Now, everything that Joseph Epstein writes should be read by any serious person. However, this essay on the impact of the old WASP establishment on American culture, and how the current meritocracy fails us, is particularly good. The takeaway lines:
What our new meritocrats have failed to evince—and what the older WASP generation prided itself on—is character and the ability to put the well-being of the nation before their own. Character embodied in honorable action is at the heart of the novels and stories of Louis Auchincloss, America's last unembarrassedly WASP writer. Doing the right thing, especially in the face of temptations to do otherwise, was the WASP test par excellence. Most of our meritocrats, by contrast, seem to be in business for themselves.
There is a follow up on the famous Kelo vs. New London Supreme Court Case in 2005 that greatly expanded the government’s ability to condemn and take private property for “public purposes.” Apparently, at least in New London, this has not been a successful use of state power.
Also, Wendell Cox has an interesting discussion of how the metropolitan New York area has expanded over time, as jobs and residents have spread out from Manhattan.
September 5, 2014: Reihan Salam, a favorite critic, argues in Salon that poverty has come to the suburbs at a higher rate than it has grown in big cities because poorer service workers have followed the service jobs required in the suburbs. This has caused problems. Salam sees more discontent in suburbs like Ferguson, Missouri because the different kinds of family structures today, particularly those exhibited by the poor, can not be accommodated in single-family, detached housing. Households led by singles are up to over 20 percent of all households, two-parent families with the manpower to take care of suburban homes and lawns has fallen, and single parent households have grown. His solution to the problem is to build smaller, high-density attached housing units, not so much because they are more affordable for the poor (most of the poor already live in rental housing units, even if they are contained within a structure built for a single-family), than as a way to alleviate the tax burden on the poor and the stress this causes socially. With high density apartments, Salam believes, local governments would get more tax revenue and not be so aggressive at levying traffic and loitering fines (administered mostly through an often distrusted police force), which have grown to become an enormous burden for the poor in the suburbs. Salam’s observation rings true: the increasing desperation for local tax dollars has increased the use of technology (e.g. red light cameras) and aggressive policing, which burdens everyone, but especially the poor, in an unseemly, stealthy kind of way. His observation that many suburbs can use a substantial increase in housing options to accommodate the growing number of households that don’t fit the traditional suburban model designed for two-parent families, is hard to dispute.
But Salam doesn’t seem to appreciate that some of the desperation for tax dollars is driven by increases in the number of residents — all kinds of residents but including the poor — who require expensive services like schools and law enforcement. While Salam is under the impression that higher density buildings produce more property tax revenue, he doesn’t appreciate that if these buildings are filled with more people per acre than a single family home, they will also require more services, and generate the need for more taxes. More people require more roads, more mass transit, more schools, and more police patrols, no matter what housing structure they reside in. In fairness, one of the most perplexing issues in urban planning over the decades has been whether or not certain types of housing pay more or less in taxes than their inhabitants require in government services. This question has not been answered to anyone’s satisfaction. But it’s widely acknowledged that the more people, the more taxes. That is why local governments all over seek “ratables,” those valuable business operations that don’t necessarily attract more local residents and whose operations and employees don’t require new teachers or cops (though some would argue about roads and infrastructure).
There are broader questions raised by this article. If the poor (the majority of whom are single mothers) are poor at least in some respect to there being only one or no working adults in a household, wouldn’t a poor, single mother of three still be poor living in an attached apartment (as opposed to a basement of a single-family home)? If at least one social objective to alleviate poverty is to create two-income households, it is not clear how building smaller housing units would encourage this. As Joel Kotkin and others have repeatedly shown, our most densely populated areas exhibit the most severe forms of economic stratification.
Nor is it clear how Salam’s recommendation would address the aspirations of the poor, most of whom still seek one day to acquire a piece of property and a single-family home. How would filling the landscape with apartment buildings and crowding out single-family, detached homes (making them, therefore, more expensive) help the poor to achieve that dream?
Salam’s remedy of building smaller living units might even exacerbate another problem that some suburbs (and the nation as a whole) face: the “birth dearth”, or the decline in older suburbs of family formation and birth rates. The decline in the production of young suburban residents who will make up the bulk of future taxpayers and workers, and who also generate the need and the will to maintain satisfactory school systems and other aspects of civic life, has consumed aging suburbs. As demographer Wendell Cox and others have shown, localities with higher densities have considerably lower birth rates than areas with lower densities. Will the suburbs relinquish the one asset they have, the space and infrastructure to attract new residents with their single-family homes? Are the suburbs to become “child free zones”, like many of the poshest segments of America’s big cities?
December 23, 2013: Joel Kotkin, an MFP favorite, explains how power in America has become concentrated in Washington, and how the answer to this concentration (for those who oppose it) lies in local government.
December 23, 2013: One of America’s great essayists compares the rule of the country under the old “WASP” establishment with the current “meritocracy”, and the current trend doesn’t hold up as well.
December 23, 2013: This is a great summary and explanation of how the census determines what constitute major metropolitan areas.
December 23, 2013: The seventeenth year of non-global warning has lots of scientists and other critics questioning whether or not the “scientific” models of “global warming” were ever really serious.
December 23, 2013: One of the world’s most highly respected advocates of high density and “smart growth” as a way to provide economic development (Richard Florida) here seems to admit that the poor do very badly in high density regions.
December 23, 2013: Joel Kotkin claims that the plight of the underclass in America’s large cities is anything but positive.
December 22, 2013: Edward Glaeser, one of the most insightful economic urbanists, declares that inequality in our major cities is . . . Well . . . A sign of great social health!
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.
Welcome to Mr. Forman’s Planet. This web site is designed to assist interested students of American life to better understand public policy, government, politics, and culture in America. This includes my own occasional musings, articles, and books; all time “must read” articles on a range of topics (I define “must read” here); links to what I think are the best web sites, and weekly “must read” recommendations.
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