Tuesday, December 07, 2004

David Brooks and the Natalists

An idiotorial of epic proportion. Anybody want to take a stab at finding any merit in this piece? (And no, "He appears to have spell-checked pretty well" doesn't count.)


  1. According to Tapped, Brooks not only needs to improve his reasoning, he should also check his sources more carefully.

    (A note to trolls, particularly the anonymous kind - you don't like it here? Crawl back into your cave.)

  2. For the benefit of those who see the appeal of Brooks typical mixture of "making stuff up" and drawing simplistic conclusions, let me explain a little bit....

    Brooks writes about "natalists" whom he suggests are "more spiritually, emotionally and physically invested in their homes than in any other sphere of life" ostensibly because they believe that parenthood is their highest calling. He suggests that many have "sacrificed pleasures like sophisticated movies, restaurant dining and foreign travel, let alone competitive careers and disposable income, for the sake of their parental calling". He later adds that they tend to live in Red American - "the 19 states with the highest white fertility rates" which went for Bush - while "'Democrats swept the largely childless cities''". This is, he claims "a spiritual movement, not a political one", because these supposed natalists "are explicitly rejecting materialistic incentives and hyperindividualism". He claims, without any support whatsoever for his thesis, that "Natalists resist the declining fertility trends not because of income, education or other socioeconomic characteristics. It's attitudes. People with larger families tend to attend religious services more often, and tend to have more traditional gender roles."

    But he later admits, "Like most Americans, and maybe more so because they tend to marry earlier, they find themselves confronting the consequences of divorce." That contradicts first his claims of "parenthood before all" and second his implication that these people follow a lifestyle more in line with what might be deemed "old time religion". It also contradicts the notion of choice, beyond the "choice" to marry and start families at a younger age - because he is identifying demographic characteristics in this group which are positively associated with (a) lower educational achievement, (b) lower income, and (c) larger families. In one breath he tells us that it's "not because of income, education or other socioeconomic characteristics" and in the next breath he identifies a demographic which on the whole has lower incomes and lower educational achievement.

    Additionally, he suggests that these "natalists" are not simply reflective of a local culture - coming from a background in which it is more acceptable to marry young, have lots of kids, and settle into a lifestyle which is in large part dicated by a lower income (and the logistics of life with children), as opposed to simply choosing not to take the family on a junket to Paris or out for dinner at a fine restaurant.

    Brooks also conflates what he suggests is the choice of these "natalists" to move to particular locations - "like Douglas County in Colorado (which is the fastest-growing county in the country and has one of the highest concentrations of kids)" - with the reality that this has a lot more to do with the economic realities of marrying young and having lots of kids. When he comments that these so-called "natalists" live in the states with the highest birthrates, he should realize that they are not moving to those locations - they're already there. By the same token, he should realize that when he suggests that the bluest cities have the lowest birthrates, it is not because people are moving their families from those cities - if you move after the kids are born, after all, you don't deflate the local birthrate. Granted, urbanization no doubt plays a role in the population growth of that Douglas County, which would create job opportunities which might draw workers from all demographic backgrounds, Brooks doesn't in any way support his thesis that people are attracted to the County because it is "kid-friendly" as opposed to a place with good job opportunities and reasonably priced housing. And if Douglas County's growth can be attributed to a migration toward "red state values" or some such nonsense, it is interesting to note that their 2004 election results for the Presidential race were almost identical (2000, 64.95R - 31.4D; 2004, 66.49R - 32.7D), but their vote for Senator (1998, 74.06R - 24.23D; 2002, 65.49R - 32.13D; 2004, 60.74R - 37.84D) and Member of Congress (1998, 72.89R - 25.87D; 2004, 64.80R - 33.99D) have seemingly grown markedly more "blue". To the extent that people are migrating to Douglas County from "Blue America", perhaps their values are not quite in lockstep with Brooks' speculation.

    And when Brooks suggests that "natalists", whom he describes as strugging with real-world factors such as divorce, "wonder how we can be tolerant of diverse lifestyles while still preserving the family institutions that are under threat", is he really telling us that the threat to families comes from the philosophies found in "the largely childless cities"? In doing so, he suggests that these families voted for Bush and Cheney because of the Republican Party's opposition to the bugbear of gay marriage. After all, it is "natalists" who break down families by getting divorced, not childless couples. And yet he suggests that politicians cannot pander to "natalists"? Obviously, to the extent that Brooks is correct that they vote for Republicans out of fear of such horrors as gay marriage, they can - and they did.

    Further, in claiming, "Like most Americans, but maybe more so, they suspect that we won't solve our social problems or see improvements in our schools as long as many kids are growing up in barely functioning families", he's suggesting that their voting decisions are being driven by concern for families that live in the blue cities of blue states (parented, presumably, by childless couples)? They set aside local concerns to save the children of the blue cities from substandard urban schools? Because if their concerns about schools and family stability are local, shouldn't they be holding their own politicians - and even themselves - accountable for any failings? Again, if his argument is to hold water, this "natalist" demographic voted more on the basis of Republican pandering and anti-gay marriage propaganda than out of concern for anything that might actually affect their families or their schools.

    (Oh, there is an alternative, but perhaps even less attractive - that the blue state values that "threaten" their schools are those of cultural tolerance and racial integration. That, at least, could have a local effect - but surely Brooks isn't trying to suggest that "natalism" is a synonym for "white flight" - even as he speaks exclusively of "white fertility rates", implicitly branding this "natalism" as a predominantly white phenomenon. As indicated in the prior comment, Steve Sailer, who appears to be the principal source for Brooks' thesis, suggests that this supposed movement is motivated by desire of white parents to shield their kids from minorities.)

    And when Brooks concludes, " What they cherish, like most Americans, is the self-sacrificial love shown by parents", he's effectively putting their values on par with those of blue American - well, at least with those of us who have families. So "they" are really not any different from "us"? And we don't need to worry about them "launching a jihad" because "eople who have enough kids for a basketball team are too busy to fight a culture war"? And they say that Democrats are condescending to Red America - they ain't got nothin' on Brooks....


    On a side note, yes, if you post an inane or stupid comment on this blog, or if you attempt to troll, you are going to be challenged. Yes, I know that some people don't take well to comments which point out "You didn't really say anything", "you didn't say anything intelligent", or which dissect their bad reasoning - but this is my weblog and that's the way the game is played here. If you find that to be too much to handle, don't post.

    For example, I had thought the defects of the Brooks piece to be so many and so patent as to render the above analysis unnecessary. A response which disputes its patent flaws, but which does not provide even a single factual or logical defense of his work, is of benefit to no one. If I goad you to supplement such a response and you explode into insult, you're not much of a thinker. If you respond with a reasoned explanation for your position, you're "my kind of people".

    In short, should you wish to engage in a vigorous exchange of ideas, want to expand your (and my) horizons, or wish to engage in a reasoned exchange about anything posted here (even if you disagree with me in every detail), welcome, welcome, welcome.