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The State of White America
April 12, 2011 12:04 PM   Subscribe

In a lecture entitled The State of White America Charles Murray, a W. H. Brady Scholar of the American Enterprise Institute and co-author of the controversial The Bell Curve, details the thesis of his upcoming book Coming Apart: Over the last half century, the United States has developed a new lower class and a new upper class that are different in kind from anything America has ever known. The second contention of the book is that the divergence of America into these separate classes, if it continues, will end what has made America America.

It's not the existence of classes that is new, Murray contends, but the emergence of classes that diverge on core behaviors and values. To attempt to forestall misinterpretation and a repeat of previous controversies, Murray studies this divergence in his soi-disant 'Founding Virtues' (viz. Marriage, Industriousness, Honesty, and Religiosity) between upper-middle (top 20%) and working (bottom 30%) class non-Hispanic whites aged 30-49 between 1960 to 2010.

He cites evidence showing that where the expression of these virtues among the upper middle class has remained more or less constant over the years, the working class has decreased in them dramatically. For example, in 1960 88% of the upper middle class were married and in 2010 83% were married. For the working class in the same time frame the proportion dropped from 83% to 48%. [This] amounts to a revolution in the separation of classes in this country, Murray says.

Above and below these populations are new upper (top 1%) and lower (Pleasant, personally unobjectionable people [… who] have never quite been able to get their act together.) classes, that range even farther afield of the norm. What a picture I am painting. A new lower class whose members are increasingly unsuited for citizenry in a free society. A new upper class that is increasingly isolated from, ignorant of, and something I haven't gone into but is also true, increasingly hostile toward a larger mainstream culture.

He concludes, What we have going for us is a reality. From the founding through the first two centuries, the United States fostered a different way for people to live together, unique among the nations of the Earth, that is still immeasurably precious to some very large number of Americans who are determined that this way of living together will endure and prevail.
posted by ob1quixote (76 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
By way of a disclaimer, I'd like to state for the record that while I believe Mr. Murray has correctly identified some of the symptoms of America's problems, I disagree with him vehemently on their causes and cures. Nevertheless, I strongly encourage everyone interested in the intersection of sociology, politics, and economics, especially those like me who are of a liberal bent, to listen carefully to this lecture and the following Q&A.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:05 PM on April 12, 2011


whitey don't like the way the numbers are breaking.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:07 PM on April 12, 2011 [18 favorites]


can anyone explain how to view the transcript? I click on the transcript box but it seems to just skip to a certain part in the video.
posted by modernnomad at 12:08 PM on April 12, 2011


From the founding through the first two centuries, the United States fostered a different way for people to live together, unique among the nations of the Earth, that is still immeasurably precious to some very large number of Americans who are determined that this way of living together will endure and prevail.

What's precious is how easily some white people are able to just forget that slavery ever happened.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 12:12 PM on April 12, 2011 [51 favorites]


Does he note (and perhaps it is a correlation) the growing gap between the Haves and the Have Nots? Is there perhaps a correlation between having money, getting decent education, getting a nice job, earning nice income...and then having values associated with that; or does poverty, lousy schools, bad home environment and location, bad jobs, not much income lead to the things abhorred?

We do know that the gap between the very wealthy and all others growing, and that job market sucks, and college debt etc leading to a bad situation.
posted by Postroad at 12:13 PM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


The Bellend Curve
posted by Burhanistan at 12:13 PM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Pleasant, personally unobjectionable people [… who] have never quite been able to get their act together."

Touche.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:16 PM on April 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


Widening income gap & erosion of the middle class causing breakdown of societal cohesion. News at 11. So conservatives wil now acknowledge what everyone else has been saying all along? The subtext here seems to be "Watch out, richies! Most of the social norms that kept the lower classes in check and subservient are breaking down. Violence is a comin'!"
posted by KingEdRa at 12:18 PM on April 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm awfully glad I'm a Beta...
posted by the painkiller at 12:19 PM on April 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


Man, American exceptionalism can be very irritating at times. Anyway, the emerging social conditions he's observing seem to mirror social conditions in early 19th century Britain: social disruption, lack of meaningful employment, no formalized civil unions (ie, marriage)... All lorded over by an entitled oligarchy.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:20 PM on April 12, 2011 [14 favorites]


What's precious is how easily some white people are able to just forget that slavery ever happened.

What else do you expect from racist shitheads?
posted by kmz at 12:20 PM on April 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


if it continues, will end what has made America America

...slavery?
posted by shakespeherian at 12:21 PM on April 12, 2011 [18 favorites]


"Over the last half century, the United States has developed a new lower class and a new upper class that are different in kind from anything America has ever known."

Sure. It's fuck-you-got-mine vs. fuck-me-i'm-homeless. Less and less of a middle ground.

And "from anything America has ever known"? I - and history - begs to differ.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 12:24 PM on April 12, 2011 [10 favorites]


Right-wing twat cobbles together half-arsed class analysis fifty years too late and many dollars short - film at whenever.
posted by Abiezer at 12:26 PM on April 12, 2011 [8 favorites]


This report sounds truly hilarious. Is he a stand-up comic? I wasn't aware that conservatives expect to be able to choke the life out of all public institutions, squeeze every vulnerable person out of every penny they can ....AND still expect the victimized to salute the flag, say hail mary, screw the same person for 40 years, and in general give a crap about the society whose success they no longer have a stake in?
posted by Philemon at 12:29 PM on April 12, 2011 [50 favorites]


The little I've read by Charles Murray in the past has been a dash of good social science surrounded by a ton of blame-the-victim conjecture.

Those interested in the issue of values, life outcomes, and how they relate to race and class may want to read some of the more recent articles by James Heckman, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics (actually the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel) in 2000. Heckman is a proponent of early childhood education (before second grade), coupled with parenting classes. He also suggests that non-cognitive skills (persistence, impulse control, sociability, etc.) are as important as the usual cognitive skills in predicting life outcomes years in advance.

So, a University of Chicago Nobel laureate in Economics appears to be arguing for universal pre-school coupled with parenting education focused on the often devalued soft skills.
posted by ferdydurke at 12:30 PM on April 12, 2011 [24 favorites]


Christ, what an asshole.
posted by edheil at 12:38 PM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


I should have added:

Metafilter: Pleasant, personally unobjectionable people [… who] have never quite been able to get their act together.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:43 PM on April 12, 2011 [22 favorites]


Right-wing twat cobbles together half-arsed class analysis fifty years too late and many dollars short - film at whenever.

Well, his observation of America's trend towards an old-world style aristocracy-versus-the-unwashed-masses seems pretty accurate. Including his observation that the elite are hostile to mainstream culture.

However, he doesn't seem to be including in his analysis that this widening gap was created through the union-busting, deregulation, and general anti-government stance of the republican elite. First you bust the private-sector unions and bring down private sector wages, then you play those private sector workers against the public-sector workers who are still getting decent wages, until you totally destroy the middle class completely and all that's left are debt-ridden, desperate masses who work for next nothing, with no protection, so that the untaxed rich can take it all and keep it all. Concentrating all the wealth in the hands of a few, since, clearly, anything else would be "spreading the wealth" ... which is somehow bad.
posted by molecicco at 12:47 PM on April 12, 2011 [33 favorites]


Conservatives believe being poor is a personal failing (lazy, stupid, damaged, etc..), not a social problem. This report seems to catalog those personal failings among the poor, and likewise what makes the rich superior. It's like something from 18th century pre-Revolution France. American conservatives should walk around in powdered wigs and white face paint.
posted by stbalbach at 12:51 PM on April 12, 2011 [28 favorites]


I strongly encourage everyone interested in the intersection of sociology, politics, and economics, especially those like me who are of a liberal bent, to listen carefully to this lecture and the following Q&A.

I strongly encourage them to ignore Charles Murray entirely in favor of sociologists who are not notorious for (1) their poor understanding of statistics and (2) endorsing racist claims as scientifically legitimate.

Unless you want pseudo-scientific arguments about how the poor are a degenerateimean different raceimean culture than the wealthy, in which case, he's your man.
posted by Marty Marx at 12:56 PM on April 12, 2011 [17 favorites]


"Values" are a lot easier to preserve when you don't have to sacrifice them just to survive.

It's weird the disconnect you often find between these different conversations we're all having in different contexts.

On the one hand, the business elite spend years chattering on about how much the workforce needs to be fluid and mobile to keep up with the demands of a globally competitive marketplace; gone are the days when someone who's got it on the ball just sits tight in their little corner of the world and expects opportunities to make a living to come to him. All hail the newly mobile workforce! I still remember a few years back, all the business trade magazines were championing the idea that the modern worker had to be prepared to go wherever the economic opportunity dictated, and that's why old fashioned seniority systems and unions were no longer relevant (and of course, that's a good thing!).

On the other hand, in their leisure time and op-ed magazines, the same crew are busily heaping scorn on our communities and families for not being stable enough.

Don't they get that there's an obvious connection between these superficially different things? If you insist on treating your fellow human beings as a fungible resource (a "labor pool") don't be surprised when human culture and society start to decay. Fungible resources have different cultural and social needs than people do. Economic necessity is driving the "values" gap being touted here, and it's economic necessity designed by the business interests of owners left systematically unchecked by an essentially powerless and disorganized work force.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:02 PM on April 12, 2011 [60 favorites]


I'm pretty sure that Wrightson and Levine found similar divisions between the better sorts and poorer sorts in the village of Terling in the 16th & 17th centuries - including the division between the religiosity and probity of the better and poorer sorts, at least in the eyes of the better sorts.

Point is, rich people take their own culture and define it to be "moral", and then lament that poor people aren't the same.
posted by jb at 1:02 PM on April 12, 2011 [8 favorites]



What's precious is how easily some white people are able to just forget that slavery ever happened.

Oh, I don't think he's forgotten slavery. I think he's jonesing for slavery. Probably under another name, yeah, but

What a picture I am painting. A new lower class whose members are increasingly unsuited for citizenry in a free society.

What a picture indeed! Yes, a real pity that those poor brown people can't handle freedom. Wonder what we can do about that?
posted by Frowner at 1:06 PM on April 12, 2011 [4 favorites]



Point is, rich people take their own culture and define it to be "moral", and then lament that poor people aren't the same.


Then they create a sky monster and a pit of fire to scare the poor into hating themselves and their culture.
posted by spicynuts at 1:09 PM on April 12, 2011 [9 favorites]


this widening gap was created through the union-busting, deregulation, and general anti-government stance of the republican elite.

Whatever. Look at the time period he studied: 1960-2010. You know what your pithy analysis ignores? The rest of the planet. We are not the authors of our own story. People stopped buying American cars in the 70's and 80's because cars from Germany and Japan were cheaper and/or better. In the 90's and 2000's it was dramatically less expensive products from China and elsewhere in Asia that allowed Walmart to dominate retailing. Regulate labor all you want, but it doesn't matter even a little bit because most of what we buy isn't made by American labor in the first place.

On top of all of this is staggering growth in productivity driven by technology. You simply don't need a 1960's workforce to produce 2010 manufacturing output. This trend will only continue. So unless you're planning a walkout and strike in Shenzen, none of that rust-belt democratic rhetoric matters a whit.
posted by Pastabagel at 1:11 PM on April 12, 2011 [11 favorites]


if i may, i'd draw your attention to this chart wrt to this one; technology and globalization are hollowing out the US middle class.

but i think this speaks more to: "the facts that international trade has distributional consequences. That realization should not induce policymakers to hinder trade via protectionist measures. Rather it reminds us that transfers from gainers to losers is a prerequisite for trade to be Pareto improving..."

this widening gap was created through the union-busting, deregulation, and general anti-government stance of the republican elite

The Ryan Plan Is 'Fundamentally Immoral': "The game being played here has little to do with the budget itself. It is an ideological debate about the role and obligation of government. First, cut taxes for the wealthy to create a big hole in the budget, have a Great Recession aid the cause by stripping government at all levels of tax revenue, increasing costs of serving people, and creating short-run deficit problems (and a war here and there doesn't hurt the cause either), and finally use the deficit as a club against social insurance programs such as Medicare and Social Security."
posted by kliuless at 1:11 PM on April 12, 2011 [9 favorites]


The union-busting is really a sideshow to where the real damage was done: globalization and trade policy. The jobs and wages the unions were protecting weren't sustainable as soon as the US worker was placed in direct competition with workers in other countries with significantly lower costs (and standards) of living. The net result of the change in policy away from protectionism and in favor of unfettered trade — going so far as to make 'protectionism' a dirty word — was a massive transfer of wealth away from labor to capital, dwarfing anything else I can think of.

I think when the retrospective — and posthumous — history of the American middle class is written, it will turn out that the formation of the WTO in 1994 (and the line of decisions leading up to it, throughout the late postwar era; e.g. the GATT rounds) was the Gettysburg of the class war, and everything since has been a sort of inevitable mopping-up action. Bloody and brutal but ultimately one-sided.

Once you have the option of moving your operations overseas and still selling your goods on the US market, what good is a union really going to do over the long haul? Try all you want, the amount you can prop up wages to here in the US, is rather strictly determined by overseas labor costs and transportation to market, or else the factory just goes out of business. It's no surprise that the manufacturing left in the US, while still massive in dollar terms, is mostly either non-union (and in many cases barely offering subsistence wages to its employees), heavily automated, or both.

Unions wouldn't be the political whipping-boy they currently are if they hadn't been politically and economically defanged via trade policy. If the same percentage of Americans were still employed in unionized manufacturing occupations as was the case in 1950, they'd be untouchable. But there aren't, and they aren't.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:16 PM on April 12, 2011 [17 favorites]


So unless you're planning a walkout and strike in Shenzen, none of that rust-belt democratic rhetoric matters a whit.

Well, the slogan is "Workers of the world, unite!"
posted by Marty Marx at 1:16 PM on April 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


I disagree strongly with much of Murray's philosophy, world view, and conclusions. I think there's a tendency to dismiss him out of hand with a TR;dr (the R stands for racist). Charles Murray is an interesting conservative voice precisely because he's sort of racist and attempts to defend his sort of racism. It's almost refreshing to me. Conservativism on some level has to be racist. It is a movement that, philosophically, is significantly predicated on nostalgia for white dominance.

But since, thankfully, racism is no longer allowed in public discourse, conservatives have to say all sorts of really really stupid to argue in favor of a fundementally racist ideology. It is like the left is playing 25,000 dollar pyramid and the right is playing Taboo. It's interesting that the only people on the right who are clearly policy wonks as opposed to Ross "C.S. Lewis is pretty cool you guys" Douthat, or David "I clearly agree with democrats but I chose my loyalties 25 years ago and have to grimly march with madness forever onward" Brooks are only barely apologetic racists.
posted by I Foody at 1:17 PM on April 12, 2011 [8 favorites]


Scholar of the American Enterprise Institute

Ha! That's a good one!
posted by MikeKD at 1:19 PM on April 12, 2011 [8 favorites]


David "I clearly agree with democrats but I chose my loyalties 25 years ago and have to grimly march with madness forever onward" Brooks

Bet that takes up the whole front side of his business card.
posted by briank at 1:20 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Morlocks and Eloi!
posted by dortmunder at 1:21 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oddly enough, a few minutes before I saw this here, I had the line that guy who wrote the book about the Bell Curve... kick in the ass.." in my head.

I don't really have opinions. I just like to quote Moxy Fruvous as much as possible.
posted by knile at 1:21 PM on April 12, 2011


Unions wouldn't be the political whipping-boy they currently are if they hadn't been politically and economically defanged via trade policy.

Well, I think laws like the Taft-Hartley Act played a pretty substantial role in neutering the power of the unions--which has always been the power of workers to mobilize and strike which is viewed in many European nations as a fundamental right--which paved the way for the enactment of those trade policies you mention. They couldn't have been defanged by those trade policies if workers enjoyed unqualified rights to organize and strike. That's why workers in union-friendlier nations like France and Germany have fared so much better than those in the US, despite being subject to the same economic pressures.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:22 PM on April 12, 2011 [11 favorites]


On top of all of this is staggering growth in productivity driven by technology. You simply don't need a 1960's workforce to produce 2010 manufacturing output. This trend will only continue. So unless you're planning a walkout and strike in Shenzen, none of that rust-belt democratic rhetoric matters a whit.

What you need is a workforce that is more creative. Design innovative new products (clean energy for example), design new machines that can create these new products, learn how to install, operate and maintain these machines.

There is no need for people to manufacture shower curtains, and then complain when these low-value jobs are outsourced to China or Ghana. Creativity, which is based on education, is the only way to preserve jobs.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:24 PM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


I suppose you could call this an "ad hominem" attack, but just in case anyone's interested, and may consider it relevant, Charles Murray was a cross-burner as a kid and does not deny it.

More comprehensive excerpt quoted here.

Now what was that again about white America??
posted by rkent at 1:29 PM on April 12, 2011 [9 favorites]


If you define rich to mean the those in the top 1% of wealth in the U.S., aren't we talking about roughly 3 million people? If so, isn't that a larger number than constitutes many substantial racial or ethnic minorities in the US? And wouldn't one have to be woefully ignorant or at least disingenuous to lump such a large number of people into group that not only has supposedly homogeneous values, but is so fully organized and determined that it was able to secretly undermine the fundamentals of society? I don't think you usually could get away with saying the "jews want this" or the "gays want this" with respect to any specific agenda. But all the time with "the master 30-year-plan of all rich people to dismantle the middle class piece by piece." So many times with the "rich" referred to as "they." Well guess what, some rich people suck. And...some poor people are lazy. Big fucking deal. If the rich really are that organized and intelligent, with as much foresight as most give them credit for, maybe the rest of us do really have something to learn. My personal belief is that the wealth redistribution we see is the result of many converging forces (mostly global) to which all members of all classes contribute. There are so many legal, political, cultural, religious etc forces at play that I don't think anybody really understands how we got where we are. My point is, I think it's immature and to believe some cabal of old white guys meets in a smoky old room deciding the fate of America. Yeah, there's lots of cabals of old white guys. But, last time I checked, we elected Barack Obama and, oh yeah, there's 300 million people in this country! No one single group is holding the reins.
posted by gagglezoomer at 1:31 PM on April 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


Well, Pastabagel, there is no reason it is just the one and not the other. I don't see the same regression happening in Europe. Although there are plenty of other problems.
posted by molecicco at 1:41 PM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


And wouldn't one have to be woefully ignorant or at least disingenuous to lump such a large number of people into group that not only has supposedly homogeneous values, but is so fully organized and determined that it was able to secretly undermine the fundamentals of society?

I think the claim is that they have common economic interests that differ from the economic interests of those with less money, that they pursue those interests, and that they have largely been successful in that pursuit, at the expense of the interests of those with less money. Whether some rich people suck or don't doesn't really matter. No cabals are needed, just gaps in interests and power.

I agree that we'd have to go a bit smaller than the top 1% of wealth in the U.S. to get common economic interests, but that's just quibbling over the scope, not the substance.
posted by Marty Marx at 1:42 PM on April 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


The union-busting is really a sideshow to where the real damage was done: globalization and trade policy. The jobs and wages the unions were protecting weren't sustainable as soon as the US worker was placed in direct competition with workers in other countries with significantly lower costs (and standards) of living.

That kind of assumes all consumption takes place in the US. Believe it or not, people in other parts of the world have a choice about whether to buy goods made in the US or not, regardless of what US trade policy is. So even if no US company had ever outsourced a single job to a foreign country and all imports from abroad were banned or subject to huge tariffs, US manufacturers would still face global competition because the US is not the only country that knows how to make things.

It happens that the US ended up with a big manufacturing advantage after WW2 because it had a modern industrial economy but did not suffer massive destruction, unlike most other actors in that conflict. For that matter, the US had already gotten a leg up on Europe following WW1, for the same reasons. This was never likely to be a permanent state of affairs, just a temporary boost, good for as long as it took other developed countries to rebuild their domestic manufacturing capacity or developing countries to build the first round of theirs. You seem to think people in other countries are somehow compelled to purchase America's exports - or if not, that autarky is somehow a valid model for the US despite the fact that it hasn't worked anywhere else.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:50 PM on April 12, 2011 [8 favorites]


My point is, I think it's immature and to believe some cabal of old white guys meets in a smoky old room deciding the fate of America.

It's not all of "them"; just a handful of the wealthier and more militantly ideological (read: self-rationalizing) ones. And yeah, these guys actually used to meet once a week at Norquist's place to talk shop.

I agree that I doubt these parties fully appreciated/appreciate the consequences of the agenda they promote; they just wanted to make it a little easier for themselves and their friends to do business. But making it "easier to do business" can have serious consequences for those of us who aren't highly-placed among the ranks of "the movers and shakers." Also, how could these guys and gals be expected to understand the impacts of their policy making successes; in the short-to-mid-term, they're insulated from those consequences by their enormous wealth. It's only when things reach a breaking point that they'd have any reason to remember why the system was set up the way it was in the first place.

Or basically, what Marty Marx said, with one addition: these interests have also become much more successful at capturing our political systems and legal processes in the past few decades (which has made it much easier for them to pursue their narrower economic interests more successfully than the rest of us). It's a systemic problem, created by a structural power gap--a gap that's shaped more or less precisely like what should be the power bloc comprised of US workers/consumers/voters. US workers under current law don't have the same degree of bargaining power found throughout the rest of the West; due to corporate consolidation and the various "synergies" produced by the last couple of decades of corporate mergers and other factors, consumers don't have the power to meaningfully influence corporate behavior at the check-out anymore (everyone agrees boycotts usually don't work, right?), and the political party and primary systems basically limit the pool of viable political candidates to those who can successfully woo the most deep-pocketed corporate or other wealthy interests, so it's only natural the outputs of the system would now reflect these deep imbalances in power.

You seem to think people in other countries are somehow compelled to purchase America's exports - or if not, that autarky is somehow a valid model for the US despite the fact that it hasn't worked anywhere else.

The US has a big enough consumer base, we don't strictly need to compete on exports. We could be a self-sustaining economy if we wanted to be. I'm not arguing that would necessarily be good for the world, but it's possible.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:02 PM on April 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


Charles Murray is an interesting conservative voice precisely because he's sort of racist

I think we can drop the "sort of" once someone starts burning crosses.
posted by bonecrusher at 2:09 PM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Don't they get that there's an obvious connection between these superficially different things? If you insist on treating your fellow human beings as a fungible resource (a "labor pool") don't be surprised when human culture and society start to decay. Fungible resources have different cultural and social needs than people do. Economic necessity is driving the "values" gap being touted here, and it's economic necessity designed by the business interests of owners left systematically unchecked by an essentially powerless and disorganized work force."

See: Heidegger's critique of the Spirit of Technology, which treats people and labor as a "standing reserve," inherently dehumanizing them.

(He was a Nazi, but that doesn't make him wrong about everything.)
posted by klangklangston at 2:19 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure I care about the state of White America. I'd rather care about Americans, as people. If you know what I mean.
posted by jokeefe at 2:20 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


(I'm not even sure what he means by "White America", to be honest.)
posted by jokeefe at 2:20 PM on April 12, 2011


What's precious is how easily some white people are able to just forget that slavery ever happened.


Who said he's forgetting?
posted by Ironmouth at 2:28 PM on April 12, 2011


The US has a big enough consumer base, we don't strictly need to compete on exports. We could be a self-sustaining economy if we wanted to be. I'm not arguing that would necessarily be good for the world, but it's possible.

What makes you think it would be good for the US? About 20-25% of the economy derives directly from international trade. If you think autarky is so great, show me somewhere that it works.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:35 PM on April 12, 2011


The US has a big enough consumer base, we don't strictly need to compete on exports. We could be a self-sustaining economy if we wanted to be. I'm not arguing that would necessarily be good for the world, but it's possible.


'cept for all that oil we need.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:00 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


My point is, I think it's immature and to believe some cabal of old white guys meets in a smoky old room deciding the fate of America.


We are deciding the fate of America. The old white guys know we will decide in their favor. They are strictly hands off. Anyone who doesn't believe this is the straight up fault of John Q. Public is just dreaming. The problem is us. Its been that way since day fucking one. Time to lay responsibility where it has always belonged. At our own dancing feet.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:03 PM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, no matter what you think of Charles Murray, you've got to give him props for having the wit and gumption to name his lecture after an Eminem song.
posted by koeselitz at 3:07 PM on April 12, 2011


I'd like to point out that Lynne Cheney is also a scholar there. Not that I want to engage in condemnation by association, but that says something about the institute involved.
posted by LMGM at 3:10 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not even sure what he means by "White America", to be honest.

It looks like "to attempt to forestall misinterpretation and a repeat of previous controversies" he's only looking at white people. So he's attempting to look at economic class issues without bringing race into it, by only looking at "one race".

So... yeah. Lots of potential issues with that. Not to mention this guy's history is hard to ignore.
posted by wildcrdj at 3:12 PM on April 12, 2011


Exactly, wildcrdj, he wanted to pretend that whole It seems highly likely to us that both genes and the environment have something to do with racial differences [in IQ scores] thing never happened.
posted by ob1quixote at 3:18 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, his observation of America's trend towards an old-world style aristocracy-versus-the-unwashed-masses for white people seems pretty accurate.
Fixed that for you. FFS the speech was titled "The state of White America". Minorities don't even figure in. He blames income inequality on a lack of moral fiber among the poor brought on by Dr. Spock style lax parenting in the sixties or whatever. Nevermind the fact that baby boomers were getting drafted and killed in Vietnam for no reason might have damaged their trust in the establishment

The other problem is that this is how things were up until the 1930s anyway. So it was actually the progressive era that brought in end to it, at least for white people. Followed by civil rights which helped to start ending it for minorities.

Now income inequality is being ratcheted up once again, and Murray is horrified to discover that minorities are among the new elites and middle class, while there are white people low them! Heaven's to Betsy!

Anyone who doesn't believe Murray is just a dejected, unreconstructed white supremacist at this point is probably some kind of racist themselves. Look at all the "human biodiversity" nuts out there. Murray is also a big promoter of that crap as well.

Also, poor people in this day and age tend to reproduce faster and have more children then the rich and well educated. It makes sense, upper class people with a future want to work hard and build that future instead of raising kids right away, while people who have no belief that they can live any better then they do now by working hard and delaying children will just squeeze them out whenever.
What you need is a workforce that is more creative. Design innovative new products (clean energy for example), design new machines that can create these new products, learn how to install, operate and maintain these machines.
Do you really think that everyone is capable of designing shower curtain stamping machines, though? We can't all be programmers. And on top of that more and more intellectual work can be computerized and of course any kind of intellectual work is even easier to outsource. A shower-curtain stamper designed by a Chinese person works just as well as one designed by an American.

The reality is as more and more stuff can be automated, either the capitalist system will break down due to overabundance where everyone will receive everything they need and will only need to work a few days a year, or society will collapse into a new aristocracy of educated elites and everyone else, who will no longer even get an education due to the fact that only a handful of educated people will be needed to run society.
posted by delmoi at 3:32 PM on April 12, 2011 [9 favorites]


What you need is a workforce that is more creative. Design innovative new products (clean energy for example), design new machines that can create these new products, learn how to install, operate and maintain these machines.

But where will this workforce come from? Magic pixie dust? People pulling themselves up by their bootstraps? But I repeat myself (to paraphrase Mark Twain).

Victim blaming should always be suspect, but even more so when the victims are told "retrain thyself" when community colleges and education loans are cut simultaneously with tuitions shooting into the stratosphere. It's like trying to run a marathon with bystanders constantly trying to trip you up.
posted by jhandey at 3:47 PM on April 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


The reality is as more and more stuff can be automated, either the capitalist system will break down due to overabundance where everyone will receive everything they need and will only need to work a few days a year, or society will collapse into a new aristocracy of educated elites and everyone else, who will no longer even get an education due to the fact that only a handful of educated people will be needed to run society.

Every time there's an inflection point in the economy, people say this. They said that at the dawn of the industrial revolution as well. There's the well-known danger of extrapolating current trends into the future - that's why predictions of how the world will look like never really pan out... it's like someone once calculated that at some point NY City would drown in horse excrement given how one can plot out the trendlines. And then came the car and public transport.

The only way all this will end in tears is if we throw up our hands and resign ourselves. The solutions are not just technological. It's quite clear there needs to be a new social and political compact, which in the past has always accompanied the economic inflection points. Hopefully, we as a society still have it in us to create a sustainable economy going forward. Because it's true that we're reaching a crisis point. Wealth disparities and privilege disparities are now self-perpetuating to such a degree that upward mobility is dangerously restricted. This is what we should be talking about as a society. Instead, we're fighting the wars of the past - this is perhaps my biggest disappointment with Obama - I didn't expect him to be a miracle-worker, but what I hoped is that he'd be able to spark the discussion, so that at long last we start looking for real solutions. But as it is, he was too saddled with a sinking economy amidst a war and society too divided to govern effectively... or perhaps he had no interest or no ability to do what I was hoping for. Who knows. I only know we really, really need to start looking at our society and the world in a broader context.
posted by VikingSword at 3:50 PM on April 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


As for Murray, from what I can tell, he's half right. Us leftists instinctively shy away from cultural explanations for things, but sometimes there is truth to them. The problem is that it's impossible to understand this in isolation from the greater societal impacts of our global economic system.

I keep thinking about Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation, a history of the social impact of economic changes during England’s Industrial Revolution. The central thesis of the book was that the market is not a force of nature like the sun, but is a creation of human beings and has to be embedded in society somehow. When not embedded in society, the market is horribly corrosive to human society – to family, to culture, to everything.
posted by jhandey at 4:03 PM on April 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


The only way all this will end in tears is if we throw up our hands and resign ourselves.
Uh...
The reality is as more and more stuff can be automated, either the capitalist system will break down due to overabundance where everyone will receive everything they need and will only need to work a few days a year, or...
What's wrong with that? The only way we can keep the current system is to completely stop innovating.
posted by delmoi at 4:04 PM on April 12, 2011


Dear Racist Douchebag,

Greetings from five standard deviations out on the side of the bell curve you like. That's right, I'm white, male, was raised protestant, skipped a year of school and a year of college and still had a 3.499 GPA as a 19-year old college junior when economic reality hit me in the face and I had to go make my way among all those lesser people you're describing.

Dude, I have spent my entire life listening to people like you tell me how smart I am. Well I've spent 25 years building systems for those people to use, and let me tell you you are not as smart as you think you are.

Does it bother you that they don't take anything you value seriously? Well the same thing bothers them about you. They have correctly figured out that society doesn't give a rat's ass about them and they are responding to that reality in a pretty rational way. Sure some of them really do get dumb on drugs or just not caring, but a lot of them are much smarter than you realize. They just aren't smart in the way you and I are. The way you value. They're smart about things that make their life more bearable.

My fall from your class was a great shock but I learned quickly that even very stupid people have a great sensitivity to your contempt for them. Out in the world of truck drivers and plant operators I quickly figured out that acting like a douchebag was a bad idea no matter what my score was on the ACT. And I found out that when I respected people they would open up to me and reveal a rich store of knowledge in areas that I'd never even considered to be so compelling. Their culture is vibrant and full of details and knowledge of it is a currency that can't be faked.

If IQ tests reflected your ability to memorize the entire history of the rap music business including side gigs and entourage members I suspect I'd be ranked a pretty low grade moron. Or if they required you to place yourself in the fine grained social structure of an extended community accurately enough to survive as a crack dealer. Or if they required you to deal with a police force and court system that has your attitude to them.

(I will note that in whitey land it is baseball fans who come across as dull and then turn out to know every game summary and final score since 1957. It's not just black people who escape into what might be considered irrelevant and useless wonkdom.)

We all know why you're doing this. Whites know it and blacks know it. So just knock it the fuck off, okay? You are just making yourself look stupid. Take it from someone who, according to the very tests you worship, is objectively smarter than you are.
posted by localroger at 4:12 PM on April 12, 2011 [23 favorites]


Oh my.
posted by nfg at 4:14 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


co-author of the controversial The Bell Curve
And we're done. Really, you don't have to read any further. This guy doesn't actually know how to do science.
posted by clvrmnky at 4:35 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm rather relieved to read this; The Bell Curve was coherent enough to be taken so seriously that professors had to refute it point by point, whereas this is much more clearly one-sided.
posted by Peach at 4:52 PM on April 12, 2011


The solutions are not just technological. It's quite clear there needs to be a new social and political compact...

yea, to me it's pretty clear that the zeitgeist is about moving beyond industrial-age institutions to post-industrial ones and that the political battles of the age are about the inertia of the status quo -- whether it's IP protection, central banking or even the nation-state itself -- of the 1%, cf. bob black & jeremy rifkin, versus delmoi's characterization of, "overabundance where everyone will receive everything they need and will only need to work a few days a year..."

like, as a thought exercise, think about a proverbial ipad gov't where everyone in the world has a young lady's illustrated primer; the future is now, it's just not evenly distributed...

also btw, re: polanyi:
I have just finished Dani Rodrik’s Globalization Paradox. It’s difficult to encapsulate a book that ranges so broadly, with many bloggable bits, but here’s a thought that kept nagging throughout: As Polanyi was to the self-regulating and unbridled market in the 20th century, so is Dani to self-regulating and unbridled globalization in the 21st.

I wonder if that’s a comparison that would make Dani cringe? I hope not. It’s meant as a compliment.

Published in 1944, after a turbulent 30 years, The Great Transformation was Polanyi’s way of grabbing capitalism by the neck and sticking its nose in the mess it made. After a turbulent few years in the OECD economy, and a more turbulent decade or two in emerging markets, Dani does something similar. His argument: Ever freer trade has little growth benefit, and robs poor countries of the chance to develop industry in the same way as their rich cousins. Ever freer capital flows, meanwhile, can be blamed for volatility and financial crises in emerging markets. Both are incompatible with the twin goals of sovereignty and democracy.

I buy the bulk of what Dani has to say, though I’m not sure that I believe his prescriptions will work for the poorest areas of the planet, most of all sub-Saharan Africa. His prescriptions seem to require a much more coherent state, and professional bureaucracy, and stable polity, than most nations can boast. In this third-best environment, could Asia-style industrial and growth policy cause more harm than good? ... The arguments seem to hold more force for middle income countries — the Turkeys and Perus and South Africas of the world — than for the Ugandas and Liberias...
posted by kliuless at 5:08 PM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


"your pithy analysis ignores? The rest of the planet. "

Not only were the criticisms following this statement apropos, but in the 60's/70's(/80's?) the US was positioned to make economic policy that supported a strong internal economy, built infrastructure and educational opportunities for its citizens, and generally support the growth of an equitable and democratic society. It has chosen not to do this, and instead seems well on the way to becoming the world's largest third world economy. The rest of the world, not so much. But heck, look how big our military is.
posted by sneebler at 6:01 PM on April 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


lower ("Pleasant, personally unobjectionable people [… who] have never quite been able to get their act together.")

That's all the farther I'll get. The might-makes-right suggestion that people, who turn away from a tacitly-reenforced majoritarian culture, vigorously advertised and viciously engineered, to be themselves rather than kow-tow, are somehow deficient ... SO condescending.

To quote Oliver Cromwell: "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken". For people like the author of "The Bell Curve", mere humanity is apparently unachievable.
posted by Twang at 6:50 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


gagglezoomer: "My point is, I think it's immature and to believe some cabal of old white guys meets in a smoky old room deciding the fate of America."


I have a stock portfolio. Today I sat down and caught up on a bunch of proxy votes. Ya know what? There's a whole lot of proxies from different blue chip companies with the same names on the board of directors. There are, in fact, 400 people in this country who control more wealth than half of ALL Americans combined. The top 1% of wealth holders in this country have more assets than the bottom 95% combined.

That's obscene. And to blithely ignore the fact that of those 400 people, 200 or so of them are on the boards of damn near every Fortune 500 company in the country is to wear the same blinders that allowed people to applaud when Goldman Sachs was appointed by Obama to save...erm...Goldman Sachs.

So yeah...when you're talking about 200-400 of the wealthiest people in the world being able to control the directions of corporations, banks, and governments...then I think an argument for a cabal can be made.
posted by dejah420 at 8:26 PM on April 12, 2011 [10 favorites]


From the founding through the first two centuries, the United States fostered a different way for people to live together

there has never been, to my knowledge, a more fractious, violent, rebellious, unruly culture than that of the united states - we have been contrary, pigheaded bastards since day one and anybody who's spent any time outside the cloisters of the privileged knows this

our failure to be well-behaved, submissive peons must really disturb him ...
posted by pyramid termite at 10:19 PM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


That kind of assumes all consumption takes place in the US.

In the immediate postwar era, which is when the economic system that most of us are currently lamenting (the one with a nice big middle class) was formed, that was sort of the way things were. Nearly all consumption was in the US, and in fact depending on how you do the math, something like 1/5th of global consumption is still domestic to the US. So the US had a huge amount of power via controlling access to that market, and still has a significant (if decreasing) amount.

While it was inevitable that eventually the rest of the world would recover from the war (or colonialism, or a raft of other issues) and start producing and consuming, the US had a huge head start. It was a geopolitical windfall piled on top of a "demographic dividend" on top of an already pretty good economy; a sort of perfect economic storm.

And, as a result, for a few years we had it pretty good over here. A lot of nice living-wage jobs got created, jobs that a person could go into with a highschool education in some cases, and support a family on. I'm not trying to further the 1950s Garden Of Eden thing too far, because in a lot of respects there was some pretty shitty stuff going on, but economically it was a pretty enviable situation.

The US could have milked this for quite a while if we'd had a mind to; by restricting access to the domestic market in preference to domestic industry we could have kept those jobs around for a lot longer than we did. Yes, there certainly would have been a cost in terms of overall economic growth; the overall GDP impact of trade on the US economy probably is positive -- I'm not arguing that in the slightest. But the problem is that the benefits of trade seem to fall very disproportionately on capital, at the extreme expense of labor.

The US made a policy decision to throw open the borders to world trade at the obvious expense of domestic industries, and the results were in retrospect predictable: uncompetitive domestic industries were destroyed, efficient ones remained. But that Econ 101 explanation masks the vast human cost, which was that a lot of good middle-class jobs ended up getting sacrificed at the GDP altar, and it's not at all clear to me that this was a good bargain.

We got higher-quality cars, which is nice, but now parts of Michigan look like they ended up on the wrong end of a neutron bomb. Or a bit closer to (my) home, I'm writing this on a computer that cost only a couple days' wages, but if you're a high-school student in Maynard, MA, don't expect a job as an assembler at the DEC factory like your parents might have had. Don't get me wrong, I love having cars that can go a quarter-million miles before being junk and $300 personal computers, but I think I'd have a fairly hard time looking someone in the eye the day the plant in Michigan or Maynard closed down and telling them to suck it up and take one for the team. But that's what, in essence, actually happened.

Questioning that decision isn't a call for autarky; it's not "autarky" to limit trade so that it doesn't cause widespread social disruption, as it clearly has in the US.

And other countries seem to be taking notice. India and China are both significantly more protective of domestic industries than the US was in the postwar period. (Saying that China's government seems to value social stability is a bit of an understatement.) When the American middle class finishes collapsing, I think it will become difficult for anyone to argue with a straight face that increased globalization and trade are an unalloyed good.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:00 AM on April 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


the overall GDP impact of trade on the US economy probably is positive -- I'm not arguing that in the slightest. But the problem is that the benefits of trade seem to fall very disproportionately on capital, at the extreme expense of labor.

Yeah, this is what I was trying to get at in my previous comment, about how the effects of globalization have been much different in Europe than in the US. Of course, they were both starting from vastly different positions, and in the end you can't perfectly compare any two economies - but for the most part, Europe has been able to retain a pretty solid middle class. Now, currently there is an unemployment epidemic (most likely this is the trade-off -- either reduce the average wage, or reduce the number of people working). And a couple of countries maintained their standard of living through shady book-keeping, essentially (like Greece), and that bubble has now burst, but perhaps those sorts of ripples are preferable to what's going on right now in the US? I think the social impact of this stratification is going to be in the next decade or so (if it is not already) absolutely huge.
posted by molecicco at 2:02 AM on April 13, 2011


there has never been, to my knowledge, a more fractious, violent, rebellious, unruly culture than that of the united states - we have been contrary, pigheaded bastards since day one and anybody who's spent any time outside the cloisters of the privileged knows this

Whoa there, Nelly. The United States might not be as great as some people think, but that doesn't mean it's as bad as others might proclaim. Many (most) other nations across the span of history have been just if not more bloody, violent, fractious, and unruly. Some of them are now pretty good too. Just like them, we have our low points, but we also have our parts to celebrate. Be critical, but don't get ahead of yourself to proclaim the US the Great Satan or anything.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 5:58 AM on April 13, 2011


lord chancellor, i don't necessarily see what i described as a bad thing
posted by pyramid termite at 6:50 AM on April 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's nice to see a conservative acknowledge that the current trend in our society in which the middle class is disappearing while the rest of us are being segregated into an upper middle class and a lower class might actually be a problem. I didn't find any enlightenment as to causes or solutions though.
posted by caddis at 7:19 AM on April 13, 2011


of those 400 people, 200 or so of them are on the boards of damn near every Fortune 500 company in the country

You might want to check your facts on that one.
posted by gagglezoomer at 9:09 AM on April 13, 2011


But the problem is that the benefits of trade seem to fall very disproportionately on capital, at the extreme expense of labor.

Yes, because the labor market was kept 'protected' at the same time capital markets were opening elsewhere - and actually, the US still exerts more capital controls than a lot of other countries do (eg in Europe, where capital controls put people in mind of bad times under fascism and communism, lengthy recessions and so on).

The result is that there's now an underclass of ~12m people in the US who have virtually no legal rights at all, and are in a vastly inferior position to even the poorest and most debt-ridden US citizen, and the punishments for such people to leave are higher than those if they stay, such that the country has, in certain ways, recreated slavery, albeit of an impersonal diffuse kind.

This cannot be blamed on rampant capitalism, because capitalists want fully open borders, for both labor and capital. The legal costs and risks of dealing with people's eligibility to work in general cost more than the amount saved by hiring people below standard wages. There have been similar outcomes involving undocumented labor in Europe. This is what happens when you protect one part of the market, it stagnates. If US labor were more open to domestic competition, then there would be less outsourcing.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:01 PM on April 13, 2011


"This cannot be blamed on rampant capitalism, because capitalists want fully open borders, for both labor and capital."

Well… Kinda.

Except when they don't.

Capitalists, broadly speaking, are pretty notorious for gaming the system, including seeking laws that pervert the "free market" in pursuit of profits — this is particularly evident in "rent seeking" behaviors.

That the costs are outweighed by the benefits seems more an assertion than a fact — if that were true, we wouldn't have the huge numbers of undocumented workers in food service or landscaping or any number of other jobs.

Further, blaming labor (and immigration) policy for the disparity in wealth seems fairly skewed toward blaming the victim.
posted by klangklangston at 12:37 PM on April 13, 2011


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