Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Baby Gap

I recently read Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas?. The book tells the story of how Kansas went from left-wing populism in the early part of the 20th Century to just plain, right-wing delusional today. Frank's thesis goes beyond the mere observation that the Kansas "Cons" elect Republicans who give lip service to religious issues, but who devastate the Cons economically. As Frank explains, the Cons are blind to corporatism and economic class warfare, but engage in a form of anti-intellectual class warfare.

In part, Frank's book inspired my last post. The books paints a vivid picture of the problem, but doesn't really outline any solutions. It does make clear that reasoning with the Cons in any logical manner is completely futile. It was depressing. I rarely read a book that doesn't lead my mind to obvious solutions.
I'm beginning to get a slightly better understanding of the red state/blue state divide after reading an article at The American Conservative entitled The Baby Gap. The author, Steve Sailer, observes the strong correlation between fertility rates and voting Republican:
Among the 50 states plus Washington, D.C., white total fertility correlates at a remarkably strong 0.86 level with Bush’s percentage of the 2004 vote. (In 2000, the correlation was 0.85.) In the social sciences, a correlation of 0.2 is considered “low,” 0.4 “medium,” and 0.6 “high.”

You could predict 74 percent of the variation in Bush’s shares just from knowing each state’s white fertility rate. When the average fertility goes up by a tenth of a child, Bush’s share normally goes up by 4.5 points.

This is what I would have expected, so there's no surprise here. It seems natural to me that religious people would be more likely to procreate. Stereotypically, city slickers would be more inclined to spend their time attending fine art films than building backyard swing sets.

However, Sailer points to the natural migration of single people to cities, married people to the suburbs, and parents to small town insularity. That is, this article goes beyond the observation of the city-rural voting pattern, and arrives at a partial explanation for the pattern. The political magnetic fields are created by currents of family fertility.

The article is far from perfect. Sailer seems obsessed by racial issues. He compares rates of incarceration among whites in different states not directly, but by comparing their ratios of white to black incarceration. Maybe Sailer thinks that the black crime rate is a universal physical constant.

However, there's a kernel of useful information here. People tend to arrange themselves geographically by stage of life and size of family. For example, I have always thought that inner cities are very difficult places in which to raise young children. Of course, many parents deal with the challenge very well, but it's expensive. There are few open spaces and few facilities dedicated for use by children, so these resources are at a premium. Basically, the higher the population density, the greater the competition for resources, and this raises the cost of insulating one's children from unwanted influences.

Out in rural areas, property is less expensive, and families can be raised in relative isolation. Though jobs are frequently scarce in rural areas, a low income by city standards goes a long way.

All of this leads us to a deeper understanding policy differences between red and blue states. Gun control laws in the city are a naturally strict. It's hard enough living on top of one another when we're not armed with deadly weapons. Meanwhile, out in the boondocks, firearms seem perfectly natural. Hey, you can even discharge them!

Out in the exurbs, your kids may be insulated from street corner crack dealers, but dangerous TV signals leak into your living room. The quest for isolation leads "family oriented" folk to demand the rolling of Hollywood heads. Yet, the sophisticated adult behavior depicted on TV seems as natural on Fifth Avenue as rifle marksmanship does in rural Utah.

Making these distinctions in a campaign seems to me to be a powerful idea. In essence, the message is "Live and Let Live" - legislative attention appropriate to each human ecosystem. Such a platform is not sufficient to win elections, but it may be necessary.

Whether or not reds and blues are willing to live and let live remains an open question. Can city slickers tolerate liberal gun ownership laws for rural types, and can Kansas Cons tolerate aggressive sex education in inner cities? Can liberals live with abortion restrictions for small towns? Can the fundamentalist Christians sleep at night if there's abortion on demand in the cities?

George Lakoff's framing is requirement of a modern political campaign, but reaching consensus on the issues can only help.


Nevin ":-)" said...

>Can city slickers tolerate liberal gun ownership laws for rural types,
> and can Kansas Cons tolerate aggressive sex education in inner cities?

It ultimately depends on whether these kinds of things remain state issues or if they become federal issues.

Sadly, the trend has been towards the latter...

Doctor Logic said...

Legislating social issues at the state level looks like a good idea at first. However, I think that the city/county level probably makes more sense. If the City of Chicago imposes stricter gun laws (which they have), I doubt that residents of, say, Dixon will be too upset.

Now that I think about it, even county jurisdiction might be too broad. Lake County includes conservative Barrington and urban Waukegan. Can one enact a county-wide parental notification law with an exception for Waukegan?

The side-effect of local legislation is that America becomes a patchwork of jurisdictions in which ignorance of the law starts to look like a reasonable excuse. I don't know - maybe this happens anyway.


Nevin ":-)" said...

Baby steps first.

If the feds aren't willing to give up the power, the states will never have the power to give it to more local jurisdictions.

Reading Amendment 10 from the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the United States: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people."

Yet, in practice, it doesn't work that way.

(Regardless of how you feel about the issue,) Look at the Marijuana Tax act of 1937. The Feds didn't outlaw it per se, they just said that it would be taxed, and then refused sell tax stamps for it. Just a lawyer trick to eliminate state rights.

Or look at any highway appropriations bill. It is essentially legal blackmail, holding back money (that the states paid for in the form of tax dollars) if they don't agree to whatever terms and conditions the feds want to impose.

Power corrupts, and once someone gets it they won't easily part with it. Absolute power corrupts absolutely...