There’s More to American Society Than Just the Marriage Rate

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


David Brooks criticizes “reform” conservatism today, suggesting that it’s not sufficiently in touch with the realities of the modern economy. I appreciate that, but I wish we could get a lot less of this:

Today, millions of Americans are behaving in ways that make no economic sense: dropping out of school, having children out of wedlock. They do so because the social guardrails that used to guide behavior have dissolved.

You need to be careful with this stuff. The teen dropout rate has actually declined over the past few decades, as has the teen pregnancy rate—which is what most people think of when you mention children born out of wedlock. The phenomenon Brooks is talking about is the increase in 20-something women having children outside of marriage—sometimes on their own, sometimes with partners they live with. That certainly represents a cultural change in the value of marriage, but it’s really not enough to suggest that our social guardrails have dissolved. In fact, if you look at most measures of social breakdown, things have gotten better over the past few decades, not worse.

This is a mistake that Brooks has made before: insisting that society is breaking down without really reviewing the evidence of actual behavior. But there’s a lot more to society than just the marriage rate.

That said, it’s nice to hear him say this to his fellow conservatives:

We are moving from a world dominated by big cross-class organizations, like public bureaucracies, corporations and unions, toward a world dominated by clusters of networked power. These clusters — Wall Street, Washington, big agriculture, big energy, big universities — are dominated by interlocking elites who create self-serving arrangements for themselves. Society is split between those bred into these networks and those who are not. Moreover, the U.S. economy is increasingly competing against autocratic economies, which play by their own self-serving rules.

Sometimes government is going to have to be active to disrupt local oligarchies and global autocracies by fomenting creative destruction — by insisting on dynamic immigration policies, by pumping money into research, by creating urban environments that nurture innovation, by spending money to give those outside the clusters new paths to rise.

Yep. The rich and powerful are getting ever more rich and powerful, and a bit of free-market nudging isn’t likely to change that. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and do something about it.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate