Two Americas, Growing Apart

Charles Murray offers a better way to think and talk about class.


Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010, by Charles Murray, Crown Forum, 400 pages, $27

Unless you live in a cave, you know the controversial work and reputation of Charles Murray. Losing Ground, published in 1984, proposed eliminating welfare as we knew it and became the template for conservative welfare reform. The Bell Curve (1994) proposed that America is sorting itself relentlessly by IQ, and that race is an intractable part of the picture. The unjustly neglected In Our Hands (2006) proposed cashing out most federal subsidies and programs and focusing on making government less intrusive rather than just less expensive (a better plan than conservatives' current one of wishing the New Deal out of existence). In between Murray found time for a libertarian manifesto, a history of the Apollo space program, and a survey of human creativity. Like him or not, he has written many original books.

Coming Apart, his latest, is not one of them. There is almost nothing original or new in it. And I mean that as a high compliment, because what is new is rarely true.

With the recent death of James Q. Wilson, the last titan of 20th-century political sociology has passed from the scene. Wilson, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Aaron Wildavsky, Samuel Huntington, Mancur Olson, Edward Banfield, Seymour Martin Lipset: They and a handful of others reframed pressing national issues in ways that transcended ideology. Of today's practitioners, only Murray has the same flair for the big idea at the right moment. But he is more eclectic than the previous generation: more eccentric, more contrarian, more ideological. He courts controversy and sometimes pushes too far. He and I are friendly acquaintances, and I recall a conversation years ago, when The Bell Curve was still on the drawing board. After he sketched the argument, I urged him to excise the material on race and IQ. If you include that, I told him, no one will notice anything else in the book. He replied that the element of race was too important to omit, and whether or not people wanted to hear about it, they should. When the book came out, I was not happy to be proved right.

Coming Apart is different. Very different. Now within sight of 70, Murray calls the book "my valedictory on the topic of happiness and public policy," and possibly "my valedictory, period." What he has done, this time, is to ditch the contrarian persona and stay squarely within the bounds of the conventional and the known. Still more surprising: Far from inflaming a sensitive debate, he has found a way to defuse one. By coloring so resolutely inside the lines, he has found, at last, a compelling, attention-getting way to tell a story about class in America.

What is that story? American culture and society are bifurcating, Murray argues. At the top, you have the Whole Foods people. These are what he calls "the new upper class" and what I think of as two-two-two-one people: households with two college degrees, two incomes, two parents, and just one marriage. A college-educated elite is nothing new, but until recently its members were few and sprinkled through the population. "A narrow elite existed in 1960 as in 2010," writes Murray, "but it was not a group that had broadly shared backgrounds, tastes, preferences, or culture. They were powerful people, not a class."

But then a few things happened. First, university degrees became de rigueur for elite status. Second, more people obtained them. Third, the selective-university elite became numerous enough to take over entire neighborhoods, intermarry, and develop its own subculture. In the last few decades, a tipping point arrived. The two-two-two-one people could, and now do, live in entire ZIP codes of their own. Culturally, they live in what Murray calls a bubble, rarely crossing class lines in their friendships, loves, and occupations. Their kids can't even imagine scrubbing factory floors or reading water meters for a living.

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At the other end of the spectrum, the screw turned the other way. As the economic premium on education and cognitive ability grew, opportunity for low-skilled men dwindled. They increasingly withdrew from the work force, becoming more dependent on women and public support, and less economically necessary and successful as fathers. As they became more isolated from work and fatherhood, their neighborhoods also became more isolated, and critical social indicators there—marriage, employment, religiosity, honesty—wobbled or collapsed. Their kids can't even imagine practicing law or developing ad campaigns for a living.

Today, whereas Whole Foods people live in the 1950s of Ozzie and Harriet (only with much better food), many Walmart people live in conditions perilously approaching those of an underclass. So frayed is their social capital, and so isolated their culture, that Murray worries they are approaching a "point of no return" where their resources and mores can no longer support functioning communities. If the top looks like a bubble, the bottom looks like a tar pit.

Please note: Murray's analysis speaks only of whites. Thus his subtitle: "The State of White America, 1960–2010." Attending only to whites turns out to be a masterly move. Rhetorically, it lets him tell a story about class that does not devolve into a debate about race. (You could read his subtitle as a quiet acknowledgment that he has learned from the Bell Curve donnybrook.) Substantively, it produces an unpleasant jolt: In America, the rise of something like a permanent lower class is not a racial phenomenon. Exactly the same thing is happening to lower-class whites as to lower-class minorities. In that woeful respect, the country is coming together across racial lines.

Murray's message will not be welcome to liberals who want to blame social problems on racism, or to conservatives who want to deny the reality of class, but it has an important virtue: It is true. I feel confident saying so because, in my world, policy wonks have been talking about all the elements of Murray's story for a long time—to no public effect whatsoever. My world is the Brookings Institution, a prominent Washington think tank, where I have been in residence since 1996. I have been hearing pieces of Murray's story in the hallways there for years.

In 1999 Isabel Sawhill, a Brookings economist and former Clinton administration official, co-authored (with Laura Chadwick) a paper concluding that the life prospects of children were diverging, with two distinct groups developing. One group had two parents with strong marriages, good jobs, and college degrees; another had single parents with poor schooling and lousy prospects. Ever fewer were in the middle. Especially disturbing, the effects were intergenerational: Both groups were passing along their prospects to their children. "There is a bifurcation in children's life prospects that threatens to divide the U.S. into a society of haves and have-nots," Sawhill wrote. Wow, I thought at the time, this is really important. As far as I know, her work got no attention at all.

Down the hall from Sawhill works Gary Burtless, a labor economist. Almost 20 years ago he noticed a disturbing trend: Men were withdrawing from participation in the work force. More and more men were depending on women's earnings and public support to get by. One reason seemed to be a relentless decline in the earning power of low-skilled men, but even in the 1990s, when wages stabilized for a while, the proportion of men holding jobs declined. "This," says Burtless, "is not news." He has talked about it at conferences for years. You probably have never heard of him.

Sawhill, among others, pointed out years ago that marriage and family structure have surpassed race in determining socioeconomic standing. (If you are an unborn baby choosing parents and you want to avoid poverty, you should pick married black parents over unmarried white ones.) Robert Reich (who back in 1991 coined the phrase "secession of the successful") and the journalist Bill Bishop (author of the book The Big Sort) have explored cultural and economic segregation. Journalists David Brooks and Don Peck, among others, have explored the emergence of a distinctive and separate elite culture. Brad Wilcox, a University of Virginia sociologist, has sounded the alarm about the decline of marriage in the working class. Murray himself first warned of "the coming white underclass" in The Wall Street Journal as long ago as 1993. 

Nonetheless (and despite acknowledging many of his predecessors), Murray is getting a ton of press for his book. Well, good for him! By splitting class off from race, by pulling many pieces together into a coherent story, and by salting his book with telling examples from popular culture and everyday life, he has used his valedictory, if such it be, to find a way to tell a story that race-obsessed liberals and class-denying conservatives need to hear and confront. America is bifurcating.

The book is not without peculiarities. This is Charles Murray, after all. It seems odd, if not churlish, for Murray to blame working-class men's withdrawal from the work force on welfare and indolence rather than on declining wages. "If their job prospects are objectively worse," says Burtless, "I don't know why we would be surprised if they work less." My own guess is that values, economics, welfare, and wages are all in play, and that Murray's readiness to blame the government and working-class mores says more about his predispositions than it does about the world.

The same goes for his disdain for Europe, which he sees as a kind of social-welfare antipode to America. In my view (shaped by living and working in Britain), the overriding fact about Europe's social systems and norms is their similarity to America's, not their differentness; Europhobia, in my view, is one of modern conservatism's more curious and unattractive tics. Also a stretch is Murray's notion that the only hope of turning around the behavior of the lower class is for elites to regain their self-confidence and "preach what they practice." Good luck with that. In Tocquevillean America, it is mass opinion, not elite finger wagging, that primarily legitimizes cultural mores.

Helpfully, however, Murray saves his hobbyhorses for the final chapter, where readers can easily ignore them. Also to his credit, he is half-hearted about his remedies, because he knows they probably won't work. Here he commits an act of integrity. Book editors always insist on a last chapter that lists things "we" (whoever that is) can do to solve the problem. Coming Apart does not include that chapter. No bromides about cutting the capital gains tax rate or revitalizing manufacturing.

The vectors driving American class bifurcation are fundamental: the decline in demand for low-skilled labor, the rise in earning power and independence of women, the desire of people with talent and education to marry each other and socialize together. None of these things is likely to change, or even necessarily should change. Unless we abolish farm machinery and factory automation, good low-skilled jobs are never coming back. Women are not going to renounce their economic and social freedom. Yale-educated moms are not often going to marry high-school-educated dads.

Notice, too, how the vectors intersect with and reinforce each other. Low earnings and poor job prospects make men less marriageable, so women enter the work force without marrying, making work more optional for men and men more optional for women. More kids are thus born to single moms, who tend to wind up poor, disadvantaging the kids. Meanwhile, the very fact of not marrying reduces men's earnings, so the less men marry the less they earn, and the less they earn the less they marry. As all the little gears and wheels turn, lower-class neighborhoods grow more disorganized and isolated. Wash, rinse, repeat. 

Murray is not very persuasive in arguing that the emergence of a culturally distinctive new upper class is in itself a danger to the country's social cohesion, although the point bears thinking about. Much more worrisome is the story at the bottom, which suggests a future in which America will have a harder and harder time making a happy, productive place for the working-class people who only a few decades ago were the country's economic and moral backbone. 

Yet there is a possible bright side that Murray overlooks. In focusing on the college-educated, managerial, and technocratic top 20 percent and the blue-collar, high-school-educated bottom 30 percent, Coming Apart omits something like half the population: the white-collar middle. These folks include, for example, owners of small businesses, teachers, police officers, insurance agents, salesmen, social workers, technicians, real estate brokers, nurses, and managers without college degrees. "I omit them not because they are unimportant," Murray says, "but because…on every indicator this group was in the middle," and excluding them makes the story "easier to follow."

Perhaps so, but it also leaves out the 50 percent or so of the population that may in fact be the country's connective tissue and social glue: people who shop comfortably at both Walmart and Target, who follow football and like imported beer. Murray notes, in passing, that the pathologies of the blue-collar lower class are spreading to many individuals in the white-collar middle class, so there is some rot in the middle. This, again, is not news. But the white-collar middle is less isolated than the blue-collar bottom and has brighter prospects, offering an upward path for those beneath. As in politics, so with sociology: The middle is quieter and less exciting than the extremes, but in the end it generally matters more, and it deserves a textured examination that Murray has not provided here.

But never mind. Murray, in Coming Apart, has done more than enough for one book. He has shown us how to think meaningfully and talk manageably about class in America. In doing so, he has performed a feat worthy of James Q. Wilson. Pray for more works of social science as unoriginal as this one. 

Jonathan Rauch is a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution and author, most recently, of Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America (Times Books).

NEXT: The Vampire Economist and the Moral Molecule: Q&A with neuroeconomist Paul Zak

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  1. Unless you live in a cave, you know the controversial work and reputation of Charles Murray.

    Great, how much paperwork is involved in reclassifying my house as a cave…

    1. Don’t. They’ll just get suspicious of you and fill it with concrete.

      1. that’s when i pull the ripcord and the fake house stand-ups fall away to reveal my new tax-payer funded olympic-sized inground pool.


        1. Did you forget they’ll bill you for it? At union labor rates and .gov markup on material?

          Way cheaper to call a contractor.

          1. Prevailing wage, bitch.

            1. my classmate’s aunt makes $64/hr on the computer. She has been without work for eight months but last month her payment was $17426 just working on the computer for a few hours. Here’s the site to read more..FaceBookJob.NOTlong.CoM

          2. d’oh.

      2. I hear that keeps happening to Steve Smith, but since he likes eating concrete, no problem.

    2. No kidding. I’m going to have to track down the paperwork for doing the same thing in MA.

    3. If you lived in the great state of NY, you will need to hire a team of attorneys that specializes in Domicile Reclassification. They’re fees can run in excess of $400/hr and house-to-cave reclassification can require up to 25 hours of document preparation. Then you will need to pay court fees, document fees, village house-to-cave reclass fee, town house-to-cave reclass fee, county house-to-cave reclass fee, state house-to-cave reclass fee, and some other taxes they just fucking arbitrarily throw in. Once this is done, you will wait between 1 and 24 months for the state to complete your reclassification (avg wait is 23 months); the checks that you write will be immediately moved from your bank to the NYS coffers, incidentally. Once you are approved, you can relax knowing that Gov Cuomo won’t be able to imprison you for not having the appropriate domicile classification.

  2. For a moment I thought this article was about “Married with Children” and I got really excited.

    1. An article charting Christina Applegate’s role on the show would be much appreciated.

      1. As long as wit has appropriate illustrations.

        1. I thought that was clearly implied. But I guess I just have to spell everything out for you, don’t I?

          1. and its spelt m-a-r-y

          2. Not me, man, the staff. Otherwise, you’ll get a four color graph of her appearence in the show over time with lit-geek commentary and sarcasmic will have to provide the links to photos.

            1. Yeah, but sarcasmic will link to pics of all the lunkheads she dated on the show and not her. You’re right, I need to be more careful.

              1. Fun fact: one of the guys that Al beat the crap out of for dating his daughter was a young David Boreanaz.

                1. Al Bundy was my hero. He married Peg. He got the last laugh on all of us.

                2. You know, Hugh, you’re like the A-bomb. Everyone’s laughing, having a good time, and then you show up. BOOM! Everything’s dead.

                  1. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s killing a party.

                    Maybe I’ll stop by Clooney’s house tonight.

                    1. Killing a Party – hmm, why don’t you also stop by Team Red’s and Team Blue’s places later? I think a lot of people would consider that a public service.


                      May be time to resurrect this idea…
                      an anti-Jezebel, perhaps?

  3. Testing — spam filter was killing me earlier.

  4. So what if America is coming apart into two groups or even 100 groups ? A homogenous society might be useful if you want to run things like a highly socialised economy or wage war backed by a unified society. If on the other hand you prefer living a place where you can make or break it in life, or live how you want to live, you should not care how many classes there are.

    1. You should care a lot if there is limited class mobility.

      1. I’ll tell you what, then. Why don’t you call me some time when you have no class?

        1. I get no respect, I tell ya, no respect at all.

        2. Fuck me?!? Hey, ProL, can you read lips? FUCK YOU.

          1. Is she right? ‘Cause I know that’s the popular version of what went on there. And a lot of people like to believe that. I wish I could, but I was there. I wasn’t here in a classroom, hoping I was right, thinking about it.

            [shouting] I was up to my knees in rice paddies, with guns that didn’t work! Going in there, looking for Charlie, slugging it out with him, while pussies like you were back here partying, putting headbands on, doing drugs, and listening to the goddamn Beatles albums! Oh! Oh! Oh!

            1. Hey ProL, the war’s over. Get new parts for your head.

              1. Like me. I’m nice, and I’m tough. I’ll give you an idea what I mean. My two boys, I put one through college and the other I put through a wall.

                1. Uh, ProL, violent ground acquisition games such as football are in fact a crypto-fascist metaphor for nuclear war.

                  1. It’s this whole stupid capitalist system, you know? It’s set up to heap rewards on the advantaged and the aggressive. . .and to make sure that two regular schmoes like you and me never get a date with girls like Valerie Desmond. I hate the whole bourgeois mentality of this school.

                    1. You know what you almost never see, ProL? Somebody heckling a diver.

                    2. With the shape I’m in you could donate my body to science fiction.

                    3. ProL, bring us a pitcher of beer every seven minutes until somebody passes out. And then bring one every ten minutes.

                    4. First of all you’re going to have to grease the local politicians for the sudden zoning problems that always come up. Then there’s the kickbacks to the carpenters, and if you plan on using any cement in this building I’m sure the teamsters would like to have a little chat with ya, and that’ll cost ya. Oh and don’t forget a little something for the building inspectors. Then there’s long term costs such as waste disposal. I don’t know if you’re familiar with who runs that business but I assure you it’s not the boyscouts.

            2. Fun fact: Back to school was co-written by the late Greg Fields, father of Daily Caller reporter and libertarian hottie Michelle Fields.

      2. Capitalism creates the most class mobility. Don’t believe me, I will not even mention how well class mobility is going in places like Cuba or Venezuela, instead I will raise your favourite Sweden. Despite all the talk about “old money” in American society, Sweden is more rigid when it comes to who belongs to the richer classes than America by far.

        1. Absolutely, but maybe you’ve noticed that capitalism is under attack, too.

          There might even be an argument that the “Murray effect” is a symptom of weakening capitalism (or the growth of crony capitalism) in this country.

          1. Crony capitalism will never be solved by more government, more government is what gives the crony capitalists their advantage over others. You increase the surface area of where potential bribes and corruption can be applied, you will naturally have more bribes and corruption happening there.

            1. Stop telling me stuff I know already!

        2. Capitalism creates the most class mobility.

          I think most of the people here would agree. The disconcerting thing about this article is the fact that class mobility is already decreasing.

          Most libertarians would take that as an indication of how far we’ve already gone from being a truly captialist (i.e. free market) economy. Of course, the progresso-tards will take this as an indication that we need more wealth redistribution, and end up making the problem worse.

          1. I really think that class mobility is decreasing because of the social dependencies that big government promote. Murray is showing that two parent families work the best economically, while the government is encouraging single parent families by subsidy.

            1. So does he show that zero-two-two-one families are doing nearly as well as the ones with college graduates?

          2. What’s interesting is that the progressos never crossed the Rubicon by seriously demanding a wealth tax.

            Not that I’m trying to put the idea into anyone’s head. I can’t: it’s been bruited about for decades. But still that Rubicon hast not been crossed…

        3. I will not even mention how well class mobility is going in places like Cuba

          Like a ’57 Chevy, baby.

  5. Testing — the spam filter’s killing me.

  6. Yawn.

    The higher education system is about to implode, and leave in its wake a return to a system more akin to what existed in the 19th century.

    Sure, the civil servants’ kids will grow up to follow in their parents’ worthless footsteps.

    But that’s about it.

    1. The higher education system is about to implode

      Good point, though I’m not sure what you mean by “what existed in the 19th century.” It’s hard to imagine how the present inflated system can survive the coming commoditization of education.

      1. In the 19th century, it was more common for people to go from an elementary education to OJT.

        I think we’re headed that way again, except that the availability of knowledge will explode.

  7. Man I loved me some Peg Bundy.

    1. I didn’t appreciate what an awesome woman she was until ~5 years ago.

      She can sing, she can act, she’s witty. Her talent was wasted in that show. On the other hand, the syndication should keep her living the good life, so it’s not all bad.

      1. Peg Bundy fans should be getting Sons of Anarchy DVDs, stat.

        She puts in any awesome performance in that show.

        1. It’s on Play Instant on Netflix (seasons 1-3).

        2. I couldn’t watch it after Jax’s kid gets kidnapped. It was a cheesy plot, but it hit too close to home, reminding me of something my ex did.

          But, yes, awesome series.

          1. That plotline was ridiculously drawn out and stupid, and almost caused me to stop watching. You didn’t miss much. Except Jax’s Irish sister. You missed that.

          2. Skip that season. The next one is way better.

            1. No way. That season had the best ending.

      2. I was always a bit… different from my friends. They were panting after Christina Applegate, who, for the record I adore. She’s got talent and kick-ass comic timing and is, yes, awesomely pretty. But I was panting after Peg.

        Katy’s character had that trashy sex thing going on and, well, I just couldn’t look away. And yes, Sons of Anarchy FTW.

        1. Don’t give short shrift to Katy’s hot, younger, twin sisters Jean and Liz.

          1. Her sisters were the Doublemint Twins? Wow.

    2. I just finished watching that show again on Netflix streaming. It really was a brilliant cartoon of a show. They don’t make sitcoms like that anymore.

      1. People might forget but it was actually quite controversial for its time. We had just come out of the Normal Lear ‘politically correct’ era of TV sitcoms, and none too soon.

        1. This is true. MWC deliberately trashed a lot of sitcom mores, and it was great. A flagship show for the then-fledgling Fox.

        2. MWC and Roseanne reversed the trend that crested with Cosby.

          MWC had the advantage of lacking a shrieking sea hag at it’s center.

          1. One of the funniest things I’ve read in some time… “shrieking sea hag”. Funny because it’s spot on.

            Could you imagine Al married to that sea hag? The series would have lasted 2 episodes, culminating in Al’s suicide.

            1. Jeez – the spectacle of Al Bundy’s plight with Peg as the only bright spot was what made the show.

              Replace her with the shrieking sea hag and after a couple episodes not just Al but a significant number of married men (myself included) would have commited suicide.

              The horror… the horror…

            2. Peg’s mother was the shrieking sea hag. Just sayin

          2. MWC had the advantage of lacking a shrieking sea hag at it’s center.

            Patricia Huxtable wasn’t that bad….oh wait

        3. We had just come out of the Normal Lear ‘politically correct’ era of TV sitcoms, and none too soon.

          I don’t buy that assessment. What about MWC was “politically incorrect”? The potty humor and Applegate’s bubblehead sexpot character? Granted, these things were presented in a more grotesque manner, but they had been elements of sitcoms for the previous 20-30 years. One of the reasons the Cosby Show was so popular was precisely because it went out of its way to NOT portray those elements.

          Maybe if the Bundys had been black or Hispanic, I’d buy the politically incorrect line. But really, all they did was ramp up the crudity factor.

          1. I don’t buy that assessment. What about MWC was “politically incorrect”?

            You must not remember. The show was seen as crass and mysoginistic, and an entirely unfair and inappropriate portrayal of women. It was considered gratuitously low brow and was lacking in any redeeming message.

            One of the reasons the Cosby Show was so popular was precisely because it went out of its way to NOT portray those elements.

            In black people. It was the first major black television show that had an affluent black family not in the ghetto.

            But really, all they did was ramp up the crudity factor.

            That was a lot of the controversy. There were women that didn’t like the character Peg Bundy portrayed.

            You may not remember the Norman Lear era of television, but towards the end, it just got heavy handed and…bad.

            I’m not the first person to use ‘politically correct’ tv in relation to Norman Lear. The first time I heard this term was from a young writer who referred to Norman Lear’s comedies as “politically correct tv” on an interview with Terry Gross back in the 90s. It stuck with me because I remember feeling the exact same way he did.

            1. The show was seen as crass and mysoginistic, and an entirely unfair and inappropriate portrayal of women. It was considered gratuitously low brow and was lacking in any redeeming message.

              One could say the same about Ginger on Gilligan’s Island, or Jeannie. The point is that these characters were around long before the Bundys.

              That was a lot of the controversy. There were women that didn’t like the character Peg Bundy portrayed.

              Perhaps, but the main point is, what exactly about the Bundys was ground-breaking in the political incorrectness factor? Watch some of the early episodes–they’re actually pretty mild, content-wise, even by the standards of the day. The characters don’t really become self-parodies until probably the third or fourth season, after which they just ran the same three or four jokes over and over. What made Peg Bundy and the Roseanne characters (well, and Al, as well) different at the time was that they didn’t portray domestic motherhood in a nurturing manner, not because Peg walked around with her tits jumping out of her shirt. Kelly’s basically the blonde, bubbleheaded shiksa stereotype that you see in a lot of Jewish comedies.

            2. Damn character limit..

              You may not remember the Norman Lear era of television, but towards the end, it just got heavy handed and…bad.

              That’s because Lear’s always been a one-trick pony, like Garry Marshall. Their stuff was edgy in the 1970s because their comedies were more culturally diverse and topical for the time, but once the 80s rolled around, the same themes just didn’t resonate anymore. So they became, as you pointed out, much more heavy-handed in compensation.

            3. I’m pretty sure The Jeffersons were affluent.

              1. NeonCat:

                I’m pretty sure The Jeffersons were affluent.

                The Jefferson’s acquired money. But the story was that of a Yankee in King Arthur’s court. The Jefferson’s came from the hood, maintained the ghetto patois, but were surrounded by stuffy old money white people. Comedy ensued.

                The whole point of the Jeffersons was that Diversity had been forced upon the white folks by way of… I hate to break it to Mr. Lear, Capitalism.

                Red Rocks Rockin:

                It seems to me that your beef is with the people who called it controversial, not with my argument.

                MWC was controversial. I’m not agreeing with the controversy, I’m just relaying what I remember (and can be found on the web when discussing the early history of the show) at the time.

                As Hugh Akston said, we had just come out of the Cosby era, from which there was a long lineage of comedy shows which had tried to ‘shape’ the culture with a message, and here were these two ‘crass’ shows with working class people doing working class stuff, but pushing the rude/crude envelope.

                Sure this had been seen in a form with The Honeymooners, but it was all pretty clean back then.

                1. It was controversial, but then so what? In the end, Al the misogynist usually got his comeuppance one way or another. Not always but often enough to be considered fairly pc.

                  And, for the record, I always thought Marcy was really good too. Something about yuppie women with hidden passions that I liked 😉

          2. What about MWC was “politically incorrect”?

            Two words:

            NO MA’AM

      2. One of the best things it accomplished was the subtle story arc over the 1st 2 seasons: the ostensible corruption of the supposedly nice couple next door by the supposedly outre Bundies.

        1. So Wal-Mart Bundys corrupted the Whole Foods couple next door?

  8. the overriding fact about Europe’s social systems and norms is their similarity to America’s, not their differentness; Europhobia, in my view, is one of modern conservatism’s more curious and unattractive tics.

    This sounds contradictory to me. Europe seems to be a harbinger of America to come. We’ve basically followed the same policies and gotten the same results. Europe is in a state of decline, it only makes SENSE to be phobic of following the same course.

    1. Yah, to me the people hyperventilating about America becoming a “European style wellfare state” are a little late to the party. We’re already well on our way, the only difference is that Europe started down the road before we did, so it’s only natural that they’re further along in the process of bankrupting themselves than we are.

    2. had the same thought. Europe is, or should be, serving as a cautionary tale. The writer’s dismissiveness toward anyone casting a skeptical eye that way is telling.

    3. Yeah, I had the same reaction when I read that. There are very good reasons for being wary of European-style welfare states.

  9. In Tocquevillean America, it is mass opinion, not elite finger wagging, that primarily legitimizes cultural mores.

    That sounds a little naive.

    It was the elites that shaped the growing acceptance of homosexuality. The mass opinion on the subject is still overall anti-gay; mass opinion may be changing on that, but it is changing slowly and there likely has to be a catalyst for those changing opinions.

    1. I’m not sure about this.

      Remember that homosexuality was illegal, not long ago. “In the closet” was the default, for a while after that. Over time, more people came out. Then more people, of all sorts of socio-economic groups, started to have more openly-gay friends, family and associates.

      This happened first in more elite circles. But it has spread, and I think we’re hitting a critical mass where the majority of people associate with someone who is gay fairly regularly.

      As a result, they find that gay people aren’t a threat. Gay relationships are already common, and no longer only happening in secret. Familiarity reduces fear. Gay marriage doesn’t scare as many people as it used to.

  10. Part of the problem is zoning regulations. Cities do not permit low-cost housing near high-cost housing, because the rich people complain if they have to see the “trailer trash”. So the rich and poor are geographically separated, which leads to diverging cultures.

    1. Yeah, R1-1 everywhere is a fucking PITA.

  11. But the white-collar middle is less isolated than the blue-collar bottom and has brighter prospects, offering an upward path for those beneath.

    Also an odd statement, mostly because it’s both obvious and irrelevant.

    The upward path has ALWAYS been there. Murray’s arguing that it really isn’t all that accessible and in fact the middle is shrinking and more likely to be in the downward path than the upward path.

  12. Unless you live in a cave


  13. Exactly the same thing is happening to lower-class whites as to lower-class minorities. In that woeful respect, the country is coming together across racial lines.

    I have a confession: I identify with the lower-class whites and minorities than I do with the “Whole Foods” crowd, even though by pedigree, I should be the Whole Foods crowd.

    My daughter goes to a semi-affluent elementary school and I keep finding I have a hard time identifying with the other parents.

    I’m not sure what it is, but I think my sensibilities are too irreverent, my political ideology too sharp, and my taste in culture and entertainment too ‘low brow’.

    I come from a highly educated, erudite and learned lineage– even having some celebrated and nationally awarded family members in my recent ancestry. Absolutely none of it rubbed off on me.

    I blame my father who was a libertarian before it was cool. While extremely successful and good at what he did, he wasn’t much of a ‘joiner’, and that aspect of his personality rubbed off on me.

    It’s hurt me in my professional career, but somewhere deep down inside, I just. don’t. care.

    1. “I’m going back to a better class of loser
      This up-town living’s really got me down
      I need friends who don’t pay their bills on home computers
      And who buy their coffee beans already ground
      You think it’s disgraceful that they drink three-dollar wine
      But a better class of loser suits me fine” – Randy Travis

    2. I wish I could identify more with this group:

      1. They’d be more believable if they actually knew how to play tennis and had rackets that weren’t already strung on the rack. Or knew how to raise a sail properly.

        1. You are Whole Foods to the core.

          1. Not always. Sometimes I go to Trader Joe’s.

            1. Safeway, representin’

        2. Certainly there was something you found wrong with his Croquet stroke?

    3. Murray’s book includes a “how thick is your bubble” quiz that you might want to try — 21 questions that sort people in categories like “first-generation upper-middle class,” etc. I was surprised at how accurate the results were for me.

      1. I shocked some friends of mine with results that put me in “a man of the people” area even though I come from a decidedly upper class family.

        1. As upper class as Franklin Delano Roosevelt?

    4. somewhere deep down inside, I just. don’t. care.

      I hear ya. I find that most of my libertarian political philosophy is rooted in a profound personal apathy.

      Want to get gay married? Whatev. I don’t care.

      Want to smoke pot all day? Why not. Its your life.


      1. I find that most of my libertarian political philosophy is rooted in a profound personal apathy.

        On the local NPR show there was a discussion about one of the schools that sits on the edge of an affluent community (Madrona) and a non-affluent, minority community (Central District). A few years ago, a bunch of the progressive white parents on the affluent side decided they were going to do good things for the school, reshape its image, and help the poor minority kids who had no guidance and had no chance and needed cultivatin’.

        Racial tensions ensued, blew up, news stories flourished and a bunch of parents pulled their kids out of the school.

        Sometimes, the affluent white folks just need to leave shit alone. Quit trying to shape the world in your image.

  14. I wonder if the bifurcation has anything to do with our wonderful public education system? I wonder if giving parents choice in their child’s education would improve children’s prospects…

    Also, Europe is not monolithic. In many ways (not most) much of Europe has less statism and crony capitalism than parts of the US. There are actually things that would improve in the US if we took the good from other countries. The US, on the whole is more free than most, but that does not mean that it is more free in every particular.

    1. The problem isn’t education or lack of it.
      It’s just there is always going to be a large number of people who aren’t suited for white collar work.

      And the trouble is, blue collar work isn’t really worth doing any more in a lot of cases, in terms of effort vs time spent

  15. Also, Europe is not monolithic.

    True, there is a big difference between UK & the continent, northern Europe and southern Europe, and Western and Eastern Europe.

    In many ways (not most) much of Europe has less statism

    You have just proved that you have never lived in Europe. The UK is probably the least statist and there is next to nothing one cannot do without getting approval from ones betters.

    and crony capitalism than parts of the US.

    Defining terms would be important here. If the state owns the company, is it still crony capitalism to align the states goals with the company’s goals? [I am not in favor of governments owning companies, just suggesting that the term “crony capitalism” might not be useful on both sides of the Atlantic.]

    Despite being a yank, I lived in the UK, Scotland specifically, through most of the 70s, 80s and early 90s. During this period, many of the major companies and complete industries were owned in whole or part by the British government. It was not until well into the Thatcher premiership that the British government divested these industries.

    1. The less Statism was mainly in reference to Switzerland, and to a lesser extent, Sweden and Norway. The Swiss have a lot of economic freedom. Norway and Sweden, though certainly quite statist, employ a more federalist, less centralized form of it, and I find that to be a much lesser of evils.
      I think you took my statement to mean that I think Europe is free, I only meant that, in some ways, the US is worse.

      I would not say state ownership of a company is, per se, crony capitalism. I just think it makes such corruption much easier to commit and to obfuscate. I see it as a sliding scale, where the US mostly fits on the scale where big business and big government play “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”.
      Nothing as explicit as “Jugo de Torta” Chavez, but I fail to see state ownership of our health insurance industry as all that much worse than the current US collusion between gov and industry to trap everyone in the same shit pit (except the health care given to pols and their families, of course)

      1. I should add the Netherlands as another nation that applies a federalist system to the relative benefit of its people.

  16. Still bullshit.

    Also the internet does not recognize class.

  17. I saw one of Dr Murray speeches. He stated America need another religious revival. The poor are too religious already. Whether in the USA or around the world, the less religious a place is, the better educated and healthier the society is.

  18. Fuckin’ thetes. That’s all I have to say.

  19. So H.G. Wells had it sort of backwards. The Eloi do all of the work that holds the world together, and toss food down the holes in an attempt to placate the Morlocks, who do nothing except occasionally come up to kill some Eloi just for spite.

    1. American exceptionalism!

  20. I do think Murray’s definition of mainstream America is pretty arbitrary. The majority of people, even Wal-Mart people, do NOT work in factories or wear uniforms to work.

    Perhaps Murray is the one who needs to get out more. How about “Have you been to a Starbucks in the last 90 days?” I’ll bet the majority of people have.

  21. Why is it so hard to face? This is globalization and the information revolution in particular. For the world as a whole, seems mostly a great thing, the mightiest and most peaceable uplifting in human history. And I do not exaggerate. But it is not kind to us who remember when America and large minorities of Europeans and Japanese, almost alone, commanded modern-age wealth and power. We got competition, is what has happened.
    I have no solution. Best idea I have found might be to see how much of the Germanic system of sorting, tracking, training, and apprenticing is transferable, and how much of their success is instead an artifact of the terms of trade being much to Germany’s advantage. Other than that, I foresee bread and circuses on a grand scale, until such time as some whole new phenomenon starts to percolate up from the class divide.

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