Over the past few months, writers from Charles Murray to Timothy Noah have produced alarming work on the growing bifurcation of American society. Now the eminent Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam and his team are coming out with research that's more horrifying.The rich get richer and the poor get poorer because they come from bad family situations which are then perpetuated in future generations. The answer is virtue and character and that won't come from income redistribution and bigger welfare programs. These efforts only mask and perpetuate the problem and provide negative incentivew. Government has a role to play but one different from what big government advocates recommend.
While most studies look at inequality of outcomes among adults and help us understand how America is coming apart, Putnam's group looked at inequality of opportunities among children. They help us understand what the country will look like in the decades ahead. The quick answer? More divided than ever.
Putnam's data verifies what many of us have seen anecdotally, that the children of the more affluent and less affluent are raised in starkly different ways and have different opportunities. Decades ago, college-graduate parents and high-school-graduate parents invested similarly in their children. Recently, more affluent parents have invested much more in their children's futures while less affluent parents have not.
Some recommendations? Strengthen marriage laws. Ensure existing government social and tax policies encourage and affirm marriage. Expand school choice options. Affirm protection of religious liberties. (This is important because most people derive their morality and values from religious traditions.)
Brooks concludes at least a tip of the cap towards marriage:
Liberals are going to have to be willing to champion norms that say marriage should come before childrearing and be morally tough about it. Conservatives are going to have to be willing to accept tax increases or benefit cuts so that more can be spent on the earned-income tax credit and other programs that benefit the working class.
Political candidates will have to spend less time trying to exploit class divisions and more time trying to remedy them -- less time calling their opponents out of tough elitists, and more time coming up with agendas that comprehensively address the problem. It's politically tough to do that, but the alternative is national suicide.