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.

Advertisements

24 thoughts on “Hedonic substitution and the myth of poor conservatives being middle class

  1. You’re right that the HIS graduate homeschool mom is more historical than current. Doing a quick mental scan of 20 homeschool mom acquaintances off the top of my head and every. single. one. has a college degree.

    Like

  2. Of course, the problem with attempting to be respectably poor these days is that you wind up having to live and associate with lots of people who are not at all respectable.

    Like

    • Well, cohousing is one way to sidestep that without racking and stacking everyone. It works pretty well for the almost entirely liberal folks who do it, including families. It’s at least a way to go that doesn’t mean having to live in crimeland.

      Like

      • I actually do know about a large local enclave of respectable poverty.

        There’s a large grad student housing complex in our area. The last I heard, the rent for the ratty and dollhouse-sized 2-bedroom units was $500 a month. However, it’s safe and socially homogeneous (because it’s just grad students and grad families). There are lots of young families, they seem to get on pretty well, and it’s not the worst place I know of to have little kids.

        That said, people do grow out of those wonderfully affordable units. We have some friends who had a school-age boy and girl, and at some point the kids just got too big to share a room, so the family had to move out.

        There wasn’t anything like that when my husband and I were in grad school, though.

        Like

  3. ” 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.”

    What am I missing? So instead of these people calling themselves or being told they are part of the middle class but instead call themselves or are referred to as respectably poor/working class, then what? Wouldn’t they still have to rely on the cheap substitutions to get by? If they believe public school isn’t an option and can’t afford private school, they would still believe it’s better to homeschool. Do you mean they should be made to understand that it is inferior to private school instead of being fed the line that they can do just as good a job? If meat isn’t really in the budget all that often, they should be made to understand that beans and peanut butter are inferior instead of it being touted as an acceptable alternative?

    If this illusion of being middle class is broken, what changes would make their lives better? I don’t disagree with you that some things are espoused as “just as good” as their more expensive versions, but I’m just wondering what the benefit is in telling them they’re poor or not really middle class. They still have to make do with the inferior version. Is it that if they accept that they are working poor instead of middle class they would be more open to charity or the true middle class would be more willing to help out? Instead of “encouraging them to engage in elaborate substitutions that don’t get the same results,” then what should they be encouraged to do?

    Like

    • Homeschooling for a lot of lower-income families would be more effective and useful to them if they didn’t kill themselves trying to turn into an inferior form of private school, which is a real issue.

      Or if more families wouldn’t try to live in the exurbs on one car, which is genuinely stressful, there’d be more critical masses of local families to live nearby somewhere closer in and cheap and keep an eye out for each other and each others’ kids.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I like these ideas. How to implement them is another matter. For the idea of more lower income families living closer together, isn’t that what section 8 housing is all about? The problem has always been the mingling of decent lower income people with those who are there due to various addictions, mental disorders or just low morals in general. It seems in times past when the mentally ill or addicted were institutionalized, it gave more space for the working poor to live in proximity and help each other. Of course, institutionalizing some “for their own good” often meant they weren’t treated with dignity and often with cruelty. None of these solutions are easy. It seems one solution brings with it a whole host of other problems.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Unfortunately, Section 8 housing isn’t a good solution. It tends to create “mini-ghettos” where people don’t really forge communities as much as it creates a stigma to deny people housing based on the benefit. And yes, landlords always find a way to avoid Section 8 because they associate the people who need that as derelicts who don’t respect property, pay their bills on time, or are safe for families.

          From what I can tell, people in every class seem hesitant to participate in community these days for various reasons. Each class has its own set of problems, but most of the problems seem to be hitting the poorer and middle classes the most. Few people are interested in keeping an eye out for each other, and even fewer are willing to do it for other people’s kids.

          Like

          • Maea said:

            ” Few people are interested in keeping an eye out for each other, and even fewer are willing to do it for other people’s kids.”

            Y’all may really hate this idea, but I think that’s a big problem with people who attempt to do “free range parenting” in violation of local social norms.

            In the good old days, as you can tell from older people’s accounts from their growing up, it worked because the adults were nearly all on the same page, and if a kid abused the privilege of being free range, any adult who noticed misbehavior would tell him off and call his mom, and his mom would take her own measures, too, and maybe dad, would, too, when he got home–there’d be a series of unpleasant consequences for the young sinner. Adults stuck together, and they could have confidence that if they reprimanded a child who was engaged in bad behavior, there would probably not be blowback from the parents.

            It’s madness to attempt to do the free range thing without that kind of community support and in violation of local community standards.

            https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/free-range-parents-cleared-in-second-neglect-case-after-children-walked-alone/2015/06/22/82283c24-188c-11e5-bd7f-4611a60dd8e5_story.html?utm_term=.6161506386c4

            Lord knows that there are neighborhoods where tween kids walking home from school is the community standard (I drive past one pretty frequently), but that is most commonly found in poorer neighborhoods.

            (I grew up pretty free range on the family homestead from about 9 on, but we had hundreds of acres at our disposal without stepping off family property.)

            Like

            • I doubt a lot of people are supportive of free range parenting, but you have the problem of people who decide that “keeping an eye out for other people’s kids” means reporting the parents to CPS. There’s evidence to show people tend to do more harm than good in these cases. This is for the slightest indiscretions, or normal things like allowing your kid to go to the park by themselves. That’s why a lot of people have to helicopter parent.

              Liked by 1 person

              • “I doubt a lot of people are supportive of free range parenting, but you have the problem of people who decide that “keeping an eye out for other people’s kids” means reporting the parents to CPS.”

                I actually sympathize with the reporters, because how are they to know that the kids are authorized and are also a) supplied with a cell phone b) competent at crossing streets and c) that there’s a competent adult available to them if they use that cell phone that they might or might not have?

                If bystanders don’t know the family and if it’s a major violation of local norms, bystanders have no reason to believe that everything is OK.

                Also, the issue of traffic safety is a big deal. Drivers are just not expecting a four-foot tall person to be crossing the street. There are also a lot of careless, stupid, or inexperienced people driving. My oldest got hit by a truck in a crosswalk a couple years back when we were walking to school–it was a teenage driver hurrying to school and he had the sun in his eyes (!). There’s also another intersection nearby that is technically a four way stop, but no matter how many traffic control doodads get added (they’ve currently got two flashing STOP signs), I regularly see yahoos running the stop sign.

                We’re also now dealing with the problem of distracted pedestrians and distracted drivers:

                http://www.npr.org/2017/03/30/522085503/2016-saw-a-record-increase-in-pedestrian-deaths

                http://www.cbsnews.com/news/pedestrian-deaths-on-us-roads-spiking-cellphones-eyed/

                “Pedestrian deaths are climbing faster than motorist fatalities, reaching nearly 6,000 last year – the highest total in more than two decades, according to an analysis of preliminary state data released Thursday.”

                “The report is based on data from all states and the District of Columbia for the first six months of 2016 and extrapolated for the rest of the year. It shows the largest annual increase in both the number and percentage of pedestrian fatalities in the more than 40 years those national records on such deaths have been kept, with the second largest increase occurring in 2015. Pedestrian deaths as a share of total motor vehicle crash deaths increased from 11 percent in 2006 to 15 percent in 2015.”

                I have lived in neighborhoods where the kids scampered and biked throughout the neighborhood, but that was a neighborhood where all the families knew each other, that was the local custom, and the geography was very favorable (it was a loop with little outside traffic). We also have friends who let their kids free range on campus–but that’s a very large area with little need to cross streets, and lots of pedestrians to walk with. There are also poorer neighborhoods in our city where it’s not uncommon for a tween girl to be sent to mind a small toddler in a stroller.

                I personally believe strongly in the value of obeying local norms, unless those norms are objectively sinful. People complain about lack of community, but if the community says “Don’t do X” and individuals do X, those individuals are contributing to the breakdown of community standards, even if X is (objectively) not a big deal.

                Like

                • I think immediately reporting parents to CPS or the cops is wrong. If neighbors or community remembers really cared about the well-being of the children, they should be talking to the parents or asking them what’s up. They should be taking the time to at least understand the circumstances of the family instead of assuming the worst. I have a neighbor who has sometimes left a small child asleep in her apartment to get her other kids from the school bus. There are some people who would not hesitate to call CPS on her, but I took the little bit of time to understand why she does that and know that she’s not a child abuser. I’m sorry your eldest went through that experience, and issue of poor drivers is one where everyone can be at risk. But what you’re talking about with free range and what I’m talking about are two entirely different things.

                  It’s wrong for us to decide that parents are abusive or neglectful when we haven’t seen good evidence with our own eyes, and even then it’s none of our business unless there is explicitly obvious evidence to call for an intervention. Most of the time when these incidents happen, parents are making decisions they thought was best and did it by themselves because there aren’t a lot of other adults around who care. It also doesn’t make sense for us to decide that people are violating community norms when no one takes the time to talk to them about the norms.

                  http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2016/08/22/490847797/why-do-we-judge-parents-for-putting-kids-at-perceived-but-unreal-risk

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • Maea said:

                    “I think immediately reporting parents to CPS or the cops is wrong. If neighbors or community remembers really cared about the well-being of the children, they should be talking to the parents or asking them what’s up. They should be taking the time to at least understand the circumstances of the family instead of assuming the worst.”

                    The problem is–if it’s a totally unknown kid out and about alone, there is no parent to talk to or ask what the situation is.

                    So, there’s only the kid to ask.

                    I think it’s a really bad thing for the parents to do to set up a situation where the kid is going to be repeatedly approached during their outings by strange adults asking where their parents are. Hypothetically, you could ask the kid for a parents’ phone number, call them up and ask them–but do we really want to teach kids to give out phone numbers to complete strangers? Not to mention, I think it’s pretty lousy of the Metivs to let their kids get held twice by the police because of their @#$%^&* hippie free range principles.

                    I’m actually somewhat acquainted with Silver Spring, MD, and it’s got some fairly nice old-style inner ring suburban neighborhoods (at least in parts), but I wouldn’t turn a tween kid loose there–mostly because of concerns about traffic safety.

                    (I have had our 12-year-old run a 10k race by himself, our big kids now spend an occasional hour or two at home by themselves, and Big Girl babysits for us now–so I’m not a total helicopter parent.)

                    “I have a neighbor who has sometimes left a small child asleep in her apartment to get her other kids from the school bus. There are some people who would not hesitate to call CPS on her, but I took the little bit of time to understand why she does that and know that she’s not a child abuser.”

                    I’m not crazy about doing that (because of fire and other safety issues). In the best of all worlds, it wouldn’t be necessary to do that.

                    That’s a bit different from the “free range” stuff, because the free ranging is chosen as a preferable mode of life–not as a compromise with other responsibilities.

                    I feel like there’s a wee bit of privilege here, too, because poor and/or minority kids do often have lax supervision and get into trouble, whereas white middle class hippie kids are supposed to be such special snowflakes that they can roam about the neighborhood and never get into trouble. Back in the day, people worried a lot about “keeping kids off the street” for that kind of reason.

                    “I’m sorry your eldest went through that experience, and issue of poor drivers is one where everyone can be at risk. But what you’re talking about with free range and what I’m talking about are two entirely different things.”

                    Nah, because if a child is injured when out and about by themselves (for example by a hit and run driver or because of a playground accident), the consequences could be very serious.

                    There’s nothing magical about being “free range” to protect kids from being hit by a negligent driver–it just means that there probably won’t be a responsible adult to help them. (We have been to the emergency room SO many times.)

                    “It’s wrong for us to decide that parents are abusive or neglectful when we haven’t seen good evidence with our own eyes, and even then it’s none of our business unless there is explicitly obvious evidence to call for an intervention.”

                    But when something bad does happens, people are going to say, why didn’t somebody do something?

                    For the bystander, it’s quite the bind when you’re not certain that the kids are safe or that there is a responsible adult somewhere in the picture.

                    Again, I think that parents should stick basically to observing at least local parenting norms, and if they find the local parenting norms too strict, go elsewhere. There are always poorer neighborhoods with kids coming and going–although that freedom comes with a price…

                    “Most of the time when these incidents happen, parents are making decisions they thought was best and did it by themselves because there aren’t a lot of other adults around who care. It also doesn’t make sense for us to decide that people are violating community norms when no one takes the time to talk to them about the norms.”

                    I know Silver Spring and the DC metro area and the parenting culture in those parts (Black Hawk level helicopter parenting is the regional middle class norm), and by the second police pickup, the Metivs knew darn well what the local standards were.

                    While some of what you said (not knowing the rules, not knowing other adults) might apply to poorer people and/or immigrants, it doesn’t apply to anybody who uses the term “free range parenting”. Anybody who uses that term knows what the rules are but has decided that they get to break them.

                    Like

                  • No offense AmyP, but I think you are jumping to extreme conclusions based on a handle of extreme situations. If we all made decisions based on the results of extremely poor parenting, like the free range parents, then what’s stopping everyone from limiting their mobility to be bound to wheelchairs and only stay within their front yard? People get hit by negligent drivers for walking to the park, and that includes a lot of adults. Not too far from where I live there is a park where people walk to all the time and a man walking there was hit by a driver. Should the man not have taken a walk because of the perceived danger in crossing the street? Does it make it less serious if it’s an adult getting hit by a car?

                    If children can’t be given some amount of age-appropriate autonomy, then what’s the point of community? If parents are supposed to supervise their kids all the time, what’s the point? And I don’t think free range parenting was suggested at all, either.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • I’m actually only talk about self-described “free range” parents, not just plain old parents.

                      Interestingly, the area around parks seems to be especially dangerous to children in terms of pedestrian deaths:

                      http://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-children-pedestrian-safety-idUSKBN15A1IV

                      “Child pedestrian fatalities are up to twice as likely around parks as they are around schools, according to a study based on 30 years of U.S. crash data. Child pedestrian safety initiatives, such as the Safe Routes to School program, tend to focus on schools, but traffic risks around parks deserve more attention, the study authors write in Injury Prevention.”

                      I see a lot of traffic control precautions around schools during drop-off and pickup times, but I suppose parks don’t lend themselves as well to that kind of focused attention.

                      “Researchers also found that fatalities near parks were 1.04 to 2.23 times more common compared to the vicinity of schools, with Dallas showing the biggest difference.”

                      Dallas is pretty infamously pedestrian-unfriendly, so no surprise there.

                      If being a pedestrian is pretty unsafe in the modern US even for a grown adult obeying the traffic laws (and that does happen to be the case in many areas), then a fortiori, it’s an even worse idea for children (who are much less visible to motorists than adults and have less predictable movements) to be roaming about.

                      “If children can’t be given some amount of age-appropriate autonomy, then what’s the point of community? ”

                      Well, that is the question, what is “age-appropriate autonomy”? I would argue that it varies a lot according to local condition (speed and quantity of traffic, size of streets, number of other pedestrians, local standards about freedom for tweens).

                      It might not be a community that wants tweens out and about, but it might also be safe and clean. That’s something.

                      Again, I have been in and around areas where the Metivs actions would be seen as unremarkable (and I guarantee you that there are cheaper, lower income neighborhoods even in their area where their lifestyle of choice is the norm)–but they chose to live in a neighborhood with stricter parenting standards–no doubt a cleaner, safer, more expensive neighborhood with better schools.

                      We go to CCD in an inner city neighborhood where kids are often on the street on bicycles and on foot well after dark, and there are issues with that, too.

                      Like

                    • Just this past weekend another mother at the park wanted to call the police because a toddler almost wandered out into the parking lot and his 10 year old brother wasn’t doing a good job watching him. There were a dozen other parents sitting around watching the kids play and one of them caught the toddler and redirected him to the sandbox. The toddler’s mother returned 10 minutes later with a pizza and I told her that she had just missed being arrested.

                      This is in a town so safe that when a there were a few cars broken into we all received robo calls from the mayor saying not to worry and that the police were working on it.

                      We are all one nutty person away from having CPS called on us.

                      I understand not violating the social norms of our communities, but unless it the violation is egregious the police and CPS aren’t the answer.

                      Like

                    • We are all one nutty person away from having CPS called on us.

                      Those nutty people tend to destroy lives and families, too.

                      I understand not violating the social norms of our communities, but unless it the violation is egregious the police and CPS aren’t the answer.

                      I agree, it’s not the answer. What other adults should be doing is communicating their concern to the parent and letting them know what could potentially be problematic. It was good of you to let that mom know she was one call away from being arrested, and the idea of that happening is crazy to me. Maybe it’s not always a wise idea to have older children watch younger ones, and it all depends on the child. But parents walk back to their cars at a park a lot, or they go looking for another child and can’t always be seen supervising every kid.

                      Where I live, there are children constantly around on their bikes a the local trails, parks, and lakes. There have been summers where I saw groups of kids hanging out at the shallow shoreline of the lake, or fishing, or doing what kids do during a nice summer. Sometimes these kids are in areas that aren’t always “safe,” like crossing the street or wandering in a parking lot. If CPS is supposed to be called for every indiscretion, then I don’t know what to say.

                      Like

                    • Nonya said:

                      “Just this past weekend another mother at the park wanted to call the police because a toddler almost wandered out into the parking lot and his 10 year old brother wasn’t doing a good job watching him. There were a dozen other parents sitting around watching the kids play and one of them caught the toddler and redirected him to the sandbox. The toddler’s mother returned 10 minutes later with a pizza and I told her that she had just missed being arrested.”

                      It sounds like the mom would have done a lot better to deputize another mom before leaving instead of the 10-year-old brother.

                      Was she really in any danger of being arrested if nothing bad happened to the toddler?

                      Like

  4. AmyP, you need to come visit moi. That isn’t even REMOTELY what the poor (in all senses of the word) parents are doing with their free range kids. Your standards are quite high. Those free range hippy kids might have some danger, but … eh. Nothing to call CPS about.

    What free-rangieness to call CPS about? The kind no one calls “free range”.
    – Last year, there was a 15yo girl who died in a local park. At 2am, I think… apparently she made a habit of sleeping there. According to her mother. And she was a lovely girl, very sweet. According to everyone. Why, why, why is the girl sleeping in the park instead of home?
    – I heard today about a boy who was routinely locked out of his home as late as 9pm. He was 10yo at the time.

    Stuff that makes me tear my hair out but I wouldn’t call CPS about:
    – I see littles (7yo? Very small) walking home alone all the time. At least they finally moved the parole office. That was sketch, the little people walking right past the bus stop on the busy street outside the parole office.
    – Aforementioned littles are also seen on public transport (bus, commuter train). Alone. Commuting to and from school/play. (I would call outside those commute times, aka night). We don’t have school buses here anymore…

    Having grown up as an almost-latch-key kid during the great LKK generation, heck to the yeah, you can get in a lot of trouble without parental supervision. And no, there *weren’t* a bunch of housewives watching over the lot of us. (We were supposed to go home, lock ourselves in, stay there and do homework/watch TV, and that’s what most of us did). But we mostly didn’t die.

    It’s the kids on the mean streets who die.

    Like

    • Hearthie,

      I believe the conjugation for “free range” is irregular and goes something like this:

      “My kids are free range”

      “Those kids are running wild.”

      I’m not sure what the conjugation for “you” is.

      Like

Comments are closed.