Dave Schuler has a couple of posts up, responding to a Charles Murray op-ed. I recommend reading both and the ensuing discussions (In fact, I recommend reading Schuler regularly – a good, independent voice on current events.)
The SuperZIPs one is interesting, but not exactly on the forefront of what we need to be talking about. Most Americans don’t need to know what it takes to get into the top 1% (they may be Catholic, but I suspect converting to Catholicism won’t help you or me). Rather, they need to know what to do in order to get into the “continually employed and making a good living wage” percent. As a good handmaiden of the superwealthy, I suppose, I think too much time and effort is spent looking at how well the other One Percent has it. In part, because I am not sure what all we can do about it. More selfishly, because I fear that the ways in which they may be targeted will actually boomarang onto families like mine. It’s not unlike the NCAA football joke, “The NCAA rules committee got so mad at the University of Miami that they gave Miami-Ohio the death penalty.” It might be fair to see what we can extract from the upper echelon, but in order to make real progress we are going to have to redefine wealthy down by a pretty significant degree. Even a lot of people on Wall Street (who caused the economic apocalypse, destroyed the economy, or whatever) aren’t actually in the 1%. But most importantly, I fear that attempts to prevent them from accumulating that wealth will result in laws that they will be able to accountant their way out of while my wife and I take the hit. I don’t see an easy way to do this, and I fear a lot of the simplistic language.
I take issue with, or have questions about, a couple of Schuler’s comments in his second piece. For instance:
“The Pill” gave women more control over their own reproduction. It rendered unwanted pregnancies less likely. The legalizing and subsequent acceptability of abortion was one of the factors that meant that when a man impregnated a woman marriage was not the inevitable outcome.
I could write a post on this, but on what metric should we make this determination? Comparing then and now, the number of children born to unsustainable families does not appear to be dramatically lower. Illegitimacy rates are not down (they may be down in the last twenty years, but we’re going back further than that). People are still having families that they cannot afford. I would argue that the the pill has been something of a mixed bag. People like my wife and I, who can use contraception effectively, afford to use it every time, and are conscientious about it, have benefited tremendously. Meanwhile, people that are error-prone, have difficulty with consistency, or cannot easily afford contraception, the pill has ushered in a sexual revolution that they are ill-equipped to deal protect themselves against the ramifications of.
The second area of disagreement is this:
Our educational system is geographically based. When you combine geographical isolation of people with differing backgrounds (something that has not always been the case), the increasing importance of formal education as agriculture and then manufacturing became less important, assortative mating is at least as good an explanation for what we’ve seen over the last couple of decades as Dr. Murray’s federal government policy social policy is.
Mickey Kaus touched on assortive mating in his book. It used to be that doctors married nurses but now doctors marry doctors (or engineers). I would submit, though, that the nurses that doctors used to marry were not randomly selected. Rather, they were more likely to be nurses from good families. I’m not saying that two incomes (which is more Kaus’s point than Schuler’s) or economic stratification haven’t made a difference, but rather that it’s probably less than meets the eye. My first serious girlfriend was a girl raised in a trailer until she was 14 or so. Things didn’t work out. I’m not saying that I dumped her due to her economic status, but that the different cultures we came from were a part of the overall equation. A reason why her family didn’t “get” me and my family didn’t “get” her family. These dynamics are in play, often subconsciously, regardless of proximity.
More to the point, I spent a lot of time in a social environment from when I was 16 to when I was 19 that was comparatively mixed between working class folks and white collar ones. Almost to a man, we ended up marrying into our own. Even the son of a waste-water worker who made more than his father ever did by his 30th birthday married a girl of a background similar to his. I’m not saying that there aren’t exceptions, but that there are a whole lot more signals in play than we often realize. A nurse is not a nurse is not a nurse. Then, or now.