Authoritarian Allure: Reading #4


Nicholas Eberstadt

Men at Work: America's Invisible Crisis (2016) ― Introduction


[1] Over the past two generations, America has suffered a quiet catastrophe. That catastrophe is the collapse of work― for men. In the half-century between 1965 and 2015, work rates for the American male spiral relentlessly downward, and an ominous migration commenced: a "flight from work," in which ever-growing numbers of working-age men exited the labor force altogether. America is now home to an immense army of jobless men no longer even looking for work― more than 7 million alone between the ages of 25 and 55, the traditional prime of working life.


[2] The collapse of work for America’s men is arguably a crisis for our nation— but it is a largely invisible crisis. It is almost never discussed in the public square. Somehow, we as a nation have managed to ignore this problem for decades, even as it has steadily worsened. There is perhaps no other instance in the modern American experience of the social change of such consequence receiving so little consideration by concerned citizens, intellectuals, business leaders, and policymakers.


[3] How big is the “men without work” problem today? Consider a single fact: in 2015, the work rate (or employment-to-population ratio) for American males ages twenty-five-to-fifty-four was slightly lower than it had been in 1940, which was at the tail end of the Great Depression. The general decline of work for grown men and the dramatic, continuing expansion of a class of un-working males (including both those who are ostensibly able-bodied and in the prime of life) constitute a fundamentally new and unfamiliar reality for America. So very new and unfamiliar is this crisis, in fact, that it has until now very largely gone unnoticed and unremarked upon. Our news media, our pundits, and our major political parties have somehow managed to overlook this extraordinary dislocation almost altogether.


[4] One reason the phenomenon has escaped notice is that there have been no obvious outward signs of national distress ascending from the American males massive and continuing post-more exit us from paid employment: no national strikes, no great riots, no angry social paroxysms. In addition, America today is rich and, by all indications, getting even richer. Hence the end of work for a large, and steadily growing, share of working-age American men has been met to date with public complacency, in part because we evidently can afford to do so. And this is precisely the problem: for the genial indifference with which the rest of society has greeted the growing absence of adult men from the productive economy is in itself powerful testimony that these men have become essentially dispensable.


[5] But the progressive detachment of so many adult American men from the reality and routines of regular paid labor poses a threat to our nation’s future prosperity. It can only result in lower living standards, greater economic disparities, and slower economic growth than we might otherwise expect. And the troubles posed by this male flight from work are by no means solely economic. It is also a social crisis— and, I shall argue, a moral crisis. The growing incapability of grown men to function as breadwinners cannot help but undermine the American family. It casts those who nature designed to be strong into the role of dependents— on their wives or girlfriends, on their aging parents, or on government welfare. Among those who should be most capable of shouldering the burdens of civic responsibilities, it instead encourages sloth, idleness, and vices perhaps more insidious. Whether we choose to recognize it or not, this feature of the American condition— the new “men without work” normal— is inimical to the American tradition of self-reliance; it is subversive of our national ethos and arguably even of our civilization. Our nation cannot begin to grapple with this challenge to our future unless we first understand its genesis, its dimensions, and its implications.


Poor Citizens to Receive $1,320 a Month in Canada's 'No Strings Attached' Basic Income Trial

Natalie Shoemaker | November 15, 2016


[1] Ontario is poised to become a testing ground for basic income in 2017 as part of a pilot program. Hugh Segal is the special advisor to the Canadian province and a former senator. He believes a supplemental income of $1,320 a month could provide a viable path to poverty abatement—effectively replacing welfare programs and a system he described as “seriously demeaning” in a paper discussing this basic income pilot project.


[2] Segal suggests this pilot project would provide real evidence to whether basic income is the solution to poverty many governments have been seeking. It would answer many of the burning questions and concerns regarding such a system:

―Can basic income policies provide a more efficient, less intrusive, and less stigmatizing way of delivering income support for those now living in poverty?

―Can those policies also encourage work, relieve financial and time poverty, and reduce economic marginalization?

―Can a basic income reduce cost pressures in other areas of government spending, such as healthcare?

―Can a basic income strengthen the incentive to work, by responsibly helping those who are working but still living below the poverty line?


[4] In the United States, welfare programs are the staple of big government—a Republican nightmare. Paul Ryan has indicated he wants to phase-out these entitlement programs, however, he’s also concerned about solving the poverty issue in America. If Ontario’s proposed three-year project provides evidence that basic income could do both, we may have a bi-partisan solution.


[5] Segal is a conservative. In his view, welfare programs help alleviate some of the symptoms of poverty, but provide no long-term program to get people out. “Testing a basic income is a humane and useful way to measure how so many of the costs of poverty (in terms of productivity, health, policing, and other community costs, to name only a few) might be diminished, while poverty itself is reduced and work is encouraged,” Segal says in the report. A guaranteed income would provide a floor no one would fall beneath and citizens would receive it regardless of employment status. Conservatives like it because it provides an elegant solution that could replace the welfare state and the left love it because it provides a greater social architecture.


[6] However, many question how giving people free money could fix many of our socio-economic issues. But we won’t know if we don’t try—if we don’t do the research to find a solution, which is what Segal suggests. "There cannot be, nor should there be, any guarantees about what results a pilot might generate,” Segal writes. “The objective behind this endeavor should be to generate an evidence-base for policy development, without bias or pre-determined conclusion."


[7] This test of basic income won’t be the first. Researchers and governments across the globe have started implementing similar tests to see what happens when you give people no-strings-attached cash. Finland, the Dutch city of Utricht, and Kenya all have plans to create programs to test this system. Segal believes a program in Ontario could add to this growing body of research. "This Ontario initiative takes place at a time when other jurisdictions, in Canada and abroad, are working in different ways toward a Basic Income approach to better reduce poverty,” he wrote. “The opportunity to learn from and engage with these other initiatives should not be overlooked, nor should approaches being tested elsewhere be necessarily re-tested here."


[8] A study in Manitoba, Canada, done back in the 1970s provides us with an idea of what a community receiving basic income would look like. Many believe people would stop working, and become lazy. They would be half right, some people did stop working in Manitoba. But when you look at the data a little closer, we begin to see how poverty starts at an early age and how basic income could help them get out.


[9] Allow me to explain: People in the town received a set income of $9,000 a year (by today's standards) from the government. Evelyn Forget, an economist and professor at the University of Manitoba, who looked over the data from the study says there was a 9% reduction in working hours among two main groups of citizens. Here’s the kicker: New mothers were using their additional income to extend their maternity leaves and spend more time with their infants, and teenage boys were using that income to stay in school. “When we interviewed people, we discovered that prior to the experiment, a lot of people from low-income families, a lot of boys in particular, were under a fair amount of family pressure to become self-supporting when they turned 16 and leave school. When Mincome came along, those families decided that they could afford to keep their sons in high school just a little bit longer,” Forget told PRI in an interview.


[10] Poverty affects all of us in some way (at some point 3 in 5 Americans experience it personally in their lifetime). All of us pay for its upkeep through taxes and can see how it wears down the institutions within our local communities. Basic income could be the solution. We have some data; we need more in order to make the proper call. Ontario’s experiment will show what would happen if people between the age of 18 to 65, living below the poverty line, received a monthly income of $1,320 ($1,820 if they are disabled). Would they be better able to save and find work? “There’s no magic bullet,” said Jennefer Laidley of the Income Security Advocacy Centre. “So it’s key that government is now exploring various solutions — reforming existing social assistance programs, improving the quality of work, and considering basic income.”


'A sea of despair': White Americans without college degrees are dying younger

Matt Pearce

LA Times | March 23, 2017


[1] In 2015, a pair of economists received widespread attention for their study showing that since the late 1990s the death rate has been rising for middle-aged white Americans. Now a new analysis by the same Princeton University team has identified which part of that population was driving that trend: people without college degrees. White men and women in every age group between 25 and 64 who did not have college degrees saw their mortality rates increase between 1998 and 2015. Those with degrees saw their mortality rates decrease. “There are two Americas,” said Anne Case, who conducted the research with her husband, Angus Deaton, a Nobel laureate. “There’s an America for people who have gotten a college degree, and an America for people who have not gotten a college degree. And if you had a checklist of well-being, the people without college degrees are getting worse and worse, and people with college degrees are doing very well.” The analysis, published Thursday in the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, found that the problem appears to be distinctly American. In Europe, mortality rates for people with low levels of education are falling more rapidly than for those with more education. In every age group the researchers examined, white Americans with a high school education or less now fare worse than blacks as a whole — a reversal of the situation in 1999.


[2] Blacks and Latinos have seen steady improvement in mortality rates as whites without college degrees have been going in the other direction as a result of drug overdoses, alcoholism and suicide and a recent halt in a decline in deaths due to heart disease. The nation’s opioid abuse epidemic played a major role. But the authors said an underlying culprit is the widespread erosion of institutions that provided stability in American life for much of the 20th century: the manufacturing industry, the church, unions and stable marriage. “A long-term process of decline … began for those leaving high school and entering the labor force after the early 1970s,” and “traditional structures of social and economic support slowly weakened,” the authors wrote. “These changes left people with less structure when they came to choose their careers, their religion, and the nature of their family lives,” they wrote. “When such choices succeed, they are liberating; when they fail, the individual can only hold him or herself responsible.” The result, the authors conclude, is a “recipe for suicide,” adding that other risks include alcohol abuse, drug use and overeating.


[3] The authors touch on themes of working-class white disenfranchisement that became a major undercurrent in the 2016 presidential campaign and turned “Hillbilly Elegy,” a book by J.D. Vance, into a bestseller. The book focused on Appalachia, but Case says the problem stretches all over America, and may explain why voters were interested in political outsiders like Donald Trump on the right and Bernie Sanders on the left. “There’s just a sea of despair; there’s an enormous amount of pain,” she said, describing “wages that don’t rise with experience” and “an inability to create and keep stable marriages” among working-class whites. “There’s a lot of lack of structure in people’s lives that give balance and meaning.” Case said the situation may continue to worsen. “People just entering the labor market now without a college degree are getting hammered even more,” she said. And older whites won’t see comprehensive government relief in retirement, Case said. “Social security is not going to magically wave its wand and make you whole again,” Case said. In an earlier version of this article, these quotations from the authors' study were not quoted accurately: “A long-term process of decline … began for those leaving high school and entering the labor force after the early 1970s,” and “traditional structures of social and economic support slowly weakened,” the authors wrote.


Behind Our Anxiety, the Fear of Being Unneeded

The Dalai Lama and Arthur C. Brooks

NYT | November 4, 2016


[1] In many ways, there has never been a better time to be alive. Violence plagues some corners of the world, and too many still live under the grip of tyrannical regimes. And although all the world’s major faiths teach love, compassion and tolerance, unthinkable violence is being perpetrated in the name of religion. And yet, fewer among us are poor, fewer are hungry, fewer children are dying, and more men and women can read than ever before. In many countries, recognition of women’s and minority rights is now the norm. There is still much work to do, of course, but there is hope and there is progress.


[2] How strange, then, to see such anger and great discontent in some of the world’s richest nations. In the United States, Britain and across the European Continent, people are convulsed with political frustration and anxiety about the future. Refugees and migrants clamor for the chance to live in these safe, prosperous countries, but those who already live in those promised lands report great uneasiness about their own futures that seems to border on hopelessness. Why? A small hint comes from interesting research about how people thrive. In one shocking experiment, researchers found that senior citizens who didn’t feel useful to others were nearly three times as likely to die prematurely as those who did feel useful. This speaks to a broader human truth: We all need to be needed.


[3] Being “needed” does not entail selfish pride or unhealthy attachment to the worldly esteem of others. Rather, it consists of a natural human hunger to serve our fellow men and women. As the 13th-century Buddhist sages taught, “If one lights a fire for others, it will also brighten one’s own way.” Virtually all the world’s major religions teach that diligent work in the service of others is our highest nature and thus lies at the center of a happy life. Scientific surveys and studies confirm shared tenets of our faiths. Americans who prioritize doing good for others are almost twice as likely to say they are very happy about their lives. In Germany, people who seek to serve society are five times likelier to say they are very happy than those who do not view service as important. Selflessness and joy are intertwined. The more we are one with the rest of humanity, the better we feel.


[4] This helps explain why pain and indignation are sweeping through prosperous countries. The problem is not a lack of material riches. It is the growing number of people who feel they are no longer useful or needed, no longer one with their societies. In America today, compared with 50 years ago, three times as many working-age men are outside the work force. This pattern is occurring throughout the developed world — and the consequences are not merely economic. Feeling superfluous is a blow to the human spirit. It leads to social isolation and emotional pain, and creates the conditions for negative emotions to take root.


[5] What can we do to help? The first answer is not systematic. It is personal. Everyone has something valuable to share. We should start each day by consciously asking ourselves, “What can I do today to appreciate the gifts that others offer me?” We need to make sure that global brotherhood and oneness with others are not just abstract ideas that we profess, but personal commitments that we mindfully put into practice. Each of us has the responsibility to make this a habit. But those in positions of responsibility have a special opportunity to expand inclusion and build societies that truly need everyone. Leaders need to recognize that a compassionate society must create a wealth of opportunities for meaningful work, so that everyone who is capable of contributing can do so. A compassionate society must provide children with education and training that enriches their lives, both with greater ethical understanding and with practical skills that can lead to economic security and inner peace. A compassionate society must protect the vulnerable while ensuring that these policies do not trap people in misery and dependence.


[6] Building such a society is no easy task. No ideology or political party holds all the answers. Misguided thinking from all sides contributes to social exclusion, so overcoming it will take innovative solutions from all sides. Indeed, what unites the two of us in friendship and collaboration is not shared politics or the same religion. It is something simpler: a shared belief in compassion, in human dignity, in the intrinsic usefulness of every person to contribute positively for a better and more meaningful world. The problems we face cut across conventional categories; so must our dialogue, and our friendships. Many are confused and frightened to see anger and frustration sweeping like wildfire across societies that enjoy historic safety and prosperity. But their refusal to be content with physical and material security actually reveals something beautiful: a universal human hunger to be needed. Let us work together to build a society that feeds this hunger.


Welcome to the age of anger [excerpts]

Pankaj Mishra

The Guardian | December 8, 2016


[1] The insurgencies of our time, including Brexit and the rise of the European far right, have many local causes– but it is not an accident that demagoguery appears to be rising around the world. Savage violence has erupted in recent years across a broad swath of territory: wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, insurgencies from Yemen to Thailand, terrorism and counter-terrorism, economic and cyberwar. The conflicts, not confined to fixed battlefields, feel endemic and uncontrollable. Hate-mongering against immigrants and minorities has gone mainstream; figures foaming at the mouth with loathing and malice are ubiquitous on old and new media alike.


[2] There is much dispute about the causes of this global disorder. Many observers have characterised it as a backlash against an out-of-touch establishment, explaining Trump’s victory– in the words of Thomas Piketty– as “primarily due to the explosion in economic and geographic inequality in the United States.” Liberals tend to blame the racial resentments of poor white Americans, which were apparently aggravated during Barack Obama’s tenure. But many rich men and women – and even a small number of African-Americans and Latinos– also voted for a compulsive groper and white supremacist. The Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman admitted on the night of Trump’s victory that “people like me– and probably like most readers of the New York Times– truly didn’t understand the country we live in”. Since the twin shocks of Brexit and the US election, we have argued ineffectually about their causes, while watching aghast as the new representatives of the downtrodden and the “left-behind”– Trump and Nigel Farage, posing in a gold-plated lift– strut across a bewilderingly expanded theatre of political absurdism.


[3] But we cannot understand this crisis because our dominant intellectual concepts and categories seem unable to process an explosion of uncontrolled forces. In the hopeful years that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the universal triumph of liberal capitalism and democracy seemed assured; free markets and human rights would spread around the world and lift billions from poverty and oppression. In many ways, this dream has come true: we live in a vast, homogenous global market, which is more literate, interconnected and prosperous than at any other time in history.


[4] And yet we find ourselves in an age of anger, with authoritarian leaders manipulating the cynicism and discontent of furious majorities. What used to be called “Muslim rage”, and identified with mobs of brown-skinned men with bushy beards, is suddenly manifest globally, among saffron-robed Buddhist ethnic-cleansers in Myanmar, as well as blond white nationalists in Germany. Violent hate crimes have blighted even the oldest of parliamentary democracies, with the murder of the MP Jo Cox by a British neo-Nazi during the venomous campaign for Brexit. Suddenly, as the liberal thinker Michael Ignatieff recently wrote: “Enlightenment humanism and rationalism” can no longer adequately “explain the world we’re living in.”


[5] The largely Anglo-American intellectual assumptions forged by the cold war and its jubilant aftermath are an unreliable guide to today’s chaos – and so we must turn to the ideas of an earlier era of volatility. It is a moment for thinkers such as Sigmund Freud, who warned in 1915 that the “primitive, savage and evil impulses of mankind have not vanished in any individual”, but are simply waiting for the opportunity to show themselves again. Certainly, the current conflagration has brought to the surface what Friedrich Nietzsche called “ressentiment”— “a whole tremulous realm of subterranean revenge, inexhaustible and insatiable in outbursts.” By contrast, the fundamental premise of our existing intellectual frameworks is the assumption that humans are essentially rational and motivated by the pursuit of their own interests; that they principally act to maximise personal happiness, rather than on the basis of fear, envy or resentment.


[6] We can now see, all too clearly, a widening abyss of race, class and education in Britain and the US. But as explanations proliferate, how it might be bridged is more unclear than ever. Well-worn pairs of rhetorical opposites, often corresponding to the bitter divisions in our societies, have once again been put to work: progressive v reactionary, open v closed, liberalism v fascism, rational v irrational. But as a polarised intellectual industry plays catch-up with fast-moving events that it completely failed to anticipate, it is hard to avoid the suspicion that our search for rational political explanations for the current disorder is doomed. All of the opponents of the new “irrationalism”– whether left, centre, or right– are united by the presumption that individuals are rational actors, motivated by material self-interest, enraged when their desires are thwarted, and, therefore, likely to be appeased by their fulfilment. This notion of human motivation deepened during the Enlightenment, whose leading thinkers, despising tradition and religion, sought to replace them with the human capacity to rationally identify individual and collective interests. The dream of the late 18th century, to rebuild the world along secular and rational lines, was further elaborated in the 19th century by the utilitarian theorists of the greatest happiness for the greatest number– this notion of progress was embraced by socialists and capitalists alike.


[7] After the collapse of the socialist alternative in 1989, this utopian vision took the form of a global market economy dedicated to endless growth and consumption– to which there would be no alternative. According to this worldview, the dominance of which is now nearly absolute, the human norm is Homo economicus, a subject whose natural instincts are shaped by their ultimate motivation: to pursue happiness and avoid pain. This simple view always neglected many factors in human lives: the fear, for instance, of losing honour, dignity and status, the distrust of change, the appeal of stability and familiarity. There was no place in it for more complex drives: vanity, fear of appearing vulnerable, the need to save face. Obsessed with material progress, the hyper-rationalists ignored the lure of resentment for the left-behind, and the pleasures of victimhood.


What’s Really Behind the Plague of Police Shootings

Malcolm D. Holmes

US News & World Report | September 23, 2016


[1] Periodically police violence involving an African-American victim garners national attention. Many believe the police treat them unfairly, and police violence is at the heart of their concern about unequal justice. A spate of questionable fatal shootings during the last three years poignantly illustrates why they distrust the police. Just in the last week, African-American men were killed in Tulsa and Charlotte. These highly publicized incidents often generate competing claims about the legality of the police action, heighten racial tensions in communities, undermine police legitimacy and drain government resources to settle civil lawsuits.


[2] Police officers may legitimately employ deadly force when someone poses a clear and imminent danger to citizens or officers, but many fatal police shootings involve reasonable questions about whether this standard was met. Only rarely do these cases result in criminal prosecution. Many police shootings involve ambiguous circumstances and limited, if any, independent and objective evidence. The police subculture's strict code of secrecy helps shield officers from detection when they needlessly kill a citizen. As a result, authorities may give the benefit of the doubt to police, with whom they have allegiance, rather than witnesses, many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds and appear less credible.


[3] Questions about whether there is a different standard for employing deadly force against African-Americans emerged in the aftermath of the widespread urban riots of the 1960s. The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, commonly called the Kerner Commission, concluded that police killings of citizens often precipitated the unrest. At the time, nearly all big-city police officers were white, and the commission's recommendations included organizational reforms such as creating racially diverse departments. Often overlooked in the current conversation about relations between police and African-Americans, however, is a fundamental insight of the Kerner Commission: While the riots of the 1960s were frequently triggered by police-citizen encounters, the commission identified underlying conditions of social and economic disadvantage in segregated African-American communities as the core of the problem.


[4] The conditions described by the Kerner Commission endure today, and my colleagues and I have found that police violence is most prevalent in highly segregated cities. Day-to-day police work in segregated communities frequently exposes officers to the most difficult conditions of urban life. Whether real or imagined, threats perceived by an officer may elicit fear and anger that can trigger a shooting. Furthermore, popular stereotypes equating race with violence and criminality are often part of departmental folklore. Stereotypes activated during encounters with African-American citizens may amplify emotional responses and further increase the likelihood of a violent outcome. It appears that even African-American officers are not immune to the effects of patrolling disadvantaged locales.


[5] As the presidential race enters its final weeks, the latest police shootings have drawn the candidates' attention. Perhaps inevitably, the platitudes of the campaign trail gloss over the deeply rooted causes of police violence in African-American communities. Many current policy proposals to improve police-minority relations – for example, departmental diversity and community policing – have somewhat limited benefits, but such initiatives dominate discourse on improving relations between police and citizens. Notably, the report by the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing mentioned the social and economic disadvantages of minority communities in just a couple of sentences but provided a long laundry list of policy recommendations for organizational reform. Yet research indicates these organizational changes have little effect on the incidence of police violence in comparison to the racial and spatial composition of cities.


[6] Meaningfully addressing the problems of police-minority relations will require a broader commitment to alleviating the social and economic disadvantages afflicting many inner-city neighborhoods. Glibly proclaiming that one can effect such change from the Oval Office is, however, a far cry from laying out how such a monumental task might be accomplished. Ameliorating the difficult conditions experienced by many African-Americans will entail a long and arduous effort.


[7] Is there anything that can be done in the short term to reduce police shootings of minority citizens? Perhaps yes. Murder charges were filed against police officers in recent shootings of African-American men in Chicago and Cincinnati only after video-camera evidence showed the officers' accounts of the incidents were false. Many police departments now require police officers to routinely use body-worn cameras. When claims of illegal police shootings arise, video evidence will be available to adjudicate the cases. But public access to the videos may remain limited, hampering inquiries into what actually transpired in police shootings.


[8] More needs to be done. Police authorities and prosecutors all too often serve as apologists for officers in such cases. Investigations of police shootings need to become more transparent, and officers who violate the law, and those who help cover for them, must be punished severely. That will hardly eliminate the problem, but it may send a message that deters the most egregious abuses of police authority.