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Kaus, Mickey THE END OF EQUALITY (New York: Basic Books, 1992)

Subject: Review: THE END Of EQUALITY (Otterstein)

Subject: Albert's Review of Kaus _THE END OF EQUALITY(Raymond Albert)_


Date: Thu, 13 Apr 1995 13:17:07 -0500

Reply-To: jrotter@rs6000.cmp.ilstu.edu
From: "james otterstein"
Subject: Review: THE END Of EQUALITY (Otterstein)

Kaus, Mickey THE END OF EQUALITY (New York: Basic Books, 1992)    

Reviewed by:   James R. Otterstein


Why has the Democratic party continued to lose support?  Is it because their platform is out of touch with the middle class?  If so, is there hope for the Demorats in the 1990s?  According to Mickey Kaus in THE END OF EQUALITY, the future of the Democratic party will remain in question as long as they continue to advocate money liberalism.  Instead of focusing on economic (downward) redistribution, Kaus suggests the Democrats should support a different type of liberalism:  civic liberalism.  And it it this transition, from money to civic liberalism, which is the focus of THE END OF EQUALITY.

Kaus supports this transition because money liberalism has "failed". He attributes this failure to those liberal programs of the 1960s and '70s, which instead of decreasing the number of welfare recipients and illigitimate children, actually perpetuated their growth.  Moreover, these programs also failed becasue they adovated "welfare instead of work"; favored rights of the accused over society's right to justice; and because they wasted millions of dollars on poorly designed projects.  Why did these programs fail- because the Democrats over-emphasized the "proper role of money" within society.

This role conflict forced the party to preach about how the rich were getting richer at the expense of the poor.  Kaus believes this approach is misguided because "material equality" cannot exist within a capitalistic system. And for money liberals, acknowledging this fact is a difficult task.  Kaus suggests this difficulty is caused by those liberals who "accept the fruits of capitalism while somehow outlawing its less (unequal) pleasing aspects." That's why money liberals typically favor tax and transfer programs; unions and protectionism; production flexibility and specialization; worker ownership and profit sharing; and welfare.  Yet Kaus maintains that even these programs fail to generate social equality.

For instance, tax and transfer programs fail to create total equality because incomes are becoming "unequal prior to taxation."  Increasing taxes will most likely result in higher rates of tax evasion and "stifled" innovation, not equality.  Training programs also fail to yield more equality: those with the most training generally receive the highest pay. Moreover, unions and their protectionistic policies actually create more inequality because they generate increased income disparities among unions, higher prices for domestic goods, export "retaliation", etc. Furthermore, programs designed to promote flexible production and specialization suffer from the same deficiences as training programs.  Meanwhile, worker ownership and profit sharing programs become victim to those same problems associated with unions. Although these programs are controversial, none generate as much criticism as welfare.

Kaus believes welfare's controveries are related to its "pro-dole ideology"; a belief which favors hand-outs over a helping hand. Citizen opposition to welfare is not necessarily related to the system's purpose, but rather its counter-productive message. First, it informs individuals that it's ok to "leave your home, have an illigitimate child, and refrain from working" because the "government will take care of you." Secondly, welfare "sustains the underclass" by becoming its "economic life support system." Thus, the system creates and supports chronic dependency: that's why the average 'wagon ride lasts for approximatley 11.6 years.  Since welfare and other money liberal programs have failed to generate positive results, does this mean that equality can never be achieved? According to Kaus, the answer is no.

Social equality can be achieved by implementing civic liberalism. Instead of emphasizing income equality, Kaus' program will insure that financial inequality do not translate into social inequality.  To provide this insurance, government must become active in the reformation of existing programs and institutions.  And one such program desparately needing reformation is the welfare state.

Instead of consistently "subsidizing the non-working", Democrats should defend the rights of the working class by recogonizing the importance of the work ethic. This recognition will reward the working population in one of the following tow fashions: (1) means-testing programs will reward the working class by increasing their Earned Income Tax Credits and Social Security benefits and (2)welfare eligibility will be contingent on a work requirement. In addition to these reforms,the 'wagon ride will be limited to a maximum of two years and welfare "benefits to single parent families" will be eliminated. Not only will these reforms please Kaus, but also voters:  welfare recipients will no longer be viewed as 'free-riders'.

The other main component of civic liberalism includes reforming government institutions.  Kaus hopes this reformation will lead to the development of an ideal society, one which provides its citizens with the following:  "minimal survival needs", those "necessary to allow societal participation"; a "cement-free" class structure; and pride in citizenship. According to Kaus, such as society can exist if his recommendations are implemented.

First, the middle-class decline must cease; because without their support, civic liberalism has no future.  Secondly, society's focus on meritocracy should be de-emphasized.  And lastly, society's need and interests in the public sphere must be rejunenated. Of these recommendations, the first two are controlled by the global economy; consequently,they are beyond the reach of civic liberalism.  However, the third recommendation can be resolved through Kaus'program.

For instance, societal interest and need for the public sphere will increase if its services become more egalitarian.  To achieve this goal, Kaus proposes a madatory service component:  citizens will either serve in the military or perform national service. Moreover, current approaches used to finance public schools and polical champaigns will be reformed to counter the negative impacts of income equalities. Next, health and day care systems will be revamped to promote efficiency and equity. Furthermore, existing public transporation and delivery systems will be upgraded.  And finally, communities will enact "microzoning" laws to prohibit (suburban) neighborhood segregration.

So what's the cost of this cure-all program? Modest estimates (without cosidering inflation) reveal that civic liberalism will cost the American taxpayers approximately $150 billion dollars per year.  Kaus recognizes the cost of his program will scare voters and he concedes that promoting it is a "poor way to win elections." Nonetheless, he proclaims that voters will accept the merits of civic liberalism if they vote according to their values, and not their pocketbooks. Thus, THE END OF EQUALITY concludes by challenging the Democrats to find a middle ground between "charity and checkbook." Because without this middle ground, the future of the Democratic party is highly questionable.

I found myself agreeing with Kaus on a number of points, especially those related to welfare reform.  After all, every able-bodied citizen should be expected to contribute to the system which ultimately provides for its well-being. Emphasizing the components of Kaus' welfare reform will not only enhance civic liberalism's success, but voter acceptance too. This trend was clearly demonstrated in the 1994 Presidential Election. However, the November 1994 elections demonstrated that voters remain unhappy with the performance of the national government. Therefore,time will only tell what's in store for the Democrats in 1996.

Although I found Kaus' recommendations very interesting,they are highly impractical.  First, his programs are more appropriate for a Utopian society.  Class-mixing and rejuvenating the public's spirit are too idealistic.  After all, even socialist systems fail to reach total equality.  Secondly, Kaus often contradicted himself with some of his policies. For example,he criticized suburbanites for practicing self-imposed segregation, while simultaneously praising their accomplishments: "suburbanization is a backward tribute to social equality", after all, "they paid for their benefits." Third, Kaus suggests that voters will be willing to pay for his programs.  The 1994 election clearly demonstrates the opposite is true (i.e.  California's Prop. 187).  And lastly, citizen confidence and need for public services will continue to decrease as long as crime rates remain high. Thus, without properly addressing these issues, civic liberalism will never be accomplished.


James R. Otterstein

Department of Political Science

Illinois State University

Date: Fri, 4 Mar 1994 12:56:44 -0600
From: Raymond Albert
Subject: Albert's Review of Kaus _THE END OF EUALITY_

THE END OF EQUALITY.  By Mickey Kaus.  New York: Basic Books, 1992.  

During the 1992 presidential contest, the Clinton team proclaimed the campaign's preeminent issue: "the economy, stu- pid."  The phrase spotlighted the source and cure for the prevailing economic distress.  Sensing voters' fears about a reces sionary economy, many politicians diverted attention from the important task of economic policy evaluation to "welfare reform," a code phrase with a disturbing racial subtext.  Although job- lessness and its attendant problems are alarmingly patent, public discourse on unemployment typically focuses on assigning blame. The result is a social policy paradigm that pits structure against culture to explain economic inequality.  The implicit tradeoff is indefensible and distracting, and (unfortunately) captures our present best thinking on the matter. 

  Against this background, enter Mickey Kaus' The End of Equality, part disquieting analysis of America's most vexing social problem, part inventive political-economic theory, and part action plan for the Democratic party.  Kaus, a New Republic senior editor and a liberal, evaluates America's failed liberal- ism and advocates the restorative powers of "civic liberalism" and community.  As the most recent addition to works dealing with welfare, race, class and equality, Kaus' contribution warrants careful scrutiny. 

  The "end" of which Kaus speaks connotes goals. When Ameri- cans discuss equality, they really mean social equality (civil and political rights, equal opportunity), not literal equality (equal outcomes).  This is an old debate: Economic inequality is integral to a capitalist system, a condition no less true despite our liberal sensibilities regarding income redistribution. Accept this reality, Kaus argues, and we are then free to achieve social equality, which is really what we want ultimately.  How? Among other things, Kaus would create a public domain "where money doesn't talk, where we can confront each other simply as citizens."

  Kaus' primary fixation is community and the conditions of citizenship.  The military draft is celebrated as the primary example of community building through class integration.  Kaus argues that the community-reinforcing features of the military draft can be applied to other social institutions, such as a national health care, national service, day care, mass transit, and multi-class public spheres.  The aim in each instance is to mix classes, develop inter-class respect, promote common values, and foster commitment to shared social norms.  The enhanced civic participation resulting from Kaus' brand of class intermingling is the sine qua non of American citizenship. 

  Kaus' strategies are not without their problems, something he admits reluctantly.  Racial discrimination and race-based conflict, for example, undermines the class-mixing advantages of service in the armed forces.  Moreover, national health care, national service, and enlarged public realms can cause -- but not compel -- physical intermixing of classes.  American history also includes numerous instances where groups have chosen to live among those who shared their religious or racial or ethnic back- grounds.  These experiences cannot be dismissed as mere segrega- tionist or non-equalitarian impulses.  Kaus is less willing to admit to the odd nostalgia that informs his analysis.  The community he depicts may have never existed in this country, or certainly not to the degree insinuated by his romanticized perspective. 

  The underclass, which is cast as severely out-of-step with mainstream values, also challenge Kaus' communitarian vision. Their non-attachment to the labor marker and concomitant troubles locks them out of full community participation.  For Kaus, welfare policy -- not deindustrialization, suburbanization, or other structural deficiencies -- is the cause of the underclass' predicament.  Welfare reform, then, is the solution.  This posi- tion conceals a paradox: On the one hand, Kaus' analysis implies that class significantly influences life chances and economic opportunities.  On the other hand, he implicates race and lays the foundation for welfare-bashing and paranoia (underclass is associated with dangerousness).  Ultimately, echoing Charles Murray and Lawrence Mead, he suggests that liberalism spawned a failed system and a failed class. 

  Furthermore, in linking underclass and welfare, Kaus brings into focus the work ethos, a universal norm and the cornerstone of his social policy.  A neo-WPA type program is the answer to ghetto unemployment.  It would provide not only income but a type of socialization severely absent in ghetto poor communities.  To be charitable, one might simply point out that this recommenda- tion merely brings Kaus' work-as-an-end argument to its logical conclusion. Funding this new New-Deal initiative, however, poses another problem.  Kaus indicates that the cost of this proposal must be balanced against its community-building func- tion.

  Kaus' reserves his harshest criticism for old-style liberal- ism, practiced by "money liberals" who believe in income equality through income redistribution.  He attacks this tradition as irrelevant and impractical because it conspires to put government on the side of welfare rather than work.  "The house of liber- alism needs more than repainting, remodeling, or even thorough renovation," Kaus asserts.  "We need to rip the house down and built it anew on a more secure foundation."  Here is Kaus' organizing principle, the foundation of his brave new world.  If liberals (read: Democrats) build a platform that offers appealing ideas about American society and a way to attain them, they will win elections.  In other words, if the Democrats build it (a new political-economic consensus that incorporates mainstream val- ues), they (the people) will come!  Its seductive appeal notwith- standing, this argument warrants critical appraisal. 

  Kaus' antidote to old liberalism is "civic liberalism," a philosophy that supplants income-equality schemes with social equality.  Institutions organized around this ideology will help Americans learn to respect each other's differences while cele- brating their common norms: work, individual responsibility, family, and civic participation.  Kaus thus recasts liberalism and, the key point, places it within the context of a reconceptu- alized community. 

  Ultimately, even Kaus appreciates the paradigm shift needed to bring civic liberalism into existence.  Americans fear urban areas (and their populace), retreat to suburbia, favor superior educational opportunities for their children, and prefer to associate with others like themselves.  Modifying attitudes in this regard is no small task!  The recession that allowed Mr. Clinton to ascend to the presidency certainly affords an opportu- nity to assess Kaus' reforms.  What is our vision of America? Will Kaus' blueprint help us achieve it? The Reagan-Bush era and the 1991 Los Angeles riots taught us, if nothing else, that we must act upon America's seemingly intractable problems.  (If not now, when?  If not us, whom?)  The Democratic party, and other readers of The End of Equality, would be well advised to worry about the conditions under which America achieves equality. Kaus' meditations may jump start our thinking, but there is too much at stake to embrace uncritically his model for accomplishing this end.

Raymond Albert
Associate Professor and Director, Law and Social Policy Program

Bryn Mawr College