Workers > Greed

Our Broken Social Contract


The New York Times

 June 19, 2013, 10:05 pm


Many Americans think that their country has lost its way. But when they try to make sense of what’s happening, they disagree about whether the problem is essentially economic or whether it stems from cultural and moral decay.

Charles Murray, the provocative author of “Coming Apart” and “The Bell Curve,” argues that the cultural insurgencies of the 1960s yanked crucial underpinnings out from the social order and undermined traditional norms of self-restraint, responsibility, family, faith and country. Murray’s latest portrayal of America’s social deterioration focuses on the long-term impact of these insurgencies, notably on a typical, though fictional, working-class community he calls Fishtown. Fishtown is made up of whites who “have no academic degree higher than a high school diploma. If they work, their job must be in a blue-collar, service, or low-level white-collar occupation.”

Murray continues:

"Now let us return to the relationship of Fishtown’s decline with America’s civic culture. The decline of industriousness among Fishtown males strikes at the heart of the signature of America’s civic culture — the spirit of enterprise, stick-to-it-iveness, and hard work to make a better life for oneself and one’s children. The divergence in marriage and the rise of single-parent homes has cascading effects. The webs of civic engagement in an ordinary community are spun largely by parents who are trying to foster the right environment for their children — lobbying the city council to install four-way stop signs at an intersection where children play, coaching the Little League teams, using the P.T.A. to improve the neighborhood school. For that matter, many of the broader political issues in a town or small city are fought out because of their direct and indirect effects on the environment for raising children. Married fathers are a good source of labor for these tasks. Unmarried fathers are not. Nor can the void be filled by the moms. Single mothers who want to foster the right environment for their children are usually doing double duty already, trying to be the breadwinner and an attentive parent at the same time. Few single mothers have much time or energy to spare for community activities."