Should-Read: Matt Bruenig: The Success Sequence Is About Cultural Beefs Not Poverty

Should-Read: Almost every time I read something Matt Bruenig writes on a blog, I come away very impressed: very smart, committed, snarky, insightful, and thinking very differently from me so that I learn about things that, because his values are similar to mine, I really care about:

Matt Bruenig: The Success Sequence Is About Cultural Beefs Not Poverty: “The Success Sequence is back!…

…First endorsed by Isabell Sawhill and Ron Haskins… [now] picked up by Brad Wilcox and Wendy Wang at AEI. George Will also recently mailed in a column… a rewrite of the AEI product…. If you are a long-time observer of the Success Sequence community (like I am), you may have noticed something a little strange…. Each… defines the Success Sequence somewhat differently…. For Sawhill and Haskins… [1] Graduate high school. [2] Get a full-time job. [3] Get married before having children. [4] Wait until at least age 21 to get married. [5] Wait until at least age 21 to have children….

Wilcox and Wang… [1] Graduate high school. [2] Get a full-time job. [3] Get married before having children…. Delay-marriage and delay-parenting… are gone! What happened to them?… Wilcox dropped the delay-marriage and delay-parenting rules because they do not mesh with his particular conservative worldview. His cultural and religious commitments make him uncomfortable advocating for the delay of marriage and childbirth. So he doesn’t. Sawhill and Haskins have no similar compunction…. Many of the rules of the Success Sequence are just the tacked-on cultural preferences of the authors…. The delay rules do not actually cut down poverty because none of the rules provide meaningful poverty reduction after you have applied the full-time work rule. The authors in the Success Sequence community smuggle their cultural views into the anti-poverty debate by embedding them into a sequence with full-time work, which drives nearly all of the low-poverty outcomes that they find….

Trying to promote your cultural views as the panacea to poverty is a smart strategic move. It brings attention to your cause…. Just look at the education reform folks…. But one does have to wonder how a teenager reading this literature will be able to figure out which set of competing cultural preferences swirling around in the Success Sequence community constitutes the One True Success Sequence….

Work Does All of the Work…. Despite what the Success Sequence says, marriage does not help you except insofar as marrying adds another full-time worker to the family…. A high school degree does not do much for you either…

But every time I read a sequence of Matt Bruenig’s tweets—well, I end up blocking him before I tweet back something I would regret…


Brad DeLong
Connect with us!

Explore the Equitable Growth network of experts around the country and get answers to today's most pressing questions!

Get in Touch