From Matt: Coping with stasis: how the supposed ‘sick man of Asia’ might be a model for us all (Roland Kelts, The Long and Short): Since the early ’90s, the Japanese economy has been treated as a cautionary tale because of its sluggish growth. Kelts argues that perhaps we have been looking at it all wrong. He argues that the Japanese growth numbers belie a thriving society whose standard of living has been steadily improving through innovation – one which might just be the model of a sustainable economy that we desperately need.
How many Lewinskys will we shame? (Elizabeth Renzetti, The Globe and Mail): The topic of online shaming has become hot again since Monica Lewinsky spoke out recently about her experiences in the aftermath of the Bill Clinton sex scandal. Lewinsky calls online shaming a form of cyberbullying, and herself “patient zero”. Renzetti discusses some recent examples of online shaming and a new book (So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Jon Ronson, Riverhead Books, 2015) that explores the aftermath for the shamed. Renzetti calls the book “a cold splash of water for anyone who’s gleefully participated in social-media witch hunts”. Granted, most of the examples of shamed behavior given are quite egregious (e.g., posting racist tweets about AIDS in Africa, fabricating news stories, and yes, having an affair with the President). But the book is striking a chord with many people because there also seems to be some truth to the charge that online social activism has recently taken a nasty turn away from teachable moments, towards vindictiveness and ruthlessness.
Renzetti dances around the connection that follows, but I won’t: Much of this recent mean-spirited self-righteousness is coming from liberals. As someone who identifies as a liberal myself, this concerns me. In The Dish, Freddie deBoer sums up the problem nicely, albeit provocatively: “It seems to me now that the public face of social liberalism has ceased to seem positive, joyful, human, and freeing. I now mostly associate that public face with danger, with an endless list of things that you can’t do or say or think, and with the constant threat of being called an existentially bad person if you say the wrong thing, or if someone decides to misrepresent what you said as saying the wrong thing.”
There’s another side to this of course, which is that if we don’t want things like racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination to persist in our society, we have to be clear and united in saying that certain behaviors are socially unacceptable. But Ronson, deBoer, and (likely) Renzetti all seem to think that we can maintain high social standards through education, without having to make a public example out of everyone who makes a mistake. I agree.
From Ian: The importance of social capital, including a stable home, to income inequality
In her latest column in The Globe and Mail, Margaret Wente discusses economic inequality, inequality of opportunity, and the importance that our social capital – our networks of friends, family and mentors that support us as we grow up and then build our own careers and families – plays in entrenching these inequalities. This was the topic of a new book by Robert Putnam entitled Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis (Simon & Schuster, 2015). In it he argues that more attention needs to be given to the huge disparities in social capital between the top and bottom thirds on the income ladder. Standing out amongst these is the disparity of access to a stable home: “In the United States, nearly 70 per cent of children born to high-school graduates grow up in single-parent households. Just 10 per cent of the children of university graduates do.”
Also discussed in Hannah Rosin’s book The End of Men (Riverhead Books, 2012) (and the accompanying piece in The Atlantic), this divergence in family structure between the college-educated and non-college-educated started in the 1960s and 1970s and has been attributed to a variety of factors, including the shift from a manufacturing economy to a knowledge economy, mass incarceration of lower class men in the US, the invention of the pill and the widespread availability of birth control, the feminist revolution and mass integration of women into the workforce and traditionally male-dominated fields, and shift in our social norms that made single parenthood less taboo.
It is the moral shift that Wente focuses on in her column: “Today, these classes live in two different worlds, one in which neo-traditional marriage is flourishing and one in which two-parent families are dying off. Ironically, the people who have constructed traditional families for themselves are often loath to condemn the behaviour of others, for fear of seeming unenlightened, intolerant or judgmental.” The contribution of this social shift is also acknowledged by recent columns in Slate and The New York Times that discuss Robert Putnam’s book.
What these columnists don’t agree on is what can be done about it. David Brooks at the NY Times proposes a community-driven moral revival, where norms are reasserted and family responsibility is encouraged. “It happens through organic communal effort, with voices from everywhere saying gently: This we praise. This we don’t.” Jordan Weissman at Slate argues that we cannot go back to the past and must look forward for solutions, including doing more to “reduce material need for low-income families” and doing more “to educate working-class women about how to safely and effectively use contraception to avoid accidental pregnancies and encourage them to put off children until a bit later in life (which, yes, to some degree would just mean preaching what college-educated families already practice).” As for Wente, she sees many proposals, but none entirely satisfying: “Universal daycare and prekindergarten? There’s no evidence they reduce the opportunity gap for poor kids. Urging moms like Tammi to read and talk more to their children? Idealists are hopeful, but the idea smacks of wishful thinking. More social transfers to single mothers? In Canada, we actually do a pretty good job of this now. What about mentorship programs and better interventions for troubled kids? Yes, by all means. But the fact is that successful child-rearing is a two-parent job…There must be other ideas out there. If only I had a clue what they might be.”
Where they all can agree is that rising inequality of opportunity is a problem with political, economic and social contributing factors, and none of these factors can be ignored if the problem is to be effectively addressed.