If you’re an intellectual of a certain age, you remember that in the 80s and maybe a bit of a way into the 90s it was common on the right to see American society as being in a process of catastrophic moral decline, descending into social anarchy. Crime would continue to rise, chaos would continue to spread, until and unless we returned to the Victorian virtues — and more specifically, to Dickensian social policies, in which only the deserving poor — as so designated by faith-based charities — received help. That, by the way, was the meaning of “compassionate conservatism”, which was about dismantling the welfare state in favor of private charity.It is astounding that the political right which claims to love the past so much -- they do claim to want to "conserve" it -- have such a foggy and unhistoric "memory" of it. I would have more regard for right wing ideologists if they actually had a memory of the real past, but to cling to a fiction? How can you take that sort of person seriously? We might as well want to go back to the days of gods & heroes. When somebody longs for the days when gods walked among us and builds a political program of going back to those "good old days", then I know they aren't worth listening to.
But then, in the 90s, a funny thing happened: in many ways, American society began healing. True, out-of-wedlock births continued to rise, although at a much slower pace. But crime plunged, and in general our society began to look a lot more functional. If you remember what New York was like in the Bonfire of the Vanities days, and you walk the city now, the transformation is awesome — and somehow that happened despite Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
It’s also worth noticing that places like Germany and France, with their strong welfare states, somehow don’t seem to have descended into the social abyss. And if you look at a map of out-of-wedlock births, it’s not obvious, to say the least, that states with stronger safety nets do worse than hard-line low-service states.
Friday, September 2, 2011
Seeing Reality Through Ideology-tinted Glasses
Paul Krugman has a nice post on his NY Times blog giving David Brooks a tongue lashing for his cock-eyed unhistorical romanticizing of the past. Here`s a bit: