3-D Living

How are we to construct a society so that anyone, no matter what his gifts, can reach the age of 70, look back on his life, and be able to say it has been a happy life, filled with deep and justified satisfactions?


To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country, and to mankind.
—Edmund Burke

I have a favorite delicatessen up the street. The prices sometimes aren't the best I could find, but I like the place for many little reasons. I can joke with the people behind the counter. They recognize my children when they come in. They let me buy a sandwich on credit when I have forgotten my wallet. And the food's pretty good. If once in a while my expectations are not met, I do not immediately start considering other options. If they were consistently not met, then sooner or later I would drift off. Technically, what I am doing could be construed and analyzed as a series of market decisions about where to shop. But in reality, the formation and sustenance of my affiliation with the delicatessen is much closer in its characteristics to the way that friendships form and are sustained.

The affiliation involving the delicatessen is one of many that constitute my larger affiliation with a neighborhood, which in turn is one component of the affiliations that constitute my still larger affiliation with a community. We each belong to a few such "little platoons." The great joys and sorrows, satisfactions and preoccupations, of our daily life are defined in terms of them. In a properly constructed society, people must have access to material resources, safety, self-respect, and intrinsic rewards. But the little platoons of work, family, and community are the nexus within which these conditions are worked out and through which the satisfactions that happiness represents are obtained. That being the case, "good" social policy can be defined only after we have answered the questions: How do little platoons form? How are they sustained? What makes them nourishing?

Trivial as it is in itself, my affiliation with the deli serves to illustrate a feature of affiliations that has tended to be lost in often-romanticized rhetoric about people "relating" to other people. People affiliate with other people because of something about them—in this case, the qualities of being friendly, helpful, and amusing.

It may seem a distinction too obvious to mention, but it is essential to understanding why little platoons are rewarding or unrewarding, why they sustain themselves or fall apart: Affiliation is a means whereby people of common values are enabled to live by those values. "Values" in this case means your views about how the world works or ought to work, ranging from religion to childrearing to politics to table manners to standards of public civility.

The reason why affiliation is so intimately linked to values is that, to have much use—or, in fact, to be truly held—values must be acted on. This can seldom happen in isolation. Unless most of your neighbors believe in calling the police when something suspicious is happening, you are not going to be able to practice community crime control. Unless most of your neighbors also believe that stealing is wrong and that sex for 14-year-olds is bad, you are going to have a tough time making your norms stick with your own children. If you conduct your business on the assumption that one's word is one's bond, you're going to go broke unless the other businessmen you deal with operate by the same principle. In other words, to live according to many of your most important beliefs, it is essential that you be free to affiliate with fellow believers and that, together, you enjoy some control over that environment.

In the everyday world, some affiliations work much better than others. Some marriages are much richer affiliations than others, some neighborhoods are much more closely knit than others, and so on. Even a commonality of beliefs is obviously not enough—some local churches are much more vital than others. The question therefore becomes not only how affiliation occurs, but how it becomes infused with satisfying content.

Consider that the satisfaction one takes from any activity is a complicated product of the degree of effort one puts into it, the degree of responsibility one has for the outcome, and the function it serves. The importance of effort is perhaps self-evident—try to think of something from which you take great satisfaction (not just momentary pleasure) that involved no effort on your part. To achieve satisfaction, there must also be an element of "It was because of me!" in the accomplishment; effort alone is not enough. Finally, the degree of satisfaction depends on the function being served: generally speaking, spending a great deal of effort and assuming great responsibility on a trivial function is not as satisfying as spending the same amount of effort and assuming equally great responsibility on a profound function.

The same conditions that shape individual satisfactions apply to the satisfactions gained from affiliations. The affiliations that make up a community are much different if they are formed by dinner parties and encounters at the supermarket than if they are formed by barn raisings and fighting off the locusts. Or to put it in terms of the little platoons through which we work out the pursuit of happiness: to exist and to be vital, little platoons must have something to do.

Let me now begin to put these considerations alongside the problem of making good social policy. The proposition is that the importance of affiliation—of rich affiliations, imbued with responsibility and effort, used as a way of living according to one's beliefs—transcends discrete social goods. Much of what we observe as rootlessness, emptiness, and plain unhappiness in contemporary life may ultimately be traced to the many ways, occasionally blatant, more often indirect and subtle, in which social policy has excised the option of taking responsibility, the need to make an effort, or both—the ways in which social policy has, in a phrase, taken the trouble out of things.

"Taking the trouble out of things" is the theme song of modernity. The very process of technological progress may be seen as an unending attempt to do so. Certainly "taking the trouble out of things" has driven the consumer economy. Such changes are, by and large, welcome. People naturally try to make life better, and "better" not unnaturally has tended to be identified with "easier."

Most changes in social policy over the last half century may be viewed as having served the same function. Social Security took some of the trouble out of preparing for retirement. Unemployment insurance took some of the trouble out of being unemployed. Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) took some of the trouble out of having a baby without a father. Alterations in the bankruptcy laws took some of the trouble out of failing at business. In every instance in which "taking the trouble out of things" works, however, there is a corresponding diminution in the potential satisfaction that might be obtained from the activity that has been affected. To be employed is not quite as satisfying if being unemployed doesn't cause hardship. To be a businessman who scrupulously pays his bills is not quite as satisfying if not-paying-bills is made less painful.

Of course, for any given reform, some enrichment of satisfactions occurred further down the line. The United States has always avoided truly Draconian penalties for bankruptcy, to enable people to make a fresh start—certainly a plus in enabling people to pursue happiness.

Social Security makes it possible for large numbers of people who otherwise would be destitute to have enough material resources to pursue happiness in their old age. The actual net of each trade-off has to be calculated on its merits.

The problem is not deciding whether good social policy ever means taking the trouble out of things, but rather finding where to stop. Almost everyone thinks it is good that the police take the trouble out of catching burglars. A large majority of Americans seem to be content with the more extensive transfer of burdens that has occurred, and the psychological reason is no more complicated than the reason why any of us, given a choice, will often take the easy way out even when we know that we will derive more satisfaction from the more troublesome choice. It is the all-too-familiar problem of knowing that one "will have enjoyed" doing something (reading a fine novel) but lacking the will to get started on it (therefore picking up a magazine instead). This is not reprehensible, but it does raise two important points.

The first is that the process cannot ultimately be a healthy one. Taking the trouble out of things must eventually go too far. Somehow the mixture of things with which we fill up our time must give us long-term satisfaction with life as a whole. And satisfaction depends crucially on being left important things over which we take trouble.

The second observation is that we cannot expect legislatures to define a stopping point. If the decisions about what government may not do on our behalf is left to a majority vote of elected representatives, logrolling and shifting coalitions will mean a perpetually expanding domain of benefits.

So the problem is set. Somehow the mix of somethings with which we fill up our time must give us happiness. And happiness depends crucially on taking trouble over things that matter. There must be a stopping point, some rule by which governments limit what they do for people—not just because of budget constraints, not just because of infringements on freedom (though either of these might be a sufficient reason in itself), but because happiness is impossible unless people are left alone to take trouble over important things.

The current stopping point for social welfare policy is supposed to be based on who is helped—the rationale of the safety net. (In reality, a very large proportion of income transfers violates the rationale of the safety net, but it nonetheless pervades the debate and is treated as if it were a self-limiting stopping point.) The underlying premise—the central government should act to help those who need help—is accepted by mainstream conservatives and liberals alike. Their differences lie in definitions of who needs help and what constitutes an appropriate level of help.

The alternative is to establish the stopping point according to functions. Curiously, those out of the political mainstream—libertarians and democratic socialists, for example—share this principle in common. Their differences lie in the lists of functions that are forbidden to government. Democratic socialists see the government as the provider of basic services, setting aside a few areas of noneconomic personal behavior as areas in which government may not intrude. Libertarians want a government forbidden from all except the most limited functions (national defense and the police function being the main ones).

For purposes of discussion here, I propose a loosely stated stopping point: "Functions that people as individuals and as communities are able to carry out on their own should be left to them to do as individuals and communities." That the government thinks it could do a better job is not a sufficient justification for intervention.

Why, in a nation with the wealth of the United States, would there not be enough people to attend naturally and fully to the functions of community?

The answer I am proposing is indicated by the image in the phrase "the tendrils of community." To occur in the first place, then to develop, certain kinds of affiliations must have something to attach themselves to. Communities exist because they have a reason to exist, some core of functions around which the affiliations that constitute a vital community can form and grow. When the government takes away a core function, it depletes not only the source of vitality pertaining to that particular function, but also the vitality of a much larger family of responses. By hiring professional social workers to care for those most in need, it cuts off nourishment to secondary and tertiary behaviors that have nothing to do with formal social work.

An illustration: In the logic of the social engineer, there is no causal connection between such apparently disparate events as (1) the establishment of a welfare bureaucracy and (2) the reduced likelihood (after some years) that, when someone dies, a neighbor prepares a casserole for the bereaved family's dinner. In the logic I am using, there is a causal connection, and one of great importance.

I am arguing ultimately from two premises. One is straight from Aristotle, that the practice of a virtue has the characteristics of a habit and of a skill. People may be born with the capacity of being generous, but become generous only by practicing generosity. People have the capacity for honesty, but become honest only by practicing honesty. The second, for which I do not have a specific source, is that people tend not to do a chore when someone else will do it for them. At the micro-level, the dialogue between the government and the citizen goes roughly like this:

"Do you want to go out and feed the hungry or are you going to sit here and watch television?"

"I'm tired. What'll happen if I don't go?"

"Well, if you don't go I guess I'll have to do it myself."

"In that case, you go."

This response shows up in the aggregate, as well. The causal relationship—government spending crowds out private philanthropy—has been demonstrated in a number of technical analyses. The causal explanation needn't be much more complicated than the private dialogue ("What'll happen if I don't do it?") played out on a national scale.

It seems to be inevitable. If the message is that if people don't do these things themselves then the state will hire people to do these things for them, that knowledge affects behavior. You may once again use yourself as a source of evidence. Suppose, for example, that tomorrow you were told that every bit of government assistance to poor people—federal, state, and municipal—in your neighborhood had ended. If you are a physician, would this have any effect on your availability for pro bono services? If you are a member of a church board, would it have any effect on the agenda items for next week's meeting? If you are an unconnected member of the community, would you give any thought to what you might do to pick up needs that the government had so callously dropped? If you already do volunteer work, would you increase your efforts?

If you would be likely to function more actively as a member of your community under such circumstances, the puzzle to ponder is this: It is very probable that such activities will provide you with satisfactions. You can be fairly confident of this—so why is it that you are not behaving in the same way now that you would behave if the government stopped performing these functions?

The correct answer is that "it just wouldn't be the same." If a child in the neighborhood will not be fed unless the neighborhood church feeds it, the church will feed that child. But if the church is merely a distribution point, if it is simply a choice of whether the church feeds the child or a Generous Outside Agency does it, the urgency is gone, and so is some of the response by the church members. And so is some of the vitality of that church.

None of this is meant to ignore the voluntary and philanthropic programs that exist; rather, I am suggesting that what we observe is the tip of what would exist otherwise, the behavior of a comparative few who are highly motivated. Nor am I at this particular moment making a case for the best way to feed hungry children. The welfare of the fed child is not the issue here; the issue is the vitality of the church as a community institution. The church will be a satisfying institution of community life (not just religious life) to the extent that the members have something important to do; that institutional role will atrophy to the extent that it does not. Similarly for schools, clubs, chambers of commerce, and any other local institution.

So I am proposing that there is nothing mysterious about why people become atomized in modern urban settings. Individuals are drawn to community affiliations and attach themselves to them in direct proportion to the functional value of those organizations. As they do so, the aggregate intangible called "community" itself takes on a life and values that are greater than the sum of the parts. Take away the functions, and you take away the community.

But, one could ask, so what? Let us imagine an antagonist who has read faithfully to this point, and says:

"It is still not clear to me that we need any major reforms. I, for one, have a career that I enjoy. It both challenges me and interests me. (Or: I do not have such a career, but nothing in social policy is preventing me from trying to find one.) I am deeply engaged in trying to be a good husband and father. (Or: I don't have a good marriage, or I have no marriage, but again, that's not the fault of social policy.) All the enabling conditions for the pursuit of happiness have been met for me—material resources, safety, self-respect, intrinsic rewards, friendships and intimate relationships with a few selected people.

"For me, there is nothing broke that needs fixing. I am, at this moment, under this system, living in very nearly the best of all possible worlds. Whatever the 'stopping point' for government must be, the government has so far not infringed upon it. On the contrary, I am quite busy enough already, and I prefer not to have to worry about all the things that contemporary social policy so conveniently takes care of for me. I want the poor and disadvantaged to be looked after and I am glad to pay taxes so that someone else will see that such things get done. It is precisely to escape from the demands of the old-fashioned community that I have moved to a housing division zoned in two-acre lots."

In thinking about the position of this imaginary antagonist, I shift between two different responses. The first is to assume that he is right: he is living in the best of all possible worlds, for him. But such a world is not best for everyone, because of what I will call the problem of the upside-down pyramid.

Privilege, like poverty, is often first imagined in terms of money. The distribution of the population in terms of privilege is symbolically imagined as a pyramid with a broad base of ordinary folk at the bottom and then successively narrower strata of more privileged people at the higher levels.

But it doesn't take much thought to realize how little money has to do with leading a privileged life. Money buys access to things and possibilities but not to the capacity to enjoy them. In that sense, the privileged are not those with the most money but those with other gifts—natural abilities, curiosity and interest, realized through education—and enough money (which is not necessarily a lot) to exercise them.

Conceived in this way, the more privileged you are, the more options you have for pursuing happiness. You also have latitude for "wastage." It is possible that you would have found great satisfaction in becoming an engineer, but no matter. You fell in love with biology in college and ended up being a biologist, in which you also find great satisfaction. And if it hadn't been engineering or biology, it could have been one of the many other satisfying vocations that your level of cognitive skills would have permitted you to follow.

Now, suppose that you have no gifts. You are not particularly smart, nor especially well-coordinated, nor musical. You are not beautiful or witty or charismatic. How, in the best of all possible worlds, will it come to pass that you reach the end of your life happy? It is not a rhetorical question. I begin from the assumption that in a good society, everyone may pursue happiness, not just the smart or the rich or the gifted. But the pyramid of options for achieving happiness narrows rapidly as gifts narrow, and the people at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder are often not only the poorest people and the least educated, but also those with the fewest options for achieving happiness. Whence the upside-down pyramid. (I had better say explicitly what should be obvious: The socioeconomic relationship is a statistical tendency. Money and social status have very little inherent causal role. Usually, however, people with greater gifts do better economically.)

So how are we to construct society so that anyone, no matter what his gifts, can reach the age of 70, look back on his life, and be able to say it has been a happy life, filled with deep and justified satisfactions? The answer is that, no matter what his gifts, he will in a properly run society be able to say things such as, "I was a good parent to my children," "I was a good neighbor," "I always pulled my own weight," and that he lived among people who respected those achievements.

These are excellent things to be able to say of a life. They are probably the best there are. The point of the upside-down pyramid is that, for many people, these are the only options. There is no possibility of having been famous to offset having been a poor parent, no consolation of an absorbing career to compensate for having had too few friends. So then we are forced to this question: If we assume a man of no special skills, under what circumstances will society enable him to achieve these goals? And the answer centers on one particular little platoon of immense importance, the immediate physical neighborhood in which he lives.

This is not a bad thing, but it is to some extent a necessary thing. Consider the situation of two men, one a successful surgeon and the other a man who works hard at a low-skill, low-responsibility job—a baggage handler, let's say.

The surgeon's world of affiliations (as the lawyer's or businessman's) may consist of many little islands: old school friends, fishing friends, doctor friends; professional affiliations at the clinic and the hospital; memberships in clubs and fashionable charities; season tickets for whatever is locally chic. His world doesn't have to include all of these islands, but it may if he so wishes. He has options. One of the reasons the surgeon buys the house with the two-acre lot is to have a refuge, to get away from the demands of the geographic community.

The surgeon's wider world also offers him protections against onslaughts on his self-esteem. He can be a failure at home, he can be inactive in his geographic community, and still see himself as "measuring up" in terms of his contribution to society.

For the baggage handler, the immediate geographic community is much more his entire world. His friends are likely to come from the neighborhood, not across town, from a bar down the street, not the country club five miles away. A night out is likely to be at a local movie theater, not the Civic Arts Center. Equally importantly, the baggage handler's sense of who he is, both his self-respect and self-esteem, are rooted much more deeply in the immediate neighborhood than are the self-esteem and self-respect of the surgeon. No underlings scurry to assist him. No patients tell him how wonderful he is. If he gets respect, it is primarily from his family and neighbors. If he is appreciated, it is primarily by his family and neighbors.

And where are his satisfactions to come from? What are going to be for him the activities serving important functions for which he has responsibility? He is not going to save a life or develop a new procedure for arterial bypass or "exercise his realized capacities" in any other way that depends on unusual personal assets. What remains to him, however, is the one resource that he can contribute and that will be highly valued, if the circumstances are right. He can be a good neighbor.

He can help feed the hungry. He can comfort the bereaved. He can be a source of support to people who are having a hard time, just as they can help him. And in these most important of all possible "things to take trouble over," he can do as well as anyone. The socioeconomically advantaged people in my hierarchical view have more options, but they do not have better ones for achieving happiness.

If it is true that the little platoon constituting the immediate geographic neighborhood is extremely important to the lives of many people—probably most—and if there are few other alternatives, especially to those at the bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid, then it becomes extremely important that a neighborhood can become a functioning little platoon that provides such sources of satisfaction. Social policy must be designed to leave the functions of community in the community. Or to bring the question back to my antagonist who prefers to pay other people to take care of such things for him: I concede his right to set up a system in which he pays other people to do these things, but that does not mean it is appropriate to run the whole country that way.

Having worked through that argument, however, it must also be acknowledged that my imaginary antagonist has an excellent response. He says:

"You are really playing Lady Bountiful in reverse. The government has the responsibility for taking care of all sorts of human needs, but you say that such a system impedes others from pursuing happiness. If that's the case, why don't you go out and find some of these people at the bottom of your upside-down pyramid who agree with you? You will fail to come close to a majority. Most people on the lower levels of the pyramid don't want fewer benefits; they want more. They don't want government to leave their communities on their own; they want more things done for them. Ultimately, isn't the argument of the upside-down pyramid just another instance of trying to tell other people what's good for them?"

My answer is: yes and no. If the country is to be run by a sequence of national legislative decisions in which a majority may pass any law it pleases, then yes. Put it to an up-and-down vote, and a majority of people given the chance to get something from the government will take that chance more often than not, and over time the result will be similar to the process we have witnessed in modern Western democracies—indeed, in every democracy everywhere, throughout history.

But on another level I am arguing for a world in which no one is at the mercy of strangers' opinions about how he should live, neither mine nor anyone else's. I am arguing for a system in which we stop making ad hoc judgments about what other people "really" need, and obliging those others to live by them. I am arguing that we must try to step outside the exigencies of day-to-day politics and lay down a way of running society that will protect us from ourselves, and from each other, in years to come.

My second response to my imaginary antagonist is to argue that he is wrong. He doesn't know what he is missing. He wants the government to take the trouble out of the community functions I have described, so that he can concentrate on the other little platoons through which he pursues happiness—work and family. But, I argue, he is ignoring the reverberations that a vital community has for the things that he does value in his life. Take, as an example, the little platoon known as the family.

Marriage, like other affiliations, acquires content over time. One extremely important source of mutual respect, reliance, and trust involves the way that the married couple interact with the people around them. To gain the respect of a virtuous spouse, one must act virtuously, and to practice the habit of virtue requires an environment in which one has opportunities. A community with functions to fulfill provides an extremely important venue for practicing virtue. It is a stage upon which the partners in a marriage may reveal themselves to each other. It also provides a marriage with the room it needs to flourish: Husbands and wives who are everything to each other are in peril of one day being not nearly enough. Yet if their "communities" are entirely separate ones, they are likely to be pulled apart.

The same dynamics impinge on another of the central functions of marriage, the "passing on" of values from parent to child. Suppose, for example, that you want to pass on to your children the virtue of compassion. How does one bequeath a habit of helping others, of giving, of generosity, if this is not part of one's own life? Once again, the activities immediately surrounding the home—the function of the community—provide raw material. It is not necessary that the parent be engaged in every possible community activity. On the contrary, most of what is involved in being a "good neighbor" as I am using the term does not involve organized activity at all. It seems necessary, however, that there be an environment in which the child observes these things happening, knows people who are engaged in them, and comes to understand the concept of social obligation by observing people living according to that concept. Watching parents support compassionate politicians just isn't the same.

These comments apply as well to parents who prefer to pay other people to perform the functions of community. If such parents are engaged in directly paying other people in the community—supporting local institutions—they at least must do such things as choose whom they will pay and how much. And even these actions provide a richer basis for instruction than signing a 1040 Form and then trying to explain compassion to the child in the abstract.

The interconnections linking functioning communities with functioning families go far beyond these. Consider the less obvious example involving a single woman without a job, without education, without the support of a male, and with children to raise. She is receiving assistance. How is that assistance to be given so that it provides the woman and her children alike their best chance to live satisfying lives?

One answer is: in whatever way gives her the best chance to become self-determining and self-respecting by becoming economically self-sufficient. But that does not happen naturally no matter how much material support is provided during the process. To move from dependence to precarious independence to secure independence is an intimidating and exhausting experience, and there has to be a reason to do it. Functioning communities can provide that reason, both in the form of encouragement, holding out to the woman the prospect of something-worth-having (full-fledged membership in a community she wants to be a part of), and in the form of prodding, holding up to the woman the reasons why failing to become self-sufficient is a drain on the community. And when the assistance itself is being provided by people in the locality, the pressures on her to become a self-determining, self-respecting person are going to be much greater than if the money comes from a bureaucracy.

But in some ways the more provocative case involves the single woman with children who for some reason cannot be expected to become self-sufficient, or for whom it is especially difficult. How can she still "measure up" to community norms and thereby achieve self-respect? How does she pass on to her children, by her example, a good way to live in the world? The options are few and forced. One of the most obvious and best is that she has herself been a contributor to the community, by being a good neighbor in all the ways that she indeed can be, economically self-supporting or not, if she lives in a vital community. One of the important reasons for leaving the functions of a community in the community is that doing so increases the chances for the recipients of help to be givers of help as well. The same institutions that are providing the dependent with help have some things they will be asking in return, and through that lies a possibility for authentic self-respect. The only way to "take the stigma out of welfare" is to provide a means of paying it back.

Perhaps I have used too many formal social service examples of community (feeding the hungry) and not enough informal ones (taking a casserole to the bereaved family). I should emphasize, therefore, that I am not envisioning an ideal society in which everyone is a social worker, but one in which the full dimensions of being a neighbor are played out in full view of everyone, on the local stage.

But aren't my fears, after all, more theoretical than real? Aren't we muddling through, most of us, reasonably well? What, finally, is to be gained?

My sense of the present state of affairs is captured by one of Adam Smith's thought experiments in The Theory of Moral Sentiments. In this passage, Smith begins by asking his readers to "suppose that the great empire of China, with all its myriads of inhabitants, was suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake." How would a humane man in Europe be affected upon hearing the dreadful news? Smith sketches the predictable reactions. This humane gentleman would express his great sorrow. He would reflect upon the precariousness of life. He might then speculate upon the economic effects this catastrophe would have on the rest of the world. And then he would go about his business "with the same ease and tranquility as if no such accident had happened." This, Smith continues, is the understandable consequence of distance and disconnection, and he continues by discussing the very different response of the same man to people whose happiness he does affect. This is what Smith, the emblem of uncaring laissez-faire self-interest, has to say:

"When the happiness or misery of others depends in any respect upon our conduct, we dare not, as self-love might suggest to us, prefer the interest of one to that of many. The man within immediately calls to us, that we value ourselves too much and other people too little, and that, by doing so, we render ourselves the proper object of the contempt and indignation of our brethren."

Human nature has not changed since the 18th century. I am arguing that when we are disconnected from the elemental functions of community and "the happiness or misery of others" around us no longer depends in any meaningful way upon our conduct, we consign even our neighbors to a kind of China from which we become as detached as Smith's humane and otherwise compassionate gentleman. The loss this represents is not redeemed by satisfactions from career nor wholly compensated even by the satisfactions of family. No matter how much satisfaction we may derive from work and family, they are only two dimensions of life in a three-dimensional world.

No one has to teach people how to pursue happiness. Unless impeded, people form communities that allow them to get the most satisfaction from the material resources they have. Unless impeded, they enforce norms of safety that they find adequate. Unless impeded, they develop norms of self-respect that are satisfying and realistic for the members of that community. Unless impeded, people engage in activities that they find to be intrinsically rewarding, and they know (without being taught) how to invest uninteresting activities with intrinsic rewards.

The behaviors that lead to these happy results do not have to be prompted by or mandated for anyone, neither for people with wealth and education nor for people with little money and little education. Does everyone always act in every way to achieve these positive results? No. My assertion rather is that these behaviors reach a maximum on their own. Unless impeded, people continually make small, incremental changes in their lives that facilitate their pursuit of happiness, and the mechanism whereby they accomplish this is voluntary affiliations with other people. To encourage, nourish, and protect vital little platoons, the government's main task is to make sure that no one interferes with our coming together in these voluntary acts of mutual benefit.

Charles Murray, the author of Losing Ground, has more recently written In Pursuit, from which this article is adapted. Copyright ©1988 by Cox and Murray. From the new book In Pursuit by Charles Murray. Published by Simon & Schuster.