October 2, 2013: In a break from government and politics, I thought I’d share with my readers the words I shared with my son on the day of his Bar Mitzvah, the coming of age of a man in the Jewish tradition (age 13). I hope you take something good away from this.
Jonah, friends and family. What can be said, Jonah, in this public forum that you don’t already know? We love you, think you’re a wonderful person, and think you’ve done a marvelous job here today, leading the whole service. This was a journey that started around a year ago, and consisted of many battles, frustration, sweat, and tears. But there was never any doubt in our minds you would get to the place we wanted you to get to. I hope you will use this experience of rigorous preparation as an aid in future endeavors. And, of course, the Talmud tells us, that “When you teach your son, you teach your son's son.” So I’m personally relieved to have reached this milestone. I’ve long maintained that a Bar Mitzvah is really a family affair, and I feel like at least now I could say I’ve left a legacy for my children to follow.
Jonah, becoming a man means to strive for virtue, honor, and excellence in all areas of your life, and being the absolute best brother, son, friend, husband, father and citizen you can be. Manliness is not related to pullups or situps, to stealing home plate, or other displays of physical prowess. Being a man is much harder than that. And manhood is not the opposite of womanhood. It is the opposite of childhood: A child is selfish, scared, and dependent. A man is brave, courteous, self-governing, and gives of himself to others, especially the weak or the sick, or the disadvantaged.
Unlike much of the self-improvement literature today, which focuses on the power of positive thinking, manliness is about the development of a noble character -- of attributes like courage, industry, reliability, and honesty -- all prerequisites for a life well-lived.
Jonah, someone once said that “A man's desire for a son is usually nothing but the wish to duplicate himself in order that such a remarkable pattern may not be lost to the world.” I confess that I have felt this way at times. But I am truly thankful for the ways in which you are different from me. You are quiet and respectful around people. You are resolute and don’t feel as though you must bare your soul to others. Finally, you are so much more forgiving of my shortcomings than I was of my own father’s. That has been as much of a relief to me as it has been a surprise.
Still, we have enough traits in common that I think I should leave you with a few words of advice. I’ve lived with these traits a little longer than you have. First, it would probably be helpful to remember the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, who said “If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.” Be willing to admit your mistakes and to take the blame. Secondly, nobody on this earth is perfect. We live in a world of abundant temptation and human failure. So when someone you know fails you in some way, try to remember their good side. Finally, Nobody leaves this earth without heartache: or tsuris as they say in Yiddish. Nobody. I can’t protect you from that. It’s one of the hardest things about being a parent. So nurture your faith. It will give you strength to get through those times. Thank God every day for who you are and what you have and remember – another Jewish saying – there is nothing ever so bad that it can’t get worst. So do as Micah tells us, seek Justice, and love Mercy, and remember, as far as mommy and I are concerned, you may have outgrown our laps, but you’ll never outgrow our hearts.
May 30, 2013: In 1996 one of the great public policy achievements in a generation took place: “Welfare reform.” The federal law pushed by a Republican congress and signed by Democratic President Bill Clinton reversed the perverse incentives of government cash assistance to the poor by imposing a 5 year lifetime limit on benefits and a 2 year work requirement for those receiving aid. In the 16 years since President Clinton and Congress signed the “Personal Responsibility and Opportunity Act,” the number of people receiving federal cash assistance under the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program (formerly “Aid to Families with Dependent Children,” or “welfare”) has fallen by two-thirds, from 12.6 million in 1996 to 4.6 million in 2012. Public spending on the program has dropped by more than half. Few of the horrific prognostications about homeless children lining the streets of our cities and Dickensian-like scenes of streets filled with starving and disease-ridden poor people were realized. Overall, a great public policy success story.
But dependency now seems to be rising through the “back door” of government programs that in the public conscience are not traditionally considered “welfare.” We now learn that an average of 46.6 million people received U.S. government food stamps in 2012, compared with the 26.3 million who did so in 2007. We also now learn that there are a record number of people receiving Medicaid benefits (the 1965 health care insurance program for the indigent). The number of Medicaid enrollees has grown by 13.8 million between 2008 and 2012, rising from 58.8 million in 2008 to 72.6 million in 2012. (Some of this no doubt a result of the increasing elderly population qualifying for long-term care under Medicaid). Twenty-three percent, or almost one out of four Americans, now receive Medicaid.
Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, we also learn that record numbers of Americans now receive cash assistance and other benefits as enrollees of Social Security Disability (OASDI)insurance. The record number of 10,978,040 disability beneficiaries in May of 2013 now exceeds the population of all but seven states. That is up 17 percent, or 1.8 million, since 2008, when 9.2 million people received disability insurance.
While there is substantial overlap in the additional 20 million people on the Food Stamp rolls, the 13.8 million on the Medicaid rolls, and the 1.8 million on Disability Insurance over the last half decade, it appears that the “dependency model” of social mobility has made a triumphant return.
May 26, 2013: Joel Kotkin: “America’s New Tech Oligarchs,” The Daily Beast: Kotkin points out that while the media and other urban elites love high tech industries like computer programming and believe it is the key to both regional and global economic growth, they do not produce a lot of middle-class jobs.
May 25, 2013: America’s demographer Joel Kotkin explains the inexorable allure of the urban periphery, and that population matters for economic growth more than population density.
May 1, 2013: Two very good pieces on metropolitan areas and the future of American life. One, by MFP favorite Joel Kotkin, says the suburbs are the future. The other, by Kotkin adversary and media darling Richard Florida, extols the predominance of central cities.
April 4, 2013: Very good summary by Steven Malanga of the Manhattan Institute of recent data showing that California’s economy is divided between wealthier, coastal metro areas and a very badly off “Inland Empire” of a vanishing middle-class. He also shows how New York is similar.
March 12, 2013: Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute reports that New York City’s “broken windows” policing (enforcing small crimes which reduces large crimes) has resulted in declining prison populations.
January 9, 2013: America’s demographer explains whether or not the future of America is “progressive” in the wake of President Obama’s election win. In doing so, he explains how much of our politics is determined by the use of local space and metro area design. Amazing, but true!
November 9, 2012: The best analyses of the presidential election of 2012, thus far: from Michael Barone, a favorite of mine who missed badly in his election prediction, on the “two Americas,” Juan Williams on the demography that resulted in an impressive Obama victory and that might doom Republicans for generations, and Sean Trende on the absence of white voters in the 2012 election.
October 9, 2012: Two sides of a very important debate. This weekend the New York Times ran a piece describing how the GOP became the “anti-urban” party. In August, Stanley Kurtz wrote this piece for National Review explaining how the Democrats became the “anti-suburban” party.
September 21, 2012: Great article by “America’s Demographer” Joel Kotkin, on the bi-partisan neglect of the suburbs.
Sept. 5, 2012: Do you know America’s biggest problem? Declining fertility rates. We now produce fewer children per woman than France and Britain. Yes, FRANCE AND BRITAIN!!
June 15, 2012: A very strong defense of the U.S. Census and its importance to the U.S. economy.
May 29, 2012: Robert Samuelson and Glenn Reynolds, separately, believe there is a higher education bubble. Basically, they both say too many people are getting steered into college, colleges are therefore able to raise tuition, but the value of the education (both in terms of what is learned, how many graduate, and what a college education commands in the marketplace) are inflated. The question is whether the bubble is ready to burst or not. Reynolds argues consumers are figuring all this out and are seeking alternatives. Samuelson is a bit agnostic on this matter.
April 12, 2012: Really good and interesting insight on economy by Tyler Cowen, the new golden boy economist. Writing in the American Interest (May/June 2012) Cowen:
“leaves the impression that there are two interrelated American economies. On the one hand, there is the globalized tradable sector — companies that have to compete with everybody everywhere. These companies, with the sword of foreign competition hanging over them, have become relentlessly dynamic and very (sometimes brutally) efficient.
“On the other hand, there is a large sector of the economy that does not face this global competition — health care, education and government. Leaders in this economy try to improve productivity and use new technologies, but they are not compelled by do-or-die pressure, and their pace of change is slower.
“A rift is opening up. The first, globalized sector is producing a lot of the productivity gains, but it is not producing a lot of the jobs.”
Seth Forman is the author of American Obsession: Race and Conflict in the Age of Obama, Blacks in the Jewish Mind: A Crisis of Liberalism and other books. He teaches government and public policy at Stony Brook University and Suffolk County Community College and serves as Chief Planner of the Long Island Regional Planning Council. This web site is not associated in any way with these institutions.
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