Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A Quarter Century in America

Brad DeLong writes:

The true history of the U.S. since 1980, IMHO at least, is not Sean Wilentz's "Age of Reagan" but is instead composed of a half dozen or so deeper and broader tides, like:

  1. The end of the Cold War
  2. Other winner-take-all factors that have, in combination with education, pushed American income polarization back to Gilded Age levels.
  3. The failure of American taxpayers to support their state and local governments in expanding funding for public education--and the impact of reduced public education effort in sharpening the distinction between rich and poor.
  4. The computer revolution in productivity growth.
  5. The rise of China (and soon, we hope, India) as industrial powers.
  6. The extraordinary social liberalization of America--if you had told any Republican in 1980 that 2008 would see (a) a Negro with an Arabic-Swahili name beating a veteran fighter pilot in the presidential polls and (b) gay marriage as the big cultural issue of the day, said Republican would have blown several gaskets. And if you had said that this would have been the result of an "Age of Reagan" said Republican would have melted down completely.
Tyler Cowen comments:

I'm mostly on board (and read the broader post) but, in addition to mentioning Latinos, I'll suggest two revisions. First, on #3 I doubt if the stagnation of American lower education is the result of insufficient dollars. It is notoriously difficult to find a convincing link between educational expenditures and educational quality and I don't think that is econometric problems. On #6 I never saw most of the Reagan Republicans as especially prudish or socially conservative; that was just a lie told to one of the interest groups attending the party. Revolution in the Head -- which is oddly enough a social history of the Beatles -- is especially good on the connection between 1960s morals and the Reagan Revolution.

To which Arnold Kling adds:
Tyler Cowen quarrels with number 3, and I will quarrel even harder. No one who claims to be reality-based would argue that (a) spending on public education has fallen or (b) that spending on public education makes a large difference. Brad DeLong needs to spend some time with James Heckman.

I don't think you can tell the story of the last quarter century without saying something about assortative mating. Also, keep in mind what Kay Hymowitz calls Marriage and Caste, in which affluent people are more likely to have their children within marriage and to remain married, while less-affluent people have out-of-wedlock children and higher divorce rates.

I too strongly disagree with point #3. I see little correlation between educational spending and quality. America's school systems have fundamental, systemic problems that have little to do with lack of funding.

I also agree with Kling's comment about assortative mating.

See my previous posts on education.

1 comment:

thinking said...

I agree with Tyler Cowen regarding point #6. Also, I don't see the candidacy of an African American so much an issue of social liberalization but more an issue of immense progress in civil rights and basic human equality. So one could label it social liberalization in the best sense of the word "liberalization" but again, I think the issue is far deeper and more profound.

I really don't think the Republicans in 1980 would have had any problems with an African American candidacy, at least not among those who were not racist in the first place.

As for the gay marriage issue, I think its flash point peaked in 2004 when Rove used it as a wedge issue. I don't nearly see so much interest in the issue now among most people. Of course the gay community still cares, but everyone else seems to have more important things to worry about.