Charles Murray wants you to know something. There’s a phenomenon that he wants you to understand. Unfortunately, Charles Murray has a problem.
The thing that he wants you to understand is quite simple. His problem is that he can’t figure out how to explain it to you without making you catch the vapours.
The phenomenon is this: people are sorting themselves by cognitive ability. Smart people are associating only with smart people. This process continues down the stratum of cognitive ability until you get to the bottom, where the dumb people are all standing around in the same (increasingly blighted) places blankly staring at each other (or the TV). And crucially – and this is where things get dicey – cognitive ability is hereditary, so this sorting phenomenon will naturally accelerate over time.
He tried explaining this to you before, but when he did so, he noted that certain races are over-represented in certain ranges of cognitive ability. The Puritans flipped their shit. (Of course they believe in evolution, unlike those rubes in middle America, they just don’t believe in certain consequences of evolution (which is obviously different than not believing in evolution)).
Having failed in previous attempts to explain this to you, Murray is trying again with this book. He’s focusing on whites this time, to try to keep the Puritans at bay (or at least quietly grumbling in the corner).
I have a lot to say about the book, and I’m going to try to focus on a few areas of the book that I think others have missed or misinterpreted, but let me summarize the book first.
Many reviews have noted that Murray is writing about the decline of America, but they have generally failed to note the sort of decline that Murray is concerned with. Murray notes "the economic dynamics" that he describes "have, paradoxically, fostered the blossoming of America’s human capital." Murray is not sad about the decline of America in an economic sense. He’s sad about the decline of America in the American sense – that which made America interesting and unique is going away.
Murray is concerned with two groups – the elites and the proles (these are my terms, though he uses several terms to refer to the two groups).
The elites are defined in a couple different ways in Murray’s book. In first instance, they’re defined by success in certain fields (managers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists and professors in the top 5 percent – Murray uses the term "narrow elite" to essentially refer to "The Cathedral"). In the second instance they’re defined by income and education.
The first part of Murray’s book notes that the elites of yesteryear did the same stuff that the proles of yesteryear did. For example, they got married and had kids at the same stages in their lives. Nowadays, not so much. Elite parents are often in their forties (the median age of first time moms at the hospital my sone was born at is 39, for example), while prole parents are more likely in their twenties.
Murray also argues that the returns on cognitive ability have gone up over time. These increased returns have enabled the most successful people to isolate themselves from the plebes in ways that they were not able to in the past. Murray doesn’t mention this, but technology undoubtedly helps with this isolation as well.
Murray then introduces the key mechanism for cognitive sorting, which he calls, "The College Sorting Machine." Here again, Murray notes that something has changed between 1950, when elite colleges did not have exceptionally talented students, and 1960, when they did. Since this started in 1960, and since cognitive ability is hereditary, we’re already starting to see that students at elite colleges have more in common than cognitive ability. For example, "79 percent of students at ‘Tier 1’ colleges as of the 1990s came from families in the top quartile of socioeconomic status, while only 2 percent came from the bottom quartile." In other words, "the reason that upper-middle-class children dominate the population of elite schools is that the parents of the upper-middle class now produce a disproportionate number of the smartest children."
This sorting process continues after college, when people geographically sort themselves into the same groups. Or as Murray puts it, "it would appear that the college sorting machine replicates itself with remarkable fidelity as a residential sorting machine."
The first part includes a test of how thick your bubble is. I scored a 7 (out of something around 80), indicating that I have a very thick bubble (more on this in a separate post).
There is another type of sorting that seems to be more important to Murray. It’s perhaps best described as cultural sorting. Essentially, the elites are SWPLs. They have different tastes in movies, TV, etc.
Part 2 of the book is on the changes in the lower class. The new lower class is cumbersome, so I’m going to use the term plebes (as you’ll see, my term is more accurate.)
Murray analyzes the plebes through what he refers to as "the founding virtues," which are the specific characteristics that Murray believes all American shared and those which made America unique . . . until recently. The virtues are: industriousness, honesty (this becomes almost synonymous with law-abiding), marriage, and religiosity.
Then Murray introduces the terms "Belmont," to refer to the top 30 percent of whites 30-49 by education and income, and "Fishtown," to refer to the bottom 21 percent of whites 30-49 by education and income. (I’m still going to use elites and plebes, respectively). Murray notes that in 1960, 64 percent of whites would have met his definition of Fishtown, and 6 percent would have met his definition of Belmont (again, note the improvements, when only measuring economic growth).
Starting with marriage, Murray notes stark differences between plebes and elites. In 1960, about 84% of plebes got married compared to about 94% of elites. The numbers are now 48% and 84% respectively. Divorce is still uncommon among the elites (about 1% to about 6% during the same time), while it’s big among the plebes (about 4% to about 35% during the same time). The realities of Marriage 2.0, appear to be a plebe-only phenomenon.
What Murray is really concerned about in this category is how children are raised. While certain benefits of marriage may be replicable through cohabitation, success at raising children does not appear to be so. "Nonmarital" births increased among the least educated women from under 10% in 1970 to over 60% today (comparable numbers for the best educated women are under 1% and under 5%, respectively).
Murray concludes this section (perhaps the most powerful in the book) with, "the divergence [with respect to the number of children living with biological and married parents] is so large that it puts the women of Belmont and Fishtown into different family cultures. The absolute level in Fishtown is so low that it calls into question the viability of white working-class communities as a place for socializing the next generation."
The next virtue is industriousness. Instead of blowing your mind with similar statistics about plebe men refusing to work, I’ll just note that the trends for marriage are similar to the trends for industriousness. In general, plebe men of today don’t seem to work very hard compared to plebe men of the 1960s.
The next virtue is honesty, which Murray analyzes largely through crime statistics. Again, the same trends hold. Low crime across all time periods for the elites. Initially low crime for the plebes, but now lots of crime. Murray also analyzes honesty through other variables, like the number of bankruptcies (he acknowledges the potential flaws of this measure), with interesting results.
The final virtue is religiosity. The same trends hold.
The third and final part of the book explains why these trends are problematic (in case you somehow managed to interpret them in a way that would suggest that they were not). Murray believes that the founding virtues are the things that make people happy. Most fundamentally, Murray believes that the plebes of today are living in culture that – for the first time American history – is antithetical to happiness. To be happy, man needs meaning from some combination of family, work, community and/or religion. Increasingly, none of these components of happiness are present among the bottom stratum of American society.
At the end, Murray presents two options for the future of America. In the first, these trends continue and worsen.
In the second, there is a "civic great awakening," in which America sees the failure of Europe (which is further along the path the US is heading down), "science [particularly advances in biology] undermines the moral underpinnings of the welfare state," it becomes obvious that there is a cheaper way to replace the welfare state, and Americans recommit to the "American project."
A lot of reviewers state that Murray’s recommendation is that elites move into prole neighborhoods. I don’t agree that this is Murray’s recommendation. Other reviewers have gotten closer, for example Ross Douthat, who argues that, "Murray argues that our leaders should embrace his own libertarian convictions, scrap all existing government programs (and the dependency and perverse incentives they create) and replace them with a universal guaranteed income."
Murray’s libertarianism (though he doesn’t admit it) is colored by some Old Right positions (of which I am quite fond). Murray’s major problem with the welfare state is ethical. He believes that it undermines virtue (this is the Old Right critique of the welfare state). For example, pre-welfare-state, there was something noble about a man who worked hard at a menial job to take care of his family. Post-welfare-state, there isn’t, since his family (if he has one) is taken care of by the state. The welfare state – to the Old Rightist – is best understood as the end of responsibility. And, without responsibility we cannot be free – we are perpetual children, immune from the ultimate consequences of our actions.
If I had been asked what Murray’s recommendations were, I would have said that he recommends that the elites preach what they practice. The elites live by an ethical code that – when judged by their actions – appears to be extremely rigid. However, their words are always relativistic or "non-judgmental." As Murray puts it:
the members of the new upper class are industriousness to the point of obsession, but there are no derogatory labels for adults who are not industrious. The young women of the new upper class hardly ever have babies out of wedlock, but it is impermissible to use a derogatory label for nonmarital births. You will probably raise a few eyebrows even if you use a derogatory label for criminals. When you get down to it, it is not acceptable in the new upper class to use derogatory labels for anyone, with three exceptions: people with differing political views, fundamentalist Christians, and rural working-class whites.
When you see a redneck, you call him a redneck. Perhaps, when you see a bastard, you should call him a bastard. Shame is a powerful force.
That’s the book. I’m going to look at some other implications of Murray’s work.
Economic growth fetishists
There are some people (and many economists) who believe that increasing economic growth has no downsides. This book challenges that viewpoint in a couple of ways.
First, Murray seems to suggest that the sorting mechanism itself (i.e. the source of the problems Murray identifies) may be a major contributor to economic growth. American society is now very good at getting the smartest people into the occupations that require the most intelligence and on down the line. Therefore, economic growth may create a very rigid class society – an aristocracy of merit.
Second, Murray cites the four main sources of human happiness as: family, work, community and faith. At a certain point, economic growth may attack these sources of human happiness. As people get wealthier, and as they have their basic needs met by the state, they may not seek mates based on who would make a good long-term partner. Instead, women will seek alpha men, and men will seek alpha women and family will disappear. Work, for much of the citizenry, will be unnecessary, unfulfilling and unrewarding. Community (largely as a consequence of the first two) will disappear – and the same fate awaits faith. Do we get less happy as we get richer? Are morals antithetical to very high standards of living? The early results are in, and they’re not pretty.
Murray’s work raises some potentially difficult questions for race realists (or at least those with some white nationalist sympathies).
When Murray expands his analysis to include minorities (as opposed to whites only) he finds . . . not much difference (Murray doesn’t note the relative size of black Belmont and black Fishtown – I’d guess the former was relatively smaller than its white counterpart and the latter was bigger, which is certainly relevant). The one exception was the crime statistics, where including minorities led to lots more crime. As Murray states, "white America is not headed in one direction and nonwhite America in another."
John Derbyshire, recently made some remarks about Murray’s work that are very interesting – read them. But, I have to disagree just a bit.
It would be great if people got more willing to discuss race, but Murray shows us that there’s more to discuss. I have no desire to live by the black underclass – so, fine, let’s have that discussion. But Murray’s analysis also shows living by the white underclass wouldn’t be much better. Trading a black underclass for a white underclass still leaves us with . . . an underclass.
If Murray’s right, a realistic conversation about race won’t solve these problems, though it might change the size of the problem.
Social scientists like to find correlations between various variables. I think most of it is junk, to be honest. If you can find anything that Murray’s elites do a lot of, that thing will probably be highly correlated with success.
For example, everyone I know militantly breastfeeds their children. And . . . look, breastfeeding and higher IQ go together! I bet kids whose parents have watched every episode of The Wire do better on the SATs. So you better watch The Wire while you’re pregnant, just to be safe!
The college education bubble
My thoughts on this topic are here.
[…] my review of Charles Murray’s book, I noted that I had a very thick bubble – indicating that […]
One thing Murray doesn’t address is the increasingly predatory nature of the elite. It is economically beneficial for guys like Zuckerberg to start companies rather then drudge away at IBM. However, that’s not what a lot of people gifted with education and IQ are doing. Most are coming out of school and becoming investment bankers or such. As I remember from my time in IB, it was mostly about smart people trying to pull one over on other people. Workers 401ks and taxpayers usually ended up the bag holders. Then you’ve got a whole other class that does graduate wanting to make the world a better place, but has no clue how to do it. So they get jobs in government, law, and non-profits but do things that are totally screwed up and not useful because of their worldview. This is where that bubble score comes in.
So from the bottom, the view is that elites may be smarter, but most of them aren’t using their smarts to make the country any better, just take more for themselves.
Building on the above, but keeping it separate since its another topic, I want to talk about religiosity. People in the upper class still go to church, and still profess faith, but they don’t really believe in it. And they don’t practice it outside of things which benefit them.
The always insightful “King of the Hill” had a scene where middle class Khan sees his elite Asian friend leaving a church. He asks him, “I haven’t seen you at the Buddhist temple recently.” He responds, “we’re episcopalian now, its just good for business.” Church is just another networking event for many of these people. Or a cheap Oprah-style spiritual trip, a modern day orgy-porgy.
As such they don’t much care what happens to anyone else, so its easy to be predatory as noted above.
Can he really believe that “industriousness, honesty,
marriage, and religiosity” have been uniquely American? How absurdly parochial.
Indeed, this kind of stuff has been on the retreat all over the world. This is why reading Krugmen is hilarious, as if welfare state Europe hasn’t started developing underclasses.
I think he’s got a decent case on three out of the four.
He’s hardly alone in considering Americans uniquely religious.
Honesty – in which he lumps in a lot of things – includes some thoughts on community trust. Here he can (and does) quote Tocqueville at length.
America always had high returns on labor and never had much of a leisure class.
Marriage is a tougher sell.
I have a hunch that when 19th Century Americans boasted to European visitors about how enthusiastic they were for law-abidingness, they were often referring to Americans’ tendency toward lynching malefactors.
Murray is wrong on a number of points:
Sorting is stronger, but sorting by IQ has become weaker since the 1950s, perhaps since the 1890s. Indicators of IQ tend to produce “racist” results, so today universities select by conformity, pliability, industriousness, and political ideology, which produces less “racist” results. Selection by conformity produces the bubble.
Upper class behavior is not virtuous: While upper class men are more likely to be marry and less likely to be divorced than lower class men, upper class career women are substantially less likely to marry and substantially more likely to divorce. Anecdote and casual observation is that high priced female lawyers have levels of promiscuity, infidelity, immature sexual behavior, general sexual craziness, and self destructive sexual behavior that would embarrass a truck bar stripper.
Secondly, Murray focuses on misbehavior characteristic of the underclass. If he looked at misbehavior characteristic of higher status people, for example company directors with conflicts of interest, such as a large ownership position in a customer or supplier of the company they are director of, he would find there has been a devastating collapse in morals among high status males.
As for college and IQ, I think it’s impossible to argue that top schools have people with lower IQs now than they did in the 1890s. A few token minority students (at the top schools these are often still intelligent and well-connected people) doesn’t change the big picture. As with everything else, the elites do one thing with their actions and another with their talk (if it were the other way, we reactionaries would all be rich). Judge these places by their actions and not their talk. They may say IQ scores are racist, but they’re slaves to SATs.
There are obviously exceptions to the generally good behavior of the upper classes (Murray notes them, including bankruptcy) and the much worse behavior of the lower classes, but the stats (and 25% of the book is just the stats and sources) speak louder than the exceptions.
Finally, Murray’s stats on marriage are voluminous. The more education a woman has, the more likely she is to stay married (if I recall correctly, well over 90% of women in the highest education groups were still married to their children’s biological father when the children were older). Obviously again, exceptions exist, but in aggregate, the upper classes and the lower classes are not comparable on this metric.
That’s just wrong though. A few token AAs aside, the IQ level of Harvard grads these days is dramatically higher then 1950. Its not even close. The data is so clear there is no arguement to be made.
As for th other things you mentioned yes, conformity is very important to them. There is a large enough pool of high IQ people for them to reject nonconformists and still build a freshmen class.
I think the probable fact that you’re including familial structures that hardly qualify as “cohabitation” skews your numbers as to whether it’s suitable for raising children.
You must have a family to raise children. A prerequisite to that is not “marriage”. Modern progressive culture is great at destroying the family. It is therefore unfortunate that whenever anyone says something is destroying the family, what they really mean is that it’s destroying the institute of marriage as established circa 1920s.
“Perhaps, when you see a bastard, you should call him a bastard. Shame is a powerful force.”
I am, for no particular reason, reminded of the “Natural Childbirth” portion of Bill Cosby’s immortal “Himself” standup routine. At one point, his wife, who has refused drugs so as to have “natural childbirth” and blames Cosby for impregnating her and the resulting pain, does the following after a particularly bad contraction:
“She *stood up* in the stirrups, and told the entire delivery room… that my parents were never married!”
This gets an enormous laugh, of course, but that is because everybody knows that what Cosby means is that she called him a bastard, and that it was meant to be an insult. (On a side note, it’s not true that Cosby NEVER uses foul language in this masterpiece. At one point, he uses the word “asshole,” to refer to a person with an unpleasant personality. Once.)
I wonder, now, if this joke would make any sense, given that a) fewer and fewer people even know the original meaning of the word “bastard,” and b) even if they knew, it would never be clear why that was meant to be an insult or even indicate that Mrs. Cosby was upset with him in the first place.
Although it’s just a random data point and hardly indicative of much, for purposes of comparison “Himself” was filmed in 1983. I have to assume that the audience was overwhelmingly white as it was filmed in Hamilton, Ontario. It would probably also be reasonable to assume that it was mostly middle to lower-upper class.
[blockquote]The phenomenon is this: people are sorting themselves by cognitive ability. Smart people are associating only with smart people. This process continues down the stratum of cognitive ability until you get to the bottom, where the dumb people are all standing around in the same (increasingly blighted) places blankly staring at each other[/blockquote]
I gather that Murray’s explanation for this is basically as follows:
a) The mean earnings differential between high-IQ and low-IQ people has increased
b) The College system now sorts people more efficiently by cognitive ability than it did in the past
That explanation doesn’t ring true for me. Firstly, assuming that it’s reasonable to treat Britain as a proxy for the US: the state education system (as has been discussed here recently) is far from being an efficient sorting mechanism. Britain’s grammar schools are long gone, meaning that smart proles (yes, they do exist – IQ is heritable but this certainly doesn’t mean that a child’s IQ is always the mean of his parents IQs) and lower middle class kids get a terrible “education” and can’t compete with the toffs from the private schools. Oxbridge takes in nearly 50% private school pupils, but this seems very unlikely to reflect the true IQ distribution in potential University entrants.
Furthermore, look at this entrance exam question for Oxford University in 1964 – I wonder how many prospective Oxford students could deal with that one now? Are we supposed to believe that the selective power of the University system improved not only between 1950 and 1960, but has continued to improve since? Or is the power of heredity to be invoked to explain the continually increasing cognitive stratification, despite that fact the heredity in question can only have operated within one or two generations and is somewhat counteracted by the tendency of IQ to regress to the mean?
Secondly, we still need a motive for the smart people to isolate themselves. I’ll grant that people generally prefer to have friends of similar intelligence to themselves, but I don’t see how this precludes living in a cognitively diverse neighbourhood or occasionally mixing with the less cognitively advantaged.
Consider on the other hand the effect of several decades of “social progress” on people of different cognitive strata. High-IQ people still behave like civilised humans, and are capable of navigating the anarchic social world that we now exist in without having violently anti-social offspring; low-IQ people on the other hand are (as Murray has demonstrated) now far less pleasant to live amongst than they were in the 1950s. In Britain, it’s well known that middle class parents who aren’t quite wealthy enough to afford private school fees try extremely hard not to live in the wrong catchment areas and thereby end up sending up their kids to hellish state schools full of demons.
As for the “cultural sorting”, the fact is that the mainstream tastes (i.e. the prole tastes that the entertainment industry profits from catering to) are ghastly nowadays – another symptom of the decline in civilisation of the average and low-IQ part of the population – whereas the mainstream culture of past decades was quite suitable for everyone.
Apart from the perfectly reasonable desire to avoid being sucked into the mire of underclass misery, the other reason for isolation between the cognitive strata is that the welfare state removes the apparent necessity of private charity and patronage. In general Universalism has broken the ties that bond society, including the ties that would otherwise exist between the rich and the poor. All that remains are the most essential and enduring ties of friendship, sexual relations and economic relationships – but upon noticing this, let us not make the mistake of thinking that this is the fault of “economic growth” itself.
First, remember that “more efficient” doesn’t have to mean perfectely or even mostly efficient. Harvard admissions in 1950 was comprised of, “Did you go to Exeter and have the right last name.” Today, its an unfathomably complicated mix of super high SAT scores, extracurriculars, leadership experience, special achievement, etc. Even if this is all only half useful, its still useful, and the data bear this out.
Assuming that the IQ of Harvard graduates increased between 1950 and 1960 purely due to the University becoming more selective, this doesn’t mean that it has continued to increase its selective efficiency since then – and that is what seems necessary in order to support the claim that the University system (with its ability to help people identify each other’s intelligence levels fairly accurately…this is allegedly difficult without such a system) is largely responsible for the monotonically increasing level of cognitive stratification between 1960 and today.
Although Britain is not in fact a state of America these countries are typically similar enough to generalise from one to the other, so I also pointed out above that the undergraduates of the most prestigious Universities in the land appear to have been, just like the students in the rest of the Universities, somewhat dumbed down since 1960. This doesn’t suggest to me that the University system has become more efficient at filtering the wheat from the chaff – average-intelligence overachievers (i.e. many private school kids, or “SWPL kids with Tiger Moms”) may be able to describe a cactus, but are somewhat less likely to be capable of writing eruditely in German given no advance warning.
Secondly, I pointed out that a truly meritocratic education system would give smart kids from the lower classes a fair shot; you even say yourself that much of what counts is “extracurricular”, “leadership experience” and such things. Clearly that has little to do with raw intelligence; furthermore, it’s undeniable that the state education system that proles are subjected to in Britain is far less likely to uplift smart proles by educating them than it was in 1960 – abolishing the grammar schools was an unambiguously anti-meritocratic act to any reasonable person.
Given that Murray’s idea, as I understand it from these blog posts, is so ropey I prefer my own narrative, in which cognitive stratification (or “brainy flight”) is driven fundamentally by the justified if rather depressing fear that people of below-average intelligence in the present day are quite likely to be at best uncultured and at worst uncivilised. Living amongst low-intelligence people in 2012 isn’t fun, and raising your kids amongst them is likely to be intolerably harmful to their well-being and life chances. Also, since people generally involve themselves with each other less than they used to nowadays (ultimately due to bad governance as well, I believe, although facilitated by modern technology) their relationships with people from diverse social backgrounds and of varying intelligence are the first thing to go.
But Murray’s analysis also shows living by the white underclass wouldn’t be much better. Trading a black underclass for a white underclass still leaves us with . . . an underclass.
If you (or Murray) thinks living by the white “underclass” isn’t much better than living by the black underclass . . . Son, you need to get out more. Writing a book like this without talking about race is like writing a book on the decline of the Polish working class in the early 40s without mentioning Germans. Murray and the rest of the HBD twits like to pretend that this divergence is simply caused by greater ability of the upper classes, the reality is a little more complex: the upper class has been waging a class war against the lower classes that is so vicious it has degenerated into a racial war of extermination. The lower classes didn’t just happen to stagnate, the upper classes work day and night to bring that result about. Open borders shifts the wealth of the country upwards, and is meant to, “free trade” does the same thing. And many of these wealthy enclaves have less to do with people of like abilities seeking each other out than with rich hypocrites using their money to get away from Negroes and Mexicans, to set up what passes these days for a segregated lifestyle in order to escape the consequences of the racial policies and beliefs they themselves are responsible for producing and administering. The price is passed downwards.
The process won’t stop with the lower classes, history is the story of the powerful feeding like wolves on those below them, and left unchecked it will creep further up the economic scale until only the top gangsters are left standing, like in many a third world country.
Interesting post foseti-i intend to take up murrays latest work next month when operations resume at my place, and ill definitely be referring to your review/commentary here because what youve said merits closer examination.
in the meantime though, i must ask: if indeed “marriage 2.0” has impacted the “plebs” almost entirely, why then is there such a white-hot (pardon the pun) focus on it by the denizens of the manosphere? what gives? please explain?
again i have lots more questions for you in relation to this topic, but theyll have to wait till the o-files comes back from hiatus…
see ya soon.
“But Murray’s analysis also shows living by the white underclass wouldn’t be much better.”
I have to travel to many areas of the USA for my work (I’m originally from Canada and I work in a medical-related tech field) and I can assure you that this is not accurate. Black ghetto neighbourhoods are far, far more dangerous than even the worst white slums. If you are skeptical, ask your fellow Americans who are police, firemen or emergency medical technicians in any town with a sizable black population. If your bubble is too thick for that, check the locations of murders in any large American city and note how strongly they correspond to black ghetto areas.
BTW, one thing that Canada does share in common with the US is that elite insiders responsible for public and private institutions are looting the organizations they have been entrusted with. This appears to be happening around the developed world, but I’m only really familiar with two countries.
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