Mom’s in the kitchen, all’s right with the world

Economist Paul Krugman’s vision of Paradise lost is the middle-class suburb where he grew up in the ’50s and early ’60s, notes a New York Times Magazine profile.

“All the mothers waiting to pick up the fathers at the train station in the evening,” he says, remembering. “You were in an area where there were a lot of quiet streets, and it was possible to take bike rides all over Long Island. We used to ride up to Sagamore Hill, the old Teddy Roosevelt estate.”

If service workers were unionized, Krugman says, we might return to that broad prosperity.

Jim Manzi, who grew up in a small town a few years later than Krugman, recalls the “almost unbearable sweetness of this kind of American childhood.”

The safety and freedom that Krugman describe are rare now even for the wealthiest Americans – by age 9, I would typically leave the house on a Saturday morning on my bike, tell my parents I was “going out to play,” and not return until dinner; at age 10, would go down to the ocean to swim with friends without supervision all day; and at age 11 would play flashlight tag across dozens of yards for hours after dark. And the sense of equality was real, too. Some people definitely had bigger houses and more things than others, but our lives were remarkably similar. We all went to the same schools together, played on the same teams together, and watched the same TV shows.

Krugman sees that exceptional moment in time “as primarily the product of policies like unionization, entitlements and high taxes,” writes Manzi, who sees it as the product of lucky circumstance.

Megan McArdle, who’s younger and grew up in Manhattan, sees something else: In the Good Old Days, mothers are home.

Families only need one car because Mom, who doesn’t herself work, is available to drive Dad to work every morning before she heads to the grocery store. And the kids can play unsupervised because, of course, in this neighborhood–in all neighborhoods–there is a network of constantly watching eyes. Meanwhile, the poor people and minorities are somewhere comfortably distant . . .

“The income gains of the 1950s and 1960s were real,” she writes. But the suburbs Manzi and Krugman remember were  “completely dependent on other forms of inequality: of the ability to move away from social problems, which is harder now; of generations of women whose sole destiny was the kitchen”

Steve Sailer’s Pussycat Mother had plenty of time for volunteer work, he responds. Middle-class parents could afford a home on one salary in the idyllic San Fernando Valley. There was no need to pay private-school tuition, no reason for Mom to chauffeur the kids to “high-end after-school resume fillers” so they can get into top colleges. Sailer got into UCLA without all that.

Biking all over town, playing on our own, cutting across the neighbors’ yards to get to the park, wives picking up husbands at the train station in the evening, Mom at home, except when volunteering . . . Me too.

About Joanne