Thoughts on Inequality and the Elite

I was talking to someone who is having troubles in their church.

The main problem seems to be that the church leadership is disconnected from the congregation. Issues are being promoted when no one has bothered to ask the average person what they want. The one place in our society where dialogue should be possible is in a church, but surely that is less often the case than would be optimal.

This is seen in every aspect of our society. It’s an inequality of power and opinion.

The leadership of my union, like many other unions, backed Clinton. Yet most union members backed Sanders. The leadership of the NRA fights gun regulation. Yet most NRA members support stronger gun regulation.

This phenomenon is even worse in the corporate media and corporatist politics. It’s not unusual two see two views being debated where neither view matches the public opinion of the majority of the population. In this case, the entire frame of discussion is disconnected from reality on the ground.

But it is most troubling to hear about this in a church. That demonstrates that this dysfunction is pervasive and built into how our society is organized and operates. It’s a profound inequality where most people are silenced and disenfranchised. As I’ve often repeated, the majority doesn’t even realize it is a majority.

All of this is carefully orchestrated by those in power, even those who wield power at the local level in a church. In many cases, those wielding that power don’t understand what they are doing, as they are oblivious to others. It’s too easy for people to take silence as agreement and support. This is how minority views can get portrayed as ‘mainstream’ and how, in the process, majority views are silenced.

I keep repeating this message. And many others have as well. But I don’t know that it can have an impact on our society. This inequality has become so entrenched that it would take mass conflict to dislodge it. A public awakening doesn’t come easily.

* * *

All politicians and political candidates should be required to answer poll questions that are identical to the public. Then the results should be widely disseminated and reported. There even could be an official report sent to every household.

Only politicians who hold a majority of their views and values to the left of the majority of Americans would be allowed to be called liberal or left-wing. But many politicians would fear this. The public would suddenly realize how far left they are or else how far right is the political elite. They’d be able to see that Sanders is a moderate, his views in line with most Americans on most issues. This would leave a large number of Democratic politicians to the right of the American public and all Republicans to the extreme far right fringe.

Why shouldn’t the American public be the standard of what is left and right? I don’t care who is ‘moderate’ by the standards of corporatist politics. I want to know who is a moderate according to normal Americans. If the views of the average American is considered extremist by corporatist politicians, then maybe the problem is those corporatist politicians and not the average American.

I have an odd idea. Maybe our representatives should represent us, considering that it supposedly is a representative democracy. At the very least, it would make for an interesting experiment. Maybe we could try it sometime just to see how it works out. If we didn’t like it, we could always go back to authoritarian plutocracy.

* * *

Positions on issues where Bernie Sanders agrees with and is representative of the majority of Americans, i.e., We the People:

– improving economy for lower-to-middle class
– decrease unemployment, poverty, & inequality
– progressive taxation
– higher corporate taxation
– stronger regulation of corporations
– opposition to neoliberal trade agreements
– universal healthcare
– decriminalizing drug use
– no more wars of aggression
– more effective environmental regulation
– taking action on climate change
– promoting alternative energy
– both gun rights and gun controls
– et cetera

Explain to me in what way Bernie Sanders is a left-wing socialist, in comparison to the American public. If he is a left-wing socialist, then so are most Americans.

* * *

Do you think Sanders was too left-wing to beat Trump? If so, then consider this. What motivated people to vote for him?

Well, Trump promised to stop big money political corruption, end neoliberal trade deals, force American corporations to manufacture in the US, bring jobs back for the working class, rebuild infrastructure, and make healthcare affordable for more people. It’s the exact kind of promises Sanders made.

Do you honestly think that voters looking for someone to make good on these promises would have chose Trump over Sanders? Of course not. The only reason they voted for Trump is because they had little if any trust that Clinton would do anything other than defend the status quo that was harming so many.

You can argue that Trump voters were naive. Then again, you could argue that Clinton voters were naive. Both candidates have spent their lives lying in order to get ahead.

If voters were looking for the lesser evil as they were told they should do, it shouldn’t be surprising that they chose the candidate who promised change, as they voted for Obama who promised change. Guess what? They actually do want change, even if voting for Trump was an act of desperation in response to a failed political system.

The moment was perfect for the Democratic establishment to have nominated someone like Sanders. That is assuming they would rather win with a progressive than lose with a corporatist, surely a false assumption to make. The Democratic establishment knew that Sanders would have had an overwhelming victory and that scared them, because it would have challenged their dominance of the party.

It turns out Sanders was a moderate by the standards of the American public. But in a radical corporatist system, we’ve lost the ability to recognize a moderate. It’s sad that a moderate like Sanders is treated as such a threat, more of a threat than Trump.

* * *

Daniel Drezner, in The Ideas Industry, criticizes the marketplace of ideas. But I’m not sure to what extent he understands the actual problem, in terms of leftist critique of capitalist realism and the destruction of the commons.

I did some searches in his book. It looks like it could be a decent analysis. Still, I wonder if he falls into the standard trap of focusing on the symptoms more than the disease. In the passage below, he dismisses the cause as being irrelevant, which seems like a self-defeating attitude if we are seeking fundamental changes at the causal level. To emphasize this potential weakness, I noticed throughout his book that numerous times he mentions capitalism and the marketplace of ideas while never bringing up the the view of a commons (a topic discussed by Howard Schwartz).

Problematic as that might be, Drezner does bring up important points. He discusses inequality, in how it relates to wealth, power, and influence. It’s not just those at the top have more but that using what they have they can control which ideas get a loudspeaker and which ideas get silenced. It’s unsurprising, as he points out, that surveys show the elite have entirely different values and agendas than the rest of the population.

This is a dangerous situation for an aspiring democracy. The elite control of the Ideas Industry could be called propaganda, since not only the ideas are controlled but the framing, narrative, reporting, and debate of ideas is controlled. It’s controlled by plutocratic funding and organizations along with corporatist political parties and corporate media. It’s because of this concentrated control of ideas that causes so many Americans do not realize they are a silenced majority.

Here is the passage from Daniel Drezner’s The Ideas Industry (pp. 62-5):

“While the rise in inequality has been concentrated in the United States, it also reflects a more widespread, global phenomena. Whether the cause has been globalization, the rise of finance, the economics of superstars, or the ineluctable laws of capitalism is irrelevant for our concerns. What does matter is that both wealth and income inequality are on the rise, and there are excellent reasons to believe that the concentration of wealth at the top could increase further over time.

“As the inequality of wealth has increased in the United States, so has the inequality of contributions to political life. Survey data show that the wealthy are far more politically informed and active than the rest of the public. […] The effect of economic and political inequality on the Ideas Industry is profound. On the one hand, rising income inequality and declining income mobility have bred dissatisfaction with the state of the American Dream. Since the start of the twenty-first century, poll after poll has shown that Americans believe their country is headed in the wrong direction.

“The most profound impact of rising economic inequality is on the supply side of the Ideas Industry. The massive accumulation of wealth at the top has created a new class of benefactors to fund the generation and promotion of new ideas. Indeed, one is hard-pressed to find a profile of a billionaire that does not also reference an interest in ideas.

“Twenty-first-century benefactors are proudly distinct from their twentieth-century predecessors. The big benefactors of the previous century set up foundations that would endure long after they died. While many plutocrats had ideas about the purpose of their foundations, most were willing to trust the boards they appointed. […] Foundations set up by J. Howard Pew and Henry Ford also wound up promoting ideas at odds with the political philosophies of their benefactors.

“This century’s patrons adopt a more hands-on role in their engagement with ideas. Echoing billionaire Sean Parker, they largely reject “traditional philanthropy—a strange and alien world made up of largely antiquated institutions.” To twenty-first-century plutocrats, the mistake of past benefactors was to delegate too much autonomy to posthumous trustees. A new set of “venture philanthropists” or “philanthrocapitalists” has emerged to stimulate new thinking about a host of public policy issues. In contarst to the older foundations, these new entities are designed to articulate a coherent philosophy consistent with a living donor’s intent. Organizations like the Gates Foundation and Omidyar Network have developed a large footprint in significant areas of public policy.

“Most of these new philanthropic foundations are obsessed with the “three Ms”—money, markets, and measurement. Potentially game-changing ideas are like catnip to plutocrats. […] The eagerness to please benefactors affects both the content and the suppliers of the ideas. […] In the Ideas Industry, thought leaders fiercely compete to get on the radar screen of wealthy benefactors.”

What is the majority and who represents it?

There is an interesting dynamic involving race.

The racist stereotype is that blacks are lazy and irresponsible. Therefore, white burden falls upon the superior race in their privileged position of greater wealth and power. This is a modern paternalism similar to the slaveholder’s noblesse oblige, the greater the power the greater the responsibility. It’s the job of the wise, benevolent father to take care his children, even against their will.

Yet actual behavior belies such claims. For the exact same crimes, blacks are arrested more, convicted more often, punished more harshly, and imprisoned longer. Heck, even for crimes whites commit more, blacks still get it worse. It seems that blacks are treated as if they are more responsible for their actions than whites, as if whites lack a full sense of responsibility and must be treated with kids gloves.

Isn’t that strange?

There is something hidden behind the overt attitudes. It’s not that people of each race are being treated as equally responsible, some failing that standard and others demonstrating their greater moral character and capacity. If whites were genuinely superior in their sense of responsibility, they wouldn’t be treated less harshly for breaking the law. If anything, they would be treated as clear moral agents deserving to be held more accountable—as we treat an adult more accountable than a child, a highly intelligent individual more accountable than the mentally retarded.

There is an interesting example that gets at this mindset. This is from Dangerous Frames by Nicholas J. G. Winter (Kindle Locations 451-463):

“Wittenbrink and colleagues conducted an intriguing experiment that demonstrates this sort of reasoning in the context of an extremely subtle framing that drew an implicit analogy across very different domains (Wittenbrink, Tenbrink, Gist, and Hilton 1997). After priming racial stereotypes for some participants, they showed them a series of animated videos involving the interaction of a single fish with a larger group of fish. These videos involved conflict between the fish and the group, but were ambiguous as to the individual fish’s and the group’s motivations (to the extent, of course, that animated fish can be said to have motives). They found that participants’ racial beliefs affected how they interpreted the videos. Those who believe blacks are lazy tended to hold the individual fish responsible for the interactions; those who believe blacks are discriminated against held the group responsible. What was crucial was that structural congruence between schema and situation mattered: racial stereotypes did not influence interpretation of a different video that did not involve conflict among the fish.

“This study makes clear the extent to which a schema can influence evaluation of a situation that bears little or no surface resemblance to the contents of the schema. In their example, the race relations schema contains cognitions about white and black Americans and the nature of and causes for their interactions. This schema affected interpretation of a cartoon about some fish. Two elements were necessary: accessibility and fit. First, the effect held only among participants who were primed for race – that is, who had the race schema activated and therefore made more accessible than it otherwise would have been. Second, the schema only influenced interpretation of a video that shared a structure with the schema. The race schema includes elements representing minority and majority groups and conflict between those groups. It also has a causal attribution for that conflict and corresponding evaluations of the majority and minority groups. When participants saw a video with that same structure (minority and majority groups of fish and conflict), they applied the schema and transferred the attributions and evaluations from the race schema. When they saw a video with a different structure (no conflict), they did not apply the schema.”

The racial frame elicits a psychological schema that appears to have at least two basic elements. It definitely involves conflict, but it’s not just group conflict, as one might assume. The other important part is that it is perception of majority versus minority and conflict thereof.

What catches my attention is that only the perceived minority is treated as an individual. The racially-primed individual fish is seen as in conflict with and hence a threat to the group of fish. As such, whites are the majority, those who get to define society. And in defining society, the white majority represents society. Whites are society. They are of the dominant group and, to that extent, they aren’t held accountable as individuals. That group of fish consists of individuals, but in the racially-primed mind they aren’t perceived as individuals.

The same pattern is seen with class. That is to be expected, specifically in a society such as ours where race and class have much overlap.

The wealthy may only be a minority, but they are the dominant minority. Also, they gain symbolic dominance in part by the fact that most of the wealthy are white and so members of the white majority. Wealthy whites get to represent all whites, just as they represent the entire white majority social order. As such, wealthy whites are the least likely to ever be held accountable as individuals. A wealthy white can never simply be an individual in a wealthy white society.

Unsurprisingly, wealthy whites are the least likely to be charged, arrested, and convicted of crimes. This is true often when it is well known that they are guilty. They hire expensive lawyers, they can stall court procedures, they get plea bargains, judges and juries give them the benefit of the doubt, etc.

Class is important not just for the wealthiest. Our entire society is a hierarchy of socioeconomic classes. This hierarchy is important for maintaining the social order. It creates distance, disconnection, and division.

It’s one of the ways that races are kept divided. Even poor whites don’t on average experience the same severity of poverty and economic segregation. It’s not even just race, but also skin tone. Lighter-skinned blacks are more likely to be wealthier. The middle class is full of light-skinned blacks. And as one goes down the economic ladder, the average skin tone gets darker and darker.

I’ve always known that socioeconomic class issues are important. But I’ve become increasingly aware of how central they are.

Even when you’re informed about such issues, they still effect you and often unconsciously. It is what creates conflicts between middle class and working class whites, between middle class and working class minorities.

These class issues don’t just take form as different life experiences but also different political ideologies and interests, problems and concerns. Obviously, most middle class people simply don’t get the problems of those less well off than them. There are also some less commonly understood factors, such as how the middle-to-upper classes tend to fall at ideological extremes and so are disconnected from the more politically moderate lower classes.

Despite the lower classes consisting of the majority of the population, the light-skinned middle-to-upper classes perceive themselves and portray themselves in the MSM as the social norm of the light-skinned majority social order. Oddly, when the moderate lower classes demand basic reforms to the system, they are seen as radical and threatening or simply irritating.

It’s as if the middle-to-upper classes, including liberals, don’t know what to do with the working class when they speak out. The middle class liberals in particular feel like they should listen to the lower classes and yet they also realize that these people, if they get too demanding, are a threat to the system they are part of. They can’t just overtly dismiss the poor, not even the poor minorities, as would many on the political right.

This creates cognitive dissonance that can’t be easily resolved. This puts the liberal class in an irritable mood. It puts the entire upper end of the economic spectrum on the defense against the challenges to the status quo. Their majority status and hence moral authority is being questioned. And if they aren’t the majority nor hold popular support of the majority, by what right do they rule in a supposed democracy?

The blatant force of political power and blatant privilege of wealth becomes harder to hide behind standard rhetoric. As a minority majority arises, racialized class conflict no longer is as effective as it once was. Now who are the individuals to be blamed?

Black Majority in America

I have a question that I hope someone can answer. It is about the issue of a black majority.

For much of its history, South Carolina was majority black going back to the colonial era (see “Black Majority” by Peter Wood). So, when did South Carolina stop being a black majority state? What was the exact year or decade?

That is my basic question. I had some other related thoughts.

Frederick Douglass predicted the Deep South would have eventually become black majority. This failed to happen because of all the mass migrations of Europeans during the mid and late 1800s and into the early 1900s.

Now, the black population is growing again. It is possible that some state might become a black majority in the coming generations, depending on demographic patterns. Then again, there might be another mass migration from Europe to re-establish the white majority stronghold.

Hispanics are also growing faster as a population than are blacks. Many Hispanics are increasingly choosing to identify as white. They will probably go the way of other ethnic Americans and assimilate into American whiteness.

What will that mean for the black population? Will blacks still remain the official minority scapegoat for the nation? Why don’t blacks do what the Mormons did and start their own separate society?

If all the blacks moved to a single state, they would then have a majority and they could gain political control and self-governance. As a symbolic act, they could regain the majority they once held in South Carolina, but this time it would be different. It would be an interesting experiment.

Working Hard, But For What?

There has been a lot of debate and discussion about what Bill Cosby has said about blacks. One thing he argues for is the need for hard work. The thing that he doesn’t understand is most blacks believe in hard work as much as most whites. But being a hardworking poor minority doesn’t get you very far in this country without all the privileges of race and class.

The cook at McDonalds making minimum wage, the self-taught unlicensed car mechanic working in an alley, the people doing yardwork for cash, the prostitute, and the drug dealer are all working hard. But they are working hard in a society that is working against them when they are poor minorities.

Those are some of the hardest jobs in the world. And some of the people working them are the among the most brilliant and talented around. The guy who works his way up from a high school drop out to the head of a gang is more hard working and innovative than the average manager you’ll find in other careers. I’m often reminded of the drug dealer who was intelligent and was well informed about economics (Social Environment & Human Potential):

“In the project, Venkatesh finds men and women who easily flit back and forth between the legal and illegal economies (depending, usually, on which pays more at any given moment). Drug dealers aspire to buy small businesses, and their subordinates move between legitimate jobs and the hustle of drug dealing and prostitution. What Venkatesh is able to develop, through the view J.T. grants him, is a new way of thinking about the ghetto and ghetto crime, as the consequences that come when morality is uncoupled from the law.

“J.T. is a good tutor. He is a learned and steady bureaucrat of the drug trade, a man with some college and management experience behind him. Most of his life is spent dealing with, somewhat endearingly, the small headaches of petit bourgeois career life—managing less-than-competent subordinates, handling the objections of Taylor Homes residents, and trying to restrict police access to the project.”

These people believe in the American Dream and try to live it best they can, under almost impossible conditions. They aren’t asking for handouts. They are solving their own problems, even when those problems are forced on them by the larger society.

Take gangs, for example. Most gangs are what white people would call militias. When the police fail in their job, gangs do the job for them. If you are a black who is targeted by the police and everyone you know is targeted by the police, you’ll organize in order to protect yourself, your family, your friends, and your neighborhood.

That is how community forms when all of the outside world is against you, when life is difficult and desperate, where daily living is a fight for survival. When there are no jobs available, poor minorities make their own jobs. When there are no police to protect them, poor minorities police themselves. When the larger society is against them, they make their own communities.

They do this all under the hardest conditions in America. It is quite impressive what humans are capable of. Imagine what poor minorities could accomplish if the larger society supported them instead of trying to destroy their lives?

If hard work mattered in this country, black communities would be among the wealthiest. If there was a way to measure it, I wouldn’t be surprised if the results showed the average black is more hardworking than the average white.

Cosby isn’t wrong in saying hardwork is generally a good thing. But it misses the entire point.

It seems to me that most Americans love to work, even in our off time when no one is paying us. If Americans have a problem, it is that we work too much and work so hard that we work ourselves into an early grave.

In a just and fair world, we would work less for more. But neoliberal capitalism tells us our only worth is our time spent in labor and our worth is measured by our pay check. That seems effed up to me. There is or should be more to life than work, especially the drudgery work most Americans have to do just to get by.

We live at a time when there are more people looking for work than there are jobs. With mechanization and computerization, those jobs aren’t coming back and even more jobs will be disappearing. The advice of working harder is cruel and ignorant, especially when directed at the most poor and disadvantaged, those least likely to be able to find a job no matter how hard they work or how much education they get.

That said, if we must speak of hard work, let’s talk about working hard to build stronger communities, to build more social capital, to build better schools, to build much needed infrastructure, to build housing for the homeless, to build more parks, to build a stronger labor movement, and to build an actually functioning democracy.

Why not use our hard work for things that matter and make the world a better place? Why not use all the hard work we are already doing in order to achieve great things in our communities and our country?

Immobility Of Economic Mobility; Or Running To Stay In Place

It’s hard to find well-informed and insightful discussions about certain hot-button issues. This is particularly true for issues related to economics for wealth represents power.

Poverty, inequality and mobility all speak to how power is shared or monopolized. They also relate to how education, knowledge and the media are controlled and who controls them. Discussion is difficult because the system silences or disregards most of those impacted by what is being discussed or whitewashed. When the upper class elites (political, media and academic) begin talking about the lower classes, you should immediately look for the potential spin and the too often lack of probing depth of analysis.

As a jumping off point, let me use the example of a recent paper by National Bureau Of Economic Research (Is The United States Still A Land Of Opportunity? Recent Trends Intergenerational Mobility). Both the paper and the reporting on it show the difficulties of seriously dealing with the problem. The New York Post had an article by Linda Chavez (Inequality: It’s the family, stupid) which, like many similar articles, made this statement:

President Obama and the Democrats have decided “income inequality” is the major domestic issue confronting Americans. But a new study by liberal economists challenges many of the president’s and his political allies’ assumptions about the growing gap between rich and poor.

Well, not really. When you look at various data, the so-called assumptions aren’t the problem.

The focus on the study had to do with specific generational cohorts (The social mobility muddle by Robert J. Samuelson):

“We find that children entering the labor market today have the same chances of moving up in the income distribution (relative to their parents) as children born in the 1970s,” write the economists. Comparing their results with earlier studies covering 1950 to 1970, they also find little difference. Social mobility “remained remarkably stable over the second half of the twentieth century in the United States,” the study says.

Something is strange about this data. There is a disconnect. As even the authors of the paper noted:

Based on all of these measures, we find that children entering the labor market today have the same chances of moving up in the income distribution (relative to their parents) as children born in the 1970s. However, because inequality has risen, the consequences of the “birth lottery” – the parents to whom a child is born – are larger today than in the past

The middle class had been continuously growing until 1974. Since then, the middle class has been disappearing, the middle class that bridges the gap between the poor and rich.

All this study is saying is that most Americans today are at least as bad off as they were decades ago. Most Americans, generation after generation, are on average stuck in their class position, no more likely to rise or fall than before.

Even so: job security and good benefits are becoming a rarity, wages are stagnating, inflation is growing,  buying power is shrinking, costs of living are getting more expensive (especially medical bills), costs of college put kids in debt before they even graduate, debt in general is overwhelming many people, bankruptcy is becoming common, families are losing their homes and life savings, small businesses are having a harder time competing against big biz, and much more could be added. But because of public assistance programs most Americans are managing to not completely go under.

Basically, the economy is doing worse for most Americans and only the government is artificially keeping the whole system from crashing down.

Meanwhile, the rich are getting richer. Average economic mobility is staying about the same, but the rich are moving up into the stratosphere. Of course, the 1% is the 1% even as that entire 1% moves further away from the 99%.

As J.J. Feinauer explained in Why is upward mobility in America stagnant?:

“The findings also suggest that who your parents are and how much they earn is more consequential for American youths today than ever before,” The Washington Post’s Jim Tankersley writes. “That’s because the difference between the bottom and the top of the economic ladder has grown much more stark, but climbing the ladder hasn’t gotten any easier.”

The economic system overall isn’t doing well, even as the wealthiest are laughing all the way to the bank. The Journalist’s Resource (U.S. poverty and inequality: 2014 overview and research trends), looking at other data, made this absolutely clear:

A paper from Stanford University, “State of the Union: The Poverty and Inequality Report 2014,” synthesizes economic data and academic research to paint a full picture — a “unified analysis” — of key indicators of the nation’s economic health that may not receive the same visibility as GDP, aggregate growth patterns or stock market trends. Produced by the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality, which receives some federal funding, the report enlisted subject-area academic experts on issues such as the labor market, health, education and income trends. Overall, the data suggest a “broadly deteriorating poverty and inequality landscape.”

To return to the data of the NBER paper, The Equality of Opportunity Project summarized some of the details:

Is America the “Land of Opportunity”? In two recent studies, we find that: (1) Upward income mobility varies substantially within the U.S. Areas with greater mobility tend to have five characteristics: less segregation, less income inequality, better schools, greater social capital, and more stable families. (2) Contrary to popular perception, economic mobility has not changed significantly over time; however, it is consistently lower in the U.S. than in most developed countries.

All of that is obvious.

People who are well off live in better conditions and are able to maintain those better conditions across generations. They have the money to fund their schools and libraries. They have a ton of social capital and the basic privileges of a middle-to-upper-class lifestyle. Their lives are less stressful, their marriages are less stressed, and they have more free time to spend with their kids. They have the wealth and they have the connections and opportunities to use that wealth to offer their children a very rosy future.

And people who aren’t well off live in worse conditions.

The New York Post article began well by discussing some of these issues:

The researchers delved deeper to see what might explain these variations. They found that areas with large populations of African-Americans had lower mobility. What was surprising was that whites who lived in those communities with large African-American presences also experienced lower rates of upward mobility.

The study also found that areas with less urban sprawl had higher intergenerational mobility, and where there was substantial racial and economic de facto segregation, mobility decreased. The strength of social networks — as measured by participation in civic or religious groups, for example — also correlated with mobility. “High upward-mobility areas tend to have higher fractions of religious individuals and greater participation in local civic organizations,” the study’s authors write.

Exactly. Not everything is about race. It has to do with structural classism and the enduring neighborhood effect. But then the article veers off into typical nonsense. As the author explains in her great wisdom, jumping from correlation to causation:

But the most important finding is one that most conservatives won’t be surprised at and many liberals would rather ignore: “The fraction of children living in single-parent households is the strongest correlate of upward income mobility among all the variables we explored.” The more single-parent households in the area, the lower the mobility.

And, as with race, the correlation holds even for those who don’t fit the category. Children from intact families experience lower mobility rates if they live in areas with large numbers of single-parent households.

This is the danger of a little bit of knowledge. It can lead to narrow analyses and simplistic conclusions. The problem in this case was the author wasn’t even sure what she was concluding. If the family is so important, how does the larger social environment trump the direct family influence?

In The Nurture Assumption, Judith Rich Harris tackles this assumption that all or most of the blame can be put on families. She even takes on the race angle (p. 240):

I mentioned a study of African -American kids from “high risk” families —no fathers, low incomes. The ones who lived in low-income neighborhoods were more aggressive than their middle-class counterparts; aggressive behavior was the norm where they lived. But the ones who lived in mostly white, middle-class neighborhoods were not particularly aggressive. These black kids from fatherless, low-income homes were “comparable in their level of aggression” to the white, middle-class kids they went to school with. They had adopted the behavioral norms of the majority of their peers.

So, it goes both ways. Social environment trumps family conditions in all scenarios. Peer influence, in particular, is very powerful. That supports the liberal position, contrary to Chavez’s claim.

As Harris explains in detail, there are a lot of complex factors involved (pp. 285-287):

When the biological father is living but not living with his kids, you have a family situation that is statistically associated with unfavorable outcomes for the kids. Let me show you how it might be possible to account for the unfavorable outcomes without reference to the children’s experiences in the home or to the quality of parenting they receive there.

Most single mothers are nothing like Murphy Brown: most of them are poor. Half of all homes headed by women are below the poverty level. Divorce usually leads to a drastic decline in a family’s standard of living— that is, in the standard of living of the ex-wife and the children in her custody. 22

The loss of income impacts the kids in several ways. For one thing, it can affect their status in the peer group. Being deprived of luxuries such as expensive clothing and sporting equipment, dermatologists and orthodontists, can lower kids’ standing among their peers. 23 Money is also going to play a role in whether the kids can think about going to college. If it’s out of the question, then they may be less motivated to graduate from high school and to avoid getting pregnant.

But by far the most important thing that money can do for kids is to determine the neighborhood they grow up in and the school they attend. Most single mothers cannot afford to rear their children in the kind of neighborhood where my husband and I reared ours —the kind where almost all the kids graduate from high school and hardly any have babies. Poverty forces many single mothers to rear their children in neighborhoods where there are many other single mothers and where there are high rates of unemployment, school dropout, teen pregnancy, and crime. 24

Why do so many kids in these neighborhoods drop out, get pregnant, and commit crimes ? Is it because they don’t have fathers? That is a popular explanation, but I considered the question in Chapter 9 and came to other conclusions. Neighborhoods have different cultures and the cultures tend to be self-perpetuating; they are passed down from the parents’ peer group to the children’s peer group. The medium through which the cultures are passed down cannot be the family, because if you pluck the family out of the neighborhood and plunk it down somewhere else, the children’s behavior will change to conform with that of their peers in their new neighborhood.

It’s the neighborhood, not the family. If you look at kids within a given neighborhood, the presence or absence of a father doesn’t make much difference. Researchers collected data on 254 African-American teenage boys from an inner city in the northeast United States . Most of the boys lived in households headed by a single mother; others lived with both biological parents, a mother and a stepfather, or in other kinds of family arrangements. Here are the researchers’ conclusions:

“Adolescent males in this sample who lived in single-mother households did not differ from youth living in other family constellations in their alcohol and substance use, delinquency, school dropout, or psychological distress.” 25

Within an economically disadvantaged inner-city neighborhood, the kids who live with both parents are no better off than those who live with only one. 26 But within a neighborhood like this, the majority of families are headed by single mothers, because mothers with partners generally can afford to live somewhere else. The higher income of a family that includes an adult male means that kids with two parents are more likely to live in a neighborhood with a middle -class culture and, therefore, more likely to conform to middle-class norms.

This all shows how important class is. Also, it shows how upward and downward mobility relate to class influences. But I don’t want to leave this issue without tying it more closely to race. Much of this has nothing to do with race, but much of it has everything to do with race.

Considering Pew data, Jessica Cumberbatch Anderson (in Economic Mobility For African Americans May Be A Myth, Pew Report Shows) points out:

“Specifically, African Americans are much more likely than whites to be stuck at the bottom of the income ladder over a generation, and also at the bottom of the wealth ladder,” she said. They’re also more likely to fall from the middle. [ . . . ]

“It is the case that African-American families manage to get to the middle class and they have some sense of economic security, but their ability to pass that on to their kids is not as high as the white families,” she said.

As the author continues, she points out how racial segregation can trump even class influence:

And while this particular study didn’t delve into specific reasons for this gap, Currier pointed to previous research showing the impact neighborhood poverty has had on maintaining wealth disparities over time. “Two thirds of African-American children born between 1985 and 2000 are being raised in high poverty neighborhoods,” compared to just six percent of white children, Currier noted, proportions that haven’t shifted much over the last 30 years. “It isn’t the case that two thirds of African-American families are poor, but a lot of even middle-class African-American families are living in high poverty neighborhoods and research shows that, that environment in childhood increases a person’s chance of downward mobility by 52 percent,” she added.

Interestingly, the author then brings up yet another NBER paper which seems to be a necessary corollary to the other one:

A study published in May by the National Bureau of Economic Research may have hinted at one of the barriers to moving out of those poverty-stricken neighborhoods, revealing that black and Hispanic homebuyers pay as much as 3 percent more for their homes, regardless of their income, wealth or credit profiles.

It turns out that the actual data shows a much more dire picture than some of those writing on the subject would suggest.

Simply stating the fact that economic mobility by some measures hasn’t decreased isn’t to say most Americans are doing well. It isn’t even to imply that economic mobility comes even close to being a realistic hope for many Americans. If you are poor and especially if you are a poor minority in a poor minority neighborhood, you are shit out of luck. For these people, it’s a constant struggle, running just to stay in place.

Backfire Effect, Oppressed Minority, & Political Divide

Here are just a few thoughts, but I won’t offer any complex analysis. This is just some info I’ve come across recently: (1) the backfire effect demographics, (2) the most oppressed minority, and (3) the main US political divide.

(1) The backfire effect is very interesting. It’s the cognitive behavior of someone’s beliefs becoming stronger when confronted with facts that contradict those beliefs. When dealing with such a person, rational discussion is impossible.

Anyone can be prone to the backfire effect at times, but only certain groups are consistently prone to it.

Unsurprisingly, research shows that conservatives are most prone. Liberals, on the other hand, may or may not change their beliefs when confronted with new info. However, most liberals tend to not becoming stronger in their beliefs in reaction to facts that counter their beliefs.

Looking at the research, there was only one other demographic I noticed that was also prone. This other group are those who are highly educated, specifically experts. For different reasons than conservatives, an expert believes he already knows more than others, at least when it comes to certain subjects. The expert is probably often right, but this often being right can lead the expert to not as seriously consider new info.

(2) The most oppressed minority isn’t what most people would guess. Researchers have asked Americans who they’d vote for as president. A majority would be willing to vote for a Mormon, for a woman, for a racial minority, and even for a homosexual.

Who wouldn’t most Americans vote for? Atheists. There has never been an openly atheist president and openly atheist politicians are rare.

I was listening to a radio show where a novel was being discussed. The novel apparently involved an atheist character. This led to several atheists to call in to express the prejudice they’ve experienced from Christians, especially in rural areas. The prejudice included ostracization and hate mail.

Atheists, and the non-religious in general, is a growing demographic. But Christian institutions continue to wield immense power in the US. Too often religious freedom simply means the freedom to be religious but not the freedom to be treated fairly as an atheist or non-believer.

(3) The strongest divide in US politics may not be what is portrayed in the MSM. The most loyal base of the Democratic party isn’t the progressive/liberal movement. In fact, it’s social conservatives who are minorities.

These Democratic party minorities are traditional conservatives, not right-wing conservatives as seen in the Republican party. These minorities are social conservatives who largely are evangelical protestants. As traditional conservatives, they believe in social solutions to social problems and they support social institutions to maintain social order. Traditional conservatives, unlike right-wingers, aren’t against government.

The major divide isn’t between liberals and conservatives. Rather, it’s between minority evangelical protestants and white evangelical protestants. The former is a growing demographic and the latter is a shrinking demographic, and at the moment they are at a balance point that hasn’t yet fully shifted. Most interestingly, the Democratic minorities are more socially conservative than the Republican whites, but the Democratic minorities are socially conservative in a traditionally conservative way. The Democratic party, oddly, has become the defender of traditional conservtism.

So, the actual political divide right now is between traditional conservatives and radical right-wingers. Liberals have for various reasons chosen to side with the traditional conservatives.