Wednesday, April 16, 2008

In which I defend the past and future.

I am not, generally, the sort of person who reviews the past looking to catalogue glories, either on a personal or cultural level. I just tend to forget, until somebody brings it up. Now, you want to talk broad historical swaths, I'm there. The trends that led to the American Republic, for example. Or, one cultural trend in my lifetime, the reduction in black ghettos (which was something I got to watch in progress, through demographic data work).

But this thread over at Althouse--on the (one hopes) exhausted topic of Presidential candidate Barack Obama's momentary honesty--had me defending the past 25 years of progress from Freder Frederson (who takes his name from the socialist fantasy classic Metropolis) who insists that the standard of living is worse now than it was 25 years ago.

This caused me to call up all the things that have improved over the past 25 years. And there have been a lot. Computers and the Internet are the area of the most obvious improvement, but it's important to remember that those two features enhance every other facet of life: education, work, social, love, spiritual, health, etc.

Frederson pointed to weakened purchasing power (unsupportable, I think), uncertain employment (probably true, but job security can be the foe of progress), and the state of health insurance.

Now, if we set aside the advances in medicine, and cheap alternatives that have emerged over the years, he has a point. The monster that is the medical-legal bureaucracy has only grown over the past 25 years, because that's what bureaucracies do. The eat and grow at the expense of actual productive industries.

Of course, Freder's solution is to ... establish a giant new bureaucracy.

However, what's really important about this is not interfering with what seems to be natural growth and technological progress so that 25 years from now we can look back and laugh at our bygone primitiveness.

Ever-widening bureaucracies are probably the only thing that can stop us, apart from a giant asteroid.


  1. Or, one cultural trend in my lifetime, the reduction in black ghettos (which was something I got to watch in progress, through demographic data work).

    That's an interesting observation. I've certainly had the impression the black middle class has grown substantially, but I can't find the data. I tried piddling around in the Census data, but it's easy to get lost there (especially if you don't have a head for numbers).

    Do you have any favorite sources of demographic information?

    This Heritage Foundation article on poverty is one of my favorites, and a great hate object in many quaters. Scroll down to the bullet list for some interesting facts.

    (Ugh. Stupid Google/Blogger merger. This is S. Weasel. I believe it's going to call me "s").

  2. Oh! Yay! I must have fixed that at some point :)

  3. Hi, S! I'm "moviegique" over at Ace's. I understand you're female! (Heh.)

    I worked in politics (peripherally, as a neutral third party supplier of data) for almost two decades and we used to keep a list of "black precincts".

    A person in one of these precincts who was not readily identified as different ethnicity (say, a "GOMEZ" or a "GARABIDIAN") was black.

    In the '80s, when I started, we had over 200 such precincts in Los Angeles. Around the millennium, when I stopped, we had fewer than 40. My memory's a bit hazy but I think that's a drop from about 10% to just over 1% (because the total number of precincts went up as the "black" precincts went down). In some counties, the lists went to zero.

    The tradition, of course, was to send out mailers to each demographic group you hoped to sway. To women of a certain age group, you might send out a pro-choice letter, to their older peers, a pro-life letter, and to blacks, a "kill whitey" letter.

    I'm joking, but only a little.

    It's harder and harder to reach blacks as a demographic; we talked at times of buying subscriber lists to things like "Ebony" in order to find blacks--but the other (not ugly but optimistic) truth is that the further out of your way you have to go to find them, the much harder it will be to pander to them based on a preconceived notion of "their issues".

    These days I just look at the census data. It's available on-line.

  4. Moviegique! I know you.

    Los Angeles, eh. There's a less optimistic explanation there, isn't there? Were they vanishing into the middle class, or just being crowded out?

    I go play with the Census data sometimes. I like to make graphs from data; visuals help weasel understand. But I get lost in their reports and never seem to find what I was looking for.


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