Sunday, July 30, 2017

over at The Week, Ryan Cooper suggests "The Great Recession never ended"., Mere Orthodoxy's Meador considers young Christians leaning left and the market not promising anything while American Christian polemicists define adulthood in terms of market activities

In the first few years after the 2008 economic crisis, a great deal of political attention and energy was focused on continuing economic problems. The Obama stimulus was too small, and it was followed by tons of austerity after Republicans swept the 2010 midterms, so unemployment came down with grinding slowness. But as unemployment has finally reached something like normal levels — and as the ongoing catastrophe of the Trump presidency has consumed everyone's attention — possible economic under-performance has faded from view.
But the problems are still there — indeed, in some ways things are actually getting worse. The Great Recession never fully ended.
First, recall that an economic crash is caused by a collapse in demand — essentially, total spending plummets throughout the economy. Virtually nobody disagrees that this was the case right after the 2008 financial crisis, but many today think that the demand problem has been solved.
Economist J.W. Mason, a professor at John Jay College and a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, has compiled a detailed argument that lack of demand is still the major problem in a brilliant paper. The most obvious and jarring part of the case is the fact that from the end of the Second World War to 2007, inflation-adjusted American GDP per person trundled upwards at a rate of 2.2 percent per year. Any periods of slower growth were followed by periods of catch-up faster growth.
But after 2007, there was not only the worst economic crash since the Great Depression, but no catch-up growth whatsoever. On the contrary, the succeeding years after the immediate crash have seen much slower than average growth — and as a result, the gap between what forecasters thought the trajectory of economic output would be in 2006 is actually bigger today than it was in 2010, and getting steadily worse. ...
In other words, it's quite possible that not only are we very far from maximum economic output — meaning literally trillions of economic output gone unproduced every year, and more importantly millions of people left unemployed for no reason — but also that maximum output might be receding ever further over the horizon.

For everyone who read those think pieces on the Great Recession being the "mancession" and caught a few pieces about how more women were getting more advanced degrees than men, that's stuff to bear in mind if the Great Recession never really ended.  We might want to ask whether it's a good idea that more women have more advanced degrees than men not so much because of some patriarchal polemic that women should be at home but for another reason, it's not like the patriarchy doesn't run the lending institutions to whom everyone will owe mountains of student debt. 

But I can put it another way, let's take various pieces at Mere Orthodoxy concerned about people not growing up by getting married or embracing adult life.  Jake Meador had a piece recently about how ...

3. I suspect that Joe will respond, with some reason, that such a career path or an even more difficult one is not really anomalous and may even be a good thing for most people. That may be the case, but my point here is that the free market system we grew up in promised us one thing—a relatively smooth path to affluence following graduation from college—and it still hasn’t really delivered for many of us. [emphasis added]

That prompted a response from a commenter James McClain:


With respect to the third footnote above, the "free market system" didn't promise anything to anyone; that's part of the point.

as well as:

I want to second this comment about the free market system promising an easy road to affluence. I have seen this sentiment frequently used as a justification for things like Occupy Wall Street, and basically Millenial dissatisfaction in general. I just don't get it.

Jake, how did you come to understand that this was the case? How was this promise made, and how was it broken? I'm serious. I'd really like to understand this. This seems to be such a strong motivating factor for Millenials, but I don't understand how it happened or where it came from.

Well, in a way it's not that difficult to understand, or it shouldn't be for anyone from Generation X or older because we're the ones who received and reformulated the script that merely getting a college education would secure better-paying and more secure employment.  This wasn't exactly true even during the Clinton administration because a lot depended on what you knew, who you knew, where you were and at what time. 

Maybe it's not about what the free market promised but about what activities on the market evangelicals and social conservatives keep insisting all the benchmarks of having arrived at real adulthood, and how the not-ended Great Recession rendered a lot of those market activities so moot for younger generations they just aren't bothering to embrace what was previously considered normal market behaviors.

Let's take another entry from Mere Orthodoxy, for instance.

or this one

Evangelicals and social conservatives have a penchant for telling people what the hoops are that they must jump through in order to be considered truly responsible adults on the one hand, but on the other hand we'll get commentary that the market doesn't promise them any of the things they have so often been told in church contexts and political contexts are the requisite benchmarks of adulthood.  It's like the idea that imposing burdens of this sort on people that you won't lift a finger to help them lift on your end might get you accused of being like a Pharisee or something ... .

The free market didn't make the promise, parents and teachers made the connection through their pedagogy and example that if you do X, Y and Z then A, B and C become possible.  Promises of material reward and blessing as a reward for diligence and obedience is kind of a theme in Proverbs.  Sure, it gets undercut in Ecclesiastes with cause but back when Mark Driscoll was more of an up and comer he was willing to speculate that a recovery of the wisdom literature might lead to a new kind of awakening of people being wise about stuff, or something vaguely like that.  Mark Driscoll had a long season in which he would extoll hard work and thrift and doing things responsibly and people ate that up within evangelicalism and socially conservative American Christianity for a time ... and then we found out he didn't quite live up to that stuff all the time ... and maybe significantly soft-pedaled the amount of wealthy patronage and clemency he really needed to get where he got. 

So let's do a little thought experiment, let's imagine that market friendly Christians step back and consider that if the free market hasn't promised millenials anything then the smartest thing millenials can do with respect to the market-anchored benchmarks of functional adulthood in the United States is to simply pass on pursuing those benchmarks, whether it's buying a car, buying a home, getting married, having children or any of that other stuff.  Or as the hippies of yore ... drop out.  It's not that they are necessarily explicitly rejecting the ideals of home and heart in the way progressives might want to believe on the one hand or that conservatives might dread on the other, it might just be that they like the idea in theory but realize they can't possibly afford this stuff in practice, so they may go for whatever surrogates are available on ... the market.

It may be precisely the preferred surrogates that freak out evangelicals and social conservatives, and not necessarily without cause ...

even contributors to Slate can see how the gaming thing might have drawbacks that are related to what are actually strengths in the gaming approach as a socialization process:
In social science there’s a framework called self-determination theory, developed by psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, that seeks to explain human motivation. It suggests that humans are not driven simply by rewards and punishments, but also (and in many cases even more strongly) by innate psychological requirements for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Activities that are driven primarily by these three basic factors are considered intrinsically motivated; extrinsically motivated actions are undertaken to gain rewards or avoid punishment. [emphasis added] Deci found that if you offer people money for an intrinsically motivated task—like working on a puzzle or generating newspaper headlines—people will actually spend less time on it.
Psychologists in the field have since sought to facilitate intrinsic motivation to improve learning in schools and employee investment in the workplace. They’ve found that giving people more choice of tasks (autonomy) tends to increase their motivation while restricting them decreases it. They’ve also found that offering positive praise instead of money (reinforcing competence) for an intrinsically motivated task increases subsequent time spent on that task rather than decreasing it. Tasks that involve an element of creativity or skill tend to be intrinsically motivated while simpler, more repetitive tasks are more extrinsically motivated and respond more normally to rewards and punishments.
That brings us back to video games. Games have always offered the player a chance to experience competence by requiring them to solve puzzles or master new skills. In this way they’re similar to other intrinsically motivated tasks like working on a physical puzzle or playing a sport. Most of today’s games include elements of autonomy so that players can make choices about where to explore, which goals to pursue, or how to customize their characters and gear. That’s two of self-determination theory’s basic psychological needs. The one that remains is relatedness—a feeling of connection to other people. With the advent of massively multiplayer online role-playing games and live-streaming services like Twitch, social contact is increasingly part of gaming. It’s likely no coincidence that the people who are most likely to feel comfortable and find their peers in these social gaming environments are young men—the very people who are apparently choosing to forgo work hours in favor of more game playing
Of course, we want our hobbies to fulfill us, and you can find competence, autonomy, and relatedness in anything from softball to crochet to crossword puzzles. If you’re a young man living in a community where the available jobs are repetitive and low-skilled, offer little prestige, don’t have a path for advancement, and aren’t particularly well compensated, however, there may not be many other opportunities for you to meet these needs. Video games offer an alluring, almost sinister ability to flatter you into feeling competence, soothe your need for autonomy by offering in-game choices, and connect you to other people. Games may be doing their job too well, keeping players from seeking true creative outlets, forging independent paths through life, and achieving in school or the workplace, because their needs are being blunted by a synthetic substitute. [emphasis added]
You could go so far as to suggest that the market has gotten so good at producing surrogates for the benchmarks of adulthood that ...

let's tie this back for a moment to the earlier admonition that the free market never promised any of these people anything. 

What took place in the Dead Men sessions at Mars Hill circa 2001 to 2002 was a kind of integration propaganda campaign in which participants were offered a shot at autonomy, competence and relatedness that the men jumped at.  Since I was there I think I can fairly safely assert this.  There were systems of rewards and punishments, too, in a way, by way of Midrash battles.  But here in 2017 it looks as though social conservatives have worked out that the hoops they want millenials to jump through to become adults don't seem to constitute intrinsic motivation any more for some reason while there seem to be no compelling systems of rewards or punishments to get them to start jumping through those traditional market-based hoops that define functional adulthood. 

Rather that back up and take a page from social psychologist Roy Baumeister, who observed that the foundational baseline for defining the transition from boyhood to manhood independent of rites and touchstones is that the male produces more for his social unit than he consumes from it.  That simple measure of manhood does not require marriage or home ownership or buying cars or ever having sex.  Yet it would seem the explicit and implicit command of manhood from social conservatives would have it that you're not a real man until you've married and had kids. 

So maybe the market didn't promise anything to millenials but if that's the case social conservatives may need to stop being aghast that millenials could conclude that if there are no promises from the market find they have more rewards from the new surrogates than trying to jump through the old hoops.  Why bother?  If you try and fail the verdict of the market is that you failed to be an adult and the pundits will condemn you.  On the other hand if you don't try then you're forsake the path to adulthood and you'll get condemned for that.  It's basically a social commentary damned if you try and damned if you don't scenario. 

What progressives may need to grapple with is the promise is a lie, and if the promise of a better income and standard of life by way of getting a college education is a lie, particularly where liberal arts are concerned, then maybe it's a bluntly ethical issue why liberal arts degrees can cost so much, particularly at more prestigious schools

As Chris Jones put it:

Under the Obama administration in 2015, the Department of Education toughened up a set of rules known as the Gainful Employment Regulations. The rules were designed to protect students from being buried in debt by for-profit trade school programs that created far more student indebtedness than verifiable value for money. No one expected a graduate arts program at Harvard University, no less, to be ensnared in the netting of these regulations.

But, remarkably, that is exactly what just happened. In recent days, it was announced that a graduate program in theater at Harvard would suspend admissions for the next three years after receiving a so-called failing grade from the Department of Education that could result in a loss of access to federal student loans. [emphasis added]

The finding, which I first read about in the Boston Globe, should be a shot across the bow for elitist arts programs with high tuitions, programs that long have ignored the realistic economic prospects of their graduates.

Simply put, the federal policy looks at the debts-to-earnings ratios of career-training programs  (and, yes, the arts are a career) in an attempt to discern whether the programs provide students reasonable returns on their investment in tuition. The 2015 regulations hold that the average student's debt from the program should not exceed 20 percent of their discretionary income or 8 percent of their total income. If that is not the case, then the program could lose access to federal student loans. When it announced the new tougher regulations, the department estimated that 99 percent of the affected programs would be at for-profit institutions. [emphasis added]

There is a new development: On June 30, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced, as part of a wider move to cut regulations, the department was "pressing pause" on Gainful Employment, giving affected institutions an extra year to comply with disclosure requirements. This after the Trump administration actually defended the measure in March in federal court. And in any case, this does not take it off the books.


In many cases, these students are going into debt to acquire credentials and, yet more importantly, a network to aid them in a profession that, to its detriment, is growing ever-more nepotistic and lazily elitist, especially when it comes to its dominance by a few well-known training programs. [emphasis added]

While I could link to any number of pieces editorializing about the problems in arts funding and education it is the weekend and there's only so much blogging a person wants to do on the weekend, even someone like yours truly.  Social conservatives are more apt to tout technical schools and the like but in both directions the question may ultimately get dodged, if you jump through the hoops and the market hasn't promised you anything then if you fail that's on you.  If you succeed?  You may just become evidence that the system works, whatever the system is supposed to be by those partisans who want to say their system works.

These days it's hard to shake the impression that everybody left, right and center is cherry-picking so much that the whole pie seems rotten and there's little point in debating the merits of how to divide up the pie. 


chris e said...

Generally the christianhumanist folk are fairly good at seeing both sides of each issue - but on this occasion this article fell prey to the same set of faults you diagnose above:

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

I was just downloading the Christian Feminist podcast on Ghost in the Shell, seeing as you've linked to them. :)

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

and noticed that over at Mere Orthodoxy this was in their read/link list:

If some commenters say "the market didn't promise you anything" it could inspire some Mere O peeps to read or recommend even MORE stuff about the problems of neoliberalism?

After all, it's not like Jake Meador was the first person to go into adulthood with an implicit promise that if you followed the right rules the right jobs would come your way. Then again, I still think maybe the Mere O folks have seriously under-estimated the role of premillenialist dispensationalism informing why some people decided to vote for Trump.