What with a 200-post backlog in my Google Reader, I haven’t been keeping up with my blogroll. Unfortunately, because I still can’t get Google Reader to carry it, Hit Coffee tends to be the last thing I read. So I missed this exchange when it originally came out (my comments will follow):
The [American] Prospect’s theme is that it’s not really the male gender that’s been dealt a blow — it’s lower-class (they call it “traditional” or “working-class”) style of masculinity. So we turn to the question of whether that’s a bad thing. If the economy doesn’t need that kind of man, does society? I was brought up to hold myself above lazy men, violent men, and most of all, dumb men. That didn’t come from shadowy gangs of feminist Illuminati. That came from a dad who grew up without an indoor toilet.
I think the question here is “What is society for?” or perhaps “Who is society for?” I am extremely uncomfortable with the notion that because we don’t need a particular type that we should not lament their inability to participate in life. Or, when possible, to help them do so.
By “participate in life” I mean have children and get married, at least for those that wish to do so.
This isn’t just about blue collar men. It’s also why I am uncomfortable with the notion of prohibiting those on welfare to reproduce. To me, that’s a part of life. Just because you are not productive enough to supply for yourself does not mean morally that you should not be able to have a family. It may practically mean that if there is not enough money to help these people, but an inability to help these women have families strikes me as unfortunate just as we are incapable of helping men who cannot have families (because they can’t get married).
I look at it not in terms of morality, but in terms of social utility. If you think people on welfare are substantially capable of having contributing offspring, then your philosophy makes sense. If you believe they aren’t, it makes sense to limit their reproduction for the social good.
Furthermore, if anyone who has a child is entitled to taxpayer support, it’s no stretch to realize there are many people who won’t see an incentive to work to support their children.
Will, do you know what percentage of people receive cash aid? It’s close to 20 percent. And as I’ve explained before, more than 50 percent of new babies nationwide receive food assistance through the Women and Infant Children program. So more than half the babies being born are born to parents who, according to federal guidelines, can’t afford to feed them adequately without taxpayer assistance. This is not something that just started because of the recession; it’s been going on for some time. Does that seem too high to you?
I have bad feelings about every one of the people I grew up with whose parents were on welfare, or who received it themselves (when they became teen parents). Every single one was dishonest, conniving, and abusive, albeit sometimes fun. That’s not to say there weren’t *non*-welfare receipients for whom I had bad feelings, too.
On the other hand, the welfare state *creates* jobs for people. What would a society be like in which the bottom 20 percent just disappeared?
Pretty bad for that twenty percent.
Can we square this circle?
Here are the three principles with which I approach the problem:
1. American society is for Americans. All Americans, not just for some Marin County subculture. And not for foreigners. Trumwill gets this point.
2. Children are for people paying their own way. If you’re a long-term net drain on the public fisc and a negative externality in general, then be assured that we don’t want more people like you. Sheila gets this point.
3. The social order must be sustainable. On this, all participants agree.
In Herbert Spencer’s heyday, life operated according to straightforward Darwinian principles: if you couldn’t support yourself by your own talent and energy, then your genes didn’t survive. You died of disease and malnutrition, or you didn’t mate, or you left no surviving offspring. Either way, natural selection bred a better European.
Life hasn’t worked that way in a while, and libertarian fantasies to the contrary, it’s in no danger of making a comeback.
But that’s just it. Sheila, while not exactly cheering the reduction in marriage and mating prospects of economically marginalized “proles”, is certainly indifferent to it. Fair enough. But we mustn't ignore this salient fact: men don’t make babies. Women make babies. And the long-running thrust of government power has been to use civil-rights laws, affirmative action, and public dole to “liberate” women from their economic dependence on husbands. Thus freed, women mate with and reproduce by the very “dumb, violent and lazy men” Sheila holds herself above. Until we address female behavior and incentives, Sheila’s and Trumwill’s discussion about men will be entirely beside the point.
Of course, including women in our consideration only makes the problem harder. Never mind natural selection: pursuing a policy of voluntary sterilization is advocated by exactly nobody of stature comparable to William Shockley, who was roundly condemned for it when it would primarily have affected blacks. Does it really become more likely when it affects whites, too?
But as commenter Maria points out, there is another side to this problem:
The country needs a manufacturing base and that means blue-collar workers. So to say that the economy doesn’t “need” that type of man is wrong. The globalized economy with outsourcing to the lowest labor cost doesn’t “need” blue-collar workers in developed nations. But do we “need” the globalized economy with outsourcing to the lowest labor cost? We “need” a manufacturing base and blue-collar workers come with that. Without one, we are just consumers of debt and products who have no real wealth to speak of.
Well, we need to produce. It is theoretically possible to have no manufacturing base by virtue of superior engineering and design. Add enough value through engineering and you can outsource the manufacturing and be okay by transferring wealth (either through welfare or through service industry jobs) from the engineers to those that don’t have the smarts for it. The question is whether or not this country is capable of producing enough wealth through engineering that it can support everyone else (except for domestic production like food) through a robust service industry and welfare. That’s a pretty tough thing to do. Right now we’re not producing enough money to pay our government for the services (and service jobs) it is providing.
The welfare system may have been sustainable if it weren’t for mass unskilled immigration — I can’t say for sure. I do know it is not sustainable when we keep importing new customers for it from foreign countries via mass unskilled immigration.
I don’t mind helping out society’s losers, even permanently, but I really see red when it comes to importing poor people or children or elderly people for me to support from foreign countries.
In addition, importing millions of unskilled workers while at the same time we are exporting millions of relatively low-skilled jobs, is just plain stupid.”
Exactly. An industrial policy that increases the supply of jobs that require only moderate intelligence, and an immigration policy that reduces the number of people needing those jobs, will go a long way to restoring the economic viability, and thus the reproductive viability, of America’s working class.