The Lost Eden of Childhood. Not Lost. Not Eden.

by on April 30, 2011 at 7:35 am in Books, Education, History | Permalink

Jim Manzi warms to Paul Krugman’s nostalgia:

It’s difficult to convey the almost unbearable sweetness of this kind of American childhood to anybody who didn’t live it. The safety and freedom that Krugman describe are rare now even for the wealthiest Americans – by age 9, I would typically leave the house on a Saturday morning on my bike, tell my parents I was “going out to play,” and not return until dinner; at age 10, would go down to the ocean to swim with friends without supervision all day; and at age 11 would play flashlight tag across dozens of yards for hours after dark. And the sense of equality was real, too. Some people definitely had bigger houses and more things than others, but our lives were remarkably similar. We all went to the same schools together, played on the same teams together, and watched the same TV shows. The idea of having, or being, “help” seemed like something from old movies about another time.

Who doesn’t look upon their childhood with wistfulness for what has been lost?  Exile from Eden is one of the oldest stories on record. But don’t mistake personal narrative for reality.  When Manzi says “we all went to the same schools together, played on the same teams together, and watched the same TV shows.” He isn’t talking about African Americans. And was the idea of having or being help, really “from a different time”? Again, not for African Americans. In 1950 more than 40% of African American women in the labor force were domestic servants. (Moreover, given these numbers a back of the envelope calculation suggests proportionately fewer homes with maids today.) See also Megan McArdle on Manzi’s vision and women staying at home.

Growing up in Northern Virginia, my children experience far more ethnic, cultural, racial and sexual diversity and equality than just about any child growing up outside of a commune did in the 1950s and 1960s.

Has childhood freedom been lost?  No. Childhood freedom hasn’t been “lost,” it has been taken away by parents. As a child, I too was free to play in the woods but then again my parents didn’t buckle me up in the car, either.

Has safety decreased? It is true that one of the most horrible things we can imagine, homicide, is up. For kids aged 5-14 homicide mortality went from 0.5 per 100,000 in 1950 to 0.8 per 100,000 in 2005. Overall, however, kids are much safer today than in the 1950s. Accident mortality, for example, is down from 22.7 per 100,000 in 1950 to 6.2 per 100,000 in 2005 (see Caplan’s Selfish Reasons for more details). Maybe buckling up and ocean supervision isn’t so bad. Maybe parents today worry too much. Probably some of both.

There have been big improvements in accident risk since even my childhood years.  I remember those idyllic summers of the 1970s earning a few extra dollars mowing lawns–80,000 amputated fingers, hands and mangled toes and feet every year back then and just 6,000 today. Would I even let me kid use a mower from the 1970s?  Disease mortality is also way down, from 36.6 per 100,000 in 1950 to 8.6 per 100,000 in 2005.  For good or for ill, parental fears have increased even as risks overall have fallen.

There is nothing wrong with a bit of personal nostalgia but when nostalgia is taken for reality it biases our thinking in counter-productive ways. One wonders, for example, what those who look back longingly at the freedom of their childhood would say about Lenore Skenazy and her free-range kids. Skenazy let her fourth-grader take the NYC subway home alone.  Would Manzi applaud Skenazy for giving her kids the same freedoms he had?  Or would he denounce her, as many parents did, for something tantamount to child-abuse?

DaveyNC April 30, 2011 at 8:55 am

We baby our kids too much. I was at my sister’s house a week ago. She has 3 young boys, aged 3, 2 and 8 months. She was talking about buying helmets, elbow and knee pads so they older kids could ride their bikes/trikes. I almost bit a hole in my lip.

Shay May 1, 2011 at 8:44 am

A mouth guard would protect your lip. Safety first!

JS May 1, 2011 at 2:50 pm

You don’t like the idea of bike helmets? I’d guess you don’t like seatbelts, either. Have you looked at the head injury numbers?

RZ0 April 30, 2011 at 9:01 am

Guess I’ll be one of the first thousand or so to note that when parents have fewer children, they have more invested – both emotionally and monetarily – in each child, giving an economic explanation for the tighter reins today’s parent employs.

Careless April 30, 2011 at 5:58 pm

The speed with which these changes took place was much greater than the birth rate decline

DK May 1, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Nanny State has its effects, doesn’t it?

mrmandias May 2, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Here’s betting the causal arrow mostly points the other way.

Rahul April 30, 2011 at 9:15 am

One thing I am curious about is that you hear about kids roaming about so freely in the 50′s and 60′s etc. and today you have parents paranoid about a stranger even saying hello to a kid for fear of kidnapping and worse. What changed? Are kids dumber today, is the rest of adult society more vicious and malicious, or are parents purely more paranoid? Or are the kids so much safer now than they used to be due to the increased parental paranoia?

DaveyNC April 30, 2011 at 1:50 pm

The Adam Walsh case happened. People are too paranoid now.

JonF April 30, 2011 at 7:09 pm

There were always horrible instances of children abducted, abused and murdered. The Lindbergh baby case happened in the 30s.
Megan McCardle noted that the world of free range children was made possible by the fact that there were signifiant numbers of adults at home during the day, which now is much less true.

Michelle May 1, 2011 at 11:25 pm

The media happened. Before you wouldn’t hear about anything happening in Podunk, Arkansas (or name a state). Now you hear about it immediately because instead of focusing on happy stuff, the media prefers to scare us into submission. Stuff like that isn’t happening more, it’s just being reported more. When was the last time the media had a happy story on the front page?

doctorpat May 2, 2011 at 3:00 am

When was the last time the media had a happy story on the front page?
Ummm… Osama Killed?

Gene Callahan April 30, 2011 at 10:07 am

“The safety and freedom that Krugman describe are rare now even for the wealthiest Americans – by age 9, I would typically leave the house on a Saturday morning on my bike, tell my parents I was “going out to play,” and not return until dinner…”

My ten-year-old just left for the playground with his basketball. He’s coming home for lunch, then back out until dark. He’ll be there with a bunch of other kids around his age, with similar schedules. He does this every weekend. Nothing bad happens. (Yes, something bad MIGHT happen one day, but so it might if I plopped him in front of the TV all day.)

This is not happening in some remote farm village, but in Brooklyn.

Ken Rhodes April 30, 2011 at 10:27 am

Alex has apparently confused the idyllic time Krugman described (the Eisenhower years) with the time of his own childhood, which was 20 years later (the Nixon-Carter years).

“I remember those idyllic summers of the 1970s earning a few extra dollars mowing lawns–80,000 amputated fingers, hands and mangled toes and feet every year back then and just 6,000 today. Would I even let me kid use a mower from the 1970s?”

Hmmm … I remember earning a few extra dollars mowing lawns too, back in the 1950s, using my dad’s lawnmower. It had a reel and a grass catcher, and no motor. Very few amputated fingers from my push mower. My point is not specifically to pick on a single terrible example, but to point out that the seventies were not the fifties, and Krugman’s nostalgia is not something a child of the seventies has any personal recollection of.

Yancey Ward April 30, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Krugman was born in 1953, really, how much of the 50s does even he remember?

bbartlog April 30, 2011 at 10:49 am

‘Childhood freedom hasn’t been “lost,” it has been taken away by parents.’
Not necessarily parents. I let my eight year old daughter ride her bicycle alone to various places she knows how to get home from (local park, down the bike path and so on) and on three separate occasions the police have been called by someone who felt that she shouldn’t be out by herself. So far, I haven’t budged and nothing has come of it (i.e. no visits from the local Child Protective Services, no dark mutterings from the cops about child endangerment charges or the like). But certainly someone who were less determined or had greater respect for authority would probably have reined her in by now just to avoid problems. For what it’s worth I live in a rural area, i.e. I’m not letting her out on the streets of East St Louis or something.
Interestingly this is one of the few areas where black people may actually get a break of sorts (though not everyone would see it that way): it’s my impression that the police are much less likely to bother with black children out and about on their own.

DylanMorgan April 30, 2011 at 10:37 pm

So, YOU have not taken away childhood freedom. “Parents” have, other parents who don’t accept freeranging.

B April 30, 2011 at 11:00 am

It’s weird to see those two men making the same obvious mistake as others. The Daily Show already tore this argument to ribbons.

http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-january-5-2010/even-better-than-the-real-thing

pbrnte April 30, 2011 at 12:37 pm

I was just going to post that link. Is anybody here surprised that recent Krugman’s columns are on the level of Glenn Beck, Hannity and O’Reilly?

Tom April 30, 2011 at 1:08 pm

I ussually find Glenn Beck, Hannity and O’Reilly less deceptive than Krugman

curious May 1, 2011 at 12:56 am

i’d like to know in what way? which columns? a comparison please.

Adam April 30, 2011 at 11:01 am

I’m curious when exactly the shift happened. I was born in 1973, my brother in 1977, and most of our unsupervised play therefore occurred in the early and mid-1980s. Although I’m sure the cultural norms had already shifted considerably by then, my childhood seems to bear more in common with Krugman’s and Manzi’s than with what I see today. My days were largely unsupervised; my friends and I were free to roam the neighborhood; at a very young age (10? 11?), we were allowed to take the subway by ourselves into downtown Boston to explore. When exactly did this change?

What makes this particularly striking is that my parents, wonderful as they are, are not what I would describe as particularly relaxed people. They had (and have) the typical range of suburban neuroses: crime, kidnappers, razor blades in your Halloween candy, etc. They just seemed to be operating under an entirely different of cultural expectations when they raised us. I get the feeling that, back then, if you restricted your child’s movements the way today’s parents do, you’d be viewed as a serious oddball. (Contra RZ0, I doubt the change has very much of anything to do with economics.)

I haven’t read Free Range Kids or any of the related books, but I do wonder to what extent developments in consumer electronics have played a role in the shift. One very real consideration is that we would have gone insane if my parents tried to pen us up all weekend. My sense is that our beloved backyard swing set would not be such a draw for today’s kids.

DaveyNC April 30, 2011 at 1:52 pm

The Adam Walsh case changed it.

JonF April 30, 2011 at 7:11 pm

How many people have even heard of Adam Walsh? This is the first I’ve heard of it.

Anthony April 30, 2011 at 10:55 pm

It’s my first time hearing about it as well…

Rahul May 1, 2011 at 3:09 am

First time for me too.

ck May 1, 2011 at 11:59 am

You remember the dude who hosted “America’s Most Wanted?” Did you ever wonder how he got the job?

Nowadays there’s a new Adam Walsh every week. Stupid media acts like a funhouse mirror against our most atavistic fears…

bjk April 30, 2011 at 11:02 am

Hmmm, has AA life in DC improved? Before the 1960′s, there were four high schools in DC, three of them majority AA, and they were performing as well as the majority high school. Then the black family got destroyed. Life has improved for blacks in DC, except for the total destruction of the black family and the black community. Otherwise, great progress.

bjk April 30, 2011 at 11:03 am

Read “majority white high school” and “middle-class black community.”

rjs April 30, 2011 at 11:05 am

you’re a bit wrong about one thing…the fifties were indeed safer for kids, because the country still had the collective memory of death from the big war, and the first part of the baby boom was proof to all the adults that we had survived…

bbartlog April 30, 2011 at 11:07 am

And for what it’s worth, the fact that there is something of a human bias to remember childhood fondly is not enough to refute Krugman’s thesis. Things *have* been lost. The recent news regarding the chemistry set with no chemicals (mentioned on Slashdot and also elsewhere) is another example of society corrupted by risk aversion. No doubt you could point to a reduction in the number of fingers, eyes and lives lost to explosions, acid and other chemical-related mayhem. But as someone who is familiar with the problems caused by weighing the seen and neglecting the unseen, you must also be aware that there are benefits to allowing experimentation, and unlike the accidents these are not going to be measured directly by any agency.

Elvin April 30, 2011 at 11:18 am

When I was 13 my parents put me on a Greyhound bus with my 4-year old brother and we travelled 700 miles to see my grandparents. Last summer I offered to drop my 13-year old son at a major league baseball park with a friend and they were to get in and enjoy the game by themselves. I was met with horror and resistance by everybody–my wife, the other son’s parents, people at work. Of course, I’m an Irish Setter dad, so I get a lot criticism for my parenting beliefs.

ck May 1, 2011 at 12:03 pm

I really hope that that phrase “Irish Setter Dad” takes off. Unfortunately, PJ O’Rourke is uglier than Amy Chua so it is our societal duty to ignore him.

Bryan April 30, 2011 at 11:21 am

Clearly this is all about perspective. Statistics are subject to politics too. If the numbers indicating fewer accidents involving lawn mowers are accurate, what’s driving that number? Further, how does that number relate with respect to the overall population which has exploded since the 50s?

I work in liability insurance claims and there is a distinct difference in the kinds of claims being made just from 10 years ago. These sorts of claims were not even thought of in the 50s. I do agree with your article though. The notion of the idyllic 50s is definitely perspective driven. I’m sure plaintiff attorneys see current times as being much better than the 50s too.

gwern May 1, 2011 at 8:36 pm

I’m not sure the lawnmower claim is not misleading. Look at the US injury figures in http://www.iccwa.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/iccwa-diy-injury-report.pdf sourced from a NEISS study among others – in 2000, the powered lawnmowers (which use blades as well…) add up to something like 80k injuries!

So how could, in a nation of >300 million people, there be just 6000 lawnmower injuries a year?

I suspect that the source (seems to be Consumer Reports relaying a press release http://m.consumerreports.org/blog/view/id/10278/?KSID=…93f8989d24674c4e4abf2d83b ) is only measuring *push* lawnmowers despite the description.

Which of course is perfectly useless and misleading because how many people use push lawnmowers? I’ve done my fair share of mowing, and never used a push lawnmower, and I’m not sure I’ve ever actually *seen* a push lawnmower.

LemmusLemmus April 30, 2011 at 11:38 am

Um, has it occured to anyone that “number of fingers cut off,” etc. might be endogenous?

Mesa April 30, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Things have changed. Every occurrence is necessarily someone’s fault or responsibility, thus the need to overprotect and monitor, els you will be blamed. This is a result of a litigious society, and a more intrusive government, including wildly increased police intervention in family life . Letting your kid ride the subway may be a little out there, but it depends on the kid, and it is hardly child abuse. It takes a village to point the collective finger everywhere and lock things down. Freedom suffers while perhaps some types of safety win. How do you want to live?

dave April 30, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Let’s break this shit down.

If your an above average person of any race, things have continued to get better. This is especially true for the smart.

If your a average white male, life has been getting worse since about the 70s. Your wages stagnated or fell and your social standing plummeted. I don’t think its that hard to make a case that working class white men had is better in the 50s and 60s.

If your an average white woman things have generally improved but its a mixed bag. Woman’s lib dramatically increased your freedom and status, but in response working class white men have largely dropped out of the marriage market in response to woman’s lib. And in response woman went on a baby strike, thus the current demographic crunch.

If your a minority life improved dramatically by civil rights. At the same time its been far less of a boon then you thought it would be in the 60s, as oppression by whites has been replaced by failures of your own culture.

So there is your nostalgia, mostly from working class white men who have indeed fallen in status combined with weaker white woman who can’t navigate their new freedoms well and wish she had a unionized 50s factory worker to take care of her.

RM April 30, 2011 at 2:07 pm

Have you considered the possibility that your description of white males and white females might be the result of the failure of white culture

Gary April 30, 2011 at 2:55 pm

Life has been getting materially better for everyone, regardless of class, gender, or race.

dave April 30, 2011 at 3:31 pm

Yes, new technologies and medical advancements have made life better.

But status and security have decreased for your average working class white. You go from Leave it to Beaver to Homer Simpson.

Also, some of the most basic things: a home in a good neighborhood, a decent school, medical care, and the potential for college are getting more out of reach. My parents went to city college and paid the whole thing working part time. Today the same thing would require five figures of debt and your lucky to get a job coming out. Good luck having health insurance, etc. And that’s for the smarter ones.

Kadoodle April 30, 2011 at 1:44 pm

I suppose one thing worth pointing to is the prevalence of child molestation scares in the 1980s. Although many of these have been debunked, women had entered the work force in a big way, and I remember the poor “latchkey” kids who had to survive several hours alone after school before parents came home from work. I would guess this heightened fears of parents who felt that their children were especially vulnerable compared to earlier times. It is one thing not to know exactly where your child is, but be confident he’s somewhere in the neighborhood playing with other neighbors around, and another thing to be at work downtown with your kid who knows where, possibly with child molesting daycare workers or running the streets with heavy metal Satanists and crack pushers.

Slocum April 30, 2011 at 2:48 pm

In my middle-class suburban neighborhood (outside Chicago) in the 1960s and 70s, there were already lots of women in the workforce, ‘latchkey kids’, and (absurdly inflated) sex abuse scares. By the time their kids were all of school age, most of the mothers on my block worked (I was unusual, even in the late 60′s, walking home from school for lunch on many days). I remember a program when I was in elementary school (late 60s) where families with a mother at home would put a cardboard, orange and black “block mother” sign in the window, so kids threatened by creepy strangers could run to those doors.

JonF April 30, 2011 at 7:14 pm

About half the wives in my childhood neighborhood in the 70s worked. However most of them worked at part-time jobs with hours arranged around the school day. Those who had full time jobs either had some other nonworking adult in the household, or had older teenagers who were tasked with looking after younger siblings after school.

Floccina April 30, 2011 at 1:46 pm

The interesting phenomenon is why would Krugman, obviously intelligent and an economist did not bother to check the statistics?

Tom April 30, 2011 at 7:35 pm

It would interfere with his narrative. Have you not read Krugman in the last dozen years.

Marvin Brakeman April 30, 2011 at 1:52 pm

Move to Nebraska. Still pretty much like the childhood you remember here.

Richard Ebeling April 30, 2011 at 1:56 pm

I see that my grandchildren need to arrange “play dates” to spend time with their school friends. I used to just go out a play, and I grew up in the New York City area — not “Leave it to Beaverville.”

I think a part of the increased (over-cautious?) protective attitude among many parents today is that they have fewer children now than back in, say, the 1950s or 1960s.

Though people find it “shocking” to articulate it in this fashion, when you have three, or four, or five children the “marginal utility” lost if one of them is killed (intentionally or in an accident) is not as great as when you have only one or two children.

This is intensified when many parents have their only child at a later time in their careers (the “biological clock” at work) than was in general the case in past decades. Thus, the potential loss of that only child is conceptually more devastating. One more carefully “conserves” that highly scarce resources in comparison to a more plentiful supply or the easier ability if to replace a “unit” that has been lost through a new act of reproduction.

Richard Ebeling

Rahul April 30, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Great point, often under-appreciated! The more the kids you have the less catastrophic the loss of each one is. Even today poorer Hispanics and blacks are less paranoid about what their children do.

dave April 30, 2011 at 3:37 pm

I have my own pet theory.

As the status of average people has fallen, having lots of average children doesn’t raise ones status. Its not longer enough to “be fruitful and multiply”. People want to have special kids, not regular kids, and special kids require a lot of resource investment. Having a special kid raises your status because you get to think your a special parent, whereas having 4 or 5 regular kids just makes you some yokle.

Rahul April 30, 2011 at 6:17 pm

Makes sense. Unless you are Mormon.

Peter May 2, 2011 at 9:02 pm

I think one of the parts you are missing Richard (I have this with my own daughter who is four) is the fact you cant’ just tell you kids to go outside and play as they wont’ find anybody to play with. I go to the park and it’s helicopter parents hovering over their children fending other kids off; I send my daughter outside to play (in the yard) and you won’t see any other kids though I know their are plenty her age in the neighborhood within a couple houses of me. You simply can’t find anybody to play with and you lose the safety of numbers if you do (one or two doesn’t provide that much safety). I blame some of this on helicopter parenting but also I blame the internet, structured activities, and both parents working.

Basically I am regularly doing play dates but not because I want to, it’s just a must or my daughter wont’ have any social life or friends if I don’t.

Harry Brighouse April 30, 2011 at 1:58 pm

bbart is right, and there’s something odd about this whole discussion. Nostalgia doesn’t operate on a comparison between the overall quality of things today versus the overall quality of things in the past. Rather it responds to certain salient features that seem like losses, and seem unnecessary. Its not “Everything was better then” it is “some things were better then and some of those are feasible now”. Alex’s “all-things-considered” judgment is not relevant to this comparison. The loss of finger-mangling lawnmowers is to be celebrated (though if you dive into the statistics what you will find is a radical reduction in the amount of lawnmowing kids do, which is to be lamented). The loss of unsupervised play is really a bad thing, and down to a pathology. Cycling to school? Well, from 7 to 18 I either cycled or walked 2 miles or so to and from school everyday. I would allow my kids to do the same in those places now IF there weren’t 10 times the amount of traffic (one of the roads was a single lane country road, which I have recently seen cars driving along at 70mph). But where I now live they get a lot of unsupervised time, partly because they have managed to befriend the small number of kids with parents as sensible as I am.

And while it is true that white kids now are less likely to live in racially segregated neighbourhoods, they are more likely to live in class-segregated neighbourhoods and considerably more likely to attend class-segregated schools.

Go back to the thirties, and it was parenthood, not childhood, which was so awful. Parents lived in constant fear of their children dying. No antibiotics.

dave April 30, 2011 at 7:35 pm

Yes, I think when people think nostalgically they are saying that yesterdays society with today’s technology would be better.

How much of today’s society is a result of that technology is a question.

chris May 3, 2011 at 10:01 am

The loss of finger-mangling lawnmowers is to be celebrated (though if you dive into the statistics what you will find is a radical reduction in the amount of lawnmowing kids do, which is to be lamented).

Wait… the statistics show that we no longer expect children to operate a highly dangerous machine that statistics showed they were unable to operate safely… and that’s a BAD thing?

The fact that children were frequently injured trying to operate lawnmowers is a *good* reason to prevent them from doing so.

Cycling to school? Well, from 7 to 18 I either cycled or walked 2 miles or so to and from school everyday. I would allow my kids to do the same in those places now IF there weren’t 10 times the amount of traffic (one of the roads was a single lane country road, which I have recently seen cars driving along at 70mph).

This part I agree with. Modern cars can be driven faster with less risk to the car occupants; this has led people to drive them faster, which makes them more dangerous to non-cars on or near the roads. Bike paths are one thing, but I doubt I would allow a child to bicycle on most American roads.

Abelard Lindsey April 30, 2011 at 2:08 pm

There are certain factions of the U.S. population who imagine that the 1950′s was some sort of paradise. What they fail to consider is the dysfunctional nature of the marriages at the time. Domestic violence was not only common, it was socially accepted. Also, extramarital affairs were just as common then as they are today. This was because the husband and wife really did not have much in common in terms in shared interests and goals in life. Indeed, extramarital sex is actually less socially accepted today than it was in the 1950s.

I think generally things are better today, despite the helicopter parenting and increased government regulation. All of the people I know who are married and have kids have stable marriages and good solid educations. They are very rational and sober people.

If there was anything like any golden age, it was the 1980′s, not the 1950′s. The Reagan revolution in the 1980′s created the first upward mobility in the U.S. since the 1920′s. If you do not believe this, compare the Forbes 400 from, say, 1982 to that of today. Far more of the wealthiest people in this country are self-made, as compared to 1982 when most of them where heirs to family fortune.

Another thing to consider is that the cost of most manufactured goods as well as services (air travel, international holidays) has dropped relative to average income. The things that have become more expensive are areas that are heavily regulated or influenced by the government (education, health-care). I think, for average income, its actually easier to live a fulfilling life today (international travel, outdoor sports, etc.) than it was in the 1950′s.

dave April 30, 2011 at 3:42 pm

“All of the people I know who are married and have kids have stable marriages and good solid educations. They are very rational and sober people.”

In much of a bubble?

Abelard Lindsey April 30, 2011 at 6:10 pm

No. I just associate with a higher class of people. I have discriminating tastes, you know.

dave April 30, 2011 at 7:33 pm

So yes is the answer to my statement.

JonF April 30, 2011 at 7:21 pm

Re: The Reagan revolution in the 1980′s created the first upward mobility in the U.S. since the 1920′s.

Can I visit your alternate universe some time?

Tom April 30, 2011 at 7:38 pm

Sure, it’s called Earth. Visit anytime you’d like.

Abelard Lindsey April 30, 2011 at 9:45 pm

Compare the Forbes 400 in 1982 to that of today. You can actually check this stuff out on the Forbes website. You will see that more than 75% of the Forbes 400 were heirs of family fortune. More than 75% of the Forbes 400 today are self-made.

This is obvious proof of increased upward mobility.

Edan April 30, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Yglesias links to this post and comments on it, offering a useful additional perspective:

http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/2011/04/against-nostalgia-against-fatalism/

Abelard Lindsey April 30, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Another thing about the 1950′s, you had to get an “exit visa” in order to travel outside the U.S. This is the reason why the Nobel prize for the discovery of DNA was awarded to Crick and Watson instead of Linus Pauling, even though the later did most of the work.

Remember those faked Bush national-guard memos that took down Dan Rather? I think that is where the media first got caught doing that sort of thing. The media has been lying and making up the news ever since the days of Randolf Hearst. It was the development of the internet that finally allowed people to circumvent the legacy media.

Some say that we have lost the ability to build things, usually with references to NASA in the 1960′s. I think SpaceX and other space launch start-up companies will put this myth to rest. Also, it is looking increasingly likely (although we will not know until this October) that LENR (aka cold fusion) is real and that it is being privately developed and commercialized in Italy. There is also a group of private DIY biology people, called the Vegas Group, who are working to cure aging in the next 20 years.

Yes, there is lots of masturbatory BS in our culture today and government and government funded bureaucracy is increasing dysfunctional. However, there is lots of private activity going on that will change things for the better in the near future.

Curt F. April 30, 2011 at 5:47 pm

Another thing about the 1950′s, you had to get an “exit visa” in order to travel outside the U.S. This is the reason why the Nobel prize for the discovery of DNA was awarded to Crick and Watson instead of Linus Pauling, even though the later did most of the work.

This is absurdly wrong. First, DNA was discovered long before Crick, Watson, or Pauling. Second, Pauling proposed a structure of DNA that was wrong (three strands with phosphate groups on the inside and bases on the outside). Crick and Watson proposed a structure of DNA that was right (two stands with phosphate groups on the outside and bases paired cross-strand on the inside). Rosalind Franklin, who you didn’t mention, did a lot of the work.

DK May 1, 2011 at 2:47 pm

Your got 100% of everything totally wrong in your DNA story.

thehova April 30, 2011 at 4:25 pm

IMHO, Alex too easily dismisses Manzi and Krugman’s arguments.

Relative to median income, we have witnessed a dramatic increase in housing, health care, and education costs the past 30 years/

Yes, it’s great that women today have more choice and freedom when it comes to choosing a career path. But now, more so than in the 50′s, 60′s, and 70′s, women are forced in the workforce to pay for the rising cost increases noted above.

Anthony April 30, 2011 at 11:19 pm

Of course what Krugman will never mention is the fact that a large part of the dramatic cost increases you mention are directly caused by government intervention, particularly printing new money… big banks get the benefits and working people pay the costs.

agnostic April 30, 2011 at 5:29 pm

“Krugman was born in 1953, really, how much of the 50s does even he remember?”

He fondly remembers the very tail-end of it, when rock n roll had already broken out of the cage. The homicide rate began its steady climb in 1959 (peaking in 1992). That was the year that Stand By Me is set in (and the novella it’s based on). Those were definitely not Leave It To Beaver times anymore.

Most people’s memories of The Fifties were actually from 1958 or ’59 through ’65. In other words, a period of steadily rising violence, promiscuity, danger, and overall excitement — but before The Movement forced young people to choose sides in a culture war. That died out around ’73 or ’74, so people’s nostalgia for carefree life returns from the mid-’70s through the late ’80s and early ’90s.

agnostic April 30, 2011 at 5:39 pm

Another movie that most people think is from The Fifties — The Sandlot — was set in 1962. The Wonder Years is also set in the mostly pre-culture-war part of the 1960s (i.e. before The Sixties).

The 1950s were too boring to induce much nostalgia for, even among the older Baby Boomers, born in the mid-late-’40s, who have clear memories of the period. Back To The Future was as close as it got, and even there the emphasis was on the wildness that was on the cusp of bursting out — punching out bullies, racing cars, kissing girls, and inventing rock n roll.

For a better reminder of life from the safe (falling-crime) period of the mid-’30s through most of the ’50s, see A Christmas Story, Radio Days, and Brighton Beach Memoirs. That was another era of helicopter parents and locked-up children, just like in the falling-crime period of the past 20 years.

Vera April 30, 2011 at 5:40 pm

I can’t believe anyone would NOT let their 9-year-old kid take the NYC subway home from school. NY is one of the safest cities in the country, especially at 4pm! I biked alone nearly everywhere I went starting in first grade, took the subway around Berlin alone at 11 when I couldn’t speak German, took Greyhound across the country multiple times at 14. How else do kids learn to be self-sufficient?

Alison Cummins May 2, 2011 at 7:04 am

Yes. I don’t get why folks here all seem to accept that there’s something extreme about taking the subway. There are lots of people on the subway. That’s what makes it safe for kids.

Dee May 2, 2011 at 10:30 am

I’m not from NY, but from Chicago. Many of the Chicago kids I knew growing up were familiar with and using the various public transit options (Metra, CTA, bus) during the late 1980s/early 1990s by age 9 or 10 … some of them even had to use them daily to get to-and-from school. I still can’t process the idea that a CITY kid who is familiar with public transit would be unable to take it on their own by age 9/10ish. A city kid who couldn’t figure out public transit would have been pretty hampered in their activities.

Jim Glass April 30, 2011 at 6:25 pm

Also remember how Krugman pines for the enlightened *politics* of the 1970s. As he told Kevin Drum…

“Is this the same country that we had in 1970? I think we have a much more polarized political system, a much more polarized social climate …we’re probably not the country of Richard Nixon …”

Oh, it’s just not the same today. There’s no Spiro Agnew smoothing troubled waters … no race riots burning down inner cities … no *domestic terrorist* SDS and Weathermen building-bombings … no anti-war protestors closing universities …. no Kent State Massacres with the National Guard shooting down students on campus …

Oh, lament the passing of the happy political days of Paul’s youth.

dave April 30, 2011 at 7:37 pm

What he means is his side was winning in the 60s, and that is what he misses.

minority worship detracts from your argument April 30, 2011 at 6:27 pm

Alex would do better to focus on issues that the vast majority of people living in America in 1950s would actually care about. Hint hint – number of African American maids (out of a black population that was around 13% of the whole, just like now) and “sexual diversity” whatever that means would not be high on the list. Neither is it high on priority’s list of most people who may look back wistfully at 1950s now.

There is a reason why they call “diverse” people “minorities”. It’s because they are usually, well, a minority (all the more so before the great Mexican immigration). Whereas the vast numerical majority had and still has other concerns.

jdm April 30, 2011 at 7:14 pm

Is there something odd about the logic here? If I can paraphrase:

JM: I had a lot more freedom when I was a kid than most kids have now. My childhood, which was a typical childhood in my community, a community that didn’t employ many servants, was sweet.

AT: No, you’re fooling yourself. Life for blacks was bad back then. Also, there were a lot more
preventable accidents than there are now. Therefore, your memories of your experiences are biased.
Childhood is better now.

It seems to me that topics like the problems of racism or the desirability of wearing seat belts is somewhat distinct from whether most kids lives are overly structured these days.

chris May 3, 2011 at 10:05 am

I think the point is that Jim’s childhood wasn’t typical, let alone universal. Most kids didn’t have Jim’s childhood even when they were kids at the same time Jim was. So comparing Jim’s particular childhood to “most kids” today is an unfair comparison. The assertion that Jim’s childhood was typical “in his community” only reveals that his community was unrepresentative.

Also, since Jim is alive to reminisce, I assume that he wasn’t killed in one of those preventable childhood accidents. People who had been killed might disagree with Jim, if they were around to do so.

lihtox April 30, 2011 at 8:45 pm

One explanation Lenore and the Free-Rangers give for the increased risk-averseness is the rise of 24-hour cable news: television has to broadcast a lot more news than it used to, and so grabs onto sensationalist stories, thus fostering an atmosphere of fear.

And another point is that, maybe due to the rise of technology and our increasing mastery of our environment, we’re developing the sense that we are all-powerful, and therefore anything bad that happens is somebody’s fault. If a child dies, then it’s because their parents weren’t diligent enough, or didn’t feed the child the right things, or maybe it’s the fault of a toy manufacturer or public school. And so we have the awful situation now that when a child becomes seriously hurt or even dies, the sympathy due the parents is tempered with criticism. Perhaps a parent’s greatest fear isn’t the fear of abduction or accident (which are rare), but the fear of being labelled a “bad parent”, which is all too common; no wonder parents are so overprotective.

Stephanie Harper April 30, 2011 at 9:10 pm

I grew up in Alaska in the 60s and had a similarly idyllic childhood. We ran free, climbed, rode our bikes and were generally unsupervised while out in the neighborhood playing.
The flip side of this is that my best friend across the street lost her big brother by drowning in a pond. So that freedom certainly did come with risk. Her parents were comforted, rather than prosecuted, as death was less rare and considered a risk we all took living in a wild and untamed place.

Jim April 30, 2011 at 9:39 pm

It’s worth remembering that up the period preceding the mid-1950s in the USA can accurately be described as “Endless War.” And not Iraq-style war, with shockingly low casualties and all-volunteer forces. In 1944, it was very hard to panic about your 13-year-old playing flashlight tag when his older brother was six months from getting drafted and the two older than that were off in the Ardennes someplace.

Likewise, when those veterans came home and had kids thru the 50s, 60s, and 70s, they were not going to panic about them biking around without helmets. And it’s not just the veterans, it’s everyone around them. If you’re a woman and many of your male friends in high-school were killed or maimed in Korea by age 20, you’re not thinking that your kid born in 1966 is incapable of handling ocean waves.

However, when you’re the 1966 kid having your own kids in the 90s, it’s an entirely different story. I mean, what exactly have you or any of your highschool friends done that was dangerous or challenging or even all that adult-like? Some, I’m sure, but much, much less than your ancestors. And so you are more inclined to think that your kids are useless and need 24/7 supervision.

tom3 April 30, 2011 at 9:56 pm

Alex inexplicably ignores the originator of the posts: Steve Sailer. Alex also ignores the way Sailer discusses with those issues:

1. Moms at work. Working is great for moms who are Slate writers and professors with cool jobs that they love. But working is not satisying for many women, and it can be terrible if you have to work simply to pay for the same things (house, public education) that you could have bought in the ’50′s with a husband’s salary. Staying home, volunteering and/or teaching may not have been perfect for all mothers(esp. the small segment of super-smart women who you hang out with), but it wasn’t always a prison and it certainly wasn’t always worse than working in HR at a big company.

2. Diversity. Alex talks about NoVa diversity but I think he is cheating. I would bet that his school doesn’t have a lot of black kids and that to the extent it has them, they are extraordinarily unusual black kids with married parents. I would also bet that Alex’s kids don’t go to school with dozens of poor Spanish-speaking new immigrants. Alex uses diverse as a cover for high-achieving Chinese and Indians and diplomats’ kids. Alex, do you have lots of lower-class diverse people at your kids’ schools?
3. Black in America Today. Is it really a better time to grow up as a black kid? The black American family has been destroyed. Black men (who are the canaries in the coal mine for all lower-middle class men) have been almost eliminated as family and local authority figures. We can all pat ourselves on the back for there being lots of black women working in offices today, but how do they get the ‘Krugman goods’ from the ’50′s? Where do they find the man to stay with them, and the stable neigborhoods?

Alex, will you do us the courtesy of saying what you meant by ‘diversity’? Will you explain why it’s better for lower-middle class women to have to work at an not-enjoyable outside jobs where they are apart from their kids? Will you explain why it’s a better time to be a black kid today than in 1950, when the odds of having two stable parents living together are so small?

If I had an alternative thesis, it would be that life today is much better for high-IQ women and men who found each other in elite schools and big cities. But it is not better for lower-middle whites or the majority of blacks.

Rahul May 1, 2011 at 3:31 am

Thanks for the lead. I never realized Steve Sailer was involved. He’s conspicuously absent from the comments here today.

Thehova May 1, 2011 at 5:01 pm

Let’s call it what it is, pure cowardice.

ad*m May 1, 2011 at 12:41 pm

“inexplicably” ->
Stating anything neutral let alone positive about Steve Sailer’s work leads to irreversible untouchable status no matter what US university you teach at. Or worse.

Thehova May 1, 2011 at 3:43 pm

Alex simply didn’t seriously respond to this issue. Instead he pins it on psychology.

TGGP May 1, 2011 at 1:24 am

“Growing up in Northern Virginia, my children experience far more ethnic, cultural, racial and sexual diversity and equality than just about any child growing up outside of a commune did in the 1950s and 1960s.”
Funny coincidence, I just happened to read this via The Fourth Checkraise a few hours ago.

TGGP May 1, 2011 at 2:09 am

Wow, check out Karl Smith on Eden. That should go in his list of classics.

Ddrag Verd May 1, 2011 at 6:43 am

My childhood can be described more or less the same. But I spent my childhood in one of the poorest Eastern European countries first under the late 80′ communism and then in the “Wild Est” years of the early 90′. This period cannot be described in any way as “great”. But still my childhood can be compared to that of Jim Manzi or Paul Krugman. And yes, today things are different even here. I agree that many things have changed in the last 40-50 years and many changes were for worse (i’m not conservative for nothing) but I feel like everybody has there own Very Bad Thing That Ruined Everything (women liberation, greedy businessmen and so on). Yes many of those did play a part but I thing the big change was peoples expectations. I see this loss of childhood as the end result of the long modern drive to eliminate risks. This is a good thing when you’re building airplanes but not so good when raising kids. We have domesticated ourselves to the point that we are like animals in a zoo. We have everything we need, we face little risks but we are bored and fat.
Oh, and another thing. Both my parents worked. This is and was something normal then as now in my country. So I never understood this American (and German) obsession with mothers not working. It seems so Victorian to me. Like the child will became a gang member if the mother does spend at least 10 hours a day with him.

rh May 1, 2011 at 11:15 am

Kids don’t roam outside that much any more. We have World of Warcraft, where you may screw up and die as much as you want, without any consequences.

ad*m May 1, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Isn;’t the central difference between ‘now’ and ‘then’ that the future was going to be better? I believed I would be flying to the moon myself once I grew up. Isn’t it more where you (think you) are going than where you are?

DK May 1, 2011 at 1:33 pm

“Sexual diversity”? WTF is it? You applaud your children experiencing it? You are insane.

Mitchell Young May 1, 2011 at 7:43 pm

For that matter, why is ethnic, cultural, or racial diversity in and of itself a good thing?

doctorpat May 2, 2011 at 3:16 am

If sexual diversity means that your child gets to know both boys and girls, then I can see it might be a good thing.

Charlie O May 1, 2011 at 7:50 pm

How do the the rates of abduction in the 50′s/70′s/today compare? After seeing statistics on accidents and health, my first thought is “how many perverts are out there who will abduct a kid.” But maybe I watch too much dateline.

Do either of the books mentioned give these statistics?

Uly May 2, 2011 at 1:38 am

Today’s rate of stranger abduction is close to nonexistent. There are fewer than 200 of them a year, most of them of teens. (Yes, teens.) Given the sheer number of children and teenagers in this country, the fact is that the odds of your kid being harmed by a stranger are several times smaller than the odds of your kid being struck by lightning. On a sunny day. In a city full of tall metal buildings.

Emmett Till May 1, 2011 at 7:57 pm

Will you explain why it’s a better time to be a black kid today than in 1950…?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emmett_Till

If 1950 was that great for black kids, it sure a nosedive by ’55.

tom3 May 1, 2011 at 10:44 pm

Well-played race card. Phew, I’m beat.

I’m sure Till was less dead and less tormented than the millions of victims of black-on-black crime since the 50′s. DC alone has had, what, ten thousand black people killed since then? How many raped? How many brought up scared? How many who didn’t have a father they could respect? How many in Detroit? Chicago? Milwaukee? Crime has gotten much worse, and black society has collapsed.

You may have a formula that shows one 1950′s lynching and the accompanying racism > the destruction of black family life and four decades of increased crime. Can you share it?

TGGP May 1, 2011 at 10:51 pm
Luke Lea May 1, 2011 at 8:36 pm

Let’s imagine an idyllic future for the average majority made possible by clothes and dish washing machines, automated manufacturing processes, and many other technological advances that have increased the productivity of labor since the 1950′s. Here’s what it might look like: http://sites.google.com/site/lukelea2/thesoftpath

EF May 1, 2011 at 8:50 pm

A family member who is a child psychologist (Age 56) in a white, middle class New Jersey suburb has, I think, I good explanation. She says that when she deals with older parents, they tend to be much more protective and risk-averse than when she deals with younger parents. Younger parents have ‘less to lose’ according to her, while older parents may only have the chance to have 1 or 2 kids, and plan to live out the rest of their prime years raising them. The kids become their life, while younger parents are more apt to have a life outside of their kids.

As someone who has recently worked at a Boy Scout camp with kids age 11-17 and adult leaders, I’d say we have a mixed bag. There are plenty of overprotective helicopter parents, but many other parents who understand that they need to let their kids go a little bit. But they also have the structure of the Boy Scouts and the boy-led activities to guide them. I’m sure that the general population is different. The Boy Scouts themselves have become much more risk averse than in my parent’s years due to liability concerns. My father used to describe going out into the woods with a patrol of 10 guys with the oldest person being a 15 or 16 year old patrol leader. Today, they are required to have 2 trained adults, one CPR certified, minimum as supervision. I think in cases like these, we’re making a trade off between safety and creating independence. That may not necessarily be a bad trade off – I’m sure kids did stupid things and got severely hurt more back in the day – but its also a self-reinforcing one. The less we let our kids take risks, the less they are prepared to take risks in the future.

Loren May 1, 2011 at 9:58 pm

One mundane activity that encouraged in me a modicum of independence in the early 1970s was a series of paper routes. Typically these involved not only delivering the papers but going door-to-door to collect subscription payments which I remitted (less my share) to the local route manager.

My impression is that similar outlets for adolescent entrepreneurialism have largely disappeared.

pct May 2, 2011 at 1:54 pm

Two things surprise me about this discussion. Well, maybe three, but the third is less surprising. First, the waspish tone of the critics, and second, the fact that they refute arguments neither Krugman nor Manzi really make. We’re talking personal reminiscences, guys, not sociology articles. Last, and less surprising, the critics did not grow up in the time period in question, and are ahistorically projecting current values backwards. I grew up in the ’50’s, and if you were a white kid in the suburbs, as they were, it was wonderful.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: