It was not the alarmists in the mid-20th century who led the way out of the darkness but rather the “recoverists”—those who took stock of the good things we can build on even as the alarmists at America’s Manichean poles continue to dominate so much of social and conventional media.
This is from Ryan Streeter, “The Great American Freak-Out and How to Address It,” in Law and Liberty, April 30, 2021. Somehow I had missed it even though I check that site every day. Law and Liberty is our sister publication. HT2 Arnold Kling for highlighting it today.
Ryan Streeter, by the way, is the director of domestic policy at the American Enterprise Institute.
There’s so much positive in that article.
A few highlights follow.
On the American Dream
Americans also want to believe in the future, that getting ahead and opportunity are still fundamental to being American. More people consistently value the economy over the hot-button that elites tell us are more important, such as climate change or inequality, and most Americans are satisfied with the opportunity to get ahead. Belief not only in the American Dream but that people are actually living it is rather widespreadin the country, even if people don’t fare as well by objective mobility measures. Claiming the American Dream is dead has served useful purposes on both the left and the right in recent years, but most Americans don’t actually believe it, including the working class. In September of 2020, 42 percent of the country believed they were on their way to achieving the American Dream. Perhaps surprising to the pundit class, that jumps to 45 percent of the overall working class, and even higher to 55 percent of the Hispanic working class. Economists and pundits have been decrying stagnation in the middle and the bottom of socioeconomic America for years, yet people living in the middle and the bottom have surprisingly high levels of confidence in the American Dream.
I’m actually not quite as surprised as Ryan. I’ve been saying and writing for almost 20 years about the fact that a majority of people at all income levels have had their real income increase substantially. A lot of economists don’t know that; many people in those income groups do.
On Breaking Down the Government School Monopoly
And when it comes to the always-politicized educational establishment, the appetite for good schools and the innovations that support them are more baked into the American psyche than they were a generation ago. In 1990, there were exactly zero charter schools in America. Today, there more than 7,500 public charter schools, serving over 3 million students, primarily low-income students of color. Eighteen states havevoucher programs, and given the pandemic’s forced national experiment with homeschooling, new forms of schooling such as hybrid models, are abounding. As partisan as K-12 fights can be, the embrace of charter schools and other educational innovations at the grassroots is not.
It is important for recoverists within American political life to find each other and coalesce around common projects so that alarmism has less of an effect on policymakers. For recoverists hoping to make the future better by building on the past, it is worth pulling a page from the century-old playbook to find new ways to defend the first principles, practices, and institutions on which all of these good things depend. Neither the Mont Pelerin Society nor the Great Books nor C.S. Lewis was inventing entirely new ideas. All of them were recovering anew those things without which a healthy and flourishing society is not possible.
Does Streeter overstate his case? Probably. And some of the commenters on Arnold Kling’s post on Streeter’s article have said why. But I’ve stayed away from quoting the items on which I think he overstates.
Those who know me know that I’m a glass-half-full person. So of course this kind of article would appeal to me. But just as even paranoids have enemies, even optimists often have reason for hope.