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It's the Culture, Stupid


Last month, law professors Amy Wax of U. Penn. and Larry Alexander of U. San Diego published this op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer.  Their thesis was that the breakdown of "the basic cultural precepts that reigned from the late 1940s to the mid-1960s" was "implicated" in a host of modern maladies, including crime:

Too few Americans are qualified for the jobs available. Male working-age labor-force participation is at Depression-era lows. Opioid abuse is widespread. Homicidal violence plagues inner cities. Almost half of all children are born out of wedlock, and even more are raised by single mothers. Many college students lack basic skills, and high school students rank below those from two dozen other countries.
*      *      *
That [late 40s - mid 60s] culture laid out the script we all were supposed to follow: Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.

This would seem to be self-evident and ought not be controversial.  But Wax and Alexander work in the Bizarro World of contemporary academia.
The full article is well worth reading.  I do wish, incidentally, that they hadn't used the term "bourgeois culture" to describe what they are writing about.  In my college days that term was a favorite of shallow, pseudo-sophisticated lefties who used it to sneer at the people they mistakenly believed to be less enlightened than themselves.  It's like fingernails on a blackboard to me.  Today it's pretty much obsolete.  I can't remember the last time I saw it before I read this article.

Getting back to the main point, one of the problems with Political Correctness is that when politics dictates what one must believe about the causes and cures of our maladies, investigation into the real causes and real cures is inhibited.  Dogma makes it absolutely mandatory that all problems of any group regarded as "oppressed" must be assigned to an evil, external, oppressive force, and any suggestion that any cause may be internal is absolutely prohibited.

If anyone doubts the truth of the above statement, they need only look at the reaction to the Wax and Alexander article.  Heather MacDonald has the sordid story in this op-ed in the WSJ.

The op-ed triggered an immediate uproar at the University of Pennsylvania, where one of its authors, Amy Wax, teaches. The dean of the Penn law school, Ted Ruger, published an op-ed in the student newspaper noting the "contemporaneous occurrence" of the op-ed and a white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., and suggesting that Ms. Wax's views were "divisive, even noxious." Half of Ms. Wax's law-faculty colleagues signed an open letter denouncing her piece and calling on students to report any "bias or stereotype" they encounter "at Penn Law " (e.g., in Ms. Wax's classroom). Student and alumni petitions poured forth accusing Ms. Wax of white supremacy, misogyny and homophobia and demanding that she be banned from teaching first-year law classes.
Simply suggesting that people would be better off if they behaved in ways that everyone with sense knows is right is "divisive, even noxious"?  Wax and Alexander are correct, even if they tell people things they don't want to hear.

Barry Latzer's excellent book The Rise and Fall of Violent Crime in America is a serious, non-PC study of crime rates across time and across American subcultures.  The message comes through loud and clear.  Culture trumps everything. 

Government policies, including policing and sentencing, have effects at the margins, but the main reason for variations in crime rates is culture.  That is why cross-jurisdictional policy comparisons are so often fallacious.  "State X has Policy A and a lower crime rate than State Y, which has policy B.  Therefore, if State Y changed its policy from B to A its crime rate would fall."  Baloney.  If B is the tougher policy, it may be that State Y's more crime-prone culture made it necessary and switching to A would make things worse.

Back in 2008, we did a study of international comparative rates of robbery.  In the mid-1990s, the United States had a much higher rate of robbery than the major countries of Europe.  As we got tougher and they got softer, though, our robbery rate dropped and the rates of France, England, and Italy rose.  Not Germany, though.  The Germans had such a strongly law-abiding culture that their robbery rate remained steady without the threat of strong punishment.

If discussion of cultural effects on crime rates ist verboten then we cannot accurately diagnose the problem or prescribe cures.  The people of the most crime-ridden areas are the ones who will suffer the most as a result.


The title of this post comes from the infamous slogan of Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign:  "It's the economy, stupid."  I have hesitated to mimic it because I am reluctant to call anyone stupid.  The dean of Penn Law is surely not stupid in the common sense of the word.  I use it now in the sense of the old saying "there are none so blind as those who will not see."  There are none so stupid as those who will not allow themselves to reach a conclusion their intellect must surely tell them is correct.

This is why we must get more diversity of viewpoint on America's college faculties.  Academia's conclusions about the causes and cures of our maladies are worthless if they are driven by politics and if consideration of non-PC alternatives is hazardous to one's career.

And, yes, it really is the culture, stupid.


“Moreover, we shall find it no easy task to mold a natural ethic strong enough to maintain moral restraint and social order without the support of supernatural consolations, hopes and fears..” “There is no significant example of history,
before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without
the aid of religion

 --Will Durant, Humanist, 2/77, p.26;
Will & Ariel Durant,The Lessons of History, 1968, p.51

Joanie Mitchell: "Mine is the most selfish generation, you know, in history."

“But most of the hippie values were silly to me, you know, and 'free love':
come on, you know it was for guys... there's no such thing."

"In the 'summer of love', they made me into this love bandit, right, you know,
in the 'summer of love'.

So much for 'free love', nobody knows more than me what a ruse that was...
that was a thing for guys. It was a ruse for -- you know -- for guys, you
know, ... [sex] ... It [was] hard to get ----- before that, right? "


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