The orgastic future recedes before us

Matthew Stewart’s piece on “the 9.9 percent” in the Atlantic is more interesting (and probably easier to remember) than jeremiads about the “one percent”. Beyond the Gatsby references, this paragraph recalled Republican strategist Rick Wilson’s comment (before the election) that Trump voters are “not people who matter in the overall course of humanity”:

One of the hazards of life in the 9.9 percent is that our necks get stuck in the upward position. We gaze upon the 0.1 percent with a mixture of awe, envy, and eagerness to obey. As a consequence, we are missing the other big story of our time. We have left the 90 percent in the dust—and we’ve been quietly tossing down roadblocks behind us to make sure that they never catch up.

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91 thoughts on “The orgastic future recedes before us

  1. I read the piece. I was pretty impressed except for the couple of paragraphs where he tosses bombs at Silicon Valley while making it clear he knows very little about our history or what goes on here. He is correct to say that there are four giants dominating the landscape. And yet there are thousands of engineers here who don’t work for one of those four. Probably a majority. In fact, engineers aren’t mentioned at all by name.

    For instance,

    We’re a well-behaved, flannel-suited crowd of lawyers, doctors, dentists, mid-level investment bankers, M.B.A.s with opaque job titles, and assorted other professionals

    And later,

    Well over half of Ivy League graduates, for instance, typically go straight into one of four career tracks that are generally reserved for the well educated: finance, management consulting, medicine, or law. To keep it simple, let’s just say that there are two types of occupations in the world: those whose members have collective influence in setting their own pay, and those whose members must face the music on their own. It’s better to be a member of the first group. Not surprisingly, that is where you will find the college crowd.

    No mention of engineering/science here at all. So, are we members of the 9.9%. I certainly am. I know others who are. We face similar issues. Are we pulling up the drawbridge after us, like the others? I think that happens.

    I had a conversation that I think of as an “only in Silicon Valley” conversation. I took my family to visit the newborn children of a colleague (an engineer/scientist), his male partner, and their two 3-month-old twins. This was before SSM was legal here or anywhere, in roughly 2001. He gave us a sketch of the mountain of trouble they went through to have those children. And then he said, “Inequality is getting worse, and that’s bad. But I’m determined to see that they land on the good side of that.”

    That’s the insidious problem here. Parents will do a lot for their children. I have had some focus for my entire career on “don’t be a tool” for the rich or the military-industrial complex.

    It’s really strange for me to complain about lack of representation in a hit piece. Maybe it’s just the sheer laziness on display that appalls me. In some sense, the piece is personal memoir, so why should he do research? But then, he decides to take swipes anyway. Because to that class of person, engineers are the hired help, just like the nannies.

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    • When Loomis rallies against White Americans leaving the city for the suburbs and the effect it has on the education for kids of color in the city, many posters frequently point out that he is going against a direct human tendency to want the best for your children. Very few parents are going to want to sacrifice their children for a greater good. Even in ostensibly Communist countries, people in the inner circle tried to make sure their kids and a better future than other kids. The nomenklatura were a real thing.

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        • The education threads on LGM tend to devolve into fights over how much people should sacrifice the needs of their children to redress the sins of the past. According to Loomis everything. Other posters argue that expecting this to happen is unrealistic. You have some in-betweens that believe while humans are currently predisposed to care of their children over children in general, we need to overcome this tendency to achieve justice.

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          • …how much people should sacrifice the needs of their children to redress the sins of the past.

            Zero. My kids are my first priority, “redress the sins of the past” is much lower, maybe in the double digits.

            I know people who have sacrificed their kids’ potential “for the collective”, imho it’s “bad parenting”.

            You have some in-betweens that believe while humans are currently predisposed to care of their children over children in general, we need to overcome this tendency to achieve justice.

            This seems both really hard and, given how often we run into ‘tragedy of the commons’, seriously undesirable.

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            • I don’t believe there’s any sense in asking parents to directly sacrifice their own kids’ futures.

              I do believe there is a potential wedge in “Do I really want my kids to have to live in a world/state/city/neighborhood where…”

              There are more goods that kids need, and infinitely many more that they would benefit from, than financial success.

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      • Well, I seem to have misrepresented my thoughts, since you got the impression I was describing the world as Communistic. I do think that humans have both an impulse to share, and an impulse to compete.

        Maybe you could unwind your conclusion a bit?

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        • Yeah, I think I did misread what you were saying. I took the inner circle of communist countries example the wrong way I think.

          I wonder though if we’re not all looking at this from the wrong direction- it’s totally understandable that people wouldn’t want to sacrifice their kids’ education, and why should they? The real issue, it seems to me, having studied at a fancy pants school and taught at a blue collar university, is that the kids from the lower percentile don’t get pushed nearly enough to live up to their potential and I feel like the subconscious expectation is they’re not going to go very far anyway, which of course is nonsense.

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          • having studied at a fancy pants school and taught at a blue collar university, is that the kids from the lower percentile don’t get pushed nearly enough to live up to their potential…

            True. Very, very true.

            But… “pushed by whom?”

            The system? The system has made bad calls about my kids a number of times. Their standards are laughably low and their interests don’t always align with mine. When the system has screwed up I’ve had to step in, whether it’s in using math tutors (i.e. “me or my wife”), correcting class choices, or even forcing a kid to repeat a grade (very much against the wishes of the system).

            “No child left behind” means we pay a lot of attention to getting all children up to some extremely low standard, so the bulk of the effort of the system goes to the weakest students.

            That’s very, VERY far away from getting all children to reach their potential, and IMHO it’s Impossible for the system to replace parents. There are a few kids with sub-standard parents who understand their situation at an early age and self start and reach their full potential, but that’s rare.

            There’s also vast conflict between “no child left behind” and “get most of the room to reach their full potential”. Five disruptive students means there is no learning, so everyone but those five would be better off if they were forced out of the classroom.

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      • Ergh. I think I still have misread your reaction. I don’t think it’s communistic to consider larger society. I don’t think it’s reactionary or right-wing to value your own children’s success more highly than other people’s children, either. I think as humans, and especially as parents, we constantly confront this dialectic. I don’t think there’s a static formula that would let you decide what to do in any situation, either. It’s very dynamic.

        At the same time, I see so many parents jumping through millions of hoops to tilt the odds for their children, and many of them don’t seem to have much impact, as it turns out. I mean, I’m quite skeptical that a year of SAT coaching will do much about the scores. It will do something marginal, and that could matter. But it’s a lot of effort for a very small edge. That’s the treadmill people find themselves on.

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        • It seems like a poverty of imagination to see education as a lifeboat, where we have a Sophie’s Choice of which child to allow to suffer.

          When I hear people talk like this, of how they want their child to escape the oncoming times of scarcity, I wonder, what will this world look like, where your lucky children are living?

          Will they be like the white people in apartheid era South Africa or the antebellum South, the privileged few surrounded by barbed wire, armed guards, and living lives filled with fear and anxiety?
          Will they be like the feudal aristocracy who keep a close circle of mercenary guards when they venture through the teeming streets of beggars and bandits?

          Isn’t really the lesson from American history that broad and prosperous middle class the very best outcome, even for the rich?

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    • “Inequality is getting worse, and that’s bad. But I’m determined to see that they land on the good side of that.”

      That’s the insidious problem here. Parents will do a lot for their children. I have had some focus for my entire career on “don’t be a tool” for the rich or the military-industrial complex.

      It takes a strong and usually very unpleasant kind of “saint” to go against the grain. Two “saints” actually because this is an area where I imagine the parents need to be in one hundred percent agreement on or a singular “saint” will lose or not be having kids.

      I make a pretty good income as a lawyer but I am still not in the 9.9 percent as far as I can tell according to the article. Neither is my girlfriend who used to be in management consulting.

      But the article is correct that the graduates of the Ivy Leagues (and some lucky others) will generally go into these four-brass ring jobs. Around the time of the great recession, I recall that there was a push among some undergrads at Yale or Harvard to get their fellow students to say no to jobs in finance and management consulting. I don’t think it went very well. The Management Consulting life is not for me. I think those jobs have very grueling schedules. I’ve heard of people whose weeks are spent with Monday and Tuesday in Paris, Wednesday in Boston, Thursday in Seattle, and then home for the weekend. But people stick with it because they believe in it or they like the power and prestige and money. Maybe they think like your friend from the early aughts.

      So how do you get people to say no to this?

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      • I’m wondering if this is an abuse of math.

        The Ivies are the top schools.
        All the Ivies combined are roughly 1% of all college students.

        Half of the Ivies are headed for jobs where, if they are successful, they’ll be in the top 10%?

        So if we assume no Ivy league student washes out; Of the top 10%, 0.5% of that came from the Ivies?

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    • I was pretty impressed except for the couple of paragraphs where he tosses bombs at Silicon Valley while making it clear he knows very little about our history or what goes on here.

      Sounds like you might have a touch of the Gell-Mann Amnesia. Take what he says about the subjects you do know, and use that to calibrate the credence you give to everything else he says.

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  2. I keep wanting to give this piece my full consideration, but this is the second time I’ve tried to read it and tripped over the fact that the guy puts up a graph and describes it as showing something that it doesn’t show at all. It set my expectations, and indeed the rest of the article met them, being all about the way social capital works to advantage what we generally call the upper middle class.

    Whether the UMC are really big winners (graphs be damned) in our current age is debatable, but if they aren’t, a lot of tropes beloved of writers who tend to imagine themselves addressing UMC readers looking to be scolded tend to fall flat.

    People occasionally note the tendency of social justice activists to engage in a sort of performative self-flagellation over their privilege. There seems to be a lot of stuff pitched from the left (which is where this article comes from) and right (Charles Murray) that seems to serve a similar purpose for older and more materially successful professionals.

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    • Self-flagellation on the left is a thing, but it reminds me of Phil Ochs’s line about liberals: “Ten degrees to the left of center in good times. Ten degrees to the right of center if it affects them personally.” Most liberals I know will agonize over using the right pronouns should they ever encounter a single trans person professionally (which they probably won’t) but never give a thought to the limitations of the “meritocracy” they’ve navigated successfully.

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      • ” should they ever encounter a single trans person professionally (which they probably won’t)”

        Tangential to your point entirely, but:

        Is this really still the case? Maybe my employer has self-selected as weirdly welcoming (partly through someone’s long struggle to get gender reassignment surgery onto our insurance), but we have multiple out trans faculty and staff (other than me), and about 3 percent of our students identify as non-binary, let along the binary trans kids who go here. I could count the faculty/staff on one hand, not so much the students.

        I can’t imagine going to an academic or library conference and not encountering trans people.

        (Unsurprisingly, I don’t recommend agonizing about pronouns.)

        I can see academia being skewed, but my Canadian lawyer sister has encountered a trans person or two professionally, my Canadian public librarian sister has encountered them professionally, my Canadian near-doctor brother has encountered them professionally….

        I was under the impression that most professionals are liable to encounter an out trans person or two (or more) these days.

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        • FWIW, I’m online acquaintances with two or three trans people in my field, or closely related fields, and it’s a pretty niche field.

          I kind of hate conferences and try to avoid meeting people at them in the event that I fail to avoid being sent to one, though.

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        • I was under the impression that most professionals are liable to encounter an out trans person or two (or more) these days.

          Over the course of my career I’ve seen two transition. One of them I work with on occasion.

          The situation falls under the “don’t get involved with your co-workers sex lives” general rule.

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        • Well, that’s great to hear. I know we have some sort of reputation for being “conservative” at our university, not in the political sense but as a euphemism for uptight. Which might explain why I’ve yet to see my second non-cis person on campus.

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      • This strikes me as odd. Having made a number of attempts to navigate the “meritocracy” over my life, including more than my fair share of successful ones, I’ve been left with the unshakable conviction that the whole thing is ridiculous.

        Given that, though, it’s pretty annoying to be told that particularly salient aspects of my life circumstances (like being single due to the recent dissolution of a 12-year marriage) don’t actually exist, and should I persist in believing they do exist and try to change them by, say, dating people I meet through work or my network of friends and family, I’ll just be making things worse.

        I’m open to the suggestion that I’m reading Mr Stewart uncharitably when it comes to his paragraphs on assortative mating, but if the dude wants to be read charitably, he should learn how to read a goddamn graph.

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  3. One reason why the 9.9%, of which I’m a member of, seems less like an aristocracy than the old WASP aristocracy is that it is more diverse and socially liberal than the old WASP aristocracy. It also lacks a lot of the rituals that were designed to app hereditary nobility. The children of the 9.9% are more likely to go to public schools, which the old one would never do, and they don’t rituals try to imitate the season of the British Court.

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        • It seems to me that professors take a role in modern society similar to that of priests in the old ones.

          Sure, they take a vow of poverty, but, in exchange, they punch well above their weight class in cultural currency. Do they make 9.9 percent money? No. Do they have 9.9 percent stroke? Seems to me the answer is “heck yeah”.

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          • Do they make 9.9 percent money?

            I think they do. Bottom level cut off is $133k, we’re a low cost of living place but our local profs make that.

            And this doesn’t include other sources of income. Write a book that you make you students buy or whatever.

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          • It seems to me that professors take a role in modern society similar to that of priests in the old ones.

            1. If so [1], maybe it’s more that they retained said role despite becoming secularized over the last century or so. The study and teaching of theology was historically a major part of a university’s job, both in Europe and the United States. posted a link to a great article about this (and more than a few other things) a few months back.

            2. A lot of debate around academia and the professoriate is overwhelmingly shaped by what goes on at the schools that the top decile send/want to send their kids to.

            3. After all those caveats, there’s really something to the idea that income/wealth is an imperfect proxy for the class divide that the author of the linked piece is trying to map out. This is one of the things that tends to drive me up the wall about this sort of analysis, which use economic trends as a jumping off point for what David Frum memorably called “Palinism with a bar chart”.[2]

            [1] I’m not sure it’s correct to equate every profession which exchanges some measure of material compensation for the status that comes with recognized expertise with a priesthood.

            [2] Or, in this case, a misread line chart.

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            • posted a link to a great article about this (and more than a few other things) a few months back.

              Somehow it took me eight minutes to find the link I forgot to include in my comment, and at that point the edit window had closed.

              (My metaphorical kingdom for a longer metaphorical window.)

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            • A lot of debate around academia and the professoriate is overwhelmingly shaped by what goes on at the schools that the top decile send/want to send their kids to.

              I suppose that’s true. People who as a professor at College You’ve Heard Of have a lot more of the privilege we’re talking about than the adjunct at Commuter College (Or God Help Us Community College).

              But they still punch way above their weight class.

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              • Though I imagine that it’s also true that the professors at Commuter College punch above their weight class in town.

                It’s only when they go out into the parts of the world that have real people with educations who know the difference between a Claret and a Bordeaux that they’ll hear “oh, you only teach at Compass Directional…”

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          • Do they make 9.9 percent money?

            But the essay is about wealth, not income, with a cut-off (in 2016) around $1.2M. I make the cut, even though my income hasn’t been in 9.9% territory — $133K per — for going on 15 years. Eventually I won’t make it, as I spend down some of that wealth to live on (at least, that’s the plan). I know people with 9.9% income who aren’t in the 9.9% wealth group, although they likely will be. I know a few people with 9.9% income who aren’t ever going to accumulate that much wealth — they’re too old and they’ve never saved anything, just lived (handsomely) from paycheck to paycheck.

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              • Yeah, except if it’s not about wealth, tying it to a net worth in dollars (as the article does) is a pretty serious flaw in the argument.

                Which comes back to my problem with this genre of article, which is the endless attempts to use top decile income (or wealth) as a stand-in for the folkways of the professional class, and vice versa.

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        • Meh, probably 2/3rds of the offices we clean are admins, who are paid considerably better than the instructors, who are pretty much in our income bracket. I might put the professariat in that group, although I doubt most of them qualify, but they’re being phased out here.

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    • “The children of the 9.9% are more likely to go to public schools, which the old one would never do”

      The schools may be public, but there are often subcategories, such as honors classes, that allow the children of this class to separate themselves from the Hoi Polloi.

      For example, my son went to the high school that many California politicians send their kids. The same one that Joan Didion went to, and Justice Kennedy.* At the school, there is a program called HISP. A program that you have to apply for before you start HS and can not get into later. Public, but separate.

      *the Deftones also.

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      • The schools may be public, but there are often subcategories, such as honors classes, that allow the children of this class to separate themselves from the Hoi Polloi.

        That’s right. Successful public schools need tracking.

        The alternative to tracking is NOT, “everyone is merged and I turn a blind eye to my kid’s education being dumbed down to some absurdly low ‘acceptable’ level”.

        The actual alternative is “I move to a district which lets my kid(s) reach her potential, and when I flee I remove my tax dollars from the system”.

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        • Not everyone can flee. The really bright kids tend to thrive regardless, but there’s only so much the parents can do to move. I knew a few parents who were in debt up to their eyeballs to put the kids in private schools and I admired what they did. But not everyone can pull that off.

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          • Not everyone can flee.

            True, but I can, and did.

            And btw not from a public school system to a private school system, we went from public to public.

            The really bright kids tend to thrive regardless

            The definition of “thrive” isn’t even close to “reach her potential”.

            The system would like to define “success” as “some bar low enough that everyone can be a winner”. My standards are a lot higher.

            The system would like to pander to the weakest kids in the class, but that ignores mine… and mine will have more effect on society than 9 out of 10 (i.e. the upper 10%).

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            • Yeah, I did too.

              You know, I don’t agree with you about everything, but I really do agree on most of what you’re saying here. My issues are these:
              1. The system creates weak students by setting the bar low in most cases, which means the parents or the kid need to really kinda hate the system, which I pretty much did,
              2. I went to university with a majority population of upper 10% and I gotta tell you, at least half of them were clearly shepherded through life because of their family name. We like to talk about a meritocracy, but I met plenty of students who believed they were there because they were the best and the brightest and it had absolutely nothing to do with their parents being friends with the dean (until their grades started slipping and then it was very important that the dean remember who their parents were)!

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              • Related, the university I attended was in high demand, only took the top kids as freshmen. Lots of valedictorians and the like struggled and failed in their first year because they went from being the best in a small or underperforming public school to being just another freshman. And our public schools were considered very good.

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                • I know a few people like that from my public high school. They did really well in the toughest classes in a top public high school. Got into an excellent university and found out that their education was a lot less than the people who went to elite private schools.

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                  • This is because even the top public schools in the United States, ones in neighborhoods filled with upper-middle class parents cannot match the resources of good to great private schools. Private schools can always self-select their students and get rid of (most) students who don’t make the cut. From what I’ve read and heard, the best private schools act like little mini-colleges. The classes are small, the projects are mainly or always written papers instead of tests or something else designed to teach critical thinking and writing.

                    Not even the best public high schools have the resources or time to do this.

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                    • There are problems of scale. When I read Pandagon, there were some advocates of single-sex education. They thought that girls would do better if not educated with boys. Many of them really seemed to believe that every all girl’s school would end up like an exclusive boarding or private school, a female Dead Poet’s Society. When I pointed out that one of our grandmothers went to an all girl school and was taught to keep books, I wasn’t too popular.

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                      • As someone who was an academic misfit and a bit of a late bloomer, I am glad that the United States did not really track.*

                        *I’m also glad that I graduated college when I did because it was significantly easier to appear interesting and get into a good school. Now it seems like am arms race because there are a ton of good students and only so many good spots.

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                        • Not formally, but a lot of public high schools, not least ones in affluent communities with lots of parents who are very invested in their kids’ success, do a sort of de facto tracking where a certain tranche of students are sent to honors and AP classes, which are smaller, have more of a focus on individualized grading, and can have really impressive records getting kids placed in Ivies and the like.

                          I’m left in the curious position of agreeing with a lot of the article (probably not a surprise) but hating it anyway because the author comes across as such a fuckhead.

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              • We like to talk about a meritocracy, but I met plenty of students who believed they were there because they were the best and the brightest and it had absolutely nothing to do with their parents being friends with the dean (until their grades started slipping and then it was very important that the dean remember who their parents were)!

                If your parents are in a position to do this sort of thing, it sounds like a 0.1% issue and not “the majority of the student population”.

                The system creates weak students by setting the bar low in most cases, which means the parents or the kid need to really kinda hate the system, which I pretty much did…

                My High School student had awards day a few weeks ago. I think at least 90% of the student body got some kind of metal and got to walk across the stage, half of them “Gold”. Very clearly the school wants to impress the parents on the great job they’re doing for the kids. (At some point parents may vote for tax increases on themselves for the schools).

                None of that matters or impresses me when I’m wearing my “interviewer” hat trying to find good interns. My expectation is all of the successful interns who made it past me (or the others like me) came from 9.9% families, but I don’t actually know, or care who their parents are.

                The reason that article didn’t mention engineers or engineering is because our field’s standards are enforced by Mother Nature. There are correct and incorrect answers and Nature is always ready to kill people. If the bulk of my field comes from the 9.9% and we really are a “merit” field, then the other fields may be too far more than the author is willing to face.

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    • Designed to ape. Designed to app makes me think of something you can press on your iphone and then get put in a tweed suit.

      I think the upper-middle class has its own rituals. It also seems to me that the 9.9 percent is more about partners in BigLaw or the Bain Consulting than us but maybe I am fooling myself.

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  4. Where I’m coming from is I grew up working class, entered the upper 10% when I went to elite universities and married a trust fund kid, and then returned to the working class after getting the PhD. So, this doesn’t strike me as a hit piece on the poor, undefended overdogs. If anything, it sounds like a call for them to open their ears and minds a little bit.

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  5. When I look at the list of countries which have lots of class mobility, what strikes me is they all are pretty mono-cultural. It would greatly surprise me if all cultures are equal as far as class mobility is concerned.

    There are lots of habits, skills, things I try to teach my kids. I view them as important… and they probably are. There are bad ideas that other cultures try out, and what we’re probably seeing is that, yes, they’re bad ideas.

    Now in addition there are things which the gov should do or NOT do to help mobility, structuring “need” based payments to discourage marriage strikes me as a unforced error.

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    • Not sure what in the world you’re referring to here, but I can say with some certainty that America and Canada are pretty close on this with somewhat less mobility in Canada compared to the US, which I consider to demonstrate that Canadian employers take fewer chances.

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      • Not sure what in the world you’re referring to here…

        My point is not all cultures and cultural habits are equal, and many are hindrances in terms of advancing.

        There are only so many internships and we want them to go to the best people we can find, meaning the ones most likely to become real employees later. Every hire is a chance, why should the company hire someone who is more risky, i.e. “less likely to work out”?

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          • There are two distinct phenomena here.

            What Rufus faced is one which is common in many countries (particularly western ones): the insularity of credentials. In many places only local credentials (with some exceptions) are recognised. This makes mobility harder for migrants, but is neutral or even contribute to mobility for locals. In Singapore where many foreign degrees are recognised, one of the things which the upper middle class do is send their kids to foreign universities if they cannot make the cut to local ones. Parents of lesser means thus only have the option of letting their children attend local universities (and if they cannot make the mark for that), for them to enter some vocational training or directly enter the workforce. Certainly this is one way in which mobility is reduced (since richer students can second third or 4th chances to make something of themselves while poorer students maybe only have one.)

            In addition, there could be many other conditions which improve social mobility in Canada quite apart from whether employers accept credentials from other universities.

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  6. Semi on topic, it looks like our corporate overlords have decided that our future is eternal wage stagnation.

    The grim hilarity is the juxaposition of this:

    …to cash in, workers will need to shift to higher-skilled jobs that command more income.

    with this:

    Troy Taylor, CEO of the Coke franchise for Florida, said he is currently adding employees with the idea of later reducing the staff over time “as we invest in automation.” Those being hired: technically-skilled people. “It’s highly technical just being a driver,” he said.

    So the only wage gains will be for those with highly technical skill.
    Like drivers.
    Oh, and they are planning to replace them with automated vehicles anyway.

    But yeah, go and get yourself into crippling debt to acquire a highly technical skill.
    Maybe you will outrun the robots. And even if you do, much of your wage will be given over to your feudal lord holding your debt.

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  7. Another thing to think about is that there is a small cohort that is highly mobile and moves far away from home but most people stay put.

    Pillsy brought this up in the last labor thread with the book on Trump voters. According to the NR article and the Trump voter book, they want good jobs, that don’t require a high school education, and also don’t require them to move very far from their hometowns.

    I think this is, at best, a pick two out of three situation. Another factoid I saw last week was that most Americans live within a ten-twenty mile radius of their high school. To be fair, this can include plenty of people in the 9.9 percent (especially if they grew up near a major metro). But a lot of that 9.9 percent also are the class that moved far away from their hometowns.

    The big issue seems to be that the older world for a variety of reasons had a lot more local economies but I don’t think this is a complete picture. Today we talk about how Amazon and/or Wal-Mart are destroying local businesses but I don’t know if there was ever a golden age. When I was in lawschool, I took a class on Antitrust law. The guy who taught the class mainly did defense-side in Antitrust litigation. I.e. he defended big business. At one point in the class, he said “My parents owned a small general store in Iowa that was destroyed by Sears, Roebuck.” So even back in the 1940s and early 50s (and possibly before), the mail-order catalog business was destroying small shop owners.

    There is a certain kind of person on the left and the right who wants Smurf Village or the Shireas far as I can tell. Smurf Village and the Shire are probably too insulting a term but I don’t know how else to describe it because they seem to imagine little self-sufficient villages where everyone has a function and it exists on barter and trade. It is all very communistic even if the right-wing types would hate that description.

    But the problem is that barter and trade is really hard and inefficient. Money is easy. Suppose I need some gloves and I am a furniture maker. Trading a cabinet for a pair of gloves is silly because the cabinet will always cost more and take more time and materials to produce than the cabinet. But I don’t need 60 pairs of gloves, just one. Maybe the glove maker already has a cabinet, etc. Money allows me to sell the cabinet to someone who needed it and then I can use that money to buy a nice pair of gloves!

    A lot of people really hate money though and they hate people who understand it even more. There was a British artistocratic lady who famously said that the British aristocrats hated Jews because they thought the Jews had brains and understood finance.

    Finance can be useless and be abused. The worst excesses needed to be reigned in and regulated but it is also very useful. I have a hard time dealing with people who wish it away because it feels like they want a fantasy land.

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    • Pillsy brought this up in the last labor thread with the book on Trump voters. According to the NR article and the Trump voter book, they want good jobs, that don’t require a high school education, and also don’t require them to move very far from their hometowns.

      In full fairness, moving for work is a much more significant risk if you aren’t pretty secure financially, and long commutes are harder to manage in that situation as well. This seems like the sort of thing that could drive a lot of the gap between “Somewheres” and “Anywheres’, and provide a clear explanation for the reason it’s correlated with class.

      I don’t think Mr Stewart mentioned this in the linked article, but I was rolling my eyes hard enough that I might have missed it.

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      • My caveat is that I know plenty of people who moved because they hated their hometowns for social reasons and don’t want to move back.

        It is wrong to say that Anywheres are only Bain Capital types.

        Social reasons is broad but generally means not fitting in socially in their small towns.

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        • People have different degrees of risk tolerance to begin with, and people who, for some reason or another, can’t fit in socially in their home towns have more to gain by leaving, and less to gain by staying.

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  8. Semi-related but the Atlantic also had an article about how good SAT scores and good grades are not enough to get into a semi-selective to highly-selective university:

    https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2018/05/college-admissions-gpa-sat-act/561167/

    In the past 15 years, though, these lodestars have come to mean less and less. The SAT has been redesigned twice in that time, making it difficult for admissions officers to assess, for instance, whether last year’s uptick in average scores was the result of better students or just a different test. What’s more, half of American teenagers now graduate high school with an A average, according to a recent study. With application numbers at record highs, highly selective colleges are forced to make impossible choices, assigning a fixed number of slots to a growing pool of students who, each year, are harder to differentiate using these two long-standing metrics.

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  9. because they seem to imagine little self-sufficient villages where everyone has a function and it exists on barter and trade. It is all very communistic even if the right-wing types would hate that description.

    This is so Dreher’s Benedict Option.

    I’ve given up on BenOp comments in Dreher’s blog because the whole thing is so unroofed from reality that it hurts.

    I agree with perhaps 35-40% of what Dreher says, and if he took the time to root his ideas in reality, I think he could bring *some* positive change to *some* people. But he’s totally uninterested in how real life works, and seems convinced that, if only people closed their eyes more and believed more -and, in his case, were less LGBT- all would be well at the end.

    To me, any conversation about change that does not start on “where are we?” and “how did we get here”? is not a true conversation, and, more times than less, it’s the beginning of a scam.

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    • I am constantly surprised by people who ought to know better believing that they can live in a small village with big-city tech, but without trading/interacting with big cities.

      The worst of the lot are those who plan the skill set they need to have in their post-apocalyptic village. An electrician to wire the solar panels is almost always on the list, but no one who knows how to ret hemp, spin thread, weave cloth, or do basic sewing and knitting.

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  10. Having now finally read the whole thing, I’m in agreement with pillsy. Stewart was kind of all over the place with this – I feel almost that he did not have time to write a short article, so he wrote a long one. Though, to be fair almost all of my ‘but what about?’s I kept coming up with during the reading were eventually covered with this style – though that leaves again somewhat muddled as to what are the appropriate takeaways from this piece.

    One thing this article and the discussion above jogs loose in my mind. Gen Xers did get an advantage in the education system, as most of the pipeline during the time they (we) attended was designed for a throughput a bit higher to cover the higher late 50s early 60s birth rate. So we had the advantage of capital stock that wasn’t yet at the end of its life cycle, and sufficient, if not even perhaps surplus capacity almost everywhere – especially when the pipeline was centered on state or national level institutions.

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