Coming Apart - The State of White America - 1960-2010
by Charles Murray
Spent the past week or so plowing my way through this one. The author makes a good case for the decline of "traditional community values" in the working class of American society.
There is little doubt that family and community life have changed, likely for the worse,
Near the end, after presenting so much evidence of this decline, the author veers off on a Libertarian rant, eventually getting to his main thesis: get rid of the "welfare state" because that's what's causing all of this.
What he doesn't even start to examine is the role of poverty, frustrated dreams (especially the American one), wildly tilted rules of the game... how all of these might be contributing factors. At one point he suggests that all a state would need to do is get rid of all these social welfare programs and life would return to the way it should. You know, the "good 'ole days".
He give a small nod to what he calls "unseemly" behaviour (ostentation would be another word he could have used) of some rich people building 58,000 square foot mansions and retiring from companies with million dollar "thank you gifts" even while their company's share prices dropped.
Not a mention of the simple fact that the top 10% (never mind the top 1%) have managed to slant the rules of almost everything to their advantage and to the detriment of everyone else. Some examples:
Trade deals that enable corporations to take factories and jobs to lower wage countries and still sell the products back into America (and other western countries) cheaply and without import duties. Vast differences in taxation of various forms of income (note the much smaller tax rate on capital gains vs the tax rate on employment income). A health care system that is, in America at least, almost impossible for millions to use simply because of cost.
In short, the author documents some possibly troubling changes in American society (he calls it a drift towards the European model) without really examining what's at the root of those changes.
I'm not the only one to have wondered about the author's lack of curiosity. David Frum, a conservative if there ever was one, has expressed his wonder as well.
As Frum pointed out in an earlier book of his:
As I looked backward and forward in time, however, I had to face this awkward fact: America became more culturally stable between 1910 and 1960 as it became less economically and socially libertarian. As it became more economically and socially libertarian after 1970, America became culturally less stable:Once again, the evidence shows that neoliberalism and libertarian notions of small, less-interventionist government and the espousing of "trickle-down economics" aren't working. It's just a matter of time, one would hope, before enough people recognize the problem's source for what it is.