Suicide of the West – EconoTalk and the Decay of the Family

Worth A Listen

EconoTalk by Russ Roberts is one of my go-to podcasts. In this interview with Jonah Goldberg, the two cover Goldberg’s new book, Suicide of the West.  Goldberg’s arguments put forth in the book discuss the slide of politics from policy to entertainment, the tribalism that is inherent in human beings and the magic of the American experiment.

Roberts and Goldberg’s discussion of the root cause of our troubles is of particular interest to me. Towards the end of the discussion, both men agree that the decay of the family and weakening of education in America have helped to deliver us to where we are.  They don’t cover the impact of social media on our youth and the fact that Generation Z will visit 5 screens in a day as a contributing factor, but I’ve covered it many times.  I particularly like the parallel between the decline of religion and the rise of mass entertainment.

Here’s an exert from the interview regarding the importance of family on capitalism.

Jonah Goldberg: And, cooperation is much more a hands-on, grass-roots, close live-around[?] thing. We get meaning in our lives from the people around us, the institutions that we’re part of. And capitalism–capitalism can provide opportunities for that. But capitalism itself can’t. There’s nothing in it that, you know, fills the holes in one’s soul. What fills the holes in your soul are family, faith, friends, experience, making a meaningful contribution–this notion of earned success. Those are the things that make you feel like you had a life well lived. Capitalism is great because it provides, or can provide, more opportunities to find that niche in the ecosystem that gives you meaning than other systems can. But the capitalism itself isn’t doing it. It’s these other things. And, as people retreat from those things, they start looking to create political systems that they think will be substitutes for that. And, the problem is that it’s Fool’s Gold. Socialism can’t do that. Communism can’t do that. Capitalism can’t do that. The only things that can fill the hole in your soul are basically in the microcosm, not in the macrocosm.

Russ Roberts: So, the Left’s response, I think, to that, one of the responses they would say, is that: ‘Oh, you are romanticizing capitalism. In fact, it’s a dreary system that grinds down the worker. It grinds down the poor. It enables the wealthy and powerful to lead pleasant lives at the expense of others by exploiting them.’ So, they would argue it’s not upstream of capitalism: Capitalism is the problem. How would you respond to that?

Jonah Goldberg: Ahhh, I mean, a lot of different ways. At least some of the same ways I think you would. One is, is that–

Russ Roberts: As the host, I get to ask the questions. I don’t know the answer to them. It’s a fantastic gig.

Jonah Goldberg: Heh, huh, hmm. Well, first of all, if capitalism–first of all, there’s all sorts of empirical ways to answer it, which is, you know, insofar as if capitalism is inherently exploitative or exploiting of people, why has the amount of leisure time that everybody enjoys continually risen? You know: Why are child labor laws lagging rather than leading indicators about the end of child labor? Why has it, why was it in capitalist countries that we saw everything from the end of slavery to the rise of civil rights, the rise of feminism, and all these kinds of things? Capitalism allows for all of that kind of stuff. It also just simply allows people more options to choose the kind of life that they want to live. The problem is, is that, you still need other–you know, other mediating institutions. To fill the void. And this is where Schumpeter, I think, plays an important role. Capitalism–capitalism is a problem, at least in the sense, in Schumpeter’s telling, that capitalism is relentlessly rational. And it provides no–what he calls, no extra meaning or substance. That has to come from someplace else. And the family plays an enormously important role in that, that gives–family is the first institution of civilization because it’s the one that explains to children their place in the universe. You know, Hannah Arendt has this great line where she says: ‘Every generation, Western civilization is invaded barbarians. We call them “children.”‘ And, that’s true. And, families are the first line of defense against the barbarian invasion. They civilize babies into human beings, and then citizens. And then, schools play that function. And local community organizations play that function. And if they fail, the state can’t fix them. And neither can capitalism. And one of the things that those kids who are not properly socialized–and this goes for rich people, too; I mean, rich people are a bigger part of the problem in my telling than poor people in terms of antipathy to capitalism–they will be filled with a sense of ingratitude about what came before them. And, they will start making arguments, you know, in the McCloskey sense: They will start marshaling words. This is something that Schumpeter got from Nietzsche in the Genealogy of Morals, is this idea that basically the priests will come forward; and the priests had no real power in olden days. But they had words. And they had arguments. And, what they would do, is they would make all those things that were once considered virtuous into vices. And that’s what a lot of the sort of idea-merchants of today do, where they say getting rich is evil. Where they say democracy is a problem. Where they say freedom is a problem. Where they say that the story of America is a problem–that we shouldn’t be proud of America; we should reject it. That’s why you get identity politics the way that we do. And to a large extent, that’s why the Right is surrendering to identity politics, which breaks my heart. And, this is–and the only solution to these problems, or to those arguments, is to come back with better arguments. And not just at the level of college debates, but in your own family. And in your own communities. Explain to people why they should be grateful that they are born in this age. I mean, I have my problems with the Veil of Ignorance, the–

Russ Roberts: That’s John Rawls–

Jonah Goldberg: The Rawls. I have some problems with it. But, as Barack Obama–and again, I find it strange I’m agreeing with Barack Obama a lot on this–but, you know, Barack Obama basically used a Rawlsian argument; said that: If you were going to pick any time in all of human history to be born–you didn’t know if you were going to be black or white, or gay or straight, or male or female, or rich or poor, you would want to be born right now. And you’d probably want to be born in America. And, I think that’s true. We don’t teachpeople that. We don’t teach them to be grateful for the moment they are born in. And we don’t teach them to be grateful for the sacrifices that created this glorious country and this glorious way of life, in the first place. Instead, we have an entire industry dedicated to resenting what we have. And I think that’s the real threat.

I’m compiling a theory on the decline of America and put forth 12 arguments or trends that I believe are eroding the fabric of the American experiment.  Of all these 12 arguments, I believe the root cause of much of our decay is the decline of the family unit.  Below are the 12 arguments;

Healthcare – A Unique American Style Mess

Education In America – What’s Wrong and How To Fix It

Bureaucracy Gone Wild

Banking and Debt – The Big Tsunami Coming

Flight To Cities – Pension Crisis and Election Consequences

Crony Capitalism – The All Too Cozy Business of Government

States Rights – A Great Idea Whose Time Has Passed

Family Unit Decline – As The Family Goes, So Does America

Military – The Expensive Police Force For The World

Demographics Is Destiny – An Advanced Economy Problem

Religion – It’s Decline and Why We Aren’t Better For It

Polarized Parties Are Tearing America Apart


Some of the notes and charts I’m compiling to make my arguments about the root cause of the Decline of The Family Unit are below;

Back in the dreadful ’60s the largest cultural contributor to the Liberalization of America was in the realm of advertising. Madison Ave. was more responsible for our rapid acceptance of things that were considered unacceptable than any other entity. Why? Because they were capitalists, not ideologues. They didn’t care what they were selling as long as it made money and baby boomers had lots to spend. I think the Kochs should start a mega ad agency and sell conservative libertarianism using a subtle but amusing put-down of all things progressive as over-the-hill and hopelessly unglamorous coupled with a serious but unsentimental view of traditional values.

I guess I am one of the very few here…so…here it is… our generation was the first generation to get left by both of our parents. Our fathers worked, our mothers worked. We were raised by the schools and our tvs. Our parents divorced, they dated and married others with kids. Our parents were selfish (honestly, for the most part, from my experience).

Eric Holder called the nation  “cowards” for not holding a national conversation on race. But Holder did not wish a freewheeling discussion about the break-up of the black family, the epidemic of violence and drug use, the cult of the macho male, the baleful role of anti-police rhetoric and rap music — in addition to current racism, a sluggish economy, and the wages of past apartheid.  Instead, the ground rules of racial discussion were again to be anti-Enlightenment to the core. One must not cite the extraordinary disproportionate crime rate of inner-city black males, or the lack of inspired black leadership at the national level. One most certainly does not suggest that other minority groups either do not promote leaders like Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson or do not seem to have a need for national collective spokespeople at all.


TV Time – Mass Media And Decay

Over the past decade the amount of time Americans spend watching television has continued to increase. In 1965, the average American spent about 10 hours per week watching television, an amount that increased to about 15 hours per week in the 1970s and 1980s—an increase from about one and one-half hours per day to slightly more than two hours per day (Robinson & Godbey, 2010). In 2003, the average American spent about two hours and 34 minutes per day watching television; by 2013 this had increased to two hours and 46 minutes. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the typical American spends a majority of her leisure time watching television. Meanwhile, over the past decade the amount of time Americans report “socializing and communicating” has fallen by about 10 percent from 47 minutes per day to about 42 minutes per day (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2004)(Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014). This increase in television viewing was driven entirely by an increase in viewing by the over-35 population; television viewing by the under-35 population is lower and declined slightly over the decade. While they spend less time watching television, younger Americans are spending more time connected to the growing panoply of electronic media (including music, handheld devices, video games, and the Internet). After adjusting for multi-tasking, the number of hours eight to 18 year olds spent with all forms of media increased by a full hour per day from six hours and 19 minutes in 1999 to seven hours and 38 minutes in 2009 (Rideout, Foehr, & Roberts, 2010). Television sets and video have proliferated. More children have television sets of their own, or can watch video on personal, hand-held devices.

Fragmentation of Media Arguably, our shared stock of cultural and current events that reinforce our sense of connection and commonality is smaller. In the 1960s, most Americans got their television news from either Walter Cronkite or Huntley and Brinkley. In the late 1970s, the three major national broadcast networks accounted for about 90 percent of the television viewing of Americans (Webster, 2005). Other data suggest that the market share of the top-selling pop-music album is smaller today, relative to population, than in decades past. The proliferation of personal music players, cloud storage, and Internet radio stations enables more variety in music consumption, with a by-product being less widely “shared” musical memories. In addition, a smaller and smaller share of the American population is reading daily newspapers. Since 1999, newspaper readership has fallen among all age groups. Less than a quarter of 25 to 34-year-olds read daily newspapers, down from more than 40 percent a decade ago. Readership among those 65 and older has declined from more than 70 percent to less than 60 percent (Mitchell & Rosenstiel, 2012). With our separate, personal audioscapes and an increasingly fragmented media world, it may be more difficult today to have shared, collective experiences that provide a common meaning (or narrative) and strengthen our sense of attachment to “place” and each other.

Social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Meetup and other social media enable people to connect more easily and quickly—at least virtually— than was heretofore possible. There is some evidence to suggest that the advent of these social media have reduced the amount of time that people spend watching television (a generally passive, often individual activity)—and young adults do watch less television than older Americans. Some video viewing is social—for example, people share videos on YouTube or Facebook, using commenting features to jointly discuss content. Social media allows us to connect better to people who are far away (since it’s easier to talk to them online) and local (through locational checkin tools, rating features, etc.). At the same time, too, social media facilitate connections among like-minded people, especially those who may be in disparate locations. Social media let us find people or things that reflect our interests; we can see if our Facebook friends like the same bands, restaurants, etc. Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and blogs let us follow and jointly discuss or comment on the accounts of people, businesses, and organizations whose interests align with ours


The Missing Father

Moynihan’s claim that growing up in a fatherless family reduced a child’s chances of educational and economic success was furiously denounced when the report appeared in 1965, with many critics calling Moynihan a racist. For the next two decades few scholars chose to investigate the effects of father absence, lest they too be demonized if their findings supported Moynihan’s argument. Fortunately, America’s best-known black sociologist, William Julius Wilson, broke this taboo in 1987, providing a candid assessment of the black family and its problems in The Truly Disadvantaged. Since then, social scientists have accumulated a lot more evidence on the effects of family structure.

Moynihan’s 1965 argument can be broken down into two parts: a claim that family structure was in the process of shifting dramatically, and a claim that this change was injurious to the life prospects of children. The first claim has copious support. The second claim is harder to demonstrate, because disentangling cause and effect is always tricky, but McLanahan and Jencks point to the recent evidence suggesting that it probably holds true as well.


We find strong evidence that father absence negatively affects children’s social-emotional development, particularly by increasing externalizing behavior. These effects may be more pronounced if father absence occurs during early childhood than during middle childhood, and they may be more pronounced for boys than for girls. There is weaker evidence of an effect of father absence on children’s cognitive ability.

Effects on social-emotional development persist into adolescence, for which we find strong evidence that father absence increases adolescents’ risky behavior, such as smoking or early

Males today are in exactly the same position as males always have been in this and every society, in this and at every point in history: a minority are successful and the majority are not. This is always a big deal because it is the function of the male across biology — in all species — to mutually compete to express genetic quality in order to be selected or (usually) not by females; this serving to deal with the accumulated gene-replication error of the whole reproductive group.


Over 72% of black children are born to single mothers compared to 29% of non-hispanic whites and 17% of Asian/Pacific Islanders.  Outcomes for the children of single mothers are not good – they are more likely to live in poverty, have social/emotional problems, be less educated, etc.  If this single issue was addressed by community leaders rather than the red herrings like the “epidemic” of black males being killed by police, they would be much better served. But it’s much easier to blame someone else for your problems rather than looking in the mirror and changing yourself.




Here’s your Pill – Now Go Play Video Games

We may never know quite what drives some people to kill. But it seems that in young Dylann Storm Roof, we have further evidence of a trend that should worry us all. I’m talking about his dependence on prescription drugs: suboxone, to be precise.

Roof is just the latest in a long line of young men who have committed appalling crimes after a lifetime on psychotropic drugs. If you don’t believe me, consider some of the most notorious young male shooters in American history.

Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza? Lexapro and Celexa. Red-headed Aurora killer James Holmes? Clonazepam and sertraline. Virginia Tech mass murderer Seung-Hui Cho?Prozac. Charles Whitman, the “Texas Tower Sniper”? Dexedrine. Columbine executioners Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold? Zoloft and Luvox.

You get the idea. These young men were all on prescribed medication. Feminism helped to get them there. In particular, female teachers who either dislike men or are completely ignorant of healthy behaviour norms for boys are creating a generation of emotionally stunted, drugged up young men.

Millions of young American men are prescribed powerful drugs after being diagnosed with the phantom condition “ADHD,” better known as a mixture of natural boisterousness and poor parental discipline. The mere fact of being male has become pathologised.

When they get into their teens and early twenties, they graduate onto drugs like Zoloft and Prozac, drugs that can produce a powerfully dissociative effect in the mind, muddying the distinctions between reality and fantasy. All this, because boys are now treated as though they are defective girls.

I once clumsily wrote that video games helped to “shape the fantasies” of Isla Vista gunman Elliot Rodgers. I intended not to incriminate video games in his spiral into madness and murder but rather to point out that young men who lose grip on the real world often retreat into imaginary ones, which can then have a stylistic effect, if you like, on their crimes.