It turns out, there’s a nice Halloween field experiment. Here’s the setup. On Halloween, a woman answers the door and invites the trick-or-treaters in. She tells them to “take one,” and then leaves the room leaving the bowl of candy and a bowl of nickels and pennies (adjusting for inflation: dimes and quarters, maybe even half-dollars). They did this experiment at 27 houses with a total of 1,300 kids.
Overall, most kids (69%) took one. But conditions mattered.
In one experimental manipulation, the woman either asked the kids who they were and where they lived or she allowed them to be anonymous. Experimenters also noted whether the kids were trick-or-treating alone or in groups. For some groups, the woman designated the smallest kid in the group as being in charge of making sure that kids took only one. All these variables made a difference.
The greatest rate of cheating (80%) occurred when the smallest child was being responsible but everyone was anonymous. Diener reasoned that with responsibility shifted to the smallest link, the other kids would feel freer to break the rule.
Those who did cheat usually took only an additional one to three candies. But, of those who did grab more than what was offered, 20% took both candy and coins. Unfortunately, the Snickers study is not like the marshmallow study, so we don’t know where those greediest kids are now.
The Redskins have been in the news lately – on the front page of the Times, for example — and not for their prowess on the gridiron. It’s their name. Many native Americans find it offensive, understandably so. “Redskins” was not a name they chose. It was a label invented by the European-Americans who took their land and slaughtered them in numbers that today would be considered genocide.
President Obama offered the most tepid hint of criticism of the name. He did not say they should change their name. He said that if he owned the team, he would “think about” changing the name. But that was enough for non-Indians to dismiss the idea as yet one more instance of “political correctness.”
Defenders of the name also argue that the name is not intended to be offensive, and besides, a survey shows that most Americans are not bothered by it. I would guess that most Americans also have no problem with the Cleveland Indians logo, another sports emblem that real Indians find offensive.
In response the National Congress of American Indians offers these possibilities. The Cleveland cap is the real thing. The other two are imagined variations on the same theme.
The pro-Redskins arguments could also apply here. The New York Jews and San Francisco Chinamen and their logos are not intended to offend, and a survey would probably find a majority of Americans untroubled by these names and logos. And those who do object are just victims of “the tyranny of political correctness.” This last phrase comes from a tweet by Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III, an African American. His response seems to make all the more relevant the suggestion of years ago by the American Indian Movement’s Russell Means: “Why don’t they call them The Washington Niggers?”
That was the preferred argument of my friend, Tommy, a classmate who lived across the street when I was a kid. I sometimes would disagree with Tommy about the talents or behavior of some celebrity — a rock star or an actor. Today’s equivalent might be Ke$ha or a Kardashian. Tommy’s response was usually, “He’s makin’ more money than you’ll ever see.” And that settled the issue as far as Tommy was concerned. A huge income trumped just about anything.
In sociology, we talk about values. Introduction to Sociology texts usually define values as abstract ideas about what is good, ideas that people use as guides to action. Maybe. But the definition I prefer sees values as “legitimations” — ideas about what is good that people use to justify behavior or to win arguments. For Tommy, money was this kind of ultimate legitimation. His behavior did not evidence a strong value on money — we were only about eleven at the time — but his judgments did. Values are what we use to evaluate.
I thought of Tommy and values today when I read the transcript of a CNBC interview with Alex Pereene. Pereene has recently gone on record criticizing Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan. That bank currently faces an $11 billion fine for having dealt in shoddy mortgage-backed securities. JP Morgan can afford it, of course, but $11 billion begins to be real money. The question on CNBC was whether Dimon should continue as its CEO.
Pareene says no. The CNBC anchor, Maria Bartiromo then says.
Legal problems aside, JP Morgan remains one of the best, if not the best performing major bank in the world today. You believe the leader of that bank should step down?
Or as Tommy Fiedler would have put it, “His bank is makin’ more money than you’ll ever see.”
Here’s Pareene’s response:
If you managed a restaurant, and it got the biggest health department fine in the history of restaurants, no one would say “Yeah, but the restaurant’s making a lot of money. There’s only a little bit of poison in the food.”
CNBC then brings in a Dimon booster, Duff McDonald. Asked to respond to Pareene’s charge of corruption, McDonald says,
It’s preposterous. The stock’s touching a ten-year high. It’s a cash-generating machine. Sure they’ve had their regulatory issues . . .
In McDonald’s view, the charge of corruption is preposterous because JP Morgan is makin’ more money than you’ll ever see.
Bartiromo’s reaction is especially telling. She seems to take Pereene’s criticism of JP Morgan personally. I thought that anchors were supposed to be neutral and try to draw guests out. But Bartiromo is openly hostile. She loudly interrupts Pereene and demands evidence of the bank’s questionable tactics. When Pereene gives an example, she defends Dimon by again appealing to the value on profits above all else.
Even with all these losses, the company continues to churn out tens of billions of dollars in earnings and hundreds of millions in revenues. How do you criticize that? [emphasis added]
Her assumption is that anyone who makes so much money cannot be criticized. Such criticism is immoral. The reporting about JP Morgan’s shortcomings is, she says, “a witch hunt.”
The problem with legitimations is that they work only if everyone in the room shares the same values. Members of the same culture, almost by definition, share values, and effective arguments apeal to those values. Americans, for example, are suckers for arguments based on appeals to individual freedom. We find them very hard to resist. But people in other cultures might not find those arguments so persuasive.
This brief CNBC interview hints at cultures or moral worlds in collision. In the CNBC world, people take the value on making money for granted. When they encounter someone who does not share that value, who is not persuaded by arguments based on it, they act as though threatened by some uncomprehending and dangerous alien, a creature from another world. It is a clash of cultures, a clash of values, and the way we discover those is not by watching what people do (values as guides to action) but by listening to how they justify what they and others do (values as legitimations).
Some sociologists went to the US Open final and posted about it on Facebook. Here’s what they saw. Notice the size of the court.
(Photo by Jenn Lena)
I saw the match too. When I got home from work, I turned on CBS. Here’s what I saw.
On my 40″ flat-screen Samsung, I could see the match as though I were in the box seats, nothing between me and the court. I could see the grimace on a player’s face, the sweat stains on his shirt. I sat on an upholstered chair. And it cost me nothing.
How much was a plastic seat in the top rows of Arthur Ashe Stadium? I don’t know. My grounds pass on Day 3 was $66. Seats for the finals were $95. I have sat up there near the top. The players are colorful miniatures moving around on the green rectangles. The distant perspective allows – forces – you to see the whole court, so you are aware of placement strategies and patterns of movement you might otherwise not have noticed. But tennis isn’t football; strategy, especially in singles, is fairly obvious and not complicated.
From way up there, the players are so far away. It’s as though you were looking at your TV through the wrong end of a telescope. You see the game differently, and you hear it differently. A player hits a solid backcourt shot, and for a noticeable half-second or so, you hear silence. Only when the ball is clearing the net do you hear the impact of the stroke.
Why go out to Flushing Meadow? It’s ridiculous to think about this in the narrow economic framework of money and tennis narrowly defined. My $0 view of the match was far better than that of my FB friends in their expensive seats high above the court. Close that micro-economics book and open Durkheim. Think about the match as ritual. It’s not just about Nadal and Djokovic whacking a fuzzy yellow ball back and forth for a couple of hours. A ritual includes everyone. If you’re there, you are part of that group. You are one with the with the people in the stadium and with the charismatic figures in center court
That’s why, if something is a ritual, being there is so important. Showing up is more than just 80%. It’s everything. If you’re there, you are part of our group. You go to Thanksgiving dinner at Aunt Diane’s house not because the food is good. You might get better food and more enjoyment at home with take-out Chinese and a TV. You go because your presence defines you as a member of the group. Not going is tantamount to saying that you are just not part of this family.
The Final is not just any match. It is the ritual that anoints our king, hence the trophies and pageantry and ritualistic incantations (speeches) after the match. I would guess that most of the people there yesterday would choose even a so-so final over a close, well-played match on an outside court in Round 3. Because this match is so important, it generates more mana. And that energy is created by the crowd. Of course, the crowd’s perception is that it is the players who are creating that special feeling, and it helps if the match on the court is close and well-played. But the same match – every shot exactly the same – played in an early round in a nearly empty stadium would not create that same feeling for the handful of spectators who showed up.
What makes the ticket worth all the money then is not the quality of the play. It is the symbolic meaning of the ritual and the strong feeling you get from being part of that ritual. You were there, with Nadal and Djokovic. That ritual exists in sacred time, linked to other great finals matches. So maybe you save your ticket stub or your program as your link to that sacred past.
I saw the same match, and I had a better view. But I’m not going to save my cable TV bill.
In the late 1990s, I turned down my publisher’s offer to do a third edition of my criminology textbook. It wasn’t just that editions one and two had failed to make me a man of wealth and fame. But it was clear that crime had changed greatly. Rates of murder and robbery had fallen by nearly 50%; property crimes like car theft and burglary were also much lower. Anybody writing an honest and relevant book about crime would have a lot of explaining to do. And that would be a lot of work.
I politely declined the publisher’s offer. They didn’t seem too upset.
If I had undertaken the project, I probably would have relied heavily on the research articles in The Crime Drop in America, edited by Al Blumstein and Joel Wallman. They rounded up the usual suspects – the solid economy, new police strategies, the incarceration boom, the stabilization of drug markets, anti-gun policies. But we all missed something important – lead. Children exposed to high levels of lead in early childhood are more likely to have lower IQs, higher levels of aggression, and lower impulse-control. All those factors point to crime when children reach their teens if not earlier.
Lead had long been suspected as a toxin, and even before World War I many countries acted to ban or reduce lead in paint and gasoline. But the U.S., thanks to the anti-regulatory efforts of the industries and support from anti-regulation, pro-business politicians, did not undertake serious lead reduction until the 1970s.
Kevin Drum at Mother Jones has been writing about lead and crime. Because race differences on both variables are so great, it’s useful to look at Blacks and Whites separately. In the late 1970s, 15% of Black children under age three had dangerously high rates of lead in their blood (30 mcg/dl or higher). Among Whites, that rate was only 2.5%. By 1990, even with a lower criterion level of 25 mcg/dl, those rates had fallen to 1.4% and 0.4%, respectively.
The huge reduction in lead was matched – years later when those children were old enough to commit crimes – with a reduction in crime. (note that the graphs show rates of arrest, which may somewhat exaggerate Black rates of offending):
Much of the research pointing to lead as an important cause of crime looks at geographical areas rather than individuals. A study might compare cities, measuring changes in lead emissions and changes in violent crime 20 years later. But studies that follow individuals have found the same thing. Kids with higher blood levels of lead have higher rates of crime. The lead-crime hypothesis is fairly recent, and the evidence is not conclusive. But my best guess is that further research will confirm the idea that getting the lead out was, and will remain, an important crime-reduction policy.
[A]rrest rates for violent crime have fallen much faster among black juveniles than among white juveniles… black juvenile crime rates fell further than white juvenile crime rates because they had been artificially elevated by lead exposure at a much higher rate.
But that depends on how you intepret the data. As the graphs of arrests show, the percentage reductions are roughly similar across races. Among Black youths, the arrest rates for all violent crime fell from 1600 per 100,000 to less than 700 – a 57% reduction. For Whites the reduction was from 307 to 140 or 54%. But in absolute numbers, because Black rates of criminality were so much higher, the reduction seems all the more impressive. In that sense, those rates “fell further.”
Arrest rates for Blacks are still double those of Whites for property crimes, five times higher for homicide, and nine times higher for robbery. Lead may be a factor in those differences. Remember the lag time between childhood lead exposure and later crime. Twenty years ago, high blood levels of lead among children 1-5 years were three times as high for Blacks as for Whites.
Pink, as we all know, is all about gender – it’s for girls. And sissies.
The University of Iowa… for decades has painted the locker room used by opponents pink to put them “in a passive mood” with a “sissy color,” in the words of a former head football coach, Hayden Fry.
That’s from Frank Bruni’s NY Times op-ed today. But not all cultures link pink to femininity. The Palermo soccer team wears pink uniforms as do other European teams. In the U.S., it was only in the 1950s that pink took on its “boys keep out” message, and even then, a charcoal gray suit was often matched with a pink shirt or necktie. In The Great Gatsby, set in 1922, Nick writes of Gatsby:
His gorgeous pink rag of a suit made a bright spot of color against the white steps, and I thought of the night when I first came to his ancestral home, three months before.
DiCaprio as Gatsby in the recent Baz Luhrman film.
In the previous chapter, Tom Buchanan says that he has been “making a small investigation” of Gatsby’s past.
“And you found he was an Oxford man,” said Jordan helpfully.
“An Oxford man!” He was incredulous. “Like hell he is! He wears a pink suit.”
Gatsby’s choice of suit colors reveals not his sexuality but his class origins. An educated, upper-class gentleman – an Oxford man – would not wear a pink suit. Anna Broadway cites this passage in her Atlantic article and adds,
According to an interview with the costume designer for Baz Luhrmann’s recent film, the color had working-class connotations.
Today, that class connotation is reversed. It’s the preppie type men at the country club who are wearing pink shirts or even, on the golf course, pants. That trend may be reinforced by something entirely fortuitous – a name. The upscale fashion designer Thomas Pink, perhaps because of his name, does not shy away from pink as a color for men’s clothes.
Do you agree that pink still has class connotations? And how do they intersect with the color’s gendered meaning today?
In survey questions, the result you get might depend on the choices you offer.
An article at The Atlanticexplains “Why Americans All Believe They’re Middle Class.” But is that what we all believe? The author, Anat Shenker-Osorio, started with from these figure from a September 2012 Pew report.
Only 8-9% of Americans put themselves in the lower or upper class. The other 91% say that they are “middle class,” some with a modifier (upper or lower), some without. Shenker-Osorio continues:
Researching how people’s unconscious assumptions affect their perception of economic issues, I explored the linguistic dynamics behind the term “middle class,” especially in comparison to other economic groupings.
That would be fine, except that both she and Pew made one huge omission. The Pew survey didn’t include “working class” as an option. Out of sight, out of unconscious assumptions.
Language and Surveys
How big an omission is this? Since 1972, the GSS has asked a similar question to tap “subjective social class” (i.e., what class people think they are regardless of their objective circumstances). But the GSS includes “working” along with the upper, middle, and lower.
Like the Pew survey, the GSS finds less than 10% putting themselves in the upper or lower class. But for the past forty years, the remaining nine-tenths of the population have been evenly split between “working” and “middle.”
Shenker-Osorio’s linguistic analysis runs into other data conflicts. It’s not always easy to know what Americans mean by upper, lower, or middle class because:
Americans are relatively skittish about mentioning class. Contrasting databases of text from U.S. and UK sources, we find that Brits use “upper class” and “lower class” more readily; we prefer “wealthy” and “poor.”
But another database, the books in Google nGrams, shows something much different.
I constructed a ratio of American to British for the terms “upper class” and “lower class.” A ratio of more than 100% means that the term appeared more frequently in American books.
Ratio for “upper class”:
Ratio for “lower class”:
In general, since 1900, US and UK books used these terms at about the same frequency. But from 1955-1965, the US heard a crescendo in class talk. By 1965, US books mentioned the “lower class” four times as often as did UK books. Since then class talk in the US declined as rapidly as it had increased. (For some reason, Shenker-Osorio was unaware of my earlier post on these matters.)
The real US-UK difference is in “working class,” a term that Shenker-Osorio ignores. Since 1935, it has appeared less frequently in US books. For the last 30 years, British books have mentioned the working class twice as often.
Ratio for “working class”:
It may be that the databases Shenker-Osorio used are better than nGrams, and it’s frustrating to find different sources of data pointing in different directions. More important, we still don’t know what people mean when they say they are middle class. Shenker-Osorio sees it as a category of exclusion. The images we have of upper and lower are so extreme as to apply to almost nobody.
Not finding popular depictions of wealth and poverty similar to our own lived experiences, we determine we must be whatever’s left over.
True perhaps, but it tells only what people think middle class is not. I’m not familiar with the research on subjective social class, but it seems that we still don’t know what people think “middle class” actually is. Nor do we know what they have in mind when they say they are working class. I have my own hunches, but I will leave them for a later post.
McDonald’s has distributed a pamphlet showing employees how to make a budget and stick to it. As you can see, the pamphlet is a joint effort by McDonald’s, VISA, and (apparently said with a straight face), Wealth Watchers International. The “key to your financial freedom,” they say, is keeping a budget journal.
Here’s the sample budget McDonald’s uses:
The budget is encouraging, to say the least. With an income of $2060 a month, a 2-earner family can save $100 each month.
But do you notice anything missing? Food, for example. Presumably, that comes out of the $27 a day in spending money. Transportation costs? Car payments are included, but not gasoline or upkeep. On an income of $24,000 a year, will this family have a car that needs no maintenance? And if the two earners have only one car, it’s likely someone will have to take public transportation to work. Oh, wait – maybe they both work at the same McDonald’s. And they never buy clothes.
I’m not sure how McDonald’s employees get health insurance for $20. Or home heating for free.
I compared this budget with those found at the The Economic Policy Institute, which has a “Family Budget Calculator.” You enter the location and the number of adults and children, and it shows the budget for “a secure yet modest living standard.” Since McDonald’s used a 2-earner family, I imagined a family with two adults and one child. Here’s what they would need in San Antonio.
Here’s a northern city, Akron.
Both cities require a monthly income of $4400 for a modest living, more than double what McDonald’s envisions for its employees. The big difference is health care – $1200 a month is a lot more than $20. Then comes transportation ($600 vs. $0). Then there’s the $580 for childcare, an item that is also absent from the McDonald’s budget. (Apparently, workers at Golden Arches are part of that low-fertility problem that some observers in the Wall Street Journal worry about – here for example).
As for daily spending, food alone, at $600, more than wipes out what the McDonald’s budget suggests. Perhaps McDonald’s assumes that the family eats most of their meals on site, taking advantage of the 50% employee discount.
So much for the spending part of the McDonald’s budget. What about the income part? The Glass Door posted these pay ranges for various positions.
Workers might get as little as $6 or even $5 per hour. The average seems closer to $7. Fast food is not covered by federal minimum wage, but let’s use that $7.25 as a default estimate. A forty-hour week, four weeks a month, comes in at $1160 – very close to the $1105 in the McDonald’s sample budget. So that side of the balance sheet is fairly realistic.
That annual income of just under $24,720 is above the official poverty line – $19,530 – but not by all that much. Given the omissions in the expense column, I would think that a family would find it very hard to live on that little. And I doubt they could sock away $100 in savings, no matter how much “journaling” they did.