Paul Ryan reports on American and European social mobility c. 1900. Unfortunately, he seems to think that it still applies to the present:

Our Founding Fathers rejected this mentality. In societies marked by class structure, an elite class made up of rich and powerful patrons supplies the needs of a large client underclass that toils, but cannot own. The unfairness of closed societies is the kindling for class warfare, where the interests of “capital” and “labor” are perpetually in conflict. What one class wins, the other loses.

The legacy of this tradition can still be seen in Europe today: Top-heavy welfare states have replaced the traditional aristocracies, and masses of the long-term unemployed are locked into the new lower class.

The United States was destined to break out of this bleak history. Our future would not be staked on traditional class structures, but on civic solidarity. Gone would be the struggle of class against class.

Instead, Americans would work, compete, and co-operate in an open market, climb the ladder of opportunity, and keep the fruits of their efforts.

There are some European countries that have worse social mobility than the U.S., but several have higher social mobility than the U.S. As Jonathan Walton explained in his summary of the findings of an OECD study from last year, this stark contrast between general “European” class barriers and American social mobility is not true:

According to their findings, social mobility measured according to earnings, wages and education across generations is relatively low in relation to other developed nations such as Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Spain.

For instance, in terms of earnings levels, nine developed countries, including France, offer greater mobility than the United States. The U.S. only tops Italy and Great Britain. And the U.S. ranks the highest in terms of the influence of parental background on student achievement in secondary education.

For all of Ryan’s complaints about sowing resentment and “pitting people against one another,” he never really addresses the poor U.S. record on social mobility in recent decades. On the contrary, he declares, “We are an upwardly mobile society with a lot of movement between income groups.” Nowhere in the speech does he consider the possibility that increasing economic and social stratification is the thing that is corroding society rather than “divisive” rhetoric. Ryan does say that we should “lower the hurdles to upward mobility,” which is something, but there is nothing behind it. This is also the same Paul Ryan who said of Herman Cain’s regressive 9-9-9 plan, “We need more bold ideas like this because it is specific and credible.” Does that sound like someone eager to lower the hurdles to upward mobility?