Friday, April 29, 2016

Bubble Quiz

Update:  bsking correctly notes that the bubble of a zip code is based on where they lived when they were at age 10, not where they are now.  I knew that but promptly forgot it, and it changes the discussion below.

Charles Murray's "Bubble Quiz" has resurfaced with updates and perhaps improvements by PBS "News Hour." The current links to the new one at don't seem to be working at present so I will leave that off. Hopefully you have either taken the test or seen something about it in order to understand the type of questions being asked and what they imply. For openers, the lower your score, the less in touch with mainstream white America you are. Why Murray focuses on the bubbles of white elites he explains in his first commentary over at the American Enterprise Institute. Short version: He is not worried about the cultural difference of a gal in Wyoming scoring a 35 and a guy in South Carolina scoring a 65. He is worried about the effects of an overwhelmingly white elite that scores on very few of the items - they live in an increasingly separate world. They are not only culturally isolated from African-Americans*, Hispanics, and (most) immigrants, they are isolated (and insulated) from most other white people, and the distance is growing. He has a series over at AEI:
Lessons: 2
Lessons: 3
Lessons: 4

Take some time to at least browse those, as it his further exploration of the numbers. Looking at which zip codes are most insulated from the rest of us in Lessons: 2 was fun. I did note that the Massachusetts zips that scored lowest have historically been more (though none majority) Jewish, and wondered if that had bent the numbers any. I was a little surprised how few areas outside the five predictable cities made the cut. All the other cities had one or at most two bubble areas, even though those metro areas also have some wealthy suburbs.  Pittsburgh, Tampa, Minneapolis, St. Louis and other big cities had zero. I speculate there is some anti-bubble effect in simply living closer to mainstream America.

It's Lessons: 3  that I want to make a short observation about. The first graph is rather alarming, leaping up well above the 95th percentile, indicating that there is indeed a self-perpetuating 1%. Occupy Wall Street could only focus on the money per person because...well, there are a lot of becauses, and that's probably worth a post in itself. But the issue seems to be broader, and one that conservatives should be as concerned about as marxists. It's not just rich neighborhoods, but entire communities with self-reinforcing cultures.  It's more than the 1% of people who had highest incomes in any given year, because those can be volatile.  It's 2% of the communities, each of which has a range of incomes itself. Some of that is going to be old money that is no longer in the 1%, or families who have been in the 5% for a decade, whose children are growing up in a bubble. It is not only a 1% of wealth, but of authority and influence. Most liberals and all conspiracists would believe those are virtually identical and the latter follows from the former, but the overlap is not as great as imagined.  There are plenty of people who have become wealthy who have little influence, except of course over their own business and perhaps over a corner of their industry. There is a great deal of difference between the power to do what you want  and the power to make other people do what you want.

So the OWS people weren't so much wrong as misdirected.  It might help if you are talking to any of them to remember that.

*It's a whole separate study, but I wonder if black and Hispanic elites are similarly isolated from mainstream blacks and Hispanics.  I'm betting not. Good on them.

1 comment:

Texan99 said...

While we hadn't much money when I was growing up, it was a bubble of sorts: nearly everyone I met lived in a stable home, very little divorce, no parents who got drunk and lost their jobs or got thrown in jail or embroiled the family in constant chaos. If no one was taking expensive vacations, they also weren't missing their mortgage payments. College was an obvious choice for everyone. The idea of not finding some kind of work was unthinkable, no matter what the economy was doing.