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Capitalist Paradise > Anti-Capitalism > Losing social mobility


Title: Losing social mobility
Description: America no longer the best deal around?


New Tolerance - January 4, 2005 11:31 PM (GMT)

Praxus - January 4, 2005 11:59 PM (GMT)
QUOTE
The past couple of decades have seen a huge increase in inequality in America. The Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think-tank, argues that between 1979 and 2000 the real income of households in the lowest fifth (the bottom 20% of earners) grew by 6.4%, while that of households in the top fifth grew by 70%. The family income of the top 1% grew by 184%—and that of the top 0.1% or 0.01% grew even faster. Back in 1979 the average income of the top 1% was 133 times that of the bottom 20%; by 2000 the income of the top 1% had risen to 189 times that of the bottom fifth.


I don't see how these factors have anything to do with "raising to the top". If someone were to make $15,000 a year in the bottom 20% of earners and within the next 30 years madehis way up to $80,000 he would no longer be counted as a member of the bottom 20% of income earners. So 99% of the people could have rissen out of it, but because they were replaced with younger people just starting as they once had it shows that the bottom 20% did not increase in wealth.

QUOTE
Thirty years ago the average real annual compensation of the top 100 chief executives was $1.3m: 39 times the pay of the average worker. Today it is $37.5m: over 1,000 times the pay of the average worker. In 2001 the top 1% of households earned 20% of all income and held 33.4% of all net worth. Not since pre-Depression days has the top 1% taken such a big whack.


News flash, the rich didn't cause the depression (as this quote implys), the Government did.

QUOTE
Jonathan Fisher and David Johnson, two economists at the Bureau of Labour Statistics, looked at inequality and social mobility using measures of both income and consumption. They found that mobility “slightly decreased” in the 1990s. In 1984-90, 56% and 54% of households changed their rankings in terms of income and consumption respectively. In 1994-99, only 52% and 49% changed their rankings.


This is nonsense, as relitive position in the economy is irrelivent to the ammount of wealth you have.

QUOTE
This is not the first time that America has looked as if it was about to succumb to what might be termed the British temptation. America witnessed a similar widening of the income gap in the Gilded Age. It also witnessed the formation of a British-style ruling class. The robber barons of the late 19th century sent their children to private boarding schools and made sure that they married the daughters of the old elite, preferably from across the Atlantic. Politics fell into the hands of the members of a limited circle—so much so that the Senate was known as the millionaires' club.


This really shows it's anti-capitalist bend. There is a fundamental difference between mostly honest buissnessmen and aristocracy backed by the force of the Government.

Inspector - January 5, 2005 03:07 PM (GMT)
From your quoted section alone, I notice two immediate problems:

1) The "gap" between the bottom 20% of earners and the top 1% is essentially meaningless as an economic statistic. The top 1% are a very small number of people (DUH!) and to compare their incomes to anyone else doesn't yield any facts of significance.

2) The term "robber baron" is used, which is the classic smear that capitalists acquired their wealth by force, which is a bald faced lie in most cases. (In the rest, those people cannot properly be called capitalists).

Kriegsgefahrzustand - January 5, 2005 03:39 PM (GMT)
What the hell is 'social mobility'? Is it anything like having your legs broken by piles of legislation and non-objective law?

New Tolerance - January 5, 2005 09:58 PM (GMT)
Anyone have comments about the facts that social mobility in America has decreased in the last 20 years and the fact that America is no longer the most socially mobile society in the world? (Well, this article is supposedly about social mobility after all)

Praxus - January 5, 2005 10:17 PM (GMT)
We have already answered you, where you are in relation to everyone else is irrelivent.

New Tolerance - January 5, 2005 11:02 PM (GMT)
one last clarification, so you are saying that the fact that less people are able to get out of their social class is irrelevant?

Praxus - January 6, 2005 12:19 AM (GMT)
There is not such thing as "social classes", but if you wish to group people then the fact that some people are getting wealthier slower relitive to everyone else does not change the fact that they are getting wealthier. As Kriegsgefahrzustand has said (not in so many words), is that the main problem stoping a lot of people rising to the middle and the top is the Government!

Westbound - January 6, 2005 12:26 AM (GMT)
Social mobility has not decreased in any Western country I'd say. Once again someone has assumed that the lack of opportunity actually exists.

Inspector - January 6, 2005 02:02 AM (GMT)
To sum:

1) The link does not contain compelling evidence of a real problem.

2) If there does exist a real problem, it is caused by statism and would be cured by capitalism.


Kriegsgefahrzustand - January 6, 2005 06:06 AM (GMT)
I'm not going to argue on loaded terms. Statist neolgisms like 'social mobility' are effectivly meaningless to a true debate on capitalism, you'd be better to aruge that sort of thing with a mixed economy advocate, and in fact you'd win if you're a socialist or communist.

Its like asking me if I believe capitalism is the most efficient distributer of 'resources'... the question implies a number of concepts antithetical to capitalism and therefore to accept them as a basis for argument would be to contradict the meaning of the system we defend.

Capitalism does not seek to maximize 'social mobility' or even claim to, whether it does or not is of no interest to me.

As for the Western governments of the world, I do not consider them to be capitalist, therefore any of their failings merely serve to reinforce my own arguments against them, especially when they fail to deliver on the terms promised by their own advocates.

Honestly now, define the term 'social mobility'

What does it mean? On what terms and by what standard is it measured?

Westbound - January 7, 2005 05:37 PM (GMT)
Krieg, the conventional definition of social mobility is that you're born into one income group ("class"), and somehow ascend to another. It used to be hard to climb the "social ladder" when there were legislated "boundaries" between certain income groups. Capitalism offers the greatest ability to climb the social ladder, but a mixed economy does little to diminish the chance of men to do so. I cannot say this enough: The lack of opportunity is a MYTH!

As for this:
Its like asking me if I believe capitalism is the most efficient distributer of 'resources'... the question implies a number of concepts antithetical to capitalism and therefore to accept them as a basis for argument would be to contradict the meaning of the system we defend.

Bravo!

Kriegsgefahrzustand - January 7, 2005 05:43 PM (GMT)
By that definition then the 'class' structure is defined how? If it is as elastic and relative as it sounds then sure, the ability to move between them would be uneffected by anything but some kind of legislation designed to prevent it, even if a mixed economy does change the incentive structure, and reduce the total amount of wealth produced by a nation or economy.

One thing it doesn't do is destroy 'oppurtunity'. That I believe to be a more cultural than economic phenomenon.



New Tolerance - January 9, 2005 03:59 PM (GMT)
QUOTE
and in fact you'd win if you're a socialist or communist.


Just as a side note, you do realize that I never presented any kind of arguement right?

Praxus - January 9, 2005 04:27 PM (GMT)
Your right, you (a communist/socialist) however did post an article in place of an argument.

New Tolerance - January 9, 2005 06:42 PM (GMT)
QUOTE
Your right, you (a communist/socialist) however did post an article in place of an argument.


Yes indeed, so in fact when when Krieg said that he will not "argue on" he's not (potentially) arguing against me (if that's what he thought he was doing, if not then ignore this. Just trying to clear this part up), as I've never said that I agreed with the author's position. I was attempting to determine your position on the subject.

Praxus - January 9, 2005 07:47 PM (GMT)
Tell me, for what other purpose would you post something on such a subject if not to start an argument, exspecially considering your love of marx and hatred of Capitalism?

New Tolerance - January 9, 2005 09:52 PM (GMT)
I already told you, to figure out your position on the subject.

Praxus - January 9, 2005 09:54 PM (GMT)
Well your done, now leave. We both know your a communist/socialist, and as such you have to agree with the article, at least the vast majority of it.

Inspector - January 9, 2005 09:57 PM (GMT)
He's welcome to ask our opinions on things, so long as he keeps his poison to himself... which he has been pretty good at so far.

New Tolerance - January 9, 2005 10:19 PM (GMT)
QUOTE
Well your done, now leave. We both know your a communist/socialist, and as such you have to agree with the article, at least the vast majority of it.


Well no actually, why would I support the proliferation of social mobility? Social mobility only exists when there is such a thing as social status, which is something that I believe should not exist in the first place.

Inspector - January 9, 2005 11:01 PM (GMT)
Then you should know that we believe "class" is something that can only be constructed and maintained by the state, otherwise it is a meaningless concept. Full Laissez-Faire Capitalism forbids the state creation or enforcement of class and further provides the most economic opportunity of any system for people to "move ahead."

So it is our assertion that it is Capitalism that erases class more than any other system.

Does that answer your question?

New Tolerance - January 9, 2005 11:04 PM (GMT)
QUOTE
Does that answer your question?


Well, you've already implied that before, but yes I know your position now.

Praxus - January 9, 2005 11:10 PM (GMT)
QUOTE
Well no actually, why would I support the proliferation of social mobility? Social mobility only exists when there is such a thing as social status, which is something that I believe should not exist in the first place.


Oh come on now, the whole point of you posting it was to attack Capitalism, because you beleived that Capitalists support Capitalism in part because of "social mobility".

New Tolerance - January 9, 2005 11:36 PM (GMT)
QUOTE
Oh come on now, the whole point of you posting it was to attack Capitalism, because you beleived that Capitalists support Capitalism in part because of "social mobility".


Did you completely miss my point about me not agreeing with the author on the issue?

Kriegsgefahrzustand - January 10, 2005 01:44 AM (GMT)
QUOTE
Did you completely miss my point about me not agreeing with the author on the issue?


I didn't miss why you don't agree.

QUOTE
Social mobility only exists when there is such a thing as social status, which is something that I believe should not exist in the first place.


You may not agree with the article's conclusion, but you certainly seem to accept its premise, which is what I was claiming as irrelevent to my own views.

So now you know what I think, what do you think? How do you intend to eradicate social status?



New Tolerance - January 10, 2005 02:25 AM (GMT)
QUOTE
You may not agree with the article's conclusion, but you certainly seem to accept its premise, which is what I was claiming as irrelevent to my own views.


What exactly do you think is the article's premise?

QUOTE
So now you know what I think, what do you think? How do you intend to eradicate social status?


Democracy in the workplace with elected managers.

Kriegsgefahrzustand - January 10, 2005 02:54 AM (GMT)
QUOTE
Democracy in the workplace with elected managers.


The workers control the means of production? Come on just say it.

New Tolerance - January 10, 2005 03:04 AM (GMT)
QUOTE
The workers control the means of production? Come on just say it.


Yes what of it?

Leader - January 10, 2005 04:20 AM (GMT)
QUOTE (New Tolerance @ Jan 4 2005, 07:31 PM)
http://www.economist.com/world/na/displayS...tory_id=3518560

comments?

BS

QUOTE
The Myth of the Working Poor
By Steven Malanga
City Journal | November 30, 2004


Forty years ago a young, radical journalist helped ignite the War on Poverty with his pioneering book The Other America. In its pages, Michael Harrington warned that the recently proclaimed age of affluence was a mirage, that beneath the surface of U.S. prosperity lay tens of millions of people stuck in hopeless poverty that only massive government intervention could help.

Today, a new generation of journalists is straining to duplicate Harrington's feat—to convince contemporary America that its economic system doesn't work for millions and that only government can lift them out of poverty. These new journalists face a tougher task than Harrington's, though, because all levels of government have spent about $10 trillion on poverty programs since his book appeared, with disappointing, even counterproductive, results. And over the last four decades, millions of poor people, immigrants and native-born alike, have risen from poverty, without recourse to the government programs that Harrington inspired.

But brushing aside the War on Poverty's failure and the success of so many in climbing America's economic ladder, this generation of authors dusts off the old argument for a new era. Books like Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed and David Shipler's The Working Poor tell us that the poor are doing exactly what America expects of them—finding jobs, rising early to get to work every day, chasing the American dream—but that our system of "carnivorous capitalism" is so heavily arrayed against them that they can't rise out of poverty or live a decent life. These new anthems of despair paint their subjects as forced off welfare by uncompassionate conservatives and trapped in low-wage jobs that lead nowhere. They claim, too, that the good life that the country's expanding middle class enjoys rests on the backs of these working poor and their inexpensive labor, so that prosperous Americans owe them more tax-funded help.

Though these books resolutely ignore four decades' worth of lessons about poverty, they have found a big audience. The commentariat loves them. Leftish professors have made them required course reading. And Democratic candidates have made their themes central to the 2004 elections. So it's worth looking closely at what these tomes contend, and at the economic realities that they distort.

To begin with, they follow Harrington's 1962 classic by seeing the poor as victims of forces over which they have no control. From the hills of Appalachia to the streets of Harlem, Harrington had found a generation of impoverished former sharecroppers whose jobs had been replaced by mechanization. For them, the advances that enriched everyone else spelled disaster: "progress is misery" and "hopelessness is the message." Unprepared for life off the farm, many could never find productive work, Harrington argued, and would need perpetual government aid.

But the new thinkers quickly veer to the left of Harrington, following some of his more radical acolytes whose theories produced the War on Poverty's most spectacular disasters. Harrington had seen the poor as victims because they could find no work; his more radical allies, especially a group associated with Columbia University's social-work school, argued that compelling the demoralized inner-city poor to work or take part in training that would fit them for work, instead of giving them unconditional welfare, was itself victimization. Richard A. Cloward and Frances Fox Piven, for example, argued that America's poverty programs—"self-righteously oriented toward getting people off welfare" and making them independent—were violating the civil rights of the poor. Journalist Richard Elman claimed that "vindictive" America was "humiliating" welfare recipients by forcing them to seek entry-level work as taxi drivers, restaurant employees, and factory laborers, instead of giving them a guaranteed minimum income.

Sympathetic mayors and welfare officials responded to Cloward and Piven's call, boosting benefits, loosening eligibility rules, and cutting investigations of welfare cheating. Welfare rolls soared, along with welfare fraud and illegitimate births. The result was a national backlash that sparked the Reagan administration's welfare spending cuts.

But the Columbia crew left its enduring mark on welfare policy, in the principle that welfare, once a short-term program to help people get back on their feet, should be continuous and come with few restrictions and no stigma. A welfare mother, screaming at New York mayor John Lindsay (responsible for much of the city's rise in welfare cases), expressed the system's new philosophy: "It's my job to have kids, Mr. Mayor, and your job to take care of them." It was a philosophy that bred an urban underclass of non-working single mothers and fatherless children, condemned to intergenerational poverty, despite the trillions spent to help them.

Like communists who claim that communism didn't fail but instead was never really tried, Barbara Ehrenreich made her public debut with an attempt to brush aside the War on Poverty's obviously catastrophic results. The 46-year-old daughter of a Montana copper miner-turned-business executive, she joined Cloward and Piven to co-author a 1987 polemic, The Mean Season: The Attack on the Welfare State. The War on Poverty had failed so far, the book claimed, not because of its flawed premises but because the government hadn't done enough to redistribute the nation's wealth. America needed an even bigger War on Poverty that would turn the country into a European-style social welfare state. Pooh-poohing the work ethic and the dignity of labor, the authors derided calls for welfare reform that would require recipients to work, because that would be mortifying to the poor. "There is nothing ennobling about being forced to please an employer to feed one's children," the authors wrote, forgetting that virtually every worker and business owner must please someone, whether boss or customer, to earn a living. Welfare's true purpose, the book declared, should be to "permit certain groups to opt out of work." (The authors never explained why all of us shouldn't demand the right to "opt out.")

The Mean Season's argument gained little traction, but as the nineties dawned, Ehrenreich found a way to bring Cloward and Piven's socialistic themes successfully into the new decade and beyond. Her 1989 book, Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class, blamed poverty's continued existence in America partly on the Me Generation, which Tom Wolfe had so brilliantly made interesting to the nation. America's emerging professional middle class had started out hopefully in the 1960s, Ehrenreich claims, the inheritor of a liberating cultural revolution. But because that class depended on intellectual capital to make its living, rather than on income from property or investments, it felt a sharp economic insecurity, which by the late 1980s had made it "meaner, more selfish," and (worse still) "more hostile to the aspirations of the less fortunate," especially in its impatience with welfare.

The book vibrates with Ehrenreich's rage toward middle-class Americans. The middle class, she sneers, obsessively pursues wealth and is abjectly "sycophantic toward those who have it, impatient with those who do not." To Ehrenreich, "The nervous, uphill climb of the professional class accelerates the downward spiral of society as a whole: toward cruelly widening inequalities, toward heightened estrangement along class lines, and toward the moral anesthesia that estrangement requires." Ironically, Ehrenreich's economic prescription for a better America was for government to create one gigantic bourgeoisie: "Tax the rich and enrich the poor until both groups are absorbed into some broad and truly universal middle class. The details are subject to debate." Time magazine, the voice of the bourgeoisie, made her a regular columnist.

If the Reagan era could provoke Ehrenreich to such anger, it's no surprise that the 1996 welfare reform heightened her fury. Passed by a Republican-controlled Congress and signed into law by Democratic president Bill Clinton, the legislation ended welfare as an automatic federal entitlement and required states to oblige able-bodied recipients to work. The law put a five-year limit on welfare (the average stay on the rolls had been 13 years) but exempted 20 percent of the cases—roughly equivalent to the portion of the welfare population believed too dysfunctional ever to get off public assistance. After President Clinton signed the bill, Ehrenreich claimed that she had seen the betrayal coming: she'd presciently cast a write-in vote for Ralph Nader in 1992's presidential election. She castigated the Left for its muted response to the new welfare law, though she later praised National Organization for Women president Patricia Ireland's hunger strike protesting the bill.

Ehrenreich's anger propelled her to write Nickel and Dimed. Beginning life as a piece of "undercover journalism" for Harper's, the 2001 book purports to reveal the truth about poverty in post-welfare reform America. "In particular," Ehrenreich asks in the introduction, how were "the roughly four million women about to be booted into the labor market by welfare reform . . . going to make it on $6 or $7 an hour?"

Nickel and Dimed doesn't fuss much with public-policy agendas, messy economic theories, or basic job numbers. Instead, it gives us Ehrenreich's first-person account of three brief sojourns into the world of the lowest of low-wage work: as a waitress for a low-priced family restaurant in Florida; as a maid for a housecleaning service in Maine; and as a women's-apparel clerk at a Minneapolis Wal-Mart. In her journeys, she meets a lively and sympathetic assortment of co-workers: Haitian busboys, a Czech dishwasher, a cook with a gambling problem, and assorted single working mothers. But the focus is mostly on Ehrenreich, not her colleagues.

The point that Nickel and Dimed wants to prove is that in today's economy, a woman coming off welfare into a low-wage job can't earn enough to pay for basic living expenses. Rent is a burden, Ehrenreich discovers. In Florida, she lands a $500-a-month efficiency apartment; in Maine, she spends $120 a week for a shared apartment in an old motel (she turns down a less expensive room elsewhere because it's on a noisy commercial street); in Minneapolis, she pays $255 a week for a moldy hotel room. These seem like reasonable enough rents, except perhaps for Minneapolis, judging from her description of the place. But with her entry-level wages—roughly the minimum wage (when tips are included) as a waitress, about $6 an hour as a maid, and $7 an hour to start at Wal-Mart—Ehrenreich quickly finds that she'll need a second job to support herself. This seems to startle her, as if holding down two jobs is something new to America. "In the new version of supply and demand," she writes, "jobs are so cheap—as measured by the pay—that a worker is encouraged to take on as many as she possibly can."

What's utterly misleading about Ehrenreich's exposé, though, is how she fixes the parameters of her experiment so that she inevitably gets the outcome that she wants—"proof" that the working poor can't make it. Ehrenreich complains that America's supposedly tight labor market doesn't produce entry-level jobs at $10 an hour. For people with no skills, that's probably true in most parts of the country; but everywhere, the U.S. economy provides ample opportunity to move up quickly. Yet Ehrenreich spends only a few weeks with each of her employers, and so never gives herself the chance for promotion or to find better work (or better places to live).

In fact, few working in low-wage jobs stay in them long. And most workers don't just move on quickly—they also move on to better jobs. The Sphere Institute, a California public-policy think tank founded by Stanford University professors, charted the economic path of workers in the state from 1988 to 2000 and found extraordinary mobility across industries and up the economic ladder. Over 40 percent of the lowest income group worked in retail in 1988; by 2000, more than half of that group had switched to other industries. Their average inflation-adjusted income gain after moving on: 83 percent, to over $32,000 a year.

The workers who stayed in retail, moreover, were usually the higher earners, making about $10,000 more a year than the leavers. They had already started improving their lots back in 1988, in other words, and probably elected to stay because they rightly saw further opportunity in retailing, though the study doesn't say what happened to them. The same dynamic occurs in other industries where low-wage jobs are concentrated, the study found: those who do well stay and watch earnings go up; those who feel stuck often depart and see earnings rise, too, as they find more promising jobs. In total, over 12 years, 88 percent of those in California's lowest economic category moved up, their incomes rising as they gained experience on the job and time in the workforce, two things that the marketplace rewards.

Such results are only the latest to confirm the enormous mobility that the U.S. economy offers. As a review of academic, peer-reviewed mobility studies by two Urban Institute researchers put it: "It is clear that there is substantial mobility—both short-term and long-term—over an average life-cycle in the United States." Perhaps most astonishingly, mobility often occurs within months. The Urban Institute report points out that several mobility studies based on the University of Michigan's Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which has traced thousands of American families since 1968, show that about 20 percent of those in the lowest economic quintile rise at least one economic class within a year. If Ehrenreich had given herself 12 months in her low-wage stints, instead of a week or two, she might have worked her way into the lower middle class by the end of her experiment.

This mobility explains why poverty rates didn't soar in the 1990s, even though some 13 million people, most of them dirt-poor, immigrated here legally. In fact, the country's poverty rate actually fell slightly during the nineties—which could only happen because millions already here rose out of the lowest income category.

Confidence in the American economy's capacity to foster income mobility helped impel the 1996 welfare reform in the first place. Most former welfare recipients entering the workforce, reformers believed, would over time improve their lives—at least if other handicaps such as drug or alcohol addiction and serious mental deficiencies didn't hold them back. Everything we've subsequently learned about welfare reform shows that the reformers were right, rendering Ehrenreich's book oddly dated from the outset.

Since welfare reform passed, employment among single mothers who'd never previously worked has risen 40 percent. More important, child poverty in single-mother households fell to its lowest point ever just three years after welfare reform became law. Except for a hiccup at the end of the last recession, the poverty rate among those households has continued to drop, down now by about one-third. The New York Times recently reported that "lawmakers of both parties describe the 1996 law as a success that moved millions of people from welfare to work and cut the welfare rolls by 60 percent, to 4.9 million people." Those results belie the hysterical warnings of welfare advocates, Ehrenreich among them, that reform would drastically worsen poverty.

Given that such data subvert Ehrenreich's case against the U.S. economic system, she unsurprisingly puts statistics aside in Nickel and Dimed and instead seeks to paint the low-wage workplace as oppressive and humiliating to workers forced by reformers to enter it. But given the author's self-absorption, what the reader really gets is a self-portrait of Ehrenreich as a longtime rebel with an anti-authoritarian streak a mile wide, who can't stomach the basic boundaries that most people easily accept in the workplace.

At Wal-Mart, for instance, she's "oppressed by the mandatory gentility" that the company requires of her, as if being nice to customers and co-workers were part of the tyranny of capitalism. (I suspect that most customers, if they encountered a snarling Ehrenreich as a clerk while shopping, would flee for the exit.) Told to scrub floors on her hands and knees by the maid service, she cites a "housecleaning expert" who says that this technique is ineffective. Ehrenreich then theorizes that the real reason that the service wants its employees down on their hands and knees is that "this primal posture of submission" and "anal accessibility" seem to "gratify the consumers of maid services." Never has the simple task of washing a floor been so thoroughly Freudianized.

In Ehrenreich's looking-glass world, opportunity becomes oppression. Hired by Wal-Mart shortly after applying, she weirdly protests that "there is no intermediate point [between applying and beginning orientation] . . . in which you confront the employer as a free agent, entitled to cut her own deal." Though she admits that in such a tight labor market, "I would probably have been welcome to apply at any commercial establishment I entered," she still feels "like a supplicant with her hand stretched out."

Unable to understand why her fellow workers don't share her outrage, this longtime socialist and radical feminist turns on the very people with whom she's trying to sympathize, imagining that they can only accept their terrible exploitation because they've become psychologically incapable of resisting. Why are the maids so loyal to the owner of the cleaning service? she asks. They're so emotionally "needy" that they can't break free, she speculates. Why do Wal-Mart workers accept their place in "Mr. Sam's family" instead of rising in a tide of unionization against the company? The Waltons have hoodwinked them, she surmises, misunderstanding completely the appeal to employees of Wal-Mart's opportunity culture, where two-thirds of management has come up from hourly-employee store ranks and where workers own a good chunk of company stock. I can imagine the outrage if I insulted poor people this way

Responsibility for America's shameful economic injustice rests not only with exploitative businesses like Wal-Mart, in Ehrenreich's view, but also with the rich and—you guessed it—the middle class. Going beyond even Fear of Falling, Nickel and Dimed hangs a huge guilt trip on the middle class. Actually, guilt "doesn't go anywhere near far enough," Ehrenreich says. "[T]he appropriate emotion," she claims, "is shame—shame at our own dependency, in this case, on the underpaid labor of others." After all, Ehrenreich tells us, it's the middle class and its irritation with the poor that led to the catastrophe of welfare reform. "When poor single mothers had the option of remaining out of the labor force on welfare, the middle and upper middle class tended to view them with a certain impatience, if not disgust," she maintains.

Like some of Ehrenreich's earlier work, Nickel and Dimed is contemptuous of ordinary Americans. Cleaning the homes of middle-class families, she snoops in bookcases and finds mostly writers on the "low end of the literary spectrum"—you know, Grisham, Limbaugh, those kinds of authors. "Mostly though, books are for show," she clairvoyantly concludes. A woman whose home furnishings suggest that she is a Martha Stewart "acolyte" comes in for particularly withering scorn. "Everything about [her home] enrages me," Ehrenreich snaps. She's only slightly less condescending toward the lower middle class. She mocks Wal-Mart's customers for being obese—or at least the "native Caucasians" among them. Ehrenreich doesn't say what she thinks about the body types of middle-income blacks, Latinos, or Asians.

Ehrenreich's disparagement of the middle class, Wal-Mart, Martha Stewart, and various other targets of the Left these days doubtless has a lot to do with Nickel and Dimed's remarkable success. The book rode the New York Times hardcover bestseller list for 18 weeks and has been on the paperback bestseller list for nearly two years now. So far, it has sold upward of a half-million copies in the U.S.

The left-leaning professoriat is helping drive the sales. Nickel and Dimed is standard fare in many freshman-orientation reading programs, in which schools require an entire incoming class to read one particular book. I nicely got treated to another one of these gems as my class book, Fast Food Nation Among the 20 or so schools that have picked Nickel and Dimed for such programs are Ohio State (14,000 freshmen), the University of California, Riverside (nearly 20,000 freshmen), and Ball State (8,000-plus freshmen). Some of the schools, including Mansfield University in Pennsylvania (freshman class, about 1,600), have bought the book for students, just to ensure that the kids don't miss out on its wisdom. Since the book's publication, Ehrenreich enthuses, she's lectured at more than 100 universities.

Not everybody is taking this force-feeding of leftist propaganda sitting down. Conservative students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill protested the freshman-orientation reading committee's choice of Nickel and Dimed, bringing in local conservative groups and state legislators to try to force greater ideological balance on the school's reading program. What students objected to, explains Michael McKnight, a UNC grad who helped lead the protest, was the book's biased and misleading depiction of the American workplace, along with UNC's failure to provide any counterweight, such as critical reviews of the book. Says McKnight, "The freshman-orientation package of resources on the book included nothing but glowing reviews of it and lists of Ehrenreich's awards."

There's other evidence that students aren't buying Ehrenreich's pessimistic line on the U.S. economy. Professor Larry Schweikart, who teaches U.S. economic history at the University of Dayton, assigns his students Nickel and Dimed along with other books that paint a brighter picture of the American economy. Schweikart says that many students quickly grasp what's wrong with Ehrenreich's book. "Many of these kids have worked in the low-wage marketplace, so they are more familiar with it than their professors or media reviewers. They tell me that there are better jobs out there than the ones Ehrenreich stuck herself with, that those jobs aren't long-term, and that they understand that she didn't give herself any time to find better work or advance."

If the holes in Ehrenreich's argument are clear even to some college kids, the logical gaps gape even wider in the 2004 book that hopes to succeed Nickel and Dimed as the definitive left statement on the oppressiveness of low-wage work: The Working Poor, by former New York Times reporter David Shipler. To his credit, Shipler, unlike Ehrenreich, cares enough about the workers who are his subjects to try to give a comprehensive account of their struggles to make it, delving into their lives and addressing important economic and cultural issues head-on. Following Ehrenreich, however, Shipler wants to blame an unjust U.S. economy for the plight of the poor. Yet his own evidence proves a very different, and crucial, point: it's often dysfunctional behavior and bad choices, not a broken economy, that prevent people from escaping poverty.

Consider some of the former welfare recipients Shipler profiles in his chapter called "Work Doesn't Work." Christie, a day-care worker, describes herself as "lazy" for never finishing college (her brother, who did, is an accountant, and her sister is a loan officer). She has had several children out of wedlock with various men, and now lives with one of them—Kevin, an ex-con—in public housing. Christie can't make ends meet, but that's partly because, having never learned to cook, she blows her $138-a-month food-stamp allocation on "an abundance of high-priced, well-advertised snacks, junk food, and prepared meals."

Then there's Debra, who had her first illegitimate child at 18. Forced to work by welfare reform, Debra actually lands a job in a unionized factory—the holy grail of low-wage work to the Left. Unfortunately, she can't adjust to work in the shop, has nightmares about the assembly line, and imagines that the bosses prefer the Hispanic workers to her, since she's black. Shipler understands that with such attitudes, she is unlikely to move up.

Or how about Caroline, who spent years on welfare and has worked various jobs, including at Wal-Mart? She actually owns her own house, though, as Shipler ominously mentions, "it is mostly owned by the bank." (Welcome to the club, Caroline.) Caroline is a victim of the "ruthlessness of the market system," Shipler informs us, because she can't seem to land a promotion. We eventually learn from her caseworkers, however, that she doesn't bathe regularly and smells bad, that when she first divorced she refused her in-laws' offer of help, that she then married a man who beat her (she later left him), and that she keeps managing to get hired but then loses one job after another.

How has the U.S. economy let these workers down? In each of these cases, bad choices have kept someone from getting ahead.

Shipler's grim chapter headings are often wildly at odds with the stories he tells. One chapter, "Harvest of Shame," describes Hispanic seasonal farmworkers, who toil long hours for little money, often live in substandard temporary quarters, yearn for their families, and—because many are here illegally—don't qualify for government benefits. Again, though, is the U.S. economic system really exploiting these workers, as Shipler thinks? We soon learn that many of the illegals have come here to support families back in Mexico. They send home 70 percent of what they earn and plan to return south when they've amassed enough wealth (by Mexican standards).

True, since they're illegals, they can't get mainstream jobs with the potential for promotion and benefits. Yet for them, this low-wage work pays off. Pedro earns nine times more working illegally on a North Carolina farm than he did toiling in a Mexican slaughterhouse. He sends from $300 to $500 a month home to his folks. If he works just two more years on the farm, he figures, he'll have enough to build a house in Mexico, and it'll be time to go home. Like many of his countrymen, Pedro is temporarily using America to make up for the Mexican economy's deficiencies. This hardly represents a failure of our economy. Shipler nonetheless finds puzzling the "absence of anger" among these immigrants. They are getting a 500% pay increase. I'd be pissed too.

Pointing to illegals like Pedro, who can't take advantage of the larger opportunities that our economy offers, or to people like Debra and Christie, who, every time they start to climb the economic ladder, do something self-destructive that causes them to fall back a few rungs, Shipler claims that economic mobility is vanishing from the United States. Today, he says, low-wage workers can only better themselves if they benefit from a "perfect lineup of favorable conditions."

The Tran family is just such an exception, Shipler thinks. Everything works for these Vietnamese immigrants. Within four months of arriving in the U.S. in 1998, three family members were working, earning $42,848 in their first year in the country. Within five months, the family had earned enough to buy two used cars. Within two years, two children had registered for college. This is a "heroic" success story, in Shipler's view, because for low-wage workers in today's America, "there is no room for mistake or misfortune—not for drugs, not for alcohol, not for domestic violence." Should there be? Would you hire someone that was high, drunk, or violent?

But what the Trans have done, admirable as it is, isn't heroic—or even unusual. In 1990s California, where the Trans did so well, recall that nearly nine out of ten low-wage workers moved up, presumably avoiding the drugs, alcohol, and violence that Shipler wrongly sees as endemic to poverty. The average real income of the low-wage workers in the Sphere Institute study doubled over that time to more than $27,000 a year. Nor is there any evidence, statistically or anecdotally, that such mobility is disappearing from the U.S.

For Shipler, as for Ehrenreich, the U.S. always shortchanges the poor. Education is a prime example, he says. He tours Washington, D.C.'s public schools, where student scores are abysmal and dropout rates are inexcusably high, and—noticing the classrooms' shortages of supplies and books and the nonexistent computers—says that lack of money is to blame. But the notorious failure of D.C.'s public schools has nothing to do with money. Those schools spend some $13,500 per pupil a year—not as much as rich suburban districts, true, but far above the national average and well above what many private schools spend to educate kids effectively. As for the missing supplies and computers, blame a corrupt, dysfunctional system that wastes the more-than-adequate funds. There's no hint of this ongoing scandal in Shipler's book, even though for years the local papers have chronicled it extensively and, in desperation, Mayor Williams and the U.S. Congress have set up a voucher plan to address it.

Shipler's obliviousness to the real causes of poverty also characterizes the latest addition to the "working poor" canon: Joanna Lipper's Growing Up Fast. A sometime documentary filmmaker, Lipper traveled to the once-thriving industrial town of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in order to chronicle the lives of a generation of teenage unwed mothers. Because many of these young women are daughters of blue-collar workers who lost their jobs as General Electric gradually pulled out of Pittsfield during the 1980s, Lipper blames G.E. and, more broadly, globalization for the social pathology evident in the town today—not just the teen pregnancies but also the rising crime and drug-abuse rates that she says followed G.E.'s departure. The town's youth "have been excluded from the American dream," she writes.

Yet as the tale of Pittsfield and its teens unfolds, a different story emerges, even if Lipper—like Shipler in this regard—seems not to grasp the meaning of her own evidence. We learn, for example, that the town's drug problem actually began in the early 1980s, before G.E. left, after social-services providers opened government-funded drug-treatment centers in the area and imported hundreds of addicts from New York City and elsewhere to receive treatment. Many of these addicts, released from the programs but not fully detoxed, stayed on. They then brought friends and relatives to town and started dealing drugs around local fast-food joints and other spots where teens hung out. Not that all the buyers were kids, let alone "excluded" ones. Fueling the market, we learn, were "doctors from Williamstown and well-to-do people."

The teens get pregnant, as Lipper tells it, because they've got nothing better to do. They feel trapped, because "the major institutions of American life," the job market heading the list, "are not working for them," Lipper says. "[H]ope is the ingredient missing" from their lives. Yet one teen mother, Jessica, confides: "I had so much going for me before I got pregnant." Another, Shayla, herself born to teen parents long before job woes came to Pittsfield, says that she wanted to attend college but didn't work hard enough in high school to get in.

It never occurs to Lipper that teen pregnancy doesn't naturally flow from economic status. After all, millions of impoverished immigrants came to America from Europe in the early twentieth century without illegitimacy getting out of hand, thanks to strong religious traditions that stigmatized illegitimacy. What's really missing from the lives of Pittsfield's unwed mothers isn't hope; it's shame about teenage sex or out-of-wedlock pregnancy. The teens talk openly of early sexual escapades, and matter-of-factly pose for book photos with their illegitimate kids—unsurprising in a culture that glorifies sex and in which movie stars and rock musicians proudly flaunt their out-of-wedlock offspring. The demise of shame is a far more plausible explanation for Pittsfield's teen-pregnancy problem than is economic distress.

Like Shipler, in other words, Lipper has reversed cause and effect. She sees social dysfunction in Pittsfield and blames it on poverty. But it typically is personal failure and social dysfunction that create poverty. To stay out of poverty in America, it's necessary to do three simple things, social scientists have found: finish high school, don't have kids until you marry, and wait until you are at least 20 to marry. Do those three things, and the odds against your becoming impoverished are less than one in ten. Nearly 80 percent of everyone who fails to do those three things winds up poor.

That's a crucial truth that left-wing social thinkers have tried to deny from the earliest days of the welfare-rights movement. And as these books show, even after the conclusive failure of the War on Poverty and the resounding success of welfare reform, they are still at it.

http://www.frontpagemag.com/Article...le.asp?ID=15990

Kriegsgefahrzustand - January 10, 2005 07:54 AM (GMT)
QUOTE
What exactly do you think is the article's premise?


That 'social mobility' is a problem and the provendence of government to address and/or solve.

QUOTE
Yes what of it?


Why don't you start a seperate thread on this question?

New Tolerance - January 10, 2005 10:16 PM (GMT)
QUOTE
That 'social mobility' is a problem and the provendence of government to address and/or solve.


And when did I ever hint that I believed in the government?

QUOTE
Why don't you start a seperate thread on this question?


Why don't you?

Inspector - January 10, 2005 10:52 PM (GMT)
QUOTE (New Tolerance @ Jan 10 2005, 10:16 PM)
Why don't you?

He knows the answer.

Tolerance, just be quiet for now and go back to what you did before: ask questions and don't speak of your bad ideas. Enough of this bickering.

And everyone else: don't encourage him with debate.

New Tolerance - January 10, 2005 11:02 PM (GMT)
QUOTE
He knows the answer.


Then he should just post it, what matter does it make whether if it's in a new thread?

QUOTE
Tolerance, just be quiet for now and go back to what you did before: ask questions and don't speak of your bad ideas. Enough of this bickering.


What bickering? And which of my ideas are you referring to?

Kriegsgefahrzustand - January 11, 2005 01:13 AM (GMT)
QUOTE
Then he should just post it, what matter does it make whether if it's in a new thread?


Organizational purposes, since it would technically be a new topic, but I really doubt its anything that hasn't been said before here.
So to be honest I'm not really interested.

QUOTE
And which of my ideas are you referring to?


Your communist ones.

New Tolerance - January 11, 2005 01:17 AM (GMT)
QUOTE
So to be honest I'm not really interested.


Well there you go. 'You asked me' about what I thought, now that you are no longer interested there is no point in starting a new thread.

QUOTE
Your communist ones.


give me a specific quote.

Kriegsgefahrzustand - January 11, 2005 04:23 AM (GMT)
QUOTE
give me a specific quote.



QUOTE
QUOTE
The workers control the means of production? Come on just say it.




Yes what of it?


How about that?

QUOTE
Well there you go. 'You asked me' about what I thought, now that you are no longer interested there is no point in starting a new thread.


Niether you nor I seem interested in debating each other, I did ask you what you thought and you haven't really provided an answer. If you don't care why should I?

New Tolerance - January 11, 2005 04:29 AM (GMT)
QUOTE
How about that?


And what exactly is "bad" about that?

QUOTE
Niether you nor I seem interested in debating each other, I did ask you what you thought and you haven't really provided an answer. If you don't care why should I?


I did provide an answer, you just quoted the post right after it, was it not sufficient for you?

Inspector - January 11, 2005 03:10 PM (GMT)
Speaking as a mod, the rules state that you should start a new thread for a new topic. Enforcement has been lax, but I request that you do so. Please respect my request.

So bottom line: start a new thread, Tolerance. Then you and Kriegs can talk or not talk about it or whatever. I will answer your questions if you like. If you want to ask "what is wrong with the statement 'workers control the means of production,'" then I will answer it.

Another problematic statement of yours: "And when did I ever hint that I believed in the government?" That one has already been asked and answered here:
http://s7.invisionfree.com/capitalistparad...p?showtopic=127

If you don't start a new thread, there is going to be some deletion here because this is OT. If you want, I can split this topic to a new thread. Feel free to ask.

New Tolerance - January 11, 2005 09:03 PM (GMT)
Very well I will start a new thread as it is of little inconvience.

QUOTE
Another problematic statement of yours: "And when did I ever hint that I believed in the government?" That one has already been asked and answered here:
http://s7.invisionfree.com/capitalistparad...p?showtopic=127


I am not sure what point you are trying to make by showing me this thread. (as in I don't see how it relates to what I have said about my position) Could you clearify that part?




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