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Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 [Format Kindle]

Charles Murray

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Descriptions du produit



Our Kind of People

In which is described the emergence of a new and distinctive culture among a highly influential segment of American society.

ON SEPTEMBER 29, 1987, ABC premiered an hour-long dramatic series with the cryptic title thirtysomething. The opening scene is set in a bar. Not a Cheers bar, where Cliff the mailman perches on a bar stool alongside Norm the accountant and Frasier the psychiatrist, but an airy room, perhaps attached to a restaurant, with sunlight streaming in through paned windows onto off-white walls.

The room is crowded with an upscale clientele gathered for drinks after work, nattily uniformed servers moving among them. Two women in their late twenties or early thirties wearing tailored business outfits are seated at a table. A vase with a minimalist arrangement of irises and forsythia is visible in the background. On the table in front of the women are their drinks- both of them wine, served in classic long-stemmed glasses. Nary a peanut or a pretzel is in sight. One of the women is talking about a man she has started dating. He is attractive, funny, good in bed, she says, but there's a problem: He wears polyester shirts. "Am I allowed to have a relationship with someone who wears polyester shirts?" she asks.

She is Hope Murdoch, the female protagonist. She ends up marrying the man who wore the polyester shirts, who is sartorially correct by the time we see him. Hope went to Princeton. She is a writer who put a promising career on hold when she had a baby. He is Michael Steadman, one of two partners in a fledgling advertising agency in Philadelphia. He went to the University of Pennsylvania (the Ivy League one). Hope and Michael live with their seven-month-old daughter in an apartment with high ceilings, old-fashioned woodwork, and etched-glass windows. Grad-school-like bookcases are untidily crammed with books. An Art Deco poster is on the wall. A Native American blanket is draped over the top of the sofa.

In the remaining forty-five minutes, we get dialogue that includes a reference to left brain/right brain differences and an exchange about evolutionary sexual selection that begins, "You've got a bunch of Australopithecines out on the savanna, right?" The Steadmans buy a $278 baby stroller (1987 dollars). Michael shops for new backpacking gear at a high-end outdoors store, probably REI. No one wears suits at the office. Michael's best friend is a professor at Haverford. Hope breast-feeds her baby in a fashionable restaurant. Hope can't find a babysitter. Three of the four candidates she interviews are too stupid to be left with her child and the other is too Teutonic. Hope refuses to spend a night away from the baby ("I have to be available to her all the time"). Michael drives a car so cool that I couldn't identify the make. All this, in just the first episode.

The culture depicted in thirtysomething had no precedent, with its characters who were educated at elite schools, who discussed intellectually esoteric subjects, and whose sex lives were emotionally complicated and therefore needed to be talked about. The male leads in thirtysomething were on their way up through flair and creativity, not by being organization men. The female leads were conflicted about motherhood and yet obsessively devoted to being state-of-the-art moms. The characters all possessed a sensibility that shuddered equally at Fords and Cadillacs, ranch homes in the suburbs and ponderous mansions, Budweiser and Chivas Regal.

In the years to come, America would get other glimpses of this culture in Mad About You, Ally McBeal, Frasier, and The West Wing, among others, but no show ever focused with the same laser intensity on the culture that thirtysomething depicted-understandably, because the people who live in that culture do not make up much of the audience for network television series, and those who are the core demographic for network television series are not particularly fond of the culture that thirtysomething portrayed. It was the emerging culture of the new upper class.

Let us once again return to November 21, 1963, and try to find its counterpart.

The Baseline

The World of the Upper-Middle Class

Two conditions have to be met before a subculture can spring up within a mainstream culture. First, a sufficient number of people have to possess a distinctive set of tastes and preferences. Second, they have to be able to get together and form a critical mass large enough to shape the local scene. The Amish have managed to do it by achieving local dominance in selected rural areas. In 1963, other kinds of subcultures also existed in parts of the country. Then as now, America's major cities had distinctive urban styles, and so did regions such as Southern California, the Midwest, and the South. But in 1963 there was still no critical mass of the people who would later be called symbolic analysts, the educated class, the creative class, or the cognitive elite.

In the first place, not enough people had college educations to form a critical mass of people with the distinctive tastes and preferences fostered by advanced education. In the American adult population as a whole, just 8 percent had college degrees. Even in neighborhoods filled with managers and professionals, people with college degrees were a minority- just 32 percent of people in those jobs had college degrees in 1963. Only a dozen census tracts in the entire nation had adult populations in which more than 50 percent of the adults had college degrees, and all of them were on or near college campuses.

In the second place, affluence in 1963 meant enough money to afford a somewhat higher standard of living than other people, not a markedly different lifestyle. In 1963, the median family income of people working in managerial occupations and the professions was only $61,500 (2010 dollars, as are all dollar figures from now on). Fewer than 5 percent of American families in 1963 had incomes of $100,000 or more, and fewer than half of 1 percent had incomes of $200,000 or more.

This compressed income distribution was reflected in the residential landscape. In 1963, great mansions were something most Americans saw in the movies, not in person. Only the richest suburbs of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles had entire neighborhoods consisting of mansions. The nature of the change since then can be seen by driving around suburban neighborhoods where the affluent of the 1960s lived, such as Chevy Chase, Maryland; Belmont, Massachusetts; or Shaker Heights, Ohio. Most of the housing stock remaining from that era looks nothing like the 15,000- and 20,000-square-foot homes built in affluent suburbs over the last few decades. No reproductions of French châteaux. No tennis courts. No three-story cathedral ceilings. Nor were the prices astronomically higher than the prices of middle-class homes. The average price of all new homes built in 1963 was $129,000. The average price of homes in Chevy Chase offered for sale in the classified ads of the Washington Post on the Sunday preceding November 21, 1963, was $272,000, and the most expensive was $567,000. To put it another way, you could live in a typical house in one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in the nation for about twice the average cost of all houses built that year nationwide.

There was a difference between the houses of the upper-middle class and of those who were merely in the middle class. An upper-middle- class home might have four bedrooms instead of two or three, two bathrooms and a powder room instead of one bathroom, and two floors instead of one. It might have a two-car garage, maybe a rec room for the kids and a study for Dad. But it seldom bore any resemblance to a mansion. For an example of elite housing in 1963, download an episode of Mad Men that shows the Drapers' suburban home- that's the kind of house that the creative director of a major New York advertising agency might well have lived in.

The members of the upper-middle-class elite did not have many options for distinguishing themselves by the cars they drove. You could find a few Mercedeses and Jaguars in major cities, but even there they were a pain to keep up, because it was so hard to get spare parts and find a mechanic who could service them. Another factor was at work, too: Executives and professionals in 1963, especially outside New York and Los Angeles, were self-conscious about being seen as show-offs. Many people in the upper-middle class who could have afforded them didn't drive Cadillacs because they were too ostentatious.

Another reason that the lifestyle of the upper-middle class was not dramatically different from that of the middle class was that people who were not wealthy could get access to the top of the line for a lot less in 1963 than in 2010, in the same way that you could live in Chevy Chase for not that much more than you would pay for a house anywhere else. It seems paradoxical from the perspective of 2010. Day- to-day life wasn't cheaper then than it is now. In Washington newspaper advertisements for November 1963, gas was cheaper, at the equivalent of $2.16 per gallon, but a dozen eggs were $3.92, a gallon of milk $3.49, chicken $2.06 a pound, and a sirloin steak $6.80 a pound. The best-selling 1963 Chevy Impala cost about $26,600. At Blum's restaurant in San Francisco, not an expensive restaurant, you paid $12.46 for the hot turkey sandwich, $13.17 for the chef's salad, and $5.34 for the hot fudge sundae. Pearson's liquor store in Washington, DC, had started a wine sale two days earlier, advertising its everyday wines at prices from about $6 to $12. All of these prices would have looked familiar, in some cases a little expensive, to a consumer in 2010.

But the most expensive wasn't necessarily out of reach of the middle class. In 1963, one of the most expensive restaurants in Washington was the newly opened Sans Souci, just a block from the White House and a great favorite of the Kennedy administration. The Washington Post's restaurant critic had a meal of endive salad, poached turbot, chocolate mousse, and coffee for a total of $44.91. The image of a luxury car to Americans in 1963 was a Cadillac. Its most expensive model, the Eldorado Biarritz, listed at $47,000. That same Pearson's advertisement selling vin ordinaire for $6 to $12 offered all the first-growth Bordeaux from the legendary 1959 vintage for about $50 a bottle (yes, I'm still using 2010 dollars).

And so there just wasn't that much difference between the lifestyle of a highly influential attorney or senior executive of a corporation and people who were several rungs down the ladder. Upper-middle-

class men in 1963 drank Jack Daniel's instead of Jim Beam in their highballs and drove Buicks (or perhaps Cadillacs) instead of Chevies. Their suits cost more, but they were all off the rack, and they all looked the same anyway. Their wives had more dress clothes and jewelry than wives in the rest of America, and their hairdressers were more expensive. But just about the only thing that amounted to a major day- to-day lifestyle difference between the upper-middle class and the rest of America was the country club, with its golf course, tennis court, and swimming pool that were closed to the hoi polloi. On the other hand, there were lots of municipal golf courses, tennis courts, and swimming pools, too.

The supreme emblem of wealth in 2010 didn't even exist in 1963. The first private jet, the Learjet Model 23, wouldn't be delivered for another year. Private and corporate planes consisted mostly of Cessnas and Beechcrafts, small and cramped. Only a few hundred large private planes existed, and they were all propeller-driven. The owners of even the poshest of them had to recognize that an economy seat on a commercial DC-8 or Boeing 707 provided a smoother, quieter, and much faster ride.

The World of the Rich

Still, a private plane is a major difference in lifestyle, even if it is not a jet, and private planes did exist in 1963. Shall we look for a distinct upper-class culture among the wealthy?

In 1963, millionaire was synonymous with not just the affluent but the wealthy. A million dollars was serious money even by today's standards, equivalent to about $7.2 million in 2010 dollars. But there were so few millionaires- fewer than 80,000, amounting to two-tenths of 1 percent of American families. The authentically wealthy in 1963 comprised a microscopic fraction of the population.

Some portion of that small number had no distinct preferences and tastes because they had made their money themselves after growing up in middle-class or working-class families. They hadn't gone to college at all, or they had attended the nearest state college. They might live in duplexes on Park Avenue or mansions on Nob Hill, but they were the nouveaux riches. Some acted like the stereotype of the nouveaux riches. Others continued to identify with their roots and lived well but not ostentatiously.

The subset of old-money millionaires did have something resembling a distinct culture. Besides living in a few select neighborhoods, they were concentrated in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. They summered or wintered in a few select places such as Bar Harbor, Newport, and Palm Beach. They sent their children to a select set of prep schools and then to the Ivy League or the Seven Sisters. Within their enclaves, old-money America formed a distinct social group.

But besides being a tiny group numerically, there was another reason that they did not form an upper-class culture that made any difference to the rest of the nation. Those who hadn't made the money themselves weren't especially able or influential. Ernest Hemingway was right in his supposed exchange with F. Scott Fitzgerald. In 1963, the main difference between the old-money rich and everybody else was mainly that they had more money.

Take, for example, the woman who was the embodiment of the different world of the rich, Marjorie Merriweather Post. Heiress to the founder of the company that became General Foods, one of the wealthiest women in America, she owned palatial homes in Washington, Palm Beach, and on Long Island, furnished with antiques and objets from the castles of Europe. She summered in the Adirondacks, at Camp Topridge, surrounded by her private 207 acres of forest and lakes. She took her sailing vacations on Sea Cloud, the largest privately owned sailing yacht in the world, and flew in her own Vickers Viscount airliner, with a passenger cabin decorated as a living room, probably the largest privately owned aircraft in the world.

Hers was not a life familiar to many other Americans. But, with trivial exceptions, it was different only in the things that money could buy. When her guests assembled for dinner, the men wore black tie, a footman stood behind every chair, the silver was sterling, and the china had gold leaf.

Revue de presse

"I’ll be shocked if there’s another book this year as important as Charles Murray’s 'Coming Apart.'”
--David Brooks, The New York Times

"Mr. Murray's sobering portrait is of a nation where millions of people are losing touch with the founding virtues that have long lent American lives purpose, direction and happiness."
--W. Bradford WilcoxThe Wall Street Journal

"'Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010' brims with ideas about what ails America."
-- The Economist

“a timely investigation into a worsening class divide no one can afford to ignore.” 
--Publisher's Weekly 

“[Charles Murray] argues for the need to focus on what has made the U.S. exceptional beyond its wealth and military power...religion, marriage, industriousness, and morality.” 
--Booklist (Starred Review)

"Charles Murray ... has written an incisive, alarming, and hugely frustrating book about the state of American society."
--Roger Lowenstein, Bloomberg Businessweek 


Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 3013 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 434 pages
  • Pagination - ISBN de l'édition imprimée de référence : 030745343X
  • Editeur : Crown Forum; Édition : Reprint (31 janvier 2012)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ASIN: B00540PAXS
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 Murray's valedictory ends on a note of optimism. But the book doesn't support optimism. 3 février 2012
Par Graham H. Seibert - Publié sur
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
The last chapter, entitled "Alternative Futures," sounds a note of optimism. All that we need is for America's elites to recognize the problem, come to their senses, and set things straight. Right. As if Murray has not been futilely expounding this message for the past 40 years. He cites Robert Fogel's "The Fourth Great Awakening" as an inspiration for his optimism. America has overcome crises of the spirit in the past, after we lost first the Puritan spirituality, then the secular sense of mission which fueled our independence, then the crisis of the depression which was answered by the New Deal and the welfare state. Fogel argues that today's crisis is a want of meaning in our lives. Murray believes we can reestablish it.

Murray says that there are only about four fundamental personal characteristics undergirding a happy life. The ones he names are two character traits: honesty and industry, and two societal connections: meaningful relationships with one's fellow man, and a satisfying marriage. He provides another, overlapping list of four elements that have historically defined American society which he calls the four founding virtues: industriousness, honesty, marriage, and religiosity. He goes into some length presenting sociological surveys that demonstrate the importance and the interconnectedness of these characteristics to personal happiness, and their importance to the well-being of society. If only we could recover them, all would be well.

The backbone of his book is a comparison between two hypothetically constructed communities, Fishtown and Belmont. They are based on real places, predominantly white neighborhoods of Philadelphia and Boston respectively, with incomes at the 8th and 97th national percentiles. They exemplify the directions taken by subsets of white America as we are, in the words of his title, "Coming Apart." In constructing his abstract communities he excludes minorities and people outside the age range of 30-49. He goes on to describe how these communities have evolved over the past half-century.

Fortune has put me in a good position to judge the accuracy of his characterization. I am a few months older than Murray and spent my 25 year marriage in Bethesda, one of the Belmont like suburbs of Washington DC, not far from Murray himself, with a wife who was born in the actual Fishtown and some of whose family remained spiritually anchored there. That gave me time on both sides of the tracks. Moreover, I started out that way - in a blue-collar neighborhood close to Berkeley, where my classmates and intellectual peers were definitely Belmont types.

One of the things I enjoyed about the book was Murray's 20 questions to help an Overeducated Elitist Snob (OES) such as almost everybody who's going to be reading this book determine how well, if at all, they know the "real America" where 80 percent of white people live. By virtue of my blue-collar neighborhood and my Army service, experience is that younger men simply don't have, I scored a respectable 41 on his test, placing me well in the category of those with the most experience with the real America. The shock was how low you can go on his scale... how totally out of touch my Bethesda ex-neighbors could be with the country their governing. I knew this intellectually, but Murray brings it home.

Back to the story, in 1960 Fishtown was a very Catholic neighborhood in which the men worked, the women stayed home, and the kids went to Catholic school. My ex-wife was one of them. What they considered to be social problems were excess drinking, quite a bit of it, fistfights and a bit of philandering. Young people, however, knew what was expected of them. They got married, before or after becoming pregnant, and provided families for kids. It was a moral expectation that was generally observed. People had responsibilities and took them seriously. They did not accept welfare, they answered the call when they were drafted, and they participated in church and civic organizations.

Fishtown in 2010 is a very different place. People simply don't feel an obligation to either work or get married. There are many never married people, and many out of wedlock children. A lot of the guys are just bums - don't work, don't want to work, don't want to get married, and waste their time watching television. An inordinately large number have figured how to game the system by qualifying for Social Security disability. Their attitude is that work is for chumps. Quite a few of them have drinking and drug problems, but Murray does not consider these disabilities to be nearly as important as the lack of any of the four foundations in their lives. No more religion, no social connections with the community, either no marriage or an unsatisfactory marriage, and no vocation.

Murray, a longtime libertarian, claims that intrusive, European-style government has taken away the need for these four virtues and undermined the people who attempt to practice them. Kids don't need a father if the government provides money and social workers. Men don't need work if the government gives them handouts. Social connections aren't important if there's nothing really to be done improving the place.

Murray claims that the state of affairs in Belmont is much better. People work hard, get married, stay married, are resolutely and obsessively concerned with their children, and are involved in community. More than that, counterintuitively, they are more involved in church than are the people remaining in Fishtown. They may not believe the dogmas, but they understand the social value of belonging.

What has changed in Belmont is the conviction that the set of virtues they practice really ought to be preached. Belmont now believes totally in moral relativism. If somebody else doesn't want to remain married to his kids' mother, doesn't want to work, or spends all of his money on drink and drugs and all of his time watching TV, they're not going to be judgmental. That's somebody else's life.

Another thing that has changed in Belmont is their acceptance of lower-class culture. A Belmont mother will not prevent her daughter from dressing like a hooker, using gutter language picked up from rap music, or swearing like a sailor. There is not a sense that "Belmont girls don't do that." Also out the door are old-fashioned morality, the idea that you shouldn't seduce girls when they're drunk, cheat on tests, or tell the clerk at McDonald's if he gives you too much change. People just don't have a sense of seemliness anymore. Kids can wear the most outrageous clothes, and their parents can take the most outrageous bonuses from their companies, and rich people can take inappropriate and undeserved handouts from the government without blushing in the slightest.

Murray makes a few huge oversights. Race is one. White people are everybody's least favorite ethnicity. We get called anti-Semites and racists, and are constantly backpedaling in the face of accusations from Hispanics and overwhelmed by the sheer intellect and industry of the Asians. Even in the unlikely event we were to resist in the ways he advocates, society would still sweep us along its unfortunate path. Another oversight is education. All sectors of society are being worse educated year-by-year, Belmont, Fishtown, and most especially the black and Hispanic groups he doesn't mention. The educational system seems dedicated, whether by design or sheer ineptitude, to destroying religion, fostering dependence on government, and stultifying personal industry and ambition. Oh, and it goes out of its way to denigrate anything in American history of which white people might be proud.

My Puritan forefathers hoped to establish a country in which the four founding virtues - industry, honesty, religion and marriage - might flourish. It worked for a few centuries, but now appears to be hopelessly broken. I do not think it is possible within any country. Murray himself relates Toynbee's description of the way in which every great empire contains the seeds of its own destruction. I would advocate that each individual leave countries out of the equation as they seek the best future their family. Find a community - Mormons would be a good place to look - where civic virtues are still in evidence. Find a way to educate your family - homeschooling looks good - to shield them from the propaganda and the mediocrity of the public system. Find a religious community of like-minded people. And do not be afraid to look the world over to find these things - America may no longer be the place.
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 Challenging argument on a critical theme 31 janvier 2012
Par Publius - Publié sur
Charles Murray has never been one to shy away from a volatile subject. As a result, he has been able to make startling arguments on topics that are rather taboo in the modern intellectual climate. With the Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (A Free Press Paperbacks Book), he argued that intelligence, which is partly innate, is more important to social success than socioeconomic status. In Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950, he ranks the cultural value of different civilizations and assesses the west as by far the greatest. It's clear from his work that Murray does not suffer from delusion--he is no quack. And the content of his arguments is engaging for anyone who is open-minded and willing to consider arguments from new perspectives.

Here, Murray explains that white America has grown increasingly divided along class lines. There is a clear moral case being made here. The lower class is falling into illegitimacy, crime, and poverty while the upper class is excelling in education, career, and family. The main cause is simple: primarily, a devaluation of white middle class values brought on by increased intervention by the government. This intervention takes the form of welfare support, in which the government gives incentive for people to break apart families and avoid work. Meanwhile, the upper class is left alone to prosper in its highly technical fields.

This argument will challenge the reader, whether you agree with the central premise or not. At the very least, it is worth an in-depth discussion. Reflect upon it with regard to George Gilder's Men and Marriageargument, and Eric Robert Morse's argument in Juggernaut: Why the System Crushes the Only People Who Can Save It.

Definitely a five-star book for the provocative ideas alone.
244 internautes sur 292 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 A Valuable Analysis of a Widening Social Chasm 3 février 2012
Par Steve T - Publié sur
"Coming Apart" offers a very effective analysis of the diverging economic prospects and social values of American society since 1963. I should say first off that many people seem biased against this book because of the controversy surrounding Murray's prior book, "The Bell Curve." Murray has taken great pains in this new book to avoid the issue of race, focusing specifically on white Americans. I could find nothing offensive or even politically incorrect regarding race in this book.

The author's main premise is that over the past 4+ decades, America has divided strongly into two classes, that he illustrates with fictional town names. "Belmont" refers to the cognitive elite: The top 20% with college or graduate degrees, who hold jobs in knowledge-based occupations. And "Fishtown" refers to the working class: The bottom 30% with at most a high school diploma and (if employed) working in blue collar or low wage service jobs. Murray demonstrates quite effectively (using statistics) that the people who make up "Belmont" have become more industrious and more traditional in their attitudes toward marriage, family and community, while the people in "Fishtown" are living in communities that are basically falling apart and where traditional nuclear families are becoming harder and harder to find.

While the book bases its arguments on solid statistics, I have two primary complaints. First, it does not always do a good job of distinguishing cause and effect. For example, the author points out the working class men now choose to engage in much more "leisure" and less work. He then conjures up a vision of a typical male, who all bent out of shape because he doesn't have the opportunity has grandfather had at the GM factory, turns down a $12 per hour job driving a delivery truck. I find it VERY hard to believe that $12/hr delivery jobs are going begging. If, in fact, a lot of working class men are not actively pounding the pavement looking for these jobs, there could be reasons: Maybe competition is so intense it is hopeless. Or maybe the jobs get given out based on networking or cronyism, so someone out of the loop has little chance. But I fail to see how "laziness" is the primary cause here.

The second thing is that the book does not anticipate the future very well. Just about everyone will agree that technology and globalization have hit "Fishtown" hard. What fewer people seem to see is that BELMONT IS NEXT. If you doubt this, consider how IBM's Watson computer won at Jeopardy. Or consider the number of information technology and software engineering jobs getting offshored. Or look at what the internet is doing to journalism. These are all jobs that Murray puts in the "Belmont" category. But in the future, a lot of these people are not going to be able to afford to stay in Belmont. Of course, Belmont will still be around; it will just be occupied by fewer and fewer people.
279 internautes sur 336 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Interesting insights wrapped in a libertarian's juvenile certainty. 16 mars 2012
Par Martin Focazio - Publié sur
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
Slog through this book - it's a must read.

Keep in mind, however, that this is an infuriating book in many ways, because it's got a deep pro-libertarian political agenda that is awkwardly melded with evidence that shows how libertarian policies and politics can tear apart the very society the author describes as "ideal" - the honorable but poor nuclear family living in a community of racial, social and religious uniformity.

While it was at times disturbing to see how accurately he was able to describe the "bubble" that I increasingly live in (his 25 question "test" of the thickness of your middle class bubble was very interesting), what surprised me was how myopic his views on the influence of globalization on society's lowest-paid workers are. Like most libertarians, the role of externalities is often downplayed, leaving the fault of economic failure and the praise for economic success exclusively with the individual, and all other factors are nearly irrelevant.

Much of the statistical evidence he cites in the book is based on a few surveys, and where there's no data, he just invents information that supports his thesis, and then backs in the "evidence" to fit his views. That can be frustrating at times, because it leads to "trending" a data item even where there is no valid data longitudinally over the periods of time in which he's citing a trend.

In many ways, those are nitpicks, because the real core of the book is an interesting, and by my own experience, accurate view of the United States today. This is despite his juvenile certainty that the individual's motivation is all that matters to success or being able to survive economically (basically a classic position of Libertarian politics, which are roughly identical to those of a 15 year old boy).

He correctly identifies the huge differences between the people from "Belmont" (a fictional place where white people have jobs, a stable home life, go to good schools, stay married, don't watch much TV and never smoke) and "Fishtown" (another fictional place where they smoke, watch lots of TV, know who's who in NASCAR and are likely to wear a jacket with a Budweiser logo on it when they go to a smoky bar with friends). Living, as I do, in a place where Belmont and Fishtown overlap, it was extremely revealing to me to see just how different my "Baby Belmont" lifestyle is from my Fishtown neighbors. He's absolutely right when he suggests that the people in Belmont are capturing all of the good jobs, and maintaining a lifestyle of privilege and stability that is gone from the Fishtown world. I see it every day, like when at work we "can't find the right people" for open jobs, while I know of plenty of underemployed people who wish they could get a job paying 1/4 of what my company pays for almost any position. We'd never be able to hire from Fishtown.

But this is where, from my perspective, the book goes way wide of the mark. He actually refers to the white males of Fishtown who don't have enough or any work as "goofing off" - those are the actual words he uses.

He makes arguments that any work is better than no work - and while at some level, that's true, what he completely ignores is that the "Atlas Shrugged" crowd running American business these days has actually stripped hope of improvement of your situation from low-wage work. The "worked your way up from the mailroom" stories that abound in libertarian mythology are based on a world where the bottom of the workforce in America was competing with itself to rise up within the American Experiment.

[11 April 2012 NOTE: I've edited the part below to clarify my statements about the "Atlas Shrugged crowd" above in response to several of the comments below.]

The author is an avowed libertarian. There's no model in the Libertarian worldview for dealing with the idea that the guy living in Fishtown in a trailer alongside the highway and making $8.25 an hour needs only to "work smarter" to enjoy the benefit of the American Dream when company he's working for is about to hire someone who was living in a dirt floor hut near Xinghuy last year.

In a global economy, companies have little motivation to think nationally, they just look at median wages paid by geography and move labor to where it's cheapest and automate whatever's left behind, resorting only to paying a living wage to human beings where there's no other option. Fishtown is learning what the "Global Citizen" has for a standard of living. To the worker in China or Mexico who didn't have running water in their home, being offered a job with a bed and a shared bathroom in a dormitory next to a factory and earning $220 a month for a 60 hour workweek is a massive improvement in living standards. To the guy in the trailer in Fishtown, it will be a massive downgrade of living standards.

But it's not just the fact that Fishtowns are the result of a huge pull downward for America's working class that results when the median wage is evaluated on a global scale. If you're an Ayn Rand acolyte, you don't really care about national borders or the people downstream of your decisions, you care about your own self-interest. You then build companies aligned with your own economic interests accordingly and that's supposed to either "lift all boats" or "trickle down" or whatever you want to say about it. While I am not anti-capitalist by any means, I think that the author unfairly places the blame for economic failure to thrive among Fishtown residents on the members of the Fishtown community itself who have been "coddled" by the government and social policies that don't force people to take whatever work they can, regardless of what it is.

In the author's view, the residents of Fishtown are "lazy" (to use just one of the pejorative terms he uses throughout the book). In reality, I think that the residents of Fishtown realize that if they work hard, and do the right thing, they are still playing in a game they can't really win. This is because the companies led by people acting in their own self-interest have become incredibly adept at reducing current costs to themselves while ignoring, to the greatest extent possible, the external effects of their decisions.

For Fishtown residents who do work hard, their rewards seems to be a 29 hour work week, carefully managed to avoid payment of any overtime, with no ability to buy health insurance because their pay is too low, and no ability to enter the "ownership economy" because they are priced out of the market. In short, it's a sucker's bet to bother to try. Now in the author's defense, he does suggest that a broad and deep social safety net does not do much to encourage the white males of Fishtown to get off the couch and get out to work at some menial job because that's the honorable thing to do. The emotional side of me disagrees with the author on this point, but the pragmatic side of me (and the memories of taking on menial work when my own career derailed for a while) does give his argument some validity.

I do wonder if we're experiencing the results of people who spent years of being told in school that "you can be anything you want" and getting prizes for participation, not victory. Has this has left us with a culture that's simply unable to accept that sometimes you just have to work hard and lower your standards, and not every door is open to everyone? For the Fishtown residents, I don't accept his conclusion that they are just "goofing off" - I think that a complex confluence of globalization and the effects on wages and a society that seems to be breeding out competitiveness in Americans have resulted in the Fishtown culture. The issues he describes are the symptoms of hopelessness and anger that comes when reality doesn't match the stories we were told growing up.

His view of the Belmont residents is more charitable, but he decries their willingness to tax themselves at what he feels is an excessive rate in order to placate and calm the residents of Fishtown with deep and broad social safety nets.

His view is that the second and third generation Belmont residents don't understand the Fishtown world at all (I'll concede that) but they also feel a need to "do something" to help them - so they willingly decide to accept what are (in the authors view) excessive tax burdens, just to keep the folks in Fishtown from becoming a social problem in the Belmont neighborhoods.

In other words, he has a distain for economic empathy, and I think he's concerned that real empathy and a connection between these cultures is lost. I'm not 100% sure, but I think that his argument for dismantling the social safety nets and convincing the Belmont folks to stop paying for it is actually based on some form of empathy for the Fishtown residents - I think that while the author is horrified by what he sees in Fishtown, he thinks that Belmont is making Fishtown possible by funding a system that discourages the kinds of "good behaviors" that the author sees as mandatory for the American Experiment to continue.

Regardless of what you think about your own situation, this is a good read, and slog through it to the end. It's not always well written, but there are many little gems of insight that are really good in it, and if you're making your living as a "knowledge worker" it is a good way to get a look at a world you may be ignoring.

(Edit: Fixed some typos and added a word or two for clarity, updated last section heavily on April 12th)
31 internautes sur 35 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Brilliant analytical work with absurd conclusions 13 février 2012
Par Emc2 - Publié sur
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
Don't let Mr. Murray controversial Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life or the criticism you might already heard from this book from keep you away from this brilliant work. As opposed to most recent books dealing with America's decline, this book looks at the cultural and sociological reasons behind the decline, rather than the pure economics view. And another key issue is that the analysis is done using only white Americans as a sample, so there the results are free of any racial bias, and the results are extended to the entire population only near the end of the book.

Nevertheless, Mr. Murray, a declared libertarian, closes the book with a chapter totally biased by his political and moral beliefs. Actually, some of his conclusions are so outrageous, I stopped reading the book short of a few pages to the end (but I did finish it after all). You just wondered how come someone can deliver such a brilliant analysis and reach such wishful thinking, biased and subjective conclusions completely ignoring the effects of globalization and technological change (thus the four star rating instead of five).

Several of the conclusions are so disconnected from reality, that instead of Europe, Mr. Murray just need to look at any of the dozens of developing countries with the same problems among the poor who do not enjoy the welfare benefits Americans do. In fact, just look at the Brazilian example and the well-known "favelas" as the perfect real life example in contradiction of one of his key conclusions. And by the way, the recent cash transfer programs developed by the Brazilian government have lifted millions of poor people to the middle class, and their children now have a better education and health care than their parents. Unfortunately Mr. Murray is blinded by his libertarian ideology and his romantic view of the 200-year + old philosophy embedded in the U.S. Constitution and the philosophy of the founder fathers. The upcoming book The Great Divergence: America's Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do about It presents plenty of evidence (from the social and economical point of view) that rebuts and shows many of Mr. Murray's myths, misconceptions, and wrong assumptions about the American Dream and its exceptionalism.

Due to its contribution from the social and cultural perspective, I think that Mr. Murray's book, other than the caveat regarding the final chapter, is an excellent complement to the other books dealing with America's decline, in particular The Price of Civilization: Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity, Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future, and That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back.
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