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August 16, 2005
The Social Diamond
I'm back from vacation, all refreshed, and looking for true supporters of growth. And I think I found one--David Brin, the well known scientist and author. I would heartily recommend that you take a look at his latest blog posts:
The diamond - featuring an empowered and comfortable middle class that vastly outnumbers the poor - shows how huge and obvious genuine progress has been, at least in the West, under our Modernist Agenda. No image demonstrates more clearly how this society is different from all predecessors, how much we ALL have benefitted from science and accountability...and how much we have to lose if we return to the traditional human social pyramid.
Moreover, this metaphor helps to show just how loony both the left and right are. The far right hates the diamond and does everything it can to rationalize and justify counter trends, especially those fostering re pyramidalization. But the left is worse, refusing absolutely to admit that the diamond has happened at all!
The former tendency - at least - is human; we've seen conspirators strive for pinnacle position atop their social pyramids - and to maintain that structure - in every large culture recorded . (Under communism, it was the CP nomenklatura that did precisely the same thing!) We must fight this endlessly recurring theme. But at one level, it's a yawner.
(The ironies can be outrageous, such as when Julian Simon and other neoconservatives relentlessly cite diamond progress (in economic terms) as reason to abandon the very same processes of self-critical problem-solving and market fine-tuning that brought the cornucopia into being! They do this by crediting a mystically perfect "market" with all of this progress, and not a process of relentless reform, negotiation, re-appraisal of costs and fine-tuning that has gone on ever since Teddy Roosevelt.)
Nevertheless, it's the latter thing - the betrayal of the diamond by the left - that really outrages me. By refusing to admit the palpable existence of progress, lefties discredit all of liberalism, undermining its effectiveness for the sake of their own righteous indignation high.
In effect, they are saying to the public: "You bought our product for eighty years and it never worked! At all! Ever! So buy more!" Would you buy a product that was offered with such a sales pitch?
Worse, they insult those earlier generations of activists who helped citizens to craft genuine progress in fields ranging from civil rights and gender rights, to increasing access to university, to cleaning the air, to saving the Ozone Layer and reforesting much of America. By saying that nothing meaningful has been accomplished, they spread despair, a sense of futility, and prove they are romantic enemies of progress.
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I realize everyone wants to consider themselves middle class, but the mode of the income distribution is in the working poor. Joe Blow who has one or perhaps two jobs paying little more than the minimum wage and lives paycheck to paycheck. Certainly they are affluent by world standards where most live in mass poverty, but middle class is stretching it a bit. Still the overall argument is welcome.
Posted by: Lord at August 16, 2005 03:23 PM
You are absolutely right...the diamond is more pear-shaped, with most of the weight below the waistline.
I've got to go dig up the numbers for lifetime income, though...those may be more diamond shaped.
Posted by: Michael Mandel at August 17, 2005 02:21 PM