The new Charles Murray book

by on February 2, 2012 at 5:59 am in Books, History | Permalink

Kevin Drum offers comment:

…is it really true that back in 1963 the “upper tribe” and the “lower tribe” were more similar than they are today? It might seem that way in retrospect, but it sure didn’t at the time. It didn’t seem that way to Gunnar Myrdal or Michael Harrington, anyway. Overall, I can pretty easily buy the “Apart” piece of the title, but I’m a lot less sure about the “Growing” piece. For every example of a way in which top and bottom have diverged over the past 50 years, I suspect that you could also find an example of ways in which they’ve converged. It’s just that Murray wasn’t looking for any of those.

Perhaps electronic communications is one example, or maybe air conditioning, paging Don Boudreaux.  Sharing a greater number of absolute benefits is an extra commonality, for instance sharing “telephone plus internet” is more in common than just “everyone has a telephone,” even if the absolute number of differences is rising too.

This “mood affiliation” review is from a Rortybomb pointer I believe, excerpt:

Murray can’t tell you what really caused the class divide in marriage because the class-based changes in families he laments closely track the class warfare of the 1%. Up through the mid-’80s, upper class and working class divorce rates rose and fell together. Starting in 1990, the lines diverged, with the divorce rates of college graduates falling back to the level of the mid-sixties (before no-fault divorce) while the divorce and non-marital birth rates of everyone else continued to rise.

Do all the other social indicators follow this same pattern?  Did religiosity decline because of privileges for the wealthy and class warfare?  Are we supposed to think that broadly stagnant incomes for the lower classes caused more divorce for those individuals?  Didn’t stagnant incomes set in around 1973, with parts of the 1990s being relatively good times for the labor market?  In other words, those divorce rate and other social indicator changes are not the fault of the top one percent as this review would have you believe.  This latter point in the review makes more sense to me, though I don’t read it as contra Murray:

Third, women’s employment increased in the same period and women’s wages gained the most vis-à-vis men at the bottom of the income scale. As recently as 1990, women of all educational levels earned about the same percent of the hourly wages of men with the same education. To the extent the gendered “wage gap” varied, college educated women enjoyed slightly more parity with men than working class women. By 2007, the wage gap varied dramatically by class. College-educated women earned a smaller percentage of the hourly income of their male counterparts, while the wage gap between working-class men and women shrunk substantially.

…The result: a change in family norms. College-educated women postpone childbearing, invest in their careers, and conduct a long search for a compatible and reliable mate.

But does he have the stones to write “A hypergamy theory of changing social indicators”?

The liberation of American women also damaged the quality of public education, by removing the implicit subsidy of so many “captive” and smart female laborers.  I would say that the non-wealthy did not have good norms to deal with women’s liberation and maybe they could not have had such norms.  It’s time to come to terms with that history.  I am willing to embrace it, though I am not sure Murray is.

I’ve now read the book and I think it is very good, very well-written, and considerably more bulletproof than some of the critics are suggesting.  That said, not much in it surprised me or changed my views; admittedly these are areas where I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately.

ScrawnyCat February 2, 2012 at 6:49 am

Not really the main point of your post, but “studies show” that the rise of collective bargaining by public employee unions explain the decline in teacher quality better than the rise of feminism:
http://www.personal.kent.edu/~cupton/Senior%20Seminar/Papers/hoxbyleigh_pulledaway.pdf

Hayekian February 2, 2012 at 6:59 am

I suspect the negative effects of the feminist movement and unionism on teacher quality were synergistic. The rise of teacher unions and feminism occurred more or less in tandem.

Andrew' February 2, 2012 at 7:17 am

It’s not a THEORY!!! Haha.

Anyway, it’s probably as much if not more important than human capital or signaling or education.

asdf February 2, 2012 at 7:33 am

“Are we supposed to think that broadly stagnant incomes for the lower classes caused more divorce for those individuals?”

Seems pretty obvious.

“Didn’t stagnant incomes set in around 1973, with parts of the 1990s being relatively good times for the labor market?”

Things take time. The 1990s weren’t that great for the low end of the labor pool. They certaily didn’t keep up.

You have to understand the fundamental change in provider value. Pre women’s lib, women mostly marry beta males because the alternative is starvation and poverty. Thus anyone earning a living wage is a potential partner.

Post women’s lib, they can either earn their own income or be supported by the state. Women do not need to marry for survival. As such, they only marry if the man raises their social status (hypegamy). Women unable to marry up (the lower classes) become single mothers.

Andrew' February 2, 2012 at 8:02 am

We are having our money taken from us for the privilege of having to spend years of our lives to create false stratification between people. That’s why I don’t care about tenure or Elsevier.

anon February 2, 2012 at 8:14 am

+1

ad*m February 2, 2012 at 7:18 pm

+1

Ricardo February 2, 2012 at 9:28 am

Your timing is off. High school educated women living in cities or larger towns could avoid “starvation and poverty” by working as early as the 1920s. Rather, women married because social mores mandated it, especially if you wanted to raise children.

Anthony February 2, 2012 at 11:18 am

High school educated women living in cities or larger towns could avoid “starvation and poverty” by working as early as the 1920s.
Only if they remained childless, and until the 1960s, that mostly required remaining abstinent.

Jonathan February 2, 2012 at 7:47 am
Andrew' February 2, 2012 at 8:15 am

The class warfare of the 1%? How exactly does the 1% wage class warfare. A .223 bullet costs about 20 cents for example. So, it’s not that they have more guns. Hmmm…what could it be. Who could be, if anyone is, backing up the banking class? Maybe someone should read their early propaganda.

mark February 2, 2012 at 11:03 am

Especially when you realize that “the 1%” changes significantly over time.

Miguel Madeira February 2, 2012 at 8:22 am

In the novels of S.E. Hinton (set in the 1960s), seems to be a visible difference in the lifestyle of “Socs” and “Greasers” (going to a different drive-ins, liking different music, etc).

kiwi dave February 2, 2012 at 12:03 pm

sounds like the “Mods” and “Rockers” of Britain.

J Storrs Hall February 2, 2012 at 8:27 am

I’m only halfway through it, but Murray seems to be claiming that we now live under a new, hereditary aristocracy, members of which really are better (in the sense of smarter) than the common people.

He also seems to be claiming (Ch. 5) that in the 70s there was, contra TGS, an “explosion of innovation” due to the concentration of cognitive ability in places where it mattered.

asdf February 2, 2012 at 10:16 am

I haven’t read Murray’s book. It would depend on what he claims. I do believe we have had an “explosion of innovation”, but that innovation hasn’t necessarily been of the improve the world variety. A smart person could increase their income by comming up with “innovative” financial products that trick dumb people out of their savings. Its “meritous” in a way, the strong are indeed triumphing, but they triumph via exploitation in zero sum games.

This isn’t the whole story. Smart people inventing computers and other things created plenty of real value. But one quick look at the growth of finance and law shows a lot of the new “meritocratic society” wasn’t about lifting all boats and some rising faster.

Cliff February 2, 2012 at 11:13 am

What innovative financial products are you referring to?

Matt February 2, 2012 at 12:40 pm

I think he means houses.

Finch February 2, 2012 at 1:05 pm

Could be credit cards…

Floccina February 2, 2012 at 5:39 pm

I would guess that he means no verification home mortgages.

Floccina February 2, 2012 at 5:37 pm

I think that I have noticed a general fall in once outrageous mutual fund expense ratios (1.5%) since the invention of the low cost indexed mutual fund. John Bogle’s Vanguard Group form the private sector was a big part of that financial innovation. Many etfs allow use to hedge against changes in the relative prices of things we will need in the future, to me that is also a good financial innovation.

On the other hand the state lotteries have worsened the already very, very, very bad odds of the states contribution (3 very’s does not seem nearly enough). You could say that state lotteries are not part of the financial system and are not a part of financial innovation but it is all the same to many a poor fool.

Henry February 2, 2012 at 4:37 pm

” we now live under a new, hereditary aristocracy”

If that is true, then I will start my business building tumbrels and guillotines… I will literally make a “killing”

Peter A February 2, 2012 at 8:34 am

The book may be well written, but it is such pop superficial sociology that I don’t how anyone can take it seriously. Murray’s distinctions between the “Top” and “Bottom” are arbitrary and superficial. His idea of who the upper class is seems to be derived from watching Woody Allen films. From what I can tell, Murray seems unaware that there are many affluent people who hunt, fish, went to public high school etc. Carving White Americans up by income is simply not a useful way to look at the country. The true cultural faults in the US still divide along ethnic lines, not class. Southern rich and poor Baptists are far more similar to each other than either is to your average New Hampshire puritan descendant; Irish Americans at all income levels have more in common with each other than they do with Jewish Americans and vice-versa, etc. If American mores are collapsing, it is primarily the result of the increasing dominance of Southern culture, with its love of violence and sexual display, on the rest of the United States.

Ricardo February 2, 2012 at 9:16 am

In partial defense of Murray, he is a Beltway wonk who probably gets his idea of the upper class from, well, hanging out with other Beltway wonks. I don’t think Murray said that there are not upper class people who don’t hunt or drive pickup trucks. Rather, he is saying that there is a segment of upper class America who will spend their lives in metropolitan areas mostly around other upper class people and will find these things foreign.

I suspect he is partly right on that but I wouldn’t attach much importance to it and would question whether it is really a permanent feature of the U.S. This David Brooks-style fascination with consumer preferences or superficial regional variations is overdone.

I also doubt ethnic variation counts for that much. I grew up middle class in the 1980s and distinctions between Italians, Irish, WASPs, etc. were simply non-existent. These distinctions are dying out with younger generations as ethnic groups converge.

prior_approval February 2, 2012 at 10:29 am

‘Rather, he is saying that there is a segment of upper class America who will spend their lives in metropolitan areas mostly around other upper class people and will find these things foreign.’

At what point in American history since 1850 hasn’t that been a banally accurate statement?

Mo February 2, 2012 at 11:10 am

Rather, he is saying that there is a segment of upper class America who will spend their lives in metropolitan areas mostly around other upper class people and will find these things foreign.

But that’s a very Northeastern coastal POV. Upper class people in Minneapolis and Dallas hunt and fish, while lower and middle class people in the Bronx likely don’t. Ascribing regionalisms to class distinctions is extraordinarily lazy.

ElamBend February 2, 2012 at 9:38 am

@Peter A,
When I went from the rural midwest to a New England college I would have revolted against that last sentence of yours. I got lumped with Southerners due to my accent, though I wasn’t Southern, but tended to make common cause.

Though I still get my feathers ruffled by coastal people looking down their nose at the south, I now tend to agree with your statement. (and I’m back in the midwest). If you just look at health factors among whites, the worst outcomes and worst lifestyles are in the south. If you took out, just the upper South’s Appalachian corridor, US health outcomes among whites would look Scandinavian. Culture matters.

Rahul February 2, 2012 at 10:00 am

….or Climate? Something about a cold winter that brings out the best in people?

maguro February 2, 2012 at 10:52 am

As Moynihan famously noted, proximity to the Canadian border is what matters.

Finch February 2, 2012 at 10:01 am

> If you just look at health factors among whites, the worst outcomes and worst lifestyles are in the south.

My theory is that this is because the best food is found there. If you had to eat in the northeast cities, you’d be skinny, too.

eccdogg February 2, 2012 at 10:19 am

Well I am an upper class Southerner and I most definitely would have more in common with a similar income person from the NE than from my lower income neighbors. That would be the case for most of the other upper class southerners that I know.

Of course maybe I am not the type of southerner Peter is talking about since I live in Raleigh NC.

Rahul February 2, 2012 at 10:21 am

Jokes aside, what about BMR; wouldn’t someone living in Vermont winters have to expend more calories than, say, Georgia?

OTOH Bergmann’s rule should predict North-easterners to be more massive than southerners.

Finch February 2, 2012 at 10:34 am

People in colder climates are less active for much of the year. You don’t go outside nearly as much. Besides, most of our lives are spent in heated and air conditioned spaces anyway – what’s going on outside just isn’t that important within huge bands around “normal.” Today, where I am, it’s 72 degrees and a little bit dry. It will be that way tonight and tomorrow, and it will be that way in August.

I just don’t think it’s as simple as weather being the determinant.

asdf February 2, 2012 at 10:19 am

He wrote a book that looked at ethnicity. It was called the “Bell Curve”. For violating PC orthodoxy he and his book got bashed with the club of polite society.

It’s no surprise that years later he publishes, “The Bell Curve II”, same thing without any of that race stuff that derailed the first one. He even says so in the book.

Peter A February 2, 2012 at 11:49 am

I’m sure right, the problem is by removing the “race stuff” Murray is hollowing out his thesis to the point that it stops making sense.

JWatts February 2, 2012 at 10:42 am

“Southern rich and poor Baptists are far more similar to each other than either is to your average New Hampshire puritan descendant”

So a rich, successful real estate agent in Manchester has more in common with the janitor at the local Walmart than he does with a rich, successful real estate agent in Nashville? That’s an extraordinary claim, do you have some extraordinary evidence?

“If American mores are collapsing, it is primarily the result of the increasing dominance of Southern culture, with its love of violence and sexual display, on the rest of the United States.”

Southern culture promotes sexual display? Perhaps you should get out more. TV doesn’t very accurately reflect regional cultures. It tends to very stereotypical caricatures.

Rahul February 2, 2012 at 10:44 am

He’s probably right about the violence though.

JWatts February 2, 2012 at 10:52 am

Well at least it’s a possibility whereas the other comment is either poor communication or ignorance.

But I doubt that “Southern culture” promotes violence more than “Western culture”. And certainly it doesn’t promote violence like urban gang culture does. So I think the original comments were mostly just a mixed bag of bigoted remarks. It’s not Politically Correct to make such stereotypical comments about blacks or Jews anymore, but you can still get away with stereotyping certain groups.

ElamBend February 2, 2012 at 10:13 pm

urban gang culture is a child of the southern honor code. if you go back to books about southern honor from 130 years ago you would find the expounding of a code that is nearly identical to that expounded by urban gang culture save for one point

Peter A February 2, 2012 at 11:59 am

“So a rich, successful real estate agent in Manchester has more in common with the janitor at the local Walmart than he does with a rich, successful real estate agent in Nashville? ”

Very likely yes, assuming both real estate agent and janitor are white and of Yankee stock. They might even be cousins. If the Manchester real estate agent is Jewish or Italian and the janitor is a Latino or Laotian immigrant (which is a far more likely scenario in modern Manchester), then no. But I would say you’ve picked a bad example in any case since, in my experience, real estate agents in New Hampshire are often people with limited education from lower class backgrounds. A UNH English professor and a U of Tenessee English professor almost certainly have more in common than either do with janitors or rich businessmen in their own states, but that is a different issue. I think we in the US have managed to create a cosmopolitan deracinated class of academic, legal and financial types that transcends ethnic and regional differences but these people are often not “upper middle class” so it is not clear how Murray accounts for them. They can be found living in Fishtown as well as Belmont.

Henry February 2, 2012 at 4:43 pm

“Southern culture promotes sexual display,Southern culture promotes sexual display0

As far as I can tell there is much better displaying material in Georgia than there was in Boston…

The Original D February 2, 2012 at 10:49 pm

Read “A Man in Full.” The rich, southern real estate protagonist in the book rings true to the rich people I knew growing up in the south. Wal-Mart cuts across class there.

Laserlight February 2, 2012 at 10:51 am

“Southern culture, with its love of violence and sexual display”

Because we all know there’s no violence or sexual display in, eg, Holly wood or New York.

Peter A February 2, 2012 at 12:04 pm

You haven’t been to New York lately. There is little violence, and while there is a lot of pornography, there is not the sexual peacocking you find in the South (unless you’re in a black or Italian neighborhood). Southerners tend to put a higher emphasis on looks and sexual status display (which would have been a better word for what I meant by sexual display) than people in NY – who emphasize their financial prowess rather than looks or sexual fitness.

Anon February 2, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Did the Jersey Shore recently move to the South?

eccdogg February 2, 2012 at 12:40 pm

“Southerners tend to put a higher emphasis on looks and sexual status display (which would have been a better word for what I meant by sexual display) than people in NY – who emphasize their financial prowess rather than looks or sexual fitness.”

Are you kidding? So that whole “Sex in the City” thing was BS? Ive seen tons of sexual peacocking in NYC and definitely in Hollywood.

And in the south it is only the women who are sexual peacocking, in NYC an Hollywood the men get in on the act.

It sounds like your whole opinion of the South was derived from watching a Dallas Cowboy’s game.

Rahul February 2, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Although if you compared *rural* {Wisconsin / Pennsylvania / Iowa etc. } versus, say, {Texas / Georgia / Missisipi / Louisiana etc. } would that sexual stereotype have some truth in it?

As an aside, it seems to me, that many more movies are set in the rural South than the rural North; don’t know if this is factually true.

eccdogg February 2, 2012 at 1:12 pm

Yes, comparing the South to the Midwest women definitely the stereotype would hold IMO. Women put more effort into thier looks in the South than the Midwest.

The other thing is those places are HOT. You are going to show a bunch more skin when it is 95 degrees with 70 degree dew point.

Now how that has anything to do with the trends Murray identifies I have no idea. Women (and men) put a lot more effort into their appearance in every part of the country in the 50′s than they do today.

The Original D February 2, 2012 at 10:52 pm

He didn’t say nowhere else has sexual peacocking, but it definitely is amped up down there. Thing Mary Kay cosmetics compared to Estee Lauder.

Here’s an even easier comparison. Who has hotter cheerleaders? Big East or SEC/ACC? Texas or BU?

Randall Parker February 10, 2012 at 12:04 am

Upper class people have far more in common with each other across regions than they do with locals of lower classes. The reason is simple enough: People form few deep relationships more than 1 IQ Std Dev from each other. So a 130 IQ person is going to have few friends even at 115 IQ and hardly any below that.

The most interaction I’ve seen across IQ levels is over shallow stuff like sports games. They all can feel they won or lost together. Most of the relationships across IQ levels are due to family or due to subordinate-manager relations and the like.

Peter February 2, 2012 at 8:57 am

Focusing on the college/no-college distinction is misleading because a significantly greater percentage of the population attends college today than in 1963.

ElamBend February 2, 2012 at 9:43 am

Theodore Dalrymple has been writing for years on what he has seen happen with the underclass in Britain. He often targets the elites for propounding a more libertine set of mores whose bad effects they are insulated from due to their wealth. He postulates that the promotion of these values have had devastating effect on the underclass where folks are less able to deal with the inevitable outcomes due to lack of resources.

Where I find a similarity in Murray’s research is that for a group the seems to have found a successful model (the elites), there seems to be very little promotion of it. Even Murry is a bit guilty of it. His “how out of touch are you” test seems to imply that elites need to become more like the others, despite showing tons of data that perhaps its the other way around.

tkehler February 2, 2012 at 11:21 pm

I live in an urban area in Canada in a neighbourhood with a lot of professionals and small business types. However, we’re close to areas with low income housing, etc. All the kids in the area go to the same 2 local state-run/funded schools. There is mixing. The poor are heavier and pasty, with more tattoos. The kids of the poor eat more sugar. The middle class are slimmer, better dressed, and their kids go to sports and ride bikes. Our poor — at least the local poor — aren’t Dalrymple’s underclass. Yet. And our elite — at least the local elite — aren’t libertine.

Richard February 2, 2012 at 10:03 am

Strange mistake in Kevin Drum’s excerpt: Murray’s book is called Coming Apart, not Growing Apart.

Richard February 2, 2012 at 10:07 am

Woops, Drum’s original actually gets the title right: turns out that the error only appears in Tyler’s excerpt from Drum.

JWatts February 2, 2012 at 10:44 am

What was the point in quoting Kevin Drum? He made a lot of suppositions about a book he hadn’t read. Was the point just to poke fun at Mr. Drum, by putting his “I don’t need to see the facts before I make a judgement” mentality on display?

Andrew' February 2, 2012 at 10:43 am

How should we promote self-help behavior to help these people? Put them in prison?

Becky Hargrove February 2, 2012 at 10:56 am

First I want to address what you said about non-wealthy women born shortly after mid century: You’re right, a lot of lower middle class women simply did not ‘get the memo’ about women’s liberation. Don’t get me wrong, the memo was floating around all over the place it just did not get delivered to every doorstep, and it has taken decades for that particular reality to come home to roost. We wanted to get our degrees and have our careers just like other women, but often our parents did not see this as the highest priority, especially when the mother had always been able to remain a homemaker. Plus, our schools did not see a women’s career as the highest priority either. Even when a girl declared she was going to college that did not mean her high school would make sure she had the requisite math and science.

For decades this problem was not insurmountable, as both men and women were able to find work to pay bills even when college degrees had not been completed. Only when men found it harder to remain in the workplace did less wealthy women need to keep working. Of course the problem now was that this put many women into a position of going back to first priors careerwise, at a point in life when other Baby Boomers were already contemplating retirement.

CBBB February 2, 2012 at 11:07 am

Did religiosity decline because of privileges for the wealthy and class warfare?

This really sickens me this cheerleading for religiosity. This is nothing more then blatant feudalistic beliefs “The serfs should go to church and believe the bullshit about the magic sky-man – I’m the rich lord and I don’t need to do that but being propagandized is good for the serfs”.
Disgusting, Disgusting belief system.

improbable February 2, 2012 at 12:02 pm

As a blueprint for utopia I feel much the same way.

But as a question of studying what has changed and why, it seems fair to ask whether the effects of less religion (and less social & economic pressure to marry) have been different for rich and poor people. And I suspect there may be some truth in the idea that it has hurt the poor in ways that it doesn’t the rich.

Rahul February 2, 2012 at 1:09 pm

On a net though, were the mostly religious poor of yesteryears better off than the mostly irreligious poor of today?

improbable February 2, 2012 at 2:32 pm

Right, of course question we would like to answer is where would we be with yesterday’s morals and today’s technology, essentially, and we can’t run that experiment. One idea would be to look at different countries, or regions, and look for patterns. But I agree it’s going to be hard to prove anything.

It does seem to me that there is more than one dimension to this. Your life can suck because you can’t afford enough calories / an air-conditioner / cancer drugs, and your life can suck because your parents don’t give a shit / your kids are drug addicts on the dole / you live alone in an old-age home. Even though you would choose some trade-off between these two (if you had to), they are fundamentally quite different things. And it sounds like Murray wants to argue that there has been a divergence in the second one.

CBBB February 2, 2012 at 3:00 pm

Maybe the morals change and technology change are inseparable. Maybe you can’t afford to have “morals” when you’re poor. The current economic climate of extreme competition certainly does not reward spending time with your family or doing anything non-work related. I don’t like this focus on morals – in terms of pure social issues our society today is vastly improved over 50 years ago and this idea that if only the poor worked harder and spent money more wisely they’d be in much better shape is complete bullshit. The rewards for hard work have been sharply declining.

Rahul February 2, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Would yesterday’s morals have even allowed us to attain today’s technology? That’s also a question.

CBBB February 2, 2012 at 3:27 pm

I think it’s more a question of the technology changing the morals not the other way around

improbable February 2, 2012 at 3:36 pm

OK “morals” is the wrong word, we could say social norms. Certainly people in the past had more conservative norms at a time when they were much poorer in material things.

I was wondering especially about how social norms drive especially people’s non-material well-being, but one could include material wealth too… and my guess is that Murray is right to some degree.

You can also wonder about the reverse causation: does the lack of material incentive to work hard result in today’s social norms? I would vote for “The rewards for hard work have been sharply declining” rather than “extreme competition certainly does not reward spending time with your family or doing anything non-work related” here!

CBBB February 2, 2012 at 3:41 pm

I want to be clear here – I’m not saying there’s less of an incentive to work hard because material goods come easier now. I’m saying there’s less of an incentive to work hard because hard work gets you way less now and your destination in life is determined earlier and earlier in life so what you do at age 20 now doesn’t matter as much as what you did at age 12. Success today is really heavily a function of credentialism and connections – if you missed the boat on those all the work in the world won’t help you out.

Henry February 2, 2012 at 4:49 pm

It was the old arrangement between priests and landlords…

“You keep them dumb, and I’ll keep them poor”.
“Poor people will get their rewards in the afterlife, rich people will go hell, huar, huar”

To be fair to the new “aristocracy”, the old arrangement worked pretty well for centuries, so Murray is correct in advocating it.

CBBB February 2, 2012 at 5:31 pm

But I don’t see why it’s needed – there is already a new Priest class: Economists

derek February 3, 2012 at 1:37 am

As opposed to what? Having the local newspaper editor set moral standards for the community? Or Hollywood? Serious question.

byomtov February 2, 2012 at 11:22 am

I’m somewhat puzzled by the exclusive focus on whites. What’s the point of that, again?

Becky Hargrove February 2, 2012 at 11:34 am

It just tells a different story that a lot of us have yet to figure out. There are many stories.

improbable February 2, 2012 at 2:42 pm

It’s not that hard is it? The problems of the poor Murray describes are stereotypically black problems, to some degree. So if he can convincingly show that they exist even if you only look at white people, then he makes his argument much stronger, he’s removed one easy way out his critics would reach for.

(On second thought, it would be nice if he would include the all-americans data too… no idea if he does.)

Actually even in the absence of such priors, isn’t this a pretty common idea? Like testing your new drug on only men of one ethnic group, or removing left-handed people from your brain-scanning experiment…

The Anti-Gnostic February 3, 2012 at 3:07 pm

I’ll take a stab at that one: as whites–America’s market dominant majority–go, so goes America.

What Murray is documenting is that white rates of social pathology are beginning to match black and Latino rates of social pathology. The critically competent core that keeps us looking more like Switzerland and Germany instead of Guatemala or Haiti (in more ways than one) is being eroded.

Endgame: the banana republic model where an elite protected by regulatory capture from downward mobility invest low amounts of capital in a super-cheap, super-abundant labor force. This is the opposite of the Solow model. But it’s all good because then tenured academics can enjoy delicious, piping hot ethnic food in the comfort of safe, bourgeois, American environs. And by the time it’s clear that such quaint exotica exacts other costs like the disappearance of safe, bourgeois America, it will be somebody else’s problem.

kiwi dave February 2, 2012 at 11:25 am

I haven’t read Murray’s book yet; I do wonder though, if maybe you and Murray are both right — I think it’s fair to say that over the last 50 years (contra the increased academic and popular focus on growing income inequality) the upper tribe and lower tribe have come a lot closer in their basic material living standards, and for that reason, class distinctions are shown much more by cultural, intellectual and recreational and culinary etc. distinctions.

Anthony February 2, 2012 at 11:31 am

is it really true that back in 1963 the “upper tribe” and the “lower tribe” were more similar than they are today?

Even in the 1970s, there wasn’t nearly the level of income-based residential segregation among whites as there is now, and I think that’s a lot of what drives commentary like Murray’s. The very rich (the 1%, or perhaps the 0.5%) would buy mansions with lots of land, keeping the riff-raff away, but it was not uncommon for a successful lawyer or business-owner to live next door to an auto mechanic or a plumber or a construction worker, even though their income was significantly higher.

What ended that was probably the end of legally-enforced residential racial segregation – wealthier whites didn’t want to live near working-class blacks, and so bought into neighborhoods which were too expensive for lower-class blacks, not particularly caring that they were leaving behind working-class whites, as well.

The Original D February 3, 2012 at 12:19 am

One data point: in my hometown in rural Georgia the wealthy white folks got together and started a private school when desegregation finally came. Lots of children of doctors, lawyers etc went there.

But it was still pretty small. I went to the local public school and our graduation class outnumbered theirs something like 20:1. There was also a Christian school that happened to be all white, but I don’t remember how big.

derek February 3, 2012 at 1:32 am

No what changed was the crime rate. The well off could build gated communities or move elsewhere, the less well off couldn’t.

And oddly, crime is a moral issue. And a family issue. All the things Murray is talking about.

Randall Parker February 11, 2012 at 6:33 pm

Technology was the biggest agent of change: Companies full of engineers and marketeers no longer need factories attached to them. Wealthy enclaves don’t need to be near large numbers of manual laborers. Pure information companies in finance and internet industries are nestled in with blue collar workers.

figleaf February 2, 2012 at 1:11 pm

“The liberation of American women also damaged the quality of public education, by removing the implicit subsidy of so many “captive” and smart female laborers.”

You allegedly see a similar result in Cuba — high caliber people who aren’t allowed to seek high incomes instead to into professions like medicine and teaching. Thus Cuba’s comparatively high healthcare and education standards are likely to plummet if and when the Castro regime ever passes away.

In the U.S. the effect was compounded: not only were high-caliber women diverted into education and nursing by market-distorting bias against appropriate compensation and social pressure, education further benefited from large pools of “volunteer” labor (where the choice was basically to volunteer after the kids were themselves in school and out of the house or go quietly mad from inactivity.)

I’m pretty sure there’s more to the theory than stagnant income in the 1970s. Incomes in the rural south, for instance, fluxuated a bit but were often relatively stagnant for decades at a time between the 1870 and as late as the 1940. This didn’t necessarily affect either divorce rates or “shiftlessness.”

Speaking for myself, I grew up in the 1950s and early 1960s in the Eastman/Kodak town of Kingsport, Tennessee. And while a company town has certain demographic artificialities, kids of all classes went to the same public schools — I was playmates with the town heart surgeon’s kids, the alcoholic subsistance-income housepainter’s kids, the long-haul trucker’s kids, the grocery-store clerk’s kids, and so on. We also often lived within blocks of each other. We went to a lot of the same churches as well. As far as I know the only private school was for Catholic kids, and their education standards were no different from public instruction.

Getting back to the divorce business, there certainly was a shift in attitudes about it in the 1970s. Our family moved to a relatively affluent neighborhood in Knoxville, TN, with a weirdly high social-climber ratio. The first woman to be divorced by her husband tried (successfully it turned out) to continue raising her children on her own. Within six months a delegation of other housewives insulted the owl crap out of her by approaching her and bluntly telling her they wanted her to move because they knew “a lovely couple who’d be just perfect for the neighborhood.” Within 10 years every single one of those women’s husbands had divorced them as well. (So I’m not sure exactly how much feminism had to do with that. To the best of my knowledge none of the women, at least in my new neighborhood, initiated the divorces.)

Anyway, I suspect Murray’s book about a divide between “solid citizen” whites and “white trash” is approximately as true as his earlier books about all whites as solid citizens and all non-whites as lazy, shiftless, cakewalkers — i.e. true only if you’re willing to overlook a lot of data that contradicts your preferred social narrative.

figleaf

Rich Berger February 2, 2012 at 2:46 pm

“Anyway, I suspect Murray’s book about a divide between “solid citizen” whites and “white trash” is approximately as true as his earlier books about all whites as solid citizens and all non-whites as lazy, shiftless, cakewalkers ”

Care to provide some direct quotations from his earlier books supporting this libel?

ed February 2, 2012 at 1:41 pm

I haven’t read the book, but I’m concerned that Murray might be making a fundamental statistical error when comparing the tribes in ‘Belmont’ and ‘Fishtown.’

Consider another well known fallacy about immigration between two countries, country A (rich) and country B (poor). Assume that some of the most capable people from country B move to country A in order to earn higher wages. It can easily be the case that AVERAGE wages in BOTH counties go down, even though no individual has lower wages than before. It is also quite possible that the gap between the average wages in the two countries increases.

I wonder if something like this isn’t going on in Murray’s story. As more and more middle-class people attended college, it is as if many of the most capable/responsible people from Fishtown “moved” to Belmont. This could lower the average levels in both “tribes”, and also increase the gap between them, even if there was nothing more going on than increasing college attendance by the most capable lower-middle class young people.

Maybe something like this explains part of the story. Does Murray account for this effect

(I posted a similar comment over at Econlog.)

Steve Sailer February 2, 2012 at 6:19 pm

Yes, he looks at the classes both defined in absolute terms (education and occupation) and in relativistic terms (top 20% v. bottom 30%). Similar trends are seen under both methodologies.

MC February 2, 2012 at 4:03 pm

“The liberation of American women also damaged the quality of public education, by removing the implicit subsidy of so many “captive” and smart female laborers. I would say that the non-wealthy did not have good norms to deal with women’s liberation and maybe they could not have had such norms. It’s time to come to terms with that history. I am willing to embrace it, though I am not sure Murray is.”

What does Mr. Cowen mean by “willing to embrace”? Does that mean “I acknowledge that women’s lib ruined the lower classes” or “I embrace women’s lib despite the fact that it ruined the lower classes”?

Steve Sailer February 2, 2012 at 5:22 pm

My review of Murray’s book is in the February issue of The American Conservative.

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