Monday, January 23, 2012

Quick thoughts on "The New American Divide"

Rain, clouds, sunset light and a palm tree. #bwela
Completely unrelated photo, taken in LA. 
Go read Charles Murray's "The New American Divide" at The Wall Street Journal.

Here are his basic points:
  • (White) America is coming apart at the cultural institution seams: work, church, marriage are all declining
  • (White) America is super-segregated for the super-wealthy
It is an interesting read, and motivated me to make a few notes to share.

I think Murray has an interesting argument, without having any solution to offer. But I think something else offers us some hope. There are changes that I think are coming, that I'm not sure Murray saw.

Think about these trends that you might have seen:
  • The reduction in industriousness ("available to work") may change as the Millennial generation is much more entrepreneurial. If you are inclined to make your own opportunity, you're not as inclined to wait for one or to drop out. 
  • The rise in un-married births and the drop in marriage may also be contradicted by the social patterns of upcoming groups who are delaying marriage, but are being more committed than previous generations. 
  • The concentration of wealth may be counteracted by the trend toward small and local business as a viable alternative to the large corporate behemoth. 
  • The upcoming generations (Gen X onward) are more interested in building societal good right into their businesses, and show a big interest in doing good as well as profiting. 
In short, I don't contradict any of the current numbers. I just think there are some interesting trends happening that are positive signs. A tolerance for inefficiency in business and society are giving us all more options, and may be the most hopeful sign I've seen.

I have a lot more to say on a tolerance for inefficiency, one of these days.


  1. Oh wow... very thought-provoking... waiting on pins and needles for your thoughts on tolerance for inefficiency!! Thank you!

  2. Great points Becky. Last year business startups were created at a faster rate than the previous 15 years (source: I've also read several studies showing that Gen X and onward are choosing work that "does good" and has meaning over pure pay/benefit choices. There are also other ways communities are forming outside of traditional work/school/church today.

  3. Tracy, I've been thinking about our need to put up with some inefficiency in a number of ways, because it gives us more legitimate choices. Efficiency is no longer the only goal. (I have a ton to say on this!)

    Doug, thanks for backing up my points. I'm excited about our nontraditional options in the future. Also here's a hot link to the New Business Starts article for everyone's convenience. :)

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, too!

  4. A thousand thoughts on this and the Murray post. Murray is trying to selectively pick demographic segments and draw parallels that, while there's no doubt truth to the numbers, elude truly meaningful comparison. I am alarmed at what he points out.

    I don't think you'll ever get an America that is (collectively) on the same page, if we ever really had one. To do that, we'd have to get rid of the modern cable TV system and the Internet. If you go back to three or four channels of TV, you go back to a common, shared experience. You had a much better chance of finding someone who had seen the Bonanza episode featuring Hoss and Little Joe quarreling. (Have I lost most of you?) Honestly, I think that's part of it ... I am not suggesting we go back quite as far as black and white TV, however. ;)

    Diversity. of race, of thought, of religion, of personal interests, of family background, is here to stay. We've just got to learn to make it work.

  5. Richard, I'm with you. This piece stirred a thousand thoughts for me. And I agree that we are long past one single homogeneous culture. And I think it really is more of a good thing than a bad one.