the gender pay gap in the U.S. and elsewhere:

ALSO it's interesting that I chose to make a joke about computer programming, because in fact female programmers are paid the same as male programmers in the U.S. according to this study:

(That noted, the gender pay gap overall remains real.)
Good morning Hank, it's Tuesday.

So when Sarah and I moved to New York, in 2005, we hired some people off Craigslist to help us move our furniture into our new apartment; including a guy from, I think, Eastern Europe, and when I asked him why he'd moved to the United States he said "In New York anyone who can work can work", which is like the best one sentence summary of an efficient labor market I've ever heard. Anyway when he asked what I did I told him that my first novel "Looking for Alaska" had come out recently; and he said "Oh, I wanna work in publishing"; and I was thinking, you know "Yeah, book publishing's a good star to hitch your wagon to" and then we went back to moving boxes.

Flash forward about a year. I'm at a big publishing conference and a guy wearing a suit walks up to me and says "Hey, I moved you into your apartment, Looking for Alaska!" and it was the guy from Craigslist and sure enough he was working in international sales for a huge publishing company.

And that's the American Dream, right? People come to our fair shores because here anyone who can work can work. Our national self-understanding is supported by anecdotes like this: from the Craigslist furniture mover; to the impoverished child turned steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, or Car-NAY-gee depending on how pretentious you are. But Hank, the actual data is somewhat less dreamy.

Quick aside to all of you saying that I should say "data are" because "data" is a plural noun... come on.

Right but anyway 42% of American men raised in the bottom 20% of incomes stay there. In the UK that number is 30%; in Denmark, it's 25%. In fact by almost any measure, whether you are born rich or poor in the United States is a better indicator of whether you will end up rich or poor than it is in Canada or Europe or any country in the developed world. When we talk about socioeconomic mobility and equality of opportunity in the 21st century, we're not really talking about the American Dream. We're talking about the Danish Dream. 

Here's another metric that I think is really interesting: Economic opportunities for women. In the United States, women make 77 cents for every dollar that men make in the workforce. Just to be clear, that's horrifically unjust, but it's also really economically problematic because you don't want people to be paid according to their sex. You want them to be paid according to their skills and contributions. So in the US, women make 77 cents for every Dude Dollar. Canada is actually worse than us but they have a little bit of a weird economy. But in Australia it's 83 cents; in the UK it's 84; in Sweden it's 85. And in Slovenia, the world's most underrated country, women make 97.5 cents for every dollar that men make in the workforce. 

Now Hank, the American Dream remains uniquely "American" in one sense: we are far more likely than residents of other countries to believe that people are rewarded for intelligence and skill, and we're less likely to believe that coming from a wealthy family is key to getting ahead. Unfortunately, like a lot of dreams, what we're dreaming isn't real. 

Now Hank, I want to add that the same regulations in redistributive tax policies that allow for better equality of opportunity in the rest of the world do limit innovation. And that's definitely part of the reason why hugely innovative companies like Apple and Twitter and Google and In-n-Out Burger all started in the US. But my worry is that systemic inequality of opportunity will prevent the most promising future innovators from getting the opportunities they need to succeed. And I worry that the US will become progressively less appealing to the smartest people with the best skills. I mean, the place where "if you can work, you can work" won't be the US anymore, it'll be Denmark or Slovenia.

Like, Hank, if you're a female computer programmer today and you have both a Slovenian and an American passport, you're probably still best off working in the United States. But if current trends continue, that may not be the case in a decade. And that's why systemic inequality of opportunity is bad, not just for Americans living in poverty, but for all Americans. 

By the way shoutout to Slovenian readers of Krive So Zvezde, I'm basically fluent in Slovenian. Hank, I also wanted to say thanks for your video on consent and abuse; it really did make me proud to be your brother. D'oh my god what is this, Esther Day? I'll see you on Friday.