Millennials Might Be Today’s Victorian Generation


Public policymakers and political pundits tend to focus on problems — understandably, because if things are going right they aren’t thought to need attention. Yet positive developments can teach us things as well, when, for reasons not necessarily clear, great masses of people start to behave more constructively.

One such trend is the better behavior of the young Americans of today compared to those 25 years ago. Almost no one anticipated it, the exception being William Strauss and Neil Howe in their 1991 book, Generations, who named Americans born after 1981 the Millennial generation and predicted that “the tiny boys and girls now playing with Lego blocks” — and those then still unborn — would become “the nation’s next great Civic generation.”

The most obvious evidence of the Millennials’ virtuous behavior is the vast decline in violent crime in the last 25 years. The most crime-prone age and gender cohort — 15-to-25-year-old males — are committing far fewer crimes than that cohort did in 1990.

Statistics tell the dramatic story. In two decades, the murder rate fell 49 percent, the forcible rape rate 33 percent, the robbery rate 48 percent, the aggravated assault rate 39 percent. Government agencies report that sexual assaults against 12-to-17-year-olds declined by more than half, and violent victimization of teenagers at school declined 60 percent.

Binge drinking by high school seniors is lower than at any time since 1976, and sexual intercourse among ninth graders and the percentage of high school seniors with more than three partners has declined.

There has been much ado about rape on college campuses today, with President Obama, among others, stating that one in five women students will be raped or sexually assaulted. But that statistic is based on a bogus survey, covering just two colleges, with self-selected rather than randomly selected respondents and a laughably broad definition of “sexual assault.” A recent Justice Department report showed that the rate rape on campus was not 20 percent, but 0.6 percent.

And today’s young are better behaved despite what blind statistical trends might seem to hint at. Compared to the young Americans of 1990, their ranks include a higher percentage of Hispanics and blacks, who statistically tend to have above-average crime rates. Today’s young are also more likely to come from single-parent households — another high-risk factor. Demographics suggested there would be more bad behavior. Instead, there is much less.

What accounts for this virtuous cycle? I am inclined to give some credit to better police tactics and welfare reform, the great positive conservative policy successes of the 1990s. Others might credit the Clinton administration’s increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit or bipartisan-supported education reforms. But partisan explanations, though plausible, seem inadequate.

I think what we are seeing is a mass changing of minds, something like the movement in Victorian England toward what historian Gertrude Himmelfarb described as “the morality that dignifies and civilizes human beings.”

My theory is that young people do what is expected of them, in two senses of the word “expected.” One is statistical expectation. Americans in 1990 expected young people, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds, to commit lots of crimes. They had been doing so, after all, for 25 years. But Rudy Giuliani and others adapting his methods reduced crime dramatically, and statistical expectations rapidly changed.

The other sense of the word “expected” is moral expectation. A parent tells a boy he is expected not to shoplift, bully, rob, rape, or kill. She tells a girl she is expected not to sleep around or get pregnant. The parents of the last 25 years grew up in years of high crime, high divorce, and high unmarried births. Evidently they wanted — expected — something better from their own children.

It’s true that unmarried parenthood has risen. But teen births, like violent crime, have been in sharp decline. Now the latest statistics tell us that birth rates are, unusually, up among married women and down among unmarried women.

There remain stark differences between the experiences and behaviors of high-education and -income and low-education and -income Americans, as Charles Murray showed in his 2012 book, Coming Apart. But perhaps they are starting to converge.

Liberals and conservatives often assume that moves away from traditional moral rules must inevitably continue. How can you keep them down on the farm once they’ve seen “Paree?”

But today’s America, like Victorian England, shows that virtuous cycles are possible as well. People can learn from experience, and those who have seen the downside of bad behavior may choose to behave better.


The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom

Obama’s Attempt To Turn The Page Undermined By Policy Failures


It’s not in the printed text, but the most revealing words in President Obama’s seventh State of the Union address came near the end. After the scripted line, “I have no more campaigns to run,” elicited Republican applause, Obama ad libbed, “I know, because I won both of them.”

Thus the last quarter of Obama’s presidency resembles the first quarter, when he shut off discussion with House Republicans by saying, “I won.” But his second winning percentage was lower than his first — the only American president of which that can be said — and the House now has a record and the Senate a near-record Republican majority.

The first half of Obama’s speech was a deft attempt to, as he said, “turn the page.” The year 2014, he said, was “a breakthrough year for America,” the economy was finally growing at a respectable rate and U.S. troop deployments in war zones are nearly down to zero.

He was playing on the uptick — a “small” but real uptick, as FiveThirtyEight put it — in his polling numbers and in positive assessments of the economy. To give it voice, he quoted, twice, a woman (a former Democratic staffer, it seems) in the gallery.

In contrast to previous Obama speeches, he took some care to cite accurate statistics. No mention of the discredited claim that one in five college women will be raped or the misleading claim that women’s earnings are only 77 percent of men’s.

He cheered America for being number one in oil and gas production — something his administration has tried to prevent. He boasted that wages are rising — though not by much. His brief allusions to Obamacare sparked applause from Democrats — but the law remains highly unpopular.

Obama’s policy proposals were small stuff. More tax cuts for child care — but discrimination against stay-at-home moms and taxes on 529 college savings accounts. Paid sick leave. Equal pay for women — on the books already for 52 years. A minimum wage increase. He’s all for infrastructure but, in deference to rich donors, will veto the Keystone XL pipeline.

Free community college — even though it’s already free to those in lower-income households, and despite the evidence from student loan programs that colleges and universities sop up all the federal dollars with little gain to students.

Democrats, after applauding loudly in the first half of the speech, stayed mostly mum during much of the rest. There was silence when he called for trade promotion authority and free trade agreements. There was little noise when he called for tax reform — not surprisingly, given that he has ignored plans Republicans have put forward.

There was silence as well when he turned to foreign policy. Obama received better ratings on foreign than domestic policy in his first term; it’s the other way around now.

America, he said, is “stopping [the Islamic State’s] advance,” is “opposing Russian aggression,” is ending a Cuba policy “long past its expiration date,” and “our diplomacy is at work with respect to Iran.” It is leading “not with bluster, but with persistent, steady resolve.” But not, as most in the chamber and watching on TV know, with much in the way of results.

Obama seems finally to have realized that his divisive rhetoric has meant he hasn’t delivered on the red-white-and-blue America vision of his 2004 Democratic National Convention speech. He devoted the last 24 paragraphs of his prepared text to addressing that criticism.

But not very convincingly. A president calling for big tax increases this Congress will never pass is not effectively seeking bipartisan accords. A president still blaming his predecessor — “bluster” — for foreign problems is not seeking unified support. A president who says “we stand united” with the marchers in Paris but didn’t go there himself isn’t forging united action against the jihadists whose cause he refuses to name.

It looks like Obama is trying to set a left-wing agenda for his increasingly leftish party and to box in Hillary Clinton. But he hasn’t come up with policy proposals that can withstand serious scrutiny. Just with sloganeering he can blame Republicans for opposing.

The bigger problem for Obama and the Democrats is that the perceived failures of the stimulus package and Obamacare have undermined the case for big government as much as the perceived success of the Reagan economic policies strengthened the case for cutting it back. “Because I won” is a look back to the past, not a formula for the future.


The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom

Remembering Martin Anderson

Nixon Presidential Library and Museum

Lou Cannon has a nice remembrance in RealClearPolitics of Martin Anderson, the economist and adviser to Ronald Reagan who died last week at 78. He touches on all of Anderson’s accomplishments, from his successful advocacy in the Nixon White House to abolish the military draft to his unearthing, with his wife Annelise Anderson and Kiron Skinner, the handwritten drafts of Ronald Reagan’s radio speeches, which show the impressive breadth of Reagan’s reading and depth of his thinking.

Let me add one more item to the list: Anderson’s 1964 book “The Federal Bulldozer: A Critical Analysis of Urban Renewal 1942-1962.” When I first met Anderson at the Hoover Institution, his professional base after he left the Reagan administration, he was pleased when I mentioned the book and the influence it had on me. I had imagined that urban renewal was a good idea; Anderson demonstrated that it was a terrible one. The theory, promoted by New Dealers but endorsed by the conservative Republican Sen. Robert Taft, was that poor housing conditions blighted people’s lives and that the free market would never produce adequate housing. This had some plausibility since very little housing was built in the United States between 1930 and 1945, because of depression and war; and since many New York tenements built around 1900 were notoriously dismal places.

But as Anderson pointed out, urban renewal administrators were much better at tearing down often functional neighborhoods and very bad at building housing to replace it. Benefits went to politically connected insiders; costs were borne by ordinary people — often ordinary black people — with no clout. In my home city of Detroit, the old black neighborhood on Hastings Street (don’t look for it on the map; it has been replaced by the Chrysler Freeway) was torn down circa 1948, but the handsome Mies van der Rohe high-rises and townhouses in what was called Lafayette Park were not opened for occupation until 1961. I remember that because I lived in one of the high-rises from 1969 to 1972.

As I read “The Federal Bulldozer,” I found myself arguing with Anderson — and losing one argument after another. In retrospect, the uncanny ability of Franklin Roosevelt to appoint administrators such as Harry Hopkins and to work with New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, who were geniuses at getting things done, gave Americans confidence in the efficacy of big government. Martin Anderson, in his research for “The Federal Bulldozer,” showed that their successors lacked this unusual ability. It was a pioneering book which came under blistering attack by boosters of urban renewal but which remains relevant now a half-century after its publication — the first of Martin Anderson’s many contributions to good public policy.


The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom

What Can Be Done About Family Fragmentation?


How big a problem is family fragmentation? “Immense,” says Mitch Pearlstein, head of the Minnesota think tank Center of the American Experiment. “The biggest domestic problem facing this country.”

So big he went out and interviewed 40 experts of varying ideology across the nation and relayed their answers in his book “Broken Bonds: What Family Fragmentation Means for America’s Future.” That’s the good news. The bad news is that none of the experts is confident he has an answer, and neither is Pearlstein.

What is family fragmentation? The facts are easy to state. About 40 percent of babies born in America these days are born outside of marriage. That’s true of about 30 percent of non-Hispanic whites, more than 50 percent of Hispanics, and more than 70 percent of blacks.

Back in 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan was prompted to write his report on the black family when the out-of-wedlock birth rate of blacks was 25 percent. He believed, correctly, that this spelled trouble ahead. Half a century later, that’s the figure for supposedly privileged non-Hispanic whites.

Scandinavian countries also have high out-of-marriage birth rates, but couples tend to stay together and raise their children to adulthood. In America, not so much.

Pearlstein notes that the percentage of children living with two parents in 2009 was 86 percent among Asians, 75 among non-Hispanic whites, 67 percent among Hispanics, and 37 percent among blacks.

But these numbers include step-parents. And when you take into account findings that child abuse by stepfathers is substantially above average, that’s not entirely good news.

The numbers show that children raised by their two biological (or adoptive) parents do substantially better in every respect in life than those who are not. They do better in school and in higher education, they do better at jobs and economically, they develop more stable and lasting relationships personally. They are more likely to earn success — what American Enterprise Institute’s Arthur Brooks identifies as the chief source of personal satisfaction and happiness.

When confronted with those facts, the impulse of most Americans is to be wary of passing judgment on single parents. Some of them indeed do raise children who do well. Many struggle through difficulties that happily married parents seldom experience.

Back in the culturally conformist America of the mid-20th century, there was a stigma against unmarried parenthood and divorce. Marriage rates were higher and divorce rates much lower.

But there is little sign that such a stigma will return. Even among cultural and religious conservatives, there is no perceptible move to repeal the no-fault divorce laws that almost every state passed in the 1970s.

Family fragmentation is unsettling nevertheless, because it seems to be creating a two-tier society. In his 2012 book “Coming Apart,” AEI scholar Charles Murray highlighted how among the wealthiest 20 percent of whites, divorce rates and single parenthood have returned to 1950s levels after a blip upward in the 1970s.

But among the poorest 30 percent of whites — and among much larger percentages of Hispanics and blacks — divorce and single parenthood have become a way of life. That is exacerbated by the recent decline in college attendance by young men and the dearth of job opportunities for less educated men. That makes them less marriageable and less prepared to take responsibility for children they may father.

Brookings Institution scholar Isabel Sawhill, echoing Murray, tells Pearlstein that we are becoming a “bifurcated society,” not just because of income inequality but because of family formation patterns. This is something like the view taken in a 2013 speech by President Obama, which described family fragmentation as a consequence of economic inequality.

One conclusion from all this is that the nation is being deprived of a substantial amount of human capital by family fragmentation. Young people are achieving less than their potential, with cumulative negative consequences for all of us.

Is there any way to reverse the trend toward family fragmentation? Some of Pearlstein’s experts call for raising taxes, and some call for lowering them. Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah calls for legislative remedies to reverse “implicit marriage penalties in our tax code and welfare programs.”

Such policy changes might be useful “nudges,” to use Harvard law professor (and Obama appointee) Cass Sunstein’s term. But perhaps well-off Americans should, as Charles Murray suggests, preach what they practice. Few Americans want to stigmatize single parents. But should we be afraid to tell people there’s a better way?


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The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom

Things Aren’t Looking Good For Hillary’s Future


Is the market in Hillary Clinton futures collapsing? Quite possibly so.

A year ago, Clinton seemed likely to become the next president. Presumably she and her husband had not yet started to call themselves, Bush style, 42 and 45. But she had an overwhelming lead in the polls for the Democratic nomination and was getting 50 percent or more in most polls against possible Republican candidates in general election pairings.

Ratings of Clinton’s performance as secretary of state were positive. She seemed poised to hold and add onto Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 majorities.

Things look different now. Obama now gets negative marks on foreign policy, and some of the luster is off Clinton’s record as well. With the Islamic State ravaging much of Iraq and Syria, the decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq looks dubious. With Vladimir Putin’s Russia rampaging through much of Ukraine, Clinton’s reset button looks ludicrous.

Most Americans may have been content with a foreign policy of “leading from behind,” but as the world spins out of control, they don’t like the results.

And over the course of 2014, Clinton’s favorability ratings have declined. Her memoir of her Cabinet service had a curiously defensive title — “Hard Choices” — and her book tour was something like the opposite of a ringing success. Sales were slim, and readership probably even slimmer. The prospect of a Clinton presidency may thrill a few aging feminists, but few others seem to find her very interesting.

There’s plenty of bad news for Clinton in last month’s Quinnipiac poll, the first national survey conducted since the November election. Clinton runs 1 point behind Mitt Romney, 1 point ahead of Chris Christie, 4 points ahead of Paul Ryan and 5 points ahead of Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, and Mike Huckabee. None of this can be blamed on low off-year turnout; the poll is of registered voters.

All these Republicans except Romney are significantly less well known than Clinton. When asked whether their feelings are favorable or unfavorable, only 5 percent of poll respondents have no opinion on Clinton and 14 percent on Romney; the numbers for the other Republicans run between 29 and 39 percent. So she’s running even with the best-known candidate while the others all have room to grow.

Even more significant are Clinton’s percentages against these candidates: 44, 45, 46, 46, 46, and 46. In seriously contested 2014 Senate races, Democratic incumbents tended to run about even with their poll numbers, while their Republican challengers ran well ahead of theirs. If you apply the same rule to Clinton’s Quinnipiac numbers, she ends up with about the same percentage as John McCain in 2008 or Democratic House candidates in 2010 and 2014.

Now, things may be different by 2016. Obama’s job approval could rise, and Democrats generally could regain the advantage over Republicans they enjoyed a year ago. Increased economic growth could strengthen the incumbent party — although, as analyst Sean Trende points out, even significantly greater growth would not point to a Democratic victory under most political scientists’ election prediction formulas.

But it’s hard to avoid the conclusion of FiveThirtyEight analyst Harry Enten. Clinton, he wrote last Monday, “no longer looks like such a juggernaut. Not only are her numbers dropping, but she is running on par with a Democratic brand in its weakest shape in a decade.”

That’s not what optimistic Democrats were expecting earlier this year. They thought nostalgia for Bill Clinton’s presidency would enable Hillary Clinton to run ahead of party lines. Voters not eager for a third Obama term might welcome a third Clinton term.

But those are appeals that look to the past. Voters expect presidential candidates to look to the future. Hillary Clinton has wide leads in polls for the Democratic nomination. But her record is a bad fit for the Democratic primary electorate in which the energy currently comes from the left. Lurching to the left and then tacking toward the center doesn’t project a clear vision of the future.

In 1991, candidate Bill Clinton gave three policy speeches to overflow crowds at Georgetown University’s Gaston Hall. When Hillary Clinton spoke there last week, the balcony was almost empty and there were empty seats in the lower level, too.

Clinton futures were on the rise 23 years ago. They seem to be in decline 23 years later.



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The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom