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.

Frontier culture was always synthetic and SCALE-dependent

This provided a glue that held the otherwise insane circumstances of frontier life together, but it was a brittle, fragile glue.

McGuffey readers, civic nationalism and the proposition nation are just a few of the synthetic components of this glue.  The original McGuffey readers were meant to educate young children in Scottish Presbyterian Christian faith, but this was rapidly subverted to promote a more generic and secular “civic nationalism” that remains the backbone of the eternal minority party, the Republicans.  Those readers, with their essentially national, limited but accessibly standardized curriculum also presaged the beginnings of credentialism and what progressives eventually snagged and remolded into “meritocracy”.

There’s also the fact that no matter how primitive the living conditions, frontier people were always reliant on what was sometimes very cutting edge and what was also pretty expensive technology to live out there at all.  The money-sink rail system, the agricultural machines, even the coal burnt out on the prairie. This is SCALE, a shorthand for expansionism, complexity, atomization and how they lead to scaled-up human institutions that overscale themselves into anti-human traps.

Traditions formed, such as they were, were consumerist with a gloss of patriotism.

 

The college graduate, well-paid never-married single mother is now a thing.

There has arisen a growing class of never-married mothers who have bachelor’s degrees, make $50,000 per year or more, and who do represent a distinct class among college moms with somewhat different goals and desires than the broader married college moms.

For example, this group of mothers is perfectly fine with lots of socialist-type policies and government expansion, as their well-paid professional-managerial class jobs are overwhelmingly in nonprofit and government work.  That “equity coordinator” for the local Chamber of Commerce is likely to be such a mother.  Or a communications director with a school district.  Or a regional manager for a network of homeless shelters.  Or maybe the director of a small local one that caters specifically to teenage mothers.

The wages for all this sort of thing are almost never “six-figure”, but generally in the 25-35 dollars per hour range.  This is well-paying for two people.  These mothers overwhelmingly have one child out of wedlock and don’t have additional children via later marriage.  The broadly modal tendency is to have the child in their late 30s.

Women in this group absolutely have a massive investment in continuing the degree ratchet where more and more degrees are listed in job requirements for the same pay.  Such women also can’t afford private school and generally have a distaste for homeschooling even in areas where academic secular homeschooling is normalized (which is nearly anywhere slightly urban in much of the country).  So they have a strong tendency to support the general “how much more money for public schools? dunno, MORE MORE MORE” position that is not exactly uncommon on the Democrat-voting side of the political aisle.

Counterintuitively, many of these never-married college moms support massive amounts of gun control because they *don’t* live in dangerous gentrifying urban areas, but tend to live the exurb or semi-rural life.  It’s cheaper and since they tend towards government jobs anyway and are generally only supporting two people, they don’t even have to worry about commuting tradeoffs.  So since they tend to live in low crime small cities and towns, it’s all abstract for them.  It’s a very different context than urban, single, childless professional class women who support such things.

And of course, because these women have one child, they tend to support child-friendly things, but child-friendly frequently isn’t mother-friendly unless it’s a mother of one.  They don’t think of, for example, healthcare access in terms of logistics scheduling and wrangling multiple children (among married parents, if you went from bottom quartile to top quartile, the average number of kids would be something like 1/2/2/3) because relatively few of these college moms have 2 kids (and yes, it is usually twins if they do).  They tend to only see that debate in terms of costs and networks.

Anyway, there are a lot of interesting traits to this new self-supporting class of mothers who never marry and have college degrees.  But a major thing is that these women have a lot more free time to be on social media presenting various ideological concepts as normative for college moms in general when that, in fact, is not the case.

 

You can’t save Western civilization with turtle logic.

Brought to you by what I have observed of classical Christian education over the years.

If you’ve raised kids with a mealy, wishy washy set of views on current events as teenagers, you dun goofed.  But this is very common with the products of classical Christian education.  It’s not essential one pick some specific political party over another, but there are clear ideological boundaries that I find over and over again are, unlike real classical education, handwaved or worse yet not even considered.  

I have yet another cold or flu, as is my fate continually in the land of no vitamin D in winter, so it’s hard for me to cough up the inevitable list of 20 examples the typical anklebiting response to this kind of thing is.  So I’ll stick with the obvious.

The kids aren’t in politics, they never end up in politics, and thus the fundamental underpinning of non-“Christian” classical education– to train up statesmen– is an abject failure.  What we have instead is madrassa education, Christian variation #11.  Teaching kids to recite passages with zero effort to connect their education to shaping and navigating the world they must inevitably go out and live in.  There are no Daniels.  There aren’t even any Esthers or Abigails.  

So we have, at best, a generation or so of kids who have grown up to become classical Christian school teachers.  At worst, they have graduated to become generic evangelical conservatives, but all too often of the mealiest sort that always makes weird excuses for the latest degeneracy and overreach of crazed liberals while nitpicking remorselessly and brutally any non-liberal suggestion that things be slightly less crummy.  

I can’t even think of any classical Christian graduates who have set up shop in classics departments anywhere.  And I personally know some, and have looked up dozens upon dozens who would be in their 20s by now and thus have graduated high school and moved into college in the last few years.  A lot are pretty much the same as “seculars”– living with parents, the Latin half-forgotten or little more than an occasional hobby, and mysteriously lacking in the ability to navigate rhetoric and logic as it’s applied in our wacky will-to-power modern world.  

I speak these words in genuine affection for the attempt to (mostly quite successfully) revive Latin education at all in America.  It’s not back to where it was in the 1960s, but it’s fairly close to the 1970s levels.  There was a real (though partial) recovery there, even if it came at the expense of doing so in public schools.  But ultimately this is like many other retreat patterns of the right.  When the obvious failure to build alternative pipelines is exposed, there’s a reversion to “oh it’s just about individual families wanting a new kind of Christian education for their children, we aren’t trying to do anything structural!”

Only that’s sure not what’s plastered all over the marketing copy classical Christian schools send out.  It’s allll about “saving Western civilization” with no self-awareness that using such a phrase means you have no idea what you’re talking about or what you want to save at all.  There is no boldness, just a brittle bravado.  

Our kids are currently in plain vanilla Christian school learning the basics (reading, writing, math and Bible verses), plus a modern language and we haven’t abandoned the quest to master Latin and Greek, but it’s going to wait until they are 10-12, a common age historically and one that doesn’t keep a bright kid from learning to translate Epicetus and Horace if they wish to at 15.  

 

College for All leads to high wages for none.

It’s a bit of an exaggeration, but only a bit.  What giving about half of all folks under 30 bachelor’s degrees has done is created a situation where many of them want wage compression even though they don’t realize that’s what they are demanding.  But $15-25/hr “minimum wages”  or “living wages” are explicitly requests for a tiered system in which pay is comparatively low overall.

The reason is that when entry-level pay has to be high due to regulations, what you end up with is a system with two unequal tiers.  In the “uneducated” tier, wages are unstable, frequently not paid and employment is also unstable and exploitative.  If you can’t get a degree in the average college graduate Biden-supporter’s desired system, you’re condemned to spotty gig work where you may or may not be paid, depending on how the algorithm feels that day.  And as for recourse, you won’t have any, since there will be technically legal fig leafs for employers analogous to the infamous zero-hour contracts of the EU.

But it’s not so amazing for the educated tier, no matter what they think they’d get.  Because what they’d get is a credential treadmill (we already have signs of this) where you have to gain more and more credentials to get access to jobs that pay more than that “minimum” wage.  And the higher tier wage is just that, a relatively flat wage that would ultimately end up somewhere around twice the “minimum” wage.

Mass college education leads to a preponderance of platformed people with the pretensions of aristocrats– that is to say, wanting the accoutrements of a well-bred life– but without soiling their little soft hands with actual labor for wages.  So they absolutely want a wage scale where PhDs always make more than MAs (and where noncollege people have zero ability to ever make more than any college graduate) and where STEM degrees offer no premium above whiteness studies degrees because all credentials have their premium compressed into a single value.

This is a profound and ongoing failure of non-left political and social folks in America today.  By having no actual alternative to college for smart students, by rejecting so totally any kind of manual labor, this is where we’re already heading.   To a world where only politicians and people who are already multimillionaires/billionaires earn more than 100k or so per year, and where you have to keep going back to school to collect more credentials to retain your ability to interview for and get the high-tier jobs at all.

And where those who can’t do college are barely allowed to work at all because they’ll be swamped by masses of noncollege immigrants for whom unstable daywork in a wealthy third world nation is superior to unstable daywork in a poor third world nation.  We’re also already seeing signs of this.  It doesn’t have to be this way, but it’s going to keep going this way as long as people cling to a social climbing view that their little college degree makes them not still working class, or a hick, or whatever.  You still are, and all the pretensions about organic mac and cheese won’t change it.  Nor will supporting the media and political class eager to bar your very children from access to the upper-pay work (and if they can, shove them down into the intermittent daywork world in a heartbeat) no matter how much you say you hate Trump and are only personally pro-life.

I live among a lot of people watching their kids turn 24, 25, 26, cut off from the well paying jobs despite multiple degrees, and they still mindlessly rant about Rethuglicans eating all the healthcare up and quietly wonder when the kids will get a “real” job, they heard Sandeep’s kid just started at Google, after all.

Support production of CAFO-resistant animals.

One might ask what this has to do with conservative living, but it’s quite simple.  Animals that do not mesh well with the heavily industrial food production system can support a more distributed, robust food supply that is not controlled by a small number of centralized superproducers and their revolving-door government attaches.

What animals are CAFO-resistant?  Ducks, geese, goats and sheep breeds optimized for grass/hay feeding (so, not dairy sheep).  There are other CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) resistant animals, but those are easy to find and the learning curve on raising them is not too hard for someone with no background in rural living (which is nearly all of us these days).

CAFO-resistance simply means that when you try to crowd the animal in conditions similar to what is done with chickens or pigs by the ten thousand, you lose production rather than maximize it.  Goats can’t really be feedlotted, and many breeds of sheep are unsuited for it as well.  Ducks and geese can fatten without purchased feeds at all and also don’t thrive with the small amount of space that permits chickens to reach market weight or lay eggs.

Now there is a trade-off.  There always are, though.  These animals were dropped for cattle and chickens precisely because they don’t take well to overcrowding and high inputs from the farmer.  They need more space, but they produce well and are reasonably scalable to small and medium farm sizes.  One thing there’s no shortage of in America, though, is land to raise hardy breeds of livestock on.

Taking a step away from the cow/chicken/pig triptych when supporting or attempting homesteading and small farming is an essential component of having a functional alternative to the current food system.

Conservatives won’t attack the universities effectively because universities are their baby factories.

This was written before Our Year of Covid, and the only bit that is currently different is a shift to gloating about food trucks and takeout instead of eating at the Whole Foods or local-equivalent deli tables.

This is something that is not immediately obvious to many conservative commentators, including far right ones, because the acceptable fringe subcultures who are anti-college but still married with kids are very loud and are in fact massively overrepresented in conservative media.  There’s also demographic lag, since the true culmination of college as guaranteed path to motherhood in the married class didn’t really hit until the internet era and there’s a lot of women who had babies in the 80s and 90s whose experiences 20+ years ago as non-college married mothers are also overrepresented.

Conservatives are in a real bind by relying on college as the baby factory, though.  The number of first births is declining year after year and is not in fact being offset by increases in third and higher births by women who are already mothers.  The conversion of middle class parenting and childrearing into a college-microcosm, where all interactions are mediated by a credentialed array of third parties (you don’t teach your kid domestic skills informally, they go to cooking and sweeping and mopping classes) and there is, simply, no organic social interaction (you have to join groups that meet at specific times for specific kinds of “play-based movement”) has been fertility inhibiting and it’s getting more and more so each year.

Even meal preparation has taken on college norms, consisting of carefully measured meal kits to be prepared according to precise and “scientific” instructions, or literal cafeteria-style eating in a upscale grocery store’s deli section.  Same chairs and tables and general set up as a college campus, only the food’s a little more expensive.

Obviously a lot of college moms love this brave new world where they never have to give up the mentality and practices of their college years once they graduate.  But it’s driving women who don’t want to live such a tightly structured life just to be moms away from motherhood entirely.

Liberals are in a bind, too, but progressive views don’t include a substantial pro-family ideological component, so the fertility shredding effects of motherhood turning more and more into the world’s longest advanced college degree don’t affect their group norms the same way.  Conservatives, though, do have that pro-family ideological aspect and if they don’t figure out how to baby factory some other way, then in the long run there will be a small, extremely rigid hard core having the same 2-4 kids, and this raises wider social questions about how we can ever hope to have normal sex roles when those people are completely pushed out of the reproductive race.

Notes about twin births

Some quick tidbits about twin birth because it’s yet another factor in the current birth trends and relative robustness of fertility in college moms.

  • Twin birth was around 10 per thousand births for white women and 12 per thousand for black women in 1940 and this was relatively unchanged through 1960. The relatively higher number for black women appears to be almost entirely from black women getting pregnant a lot more often.
  • Current twin births are more than triple those rates of a mere half-century ago.  But the “twin gap” has shrunk, with non-Hispanic whites at around 36 per thousand births and non-Hispanic blacks around 39 per thousand births.  This kind of puts a pin in the notion that it’s substantially genetic in black women.  Maybe, but the rapid changes and closing of the gap suggest environmental factors are the major driver.
  • As recently as 1985, the total twin rate for all races was around 20 per thousand births.
  • Twin births among (white, non-Hispanic) college moms are typically above the national average of around 3%.  They are more like 4-5% in many states, with a lot of it happening in regions where I found third children to be born above the national baseline for third births.
  • Twin births these days are more likely to be second births than first.  I don’t know if that would be the case pre-birth control and pre-ART, it’s hard to find birth order data because live twins were so much rarer until quite recently.
  • If one is willing to spend a lot of time digging around older historical birth data going back hundreds of years, one finds that women within the Hajnal line had twin rates in 16-20 births per thousand range prior to the 20th century.  Which is to say, during the 1800s or 1700s or 1600s white women were mysteriously having twins at way higher rates than early 20th century black women or 18th and 19th century America slave black women, relative to the proportions recorded.

 

The ex-Mrs. Bezos offers 3 big lessons for young women seeking marriage

For a young (preferably Christian) woman looking to marry and become a mother, it may seem strange that a divorce between the richest man in the world and his wife could offer any useful tools on securing a (hopefully God-fearing), supportive, decent husband.  But there are a lot of strange things in the world and Mrs. Former-Bezos offers three valuable lessons for secular women and Christian ones undertaking the difficult quest for a husband in a rough, uncaring world.

  1. Be where the fish you want to catch are.  Mrs. Bezos threw herself into a pool of men who were going to be very big fish financially.  The very-near certainty was that this day would come, and her luck or blessing was that it took a little longer than is usual with that kind of man.  But make no mistake, she knew she wasn’t swimming in a pond of men offering lifelong devotion.  So particularly for young Christian women, you have to go to where the men who want or plan for lifelong marriage are.
  2. Line up connections that aren’t dependent on your husband.  Mrs. Bezos appears to have spent quite a bit of effort as a very young college kid connecting with Toni Morrison.  That connection certainly panned out in a lot of big ways for her, allowing her a creative outlet once supporting her husband in his crazy dotcom scheme started to look up and pan out.  Which leads to the third lesson.
  3. Have a creative outlet independent of your husband and your children.  Having this means you create the space to maneuver for yourself  when you need to.  It doesn’t mean it has to come first, but without something for yourself, the risk is always there of collapse when the nest is empty or emptying.  Mrs. Bezos’ four children are all teenaged.  Her husband giving in to adultery and stupidity could easily have left her in a position to lose it as her kids were also leaving and have a breakdown.

https://www.vogue.com/article/a-novel-perspective-mackenzie-bezos

The profile above is where I got the details about her life. For young (Christian) women, the goal is not to have an escape route planned, to the contrary, the goal is to  do the best you reasonably can to arrange the conditions for a robust and stable marriage environment.

There are spaces and places where men interested in lifelong marriage are, but due to atomization, it takes more time and effort to place yourself in those spots.  But if you do, you’re putting yourself around the kind of men who are already part of the way there as far as marriage goals and views.

Having connections outside your husband is about having safe emotional outlets if your husband is in a busy season or is of a different social nature than you, or both.  It’s also about having a broader social and economic network, two people combining their networks is always better than being totally dependent on one person’s connections.

A creative outlet that isn’t husband+kids means you aren’t frustrated when the kids inevitably grow up and out of the home.

Generation X had about 4 in 10 of all Millennial births.

Now this is obviously a minority of Millennial births, but it’s perilously close to half and thus it’s clear that a lot of Gen Xers are trying to hide from responsibility for producing all those younger, obnoxious Millennials by foisting the entire generation off as “Boomer’s kids”.  But Gen X had most of the younger, much more obnoxious ones.  Sorry guys!

I hand calculated this and my assumptions are slightly different than the cohort tables, but the final percentage is similar.