Blessed are the poor . . .

More

Matt Frost on the pernicious notion that the coming economic hardship will somehow be good for the national soul:

The article goes on; according to Kotkin, our anomic communities will also be knit back together by high energy and food prices. A good pandemic flu, presumably, is all we need to complete the rebirth of American localities.

Hoping that austerity will force us into solving our social problems seems incongruous with what I know of Kotkin and his work, and it's a lousy mistake for anyone to make. A world of fewer jobs and higher prices will mean longer commutes, a frayed social contract, and tired grandparents. If we arrange our families and our living spaces poorly when affluence gives us choices, we are unlikely to suddenly flourish when those decisions are forced upon us. Hard times won't compel Americans into becoming their better selves, and if we are heading into some bleak days, it's best that we all understand that in advance.

It would be nice if Joel Kotkin had offered some evidence that previous spells of economic hardship had knit families into one big huggy bear collective.  Though I'm certainly no scholar of the Great Depression, as far as I know the economic hard times often devastated family life.  People put off marrying because they could not afford to support their own household, much less children.  The children they did have were often left with relatives as they were forced to move in search of work.

Moreover, the sociological evidence is quite clear that poverty is bad for families.  Poor people have higher rates of marital breakup, and much higher rates of child abuse.  Part of this is selection--people with violent tempers and impulse control problems are more likely than average to become poor.  But even people without such temperamental handicaps find it harder to sustain a good family life.  Economic hardship is, to state the obvious, very stressful.  Stressed people have less patience for difficult children or spouses depressed by their inability to find work.


Jump to comments
Presented by

Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to a Seaside Town in Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Where the Wild Things Go

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Adults Need Playtime Too

When was the last time you played your favorite childhood game?

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Business

Just In