The collapse of entitlement?

Robert J. Samuelson sees a shift underway in Americans’ expectations:

We are passing through something more than a period of disappointing economic growth and increasing political polarization. What’s happening is more powerful: the collapse of “entitlement.” By this, I do not mean primarily cuts in specific government benefits, most prominently Social Security, but the demise of a broader mind-set — attitudes and beliefs — that, in one form or another, has gripped Americans since the 1960s. The breakdown of these ideas has rattled us psychologically as well as politically and economically.

In my 1995 book, “The Good Life and Its Discontents,” I defined entitlement as our expectations “about the kind of nation we were creating and what that meant for all of us individually”:

We had a grand vision. We didn’t merely expect things to get better. We expected all social problems to be solved. We expected business cycles, economic insecurity, poverty, and racism to end. We expected almost limitless personal freedom and self-fulfillment. For those who couldn’t live life to its fullest (as a result of old age, disability, or bad luck), we expected a generous social safety net to guarantee decent lives. We blurred the distinction between progress and perfection.

Bill Clinton has a pithier formulation: “If you work hard and play by the rules, you’ll have the freedom and opportunity to pursue your own dreams.” That’s entitlement. “Responsible” Americans should be able to attain realistic ambitions.

No more. Millions of Americans who have “played by the rules” are in distress or fear that they might be. In a new Allstate-National Journal survey, 65 percent of respondents said today’s middle class has less “job and financial security” than their parents’ generation; 52 percent asserted there is less “opportunity to get ahead.” The middle class is “more anxious than aspirational,” concluded the poll’s sponsors. Similarly, the Employee Benefit Research Institute found that only 51 percent of workers are confident they’ll have enough money to retire comfortably, down from 70 percent in 2007.

Popular national goals remain elusive. Poverty is stubborn. Many schools seem inadequate. The “safety net,” private and public, is besieged. Our expansive notion of entitlement rested on optimistic and, ultimately, unrealistic assumptions.

Keep reading at Robert Samuelson: The end of entitlement – The Washington Post.

This is not just a change away from the so-called “entitlement mentality,” it is a kind of disillusionment, a new sense that those utopia goals are impossible.  Is this altogether a good thing?  Is it being too cynical and pessimistic?  Wouldn’t, say, Ronald Reagan agree with Bill Clinton’s formulation, and shouldn’t we still aspire to that?  In fact, don’t Americans, in fact, still have that kind of opportunity?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Jeremiah Johnson

    His quote from “The Good Life and Its Discontents” sounds like it could have just as easily been made about the disillusion over modernism’s grand progress at the turn of the 20th century.

  • trotk

    Sometimes sweeping generalizations say more about the way the author feels. Did people actually expect everything to work for them? That is probably an impossible question to answer.

    This line is perhaps the silliest, “For those who couldn’t live life to its fullest (as a result of old age, disability, or bad luck), we expected a generous social safety net to guarantee decent lives.”

    They (who exactly?) expected decent lives – except that being on disability means being disabled (kind of dystopian, isn’t it?), being on welfare means being out of work (not exactly enchanting)…

  • Tom Hering

    … don’t Americans, in fact, still have that kind of opportunity? [“If you work hard and play by the rules, you’ll have the freedom and opportunity to pursue your own dreams.”]

    Some do. Many don’t. According to the studies of social mobility I’ve seen. For many Americans, working hard (even extra hard) and playing by the rules merely prevents falling into a worse condition than stagnation.

  • kempin04

    This sounds like wishful thinking to me. From the data he cites, it seems to be more a collapse of “expectations,” with the underpinnings for “entitlement” and government intervention stronger than ever.

  • SKPeterson

    Maybe people will start to wake up and realize that political cronyism (from both parties) is the new entitlement mechanism. Working hard is all great and good, but why work hard if you can have the government regulate competitors away, subsidize and underwrite your expansion plans, or socialize the losses for your poor financial acumen?

  • Cincinnatus

    Tom,
    I’m familiar with that data, and I puzzle over it myself. It’s often used by liberals (like you?) to show that conservative fiscal policies don’t work, that the American dream is a myth, that wealth inequality is going to kill us all, and so on.

    But note that those statistics could just as easily be interpreted as such: equality of opportunity more or less still exists, as it has always more or less existed. The “problem” is simply that many folks aren’t taking advantage of it, or that many are trying and failing. Remember: the American dream isn’t that everyone does succeed, but that everyone can succeed given the right combination of effort and ambition. Success is thus guaranteed to no one.

    Also recall Tocqueville’s observations on social mobility in America. Today’s millionaire, he notes, is just as likely to be tomorrow’s bankrupt failure. We tend to focus on the positive side of the American dream, but it was never really the case.

    Myself, I’m not much of a believer in the American dream classically understood. I’m just trying to complicate the typical liberal narrative, and I’m also trying to show–as I believe–that class distinctions are not nearly as rigid as you seem to think.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist

    Ouch, SKP. I would add that we don’t have a government that seems remotely interested in preserving or improving our social safety tools for posterity. Crony capitalism has infected both parties.

  • Tom Hering

    … equality of opportunity more or less still exists, as it has always more or less existed. (@ 6)

    Does it? Opportunity = who you know. Being born rich or upper middle class = knowing more of the right, socially helpful people = greater opportunities than those available to lower classes (hence, inequality of opportunity). And as more and more wealth shifts to a smaller and smaller percentage of the population, opportunity is narrowed as well.

  • Cincinnatus

    Tom@8:

    I should elaborate. Absolute equality of opportunity–a situation in which every single person has absolutely equal opportunities to achieve everything–is, at best, an aspirational ideal. In fact, I think it would be a pernicious aspirational ideal. But whatever it is, it has never been and never will be the reality, in America or elsewhere.

    By the “American dream,” I’ve always understood something more modest. Sure, the self-made billionaire is an attractive archetype. But, technically–and allowing for the fact that the “American dream” might mean different things to different people–isn’t the idea simply that there are no institutions or laws or overt structures that actively prevent, say, a poor kid from an urban neighborhood from becoming a doctor or a tycoon?

    Even that’s a bit idealistic, of course, but, unlike in Europe (even today!), there is no rule that prohibits social mobility. That is not to say that success of this kind is equally easy for everyone, or that everyone who tries will succeed. Many, if not most, fail. And the upper-middle class kid whose father went to Harvard is going to have an easier time of it than the Hispanic kid from a trailer park with an alcoholic single mother. But, again, there’s nothing that literally and actively prohibits the latter from succeeding. If he studies hard, he can go to community college and the local state university, and perhaps secure a middle class job somewhere. Right? If, say, he doesn’t study hard, or if he doesn’t get in to a good college, or if he’s just out of luck on the job market, that’s not an indictment of the American social structure per se.

  • Tom Hering

    Cincinnatus, no argument, really. My problem is with the myth that working hard and playing by the rules guarantees a good outcome of some sort. It often doesn’t, and the blame can’t always be laid at the feet of individuals, saying they lack this or that quality. At the very least, these failed individuals have proven they possess the virtues of hard work and rule-following.

  • Cincinnatus

    Tom@10:

    Sure. But, again, that doesn’t indict American social structure itself. American social mobility isn’t a fiction simply because lots of people fail to be mobility. The point is that they are here eligible to try. Anything else, as the original post itself argues, is a symptom of an entitlement mentality.

  • Cincinnatus

    uh, fail to be mobile*

  • Ned Moerbe

    At the seminary I had to read a piece by Gerhard Forde where he made the observation: “Americans rarely today have the original modesty to think they have the right to pursue happiness, but rather that they have the absolute right to possess it.” (“Lutheran Faith and American Freedom” in The Preached Word, LQB, page 196). I think we often lose sight of such a distinction.

  • kerner

    Tom:

    My problem is with the myth that working hard and playing by the rules guarantees a good outcome of some sort.

    Mine too. There are no rules. And hard work, unless intelligently applied, is no more than burning energy. Anyone who ever thought otherwise has been deluded.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    I agree with Kerner et al – there are no guarantees. What a free society is about is that everyone is free to try, as long as they don’t harm others. Like a school track and field meet -everyone should be (equally) free to try the 100m sprint. They should also be free to work hard at it. That doesn’t mean they will all make it to the Olympics one day.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    No guarantees,I agree.
    But, “working hard and playing by the rules” does strongly correlate with doing better in life than the alcoholic bum panhandling on the street, doncha think?

  • kerner

    Mike @16:

    Maybe, but let’s take a possible counter example of the size of my father’s estate when he died and the estate of Anna Nicole Smith. Trust me, my father worked harder and followed more rules than Ms. Smith did, but Ms. Smith died a much richer person.

    Also, to this day, I believe that what people perceive as “the rules” varies dramatically from person to person and from group to group. For example, we’ve been telling young people for a couple of generations now that a college education is THE key to a good material living, and all we have done is reduce the value of a college education and inflate its cost, and left a good many young people who think they “followed the rules” by going to college very much in the lurch with huge debts and no good job. The point is, college=$$$$ is not one of “the rules”. There is no such rule, and people have been deceived in to following it.

  • kerner

    Another example is all those people who bought houses for inflated prices with payments they wouldn’t be able to afford if something happened to their income stream. I’ll bet almost all those people thought they were “following the rules”.

    Or people who saved a lot of money in their stock based 401(k) plans, who lost six figures in late 2008. But I was “following the rules”!!! how could this happen to me!?!?!?

    People think that doing what most people are doing equals “following the rules” and they are entitled to some kind of positive income if they just do what the herd does. But it ain’t necessarily so.

  • tODD

    Mike (@16), I would agree that “working hard and playing by the rules” (whatever that means — and, as SK notes @17, we likely won’t agree on that) is a better path towards a comfortable life (whatever that means, as well) than being an alcoholic and begging in the street.

    But I’m not sure that all who started out working hard and playing by the rules never end up as alcoholic beggars.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com bike bubba

    Personally, I think it could be a very good thing if the “collapse of entitlement” led to a more mature view of life in our country. I certainly don’t think it’s guaranteed, but if a supermajority of Americans decides that the world doesn’t owe us a living, that would be great.

    For that matter, I think it could greatly increase our social mobility. There are two big things I can think of that hold the U.S. back in this regard; welfare for both rich and poor. Welfare for the rich–subsidies for favored industries–keeps incompetent managers who happen to be politically favored rolling in money. Welfare for the poor all too often keeps the poor man down because it rewards the behaviors that lead to poverty, like unwed parenting. End the former and greatly reduce the latter, and you’ll see a renaissance in social mobility.

  • Joe

    The biggest problem with our current conception of the American Dream is that it is no longer multi-generational. When my grandparents came to this country from a WWII refugee camp, they did not harbor dreams of becoming a millionaires. They harbored dreams of living in a country where their kids and grand kids would be free to strive for success, free to pick a career path and work toward it.

    My grandmother’s third job was cleaning houses in an upscale suburb on Milwaukee’s Northshore. On Saturdays, my grandfather would pack his six kids into a car and take them to pick up grandma. He would drive through that neighborhood and point out the nice houses and tell his kids that it was possible for them to live in one of those houses.

    Today, his grandson (me) lives in that same neighborhood. My parents were better of than their’s and I am better of them mine. I am my grandfather’s American Dream in the flesh.

  • sg

    What about scarcity, and resources per capita? US population in 1950 was 150 million. Now it is around 300 million. I am pretty sure the amount of water in the aquifers isn’t rising at the same rate. It is easy to feel entitled when there are few competing for resources.

    Anyway, one thing Americans used to feel entitled to was a shared culture and the feeling that in hard times Americans would pull together. That shared identity may also be something we no longer will feel we can count on. Our future is a fractured diverse patchwork of competing tribes.

  • sg

    “But I’m not sure that all who started out working hard and playing by the rules never end up as alcoholic beggars.”

    Sure some do, but not at the same rate. That is the point. On average, eating right and exercising renders better results than heavy smoking and heavy drinking, but not absolutely. The outliers do not affect the trend or average, however.

  • Patrick Kyle

    I used to be a ‘true believer’ the ‘work hard and play by the rules and you will get ahead’ mantra. Thankfully the last decade or so has disabused me of such notions while I was still young enough and motivated enough to do something about it. Here is what I have learned.

    1.Nobody owes me a job or a living. Not the private sector, nor the government, nor friends nor family.
    2. I am 100% responsible for my finances and the type and condition of my relationships. If things happen to me that are out of my control, I can control how I react to them.
    3. Hard work is not enough. You need to work smart. You need to take sizeable though calculated risks that most others are not willing to take.
    4. You need to think outside the box when it comes to earning a living. Use new technologies, explore new (or old) industries.
    5. To do this you need to step out of your comfort zone. Expect some stress.

    This country never guaranteed equal outcomes, it does still offer an equal chance.

  • kerner

    sg @ 22:

    What about scarcity, and resources per capita? US population in 1950 was 150 million. Now it is around 300 million. I am pretty sure the amount of water in the aquifers isn’t rising at the same rate. It is easy to feel entitled when there are few competing for resources.

    That sort of thinking is the foundation of most of the times you are wrong. The fact is, that Americans today have more resources per capita (from technology to energy to communications to affordable goods to almost everything) than we did when our population was half of what it is now.

    Your simplistic approach (we have twice as many people, therefore each of us must have half as much stuff) is just factually and demonstrably wrong.

    Second, we never cooperated is the way you seem to think we did. Ours has always been a system based on competition, between tribes or whatever you want to call our various competing social and economic entities, and that is what has made us great. The urge to be one big (or small) cooperating monolith is what has made us weak and decadent.

  • kerner

    I mean, “…we never cooperated IN the way you seem to think we did.”

  • Cincinnatus

    kerner@25:

    I’m surprised that I disagree so forcefully with you here. Though her statistical behavioralism often leads her to unfortunate conclusions, she’s spot-on in this case.

    First, our resources are finite, and they are not adequate in any sustainable way to our current population or consumption patterns. For example, we’re depleting the Ogallala Aquifer–our most important source of groundwater that irrigates the core of our agricultural system–much faster than replacement rate. Once that’s gone, the Midwest and Plains will be essentially desertified. The same goes, except even more acutely, for many of our Western sources of fresh water–the ones that turned California’s central valley from its natural desert condition to our biggest source of fresh produce. And yet, as far as I know, there are no meaningful plans to temper our consumption or otherwise avert the agro-ecological catastrophe that very few experts deny we’re facing.

    Now do this exercise for every other non-renewable resource that underwrites our economy: coal, petroleum, topsoil (due to the chemicalization and mechanization of agriculture, we’re destroying several inches of Iowa topsoil yearly–letting its polluted remains run off into the Mississippi–after it required thousands of years to accumulate).

    Second, there’s compelling evidence that we did cooperate more than we do today, with salutary effects. Check out Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam for some of the empirical data behind this claim. In short, local communities and secondary associations once meant something, and were integral components of American life and survival. Now, we speak of Amish barn-raisings as if they’re quaint anachronisms. But that sort of cooperation was once–not even so long ago–indispensable and ubiquitous.

  • kerner

    Cin:

    What you say may be true (I don’t have time to research very much for myself today. It has been the same problem for weeks now, so I’ll take your word for it), but the same could have been said (and I believe WAS said) for domestic sources of oil and natural gas until apparent scarcity forced their prices up. Then economics forced the development of new technologies resulting in the discovery of new sources which will meet our needs for centuries to come. As for water, 70% of this planet’s surface is covered with it. If we ever really need more of the fresh version, we’ll find a way to get it.

    As for cooperation/competition in American history, I submit that it is not a matter of more or less of either, but of a different kind. No, we no longer engage in barn raisings like the Amish as much as we used to. On the other hand, cities don’t compete for railroad connections the way they used to either. Our cooperative links and our points of competition are different from what they were 50 or 100 years ago. Our “tribes” so to speak, are re-organized and different. But there were competing “tribes” back in the day, and there are forms of cooperation within “tribes” now that didn’t exist back then.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com bike bubba

    Regarding sg’s point about finite resources, the late Julian Simon famously made a bet on the price of seven commodities with Paul Ehrlich, Ehrlich betting on scarcity and Simon betting on abundance. Simon won, even before counting inflation, and it wasn’t even close.

    So scarcity and the Malthusian tragedy is not, as far as I can tell, coming on as quickly as Malthus’ adherents would suggest. The same applies for arable land. For reference, the amount of topsoil in Iowa has declined by about 9-10 inches in the past century, not a few inches per year, according to agricultural officials in Iowa. Yes, it is a concern–along with the Ogalalla, which a farmer friend of mine (who uses it for his crops) notes is dropping by about a foot per year–but with a few hundred feet more of depth where he is. It’ll be good for a little while.

    I don’t like losing topsoil any more than a farmer, and I don’t like the drop in the Ogalalla, but I’m thinking that there is time left for intelligent solutions.

  • Cincinnatus

    kerner and bike bubba,

    While I understand and to some extent even grant your point at a practical level, what I hear you saying is that we should just keep doing what we’ve been doing for the past century. But as Wendell Berry and many others frequently point out, what we’ve been doing is enormously exploitative (of both people and places), unsustainable, and, as a result, immoral–and, one might say, unchristian.

    Furthermore, what justifies your faith in technological progress? If we weren’t all so inured to the absurdity of such blind faith, we would all be laughing now–right before we realize the precarious nature of our current economic complex. Seriously, what undergirds your assertion that technology, as if it were some sentient and unitary force, is going to “solve” these problems we’ve created for ourselves? When does the magic run out? And why are we treating it like magic that excuses our destructive behavior?

    Isn’t there something both comic and tragic in the fact that your only coherent response to this problem is that we can come up with more technology to solve the problems created by technology?

  • Cincinnatus

    Also, by the way, on the specific question of topsoil, farmers don’t seem terribly concerned about the depletion of topsoil et al. The few who are left on their megafarms are the ones who have been complicit in this destruction of irreplaceable resources from the beginning. Don’t excuse them by characterizing them as good-hearted folks: “Oh, gee whiz, it’s too bad about the top soil, but we just can’t help it that we have to use enormous tractors, absurd quantities of toxic chemicals, etc., and it’s not our fault that we abandoned several millennium’s worth of sustainable agricultural practice and wisdom that didn’t destroy the topsoil.”

    I’m only picking on farmers here, though, because I think they’re merely representative of a wider consciousness that seems also exemplified in ordinary Americans like us, kerner and bike.

  • sg

    @ 24

    Dying breed is what you have right there. And just the sort of person required to hold society together and support the elites and the underclass. Too bad they are shrinking. Some predict we will end up like India with vast corruption and population and tiny middle class.

  • sg

    we never cooperated is the way you seem to think we did. Ours has always been a system based on competition, between tribes or whatever you want to call our various competing social and economic entities, and that is what has made us great.

    I seem to think we cooperated like most Europeans do within their own countries: very well. That kind of cooperation does not preclude competition and other social and economic entities that facilitate the free and fair trade of goods and services from willing producers to willing consumers.

    Anyway, you are wrong about our having more resources per capita. I was referring to the natural resources, which you well knew, not manufactured goods. I would agree on the manufactured goods etc, but not on the resources like water or open spaces, etc. Look at Europe and India. They are densely populated and have much less open space. You may not value that, but others do.

  • sg

    Yes, it is a concern–along with the Ogalalla, which a farmer friend of mine (who uses it for his crops) notes is dropping by about a foot per year–but with a few hundred feet more of depth where he is. It’ll be good for a little while.

    LOL, as my brother says about his favorite hobby, driving too fast, “Speed doesn’t kill. It is the sudden stop at the end.” Sheesh, people. A few hundred years is going to get here eventually, you know. Then what?

  • sg

    Though her statistical behavioralism often leads her to unfortunate conclusions,

    Unfortunate conclusions aren’t wrong just because they are unpalatable. I don’t like them any more than you guys, but we can’t just wish reality away. We have to deal with things the way they really are. I confess to being a modernist (as opposed to being a postmodernist). I do think we can do better and the first step is to accurately characterize the situation no matter how unfortunate.

  • Cincinnatus

    sg@35:

    By “unfortunate,” I meant “wrong.”

  • sg

    I have said before, I would be more than happy to change my mind on those conclusions if anyone would care to present some evidence to the contrary. So far, no takers. Lots of non scalable anecdotes, but no whole population level data.

    Hey look kids, now one household in five is on assistance of some kind. Yeah, all those folks are catching up quick. Closing the gap, doncha know! Why before you know it they will be professing the creed @ 24. (sarcasm)

  • kerner

    sg:

    You are one of the least willing person to change your mind when confronted with facts that I know. You routinely cite statistics to support your theses, but when other statistics indicate a contrary or different theses, you ignore them.

    Oil and natural gas ARE natural resources, and due to an increase in their cost (which may be due to artificial manipulation by foreign governments, and even our own government) we have devised new ways to find them, and as a consequence discovered more of them than ever before. Even manufactured goods are made from natural resources, and so are not completely divorced from a discussion about depletion of natural resources.

    Empty space is not a resource per se, although at times we may wish that space be empty of everyone but ourselves, which is not really the craving for an empty space. And population density is not a gauge of corruption or happiness or anything else really. India has a population density of 954/sq. mi. Less than very nice places like Bermuda 3,477/sq.mi. and South Korea 1,288/sq.mi. And only slightly more than your favorite Asian country, Japan 836/sq.mi.

    http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0934666.html

    India also has a lower population density than New Jersey 1,195/sq.mi/ and Rhode Island 1,018/sq.mi. and only a little more than Massachusetts 839/sq.mi. and Connecticut 738/sq.mi.

    http://www.indexmundi.com/facts/united-states/quick-facts/all-states/population-density#map

    All of the foregoing places, including India, have open spaces and agriculture. And the more densely populated areas of each may be squalid, or very liveable. Whether the environment of any particular place is pleasant or not has very little to do with population density and depends much more on other factors.

    The United States (as a whole) 84/sq.mi., Zimbabwe 82/sq.mi. and Latvia 91/sq.mi. have similar population densities but very little else in common.

  • sg

    The US and Latvia have stuff in common.

    Whether the environment of any particular place is pleasant or not has very little to do with population density and depends much more on other factors.

    Like what?
    :D

  • sg

    And only slightly more than your favorite Asian country, Japan 836/sq.mi.

    So, what is your favorite Asian country?

  • sg

    Empty space is not a resource per se, although at times we may wish that space be empty of everyone but ourselves, which is not really the craving for an empty space.

    I am not sure I follow what you are saying. I mean, of course we want the empty space to be empty of everyone except ourselves. That is what makes it empty. I kind of think places like Stanford University are onto something: 8,180 prime California acres and about 16,000 students. That is about a half acre per student. Empty of everyone else. Sweet.

  • sg

    Speaking of highly selective places, the most selective universities haven’t raised their enrollments in decades. So more is better for us but not for them. Yeah, they understand the value of scarcity and not diluting the value of the scarcity of their degrees the way the US dilutes the value its citizenship.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com bike bubba

    Regarding the objections to the idea of Simon’s work indicating that the Malthusian tragedy is further away than we had thought, perhaps it would be instructive to remember how Joel Salatin’s father got his land in Virginia. It parallels the comments by Cincinnatus and sg, really, as the land was worn-out cropland with little topsoil left–in many parts, not that much subsoil was left, either, after centuries of intensive cultivation without controls for erosion.

    Today–as I’m guessing Cincinnatus knows, and perhaps sg as well–that land is among the most productive in the Shenandoah. His land was owned by the type that “didn’t care” about the topsoil until that land went for a song–and so if we simply use enlightened self-interest (not technology, really), there’s a lot of room for people to live really, really well.

    At least if we can persuade people to abandon boondoggles like corn and ethanol subsidies. :^)

  • tODD

    Man, I knew when Veith first posted that article on entitlement that the conversation would quickly devolve into a discussion of the Ogallala Aquifer. I just knew it.

    No, honestly, what the heck is the thrust of the conversation here? It’s gettin’ awfully digressive, don’t you think?

    I mean, is the point that things change? We all know they do. I’m not really sure we can do something about it, most of the time. It’s not like this is a uniquely modern problem, either. I mean, ask the cedars of Lebanon. Or any number of animal species. Time and time again, it seems it’s easier for people to adapt after something goes away (or decreases, or changes), rather than trying to prevent such changes in the first place.

    Also, what is this?

    the most selective universities haven’t raised their enrollments in decades.

    Yeah, I’m not gonna take a lot of time to investigate that claim, because it doesn’t seem like you have either (plus also I have no idea what you’re on about). But I do know this: Rice University, my alma mater, is considered by some to be highly selective (#40 on the list of top 100 lowest acceptance rates in the US, with just under a 19% acceptance rate). It’s also has 3,700 undergrads now — it was 2,600 when I graduated in 1998. I dunno, I kind of think a 42% increase in 15 years is significant enough to blow a hole in your claim. You?

  • Cincinnatus

    tODD@44:

    A few things:

    First, hi! Haven’t, uh, blogged with you in a while. You were right that fatherhood tends to devour quite a lot of formerly free time.

    Second–now that the pleasantries are over–who are you to critique comments as “digressive”? I remember being roundly scolded by you when, as a relative n00b on this blog, I lambasted a particular line of conversation as being “off topic.” As you yourself told me then, conversations on this blog are rather flexible, often departing somewhat from the original topics of discussion. Because, you know, they’re conversations. So we’re discussing the way that many Americans–and the American economy in general–view themselves as entitled to our non-renewable natural resources. Seems vaguely germane, yes?

    Third, your substantive response to this “digressive” line of commentary is troubling. If I’m reading you correctly, is your response really that humans have a habit of raping the earth, but that’s ok because we’re adaptable? Well, that’s a view of the situation, I guess, but it doesn’t seem to be a particularly responsible or Christian view. Because we’re not in the midst of any kind of emergency or famine–indeed, the American agro-bureaucracy is at pains to figure out ways to dispense with our enormous surplus of food, especially corn–I can’t myself conceive of a valid justification for depleting our groundwater or topsoil, for example. Can you? There’s something deeply unsatisfactory about your glib response. In fact, your response is even worse than kerner and bike’s “Only a [technological] god can [and will] save us.”

    Fourth, you really are slipping a bit in your vaunted research/Google-fu skills. Whatever happened on the campus of Rice–and, indeed, at many other American universities, which have been indulging an orgy of enrollment growth for the past several decades–the truly elite colleges have not increased enrollment, either quantitatively or qualitatively (i.e., in terms of expanding the socioeconomic background of the student body), in ages. And by “elite” I don’t mean “my alma mater” or “schools that people know about” or “schools with low acceptance rates.” I mean elite as in Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and a small handful of others–the schools that are elite not merely because they tend to accept a high number of wealthy legacy students, but also because they are, in fact, still the source of America’s “ruling class” to a degree that would be shocking to average Americans if they actually knew about it. Ross Douthat has a recent editorial on the topic, but a guy named Ron Unz recently conducted a rather rigorous and extensive study of the subject: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/the-myth-of-american-meritocracy/ Despite being published by “The American Conservative,” it’s received some serious and scholarly attention, as it deserves.

  • tODD

    Cin (@45), hi! I honestly have been meaning for months now to ask when your child was born. But I am a singularly awful emailer. Ask my family. I hope things are well. I remember more than a few middles-of-the-night where I’d post a comment on this blog (or Facebook) while hoping a child in my arms would fall asleep, and then sat there refreshing, wondering why no one else was replying yet, at 2am, because if I was up, surely someone else should’ve been, too.

    Anyhow, I’m not critiquing the flow of conversation, as such (though, come on, going from entitlement to aquifers was a bit hard to foresee, no?) I just felt like SG was throwing the noodles of thought at the wall to see what would stick. I mean, we now could concurrently discuss entitlements, aquifers, farming practices, land use, population densities, admission policies, … did I miss anything? I’m not trying to be the topic police here, but can we keep the topic branches to maybe one or two per person?

    As for my glib response, it was largely directed at the complete lack of an overall point in the comments — mostly SG’s. Sure, I’m for intelligent use of topsoil and water (especially sources like aquifers that aren’t easily renewed, as such). But what do to about it? Pass laws to do something? Well, I’m not as sure that’s a good idea. Encourage people to do something? Fine, but I’m not sure it’ll be effective. Depends on what we’re talking about. Technology won’t save everything, but it has saved us from a lot of previously looming precipices. Consider food. As much as I have issue with many facets of modern farming practices, I have to admit that we are growing way more food per unit area than ever before. Way more. So when people scream about population growth making things unsustainable, I’m a little dubious about the Chicken Little antics. No, the size of our arable land hasn’t scaled with our population. But what we do on that land has. And how. But, again, that’s only if we’re discussing feeding ourselves, which was only one of many lines of panic that were tossed out.

    Finally, as to my “vaunted research/Google-fu skills” (always flatter before flattening!), I explicitly declined to do any research (since SG’s comment was wholly unsubstantiated by anything else), tossing out the only university I knew anything about personally. Still, you’ve moved the goalposts from SG’s comments. You’re talking about “the truly elite colleges”, but she mentioned “the most selective universities”. Those aren’t the same.

  • sg

    the truly elite colleges have not increased enrollment, either quantitatively or qualitatively (i.e., in terms of expanding the socioeconomic background of the student body), in ages.

    Of course that doesn’t stop their professors and alumni from lecturing the rest of us on how we should welcome indiscriminately any and all aliens into our neighborhoods, schools etc.

    the schools that are elite not merely because they tend to accept a high number of wealthy legacy students, but also because they are, in fact, still the source of America’s “ruling class” to a degree that would be shocking to average Americans if they actually knew about it.

    Well at least that segment of society still feels entitled. :D
    Anyway, it sure would be nice to have the Supreme Court with five Protestants who graduated from State U so we could have a court that “looks like America” or am I getting to uppity and forgetting my place?

  • kerner

    sg:

    1) Seems to me that the US and Latvia have a whole lot more differences (geography, population size, degree of population diversity, history, percentage of Lutherans, language, you name it) than they have “stuff in common.

    2) I can’t say I have a clear favorite Asian country. I kind of like the entire continent. you have to admire a continent that can think up that many ways to prepare chicken. :D

    3) A half acre per student is what makes going to Stanford “sweet”? Really? You’re pulling my leg, right? You can probably live on a half acre lot in almost any country, from Albania to Zimbabwe, and have a completely different experience in each one.

  • kerner

    Cin:

    I was not aware you had recently become a father. Congratulations. And do not worry. Eventually you will be able to have an intelligent conversation with your offspring. Unfortunately, that will also be the point at which he/she will begin to argue with you.

    I read the American Conservative article. I learned that immigrants are harder workers and higher achievers than native born Americans who, being affluent and possessing a sense of entitlement, have become lazy and are no longer willing to work as hard as the “hungry” immigrants. So, Americans tend to find ways to keep the immigrants from displacing them by creating a system that ignores merit and focuses on intangibles that can be manipulated to the Americans’ benefit. Who knew? ;)

    I also learned that, because of the foregoing, our so called elite institutions do not turn out graduates that are significantly smarter or better at their jobs than people with a less elite education. The elite graduates do, however, tend to make more money and wield more power than others because of the connections they made or maintained at the elite university. And Dr. Veith had to ask (on another thread) why libertarianism is becoming more popular.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    And do not worry. Eventually you will be able to have an intelligent conversation with your offspring. Unfortunately, that will also be the point at which he/she will begin to argue with you.

    You are a wise man, Kerner!

  • Stephen

    My daughter is 5 and she’s already surpassing me in any number of ways. But I don’t let her know that.

    Congratulations Cinncinatus!!! Wonderful!


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