Saturday, February 02, 2013

Shirtsleeves to Shirtsleeves in Six Generations (What Surname Changes Show About Social Mobility)

Gregory Clark, an economic historian at the University of California - Davis, has a nifty paper on the persistence of surnames in England from the 1200s to now.  He was looking for how much specific family names stayed in the same class. 

Clark's conclusion is that family names seem to cycle in and out of the top and middle classes (at least) over about six generations. He concludes from this that there are not really permanent classes in Britain, a famously class-ridden society.

Clark offers some important caveats, and the interesting suggestion that it is only now, in the more meritocratic society that was supposed to end family privilege, that there is actually greater persistence of the same families in the same classes.  He cannot demonstrate that point in this paper, but I hope he follows up.

On the one hand, it is good news for the happy society that the "regression toward the mean" pushes social mobility.  Privilege does not last forever, or even very long.  Nor does subordination.

On the other hand, showing that families move in and out of classes is not at all the same as proving that there are no classes.  On the contrary, he has to use some persistent features of the class structure, such as the amount of estate tax paid, as his measure of which class a family name is in.

Lineages are mobile, up and down, which is good news.  But the class structure endures, which is a basic fact of modern societies.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Is an Arsenal of Guns Like a Closet Full of Shoes?

A new survey of Kentuckians asked whether they had a gun in the household, and if so, whether they had more than one. The results were interesting:

No gun: 35%

One gun: 27%

More than one gun: 38%

That is, about 58% of households with a gun have more than one.

National surveys show that about 3/4ths of households with a gun have more than one.

Indeed, more than half of all the guns in America are owned by only about 1/7th of all households.

For the minority who don't want guns at all outside of a well-regulated militia, the puzzle is why other people want to have any guns. For them, any gun in the house is a far greater source of danger than of protection.

However, these figures make me think that an even more interesting question is why a few people want to have many guns in their house.  For most gun owners, the weapon seems to be a tool, as one might have a dishwasher.

For a few people, though, guns seem to be something else - a status good, a comfort item, perhaps even a fetish.

Some people buy many guns, I think, for the same reason that some women buy many shoes.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Join the "New Conversation on Marriage"

The Institute for American Values has launched a "New Conversation on Marriage."  I strongly endorse this conversation, and was honored to be asked to be among the original signatories.

The conversation has several parts.  The one I am particularly moved by is this: "marriage is rapidly dividing along class lines, splitting the country that it used to unite."

I will share the further fruits of this conversation with you as they develop.

In the meantime, I urge you to check out the call.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Today's Good News for Centrists: A Bipartisan Proposal for Immigration Reform

Eight senators - four Democrats and four Republicans - have announced a framework for a immigration reform.

After four years of a failed alliance with the Tea Party and their policy of "no government," I am delighted to see the Republicans rejoin the government.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Marriage: An Advantage You Can Make for Yourself (and Your Children)

The estimable Isabel Sawhill, in The Brookings Review, argues that class is displacing race as a determiner of life chances in America, and that family structure is a major factor in class.  These are themes I have often argued in this blog.  She writes

I am also struck by the lessons that emerge from looking at how trends in family formation have differed by class as well as by race. If we were once two countries, one black and one white, we are now increasingly becoming two countries, one advantaged and one disadvantaged.

I see here a crucial difference between the two kinds of division.  You can't change your race, and you can't change the family you are from.  But you can mostly determine the family that you make, the family your children will have. 

Marriage is an advantage that you can choose.