Jonathan Chait

The Unmooring Of David Frum

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David Frum, the former Bush speechwriter, started his career as apostate Republican primarily arguing that the party needed to move to the center on strategic grounds. But now he's starting to say some really ideologically heterodox things:

America suffers much more child poverty than do comparably wealthy countries – Germany, France, Canada, etc. – for two main reasons:

* Our much higher levels of immigration and especially unskilled immigration, which continually add to the population of poor in this country.

* Our much lower levels of social spending, which mean that poor families receive far less social support than do poor families in other countries.

Frum goes on to note that conservatives tend to defend inequality by citing America's high levels of perceived social mobility. (He quotes Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru, who write, "America remains a fluid society, with more than half of people in the bottom quintile pulling themselves out of it within a decade.") Frum counters by noting that, in fact, American society is not very mobile:

Frum concludes:

This is not an argument in favor of the European way of doing things. I agree with Lowry and Ponnuru – and Charles Murray too – that American freedom and individualism are important national values to be celebrated and defended.

But let’s not flatter ourselves: Those values exact a social cost – and they would be easier to defend if the cost were less high. And the fact that this cost is not being paid by my children or (probably) yours does not make the cost less real to the one-third of America whose children do pay it.

These kinds of arguments and data points are not really new to liberal wonks. But it's pretty amazing to see a conservative (or at least putatively conservative) writer acknowledge and grapple with them.

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