Another take on class war
May 29, 2005 7:49 PM   Subscribe

"They [the bipartisan elite] have imposed a public morality that affords maximum sexual opportunity for themselves and guarantees maximum domestic chaos for those lower down." While a lot of people (okay, maybe just me) have criticized David Brooks' column as an only-infrequently-successful attempt to channel Malcom Gladwell for the McCain-Specter set, I think he may have stumbled onto a provocative insight here.
posted by MattD (62 comments total)

 
This article was emailed to me earlier today. I'm not clear on how exactly the conservative public morality affords maximum sexual opportunity for themselves? I can see the domestic chaos aspect of it.
posted by infini at 8:03 PM on May 29, 2005


That is just...wow...just...damn.
I'll have what he's smoking.
posted by nightchrome at 8:08 PM on May 29, 2005


blah blah blah


same old shit
posted by rxrfrx at 8:08 PM on May 29, 2005


I Went To An Elite School
For The Sex, and All I Got
Was This Lousy T-Shirt
posted by spacewrench at 8:09 PM on May 29, 2005


Infini, he's not talking about "conservative public morality," he's talking about the exact opposite.

He's alleging that the educated elite, irrespective of their ideology, have created a very permissive sexual culture (and exaggerated media representations of the same) which they have the ability to abjure in favor of an approved suburban nuclear family when the time comes. The underclass, however, lack the ability to make this transition from libertine youth to traditional maturity, and have ruined themselves as a result.
posted by MattD at 8:10 PM on May 29, 2005


> I Went To An Elite School For The Sex, and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt

I Went To Two Elite Schools For The Sex, and All I Got Was This Lousy $18,000 Debt and Vague Sense of Dissatisfaction With Pretty Much Everything.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:23 PM on May 29, 2005


I prefer the Chomsky version of this rant with his acidic sarcasm. It plays to my unfounded cynicism.
posted by MillMan at 8:27 PM on May 29, 2005


I don't agree with everything in Karl's manifesto, because I don't believe in incessant class struggle, but you have to admit, he makes some good points.

Nice rhetorical trick, propose an idea, but protect yourself from criticism by denying a connection to it. Brooks blames far too much on the "educated elite" without showing any evidence for their responsibility for the problems.

They send their children off to Penn, Wisconsin and Berkeley, bastions of privilege for the children of the professional class

WTF? UW-Wisconsin is not a bastion of privilege. For in state students (and it's not that hard to become an in state student) the cost of going to UW-Wisconsin is within the reach of nearly anyone who can figure out how to fill out a government student loan application. Personally, the people I know that went there came from the same class I did (lower middle). It just so happens that, because the state used to firmly believe in a higher education, it became one of the best public universities in the country.
posted by drezdn at 8:28 PM on May 29, 2005


david brooks cares about the working class
posted by a thousand writers drunk at the keyboard at 8:37 PM on May 29, 2005


the malefactors of the educated class

Is that like the Smartish in Smartland?
posted by fungible at 8:42 PM on May 29, 2005


MattD, thank you for the explanation. That makes sense. Now I'll be able to respond to the person who sent it to me with some semblance of intelligence :P I feel like I've been dubbed a conservative old school republican somehow.
posted by infini at 9:04 PM on May 29, 2005


Sorry, that's got to be one of the stupidest things I've ever read. Was the author educated at one of these bastions of the ruling class, Harvard or Yale? Because I'd say that undermines his argument, such as it is, right there.
posted by jokeefe at 9:06 PM on May 29, 2005


The underclass, however, lack the ability to make this transition from libertine youth to traditional maturity, and have ruined themselves as a result.

Okay, the article might have been risible, but that's just flat out offensive. And wrong. In fact, it's such a nest of presumptions and assumptions that I wouldn't even know where to start.
posted by jokeefe at 9:12 PM on May 29, 2005


David Brooks cares about the working class as much as George Bush does--he can use them as fodder in whatever way he chooses. As one of those very elites, Brooks is also quite good at painting with a very very very broad brush when it suits his purposes. The more apt comparison can be found in the recent Sexuality in Germany thread, with one set of rules for the elite, and another for those considered degenerates or below.
posted by amberglow at 9:15 PM on May 29, 2005


Despite all of the problems with this essay, a certain kernel of truth lies at its core. The children of the educated gain advantages over other children which perpetuates their status in society. This is hardly news. David's essay attempts to deflect the valid criticism of the ever widening gulf between have and have not back upon the left. The intellectuals of the left (and right) both benefit from and perpetuate the educational gulf which as much as anything leads to the wealth gulf. However, David falsely implies that all elite, liberal and other, seek perpetuation of this system. He errs, or more likely misleads. Merely because someone takes the time, money and effort to push their offspring toward the top of the education system does not imply that one seeks to maintain an education imbalance, nor a wealth imbalance. Some people, however, in a grand old party, seek advantage for their offspring and further seek to deny that advantage to those of lesser means. The mere fact that some liberal parents pass along their educational advantage to their children can not absolve the conservatives from their crime of denying equal educational opportunity to those of the lowest economic class.
posted by caddis at 9:21 PM on May 29, 2005


Eh, Karl is really a lot smarter than that. He'd take one look at the current system and realize just how much he underestimated the power of the invisible hand. The fusion of corporate and political power that exists today far outstrips anything he ever imagined. He'd realize that the market had subsumed all other organizing forces, including the Democratic nation state: it passes laws, dictates morality, and constructs the social myths that bind (and unbind) the community. He'd note that the educated (middle) class exists purely at the mercy of the system. The market would have no problem destroying the same middle class which it has created in the interest of efficiency. As he correctly foresaw, power concentrated in the hands of those "persons" with capital--he simply had no idea of the eventual, all-consuming extent of this power.

I suppose Brooks must think he's real clever for turning the notion of class-war back against the educated (liberal) elite using Karl Marx as a mouthpiece, no less. But blamingg a permissive (and of course, relativistic) public morality for social ills when the poor in the country don't even have access to basic healthcare is just stupid.
posted by nixerman at 9:27 PM on May 29, 2005


Jokeefe -- rather than being offended, why don't you offer an alternative hypothesis for why intact families have taken on such a marked correlation with social status, when before the poor were no less likely to be married than the better off?
posted by MattD at 9:31 PM on May 29, 2005


Yes, overthrow the "ruling" educated class! Professors are the problem! They have SO much power. They have single-handedly defeated centuries of sexual mores. CEOs love you for what you really are -- they will free you from the educated class's silly advocacy for higher minimum wages, worker's rights, clean air, clean water, public lands, and more spending on schools their kids don't even go to...
posted by ontic at 9:32 PM on May 29, 2005


caddis, except that isn't true at all. The only "people" who actually benefit from widespread educational failure are corporations like Walmart that need the labor. For the rest of us, the problem is a massive burden in the form of taxes and crime.
posted by nixerman at 9:32 PM on May 29, 2005


aha! so its people who are educated that we should be against. hurray! all this time i thought it was a class war, its really all those damn intellectuals.

i guess i should unite with GE , and FORD MOTOR COMP. to put a stop to unamerican smarty britches.
posted by nola at 9:39 PM on May 29, 2005


Jokeefe -- rather than being offended, why don't you offer an alternative hypothesis for why intact families have taken on such a marked correlation with social status, when before the poor were no less likely to be married than the better off?

An alternative hypothesis. I'm afraid I cannot do this, because it would mean accepting your basic premise, starting with the existence of something called the 'intact family' (provide a definition, please) and accepting also that this abstraction not only exists but has some kind of social reality which is strongly, and statistically, correlated with legal marriage, and that there are also measurable and predictable results associated with this correlation.
posted by jokeefe at 9:40 PM on May 29, 2005


Caddis--you're onto something here...it would be useful to bring the word "exclusive" into the debate when describing conservative "values."

Nixerman--and who might be at the top of those corporations, partnered with the GOP?
posted by Heather_B at 9:40 PM on May 29, 2005


Jokeefe, I can see that you like things concrete.

How about this:

Brooks observes the following fact pattern: not too long ago, bottom-percentile and top-percentile households were just about as (un)likely as each other to be headed by a never-married woman. Now, a high proportion of bottom-percentile households with children are headed by never-married worman, whereas there continues to be only a negligible proportion of top-percentile households with children headed by never-married women.

Brooks' hypothesis for this fact pattern is that socially advantaged people have created a cultural that celebrates premarital sex, but simultaneously transmit amongst themselves a caveat that they haven't encoded into the mass culture -- enjoy it all you like for a while, but get married before you actually have kids. The disadvantaged, taking all their cues from the culture and without the resources to possess, or reason out, the caveat, follow the premarital sex path straight down to unwed parenthood.

If you don't like Brooks', what is your hypothethis for this fact pattern?
posted by MattD at 10:04 PM on May 29, 2005


MattD, who really benefits from the cultural acceptance celebration of premarital sex and uninhibited consumerism? I mean sure, for the kids of the middle class, college is a lot more fun. But for corporations such a society is a marketer's wet dream. Who is it again that pays for, produces, and distributes all this sexually suggestive media again? Your question doesn't even really register. It'd make sense to first start asking whose hands are on the levers of mass culture before questioning whether there's some widespread drive to use culture as a weapon of
posted by nixerman at 10:13 PM on May 29, 2005


If you don't like Brooks', what is your hypothethis for this fact pattern?

Correlation is not causation. Looking at Divorce rates in the United States, they are highest in the South and West, among lower income families, in urban areas instead of suburbs and also highest in the bible belt.

To blame the "elite" for creating a culture the encourages this is wrong, because to do so, they'd have to be firmly against abortion/birth control yet pro-sex outside of marriage. No group espouses both of those beliefs.

There can be any number of reasons why the rich are more likely to stay married. They can afford counseling, they are less likely to have arguments about money, etc.
posted by drezdn at 10:25 PM on May 29, 2005


The disadvantaged, taking all their cues from the culture and without the resources to possess, or reason out, the caveat, follow the premarital sex path straight down to unwed parenthood.

Which just happens to tap into the old racist diagnosis of the dumb, lazy and promiscuous Negro? Gotcha.

Anyway. Brooks has an uncanny knack for expressing facile concepts through inelegant prose. Given that his natural style veers into self-parody so often, knocking off Karl Marx seems the equivalent of closing one's eyes and spinning the steering wheel towards the nearest ditch.

On the one hand, there's a backhanded compliment to Thomas Frank here, in terms of the asymmetrical relationship of power and those who do the empowering: I doubt that Jenna Bush will be donning a silver pledge ring any time soon. But the notion that this sliced-and-diced 'educated class' is actively dictating social ruin for the lower classes... by its 'public morality'? Please, spare me. From the Republican side, it's by actively dictating economic insecurity, which is a major factor in the breakdown of families. And dictating the opposite of its private morality, by championing anal-doesn't-count 'abstinence' education and pharmacists who think they should be dispensing morality rather than contraceptives.

And last time I checked, it wasn't the 'bipartisan elites' that were lobbying for creationism-in-a-labcoat to go on the school curriculum. Brooks's beloved pale-skinned red-state salt-of-the-flat-earthers ('you know, morons', as Gene Wilder's cowboy in Blazing Saddles put it) are inflicting that on their kids, for a very old and simple reason: all parents say they want their kids to have a better life than theirs, but not all of them really mean it, especially if that success comes through the negation of things they themselves hold dear.

Anti-intellectualism has long been a part of American culture. Brooks's soft-focus cultural revolution (one that he surely doesn't endorse himself, given that it would send his one-trick pony lame) simply binds it to an incoherent, but potentially vicious ideology.
posted by holgate at 10:25 PM on May 29, 2005


Am I the only one who first read the Karl as being Karl Rove? Because that really makes this whole thing a lot clearer. As propaganda, I mean.
posted by dame at 10:28 PM on May 29, 2005


There are reasons why it's easier for the children of the rich to be educated, but culture is the littlest one. To thrive in school, it helps to not work, allowing more time for studying and getting involved. It's much easier for the rich to allow their children the luxury of not working during college.
posted by drezdn at 10:36 PM on May 29, 2005


Also, you know, being a single parent can make people poor, but being a half-assed parent is really the problem with turning out kids who do poorly. The difference is the kids of half-assed wealthy (or even reasonably middle class) parents can screw up once or twice and have some cushion. Poor people screw up and they're just fucked. Combine that with an anti-abortion, abstinence focused culture, and you've got a pretty good picture of what's going on--and there are no evil "educated" folk anywhere in it.

My mom was a single mom by choice and she did well enough that I wound up in one of them fancy schools. Why? Well because she wanted me and understood what that entailed and sacrificed for it. She didn't just wake up pregnant one day and figure, well, I'll have it and then muddle along.
posted by dame at 10:42 PM on May 29, 2005


The educated class reaps the benefits of the modern economy - seizing for itself most of the income gains of the past decades - and then ruthlessly exploits its position to ensure the continued dominance of its class.

Seizing ruthlessly?

I think that drastically misrepresents us educated people, don't you?
posted by Jon-o at 10:44 PM on May 29, 2005


MattD: Brooks observes the following fact pattern: not too long ago, bottom-percentile and top-percentile households were just about as (un)likely as each other to be headed by a never-married woman. Now, a high proportion of bottom-percentile households with children are headed by never-married worman, whereas there continues to be only a negligible proportion of top-percentile households with children headed by never-married women.

How about this for a hypothesis: 1) People like to have sex, 2) Due to the apparent ability of institutions other than religion to explain things much better than religion could, people have come to question whether religion really tells them what is best for them, including taboos against sex, 3) free or low-cost access to contraception and abortion have been actively opposed by more conservative thinkers, 4) thus, lower classes are increasingly unable to weather the storms created by early pregnancy while those who are born into higher classes simply pay the higher prices for contraception, abortion, and/or daycare.

Note that the educated classes by and large support readily available abortion, birth control, daycare, and so on.
posted by ontic at 10:45 PM on May 29, 2005


Nixerman, thanks for giving what I've been asking for an: an alternative hypothesis for the fact pattern. Qui bono is always a great place to start your Occam's razor slicing.

Holgate, so are you suggesting that there are more households headed by never-married women because of creationists having too much sway? Does Darwinism make women hold out for the ring that's golden?

As for economic insecurity, are women more likely to have children without husbands when they're less sure they could get jobs to support them? (Not saying that this isn't true, just wondering if that's your claim.)
posted by MattD at 10:45 PM on May 29, 2005


Jokeefe, I can see that you like things concrete.

How about this:

Brooks observes the following fact pattern: not too long ago, bottom-percentile and top-percentile households were just about as (un)likely as each other to be headed by a never-married woman. Now, a high proportion of bottom-percentile households with children are headed by never-married worman, whereas there continues to be only a negligible proportion of top-percentile households with children headed by never-married women.


Oh Lord. Yes, I like concrete, if what constitutes concrete in this case are actual statistics and analyses compiled by social historians and demographic researchers instead of writers of social commentary with agendas on their sleeves. Let's take this bit by bit.

not too long ago

When? How long ago? And where? Cities? Rural areas? Is this anecdotal information or based on census results for the entire country?

bottom-percentile and top-percentile households were just about as (un)likely as each other to be headed by a never-married woman

Okay. So most women married. But many women ended up heading single-parent households because of abandonment and because it was more difficult to obtain a divorce when the marriage broke down. Technically, a woman could remain 'married', but her husband could have been long gone. Saying that more women were married doesn't imply that social conditions resembled some kind of ideal nuclear family fantasy.

Now, a high proportion of bottom-percentile households with children are headed by never-married worman, whereas there continues to be only a negligible proportion of top-percentile households with children headed by never-married women

I would like to see actual statistics here, not just what you call a 'fact pattern', and not just some attempt to align economic realities (women make less money than men, so are less represented as heads of 'top-percentile' households) with an obviously biased notion of declining morality as represented by children born out of wedlock.
posted by jokeefe at 10:49 PM on May 29, 2005


Note that the educated classes by and large support readily available abortion, birth control, daycare, and so on.
For themselves and others like them, definitely--For those not of their kind, not so much anymore, especially compared to 25-35 years ago. There's a distinct lack of attention being paid to those things that benefit the poor (and working poor) in our society--from Head Start to Medicare to AFC to Welfare to health insurance for all, etc.

We all know the unmarried Bush twins would get abortions in a heartbeat if they found themselves pregnant--no matter what the parents pronounce about a "culture of life." Meanwhile, it's harder and harder for a poor woman to get one--especially if they're not in a city.
posted by amberglow at 10:57 PM on May 29, 2005


MattD: I think you mean cui bono. It's dative.

Wow, what a total mess. There's not a single sentence in that morass of lazy garbage that doesn't shamelessly promulgate a half-dozen unexamined ideas.

I want to start at the end: I don't agree with everything in Karl's manifesto, because I don't believe in incessant class struggle, but you have to admit, he makes some good points.

I think we should ignore either this or the entire article.

He talks again and again about some undefined group he calls "the educated elite" or "the educated class," but doesn't bother to explain who exactly comprises this group: is it everyone who goes to a college of any sort, or merely the economically elite of the society, who tend to send their children to highly exclusive institutions anyhow?

The educated class has torn away from the family its sentimental veil and reduced it to a mere factory for the production of little meritocrats.

I don't think any family needs outside help to de-sentimentalize itself. Seriously, Brooks. And what exactly could he mean by that vicious second line? His anger is almost palpable, but what is he angry at? The work ethic of the successful, or the fact that they have children at all? He seems deeply confused. And what's wrong with meritocracy? If our society were meritocratic, wouldn't the sort of plutocratic nepotism he describes cease to work?

The information society is the only society in which false consciousness is at the top. For it is an iron rule of any university that the higher the tuition and more exclusive the admissions, the more loudly the denizens profess their solidarity with the oppressed. The more they objectively serve the right, the more they articulate the views of the left.

This is total bullshit. He obviously has no idea what false consciousness means in the Marxist context. He should really just shut up, this is almost appallingly ignorant and ugly to read.

Periodically members of this oppressor class hold mock elections. The Yale-educated scion of the Bush family may face the Yale-educated scion of the Winthrop family. They divide into Republicans and Democrats and argue over everything except the source of their power: the intellectual stratification of society achieved through the means of education.

One of the few bits which is not totally hopeless; still, he can't seem to decide how the dynamic between wealth and education functions dialectially to create a ruling class. It's too complex and nuanced an issue to address in this perfunctory way.

Jesus.
posted by clockzero at 11:01 PM on May 29, 2005


You're right, amberglow. What I should have said was "a certain political segment of the educated classes". And I'd be hard-pressed to find a sizable group of professors who didn't support national healthcare with cheap prescription drugs subsidized heavily for everyone. (Even though, by and large, they probably have some of the best healthcare.)
posted by ontic at 11:03 PM on May 29, 2005


I thought the point of the "essay" was that it didn't make much sense; and that, by analogy, talk of class warfare in the ordinary sense is therefore also mistaken. So we can all go to bed and stop worrying about class issues. Thanks, Brooksie.
posted by uosuaq at 11:10 PM on May 29, 2005


Ontic -- your hypothesis is essentially a variation upon Brooks. I guess that he would agree with you that religion was the universal contraceptive, and that it lost that power. You hypothesize that it simply left a vacuum of biological urges, rather than being replaced by a positive culture of premarital sex. However, your hypothesis stop short of explaining why the educated classes proceed to get married before having their children.

Jokeefe -- why do you keep on inserting morality into the discussion? You're defending something that's not under attack. Brooks certainly didn't make any claims that one kind of behavior was more virtuous than any other, nor have I or anyone else trying squarely to address the matter.

While worthy of consideration, your attempt to debunk historical family composition keeps on coming back to divorce or its pre-no-fault related states of abandonment, or other lack of "nuclear fantasy" status. It's never married that's the thing. The Moynihan report found that in 1963 the white illegitimacy (=never married mother) rate was 3% and the black illegitimacy rate was 23%. I believe that those numbers are now over 20% and 60% respectively. If your claim is that today's never-married mother is equivalent in significant respects to a woman in the past who delayed having her children until married, but was then divorced or abandoned by husband, I'd be interested to know why. (Who knows, I might not disagree).
posted by MattD at 11:13 PM on May 29, 2005


My hypothesis is not a variation on Brooks. It lays specific blame on certain conservative thinkers and policy makers as opposed to college professors. It suggests that part of the educated classes that he maligns are advocating policies that would help the problem.

And I think it is also fairly apparent that my hypothesis suggests that the educated classes get married before having children because access to contraceptive medication keeps them from having the children they would have had before getting married. Eliminate the barriers and taboos against contraception (or ruthlessly enforce them), and my hypothesis suggests you would not see such a difference in the percentages.
posted by ontic at 11:29 PM on May 29, 2005


Jokeefe -- why do you keep on inserting morality into the discussion? You're defending something that's not under attack. Brooks certainly didn't make any claims that one kind of behavior was more virtuous than any other

Oh please.

Have fun guys, end of the line here for me.
posted by jokeefe at 11:31 PM on May 29, 2005


People who make sweeping generalizations about what's wrong with other people really don't seem to have very high opinions of the vast majority of the human race.
posted by nightchrome at 11:32 PM on May 29, 2005


Ordinarily, I'd be filled with outrage that somebody actually got paid to write that half-assed sociobabble, but not today, because I'm reminded it's just 3 months, 3 excruciating months until they start charging for this crap and I can forget David Brooks ever existed. Praise the Lord.
posted by queen zixi at 11:33 PM on May 29, 2005


I gotta side with MattD, people are avoiding the only interesting point I found in Brook's column. Correlation is not causation, but it is something worth further investigating. This is something to be answered with data, and not idiotic idealogical ramblings. Perhaps I'm indifferent to sexual promiscuity (don't care if everyone is doing it like bunnies, or we are puritan), but there have to be some perks and some detriments. And there is no reason, we can't reasonably figure out what those are.
posted by nads at 11:36 PM on May 29, 2005


Go nads - you are right to be going over seemingly accidental sexual overtones. MeFi is obsessed.

A lot of the column is like Brook's book BoBos in paradise where he talks about how good things are for the educated elites and how little connection there is to the rest of society.

There is something odd going on. Social mobility is statistically higher in many EU countries than in the US. That is, if you're born intp the bottom 20% of income in Sweden then you're more likely to work your way into the top 20% than if you're born in the US. That is, the US is now less of place where anyone can make it with hard work than the EU. This is contrast to the way things used to be say 30-40 years ago. Then the statistics were reversed.

However, there is something that these statistics don't confront, namely that the US has seen rapid growth of an ethnic group that does dramatically worse in education and on average wealth than the rest of the population, i.e. Latinos. So the effect may be the result of the immigration of many poor Latinos into the US. This may change in the second generation, but who knows.

Nonetheless, the US's alleged meritocracy may really be suffering. It's a really tough question and it's good that someone is writing about it.
posted by sien at 12:49 AM on May 30, 2005


MattD wrote, "Brooks certainly didn't make any claims that one kind of behavior was more virtuous than any other." Not in this article but in the past he has written:
Anybody who has several sexual partners in a year is committing spiritual suicide. He or she is ripping the veil from all that is private and delicate in oneself, and pulverizing it in an assembly line of selfish sensations.
I think we can be pretty clear that he thinks that the "domestic chaos" of those "lower down" isn't a bless this mess sort of chaos and I'm sure he'd never want us to think he meant otherwise, either. And I'm curious about his repeated metaphor of ripping a 'veil' in the context of sexual freedom before marriage.

If I we wanted to look at the decline of traditional family values among the poor, shouldn't we start looking at things like the availability, distribution, stability, and mobility of income? And isn't there a broader culture of economic independence which the poor emulate that's more important than coed naked schtupping? Brooks sees the poor having a hard time of it, and he wheels on the educated, affluent Demo non-partisan cultural and/or economic liberals to lay the blame.

Maybe there is some blame to rest there, but it sounds like MattD wants to focus on the coed naked schtupping, and who can blame him. But Brooks writes as if the economic realities faced by the lower classes in 2005 are the same as they were in 1960. It's a large point to concede just to smear some Bobos.
posted by fleacircus at 1:11 AM on May 30, 2005


I'm with jokeefe, show me the stats. Statements like this one just don't ring true.

"In 1960, three-quarters of poor families were headed by married couples. Now only a third are. While the rates of single parenting have barely changed for the educated elite, family structures have disintegrated for the oppressed masses."

I agree family structures have disintegrated but I live in a highly educated community, and there is a very high percentage of divorced single parents. It's so prevalent that I would have guessed that divorce rates probably rose more at the higher income levels, since rich people can more easily afford divorce, have more opportunities for sexual indiscretion that often leads to divorce, and can pay for lawyers and nannies and child care facilities and psychiatrists for the kids. Maybe, however, higher income people are more likely to get remarried, leading to lower single parenting rates? I don't know. Show me the stats.
posted by JParker at 1:53 AM on May 30, 2005


Talk about putting the frigging cart before the horse. To echo what jokeefe and others have already said well, it's a well-supported fact that economic stability is the main source of marriage stability. Moreover, as the study in the link provided shows, people are far less likely to enter into marriage without stable income. Here's your money quote: Non-marriage is often a result of poverty and economic insecurity rather than the other way around.

Moreover, there are lots of low-income people who want very badly to get married, but only to a partner with a stable income. Princeton's Fragile Fragile Families and Child Well-Being study cites this as a limiting factor for 8 of 10 people surveyed.

I live in a mostly red state, and I can tell you we're up to our asses in the moral values that excite Brooks so much. So his argument just doesn't parse -- given that we flock to church, eschew cultural immorality, reject the very substance of standard scientific thought when it's inconvenient to our theology -- well, then it's clearly not the cultural elites who are causing our demographics to be so at odds with our stated moral values. Because, you see, we're cohabiting up a storm and divorcing at a higher rate than most of the rest of the country. Why? Because we're poor as shit. And the farther out in the sticks we live, the poorer we are, and the more we knock each other up out wedlock, and fail to marry, or to thrive in general.

The best thing that could happen to people in my state and others like it would be if Brooks and his ilk would focus on the pernicious effects of poverty on family stability and general quality of life instead of on how much sex well-to-do folks are having. And further, if they would point out the way that rejecting actual Darwinism in favor of the social kind is hobbling our children's ability to compete in the increasingly technical work force they need so desperately to join. But that might require actual research and thought, and why let that get in the way of a good jeremiad?
posted by melissa may at 3:43 AM on May 30, 2005


Thanks for alerting me to a new word melissa may!

jer·e·mi·ad Audio pronunciation of "jeremiad" ( P ) Pronunciation Key (jr-md) n.

A literary work or speech expressing a bitter lament or a righteous prophecy of doom.
posted by asok at 4:09 AM on May 30, 2005


Echidne: ...It's the moneyed class that does this, David, not the educated class, though the two overlap. Check what you say yourself in this quote: the families of the students entering Harvard are wealthy, on average. The wealth was there first, David.
Brooks is trying to make a right-wing populist case here: Let's get rid of the educated liberals and the system will be fairer! Indeed, he appears to advocate getting rid of education as a way to make the system fairer. History doesn't support David in this assertion, and in any case the educated liberals are not in power right now. The wingnuts are, David, and you're their poster child for being educated and wingnut.

posted by amberglow at 4:11 AM on May 30, 2005


Heh, I love MeFi.
Especially when Bobo Brooks gets a good fisking.
Bobo - a cultural elitist responsible for ruining America.
posted by nofundy at 4:28 AM on May 30, 2005


MattD: The rate of out-of-wedlock births has declined among lower-income people in recent times, if I'm not mistaken. (I had a public policy text which stated as much, but cannot find this figure on the Internet this morning.) You may or may not have also seen this story.

And, to everyone, stats and research show that single fathers usually do fine. The problem with being a single mother are related to money management, the fact that women are generally paid less than men for the same work, etc.
posted by raysmj at 6:33 AM on May 30, 2005


WTF? UW-Wisconsin is not a bastion of privilege.

Wisconsin meets the financial need of barely a quarter of its students (this includes loans). (It would be fairer to cite the percentage of total need met, but unlike almost all their peer institutions they don't report this.) Translation: If you're poor or lower middle class, any place you'd consider a bastion of privilege is easier to pay for (at least while in school, which is when the cost barrier really keeps students out), since it meets 100% of need.

I went to an elite college (with help from a Pell Grant), and, don't get me wrong, it's a bastion of privilege. But if your parents make less than $40,000, they pay nothing (and, I bet, they'd regard your attending Madison as tough to swing). Every decade the ratio of loans to grants falls at my alma mater, which would be delighted to accept a class with more real diversity. But many students don't apply, because they think they can only afford the lower tuition at (e.g.) Madison, where they try to go, it costs more, and they may even fall through the cracks for trying to make ends meet.

Many disadvantages in our society are difficult to overcome. But simply not being a rich kid who went to pre-college schools with rich kids, this is not the insurmountable hurdle for getting into Harvard.

If Brooks wanted a real revolution, he'd gun for more smart conservative middle class students to apply to Harvard. (Some are doing this. I wish there were an equally strong movement for middle class kids who aren't conservative ideologues to "take over" elite "liberal" schools... Anyway, enough conservatives are "boycotting" elite schools that it may all cancel out...)
posted by Zurishaddai at 7:51 AM on May 30, 2005


P.S. By middle class, I don't mean living in $400,000 houses.
posted by Zurishaddai at 7:53 AM on May 30, 2005


Zurishaddai: Many middle-class people are living in $400,000 homes via interest-only mortgages. (Over half of new mortgages opened in Georgia, where I'm living, were of the interest-only variety last year. Ga.'s is No. 1 in the country here, but the national rate was around 30 percent.) It's going to be a scandal one day, maybe soon.
posted by raysmj at 8:10 AM on May 30, 2005


Flea, I doubt something like income mobility or economic class is as simple as promiscuity. And hte other factors you mention probably play a more prominent role. Reality is multi-factorial though. I just want to see if at has any effect and if so, how large, or if its all just bs.

The Bobo's of the world rarely make claims that you can actually verify with data. When they do, we should encourage them and check if the data supports their claims. Conservatives always write off liberal complaints about inequalities as things that can be overcome by hard work -- even though there is tons of data to the contrary. Let's at least give Bobo the benefit of the doubt, and see if his claim is backed up or just crap. One way, I can think off of the top of my head, is to see if people who actually do move across class boundaries have different sexual practices. Start shooting holes :-P.

sien, that's an interesting point about the rise of immigrant ethnic groups. I hadn't considered that.
posted by nads at 8:26 AM on May 30, 2005


This is turning into a pile-on, and melissa may has said lots of things very very well... but if Brooks is looking for the 'educated elite' contributing to the number of unmarried mothers, particularly non-white, he could start with actual examples instead of dumb abstractions. Like Strom Thurmond. Or Thomas Jefferson.
posted by holgate at 8:58 AM on May 30, 2005


The educated class has torn away from the family its sentimental veil and reduced it to a mere factory for the production of little meritocrats.

Oh my god. What was this guy smoking and where can I get some!?
posted by delmoi at 11:51 AM on May 30, 2005


There are reasons why it's easier for the children of the rich to be educated, but culture is the littlest one. To thrive in school, it helps to not work, allowing more time for studying and getting involved. It's much easier for the rich to allow their children the luxury of not working during college.

The only people who have to work through collage are children of rich people who's parents refuse to pay. Otherwise, they'd just get loans. :P
posted by delmoi at 12:08 PM on May 30, 2005


The only people who have to work through collage are children of rich people who's parents refuse to pay. Otherwise, they'd just get loans.

Well, I suppose you could do that, if you wanted to pay back a ton of loans. I graduated from one of the better UW system schools (Milwaukee) but obviously not the best (Madison) and my tuition was only slightly lower than what I would have paid as a student at Madison.

One of the things that held me back in the financial area was that I was coming from a family with no one who had attended college. The only loans we knew to take out were the Stafford loans, which paid for school, but little else. This meant I worked between 20-60 hours a week while I was in school (30-40 on average). I wish I would have had more time to spend on school, or to even take an internship.
posted by drezdn at 1:14 PM on May 30, 2005


Why has nobody made the obvious observation that the loss of the presence of a father (or the fact that the father was never present) is often one of the major causes of a families economic instability? That was case in a large portion of the ppor families I've known. I know that if my dad had decided to take a powder, we would have been in seriously dire straits.
posted by jonmc at 6:11 PM on May 30, 2005


jonmc: You could deduce that from what I wrote earlier. It's not quite as true today that a father's absence makes all the difference--a mother's could too, in today's economy. But given continuing discrimination against women, the generally better financial training of men (passed down from fathers, or so is generally thought), networking among men, etc., the loss of a father can still be a huge deal.
posted by raysmj at 8:20 PM on May 30, 2005


Brooks is (non-ironically!) turning to orthodox Marxism to explain the current problems with the American economy. Brooks is admitting that's there is now negligible economic mobility in the USA.
Brooks is conceding that the ruling elite have manipulated society to maintain their own privileged position.

This is the conservative analysis of what's gone wrong in this country.

Brooks is such an idiot he doesn't quite take the next step and recognize that the real income of most Americans has been declining for a couple of generations now - and that the economic underpinnings (just as Uncle Karl tells us...) might have something to do with the trends he deplores in the cultural superstructure.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 9:17 PM on May 30, 2005


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