how we got where we are

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

– Maxims for Revolutionists, George Bernard Shaw (nybooks)

on the value of social capital

here’s an interesting little nugget re: the broadening inequality… resources enable you to make the necessary investments in your kids that insure access to the necessary networks.

Another deeply felt conviction of Putnam’s, which has run through nearly all his work, is that social capital—your network of memberships and personal relationships—is more important than money. Although he takes pains to present Our Kids as a book about inequality, there is almost no point of intersection between his treatment of the subject and that of last year’s sensationally popular Capital in the Twenty-First Century, by Thomas Piketty. Piketty’s primary focus was on the very richest people, and on the possibility that they will soon be able to accumulate enough wealth to live without working, like feudal lords. The prosperous class that interests Putnam is the entire upper portion of American society—those with at least a college degree. What differentiates them, for him, is their obsessive work ethic, their intense focus on their children’s development, their good health, and their rich combination of associations. Money helps them achieve this, but it certainly isn’t the point of these people’s lives, or the main object of Putnam’s study. As he puts it, “this is a book without upper-class villains.”

– unhappy days for america (nybooks)

are the people you’re propping up the best and the brightest?

let’s not be so quick to jump to the conclusion that just because the dissidents in another country agree with us and our perspectives that they’re representative of the best and the brightest that a country has to offer. don’t forget the necessity of evaluating dissidents ideas, perspectives and motivations in the larger context. it’s far too easy to fall into the trap of ascribing larger buy-in particularly if it’s in alignment with a local (albeit external) agenda.

But in China, he said, he felt that elite politics are less important, especially when they revolve around classic dissidents challenging the state. During his eleven years in China, Hessler said he had been entrenched in a community three times—the teachers college (two years), a village (seven years), and a company town (three years)—and could follow events there longitudinally. In each place, the same pattern emerged: the most talented people either were recruited by the Party or quietly disengaged from it. The only people who actually fought the Party were “poorly connected and often dysfunctional”—petitioners, for example, or other marginal figures. Many were interesting and he wrote about them in depth, but they were not driving events.

“This is why I think it’s a big mistake to focus too much on the high-profile and truly remarkable dissidents,” Hessler told me. “It gives the American reader the impression that the really smart people in China are opposed to the Party.”

– an american hero in china (nybooks)