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Anxiety and burnout: why kids are consumed with worry (vox.com)
436 points by petethomas 3 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 437 comments

I watched Stranger Things for the first time a few months ago (I know, I know, but at least I did).

I cried. Not at the scenes I think most people might. I cried because there was a scene where it was so obvious that the older brother was being treated as the "Man of the House".

I'm over 40, and grew up as the older-by-5 years sibling with a single mom. I had no idea I had all of this repressed trauma from being old enough to understand I was being given all of this responsibility, but no way to actually achieve it, or even a way to know if I was doing well enough. So I could never DO well enough, despite always wanting to.

Despite this, I grew up considered a pretty laid back, Zen guy. Until I got married. Now I'm a constant ball of stress. I'm unhealthy, and my sleep is so messed up that "good" nights are those that are less bad. Doctors tell me I should exercise more. All of this despite being financially successful and very happily married. I constantly feel like disaster looms around every corner. I'm aware of how lucky I am and how I screw this up (or just have it screwed up for me) at any moment, and I feel like I can't every fully relax because _I have to be responsible_.

Another poster here generalized beyond this article to say that we as a nation (and perhaps world) are at a high level of anxiety, and we reflect it in everything and kids pick up on that. I think they're very, very right. I find myself reflecting way too often that I'm glad I don't have kids - they won't have to live with the mess society is generating that I can't fix. Because no matter what I'm doing, I can never do enough to fix it. And I'm very, very tired.

While a different situation, I had a pretty rough childhood and felt very similarly (feeling of disaster always looming). It took a long, long time to reprogram myself from constantly thinking "yeah alright, I got a promotion... But I know my new manager is going to fire me any minute". Or while I was still in school "sure, THIS test went well but I know something stupid will ruin my big project". All of the anxiety would also cause disasters! e.g. Over-studying and staying up too late leading to being late for tests in the morning. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy!

It took a long time to just let myself be successful without worrying that it would all fall out from under me. Let yourself be happy: you're financially stable and in a good marriage which is better than A LOT of people can say. Bad shit will always happen, but at least you're in a position to deal with it! Be prepared (savings, insurance, keeping your marriage happy) and roll with it rather than being terrified of it.

> Bad shit will always happen, but at least you're in a position to deal with it!

I think this is pretty key and doesn't get enough attention.

In child psych they talk about "resilience", the ability to get back on your feet when something knocks you down. It's hugely helpful for kids.

But it's also critical for adults, and especially successful adults who frankly don't have a lot of experience being knocked down and getting back up again. I suspect that most anxious successful adults underestimate their own ability to bounce back from failure -- many of us think that we got super lucky and at any time something could destroy it all, not thinking about how would take advantage of other opportunities already available in the face of failure in one domain.

I suspect another piece of this is the lack of spare resources (money, time) to handle external shocks. We're so busy that when one thing goes wrong and needs extra attention/money/time, we know it comes at the expense of something else -- and we feel that expense strongly.

Curious for others' thoughts on these.

There is ofcourse more to it than that.

"Getting back up" after life knocks you down is a huge factor in their success. There are very few successful adults protected from life's blows given the competitive, cut throat world we live in. They all know something about getting thrown into deep holes and climbing back out.

However, I will say that a majority of successful adults, learn how to be resilient at the expense of the people around them.

Not because they are evil, but because no one has shown them better ways of how to handle situations they haven't faced before.

People don't realize how bad this used to be in the past. Nowadays we have much more access to info, better understanding of the right ways to "cope", better understanding of what to avoid, and the right people/environments that will pull one out of life's deep holes. It's nowhere near perfect but it's much better (if you have the resources as you pointed out).

In the past people were mostly just winging it. It's why you see a whole lot successful people who are also ruthless. And regret it towards the end of their lives as they tally the costs and see examples of better routes they could have traveled.

It's interesting you bring up access to information: it seems like a blessing and a curse.

On the one hand, I have more information at my fingertips than someone with access to the entire NYC library system would have had in the 1970s.

On the other hand, the outlier-emphasis of social and news media makes me aware of and able to worry about things someone in the 1970s wouldn't have thought to.

I feel like there was probably an optimal internet (for utility and overall positive impact) from ~1970-1998.

In hindsight, we should have more strongly segregated the information internet from the commercial internet, then let each evolve in isolation.

Counterpoint: chronically stressed children are left with frantic nervous systems and don't learn how to self-soothe. Being chronically stressed for tens of years is incredibly damaging to a body and mind.

Childhood trauma and PTSD are little better than a death sentence. Of course, not every child who gets knocked down has trauma. But there's a lot of evidence that people with "rough childhoods" just grow up to have "rough adulthoods".


> Counterpoint: chronically stressed children are left with frantic nervous systems and don't learn how to self-soothe.

The counter-counterpoint is that this is very much a goldilocks things. Too little stress and you don't build resilience, too much stress is just plain abuse.

quite some time ago a co-relation was established between resiliency and the ability of the child to discover ad hoc foster parents. the island of stability normalcy and reasonable expectations created by a child when self-adopting a foster parent, seems to have a great bearing on who survives the traumatic childhood. I am one such child, having experienced extreme and daily physical and psychological abuse for more than 10 years and i have very severe difficulties with wanting to be socially active but feeling extremely pained by the interaction. I feel more in tune with people who are at least 20 years my senior and i am sure this is a result of self fostering

Interesting. I didn't know this was a thing. Thank you for sharing!

I recently had a revelation that neither of my parents were "good" parents. But also realized who my first two "good" parents were. My dad's mental illness turned into psychological abuse and he eventually committed suicide. Luckily, my mom married one of my "good" parents and we currently have a great relationship.

I have two older sisters, one turned out fine. She was born resilient, and didn't really seek a foster. The other sister is a different story, and I had wondered if she had found a "good" parent as a child.

adde unnum 4u, ;-) i think this is 20+ years old and from scientific american as a secondary lit resource. it seems to hold from the psych education ive had.

> But it's also critical for adults, and especially successful adults who frankly don't have a lot of experience being knocked down and getting back up again.

This is a point that certainly needs to be raised more often. Thanks for making me aware of it.

I really think that a lack of adversity is a double edged sword. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger and if you don't get to experience your limits you can't tell what things might actually be a threat. And you won't learn the tools needed to face those situations. So you become afraid a of a lot of things that aren't within your immediate comfort zone.

Exercising the situations that we think might be a threat to us in a controlled way might be the best solution.

Try a form of consequentialist nihilism

I think it helps, a framework for you to realize what matters and what doesnt, with a focus on how it helps a beneficial consequence

Like, are you over studying because you might die if you dont know how to do something? Or is it just a less optimal habit

nihilism and existentialism helped me overcome quite a lot. things like Thomas Ligotti's "The Conspiracy Against the Human Race", and Emil Cioran's "The trouble with being born" have opened my eyes to a new way of thinking that doesn't revolve around societies fetishism of positivity & optimism.

I think that nihilism is only useful in a fairly narrow set of circumstances, namely the otherwise healthy and succesful young to middle aged person suffering from ennui.

I spend a lot of time with people that are dying (for work, not for fun). I can tell you that nihilism is cold comfort for them.

I personally have found nihilism useful because if nothing matters then I can do whatever I want as long as I can bear the consequences. It’s very freeing in that way.

When it comes to being afraid of the consequences, stoicism and negative visualisation helps a lot. What’s the worst that can happen? Oh I’ve been in that spot before, that’s not so bad.

What do you mean by cold comfort?

It's a phrase meaning basically "is no comfort".

this reminds me of the "cold shoulder" when someone of ill repute came to dine they would be given the cold shoulder, a gristly fatty hunk of bone and maybe some meat, left unheated and tossed to the not quite welcome guest.

interesting! I had no idea. there are probably hundreds of proverbs which I don't actually know the origin. Must get myself some book on this. It is really a basic knowledge which we happily forget over time.

Your post is akin to telling a depressed person to stop being depressed. You can't just tell someone to stop having anxiety. That's not how the illness works.

i began to realize at an early age that the anxiety and depression were simply neurological sensations, and can be borne locked in a caged, like working with a migraine instead of tapping out for a sick day.

It never goes away, you just get on top of it as something that you inextricably are, like having a scar or poor eyesight. its called emotional repression.

That's your way of dealing with it, I also have that ability.

But not everyone does, nor can everyone learn it, people are unique and often incompatible with what works with other people in a way that cannot be changed.

You can't reasonably expect everyone to use the method that has worked for you, because your method is unique to you and in many cases is completely impossible to use for others, especially those with hard wired responses to trauma.

of course. most kids that experience as i have are dead at thier own hand or an abusers. i am told i am also gifted with a very high score on wechsler. that is also a mitigating factor, as well as what ever geneticaly based wiring is in play.

Just throwing this out here and you may already be familiar with it but I know a lot of people who have similar feelings who wrestled with imposter syndrome.

Parts of that sound a lot like what I see in developers feeling like they aren't capable and will be fired at any time for being an "imposter" despite being totally awesome, knock it out of the park engineers.

Either way, talking about these types of things helps and if it's causing you as much stress as it sounds like see if you can find someone to talk to about it(mentor, counselor, etc).

Thanks for the note.

Imposter syndrome is definitely a reality, and something that has really burned me in the past (the situation I described is about a decade old now) but I think I'm managing that well enough now. Or at least, in line with fears that the economy can tank badly, that I can get crippled in a car accident, stroke, etc.

> talking about these types of things helps

Absolutely - I've been looking. So far one counselor and I agreed it wasn't working (she "fired" me (graciously) at the appt that I was going to do the same) and another -I- declared wasn't working (I was too (over)analytical for someone who wanted to bulldoze over that), but finding therapists with openings that took my insurance was not going well. New job in the last few months means new insurance, so I'm trying again now that the holidays are over.

Instead of looking into CBT, you may try looking for therapists who utilize Solution Focused Therapy. I found one who approached things that way and found it to be tremendously helpful. She approached things initially from a very standard inventory of my family history, personal values, etc. and then tended to let me direct my counseling until I realized I had reached a point that I was ready to stop my regular sessions. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to send me a PM.

Awesome, sounds like you're already well on the right track. Different things work for different people but keep on trucking and I think you'll get there.

Speaking of imposter syndrome... I came across Interview Cake the other day from (the comments?) of another thread here on HN and found their explanation of it, and how to understand it very helpful: https://www.interviewcake.com/impostor-syndrome-in-programmi...

I resemble this remark; could you elaborate on just who you feel can be helpful to talk to?

I regularly check in with my manager about my performance and he's very forthcoming on it, yet I still don't believe I won't be found out and canned at any second and end up sick and homeless.

Ideally someone has already beaten you to the punch(Imposter Syndrome is literally item #1 when I take on engineers to mentor). Of my sample size of ~150 engineers across every level my success rate of having people say "Oh my god, I have that" is so far 100%.

More concretely though I would not look to anyone directly in your management chain for a variety of reasons. The best ways I've seen to address it is with a senior engineer or someone that you respect who's willing to take you on in a mentorship role. This should be something where you set aside time to talk through these types of issues(plus all the other wonderful inter-team stuff that comes up in development) over a 3-6mo period.

If you can't find that I will say this: I've found that it comes from a place of caring and giving a shit about wanting to carry your weight or be a part of something. I don't think it's possible to have a desire to improve yourself and not experience it on a regular basis.

The best way I've found to approach it is to recognize when it's happening, call it out directly and tell yourself that your brain is being an asshole in this specific instance. Something I've also seen work well for other people is to do a short list of the things that you work on each day. Review it at the end of the day and take an objective look at what you've accomplished, you'll often find that it's more than you 'felt' like you did.

Hope that gives you some direction. If you're finding you local resources lacking drop me a line at val at vvanders.com and see what I can do to help.

Talk with a therapist or even a life coach if you want to start there. That you notice these feelings and want to do something about them is a good thing. Talking with a professional is good because they can really narrow down what's happening and give you strategies and coping skills.

There are therapists who are well versed in imposter syndrome and help patients understand it and get better. There are also podcasts if you want to take a self help approach first. I mean it's free. I would look for licensed therapists who apply a CBT oriented approach.

For imposter syndrome you have to assess at the evidence you are not capable or otherwise a fraud. Is there anyone else at your work that you feel is an imposter? No probably not. Are you as capable as the average employee at your work? Yes! You have performance reviews as evidence that you are good! What would you advise a friend who came to you expressing that they felt the same way? Would you say they are most definitely an imposter? What is an imposter anyway? How would an imposter be hired in the first place? Recognize that these automatic thoughts are triggering your amygdala and activating the nervous systems fight or flight response.

Also, there's quotes from Richard Branson along the line that if you meet 70% of the job requirements you are qualified to take the job and you should just learn the rest of it on the job.

And remember that even in the worse case, if you are fired, fired! There are still companies and jobs/roles where you are or can be a superstar. You see this all the time in business.

A therapist. No joke. In my case it _seems to be_ a coping mechanism for anxiety. I'm so afraid that I force myself to be successful. It goes under the radar because it's seen as healthy to the outside world, but inside is turmoil.

It was put best to me: Don't tell the dog it's not a chicken, we need the eggs.

I had that when I had kids. I'm an older brother but grew up in a stable family.

The lack of sleep combined with working hard full time is the cause.

If you can take a few months off of work (doing 20 hrs work a week works too), get to the gym and sort your diet out (cut down on fat and try to remove red meat and sugars) you'll feel much better.

It's working for me :)

Your brain probably just got really good at adapting because it needed to, there was no choice really. So I wouldn't feel to to bad about it that it ended up that way. It was just a natural consequence of your environment. If your environment is different now you might have to develop new habits and mechanisms for dealing with the anxiety.

Now maybe the answer that problem is not just exercise but mentally stimulating/challenging exercise that will rewire your brain(dancing, martial arts, music, yoga). But it's possible that the rewiring process will have to be stronger than that the original wiring that causes anxiety. So it might be a huge time and emotional investment, but if your serious it might be possible, especially since the stressors no longer exist in your environment.

People on HN talk a lot about going into different states of mind and that seems to be very effective and switching your conscious process to a completely different one[1].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consciousness#States_of_consci...

You are my doppelgänger. I live in US, am not an American, and feel exactly like this. I don't know if my parents (not in US) felt like this when they were my age, or it is only an American problem, or only an American problem of this generation.

People used to think for their kids and grand-kids financial future. That seems so out of the window now.

It used to be. My parents didn't. We are trying to do better to leave something for my kids like my grandparents did for my parents.

Sounds pretty familiar. I have it to the point that I can only truly relax when I travel for work, alone, but when traveling with the family I am an un-enjoyable ball of stress because I feel I need absolute control and we're just going to get screwed and dropped of at unsafe places etc. I guess I always dealt with it by thinking: I can take anything (sleep on the street, fight, etc). But my family can't. It's difficult to relax. Being aware of it has helped the last years (a career coach pointed it out) but the rewiring is slow.

I’d recommend finding a good therapist that specializes in generalized anxiety. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in particular can be really helpful at giving you tools to manage it.

I just read the book "The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure".

About 1/3 of the book is how kids these days are being taught values that are pretty much the exact opposite of what Cognitive Behavioral Therapy teaches and how that leads to more anxiety.

Instead of learning: "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me" and to not assume someone's intentions, they are being taught to be on the lookout for microaggressions and to report them.

Instead of being taught to critically question the feelings they have, they are taught that if they feel something, it must be true.

Summarizing about the AUTHOR's views on microaggressions:

Let's say someone comes up to you and says "Where are you really from?"

The motivations for asking this question can be ambiguous.

One way to interpret it is as a subtle racist insult that implies you are an "other". At this point you can be mad at how society is so racist.

An important part of CBT is that you can't read minds. The other way to interpret it is that the speaker is genuinely interested in me and wants to learn more. At this point I can have positive emotions and go about my day.

From a mental health point of view you are less likely to have anxiety if you choose option 2.

Hm... this is some pretty typical Neoliberal misinformation--just the kind I expect to see pedaled on HN. I will read this book, if you think it's important, but it's astonishing how quick you are to desire children's alienation from their feelings. Really, that's an atrocious desire. You should critically question that one. You should also consider reading bell hooks' "The Will to Change," which goes into great depth on the ways men like you and I are emotionally crippled--not coddled, crippled. At any rate, that's what you would do if you'd been "taught to critically question" your beliefs.

There's a few great lines in hooks' book about how we adopt our patriarchal ontologies unquestioningly, never stopping to think what about "being a man" we would have chosen for ourselves.

I will read "The Coddling" because I can't be in every American classroom, and it's possible I am simply unaware of some training as atrocious as "be on the lookout for microaggressions and report them," but I suspect it's a deliberate misinterpretation of the feminist understanding that the common American ideological worldview is an deference and adherence to rape, exploitation, domination, and violence. Standing against these things early on, when they're recapitulated as "mere" schoolyard bullying, is a heroic act, and not the result of "coddling," but of a stable, enriching family life--something you can read about in Deborah MacNamara's "Rest. Play. Grow."

Unfortunately, the American home life often recapitulates endemic American patriarchal violence. As hooks puts it, "the love of a father is an uncommon gem, to be hunted, burnished, and hoarded. The value goes up because of its scarcity." No surprise, then, that that children teach one another to relate in the terms of domination and submission.

Sorry if I was being unclear, the books explains the views much better. The author's want us to avoid the fallacies of emotional reasoning.

Some quotes: "Sages in many societies have converged on the insight that feelings are always compelling, but not always reliable. Often they distort reality, deprive us of insight, and needlessly damage our relationships. Happiness, maturity, and even enlightenment require rejecting the Untruth of Emotional Reasoning and learning instead to question our feelings. The feelings themselves are real, and sometimes they alert us to truths that our conscious mind has not noticed, but sometimes they lead us astray."

"Beck’s great discovery was that it is possible to break the disempowering feedback cycle between negative beliefs and negative emotions. If you can get people to examine these beliefs and consider counterevidence, it gives them at least some moments of relief from negative emotions, and if you release them from negative emotions, they become more open to questioning their negative beliefs."

The author's of the book don't desire "children's alienation from their feelings.".

Let's take for example a student failing a chemistry test which may lead to anxiety. The student might think, "My life is ruined. I'll never get into college now."

The author's would suggest looking for counter evidence. Is it true everyone who has failed a chemistry test doesn't get into college? No that's ridiculous. Even if you aren't able to get into an Ivy League school, does that mean your life is ruined? No, plenty of people I know have great lives without an Ivy League education.

The book presents mainstream views on cognitive behavioral therapy. Do you think CBT leads to emotionally crippling men?

I would be interested to read a reconciliation between this book and The Gift Of Fear.

Edit: also, CBT doesn't work for everyone. I found it infuriating.

> CBT doesn't work for everyone. I found it infuriating.

This is where I'm at so far. I don't want to condemn it, even as a match for myself, with a sample size of 1, but I know a lot of people for whom it was successful, but my one therapist that worked with me on it thus far only caused more strife and anguish.

It felt like training in learned helplessness. "ok, so when your coworker lies about doing their work and you have to put out the fire that causes, you get angry. Have you thought about just not getting angry and accepting that this is how it works?" No, thanks for the tip, but the right answer was to quit that job.

Where does this student's failure narrative come from?

It's called an example.

Do you really believe that “the American ideological worldview” treats rape and violence with “deference”? I can sort of see the argument for domination and exploitation—though I think you’re on shaky ground there as well—but, really, deference to rape and violence? How in the world does a person come to such a conclusion?

From reading books like "Yes Means Yes!", "Witches, Midwives, and Nurses", or "The Will to Change".

From observing mainstream and right-wing media's treatment of sexual predators—especially the narrative of concern for their reputations, academic careers, etc.

From sitting in on violent men's groups, and realizing that the roots of their violence are common to all supposedly "non-violent" men. It's plain to see that the man who throws his cousin down a staircase, or kicks open his girlfriend's door to make demands of her does so for the same reasons that old men shout at waitresses, call female politicians "whore, "bitch", and "cow", roofie drinks, wear uniforms, hire secretaries, don't hire women engineers, and generally do the complex and pervasive work to substantiate sexist collective ontologies as a "society" of "rape culture."

You’re going to have to do much, much better than that to convince me that the American ideological worldview is supportive or even tolerant of rape. First of all, I haven’t read any of those books and I’m honestly not going to read them, so you’re going to have to summarize the case they’ve made in support of your wildly outlandish claim. Second, you’re clearly begging the question when you claim that the media treats sexual predators with kid gloves: America has a long and noble tradition of treating the accused gently. Besides, the concern over reputation only goes to show how avidly anti-rape our culture is. It’s widely known that if a man acquires a reputation for being accused of rape or sexual assault, he’s pretty much done, both personally and professionally, regardless of whether or not anything was ever proved. These accusations are taken extremely seriously and are capable of destroying a man because America hates rape and sexual assault.

I’m not sure what to make of your last paragraph. You seem to be saying that the difference between a violent male psychopath and a man who doesn’t respect women as much as he respects men is one of degree and not kind. That’s absurd on its face. In addition, the entire phrase that begins with “generally do” and ends with “‘rape culture’” is a fractal of special definitions, hidden assumptions, and ideology that’s completely divorced from reality.

>I’d recommend finding a good therapist that specializes in generalized anxiety. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in particular can be really helpful at giving you tools to manage it.

I would recommend the same, for myself and many of my friends and family who went through similar things and have similar symptoms. Unfortunately such therapy is market priced in my major US city at $400.00 an hour, and health insurance plans even in the top tier of coverage quality produce surprise bills constantly. There is a significant material barrier to every dimension of health in this country and we absolutely cannot make progress on outcomes until we destroy that barrier.

I suffered crippling social anxiety when I was in my teens and very early twenties, got just the kind of help you recommend and I’m happy and functional without needing anti-anxiety medication. I cannot agree with your recommendation enough, it’s hard work, but it’s life changing.

If you feel the stress/anxiety is strongly impacting your life/wellbeing - then I strongly second this recommendation.

(If you live in SF feel free to PM me for a suggestion).

I find myself struggling with somewhat related situation, everything in my life is going good, happily married and a great job that I love however I find myself wanting to watch the world burn, I get excited about the prospect of war and the collapse of society. I keep it under wraps and don't mention it to anyone but I'm really not sure what's wrong with me.

A friend of mine shared similar story with me. He sold his company, has enough money, travels a lot, married etc but he secretly hopes for the war, chaos .

I felt that he just wants a reset in life which he can't do himself due to society, family pressure and hopes some external event will do it for him.

I feel like things aren't quite adding up - you got married, now you're stressed. Yet you think you're happily married.

It sounds like you traded being unhappy single, to being unhappy married. The circumstances have changed, the essence remains the same.

If you feel like this marriage not working out would screw up your life - you're right, it will. Being afraid that a failed marriage would screw up your life - is actually screwing up your life, this very second.

That's the missing bit - living in fear, even if it's mild, is quite miserable once you start to run out of things to look forward to that'll 'make you happy' once you get them. You got the marriage, look how short lived that honeymoon is - now you're right back to where you where you started from :)

> you got married, now you're stressed. Yet you think you're happily married

Well, yes. Lots of other things happened too - this has been at least a decade of gradual creeping anxiety. But being married has definitely tweaked my "I'm responsible" baggage.

> Being afraid that a failed marriage would screw up your life

Been there, done that - this is my second marriage. While I in no way want to undersell how bad getting divorced is - even when it's an amicable divorce like mine was - I'm in complete agreement that an unhappy marriage isn't worth it.

In this case though, I'm not afraid of losing the marriage - I'm just afraid of failing at my responsibilities, and I'm not even sure if they're marriage related responsibilities, or just adulting. We've been together 12 years now, and she's awesome, including not putting responsibility or demands on me. We could live in a box behind a restaurant and I'm confident she'd love me and not be blaming me.

Things have gotten worse for me as I've aged, but I can't say for certain the cause. Saving for retirement, health care, paying the mortgage, these are all things I associate with my marriage (and thus I mentioned it), but that may have been misleading. This could be being an adult, this could be my own success (I'm making almost 10x what I did 20 years ago, unadjusted) giving me more to lose, this could be my lack of friends as I outage many of my coworkers and the others focus on their families, this could be deteriorating health making me feel more vulnerable (I'm also 60 pounds heavier than 20 years ago), this could be the looming dementia on my father's side, this could be...

...a really unhealthy list of things to focus on. :) . Regardless, I appreciate the intent of your post, I can see how I made it seem like my marriage was responsible, but I don't see the line of causality. If it's that I AM in a happy marriage, but I'm afraid of losing the ability to enjoy that part of my life, but then the cause isn't an unhappy marriage.

I think the quote, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation" applies well to you. I never finished Walden but that quote hit me in the guts many years ago.

I'm someone who lives in perpetual worry and it was something that I inherited from my parents. While I'm naturally lazy, a procrastinator, and completely unambitious; the sheer worry during my younger years forced me to try harder.

As a head of household one thing I've come to accept is that it's a role that comes with perpetual worry. It can't be helped.

The only way to mitigate it somewhat is to live well-beneath one's means.

And the only ones who don't worry about disaster looming around a corner are like Aesop's grasshopper.

> While I'm naturally lazy, a procrastinator, and completely unambitious; the sheer worry during my younger years forced me to try harder.

This, so many times this. I tell people I'm lazy and they say "You have two jobs, GM a weekly RPG and a monthly LARP, how can you be lazy?" They don't look at how little I WANT to do, they don't see how perpetually behind I am because given 3 hours to catch up I'll waste 2.5 of them, they don't see how a lifetime of this has taught me to wing it really well, to hide and cover up how behind I am. They'll talk about taking hikes or wanting to travel, but I want to sit and read or play games. Their dream superpower is flying, while I dream of teleportation and telekinesis - anything that means I'll have to struggle with the act of "doing" less.

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result misery.”

― Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

I feel the same way as you but I don’t have the same baggage. I also am quite confused by the sitauation, being anxious and nervous all the time. I equate it to having a lot to lose; marriage, kids, house, career. When I was single it was just me and I had none of those things to worry about.

For me, something that really helped was mindfulness.

Sure, being aware of everything good in your life too (classic mindfulness). But more importantly, asking two simple questions:

"What actions can I take about this worry? And on what timescale?"

For a large number of my worries, if I was honest, there was either nothing I could do, nothing more I could do, or nothing more I could do at this time.

And if the answer was nothing, then I decided to stop thinking about it. I was surprised how many worries fell into this category. Or how exercising this ability influenced how I deal with new worries. (Now, it seems much easier, and harder to just let fears run away with me)

For the optimizer, the way I backdoored into this was realizing "Worrying, in many situations, makes me less effective."

"Doctors tell me I should exercise more"

Do you exercise enough? Running has helped me a lot with stress. I used to hate running at school, and now its something that helps me relieve my stress, and i'm much happier.

You may need to do some organizing, goal setting, or writing. Or maybe all of these. If you're worried about how you might have screwed up the past, you might want to write (or type, whatever) to organize your thoughts. If you're a more verbal person, maybe talk about these things with someone. If you get things out of your head and into words, it can help you organize your brain so that instead of foggy, murky chaos, you can start to come up with a plan of action for dealing with the things that you believe are bringing anxiety. Make some (reasonable) goals, with deadlines, and try to meet them. You may need to adjust them as you go, or you may do them terribly at first. This is fine. Just keep going.

> I constantly feel like disaster looms around every corner.

Sorry if this is unwelcome, but I recognize this feeling very well. I'm a lifelong CBT patient, in CBT we call this "catastrophizing", recognizing when you are falling into that thought pattern is the best way to break out of it.

You might consider body-focused trauma therapy. You were deprived of a childhood and it traumatized you.

Feel like the idea that life shouldn’t contain anxiety does more damage than the actual anxiety.

There's a kernel of truth there, but there's also a difference between "reasonable" anxiety (concern over you and your family's health and well-being), and the sort of manufactured anxiety that the article mentions (constantly being barraged with information about your performance/grades, for example).

I am you. Every line of it.

You, as a child, were given responsibility as the "man of the house" because there was no father? Shouldn't your mother have been the head of household?

It says a lot about society that a male child was implicitly given responsibility instead of his grown mother. And based on your age, I'd guess this was in the 70s or 80s, not the 50s.

This is very indicative of the 70s and 80s - at least for the US.

No fault divorce was first legalized here in California in the late 70s, and in most states by the mid-80s. This increased the number of divorces, and I don't know the numbers, but I imagine there was an initial "boom" of pent-up unhappy marriages that took advantage at first before the numbers leveled out.

There's a reason the sitcoms of the era tended to involve single-parent homes (often with friends/family filling in) - this was an attack on the cultural idea of "norm". Putting children in the role of "man of the family" when there wasn't a father was a big thing, at least in the culture I grew up in. And since everyone now has grown up with that, it isn't going away quickly.

No idea of the quality of this db, but a search for "you're the man of the family" in movies turned up over a dozen matches for that exact phrase: http://www.quodb.com/search/you're%20the%20man%20of%20the%20..., with most being between 1980-2010 - and it looks like those were generally delivered to children (a few to female children).

The Mom may have been head of the household, but the eldest son was (and is) treated as if that Y chromosome imbues him with mystical powers and responsibility, even if very young.

Stupid question about that website, how can you see what character is being spoken to? I'm curious what the context would be for telling a female child "you're the man of the family", so I'd like to dig into those if possible.

I was also a son raised by a single mom.

My take: I certainly didn't have authority over my mom, but I definitely felt like I had a lot of responsibility. Households are typically run by (at least) two people, and for good reason. I stepped up where I could--helping manage the dog, helping make food, staying out of trouble when she couldn't watch me, in general trying to keep stress off of my mom--not because I felt like I was in a position of authority, but because there wasn't another adult to help shoulder the load, so some of the load fell to me.

If you were raised by a single father and/or you were a girl, do you think the same responsibility would have fallen to you?

I was the born in the 80's, oldest brother of three siblings, mother died when I was 7 and my father didn't remarry until after college. tenecious_tuna's comment sounds very familiar. I wouldn't put too much stock in the "man of the house" phrasing in this case. I'm not so sure it's a male/female distinction, I just felt like I had a different set of worries and responsibilities than my peers growing up. To be fair, it wasn't just me as the oldest. I think my brother and sister shouldered many of the same worries that I did; I was just a few years older than them so I had the older brother experience and the single-parent experience at the same time.

I've certainly seen multiple cases of girls embracing quasi-parental roles in the partial or permanent absence of a mother in the home.

There's no need to invoke gender-wars arguments in this discussion; it's a simple matter of people in families doing what they can to manage difficult situations.

I was born in 1990, to a single mother whose most profitable year was thirty eight thousand dollars. When I was 14 I got a job at Subway to help contribute to family money. I worked the maximum amount of hours the state would allow.When everyone is struggling to get by, you can't say "This isn't fair and I'm not going to do it", you just kind of do it.

I think the issue is cascading. If families had greater resources for support, their stressors wouldn't trickle down to their children. I think this problem exist in "full" families but is much more exacerbated in single parent settings.

Maybe it's not a binary thing - not all the responsibility, just some of it, which is particularly suitable for boys. I think culturally it happens often, it's not just a matter of old times vs. modern times.

Even when mother is the head of household, elder son gets more things around to, um, worry about.


Suitable for male children.

I don't like sexism.

So, again, what responsibility would be particularly suited to a boy over a woman?

It is not necessary that he had authority over mom. But, he was likely responsible a lot for younger kid - maybe when she was not around or too tired or just in general. He might be babysitting too much basically and have to solve siblings issues parent would normally solve.

It has name in child psychology, through I can't recall the name now. But in general, altrough it makes older kid more responsible, it does harm him overall.

Note: it is different isue then chores and some help around the house. Kid won't be harmed by helping and working then, it is responsibility beyond kids age and having to grow.l too soon.

What does it say about society? That there's something problematic, inherently, with the concept of a "man of the house" as a necessary authority figure. Joyce Byers, in Stranger Things, is a strong-willed and determined woman, but it takes a village to raise a child, and she did not have that. Her 80s Indiana town is exemplary of the ways modernity--industrialization, capitalism, Calvinism--alienate us from one another, leaving mothers like Joyce with no ontology of family without a "man of the house," and no option but to install her eldest son in that role.

In this view, the greatest social crime committed in that series (aside from the government atrocities) is Chief Hopper's self-isolation. As a good man, with earnest intentions, his desertion of the town's emotional needs (regardless of his performance as a law enforcer) is a betrayal of their material needs.

See, I didn't mention Stranger Things because it's a bit of a special case. Joyce went crazy, so her eldest son had to step in.

(Of course, she actually wasn't crazy because her fantastical visions were real, this is a TV show, etc.)

Admittedly, we don't know what the son's role was like before Will went missing...

I imagine success like a little island, a hill surrounded by ocean. You're born wherever on the hill your parents happen to live. Your effort plus a lot of luck determines how high up that hill you're able to climb.

The higher you reach, the better the view and the fresher the coconuts. But more importantly, the farther you are from the sea. The next cyclone that rolls by chance sometimes washes anyone living too close to shore out to sea.

For generations, Americans took for granted that the hill was getting bigger, the slope was gentle, and each batch of kids could take a couple of easy steps forward and comfortably land somewhere safer and more prosperous than Mom and Dad.

But the last forty years or so of increasing economic disparity mean the peak of the hill gets higher and the slope up to it steeper every year. Harder and harder to climb, and easier to slip down, or get knocked down by a rival.

Meanwhile, outsourcing, offshoring and automation mean there is less and less shore near the bottom where you can start from. The sea is rising and if you can't at least reach the elevation marked "skilled worker", you better hope you're a good swimmer. (On top of this, the seas literally are rising, which will disproportionately harm the poor, just like Hurricane Katrina took out the lowest-elevation neighborhoods the worst.)

It is clear that many of the rich in power in this country don't give a damn about this. As far as they're concerned, the more people that get washed out to sea, the more coconuts there are left for them. They're so high up now, they can barely see the rest down there scrabbling to stay dry.

My hope is that a new wave of elected officials will change the direction we're heading. But right now, the future looks grim, and our childrens' anxiety is entirely rational.

Is there any source to back up this claim that life is getting more difficult for Americans? Inequality has risen, but that does not mean that things are getting worse for those at the bottom ends of the wealth distribution. By most metrics (really, all of them other than home ownership and healthcare costs - both of which are primarily causes by an undersupply of housing and a growing cohort of old people, rather then inequality) life has continued to get better, even for the poor. Objective metrics like infant mortality, access to infrastructure like electricity and plumbing, educational attainment, all indicate positive trends. Measures of poverty based on post tax income and purchasing power indicate a drop in poverty by factors of two and five respecticely over the past 40 years [1].

The fact that many feel this way is an interesting perspective in and of itself. But perhaps more interesting is the fact that this is directly at odds with most objective metrics.

1. https://www.economist.com/democracy-in-america/2018/03/01/po...

Where do I begin?

1. Life expectancy - getting lower for the first time in generations

2. Suicide rate - at an all-time high

3. Opioid crisis - need I say more

4. Labor participation 63% - the lowest since 1978

5. Stagnant (falling for some) real wages since the Internet bubble crisis (2001)

I could go on for much longer....




1. life expectancy is going to be affected by the suicide rate and opioid crisis. On the bright side, we've practically cured cancer, with about 70% actually surviving.

2,3. The improving economy should help. We are at historically low levels of unemployment for many subgroups, including hispanics and blacks. Factory employment has recovered to levels not seen in decades.

4. Labor participation should continue to drop as the baby boomers retire. It will rise again as they die. The normal unemployment numbers, which don't include the retired, are showing a situation that is wonderful for American workers. The numbers would look even better if not for the fact that large numbers of "discouraged workers" are reentering the workforce; these people had not been counted because they had given up looking for work.

5. Wages are starting to rise. Of course, businesses are demanding immigration to "fix" the "problem" of rising wages.

> But perhaps more interesting is the fact that this is directly at odds with most objective metrics.

It's really not. Even the expected lifespan of Americans is declining. The only objective metrics that look good are GDP - and growth in this area is increasingly distributed upwards while the middle class doesn't really see a benefit. A reduction in poverty is good (assuming it's real and not a statistical sleight of hand), but the kids this article is talking about are the middle class - which is in decline[1].

[1] http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2016/05/11/americas-shrinking...

> The only objective metrics that look good are GDP

The link I provided gave several objective metrics that indicate positive trends. More people have access to goods and services that used to be more exclusive. People without access to basic infrastructure (e.g. plumbing, electricity)s are drastically fewer.

Upper, middle, and lower class are artificial labels. They don't correspond to quality of life. A decline or increase in one does not indicate a change in hardship. The question I seek to answer is, "has life gotten better or worse for the average person?" or "how has life changed for the Americans in the X to Y income percentile?". Overall the trends are positive.

Even life expectancy has a overall upwards trend. It has gone from about 70 to close to 80 over the past 40 years, which was the time frame that the previous commenter referred to.

It's comparing today to the '60s and '70s, of course it looks good by material standards:

>These measures better reflect changes in household welfare. Bruce Sacerdote, an economist at Dartmouth College notes the poorest quarter of households in America had 0.75 vehicles per household in 1970 compared to 1.4 per household in 2015. In 1960, more than one third of households in the bottom quarter of the income distribution lacked indoor plumbing; by 2015 virtually all households had indoor water and sewer systems. Microwave ovens have spread from luxury to ubiquity alongside mobile phones—microwaves are now owned by 97% of households.

Sure, it's great that we aren't dealing with Cholera outbreaks anymore, but that's not what people are talking about here and it might come across as a bit insulting and disingenuous to point to the fact that indoor plumbing is now available to people living in poverty as a counterpoint to skyrocketing wealth inequality.

> It's comparing today to the '60s and '70s, of course it looks good by material standards

That is the time frame specified by the original commenter.

> Sure, it's great that we aren't dealing with Cholera outbreaks anymore, but that's not what people are talking about here

Then what are people taking about here? People in this thread (and society at large) are saying life is getting harder over the past several decades, but conspicuously absent are measurements that demonstrate that this is the case.

People can afford better things, are provided with better services. Post taxes, less people are in poverty. Post taxes, and adjusted for purchasing power, less than a fifth as many people are in poverty. This directly contradicts the original poster's claim that it is easier than ever to slip into poverty. The shore, to reuse his metaphor, is not shrinking. And yet, many seem to harbor the idea that it is. That's the mysterious aspect.

I wonder how much of this is financed by debt, however? How many of the people went into debt to buy their cars, or other necessary goods to live in modern America? And now how many are stuck in debt trying to pay everything off...so much so that their post-tax purchasing power income isn't really the same amount? And, I also wonder how biased this is by sample...as it's definitely not true in the rural South, from what I've seen growing up here.

Fair enough, I guess I just don't think it's a very useful lens for looking at our current situation.

But maybe I'm taking things out of context, sorry.

> Then what are people taking about here?

It is instructive to read Marx to answer this question. How much time do working people need to work every day to earn enough to reproduce themselves? College education is now expected for many jobs (working people reproducing themselves means the next generation having access to similar jobs). How big of a fraction of median income does a median college degree cost? What about healthcare, rent/home prices? Food and clothing prices have declined a lot, but the other prices have risen to a much greater proportion of median income. How many people are now working two or more "part-time" jobs for a total of more than 40 hours a week?

I'm more than happy to answer your questions, at least insofar as you are inquiring about facts:

> How much time do working people need to work every day to earn enough to reproduce themselves?

The Economist article linked above says that adjusted for inflation and taxes, less than one fifth as many people struggle to do so as compared to 40 years ago. Sure, it's valid to say that the percentage of people that experience that struggle (~3-4%) is still a figure that is unacceptably high. But it has been a drastic reduction from what it was four decades earlier (over 15%).

> College education is now expected for many jobs (working people reproducing themselves means the next generation having access to similar jobs).

A strange observation to make, seeing as the non-college educated reproduce at a greater rate than those who do.[1]

> What about healthcare, rent/home prices?

I mention that those are exceptions to the overall trend, but also explain that those are due to well known reasons: a large ageing generation, and an unwillingness to build housing in many growing metro areas. They are not cause by inequality, though good arguments can be made that they exacerbate it.

> Food and clothing prices have declined a lot, but the other prices have risen to a much greater proportion of median income.

Sure, some things like housing have gotten more expensive. But plenty of others have gotten cheaper. In aggregate, costs are going down. That's what the Economist article I linked above explains.

> How many people are now working two or more "part-time" jobs for a total of more than 40 hours a week?

People are spending less time on work on average.[2]

1. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/pressroom/97facts/edu2birt.htm

2. https://amp.businessinsider.com/images/520f835b6bb3f7730d000...

A strange observation to make, seeing as the non-college educated reproduce at a greater rate than those who do

You've misinterpreted his use of the word "reproduce". It's not about birth rates.


Average time worked is a terrible metric to use without context. Can you provide the context of the chart?

It could be argued that people are working less because of increases in automation and more schooling and a switch from shift jobs to non-shift jobs. Reportedly someone on salary would say they work 40 hours or would be assumed - we know the reality is different than that.

Things are even better than what you’re saying would suggest because of huge amounts of legal and illegal immigration constantly refreshing the US’s supply of poor and uneducated people. If you could look at people who were in the US twenty years ago and their children things would look even better.

> If you could look at people who were in the US twenty years ago and their children things would look even better.

Maybe in some places, but this definitely isn't true overall. In fact, I'd say in a lot of places, especially rural ones, it's a lot worse now. People are still having children, but there's not the jobs in those areas. Or, if they are, they're generally constantly temp jobs that don't offer much, or any, security. There's not the options for the kids that the parents had 20 years ago.

My mom just retired teaching after thirty years, having had several students of former students. She openly admits that she was worried for them because there's not the opportunities around that there once were.

Sure, you might counter, they can move...but that's not really feasible for everyone. It takes money to move, and it takes a good reason for someone to up and leave their family and support system as well as likely all the friends they've ever known, including many they've known since age 5, if not before. Moving isn't easy emotionally or materially, especially in areas where families are still somewhat close and community is still decently close. Sadly, too many people forget this point (though I'd say it likely holds true even in urban areas, to be honest)

William Petty, the person who first proposed the measure of GDP, even warned against using GDP as a measure of prosperity.


I think the first thing that conversations like this need are data. I ran into this [1] when actually searching information on the chiseling out of the middle class. And that paper does describe that. In 1979 the middle class controlled 46% of all income, and the upper/rich classes controlled 30%. Today (well at least today as of 2014) the rich and upper class control 63% with the middle class left with 26%. There's even been a chiseling out of the middle class as a whole declining from 38.8% of society to 32% of society. All of that is very clearly stated in this article.

But the eye opener is this, and something that is often left out. This is the change in the size of each economic group between 1979 and 2014 as a percent of the total population:

- Rich: 0.1% -> 1.8%

- Upper Middle Class: 12.9% -> 29.4%

- Middle Class: 38.8% -> 32%

- Lower Middle Class: 23.9% -> 17.1%

- Poor or Near-Poor: 24.3% -> 19.8%

Statistics like this are certainly subject to biased interpretation and 'massaging'. If one is curious about the source, wiki has a section on the political stance of the Urban Institute [2]. Though the paper itself is very transparent in their methodology and extremely readable. I found it all eye opening to the point that it actually changed my worldview.

Now the most interesting thing here is that the paper I'm referencing and this Pew article are using the same methodology, and thus Pew is also basing their report off the same data. It's just interesting to see the contrast between how things are presented, and how people would respond to the raw data itself. Just to point out one more little oddity. Pew seems to focus specifically on 1999 to 2014, yet their own chart [3] indicates everybody saw declines in income from 1999 to 2014. Nonetheless their discussion seems to imply this is a uniquely middle class phenomena. E.g. the heading of the first section being: "The American middle class loses ground nationally". Yet it would be much more accurate to state that "Americans of all classes lose ground nationally."

[1] - https://www.urban.org/research/publication/growing-size-and-...

[2] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urban_Institute#Political_stan...

[3] - http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2016/05/11/americas-shrinking...

Many tremendously important things are non-quantifiable by think-tanks and economists.

How people make friends. How many friends people have. How much people feel they're a part of their community. How much people touch each other in general. How much people feel about their neighbors. How people dispense care to those closest to them. How large families are (extended/adopted family, etc) How close people feel to their families.


All, I think, are rapidly changing.

You can see it in another comment in this thread. One person says, basically, my childhood was horrible. The discussion is entirely about what this person, in their self-contained world, can do to alleviate their stresses and pains. Eat more veggies! I'm not knocking those sorts of comments at all--you can't exactly turn back time and change the structure of society to give that commenter a community who cares about him.

I'm not sure about all this. It just comes from my observation. I think, though, that the feeling of life is changing and has changed in a big way. And it flys completely under the radar, because it's so hard to discuss, reason through, and quantify.

How about employment stability? Used to be more common that you'd work at the same job your whole career, be rewarded for your dedication and seniority. Now they don't give out promotions or raises, and lay you off at the first sign of trouble. Is it safe to buy a home if BigCo will lay you off in a year through no fault of your own?

With so many things tied to employment (health insurance especially), no wonder that people are worried about their futures.

I think things like "access to electricity" cause much less anxiety than the threat of instability. A lot of people are just a few missed paychecks away from literally losing their home (whether that is a house or an apartment).

> How about employment stability? Used to be more common that you'd work at the same job your whole career, be rewarded for your dedication and seniority.

Employment stability like that did not exist in the 19th century (in the US because of lack of industrialization - most people were engaged in agriculture; in industrial Britain factory workers would literally starve to death because of regular layoffs). It did not seem to exist in the US in 1900-1920 (at least that's the impression I got from reading _The Jungle_) or in the 1930s (Great Depression), and kind of disappeared with Reaganomics and the start of offshoring in the 1980s. So job stability seems like a brief state of things that lasted from the end of WWII to the end of the 1970s.

The vast majority of workers in America (78%) are living paycheck-to-paycheck[1].

Cost of living is rising, and so are health care costs. Inflation ensures that a dollar is worth less every year.

While inflation inevitably marches on, wages have neither kept up with productivity for over 40 years[2], nor cost of living, nor inflation.

People are working multiple jobs, but their employers purposely schedule them such that they don't accrue enough hours to be considered full-time employees who are legally entitled to buy health insurance through their employer.

As an aside, while engineer pay is relatively high, it has not kept up with rising cost of living expenses over the last decade, either.

[1] https://www.cnbc.com/2019/01/09/shutdown-highlights-that-4-i...

[2] https://thumbor.forbes.com/thumbor/1280x868/https%3A%2F%2Fbl...

By most metrics? Are you kidding? People are making way less now than fifty or sixty years ago and basic necessities cost way more (adjusted for inflation). They have no hope for a raise or promotion even at high paying white collar jobs like software development. Childcare costs more a month than most bring home before taxes. Many people still cannot afford or do not have access to proper healthcare. And finding an affordable place to live is impossible in some areas, extremely hard almost everywhere that's desirable to live. And of course, poverty is relative so seeing the rich get healthcare while you and your own family get sick and die has a huge effect on people that probably isn't captured by any metric I know of. Being able to afford a big flat screen television is in no way indicative of a better quality of life when that is in lieu of basic necessities like proper nutrition, healthcare, and shelter.

> By most metrics? Are you kidding? People are making way less now than fifty or sixty years ago and basic necessities cost way more (adjusted for inflation

The Economist article to which I linked gave multiple metrics that contradict this claim.

> And finding an affordable place to live is impossible in some areas, extremely hard almost everywhere that's desirable to live.

True, and I mentioned that there are exceptions to the overall positive tend and specifically noted housing costs. But the solution to this problem is well known: increased the supply of housing.

> And of course, poverty is relative so seeing the rich get healthcare while you and your own family get sick and die has a huge effect on people that probably isn't captured by any metric I know of.

But that's the thing: the data indicates that the poor aren't becoming worse off. Yet we have the perceptions that it is.

I think understanding why this contradictory perceptions exists lies at the heart of a lot of social chsllenges today. Like why people in the US become so strongly against immigration and free trade despite the strong evidence that these things have a positive effect on the country.

> Is there any source to back up this claim that life is getting more difficult for Americans?

I'd posit that life hasn't been getting more difficult, but that it feels like it has become more difficult, largely because it's harder to advance your current socioeconomic status than it used to be (ie, "the hill is getting steeper"). This is also what makes the analogy particularly strong.

When you're used to accelerating growth, no growth or even constant growth feels like a downgrade.

I'm not sure what you mean by saying it's harder to"advance your current socioeconomic status". The Economist article I linked to gave evidence that people's purchasing power has been and continues to be increasing. In other words, stuff that was expensive for average people not so long ago is affordable for them now.

If "socioeconomic status" is defined as income or asset percentile, then that is inherently a zero sum goal. For someone to go from the middle third of Americans by income into the top third means that someone in the top third has to go into the middle third (or bottom third).

In other words, stuff that was expensive for average people not so long ago is affordable for them now.

For consumer goods, absolutely.

For other things, it's gotten much worse. Healthcare and education obviously being one of the biggest concerns.

When I graduated high school in 1997, the local community college's tuition was $17 a credit hour ($26 in today's dollars).

That small community college in the middle of nowhere is now $128 a credit hour for in-district students.

That's almost a 5x increase. For the same local community college amongst corn fields two hours from anything.

There's so many examples of this (rent, for instance) that I almost wonder what the point of pointing out the low cost of consumer goods would be.

The price of a life well lived has little to do with the price of smartphones.

Sure, some things have gotten more expensive while others have gotten cheaper. But the quantitative analysis seems to indicate that in aggregate things are getting cheaper. I'm not sure how listing a handful of personal examples is a good response to a statement grounded in data.

in aggregate things are getting cheaper

I'm pointing out that is a naive analysis.

And I'm pointing out that scores of people are calling this analysis naive, whithout sources to back up such a claim, in the face of multiple sources that say that incomes adjusted to purchasing power are at least the same if not improving. I don't doubt the veracity of your personal experiences with rising rents and education costs, but the plural of anecdote isn't data.

I get where you're coming from, but it's hard for me to watch you continue to balk at what people are saying to you. I am assuming good faith in your intentions to be scientific and well-reasoned, and it would be nice to be able to measure the changes people are talking about. Nonetheless...

What sources do you need to back up the "claim" that home ownership and health care are qualitatively more important in many ways than consumer goods? You can get all the "stuff" you want, but if you can't get a home or pay for health emergencies it will be hard not to live in some level of fear, always scrambling for slightly more security and feeling precarious. The area of my town that I live in for example, is full of homeless people, many of whom have computers or cell phones (many more don't). It is disturbingly frequent that I see one of them start to have escalating health issue, and eventually just "disappears". Disconcerting. I have no way to know if it was always this way, or if it getting worse...but certainly disconcerting.

TL;DR - Some of the people who seem to be pushing back on your "scientific rigor" may be just wanting to not forget about the actual hardships people are going through. They probably still understand that it's good to have sources for things etc.

> What sources do you need to back up the "claim" that home ownership and health care are qualitatively more important in many ways than consumer goods? You can get all the "stuff" you want, but if you can't get a home or pay for health emergencies it will be hard not to live in some level of fear, always scrambling for slightly more security and feeling precarious.

You can live comfortable and securely without owning a home. I do, and have been for the last half decade. Plenty of people in European countries with high standards of living rent for their whole lives. It's common among more densely populated countries, and as the US population is becoming more urban this is shift towards less home ownership is one that is likely going to happen in the US.

By comparison, you can't survive without food, water, heating (in many parts of the US), and other basic necessities. Plus, there are plenty of consumer goods that people would prioritize over home ownership:

If I told someone they could own a home but you had go without:

* A car

* Internet access

* Electricity

* Running Water

* A computer

* A cell phone

For many, even just not owning a car would make it impossible to live effectively. I'm willing to bet that most people would not take that offer even if they were deprived of just two things on that list. So it follows that these things have higher priority than home ownership in our hierarchy of needs.

> The area of my town that I live in for example, is full of homeless people, many of whom have computers or cell phones (many more don't). It is disturbingly frequent that I see one of them start to have escalating health issue, and eventually just "disappears". Disconcerting. I have no way to know if it was always this way, or if it getting worse...but certainly disconcerting.

The data does indicate that it is, on average, less bad than it was before. Even if it is not the case in your individual town, one counterexample is not sufficient to disprove a country-wide trend.

> Some of the people who seem to be pushing back on your "scientific rigor" may be just wanting to not forget about the actual hardships people are going through.

I don't deny that people are going through hardship. Whether or not someone thinks their life is difficult is their own opinion, and I respect others' opinions. But to claim that life is on average harder than it was before is no longer a statement of opinion, but a statement of fact. And it is not a statement backed up by the evidence that we have.

This is not just needless nit-picking. If the erroneous belief that the country is on a downward course takes hold, then people often become more willing to make drastic, irresponsible shifts in direction. I consider the Trump Presidency one such product of this erroneous belief in American decline. Think about this slogan, "Make America Great Again". In order for such a statement to be appealing, it effectively requires that the listener assume that America is worse in the present than it was in the past.

It's pretty well undisputed that health care, rent and education have far eclipsed inflation and especially not kept track with wages and income.

Here's a simple source for reference, but there are plenty more if you stick to those metrics:



Now what we're arguing here isn't facts. Both of us are making true statements: You're saying the aggregate cost-of-living is not that much higher. I'm saying the necessities of health care, housing and education are hugely off track.

What we're disagreeing about is the philosophical interpretation of those facts. I'm saying it hardly matters if mobile phones are cheaper every year, if health care is more expensive. An aggregate doesn't take into account the relative weights of importance.

Not to mention the fact that wages and income are stagnant. That's a whole other issue that multiplies the concern.

It's not just mobile phones, it's electricity, cars, internet access, logistics, plumbing, and more than I can list in this comment. You seem to be under the impression that housing, healthcare, and education are the only things people need to get by. It's not. Focusing on "relative weights of importance" is an extremely easy way to slip into one's personal biases. Studies that measure the costs of people's necessities in aggregate show that it's still going down relative to incomes, or at least staying the same. Your sources do not refute this claim. They only measures the changes of individual expenditures. They did not attempt to measure aggregate costs of living. Yes, people are spending more on education, but they're spending less on other things and your source do not demonstrate otherwise.

And again, I think this is a naive way to look at things. It doesn't help anyone that cars have become nominally cheaper if healthcare has increased 900% above inflation since 1960.

Cheaper internet access can't possibly offset the fact that rent has added 130% above inflation (US average $610 in 1960, $1405 today, both in today's dollars).

You have to establish a hierarchy of needs if you want your analysis to have any utility whatsoever.

> And again, I think this is a naive way to look at things. It doesn't help anyone that cars have become nominally cheaper if healthcare has increased 900% above inflation since 1960.

It helps people that use cars, for one, which is a massive portion of Americans. And it's not just cars that are cheaper. Transportation is far cheaper. A coast to coast plane ticket is more than 20 times cheaper than it was in the 1980s. Again, you keep referencing specific costs, like healthcare, that have risen but then make the unsubstantiated conclusion that that overall costs have risen. People are spending more on some things like healthcare, but the studies conducted found that proportional to income meeting needs is cheaper.

> Cheaper internet access can't possibly offset the fact that rent has added 130% above inflation (US average $610 in 1960, $1405 today, both in today's dollars).

Again, it's not just cheap internet. On average, goods and services are getting cheaper across the board. You keep giving specific exceptions to the overall trend, as though it disproves it. That's as ineffective as claiming that global warming is false, because a few regions experienced cooling. One, two, or even three specific exceptions to an overall trend does not disprove that trend.

> You have to establish a hierarchy of needs if you want your analysis to have any utility whatsoever

That is exactly what the article I linked to did: they identified a set of necessities and calculated to cost of those necessities relative to post tax income over time.

By contrast, so far you have repeatedly cited increased costs of exactly three types goods and services.

The former is a much more comprehensive analysis than the latter.

> Inequality has risen, but that does not mean that things are getting worse for those at the bottom ends of the wealth distribution.

Wages are flat while Cost of Living and/or inflation is skyrocketing (Real world inflation, not the CPI index).

This, generally, is the strongest evidence that the bottom end of the wealth distribution is getting worse.

> By most metrics (ignoring housing and healthcare)

Wait, you can't just ignore housing and healthcare, that's like the biggest chunk of every American's budget.

The four things America has regressed on the most (in quality and/or cost), is housing, healthcare, education/child-care, and transportation. Those four things combined are roughly 75-99% of a typical American families spending.

Yeah, you can still buy a cheap hamburgers and cheap gas and cheap flat screen TVs. That's useful. But that's not useful enough to counteract all the losses elsewhere.

> both of which are primarily causes by an undersupply of housing and a growing cohort of old people, rather then inequality

That's a popular misconception. Housing problems are primarily caused by private equity and deregulation -- undersupply is a tiny portion of the problem in a few key metros (especially SF), but is not the widespread cause of it. In Michigan, for example, we have a rampant urban housing crisis too -- and zero percent of that is caused by any undersupply of housing.

Similarly, Healthcare costs rising is largely because of private equity and price fixing / fraud between health insurers and hospitals. "People growing old" is only a tiny portion of that problem, as evidenced by the many other nations who also have large aging populations putting strains on their healthcare systems, but not having the same astronomically high healthcare costs.

> Objective metrics like infant mortality, access to infrastructure like electricity and plumbing, educational attainment, all indicate positive trends

Suicide is rising sharply. Opiate abuse is rising, and so are the deaths from it. Access to infrastructure is falling (see Flint Water Crisis, or deferred infrastructure maintenance in NYC, or the routine underinvestment in roads and schools). The US personal savings rate is declining rapidly -- people who have "good incomes" (by your metrics) don't have any money left over to save, and so are on-paper good but actually financially insecure.


I think seeing the problem is a "perception-only" issue is Ivory Tower thinking. People don't just "feel" that things have gotten worse, things have objectively gotten worse, and pretending otherwise will only make the situation harder to fix.

> In Michigan, for example, we have a rampant urban housing crisis too -- and zero percent of that is caused by any undersupply of housing.

Wait, what? What is the crisis and what is the cause?

Are there any metrics that measure the difficulty of achieving a given station in life, or maintaining that station once it's achieved? Difficulty in terms of hours worked as well as more ephemeral difficulties, like organizational complexity or emotional stress. Do we even know how to measure these things? It would be nice to have an "average stress per social strata" metric.

I wouldn't be surprised if the average American's material conditions have been steady or even creeping upwards over the last 50 years, but I also wouldn't be surprised to learn that the personal cost of maintaining these conditions has been growing significantly.

Average hours worked is going down overall: https://amp.businessinsider.com/images/520f835b6bb3f7730d000...

Down about 100 hours per year from 1970. I like the idea of quantifying stress but that is probably too subjective to quantitatively measure. I don't necessarily dispute the notion that stress has increased over the past few decades - just that whatever pressure people are feeling is due to declining quality of life or economic opportunity.

Leisure time has increased for less educated men but decreased for more educated ones. Leisure time generally has increased.


The Increase in Leisure Inequality

This paper examines the changing allocation of time within the United States that has occurred between 1965 and 2003-2005. We find that the time individuals have allocated to leisure has increased in the U.S. for both men and women during this period, with almost the entire gain occurring prior to 1985. We also find that post 1985 there has been a substantial increase in leisure inequality, particularly for men. Over the last 20 years, less educated men increased the time they allocated to leisure while more educated men recorded a decrease in leisure time. While the relative decline in the employment rate of less educated men is important, trends in employment status explain less than half of the increase in the leisure gap.

Maybe it’s just that the difference is more pronounced now because the balance is shifting towards a world where everyone has it good instead of bad.

If 90% of the people are at the same socioeconomic level as you, even if living in poverty, you don’t feel particularly left out.

If that balance shifts to the 20% we have now, then suddenly it starts to be a bit disturbing.

I guess everything you wrote is correct, but it seems like a very white-middle-class perspective. Legal segregation in America only ended a generation or two ago. That's just one of many examples which meant that for many Americans, since the founding of the country, there was never a hill. More like a ditch they couldn't leave.

Of course it's a massive issue, but it always amuses me when people look back to how "great" it used to be. For a white male, the 50's seemed pretty great. If I was anything else I'm pretty sure I would choose 2019.

To be clear, I didn't say the past was good or equitable or that I would prefer it over today.

The progress we've made in civil rights — there are women alive today who were born before women could vote! — is great and the current administration shows that we still have a long way to go.

But note that while we have made progress on civil rights in many ways, the increasing economic disparity hurts underrepresented groups too. "It's worse for white people but better for black people" is an over-simplification. Black people are suffering under these economic problems too.

Yours is a phenomenal analogy, I thought, but as the comment opening this thread insinuated, you are naive.

> increasing economic disparity hurts underrepresented groups too

Close, but increasing economic disparity hurts underrepresented groups _most_. And, as it's been said, what we have made is only generously defined as progress--and most vehemently by those who seek to halt what little progress we've made as "sufficient".

> If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, there's no progress. If you pull it all the way out that's not progress.

This Malcolm X quote does a great job highlighting how the cessation of a particular oppression is hardly progress. Since slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, and Red-Lining, there has been little in the way of reparations to make African American communities whole--not to mention the millions of Mesoamericans(1) similarly exploited in the history of American Imperialism(2), and still to this day(3)!

So, thanks again for that completely brilliantly painted analogy. I hope you find these texts offer some compelling augmentations to your understanding.

1) Eduardo Galeano's "The Open Veins of Latin America"

2) Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz' "An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States"

3) CrimethInc's "No Wall They Can Build"

This is a common problem I see in arguments with progressives. You are considering the failure to reach an ideal state as equivalent to zero progress, and attacking anyone who acknowledges incremental wins as undermining the cause.

> Close, but increasing economic disparity hurts underrepresented groups _most_.

Yes, so, you should celebrating that you and are in agreement that increasing economic disparity is bad.

> And, as it's been said, what we have made is only generously defined as progress

It is progress in any and all possible definitions. Going from "black people are legally considered property" to "a black person is the President of the United States of America" in less than 200 years sounds like a hell of a lot of progress to me.

> and most vehemently by those who seek to halt what little progress we've made as "sufficient".

Nowhere does anyone claim it is "sufficient". You are painting anyone who's not as idealistically pure as you as an enemy. That's not an effective strategy for gaining support or furthering your cause. It's a mixture of defeatism, elitism, alienation, and sanctimony.

This is something people on the right actually do really well. They are always celebrating their success and building each other up. Reading political news, I often feel like no one can tear down a Democrat quite like another Democrat. Where is the teamwork? Why don't we let our opponents attack us instead of doing their job for them?

> If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, there's no progress. If you pull it all the way out that's not progress.

Here's the full quote:

If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, there's no progress. If you pull it all the way out that's not progress. Progress is healing the wound that the blow made. And they haven't even pulled the knife out much less heal the wound. They won't even admit the knife is there.

Call me crazy, but I'm not aware of any strategy for healing a wound that doesn't involve removing the knife first.

> I'm not aware of any strategy for healing a wound that doesn't involve removing the knife first.

When did I advocate for simultaneous slavery and reparations?

I suppose slavery can be modeled as an area of fenced off land near the beach

Yeah. This is an issue that a lot of folks cant seem to grasp. For almost all Americans this is the best time in our history to be alive. One could argue Obama's years were better for some people groups but generally things are better than they've ever been for every single type of person.

I know there's still a lot of change that needs to happen but I wish people would pick their head up and realize this once in a while.

The underlying idea seems to be that the economic reality is worsening and this is true for every group. Meanwhile some groups have had more and more artificial barriers removed that make it easier to access that economic reality as say someone who is middle class and white (not necessarily equal, but let's just take white and middle-class as a standard for comparing). So yes, it is better for certain groups, but to continue the analogy of the hill, these groups have had artificial barriers removed that make it easier and easier for them to climb, but that hill itself is getting steeper and steeper.

So on the one hand those barriers are getting torn down slowly, which is progress in one dimension, but the economic reality is worsening for everyone. For example, people of color mighty be competing with other individuals on more level ground when it comes to getting jobs, but the supply of those jobs, the quality of life they support, and the security they afford seem to be decreasing, and the all important question isn't what it's like now, but what it'll be like on 20 or 30 years.

As a side note, worsening economic conditions can result in a flare up in racial tensions which might undo the progress that has been made.

Artificial barriers are only removed as they become irrelevant in the face of greater, more subtle and less infamous levers of control.

As the internet offers greater surveillance, phone taps become less relevant.

As offshoring jobs to nations w/o union protections, where beatings and murders of organizers is less punished, working conditions in the US can improve without cutting too deeply into the bottom line... just until they close the factory.

As manual labor is increasingly done outside our borders, or by precarious undocumented immigrants, as laborer reproduction is increasingly done by their wives, more white women will be allowed into management, executive, and leadership positions. Did you notice, all the heads of the Military Industrial Complex firms are now all women? (1) What allowed this to happen?

1) https://media1.s-nbcnews.com/j/MSNBC/Components/Video/201901...

That's a great analogy, but I would add that the slope isn't the same everywhere, and you can't always keep going straight up. But its often hard to tell which way to turn and whether that's going to make the climb easier or not. And the landscape keeps changing.

Absolutely great post and analogy but might be lost on those that started some ways already up the hill as they probably have little to no idea what the bottom parts of the hill are like.

This is nothing new. There have always been threats to the livelihood of the next generation - economic depression, world wars, nuclear holocaust.

I think we look back at prior generations with rose colored glasses if we somehow think our current existence is dramatically worse than theirs.

The fallacy of relative privation is never helpful. Yes, it also sucked to be a jew in Germany in WWII. Does this mean no one is allowed to complain about anything ever until an even worse calamity arises?

This. Growing up in the fifties meant your school days were punctuated with drills where you'd cowee under your desk in case nuclear Armageddon had arrived and the world was going to end.

Now you have to cower to avoid an active shooter which is probably statistically more likely than a nuclear strike.

If you sample the last 100 years there would be a lot more deaths from nuclear strikes.

To be honest, I think the most likely outcome of the cold-war was nuclear annihilation. There were a bunch of times when the trigger was nearly pulled on that one, where world leaders were engaged in brinksmanship, drunk at the switch, where electronic systems failed, where bombs got dropped out of planes by accident, or, in one case, where a general went rogue and decided he wanted to nuke China.

My daughters do these drills in school now, except that instead of a nuclear Armageddon, it's an active shooter.

The primary difference is that school shootings actually happen.

It might be difficult to understand for later generations but we really did think things would end like this.

If you are doubtful take a look at this video the UK government put out in the seventies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXx5Y2Fr2bk

I was appalled by the idea that kids in grade 9 are supposed to be taking clusters of classes for career preparation. What happened to getting a broad education (especially in high school!) so that you can think about a variety of topics and participate as a member of civic society and have a foundation to be able to learn to do whatever job is useful in the 2030s or 2040s? Kids in the 80s didn't take classes to help them become web developers, but hopefully they got the necessary skills to do that job when it eventually arrived.


I went the opposite way with my own kid (do as well as you can in a bunch of subjects, think about which ones you like) to try to prepare him better and spare him a lot of the execution optimization anxiety. As a result: high school was much better for him...but he now has these "what the hell will be my career" and "am I taking the right classes" anxieties in college :-(.

At least he didn't jump in front of a train like a disturbing number of other Palo Alto high schoolers did.

There is this seemingly comprehensive belief here in America that is utterly embedded in culture and common assumptions that the only value a human life has is to increase the GDP and enrich someone else

Middle class American kids are raised to have certain expectations about quality of life - that if they pursue a decent education then they can work 40 hours a week and afford a comfortable house in a safe neighborhood, resources to attract a spouse and build a family, good schools for their kids, and so on.

Most wake up in their mid 20s and realize that they have a pile of student loan debt and housing in desirable areas is beyond reach. It's the fundamental disconnect between what society (parents, media, culture) led them to expect and the reality they are confronted with that causes confusion, despair, and anger.

Reactions are varied. Some give up, some dig in. The American dream is still alive and well it's just accessed differently than it used to be and we don't talk about that enough with young people. Personally I'm surprised the youngest generations aren't even greedier, more ruthless, and more focused on economic value than they seem to be, based on the structure and incentives of the world into which they were born.

I grow more resentful and despise the way many will vote for a politician and hope and believe that change will happen, even with no track record to support it.

44 at least got SOME kind of healthcare, but not enough, shoved through before things gridlocked.

45 ... I understand and sympathize with why many followed this siren's call, but it's all emotional rhetoric and very little of real substance. I hope they are replaced soon and move on to making "The East Wing", a reality inspired drama made for TV.

This belief is relatively new (becoming widespread/popular roughly in the early 80s) so could evolve the other way too.

I agree it's a corrosive and widespread belief.

I've stopped asking "What do you do for a living?" when meeting someone new because your occupation should have very little bearing on how interesting or worthwhile you are as a person.

How can you meaningfully ignore the thing that people spend most of their time doing? Nearly 60 hours of approximately 110 waking hours in a week are doing something work related. You spend more time in pure hours with coworkers than you do with any other group of people in your life. All of that shapes you as a human being in various ways. Where people work is absolutely important and I don't shy away from talking about work. Even if you're a simple fisherman, that's interesting. It leads to talk about area of expertise, and ultimately talk about the world and perspectives.

If someone's occupation is important to them, they'll naturally volunteer the information. So many people are underemployed these days or just trying to make ends meet in the "gig economy" that they'd rather talk about anything else in the world. Many people aren't proud of their occupation and it's awkward (bordering on rude) to press them on it.

Under normal circumstances that is't bad. When looking at data statistically it could be very cold hearted. It only becomes a problem when the population begins to worship the state.

> ...but he now has these "what the hell will be my career" and "am I taking the right classes" anxieties in college :-(.

I think that's the jist. If schools aren't putting people on a career trajectory all of a sudden they are in university, which costs an arm and a leg, and, as is so often repeated, you're there to get a job, have a focus, and GO. You can't really do that at the drop of a hat if you've never done it before.

> What happened to getting a broad education (especially in high school!) so that you can think about a variety of topics and participate as a member of civic society and have a foundation to be able to learn to do whatever job is useful in the 2030s or 2040s?

It remains present and as a central motivation, actually, in some (maybe most?) forms of the “career clusters” / “academies” approach, where the career field theme isn't so much about a narrow vocational training focus as providing a unifying interdisciplinary theme across the various classes for small learning communities within larger schools. The educational theory is that the shared interdisciplinary focus (and cross-class activities involving that focus) helps create improved student engagement and that students and faculty being in small learning communities improves identification of and responsiveness to student learning issues that otherwise might skip through the cracks in in a large institution.

Presenting this as better preparing students for high-skill, high-wage jobs is perfectly consistent with, though it obviously doesn't immediately evoke, that model—as students who are more engaged and whose educational needs are identified and addressed more effectively are better prepared for such jobs.

It's a reaction to the very common criticism that public education teaches kids things they'll never use and doesn't teach them practical things like how to get a job and do taxes. Both sides have merit, I think.

My hypothesis: people are either consciously or unconsciously afraid that most jobs will disappear in the near to medium future. This is manifesting itself in many ways (nationalism, etc.). Adults feel it, children feel it. Our leaders are doing their best to make us feel like they have it under control but no one has a good solution, and until we come up with something these problems are just going to get worse and worse.

I am not sure it's just about jobs. Wealth in general is evaporating from the lower/middle class rapidly. There was a time when middle-class wages were kept in-line with inflation, this doesn't happen any more.

The wealth is being syphoned away from the economy at large into the coffers of huge corporations/individuals who just warehouse the wealth.

There is very much a sense of resources being scarce and it's due to those resources and wealth being taken out of the economy.

As a parent this is my sentiment. When I compare my parents middle class lifestyle to my own now, there is a lot I would not have been able to accomplish without direct financial support from them. Now I dread that I will hardly be able to do the same for my kids or even prepare for retirement.

I've always viewed the SAT prep classes as a differentiator in outcomes. The College Board always said no until recently. Even though colleges say the SAT is not important I would argue it still is. It could be the difference between attending Stanford vs not.


"Even though colleges say the SAT is not important I would argue it still is."\

If it wasn't important, they wouldn't include it in applications.

Is it though? It seems spending on health, education, and housing are all through the roof. Everything else is better and cheaper -- why are these 3 growing at outrageous rates?

Health is an extremely complicated one, but it seems like it's a classic 3rd payer problem with the added bonus that government regulation limits the profit of health insurance companies to be a fixed percentage of their revenue, so even they want prices to increase. So consumers don't care, and even when they do they can't get an all in price, and even the ones paying have an incentive to let costs rise.

One reason housing is getting more expensive is that more of the population is moving towards cities and out of rural areas. That migration has a positive correlation with housing costs. In addition the typical things used to reduce pricing, automation and offshoring, have had little impact in the construction industry due to the complexity and local nature of the work. I had seen a study previously which showed this for the US but can't find it, in it's place here is a similar study done in China (https://www.newyorkfed.org/medialibrary/media/research/staff...)

Finally, education in the broad sense is now cheaper than ever if you include public libraries and online courses, but I suspect you meant University degrees. University costs have soared, more people than ever need a degree to do even entry level work, and student loan debt is not dischargeable through bankruptcy. New York Federal Reserve did a study that showed an increase in credit was followed by an increase in university prices (https://www.newyorkfed.org/medialibrary/media/research/staff...)

Education costs (college and up) are increasing because institutions have no incentive to manage tuition costs if the default assumption is that people will take out loans to pay them anyway.

That’s undoubtedly part of it, but I think that the real price of an education would be higher now than it was 40 or 50 years ago even in an ideal free market. Society is much more complex now than it was two generations ago, and it makes sense for the value of higher education to increase with an increase in societal complexity.

And people keep taking out loans because the (anticipated) ROI is still positive, eg, there is consumer surplus available to be captured

But the ROI keeps going down, and may be negative soon for many degrees.

I suspect it's already negative for a number of degrees but there isn't enough data to prove that yet.

Well that's the (anticipated) bit...

Education is pretty easy. In 2005 the government changed the law such that even private education loans could not be dismissed in bankruptcy. Prior to that the law was such that only government educational loans could not be dismissed in bankruptcy. Government loans were limited and so the effect of the law was not so huge until 2005.

But in 2005 things went crazy. Now that private student loans could no longer be dismissed it meant private lenders could throw out loans like beads at Mardi Gras. It was basically 0 risk from their perspective since you're not only getting a much higher than average earning demographic, but you get them where you have a claim on them for the rest of their life if they don't pay you off. And if they do pay you off, well you win there too!

Now because students could get practically unlimited funds universities could start to charge arbitrary amounts, and so they did. The one and only reason university costs have started to decelerate is because in 2011 we reached 'peak university'. US college enrollment started dropping even when people could "afford" it, because the perceived value became worth less than the perceived cost. Here's some data [1] from the BLS on costs. Unfortunately it starts at 2006, but it at least shows the deceleration that's started to happen once we reached 'peak university'.

The moral of this is, as usual, good intentions often go astray particularly when messing with economic systems. The reason private loans became guaranteed was ostensibly to ensure that students of all backgrounds and economic situations could afford a college education in large part to help them find a great job and give a better life to their children. It sounds great on paper. In reality, it's created a system where college costs have become completely unreasonable and simultaneously, ironically, devalued college degrees to the point that there's a pretty decent chance the guy serving your coffee not only has one, but is buried in debt over it.

[1] - https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2016/college-tuition-and-fees-i...

Middle class income in the US is basically the same if not lower than it was 10 years ago. Household income has all but plateaued since the late 90s[1]

I can assure you that the cost of goods has gone up along with inflation.

Young people can't afford a house even with historically low interest rates.

Household debt is way up there.


This phenomenon is called cost disease and it's really hard to figure out why exactly it's happening.


That summarizes really well the core economic problem faced in the US.

I think almost all of our economic anxieties revolve around the hyperinflation of education and health care costs.

Because they are required, anything else is optional. Note that food and gas are also more expensive. Optional items must be cheaper and better because we can't afford them to be more expensive.

Food is pretty cheap compared to historic standards, so cheap that we have a problem with eating too much rather than too little.

Education is the one that I think can be fixed. We need to separate accreditation from the actual education. Just that would increase competitiveness and lower costs.

Healthy food isn't cheap. Unhealthy food is cheep. Particularly if you are single and trying to eat a variety of fresh things.

God, it's horrible as a single person. My roommate digs on me for what I eat (not superbly healthy, or, if healthy, in small portions) as well as for the fact I make multiple trips to the grocery (I get home at varying times, so don't always have time to cook and sometimes it's too late even to eat a crockpot meal), but also never wants to split and plan a menu for two to avoid costs.

Cooking for one is a bitch, and it sucks.

Cooking for one is a bitch, and it sucks.

Batch cooking is the solution to that, see: https://www.reddit.com/r/MealPrepSunday/

I disagree that it's the solution, unless you can find a few meals that all require the same ingredients but are cooked differently. Otherwise you end up eating the same thing multiple times a week... Which just gets old. I'm fine eating dinner one night and leftovers for a day or two, but I don't wanna do it all week, even if you slightly change it up (mix grilled chicken in a salad, then a burrito, soup, etc)

Foods like potatoes, rice, beans, apples, carrots, and chicken are all healthy and cheap. Generally canned vegetables are just as healthy as fresh.

Yea this is what scares me. I don’t know what career advice to eventually give my 6 year old. More and more careers are being automated away, and that value is being captured by fewer and fewer people. It is pretty obvious that my child’s standard of living as an adult will be much worse than mine (just as mine is worse than my parents’), and that is heartbreaking. It’s getting to the point where “hang out with rich people and try to marry up” is the most rational plan for those left in the middle class.

Wealth in general is evaporating from the lower/middle class rapidly.

Is it? The middle class has been growing in size over the past few decades.

warehouse the wealth? that's not how it works at all!

We simply don't have the metrics to show it one way or the other. We have M2V for example in the US, but it isn't broken out by household income percentiles or even quintiles. We could have great velocity from lots of capital movement from equities for example, but very sluggish velocity in retail sectors that serve the low and middle socioeconomic classes.

I think the general weakness in retail (not entirely attributable to e-commerce, as e-tailing is still around 10-15% of overall retail) is likely explainable by low velocity of money in the low to middle classes. The wage stagnation over the past few decades while overall corporate revenue and profits continue to grow certainly suggest some kind of low velocity or siphoning effect. There's a certain survivorship bias in that comparison since corporations that stagnate to much eventually are put out of business, while developed nation citizens can stagnate until they pass away, so it isn't a perfect comparison to hypothesize about. But again, we simply aren't measuring for any of this nuance at this time.

If we did start measuring for it somehow, then someone would have to figure out how to measure the unit of money moving between income bands and from household to/from "big corporations" (say, any of the publicly-traded companies in the CRSP US Total Market Index and privately-held companies with the same amount of revenue as the lowest revenue element in the CRSP). Damned if I know how that would be captured, though.

Retail is a bunch of individual stories. BBBY killed it over the holidays; Macy's did not. Better to take retail company by company at this point.

Not sure if this is a joke or not, but that's actually what's happening right now - many large firms are literally just stowing cash: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/these-are-the-5-us-compani...

I suspect the argument is that when $BIGCORP puts $1t in the bank, the bank gives out $900b as new loans

But that's not how money works. Banks don't loan money they have on deposit. They loan money they create from thin air, and are required to have a certain amount of deposits to potentially cover that if their exchanges with another bank become too imbalanced. That's what's called "leverage."

I don't see how what you said conflicts with what isostatic said at all.

Then either corporations can hoard all the money, leaving less for the rest of us, or banks can create money from thin air, in which case there's no practical limit and hoarding doesn't matter.

Ah, I see. Good point.

I think investment is actually a measured variable.

There is only so much the super rich spend, what's left is either sitting somewhere collecting interest or being exchanged between other super rich and never trickles down again as tax or paychecks.

Money is a zero sum game and the super rich are hoarding it, which widens the social gap.

Money is absolutely not a zero sum game. More is created e.g. by loans all the time. Wealthy people provide a lot of stability by either 1) putting money in banks, which provides capital for loans and 2) investing in long-term ventures (which create "jobs").

Value isn’t a zero-sum game. Disregarding inflation, money is. Fractional-reserve banking can only increase the money supply by a finite amount. I’m also puzzled by the notion that loans create new money.

Agreed. I guess you can argue that loans put money back into circulation, but the obvious corollary is that rich people hoarding money effectively destroys it.

Loans just put debt into the economy, while the rich monopolize the credit.

There is no limit in how many loans a central bank can give to regular banks because the central bank doesn't have to be backed by deposits, gold or any other scarce resource.

Please explain your perspective.

This is something I've feared for a decade now (completed my undergrad just as the financial crisis hit). Even before that, there were worries about customer support jobs being offshored.

Airbnb, Uber, Fiverr, TaskRabbit etc are big companies built on the premise of 'you are your own boss'. I've yet to meet an Uber driver who does it because of his entrepreneurial bent. He drives Uber because his day job isn't enough to make ends meet.

I'm not really sure of that - I've met several who have other jobs, some surprisingly impressive. My last Lyft driver was pursuing a doctorate in business management - previously he was a chip designer after getting his master's in electrical engineering. I've got a friend who drove for Uber for a few months while owning a SaaS business that did about $750K/year in annual revenue - he wanted to see what all the fuss was about, plus at the time they gave you a free iPhone with the Uber driver app preinstalled if you signed up. I've got another friend down in LA who regularly shares stories of interesting Uberpools she's been in, and there are a lot of screenwriters and aspiring actors in the bunch - which may fall into the "day job isn't enough to make ends meet" category, but they certainly have an entrepreneurial bent.

Precisely the same reason for rising anti-immigrant sentiment. I wonder if many people holding said sentiments would feel differently if the economy was growing steadily, adding jobs for both them and newcomers. But it isn't, so competition is inevitable, and thus anxiety over competition.

Depending on where you live, ask someone in their 40's who came from China, India or Pakistan, someone in their 60's from Eastern Europe or someone over 80 from Ireland or Italy about "anti-immigrant sentiment". I'd be very surprised if their stories were all that different.

We keep getting fed the narrative that racism is out of control, but I believe it's not worse, it's just as bad as it's always been.

This doesn't make the situation better, but it does clamp down on the hysteria that (a) things are getting worse or (b) the rate of worsening(?) is increasing....

It is possible for things to be better then 60 years ago while becomming progressively worst over last dozen or so years.

Racism or animosity toward whatever group is not constant. And also, we should not use worst periods as benchmark for "it is ok if it is not as bad".

The economy is growing steadily...it has for 4-5 years now...

Last time I heard of it, the gap between rich and poor wasn't just growing, but at an increasing rate. Has it been shrinking in the last 4-5 years? If not, the fact that the economy as a whole grew makes the problem worse.

The post-2008 economy replaced many middle class, and even upper middle class, jobs with ~$9/hr retail jobs and the gig economy. Both lack sufficient benefits, like health insurance, and the former ensures you never work 40 hours a week because the ACA requires businesses to offer health plans to full time workers.

If you're relatively young and in a metro area, you probably don't see it. Step out into the suburbs or more rural areas, and growth means that there's a new Dollar Tree and it's hiring.

There are more people insured post-ACA than before.

This doesn't change anything for the people who are purposely scheduled for under 30 hours weeks so they aren't considered full-time.

The problem isn't with the ACA, it's with employers who are willing to save a buck by disadvantaging their employees.

Sure, but overall the impact of ACA is positive in that more people have medical insurance.

GDP is an imperfect measure. For example, the number of people below the 50% poverty line grew too.

The poverty rate has dropped for the 3rd year in a row and is almost to same levels as pre-2008 crisis.[1] In fact, near record lows over the past 50 years.


I think what you are saying about the data is misleading. Look at the chart.

The reason the poverty rate had a three year drop was because it was at at 10 year high around 15% starting around 2010, and only recently started dropping significantly.

The "50 year low" is very misleading. If you actually look at the graph, the poverty in 1970 was 12.6%, and in 2017 12.3%. That's not a "50 year low", that's 50 years of essentially no progress on the poverty rate, especially when ten years ago it was higher.

If you look at the people falling below 50% of the poverty line (deep poverty), that's had it's ups and downs too, but has had an overall slow increase of rate over the same time frame.


Anti-immigrant sentiment has little to do with jobs IMO. Jobs are simply the politically-correct face of the anti-immigrant movement. What's really at play is that immigration has been framed as a threat to [white] western culture, and that this "invasion" will bring about an end to Capitalist and Enlightenment values throughout the West.

I disagree. I think a lot of children see their parents commute 30-60 minutes both ways to a job they don't really like for 40 years, have few hobbies and life outside of work, see the massive damage corporations have inflicted on this planet, and see the massively corrupt government and think that there is no winning no matter how you slice it. I think the anxiety stems from having to be part of a system that they don't really want any part of, but ultimately don't seem to have any power to change.

Hell, I'm 26 and see/think this. It's definitely one of the major reasons I never want to have kids, too. I fear for the future of the students I'm teaching, especially coming from a rural area that's fairly anti-intellectual...

Ineffective action on climate change is a big part of it too...

Well a few decades ago it was nuclear annihilation. I was a teen then, and it was more scary than climate change if you were the sort of kid who worried about stuff.

We no longer fear nuclear annihilation because we have a functional global society. Climate change is already causing huge damage to this.

Syrian drought -> refugees -> anti-immigrant sentiment -> populist leaders -> ++boomLikelihood

The phrase "fire and fury like the world has never seen" doesn't sound familiar?

I grew up in the cold war but I was never as viscerally afraid as I was this past year.

With the Cold War, you might worry about being attacked, but could feel that your own nation was clearly taking action to protect your tribe. That's not the case with climate change.

But that's the thing about nuclear annihilation. Nothing can protect you from it. All your leaders can promise is that the entire planet will be unlivable, and not just our side of it. Cold comfort for a cold war. Different apocalypse than climate change, but just as bad.

Right or wrong, it was very visible that the US blockaded navies, invaded nations, formed alliances - fought in every way against the primary threat of the USSR. I lived through the same time, it was very obvious the government did things frequently and in many levels to fight the Cold war. Doing something, even if it doesn't reduce the core risk, reduces anxiety. (And I'm sure many people would say that many cold war actions actually did reduce the core risk too..)

I suppose we're still invading nations, but now it's for little apparent benefit, and certainly not connected to climate change.

What has the US done at the national level, especially recently, that's even easily within reach against climate change? People know - they feel it.

> What has the US done at the national level, especially recently, that's even easily within reach against climate change?

Nationally? Not sure. I don't pay much attention to national news or politics. But every day? I see wind farms and solar farms going in all over the place. I see more and more people buying EVs. I see all the major automakers devoting significant R&D to EVs (thanks Tesla, even though your cars are too expensive for me, I do appreciate the kickstart). I see local utilities decommissioning coal power plants or converting them to natural gas. I see people seriously talking about nuclear power again. People are acting, and whether it really makes a difference or not it feels like it does. That was not the case in the Cold War times, when you felt it was all out of your control as an individual, and everything that was or might have been happening was top secret and invisible.

> But that's the thing about nuclear annihilation. Nothing can protect you from it.

If it happens. The whole point of the nuclear arms race was for nuclear-capable countries to deter one another from attacking.

No such luck with climate change. We can try to slow it down, but the damage has been done.

For nuclear annihilation, someone actually has to press the button.

For climate change we just have to keep on doing what we already do - and in fact we are still accelerating.

Droughts and famine are no joke, it feels every more likely we might be the last generation to experience prosperity.

I think the only sensible conclusion at this point is hedonism. Enjoy it while it lasts.

I think hedonism is the root cause of this problem...

The nukes didn't exactly go away though. We're still welcome to worry about it. :-)

My pet prediction is that nuclear annihilation will solve climate change. Now that we've forgotten how bad nuclear war is and destabilized all the major superpowers, it's going to become very tempting for some splinter group (or orange-haired maniac) to press the Big Red Button and launch WW3. Nuclear winter has a global cooling effect that's significantly larger than the global warming effect of global warming, plus if you get rid of all the humans you get rid of human-caused climate change.

It feels like living on borrowed time, really.

Mostly, I think we worry too much.

From this (and I agree with what is quoted below, as I'm in that group of folks who studied one thing and am now performing a different job):


Not only will workers have many jobs, the tasks and duties of the jobs they’ll perform will be markedly different from what they studied. The experts that attended the IFTF workshop in March 2017 estimated that around 85% of the jobs that today’s learners will be doing in 2030 haven’t been invented yet. This makes the famous prediction that 65% of grade school kids from 1999 will end up in jobs that haven’t yet been created seem conservative in comparison.

Also from WEForum:


I feel like the impeding doom is more due to climate change than the loss of jobs.

The rest of your hypothesis holds true for that though.

"Basic income". Society where robots do most work has no need for 100% capitalism. Society where all work is done by robots has zero need for it.

The poor dears! In our day we only had the threat of nuclear war to worry about. And Acid rain. And Chernobyl. And...

Apart from being threatened by those and additional dangers, where there used to be "at least" genuine ignorance and hybris, now many people can't even overcome the peer pressure and/or their fear in order to not belittle these things (and that includes pseudo-intellectual rationalizations for not really doing anything, with lip service to "grave concerns" or whatever), and have to pretend to have dreams and successes on solid ground -- when they to are just on a raft cobbled together with duct tape, in an ocean that could be drained as a whole by random strangers before you can say "whoops". I suspect that can make people sick at a level they don't even have access to.

I can't "prove this" and I wouldn't even try, but for me personally, the fact that the sun could explode or whatever, and the asinine things people do and go along with, are in completely different ballparks. I can easily make peace with my mortality, I can not make peace with what people do. That's why I think people can become very sick because of what people do, even though everything ends eventually, anyway, regardless of what anyone does. Nuking ourselves, and the suns in the universe giving out, those might have the same end result for us, but it still feels different to think about each scenario. One is a bit sad, but still peaceful, the other is just horrible and insane and leaves a gaping wound.

The "So what? in my day, things were much harder" argument doesn't hold because your parents' generation likely suffered through the Great Depression and WW2. Chernobyl sounds like child's play by comparison.

These existential concerns are still relevant, now with climate change too

A bit of a rant here - Having worked in education both here in the States and in Korea, this makes a ton of sense.

We all lauded the accomplishments of Asian countries in measures of math, science, and English. We sought to replicate their success.

And we have started. One thing about the US student was that we used to be behind in math and science, but our creativity was our strength.

And we're educating that out of the system, in the pursuit of standardized objectives (standardized objectives that encourage the development of things like remind to constantly keep kids on track, career clusters for focus, and the pressure to decide a career in 6th, 7th, or 8th grade).

I made a terrible mistake and I put a lot of pressure on my daughter to do well in school, do well in extracurriculars, etc.

I made the measurement the goal.

Now I'm trying to undo that damage and put it in her mind that at any point you can change direction, study, knowledge, but you need a few tools to do so: self-criticism, discipline, critical thinking. Initial progress has been good and our relationship is running quite a bit smoother, but Jesus I could have left my kid seriously messed up.

I think that a huge amount of this derives, in the US, from the continued degradation of the social safety net in this country. We have put an expensive gateway in front of success with very expensive college, and even with that there is no guarantee of a job that pays well enough for you to live comfortably. That in addition to the traditional standard of the "Atomic Family".

I have no proof of that, but it certainly seemed to have been a major factor in our house, but I have to recognize that individual human brilliance can occur at any point in life, and that the tools to act on it are more important than many of the things that she is learning at school.

This is a great point. I've taken a similar approach.

The essay about Abraham Lincoln isn't really designed to teach you about the 16th president of the US--it teaches sentence structure, argumentation, clarity, research, etc. The grades are for the school to use to prepare next year's funding package; the assignment is for you to learn skills that may help put food on your table someday.

Shifting the focus from grades to skills tends to give them a greater incentive to excel.

continued degradation of the social safety net in this country

What degradation? Spending on the social safety net has only ever increased, not decreased.

The population has grown. Obviously spending increases. However, access to the safety net has decreased as have the net benefits. In other news water is wet.

I used to believe this but it turns out that net benefits (by almost any measure) have increased continually:


The fact that so many people don't "feel" more secure from these very expensive investments may point to other structural problems.

Huh.. thanks for the clarification. I should have googled first!

Or maybe the social security net was always atrocious, now it’s just a little bit less so.

(Not saying that’s necessarily the case, just that it could be)

The US has a larger social spending budget than Canada.

So if the US is “less horrendous”, then canada’s must be even worse?

The US population annual growth has barely broken 1% in the last 50 years. Social spending has increased at a greater rate.

What led you to believe that it was a terrible mistake?

Everybody wanted our school kids to perform as well as those in Korea, but I wonder if anyone ever looked into the high rate of suicide among young Koreans?

Math and science are creative pursuits. One of my pet peeves when people think that STEM subjects are not creative fields.

I think a common problem is that often they become non-creative subjects when taught in school. Standardized tests frame them as a pursuit to find the same steps and answers as the mythical answer key, instead of a pursuit of exploring and building solutions to questions/problems.

Ironically, Asian countries tend to copy the creative Western countries with all their STEM abilities.

And it's perhaps a good thing to copy each other! Ideally we would want our kids to be both creative and knowledgeable in science, math, reading, and other skills.

Or perhaps reclaim our education standard that created STEM in the first place? The Asian method seems to be mostly good for sucking up existing content and spitting it back out, but not producing anything new.

Additionally, the "Asian method" is not actually Asian, as is the case of most practices we attribute to China. These practices (rote mass education, communism, state birth control) are all originated by Westerners, who were unable to sell their ideas to the western countries, and so went east. In other words, we outsourced all our bad ideas to perform massive social experiments with other civilizations. Pretty reprehensible, if you ask me.

Can you cite a source or describe what you mean by "our creativity"?


Whoa there.

I never said Asians in general or Asia as a whole weren't creative. That was not even remotely stated, implied, or even in my thoughts when writing that comment.

What I said was that the strength of the American system, for decades, was that it seemed to foster and encourage creativity - and that is being destroyed by the pursuit of standardized objectives.

I didn't say a thing about the other systems' creativity or the students' ability to be creative.

I made a comparison of the levels of stress experienced in the two.

Korean students have ENORMOUS pressure placed on them was my experience. And in the US we pulled THAT experience from their system. We seemed to have taken all of the bad with none of the good.


I think of it more as appetite for risk than creativity. The US system encourages and rewards taking risks more so than others. Failure is forgiven and sometimes even celebrated. I worked in Japan and found its famously risk-averse culture way more intense than Western descriptions make it out to be (and those descriptions are not kind to begin with.) This component of their culture absolutely acts as a headwind to entrepreneurship. On the other hand, some of the most dynamic risk-takers I've met recently are young Chinese kids from Beijing and Shanghai who grew up in very traditional formal educational pathways.

That's fair, and makes a ton of sense.

I think maybe it's a chicken and egg problem with the standardized tests, and we are 'measuring' out our stomach for risk as a society.

Hmm, gp poster did say "but our creativity was our strength" which I interpreted as "we comforted ourselves with the belief that our creativity was our strength and that we were superior in that regard"

I hope nobody actually believes one group of people is inherently more creative than any other. But it is true that east and south asian schooling systems are typically value memorization over creativity. You can see how that can happen too: huge, high stake exam systems are easier to implement in that fashion, in which case the educational system will adapt to match. In that regard I share the gp poster's concern that this approach appears to be increasingly dominant in the US (as it has been in earlier eras in the US btw).

My mother is a product of such a system and she very much watched her kids' grades like a hawk, valuing just the numerical result. But she was able to enrol her kids in a more "creative" program than she had had access to herself.

Why does it strike you as wildly implausible that different groups of people might differ in their (average) levels of creativity, and that the differences might be partly heritable (a better word than inherent when referring to average differences)? We know that many group differences exist, e.g., men are taller than women, people of African ancestry are darker-skinned than people of European ancestry, etc. Given that sex differences and racial differences clearly exist, what reason is there to believe that they only occur along dimensions that society doesn’t place value on?

Because most people saying that one race is smarter or otherwise better than another race are simply repeating debunked racist talking points.

Variation within a group almost always overwhelms variance between groups - but many people saying something like "Asians are less creative" are trying to make sweeping statements about how white people are better.

It is possible to lie only using truths, if you arrange them in a deliberately misleading way.

Here's a different way to look at it:

In a culture where memorization and concrete thinking is used to compare $n people within that culture, creativity is inherently more risky, thus less utilized. Poverty in many Asian countries is worse than poverty in the US. With more to lose (and gain), it creates peace of mind to walk the smooth stone road to comfort.

The US on the other hand has had a lot of money to play with for quite awhile. Most poor people have enough food (and a variety of it at that), a modern home, and basic health care. It is very doable to be comfortable on a $12/hr job in many places in the US. ($1,650 per month after tax) (of course, many people choose to live above their means due to societal pressure). The point is, we can/could be more risky (read: more creative) with less to lose, so it's utilized more.

> In a culture where memorization and concrete thinking is used to compare $n people within that culture, creativity is inherently more risky

Yes, but the "culture where memorization.." is the culture of school. Says nothing about the culture of the larger society.

Here's a different way to look at it:

In a society where there is a lot of poverty, quite a bit of creativity is required to just get by. You can see this in poverty-stricken societies everywhere from rural China, India, Nigera, and poverty-stricken parts of the USA. Everything from crazy inventions/repairs to innovation in ways of living, getting some cash, stretching bills, toys and games, helping each other... Tontines and savings clubs have been re-invented all over the planet, yes, even in Brooklyn.

Whereas in parts of the US, on the other hand, many people have a lot of money to play with for quite a while and are perfectly happy to have others do their cooking, singing, storytelling, and manufacturing. To discard something malfunctioning and simply buy another.

The point is, people all over the world can afford to be less risk-taking (read: less creative) when they have more less to lose and can afford to throw assets at the problems.

I think the culture of school has a meaningful impact on the culture as a whole, as does the culture as a whole have an impact on the culture of school. i.e., the two are not that separated from each other.

The creativity I was talking about is different than what you're talking about. That creativity is used in survival, yes. But the path to success is controlled by gatekeepers. There is little cross over between the creativity used to survive on the lower tiers of Maslow's HoN and the path to the middle class, where there's expectations in place and paths to follow, where diverging from them creates risk.

I’ve never understood the argument about variance. The difference between two samples’ means can be statistically significant regardless of their respective variances.

> Why does it strike you as wildly implausible that different groups of people might differ in their (average) levels of creativity, and that the differences might be partly heritable (a better word than inherent when referring to average differences)?

Yes, I can admit to the very low possibility that such a difference could exist, but indeed I would call it "wildly implausible." Here are some example reasons why:

Nobody can even define creativity in any formal way, so any impartial analysis seems impossible. It's a "know it if I see it" issue.

Certainly people from all "racial" backgrounds exhibit plenty of creativity ("know it if I see it"). Indeed, if you want to extend this to cultural practices, plenty of folks from (somewhat) "rote" school backgrounds have been quite creative, won various international awards, etc.

Alleged biomarkers of cognitive issues are notoriously uninformative. For example Han people tend to have more white matter in their brain and some people in China consider that a sign of superior intellect. But it's more likely a side effect of the writing system as it is perhaps part of the visual pattern recognition process. But such beliefs are little different from 19th/20th century European/American phrenology which also produced whatever results the "scientist" wanted.

Most sex and race differences get drowned out by cultural factors and fashions which themselves change over time.

I wish there was a way to flag comments. Maybe there is a way and I just haven't found it.

You are spouting racist pseudo-science. What evidence do you have that a particular group of people are genetically smarter than another group of people?

The idea that one race/group of people is inherently smarter than another group of people has been debunked time and time and time again. Any "evidence" you find that "proves" one race is superior to another in terms of intelligence is probably


2]at worse, can be explained by differences in educational systems, history, and other socio-economic factors.

I think the user gumby gave a more detailed explanation than me, I'm just here to say that you should stop propagating openly racist pseudo-science on HN.

It sounds like you have an irrational, faith-based belief in the absence of group differences. You’ve said that any evidence of their existence is probably bogus, which suggests that there isn’t any potential evidence that would change your mind. I started out not believing in the existence of group differences and changed my mind after looking at the evidence. Now I realize how silly it was for me to believe that groups with different ancestries differ only in superficial ways.

That doesn’t mean I hate any particular groups, or that I’m incapable of treating people as individuals.

It is clear that there are specific variances (e.g. albedo) which have had survival benefit in specific environments, but given that humans can reshape their environments so extensively and that in specific a human is a combination of genes + social interaction + managed environment it's pretty hard to imagine gross performance differences among groups in any meaningful metric that might somehow be entirely genetic. I am saying that

It's not like this issue hasn't been extensively studied either. It has been extremely difficult to find meaningful behavioural deltas that can be ascribed to genetics -- the other factors typically swamp them, so even if there were a signal always seems to be well below the noise floor.

Of course, it's possible that such evidence exists and we just lack the science and process to find it. But from what we know today, and even more so the more we learn about genomics and personal genomics, it is even less likely than would have been believed 50 years ago. I've probably got another 50 years in my lifespan and I seriously doubt the situation will change in that period.

Can you link to a meta-analysis or similar that supports your conclusion? I’ll read it with an open mind.

I would link to the studies I’ve read that support the opposite conclusion, but at this point I feel that I’d run the risk of being shadow-banned for linking to something that has been labeled—accurately or not—as “racist pseudoscience”.

Since these comments are not dominant I think it's OK to have them on the site since they get responded to. Perhaps it could change their minds.

American isn't a race

My post had nothing to do with 'inherent' differences. While the asian education system (which is certainly not inherently asian) may seem less creative, I often see this 'fact' bandied about with no supporting data.

All i ask for is proof that the intense asian education system stifles creativity. I argued it does not by pointing out the success of certain asian coubtries against all odds via innovative business and industry.

> But it is true that east and south asian schooling systems are typically value memorization over creativity

Perhaps, but the burden of proof is on you to show that 'valuing creativity' leads to more creativity. It is certainly possible that emphasizing sheer technical prowess leads to higher creativity. That this possibility is not even considered says more about the writer than asian pedagogy.

The TL;DR: I think you and I both agree, actually, that the half-racist/half-defensive meme of "asians uncreative/US creativity is a fundamental asset" is utter nonsense.

I think my message you're replying to might not have been clear, and I'm sorry if so.

I agree your post had nothing to do with inherent differences between people (and I don't believe such differences exist either) and I was myself trying to contradict the lazy trope (and poor grasp of logic) that says "that system is more rote-oriented than ours, thereby ours must be more creative."

Western schools were also pretty rote oriented until the early 20th century when Europeans like Steiner and Montessori tried to develop alternatives. Those alternatives had some influence on schools in Europe, Australia, and America (but there's plenty of rote learning still in US schools). Those movements have had less influence in Asia until perhaps the 21st century.

NOTE: I myself didn't attend school in Asia, so my exposure is indirect (through parents, grandparents, relatives and friends).

I could probably make an argument that it was more about communism removing creativity and individualism than asian countries not being as creative as Americans.

Good point! These issues are so vague that in reality the “arguments” are simply assertions in favor of whatever point you want to claim.

"The nail that sticks out shall be hammered down"

...and yet the country from which this aphorism comes paradoxically values creativity! Nice example!

I think this movie is a really good take on the relationship between the Japanese education system and "creativity":


A 14 year old girl struggles between doing the socially expected thing and study to do well on her exams and get into a good university someday, or do what she really wants, which is to write. She is inspired by other creative people, outside the Japanese mainstream, and eventually receives her parents' blessing to take a different path.

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