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The New Inequality

The End of Equality

by Mickey Kaus
Basic Books (A New Republic Book), 293 pp., $25.00

The End of Equality is a strange book. It sets out a program for the Democratic Party to run on and win back the White House, but it is written with a sneering hostility that is more likely to raise hackles than change minds. Kaus, an editor of The New Republic, lauds the politics of what he calls “Civic Equality”; citizens should respect one another as citizens, acknowledge one another as political equals, and treat one another with respect, regardless of differences in wealth, income, brains, or good looks.

Yet he writes with continuous contempt for his opponents—the people he calls “Money Liberals,” and blames for making politics a battle over income redistribution, and creating a dependent underclass with their welfare policies. George McGovern and Edward Kennedy are labeled as politicians of this stripe, as is Governor Clinton. Prominent academic defenders of the heresy are said to include Robert Kuttner, Marian Wright Edelman, and John Kenneth Galbraith. Nor does Kaus just treat them like idiots. Confronting the claim of Barbara Ehrenreich and Frances Fox Piven that only a small minority of welfare mothers stay on welfare for any length of time Kaus retorts, “That’s a lie,” even though his footnotes acknowledge that the statistics are open to interpretation.

Kaus appeals to R.H. Tawney’s wonderful Equality as a guide to the kind of society he has in mind, but Tawney’s book was written by a social democratic saint, whose unforced affection for ordinary working-class Englishmen shines through every page. Kaus’s pages breathe a punitive spirit throughout. He may think high-pitched acrimony is needed to get a hearing, but it’s hard to imagine anyone ending The End of Equality actually liking its author. Nor do his tactics seem particularly well-judged. His views are often no more than an angrier version of Clinton’s Putting People First. It is Clinton who says, “We must reward work, demand responsibility and end welfare as we know it,” and continues,

We will empower people on welfare with the education, training and child care they need for up to two years so they can break the cycle of dependency. After that, those who can work will have to go to work, either by taking a job in the private sector or through community service.

Mr. Kaus does not want to be nice. He wants to grab us by the ear and tell us what he has discovered. His ideas are not novel—his views about work and citizenship were shared by Rousseau in the 1760s, his welfare proposals resemble the New Poor Law that the British devised in 1834, and his views about the virtues of conscription are those of nineteenth-century democrats like John Stuart Mill—but they are none the worse for that, and the question of their applicability to the late twentieth century is a fascinating one.

Kaus’s discovery is that “income equality”—he means a modest redistribution of income—is not only deficient as a moral ideal; it is impossible to achieve without destroying American prosperity, and it is so divisive that the Democratic Party will remain out of power so long as it espouses it. He argues that income equality is in any case less important than people suppose; the nastier features of Reagan-Bush America owe little to income inequality, and almost everything to the erosion of “civic equality.” Civic equality is an equality of respect not money; it is what citizens receive when they take part in

components of our community life such as the public schools, libraries, highways, parks and the military draft. Each of these institutions attempts to treat all citizens, rich and poor, with equal dignity. They are especially valuable parts of the public sphere because, in contrast with the rather formal and abstract equality of voting, they require rich and poor to actually rub shoulders with one another as equals. So do many other, less obvious but important institutions such as museums and post offices, even parades and softball leagues.

The erosion of civic equality has only a weak connection with income inequality, but a strong connection with the erosion of this public sphere; it has several causes, some identified by Robert B. Reich in his account of the flight of the rich to isolated enclaves of privilege, others visible to anyone who walks through city streets made repellent by the homeless, and dangerous by the violent and antisocial young. Still other causes are connected with these by way of the decline of urban public schools as their better students vanish to the suburbs and their worse students turn them into battlefields. Repairs to the public sphere must be applied where the problem lies—to the decay of citizenship, to the loss of the public sphere, and to increased class hostility. On all these things Kaus writes with raw cleverness, many statistics—his extended notes are persuasive and less raucous than his text—and not much imagination. Imagination matters.

It is no news that equality is a slippery concept. It seems both to be very important and of no value at all. Twelve hungry kids at a birthday party will kick up a frightful fuss if the cake isn’t divided into twelve equal slices; and a hungry steelworker will kick up a frightful fuss if he and his six-year-old daughter get equal helpings at dinner. In social policy, the crucial question is whether we care about inequality or about poverty, ill-health, and misery as such. When a homeless man sleeps on the sidewalk outside an apartment building where the cheapest flat costs a million and a half dollars, are we outraged at the fact that he has nowhere to live or at the contrast between his misery and the apartment owner’s affluence? Well—would it be a better world if the apartment owner lost his flat and became homeless too, and nothing else changed?

Kaus follows the logic of this thought experiment. It is the absolute misery of the poor we really want to cure. Why then do so many of us think that the contrast is disgusting as well? Some people don’t, but Kaus is enough of an egalitarian to think that it is. Kaus returns what looks like the right answer. We mind inequalities that devalue the less well favored, and not others. My Subaru costs a fifth the price of your Lexus, but it gets me home as soon; it may be less comfortable and quick, but we are both subject to the same vagaries of fate, traffic cops, or road congestion. Both of us, unequally wheeled as we are, know we are better off than when we rode bikes.

Inequality in car ownership doesn’t leak into the social rankings on which our self-respect depends, in spite of the best efforts of the advertisers. The same is true for a surprisingly large range of incomes. Americans who can say of themselves “we are a hard-working, self-supporting family” have been undeferential toward wealth and social position. Whether a New York immigration officer ever did cross out “Peer of the Realm” on a visiting Englishman’s landing card and substitute the word “unemployed” may be doubted; but it is only an American immigration officer that you could imagine doing it.

Kaus claims that true American egalitarianism is not financial but social and political. Money matters only when it corrodes social and political equality. Unlike Rousseau in the 1760s and Daniel Bell in the 1970s,1 Kaus sees no connection between capitalism and moral decay. We can insulate civic equality from financial in-equality; we can draft rich and poor, mix them in the public schools, lure them into the same libraries, and involve them in a common local government. This is fortunate because it has always been hard to achieve income equality, and it is going to become harder still.

At this point problems arise, because Kaus turns the argument into a battle of absolutes—money equality versus civic equality, and the politics of money liberalism versus the politics of civic liberalism—what is really a debate among nuances. Almost nobody has ever argued in favor of absolute economic equality.2 Those who came close, such as Rousseau and other eighteenth-century radicals, did so to preserve civic equality; conversely, Kaus’s proposals for the restoration of civic equality require expenditures on schools, public works, a health service, and elections that involve a vast redistribution of income.

The simplest parts of his case are fine. The first is that income inequality in the US is by some measures less now than in the 1940s—then there was a great bunching of incomes low on the scale, while now there is a wider spread across the spectrum. Kaus acknowledges that on other understandings of equality, this is a more unequal distribution—there are more people “further” from the person at the middle of the scale. But the fact that we can so readily argue about whether we have “really” become more or less equal in money income is enough to suggest that our discontents aren’t the effect of greater income inequality.

His second persuasive claim is that we cannot have general prosperity without capitalism, and we cannot have a capitalist economy without unequal rewards. Like a good follower of F.K. Hayek, he observes that capitalism is driven by luck, and that entrepreneurial success is sufficiently undeserved that nobody with any self-respect need feel affronted by the success of others. Just from watching life around them, people know that the ability to make a lot of money need not entail other virtues. He makes little of this point, but it is crucial. The more people see success as the luck of the draw, the less they resent it. They envy the lucky, but they do not resent them. This certainly goes for athletes, probably for entrepreneurs—and much less so for bumbling vice-presidents. Americans want equal opportunity but are not anticapitalist; they want a ticket for the capitalist lottery, but know that winning is largely a matter of chance.

All this is fairly commonplace, but its bearings on the pursuit of greater income equality are debatable. Certainly, one might think that if Americans are generally unbothered about income differentials—and Kaus quotes the familiar statistic that only 29 percent of Americans think the government ought to reduce inequality, as against 64 percent of the British and 83 percent of the Italians—it might make it a less urgent goal than the things the public minds about, such as guaranteed health care. The more general consideration is that if capitalism works by dangling the prospect of high prizes in front of potential entrepreneurs, there is presumably some limit to the amount of redistribution that can take place before such incentives cease to work. Where it lies remains obscure however. Many of the countries whose investment rates are double or triple those of the US are high-tax countries with expensive comprehensive welfare programs. At present, we simply do not know how far post-tax inequality can be eroded before entrepreneurial energy is stifled, though we may guess that it will vary from one country to another and will change over the years in any one society.

But Kaus goes off in a different direction. He argues that income inequality is going to get worse—hence his title, The End of Equality. Here he parts company with writers like George Gilder, and makes life harder for himself than it is for more passionate capitalists. Gilder argued that capitalism’s great talent is for taking the poor of one generation and turning them into the rich of the next generation. Its “momentary inequality”—at any given moment, people earn vastly different amounts—is less important than its long-run egalitarianism, since positions in the income hierarchy are unstable and nonhereditary.3 Kaus, however, thinks the advantages people have will become increasingly heritable. Their success will increasingly reflect merit, at least the merit needed to earn more than their fellows, and merit will increasingly reflect genetic endowment. “Assortative mating,” whereby people marry their own kind, means that competent rich people will breed still more competent and even richer children, who will…and so on.

The danger of meritocracy is that if being richer and more powerful reflects genuine merit, it will be hard for those at the top to feel anything but superior, and impossible for those at the bottom to feel anything but inferior. This means alienation at the bottom, and fear and loathing at the top. In 1957 Michael Young spelled all this out in The Rise of the Meritocracy, a funny and thought-provoking fable which was set in 2006 Britain, shortly after a revolution had dethroned the meritocrats.4 Kaus, too, proposes something like a revolution, not to dethrone the meritocrats, but to teach them that they aren’t any better than the rest of us (even if they are).

Kaus’s appeal to genetics is a red herring, however—or a pair of red herrings even. First, he ignores the geneticist’s concept of “regression to the mean,” the mechanism whereby genetic differences erode through the generations. Two tall parents generally have offspring shorter than themselves though taller than the average, and so on for all heritable characteristics. The rich buy things like a Princeton education for their children just because genetic endowment won’t do the trick. But in the second place, Kaus needn’t encumber himself with this stuff; if the essence of capitalism is luck, “merit” either means “having whatever it takes to succeed in the marketplace” or it is irrelevant—the “merit” gap between Bill Gates of the Microsoft Corporation and his rivals is much smaller than the gap between his income and theirs. Kaus wants to show that his preferred version of equality—Civic Equality—is workable even if his meritocratic nightmares come true. But they won’t, and he needn’t.

Kaus argues that income inequality may not be getting worse, that it is not the source of our present discontents, and that it can’t be “cured” without the collapse of our present prosperity; what, then, is the cause of our present discontents? Kaus has two targets: the snobbery of the well-off, and the misconduct of the underclass—though the latter annoys him less than the middle-class “money liberals” whose policies he blames for the underclass’s continued existence. The US is suffering from English inegalitarianism: snobbishness, nose-in-the-air contempt for the uncouthness of the lower classes, and fawning deference to the better born. It is un-American; it violates the “Jack’s as good as his master” egalitarianism on which American democracy has been founded for the past two centuries, and to the extent that it permeates social life it is a moral disaster.

Moreover, it is not a disaster only because it poisons social life, though that is bad enough. It poisons politics. The well-to-do retreat to upper-income ghettos; there they only see people like themselves, their children make friends only with children like themselves, and attend schools where they are not held back by undereducated and rough-mannered poor kids. They are protected by private police forces and share none of the risks of the less fortunate. When the well-to-do take off into suburbs with separate tax and school districts, they prosper mightily. They do not have to pay to police high crime districts, their property taxes support good schools, their hospital emergency rooms are not full of drunks, crackheads, and assaulted prostitutes. When they see the poor living like animals in the inner city, especially the uneducated, unemployed, and black poor, they may experience twinges of compassion, but not fellow feeling.

Kaus exaggerates the causal role of snobbery in this. The snobbishness of the English has, even after twelve years of Mrs. Thatcher, led to nothing remotely similar. If Kaus and Reich are right about upper-class flight, its causes lie in a fragmented tax system, and the role of economic self-interest in American politics more than in an un-American passion for social status.5 As preachers do, Kaus overestimates the effect of attitudes, and underestimates the force of institutions.

The other side of the equation is the welfare system; where snobbishness pulls, underclass poverty, violence, and degradation pushes. What has made Kaus notorious is his assault on the welfare system and particularly on the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. Kaus is the sort of neoliberal who proves his tough-mindedness by showing that his view of the poor is even harsher than ‘Charles Murray’s. He has a fine time maligning the liberals who have, he thinks, contributed to the destruction of the inner-city black family by expanding AFDC, and handing out cash to able-bodied idlers in the name of “income equality.”

Taken literally, this makes no sense. If we truly wanted to achieve income equality, we would have to give each person his or her share of the Gross National Product; in 1990 it was $5.2 trillion; or a bit over $20,000 a head. That’s a useful figure to start from. Equality entails $80,000 for a family of four, AFDC plus food stamps offers less than a tenth of that (it varies from state to state), and leaves its beneficiaries in poverty. Kaus’s splutterings about “money liberals” hides his real point, which has nothing to do with whether we support the underclass with money or with benefits in kind such as food stamps. What he—and just about everyone else these days—thinks is unsatisfactory is a system that barely props up welfare recipients without giving them an incentive to get off welfare.

His distinctive target is the demoralizing effect of handing out support to people who are not required to work for what they get. He says, again I think rightly, that in this country, self-respect (at least for the poor; the nonworking rich must be more morally resilient, since they attract so much less of this advice) is bound up with working for a living.6 Kaus doesn’t indulge right-wing fantasies, whether Charles Murray’s “Harold and Phyllis,” the underclass couple who rationally decide to go on welfare rather than work, or Ronald Reagan’s fantastic vision of “welfare queens.” Moreover, he agrees that AFDC can’t have started the rot because black illegitimacy rates were astonishingly high years before AFDC was invented.

He is, indeed, intermittently cautious about the whole subject. In his footnotes, he acknowledges that “to say that the underclass is mainly black is not to explain why the underclass is mainly black.” Kaus says that slavery, segregation, and the sharecropping system must come in for some of the blame as may a possible underclass “opposition culture,” formed in reaction to prejudice and built on an inversion of respectable white values. Even then, Kaus can’t wholly resist the urge to simplify matters and announce that “cash welfare plus prejudice” is a universal recipe for underclass disaster. All he needs to say, and what he often does say, is that the welfare system allows nonworking mothers to lead the ghastly lives they lead, and to create more members of an underclass whose irresponsible and criminal behavior has done much to make American cities uninhabitable.

It’s an old problem. The British were exercised by it in the 1820s; the “Speenhamland System” of parish relief was denounced because it gave a dole to able-bodied paupers, a policy thought to be wicked in itself and debauching to the recipients. Hegel decided after learning of the British problem that a modern economy was dangerously liable to create a Pöbel—a “rabble of paupers.”

Like Kaus, the British decided that relief must be tied to labor. Like Kaus, they decided that this work must be “less eligible” than employment in the ordinary labor market. They went a little further than Kaus by making paupers enter workhouses—depicted in the novels of Dickens and in working class legend as “Bastilles”—where they could be supervised and their labor turned to profit. Kaus proposes only that the government offer itself as employer of last resort, and simultaneously refuse to hand out unearned benefits. The government would establish a new WPA that would guarantee a job to every able-bodies person over eighteen; at the same time, it must extend the Earned Income Tax Credit in order to lift every low-income worker over the poverty line. After that, the bargain with the single mother and the idle able-bodied would be simple—“work or starve.” Not that the recalcitrant would starve, he thinks; private charity, soup kitchens, shelters, and the like would deal with the debris.

One purpose of this tough line is to deter young black women from getting pregnant outside a stable working family. Like Charles Murray, Kaus asks us to imagine the impact of his proposals on the conversations parents will have with their daughters and young women will have with their boyfriends. I have, and I am not reassured. Where the death penalty strikingly fails to deter murderers, will the threat of being forced to choose between work and private charity make underclass girls more resistant to whatever combination of fecklessness, temptation, and near coercion by boyfriends and girlfriends now leads them astray? A minimal knowledge of Victorian Britain might have made Kaus less sanguine. Unmarried pregnancies were a catastrophe, but the urban underclass that frightened my forebears as much as the contemporary underclass frightens him had a high illegitimacy rate all the same. Its children also died at a rate that suggests that one unreckoned with effect of Kaus’s proposals would be a sharp rise in infanticide and child abandonment.

Kaus has thought about some of the practicalities. He agrees that if single mothers are to go to work they must be given child care, and he reckons that carrying out his ideas would add about $51 billion to the current welfare bill, money he proposes to raise by means-testing entitlement programs such as Social Security pensions. He has also thought about what to do when people don’t obey. Mothers who won’t work will have their children taken away and placed in orphanages—shades of the “Bastilles”? He has not got much further than these punitive thoughts. How will it work in detail? Are we to lay on transport to the jobs the government will provide; are we to hire social workers to roam the streets and press offers of employment on these deplorable young women? Or do we just cut off the flow of money and leave them to search for work? Nor has he got far with the question of how well they will work; I’d like a New York subway as clean as the Moscow Metro was, but not a hospital cleaned by angry young women dragooned into working by the threat of starvation.

The disciplinary overtones of Kaus’s vision are not accidental. Kaus’s ideas about welfare have caught the eye because they are the flavor of the moment; but his ideas about the virtues of the draft are equally striking. Kaus says we should bring back the draft both to make different social classes mix and to force upon the young a clear understanding of the relationship between service and reward. The armed forces cannot employ all the eighteen-year-olds in the country, and Kaus proposes a civilian service corps to mop up those the draft doesn’t. Military service would make everyone share the common risks of national defense, while the civilian draft would do good works—shopping for the elderly, looking after the socially isolated, the mentally ill, and so on. So much is the draft aimed at the well-to-do, who are to rub shoulders with the poor while they sweep floors, that Kaus hardly makes the obvious point that it should do the world of good for his underclass teenagers. Just imagine the squeaky clean subway system full of cheerful eighteen-year-olds taking old people on outings rather than mugging their neighbors.

Kaus has been labeled “right wing” for these thoughts, but that is quite wrong. He is an authoritarian social democrat. He has an entirely rational understanding of the benefits of public expenditure, and the improvements he sets his heart on are not those American conservatives come up with. Kaus wants a national health service for America—whether the British; Canadian, or German system he doesn’t mind, since its purpose is to make sure that rich and poor face the hazards of ill health in a common setting. This is the way the British socialist Richard Titmuss argued for a national health system from which the rich could not isolate themselves, and one of the many peculiarities of The End of Equality is the fury with which Mr. Kaus launches at his enemies the social democratic ideas of gentle souls like Titmuss in Britain and Michael Walzer in Princeton.

As with health, so with education. Kaus agrees wholeheartedly that no rational parent would send a child to a school where armed adolescents roam the corridors, and drug dealers lurk outside. But the remedy is not “choice.” Choice as understood by George Bush would just mean further class-or-merit segregation. The common school may never have been as important as legend has it, but it was one way in which Americans built an identity that transcended ethnic origin and different economic circumstances. Public schools can, and did, and ought again to educate any child from a respectable family—a family which values work, self-discipline, and respect for others. It’s not clear how Mr. Kaus supposes we can get there again, but it is not a “right wing” vision that wants to make it difficult for money to buy academic privilege.

All of which raises the nasty question, could such a program be sold to the American public? Kaus fudges. He points out that his ideas have public opinion behind them, which is true enough; what he doesn’t emphasize is the difficulty of translating American public opinion into rational policy—think of gun control, overwhelmingly approved by the public, and constantly frustrated by the NRA and its congressional hired help. The fudging is not accidental—Kaus builds his case on the thought that the welfare system is a disaster and the fault of the money liberals. If it isn’t a complete disaster and anyway not their fault, then it’s not enough to rout the liberal enemy, and the book collapses.

Late in the book Kaus acknowledges a point made by Ted Marmor and his colleagues in America’s Misunderstood Welfare State: AFDC is cheap. It costs a fraction of Medicare and Medicaid, and its costs are—as medical costs are not—tightly controlled. AFDC costs one third of one percent of GNP—half the proportion of two decades ago; in 1986, AFDC cost some $17.75 billion, while Medicaid cost $44.4 billion and Medicare $76 billion, and the gap has widened since. Having built his book on the claim that AFDC is a terrible disaster, and its reform the centerpiece of a new Democratic politics, Kaus can’t retreat. “What does that prove?” he asks. “Mainly it proves that through a relatively small expenditure, Money Liberals have, managed to poison voters against government spending in general. Quite an accomplishment.”

This is ingeniously brazen, but it is silly. For taxpayers who live a long way away from the inner cities, AFDC is not a disaster but a cheap way of appeasing their consciences. As Kaus says, people who dislike “welfare” in the abstract are happy to “help the poor.” It is not replaced by a more rational system for the usual reason—in American politics, people try to shift the costs of change onto everyone else, and the status quo tends to win, no matter what it is. That is so long as the voters are moderately rational. One might doubt that they are at present. They have been taken in by antitax sentiment even where their unwillingness to pay higher taxes costs them hard cash in such “revenue enhancers” as higher fees for government services, higher airport taxes, and less help with state programs; few politicians fancy their chances of persuading them to pay higher taxes today for a more efficient system tomorrow. Kaus’s reforms are not likely to prosper in such a climate. Nor does he seem to understand that his reasons for thinking AFDC a disaster make it all the more unlikely that politicians will be able to raid the $140 billion that Social Security pays out in old-age pensions. There are other resources; Kaus thinks a move to a Canadian-style health service would save so much money that it would be easy to take $300 billion of private health expenditure and apply it to the government’s budget.

Because he is so obsessed with restoring the work ethic as a moral end in itself, Kaus doesn’t contemplate the possibility that economics might be much more significant than ethics. Kaus differs (for the worse) from the Clinton Democrats, as well as from academics such as Ted Marmor and his collaborators in saying altogether too little about the way economic stagnation has made all government expenditure unpopular. AFDC was much less unpopular in the prosperous Sixties when it took twice as large a bite out of the national income, and so were most programs of government expenditure. It is not unreasonable to think that doubling the rate of growth would therefore make far more difference to the public perception of the welfare problem than any amount of direct reform of the system itself.

The contrast between Kaus and Governor Clinton is by no means absolute, even though Kaus dismisses him as a “money liberal” on the strength of speeches and statements made long before the Democratic Convention or the publication of Putting People First. Clinton sounds almost as eager to get his hands on the $24 billion of child support owed by “deadbeat parents” as Kaus to curb the pregnancies of the girls the deadbeats are failing to support; but Clinton’s emphasis is firmly on economic growth. The recipe he proposes is to “Rebuild America” by putting money into the “roads, bridges, sewers and the information networks and technologies of the future.” Clinton invokes the old Democrat cry of “good jobs at high wages,” but he acknowledges that high-wage jobs will be skilled jobs, jobs that will only exist if American industry spends a lot more on research and development and American schools produce students capable of working in a high-tech environment. The implication is that high-wage full employment will pull even the underclass out of poverty; if it will, the threat of “work or starve” can remain unspoken.

Still, Kaus and Clinton are not far apart on the “roads, bridges, and sewers” side of the program, and, as usual, Kaus’s footnotes look further than his text. There he suggests that the neo-WPA, as he calls it, would have an obvious role to play in rebuilding the infrastructure. “Much of New York City—including LaGuardia Airport, FDR Drive, plus hundreds of parks and libraries—was built by the wpa,” he writes, and cites Lester Thurow’s thought that the city is falling to bits because there has been no public works program to do the repairs in the intervening half century. Kaus even allows himself to share the optimism that old-fashioned social democrats used to feel about such programs. He makes three familiar and persuasive points—a neo-wpa would be a noninflationary way of keeping the economy running at full employment; it would employ talented underclass people “who are now dying or wasting their lives in our ghettos”; and combining it with a national health service would increase voluntary job mobility. It is doubtless mean-spirited to observe that these rational, humane, and nonpunitive arguments for replacing welfare with public works coexist uneasily with the rest of the book.

Whether the aim is the moral regeneration of underclass teens or a Clintonesque burst for growth, or both, it means spending a lot of government money. It is hard to imagine the present demoralized and fragmented Congress delivering a coherent program and the money to pay for it. A different political system would produce different results, and it must be said that one of the items in a revived public sphere is just such a system. Kaus argues with his usual vigor for keeping money out of politics; he is contemptuous of the Supreme Court’s view that buying votes by corporations is a form of self-expression protected by the First Amendment, and he hankers after the British legislation that sets very low limits on the expenses of candidates. That only raises the same question; how is the present American political system to turn itself into its opposite, how are we to persuade its beneficiaries to abandon it, how are Americans to stop hating politics long enough to put the system together again?7

Kaus’s rage and noise give the game away. He doesn’t know. He is angry because the world is not as simple as his solutions, change is elusive, and clever people like himself are not listened to. I know the sensation, but it doesn’t do to give in to it. The relationship between The End of Equality and the problem of welfare is like the relationship between blowing your car horn and an impenetrable traffic jam—it ventilates frustration but does little to get things moving.

  1. 1

    Daniel Bell, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (Basic Books, 1976). 

  2. 2

    Edward Bellamy’s Looking Back-ward (1888) is a rare exception; its authoritarian and military tone is oddly like Kaus’s. 

  3. 3

    In his Wealth and Poverty (Basic Books, 1981). 

  4. 4

    Michael Young, The Rise of the Meritocracy (Penguin, 1957). 

  5. 5

    It May also have a lot to do with the “culture war” between the supporters and opponents of the Vietnam War and their descendants that has structured American politics for the past twenty years, and is blamed by E.J. Dionne for turning the public against contemporary politics. See Why Americans Hate Politics (Simon and Schuster/Touchstone, 1992), chapter 1. 

  6. 6

    The meliorist welfare state liberals he dislikes make just the same point; see Theodore Marmor et al., America’s Misunderstood Welfare State (Basic Books, 1990), pp. 82–86. 

  7. 7

    E.J. Dionne suggests in the afterword to the paperback edition of Why Americans Hate Politics that a new sobriety and good sense are creeping back; if so, I shall be happy to see these gloomy reflections proved wrong.