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ALARMS AND DIVERSIONS FOR THE THINKING PERSON

Forum File

Saturday, November 2, 2013 - 12:01 am

The reading list

“Who dreams of being average? Americans define personal success in different ways, but certainly no one strives for mediocrity. The children of Lake Wobegon, after all, were 'all above average.'

“Perhaps this explains why some reviewers have understood the glum predictions of Tyler Cowen's 'Average Is Over' – that shifts in the labor market will cause the middle class to dwindle – as heralds of the death of the American Dream. This understanding misses the real thrust of Cowen's book.

“Everyone has their own notions of what constitutes the American Dream, but when writer and historian James Truslow Adams coined the phrase in the 1930s, he wrote that in America 'life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.' Cowen's vision of our future actually reinforces this idea.

“This claim might seem strange at first glance for a book that delves into the perpetually gloomy subject of economic inequality. But the takeaways from Cowen's work are, at least marginally, more optimistic than most people would expect. While Cowen foresees an America with more polarizing income inequality, the country won't be entirely in the grip of the forces we have grown used to. In the past, income inequality was largely driven by differences in social status. In the future, Cowen argues, society will become more meritocratic: ability will be to an even greater extent the primary driver of labor market success.”

– From “Average Is Over, but the American Dream Lives on” at the-american-interest.com

A quiz

You probably know June is the most popular month for weddings in the United States. What's second?

Wisdom of the ages

“A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.” – Walter Winchell

Current wisdom

“That's a hardy perennial.” – National Intelligence Director James Clapper on how America and its foreign allies both spy on each other.

Quiz answer

August.

Snob words

crepuscule (kri-PUHS-kyool), n. – twilight; dusk, as in: “The council meeting started in the crepuscule but then dragged on toward midnight, causing the editorial write to nod off.”

Today in history

On this date in 1783, Gen. George Washington bid farewell to his army; didn't exactly fade away, did he? In 1889, North and South Dakota became the 39th and 40th states; nyah, nyah, nyah, Indiana became the 19th state, way back on Dec. 11, 1816.

Now you know

President Grover Cleveland (1837-1908) is the only president to be elected to two nonconsecutive terms. He was the 22nd and 24th president.