Monday, February 06, 2012


As part of his Scold the Poor Tour 2012, which he launched a couple of weeks ago to promote his new book, Charles Murray invited a New York Times reporter to his home in Burkittsville, Maryland, where he explained why just being in proximity with him is good for the poor:

Looking at America Mr. Murray sees a country increasingly polarized into two culturally and geographically isolated demographics. In Belmont, the fictional name Mr. Murray gives to the part of America where the top 20 percent live, divorce is low, the work ethic is strong, religious observance is high, and out-of-wedlock births are all but unheard of. Meanwhile in Fishtown, where the bottom 30 percent live, what Mr. Murray calls America’s four "founding virtues" -- marriage, industriousness, community and faith -- have all but collapsed.

... The first step, he writes, is for the people of Belmont to drop their "nonjudgmentalism" and lecture Fishtown on the importance of marriage and nondependence: to "preach what they practice," as Mr. Murray puts it.

Next they need to leave their upper-middle-class enclaves and move closer to Fishtown.

That's exactly what Mr. Murray said he did two decades ago, when he and his second wife, Catherine Cox, a retired English professor, moved from Washington to Burkittsville, Md., a historic rural town of about 170 people about 50 miles to the northwest....

Life in Burkittsville, as he described it, approximates the small-town virtues he enjoyed growing up in Newton, Iowa....

Yes, Burkittsville -- it's Anytown, USA ... if Anytown had a median household income that's about 40% higher than the national average (or, according to another estimate, 30% higher than that, or nearly $100,000), and if it included the occasional $895,000, 6,472-square foot house:

This spectacular estate sited on 83 (+/-) acres exudes quality and character. Being sold by the estate, the home features embassy sized rooms, extraordinary detail and wonderful views of the two ponds and the farm.. Very formal, very private, but very livable at the same time with large kitchen family area overlooking indoor pool. First floor master suite with 4 additional bedrooms up.

And surely Murray's Iowa boyhood home had something like this right next to Pop's Malt Shoppe:

Martin Paule, 45, gave up a white-collar job in Los Angeles as a paralegal in 1979 and came east seeking a "more rural, more tranquil existence." In 1980, he found it in Burkittsville.

Mr. Paule owns Deva (pronounced Day-vah and meaning "shining one" or "angel" in Sanskrit), a "cottage industry" on East Main Street that makes free-flowing colorful "natural fiberwear for women and men." Mr. Paule says the business has a mailing list with 100,000 names and projected 1992 sales of $2 million.

Ah, but this just means that Burkittsville is the glorious exception to the rule that chi-chi folks and regular Joes don't mingle. So I guess that means the regular Joes are learning from the good example of their betters and are hard-working and industrious -- right? Er, not according to what Murray tells the Times:

In Burkittsville, he said, he and his wife attend Quaker meetings and enjoy friendships with both other professionals and blue-collar tradespeople, whose travails he cited to counter the suggestion that the problems described in "Coming Apart" might have something to do with the disappearance of working-class jobs.

Until the recession hit, Mr. Murray insisted, his blue-collar friends were eager to hire apprentices at good wages but struggled to find anyone willing to do the work. "They are looking at a marked deterioration in industriousness that is real and palpable," he said.

Or maybe the fact that Burkittsville is 50 miles from D.C., 65 miles from Baltimore, and 75 miles from Annapolis leads the local kids to believe that there's are opportunities out in the world that don't involve working blue-collar in a town with 126 residents -- even if leaving town means passing up the golden opportunity to watch Charles Murray and his wife ring church bells on New Year's Eve. (I'm sure Murray thinks that alone ought to have encouraged at least two blue-collar horndogs to stop living in sin and tie the knot.)

I have no problem with Murray's decision to move to Burkittsville -- a lot of financially comfortable people buy houses in small, rural towns in middle age.

But most of them, when they do it, aren't so egomaniacal as to think that they're doing their neighbors a favor.

(X-posted at Booman Tribune.)


ploeg said...

Contrariwise, you might have heard of Newton, IA as the home of Maytag Corporation. At least it was before the parent company closed the headquarters and factory in 2007.

So yes, Newton is similar to Burkittsville. And insofar as there are differences, it is naturally because of the moral turpitude of the people in Newton.

BH said...

Which moral turpitude might well be attributable to Murray having moved, one supposes.

c u n d gulag said...

Ah, Noblesse oblige.

'How was your day today, Dear?'

"I looked at a peasant and made his day."