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Weekly Digest: Things Fall Apart
The structural changes undermining leadership in America
Welcome to my weekly digest for September 15, 2023, with the best articles from around the web and a roundup of my recent writings and appearances.
Leadership and Why Things Fall Apart
As you know, leadership and its decline has been a recurring theme in my work. I first started engaging on this topic back in 2009 or so when I noted how changes in the structure of local economies was undermining local leadership culture in cities. My recent column in Governing magazine was on this topic.
I was delighted to have my work featured in this great New York Times essay by Thomas Edsall on the changes in the leadership culture in cities how that’s a hidden reason cities fell apart. I appreciate that he, as always, got an interesting set of perspectives on this issue. As I’ve always said, the old group of power brokers had their faults to be sure, but they had some virtues as well. Here are some excerpts:
But there is something else hurting cities besides those well-known phenomena that we don’t talk about enough: the erosion of the local establishment and the loss of civic and corporate elites.
Until the late 1970s, virtually every city in the United States had its own network of bankers, corporate executives, developers and political kingmakers who dominated their private associations, golf courses and exclusive downtown clubs.
The members were affluent white men who wielded power behind closed doors, without accountability to the citizenry. For all their multiple faults — and there were many — they had one thing in common: a shared economic interest in the health of their communities.
Robert D. Atkinson, the president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, described the long-term secular trends in an email to me: “Big ‘anchor’ corporations played a key role in civic life in metro areas, not just in terms of corporate donations to nonprofits but also in bringing to bear leadership to revitalize cities. This used to happen all the time in Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, the Twin Cities, etc.”
These locally based companies, Atkinson continued, “played an important role of helping the various municipalities in a region work more closely together. Banks and utilities were especially critical to this, in large part because their sales base depended on a healthy regional economy.”
“Today, the captains of industry and the institutions they headed are all gone,” DeFilippo wrote. “The banks, the law firms, the insurance companies and the major industries either disappeared or were subsumed by larger, out-of-state logos, or, as many of the old titans faded out, the heirs decided to cash in.”
The Baltimore Sun was sold to out-of-towners, DeFilippo noted, and “the five major banks — Mercantile, Equitable, First National, Union Trust and Maryland National — were all gobbled up by out-of-state behemoths. And the city’s two largest law firms, Venable, Baetjer & Howard and Piper, Marbury, merged with even larger national law firms.”
The Baltimore establishment, like its counterparts in other cities, was shot through with conflicts of interest, self-dealing and the exercise of power by a group characterized by, in DeFilippo’s words, “a kind of hand-me-down inbreeding.”
These negative attributes were counterbalanced, at least in part, by the pluses
Ben Armstrong, the executive director of M.I.T.’s Industrial Performance Center, argued in a 2021 article, “Industrial Policy and Local Economic Transformation: Evidence From the U.S. Rust Belt,” that the parochialism and inbreeding of local corporate elites has often proved detrimental to local efforts to rebuild economies to meet the needs of the 21st century.
Armstrong studied the largely successful economic revival in the Pittsburgh region and compared it with the parallel but less successful effort to inject new corporate innovation in Cleveland.
Armstrong argues that a major factor in Pittsburgh’s success was the fact that the city’s legacy of old-line corporations was effectively displaced by experts at Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh, who were free both from conflicts of interest and from ties to declining industries.
That was not the case in Cleveland, according to Armstrong, where old-line companies had a much stronger voice in the planning process and were unwilling to propose the kind of radical innovation that challenged incumbent businesses.
Click through to read the whole thing, including the quotes from me.
Somebody also sent me this interesting four minute video in which Howard Schultz describes how Bill Gates’ father, who was a bigshot lawyer in Seattle, intervened to enable Schultz to buy Starbucks. It’s an interesting story about how civic leadership operated back in the 1980s.
And if you haven’t read it, you should definitely check out my article on the old Protestant establishment in America.
Singleness in the Church
Lyman Stone has an interesting piece in Christianity Today about singleness in the church.
The dispute raged for decades, but the key point is this: In a massive church-wide debate, the only question being debated was whether marriage or monasticism was superior. At no point was singleness—as in, a long unmarried period for people who are not living ascetic lives of church service—even considered as an honorable estate to be mentioned.
In other words, while it is understandable that singles facing a dysfunctional dating market would feel put upon by churches exhorting marriage, a big factor driving low marriage rates is that many young people are deprioritizing efforts to find a spouse. Churches have no reason to endorse that deprioritization and are doing the right thing by exhorting young singles to prioritize the pursuit of a spouse.
Here it is necessary to comment on an intermediate position most of us have encountered in our churches: young people who desire marriage, for whom marriage has not yet occurred, and who—in confronting more of their adult lives as singles than they anticipated—are seeking to make something meaningful of their singleness.
They do not see themselves as permanently celibate but are uncomfortable with a family-centric church life, feeling left out or excluded from that life or unfairly pressured to find a spouse. These young adults often speak as if singleness is something that has happened to them, as if they had no choice in the matter; many will even comment that since God has not given them a spouse yet, singleness must be God’s plan for them. This view contains many debatable elements.
To say that nonascetic singleness is an undesirable or pitiable state is not to demean, insult, or condemn not-yet-married people—this is what these young adults say about themselves! Churches exhorting singles to pursue marriage are not heaping burdens on them; they are agreeing with them about what is good, coming alongside them, trying to nudge their potential marriage partners into getting on the same page.
Click over to read the whole thing.
In a related piece, The Free Press has an interesting writeup on what they call the dating pool dropouts - men who’ve given up on dating.
Jammall, who asked me to conceal his last name to protect his reputation at work, is one of a growing number of young men who are withdrawing from the dating pool. More than six in ten men aged 18 to 29 are now single, up from about five in ten in 2019, according to data from Pew Research Center. Respondents give a range of reasons for their singlehood, including having “more important priorities,” the fact they “just like being single,” or that they’ve gotten “too old” to keep trying.
But part of it also boils down to this: it’s hard for men to find partners at a moment when women are outpacing them both at school and work. Young women now hold 1.6 million more college degrees than men, and in a growing number of cities, including Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and New York, they make as much as—or more than—their male counterparts. And even if they become mothers, odds are four in ten will become the breadwinners of their households.
“What discourages me so much is that most of the women that I’ve seen on dating sites, they want a man making as much as them and they’re making upwards of like, $100,000,” said Jammall, who tells me he makes $55,000 a year.
“A lot of men are checking out,” he adds. “We’re just tired. We’re just tired of being told that we don’t measure up either physically or financially.”
But even the alphas are feeling the squeeze.
One New York City–based psychologist, David Gordon, says many of the high-powered men he treats—including doctors, lawyers, and financiers—fret over their ability to attract a woman, despite their enviable salaries or careers.
“It’s kind of sad or tragic, but some guys will look at their bank accounts, stocks, or credit score every day, as if it’s some sort of measure of their value,” he says. “We can look at the numbers, and I’m like, ‘Dude, looks pretty good to me.’ ”
Still, he says, “There’s this anxiety around—is this enough?”
Click over to read the whole thing.
Undoubtedly, a lack of educational or career success can handicap certain men. They should work on becoming more successful, etc. However, the people in this article, even the so-called “alphas” tragically miscomprehend how intersexual dynamics work. Money does count, but it’s arguably one of the least important factors. There are tons of underemployed, non-college educated men having lots of sex out there. I completely reject pre-marital sex, but this shows that certain credentials are not necessary for women to find you attractive. I wrote about attraction in newsletter #17:
The other key thing to understand is that interacting with women is a learnable skill - and one even many nominally very successful men don’t have. While some men such as the short, the very unattractive, or disabled face real barriers in dating, the average man is by no means doomed to be an incel. The #1 factor driving people to online men’s influencers is that they teach this stuff, or at least a lot of them do. For example, when Jordan Peterson says that girls aren’t attracted to boys who are their friend but to “boys who win status competitions with other boys.”
But the article is not wrong that many women are filtering on dating apps for men who are taller than six feet, make more than $100K a year, and things like that. That’s their choice. Everybody has the right to set their own standards in a partner, and I fully support them in that. But if people, men or women, want to set a very high standard - one that they themselves may not be attractive enough to obtain in the dating market - the rest of us are under no obligation to change what we are doing to make them feel more comfortable as a long term single.
Best of the Web
NYT: There Was Definitely a Thumb on the Scale to Get Boys - A piece about how colleges are giving affirmative action to men. I’m sure that’s true. But make no mistake, there’s still a vast infrastructure of affirmative action in favor of women in our society. In fact, it’s arguably accelerated in the post-2020 world for white women, who have been big beneficiaries of the push for more diversity. Related: The Biden admin’s push for more female construction workers.
A Twitter user named Adam Van Buskirk gave a good example of how men are manipulated into believing that their sole role in society is sacrificing themselves for other.
Note how he posits a false dichotomy between “self-sacrificing” and “selfish.” In this schema, men have no legitimate interests of their own, and are simply instruments to be sacrificed for other people. As I’ve noted before, this type of logic is also used by evangelicals to the same end.
WaPo: Child care is about to get more expensive, as federal funds dry up - As I’ve said many times, many jobs simply don’t generate enough economic value to cover the cost of child care unless the childcare workers are paid dirt and heavily subsidized. The purpose of this is ultimately to subsidize low wage employers.
NYT: How Soaring Child Care Costs Are Crushing New Yorkers. I realized that costs have gone up since I left, but we managed to live in a one bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side as a family of three on a single salary from a non-profit. It was tight, but we could do it. This would not have been tenable if we had to pay for private school, but certainly would have been viable with homeschooling. This is another data point on the child care debate.
Financial Times: American mothers re-entering the workforce at high rates - Statistically, child care costs are not keeping women out of the workforce.
In recent months, there have been more mothers in the workforce than at any time since the labour department began tracking them in 1948, according to an analysis of government labour market data. Some 75 per cent of mothers participated in the labour force in July, the last month for which data is available, representing a rough return to pre-pandemic times.
Nicholas Kristof/NYT: The One Privilege Liberals Ignore - A look at the incredible negatives of single parent homes, of which we have more than any country in the entire world. He discusses a book called The Two-Parent Privilege. The title of that book goes along with what I wrote about early this week in how post-familialism may evolve, even in the church. Note the analogy to white privilege, which suggest, that from a status perspective, married families should be relegated to the bottom of the heap in terms of how justice requires institutions view them.
London Review of Books: Desperate Midwives - An interesting look at some of the history of midwifery in England.
Jake Meador: Mega Churches and Reformed Catholicity
Given dechurching rates, generational giving patterns, and generational wealth distribution, there's a very real possibility facing American Protestants: We might be 15 years away from churches with under 150 people being unable to afford a full-time pastor. Any church of that size or smaller, will have a bivocational pastor or, perhaps, a pastor with a split appointment, as sometimes happens in rural America with Mainline churches already.
But it gets a little grimmer: Churches of 150-350 people simply might not be economically viable. Why? Several reasons: First, a church of that size is going to have a large enough workload that it isn't really plausible for a bivocational pastor or pastor split between multiple parishes to manage. Second, a church of that size may not have enough money to afford a full-time pastor, let alone an office manager, who probably will also be needed for a church of that size just to handle the various administrative tasks a congregation of that size naturally generates. Third, a church of that size is going to have a hard time finding a space to host them every week if they don't already have a building—but if they have a building, then that's another expense item in the budget.
One lesson to take from this is that churches in those ranges should probably be regarding the years we're in now as the proverbial years of plenty, as counter-intuitive (and depressing) as that might seem.
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New Content and Media Mentions
New this week:
Newsletter #80: The Maternal Instinct Will Not Be Suppressed - In case you missed it. My look at Guadalupe Nettel’s new novel Still Born.
The Next Steps for Post-Familialism (paid only) - The post-familial are being included in the church, but will families then be marginalized?
“Even Tiger Woods Has a Coach” - A piece on how one of the key roles of a mentor is to make sure you understand all the negative things people are thinking and saying about you behind your back.
At American Reformer, Scott Yenor writes about divorce and toxic femininity.