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Friday, February 10, 2012

Paul Krugman: Money and Morals

The claim from conservatives that collapsing middle class family values is responsible for rising inequality diverts attention from the true cause of stagnating middle class incomes:

Money and Morals, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Lately inequality has re-entered the national conversation. Occupy Wall Street gave the issue visibility, while the Congressional Budget Office supplied hard data on the widening income gap. And the myth of a classless society has been exposed: Among rich countries, America stands out as the place where economic and social status is most likely to be inherited.
So you knew what was going to happen next. Suddenly, conservatives are telling us that it’s not really about money; it’s about morals. Never mind wage stagnation and all that, the real problem is the collapse of working-class family values, which is somehow the fault of liberals.
But is it really all about morals? No, it’s mainly about money.
To be fair, the new book at the heart of the conservative pushback, Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010,” does highlight some striking trends. Among white Americans with a high school education or less, marriage rates and male labor force participation are down, while births out of wedlock are up. Clearly,... something is ... happening to the traditional working-class family. The question is what. And it is, frankly, amazing how quickly and blithely conservatives dismiss the seemingly obvious answer: A drastic reduction in the work opportunities available to less-educated men. ...
For lower-education working men,... entry-level wages ... have fallen 23 percent since 1973. Meanwhile, employment benefits have collapsed. ... So we have become a society in which less-educated men have great difficulty finding jobs with decent wages and good benefits. Yet somehow we’re supposed to be surprised that such men have become less likely to participate in the work force or get married, and conclude that there must have been some mysterious moral collapse caused by snooty liberals. And Mr. Murray also tells us that working-class marriages, when they do happen, have become less happy; strange to say, money problems will do that.
One more thought: The real winner in this controversy is the distinguished sociologist William Julius Wilson.
Back in 1996,... Mr. Wilson ... argued that much of the social disruption among African-Americans popularly attributed to collapsing values was actually caused by a lack of blue-collar jobs in urban areas. If he was right, you would expect something similar to happen if another social group — say, working-class whites — experienced a comparable loss of economic opportunity. And so it has.
So we should reject the attempt to divert the national conversation away from soaring inequality toward the alleged moral failings of those Americans being left behind. ...

    Posted by on Friday, February 10, 2012 at 12:48 AM in Economics | Permalink  Comments (102)


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