First, he’s downplayed the increase in income inequality that’s gotten a lot of play out of the new CBO study. His claim is that there’s enough mobility in the American economy to offset any increase in inequality.
I examine that claim in some detail here but to summarize, imagine the income scale as a hotel with floors that improve as you go up. The basement is funky; the penthouse, sublime. Rep. Ryan’s argument is that sure, the distance between the floors may have grown — with increased dispersion of incomes, there’s a greater economic distance between the top and the bottom — but the rate at which people move between floors has accelerated.
Except for it hasn’t. There is no evidence that the rate of mobility has increased — there’s some evidence that it’s slowed (though other evidence shows no change). In fact, according to mobility data covering a few decades, relative to their cohort (families in the same age range), most families end up close to where they started in the income scale, i.e., either in the income fifth in which they started or in the one either above it or below it (see tables 1-2 here).
Second, in a radio interview this AM I heard Rep. Ryan claim that the Republicans on the deficit reduction super-committee were in fact putting revenues on the table. That surprised me since I’d thought they’d pledged to stonewall on that point.