The Failure of Institutions–In Middletown and across the country

After reading my post about institutional failure in the Episcopal Church, a friend pointed me to an article in National Journal (via Salon) about the failure of institutions in Middle America. It looks at Muncie, Indiana. Muncie is famous as Middletown, USA, an early twentieth-century sociological study of the city.

The article includes a lengthy comparison of a downtown United Methodist Church and a suburban megachurch. The authors do little more than compare the optics, however–attendance, demographics, the gym and coffee shop at the megachurch, and don’t explore some of the other dynamics at play. In fact, they seem not to notice that in an article focusing on the failures of a city’s institutions, the one megachurch member they quote moved there, not from a downtown church, but from a rural congregation.

And although the authors want to blame institutions for the decline in Muncie, institutions including mainline Christianity, the Gallup chart they reproduce shows that confidence in “church and religion” has increased by 3%.

Alex Pareene comments:

The piece as a whole lays blame for the sorry state of affairs in Muncie at the crumbling of institutions — church, school, government — but Whitmire is actually a victim of elites. It’s elite consensus that loan modifications have to be limited and difficult for homeowners in order to preclude “moral hazard” and save banks from having to overexert themselves. Mitch Daniels, a leading GOP presidential contender among George Will-style Republicans, slashed state payrolls, in the name of fiscal responsibility. The sorts of people who pay for National Journal subscriptions are actually responsible for this guy’s life going to hell.

I’m tempted to side with Pareene on this one.

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