Americans may have overthrown the monarchy and built the land of opportunity, but economic mobility is higher in Great Britain than in the United States. In Britain, the social safety net allows people who fall into poverty to pull themselves out. Americans who become poor are more likely to stay that way.

Research in the 1980s and 1990s showing that poverty was often short-term and not limited to an “underclass” helped motivate social policy shifts away from income redistribution. But it...

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