Saturday, January 21, 2012


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!


A Conservative Teacher said...

More cowbell, eh?

The reality is that the very policies that the progressives, Occupiers, and liberals push is increasing the inequality in our nation. The article clearly points out that the division got worse after 1960- which was the time period of Great Society and Democrat control of Congress (until 1994).

We need less cowbell and a return to the nation that Tocqueville wrote about- limited government, separation of powers, checks and balances, federalism, and popular sovereignty. Let's go back to our founding principles and restore the equality that used to exist in our great America Republic.

Dictynna said...

Translation: don't expect money, but we'll be glad to flatter your prejudices...

Danp said...

Next week Murray (and Brooks) will be arguing that the good folks from Belmont and Fishtown aren't so different today. They both have cell phones and will eat the same snacks on Superbowl Sunday. They both love puppies and hate taxes. And yet there is an element of our society that just thrives on dividing us against each other.

c u n d gulag said...

A Conservative Teacher,

Are you leaving the same moronic remark everywhere?

Maha finally gave your ignorant ass the boot.

Do read some history, and not just spew right wing talking points.

You do know how to read, don't you?
I mean, you're a teacher, aren't you?

I wish I knew your real name so that when I'm asked what I think the problem is with our education system, I can point to you.

You are one dumbass MFer.

But you think you're smart.

Which makes you even more of a dumbass MFer.

Jim said...

not in the form of government assistance, but in validation of the values and standards

That's the key to this whole diatribe, I'm sure - to push the idea that "validating values" can take the place of monetary assistance and income equality.

Anonymous said...

I'm waiting for a citation with backing evidence of which progressive policy our conservative teacher believes is responsible for this disparity.

Please tell us how endless tax cuts since JFK's administration, the erosion of financial regulations, cuts in education, expansion of the constitution shredding War on Drugs at home and War on Terror abroad had nothing to do with out current fiscal demise.

I disagree "teacher". And since you cite no specific policy, we can only assume that your position can not possibly be rooted in fact, but is just another knee jerk reaction to the corporate billionaire funded blatherings of talk radio and FOX lies.

Ten Bears said...

I’m reminded of something Karen Kwiatkowski wrote in 2007: “The great promise of the internet may be that it brings us back to the future, so to speak. In the 1700s, de Toqueville was amazed with our American obsession with information, our abundance of little newspapers, everyone a reporter, everyone with an opinion to share, and many interested parties reading and debating these opinions and observations. This energy struck him as uniquely American, and today, this energy is global, and it is embodied in the internet, in the blogosphere specifically. The blogosphere is that rough, raw and personal reporting, complete with elements of gossip and imagination. Mainstream media is establishment media, the kings’ notices to the serfs.

"Conservative Teacher" (paid shill spouting talking points), I suggest you don't know what the fuck you are talking about. Alexis de Tocqueville anticipated the demise of democracy 150 years ago:

"…the species of oppression by which democratic nations are menaced is unlike anything that ever before existed in the world; our contemporaries will find no prototype of it in their memories. I seek in vain for an expression that will accurately convey the whole of the idea I have formed of it; the old words despotism and tyranny are inappropriate: the thing itself is new, and since I cannot name, I must attempt to define it.

I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world. The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them, but he does not see them; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country.

Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?

Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things;it has predisposed men to endure them and often to look on them as benefits."