The increased focus of politicians about income mobility has overshadowed another extremely important but less quantifiable issue, the availability of opportunity. Although income mobility statistics can help us understand how easy it is for you to increase your income, we can’t forget that income mobility does not equate to the opportunity to pursue your dreams. Recently, a young entrepreneur named Chloe Stirling became an example of this issue. Chloe’s thriving business, “Hey Cupcake,” which she operated out of her parent’s kitchen, was shut down by Illinois state officials.
It didn’t matter that Chloe had many happy customers who chose to buy her cupcakes because they enjoyed them and didn’t mind that Chloe used a “regular” kitchen to bake them. The relationship between Chloe and her customers was voluntary and mutually beneficial. Still, the health department thought they knew what was best for Chloe’s customers. For state officials, protecting customer meant effectively eliminating the option to buy Chloe’s cupcakes unless she got a permit and purchased a kitchen that was built according to code.
Fortunately, Chloe’s problem has received a lot of media attention and inspired a great deal of rightful outrage, so she might actually get to buy a kitchen from the donations of individuals who care about her opportunities. But suppose she doesn’t get the help she needs to comply with expensive laws to achieve her dream. If she gets a job for someone else and makes as much money as her parents or more, she won’t show up in some income mobility statistic. However, income is not the only factor that matters for quality of life, and the statistics will not show the opportunities that were eliminated by law.
There is no way to measure all the opportunities that have been eliminated by regulations. There are the more direct examples, such as Chloe’s story or the hairbraiding instructors and food truck vendors who are prevented from their chosen profession due to arbitrary regulations and special interests. How many other people are deterred from pursuing what they love because some regulation has removed that possibility? We’ll never know. The statistics cannot tell us the whole story.
That’s why we can’t just talk about income mobility. The availability of opportunity to create the life you want without interference matters and should not be overshadowed by the flashy statistics the politicians and pundits like to throw out.