“If you’re born poor, you’re better off in Europe. But if you’re born rich, or born poor and have a lot of [initiative], you’re better off in the U.S.,” explains Alberto Alesina, summarizing an article he published with coauthor George-Marios Angeletos in the September 2005 issue of the American Economic Review.

In their article, Alesina, a Harvard University economist, and Angeletos, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, address a long-standing puzzle in economics: Why do...

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