Another Take on the State of America

Samuel J. Abrams, writing at newgeography, alleges that “America’s Regional Variations Are Wildly Overstated“. According to Abrams,

[p]erhaps the most widely accepted and popular idea of regional differences comes from Colin Woodard who carves the country into 11 regional nations each with unique histories and distinct cultures that he believes has shaped the ideologies and politics at play today….

Woodard argues that regions project “[a] force that you feel that’s there, and those sort of assumptions and givens about politics, and culture, and different social relationships.” Yet the problem with Woodard’s argument is that while these histories and memoirs are fascinating, they are not necessarily representative of what drives politics and society among those living in various regions around the country. New data from the AEI survey on Community and Society makes it clear that recent accounts of America splintering does not hold up to empirical scrutiny and are appreciably overstated.

In what follows, you will see references to Woodward’s 11 “nations”, which look like this:

Abrams, drawing on the AEI survey of which he is a co-author, tries to how alike the “nations” are statistically; for example:

The Deep South … is widely viewed as a conservative bastion given its electoral history but the data tells [sic] a different story[:] 39% of those in the Deep South identify as somewhat, very, or extremely conservative while 23% are somewhat, very or extremely liberal. There are more residents in the region who identify or even lean to the right compared to the left but 37% of Southerners assert themselves as moderate or do not think about themselves ideologically at all. Thus the South is hardly a conservative monoculture – almost a quarter of the population is liberal. Similarly, in the progressive northeast region that is Yankeedom, only 31% of its residents state that they are liberal to some degree compared to 26% conservative but plurality is in the middle with 43%….

Religion presents a similar picture where 47% of Americans nationally hold that religious faith is central or very important to their lives and 10 of the 11 regions are within a handful points of the average except the Left Coast which drops to 26%….

The AEI survey asks about the number of close friends one has and 73% of Americans state that they have between 1 and 5 close friends today. Regional variation is minor here but what is notable is that Yankeedom with its urban history and density is actually the lowest at 68% while the Deep South and its sprawl has the highest rate of 81%.

Turning to communities specifically, the survey asks respondents about how well they know their neighbors. A majority, 54% of Americans, gave positive responses – very and fairly well. The Deep South, El Norte and Far West all came in at 49% – the low end – and at the high end was 61% for the Midlands and 58% for New England. The remaining regions were within a few points of the national average….

[T]he survey asked about helping out one’s neighbor by doing such things as watching each other’s children, helping with shopping, house sitting, picking up newspapers or packages, lending tools and other similar things. These are relatively small efforts and 38% of Americans help their neighbors a few times a month or more often. Once again, the regions hover around this average with the Far West, New Netherlands, and the Left Coast being right in the middle. Those in the Midlands and Yankeedom – New England – were at 41% and El Norte at 30% were the least helpful. As before, there are minor differences from the average but they are relatively small with no region being an outlier in terms of being far more or less engaged communally.

Actually, Abrams has admitted to some significant gaps:

The Deep South is 39 percent conservative; Yankeedom, only 26 percent.

The Left Coast is markedly less religious than the rest of the country.

Denizens of the Deep South have markedly more friends than do inhabitants of Yankeedom (a ratio of 81:68).

Residents of the Midlands and New England are much more neighborly than are residents of The Deep South, El Norte, and the Far West (ratios of 61:49 and 58:49).

Residents of The Midlands and Yankeedom are much more helpful to their neighbors than are residents of El Norte (ratio of 41:30).

It’s differences like those that distinguish the regions. Abrams’s effort to minimize the difference is akin to saying that humans and chimps are pretty much alike because 96 percent of human genes are the same as chimp genes.

Moreover, Abrams hasn’t a thing to say about trends. Based on the following trends, it’s hard not to conclude that regional differences are growing:

Call me a cock-eyed pessimist.

America: Past, Present, and Future

This post (promised here) is my assessment of the past 50 years of life in America. I have opted for brevity instead of essaying a detailed analysis of cultural, political, and economic changes of the past 50 years. There is, after all, nothing fundamentally unique about the events of the past 50 years, which — in most respects — merely extend and amplify trends that began earlier.

The present condition of America owes much, for example, to the struggle between the proponents of limited government and the proponents of statism — a struggle that began in earnest with the onset of the “progressive” movement in the latter part of the 19th century. The Great Depression and World War II solidified the devotion of most Americans — and especially over-educated elites — to the cult of the state. Relief from the privations of the Great Depression, when it finally came after World War II, fostered the cult of the child and financed the growth of institutions whose denizens (politicians, bureaucrats, professors, and purveyors of entertainment) grew increasingly detached from the vicissitudes of daily life and increasingly attached to utopian schemes for the betterment of the unwashed masses from who they eagerly distance themselves.

I could go on (and on) in that vein, but I promised to be brief, and I shall be. The America of the past 50 years was shaped largely by the following, interwoven trends:

  • state-sponsored and state-imposed abandonment of personal responsibility (with special dispensations for criminals, incompetents, and “protected” groups, accompanied by penalties for private initiative and success)
  • usurpation and negation of private social and economic arrangements by the state (from charity to marriage, and much in between, most notably free markets)
  • state sponsorship of socially and economically subversive institutions, and the related growth of the “technocratic” class (unions, “educators,” and bureaucracies, for a start)
  • technocratic control of the state, in the service of “progressivism” (from the ICC in 1887 to today’s plethora of regulatory agencies and their hired guns)
  • denial of human nature and the limits it imposes on the effectiveness of technocratic “solutions” (magical thinking about the perfectibility of humans and the wonderfulness of government action)
  • growing gap between “real people” and their technocratic masters (third item in “Related Reading,” below)
  • cult of the child and prolongation of childhood (too little discipline, too much dependency — poor lessons for living with others)
  • decline of decorum and civility (as mirrored in and encouraged by “entertainment” that is loud, lewd, and crude in the nth degree).

If America was ever close to being a nation united and free, it has drifted far from that condition — arguably, almost as far as it  had by 1861. And America’s condition will only worsen unless leaders emerge who will set the nation (or a large, independent portion of it) back on course. Barring the emergence of such leaders, America will continue to slide into baseness, divisiveness, and servitude.

That is my view of America’s past 50 years, its present condition, and its future — barring drastic remedial action.

*     *     *

Related reading:
Arnold Kling, “Our New Technocratic Masters,” Askblog, February 3, 2013
Victor Davis Hanson, “The Glue Holding America Together,” RealClearPolitics, June 28, 2013
Victor Davis Hanson,”Liberal Apartheid,” RealClearPolitics, July 8, 2013

*     *     *

Related posts:
The Shape of Things to Come
Intellectuals and Capitalism
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Are You in the Bubble?
Race and Reason: The Victims of Affirmative Action
Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications
A New, New Constitution
Secession Redux
A New Cold War or Secession?
The Real Constitution and Civil Disobedience
A Declaration of Independence
First Principles
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
Reclaiming Liberty throughout the Land
Secession for All Seasons
Government in Macroeconomic Perspective
Where We Are, Economically
Keynesianism: Upside-Down Economics in the Collectivist Cause
The Economic Outlook in Brief
Obamanomics: A Report Card
The 80-20 Rule, Illustrated
Lock ‘Em Up
Legislating Morality
Legislating Morality (II)
Free Will, Crime, and Punishment
Liberty and Society
Tolerance on the Left
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
A Contrarian View of Universal Suffrage
Well-Founded Pessimism
The Hidden Tragedy of the Assassination of Lincoln
A Wrong-Headed Take on Abortion
“Family Values,” Liberty, and the State
Is There Such a Thing as Society
Crimes against Humanity
Abortion and Logic
The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
Abortion, Doublethink, and Left-Wing Blather
Abortion, “Gay Rights,” and Liberty
Dan Quayle Was (Almost) Right
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity

The State of the Union: 2010

We are in a state of statism.

Statism, as I have said,

boils down to one thing: the use of government’s power to direct resources and people toward outcomes dictated by government. . . .

The particular set of outcomes toward which government should strive depends on the statist who happens to be expounding his views. But all of them are essentially alike in their desire to control the destiny of others. . . .

“Hard” statists thrive on the idea of a powerful state; control is their religion, pure and simple. “Soft” statists [sometimes] profess offense at the size, scope, and cost of government, but will go on to say “government should do such-and-such,” where “such-and such” usually consists of:

  • government grants of particular positive rights, either to the statist, to an entity or group to which he is beholden, or to a group with which he sympathizes
  • government interventions in business and personal affairs, in the belief that government can do certain things better than private actors, or simply should do many things other than — and sometimes in lieu of — dispensing justice and defending the nation.

Hard statists simply reject liberty. Soft statists reject it in fact even as they claim to embrace it in principle. Together, hard and soft statists have harnessed themselves and the liberty-loving minority to the yoke of the state. It is by this tyranny of the majority that America has descended into Europeanism, from which there can be no escape unless the liberty-loving minority begins actively to resist it — as did a similar minority in 1775.

If you are a “fish in water,” and cannot see the extent to which America is in thrall to statism — nationally, regionally, and locally — consider these examples of the ways in which statism grips us:

1. Compulsory public education has been used by statists to inculcate statism. Higher education — especially the so-called liberal arts — is dominated by the products of statist inculcation.

2. “Free enterprise” and freedom of personal action are barely more free than they were under Hitler or Mussolini. If you doubt that, consider the hundreds of thousands of pages comprised in the U.S. Code, its implementing regulations, and the statutes, codes, and ordinances of States and municipalities.

3.  “Private property” has gone by the wayside, in company with “free enterprise,” thanks to the same enactments. If you doubt that, think about compulsory unionism, smoking bans, the continuing misuse of eminent domain, and various restrictions on the sale and use of personal and business property.

4. Productive Americans, on the whole, pay about half of their income to their governments, for the purpose of supporting the counterproductive activities of those governments and their clients. Some of those productive Americans endorse and support this confiscatory regime because (a) they don’t understand its costs and consequences; (b) it makes them feel good; and (c) they subscribe to the Nirvana fallacy, in which an all-good, all-knowing government can (somehow) do the “right” things and do them “right.” The persistence of the Nirvana fallacy owes much to compulsory public education (point 1).

5. Our prosperity, such as it is, waxes and wanes with the whims of the Federal Reserve, which has the power to inflate, to  feed bubbles, to cause depressions, and to fund government’s profligate spending (where taxation is insufficient or politically unpopular).

6. Incentives to work and save — to be self-reliant, in other words — have been diminished by the establishment of welfare “rights,” Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. To this list has been added the expansion of Medicare-Medicaid known as Obamacare.

7. Affirmative action, equal lending opportunity, equal housing opportunity, and other  “preference” schemes penalize the more-capable at the expense of the less-capable. In a single stroke, such schemes enable advancement based on personal characteristics instead of merit, while destroying freedom of association and freedom of contract.

8. Various legislative, executive, and judicial acts have led to a kind of perverted legality that requires prisoners to be released when prisons become “overcrowded”; allows unborn and partially born human beings to be killed on a whim; stifles the free expression of political views for which the Founders fought and suffered; and treats foreign enemies as mere criminals with the same jurisprudential rights as the American citizens whose lives and property they would destroy.

There is much more, but that is all I can bear to acknowledge in a single post.

Is it any wonder that the Tea Party movement enjoys strong support, that Barack Obama (our statist-in-chief) merits strong disapproval, or that we must resort to civil disobedience if we are to enjoy a smattering of liberty?

Have a nice day!