It’s not your genetics or even your IQ that determines your future, says Charles Murray.
It’s your zip code.
In his outrageous and highly entertaining book, just released in paperback, Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010 (Crown Forum), Murray argues that only the wealthy live the virtues and values set forth by our Founding Fathers. And that’s why they’re so wealthy.
Upper class America adheres to the traditional American tenets of industriousness, community, marriage, and trust, the same markers that de Tocqueville admired about us.
Lower class America, by contrast, are a bunch of slackers: they don’t marry, don’t value work, and don’t even go to PTA meetings. The rapscallions.
Upper class Americans go to every community event under the sun, recycle religiously, do yoga and marathons, don’t know much about NASCAR, saw every episode of Mad Men, and never had a close friend who got straight C’s in school.
Lower class women get pregnant out of wedlock and consider their paramours shiftless burdens, so they don’t marry them, which means that their children are growing up in families and therefore communities without male authority figures.
When upper class women get pregnant, they know how many grams of protein they eat each day, choose their pediatricians before they deliver (or before they even get pregnant), and make their husbands accompany them to breathing classes.
Upper class folks benefit from the “college sorting machine,” which leads them to the best careers, exposes them to other intelligent, successful, prosperity-minded people as marriage partners, and concentrates them in SuperZips, the highest income zip codes in the nation, mostly in the Northeast Corridor and in the better parts of California.
Lower class people live everywhere else.
The only organization the poor belong to, chides Murray, is “The Sunshine Club” – the group of guys who hang out at the corner, live off the government, and have a girlfriend and a TV, of which both work.
And that’s the real problem, in Murray’s view. Lower class men no longer find dignity and honor in their communities by holding down low-paying jobs, as was the case a generation ago, so they often don’t even bother to work. Or marry. Or take leadership roles in their communities.
Murray writes that only four things provide deep and abiding happiness: faith, family, community, and vocation (which encompasses work). These four qualities used to be within the reach of all Americans, who learned values from common sources like the McGuffey’s Readers and who all belonged to the same civic associations, whether they were rich or poor.
Today, only upper class Americans consider themselves “very happy” with their lives. The poor lack access to these values, and therefore to happiness, because their lives are not centered around work and family, commitment and trust.
Obviously, Murray suggests, this is an unsustainable future for the America we all want to believe in. The two Americas, rich and poor, happy and unhappy, can exist side-by-side in a single society, but not as the unique society the forefathers envisioned when they fashioned a new nation as a shining city on a hill.
Murray’s numerous critics, who date back two decades to his publication of The Bell Curve, which stratified ethnic groups based on IQ and other factors, blame globalization, corporate greed, and the offshoring of jobs as reasons why the poor are poorer in wealth and spirit.
Murray, a libertarian, places the bulk of the blame on the welfare state. Take away a man’s dignity by turning him into a sucker if he works a low-pay job, and you’ll send that man straight to the Sunshine Club.
This is the real crisis in American life today, he argues. And since members of the upper class have virtually no meaningful contact with members of the lower class, there’s no awareness of the reality of this crisis, and therefore no consideration of the dismal future this situation portends.
Feminism’s success has also hurt the working man. “There’s very little status within a neighborhood,” Murray said in a phone interview, “that accrues to a man working in a low-paying job to help support his wife and children. That used to be a strong source of status. Now it isn’t.”
Whatever caused this problem, Murray says, the only way to solve it is to stigmatize the concept of the non-working working class male just as society successfully stigmatized smoking a generation ago. Until working class America shifts its values, the “American experiment” will be found working only in the better zip codes, such as yours, gentle reader.
“If I had to bet money, real money,” Murray says, “then I would bet that the pessimistic scenario is the one that wins.”
Anybody want the under?