The Cultural Divide Explains the Economic One

Saturday’s Wall Street Journal had an interesting piece about “The New American Divide“:

People are starting to notice the great divide. The tea party sees the aloofness in a political elite that thinks it knows best and orders the rest of America to fall in line. The Occupy movement sees it in an economic elite that lives in mansions and flies on private jets. Each is right about an aspect of the problem, but that problem is more pervasive than either political or economic inequality. What we now face is a problem of cultural inequality.
When Americans used to brag about “the American way of life”—a phrase still in common use in 1960—they were talking about a civic culture that swept an extremely large proportion of Americans of all classes into its embrace. It was a culture encompassing shared experiences of daily life and shared assumptions about central American values involving marriage, honesty, hard work and religiosity.
Over the past 50 years, that common civic culture has unraveled. We have developed a new upper class with advanced educations, often obtained at elite schools, sharing tastes and preferences that set them apart from mainstream America. At the same time, we have developed a new lower class, characterized not by poverty but by withdrawal from America’s core cultural institutions.

A companion piece illustrates this divide with a number of charts.

The piece goes into great detail about how we got here, but sets that aside as so much water under the bridge now. Instead, the focus is on a prescription for shrinking the gap. It’s not a massive, structured plan. Instead, it centers on changing attitudes.

There remains a core of civic virtue and involvement in working-class America that could make headway against its problems if the people who are trying to do the right things get the reinforcement they need—not in the form of government assistance, but in validation of the values and standards they continue to uphold. The best thing that the new upper class can do to provide that reinforcement is to drop its condescending “nonjudgmentalism.” Married, educated people who work hard and conscientiously raise their kids shouldn’t hesitate to voice their disapproval of those who defy these norms. When it comes to marriage and the work ethic, the new upper class must start preaching what it practices….America outside the enclaves of the new upper class is still a wonderful place, filled with smart, interesting, entertaining people. If you’re not part of that America, you’ve stripped yourself of much of what makes being American special.
Such priorities can be expressed in any number of familiar decisions: the neighborhood where you buy your next home, the next school that you choose for your children, what you tell them about the value and virtues of physical labor and military service, whether you become an active member of a religious congregation (and what kind you choose) and whether you become involved in the life of your community at a more meaningful level than charity events.
Everyone in the new upper class has the monetary resources to make a wide variety of decisions that determine whether they engage themselves and their children in the rest of America or whether they isolate themselves from it. The only question is which they prefer to do.

I wonder if it’s too late.
ADDENDUM: I had this piece by Michael Gerson filed in my “to do bin”. It’s related:

Conservatives naturally focus on equal opportunity rather than on equal outcomes. But equality of opportunity is a more radical concept than we generally concede. It is not a natural state; it is a social and political achievement. It depends on healthy families and cohesive communities. But opportunity also depends on effective government — on public safety, public education and public health. Governmental overreach can undermine other important social institutions. Yet the retreat of government does not automatically restore them to health.
Liberals often fail to recognize that income redistribution, while preventing penury, is not identical to social equality. The main challenge of poverty is not a lack of consumption but a lack of social capital — measured in skills and values — and of opportunity. Addressing these problems is more complex than increasing marginal tax rates, particularly when revenue is used to cover the increasing costs of non-means-tested entitlement programs. The structure of the modern welfare state is not focused on empowering the poor. Instead, it has increased the percentage of government transfer payments that go to middle- and upper-income seniors.
On all sides, the poverty debate can be paralyzed by an obsession with fundamental causes. A failing community is a puzzle box of interconnected failures. Globalization and technology put downward pressure on wages and lead to stagnant labor markets. Permissive cultural norms encourage family breakdown and self-destructive behavior. Complaining about the rise of China or the decline of morality can be satisfying. But cosmic explanations can be obstacles to action.

Read all of it. For a more local view (both in problems and potential ideas, read this post (and the discussion) by “Frymaster” over at the resuscitated RI Future.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
32 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Russ
Russ
9 years ago

It’s frankly amazing to see this kind of thing. It’s basically a call to restore the traditional and patriarchal bligations of the gentry, thrown off in this country 200 years ago.
Recommended reading “The Radicalism of the American Revolution”.
books.google.com/books?id=6lGinKwz7l8C&lpg=PA68&ots=zym_Btm7ex&dq=obligations%20gentry%20the%20radicalism%20of%20the%20american%20revolution&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false

Everyone in the new upper class has the monetary resources to make a wide variety of decisions that determine whether they engage themselves and their children in the rest of America or whether they isolate themselves from it.

Yes, perhaps you should have your footmen prepare a morning carriage ride in the park to set an example for the commoners.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

Ah, from the American Enterprise Institute. Explains a lot. btw, you left out Murray’s belief that the divide is best explained as the smart people separating themselves from the dumb ones (that means you and me btw).
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bell_Curve

Sammy in Arizona
Sammy in Arizona
9 years ago

Give “trickle down” economics a chance, we’ve only tried it for 40 years

Marc
Marc
9 years ago

Yup, that’s me. A patriarch.

Marc
Marc
9 years ago

Incidentally, I have read Wood’s book (and several others from Bailyn, Maier, Appleby, Rakove etc). I’d hardly say that such a simple citation of a dense and important work on the AmRev supports your by-now expected non sequitur alluding to class warfare, etc. Nor does your ad hominem dismissal of Murray simply because of his “Bell Curve” or association with AEI. It goes a lot deeper than that. But why do more than scratch the surface, right? It’s just easier to troll on by….

mangeek
mangeek
9 years ago

“…shouldn’t hesitate to voice their disapproval of those who defy these norms”
Why is this necessary? Let people live the way they want. Maybe traditional institutions and 1950s ideas about what a family is aren’t what’s best in a stagnating, globalizing economy.
America is clearly not going to be the dominant world economy in twenty years. We shouldn’t stuff our heads in the sand and pretend that if everyone got married and stopped looking at porn, we’d get back on top. We need to break out of traditions and try some New Stuff (or some Old Stuff, depending on how you look at it).

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“I’d hardly say that such a simple citation of a dense and important work on the AmRev supports your by-now expected non sequitur alluding to class warfare, etc.”
Well, since you’ve read the book you know I’m right about that and that Wood described that relationship as “patriarchy”. The comparison to the views of the gentry in the 18th century wasn’t something I thought was controversial.
Notably you’re the one that brought up the non sequitur of class warfare. I was talking about Social Darwinism, hardly a non sequitur. I could have also question the racist implications of the book…
http://www.dartmouth.edu/~chance/course/topics/curveball.html

The Bell Curve, with its claims and supposed documentation that race and class differences are largely cause by genetic factors and are therefore essentially immutable, contains no new arguments and presents no compelling data to support its anachronistic social Darwinism, so I can only conclude that its success in winning attention must reflect the depressing temper of our time—a historical moment of unprecedented ungenerosity, when a mood for slashing social programs can be powerfully abetted by an argument that beneficiaries cannot be helped, owing to inborn cognitive limits expressed as low IQ scores.

Marc
Marc
9 years ago

Mangeek, I don’t take it to mean the same way as you do. Can we disagree about what defines “marriage” or whether easy access to porn is appropriate? Sure. But it seems to me the emphasis here is that you should graduate from high school (at least), get a job, get married, have kids (in that order). Murray points to stats that show, essentially, it works. Sometimes things are “traditional” because they’ve proven successful over time. Again, maybe things can be tweaked as we “progress”, but there are still some fundamentals that we’ve drifted away from as we become more insulated from each other. (“Bowling Alone” comes to mind as another work that touched on these same issues).

Marc
Marc
9 years ago

Russ, still non sequiturs. I didn’t put up this post to delve into a Revolution era definition of patriarchy and whether or not it applies to our contemporary age. Nor is it to rehash a debate over a few decades old book by Murray. It’s about his idea as to whether we should (or can) get all levels of a community to buy back into a common (lets say basic) civic culture. Plenty of room for argument (as Mangeek shows), but, as usual, you’ve decided to charge headlong into the ancillaries.

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

“America is clearly not going to be the dominant world economy in twenty years.”
Not to pick on you for a bit of rhetoric, mangeek, especially when I agree with your main point, but how can anyone *possibly* claim to know which country will have the “dominant” economy in twenty years? I wouldn’t even be comfortable predicting which economies will be thriving 5 years from now. These kinds of long-term economic forecasts prove totally inaccurate again and again.
On Frymaster’s post, people are free to go over and read my comments in depth, but I will make one additional point here: I was disheartened that the commenters, progressive and conservative alike, spent all of their time nitpicking which of his investment ideas were “good ideas” and which ones were “bad ideas.” The main point I tried to get across was that all of his ideas amount to central economic planning by enlightened progressive “policy experts” (he likes to call himself a “wonk”) and it is fundamentally impossible to know ex ante whether those ideas are good or not. Top-down government investment in “hot” or “common sense” areas of the local economy according to the whims and estimations of central planners is a fundamentally unreliable and counterproductive method for managing any economy. Decentralized laissez faire market economies have been the only reliable means for creating real wealth throughout human history. Neoliberal redistribution of wealth after creation, as is done with some success in certain European countries, is a separate but also interesting topic, but it doesn’t really affect the all-important point that economies can be managed but not directed.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

Call them what you like then. I still say that Murray is simply rehashing a tired argument without some of the more racist overtones of his previous work and that I accurately described this premise as a call to return to the days of noblesse oblige.
Sorry if that wasn’t what you wanted to debate (I suppose if I were you, I wouldn’t want anyone pointing those things out either).

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

What’s interesting here as well is that no one mentions the inherent elitism in the article. The argument is as follows: the wealthy are more virtuous than the poor and must engage more with society to uplift the masses. I mean if a liberal suggested that you folks would be foaming at the mouth.

The best thing that the new upper class can do to provide that reinforcement is to drop its condescending “nonjudgmentalism.” Married, educated people who work hard and conscientiously raise their kids shouldn’t hesitate to voice their disapproval of those who defy these norms. When it comes to marriage and the work ethic, the new upper class must start preaching what it practices.

If that’s not elitism, I don’t know what is.
Oh, and btw, the article you link to begins with the “non sequitur” comparison to the gentry of the early republic:

“The more opulent citizens take great care not to stand aloof from the people,” wrote Alexis de Tocqueville, the great chronicler of American democracy, in the 1830s. “On the contrary, they constantly keep on easy terms with the lower classes: They listen to them, they speak to them every day.”

Tommy Cranston
Tommy Cranston
9 years ago

Spengler laid it all out decades ago. The West is in permanent decline. Can’t defend its own borders; can’t condemn unnatural and disease spreading perverse sex; can’t live within its means; can’t have the slightest pride in its racial stock, tradition or culture and can’t even muster the 2.1 fertility rate needed to “break even” in population.

OldTimeLefty
9 years ago

Dan says:“Decentralized laissez faire market economies have been the only reliable means for creating real wealth throughout human history.”
He might want to rethink this after he researches Lycurgus and Sparta. Good source is Plutarch’s “Lives”. Sparta was as far from a free market economy as possible and was the preeminent power in the Peloponnese for 500 years.

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

OTL – I said “creating” wealth, not “acquiring” wealth through military conquest. Libertarians and most other civilized persons are generally against that sort of thing. Unless you want to turn Rhode Island into a militarized city-state, I think a market economy might be a better choice.

David S
David S
9 years ago

“In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families,close-nit communities,and our faith in God,too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.” Take a guess who said this.

Sammy in Arizona
Sammy in Arizona
9 years ago

Tommy Cranston
It is well documented in both psychiatry and in LGBT circles that extreme homophobia is driven by a sexual need unacknowledged by the person. Most folks who are truly hetero are not so driven by such hate
Tommy Cranston is an extreme example of this dynamic. In other words, watch out for people like Tommy. Their sickness can infect a whole country

Tommy Cranston
Tommy Cranston
9 years ago

Hey Sammy-since you and your “Quack Quack” chorus are so obsessed with racists and conservative Christians, does that mean you are all racists and Christians deep down? Maybe even xenophobes and homophobes?
LOL
Spengler said it all 9 decades ago in “Decline Of The West”-the West is in the “Winter of its existence”. In healthy, growing societies creatures like Phil, OTL, Sammy and the rest are either marginalized or liquidated.
Here they get government jobs and control both mainstream media and the culture.

OldTimeLefty
9 years ago

Dan, Go back to your text books. Sparta was not an expansionist society and it never sought wealth. Displays of wealth were considered vulgar – no great buildings, homes or monuments. Sparta was built to be defensive, and wars were very carefully considered before they were undertaken. Quotes from Plutarch on Sparta and Spartans: It was not allowed them to go abroad, so that they should have nothing to do with foreign ways and undisciplined modes of living. Hardly the way to establish an empire – my addition. As to trade: The selling of anything was not permitted; but it was their custom to use the neighbours’ servants as their own if they needed them and also their dogs and horses, unless the owners required them for their own use. And in the country, if anyone found himself lacking anything and had need of it, he would open an owner’s storehouse and take away enough to meet his need, and then replace the seals and leave it. As to money: … there was no need whatever of making money, which involves a toilsome accumulation, nor of busy activity, because of Lycurgas having made wealth wholly unenvied and unhonoured. Lycurgus intended to remove any inequalities in ownership of personal property as well as real property, but he realized that it would be too difficult to proceed openly. Therefore, he took an indirect approach. His solution was to ban ownership of any gold or silver, and to allow only money made of iron. The iron coins of Sparta were dipped in vinegar to make the metal brittle and worthless. Merchants laughed at this money because it had no intrinsic value, so imports of luxuries stopped. Robbery and bribery vanished from Sparta instantly. Finally: All useless occupations were banned in Sparta. This law… Read more »

OldTimeLefty
9 years ago

Dan, Go back to your text books. Sparta was not an expansionist society and it never sought wealth. Displays of wealth were considered vulgar – no great buildings, homes or monuments. Sparta was built to be defensive, and wars were very carefully considered before they were undertaken. Quotes from Plutarch on Sparta and Spartans: It was not allowed them to go abroad, so that they should have nothing to do with foreign ways and undisciplined modes of living. Hardly the way to establish an empire – my addition. As to trade: The selling of anything was not permitted; but it was their custom to use the neighbours’ servants as their own if they needed them and also their dogs and horses, unless the owners required them for their own use. And in the country, if anyone found himself lacking anything and had need of it, he would open an owner’s storehouse and take away enough to meet his need, and then replace the seals and leave it. As to money: … there was no need whatever of making money, which involves a toilsome accumulation, nor of busy activity, because of Lycurgas having made wealth wholly unenvied and unhonoured. Lycurgus intended to remove any inequalities in ownership of personal property as well as real property, but he realized that it would be too difficult to proceed openly. Therefore, he took an indirect approach. His solution was to ban ownership of any gold or silver, and to allow only money made of iron. The iron coins of Sparta were dipped in vinegar to make the metal brittle and worthless. Merchants laughed at this money because it had no intrinsic value, so imports of luxuries stopped. Robbery and bribery vanished from Sparta instantly. Finally: All useless occupations were banned in Sparta. This law… Read more »

OldTimeLefty
9 years ago

Sorry for double posting. One will do.
OTL

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

Ok – you’re right, OTL. Sparta was the most militarily powerful city-state 2500 years ago, which translates to “creating wealth” somehow… even though they didn’t believe in it… therefore Rhode Island should centrally plan its economy. Ironclad logic.
Enjoy being right and living in a perpetually depressed hellhole for the rest of your life. I’ll take my ignorance to the bank and continue to enjoy a high standard of living and low taxes in the #1 state for business.

Phil
Phil
9 years ago

What else has changed between 1960 and 2008? Loss of manufacturing jobs in that time period has effected the stability of entire regions. Loss of high paying union protected jobs has destabilized the working class who now borrows more and saves less. The gap between the wealthy and the working has steadily increased over this time period.
Political professionals of the right are loath to engage in what quickly gets called class warfare but jump at every chance to expand and control the so called culture wars. Christmas trees and prayer banners are the topics of choice rather than the discussion of how did we get to the place where we are now as working class people from 50 years ago when one paycheck was all that was needed to support a family.

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

“[H]ow did we get to the place where we are now as working class people from 50 years ago when one paycheck was all that was needed to support a family.”
Working class people 50 years ago didn’t have 3 cars, large houses, high speed internet access, 42″ flatscreen televisions with hundreds of channels, central air conditioning, 2-3 kids in graduate school, organic gluten-free soy milk with added Omega 3’s, advanced medical care, and iPhone 4’s with unlimited data plans either. We work harder today but we have a lot more too. Anyone who wants to give up all of the above can easily return to that 1962 standard of living on a single paycheck. Probably half a paycheck. Oh, but the “gap” has widened, so progressives still aren’t happy unless everyone is equally poor. Rhode Island is quickly approaching that progressive brand of income equality, so stay put and you’ll get your wish, Phil.

OldTimeLefty
9 years ago

Dan,
1. Such vituperation. I find it difficult to believe that anyone expressing so much anger simply for being called out on an historical mistake is a happy or contented person.
2. You seem to be looking for happiness in an accumulation of possessions. It won’t be found there.

Reminds me of a folk tale of the rascally middle East folk figure, Mullah Nasrudin – A friend found the Mullah on the sidewalk on his hands and knees obviously searching for something. He asked the Mullah what he was doing and Nasrudin replied that he was looking for his lost keys. After a futile search, the friend finally asked Nasrudin exactly where it was that he lost the keys. “In the basement”, answered Nasrudin. Exasperated, the friend asked why he was searching on the sidewalk and the mullah answered that the light was better outside.

3. You, at least backed off from your absurd statement that “Decentralized laissez faire market economies have been the only reliable means for creating real wealth throughout human history.” Kudos to your for the recant.
OldTimeLefty

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

OTL
1. I can assure you that I am not emotionally affected by your comments here, with the possible exceptions of alternating mild amusement and pity.
2. You seem to be confusing appreciation of the ability to determine my own future and set my own priorities with a frenzied hoarding of meaningless possessions. A quick glance inside of my home would correct that faulty assumption.
3. I stand by my original statement. Your example of Sparta as a dominant military power thousands of years ago proves nothing. The road to wealth has always, and always will be, free trade.

OldTimeLefty
9 years ago

Dan, you say, “The road to wealth has always, and always will be, free trade”, and ignore one example (without denying its veracity) presented which contradicts it.
This is why you are Doctrinaire Dan, you cannot escape your own narrow view of the world, and stuff everything into it, regardless of fit.
Sorry if you think my comments are intended to upset you emotionally; but that is you, not me. Hell, I’m trying to calm you down. You seem to be walking around with your ganglia exposed.
OldTimeLefty

OldTimeLefty
9 years ago

Dan,
Your reply to Philip attempts to explain our current mess in terms of consumerism. You say, “We work harder today but we have a lot more too”. Along with all the stuff we also have a lot more unemployment, a lot more poverty, a lot more poor, a lot more home foreclosures, a lot more of our people uninsured, a lot more homeless. All you seem to see is an increase in the amount of things we can buy, and incidentally, the stuff we buy isn’t even made here as our job creating capitalists move their capital ventures overseas. The gap has indeed widened to 99% vs. 1%, but the nonsense that “progressives” (to use one of your handy-dandy meaningless labels) want everybody “equally poor” is entirely your own fabrication. That is why you are Doctrinaire Dan, you cannot escape your own narrow view of the world, and stuff everything into it, regardless of fit.

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

OTL – Your comments hardly merit a response, but I will do so as an educational charity. I don’t deny the “veracity” of your lone example, but I do question its applicability. I spoke of means of creating of wealth and you pointed to a militarist society that created very little. This is an indication that you fail to understand the specific point I am trying to make about wealth creation. I am not speaking about “power,” which was the focus of your anecdote.
We arguably have more “poor” today because of the recession, but the “poor” we do have enjoy a far higher standard of living in objective terms than the “poor” of 50 years ago. You, as a true doctrinaire, ignore this well-established fact and focus exclusively on an arbitrarily recorded gap between percentages of the population to stir up class rage and envy. This is, however, completely irrelevant to objective standards of living. I wasn’t just talking about “consumerism” either. I specifically mentioned medical care, physical comfort, and information and communication services that genuinely improve our lives as a result of capitalist innovation. Only an addled Marxist mind could misinterpret the mention of increased living standards as advocacy of “hoarding possessions.” You should be happy to learn that I own exactly 0 cars, don’t watch television, and live quite modestly overall.

OldTimeLefty
9 years ago

I tried Dan, but your ignorance is invincible.
So you don’t own a car. I suppose that you travel exclusively by foot, or taxi or limousine, eschewing public transportation which is, after all, financed publicly. Are you wasting our tax dollars by riding on government subsidized transportation?
OldTimeLefty

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

OTL – I mostly walk and carpool with others. Sometimes I use public transportation – I forgot that libertarians are hypocrites for using services they are forced to pay for. Anyone who believes in getting a return for something they paid for must be a socialist.

OldTimeLefty
9 years ago

Dan,
You might consider self-immolation as a personal solution
OTL

Show your support for Anchor Rising with a 25-cent-per-day subscription.