2013 December 31 Tuesday
Duck Dynasty As Escapist Media Fantasy In Declining America

Washington Post media critic Dana Milbank lets loose against the mainstream media for reporting lots of anecdotes (e.g. a suicidal guy police lured off a bridge with a sandwich) while the the plight of the poor gets worse. Dana has got it so wrong. The decline is inevitable within the liberal framework of acceptable policy choices that Dana's media help to maintain. Therefore it is great that A&E lets people watch escapist reality TV shows like Duck Dynasty and other elements of the mainstream media find symbolic issues to get people all worked up about. Anything to think about aside fom the declining labor force participation rate and the rise of single mothers.

On Saturday, 1.3 million unemployed Americans were kicked off unemployment benefits. And if our vacationing lawmakers donít do something about it when they return, millions more will follow. The matter is getting less attention than Phil Robertson of ďDuck Dynasty,Ē but itís a real crisis for those affected and a disgrace for the rest of us.

Let me repeat myself: The decline of America is inevitable within the liberal moral and intellectual framework. The range of allowed policy options (e.g. Dana Milbank wants unemployment benefits that last a very long time) will not fix and will actually hasten the decline of the middle and lower classes. Unless Milbank tries to expand the Overton window in directions anathema to liberals his whining is pointless.

Want to get a sense of how much life in the US of A is changing and how that bodes for the shrinking middle class and growing lower classes? Read Tyler Cowen's book Average Is Over. He works out a lot of the consequences of the decline in demand for all but the most cognitively able. Tyler sees the need to build very cheap communities for the lower classes like those found in Rio de Janeiro favelas and El Paso's sister city Cuidad Juarez. He pictures 400 square feet homes for the elderly poor. Given that the ranks of the elderly poor look set to grow as the working age poor retire (and notice I did not just say "working poor") Tyler is correct about the necessity. Says Tyler:

Many people will be horrified at this thought. How dare you propose we stuff our elderly into shantytowns? Maybe they are right to be upset, although recall that no one is being forced to live in these places. Some people might prefer to live there. I might prefer to live there if my income were low enough.

Tyler is being realistic. Americans (and we are hardly alone on this) live in a country where median household incomes are in decline (for a few reasons that won't get fixed for decades). Americans largely oppose the entitlements benefits cuts and tax increases needed stop growth in government debt. The long term fiscal outlook is grim due to an expanding lower class imported from Latin America and growing demands on entitlements from an aging population and rising health care costs.

Future generations of retirees will be poorer because defined benefit pension plans are a thing of the past. Also future retirees will be poorer because the government can not maintain current levels of subsidies per retiree as the ratio of workers to retirees declines and health care costs rise.

You are faced with two extreme choices: Go get a Ph.D. in machine learning or watch Duck Dynasty. Duck Dynasty is the far more easily attainable and accessible choice. So I'd like to thank the people at A&E for restoring this escapist fantasy. It is clear the American people need it. Granted A&E just put money over ideology. But I applaud them for it.

Update: What the upper classes could do for the better elements of the lower classes: Allow the creation of communities for the different kinds of poor so that the law-abiding do not have to live near the predators, the lazy, and the inconsiderate. For example, retirees who live on $20,000 per year are far more law abiding than the average younger household with a household income of $20,000 per year.

To put it another way: We need to lower the cost of being responsible, considerate, and yet poor. Why do the middle and upper classes want to keep away from the lower classes? They do not want to live near drug dealers, car thieves, thugs, homes with domestic violence with frequent police visits, and more in that vein. They also do not want their kids sharing classrooms with dumb, hyperactive, and violent kids.

If communities could enforce norms of behavior including, for example, no single moms and even work requirements (with no section 8 housing allowed) then some lower class communities could be pretty safe. But our upper classes oppose letting the well-behaved members of the lower classes escape from the irresponsible and criminal.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2013 December 31 07:46 PM 

radical white blogger said at January 1, 2014 4:37 AM:

here is another option -- hang our elite for treason.

bob sykes said at January 1, 2014 5:38 AM:

The Ph. D. option is available only to a few percent or less. Cowen's suggestion puts the majority in impoverished, violent communities isolated from their super rich masters. But this is in fact our likely future.

The great economic problem is how to distribute the fruits of a modern society to those who are entirely parasitic on that society, those who are genetically incapable of making any contribution to modern society's output. Living on the dole seems to be the only option.

CamelCaseRob said at January 1, 2014 6:39 AM:

The option to the dole is government supplied jobs. Sure, they aren't productive, but being on the dole is even less so.

BT said at January 1, 2014 9:41 AM:

What if the market is flooded with foreign PhDs? I think it already is to a large extent. Getting a PhD seems like a viable strategy only if insourcing and outsourcing of labor were restricted. But if insourcing and outsourcing were restricted, this wouldn't even be an issue in the first place.

Abelard Lindsey said at January 1, 2014 10:56 AM:

Dana Milbank is the guy who wants to bring back the draft, even though the military is robotizing at a rate that would astonish most civilians (thus making any kind of draft technological obsolete), making clear that he is cluelss. I would not pay any attention to what this bozo has to say.

aandrews said at January 1, 2014 2:58 PM:

"He pictures 400 square feet homes for the elderly poor."

That might not be such a bad deal, done properly.


Being old and borderline helpless and living among anthropoid pests would be the big, serious, scary problem.

Randall Parker said at January 1, 2014 3:19 PM:


Depends on the Ph.D. and what the goal is with the Ph.D. People who decide get a Ph.D. to get an academic job are setting themselves up for many years of low pay and low job security. I am amazed that lots of people still do this. Take a Ph.D. in English for Fine Arts. I mean that's just insane. Yet plenty do it. One can't do much about the deluded masochists who pursue degrees in extremely glutted areas.

OTOH, Ph.D.s in hot areas have lots of prospects. One has to find out what are the hot topics and go for one of those. I know machine learning is one. Some applied math specialties too. I suspect there are others. Given the pay of bachelors in ChemE I'm guessing a Ph.D. in ChemE might be good.

bob sykes,

We need legal changes that allow communities to control who gets to live in them. That would let old folks keep out predators. The control has to extend over a pretty large area. It would work best for areas with natural geological boundaries, say, a valley in Idaho with lots of 400 sq ft houses for example.


We need to lower the cost of being well behaved and yet poor. But we can't do that given the current house of lies that our elites peddle. Paying lots of money for housing is the only accepted way to separate the better behaved from the worst behaved. A big waste even for the higher earners.

James Bowery said at January 1, 2014 3:52 PM:

"The politics of exclusion" as the elites like to name humane social policy, is diametrically opposed to the primary means by which the elites became elite:

Horizontal transmission.

If you allowed the "poor" to exclude from their communities those they find objectionable, some of those "poor" would rapidly become rich by excluding not only the opportunistic infections but the immune suppressing infections of the elites. This would do 2 very very bad things from the standpoint of the elites:

1) It would provide empirical evidence, via control groups, that they are parasites.

2) It would, in effect, allow victims to escape their mass murder and come back and get you.

Community self-determination is the first and foremost sign the elites are on the lookout for.

Short Hills said at January 1, 2014 4:07 PM:

Community this and community that. The problem is NAMs.

James Bowery said at January 1, 2014 5:54 PM:

Yes that "NAMs are the problem" hypothesis should be tested but the only way to test it is to have control groups that simultaneously test other causal hypotheses in human ecology (aka "community"). The real problem is the elites are terrified of progress in the social sciences discovering their true nature -- so they viciously and ruthlessly attack anything that smacks of a control group.

Paul A'Barge said at January 3, 2014 3:44 PM:

Dang, that pesky zero-sum game is one hard monkey to shake, isn't it fellows? Hint: back to work (on yourselves) and keep at it. Never surrender to the zero-sum junkies.

Nick said at January 3, 2014 11:55 PM:

It sounds like a large part of what this comes down to are racially restrictive covenants. After a knee-jerk reaction, I've actually come around to what Paul Kersey at SBPDL suggests on this. It's unrealistic to think the elites would ever allow groups to separate, because the violent, anti-social behaviors you describe versus the law-abiding, high social trust behaviors, are manifested largely along racial lines, with some outliers in each group. If anything the elites want to force integration, whatever the costs, as evidenced by the recent revelations by the HUD (Housing and Urban Developments) "Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing" proposal.

In the spirit of pragmatism, if you want to be around people you can trust to build a community with, you have to find them and resist the introduction of people (whatever their race or background) who would undermine that social trust. It's a pipe dream to think that communities that have already been forcibly integrated by elites, would later be segregated. Segregation will occur through people's own efforts, not as a top-down solution.

Randall Parker said at January 6, 2014 7:17 PM:

Paul A'Barge,

You aware that the median income in America peaked back in the 1990s and in the meant time per capita GDP went way up? The actual dividing point between those still going up and those going down is somewhere around the 70th or 80th percentile.

I do not preach resentment and anger over how this is going. I keep on telling people to adapt and to put a lot of effort (learn useful skills, work harder, move to where you can get a good opportunity) into dealing with this landscape where success has become so much harder to achieve.

Big Bill said at January 23, 2014 6:16 AM:

"It sounds like a large part of what this comes down to are racially restrictive covenants."

The Jews in Israel have a pretty good technique for keeping goyim out. They have housing committees that get to decide whether someone is "suitable" or "compatible" with the existing residents living in the housing project. If gentiles apply and they don't like them, they just don't approve of their application to move in. It works something like the co-ops in upper Manhattan. No formal written "no goyim" policy or written restrictive covenants, and therefore no written rules to challenge and strike down in court, but the result is the same.

Always look to what the Jews do for themselves to get good ideas.

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