We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Shirtsleeves to Shirtsleeves in Three Generations. Family wealth usually doesn't last very long unless it is vast and managed by people with the job to maintain it: Kennedys keep their wealth offshore and untaxed, and Rockefellers have a huge family office to protect and build the family $ - but by three generations ordinary wealth tends to be spent/wasted/diluted/frittered away by generations which are less effective at, or less interested in, wealth accumulation. Thus downward mobility.
In my work, I see as much downward financial mobility as upward. Naturally, the upward is more rewarding for me and the downward more painful to watch. I just tell myself "Regression to the mean is a law of nature."
Social class, which is more about culture than about wealth, but still implies a little loose cash, continues to be of value because of relationships, manners, life experiences, sophistication, etc. Nowadays, though, life in America is far more democratic than a generation or two or three ago when your family clubs, prep school, summer communities, and Ivy colleges guaranteed you social and occupational entree. No more pedigree in the USA, if there ever was because here "old money" was always rather new. America is far more meritocratic than it once was, but it has always been more meritocratic than Euroland or other places in general. The American Dream and all that. Andrew Carnegie: penniless Scottish immigrant makes good.
Financial mobility works both ways, goes up and down. The medium-prosperous naturally want to maintain their family traditions of perquisites and cultural advantages, but that is difficult to do for most people if they do not dodge estate taxes (which many do). Better off to have scrappy kids and if they can golf, sail, play tennis, can tell a Breughel from a Rembrandt, and have perfect dinner party manners with snappy repartee, so much the better. They can set an example for others and get on with the program.
Lefties (although McArdle is not one, really) love to focus on money and income mobility: So, What Do Your Parents Do? And Your Great-Grandparents? There are advantages that come with genes, manner of upbringing, and social background. It's the rare black ghetto kid in Baltimore or Hartford who has a prayer to escape his background. Some do, but it takes more drive and brains than for the middle class white kid in central Ohio whose dream is to get off the farm and go to New York to start a business with his or her algorithm.
The vast majority of middle-class Americans do not care much about such things and just want to build some security and comfort for their families. Many, however, are ambitious wealth-builders too. They are necessary, the job and wealth-creators. Everybody else is a parasite. Including me.
While regression to the mean is natural, the genius of Western civilization since the enlightenment is to raise the mean. Sure there are heirs to post fortunes now diminished, but they are impoverished with houses, cars, cable TV, AC, etc. Their wealthiest forefathers could only dream of the material wealth possessed by their posterity though the bank accounts now fall below zero on occasion.
I can guarantee any kid, a black kid from inner city Baltimore or a white kid from Ohio, wealth and success if they follow my advice. I can also guarantee that human nature being what it is that those without the ability to defer gratification and to recognize and follow good advice will fail. It truly is not about gender, race, birth advantage or any of the other things we blame for the lack of success. In fact, today, any black kid or female has a better chance of success than a white male.
Sure the short version is: Graduate from High school. Work a full time job and a part time job too. If you can stay with your parents do it. Find a trade you like that is in demand and learn it. For example mechanic. Community college or apprenticeship. Save most of your money max out your IRA and any other tax deferred options you qualify for. Your first goal is $20k in two years. Keep your goals and assets secret. If you don’t have to own a car don’t get one yet. Once you have learned the trade and are working in your field pick another trade to learn. Something related or complimentary is good but whatever it is it should be something in demand where you can work anywhere. For example welding. Continue to work and save for your second goal; $100k total in five years. When you meet you true love plan for at least one year engaged. She should share your goals to save and build wealth and she should also work and have a trade. Marrying well is important if you are on different wave lengths about work and money you will probably fail. After marriage plan on waiting for two years before having children. Work on establishing yourself in your work. Next monetary goal is $200k total you should be able to do this before age 30. Get professional help with investing. Each five years until you retire your goal is another $100k saved. Most important; don’t drink, do drugs or smoke.
Our graduation gift to the kids, and now the grandkids, is a session with our financial advisor. Their favorite takeaway is the graph that shows starting early with a small contribution zooms steadily upward to a comfortable, and if they want it, early retirement.