Tuesday, May 4, 2010

"The influence of politics and policy is usually swamped by the influence of culture, ethnicity, psychology and a dozen other factors....If you combine the influence of ethnicity and region, you get astounding lifestyle gaps. The average Asian-American in New Jersey lives an amazing 26 years longer and is 11 times more likely to have a graduate degree than the average American Indian in South Dakota.
When you try to account for life outcome differences this gigantic, you find yourself beyond narrow economic incentives and in the murky world of social capital. What matters are historical experiences, cultural attitudes, child-rearing practices, family formation patterns, expectations about the future, work ethics and the quality of social bonds....So when we’re arguing about politics, we should be aware of how policy fits into the larger scheme of cultural and social influences. Bad policy can decimate the social fabric, but good policy can only modestly improve it...Most of the proposals we argue about so ferociously will have only marginal effects on how we live, especially compared with the ethnic, regional and social differences that we so studiously ignore."

Here's the article, full of good supporting research and details.

And yes, the first post in a while. I think I finally found something I want to use it for. I'd love to have discussions about the things I post here and intend to respond quickly to comments that contain a question.


brian.couch.jr said...

Like the idea about starting conversations Josh. Here's my knee jerk reaction for starters.

First off:
"If you take tribes of people, exile them from their homelands and ship them to strange, arid lands, you’re going to produce bad outcomes for generations."
Who's recommending policies that do that?

I do agree with the thought that policies shouldn't eat away at social bonds, but that's pretty subjective. Where one person thinks socialized healthcare can strengthen social bonds, another thinks it is corrosive. I hear what he's saying, but I think it's too simplistic to be constructive. I'd be curious to see what kind of policies he has in mind.

Isn't it the case that because America has such a variegated culture and society that developing policies capable of supporting all the different "social bonds" will be impracticable?

Josh said...

Thank, Brian, this is exactly what I'm hoping for.

"Who's recommending policies that do that?" -I actually think that particular set of policy decisions is a metaphor... and I'll get to why in a minute.

"I do agree with the thought that policies shouldn't eat away at social bonds, but that's pretty subjective." -I agree. What constitutes a social bond, how one goes about nourishing such a bond if you find out what it is, or not harming it on the other hand, are tough questions. I think all that Brooks is saying is: questions a given policy's impact on social bonds ought to be foremost in the minds of public policy makers.

I also happen to think that he's espousing a position of non-intervention on the part of the government in most social issues. Delineating a particular social bond is not as important for policymakers as knowing what makes a society function and working hard to keep government from performing the function that society ought to be responsible for.

That's why I think the "strange, arid lands" list is a metaphor. He's warning against policies that serve to disassociate people from one another and impose bureaucracies in the place of social structure. Not a great metaphor, but I think that's what he's after.

brian.couch.jr said...

I agree with a non-interventionist position.

In my research this semester I came across a report by Richard Neuhaus from 1971 which addresses many of these issues. I think it's brilliant, and strikingly applicable to today as we move out to build God's kingdom in the U.S. It's called "To Empower People: The Role of Mediating Structures in Public Policy".

This is from a section on the role of the Church, where the issue of Church and State separation is being raised. Forgive the lengthy quotation, but I think it's helpful.

"The danger today is not that the churches or any one church will take over the state. The much more real danger is that the state will take over the functions of the church. . .Within the family, and between the family and the larger society, the church is a primary agent for bearing and transmitting the operative values of our society. . .the values that inform our public discourse are inseparably related to specific religious traditions. In the absences of the church and other mediating structures that articulate these values, the result is not that the society is left without operative values; the result is that the state has an unchallegned monopoly on the generation and maintenance of values. Needless to say, we would find this a very unhappy condition indeed."

Josh said...

Yeah, I think that's exactly what I would like to point out in Brooks' article. He's probably saying more than that, but the bottom line is that we don't want the policies and legislation of a distant federal government dictating the terms of social interactions.