I'm on the train heading up to NYC for a couple of days, relying here on the dubious mercies of AmTrak's wifi system, which combines slowness and caprice into a kind of perfect technological hell. (For instance, the systems cannot handle video of any kind.) I am reasonably convinced that anything I write that is longer than two sentences will be subject to a "lost connection" notice at the moment that I hit publish.
I wanted to comment on a couple of things that I got around to reading late last night in the Times. First, Ross Douthat revisits Charles Murray and notes once again that "Coming Apart" describes a problem with the state of the white working class in America and literally poses no solution to those perceived problems. Douthat protests, but then pretty much joins in the chorus of hopelessness, boldly striking a claim for improving things around the margins, basically by making the child tax credit more generous and cracking down on illegal immigration. One can imagine the revolutions inspired by this kind of inspiration. To describe it as weak tea is to insult weak tea. (Actually, in fairness, Douthat also advocate reducing rates of incarceration and reducing the payroll tax burden on poorer workers -- he does not bother saying how he would finance Social Security and Medicare if this were to happen.)
Douthat admits that globalization and the weakening of unions are to blame for much of the decline in the economic status of the working class, but he insists that blaming Republicans for this is unfair. Okay, let's blame Republicans and those Democrats who believe that a completely unfettered global marketplace will somehow magically result in a win-win situation for everyone. (Douthat ignores, of course, the undeniable truth that whenever Republicans gain sufficient power, crushing unions quickly leaps to the top of their agenda -- see e.g. the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, PATCO, and, in recent days, the goings-on in Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Arizona, among other.)
Improving the plight of working Americans would not be all that difficult from a policy perspective: 1) decouple health insurance from employment altogether by adopting a single payer system; 2) labor reform that makes unionizing easier for employees; 3) mandating mandatory paid sick, vacation, and maternity/paternity leave for all workers; 4) creating a nationally subsidized network of daycare centers; 5) providing comprehensive, evidence-based sex education for all children; and 6) provide free access to contraceptives as part of national health insurance.
We know that these kinds of changes would work to transform the condition of a huge swath of the working class and the working poor. They would eliminate most of the things that create enormous insecurities in working class life and would give people a far more hospitable environment in which to start and raise families. Yes, such a society would require higher tax rates on almost eveybody and much higher rates than are presently imposed on investment-derived income. But the payoff would be so tangible to people that once in place I am pretty sure these benefits would become unassailable.
Yes, the social-democratic dream is, for the moment, unobtainable. But we must persist in trying to accomplish it, even if in a piecemeal and not thoroughly satisfying way, because it is the only real path to making people's lives better. The cut taxes and pray approach advocated by Douthat is simply inadequate to the challenge of protecting people from the ravages of global capitalism unleashed.