American Elites: Distant from some problems, but not others

First thoughts on Christopher Hayes’ new book,

I am reading Christopher Hayes’ Twilight of the Elites—well worth the $26 I paid for it. Hayes’ book strikes several chords with me. One simple point concerns the pernicious consequences of elites’ great and growing social distance from ordinary people in American society. When less than two-percent of fighting-age adults serve in the volunteer military, most policymakers are personally insulated from the consequences of the ill-fated venture in Iraq. This matters, too, for our policies regarding the continually grinding low-level engagement in Afghanistan.

Something similar might be said regarding the millions of Americans affected by the foreclosure crisis. Members of our nation’s various elites are genuinely saddened by the accompanying human costs. Yeah, white papers are written. Hearings are held. Yet our society’s lack of urgency is abetted by the great social and economic distance between the families losing their lifesavings and the key public and private actors who will decide their fates. Too many of our national leaders behave rather as I’ve done, passing several empty houses on my street. I feel terrible for the affected families. I still scurry home, hit the web, and take solace in the ballooning value of my 401(k) supported by my tenured professorship. Pretty soon, I’m pondering other things. Continue reading “American Elites: Distant from some problems, but not others”

Let me take that one, professor.

Commenter Mike Kaplan asks Harold Pollack a question:

Why am I paying taxes to take care of your brother-in-law Vincent? He is your family – why don’t you take care of him? Why do you want to force me to sacrifice my time and labor – in taxes – to do what you are not doing?

Not a very nice question – even setting aside the obviously false premise that Vincent isn’t being cared for by his family – but it does have a fairly easy answer.

Professor Pollack is not and should not be obligated to support a disabled relative, because that relative is neither his minor child nor his chattel.  Vincent is a human being.  The government has determined that Vincent lacks the ability to support himself, and therefore Vincent, not his family, is entitled by law to a subsistence income from the Social Security Administration.

Before Social Security, people like Vincent were considered unpleasant accidents best kept out of the public eye and certainly undeserving of personhood status.  The family of an intellectually limited person was presumptively the only means of support, and consequently entitled to make use of him or her in any way they chose.  Developmentally delayed children grew up to be exploited as slave labor and for the sexual gratification of those who supported them.

Every disabled person should be afforded the ability to live as independently as possible and to have choices so he or she is not forced out of personhood.  In Vincent’s case, this means an income from SSI, which is an entitlement, not a gift, as it would be if it came from a family member.  I can hear the libertarians lining up to scoff at the notion that a monthly SSI check can be considered “independence,” but it is the best we can do.  For people with physical disabilities, independent living requires the expenditure of public and private funds to build entrances that allow them access to buildings and transportation services.

And of course not every developmentally disabled adult has a high-income relative. In the richest country in the history of the world, whether such people can lead minimally decent lives should be guaranteed by policy, not left to accident.

This discussion reminds me of a passage from Tom Jones, following an act of generosity by Squire Allworthy:

Allworthy here betook himself to those pleasing slumbers which a heart that hungers after goodness is apt to enjoy when thoroughly satisfied. As these are possibly sweeter than what are occasioned by any other hearty meal, I should take more pains to display them to the reader, if I knew any air to recommend him to for the procuring such an appetite.

Nations, like individuals, can learn to “hunger after goodness.” Or not.



Why am I paying taxes to take care of your brother-in-law?

A commenter believes the taxpayer should not ne supporting my disabled brother-in-law. What do you think?

Commenter Mike Kaplan asks the following question below my last post:

Why am I paying taxes to take care of your brother-in-law Vincent? He is your family – why don’t you take care of him? Why do you want to force me to sacrifice my time and labor – in taxes – to do what you are not doing?

All of us need to be responsible for ourselves and our families. The federal government currently borrows over 40% of what it spends. We just don’t have the money to continue this way.

I’ve been thinking about this. It’s reasonable to ask in the direct and sincere way Mr. Kaplan does. After all, I am a full professor at a leading university. I am not an economically disadvantaged person. 

I have my own views. I’m more interested in how RBC readers would answer this query. So what do you think? I hope you answer him directly, in a spirit of civility.

Keeping developmental disabilities out of the culture war

My piece in the Times: We can’t let Rick Santorum make intellectual disabilities another front in the culture wars.

(Crossposted at the Blog of the Century)

I had an online op-ed in the New York Times today, lamenting Rick Santorum’s efforts to make intellectual and developmental disabilities yet another front in the culture wars. My wife and I–like millions of other caregivers–are indescribably insulted by the argument that liberals disdain the disabled, favor amniocentesis to reduce health care costs, or look down on people who choose to raise disabled children. That’s such a poisonous and unfounded meme.

Mr. Santorum fails to appreciate many things, including the way liberal activists, politicians, and jurists have fought fordecades to expand social insurance and specific services for disabled people and their families. There is a reason the Arc and other organizations supporthealth reform.

Here is the piece. Comments appreciated. Please respect the seriousness of the topic and the deep feelings on all sides here.

One don’t get paid much to write for the Times. It is still wonderful to publish a well-edited piece in that space. An editor found my earlier column at the Reality-Based Community and encouraged me to write a related piece.

Leaving aside my own work, I hope that the Times follows this general process more often. Such reconnoitering makes more sense than relying entirely on a mountain of submissions–almost all of which are rejected without much of a close read. Editors know what they want. The web is filled with great material written by talented, but relatively unknown authors who would greatly benefit from the Times‘ global reach.

Santorum: He’s not funny any more

I admit that I’ve found Mr. Santorum’s unlikely rise rather amusing. His recent comments about sensitive matters of disability, however, have gotten me seriously ticked off. His candidacy will eventually collapse of its own weight. I fear he’ll do real damage before he goes.

I admit that I’ve found Mr. Santorum’s unlikely rise rather amusing. He would self-immolate in the general election. I’ve never expected him to do more than make mischief for Romney. Of course he’s made any number of odious statements about LGBT people. Yet his comments on this front are so self-parodic and self-defeating, I found it hard to get super-upset.
Now, though, he’s got me seriously ticked off. Sayeth Mr. Santorum this weekend: 
One of the things that you don’t know about ObamaCare in one of the mandates is they require free prenatal testing,… Why? Because free prenatal testing ends up in more abortions and, therefore, less care that has to be done, because we cull the ranks of the disabled in our society. That too is part of ObamaCare — another hidden message as to what president Obama thinks of those who are less able than the elites who want to govern our country.
I’m writing these words with my smiling brother-in-law Vincent sitting next to me, admiring the green lunchbox that we just bought him. Vincent lives with intellectual disabilities caused by fragile X syndrome. I find the above comments indescribably insulting.

Santorum’s comments are only made uglier by their utter lack of foundation. There is no evidence whatsoever that liberals–let alone President Obama–are less solicitious or caring about the disabled than other Americans. I’ve never heard any liberal health policy wonk promote genetic technologies to “cull the ranks of the disabled” or as part of any cost-cutting plan. That ugly meme is completely made up. By any reasonable measure, the proliferation of genetic diagnostic technologies coincides with great progress in public acceptance and support for people with disabilities. Continue reading “Santorum: He’s not funny any more”

Bloggingheads on Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Chicago’s challenges

Glenn Loury and I cover Newt Gingrich’s janitorial views, Mitt Romney’s misconceptions on social insurance. We also had some serious talk about the challenges facing young people in Chicago. I feel genuinely blessed to have such conversations with an old friend and mentor.

Ross Douthat on the personal and the political

A quick comment.

I just encountered today’s column by Ross Douthat:

Today, we are less divided over race, but more divided over sex and reproduction. In a country that cannot agree whether fetuses are human beings, even questions like how to mourn and bury a miscarried child are inevitably freighted with ideological significance. Likewise, in a country where the majority of Down syndrome fetuses are aborted, the mere act of carrying a child with a genetic disorder to term — as both the Palins and the Santorums, whose daughter Bella has Trisomy 18, have done — feels like a political statement….

When Palin wove special needs children into her 2008 speeches, or when Santorum featured his daughter Bella in a campaign video, they were implicitly acknowledging these personal-is-political realities.

I’m sure that some parents regard this as a political statement. It is, unavoidably, a personal and moral one, too. And, yes, liberals should give the Santorum family greater space to mourn in accordance with their own beliefs. Yet there’s an underlying assumption in Douthat’s passage that bears demands greater scrutiny. Continue reading “Ross Douthat on the personal and the political”

Ron Paul’s other 1964 (okay 1965) problem

Congressman Paul’s unfortunate newsletters should not blind us to the deeper message of his candidacy.

I missed the chance to chime in on the Ron Paul controversy during the Iowa caucuses. Congressman Paul’s unfortunate newsletters should not blind us to the deeper message of his candidacy. I find this deeper message is almost as objectionable as the various bigotries published under Paul’s name in is cheesy newsletter.

Not that one should ignore these newsletters. A surprising number of moderates and progressives find Ron Paul’s mix of views morally, politically, and politically complex. It’s not. The man is a charmingly eccentric bigoted crackpot who deserves the coolest of civilities. He’s interesting because of the many people who find him so, not because of what he actually says. That he holds the occasionally progressive issue position is really beside the point. Continue reading “Ron Paul’s other 1964 (okay 1965) problem”

Don Taylor and I on Bloggingheads, discussing CLASS Act, disability policy, college sports

If you look up the term “anti-charismatic” in the new Oxford English multimedia dictionary, you get the left-side video in this Bloggingheads video. My friend Don Taylor, who teaches public policy at Duke, benefits from the comparison. Oh yeah. his terrific book “Balancing The Budget is a Progressive Priority” is available here.