In his recent article in the New York Times, Paul Krugman takes down Charles Murray’s book on how the bad mean Liberals supposedly stole the good, traditional values of the working class. I have to say that I’m quite impressed with this article, people. Krugman is slowly rehabilitating himself in my eyes.
First, Krugman makes a very important point that doesn’t get made nearly enough: the erosion of the traditional family has not brought any disaster to society. Just the opposite, it’s been a positive development:
Mr. Murray and other conservatives often seem to assume that the decline of the traditional family has terrible implications for society as a whole. . . Yet the truth is that some indicators of social dysfunction have improved dramatically even as traditional families continue to lose ground. As far as I can tell, Mr. Murray never mentions either the plunge in teenage pregnancies among all racial groups since 1990 or the 60 percent decline in violent crime since the mid-90s. Could it be that traditional families aren’t as crucial to social cohesion as advertised?
If by traditional families we mean couples who get married young and then stay together long after any semblance of love between the partners is dead and who bring up miserable kids whose only relational model is that of endlessly bickering, fighting, yelling or, at best, completely indifferent partners, then I say, to hell with those traditional families. Life without love or a possibility, a hope of love is meaningless. If people don’t seek a divorce as an escape from a dead relationship, that’s true tragedy. The more likely people are to bury dead marriages and move on, the happier the society at large will be.
All of these oft-lauded traditional values are based on nothing but endless self-violation of an individual who is supposed to stifle his or her own needs because, supposedly, that somehow serves society at large. Well, it doesn’t and we now have proof of it.
The second part of Krugman’s insightful article discusses what really constitutes a great problem for the working classes. Forget about the supposedly bad morals of the blue-collar folks, Krugman says. Let’s look at their economic reality, instead:
For lower-education working men, however, it has been all negative. Adjusted for inflation, entry-level wages of male high school graduates have fallen 23 percent since 1973. Meanwhile, employment benefits have collapsed. In 1980, 65 percent of recent high-school graduates working in the private sector had health benefits, but, by 2009, that was down to 29 percent.
So we have become a society in which less-educated men have great difficulty finding jobs with decent wages and good benefits. Yet somehow we’re supposed to be surprised that such men have become less likely to participate in the work force or get married, and conclude that there must have been some mysterious moral collapse caused by snooty liberals. And Mr. Murray also tells us that working-class marriages, when they do happen, have become less happy; strange to say, money problems will do that.
It makes me really annoyed to see how often people harp on the completely erroneous idea that working class folks are somehow less moral than the middle and especially upper middle classes. Sure, it’s easy to preserve one’s relationship as a couple when one can afford to go to a beautiful resort for a romantic getaway a couple of times a year, when any issues you might start having as a couple can be immediately addressed by high-paid therapists and psychoanalysts, when you can share such hobbies as exploring expensive restaurants, traveling the world and collecting exotic wines.
It might just be a teensy bit harder to preserve the romance when one is going nuts over the mounting bills or when one can’t find even a minimum-wage job. In other words,
The social changes taking place in America’s working class are overwhelmingly the consequence of sharply rising inequality, not its cause.
And I couldn’t agree more.
P.S. Thank you, David Bellamy, for bringing this great article to my attention.