Charles Murray of Bell Curve fame explains that if there is increasing inequality in the U.S., it’s the lower classes’ fault. Why? Because they aren’t getting married enough.
When Americans used to brag about “the American way of life”â€”a phrase still in common use in 1960â€”they were talking about a civic culture that swept an extremely large proportion of Americans of all classes into its embrace. It was a culture encompassing shared experiences of daily life and shared assumptions about central American values involving marriage, honesty, hard work and religiosity.
I thought the American dream ca. 1960 was owning one’s own home and seeing the U.S.A. in our Chevrolet.
Over the past 50 years, that common civic culture has unraveled. We have developed a new upper class with advanced educations, often obtained at elite schools, sharing tastes and preferences that set them apart from mainstream America. At the same time, we have developed a new lower class, characterized not by poverty but by withdrawal from America’s core cultural institutions.
He then goes on to explain how two hypothetical neighborhoods of white people fall along the cultural divide based on rates of marriage, out-of-wedlock births, church attendance, crime, etc., and argues that these “lifestyle” changes lead a lack of “industriousness” and thereby to income inequality.
I think just about any social psychologist would argue that the real data show that economic instability is the cause of social instability, not the other way around. In other words, people aren’t poor — financially insecure — because they don’t get married; they don’t get married because they are poor. A man who doubts his ability to support a family is less likely to pursue marriage, for example.
Daniel Larison at the American Conservative points out that Murray’s arguments have no internal logic, never mind any connection to the real world.
I suppose the degree of racism one sees in Murray’s essay depends on how you read it. He says he is comparing populations of white people to argue that race isn’t a factor. Well, he could have just said, “race isn’t a factor.” He could have made his hypothetical population plaid, I suppose. But really, IMO what he’s saying here is that lower-class whites are getting to be just as lazy and shiftless as the Colored Folk.
In other class warfare news. William Tucker of the American Spectator dismisses “environmentalism” as an indulgent affectation of the leisure class. “Only in the highest echelons do we hear people say, ‘We don’t need to build any pipelines. We’ve already got enough energy. We can all sit around awaiting the day we live off wind and sunshine,'” he says. Real Americans, of course, want to drill, baby, drill.
I don’t know anybody who says that, of course; what some of us say is that we ought to be working our butts off developing alternate and sustainable energy sources instead of ripping our planet apart squeezing the last drop of fossil fuel out of it. This is less about the “leisure class” versus the “working class” than it is about “vested interests” versus “people who would like to believe there will be a habitable planet for our grandchildren to live on.”