Hedonic substitution and the myth of poor conservatives being middle class

Hedonic substitution in economics is buying ground beef instead of steak, or the Pinto instead of the Lambourghini.  People also engage in hedonic substitution.  It’s a hallmark of the conservative worldview.

Living in low quality housing, with one car in a car-centric society, eating a meatless or low protein diet, and yet all the while asserting that you’re middle class.  Homeschooling is often another hedonic substitution.  One hour once a week “co-op” is suddenly equivalent to 15k/kid/year private classical school and will definitely give you the same results.

It’s about telling people who have to substitute cheaper versions that they aren’t substituting at all but instead getting something for nothing because they’re just so smart and middle class.  And also not distinguishing between the people who can choose something else and thus aren’t operating on such tight margins.  The oft-cited (and mostly historical rather than current) statistics of children homeschooled by mere high school graduate mothers leave out how many of their fathers were engineers and STEM types.

While the median household income for married couples with under-18 kids is about six figures and has been even adjusted for inflation for decades, it’s still a median and a bunch of married folks with kids will end up on the low half of that median.  And instead of them being respectably poor or working class, they’re instead endlessly encouraged to engage in elaborate substitutes that cannot give the same result or benefit, but which would be superior if they weren’t being used as substitutes for something more expensive in time and/or money.

This approach also lets the higher-earning households avoid awkward social obligations and relationship building that used to be present even in individualist America out of a combination of ingrained habit and necessity.

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Repost: Labor itself should not be a positional good

Pointless labor as a status symbol is fatal to the healthy functioning of a society.  An obsessive fixation with efficiency and automation robs people of the dignity of work.  No, this doesn’t mean we all need to bust sod to be fully human, but we do need to labor and have that labor be connected to our necessaries of life.  Instead, what we have is elites on both the right and the left using labor itself as a positional good, a status symbol to lord over the poor, chronically unemployed and mostly not-white masses.

It’s a ridiculous setup.  It’s derived from the egalitarian Scandinavians, who use pointless labor to obscure wealth gaps.  Don’t look at my mansion, I wash my own car while being a top anesthesiologist!

But their egalitarianism derives from their warband history.  America wasn’t founded by warbands who need a rough sort of egalitarianism to not turn on each other.  And a focus on pointless work that can be dropped at any time just reveals a deep selfishness and fleeing from the responsibilities that used to come with wealth, status and privilege in favor of a false idol of meritocracy where someone “earns” their cushy indoor job publishing policy documents that never get downloaded or read.

It would be better for society if the middle and upper classes went back to hiring a cook  instead of cooking badly as a “locavore foodie”, poorly arranging and preparing one’s expensive, locally sourced organic ingredients and posting the crummily photographed results to the internet afterwards.  But instead we have those same terrible cooks trying to fight for make-work jobs “teaching” poor people to follow their terrible cooking advice and awful recipes.  I use cooking as an example a lot because it’s very time consuming to do correctly for any kind of normal-sized family.  And it’s work one can excel at without “testing well”.  There is a lot of work like that, but it’s being subsumed into “lifestyle” LARPing by the kinds of people who “test well” and have jobs trying to keep women like me from staying home and telling everyone else what to do without the least bit of empirical experience or evidence.

It’s not dignified for people to be denied real work because they aren’t glib SWPLs.  And the glib SWPLs are not dignified when they reduce craft to a caricature of practice and effort while lording their leisure time over the rest of us as “hard work”.

 

 

 

The Persistence of Names

Hrolf, whose name means wolf, believed in fairness. So did his boat crew. That’s why they were stroking their axes and glaring at the crews of Sven the long bearded and Ivar blood-hair. The plunder of the smoking monastery sat in a small pile between the three groups of men, and each seemed convinced that the others meant to cheat them. No one wanted to make the first move though, as that meant losing valuable men and no sane man wants to take to the sea in a half-crewed boat.

At length Hrolf spoke, “Sven will divide the spoil and put in in three bags. Ivar and I will choose a bag. Since Sven does not know which bag we will choose, he will divide it equally.”


Ambitious Goths were often named Theodoric, which means ruler of the people, and Theodoric was no exception. He watched the Roman army file slowly past the trees where his men were concealed with undisguised contempt. “The Romans drown in laws and schemes,” he thought, “their generals are politicians. But out here, we judge men on merit. We prove ourselves in battle and the best men rise.” He blew his horn and his steppe-warriors launched themselves at the unsuspecting Romans.


Centuries have passed. The name Hrolf became Rolf and eventually Rawls, who wrote about using a veil of ignorance to distribute goods fairly. Theodoric became Dietrich and then Thiel, who preaches meritocracy and funds enterprising men who disrupt the established order with the latest technology.

The Norse-Germanic peoples were not civilized before the arrival of Christianity, but knowledge of God’s law allowed us to impersonate civilized men with exceptional results. But now that most Norse-Germanic people are either unbelievers or antinomian, we’re seeing the instincts of the breed come back to the fore. Breeding tells in humans, just as it does in animals.

What are those instincts? A crude egalitarianism and sense of fairness that allowed hundreds of boat crews to form a great heathen army to plunder Wessex. A fondness for making laws combined with a discomfort at the use of the civil power to punish lawbreakers. A contempt for established social order and a willingness to upset it for a handful of coin.

Why is Sweden the rape capital of Europe? Why does England bristle with both security cameras and crime? Why are ancient communities being flooded with foreigners? What do you expect from Barbarians who have rejected the only civilizing force they have ever known.

Gene Stratton-Porter and me, At The Foot of the Rainbow

In the same year (1907), Gene Stratton-Porter published a romance, the one I’ll discuss in a bit, and the first of her “pure” nature books, What I Have Done With Birds.  This was the start of splitting out her nature writing from her romantic novels by publishing them in alternating years.  The fact that she talked publishers into doing this remains a topic of discussion in many biographical essays about her.

But right now, I’ll just save that for another day and get back to At The Foot of the Rainbow.  This is a slightly obscure early book of hers, before her more famous works which primarily featured heroines rather than heroes.

It’s about two lifelong friends and the woman between them, but it’s not quite the usual love triangle.  It is weirdly manospherian, with the husband of the wife being a chronic drunkard who loves to party and not work very hard supporting his wife (who nevertheless continues getting pregnant with his ultimately stillborn children through the years) and the husband’s childhood friend being an orbiter, always helping out and making sure the wife is taken care of.

The husband is straight up Bros before Brunhildes, with a couple major subplots demonstrating his concern about impressing random men rather than tending to his (at one point quite) sick wife.  It’s a short read, it ends mostly happily (childhood friend gets to marry the wife after all, while she’s still young enough to have some live babies with him–this is stated outright as pretty likely), but it was a little weird to run into some of those tropes in a book a hundred plus years old.  I guess more fodder for the ever more demonstrable claim that the manosphere offers nothing new regarding insights into human nature except a hilariously foreshortened jargon to describe old patterns.

But moving away from that aspect of things, the book is notable for some details Porter moved away from as her writing developed and matured.  She writes the two friends (Danny the orbiter and Jimmy the husband) and the wife (Mary) as speaking with very heavy Irish accents.  A good comparison is what Margaret Mitchell did with Prissy’s dialogue in particular in Gone With the Wind.  As ever with Porter, though, the goal was authenticity.  She wanted to represent the speech purely as she could.  She moved away from this in later novels, toning it down.  There was something of a craze for “authentic” regional work in heavy dialect until the 1910s or so.  I remember growing up with the impression that it was only black dialects that this authenticity craze covered, but that isn’t the case.

This short novel, more a novella, is also the only time Gene Stratton-Porter spent a lot of time on male friendship.  Subsequent novels don’t feature two adult men in friendship over the years the same way.  She does write some novels with heroes, but they never have close male friends ever again.

I should perhaps have done this from the beginning with discussing her work, but here is an excerpt of the nature writing in this little tale of male friendship.  It’s early on, when the two are hunting muskrats to skin and sell.

Dannie’s gaze followed Jimmy’s retreating figure until he climbed the bank, and was lost in the woods, and the light in his eyes was the light of love. He glanced at the sky, and hurried down the river. First across to Jimmy’s side to gather his rats and reset his traps, then to his own. But luck seemed to have turned, for all the rest of Dannie’s were full, and all of Jimmy’s were empty. But as he was gone, it was not necessary for Dannie to slip across and fill them, as was his custom when they worked together. He would divide the rats at skinning time, so that Jimmy would have just twice as many as he, because Jimmy had a wife to support. The last trap of the line lay a little below the curve of Horseshoe Bend, and there Dannie twisted the tops of the bags together, climbed the bank, and struck across Rainbow Bottom. He settled his load to his shoulders, and glanced ahead to choose the shortest route. He stopped suddenly with a quick intake of breath.

“God!” he cried reverently. “Hoo beautifu’ are Thy works.”

The ice-covered Wabash circled Rainbow Bottom like a broad white frame, and inside it was a perfect picture wrought in crystal white and snow shadows. The blanket on the earth lay smoothly in even places, rose with knolls, fell with valleys, curved over prostrate logs, heaped in mounds where bushes grew thickly, and piled high in drifts where the wind blew free. In the shelter of the bottom the wind had not stripped the trees of their loads as it had those along the river. The willows, maples, and soft woods bent almost to earth with their shining burden; but the stout, stiffly upstanding trees, the oaks, elms, and cottonwoods defied the elements to bow their proud heads. While the three mighty trunks of the great sycamore in the middle looked white as the snow, and dwarfed its companions as it never had in summer; its wide-spreading branches were sharply cut against the blue background, and they tossed their frosted balls in the face of Heaven. The giant of Rainbow Bottom might be broken, but it never would bend. Every clambering vine, every weed and dried leaf wore a coat of lace-webbed frostwork. The wind swept a mist of tiny crystals through the air, and from the shelter of the deep woods across the river a Cardinal whistled gayly.

 

The Marginal Child in 2014

These are heat maps of where people decide to have the marginal third child that breaks the “family of four” paradigm that is reflected even in consumer goods and packaging because it’s become such a core part of post-Vietnam American culture.

For all races, about 30% of births for 2014 were third kid or higher.

Third births and higher, all races

For whites, it was about 25%

Third births and higher, whites only

A starting point for discussion is that while the coasts with good jobs where both parents can potentially earn 75-100k apiece are punching a little below the national average, they are nevertheless putting up third babies in the double digits in many high-cost counties.

The Practical Conservative – Now With 35% More Oppression

I was sitting there, minding my own business when my wife, your hostess here at The Practical Conservative, said to me, “White Oppressor, we need to help people make more babies on the Internet.”

Amusing misunderstandings ensued, but eventually it became clear that she was talking about advocating pro-natalist policies.  This seems like a noble goal, so here I am.  Multiply and replenish the earth y’all.

Introducing civic natalism

“The early 20th century was the summit of civilization and human accomplishment.”

I think there is a good argument to be made for that statement. However, that is not quite what this post is about.

It’s about the worldview I’ve adopted as I’ve come to appreciate and learn more about that era of human history, a mere century or so ago. I discussed the idea that this blog was a way to work out an alternative to Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option, and now I think I’ve got a grasp on what that alternative is.

Civic natalism.

This post is just an introduction to the phrase as concept.  Civic natalism was what a surprising number of Americans had a century ago, but it was an effect.  We can look at what they had access to that we don’t have now and the goal is to find out how we can have those things in a modern society.  Theirs was atomized and global, too, they were the vanguard of globalism.  Natalism also is about more than just maxing your pregnancy numbers, it’s about making it possible for motherhood to be something fully human, so women don’t want to reject the natural outcome of marital intimacy.

They had the following:

  • Large casual labor pool, particularly of women.  This means that there were maids and nannies and cooks, but it means so much more than that.  It means that you could pay people to do a lot of normal things and lend occasional assistance.
  • No commuting. The commuting was, mostly, the long-distance travel type, which human societies have developed a lot of tools to deal with.  It typically wasn’t the hurry up and wait tension that daily commuting tends to put onto people.  It is very possible to reduce commuting, but a deeper analysis of commuting patterns with an eye towards family improvement and cohesion is needed.
  • Rational autonomy for children. This means society is structured so that children take as much responsibility for themselves as possible, appropriate to their age.
  • Advocacy for feminine leisure.  

Starts are always rocky, so I’ll just conclude with this.  I’ve finally secured enough readable copies of Gene Stratton-Porter’s non-fiction nature books and essays that I will resume a publishing order review of her work in the coming weeks. She was a fascinating example of civic natalism, even though she herself had only one child.  Her entire career as a housewife who wrote bestsellers and spent hours in nature studies that are a direct line to the Joel Salatin and Michael Pollan strain of environmentalism and farming is an Ur-example of what civic natalism can provide when “just” a side effect of wider social norms.  She was also an influential advocate for other women to have better homemaking conditions and society-wide support.

And yes, there will be some commentary about the politics of civic natalism.  They intersect with how the right wing in America used to have a pretty good deal for bright women to be housewives and how they threw it away.  But those same politics also intersect with radical feminist policy ideas about how to support motherhood.  To summarize those future posts, let’s just say Phyllis Schlafly was a radical feminist when it came to motherhood.

Blew my mind, too.