I posted a report on David Cameron’s child wellbeing speech on Friday
morning and still hope to write an analysis of it in the next few
days.  It appears to be a very significant speech with many positive ingredients (excepting the too heavy implication of a contradiction between capitalism and community strength) and
if he is serious about its content then it’s a hugely important
statement of the future direction of his Conservatism.  As I was
reading Mr Cameron’s speech (which, to me, seems to be saturated with the thinking of
his speechwriter Danny Kruger) I also kept thinking of New York Times
columnist David Brooks.  Listed below are some key extracts of Mr
Brooks’ writing from the last year.  If we’re trying to identify a key
guru for Mr Cameron I nominate Mr Brooks…

The protective state: “For a hundred years we debated the economic reach of the state, but that debate’s basically done. The next one will be over where the state should erect guardrails in a mobile and fragmented world.” (14/5/06)

Culture is the leading factor in fighting poverty: “In the current issue of The American Prospect, Garance Franke-Ruta also notes the interplay between values and economic issues. ”Traditional values have become aspirational,” she writes. ”Lower-income individuals simply live in a much more disrupted society, with higher divorce rates, more single moms, more abortions, and more interpersonal and interfamily strife, than do the middle- and upper-middle-class people they want to be like…” If you are a middle-class woman, you have more to fear from divorce than from outsourcing. If you have a daughter, you’re right to worry more about her having a child before marriage than about her being a victim of globalization. This country’s prosperity is threatened more by homes where no one reads to children than it is by big pharmaceutical companies.” (26/1/06)

Beat inequality with love: “The people who do well not only possess skills that can be measured on tests, they have self-discipline (which is twice as important as I.Q. in predicting academic achievement, according to a study by Angela Duckworth and Martin Seligman). They conceive of their lives as following a script, progressing upward through stages. They benefit from inherited cultural traits.  Some economists believe we should reduce inequality by restructuring the economy — raising taxes on the rich and redistributing money to the poor. That’s fine, but it won’t get you very far. In Britain, Gordon Brown has redistributed large amounts of money from rich to poor regions, but regional inequality has increased faster under the current government than under Margaret Thatcher.  Income inequality is driven by human capital inequality, and human capital can’t be taxed and redistributed. You have to build it at the bottom to ensure maximum fairness…. If there’s one thing that leaps out of all the brain literature, it is that, as Daniel J. Siegel puts it, ”emotion serves as a central organizing process within the brain.” Kids learn from people they love. If we want young people to develop the social and self-regulating skills they need to thrive, we need to establish stable long-term relationships between love-hungry children and love-providing adults.  That’s why I’m grappling with these books on psychology and brain function. I started out on this wonk odyssey in the company of economic data, but the closer you get to the core issue, the further you venture into the primitive realm of love.” (25/5/06)

Economics is no longer the queen of the social sciences: “At home, we spend more money on education than any other nation. We have undertaken a million experiments to restructure schools and bureaucracies. But students who lack cultural and social capital because they did not come from intact, organized families continue to fall further and further behind — unless they come into contact with some great mentor who can not only teach, but also change values and behavior. It all amounts to this: Events have forced different questions on us. If the big contest of the 20th century was between planned and free market economies, the big questions of the next century will be understanding how cultures change and can be changed, how social and cultural capital can be nurtured and developed, how destructive cultural conflict can be turned to healthy cultural competition.” (19/2/06)

Social progress is possible: “The first thing that has happened is that people have stopped believing in stupid ideas: that the traditional family is obsolete, that drugs are liberating, that it is every adolescent’s social duty to be a rebel.  The second thing that has happened is that many Americans have become better parents. Time diary studies reveal that parents now spend more time actively engaged with kids, even though both parents are more likely to work outside the home.  Third, many people in the younger generation, under age 30 or so, are reacting against the culture of divorce. They are trying to lead lives that are more stable than the ones their parents led. Post-boomers behave better than the baby boomers did.  Fourth, over the past few decades, neighborhood and charitable groups have emerged to help people lead more organized lives, even in the absence of cohesive families.” (7/8/06)