Living in bubbles

Charles Murray has a new book out, and an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal summarizing its argument. He maintains that the richest and the poorest Americans are more isolated from the rest of their culture than they were 50 years ago. He suggests that, for their own benefit, they'd both do well to break out. To the inhabitants of the decaying low-income, low-education areas, he recommends:
There remains a core of civic virtue and involvement in working-class America that could make headway against its problems if the people who are trying to do the right things get the reinforcement they need—not in the form of government assistance, but in validation of the values and standards they continue to uphold. The best thing that the new upper class can do to provide that reinforcement is to drop its condescending "nonjudgmentalism." Married, educated people who work hard and conscientiously raise their kids shouldn't hesitate to voice their disapproval of those who defy these norms. When it comes to marriage and the work ethic, the new upper class must start preaching what it practices.
To the sheltered inhabitants of the "SuperZIPs," those giant gated communities near New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, he recommends rethinking their priorities:
Here are some propositions that might guide them: Life sequestered from anybody not like yourself tends to be self-limiting. Places to live in which the people around you have no problems that need cooperative solutions tend to be sterile. America outside the enclaves of the new upper class is still a wonderful place, filled with smart, interesting, entertaining people. If you're not part of that America, you've stripped yourself of much of what makes being American special.
Most people won't listen to Mr. Murray. In order to strip out results that can be explained by ethnicity or racism, he looks strictly at statistics relating to white people. His ideas in this new book, like the ones in the past several, will therefore be dismissed as racism.

Something like the same sorting trend was described in Bill Bishop's 2009 "The Big Sort," a book that I found unsatisfying. Bishop was persuasive in his statistics about the clumping of like-minded communities, as revealed in fine-grained analysis of changing voting habits over a number of election cycles. Unfortunately, he didn't seem to know what to make of the data, other than to bemoan the increasing difficulty of civil discussions about deep political disagreements. Also, while he thoroughly understood why nice people would naturally congregate in progressive neighborhoods in his own in Austin, Texas, he seemed a little bemused about what all those Americans in red precincts could be thinking.

Mr. Murray, in contrast, has done a lot of analysis over several decades about how much more efficiently our education system now works to sort out Americans by I.Q. I was surprised to read (in "The Bell Curve"), for instance, how relatively recently the Ivy Leagues began moving toward a fairly strict meritocracy. Before 1960, they demanded a moderate minimum level of scholasticism and then mostly sorted by money and class. Back then, the brightest students from flyover country were far more likely to attend local schools and stay in their home towns performing a variety of jobs, rather than gravitate to Wall Street or the Mayo Clinic as they tend to do today.

Our neighborhood is very mixed in education and income. We like it that way.


Grim said...

Well, they're bubbled-up enough that I don't know anyone from the super-ZIPs. I do know a few folks who have to be approaching the bottom, though; but in rural Georgia, that's not unusual.

bthun said...

"I do know a few folks who have to be approaching the bottom, though; but in rural Georgia, that's not unusual."

Yep. We certainly have a croker sack full of those approaching the bottom of societies measures living in rural Georgia.

Many of those folks are great and generous individuals who would give what little they have, and do so with enthusiasm, if they were asked to help the needy. I could drive the old pickup less than a mile from the hovel and show a guest a bushel basket full of such folks.

Now, abutting the back property line of the Hun hovel is a middle class® to upper class® ranked family. And about 50 acres further over lived a family who could have mixed with the Upper Crust™ on almost any scale, other than opting to live in a gated community. Since the Great Depression part Deux, that family's fortunes have fallen, their home deteriorated, and they were eventually forced to sell the property.

As turns the cycle of life, so too turned the cycle of real estate and some folks recently arrived from Europe bought the property.

As much culture shock ensued, the most drastic and unsettling for the newly arrived folks occured when a few of the neighbors started taking shots at deer in the surrounding woods this past deer season. Shortly after learning this was the way of life around here, the new folks caught on to why Walkin' Boss and I always wear blaze orange when strolling about in the woods and why the horse blankets are all neon colored.

Sadly, firearms and Europeans seem to be a mutually exclusive combination these days. But we'll do what we can to help em get over that fear.

Anyway, maybe another mile down the road is an exclusive (read expensive as all get out) Country Club/Golf course with surrounding 2-5 acre properties that were going for low to mid seven figures not so long ago.

All in all, I think we too are right mixed up around these parts, and most of the folks get along right well in the mixing.

Yet another thing I love about my South.

Anonymous said...

Festung Kleinrot sits in a pretty much middle to lower middle class area in town. Probably 75% of the people on my block are at least partly retired, but cross a street north or south and it is all working folks. Lotta people going to work when I'm doing my 0600 PT outside. We leave eachother alone and look the other way if squirrels and grackles or starlings suddenly start succumbing to lead poisoning. But someone is always ready to lend a hand after a big blow/snow/ice storm.


Peter said...

I don't live in any of the richest neighbourhoods in Canada and I am quite happy about that. My neighbourhood is a mix of people with various incomes, but I know that if my family needed help, there would be at least one or two people willing to help. I am not sure if I could say the same about people from the super-ZIPs.

douglas said...

I live where I grew up (a rarity in Los Angeles), and it's a community with a pretty good variety of lower middle to middle class folks, with a few upper class thrown in (not by the numbers against national average, but by L.A. cost of living standards). The local elementary school is a fairly tight community, where we have developed many good friends, and the neighbors on the couple of blocks around us I might not know well or interact with much, but we're friendly, and recently when we had some trees suddenly take a heavy trimming from Mother Nature, we had plenty of offers to help with it.

Still, we're historically an island of relative prosperity surrounded by more modest neighborhoods- above the line working poor to lower middle class, some gangs and such. Too many of the people up on our hill really see 'down there' as a place to pass through quickly on their way to other places, and rarely if ever get some tacos at the local eateries or shop at the local grocery. These tend to be the more liberal and white of our residents (go figure).

What I miss is having almost anyone around me who is conservative, and doesn't hide it. That lack of ideological diversity is stifling a bit. There are a fair number of Ron Paul supporters in the neighborhood, though.