Jonah Goldberg

"If it's shameful that we have bloated corpses on New Orleans streets," he intones, "it's even more disgraceful that the infant mortality rate in America's capital is twice as high as in China's capital."

Let's have no more of this nonsense. First, China requires parents to abort their "extra" children (the quota being reached at one). Perhaps that has something to do with the extra care Beijing's parents put into child-raising. Second, China is a very different place. The poor of Beijing are indisputably poorer than the poor of Washington, and yet they take their children to get immunized.

And this raises the larger point: Cultural factors are enormously important. For example, the U.S. vaccination rate for toddlers in 2003 was only seven points higher for those above the poverty line than it was for those below it. Whatever that says about America, it says more about culture than it does about class.

More to the point, since the days of the Great Society, the U.S. Government has thrown literally trillions of dollars at the poor. It undoubtedly helped some and it indisputably hurt others.

The people it hurt most are poor blacks, helping to erode social and family bonds. We are told, for example, that out-of-wedlock births are a uniform cultural phenomenon these days. This is simply a lie. Seventy percent of blacks are born out of wedlock, most of them poor. Murphy Brown notwithstanding, upper-income women overwhelmingly wait to get married before they have their kids. Nothing is a better predictor of a child's success in life than if he comes from a stable, two-parent family. It doesn't matter if they're rich or poor. The problem, as the University of Pennsylvania's Amy L. Wax recently noted in the Wall Street Journal, is that there's a shortage of poor black men willing to take on the serious responsibilities of marriage and parenthood. Of course, many are. But nowhere near enough of them.

Of course, welfare policies that encouraged family breakdown are not the only villain. We've witnessed a profound cultural transformation over the last 40 years, in which social and personal customs have been rewritten. In some case the increase in personal liberty has been welcome. In other cases it came at an enormous cost for those without the resources to cope when the bill for risky behavior comes due.

If we must have this "conversation" again. Let's start there.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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