Leave the Snake People Alone!

#7 -- Plus: Shortcut to Social Equality

Revenge of the Snake People: Everybody's scared of millennials! Corporate CEOs are scared of millennials. Dean Baquet is scared of millennials. I know seasoned writers who don't go in to their prestigious magazine offices anymore for fear they'll be ambushed by the recent college grads employed there. If they say the wrong thing, they're in trouble. ...

And if you whine about millennials on the Web, as I've done on occasion, your computer shows you this terrifying image:

Might as well take on Gamergate. Could 4Chan be nastier?

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Manage American Greatness Again: China's facing an unprecedented internal rebellion in its most important financial center. According to the New York Times that shows the ...."Waning of American Power"? Huh? According to various relexively anti-Trump trained seals ... sorry, that’s not right, I mean foreign policy experts the NYT quotes, Trump is supposed to "manage” the situation. How? Did GHW Bush "manage" Tiananmen Square? Did Obama "manage" Arab Spring? (True, the elder Bush was successful at not impeding the collapse of the Soviet Union -- but he did it by basically staying on the sidelines, as Trump is doing with Hong Kong, no?)

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“Trump Killed Epstein!” Not true, but that's the sort of headline we're going to need in the coming days. Ann Coulter's right when she argues that the only way the press is going to sustain interest in the Epstein case is if they think they can use it to get Trump. With no Trump angle, and Epstein dead, you can already feel interest in the case fading -- even with the mystery surrounding Epstein’s demise and the whereabouts of his alleged top procuress. He's starting to seem small time, even pathetic. True, there's some focus on shaming those who took his money when they should’ve known better -- but it's at about the same level as the shaming of Dem consultants who cooperate with Mark Halperin. "Focus on the victims," we’re told. Of course, the victims. The victims are real victims. They’re why Epstein was evil. They deserve attention, and justice. But I don't want to focus on the victims right now. Epstein was at the center of a sex ring involving many rich and powerful people. I want to know how big the ring was, who was involved, how it worked and who semi-knowingly enabled it. Are we living in a conspiracy movie or not? When we know that, we can focus on the victims. …

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Less immigration = fewer servants = more social equality? My argument in The End of Equality was that social equality, not income equality, should be the goal of liberal politics. Noah Smith and Richard V. Reeves have made similar points. [1] Of course, reducing income inequality is one way to pursue social equality, but it's not the only way and not necessarily the best way. We can also take direct routes — the World War II-era draft being the most conspicuous example of a direct, institutional social equalizer.

But there aren’t many of these direct routes. [2] Intriguingly, lowering immigration from poor nations might provide one of them. I’m not talking about the familiar wage argument — the idea that less unskilled immigration means higher earnings for workers at the bottom (a group that has seemed on the verge of dropping out of the common American culture). Instead, focus on the nature of the work -- especially the nature of "wealth work," and its subset, servant work.

There's a lot of fuss about this growing employment sector right now -- see Derek Thompson here and National Review here -- for good reason. Servant’s work seems inherently inegalitarian, no matter what the wage, because you have one individual bossing around another in the service of the former's personal needs (an arrangement that is never flipped around). It seems qualitatively different from ordinary "service" contracting -- e.g. hiring a plumber or even a dog groomer. You don’t tell a plumber to fetch your coffee. It’s also different from ordinary wage employment, where the boss bosses workers around in service of making a profit.

When historian Samuel Eliot Morison [3] looked at the heartening decline of servant work in the middle of the 20th century, he came up with a surprising explanation:

Middle- and upper-class Americans outside the South had always been dependent on recent immigrants for domestic service; now that source was largely cut off. The number of ‘private household workers’ — cooks, butlers, laundresses, housekeepers, and miscellaneous maids — declined between 1900 and 1950, although the total population of the period had increased 140 percent. … The main reasons for this decline have been the reduction of immmigration, and the increasing demand for women in war and other industries. The shortage of domestic ‘help’ has been a social revolution in itself. It has increased the number of restaurants, since men and women who dislike working in a household seem to prefer the far greater drudgery in a public eatery. [Emphasis added]

You can think of a variety of reasons why immigration would be a causal factor: one is obviously that immigrant workers might be more affordable to more people. Another could be that immigrants come from cultures more accustomed to servant work (more class-divided cultures, typically).

When I was researching End of Equality in the early 1990s, the long decline of servant employment, noted by Morison, was still one of the glories of America's middle class culture. We didn't have maids, we had fancier and fancier vacuum cleaners. But it was obvious the mid-century decline was by then already beginning to turn around, coinciding, perhaps not coincidentally, with a surge in immigration. Now, with the rich still getting richer, the “Servant Economy” is on the verge of exploding. If cutting the number of less skilled immigrants makes that explosion smaller, or less likely, that's a good thing in itself, even if it has no effect on overall wages.

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1. Smith argues that equality of respect (not of money) is “a big part of what makes people happy.”

2. I had high hopes for universal health insurance as a draft-like social equalizer — until Obamacare turned out to be a stratified mess, with poorer Americans shunted onto Medicaid like an inferior caste.

3. Indebted to Timothy Crimmins for pointing out the Morison passage.

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He's as sharp as he ever was! Joe Biden's defense against his embarrassing misstatements is not that they're isolated incidents (get serious) — and certainly not that he's getting old -- but that he's always been like that. This is true. The problem is Biden's also always been losing presidential races -- in 1998 and 2008, the two times he's run. In 1987, I was working at Newsweek when Eleanor Clift unearthed a video of a Biden telling (an admittedly annoying) voter at a New Hampshire coffee klatch "I think I probably have a much higher IQ than you do." Biden then rattled off five academic boasts, most of which turned out to bogus (as Newsweek's reporters -- not the New York Times’ -- first disclosed). Biden dropped out of the race soon after that. This was 30 years ago!

You can be an effective president and a bad presidential campaigner. But unless he somehow makes his indiscipline lovable -- the way California Gov. Pat Brown made his bumbling lovable -- Biden may be doomed. (He seems doomed anyway, frankly, for Muskie-esque reasons. If you want a suitable metaphor, here's US women's cyclist Mara Abbott being overtaken by a pack of competitors — who had enjoyed an aerodynamic advantage — at the finish line in Rio. If you were rooting for Abbott, as I was, it was brutal. Root for Biden at your peril.)

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Tom Wolfe's 1987 Bonfire of the Vanities popularized the term Master of the Universe for powerful, self-important Wall Street machers.  Today we need a related term, Master of WeWork, for the self-important men (they are all men) who stride around the nation’s creative work spaces as if they owned them, issuing sweeping commands and grand strategic visions into their AirPods, making sure you pay attention to them -- they need freedom of movement to think freely!-- rather than your pathetic little tasks. ...