Monday, August 09, 2010

Will Our Kids Be Better Off in the Future?

Kevin Drum comments on a Peggy Noonan column and attracts a bunch of comments. [Update: here's Scott Winship and lots of polling.] Noonan as quoted by Drum:
The country I was born into was a country that had existed steadily, for almost two centuries, as a nation in which everyone thought — wherever they were from, whatever their circumstances — that their children would have better lives than they did....Parents now fear something has stopped....They look around, follow the political stories and debates, and deep down they think their children will live in a more limited country, that jobs won't be made at a great enough pace, that taxes — too many people in the cart, not enough pulling it — will dishearten them, that the effects of 30 years of a low, sad culture will leave the whole country messed up.

Drum agrees but based on the dominance of an elite:
it's the fact that we increasingly seem to be led by a social elite that's simply lost interest in the good of the country. They were wealthy 30 years ago, they've gotten incomparably more wealthy since then, and yet they seem to care about little except amassing ever more wealth and endlessly scheming to reduce their tax burdens further. Shipping off our kids on a growing succession of costly foreign adventures is OK, but funding healthcare or unemployment benefits or economic stimulus in the midst of a world-historical recession is beyond the pale.
Seems to me you need to distinguish a bunch of different intended meanings in the answer to such pollster questions::
  • the answer may be in terms of relative status, where status is an "excludable good", as the economists mights say. Will my child, the son of a farmer, live a better life because he'll be President? But for anyone who becomes President, many million can't become President.  If you want your child to move from the bottom 10th in wealth to the middle 10th, someone else has to drop in relative wealth.
  • or a slightly different answer: Will my child, the son of poor Jewish immigrants, live a better life because he'll be a doctor, a lawyer? We've probably got a greater percentage of our population in the law and medicine than in the past, so this interpretation is more "absolute status".  Granted that as the number of lawyers and doctors increases in society, their status may slightly decline, but I'll ignore that.
  • or in terms of money, adjusted for inflation:  Will my child earn more than I, or accumulate more wealth during her lifetime than I? Depending on whether we're talking household or individual, this seems to be the area liberals focus on.
  • or in terms of welfare:  Will my child live better than I? Have a longer life, better health, more friends, more opportunities, etc. This seems to be the area conservatives focus on--the effects of technological progress.  We drive better cars, have better housing, etc.
  • or in terms of the nation.  Will my child live in an United States which is thriving as a nation?
  • or in terms of the world.  Will my child live in a world which is more peaceful and more prosperous than the one I lived in.
  • or in terms of social norms.  Will my child live in a society with which I'd be comfortable?
IMHO, though I don't have children, I'd bet people who are 10 years old today would, in 2070, agree the answer for most of the above, excluding the first and last, would be "yes".  For my parents, the answer for all of the above, except the last, was "yes".

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