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A Little Light Housekeeping

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It’s interesting what gets people worked up.

First, a note–Mab,  I think, said we were talking about why there was so much resistance in some places to “a decent life for all.”   That wasn’t what I thought I was talking about.  I  thought I was talking about whether the outcomes in your life depend on work or luck, and taking the position that they always depend on both.

Second, yes,  Robert, of course, what  I’m saying about lack of knowledge and going to the Ivies would, even if the knowledge were thoroughly distributed, mean change for only a very few people.  That doesn’t negate my point, however, which is that whether or not you go the the Ivies does not depend entirely on your ability or willingness to work for it.  You can work your butt off, and in the end you still have to get lucky–at the very least, you have to have somebody in your environment who understands the finances and knows why it makes sense to go for it. 

Third, grade inflation is system-wide.  There’s grade inflation at Harvard, but there’s also grade inflation at  Oklahoma State and Herkimer County Community College.  So yes, the Ivies still glitter, because their inflation starts from a much higher substantive base.  Of course, along with the Ivies there are other first -tier universities that get close to the same kind of name advantage (Georgetown, for instance, and Duke).

Fourth, the move to “need blind admissions” and the promise that if they admit you, money won’t be the reason you don’t come started in the late  Sixties or early Seventies at the top end of the Ivy League (Yale,  Harvard, Princeton) and spread from there over time.  But this is not the system at every private college and university.  Harvard has an endowment larger than the entire economies of several small countries, and it only spends 4%–no, that’s not a typo, I said 4%–of the income from that endowmen every year.   A number of these schools could eliminate all student fees inclusive–tuition, room, board, lab fees, you name it–and not even notice the financial bite.

In general, however, indepedent small colleges with regional reputations tend to be the worst financial deals in the system.  Their endowments are often small, which means they don’t have much money to give away.  I don’t know about  St. John’s, since Matt’s thing about not going anywhere that didn’t accept  ROTC pretty much made that a moot point in this house.  

Fifth, I’m with Lymaree–the reason there’s so much resistance to government financed health care in this country is the deep seated perception that with it will come h ealth care managed by “experts” who will get to tell you how to live, and how to die.  The biggest issue now in the discussion is the fact that Oregon’s state-based plan, although it won’t cover certain emerging cancer treatments (still “experimental”), will cover assisted suicide.

Robert suggested something that I’ve actualy thought a lng time–we don’t really have a health care financing crisis in this country, we have two.  We should uncouple catastrophic and long term chronic care from routine care, for one thing, because those are not the same problems and in many ways solving them requires contradictory answers.

Sixth, I know what happened to good old fashioned working class liberals–social liberalism.  FDR and company were very careful not to associate themselves with things like ending segregation or the emancipation of women, never mind gay rights or abortion.  That was the old Democratic Party  compromise–in order to get support for large scale government social programs, states and municipalities were left to do what they wanted to about things like what went on in their school systems and whether or not they had laws on the books criminalizing promiscuous fornication. 

Social issues are more important to people than economic ones–they’re more important no matter where you are on the economic scale.  The upper middle class votes for the Democrats in droves, even though Democratic tax policy hurts them even mor than it hurts the upper class, because the Democratic Party delivers pro-choice, gay rights, and (increasingly) anti-religious policies.  The lower middle class votes for Republicans in droves, even though Republican tax and services policies hurt them more than anybody else, because the Republicans support religion, oppose abortion, and (and this is a BIGGIE), are the only ones that look like they might try to get rid of affirmative action.

On the subject of illegal immigration, the working class is  screwed from both sides, because the upper echelons of both parties have more to gain than to lose from continued waves of illegal immigrants. 

But FDR was a smart man, and he knew that there was only one way to get his economic policies through–and that was to make sure that the people who benefited from them did not have their way of live significantly disturbed.  Whether he should have done that or not is debatable, but that we won’t see working class support for social programs as long as they have to swallow abortion and gay marriage with them is not.

Seventh, I, like Lymaree, know a lot of plumbers and carpenters and other small contractors who are not longing to be working for banks, but my concern is with people who literally do not have the capacity, mental or otherwise, to do anything but what they are already doing.  I’m not talking about plumbing contractors so much as I’m talking about convenience store clerks, and the people the n on-numeric cash registers were designed to help:  just bunch a picture of the Whopper, no need to know the math.

I still say that luck plays an enormous part in all of our lives.  No, it’s not the whole story, not by a long shot, but it’s there, all the time, and it cannot be ignored. 

And to think, I was going to talk about this odd and wonderful Polish writer today, because–yes, yes–I’ve finally dug out a book that I can use to ditch Little Women.

Written by janeh

February 15th, 2009 at 8:27 am

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses to 'A Little Light Housekeeping'

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  1. I’d have said the distinction was not so much lower and upper middle class as state-funded middle class on the liberal side, backed up by most of the “artistic” community and the private-sector middle class on the conservative side, backed up by the “defense” community. This is going to be tricky to test in national polling since the state-fundeds are thicker on the ground in the high rent districts. The breakpoint between upper and lower middle class just isn’t the same in Herndon VA as in Fort Wayne IN.

    Obviously it’s a generalization, but I find in the salaried classes, the source of income is a better predictor of politics than the amount.

    As for expectations that with greater state funding will come greater state control, that seems quite reasonable. I have already been treated to that argument with smoking, helmet and seat belt laws and fatty foods: since the state will pick up the medical tab, it has the right to punish or forbid behavior leading to high medical expenses. Of course, the same logic would apply to various sexual practices but the same people don’t seem to want to pursue that.


    15 Feb 09 at 1:08 pm

  2. On working class vs middle class, this article is interesting and amusing,



    15 Feb 09 at 7:28 pm

  3. ‘Obviously it’s a generalization, but I find in the salaried classes, the source of income is a better predictor of politics than the amount.’

    This may be a US thing – admittedly, I’m generalizing on a fairly narrow sample, but the source of salary doesn’t seem to have much to do with voting patterns. I’ve known as many people who spent a lifetime in public service who vote Conservative (and in one case, participated in campaigns) as I do people working in private industry who do the reverse. More, probably.

    As a data point of one which always struck me as a bit odd – my father left the US in the 50s as a Republican, and returned in the 70s to discover he’d become a Democrat.

    That must have been the Canadian influence, unless the parties shifted that much that fast (which is also possible).


    16 Feb 09 at 6:41 am

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