Thursday, October 23, 2014

Wealth inequality and "family values" seem connected


Matt O’Brien’s Wonkblog entry on p. A14 of the Washington Post on Thursday, October 23, 2014 puts an important perspective on wealth inequality (as maybe more critical than income inequality).  Appearing on p. A14, the title is “The bottom 90 percent are poorer today than they were in 1987”.  The link is here. The fundamental reason is that the middle class had invested most of its wealth in housing, which tanked in 2007/2008.  Wealthier people could invest in stocks and bonds, which also tanked but have recovered stronger than ever (even despite recent volatility over international instability – war, terror and epidemics).  
  
People invested in housing partly out of “family values”.  Buy as much space as possible for the kids.  (When you see a house with an attic made into a third story, you know that means – “teenagers”.)  Also, particularly in earlier times, it meant moving away from the cities.  In many areas (like Loudoun County VA, or areas way north of Dallas and even Plano) the corporations followed.   Server farms – employing lots of people and supporting exurban life styles – dot the beginning Piedmont areas of northern Virginia, as well as a lot of areas in North Carolina some distance from Charlotte or from Raleight-Durham – or, for that matter, Atlanta.  There has always been some tension between “taking care of family and your own” and “taking care of others” – something Charles Murray called “bonding capital” vs. “bridge capital” as parts of social capital in his book “Coming Apart” (Books, March 2012).
  
In an earlier article (Oct. 18) O’Brien criticized the way “meritocracy” (one of John Stossel’s favorite words) was unraveling, as rich kids do the “opportunity hoarding”, so poor kids who do everything right don’t come up to bat.  (The analogy happened in grade school:  someone batting in front of me just before lunch hit into a triple play!)   Everybody needs his “ups”.   My own personal observation, around some churches I go to, is that this really doesn’t happen:  the “better off kids” and young adults have gone to missions in Belize and Nicaragua (even Kenya), where interaction with others gets quite personal;  but that gets ever more dangerous now.
     
Stanley McChrystal is on to something.  Without some sense of potential fairness, a lot of people wonder why “only they” have to play by the rules.   

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