New Social Divide Slams CA, Budget

JAN. 20, 2012


The recent capsizing of the Carnival Cruise Lines ship Costa Concordia off the coast of Italy is symbolic of both Italy’s and California’s inability to continue to fund welfare states.  A lack of “social capital,” not income or taxes, is tearing at the social superstructure of California from within.

The Costa Concordia departed from “Civitavecchia,” an ancient second-century port of the Roman Empire near Rome.  In Italian, “civita” means civilized or civic society.  “Vecchia” refers to old age, as in, “you’ll support me in my old age” (sara il bastone della mia vecchiaia).

The initial reports of the shipwreck indicate that the captain may have abandoned ship in violation of maritime laws.  If the media reports are correct, it was not the ship’s officers but the Filipino cooks, maids and rank and file crew who saved passengers during the chaos to abandon the ship.  Plausibly, they had enough social capital from a Catholic-Asian-influenced social culture to save 4,000 passengers.

The capsizing of the Costa Concordia is symbolic of what is slowly happening to the government cruise ship “Costa California.”

Cruise Ship ‘Costa California’ Coming Apart

The metaphorical cruise ship “Costa California” is listing to port. It can’t find a way to plug a structural $20 billion annual state budget deficit.  But contrary to Gov. Jerry Brown, who proposes to raise taxes, Costa California isn’t leaking taxes from its ballast tanks.  Rather, it is leaking social capital.  There aren’t enough young, intact families to take out mortgages to support the pensions of public or private retirees.  Thus, the economy is coming apart.  But it is really the social fabric that is fraying.  It doesn’t matter how much money you have if you are trying to escape going down with a sinking ship.

According to the Occupy Wall Street movement, California is divided along social class lines with the rich comprising 1 percent and the not-rich comprising the other 99 percent. But libertarian sociologist Charles Murray says the reason for California’s social class divide is not primarily due to an income gap but due to a gap in social capital.

By American social capital, Murray means those institutions that bring about industriousness, neighborliness and lack of class envy; and which promote marriage and family formations along with a culture of entrepreneurialism.

Murray’s soon-to-be-published book, “Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960 to 2010,” says it is the lack of marriage and religious institutions that is resulting in greater social division, fewer liberties and a declining economy.  A synopsis by Murray of the book can be found online in an article titled, “Belmont and Fishtown: On Diverging Classes in the United States.” The article is a comparison of two fictional neighborhoods in upscale Boston and working-class Philadelphia, respectively.  An audio of Murray stating the evidence for the thesis of his book can also be found here.

Although similar divisions exist among other races and groups, Murray concentrated on whites because other groups are more influenced by racial discrimination and recent immigration. By isolating whites in his study, Murray more easily can focus his analysis on class divisions.

The focus of Murray’s book is not the middle class.  Instead, he compares the top 20 percent and the bottom 30 percent on the social class ladder.  What he finds is a growing social class divide.   The Tea Party’s focus is on the preservation of the middle class. And the Occupy Movement’s focus is on the growing social divide.  Both are misdirected social movements when it comes to rescuing California.

Social Divisions

To Murray, the origins for the divide are social and not due to the “greed” of Wall Street.  In 1960, about 88 percent of the “upper class” and 83 percent of the “lower class” in the U.S. were married.  Today, 83 percent of the upper class still are married, but only 48 percent of the lower class.  The result is that there aren’t enough intact families to take out mortgages and start new businesses to support the pensions of the elderly.  Thus, the inter-generational financial structure of the economy is coming apart.  But it is really the social superstructure that has self-destructed with the “nudging” of government.

What Murray is concerned about nationally has also taken place in California. California saw a leveling off of intact nuclear families from 2000 to 2007. The number of two-parent families with children grew from 4,117,036 in 2000 to only 4,218,469 in 2007.  This reflects a minus half percent (-0.5%) decline relative to total population growth. Two parent families with children constituted 35.8 percent of all state households in 2000 and 34.7 percent in 2007. This reflects a 1.1 percentage-point decline. Meanwhile, state population grew 8.1 percent over the same seven-year period.

What apparently has grown in California are the number of single-parent families due to divorce and out-of-wedlock births, not childless households. Unmarried partner households (same-sex) only represented 0.9 percent of all households in 2007.

Virtue Gap

What is causing this is the lack of socially institutionalized “virtues” that foster family formations, the work ethic and social responsibility.   This can only be derived from religion that is separate from the state.  It can’t be manufactured by government funded non-profit clones, academia, some faddish therapy or churches captured by politicized extremes.

In California, “occupying” Wall Street will not fix the state.  Nor will increased public school expenditures per student.  Fully funding state and local government budgets so that pension obligations can be met is not the long-term answer, either.  Figuratively speaking, that would just take on more water to the Costa California cruise ship.

Repealing Proposition 13 would not close the social class divide.  It would just widen the divide, as the widow and small business person couldn’t withstand the tax shock.

Neither would restoring redevelopment or imposing Obamacare make a difference.  Such discussions are like trying to pick a chair in a game of musical chairs on a sinking ship.  But the band plays on.

Restoring the Sacramento Delta and curtailing urban sprawl would be of no consequence either.  Global warming may or may not become a problem in our lifetimes or ever.

But the cooling off of marriage has, within one generation, wreaked structural devastation on the economy and compelled California to look to rampant immigration to offer a partial solution.  But immigration hasn’t brought enough intact two-parent families with entrepreneurial values to plug the gap.

For that matter, reducing the size of government alone would also not produce the social capital needed to keep the family and the economy from eventually declining.  However, Murray nonetheless says that reducing the size of government is a necessary pre-condition for social and economic regeneration.

Civil Society, Not Social Authoritarianism

Murray is not considered a “social conservative” but a libertarian.  Social conservatism is associated with a form of authoritarianism that wants government to have a greater role in the supporting of morally correct choices.

This is the kind of subtle social authoritarianism that Obama has adopted with the “nudging” policies of technocratic guru Cass Sunstein.  Only these policies are secular, so they are considered politically correct. Sunstein is opposed to free markets and believes that elite policy experts know what is best for the public.  But “nudging” policies can’t replace the family, free religious institutions, neighborhoods and other voluntary associations.  Because they reflect government coercion, they add to social alienation.

That is not what Murray is driving at.  Murray is interested in purely voluntary associations cultivating social capital for the public good.

Murray attends a Quaker church, not one that’s Evangelical, fundamentalist or liberal Christian.

Murray says non-religious people are as moral as those who are religious.  But the irreligious don’t leave behind primary social institutions that continue their social values.  Free religious institutions are, if I may say so, California’s original “Think Long Committees.” 

Such free institutions cannot be cloned by the state or by wealthy philanthropic organizations created by social elites.  There is no DNA from which to copy truly voluntary religious associations into the secular world.

In the language of the new genetics, the family and religion are “epigenomes” that self-program DNA by diet or behavior.  The epigenetic code can be inherited by succeeding generations. For example, it was found that binge eating in years of abundant agricultural harvests in Sweden cut 32 years off the life spans of the next two generations of farmers due to a single year of gluttony. By analogy, California government has experienced two decades of budgetary gluttony and thus has several years of self-inherited problems to solve.

Social institutions are like epigenomes that reprogram DNA code in the human cell.  Their effects are long-lasting.

De Tocqueville Libertarianism

Murray might be called a “de Tocqueville” libertarian because he believes that primary social institutions, such as the family and religion, are the creators of social capital that generates political liberties.  Alexis de Tocqueville was a famous French writer who visited America in the early 19th Century.  His famous book, “Democracy in America,” found that the American brand of democracy and business enterprise, and the work ethic, came from participation in voluntary associations not controlled or subsidized by the state.

The ideal of most libertarians is the naked individual with “inalienable” rights facing huge bureaucracies.  This is the image portrayed in Ayn Rand novels. Consider the fictional architect Howard Roark battling the bureaucracy in the novel, “The Fountainhead.”  But Roark is an “unarmed prophet” with no social capital.

Libertarianism can lead to an alienated individual who is part of the “lonely crowd” and who “bowls alone.”  Murray’s libertarianism sees the need for primary social institutions to serve as a buffer from the huge Wall Street corporations on the one hand, and the Federal Reserve and predatory eminent domain for redevelopment by the elites on the other hand.  “Wall Street,” “Big Corporations,” and “Too Big to Fail Banks” reflect icons of social alienation to the political Left.  “Fannie and Freddie Mac,” “the Federal Reserve,” “Redevelopment” and “Eminent Domain” reflect alienation on the Right.

People who are religious tend to become Little League organizers.  They fight for installing traffic signals at dangerous intersections.  They want a better world for their children and the children of others.  They are politically involved in more than a self-interested way.  They create lasting social capital that can be transferred to bigger issues.

The Maligning of ‘Prop. 8 as Hate’

In California, Proposition 8 to ban gay marriage is seen by liberal cognitive elites as just another form of social authoritarianism.  Libertarians just want “government out of the family.”

But Jennifer Roback Morse of the Hoover Institution has made a libertarian case for the exclusiveness of the “traditional” nuclear family.  This does not necessarily mean that gays should be prohibited from “civil unions” or other legal protections.

How to Re-float the Cruise Ship ‘Costa California’

According to social scientist Charles Murray, California can refloat the cruise ship “Costa California” if it can right-size government to allow voluntary associations to fulfill their irreplaceable role without resorting to social authoritarianism.

This even extends into an alternative to Obamacare.  Health has a social basis, as even liberal policy makers know.  Using “civil society” to form self-care and mutual aid groups focusing on health care is a viable alternative or complement to either socialized, privatized or “single payer” health care.

Murray points out that his findings are contrary to the stereotype that the working class is more religious and thus has more social capital than the upper class.  To the contrary, it is the lower classes that are sinking as the welfare state has replaced free religious and social institutions.  Moreover, upper class elites do not socialize with the lower classes anymore and have limited the pathways for social mobility in a high-tech society.

Murray writes: “Encompassing these specific ways in which declines in the Founding virtues diminish civic culture are the class divisions that have emerged in the raising of the next generation. In Belmont, the intact two-parent family is still the norm—about 90 percent of all Belmont children are still living with both biological parents when the mother turns forty. In Fishtown, that figure has fallen below 30 percent. The socialization of children in Belmont and Fishtown has become radically different, and everything we have learned about the problems associated with single parenthood forces us to expect that the consequences for the transmission of industriousness, marriage, honesty, and religiosity to the next generation will be profound.”

Translated to California’s current situation: the CalPERS pension fund may depend as much or more on the revival of civil society than on endless higher taxes. And your civita vecchia  — your civilian retirement — may depend on it too.

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