From Patriarchy to Kindergarchy

Joseph Epstein has a characteristically persnickety and insightful essay in the Weekly Standard on the “Rise of the Kindergarchy:”

In America we are currently living in a Kindergarchy, under rule by children. . . . For the past 30 years at least, we have been lavishing vast expense and anxiety on our children in ways that are unprecedented in American and in perhaps any other national life.

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When Lyndon Johnson began the War on Poverty in 1965, its most popular . . . program was Headstart, which provided the children of the poor with preschooling, so that they would catch up with the children of the middle class by the time all began kindergarten at the age of five. But the middle class soon set in motion a headstart program of its own, sending its children to nursery and preschools as early as is physiologically possible.

Where one’s child goes to school, how well he does in school, which schools give him the best shot at even better schools later on–these are all matters of the most intense concern. Under Kindergarchy, no effort on behalf of one’s children’s schooling is too extensive, no expense too great, no sacrifice in time and energy on the part of parents too exacting.

Epstein gives many reasons for the rise of the kindergarchy, but overlooks a pretty obvious one: rising inequality, both in schools and incomes. As Republicans Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam have noted, recent economic policies appear designed to bring America closer to the income distribution of Latin America–where financial missteps can have a lot more serious consequences than, say, Scandinavia. For less familial angst, we might want to take a look at the policies of Finland, where “even the best universities don’t have the elite status of a Harvard,” and failure to find a good job doesn’t bring with it a chance of spiralling into lack of health and dental care.

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