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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Self-help for frustrated rich people

by digby

So Charles Murray has a new book out called Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. And, lo and behold it appears to say that the reason for all our troubles is the bad character of poor people. What a shocker.

Greg Anrig takes a look at some of the excerpts in the Wall Street Journal and concludes that Murray is fudging the numbers. Again. And he's blaming the usual suspects for bringing us all down. Anrig writes:
Murray goes on, as always, to blame the Great Society reforms:

The creation of Medicare and Medicaid, the enactment of civil rights legislation, and programs like Food Stamps and job training set in motion a vicious cycle that led lower-income whites to stop going to church, watch more TV, and feel more alienated from the rest of the society. Even though we now incarcerate a far higher share of our citizens than any advanced country and violent crime rates have plummeted, it was laxity toward crime back in the 1960s that explains why the gap in out-of-wedlock births became much higher over that time period. The logic for those explanations may be difficult to track, and maybe Murray takes a stab at providing some evidence in support of those claims in the book itself. But if past is prologue, that evidence is likely to be highly dubious.

The solution, Murray argues, is for the upper-class to start wagging its fingers at everyone else:

The best thing that the new upper class can do to provide that reinforcement is to drop its condescending "nonjudgmentalism." Married, educated people who work hard and conscientiously raise their kids shouldn't hesitate to voice their disapproval of those who defy these norms. When it comes to marriage and the work ethic, the new upper class must start preaching what it practices.

That should work like a charm. And it's good to know that Murray has finally figured out a way to escape his racist past --- he's blaming poor whites for being too weak-willed to resist the lures of the welfare state that was designed for blacks. Perhaps that's a form of progress.

Murray has created a quiz for everyone to take to determine if they are a member of the white working class. It would seem that he believes most upper middle class Americans spend their time at the opera or watching re-runs of Alistair Cooke's America while nibbling on bran muffins with fois gras. (Not that there's anything wrong with that --- well, maybe the fois gras.)

Anyway, you can take the test yourself --- or for even more fun, you can take the test with Jay Ackroyd and Marcy Wheeler tonight on Virtually Speaking. According to my quite high score, I am among the great unwashed lower classes, or at least have traveled extensively among them. Who knew? (Except me, of course.)

Anrig notes that David Brooks is all aquiver with excitement about this book, which stands to reason. It is a reprise of Brooks' anthropological study of American culture as seen through chain restaurants and grocery store buying habits. But like Brooks' before him, Murray's latest gives away the game. The test is clearly geared toward the over-educated, upper middle class white person who would buy such a book in the first place. And its thesis about the lower orders lack of good character and bad habits is clearly designed to make those readers feel good about themselves by contrast. Basically it's Dr Phil for closet racists and wealthy pricks. I'm sure it will sell well.