Our Broken Social Contract | The New York Times

By Thomas B. Edsall

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.

An eloquent description of American social dysfunction comes from my colleague David Brooks, writing about Edward Snowden, who leaked information on domestic surveillance. Brooks argues that Snowden is the product of an upbringing lacking “gently gradated authoritative structures: family, neighborhood, religious group, state, nation and world,” who thus became party to a

rising tide of distrust, the corrosive spread of cynicism, the fraying of the social fabric and the rise of people who are so individualistic in their outlook that they have no real understanding of how to knit others together and look after the common good.

A very different assessment of where and how America has lost its ethical and moral moorings comes from Alan Krueger, the chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. Krueger has argued in two recent appearances, at Oberlin College and more recently at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (of all places) that the uncritical worship of the free market in the 1980s allowed the nation’s corporate elite to abandon longstanding constraints in its treatment of labor, especially in shifting the rewards of rising productivity from employees to the owners of capital.

With the blessing of the new right, Krueger argues, corporate America has abandoned its commitment to the commonweal over the past three decades. It no longer honors norms of fairness and equality. To Krueger, it is in the economic sphere that American integrity has been eroded and its ideals corrupted.

At Oberlin, Krueger put it this way:

In considering reasons for the growing wage gap between the top and everyone else, economists have tended to shy away from considerations of fairness and instead focus on market forces, mainly technological change and globalization. But given the compelling evidence that considerations of fairness matter for wage setting, I would argue that we need to devote more attention to the erosion of the norms, institutions and practices that maintain fairness in the job market. We also need to focus on the policies that can lead to more widely shared – and stronger – economic growth. It is natural to expect that market forces such as globalization would weaken norms and institutions that support fairness in wage setting. Yet I would argue that the erosion of the institutions and practices that support fairness has gone beyond market forces.

As the point man for the Obama administration on economic policy, Krueger has become the leading opponent of those who believe that growing inequality and middle-class stagnation are the inevitable consequences of technological innovation and the disruptive force of globalization.

Read the whole op-ed at The New York Times.

Our Mission

MAPA Group Values

The MAPA Group mission is to build significant value for clients by providing superior, creative and strategic business development services while conducting business with irreproachable integrity at all times and under all circumstances.

Our Focus Areas

  • Renewable Energy including wind, solar, biomass
  • Technology
  • Environment and Energy Policy
  • Infrastructure: Airports, Transportation, Aeronautics, and Water
  • Local, Municipal, and Regional Economic Development
  • Building Next Generation Stakeholder Alliances
  • Iberoamerican Summit Innovation, Development & Leadership