Is America caught between democratic inclusion and economic stratification?

Here is an interesting discussion topic: America’s ability to weave/meld new people groups into the democratic process seems inversely related to America’s ability to have more economic equality.

It’s a puzzle: one dispossessed group after another — blacks, women, Hispanics and gays — has been gradually accepted in the United States, granted equal rights and brought into the mainstream.

At the same time, in economic terms, the United States has gone from being a comparatively egalitarian society to one of the most unequal democracies in the world…

European countries have done a better job of protecting workers’ salaries and rights but have been reluctant to extend the benefits of their generous welfare state to new immigrants who look and act differently from them. Could America’s lost enthusiasm for income redistribution and progressive taxation be in part a reaction to sharing resources with traditionally excluded groups?

“I do think there is a trade-off between inclusion and equality,” said Gary Becker, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago and a Nobel laureate. “I think if you are a German worker you are better off than your American equivalent, but if you are an immigrant, you are better off in the U.S.”

I often bring this up in my introduction to sociology course: while the United States has a less than pretty racial and discriminatory history (and there is still much to do), the scale of inclusion in the United States (in a country of roughly 310 million people) is remarkable, particularly compared to some of the issues European countries face.

In the end, does this have to be a zero sum game? Is there a country in the world that has successfully done both of these things? Is there a system that can accomplish both?

And getting into the territory of values and morality, which of these outcomes is more worthwhile if you could only have one?

New data for American debate over immigration

The debate over immigration to the United States should incorporate some new data:

An important article in the New York Times reports that illegal Mexican migration to America has “sputtered to a trickle”. According to Douglass Massey, a professor of sociology who co-directs Princeton’s Mexican Migration Project, “a trickle” may overstate it:

“No one wants to hear it, but the flow has already stopped,” Mr. Massey said, referring to illegal traffic. “For the first time in 60 years, the net traffic has gone to zero and is probably a little bit negative.”

Why? Lots of reasons. Ramped-up border policing and harsher treatment of undocumented Mexicans living in the US has probably had some effect. But, much more importantly, Mexico has become a better place to live. Here’s the Times:

Over the past 15 years, this country once defined by poverty and beaches has progressed politically and economically in ways rarely acknowledged by Americans debating immigration. Even far from the coasts or the manufacturing sector at the border, democracy is better established, incomes have generally risen and poverty has declined.

Read this data here and here.

As I read this piece, I was reminded that Americans seem to know very little about what is happening in nearby countries like Mexico or Canada. Most if not all of what I have heard in recent months about Mexico has to do with drug cartels and their violence. Do we not hear much because of American exceptionalism, narrow-mindedness, a lack of media attention, jingoism, or something else?

The piece also suggests that Americans would benefit by helping Mexico develop. I wonder if most Americans would buy into this logic or rather think that if Mexico improves, America loses (a zero-sum game). Would Americans even approve the Marshall Plan if it came up today?

Emerging adult men struggling to follow “life script”

An excerpt from a soon-to-be released book, Manning Up: How the Rise of Women has Turned Men into Boys, talks about the sociological concept of “life scripts”:

But pre-adults differ in one major respect from adolescents. They write their own biographies, and they do it from scratch. Sociologists use the term “life script” to describe a particular society’s ordering of life’s large events and stages. Though such scripts vary across cultures, the archetypal plot is deeply rooted in our biological nature. The invention of adolescence did not change the large Roman numerals of the American script. Adults continued to be those who took over the primary tasks of the economy and culture. For women, the central task usually involved the day-to-day rearing of the next generation; for men, it involved protecting and providing for their wives and children. If you followed the script, you became an adult, a temporary custodian of the social order until your own old age and demise.

Unlike adolescents, however, pre-adults don’t know what is supposed to come next. For them, marriage and parenthood come in many forms, or can be skipped altogether. In 1970, just 16% of Americans ages 25 to 29 had never been married; today that’s true of an astonishing 55% of the age group. In the U.S., the mean age at first marriage has been climbing toward 30 (a point past which it has already gone in much of Europe). It is no wonder that so many young Americans suffer through a “quarter-life crisis,” a period of depression and worry over their future.

This is a decent description of the category of emerging adults. This is an ongoing area of research interest among sociologists (and others) and I have some earlier posts on this topic: here is a recent posting on Catholic emerging adults, here is part 1/part 2/part 3 of an earlier series on studies about emerging adults.

It is hard to tell from this excerpt whether this author argues that the fact that women have risen in society has directly led to the downfall of young men. If so, this sounds a zero-sum kind of argument: since women have risen in society, then men must fall. Does it have to be this way – can’t both men and women find acceptable and expanded roles? And what have men done to fight back against broader social forces or to find and strengthen new roles or develop an attractive “life script”?