FIGURES LIE AND CHARLES MURRAY FIGURES
Charles Murray has an article in The Wall Street Journal (adapted from his forthcoming book) in which he argues that there's a "new American divide" between cultural elitists and everyone else; everyone else, he says, is suffering because of this divide, and there's nothing government or corporations can do about it, because the big problem is that the cultural elites are so darn elitist. He describes the two American tribes as the elitist "Belmont" and the downscale "Fishtown":
If you were an executive living in Belmont in 1960, income inequality would have separated you from the construction worker in Fishtown, but remarkably little cultural inequality. You lived a more expensive life, but not a much different life. Your kitchen was bigger, but you didn't use it to prepare yogurt and muesli for breakfast. Your television screen was bigger, but you and the construction worker watched a lot of the same shows (you didn't have much choice). Your house might have had a den that the construction worker's lacked, but it had no StairMaster or lap pool, nor any gadget to monitor your percentage of body fat. You both drank Bud, Miller, Schlitz or Pabst, and the phrase "boutique beer" never crossed your lips.
Um, really? Didn't Hugh Hefner devote pretty much every non-naked page of Playboy back in 1960 to telling the (presumably) upscale reader of the magazine what high-end hooch to drink, what spiffy car to drive, what clothes would make women think he was James Bond, etc., etc.?
Ah, but you may be thinking, "Well, of course blue-collar and white-collar people were more alike half a century ago -- there wasn't as much of a wage gap!" Silly you, says Murray:
It's not that white working class males can no longer make a "family wage" that enables them to marry. The average male employed in a working-class occupation earned as much in 2010 as he did in 1960.
Well, I'd like to see the source material for that assertion. All I can say is that it doesn't jibe with anything I've observed in America in my 52 years. This is what I've observed:
Once upon a time, a large number [of blue-collar and service workers] earned at least $20 an hour, or its inflation-adjusted equivalent, and now so many of them don't.
The $20 hourly wage, introduced on a huge scale in the middle of the last century, allowed masses of Americans with no more than a high school education to rise to the middle class. It was a marker, of sorts. And it is on its way to extinction....
That basic wage blossomed first in the auto industry in 1948....
The high point came in the 1970s.... Since then the percentage of people earning at least $20 an hour has eroded in every sector of the economy, falling last year to 18 percent of all hourly workers from 23 percent in 1979 -- a gradual unwinding of the post-World War II gains.
The decline is greatest in manufacturing, where only 1.9 million hourly workers still earn that much. That's down nearly 60 percent since 1979, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.
Oh, no, Murray says. We can't blame employers greed or government policies that favor the rich. It's all your fault, craft-beer-drinking scum. It's your fault the proles commit crimes and don't get married.
What's the solution?
You have to become a nation of people who wag your fingers like David Brooks!
There remains a core of civic virtue and involvement in working-class America that could make headway against its problems if the people who are trying to do the right things get the reinforcement they need -- not in the form of government assistance, but in validation of the values and standards they continue to uphold. The best thing that the new upper class can do to provide that reinforcement is to drop its condescending "nonjudgmentalism." Married, educated people who work hard and conscientiously raise their kids shouldn't hesitate to voice their disapproval of those who defy these norms. When it comes to marriage and the work ethic, the new upper class must start preaching what it practices.
Scold your inferiors! Yeah, that'll work!