96: Nicholas Eberstadt – Men Without Work

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Will Jarvis

In this episode, we are joined by Russ Green and Nicholas Eberstadt to discuss his book men without work, about the collapse of prime age working male employment. 

William Jarvis 0:05
Hey folks, welcome to narratives. narratives is a podcast exploring the ways in which the world is better than in the past, the ways that is worse in the past, or it’s a better, more definite vision of the future. I’m your host, William Jarvis. And I want to thank you for taking the time out of your day to listen to this episode. I hope you enjoy it. You can find show notes, transcripts and videos at narratives podcast.com. Well, Nick, how are you doing this afternoon?

Nicholas Eberstadt 0:41
Pretty well, out here in Delaware. It’s a little cool. But life is life is beautiful.

Unknown Speaker 0:53
Excellent. Excellent. Well, and just for the rest of the listeners, I want to let you know that my friend Russ green is on the call as well. You actually introduced me to Nick’s work. And he’s got a couple of good questions to ask as well. Right? Well, Nick, do you mind giving us a brief bio in some of the big ideas you’re interested in?

Nicholas Eberstadt 1:08
Well, I’m a. I’m a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute. I’m a lifer. There, this is my 37th year, I think. And it’s been an exciting, wonderful place to work. If you’re interested in public policy ideas. As I am, I, I suppose I use kind of statistical tools to chase after problems that are kind of hiding in plain sight. Because despite the data explosion and the information revolution, a lot of problems just get kind of overlooked. And you have to kind of, you know, ask about them and ask the right questions to focus on them. I started doing work back in the 70s on during the Cold War on things like the health crisis in the Soviet Union, which was kind of overlooked at the time, did work on poverty and America and whether our measurements were actually tracking things the way that they ought to be. And I think the reason you won’t want me here today is because I did a book a few years ago called men without work America’s invisible crisis, which pointed to this 7 million plus person elephant that was hiding in the room at the time. And unfortunately, it’s still kind of hiding in the room. The men of prime working ages were neither working or looking for work. And some of the multitude of problems this flight from work and modern America was closing for our nation.

Unknown Speaker 3:00
Excellent. Excellent. Well, Nick, I am curious, how did you first find this problem? You know, like, if you look at unemployment numbers, like unemployment is very low right now. But it does seem like we have this massive problem where there are a lot of people who were just not looking for work, particularly men in this country was there, you know, a single moment where you realize like, this is going on, it’s a big problem. And people aren’t talking about this.

Nicholas Eberstadt 3:23
I had a sort of an aha moment. maybe seven or so years ago, when I was listening to some happy talk on the evening news about how we were approaching full employment where we were at near full employment. And I say, This can’t be right. And I did that awful thing of actually going to go into a statistical depends on them and looking at facts. And when I did that, I saw what part of the problem was. The part of the problem was that that time for every guy between the ages of 25 and 54. That’s what’s called the prime working age. It’s what the government came up with as terminology, not me. But for every prime working age guy in America back then who was out of work and looking for a job. There were over three who were out of work and not looking for a job. So if you track the unemployment rate, you were kind of fighting the last war, and you were missing three quarters of the problem at the time. That was kind of when it dawned on me that we were some of us were missing a big problem in America now, because men who dropped out from the workforce you weren’t burning cars and weren’t killing other people and weren’t protesting or rioting. It was maybe kind of easy to overlook this problem. And indeed what they were the the injury that they were mainly causing was to themselves because they were part of this terrible epidemic that you’re familiar with and deaths of despair problem. But because because there wasn’t any sort of external manifestation of crisis, think it was easy for the describers and deciders in our society to overlook or ignore this growing problem.

Russ Greene 5:46
It’s, it’s remarkable, if you think about it, that this has been going on since the 1960s. It seems like it first started this decline in male work, it’s been declining, almost without relent. And it doesn’t seem to be affected to a large degree by changes in the economic cycle, or by any specific events, it just keeps on falling and falling and falling. And the other interesting thing about it, is that, you know, it’s not so much happening, at least not to this degree in other countries. Right. I know, Italy has a very low male work rate. But you know, with the exception of Italy, why is it that so many other countries seem to be doing better or on this metric than the United States is? What are we doing wrong?

Nicholas Eberstadt 6:38
Do you think? Well, I think those are excellent questions that you’ve posed. As you noted, this is a very long term problem. It’s a historical problem. Now, we are in this, we’re in this negative trend of declining work rates for prime age men, for over a half century for over two generations. And as you also rightly pointed out, it’s been relentless. decade in decade out this work rate for American men, for civilian non institutionalized men, non institutional man has been going downward from one decade to the next. And you know, now as we’re speaking, the work rate for men, for these men, is lower than it was in 1940. At the tail end of the Great Depression, this is a great depression scale problem that we’re talking about in the USA. So why is it so much worse here than in many other countries? You mentioned Italy as the possible exception and put your finger on something there. Because I don’t know anybody who really believes Italy is employment statistics who follows them, because there’s so much off the off the books work that goes on in Italy, that Italy’s work rate for crew group rate for men is probably higher than the US. So we’re out by our lonesome and winning a winning an award that we shouldn’t want to win.

Russ Greene 8:28
They’ve got the Cosa Nostra category.

Nicholas Eberstadt 8:33
So why so why is this all around the world? You know, we’ve had this, you know, continuing globalization, this continuing economic and technical revolution, structural changes in economies. And everywhere, this has put some pressure on employment, of course, and everywhere in the affluent world, in the world of rich democracies. There’s been some decline in male work rights, but nothing like ours. I suspect that part of part of the reason for this relentless decline, you wouldn’t have a relentless decline if it was mainly a consequence of economic factors like business cycles, and you’d see it going up and down right there when you’ve got this kind of almost straight line going down. I think there are a couple of factors that we can point to. One is the change in family in the United States with the with a breakdown of the family. There have been there many fewer men who are in homes. In married couple of cohabiting couple homes with children. And those always have been the places where work rates have been highest for guys. And always the work rates are lowest for guys who’ve never gotten married and don’t have kids under the same roof with them. So that’s part of the problem, I think. tremendous change in family structure in the United States. Another is the social welfare, disincentives in the United States Social Welfare State disincentives. Now, our social welfare system is not nearly as generous as other rich democracies, welfare states. And you’ll hear that all the time if you go to people from other countries. But that doesn’t mean that the disincentives in our particular constructed system might not have some pretty serious facts. And one thing you can see in particular, has to do with our patchwork archipelago of disability programs. The last time I looked at those numbers, well over half of the men who were neither working or looking for work, were in homes that were obtaining at least, at least one disability program benefit. Now, that doesn’t mean that disability programs are causing the flight from work. I mean, that’s not what I’m saying. But what is true and is incontestably true is disability programs and the associated programs that you can obtain benefits from if you’re in, in, enrolled in disability programs, those are financing a lifestyle or life outside of the workforce. And so you have this terrible waste of human potential where people become long term or as in disability programs in their late 30s. And then wile away their lives until 62, when they get a very modest Social Security benefit, because they haven’t been in the workforce. So that’s another another point. Third point, which I think has been very, largely and unfortunately ignored, is that the United States has an extraordinarily large and invisible population of ex balance of ex cons. And that’s unlike what you see in any other modern Western nation. As of about the year 2010, one estimate suggested that almost 20 million adult Americans had a felony conviction in their background. And that’s a lot more than the 2 million persons behind bars that we hear about in mass in discussions of mass incarceration. If we were to update those figures to today, I think we’d see pretty clearly that for every person who’s behind bars,

convicted and imprisoned, or over 10, people who are in society as a whole in society at large, with a felony conviction in their background, that means that more than one in eight, maybe getting towards one in seven adult man right now has a felony in their past. And that also is part of the problem makes it much more difficult to work and to get to restore their employment reputation. Let’s put it that way. And so for all of these reasons, the United States is a outlier and not in a good way. In this, I think, truly troubling trend towards a decline in work in our society.

Unknown Speaker 14:07
I’m curious, Nick, what, you know, what are these people doing with their time? Do you have a sense of that? Is it just video games and smoking marijuana or something? Or is it something else is like working on social good causes? What are they doing?

Nicholas Eberstadt 14:21
Funny, you should ask? I mean, the probably the most reliable and comprehensive answer to your question comes from official government statistics of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the BLS. They do this thing called the Time Use Survey every year. And so they get 1000s of people to answer your question. If they from the from the time you wake up in the morning till the time you go to bed, what do you do? What do you do with your day? And they ask among other people, guys who are nine They’re working or looking for work. Now, it turns out that you have to make a distinction in that group, between guys who are full time students, and guys who are neither employed nor in education and training, which is what the Brits called and e t meet. Those who are full time students pretty much spend their time like employed people.

Russ Greene 15:25
And those students are only about 10% of this population. Right? So that’s not representative. Yeah,

Nicholas Eberstadt 15:31
no, it’s a very small fraction. You’re exactly right. It’s about attempts. And so the overwhelming majority, way over 6 million are, are in this other category. And according to their self reporting, it’s a pretty grim picture. This, the men in this, neither employed nor in education and training group, basically don’t do civil society. They, they don’t spend time worship. They don’t spend much time and volunteering or doing charity or anything like that. Even though they’ve got it take nothing but time on their hands. They do strikingly little housework, helping out around the house, relatively little helping with other persons, you know, care for others in the home. As you were intimating, what they mainly say they are doing is watching. Now, watching screens. Now, the surveys don’t tell us what screens they’re watching or what programs or things they’re watching. But they report about 2000 hours a year in front of screens. And 2000 hours a year is like a full time job. A lot of time, over the course of a year. Others other work that I did not do. But other research has shown also on the basis of self reported survey, survey information that about half of these guys say that they’re taking pain pills, pain medication every day, not necessarily narcotics, but some sort of analgesics or pain medication. So you’ve got this situation where people are not just, you know, watching screen all day, but they’re watching the screen the whole day stoned? And that’s, you know, that sounds to me, like a kind of a definition of, you know, disconnected misery.

Russ Greene 17:48
And you call this an invisible crisis? I think one reason it, it’s an invisible crisis is exactly what you said, the government doesn’t really collect data on this population of people with criminal records or, or with felony convictions. But I think another reason it might be an invisible crisis, and let me know what you think about this, is that we just don’t talk about it, we don’t even really seem to have the language to talk about it. Like, could you imagine just, for example, if a CEO of a publicly traded company or a major politician, were to say that, you know, my priority this year, is to get more men jobs, we really just want to hire more men, you know, like, you couldn’t even imagine that. It would be it would be seen as absurd. And yet, you know, the another statistic that comes to mind is college graduation rates between men and women. And are a a small and shrinking percentage, I believe it’s something like 41 or 42%, of college graduates. Whereas obviously, women are much more, and very few people talk about that as well. Now, I’m not insinuating by any means that men are on average, or in everything doing worse than women, but they are in some very key metrics, suicide as well, doing quite worse than women. And we don’t really seem to be having any sort of serious political debate or cultural debate about why that is, and why this has been going on now for you know, going on, you know, over over 50 years.

Nicholas Eberstadt 19:31
I mean, it’s a big question, and it’s a disturbing one and your thought experiment. Could a could a CEO declare that this is going to be the year of the forgotten man or the Invisible Man? It’s a really interesting one, it kind of kind of puts the what would you call it the cultural or the normative side of that into perspective? One thing which we one thing, which I think we know, is that working age men are not an officially defined victim class. You know, in the United States, they’re not a protected group. And maybe that is one of the reasons that they are overlooked more easily. As I mentioned, I think that’s the happy fact that they, they have not been causing a lot of trouble for other people have been a menace to society in some explicit sort of way, also helps explain the genial indifference that we’ve had in public policy to the the difficulties of this of this group. But there’s something highly unusual and maybe unnatural in having a group, which, throughout history has been the key category of providers for others in society, and as helpless dependents, in in surprising proportion. And maybe this could only happen in a society as vastly wealthy as our own. I mean, Darwin would have taken care of this problem in his own unforgiving way, in a much poorer, much poorer society, perhaps. But this is a new and very unfamiliar problem. And as you said earlier, we don’t even really have the language for knowing how to talk about it. Yeah.

Unknown Speaker 21:53
Nick, I’m curious, what’s your sense of how these people are supporting themselves? You mentioned about did you say about half of them live in households that are getting some form of social assistance programs, but that leaves you know, 50% of these people, like, how are they getting by?

Nicholas Eberstadt 22:08
Well, again, if you I’m, I’m a kind of a numbers nerd, you could probably get a much more human and knowledgeable assessment. If you talk to somebody like a JD Vance, who wrote that wonderful poignant book, Hillbilly Elegy, who lived the life and work from the inside. I wish we had 1000 JD Vance’s in different communities in America, explaining how people were really living in this country,

Russ Greene 22:42
maybe not in the Senate. I’m just kidding.

Nicholas Eberstadt 22:45
That’s a different question. But the book is the book or whatever happens with Vance’s political fortunes, the book is going to be a keeper, and it’s going to be a lasting contribution. And so I think we could I think we could have a lot, a lot of, if we had a lot of spotlights, shining on different places in the United States, we’d understand a lot more about what’s going on in our country. So when I when I just use these kinds of like blunt instruments, these statistical numbers, and I get my hands on, you know, the kind of imperfect flashlights, you know, but part of what they suggest is that unworking men are living in homes where other people help to support them. I mean, the the relatives that helped to support the other people are either family members, girlfriends, very important uncle, Uncle Sam. All of those provide a financial network, which keeps most of these men out of destitution, and is by no means a princely life. But it is, at the same time, so far as I could tell from my own homework, not something that places these men without work in the bottom fifth of the income spectrum of the consumption spectrum in the United States, that bottom fifth is reserved for overwhelmingly for single mothers with children. They have a really hard life a really hard life. And the men without work seem to be in the mouth, the bottom fifth of the consumption spectrum, but maybe the second fifth the 20 to 40% group. Ironically, it’s that’s kind of in the in the area which used to be described as working class, but these of course, are men who are neither working nor looking for work.

Unknown Speaker 24:58
I’m curious you It almost sounds like part of this is like a hollowing out of manufacturing jobs of, you know offshoring of decline of marriage and, of course, criminality as well. I have a question around criminality? Are these are Americans just like, especially prone to criminality? Or do we just prosecute more crimes than other countries? What’s your sense of that?

Nicholas Eberstadt 25:25
Well, we’ve done we’ve got much higher homicide rates than other other Western democracies. I mean, that’s one pretty unmistakable indicator of crime. Right? I mean, you know, you can even say that petty theft is normative. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. That, yeah, that’s a pretty tough one to overlook. So we’ve got, we’ve got very high rates of violent crime, in comparison to other rich countries, we had a explosion of crime in the USA, between the 60s 70s going into the 80s. And it was followed a little while later, by an explosion of punishment, convicting people of felonies, sending people off to jail, there’s, there’s no place else in the Western world, that sends as high a proportion of its population to prison as we do, as you know, so. So this is something which is, for better or worse, pretty distinctive of the US. And it’s been, it’s been new and kind of different. Since the end of World War Two, we didn’t have gigantic, gigantic prison networks in the US before World War Two. So this is something which is kind of new. Now, with respect to manufacturing, which you mentioned. I was wondering about that also myself, because, you know, men, heavy, heavy work that requires physical stamina and upper body strength, let’s say, is kind of, it’s kind of like a male description, right. And we have seen a steady decline in manufacturing as a proportion of all jobs in the US, from the end of World War Two to now. I mean, at this point, it’s basically like, only one in 12 jobs is a manufacturing job in the United States. So, so that, you might say, disadvantages guys in a way that, you know, it’s kind of disproportionate. But if you look at other Western countries, they’ve had kind of the same decline in the share of jobs in manufacturing that we’ve had, and I’m thinking of places like, Sweden, or Australia or France even. And they haven’t had the same flight from work that we’ve seen for our prime age, man. So same symptom in other places, but with different, you know, with different results. The client that the client of manufacturing certainly has got some consequences. But whether it can account for a lot of what we’re seeing right now, I have my questions.

Russ Greene 28:28
So that, you know, that rise in crime in the 60s and 70s, sparked a movement with which I believe you’re familiar, you know, the neoconservative movement. You know, Irving Kristol, James Q, Wilson, Daniel Bell, many others, essentially, they were New Deal liberals who they said, were mugged by reality. And they didn’t mean that in the foreign policy sense, which we now associate them mostly with, but really, in the, in the, the violence sense. So you know, domestically, and they, they propose, you know, they so for, among other things, they they switched parties, generally to the Republican Party, though not always. And they became much more socially conservative and really advocated a tough on crime response, you know, knowing that you come, at least in my opinion, and putting words in your mouth from that tradition. You know, I believe Irving Kristol was your mentor has has the research in this book cause you to reevaluate at all, you know, America’s tough on crime response to what happened in the 60s and 70s. Or or, you know, do you still think that that was the necessary way to respond to the wave of violence that you alluded to?

Nicholas Eberstadt 29:48
That’s a really interesting question. It’s a really, yeah, so I’m a I think I could call myself a reconstructed neoconservative as a I, like many of neoconservative tribe, I was very far left when I was in my late teens and early 20s and made a journey to the other side. And I’m say that the this is this is a use of the term neoconservatism from before the George W. Bush neocon invasion of Iraq sort of hijacking of the term. The original idea of neoconservatism was really the insight that any big policy that you undertake is going to have unintended consequences. And unless you take into account the unintended consequences, as well as the intended ones, you’re not going to know where you end up with the unintended consequence of the punishment. And the punishment in response to the crime wave is the long term atomization of ex felons, and the difficulty of reintegrating them into society, economy and family afterwards. So question would be, if we had a if we had an alternative approach, would we have been able both to reduce crime, the way that crime was reduced until a year or so ago, its long term decline and crime and also effectively reintegrate and reform? if you will? They can convicted criminals? And, and that’s and that’s a really, really hard question. Because it’s, it’s not clear that we’ve devised that we’ve devised a formula that could do that. I mean, we’ve got to be constantly looking for that. But one of the things which I find map is that the government doesn’t even seem to be sufficiently interested in this question, to keep data on the circumstances of ex cons and the United States of people who have had, you know, felonies in their background. They don’t, we don’t even have a total headcount for this group. We don’t know how they live, what their living arrangements are, what their incomes are, what their health is, what, you know, what their welfare dependence is. And if we don’t have any of the that information or information about their employment status, we can’t have evidence based policies for reintegration into society. So it’s, it is unfathomable to me that we maintain this statistical blindness about a group of people who are almost as large as the adult population of California, but larger than the adult population of Texas.

Russ Greene 33:23
This is almost a thread that we can see throughout your your career, you know, I think of your early work on on the Soviet Union in the 1981, New York Review of Books article, you know, about how life expectancy was falling in the Soviet Union. And then your work on North Korea, the demographics of North Korea, which is obviously exceptionally difficult to access and potentially life threatening if you do. And, you know, what I’m seeing is that you have a penchant for getting visibility into invisible regimes and problems. And I guess the unfortunate thing is that now the invisible regime you’re getting visibility into is the United States. And, you know, it’s, it’s always dangerous to predict the future. But you know, based on your experience, looking at rich, decadent and corrupt regimes overseas, are you starting to see patterns in the United States that resemble what you’ve seen overseas? And if so, what are your thoughts on?

Nicholas Eberstadt 34:27
Well, okay, well, yeah, this is this is your life, makeup or status? Not? Well, I guess. I guess some of the things that we’re registering in the United States today, look to me a little bit too close, for comfort, to warning lights that were going off, for example, in the Soviet Union in late Soviet era. And I’m not saying that we are a dictatorship and I’m not saying that America is heading towards a collapse. So anything like that we’re, we’re an open democracy. And I think that we’re going to come out of our current problems and thrive. What is highly troubling is to see the stagnation in health progress in the United States and the retrogression in health, for large numbers of Americans pre COVID, before the COVID shot with the problem of the deaths of despair, and other indications of what I’d called elsewhere, a new misery. Now, we have a way of correcting these problems that, that a totalitarian dictatorship like the Soviet Union couldn’t, because we were an open society, and we’ve got a democratic process, which I think can, can attend to problem solving in a way that autocracies cannot. But the the idea that life expectancy in the USA, would be at least temporarily lower than the life expectancy in what the area of Europe, which was once called East Germany, is the circumstance that I never thought I’d live to say,

Russ Greene 36:31
I believe that the US life expectancy has fallen for four or five of the past six years. So to your point, it’s not it’s not just a COVID thing. And obviously, a lot of that has to do with the opioid epidemic, which is obviously related to our topic today. But also a lot of it has to do with lifestyle related chronic diseases, obesity, heart disease, type two diabetes, which gets to one of the difficulties here, and this is obviously something I think that neoconservatives are keenly aware of, is that a lot of this has to do with personal choices that are reflective of individual moral character. And therefore, there’s only so much government can even do to influence them, because it’s government has a hard time, mandating or even encouraging virtue. Right. So if, based on that, is that a reason for us perhaps, then to be even though we are an open and free democracy, perhaps we should also be concerned that there are there are limits to the policy responses to a lot of these problems?

Nicholas Eberstadt 37:43
I mean, I think I think you framed the you framed the problem very well. As a flourishing democracy, we have to depend upon a virtuous citizen array. I mean, this goes back to the early debates about the fact founding fathers, and individual responsibility has to be an important precept for social and not just a social life, but our personal lives. So there’s certainly room for improvement, let us say, in our public health policies, and in our education, as active and healthy citizens. It is strange and troubling, that our health and life sciences economy should claim as much of our economic output as We are all beneficiaries of the extraordinary technological advances that our health economy is capable of. We’re all of us were vaccinated, are the beneficiaries of the extraordinary capabilities for really rapid innovation in the face of emergency that our health economy is and our pharmaceutical economy is capable of. But I don’t think that it’s I don’t think that we can make the argument anymore that the quality and the quality of the services in the United States are so much better than in other parts of the world, that this can explain the difference in six or seven or eight percentage points of GDP for our healthcare economy.

Unknown Speaker 40:00
What it does seem like, you know, if the US is spending like a fifth or a sixth of our GDP on health care, and yet our life expectancy is going down, something seems to be very wrong bear like, it’s just not, it’s just not working.

Nicholas Eberstadt 40:13
There was a time, a generation ago, when I could show that American babies of any ethnicity were more likely to survive their first year of life, at any birth weight, at extremely low, high risk birth weight, then in places like Sweden, or Scandinavia. And from from those differences back then, I could make the argument or at least I inferred, that our health care interventions were so much more dramatic and so much better, that they accounted for the much better survival chances at any high risk birth weight in the US, as opposed to Scandinavia. But that difference is no longer there. You don’t see that anymore. So there, there are other questions that have to be answered about, about what’s ailing the United States, and what’s ailing are still very dynamic, and still very innovative, healthcare economy sector,

Unknown Speaker 41:29
I do wonder is a lot of what’s going on some kind of crisis of meaning in some sense. So you know, it, perhaps I have the sense and this just could be completely off base. But that used to be, you know, if you were one of these men, you can have a very meaningful life going to work at one company for your entire life. And providing for a family like that was a very meaningful thing, you know, meaning in my mind comes from doing something where if you don’t do it, it’s not going to happen, is it? Maybe it’s providing for a family, but then suddenly, you know, perhaps it’s hard to get those jobs, the jobs go away. And then these we see it reflected in these deaths of despair, is that you know, it could that be some plausible story of kind of what’s going on in some of these cases. If you look

Nicholas Eberstadt 42:14
at the unemployment numbers over time, I’m sure you guys have who very well informed, you’ll see that the that the overall work rate in America went up from about 48 Until about 2000. Now, if if women were just replacing them, you know, in the workforce, so just be flat. So there was a period when work rates were going up for women, and also for the nation as a whole. It was an addition, you know, supplement. But since the year 2000, the work rates have been going down for both men and for women. So whatever has been going wrong, for guys, that’s also in some measure been going wrong for girls, we do think we have something that we can’t define statistically, because it is more like a crisis of meaning, it is more metaphysical. And it relates to the misery that we’ve been discussing. We moderns have lost the distinction between poverty and misery, which is a distinction that, you know, generations before us kind of knew in their bones, could understand intuitively, but with the decline of the family, and the decline of work, and the decline of religion, and the decline of attachment to community, you’ve got a whole whole set of car crashes occurring at once, with regard to things that bring answers the question of who am I and what do I do and what am I for in a society. And for since I’m, at this point, I’m kind of like, you know, Grandpa telling his war stories to you. When I was growing up, it wasn’t as acute as it is now. It was. It was a different time with, with more confidence in institutions, and it’s a probably, generally speaking, more confidence in the future, and things that were more likely to be taken for granted without question than than today. And it doesn’t mean that history is going to be linear and things are going to continue to go in the direction they have been going. But something is going to something is going to have to turn around to to change that. That focus.

Unknown Speaker 44:59
Nick I I’m curious, you know, do you see this trend continuing? Do you see any signs that this might abate? And also, I want to highlight how weird it is to think about this. I don’t know any people that, you know, are nice like this. And I don’t, you know, Russ and I and Nick, you as well, you know, we’re all, I seem pretty, you know, pretty well. We’re renumerated renumerated. Better than, you know, our parents were like, We’re doing well, we live in big cities. You know, things are pretty nice around here. But when you go out to, you know, out into the kind of hinterlands things don’t seem to work as well. But But do you see this trend continuing or reversing? Or if you were a betting man, where do you think this goes?

Nicholas Eberstadt 45:41
It’s hard to, it’s hard for me to tell exactly when it will reverse. I do expect it will reverse. I do expect that things will, will adjust and get what I would cause let’s say back on track, because the long term trends, I think, for not just the US but for the world, I think are very clear in this regard. I mean, you take a you take a 200 year perspective, and that’s extraordinary. I don’t think any of us are going to be living 200 years. So it’s a little bit harder to be, you know, have kind of equanimity about that. Another thing about social prognostication. So we’re always looking in the rearview mirror, we’re always looking at things that have already happened and have taken place and our expectations about the future or that they’re going to be like, you know, today plus 2%. Sometimes things change in a big way. And sometimes they change in a big way in a positive manner as well. It’s possible that the the positive trends have already been done, that we’re not registering yet, because it takes a little while for people to kind of tweak on but it’s also things that happen that are kind of like beyond our imaginations. You look, you look at the at the the history of the United States, and you’ve had these great awakenings in the past. Nobody ever predicted them, they changed the way that people thought lived, for the most part in pretty positive way. I don’t think we should discount the possibility that that’s going to happen again.

Unknown Speaker 47:22
Do you see, you know, we talked about, you know, the problems with with government interventions? Are there anything governments can do, though, that you’ve seen that that might help or anything, you know, private enterprise could do as well?

Nicholas Eberstadt 47:34
Well, of course, government, I mean, of course, government can help and it helps in a whole lot of indispensable ways. I mean, public public order rule, maintaining rule of law, rule of law is the most pro poor, pro egalitarian institution that one can imagine. Because it means that the little people don’t need to have their private militias or their army of lawyers to protect their rights. It’s very pro poor. We could do, we could do a lot better with providing useful, timely information to our public. Unfortunately, that’s a pretty, that’s a pretty inexpensive public function. And so maybe that’s why the government hasn’t bothered to do it. Because there are a lot more big ticket items may have more constituencies. But an awful lot of what we’re going to going to need is going to have to come not from government, it’s going to have to come from renewal and from a healing of civil society. And that’s going to be a task for, it’s gonna be a task where every person that’s going to be in a part of their communities, part of their families, or their faith communities, whatever the different attachments are. And that’s where I think that’s where the really deep promises, if we can keep government from inadvertently causing too many problems, while civil society is healing, I think we’ll be on a pretty good path.

Russ Greene 49:26
That on that last point to you know, I’m thinking specifically about the role of business. You know, I’ve noticed, you know, through my work, and, you know, I’ve seen other businesses too. There’s this new push for Second Chance hiring, you know, so this is being willing to hire people, despite having criminal records. Um, you know, I wonder to what extent that that could help reverse this trend, although something I will note something important. You say in the book is that a lot of this is due to the fact that, you know, a lot of the people who are out of the workforce don’t want to return to work. So it’s possibly not something that businesses could meaningfully address. So So what do you think about the possibility that, you know, a business doing something meaningful to to address this problem?

Nicholas Eberstadt 50:20
Oh, I think I think I think business is a wonderful engine of hope here. And that’s, I mean, like we were talking about reputational employment, reputation repair, I mean, some wonderful, wonderful scope there. And the current job market, I think, makes this more possible than at any time in the, in my memory in my historical memory. I mean, just look at the number of unfilled jobs in the United States today are over 11 million unfilled jobs, employers are screaming for workers. And that gives all workers in the United States a lot more bargaining power, at least for now. And it also means that employers are going to have to become a little bit more flexible, about trying to figure out what the qualifications are that are really necessary for their jobs. And I think that that also makes it a lot more likely, at least for now, at least in this moment, that we can have more Second Chance hiring in the United States. I wish we had some we had encouraged this in a more fulsome national way than we do. But I think it’s going to be happening for a while now. Anyhow, if we were to, if we were to have a serious reform of our disability archipelago of programs, that and move towards at least a consensus that we wanted to work first principle in our social support, and our safety net, that might be a help to, but getting a consensus for reform in the disability programs, isn’t something that I see at the moment happening, you know, like, right this year, it may happen in the future, I think it will, it will be more likely to happen. If we think not about the expense of taxpayers of these programs, but rather the expense to the so called beneficiaries of the program. I think if we have a more humane view of this, it’ll be a little bit more easy to to reform them. I hope.

Unknown Speaker 52:37
I really like that. Well, Nick, thank you so much for coming on the show. I really appreciate you taking the time. Where can we send people worship people find your work.

Nicholas Eberstadt 52:47
If you if you take a look at the American Enterprise Institute’s website, which is a e i The first three vowels in the alphabet, A e i.org. They have a section about scholars and the researchers there, you can find my research page and a lot of other lots of other researchers research pages there as well. It’s a wonderful place to work and part of what makes it a wonderful place to work because I’ve got wonderful colleagues, who I think are doing important and really interesting stuff. Stuff that I think is good for our country or help our country.

Unknown Speaker 53:34
I love that. Well, Nick, thanks again for coming on. We really appreciate it.

Nicholas Eberstadt 53:39
Likewise, thank you for inviting me. It’s a lot of fun to talk with you. Thanks. All the best.

Unknown Speaker 53:49
Thanks for listening. We’ll be back next week with a new episode of narratives.

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