Monday, December 09, 2013

America is separating into peasants and scholar-gentry

While on blogging hiatus I read (listened to, actually) a very important book: Charles Murray's Coming Apart. Many parts of the book are extremely good; other parts are maddeningly off the mark. For a critical review that catches most of Murray's mistakes and distortions, see Murray's former colleague David Frum. Murray's libertarian prescriptions ignore the mountain of evidence that the American government was responsible for much of the social equality we enjoyed in the three decades after World War 2, and he conveniently forgets about the period from 1890-1930 when American society looked a lot more like the present.

But there is a lot in this book that is neither mistake nor distortion, and identifies a major social problem in America today. Murray is not the first to report on the problem - I talked about it here before I had even heard of Coming Apart. But Murray brings a lot of numbers and details that really drive home the scale of the problem.

Basically, America is separating into aristocrats and peasants. 

Murray never uses those terms. But that's what it is. On one hand you have an upper-middle class and upper class who go to good colleges and have skilled jobs. These people tend to have healthy family values - they get married and stay married, they pay a lot of attention to their kids. They are civically engaged and physically healthy. On the other hand you have uneducated masses, who tend not to stay married, to leave child-raising to single mothers, and to neglect the kids. They are overweight, bedraggled, and disengaged from the community. The former he calls "Belmont", the latter "Fishtown", after two semi-imaginary neighborhoods where they cluster.

Murray correctly identifies education as the key thing separating the aristocrats from the peasants. But he also places too much emphasis on money. I know poor schoolteachers who live the "Belmont" lifestyle, and rich small businessmen who are as "Fishtown" as they come. Our threadbare aristocrats are a little like the Confucian scholar-gentry of old China. Our peasants are pretty recognizable too - they're the lower classes from the Canterbury Tales.

If you live in America, you must have an inkling of these changes too. If you're one of the educated class - and if you're reading this, you probably are - then you must have had at least a glimpse of how the other side lives. You must have seen the awful "food" that they eat, the wrecked, destroyed state of their bodies. You must have at least seen hints of their broken family lives. Just the other day I got my hair cut in a poor white neighborhood, and the barber spent the whole time telling me about "that bitch" who was the mother of his children. No matter how thick the Belmont Bubble, you must have seen hints like this. And if it doesn't hurt you to see Americans living that sort of unhealthy lifestyle, then I don't know what to say to you.

So what's to be done? Murray, tantalizingly, comes very close to (what I think is) the right answer. In the second-to-last chapter, he chides the Belmonters for failing to "preach what they practice". He laments that America's educated folk have embraced "ecumenical niceness" instead of deliberately trying to spread their healthy family and civic values to the Fishtown masses. He almost sees the truth: that the legacy of the "founding virtues" he praises lies in Belmont.

But at the end, he recoils from this conclusion. In the last chapter he veers off into a tangent about the European welfare state, and how cutting welfare is the best tonic for floundering Fishtown. It's an outdated, stale, 1970s-vintage prescription, and far from being a solution, it's more of what got us into this situation in the first place. But faced with the horrifying prospect that liberals, not conservatives, were the ones found a way to successfully mix classic American values with modern life, Murray retreats into old conservative derp. He glimpses the light, but it's too bright, and he covers his eyes and flings out an arm, screeching "Noooo! The peasants must be punished! Let the threat of deprivation teach them to live moral, hard-working lives!"

Oh well.

So the task of saving Fishtown - and I think Murray is right that it needs saving - falls to those of us who are younger and less burdened by the baggage of discredited old ideas. What are we going to do? Walking into working-class suburbs and knocking on doors and saying "Hey, y'all should get married more, 'kay?", we're likely to get little more than a punch in the face. We could use the public education system to try to teach Americans en masse how to be Belmonters, but conservatives - the same ones who are worried about failing families - are going to scream their heads off about government indoctrination. Most of the Fishtowners don't even go to church anymore, so even sending out Harvard students to be Christian clergy isn't going to do the trick.

To be honest, I have no idea what will do the trick. There is unlikely to be another WW2, another G.I. bill, another 50s-type broad-based economic boom. Hopefully Belmont is just ahead of the game, and the working class is about to make the same positive changes - decreasing divorce, increasing civic engagement - that the educated class made in the 90s and 00s. But if not, I'm out of ideas.


  1. "But faced with the horrifying prospect that liberals, not conservatives, were the ones found a way to successfully mix classic American values with modern life"

    Well, a very different type of liberal. The sort of liberal that was a strong social conservative while being a fiscal liberal. It was the period of time when the despised Southern conservative Democrats ruled Congress (and say, V.O. Key's classic "Southern Politics in State and Nation" demonstrates that those Democrats eagerly voted for New Deal economic policy while blocking social reforms.)

    Also, unfortunately for the beliefs of both you and me, Noah, 1910-1960 was also the period of time when the gates of the country were shut to immigrants. 1907 was the peak year of European immigration, and laws passed in the next two decades instituted the national quota system designed to keep undesirables out, a system that was repealed in 1965. So we had best have an answer to those people who claim that the better performance of the working class in the US in that period was due to not importing a new underclass. People who ignore the circumstances of the new immigrants, because they're thinking on a national level, not an international one-- but then again, if we're thinking on an international level, global inequality has definitely declined in the period 1970-2010. What if national inequality increase is the cost of global poverty decrease?

    1. Anonymous6:47 PM

      Broadly, global inequality did not decrease because poor people moved here which is what you seem to claim at the end. That's just nonsense. More narrowly (and ancedotally) my experience of recent immigrants (some illegal) and their children, is that they espouse and live the very lifestyle and attitude that some seem to claim they are destroying. Work hard, focus on education, take care of your kids, know your neighbors and invest in your community. Not all immigrants are saints, but if you're claiming their disappearance caused the post WWII boom and then their return caused the inequality boom of the late 20th century, I think you should come up with some plausible scenario to explain either.

  2. "We could use the public education system to try to teach Americans en masse how to be Belmonters, but conservatives - the same ones who are worried about failing families - are going to scream their heads off about government indoctrination."

    Back in the real world, while a tiny sliver of libertarians (including myself) do complain about the ineffective DARE program in schools, it has massively widespread support among both liberals and conservatives and is in nearly every school-- it just doesn't do anything. Libertarians are actually pretty tiny; conservatives are more than happy to have schools indoctrinate their values, just as liberals are. The disagreement comes over the type of values.

    Conservatives are plenty happy to have sex education, so long as it stresses abstinence only before marriage (regardless of whether that works), just like many of them would love to have religious indoctrination in public schools. Liberals of course have their own moral lessons that they want schools to teach.

    If your argument is that "the moral lessons that schools try to teach should include more culturally conservative arguments about getting and staying married," while libertarians will oppose (and say it won't work), I think that on balance you'd have more liberal opposition than conservative. Although I suppose you could shift that by making sure that the enforced curriculum does enough to promote same-sex marriages and other arrangements, if that would still have a majority.

    1. By know we've done enough sex education of both varieties (both abstinence and birds & bees) to know neither has any statistical effect on teen pregnancy. Sex ed just doesn't work, and it's not that surprising when you think about the amount of influence hormones have over teens.

    2. Eric I believe you are misquoting the statistic. It's regardless of the type of sex education the effects on teen pregnancy are the same, with no sex education teen pregnancy is higher. Also, other metrics are important, many programs (including some based off of abstinence) reduce intercourse. And programs which talk about contraceptives and AIDS are effective in increasing the use of condoms (which reduces the spread of STDs):

  3. Anonymous9:26 AM

    Maybe Tyler has the conservative/libertarian answer. Encourage everyone to become Mormon (or more broadly religious?).

    1. Or Atheist. Gay/Lesbian Atheist is even better.

    2. Anonymous12:37 PM

      LGBTG Nihilists, FTW!

  4. Jon Chait pointed out a little while back: "a child born into the lowest-earning quintile who manages to attain a college degree is less likely to be in the highest-earning quintile than a child born into the top quintile who does not attain a college degree. This is all the more remarkable when you consider that making it to, and through, college is far harder for poor kids than rich kidseven at a given level of aptitude. (Two thirds of the kids with average math scores and low-income parents do not attend college, while almost two-thirds of high-income kids with average math scores do.)"

    Apparently self-defeating behavior like out of wedlock births appear to be a consequence of that diminished mobility, as Andrew Sullivan noted: "A new study by economists Phillip Levine and Melissa Kearney suggests that income inequality is a major cause of teenage pregnancy. Yglesias summarizes: 'Where poor people can see that hard work and “playing by the rules” will reward them, they’re pretty likely to do just that. Where the system looks stacked against them, they’re more likely to abandon mainstream norms. Those who do so by becoming single teen moms end up fairing poorly in life, but those bad outcomes seem to be a result of bleak underlying circumstances rather than poor choices.'"

    So, it seems the answer is an improved floor-- maybe a guaranteed minimum income, expanded access to college-- along with an effort to eliminate obstacles to advancement-- maybe reining in some financial practices, which might have benefits for entrepreneurship as well (The Kauffman Foundation found “the industry’s growing size potentially suppressed entrepreneurship as financial services and young companies compete for many of the same employees”.)

    1. Why pick the highest and lowest quintiles? Why just use any college degree? Was one degree in English and the other in electrical engineering? Don't really find that stat remarkable as is.

    2. Anonymous8:51 AM

      Why use just any college degree? Because research has shown that that's the dividing line. Why pick the highest and lowest quintiles? To use a relatively mild definition of mobility. You don't find this remarkable because you want it not to be. But it is.

  5. What about preschool education and day care, making that more available for the poor? Planet Money did a story about it a little bit ago:

  6. "We could use the public education system to try to teach Americans en masse how to be Belmonters, but conservatives - the same ones who are worried about failing families - are going to scream their heads off about government indoctrination."

    Conservatives have always complained about this. But it has been successful in strongly reducing racism, homophobia, child abuse and a host of other ills. And starting before public schools, with Children's Television Workshop productions such as Sesame Street.

    "To be honest, I have no idea what will do the trick."

    You can't run for president on that slogan. :-)

    But I'll tell you what I think needs to be fixed. Our education system is focussed on making good little employees, and not much else. But people produce three major products: labor, civil society and other people. We need to put some emphasis on training for the second and third products.

    Much as I hate to say anything nice about the authoritarian and fraudulent Mormon religion, I think they address those other products much better than we do in our schools. And I think that is a large part of the reason why they are growing so fast: it is an unmet need for the lower classes.

    A good way to start would be a capabilities approach for parents and children. Parents should be entitled to services which enable them to be good parents. Children need protections from bad parenting: including religious indoctrination. Just as we now educate girls about how they are going to go through puberty, we should educate children about what they should be receiving in the way of care and learning so that they can get counseling or services if they are not. We should also educate students about how to be good parents both so they can practice it and so that they can think critically about their own upbringing.

    As a public school teacher and parent, what I see is that schools are already doing most of what they can for academic delivery: the next big improvement will come from raising the quality of parenting and home environment. In my family, my mother brought me up with much less cruelty and more opportunity than she had received, and I like to think that I improved on that with my own children. Many families can benefit similarly.

    1. "But people produce three major products: labor, civil society and other people. We need to put some emphasis on training for the second and third products."

      Thanks for that bit of clarity! I would also split labor into: skills, knowledge, work ethic, and innovation. School tends to focus on knowledge and skill, but not get to the the latter two which are where most wealth gets created.

    2. Anonymous8:01 PM

      "School tends to focus on knowledge and skill, but not get to the latter two [work ethic and innovation] which are where most wealth gets created."

      A person can have a terrific work ethic in studying Shakespeare or history of ancient empires. They can also have great study skills and even "innovate" original theses. But outside of academia, all that amounts to virtually nil. The fact of the matter is that a good chunk of these liberal arts/humanities grads society deems "intellectual" are living barely above the poverty line as Sushi-Sans (Comic-Sans?) or collecting welfare. The other fact is that when you make burger money, dollar-menu burgers are all you'll be able to afford. Engineering pays a lot more because, like it or not, America has determined that we need more war planes than debates over who was a bigger bada**, Caligula or Genghis Khan.

      Ideas don't cut the mustard if what you need is money for a sandwich.

  7. Anonymous10:09 AM

    I'm inclined to think that prudential virtues, social mores and economic prosperity go hand-and-hand. The presence of any one of them reinforces and advances the growth of the others. Yes, the inculcation of certain kinds of virtues promotes the prosperity of a community; but equally the growth in a community's prosperity tends to create social pressure toward the emergence and maintenance of norms conducive to the preservation of that prosperity.

  8. jtroll10:39 AM

    "There is unlikely to be another WW2, another G.I. bill, another 50s-type broad-based economic boom."

    Nobody wants another world war, but why is the economic success unlikely? Is that a prediction or a statement of belief about politics? Why should we blame ourselves (I'm one of the parasites), and not you elite?

    I get sick of people talking about politics as if the present reality is set in stone (even as you note Frum noting Murray doing the same thing). Perhaps do a post on political realignment (you seem to hint at it, with generational talk)?

    Anyway do you have any evidence that the effect you mention is cultural and not economic? Is it the book? Because all you've offered is a (if I had to guess made up) anecdote about a (female?) teacher and (male?) businessman.

    Anyway it's pretty unclear to me why the elite should be slapping themselves on the back. But I think Murray's initial impulse is right, if you really think you have it figured out, if only we get and stay married!, that'll save "us" (you mean help you feel better, not us), you should spell it out for us.

    1. do you have any evidence that the effect you mention is cultural and not economic

      I don't view those things as separate. There is huge feedback between culture and economics.

    2. jtroll12:25 PM

      "I don't view those things as separate. There is huge feedback between culture and economics."

      So no evidence? Anyway, I'd guess that view is pretty uncontroversial, but seemingly without content.

      Also from your Twitter: "I want redistribution of respect, not wealth." I wonder if you could expand on this.

    3. So no evidence?

      Why do you want me to go collect evidence in support of something I don't even believe is true??? I mean, I guess I could, but seems like a bit of a time-waster.

    4. Also from your Twitter: "I want redistribution of respect, not wealth." I wonder if you could expand on this.

      I will in a future blog post.

    5. jtroll2:17 PM

      "I mean, I guess I could, but seems like a bit of a time-waster."

      Maybe I'm misunderstanding, then. I don't know what the point of your post is now, though. Believing in a feedback loop doesn't seem to exclude believing culture is the problem.

      I guess where I'm coming from is that by not pursuing a full employment policy (or tax cuts for the wealthy and the iraq war), I have a hard time taking this, whatever it is, seriously. (Other things like environmental policy, etc. come to mind as well.)

    6. by not pursuing a full employment policy, I have a hard time taking this, whatever it is, seriously

      I don't understand what this sentence means. Did you accidentally delete part of it?

    7. jtroll3:47 PM

      No. You're judging (or appear to be) the "uneducated", "working class", when (arguably) the last time we reached full-employment was the late 90s.

    8. Are you asking me if I think full employment would be good for America's culture? Hell yeah, I think it would.

  9. Anonymous11:11 AM

    The whole social decline reasoning is a bunch of crap. The have always been and will always be crappy marriages and parents. People are people. They are no better and no worse now than in the past. This is all about the returns to education. I think we ought to be paying students for effort and not the measly amount that has been studied in various places. I am thinking more like half of all education expenditures. If you gave a kids a couple thousand bucks for doing their work, I am pretty sure they would actually try. If they tried, most would do much better.

    1. Wonks Anonymous3:36 PM

      Murray & Noah actually look at data to show that the present really is different from the mid-century.

    2. Anonymous8:29 PM

      manipulated data. most of those "marriages" were in name only. They may have been divorced.

    3. I urge people to read David Frum's absolute demolitions linked by Noah, above.

      I also urge Noah to read it, since he hasn't.

  10. The ROI on education spending is estimated at 10% (see the CBO report at in Appendix A). A 10% ROI is an excellent return, well beyond most other investments of similar risk, and well below the government's borrowing costs. One solution is to dump money into education.

    1. Anonymous8:04 PM

      As long as that money isn't dumped into useless basketweaving fluff. Things like insert-your-favorite-disadvantaged-minority-here Studies and creative writing tend to have a zero if not negative ROI.

      Well, not counting tips you *might* get as a waiter/waitress at TGI Friday's.

  11. the causation is well known to run as follows: wealth disparity -> social disfunction -> sermonizing.

  12. Anonymous11:53 AM

    Noah, How does your critique of Murray gibe with the substantial evidence that intergenerational poverty is due not to resource constraints but to characteristics of the poor?

    1. I think that's one of the points in which I agree with (and institutional stuff in general) seems much more important than money. But remember that these things all interact.

    2. Nathanael10:52 PM

      Once you get into the *habit* of being poor, you keep making choices which are bad now that you're not poor.

      But the important effect of giving more money to the poor isn't on the old folk. It's on the KIDS. They're more adaptable and are able to recognize when a behavior is stupid even if their parents have been doing it.

  13. Was there a time when America was interested in Free education at an university level? Here in Europe higher education is free or close to free in most of the countries.

    I'm not sure that its a solution, but I don't even see it the discussion.

    My hunch is that if you are against close to free tuition (for example a median monthly wage for semester) you also are not a believer in education to provide more equitable growth (not necessarily a bad thing).

    1. jtroll12:36 PM

      On free universities:

      And Noah:

    2. jtroll: thanks for reminding me that I'm on Noahpinion (and why its pretty good).

    3. Yes, from 1945 - 1973 or thereabouts.

      This is not secret history.

    4. Anonymous6:55 PM

      "Community College" (at least in California) used to be nearly free, widely available, and of reasonable quality. Sadly, all three aspects are rapidly fading away.

  14. Krugman has supported at a few occasions a Federal VAT to fund redistribution programs. Beside being a very politically conservative proposition, he seems to be making the point that its a prerequisite for a welfare state not being a hostage in budget negotiations. Compensate them with enough property taxes and taxes on capital income and you are done.

    1. I don't see that as a conservative position at all.

    2. Conservatives dislike progressive taxation. But the state, has to be funded by taxes somehow so the taxes that I think conservatives generally approve of are (politically correct if you like):

      * Linear (AKA proportional or flat) taxes of personal income.
      * Lump sum taxes.
      * Consumption taxes - excise, sales and VAT.

      So this is what I mean. Why do you think its not conservative at all?

      Interesting note:
      Eastern Europe and Central Asia is generally funded this way. And it's no coincidence, there was a lot of influence of American right-wing think tanks, after '91.

      And the VAT is a great revenue booster, states in Europe get between 20 and 50% of their budgets thanks to a VAT between 10 and 25%. This allows them to fund either very extensive welfare states, cut top marginal rates or introduce flat income taxation.

  15. Bill Ellis12:53 PM

    It is not just the disfuncional values of the "peasants" that are creating our problems but the equally dysfunctional and arguably more damaging* values of our "scholar-gentry" that are problematic.

    We of the "scholar-gentry" tend do a good job when it comes to raising OUR children, but our communal values system is dominated by the philosophies of Ayn Rand.
    I have not listened to "Coming Apart" but is suspect the parts of it you lament are illustrations of the miseducation of the elite that is plaguing us.
    You have your focus backwards.

    * Noha, would it be fair to say that your views could be pigeonholed as technocratic-proto-neo-liberal ? (That's about where I put myself) If so, how can you ignore the elite? An elite Will rule. Always. Thats why I say the dysfunctional values of the"scholar-gentry" are more problematic.

    1. We of the "scholar-gentry" tend do a good job when it comes to raising OUR children, but our communal values system is dominated by the philosophies of Ayn Rand.

      I think there's a lot of truth to that.

      Noha, would it be fair to say that your views could be pigeonholed as technocratic-proto-neo-liberal ?

      No, Blil, actually I think my views are orthogonal to most of the policy debates of today. I think there are good and bad things about neoliberalism, and we should try to take the good parts and leave the bad parts behind if we can. And I think technocracy is effective sometimes, but ineffective other times. I know that's kind of a weak answer, but it's the best I can give you...

    2. Bill Ellis3:42 PM

      I don't think it is a weak answer. Just subtle. Calling myself a neo lib with two modifiers was kinda a weasley reach. It's just hard to pin stuff like that down with words.

    3. "We of the "scholar-gentry" tend do a good job when it comes to raising OUR children, but our communal values system is dominated by the philosophies of Ayn Rand."

      And what's important about that is that too many of the 'scholar-gentry' happily support polices which might as well have been designed to make sure that a large proportion of people have rather bad lives.

  16. Bill Ellis1:02 PM

    Noah says: "Basically, America is separating into aristocrats and peasants."

    Yep. And the political corollary is--- Basically America is a constitutional monarchy. But instead of a king, we are ruled by, to use FDRs' term, Economic Royalist.

  17. I guess if you're a benevolent social scientist, you not only try to help "Fishtown" improve itself, no, you also make it WANT to improve itself. The motivation needs to come from the inside. It's not enough to say here's what we do, you should do it, too! You also have to get them thinking "I want to do it, too!" And you do that by promoting an inclusive society, by not dividing the populace into different constituent groups. The blame for the growing economic and cultural divide does not mainly lie in the retreat of the welfare state (that was a cosnequence of the growing divide) but in the division of society into different groups which re-emerged with Nixon's Southern Strategy.

  18. Noah,
    Richard Wolff has an answer with cooperatives. I think he is absolutely right. What would you say about his analysis?
    Here is his video just published last week...

  19. Okay, feel free to chastise me if this is obviously wrong. BUT, if you believe that 1970s-vintage prescriptions are what got us here why wouldn't reversing those prescriptions be a huge part of any solution?

    1. Maybe it would, or maybe there's hysteresis. Throwing a vase on the floor produces effects that can't be reversed by lifting it back up off the floor.

  20. Anonymous5:19 PM

    I think Murray's text is a lot more problematic than you lead-on Noah...

    First, I kinda wonder if Murray has causation all backward. Divorce rate and broken families are more common in Fishtown because of low incomes and wealth than better-off communities. Even for well-to-do individuals, divorce is roughly 50% higher than it was pre-liberal divorce laws of 1970. Poor people are in worse health because of income and wealth, etc. I just don't think a few more health classes are going to do the trick...

    Second, as Paul Krugman pointed out, Murray completely ignores the drop in violent crime over the last near two decades, in which a lot of evidence points to reduced lead in the air as the main culprit.

    And I think his statement that more "lectures" to lower-class people will result in "civic renewal" is only something an academic can believe. As most studies show, lecture is one of the least effective forms of teaching!

    I hate to be ad hominen, but it is funny that a dude that got divorced is decrying the lower classes for an action he himself took...

    You probably agree with a lot of this above but just venting from a different angle...


    1. Divorce rate and broken families are more common in Fishtown because of low incomes and wealth than better-off communities.

      Curious why you think this would be the case. Seems to me that low income would encourage marriage rather than harm it, as through marriage people can achieve economies of scale such as saving on rent.

    2. Anonymous10:30 AM

      Well, having low incomes and wealth place a lot of stress on families, thus resulting in their dissolution. If I recall correctly, roughly 40% of marriages end in divorce for economic reasons, which is quite high if you think about it, since people in marriages typically pledge initially that their relationship will transcend economic ups and downs...

    3. Anonymous11:41 AM

      Then again, look at the Nordic countries. They have an egalitarian welfare system and still high divorce rates, roughly equivalent to the US. But much less in terms of the social problems (less violent crime, less obesity.) I think with divorce, the focus should be on minimizing the harms associated with the action, rather than pinning that people would not do it.

    4. @ Colin,

      The poor understand economies of scale. While marriage is down across the developed world, couples live together without being married more than ever, in previous decades it wasn't socially acceptable.

      Marriage is a luxury in a sense that it ties you down - you don't want to marry when you think you might need to move to find a job and its common for the poor to move a lot. Marriage also assigns gender roles that might be difficult to achieve if you are poor - how can you be the provider husband if you have no wages for half of the year?

  21. One place that seems to be working, using a mix of educational programs for both parents and children, in creating a "Fishtown" –> "Belmont" effect is the Harlem Children's Zone. [ ] Now all we have to do is figure out how to clone Geoffrey Canada.

    1. I think we need to close the people who fund the HCZ - any educator would like to put in place the things Geoffrey Canada did (and get his income) if the money was available for it.

    2. Megan is right, the HCZ achieves its limited successes only due to quite large amounts of money, but I would like to clone the resources and not the donors. The donors are basically hypocrites, creating a kind of Potemkin village that functions less as a model of how to improve the rest of the society than as a diversion and a sop to their own consciences, perhaps.

  22. There are jerks in Belmont too, but they have more to lose by displaying their jerkiness to customers. Beligerance is self-defense in Fishtown.

    Fishtown has little time, energy, or hope for a better future. Investing without hope is a waste of time and money. Instead they dream of winning a lottery of various kinds.

    We can't shame an entire town, they won't accept it. Besides, the ideas of sanctity and empathy already exist in Fishtown. But hope, self-respect, and respect for others are in short supply. Increasing the minimum wage would help (much more for self-respect than a tax credit). So would increasing the public investments in education and healthcare. Nothing new there, but we haven't tried it in a while.

    Imagine that you had broken and missing teeth. Not only would it be painful, but that alone would impair both your ability to function in society and your self respect. And the expense of repairing your teeth would be impossible.

    1. "There are jerks in Belmont too, but they have more to lose by displaying their jerkiness to customers. Beligerance is self-defense in Fishtown."

      Think about how management has been treating labor for the past few decades in the US, and about the increase in rentier behavior.

  23. Well, is something as important as the labour market is governed by ascriptive social status and rather definitely not marginal productivity, then it's time for Noah to enroll in a sociology course.

  24. Doc at the Radar Station7:35 AM

    "So what's to be done? Murray, tantalizingly, comes very close to (what I think is) the right answer. In the second-to-last chapter, he chides the Belmonters for failing to "preach what they practice". He laments that America's educated folk have embraced "ecumenical niceness" instead of deliberately trying to spread their healthy family and civic values to the Fishtown masses. He almost sees the truth: that the legacy of the "founding virtues" he praises lies in Belmont."

    Wow, this is starting to sound a little like Vanguardism:

    If so, this would be a fascinating development. The scholar-gentry put down Atlas Shrugged, stop living in their individualistic hive holes and begin proselytizing to the peasantry again.

  25. Well we are burdened by past ideas. Just try saying the words government and solution in the same breath. Everyone knows that government is bad, the free market is good.
    We know this because Russia was bad at providing blue jeans to its teenagers and because the line to the DMV to get a new license is long.

    If you want to fix a problem of a national scale that requires collective action and which has pay-offs that are distant in time, and where a significant part of the value created is a common good - I'll show you you failure of the 'free market' to come up with a solution.

    My suggestion would be to propose something that would be better at addressing such problems where the profit motive isn't working out.

    Its pretty clear that Economics has been majorly distracted on this for two reasons.
    1) ideological - everyone knows the ropes here no need to rehash
    2) mathematizing - great powerful wonderful tool, but the problem is it has become a project of 'over-determination of a process that is non-determinist'. this is bad for two reasons
    • The first is it drives the imagination and vision out of Economics – it turns the famous Bobby Kennedy quote backwards. “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” Econ is stuck in the stew of asking why things are the way they are, and missing the far more interesting question of imagining how great they could be.
    • The second is that a non-deterministic system (as does a system with conflict of interest) naturally needs decision making and coordination. On national scales, governments are the coordinating and decision making agent.
    Somehow I think both these ideas are conveniently back-benched not for lack of awareness, but due to full awareness of their implication.

    Here's my prediction, the next great economist will put political back in political economy. Not sure if we'll have another great economist though...

  26. Anonymous12:06 PM

    Sorry, Noah. This is some seriously, flawed, classist, and deeply, deeply offensive garbage you are pushing here. Yes, lets blame the victim. They are fundamentally, unclean, non-humans who are too busy not getting married, eating junk food and generally, doing morally (and economically) reprehensible things. We need to show them how to be successful...

    To translate all of that, if she didn't want to be raped she shouldn't have dressed like that.

    1. Anonymous12:44 PM

      I split my life between a Fishtown and a Belmont. The Fishtowners I know make horrible decisions all the time which lead to bad outcomes. The Belmonters do the opposite. However, I do not believe that once in Fishtown one can be "trained" out of it.

    2. Anonymous1:17 PM

      Yes. I know of know people with fine pedigrees who have recently wasted trillions of dollars and wealth and ruined the lives of millions. After all, when you are non-human the fact that you eat Cheetos on your lunch break is a sign of your worthlessness, but when you are special the fact that you have wasted the lives of millions and stolen trillions of dollars out of the economy is but a mistake that should not effect your bonus.

      I know both "places.'' It sounds like you don't.

    3. Anonymous1:40 AM

      Here here! Both places are full of scoundrels and saints. Morals, culture, education and social organization have degraded equally on both sides of the tracks from what I have observed.

  27. Anonymous12:58 PM

    In the US over the past 60 years "oppressed minorities" have been numerical minorities. But today, the American Fishtownians are an oppressed majority, encompassing immigrant and native born alike. Fully half of American family incomes are either low enough or precarious enough that the chances of a crisis, even a rather minor crisis, tumbling them into bankruptcy or wiping out all assets and savings are very high. And these crises do not impact just the individual family unit, but the extended network of family and friends. A rising tide drowns the whole social fabric, and does so more harshly, the more they try to support each other.

    How do classic minorities (diasporic Jews, the people of favelas and the African shanty towns, and the Irish of the clearances, for example) support their social network and provide generational stability? By focusing on tight family loyalties in family members once, twice or farther removed, by building traditions that foster pride even as they support an impecunious lifestyle (the celebratory 12 meatless dishes, as an example), by storytelling, making music and art, deep investment in religious learning and practic, by developing to a high degree specific niche skills, by living off the land, by being insular and yet keenly alert to the vagaries of the overclass, and so on.

    Well, how many of these tactics are available to the newly disenfranchised Fishtownians? On what could they build them? Television and popular culture (that is, "fast food culture") has displaced and competes with personal cultures, narratives, and self-defined community identities. Subsistence living isn't an option. Small families and scattered families have become the rule, resulting in the loss of mutual supports and the familiarity that comes from frequent visits. Even the development of niche skills is undercut by exposure to a vast third world of poor people who have taken that option to an extreme that leaves most North Americans looking like amateurs.

    Young males often approach the problem by forming gangs, but these structures carry their own hazards and can't provide an ongoing cultural and family identity.

    So, what is the way out for Americans? Not, as you said, by being scolded by the well-to-do. The family and cultural supports that are needed require minimal, basic resources, which the new Fishtownians do not have.

    One of the labours of Hercules required he get past the half-giant Antaeus, who had challenged and defeated all comers by wrestling them. But Hercules learned that the giant's strength derived from contact with the earth. Once lifted off the ground, he was weak and could be defeated easily.

    The new oppressed majority seem to be in this situation, lifted off the land and held in the air, with no leverage or resources. Worst, they don't yet see their true predicament.

    Noni Mausa

  28. Anonymous1:14 PM

    meanwhile, in the fact based universe, from the CDS
    Key findings

    Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2005–2008

    Among men, obesity prevalence is generally similar at all income levels, however, among non-Hispanic black and Mexican-American men those with higher income are more likely to be obese than those with low income.
    Higher income women are less likely to be obese than low income women, but most obese women are not low income.
    There is no significant trend between obesity and education among men. Among women, however, there is a trend, those with college degrees are less likely to be obese compared with less educated women.
    Between 1988–1994 and 2007–2008 the prevalence of obesity increased in adults at all income and education levels.


    1. Anonymous7:50 PM

      Some much needed data to counter meritless moralizing.

  29. Anonymous1:43 PM

    Colin said that the poor should realize that marriage provides economies of scale.

    The idea seems self-evident, but in today's society this doesn't seem to be what's happening. In fact, I would venture to say that the "economy of scale" idea is why many poorer people get married in the first place. The divorce only follows because, in spite of those "economies," their household economy proves itself untenable.

    If household income is still too low, even with the economies, and if inevitable crises kick the legs out from under those families in high numbers, then urging people to stay married is another punishment, like shaming a child for not studying when he is living in a noisy chaotic apartment building.

    To see how household finances have changed since the 70s, an excellent overview is Elizabeth Warrens "The Coming Collapse of the Middle Class."

    Noni Mausa

  30. Anonymous10:41 PM

    Charles Murray, as Noah relates it, believes that the Belmonters should "preach what they practice" to the benighted denizens of Fishtown. Fair enough. How does he do on this count? I'm not sure but he has a blog at AEI so lets look. Here's how he describes his relation to Hispanics:

    "Just about every Latino with whom I come in contact is hard-working and competent. I don’t get into discussions with them about their families and religion, but they sure look like go-getting, family-values Americans to me. But note the caveat: “with whom I come in contact.” There’s a huge selection artifact embedded in that caveat—I always come in contact with Latinos because they are on a work crew that’s doing something at my house or office, or at my neighbors’ houses. That’s the way that almost all Anglos in the political chattering class come in contact with Latinos"

    So here we learn a few things. First, although Latino tradesmen aren't the scholar-gentry, they have good morals, like you might find in Belmont. But regardless, he doesn't preach to them. He doesn't preach to other Latinos either.

    I get the impression that Murray doesn't believe what Noah claims. He's not interested in interacting with Fishtown at all. For that matter why take Murray seriously about an exhortation that he himself does not believe?

    1. Anonymous5:26 AM

      So, maybe Murray should shut the hell up. I've lived among a range of Latinos, and basically, the deal is, they'll go vote or even register Republican if they have enough money. Simple as that. You see it all the time - a household or extended family, and there's one or two Republicans, usually between 30 and 50, under the influence of the 80s and also the ones making above-average money. The older folks are Dems, and the kids might be Dems. The real reason why new Latinos won't start voting Republican for a generation or more is simple: the new ones are poor now, or have been poor for a while, and see the Republicans as a hostile, racist party.

      What the GOP is stupid about is that they don't think long-term. There are potential votes in 20 or 30 years. If they don't try to cultivate them today, they won't have them in the future.

      BTW, the GOP lost a lot of ground with Asians, and won't get us back for another 10 to 20 years, is my guess. It might take longer. It took Dems 20 years to achieve it, but they worked for it, and deserve it.

    2. Charles Murray wrote 'The Bell Curve'. Unless he has presented evidence of changing his ways sinc then, anything that he writes is presumed false until proven true.

    3. "What the GOP is stupid about is that they don't think long-term. There are potential votes in 20 or 30 years. If they don't try to cultivate them today, they won't have them in the future."

      The people running the GOP will be long retired by the time that that truly bites them; the Tea Party base doesn't give a f*ck. They'll be retired or dead by then, as well.

  31. Words like 'cultural bias' come to mind, and the power of self-reinforcing stereotypes and anecdotes.

    How about paying people a living wage, and eliminating the policy biases that reinforce the privileges of wealth?

  32. I don't see how any serious treatment of this subject can ignore illegal immigration. The low end of the job market has been swamped by eleven million illegals, and labor markets are no safe harbor from the law of supply & demand. People without college degrees (or even marketable college degrees) simply have no pricing power for their labor, and as long as that's true they will be poor.

    1. Anonymous12:15 AM

      Illegal Mexicans returned to Mexico in large numbers following the 2008 recession yet things did not improve for lower income Americans. Why is that?

    2. Because your premise isn't true. The net outflow was tiny.

    3. Illegal immigration in the US and Europe is has gone down significantly since the crisis. There is less supply for jobs, so no immigrants.

      Even so, those 11 million aren't a big part of US population - you have 310 million people! That is what, 3%? I don't see how they can push down wages for other 300 million, or if you consider the low end, the wages for even 50 million people.

    4. Anonymous, please review your logic.

    5. jerseycityjoan6:20 PM

      I think it is a mistake to concentrate just on illegal immigration. We have continued to give out well over a million green cards and temporary work visas each year even while unemployment remains high. The current Senate immigration bill would greatly increase legal immigration, to the point that we'd have more new immigrants than new jobs.

      If anybody can tell me why we'd want to go from 1 million to 2 million green cards a year, from 700,000 to well over a million temporary work visas year, at the same time we'd legalize our illegal immigrants, please let me know. And remember, we can soon expect tens of millions of the newly legalized immigrants overseas family members to end up here too. So I think Eric's point is a good one but he's wrong to limit his concerns to just illegal immigration.

      Too many new people are too many new people, period.

    6. Nathanael10:48 PM

      For several years now, more people have immigrated FROM the US TO Mexico than the other way around.

      Immigration isn't the issue. The US is now so unattractive nobody wants to immigrate here. The problem is that the 1% have been seizing all the money and all the power.

  33. Anonymous11:49 PM

    Singapore believed society should be equal opportunity, not equal reward. Society should ensure everyone starts from the same line, but only give reward depending how much effort each individual put.

    We just have to admit some (hopefully minority) of people just don't have the mentality / brain capacity to study, persevere, live healthy lifestyle, fight hard for success. Maybe there exist Fishtown genes which get passed down to next generations?

  34. Anonymous12:01 AM

    Basically, America is separating into aristocrats and peasants.

    There's one very, very important difference: aristocrats were generally in a heritable position that couldn't be taken from them, and peasants were generally in a heritable position from which they *couldn't* rise. In the U.S., at least, relatively wealthy / successful people can fall and relatively poor / unsuccessful people can rise. In classic feudal societies, this was basically impossible without revolutions.

    1. Anonymous5:34 AM

      That social mobility is on the decline. Without a huge middle class majority, you don't have the conditions where there's a vast consumer market to "test" people.

    2. And quite a bit; the US is now just above the UK at the bottom of the OECD countries.

    3. Nathanael10:46 PM

      It's basically impossible for the poor to rise or for the rich to fall in the US now. There are objective measures of this (as Barry notes).

      For an anecdote, note that George W. Bush, a cocaine-smoking, draft-dodging incompetent who wrecked multiple businesses and appears to have been a psychopath, became President mostly because his Dad was President. Without even being elected.

    4. "In classic feudal societies, this was basically impossible without revolutions. "

      Not necessarily. Read the history - lots of rises and falls. IIRC, there was a study of noble families in England; very few lasted more than five generations after gaining a title.

  35. This comment has been removed by the author.

  36. "But if not, I'm out of ideas."

    Very difficult, but there are some things.

    The really big thing I see is what Nobel Prize winning economist James Heckman talks about and researches. The big returns, and demonstrated real effectiveness, of making the effort at a really young age – really young, not just free preschool at age 4 (and often a crappy free pre-school), but efforts like universal high quality prenatal care and nutrition, great efforts to increase breastfeeding, universal high quality daycare available from birth, and more.

    I can tell you as a father, the prenatal through age 5 period is amazingly important to the child's future ability, character, and success. One child gets top prenatal care and nutrition, breastfeeding until at least age 2, heavy fruits and vegetables, vs. macaroni and cheese and fried chicken nuggets, 10 hours a week of reading, constant talking to, textbook parenting, constant love and affection, Montessori preschool from age 3, or earlier,... Another gets no reading, constant TV, McNuggets and hot dogs, milk formula, no schooling at all until almost age 6,...

    Ideally, you would invest greatly in this, but when you have a party controlling the House, and dominant for a generation, that dogmatically believes any government spending is bad except the military and police, there's no such thing as high-return public investment, externalities, asymmetric information,..., then you can't get this smart very long term investment. And other countries pull ahead of us more and more. I had a post a few years ago about how other countries are pulling far ahead of us in height (even adjusting for ethnicity) and dental health, and of course there are many other things. (at:

    Eventually, changing demographics and generations will dislodge this historically toxic and anti-thinking Republican Party, but until it does, it could get very bad.

    At the same time, this is a very hard issue. The costs are enormous. Of course, the costs of doing nothing are pretty huge too. The answers aren't easy.

    1. I should add, though, that there's a lot the government can do that will cost tax payers nothing (or make them a lot wealthier) by stopping the predators that suck the poor, and many of the middle class, dry. Of course, payday lenders charging double digit, even triple digit, interest should be illegal. The same with subprime mortgages charging exorbitant interest and fees, predatory car lots charging $10,000 for a vehicle that can be purchased for $3,000 because they provide little or nothing down "credit" of 18%. And basically, there are just so many businesses that suck the poor dry that regulation should end, laptop leasing of $150/month for a laptop that costs $400 used, I could go on and on, it's so bad today after a generation of Republican dominance in deregulation, and the greed is always good attitude. University of Houston Political Scientist Howard Karger has a good book on this, "Short-Changed, Life and Debt in the Fringe Economy".

      Sure, these people should shop, and think, and have more patience and self-discipline, but that's, of course, no reason to prey on them, and it just makes the situation much worse, especially for their children.

    2. And, of course, there are the predatory for-profit schools with their private student loans, inescapable in bankruptcy, that really put the knife through the heart of the very poor who are attempting to do the right thing. obviously all of this should be illegal and would cost tax-payers nothing, and in fact make them wealthier.

      These for-profit schools often cost ten times a community college, financed with double digit private student loans, never escapable in bankruptcy, thanks to the 2005 Republican bankruptcy law, for a degree much less valuable than a community college degree, where there's solid teaching and you're half the way to a bachelor's degree.

    3. Yes, yes, and yes.

    4. Anonymous8:32 AM

      Just a note on very early childhood exposure; We were living in London when our daughter was neborn, and someone gave her "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats", since "Cats" had just opened. That turned out to be her favorite bedtime readaloud (probably because I sung some of the poems). Thirty years later we find out that if you read TS Elliott to a little kid she ends up as an English major despite the best efforts of her engineer father and uncle.

  37. Anonymous5:50 AM

    Sometimes, I come across a well written comment thread that's so rife with condescension, racism, and hatred that I start to feel a mild nausea. This is one of those threads. I just had to start with that, to tell you how I took it, as someone with Fishtown roots, a somewhat Belmont education, potentially a scholar-gentry, but again, back living at Fishtown. Just so you know, we're not all social defectives down in Fishtown; statistical facts are not descriptive of every individual in a community. I feel quite defensive because my feelings are hurt. Yes, the Fishtowners are resilient like Filipinos battered by a hurricane, or those old Black slaves who could take a beating, but still pick cotton, but we're human and have feelings.

    Let me tell you a bit about Fishtown. It looks like a backwater, and maybe it is, but throughout this community are businesses that are part of the global supply chain, part of the global capitalist system, and they are taking advantage of us. They are enjoying nice, fat profit margins not only at the top, but down here in the dingy factories, chain stores, and fast food restaurants of Fishtown. How about we pressure these businesses to pay more?

    Working at a donut shop operated by a Fishtowner may never amount to much, and never pay much more than minimum wage, but when you work for one of the global transnationals, it should come with better pay. Of course, they won't just give up the money – that's not part of the business model at this time. You need to have some unions and some strikes, and some general threat of unrest, or actual unrest.

    There are a lot of “poverty pimps” operating out of Fishtown, and they like to hire Fishtown's best and brightest for their nonprofit, foundation funded, quasi-charities. Why don't they pay more than $12 an hour? Why do they keep using unpaid interns? The foundations that fund these nonprofits have billions of dollars in assets. They're helping alleviate the conditions of poverty here, but also help perpetuate some of that very same poverty! Maybe we should have collected more taxes from them in the first place.

    Why go to college, if all you get out of it is just a couple dollars more per hour? Why go to work and work hard, if you make minimum wage or maybe a couple collars more? You need concrete reasons for hoping things will get better, and occasional proof that hard work pays off.

    No amount of Belmontian proselytizing about delayed gratification and finding the right marriage and education is going to work if the material conditions promised by these behaviors can't be achieved. You end up convincing toilers to attend night school for a decade to get their BA, delaying having a relationship and having children. They find themselves in a weird dating pool, hoping they find someone in a similar situation, one of the 10% of the middle aged working class clawing their way out to the middle class.

    1. "Why go to college, if all you get out of it is just a couple dollars more per hour? Why go to work and work hard, if you make minimum wage or maybe a couple collars more? You need concrete reasons for hoping things will get better, and occasional proof that hard work pays off."

      That colleg thing is a biggie - the bump is limited, the risk is high, the cost is high and skyrocketing. And if you don't make it through, the rewards are minimal - two years of college can result in the same wages, but several thousand dollars of debt.

    2. Nathanael11:00 PM

      As one of the true scholar-gentry, I agree with your analysis 100%, Anonymous.

      I've also been pushing this little fact which I learned by studying ancient Egypt. People will tolerate an elite group of overlords up to a point, but there comes a breaking point. The overlords have to provide for the underclass *enough* In Egypt, it was defined very clearly: the Pharoah provided a guarantee of jobs and a guarantee of food to *everyone*. If he failed, the Phaorah was *overthrown*, usually *extremely* quickly.

      The part in the Bible where Joseph is advising Pharoah is more resonant if you realize this. The Pharoah's job was managing the harvests. If he screwed up, he'd be whacked by someone else, with the support of the masses.

      Many of the 99% in the US are tolerating worse abuse from the 1%, overall, than any the 99% in ancient Egypt did. I'm not sure why -- perhaps because the proportion of people in the US who are actually hungry is just too low to cause revolution.

      It's time for serious threats of the guillotine. And I say this as one of the gentry. Because if we continue having the sort of idiots who keep cutting food stamps in power, it won't be mere threats of the guillotine, it will be the guillotine for everyone including me, not just for the most guilty.

  38. Personally I suspect that the wealthy were nice to the middle class from 1945 to 1970 because there were a couple of million American veterans wondering around who had been trained to kill and risked their lives for the country in 1941 to 1945. Better to pay 80% marginal tax rates than to risk being dragged from your bed and murdered by a mob of unemployed men experienced in killing. As the threat from Communism receded, the wealthy put the screws to the working class and to the middle class helped along by useful idiots in economics departments around the country.

  39. jerseycityjoan6:35 PM

    Let me throw another voice in here on this topic. David Simon of "The Wire" spoke about American turning into two nations, divided, and there were excepts at the Guardian. It was very odd reading the Guardian article yesterday and then just a few hours later to see the topic discussed again, in a different way. But I was glad to see that this very important concern is being discussed.

    We should do all we can to reunite what has been split apart.

    "The creator of The Wire, David Simon, delivered an impromptu speech about the divide between rich and poor in America at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney, and how capitalism has lost sight of its social compact."


    "I'm utterly committed to the idea that capitalism has to be the way we generate mass wealth in the coming century. That argument's over. But the idea that it's not going to be married to a social compact, that how you distribute the benefits of capitalism isn't going to include everyone in the society to a reasonable extent, that's astonishing to me.

    And so capitalism is about to seize defeat from the jaws of victory all by its own hand. That's the astonishing end of this story, unless we reverse course. Unless we take into consideration, if not the remedies of Marx then the diagnosis, because he saw what would happen if capital triumphed unequivocally, if it got everything it wanted.

    And one of the things that capital would want unequivocally and for certain is the diminishment of labour. They would want labour to be diminished because labour's a cost. And if labour is diminished, let's translate that: in human terms, it means human beings are worth less.

    From this moment forward unless we reverse course, the average human being is worth less on planet Earth. Unless we take stock of the fact that maybe socialism and the socialist impulse has to be addressed again; it has to be married as it was married in the 1930s, the 1940s and even into the 1950s, to the engine that is capitalism.

    Mistaking capitalism for a blueprint as to how to build a society strikes me as a really dangerous idea in a bad way. Capitalism is a remarkable engine again for producing wealth. It's a great tool to have in your toolbox if you're trying to build a society and have that society advance. You wouldn't want to go forward at this point without it. But it's not a blueprint for how to build the just society. There are other metrics besides that quarterly profit report."


    1. jerseycityjoan6:57 PM

      I went back to the Simon article and saw this, which is so important I must add it here:

      ... "From the depths of that depression a social compact was made between worker, between labour and capital that actually allowed people to have some hope.

      We're either going to do that in some practical way when things get bad enough or we're going to keep going the way we're going, at which point there's going to be enough people standing on the outside of this mess that somebody's going to pick up a brick, because you know when people get to the end there's always the brick. I hope we go for the first option but I'm losing faith."

      Everybody seems to think that things will just keep going like they are, slowly getting worse. No. David Simons reminds us that eventually people pick up a brick.

      It could happen here. We are not immune. This is truly a vital issue for our times. We ignore it at our peril.

  40. jerseycityjoan6:48 PM

    We still have a middle. But if we continue to rob that middle of what it needs to survive, eventually it will disappear.

    My own perception is that there has been a vast disengagement from America on the part of our elites.

    The elite of America have shifted their interests, focus and loyalties away from America and to their fellow elites around the rest of the world.

    Your description above of the "aristocrats" in many ways reinforces my view of this.

    However, I do not think the elites doing so well as you. While they are doing well financially, they spend too much time on work and money. There is not enough time devoted to family and friends.

    They see other Americans who are not chasing the same things as they are, for as many hours a day, as lazy.

    No, their fellow Americans are trying to live the "American way of life" of their parents and grandparents.

    Our American ancestors worked long and hard to achieve the "American way of life" that blossomed in the post WWII era. It is something great and worth trying to hold on to. It is certainly nothing to be despised.

  41. Nathanael10:43 PM

    "To be honest, I have no idea what will do the trick"

    Give the underclasses some fucking money. Or if you prefer, give them free health care, free education, free food, and free housing, which is much the same thing.

    You vastly underestimate the degree to which the problems of "Fishtown" are caused strictly by lack of money. I could run down the details in each case (overweight, undereducated, family strife) but you're a smart man, you can Google 'em yourself. Suffice it to say that they are pretty much ALL caused by a lack of money.

    Other causes include a lack of satisfying jobs, which is related to a lack of well paying jobs, -- which is related to a lack of money. Other causes include environmental toxins -- which is also related to a lack of money. Other causes include lack of education -- which is related to enivronmental toxins, *and* to a lack of money.

    1. Yes, exactly! Your comments, and Serlin's, and Anonymous's, and Mausa's, are all exactly right. It is very unfortunate that Noah is falling into the kind of BS moralizing sociology that I associate with worms like Murray and David Brooks.

  42. We need two new policies:
    a) massive part time jobs in gov't, for all who make over 2x median income (about $100k or more) -- their current full time jobs should be replaced by half-time jobs. 2 half time $50k workers are better than 1 full-time $100k worker.
    b) voluntary national service, to be half-time office work apprentice and half time remedial schooling/ training for normal private jobs.

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  44. "Murray correctly identifies education as the key thing separating the aristocrats from the peasants."

    Educated brains would be more accurate. Without good brains you can't get very educated. What America needs is more vocational training like they do in Germany. In my opinion.

  45. An immigration moratorium and protectionism against China would be steps in the right direction. And if we could figure out how the raise the money without killing the goose, an expansion of the earned income tax credit or something like it. Also new statutory limits on the length of the working day (six hour day with double pay for overtime) would raise real hourly wages and would be good for working families who need more time with their kids.

  46. Anonymous10:20 PM

    "Social equality" in and of itself is a meaningless term.

    Being near the bottom of the scale in Hong Kong is still infinitely better than being near the top in Somalia.

    Also there's that pesky universal truth that ownership breeds efficiency. In other words, with the arguable exception of antitrust-type refereeing, the more license government takes in managing private enterprise, the less efficient it becomes.

    Bottom line, liberalism in every sphere is nothing more than sanctimonious rhetoric aimed at giving government more power. Four types of people support it:
    -elites who are status signaling
    -bleeding heart useful idiots (who also often aspire to be elites)
    -dregs who want handouts; and
    -Stalin-types who couldn't give a damn about ideology but merely want to use the structure of power once they get it to crush everyone else beneath them.

    I fancy you to be of the second variety, with possibly a touch of the fourth.

    1. Anonymous12:50 AM

      What an ignorant person you are, Anonymouse.

      "Ownership" is merely another form of power -- and CEOs of giant bureacratic corporations are mostly Stalin types, royalists, would-be Emperors. Right-wingers today fall into two types:
      (1) Stalin types;
      (2) Useful idiots. You are the latter.

      I'm all for the homestead and the sole proprietor, but that's not the form of "ownership" we have in the vast majority of society.

      Liberals are everyone else: people who would like to break the power of the would-be Emperors. Nothing more, nothing less. It's a large coalition. Those opposed to liberalism "from the right" are, as I said before, of two types: those who would be emperors themselves, and those who are the willing slaves of said emperors, the useful idiots