Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Cultural Gap Link

Yuval Levin has commentary on Charles Murray's new book Coming Apart and the general topics behind it.  His view is that the formation of the New Lower Class and the New Upper Class are not that strongly related.  In his view, the former is simply falling apart, and the latter has little effect on that. 

Many of the other critics of Murray's book make the claim that wage stagnation and loss of good jobs for lower-middle and middle-class workers has driven the collapse of family formation in Fishtown, not some moral deterioration that we should tsk-tsk at.  Sometimes this job loss is presented as the result of bad economic policies left or right, sometimes as fairly inevitable given the world economy.  Steve Sailer would note that everyone is ignoring the effect of immigration, especially illegal immigration, in creating this.

I do think it is likely that the technical advances since 1960, plus the addition of women to the paid workforce, should have made Americans fabulously more wealthy, but we have squandered it and learned bad habits.  Now that we can afford to divorce, we've done lots of it, and "family" income now supports two dwellings.  We have been able to afford college majors - perhaps even the education itself - that does not produce anything of job value, so we've done that too; a lot of talent has gone into areas of refinement, or knowledge for its own sake, or enjoyment - all of which used to be available mostly to the sons of the independently wealthy.  In a constantly growing economy, there was always a way to use that knowledge.  We can now afford to entertain ourselves lavishly, and boy have we ever.  The new normal for how much choice and fun we think we should have has taken over enormous chunks of our economy.

I have opinions on all that, which I leave off for the moment in order to talk about family formation, as that is nearer to the parenting topic I have been pondering more lately.

The simplest fact is that the world has changed and is changing.  Some have the skills and attitudes the era calls for, others have to scramble.  The rules have changed.  It is now more imperative that couples remain married - which makes this data from The Witherspoon Institute troubling.  I am not encouraged that young people still endorse the idea of getting married if they don't know what that means.  It is more important to live modestly and delay gratification, because volatile economies, even if they generally reward you, are going to have scary times.

The Virginia Postrels of the world believe that new jobs will keep being added, because they always have. It's not a bad argument, but I am reminded of the opening of Taleb's The Black Swan, in which some Lebanese were certain that their battles and upheavals are temporary and everything will go back to normal - because it had for a thousand years.

Hmm.  I should see what Taleb is up to lately...

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