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Reader Recommended Reading

From reader Chris, of the USMC. Ties in well with prior discussions here of the need for cultural-educational-cognitive renovation in American society and the marked inadequacy of the current elite: 

National Affairs -“Keeping America’s Edge” – Jim Manzi

….Reconciling these competing forces is America’s great challenge in the decades ahead, but will be made far more difficult by the growing bifurcation of American society. Of course, this is not a new dilemma: It has actually undergirded most of the key political-economy debates of the past 30 years. But a dysfunctional political dynamic has prevented the nation from addressing it well, and has instead given us the worst of both worlds: a ballooning welfare state that threatens future growth, along with growing socioeconomic disparities.

Both major political parties have internal factions that sit on each side of the divide between innovation and cohesion. But broadly ­speaking, Republicans since Ronald Reagan have been the party of innovation, and Democrats have been the party of cohesion.

Conservatives have correctly viewed the policy agenda of the left as an attempt to undo the economic reforms of the 1980s. They have ­therefore, as a rhetorical and political strategy, downplayed the problems of cohesion – problems like inequality, wage stagnation, worker displacement, and disparities in educational performance – to emphasize the importance of innovation and growth. Liberals, meanwhile, have correctly identified the problem of cohesion, but have generally proposed antediluvian solutions and downplayed the necessity of innovation in a competitive world. They have noted that America’s economy in the immediate wake of World War II was in many ways simultaneously more regulated, more successful, and more equitable than today’s economy, but mistakenly assume that by restoring greater regulation we could re-create both the equity and prosperity of that era.

The conservative view fails to acknowledge the social costs of unrestrained economic innovation – costs that have made themselves ­powerfully apparent in American politics throughout our history. The liberal view, meanwhile, betrays a misunderstanding of the global economic environment.

…. The level of family disruption in America is enormous compared to almost every other country in the developed world. Of course, out-of-wedlock births are as common in many European countries as they are in the United States. But the estimated percentage of 15-year-olds living with both of their biological parents is far lower in the United States than in Western Europe, because unmarried European parents are much more likely to raise children together. It is hard to exaggerate the chaotic conditions under which something like a third of American children are being raised – or to overstate the negative impact this disorder has on their academic achievement, social skills, and character formation. There are certainly heroic exceptions, but the sad fact is that most of these children could not possibly compete with their foreign counterparts.As the lower classes in America experience these alarming regressions, wealthier and better-educated Americans have managed to re-create a great deal of the lifestyle of the old WASP ascendancy – if with different justifications for it. Political correctness serves the same basic function for this cohort that “good manners” did for an earlier elite; environmentalism increasingly stands in for the ethic of controlling impulses so as to live within limits; and an expensive, competitive school culture – from pre-K play groups up through graduate school – socializes the new elite for constructive competition among peers. These Americans have even re-created the old WASP aesthetic preference for the antique, authentic, and pseudo-utilitarian at the expense of vulgar displays of wealth. In many cases, they live in literally the same homes as the previous upper class.

Read the rest here.

9 Responses to “Reader Recommended Reading”

  1. Busy | T. Greer - The Scholar's Stage Says:

    Wow. That is probably the best article I have read this month. You have my gratitude for posting it.

    You do seem to posting a lot of good stuff recently – had time to go and dig through all the journals you’ve missed in the last two months?

  2. T. Greer - The Scholar's Stage Says:

    Wow. That is probably the best article I have read this month. You have my gratitude for posting it.. You do seem to have been posting a lot of good stuff recently – had time to go and dig through all the journals you’ve missed in the last two months?

  3. tdaxp Says:

    Excellent article. Agree with Greer, absolutely.

  4. J. Scott Says:

    Not to be an echo chamber, but this article is spot-on! There is much to do, and Mr. Manzi provides a clear-eyed view of the reality we face.

  5. Seerov Says:

    Political correctness serves the same basic function for this cohort that “good manners” did for an earlier elite" (From artcle)
    This statement caught my eye, as I think it minimizes political correctness’s role in our society and actually might miss the whole point all together.  Political correctness isn’t the same thing as Victorian politeness.  Political correctness is instead a conditioning, socialization, and control mechanism similar to what the Soviets used.  Peasants during the Victorian era didn’t have their lives ruined for not being polite.  There was no apparatus in place that injected politeness into all aspects of life, as we see with political correctness.  At the very least, political correctness is a control mechanism, at worst its a method to muscle in a new faith, this faith is the Cult of Diversity.
    This new cult/faith/religion/myth/narrative is necessary for the cohesion that the author pointed out. The old myths and heroes of America (and the West in general) don’t fit well with the forced demographic transition occurring in the West.  The transnational elite (who go to school in the places the author described) are the champions of this new faith becuase they perceive themselves as being placed by providence in a techno-historic situation that gives them the right to rule.  They face the challenge of building cohesion among people’s who don’t want to live with each other and who may even hold historical grudges.  But becuase they get to live in the same places as the old "WASP" elite, they don’t have to worry about the consequences. If an incident occurs among the peasant classes that contradicts the edicts of the new faith, they can shape the perception of it with their control of the information flows.
    The author does have some valid observations, but should rethink the true purpose of political correctness. 

  6. toto Says:

    Social-democracy is opposed to innovation? This implies that more egalitarian societies (Japan, Germany, Scandinavia) do not "innovate". Which I guess may be true, for some non-standard definition of "innovation".

    The author half-heartedly acknowledges that the recent financial collapse is an effect of unfettered deregulation. He also laments the huge "stimulus" spending that was made necessary by it. Interestingly, no connection is made between the two. The author also shies away from explaining how exactly we should have averted the impending deadlock of the economy.

    The predictable answer to social difficulties ("more deregulation!") is somehow supported by two examples – the Netherlands and Sweden (!) – that could pass as exhibits C and A in social-democracy. Pity that France has a strongly centralised education system, or a Grand Slam would have been at hand! More seriously, the author seems oblivious to the possibility that it is these countrie’s remarkable social cohesion (except for recent immigration) and, yes, high taxes, that made the experiment in educational deregulation possible in the first place.

    I guess it’s interesting to see that, in spite of recent events, there are still True Believers in fairy-tale libertarianism.

  7. zen Says:

    hi toto,
    While he’s more sympathetic to globalization’s effects, I’m not certain I’d classify this Manzi gent as a "libertarian" but I know nothing about him at present.
    Social Democracy is not opposed to innovation, it just creates a political economy that is generally less hospitiable to "creative destruction". The Japanese are good at "tweaking/tinkering/refining" kinds of innovation that perfects new ideas but not the "big breakthrough" type that delivers them. That’s not what they are good at or what Japanese culture values most.

  8. zen Says:

    Hi T.Greer,
    Thx but all the credit is due to Chris bringing it to my attention. I’ve also had some help from Scott and Charles Cameron who have picked up my slack as I finished a grad program

  9. Al Fin Says:

    Manzi addresses two critical problems of American society fairly well: education and immigration. His warning on Obama’s and Pelosi’s headlong plunge into indebtedness was reasonably sound as well.

    His criticism of the welfare system and its contribution to illegitimacy and exacerbating inequality was at least half on target.

    But his failure to address runaway torts, and runaway public service unions almost destroys the more credible parts of his discussion.

    Political correctness is simply the current zeitgeist that has been excessively regimented and enforced by the excessive flood of bureaucrats in our society. Risk-averse fourth rate minds who value security above imagination and innovation. Of course social democracy is antagonistic toward innovation. Absurd not to see it.

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