Posted by: captainfalcon | May 4, 2010

The Way we Live NOW

I read something a while ago – I think it might have been on Slate – speculating that the New Class tends to think that if an explanation, narrative, etc. is ironic, perverse or opposed to conventional wisdom then that is a consideration in its favor. Given that an explanation’s being ironic, perverse or unconventional is not a reason to accept it, the Slate speculations are perverse (and maybe also ironic). Little wonder, then, that they’d turn up in a central organ of the New Class.

This article – exhibiting, as it does, the entire I-P-U trifecta – threatens to be axiomatic to those with New Class leanings. Therefore, I enjoyed it immensely, and think it’s almost certainly correct. Its aim is to identify, and explain, an asymmetry between the cultures in (so they have found) red states and blue states. Here’s its statement of the asymmetry:

Blue norms are well adapted to the Information Age. They encourage late family formation and advanced education. They produce prosperous parents with graduate degrees, low divorce rates, and one or two over-protected children.

Red norms, on the other hand, create a quandary. They shun abortion (which is blue America’s ultimate weapon against premature parenthood) and emphasize abstinence over contraception. But deferring sex in today’s cultural environment, with its wide acceptance of premarital sex, is hard. Deferring sex and marriage until you get a college or graduate degree — until age 23 or 25 or beyond — is harder still.

The result of this red quandary, Cahn and Carbone argue, is a self-defeating backlash. Moral traditionalism fails to prevent premarital sex and early childbirth. Births precipitate more early marriages and unwed parenthood. That, in turn, increases family breakdown while reducing education and earnings.

And here’s fresh breath of ‘graph opposed to both (to adopt the article’s broad-brush terminology) Red and Blue conventional wisdom.

In 2008, when news emerged that the 17-year-old daughter of the Republican vice presidential nominee was pregnant, traditionalists were reassured rather than outraged, because Bristol Palin followed the time-honored rules by announcing she would marry the father. They were kids, to be sure, but they would form a family and grow up together, as so many before them had done. Blue America, by contrast, was censorious. Bristol had committed the unforgivable sin of starting a family too young. If red and blue America seemed to be talking past one another about family values, it’s because they were.

My sense is that Red wisdom has it that we have values; they are nihilists and Blue wisdom says we are pragmatic; they are fundamentalist. Rhetoric aside, then, Red and Blue agree with each other. The quotation, above, implies that Red and Blue have different values. It thus contradicts conventional wisdom by attributing to Red and Blue endorsement of rules of the same (categorical, exceptionless) form, but with radically different content.

(Hat tip: Volokh)



  1. I agree that I too found it convincing despite its IPUness. But also found The Economist’s caveats equally convincing. The picture is complicated, for sure, with a sizable amount of interplay between values and outcomes.

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