Dignity Beside Despair
By Amy Willis
Do you avoid certain neighborhoods deemed “unsafe?” What exactly gives them that reputation? And what might you find if you did not avoid a stroll through these places?
That’s exactly what Chris Arnade, a former small town guy turned Wall Street trader, set out to do. He started in such neighborhoods in his New York home, and then took an epic road trip to better understand life in aAmerica in the “back row.” His experience turned into his new book, Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America, also the subject of this week’s EconTalk episode.
What was the most interesting thing you heard in this week’s episode? Has this conversation prompted you to broaden your walking horizon? And below we offer some more questions for further thought and discussion. So sit back, relax, and enjoy more conversation.
1- What does Arnade mean by delineating Americans into a front row versus a back row? What is “the credential machine” to which he refers, and what role does it play in this demarcation? To what extent do you believe Arnade’s analogy of a narrow path to be true?
2- Roberts offers what he describes as both a negative and a positive view of Arnade’s book. On what margins do these two views differ? To what extent can they both be true?
3- Can you discard the emphasis on economic growth and still be unabashedly free market? What are the “human reasons” for which we should want economic growth? For which we should not?
4- Arnade says he argues in favor of certain policies (universal health care, for example) not because they are economically right, but because they are morally right. He says, “I think the problem is that we’ve put the market at the center of everything. And, when you do that, that ends up eroding those norms we’ve talked about.” How does Roberts push back on this? To what extent is it a mistake to look for policy solutions to these kinds of problems? Where should we look for solutions?
5- Is there anything inherently destructive about markets? How exactly do Roberts and Arnade differ on this question? With whom do you find yourself more in agreement with, and why?