Tuesday, April 01, 2014

A Marshall Plan for the Culture War


I have an article in the Atlantic, basically saying that now that we liberals have won the Culture War, it's time to reach out to conservatives to repair American families and promote work ethic. Excerpts:
Any time you win a great victory after years or decades of bitter struggle, there is the temptation to pillage the lands of the conquered enemy. This is always a mistake... 
The reason we need to reach out to conservatives is simple—there are a lot of them, and they are our countrymen. America is not going to be healthy unless conservative America is healthy. And America is not going to be a fully effective nation-state until conservative America feels completely included in the new liberal America that is now emerging... 
It’s time to reach out to conservatives on the issue of family stability. It’s becoming clear that traditional family gender roles—the idea that the man should be able to be the sole breadwinner—are not sustainable in the modern economic environment...The better way is what Richard Reeves, in a landmark article in The Atlantic, calls “High Investment Parenting.” When families focus on the kids, instead of on maintaining traditional gender roles, it turns out to be a lot easier to keep the family together...But how can we liberals help spread high-investment, gender-equal parenting to working-class, conservative America?...We need to make common cause with conservatives like W. Bradford Wilcox... 
We also need to reach out to conservatives on the issue of work. Many conservatives—like Kevin Williamson, Michael Strain, James Pethokoukis, and Ron Unz—have woken up to the fact that in a purely laissez-faire economy, lots of people get left behind in ways that are ultimately unhealthy to the nation.

29 comments:

  1. Hmm...40 years of stagnant wages for the ever-shrinking middle class and Gilded Age inequality, combined with longer working hours and dwindling job prospects, higher healthcare costs, higher tuition fees, and persistent tensions between racial, cultural, religious, and gender lines.

    Don't proclaim victory just yet.

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    1. Most of what you're talking about wouldn't fall under what I call the "culture war", but under the heading of "economic issues", and the war continues there.

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    2. Problem is, you can't invest in parenting if you're forced to work.

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    3. Noah,

      How does one separate culture from economics of disadvantaged?

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  2. The Marshall Plan has been somewhat mythologized, as Tyler Cowen pointed out it largely went to the U.K (which had one of the weakest recoveries) rather than Germany. But I think the reality works well enough for your analogy.

    Your bit on the effectiveness of "high investment parenting" reminds me of the Freakonomics section on what makes good schools, concluding that what parents do seems less important than who they are. Razib Khan, who identifies as a conservative, thinks his fellow-travelers have erroneously inflated the importance of "nurture" in child outcomes, since twin-adoption studies don't slot easily into the culture wars.

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  3. I am all for families and the work ethic (sometimes accused of being a workaholic to fess up), but I am not sure I see this victory so clearly in place that you see. OK, gay rights are expanding and we shall probably see the spread of pot legalization. But SCOTUS may be about to grant corporations the right to impose the religious views of their owners on their workers, and the House will probably remain in tea party GOP hands for at least the rest of this decade. This is far from as over as you seem to think, Noah.

    Barkley Rosser

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    1. Just to further reinforce this, check out what is goign on in states where the GOP has come to control all the branches of the state governmnet, such as VA and NC and some others. Pretty awful things are being done that are severely rolling back previously in place liberal policies. Some of this is seriously off-the-wall, but in those states talking about some "liberal victory" is utter nonsense. Even in VA where I live, the move to the right has halted with the sweep of Dems at all statewide office levels, but things will not move the other way because the Assembly remains nearly 2 to 1 GOP thanks to gerrymandering, with no way Medicaid expansion will pass despite huge efforts by new Gov. McAuliffe, and the situation now very much resembling the gridlock we see at the national level.

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    2. If it makes you feel better, Barkley, the Chamber of Commerce did not give any support to the Hobby Lobby case. Because most for-profit corporations are not interested in going that route. Plus, the RFRA is statutory legislation written as a response to the Smith peyote ruling, so Congress can change that without going through the Robert's court.

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  4. Income inequality is at record highs and the wealthy are hiding their wealth offshore. Not much of a victory there.

    And it is probably a good idea to remember that in the real Marshall Plan:
    1) we hung the losers leaders as a start;
    2) we explicitly required the losers to adopt many of our values as a condition of the aid.

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    1. Yeah. We won the culture war and lost the economic war. So to speak.

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  5. Liberals have won the culture war!? So, can we have our NEA, our secular government, and our unfettered ability to decide which medical procedures are performed on our own bodies back?

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  6. Great article Noah. But I am a little confused when it comes to the end of the piece. I still think cultural conservatives will fight rear-guard actions far into the future, such as being able to discriminate against gays in the workplace (a much bigger deal I would contend than being able to marry) and the actions against female reproductive freedom.

    And more to the specifics, what policy concessions should liberals make to conservatives? I am not sure if lots of rhetoric from liberals that encourage intense, two-parent family styles will allay conservatives. I think they want more policy retreats from us than rhetoric.

    Frank

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  7. I don't have the data right at my fingertips, but I have a suspicion that the idea that "when families focus on the kids, instead of on maintaining traditional gender roles, it turns out to be a lot easier to keep the family together," may not quite match the facts on the ground. If that were really the case, then why is it that it is the upper middle class who has been more successful at forming stable families? I know, culture and values yada, yada, but does it really pass a sniff test that the one segment of the American population where men consistently earn wages high enough to keep a family out of poverty or near-poverty like conditions is the one segment of the population where marriage still seems to work?

    I mean, yes, surely anyone who holds the idea that a man should be the sole breadwinner for his family is likely to have a more difficult time making a go of a marriage than someone who is okay with a two earner family and a more equal distribution of housework and childcare. But what of all of the talk of the "cornerstone" vs. "capstone" conceptions of marriage? Could it just be that when Americans of all backgrounds start to view marriage as a capstone instead of a cornerstone, only the wealthiest and most privileged are likely to ever have relationships and marriages that live up to our expectations? That is to say, maybe it is simply the case that poor, working, and middle class Americans don't have enough resources, both in the sense of wealth and in terms of cognitive-emotional skills, to make capstone marriages work?

    -Paul

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    1. Sorry, Paul, but you indeed do not have the facts at all, much less at your fingertips. Among women, labor force participation is highest for both the lowest and the highest income levels, with it at the lowest for very middle income groups, indeed, more towards the lower end of the middle class, certainly not the upper middle class as you claim. Fail.

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    2. Given that the comment I posted made no claims about female labor force participation, I am not sure I understand the logic of the reply above. The argument I was putting forth was that "high investment parenting" isn't what explains why college educated Americans form stable families at much higher rates than Americans without a college degree. Instead, I was arguing that given the shift in norms about what marriage and relationships should deliver to be worthwhile, it is the differences in access to resources that explain the differences in family disruption between the college educated and everyone else. And given that the wages that women earn have been rising for a generation or two, it stands to reason that it is the variation in the incomes of men that drive variations in income in families, in the aggregate, and hence also differences in family disruption. My understanding is that college educated men are the only demographic of men that have seen their wages rise over the past forty years, instead of falling. Which again suggests that the financial resources that men bring to the table are an important determinant of family stability. Perhaps families at the "lower end of the middle class" would be more stable if more women worked and earned income. And indeed it might be the case that higher labor force participation among women in the upper middle class accounts for part of the more stable marriages among the college educated.

      -Paul

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    3. And, for what it is worth, Paul, I think your initial post was broadly correct i.e. a marriage, seen as a romantic achievement, requires meaningful resources that are easier to muster at the higher end of the income/educational spectrum.

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  8. That column was asinine.

    First, there is no conservative general and liberal general who can agree to an armistice. Conservatives aren’t following orders when they form their beliefs, so there is no one to make any sort of deal with. The leaders you refer to - pastors, pols, etc. - are really just skillful followers who know people will listen to them if they say what people want to hear. So what you're asking for is unilateral surrender from one side.

    Second, I don't see anyone on the left trying to get "revenge." Yes, some people make fun of Christians, and often get shouted at by progressive Christians. But how many liberals are trying to ban straight marriage? How many are trying to force churches to teach Darwinian evolution? How many are trying to force Catholic women to get abortions? How many are trying to deport people from Red States?

    I don’t think you understand the nature of the culture war: the right tells itself that the left is out to get them so they have to get the left first. This is why Fox News refers to it as a “culture war” instead of what it really is: conservatives trying to defend practices that hurt other people that some on the left are trying to eliminate for that reason.

    Third - and most importantly - the left has NOT won the culture war. I notice you didn't mention women's reproductive rights at all in your column. Hmmmmm... could that be because conservatives are clearly winning that issue? Fewer women have access to abortion than did a couple of decades ago. States have been taking away access to abortion in order to effectively take away the right to abortion. The result has been fewer women having abortions.

    And the big news from last week was that the Supreme Court might rule against *contraception*. The right is winning so hard on the abortion front that they are literally going after contraception, and we're supposed to stop that fight, sacrifice women's freedom, because we think conservatives are ready to sign up for some kind of grand compromise?

    I would consider immigration a cultural issue, at least partly. Liberals are definitely not winning there.

    Then there are the cultural issues around violence that conservatives have also clearly won. Gun violence continues unabated, and many states have moved to make guns *more* accessible. State laws that allows white people to get away with killing minorities are only being challenged in liberal media. Prisons are unimaginably cruel and states are still finding more ways to make them worse. The death penalty isn't even debated publicly.

    On church/state separation, there's more government funding of religious education than ever through voucher programs and charter schools. Many states still teach abstinence-only programs which are founded on teaching "traditional" gender rolls. Is it surprising that the percent of Americans who believe in creationism has actually been rising in recent years.

    So basically the left has won... gay rights? Um, OK, most states don't allow same-sex marriage, the federal government hasn't banned employment discrimination against LGBT people, the military still bans transgender people, LGBT youth are still being kicked out of their homes and there's inadequate funding for homeless LGBT people, access to the legal and medical means of transitioning remains piecemeal at best, transgender people are forced into poverty at an alarming rate through rampant employment discrimination and violence....

    To claim that all the work here is already done is simply laughable. To extend the WWII metaphor, this would be like the Allies declaring victory after Germany took Paris.

    Oh, I forgot that pot has been legalized in 2 out of 50 states, but banks won't lend to pot shops in those states because they think the feds will bring down the hammer any day now. VICTORY! Jesus h christ.

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  9. It's impossible to build and sustain support for the work ethic if our society does not generate the quantity of formal work opportunities that are needed to make a commitment to the work ethic a viable and enduring approach to life. At this point, I see neither liberals nor conservatives offering anything close to an adequate response to this challenge.

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    1. It is difficult to sustain a good work ethos when the few are allowed to skim the lion's share of gravy.

      In Ronald Reagan's Republican Paradise--which we still seem to be living in--the incentive for the rich to work harder is to be paid handsomely, while the incentive for the lowly to work harder is to be paid minimally.

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    2. Nathanael11:58 PM

      This.

      "It is difficult to sustain a good work ethos when the few are allowed to skim the lion's share of gravy. "

      Why bother to work if you aren't gonna get paid properly for it? Much better to go into a life of crime at that point.

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  10. Noah,

    Your premises are baseless because so called conservative families do not necessarily behave as you have envisioned. They squabble, fight, cheat and even worse, just like any family.

    Much more importantly, as man and woman continue march to equality, the so called traditional family of father knows best must be displaced, and, with that, comes new norms for the unions of all kinds. This is Darwinian and it is irreversible without repressive forces.

    Religion is myopic; it always looks back to so called historical norms. So, women do not need to be educated, they do not need career, they must be guarded from the rape and savagery of outsiders – the different religion kinds, etc. etc.

    The worst is the implicit tribal nature of the conservatives: you have to be White, protestant, Muslim, or a Jew, or a Hindu, to ad infinitum; much of the ills of the world can be traced to this conservative nonsense and the price paid is wars and slavery.

    Of course, we are struggling to develop new ways to cope with the Darwinian forces of equality not just between man and woman, but of humans on this Earth. It always has been the case and we have managed.

    Unfortunately, we also strive for so called stability to support the laziness of the brain; and, so we give in to fear, like you did by embracing subhuman advocacy of conservatives. Just about every conservative is liberal when it comes to his own family and his kind.

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  11. yawn. Every six years the party in the white house declares victory. Clinton famously declared the era of big government was over, then came George Bush. Mission Accomplished! Then, things change.

    Besides, who cares about the culture war. People care far more about what's in their wallet, or not.

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  12. what happened to the good Noah that would write about topics that were his area of expertise? This version has lots of interesting ideas, but I am nostalgic.

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    1. Well for one thing, writing for magazines is different than writing a blog. Magazine audiences don't want to read article after article going into depth on the same topic.

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  13. Then why write for mags, except may be for money?

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  14. Anonymous1:19 PM

    Triumphalize much?

    Gay people can legal marry in a number of states. The tax rates on unearned wealth are lower than since ancient Rome sowed the seeds of feudal estates. Blacks make up a vastly greater share of the prison population then the general population. Mission accomplished.

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    1. Anonymous1:29 PM

      Your whole point seems like a way of whistling past DeLong's problem of finding an honest, fair-minded conservative with whom to hold discussion. "OK, so they won't listen to reason, so let's offer them bait. Tell 'em if they'll give up patriarchal family structures, we'll show them how to have what they claim to want - stable families and healthy kids." Let me recast that for you. We should tell conservatives that their approach to child-rearing is wrong and we liberals have a better one.We should assume conservatives beliefs and behaviors are just a means to an end - pretty much the same end liberals seek - and then offer them a way to reach that end that requires abandoning their way of doing things, in faith that the liberal way of life will get them the ends they seek.

      I hope that slight recasting of your plan for selling conservatives on "high investment parenting" clarifies for you what a silly-assed notion it is. I'm here to help.

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  15. Nathanael11:57 PM

    Reaching out to self-identified political conservatives is pointless and doesn't work. Why? What Anonymous said:

    "DeLong's problem of finding an honest, fair-minded conservative with whom to hold discussion. "

    There aren't any. When you find an honest, fair-minded person who's willing to hold rational discussions with you... they pretty quickly stop self-identifying as a political conservative. "Political conservative" now means "Kool-aid drinker at Jonestown" or "fanatic", if you prefer.

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