“Men Without Work” by Nicholas Eberstadt: men not in labor force become spectators and moochers

Nicholas Eberstadt (“A Nation of Takers”) presented his little book “Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis” at a Cato Institute forum on January 10, 2017 (writeup ) .  I can gest and suggest the phrase “men without chests” from a National Review article by David Skinner in June 1999.    The book is part of a “New Threats to Freedom” series initiated in 2010 by Templeton Press.

Seriously, the book documents the gradual drop on LFPR (Labor Force Participation Rate) and “Not in Labor Force” (NILF) rate among working age men 25-54 and sometimes up to age 64, over various time periods since WWII, especially since 2000.  “Not in Labor Force” refers to men not only not with paid employment but also not looking for work.   The charts are based on information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, often from special Census surveys run all the time (I have actually worked for Census on these surveys).

NILF has increased steadily in the past two decades, and not changed particularly changed (in derivative “rate of change”) during sharp recessions.  Some of the factors that reduce labor force participation include education level high school or lower,  criminal backgrounds, non-white, non-immigrant, single, and childless.

Men with families to support do have higher labor force participation, which seems logical.  Immigrant men tend to be more desperate to work even when illegal to do so, and to want to send money home, and to move around to get work.  As men become better educated, marital status and having children becomes less important.  Women with kids will normally do their best to work if single because they have to.

The book notes that many NILF men indeed seem to live as mooches, spending their time as “watchers” on social media, as if that were their job.  (That confounds the “No spectators” rule of the movie “Rebirth”!)  The author notes that the men don’t even help take care of children (too “emasculating” biologically, as we now know) or elderly relatives.  But “observing” is still a form of “economic inactivity”.

The causes of this development are many. Obviously, men with criminal records are hard to employ given the punitive culture of US justice.  Globalization and automation have removed jobs for intellectually less talented men.  Our culture has become more individualistic and less social, a development that men (and women) with good cognitive (and/or good people) skills benefit from (sometimes with spectacular results), but which demoralizes men who “don’t get it” and need a more consistent family and communal tribal culture.

The book contains criticisms (“Dissenting Points of View”, that is, opposing viewpoints)  by  Henry Olsen and Jared Bernstein.  The criticisms note Donald Trump’s campaign based on the loss of many manufacturing jobs for men to offshoring. Olsen mentions military conscription as raising employment for men from 1948 to 1972, but, in a rebuttal, the author notes that many men were rejected by the draft and these men tended to be harder to employ.

My last high-paying job was eliminated at the end of 2001, when I was 58, and I held interim jobs (list) until 2011, but for various times I lived on savings, investments, and inheritance.  I have not added to economic activity (which would help others find work) as much as maybe I should be expected to.  There was a culture in earlier times that people could retire at 55, which is way too early given today’s population demographics.  Corporate pension social security offsets were set up to assume retirement at 62, which is unhealthful.

One problem was that the jobs being pushed at me mostly involved superficially conceived commissioned sales gigs and hucksterism.  I could have, for example, sold sub-prime mortgages.   We need to create jobs that add real wealth, not just build ponzi-like pyramids.

Author: Nicholas Eberstadt
Title, Subtitle: Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis
publication date 2016
ISBN 978-1-59947-469-4
Publication: Templeton Press, Philadelphia; 206 pages, many charts, endnotes
Link: AEI author

(Posted: Thursday, January 19, 2017 at 11:30 PM EST)

“The Divide”: how wealth inequality feeds on itself (based on “The Spirit Level”)

The Divide” (2015), directed by Katharine Round, is a documentary based on the 2011 Bloomsburg book “The Spirit Level” by Richard Wikinson and Kate Pickett.

The film traces seven individuals, with scenes in quick succession, tracing their lives as they live out their station in life created by a system of wealth inequality that naturally feeds on itself. (Now the top 0.1% controls as much wealth as the “bottom” 90%.)  The people are in the United States and the UK (both England and Scotland).

One man, reared in the Virginia Blue Ridge, had a promising future but wound up in prison for decades in California after Bill Clinton (the “Repubicrat”) pushed the three strikes laws.  One woman had been in a coma for heart failure.  Another woman described being driven out of her small business by Wal-Mart, then working for them, finding them a good employer at first but then gradually more ruthless with cost cutting.

But a prosperous couple in Sacramento, CA wonders about the values of living in a gate community, where people tend to grow more isolated – and how this gives their small children an overly sheltered view of the world.

Another public relations agent on Madson Avenue talks about the grind of work, and about “dressing for success” ((John T. Molloy’s classic book).

Noam Chomsky often leads the commentary, about runaway extreme capitalism that took hold during the era of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher (with the weakening of unions).  The same value system feeds “The Cheating Culture” (2004, David Callahan), leading to the mirages of derivatives and finally the financial crash of 2008.  Most Americans had been duped into gambling their entire lives on their homes.   As Ross Perot said in 1992, “Trickle down didn’t trickle.”

Name: “The Divide”
Director, writer:  Katharine Round
Released:  2015
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix instant; 2017/1/7
Length:  79
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Dartmouth
Link:  official

(Posted: Sunday, January 8, 2017 at 12:15 AM EST)

“Blood on the Mountain”: coal mining, especially in West Virginia, did not make America “great” and gives us all bad karma

Name:  “Blood on the Mountain
Director, writer:  Mari-Lynn C. Evans, Jordan Freeman
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed: Landmark West End, DC, 2016/12/21
Length:  90
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Aborama, Virgil
Link:  official

On July 31, 1971, I was nearly arrested (it would have been the only time in my life) for trespassing on a strip-mine along W Va 93 between Mt. Storm and Davis.  Strip mining, and the idea of mountaintop removal, had already been growing by 1970.  Later, in May 1991, I would take the underground mine tour at Beckley W Va.

The film “Blood on the Mountain” (2016), directed by Mari-Lynn C. Evans and Jordan Freeman, provides a good 90-minute history of the coal industry in the United States, particularly West Virginia, since the late 19th Century.  In the early days (until the New Deal) coal companies built company towns in the mountain hollows and miners essentially worked as serfs in what practically amounted to feudalism. Early castastrophes included the Hawks Nest Tunnel Disaster  with many workers succumbing to silicosis.

Once miners were partly unionized, the usual labor struggles ensued, but mine disasters repeated. One of the very worst was the Buffalo Creak flood in 1972, when a cofferdam failed.

In time, underground mining jobs started to dwindle as strip-mining (with those “Big Muskie” draglines) increased.  The film shows the mountaintop removal at Kayford and Blair (where a child labor controversy had occurred in 1921 ).

Most of the families in this part of the country supported Trump, but it’s hard to believe that, even in the best days (maybe the 1960s), America was “great” in coal country.  The film covers scandal after scandal with government and company officials.  One of the most recent was the Elk River spill near Charleston, W Va in early 2014.

I drove through this countryside twice this year, after the massive floods in June.  Most of the people there seemed quite self-reliant, able to rebuilt their own homes with their own hands and tools, and really didn’t want a lot of outside help or visitors.

The film has some morality tests, like the idea that elites or progressives like trees, streams and mountains more than they like people, and that many coal miners feel that they have been made “extinct”.  There is also a claim that globalism means taking resources from one area and giving them to another and letting the original area be left for dead.  That reminds me of the whole strip mining reclamation issue (latest news).  There’s one shot, apparently from Kayford, of a blackened ridge that looks extraterrestrial (like in one of my dreams).

Add to all of this, is a scandal with pharmaceutical companies pushing opioid pills in West Virginia, most of all the town of Kermit, CNN video.  Make West Virginia great again, indeed.

Maybe Luke Andraka (Jack’s older brother) can help make Appalachia great again, with the science fair project he won at age 15, regarding acid drainage from mines, described here in the Baltimore Sun.  Look at his underground coal mine picture on Facebook, Oct. 19, 2015, here.

(Posted: Wednesday, December 21, 2016 at 8:15 PM EST)

“When and Why Nationalism Beats Globalism” by Jonathan Haidt, NYU


The scholarly conservative periodical “American Interest” has published a book-length article by NYU social psychology professor Jonathan Haidt, “When and Why Nationalism Beats Globalism”, in four chapters, which deserves a book review.  It’s dated July 10 and comes as the one free article per month in a stiff subscription paywall.  So I went out to a Barnes and Noble store and bought a hard copy for Jlu-August 2016, and did not find the printed article there!  But there were a couple other articles that supplement it, which I will get to.

The four chapters are “The Rise of the Globalists”, “Globalists and Nationalists Grow Further Apart on Immigration”, “Muslim Immigration Triggers the Authoritarian Alarm”, and “What Now?”

Haidt makes the valuable point, in Chapter 1, that as living standards rise  and a sense of “existential” personal security grows enough with ”democratic capitalism” familiar in the west, people tend to place a high moral value on personal expression (even “emancipation”) and on outreach to a whole world, and a sense of equality relative to a whole world, at least as a goal. Old fashioned values regarding religious tradition, and reverence for bloodline and patriotism, tend to be pushed behind, even shunned. However, as living standards for many people rise, patterns of greater efficiency tend to hollow out the jobs of many, and there is a tendency for some parts of lower and middle classes to become poorer.  All of this has been particularly true after the growth of the Internet.

Immigrants sometimes take the manual labor jobs that at first many people don’t want, but in time higher paying jobs may be outsourced overseas or be taken by more talented immigrants.  In time, some groups find that their way of life is threatened, and in some cases their sense of “meaning” is trampled by secularism or permissiveness.  In time, some immigrant groups do not assimilate well in some countries and create conflict, even threats. That is most obvious today with some Muslim communities, especially in Europe.

Haidt disputes the idea that a turn to nationalism and patriotism is necessarily “racist”. He does explain the idea the appeal of strong authoritarian figures as a desire by people to protect their own “group”.  But in some groups, the stricture on behavior or values of individual members of the group can be troubling, even extreme.  In some groups, homosexuals are outcast because in part they represent a possible threat to the group’s ability to maintain strength through procreation and extended family social cohesion.

I learned about this piece from an op-ed in the New York Times by David Brooks, “We Take Care of Our Own”.  I think there is a context that can get quite personal.  If you want individuals to be effective in reaching out to others (whether our own poor or in missions and projects overseas), they have to learn the social cohesion of “taking care of their own” in the family first.  To an extent, it is helpful (maybe even essential) that the “less developed” world (and poor in our own countries) see this process take place, so that others feel that there is some personal hope and some point in behaving peacefully. That may indeed provide a logical backdrop for “family values” the way social conservatives usually argue for them, even though most social conservatives (such as those writing the GOP’s platform this week) seem lost in naïve religious platitudes.

I experience competing tugs in my own journalism and activities.  Groups want me to be “loyal” to them (as if they picked up that wearing a group victimization sign or shouting in a demonstration were “beneath me”), and it’s logically impossible to be simultaneously loyal to more than one.

The “American Interest” issue did contain at least two other essays that seem pertinent. One is “Globalization and Political Instability”, by David W. Brady (p. 33), which seems higher level than Haidt’s piece and less potentially “personal” but makes similar points.  A more disturbing piece is “Pragmatic Engagement” (p. 22), by Stephen D. Krasner and Amy B. Zegart. This essay discusses China and Russia, sandwiching all that around a section called “Unconventional Threats” including cyberterror and possible attacks on the power grids, all as low probability but catastrophic impact events. The authors use the term “Black Swan” for such an event, borrowed from Sarron Aronofsky’s film for Fox of that name based on performing Tchaikovsky’s ballet “Swan Lake”.  But this discussion amplifies the idea that the US should make more of its infrastructure hardware at home (a point that Donald Trump could make constructively without race or religion baiting).  It also potentially can feed right-wing ideas about “doomsday prepperism” or survivalism (another prod toward “take care of your own first) and self-defense and gun ownership.

Along these lines, Newsweek has an issue, dated July 1, 2016, with a yellow scare-cover, “Can ISIS Take Down Washington?” with an article by Jeff Stein on p. 26, “You Can’t Stop ’em All” with reference to an April Washington Post piece on soft targets in bars and restaurants. .

Haidt refers to several other important articles, including a Politco piece on Donald Trump and authoritarianism, another Politico piece on the “future of American politics”, and a Bloomberg piece warning about the losers of globalization.

(Published: Sunday, May 17, 2016 at 5:15 PM EDT)