Thursday, January 26, 2006

David Brooks on Values


Dollars and Sense - New York Times

David Brooks, in todays NYTimes Op-Ed quotes "liberal economist Stephen Rose" for remarking that "It is an occupational hazard of those with big hearts to overestimate the share of the population that is economically distressed." Rose concluded that only 19 percent of males and 27 percent of females are poor or working poor — a percentage that is "probably much smaller than most progressive commentators would estimate."

Let's see: that's over 23% of the total population (which includes more women than men) of the richest nation on earth living in poverty. This may be fewer than "most progressive commentators" would estimate--though I doubt it--but it's a much, much higher percentage of the total population living in poverty than in other affluent country.

Rose calculated the household incomes for people between 26 and 59 and found that the average annual family income is somewhere around $63,000 a year — an impressive figure.

That's average not median. The average is yanked up by a very small number of Americans with ultra-bananas-high incomes. The median income of Americans is significantly lower and comparable to the median income for citizens of Eurosocialist demmocracies where you do not have anything close to 23% of the population living in poverty.
I wonder whether, given decreasing marginal utility, bliss of the few in that long, skinny tail in the income distribution sets off the misery of the 23+% in the big, fat hunk of curve at the bottom.

Then there is that very significant discrepancy between the poverty figures for men and women. The figures remember are based on on family income rather than individual earnings so it's not likely that it's wholly a consequence of married women's choices to stay home with the kids.

If you are a middle-class woman, you have more to fear from divorce than from outsourcing.

Of course. You can't make the kind of bucks guys make so you depend on financial support from a husband to maintain that middle-class lifestyle. You need that guy as a meal ticket. Moreover the pink-collar drudge work you do in the service sector isn't very likely to be outsourced anyway.

If you have a daughter, you're right to worry more about her having a child before marriage than about her being a victim of globalization.

I have a daughter and don't worry at all. If she gets pregnant she'll get an abortion and get on with her life. It's underclass girls who carry their pregnancies to term and--this is a CHOICE--keep their babies, because for them there are no opportunity costs. Sooner or later they'll be working at Walmart--delaying childbearing and child rearing doesn't pay for them. And guys in their social group aren't the marrying kind.

I don't really understand why Brooks seems to believe that the facts he cites--the 23+% poverty rate and the substantial discrepancy in rates of poverty between men and women are supposed to promote the conservative cause. These figures suggest that we should support income transfers and social programs to lift people out of poverty and affirmative action to minimize the ongoing discrimination in employment that puts women at such a serious economic disadvantage.

The "values" that these statistics reflect make me want to move somewhere else. They reflect a social Darwinist free-for-all, without security, where everyone has to fight to keep their heads above water and where, even if we manage that we work for weeks longer per year than citizens of other affluent countries to maintain the same standard of living. Civilization as I understand it means security so that we don't have to fight continually to survive and push others down so that we can make the grab for scarce goods. Most importantly, it means minimizing drudgery so that we have time for "liberal pursuits"--for poetry, music and art, for learning of every sort, for all the good things of high culture. We're becoming less and less civilized by these standards--we spend longer hours at work and then buy more crap because we don't have the education or leisure to appreciate the finer things that make life worthwhile.

This is my country, my native land. "America the Beautiful" gets me all choked up. That's one I haven't heard recently though, possibly because, especially after Katerina, the line about alabaster cities gleaming undimmed by human tears is an embarrassment. I don't want to live in a place where there are beggars at every freeway exit and supermarket door and where the bulk of the population who aren't begging drudge away their days so that they can buy SUVs and garbage, where half the population is functionally illiterate and the majority can't read music.

1 comment:

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