Beyond Blue 7: From Levittown to Superburb?
Published on: March 10, 2012
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  • Anthony

    WRM, you are correct; the future belongs to America’s youth and millennials definitely have the long-term play (though struggling to meet tuition costs). Yet, America (the world) will be their’s and with it all the complexity and transformation (it is today’s generation that will be paying the bills left behind by the boomers). But, demographic transition remains inevitable; consequently,youth and imagination in the end must be served and essay’s implications vis-a-vis family/housing dynamics provide ongoing perspective – a perspective mindful of the future.

  • Brett

    Some builders, like Pulte Homes and Lennar, are even specializing in ‘multi-generational’ homes with cordoned-off space for Millennials, Baby Boomers, and grandparents to live and maybe work under one roof.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if that increasingly became a trend. Many middle-class households already depend on two income-earners to stay in the middle-class, and it’s not a stretch to imagine a situation where you need more than that to stay where you are (or increase the whole household’s living standards).

    Telecommuting is likely going to play a much larger role as a generation of tech savvy Americans figure out that the traditional five times a week commute is a waste of time and money that both employer and employee benefit from minimizing. And as commuting becomes a sometimes rather than a daily routine, more people will be free to move to the exurbs and edge cities where land is cheap, taxes are low and traffic less dense.

    They’ve been predicting this for at least three decades, and it has yet to come true. It turns out that in-person interactions characteristic of a denser urban area actually turn out to be important for productivity and creativity.

    More-over, telecommuting is one of those things that tends to most help white collar, information-manipulation office jobs – the kind of jobs that are going to get absolutely hammered by automation. The jobs that aren’t getting hammered usually require an on-site presence, or are also vulnerable to outsourcing.

    As for the point about “exurban areas”, Matt Yglesias and Ryan Avent of The Gated City never tire of reminding us that people want to live in these denser areas around New York, California’s coast, and so forth. Land restrictions set by the existing populace are what’s effectively keeping them out.

  • Kris

    Since we’re combining futurism and Better Homes & Gardens (I kid, I kid), I give you Heinlein’s house.

    Of more direct relevance to some of the discussions on this blog:
    “There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to the public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute nor common law. Neither individuals nor corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back.”
    Life-Line by Robert A. Heinlein, 1939

  • Anthony

    In keeping with essay’s implications, encouraging our youth to “go for it” as envisioned in “From Levittown to Superburb” will require our accounting for educational attainment and skill formation in furtherance of millennials’ opportunities – long-term strategy recognizing disparate labor force and skill acquisition among youth.

  • I would point out that you can have high residential density (in terms of average distance between home and work) in small towns just as easily in big cities.

    And of course we see parents moving in with their children just as much as children moving back in with their parents, in both cases caused by financial necessity. This raises the issue of how to get along.

  • Sorry, that small town link was supposed to go here. The garden city idea is not new.

  • Toni

    “Figuring out how to help people take care of themselves and do more things on the basis of family and community action from schooling kids to taking care of the old and the disabled rather than mediating these activities through expensive and cumbersome bureaucracies is going to be an important part of getting to a new, more productive and more humane social order.”

    Every part of the Blue Social Model that led to current American dysfunction was created “to get to a new, more productive and more humane social order.”

    Prof. Mead, you persist in the belief that 536 men and women can arrange for the U.S. to be Utopia. That figure is the total number of U.S. Senators and Representatives, plus the President to sign the bills the others pass. Do you really believe that 536 people can create a legal and regulatory system which will make the other 309,000,000 of us educated, cared-for, productive citizens?

    That proposition certainly wouldn’t have made sense to the Founders. They created a system to secure for the law-abiding the rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This country in 2012 secures those rights for hundreds of people of both genders and all complexions — EXCEPT where all-powerful government now curtails their rights.

    For example, a poor white janitor’s son can’t pursue happiness at an Ivy League school if the school chooses to admit a less-qualified Hispanic banker’s daughter or black physician’s son instead. Until and unless the Supreme Court says otherwise, the Ivies and other colleges are free to discriminate against whites, which usually means white boys.

    Slavery was evil. Lesser rights for women was troublesome. But this country wouldn’t exist if the Founders had let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

    The Blue Social Model was premised on the idea that the proper set of laws and regulations can *create* the good — good people, good lives, etc. Instead, it’s created, among other things, colleges that don’t educate and millions of children without fathers committed to their care. It’s created Obamacare and Dodd-Frank.

    In truth, the “proper” set of laws and regulations will never be discovered. Human beings aren’t perfectible. Neither are societies composed of human beings. Tinkering with existing laws and regulations to create a new set of inducements and punishments won’t do anything but make an already over-complicated system more complicated.

    Prof. Mead, I believe you’re still deeply committed to the Blue Social Model. You still think 536 men and women in Washington, aided by the millions who work for government departments and agencies, can create Utopia.

    They can’t. The best thing they can do in the 21st c. is to get out of the way and leave the rest of us to the pursuit of happiness as each sees fit.

  • Toni

    Correction: By “hundreds of people,” of course, I meant “hundreds of millions of people.”

  • Boritz

    The home of the future sounds like it is populated by the Waltons (well, the modern ‘equivalent’) and differs only in architecture/floorplan which has been updated to match the actual occupation of the home. When grandpa Walton built the family home he probably didn’t expect three generations to be living there, and if he did he wasn’t enough of a designer to know what that implied about what manner of house to construct. That will now be corrected and homes will be expertly designed to optimize the space for multi-generational occupancy. Interesting.

  • This is exactly what we are fighting against.. I represent an emerging business in the NYC area–Fm Ads LLC a growing community of young entrepreneurs seeking to inspire other Millennials that together we can transcend these struggles, create opportunities for ourselves and grow as professionals.

  • Here are some better links to the garden city idea: Wikipedia and the original book which is now free on Google books.

    The basic idea was to combine the best of city and country living: urban convenience with social and employment opportunities on the one hand, cheap land and open spaces on the other. The simple fact was that transport and communications technology weren’t up to the challenge of geographic decentralization in Howard’s day. But they are now.

    These new towns, out beyond the exurban fringe where land is still cheap, should be viewed not as the negation of of our metropolitan areas but rather as the next stage in their natural development after suburbia and exurbia. They would be fifty to seventy miles out from the center in most cases which is still a drivable distance when you need to go to the airport, major medical center, etc.

    Real estate developers and the major corporations would certainly have key roles to play, but it would also require completely new forms of organized labor (!) as well as new government programs at both the state and federal level to make it work. (As did suburbia after all.)

    I should add that FDR experimented with this very idea back in the 1930’s. He was premature, of course, but still there are a lot of interesting lessons to to be learned from that experience, including the need for new forms of organized labor.

  • Jim.


    Sorry, your argument doesn’t pass the coherency test.

    Land-use restrictions exist because the people that live there wouldn’t want to live there if they got any more crowded. If they were repealed, some more would move in (particularly the ones that were there for the jobs, not because they wanted to be); many would move away. All would have a lower quality of life.

    As far as automated white-collar jobs, I deeply regret that my post on Watson got eaten. Here’s the short version: problems with software validation will ensure that humans are never out of the loop to a significant extent. Remember those quants’ models that handed us the Mortgage Meltdown? Have you ever read McIntyre’s evisceration of the hockey stick graph? “This is right, the computer told me so.” Uh-huh.

    And have you ever met a manager who, when presented with a data processing “productivity” tool that gave you five times more answers per hour, didn’t simply ask five times more questions to get data for the same decision — which still may not be right, see the point about software validation above.

    As for telecommuting vs. offshoring… Will managers find a way to never have to sleep? That 11pm India call plus the 6am Russia call would require that. Have you ever met someone who truly enjoyed being stuck on a plane for 24 hours straight each way (after getting a battery of shots) just to visit their workers for a couple of days per year?

    Instead, if you can get your workers to be in the office a day or two per week to touch base, or if your vendors are in the same time zone you are so you can get experienced support on the line when you’re actually doing your troubleshooting, you’ve got a far more effective business model.

    The Urban-suburban model is going to survive. The Urban portion may wither a bit, as the new Exurban wing rises. The beautiful thing is, technology will begin to allow us all to live where we like, and still be employed as we like, instead of simply being shoved cheek-by-jowl into the concrete trenches of the crime-infested urban rat-hives that somehow manage to appear despite the lofty (utopian) ambitions of the “urban planners”.

  • Danny K.

    Since Greece has been in the news lately, there is a similar tradition there and in the Balkans. The parents will build a house and as their kids get married, they will add floors so that they can set their kids up into homes.

  • Richard Hill

    Self driving cars (Wired Feb 2012) may tilt the balance towards long car commutes. Wired says on market before 2020, already legal in Nevada.

  • Kris

    [email protected], did the founders not number considerably less than 536?

  • Rich

    I don’t see a “war on the young” at all. Youth is whorshipped and in the professions – other than medicine – it is those under 30 who are looked upon by those nearing retirement as the future of said profession. This has created a more hyper-cult of youth than ever before and will likely culminate in the end of a war on non-youth. Consider: a 41-year old professional has a (or should have) a solid 30 more years in the profession. Ah! But, at least from the 60+ set, that 41 year old just doesn’t have the speed of a 22-year old recent grad and speed is what makes money and thus…

    Those 60-year olds who still can’t turn on a computer have forgotten the 41-year olds who, oh, 30+ years ago, got all the way through Tron on one quarter… A 22-year old today, well… all the games are “free,” the toys all work right, and information is everywhere. The folks in their 40s and let’s even say late 30s, have paid their dues and ought to be respected for their experience, etc. and be given the reigns for the next 20 years. Instead, it’s the grandchildren who will be put in charge of their parents, it’s a plot by the hippies, I say!

  • Barry Hydeman

    One big problem with telecommuting is that if you can do your job at home in your pajamas, with or without your whole extended family under the same roof, your employer might eventually realize that there’s a guy in India or Romania who can do the same job for a lot less money. And might do it better.

  • Mark Michael

    I second Toni’s comment #7 with the caveat that after rereading WRM’s post, it’s not clear to me that he is still “clinging” to the “Blue Social Model” for his way of moving to this view of America’s future.

    If he is, then I agree with you – it will never “work” in any real sense of the word. If he understands that it’s really a drawing back of government control of those details of everyday living, then I don’t. Now, WRM has spent his career hanging around the diplomatic corps, and they’re schooled in “nuance”: trying to sort of agree with everybody, or not offend anybody. (Try rereading the 3rd-last para.:

    “Figuring out how to help people take care of themselves and do more things on the basis of family and community action from schooling kids to taking care of the old and the disabled rather than mediating these activities through expensive and cumbersome bureaucracies is going to be an important part of getting to a new, more productive and more humane social order. Whether through tax credits or payments, families and communities who take care of their own should have to pay less taxes (or get rebates) to reflect their reduced drain on public resources. If government starts to recognize these realities and support productive households who engage in them, we will accelerate the move to wealthier, more productive, more comprehensive households — living in bigger homes in leafier suburbs with more security and richer lives than those their parents and grandparents knew.
    Which is a big part of what America is about.”

    Here’s my thought on the subject: The “elite” do indeed lead the country into the future, i.e., the “populist” notion that average, ordinary Americans are better leaders than the “elite” – the smartest, most focused, most driven of us – is nonsense. (Populism is foolishness IMO.) The real question is, “Do the elite with all their skills work in the voluntary private sector – businesses, startups, being entrepreneurial, private charities, private schools – or do they gravitate to government, the civil service, elective office, and the straphangers in think tanks around the DC Beltway?”

    In societies where the attraction for government gets strong enough that most of the “best and brightest” go into government-centric careers is doomed to a downward slide in its long-term prospects. (Think of Japan when their best and brightest went into MITI, the government agency that provided “industrial policy” for Japan; tried to choose which industries were best to pursue. That broke down once Japan caught up with the US and could no longer just copy our model.)

    Societies where the best and brightest go into private, voluntary organizations, whether it is profit-making business, charities, church work, private educational institutions, those societies will flourish. Their future is bright and their best days are ahead of them.

    Is America at a “tipping point”? How many of our, say, top 20% on some ability test (whatever you want to use – SAT scores, achievement tests, accomplishments) go into private voluntary institutions and how many into government-centric careers, attracted by its coercive charter?

    An encouraging note, Teach for America, the wonderful organization started by Wendy Kopp, saw 20% of Ivy League graduates submit an application to spend a year or two teaching in low-paying, inner-city (or poor rural) schools. That shows an altruism or idealism is not lost on our top students.

  • Name Changed To Protect The Innocent

    Anecdotal: I know of a software development company that closed a small office in a small city, to move the folks there to a larger facility in a larger city, that added 1+ hours to everyone’s commuting time. The folks being moved asked if they could telecommute. Answer from management: “one day a week”

    Management was surprised when half the group left to go work for a competitor. Naturally, it was the top performers that left first. Eventually, management figured out what was happening, and decided to let the remaining folks telecommute.

    Moral of the story: The stiffs running American business right now are going to be the last ones to clue into the dynamic that Prof. Mead describes, and the biggest impediment to change. I’m hoping it’s a generational thing, with Boomers ultimately measuring their success in life (whether they realize it or not) by their ability to manage large-scale Blue Social Model organizations like their parents did, that will fade away to some degree on its own.

  • George

    I was with you until the whole Government should support these changes. Haven’t we learned enough about the government getting involved in housing? If it is meant to be, it will happen without government involvement, and the evolution will be far healthier.

  • At the end of the day, the nation’s housing stock will have to be priced at a level the American people can afford (unless foreigners suddenly develop a massive hunger for residential property in the suburbs of Peoria), and if the only people aging Boomers can sell their homes to are debt-burdened, overtaxed and under-served Millennials, the geezers are going to have to mark down their selling price. It’s called arithmetic, and it works.

    The problem isn’t the geezers or the prices. It’s the property taxes, particularly in the bluest areas of the blue states.

    The fact is that in IL and the Northeast, no one actually owns their homes. They merely rent them from the greedy municipalities and even more greedy school districts.

    Here in IL, the existing pension system, combined with the increasing pace of public employee retirements, will yield dramatic increases in property taxes. This will not only keep millennials out of owning homes, but will chase the geezers out of them as well.

    People have no idea how insidiously corrosive the blue model really is. Whole cohorts of Americans are being cheated out of their shot at the American dream by a large, greedy, and immoral class of public employees.

  • italianguy626

    What also has to happen is people’s expectations need to be toned down. The legacy media is no help. A few weeks ago, the Chicago Tribune had an article about a home supposedly designed for Gen Y, showcased at the International Builder’s Home in Orlando. The article states that the home is smaller (2,163 square feet) and is priced as a starter home (expected $300,000).

    What!? I’m Gen X. My parents first home was close to 1000 square feet. The second home, the one I and my brother grew up in, was 1,900 square feet. The home I live in now, which I purchased with my then fiance, now wife, in 2010, is 1,400 square feet. It was a little bit of a fixer upper, and we picked it up for $95,000 in a short-sale situation (we could have “afforded” more, but “afforded” and “one layoff away from doom” are two entirely different things).

    Here’s the link from the Chicago Tribune about the “starter” home:,0,1360951.story

    As long as builders and developers continue to feed this “fantasy”, we aren’t going to get out of the woods for a long time.

  • Random

    “They’ve been predicting this for at least three decades, and it has yet to come true. It turns out that in-person interactions characteristic of a denser urban area actually turn out to be important for productivity and creativity.”

    Exactly – why do you think Silicon Valley still exists, given the costs of operating in California?

    More to the point, humans are social primates, and offices perform an important social function. You are more likely to pitch in and help someone who you interact with in person than someone that you only see on a computer screen.

    Where technology helps is in flexible work, rather than formal telecommuting – if you have family responsibilities at 3 PM, you now have the ability to deal with them and get work done from home later, given modern technical tools. That’s different from saying that you’re not going to be in every Thursday.

  • “They’ve been predicting this for at least three decades, and it has yet to come true. It turns out that in-person interactions characteristic of a denser urban area actually turn out to be important for productivity and creativity.”

    Brett, once again you prove how pathetically lacking in vision you are. As any FOOL could tell you, there ain’t nothing that takes place face-to-face between two human beings that couldn’t be done TWICE OVER through the intermediation of a lot of super-complicated, overwhelming and constantly-updating technology. That’s right, buddy. And done a HELLUVA lot better too. Just you wait. One of these days Almighty Man is gonna put major egg on the face of all you whiny pessimists. All I can say is I hope you live to see it. In fact, last time I checked, that Singularity was just around the corner . . .

    Besides, didn’t anyone ever tell you we’re living in one of the truly great Ages of (Anthropogenic) Dogma? By what right do you think you can just drop in and spoil the party (lines)?

    In future you’d be well-advised to keep your intelligent, seasoned, well-grounded opinions to yourself.

  • GiGi

    Would it be too much to ask not to pigeonhole and characterize a whole generation, such as the “boomers” as “lazy, greedy old folks” and “geezers” but then in next breath suggest that Boomers can do the child care and “kid hauling” for “millenials” in this house of the future? We are all people,you know.

  • Reilly

    The only question is will grandparents have to join the SEIU if they want to drive the grandkids to their various activities.

  • “But when he came to himself . . .”

    -Luke 15:17

    @ Brett (again): My apologies for the behavior of my once again excitable alter ego. One thing you must admit though: He sure is sure of himself.

  • Bonfire of the Idiocies

    “At the end of the day, the nation’s housing stock will have to be priced at a level the American people can afford (unless foreigners suddenly develop a massive hunger for residential property in the suburbs of Peoria), and if the only people aging Boomers can sell their homes to are debt-burdened, overtaxed and under-served Millennials, the geezers are going to have to mark down their selling price. It’s called arithmetic, and it works.”

    This is called “market clearing.” In the old days before gubbermint intervention in everything, the prices of over-valued assets dropped like rocks and the smart-money, the value-driven and the strong hands moved in and swept them up. The dumb-money, the over-leveraged and the poor capital allocators took their lumps and learned from their mistakes (hopefully.) Recession over, back to business-as-usual growth.

    Now, politicians have to try to “fix” everything, including people’s dumb financial mistakes. Over-valued assets are propped up artificially, waiting for prices to rebound. We’ve been waiting five years. Japan has been waiting two decades. Nobody learns anything except “gubbermint will bail you out.” Which path is better? We already know which is better for politicians, but what about the country as a whole?

  • DW

    The problem with Mead and Kotkin and their ilk going back to Adam Smith and maybe even further is that they try to understand how people actually try to make their way in the world. For a politician that’s less fun than tapping into the insights you gain at $35,000 a plate fundraising dinners or speeches at AFL CIO rallies. Solar powered bullet trains and free-range flying pink unicorns are way cooler than Toyota Corollas. Ought over Is every time!

  • teapartydoc

    While some intergenerational cohabitation is happening there IS a migration into cities and suburbs that is going un-noticed. That is a migration back to town life of independent elderly who have been living out in the sticks or have been RV-ing around the country and now find that they can no longer keep up their preferred lifestyle because of real or impending health issues. Some of them have been living the snow-bird lifestyle in AZ, FLA, or TX, and are moving closer to their kids, their doc, and their hospital. I expect this trend to carry on and increase over the next twenty years.

  • Here’s my thought on the subject: The “elite” do indeed lead the country into the future, i.e., the “populist” notion that average, ordinary Americans are better leaders than the “elite” – the smartest, most focused, most driven of us – is nonsense. (Populism is foolishness IMO.)

    I have a couple of problems with what you say here, Mark …

    … (1) at present, membership in the “elite” and therefore access to power and influence, is presently based more on the possession of credentials than on the actual substance of one’s intellect and motivation. And it shows, when it comes to the actual performance of our elites in positions of power …

    … (2) motivation and focus can’t make up for the insight that comes from being “close to the problem” … and the wisdom to comply with what I call Callahan’s Principle of Leadership: a man’s got to know his limitations.

    All that being said, part of resolving our legacy of worshiping intellect as though it conferred omniscience, is what you suggest is healthy for the nation: moving our problem-solvers into private-sector entities instead of making the government the fount of all answers.

    This, of course, will require We The People to put aside our expectations of a government “guarantee” for every situation …

    … but it has the potential of optimizing the effectiveness and efficiency of our problem-solvers, by diminishing the distortions of bureaucratic inertia and political influence, which are fed by the coercive power (for both behavior and funding) of government.

    It also allows the problem-solvers to deal with the ethical and behavioral aspects of the problems we face, without presenting a threat to our civil liberties the way the coercive forces of government would, were they given the power to effectively “get inside your head” and deal with these issues.

  • bobby b

    Almost all of these problems – from crippling public debt levels to crippling public employee pension costs to overpriced unaffordable assets – can be wiped out quickly and easily, and in a way such that the pain is distributed in perfect accord with the guiding principles of BHO and his crew.

    It’s called runaway inflation, and it’s coming to your community soon.

    Those that have money or assets – or pension entitlements or government bonds – will watch as their perceived values plunge. Those who have no real wealth or money will suffer no harm beyond seeing prices which they could never afford before go even higher.

    This is BHO’s last-resort share-the-wealth weapon. I submit that the economic challenges we’ll face in the future bear little relation to what we’re discussing today, as inflation will solve the expected problems and give us the unexpected ones.

  • JohnMc


    Sorry but you forgot a very important third player in the real estate game. Even if we boomer’s marked our properties down to 50% of current value, there is still the bank to deal with. With many millenials burdened with student debt equivalent to a house payment already, the chances that said homebuyer will qualify for a $100k deal in the burbs becomes a distant dream.

    It is more likely that the current home boomer will figure out a way to bequeath the current residence to the sibling in return for a discounted cash flow.

    Any other scheme would require a fundamental rewrite of the home purchase mortgage market. Not likely to happen during or after an election.

  • Yahzooman

    I agree with Toni.

    Today’s biggest problems are yesterday’s “solutions.” Social Security, Medicare, HUD, Dept. of Education, Dept. of Energy, etc. were all designed by Toni’s 535 geniuses.

    Please don’t advocate new solutions perilously balanced upon the blue Model’s previous solutions.

  • The older, large cities don’t have a future of growth ahead of them. The places to be are smaller cities, and once-standalone towns that are becoming suburbanized.

  • victoria wilson

    I’m not sure how one could infer from this “(f)iguring out how to help people take care of themselves and do more things on the basis of family and community action from schooling kids to taking care of the old and the disabled rather than mediating these activities through expensive and cumbersome bureaucracies is going to be an important part of getting to a new, more productive and more humane social order(,)” anything but a longing for a departure from the Blue Model. However this “(w)hether through tax credits or payments, families and communities who take care of their own should have to pay less taxes (or get rebates) to reflect their reduced drain on public resources(,)” shows just how difficult it is to let go of old habits.

    If one is truly interested in the natural way (as compared to the formalized way) groups administer their public goods, one would not automatically turn to a government for any type of incentive. Furthermore a tax credit is quantitatively insignificant in comparison to the resources an average family dedicates to the production of public goods. Its use as a stimulus suggests a lack of understanding of the magnitude of the public goods marketplace.

  • Toni

    Hi, Kris. I can’t precisely define Founders, let alone count them. But the 1790 census counted fewer than 4 million inhabitants, only a fraction of whom could vote.

    [email protected], you’re fairly new here. For months, Prof. Mead fretted about what would happen to Blacks (his spelling) as the postal service shrinks. He wanted the PO to think up something new to do, so those people could keep on getting their salaries and benefits. He’s never written a long essay about the deficit; as in this essay, he’ll go so far as to say vaguely that services need to be delivered more efficiency, but he’s never made a point of discussing fiscal prudence.

    I agree with you about “populists” with one caveat. I’m a conservative little-d democrat. As William F. Buckley famously said, “I’d rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.” This was some 50 years ago, and I agree even more in 2012 – as long as the first 400 aren’t Harvard and Wall Street types.

    I do know about Teach for America. The very successful KIPP charter program was begun by a pair of such teachers.

  • Toni

    The law of unintended consequences is as real and implacable as gravity.

    Sen. Moynihan correctly predicted that the Blue Social Model would break up black families. I don’t know anyone who predicted that millions of unwed mothers would have millions of babies without fathers committed to their care. But they did, and many wound up needing billions of dollars in government support to stay afloat financially, and still do.

    I don’t think Prof. Mead sees or believes in this law. Take this proposal: “Whether through tax credits or payments, families and communities who take care of their own should have to pay less taxes (or get rebates) to reflect their reduced drain on public resources.”

    Loving families today find ways to care for sick and aged relatives. Under this plan, UNloving families and individuals could take in a relative or relatives for the financial benefits and then treat them any old way, and they would. That’s exactly what happens to too many kids in foster programs.

    Another problem is that communities don’t pay taxes or get rebates. Washington hates to shut down programs, so any new ones to extract taxes or pay rebates would likely be layered on top of the programs we already have and lead to their own unintended consequences.

    To me, this is gauzy thinking. “Wouldn’t it be a good thing to ________?” leads to “Let’s change laws and regulations in order to ________,” with nobody thinking through how and whether all those laws and regulations would really accomplish ________, and nobody thinking at all about unintended consequences.

    That’s how the abomination known as Obamacare came to exist. We can only hope Obama never gets another chance to commit national transformation.

  • Toni

    Correction: “…he’s never made a point of discussing fiscal prudence” should be “”…he’s never made a point of discussing fiscal prudence at the federal level.” At the city and state levels, he has done so abundantly.

  • Mark Michael

    Re: Toni’s comment #38

    Yes, I’m relatively new here. Re: people predicting that welfare would cause marriages to break up, single women to have babies, etc. was a major fear among ordinary people in the 1960s. I know, heard it quite a bit from middle-class people in Cleveland where I attended grad school (CRWU). Charles Murray, Losing Ground American social policy 1950 – 1980, chapter “The Social Scientists and the great experiment,” pp. 147 – 153, discusses the long series of Negative Income Tax (NIT) experiments set up to test the proposition that cash payments would “Somehow, proof must be established that a guaranteed income would not cause people to reduce their work effort, get married less often, divorce more quickly, or do any of the other things that the popular wisdom said it cause them to do.” The NIT experiments ran from 1968 until lasted until 1978. It used 8,700 people as subjects over those years. Murray says, “A planned twenty-year subsample was cancelled in 1980.” It’s a long, involved discussion, as you might guess. Here’s a telling comment: “More colloquially, the proponents of the NIT in the Johnson administration were out to slay the folk beliefs that welfare makes people shiftless. The NIT, properly redesigned, would provide work incentives and get people off the welfare rolls.”

    It sounds like the leftist elite think they know better than the ordinary American who held traditional beliefs about human nature, and were so self-confident about their beliefs they set out a carefully controlled social experiment to prove themselves right. Murray says that the whole idea was dropped because it pretty proved the opposite: it caused families to break up at a faster rate than regular welfare did. “…the dissolution of marriages was 36% higher for whites receiving the NIT payments than for those who did not; for blacks the figure was 42%.”

    My guess is that you’ve read “Losing Ground” so probably are aware of this NIT experiment. Yeah, no one predicted the huge numbers of out-of-wedlock births we’re seeing today – probably because no one would imagine these perverse economic incentives would be allowed to continue for so long. (Never underestimate the persistence of our leftist elite, I guess!)

  • Re: “Boomer ineptitude and shortsightedness saddled future generations with some tricky and expensive problems, but youth and imagination will trump lazy, greedy old folks in the end.” This lumping everyone born during certain arbitrary era into a “generation” applicable to the entire society is flawed, and too much has been made of it. Anyway, it has been my experience that age and treachery will always overcome youth and imagination.

  • Toni

    I think I owe Prof. Mead at least half an apology.

    His expertise is foreign relations, not U.S. federal budget deficits, laws and regulations. And I think I’ve been projecting onto him the liberal magical thinking of the Michael Moore sort. Moore wrote a whole book chapter about Palestinians bringing peace to the Middle East by practicing civil disobedience, a la Gandhi and MLK. As if!

    I just wish Prof. Moore would understand that the troubles of California and New York are writ large at the national level. Americans collectively have a dysfunctional, over-ambitious, hugely expensive government we aren’t paying for. It needs a major overhaul, not minor tinkering.

    I know Prof. Mead wishes what is best for us collectively. So do I. But social engineering gone wrong can’t be fixed by more social engineering. It can only be dismantled.

  • Toni

    [email protected] — No, all I’ve read by Charles Murray is The Bell Curve and Coming Apart, and I was a child in the 1960s.

    Clearly, more people than I knew worried about the moral hazards of an overly generous welfare system. I guess nobody wrote a definitive, fact-based essay on the topic like Moynihan’s. Or if they did, nobody in the media wanted to hear or publicize it and still doesn’t.

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