Cultural Caviar

One and Done

April 01, 2015

Orange County had once exemplified the broad prosperity of the postwar era, making Richard Nixon’s home county the bedrock of the GOP’s hopes for the White House. Today, though, Orange County is 56 percent nonwhite. With its Tiger Mother Asians and minimum wage-earning Mexicans, Orange County symbolizes how inequality of opportunity is exacerbated by mass immigration.

But thinking clearly about immigration is taboo in Putnam’s world. He ends Our Kids with a stunningly stupid flourish that may sound like an April Fools’ Day joke, but isn’t:

… speaking of the recent arrival of unaccompanied immigrant kids, Jay Ash, city manager and native of the gritty, working-class Boston suburb of Chelsea, drew on a more generous, communitarian tradition: “If our kids are in trouble – my kids, our kids, anyone’s kids – we all have a responsibility to look after them.”

In today’s America, not only is Ash right, but even those among us who think like Emerson should acknowledge our responsibility to these children. For America’s poor kids do belong to us and we to them. They are our kids.

No, they are not “our kids.” You just said they are “unaccompanied immigrant kids.” They’re not “America’s poor kids,” they are foreign lawbreakers whose parents are trying to exploit obtuse Americans. We have enough poor kids of our own. We can’t take responsibility for the other couple billion on Earth.

If you read Putnam carefully, you can see him walking up to the edge of some interesting ideas, only to backpedal. For example, on p. 245 Putnam asks:

In the absence of a revival of marriage, could we reduce the number of single-parent families by reducing the birth rates? … Is contraception the answer? … Changing the norm from childbearing by default to childbearing by design might have a big effect on the opportunity gap.

Indeed. But then Putnam immediately loses interest in even thinking about trying to socially reconstruct the haphazard way unintelligent women go about imposing their children on the world:

… so far we have no firm evidence that this approach would reduce nonmarital childbearing among adult women, especially since … many of these births are “semi-intended.” So families headed by poor, less educated single moms are not likely to disappear soon.

And then he produces a laundry list of expensive ways for the government to improve the care received by the children of welfare mothers.

Unfortunately, we don’t really have much evidence that Putnam’s methods will work either. Since Putnam won’t talk about “intelligence” or “genetics” – there are no index listings for either—he can’t do a responsible job of assessing the data. Since he defines class by parents’ education levels, it ought to be obvious that Putnam’s conception of class severely overlaps with IQ, which a century of science has proven is partly heritable.

But here’s a way to look at the nurture v. nature, Putnam v. Murray problem: Let’s assume for the moment that nurture is 100% responsible for inequality. Perhaps the differences between the classes go back as far as 8 months and 29 days before birth, but not a day sooner!

So, how can poor mothers provide more resources per child, whether in money or attention? One conventional suggestion is for the government to tax organized, responsible families in order to provide money for the irresponsible families. Intelligent women could also be hired to take care of poor single parent children so the children will be exposed to larger vocabularies.

But another way for poor women to boost the resources they can provide per child is to have fewer children.

In the spirit of the University of Kentucky’s bid to become the first basketball team to go 40-0 by using stars who spend the minimum one year in college, NCAA fan Barack Obama could propose a new catchphrase for women on welfare: “one-and-done.”

Now, if the problems of the poor are 100% due to inadequate nurture per child, as Putnam’s book implies, socially constructing a one-and-done custom for the uneducated would greatly help America. But if their problems are partly due to both nature and nurture, as Murray has long argued, changing the norm for the poor to one-and-done would also greatly help America.

Therefore, why not try it?

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