Re: Only A Namond Can Save Us Now

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Simon is attempting to meld a practical argument with an idealistic one, and I think he fails. This is roughly where I think he takes a wrong turn:

Ultimately we abandoned that and believed in the idea of trickle-down and the idea of the market economy and the market knows best, to the point where now libertarianism in my country is actually being taken seriously as an intelligent mode of political thought. It's astonishing to me.

But we don't believe in trickle-down or the market or whatever. We've still got Social Security and Medicare and the military and Obamacare - things that represent the sort of non-capitalist social amelioration that Simon is talking about.

Ogged simililarly errs:

economic insecurity isn't just a symptom of unfettered capitalism, it's also one of its key methods of control:

During the Depression and the Dust Bowl and what have you, people were really, no-kidding economically insecure. There's relatively little malnutrition in the U.S. nowadays. People aren't anywhere near as insecure as they were when FDR was saving capitalism - which is why capitalism doesn't need that sort of savior today.

Simon again:

you would have thought that we would have learned what works.

But the New Deal worked and continues to work, in that its purpose was to help pacify the masses and allow for capitalism to continue.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 4:37 PM
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During the Depression and the Dust Bowl and what have you, people were really, no-kidding economically insecure. There's relatively little malnutrition in the U.S. nowadays.

This is something that really puzzles and confuses me -- the across-the-board improvement in standards of living over the last 50-100 years, even at the bottom end, but that the amount of misery caused by poverty really seems to be tightly bound to relative poverty, rather than absolute standards of living.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 4:42 PM
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Namond was last seen doing well in a high school debate competition and living with Bunny Colvin. That was in 2008, though set earlier. Presumably he's graduated from college right now and probably at the University of Maryland law school.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 4:46 PM
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In practice there are many millions who are one paycheck or one serious calamity away from penury who nonetheless identify with the ruling class over people who had been in their exact situation only to have the dice come up snake eyes. Until these people start to identify with their own interests I don't see much changing, brick-throwing or no.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 4:49 PM
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that the amount of misery caused by poverty really seems to be tightly bound to relative poverty, rather than absolute standards of living.

I think it's more complicated than that -- I have no doubt that there are very low absolute standards of living in lots of poor areas of the U.S., more so than we understand not having grown up in them. But it's possible that those low absolute standards are linked to cultural breakdown in those areas as well, under stresses like family breakdown, drugs, imprisonment, etc.

I've actually been rewatching The Wire recently. Still as brilliant, great and bold as I remember in most ways, although there is a didactic streak that is a little excessive at times (never got out of hand till the fifth season though). Simon put his finger on that fundamental theme of what it's like to be excess, to have your life be meaningless -- to have no value and no clear way out of that situation.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 4:52 PM
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The Wire fans are becoming worse than Trekkies.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 4:54 PM
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Namond also got kind of plump, and tattooed, according to a Google Images search.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 4:54 PM
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[A]bout 30 percent of African-American and Hispanic children and more than 40 percent of low-income children live in homes that do not have access to nutritionally adequate diets. Is that "relatively little"?


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 4:55 PM
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1: the New Deal safety net is getting more and more frayed. It's still there to some extent in retirement -- although people (Repubs and some Democrats) are working tirelessly to pare it back -- but basically meaningless for prime-aged adults. Unless you declare yourself helplessly disabled and unable to work the government is not really going to help you if you're, say, 30 years with no income or resources. Some Food Stamps, maybe Medicaid for your kid, but nothing that will really help you into a dignified life. Obamacare changed that a little but not as much as you'd think -- on the low end, a lot depended on the Medicaid expansions, many of which are gone, and Medicaid is not great service anyway.

Re the comparison with the Depression in economic security -- there are two kinds of economic insecurity. The precarious-but-surviving kind where you have something to lose and are terrified of losing it, and the kind where you have nothing left to lose. The majority of people in the U.S> are in the former position, but it's hardly a comfortable place to be. The nothing to left to lose kind gets you to violence.

But re violence, the state has invested in advanced technologies of manipulation, control, and dominance to an unprecedented degree. I wouldn't bet on being able to overcome those. Homeland Security/the NSA would be very effective in shutting down something like the 1930s sit down strikes; monitoring of communications would be invaluable for pulling out and punishing ringleaders.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 4:59 PM
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8: It's worth distinguishing between malnutrition as not enough food and malnutrition as the wrong kinds of food. The former used to be endemic to some places in the US. Now kids get too much crap food rather than not enough full stop. It's progress, though not as much as we'd all like.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 5:03 PM
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It's the "no way out" that I think is the real change.

We used to have at least the illusion of, the belief in, the possibility of economic mobility. You had this idea that if you did the right things it was possible to escape poverty. You worked hard at football, you worked hard at math, you got the scholarship, you got out.

That escape route is gone now. Even with a scholarship, kids are graduating with $30,000 of student loan debt, *and* graduating to find no job waiting; or a job that only pays $30/year.

I don't think this is a tenable situation.


Posted by: delagar | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 5:55 PM
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2: Isn't the answer that the cost of housing has increased dramatically during the same time?


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 5:56 PM
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9.2; but how bad it is to have nothing left has to be constantly clear to the people who have a little to lose. Must have some lost people everywhere.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 6:01 PM
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12: Health care is in here too; people die for lack of dental care, and now it's mostly the poor who do so, where it used to be the poor and the rich.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 6:02 PM
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10: There are definitely children getting good old malnutrition here nowadays, though there's also plenty of the only-overprocessed-crap stuff going on too. (This distinction may well come down to parenting, but I'm spending more time with kids who were underparented, and going without food for way too long is often a part of that. For a little of both, I should relink to the NYT piece on parentified, homeless 11-year-old Dasani.)


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 6:28 PM
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The Dasani piece is gut-wrenching.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 6:35 PM
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15: But, am I right that there really is much less literal hunger than there was in, say, the 1930s? Children who are underweight due to lack of access to sufficient calories were far commoner in 1935 than they are now?

But somehow that really doesn't seem to mean less misery.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 6:38 PM
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But somehow that really doesn't seem to mean less misery.

Does it not? That seems hard to know. Obviously there's more than plenty of misery now, but there was just a fucking shit-ton of misery then.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 6:45 PM
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But somehow that really doesn't seem to mean less misery.

I don't think that's right. I mean, something, something Veblen goods and all that. I get that.

But I believe there's a real difference - one that matters to behavior and outlook - in how the bottom 10% experiences life in the U.S., and how the bottom 10% experiences it in, say, the Congo or the 1935 U.S. Keeping up with the Joneses ain't everything - there's also food and shelter.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 6:50 PM
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16: It was sort of shocking how I kept being surprised things were not THAT bad, but I thought it was really well done. I need to get out more.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 6:53 PM
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17 is definitely true AFAIK. I'm just being extra sensitive because the pica has gotten worse again and I'm a little bitter about people who let their babies starve and the impact that has later. Obviously it's more complicated than that, and I know it.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 6:55 PM
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I dunno, I bet you're going to find a lot of support for Team Don't Let Your Babies Starve here.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 6:56 PM
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I think Ogged's reference to other types of security is important here. Part of having a decent life is NOT having constant worry about where you're going to live, what you're going to eat, etc. It might be that having a very tenuous minimum-wage job in 2013 makes your life subjectively worse than that of a peasant farmer of 1870 or 1700 or whenever, even though your material standard of living is much higher -- a longer life expectancy, better nutrition, running water, etc. Pre-industrial poverty, which seems to have really sucked in all kinds of ways, was often (not always) a fairly stable social condition. Even if it has raised the floor of material conditions, capitalism has also dissolved a lot of what made human life tolerable.

You also have, for people in the U.S. bottom 10% and more, a tremendous level of state violence, at minimum surveillance, and much less possibility than there used to be of escaping the state. (Partly, as Ogged points out, because if you escape the state you'll have nothing; at least the state might give you a bare minimum of food and shelter.)


Posted by: Bave | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 7:02 PM
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It might be that having a very tenuous minimum-wage job in 2013 makes your life subjectively worse than that of a peasant farmer of 1870 or 1700 or whenever

Probably not worse than a tenant farmer in Oklahoma in 1935, though.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 7:04 PM
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22: I just meant I don't actually know what was going on in her parents' lives or minds at the time. And the woman who cheerfully told me she'd always babysit by turning on a movie and letting 9-month-old Mara and her slightly older daughter sit on the couch and eat cheetos while she napped was also volunteering how much she'd loved Mara even if that's also not childcare I'd encourage. Protip: feed your kids and don't leave them alone for days on end and I promise it will save you work down the line!


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 7:09 PM
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Protip

The bar for professionalism is not so high when the profession is "barely competent parent".


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 7:39 PM
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"or a job that only pays $30/year"
Wow, we really do need to raise the minimum wage.


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 7:50 PM
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Protip: If the police arrest a guy with a bouquet of "Happy Birthday" balloons and leave them (the balloons) tied to the lamppost outside the bar, you may as well bring the balloons back inside for your friend who also is celebrating a birthday.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 7:52 PM
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Those are evidence!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 7:53 PM
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The cops did everything they could not to arrest the guy, probably because of a sense of proportion or a dislike of paperwork.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 7:55 PM
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I feel like there's more to this story.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 7:58 PM
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I missed the beginning. Some guy was, while festooned with balloons, too drunk to be served and refused to leave. The bartender called the cops. The cops sent him on his way three times and then arrested him. While leaving his balloons behind.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 8:02 PM
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Festooned with... so like they were tied to him?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 8:04 PM
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To his stool.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 8:08 PM
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Interesting article, thanks for the link.

It might be that having a very tenuous minimum-wage job in 2013 makes your life subjectively worse than that of a peasant farmer of 1870 or 1700 or whenever, even though your material standard of living is much higher

My intuition is to still think that the contemporary minimum-wage life is better than being a peasant in 1700* but I am still mulling over how I would respond to 2 -- something which puzzles me as well.

* As a point of context, from the wikipedia list of major famines:


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 8:09 PM
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Speaking of famines, the other thread about having kids at young ages reminded me of how old my family is when they have kids. My dad's grandfather survived the potato famine. He was ten or so, hour but still that is 90 years between their births.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 8:13 PM
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That doesn't sound possible. Maybe I missed a generation? It gets confused because we only use four first names.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 8:16 PM
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34: so wait, they untied them from the stool and then tied them up outside? Why didn't they leave them tied to the stool? I still have many, many questions.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 8:18 PM
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The guy took the balloons outside with him.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 8:19 PM
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37: Sounds totally possible to me. Two generations of people having kids at 45 isn't that outlandish.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 8:19 PM
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My dad had a cousin a year older than him (but technically of the previous generation) whose grandfather fought in the Civil War.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 8:21 PM
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39: he was too drunk to be served but not too drunk to untie a bundle of balloons from a barstool? I call shenanigans.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 8:23 PM
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I was trying to figure out if my dad's grandfather was alive during the Civil War, but no, I think he was at least five or ten years too young.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 8:24 PM
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34: gross!


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 8:24 PM
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44 to 42.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 8:27 PM
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Oh, a BARstool.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 8:53 PM
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Mulling it over, I do think there's less misery now than there was a century ago. For example, I was just thinking about the various articles about the recently published original draft of the article that was re-worked into Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

"Picking is simple and terrible work." Agee writes in the "Picking Season" section of Cotton Tenants. Simple and terrible are the defining characteristics of the stories Agee tells of life in Hale County, Alabama. . . . He describes, in simple terms, the material lives of the Burroughses, the Fieldses, and the Tingles--the families' ever-fluctuating earnings, their respective acreage allotments, the ragged stuffs from which they spin their clothes, the withered planks that leave tenant-houses open to the Alabama elements. If Agee's response to the scarred folk of Alabama was one of terror and tears, he marshals his material in Cotton Tenants with a certain ironic distance, often allowing the flatly asserted truth to offer its own condemnation.

And the cotton belt, for Agee, "sixteen hundred miles wide and three hundred miles deep," as he writes in the introduction, is indeed a land of scars. A place of steady suffering becomes as much a landmark to Agee as the general store or the landlords' manses: "Out to the right of the [Burroughs] house, caught within palings against the hunger and damage of the animals, is a patch of land a little bigger than a tennis court: this is the garden." (The choice of "tennis court" to establish scale is no accident--nothing if not an accusation.)...

Or, in the interview I just posted in the other thread, Jeff Warner mentions, in passing, that he knows a half dozen songs (dating from just before the turn of the century) about people who killed in logging accidents. I get the sense that most industrial work carried extremely high risk of injury and it makes it harder for me to believe that life felt more secure at that time.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 9:32 PM
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And being a servant was usually awful: unbelievably long hours, no privacy, risk of rape, small chance of having ones' own family. Surprisingly high risk of injury, what with fire and knives and lye.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 9:48 PM
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Look, obviously poor people's material conditions in the US are vastly better now than they were in the distant past or even in, say 1960, including in terms of workplace safety, avoiding severe malnutrition, not starving to death, whatever. If that were not the case it would be truly stunning. (There's a separate issue, namely that poor people aren't as materially better off as they should be in now vs 1975, given how much the rich have taken from the economy in that period, but that's a separate issue.) I mean yes even at the bottom end basically every single American is doing better than starving Pomeranian peasants were in 1703! USA #1!

There's a separate question as to whether loss in social stability, closed communities and other features of modern life have made many people more unhappy, or at least differently happy, then they were, despite much better material conditions. That's something that's insanely difficult to measure and has huge variation depending on just who (even among the poor) you're comparing. My own feeling is that much of the lament for older forms of community is nostalgic bullshit, but that there is a big important core truth there, and that people really are often happier even in worse (but not dire) material conditions with closer social ties. But there's research on this and it's a super complicated story.

There's also an issue of whether inequality in and of itself makes people unhappy enough to negate the hedonic value of some degree of material wealth (but how much?), which is also a super complicated question. I mean there's clearly a trade off there, but figuring out the quantities is sure difficult.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 9:55 PM
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I don't even know if we had to rip up all our social ties to get to modern production. Handwave, mumble, Mondragon.

On the other side: 20% of the US is income-rich at least briefly; that does make it more understandable that `a poor person in the US votes like a temporarily embarrassed millionaire'.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 10:50 PM
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Sure, the research on subjective well-being and income inequality is complicated and interesting, but it's easy to get lost in the weeds and forget that poor people in the US have really hard lives, and we don't have to quantify just how hard those lives are, or wait for them to say "Yeah, we're really unhappy now" (people don't like to say that!) before we say, "This is wrong. No one in America should have to live like this."

That's hectoring, I guess, but whatever. One thing I would like to know is how much of the visible poverty during the Great Depression was people who had fallen on hard times, and how much was the intergenerational poor, which I would guess we have more of today.

And that's all leaving aside the other things Simon mentions, like the incarceration rate.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 10:54 PM
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Perhaps we could put automatic stabilizers on our antipoverty efforts by measuring just how horrified the well-off would be at having their children grow up without advantages. (Current US horrified level: Dickensian.) Do parents in the unicorn-borne rainbowlands of successful social democracies fight as hard to get their kids into kindergarten/med school/internships?


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 11:17 PM
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||
Spatiotemporal statistics. Ow. Does anyone happen to know how often ArcGIS documentation works on GRASS GIS?
|>


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 12- 9-13 11:18 PM
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What sort of documentation do you mean?


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 12:22 AM
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(I know very little about GRASS, so I still probably can't help you, but I know just enough GIS to be curious.)


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 12:37 AM
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Perhaps we could put automatic stabilizers on our antipoverty efforts by measuring just how horrified the well-off would be at having their children grow up without advantages.

The 2018 Rawlsian Veil Act involves the compulsory fostering of 1% of all children whose parents are higher-rate income tax payers, selected by lot.

One thing I would like to know is how much of the visible poverty during the Great Depression was people who had fallen on hard times, and how much was the intergenerational poor

Visible means "white" here, right?

The estimated poverty rate in the US was 30% before the Depression started and 65% by 1935. So the answer is about half and half, assuming that a minimal number of people who were poor in 1929 were not poor in 1935. But the visible poverty was different - that was, largely, white people becoming unemployed and desperate.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 2:35 AM
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Oh, this is relevant:

http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2013/12/new-study-says-poverty-rate-hasnt-budged-40-years


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 3:12 AM
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Too much of the wrong kind of 'food' can give you malnutrition.

Look, obviously poor people's material conditions in the US are vastly better now than they were in the distant past or even in, say 1960, including in terms of workplace safety, avoiding severe malnutrition, not starving to death, whatever. If that were not the case it would be truly stunning. (There's a separate issue, namely that poor people aren't as materially better off as they should be in now vs 1975, given how much the rich have taken from the economy in that period, but that's a separate issue.)

I think it's very open to question whether the material situation of the poor is better than it was in, say, 1975 (almost 40 years ago now!). Mass incarceration and the (related) growth of single parent families are a huge deal in determining peoples' well-being. Sure, cable TV and i-phones, some cheap consumer goods, but many other things have gone in the wrong direction.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 3:22 AM
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This is wrong. No one in America should have to live like this.

I think the whole concept of 'America' as a community that guarantees any kind of material security to its members is under question. The attack from the libertarian right is obvious, but there are also forces working against it from the left. For example, open borders undermines the idea of citizenship rights that support social insurance, and many people on the left support the logic of open borders.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 3:26 AM
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re: 36

My grandfather is almost exactly 99 years older than my son [within a couple of weeks]. In March, my grandfather will be 100, and my son will be 1. So it's entirely possible.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 3:33 AM
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61: my grandfather was born 103 years before my nephew (1907; 2010). Average generation time of more than 30 years isn't really that weird.

Not as weird as this, from Simon Jenkins:

A man of my acquaintance was addressed, when a child, on the subject of Oliver Cromwell. The speaker was a lady of 91. She told him sternly never to speak ill of the great man. She went on: "My husband's first wife's first husband knew Oliver Cromwell - and liked him well." It was an admonition my friend has not forgotten.

At first hearing, the story is unbelievable. This was not a great-grandfather who knew a great-grandson. Here at the dawn of the new century is someone able to recall a single matrimonial generation linked directly with the mid-17th century*...

*The remark was made in 1923 by a lady born in 1832. At the age of 16 she had married an 80-year-old man named Henry. Sixty-four years earlier, in 1784, the young Henry had, for reasons obscure, married an 82-year-old woman. Her first marriage, in 1720, was to an 80-year-old who had served Cromwell before his death in 1658.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 3:57 AM
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My grandfather was born in 1873; my niece in 1988. Factor in that my father was the youngest of five; that he lost five years due to the war and therefore married very late, and that my sister was an unplanned afterthought born when he was 50. Not hard.

The bigger point though is that, except in the ruling class, the habit of starting families in your early 20s, as in the 1950/60s was historically unusual. For most of the early modern and modern periods, the average age at marriage was late 20s or early 30s for both sexes, as working people didn't marry until they had a bit put by, which, if you were a servant, as most women were, or a labourer, took a bit of time.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 4:25 AM
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reasons obscure

either land or money, surely?


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 4:30 AM
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The 2018 Rawlsian Veil Act involves the compulsory fostering of 1% of all children whose parents are higher-rate income tax payers, selected by lot.

Bob's tireless efforts to shift the Overton window begin to pay off, as the progressive/liberal policy community starts to operationalise his ideas in legislation. Obviously this involves watering them down somewhat, but he's confident that once the RVA is passed, it'll be relatively easy to improve it further by amendment (2%, 3%, etc).


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 4:33 AM
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America's Economy is Officially Inside Out ...Harvard Business Review this is very good and pretty short

America is Separating into Peasants and Scholar-Gentry ...Noah opinion, but he reads Charles Murray, and I am starting to dislike this guy. But he's young, so a window

America Rental Crisis Felix Salmon says the rent is too damn high. I suppose the rich fucks could have cubbyholes for their live-in servants, but that takes space that will drive the UMC out.

And that is merely a start of this morning's thematic links from Mark Thoma's place. I could easily do ten more on the collapse of Western Civilization just from fucking today. Maybe I will

But all of this is is from the scholar gentry. Not seeing the huddled masses grumbling this Christmas. So WTF is going on? What are the scholar-gentry getting scared of? Ain't gonna be food riots. The lower classes have been beaten down into total despair.

Are the S-G's scared the rich fucks are about to toss their courtiers off the lifeboat?


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 5:05 AM
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Maybe, as I predicted like ten years ago...Weimerica?

The scholar classes were all panicked in the twenties too, way out of proportion to what was apparent or what was perceived by the masses. Maybe they were panicked by the wrong things, but the terror was justified.

The wave of neo-liberalism sweeping Poland, Burma, Libya, South Africa is one fucking world-historical event.

Ghaddafi dictating was just another strongman, a pattern thousands of years old. What replaced Ghaddafi is something incomprehensible.

Inverted totalitarianism. Tyranny with no center.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 5:17 AM
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re: 63

Yeah, my grandfather was the youngest of 11, I think. He said to us recently, 'My father fought in the war, you know.' by which he meant the Boer war, and I don't think his father was a particularly young man at the time.

And he [my grandfather] also lost some years in WWII, and had my mum when he was nearly 40.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 5:34 AM
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My dad's grandfather survived the potato famine. He was ten or so, hour but still that is 90 years between their births.

I have a great grandfather born in 1870, meaning there are over 110 years between our births. My boyfriend is even younger than me, and his grandfather fled the Armenian genocide as a (young) teenager.

34
Related to tying things to stools: Apparently one of my grandmother's aunts' husbands died, leaving her with 13 children and a farm. She would tie the younger ones to the bedposts so they wouldn't wander off get killed while she went out and plowed the fields. I suppose these days this would count as incompetent parenting, but it seemed to work for her, as I think a relatively high proportion of her kids survived into adulthood.

On topic:
The relevant point isn't how does the US compare to the Congo or 18th century Prussia, but how do we compare to other developing countries? The answer is abysmally, and by almost all metrics of well-being measured (e.g. life expectancy, infant mortality, height differentials, food security) America's poor aren't living at a standard on par with other developed countries.


Posted by: Britta | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 5:52 AM
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If I'm right about the generations (and I think I am), it would be about 130 years between the birth of my great-grandfather and myself and I'm the oldest child in the family as was my grandfather.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 6:31 AM
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Maybe, as I predicted like ten years ago...Weimerica?

Or maybe, as you predicted two years ago, Obama will deliberately cause another Depression in spring 2012, and then decline to run for re-election, allowing Rick Perry to cruise into the White House.
Or maybe you're full of it.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 7:07 AM
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71: Obama obviously didn't need it your get your enthusiastic support for neo-feudalism. Keep clapping.

But managed or slow-motion recessions and depressions are how they roll now. They have gotten Krugman in board now. "Wow, secular stagnation with new billionaires every day. O woe, nuttin we can do."


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 8:34 AM
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71 is a foul calumny. As the heir to a stronghold, I am an enthusiastic supporter of palaeo-feudalism. I long for the day when my vassals gather to pay scutage, and my war galleys once more slip from their moorings to enforce my rule over water and mountain.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 8:40 AM
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49 included an impressive moving of goalposts. 1960s to 1703 in 3 sentences, one a parenthetical.

I also challenge that the factual assertion is obviously accurate. Farmworkers now have toilet facilities in the fields in California (thank you, UFW), but I believe pesticide, fungicide and herbicide use per acre is up and certainly the groundwater supplies on which many southern Central Valley communities rely for drinking water have deteriorated in quality since that time. Google "blue baby syndrome." If you were working in a manufacturing facility in 1960 it may be true that there are greater workplace safety protections in place now than there were then - but there are so very few manufacturing jobs left. Are home health aide jobs clearly safer now than they were in 1960?


Posted by: dairy queen | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 9:21 AM
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OT: If a person from Japan is wearing a mask (sort of surgical style, but more robust looking and pink), does that mean she things I'm breathing out whole bunches of germs or something?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 9:28 AM
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75: it means she has a cold and doesn't want to infect you, you insensitive lout.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 9:29 AM
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I don't really know why that's insensitive, actually. I think I just haven't typed "lout" in a while.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 9:30 AM
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77

Now I feel bad because I had a horrible cold two weeks ago and never wore a mask.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 9:30 AM
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Or refrained from picking my nose.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 9:44 AM
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The 2A people are fired up. They are ready to take to the streets.


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 10:16 AM
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The 2A people are fired up. They are ready to take to the streets.

bob's kind of people.


Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 10:20 AM
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75: Japan is also like 90% forest, a whole lot of it mountain cedar. A national allergic reaction and respiratory problems.

I don't know what percentage of maskwearing is protecting others from cold and which is allergies. The vague information I have is that the latter is somewhat more common.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 10:24 AM
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The bigger point though is that, except in the ruling class, the habit of starting families in your early 20s, as in the 1950/60s was historically unusual. For most of the early modern and modern periods, the average age at marriage was late 20s or early 30s for both sexes, as working people didn't marry until they had a bit put by, which, if you were a servant, as most women were, or a labourer, took a bit of time.

I know I've always heard this, but I don't actually understand it. People are always having sex; how could they have postponed children?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 11:24 AM
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83: They throttled them in the crib. It was a better time.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 11:26 AM
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49 etc: It kinda depends on exactly what we mean by "material conditions," doesn't it? It's easy for poor people to get junk calories, but harder for them to get decent fresh produce. There are a lot more people in prison, but the worst abuses in the prison system have been somewhat ameliorated. Everybody has cheap consumer goods, but they break all the time. (And people in China have all the fun of unsafe working conditions that poor people here used to get.)

It would be interesting to exactly retrace the route of the American Pictures guy, and see just how people in those communities, or even the selfsame shacks and tenements are living today, 40+ years later.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 11:59 AM
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59, 57, 51, etc.: I am not sure why it's necessary for a judgment on the acceptability of (relative, obvs.) poverty in the current age to ask whether it's really that bad, because maybe it was worse before.

Certainly, Simon argues that we've entered a new age, a new level, of throwing people under the bus, and he's not the only one to have pointed that out. Isn't a comparative measure of income (and wealth) distribution -- of income/wealth inequality -- now versus then, say the 30s or 50s or 10s, more relevant than the question whether the relatively poor now are actually more miserable than their earlier counterparts?

And honestly, I don't know why I'd even argue over this. I don't care whether it's not as bad now as then. It's bad now.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 12:59 PM
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I'm afraid I haven't quite finished the Simon piece -- it does go on! -- but one rather obvious thought is that our current capitalistic system is socializing the consequences of low wages. (Privatize the gains, socialize the losses). Low wage workers must supplement their inadequate incomes by turning to food stamps and so on, off-loading the social, economic and human cost to the state, which is beginning to stagger under the burden.

That is certainly one real change, no?


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 1:08 PM
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Forgive me for continuing, but I don't understand comment 1's view that Ogged errs in making this statement:

economic insecurity isn't just a symptom of unfettered capitalism, it's also one of its key methods of control

pf's claim is that it's no more a method of control now than it might have been then? I don't see how that's true. Economic insecurity is now a feature (rather than a bug) of the system.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 1:51 PM
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I can't figure out if the press hates this woman or if her face is always like that. Her sisters are in the paper for crimes too, but they don't have photos of them looking like their only regret is that they couldn't steal Christmas before they were caught.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 1:59 PM
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Relevant.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 2:03 PM
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I am not sure why it's necessary for a judgment on the acceptability of (relative, obvs.) poverty in the current age to ask whether it's really that bad, because maybe it was worse before.

I think that everybody who was asking about historical comparisons (starting with LB at 2) also agrees that current poverty is unacceptable. Personally I have also been convinced that it's impossible to talk clearly about the problems of poverty without talking about race (which Simon is clearly aware of, but doesn't spend much time on in that talk). Unfortunately I have no suggestions for how to address either beyond, "try harder."

Also, a a relevant* statistic (from Ashok Rao at DeLong's

Poor, middle class, and rich households spend approximately $200,000, $300,000, and $500,000 on raising their children respectively, and much of that difference is channeled towards better human and network capital investment. This is not a story of equal opportunity or consistently unequal opportunity. It is one of increasingly unequal opportunity.

* Only somewhat relevant, actually -- one of the things that I thought was interesting about Simon's speech was the focus on the bottom "10 or 15%" rather than the entire group of people who have seen wages stagnate (40%? I don't have a number off the top of my head).


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 2:45 PM
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89: How could you not use that photo if you had it?


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 3:02 PM
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I couldn't not use it, but I'll note that nobody has ever even considered putting me in charge of a newspaper.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 3:14 PM
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pf's claim is that it's no more a method of control now than it might have been then?

My claim here is a bit confused, probably because I succumbed to the near-irresistible urge to declare ogged in error.

I should have said, rather, that there is a limit to the utility of economic insecurity as a means of social control. Once the contradictions are heightened past a certain point, there's hell to pay.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 3:39 PM
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Investment in social capital: another argument for the Rawslian Veil Act.
83: I'm reading The Prospect Before Her, which goes into considerable detail. In summary, if you weren't married *and* in possession of productive capital, you and the kids starved. POssible stoning to death in angry times or sub-subsistence employment clapping crows in kind ones. You couldn't borrow -- there wasn't much extra productive capacity *to* borrow, a lot of places -- so when you married, you had to already have the kettle and the plow, the layette and the cow. Women had to have dowries and if the dowries weren't as big as claimed, they could be rejected and their fathers sued. Farm leases and guild mastery often required marriage, because the woman's labor was necessary to overall production. Women's labor was ludicrously cheap.
Sex before marriage was not disastrous if the woman still had the money to marry on, so successful town servants probably had more six-month babies than homebound girls whose dowries came out of the patrimony. The aristocracy only had homebound girls, sometimes to odd effect; ancien regime France eventually put a majority of its daughters into the convent instead of paying the enormous dowries.
There were a lot of attempts to ameliorate this, which generally took the form of women doin' for each other until the Church got nervous; the Reformation was nervous to the point of nastiness, as predestinationism & anti-convent politics combined.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 3:51 PM
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In letters mailed back home her eastern sisters they would moan as they would read accounts of madness, childbirth, loneliness and grief.


Posted by: Natalie Merchant | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 4:06 PM
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In rich places - probably all of postGarcia US, for white people - many couples could marry on expectation of wages and be given what they needed early, esp if the community wanted to grow. Hence wedding gifts in the modern style. (Q: Russian settlers in expansive centuries?) And when labor was scarce married couples could get hired.

But the history above says there are extensive periods and places with almost no evidence of extramarital pregnancy among middle- and upper-class girls. (How? Total surveillance of them and mistreatment of working-out girls.)

Tl;dr - being up against resource boundaries is a world of work & fear, unevenly distributed.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 4:14 PM
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83: this was the functional societal reason behind the preoccupation with "virtue" of respectable women. So they didn't have sex, or not piv sex anyway, or they tried herbal remedies like pennyroyal and wild carrot (I think, might have the plants wrong) as early abortifacients.
Post-famine Ireland switched from an early (for W Europe) marriage age to a late one. One third of adults never married. Those who did were older. Chastity was enforced by a ferocious conservatism and religiousity. Don't know how it worked in other countries or earlier centuries.
I do know the Victorian era had horrific rates of infanticide in Ireland & Britain. Cities like London had "baby farms" where infants were boarded out and mostly allowed to die of neglect.
Eastern Europe didn't have this marriage pattern afaik, possibly leading to even greater levels of poverty / misery /starvation.


Posted by: emir | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 5:49 PM
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(Posted before seeing 95 which covers the stuff I don't know)


Posted by: emir | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 5:53 PM
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Q: Russian settlers in expansive centuries?

I believe (but don't have an easy source at hand, except this from a quick Google) that age of marriage in Russia was much lower than in the classic Western European peasant household, precisely because there was available land for a married couple to take over.

It's also worth remembering that you are talking about the European Marriage Pattern (defined term) of late age of marriage, celibacy, and formation of a separate household upon marriage. But that is not a universal truth of poverty. Most societies -- even poor peasant ones, and even many poor peasant ones in Europe (like most of Italy and the Mediterranean), did not have this pattern. For example, poor women could marry much earlier, and be more sexually active, if there was no expectation of setting up an independent home upon marriage. Or, as noted above, if there was a lot of available land in which to set up a household.

I believe but don't know that age of marriage in the colonial/early 19th C US was pretty low, precisely because of ease of setting up a household.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 6:06 PM
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In The Midwife's Tale, late 18th-c Maine frontier, IIRC the expected age of marriage was late 20s, when you could afford to set up your own housekeeping away from both sets of parents. But younger adults would sometimes get knocked up and have to marry earlier. There was a fair amount of land, I guess, but not unlimited and not free.


Posted by: Bave | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 6:15 PM
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Oh I just finished a book on pre-Edo (~1600) demographics in Japan, so I should have something to say but I don't remember enough.

Heian times land, children and inheritance were communal and matrilocal matrilinear so women were relative sexually and economically autonomous. Marriage was almost irrelevant, men moved in and out of women's family homes.

"Medieval" Japan went to primogeniture and women got screwed. Usual patterns.

But hell, agriculture sucked until around 1500, and 1500-1600 was constant war. Famine and disease (Japan escaped the Great Plague, but suffered from everything else imaginable until immunities developed over centuries.) and natural disasters. Heian was relatively peaceful because they couldn't feed an army.

Basically everybody fucking died. I mean 30-40% die offs twice a century. Small children were guaranteed to die so nobody much cared about them.

And women died in childbirth. Next time you read Genji, remember that because of a low-calcium and generally bad diet, lack of sunlight and vitamin D, other factors and small size, 1st child or 2nd child women died in childbirth. Sex was fucking fatal.

And the fucking famines and plagues. The place Murasaki describes was actually Hell. Kyoto as capital was a refuge without resources, and a carpet of corpses was a regularity.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 7:33 PM
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Hufton is definitely including Italian & northern Med data, & they are not richer than the north. (Interesting patterns from Roman law south of the Loire.) Having offspring is the resource decision - if there isn't enough land to support them, you would starve in your parent's house or on a subdivided farm. Big social difference, of course, eg working daughters-in-law to death in traditional Chinese novels.

Braudel mentions that Chinese marriages seem to have been early & fertile before the global demographic boom (18th c) but he doesn't hypothesize what happened to the implied excess children.

The first hundred pages of _Structures of Everyday Life_ is an overview of the demographic balance. Pictures! Graphs! Vignettes!


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 12-10-13 8:15 PM
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Post-famine Ireland switched from an early (for W Europe) marriage age to a late one. One third of adults never married. Those who did were older. Chastity was enforced by a ferocious conservatism and religiousity.

Yes. The high rate of (ferociously enforced) post-Famine celibacy is quite striking. The standard narrative, I believe, is that pre-Famine, the Irish peasantry defied the norms of the Western European marriage pattern (with, therefore, early marriages leading to large households of destined-to-be-landless children, many of whom had to emigrate, one of whom was apparently Moby's great-grandfather). And then the social/demographic catastrophe of the Famine led to the conservatism, and the ferocity. But no doubt some demographic historian out there is unsettling this standard narrative even as I write.


Posted by: Just Plain Jane | Link to this comment | 12-11-13 9:31 PM
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I think it was in Colm Toibin's essay on gay priests that I got the image of the typical Irish relationship of 100 years ago being two people who never got married or had sex until their forties because they had no money and were afraid to commit a sin.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 12-11-13 9:50 PM
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