David Frum Eviscerates Charles Murray’s Latest Book
David Frum begins a withering review for The Daily Beast, "Charles Murray's Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 is an important book that will have large influence. It is unfortunately not a good book."
David Frum begins a withering review for The Daily Beast, “Charles Murray’s Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 is an important book that will have large influence. It is unfortunately not a good book.”
A couple of excerpts will suffice to illustrate the tone of the review.
To understand what Murray does in Coming Apart, imagine this analogy:
A social scientist visits a Gulf Coast town. He notices that the houses near the water have all been smashed and shattered. The former occupants now live in tents and FEMA trailers. The social scientist writes a report: The evidence strongly shows that living in houses is better for children and families than living in tents and trailers. The people on the waterfront are irresponsibly subjecting their children to unacceptable conditions.
When he publishes his report, somebody points out: “You know, there was a hurricane here last week.” The social scientist shrugs off the criticism with the reply, “I’m writing about housing, not weather.”
Murray is baffled that a collapse in the pay and conditions of work should have led to a decline in a workforce’s commitment to the labor market.
His book wants to lead readers to the conclusion that the white working class has suffered a moral collapse attributable to vaguely hinted at cultural forces. Yet he never specifies what those cultural forces might be, and he presents no evidence at all for a link between those forces and the moral collapse he sees.
Let me try my hand:
You are a white man aged 30 without a college degree. Your grandfather returned from World War II, got a cheap mortgage courtesy of the GI bill, married his sweetheart and went to work in a factory job that paid him something like $50,000 in today’s money plus health benefits and pension. Your father started at that same factory in 1972. He was laid off in 1981, and has never had anything like as good a job ever since. He’s working now at a big-box store, making $40,000 a year, and waiting for his Medicare to kick in.
Now look at you. Yes, unemployment is high right now. But if you keep pounding the pavements, you’ll eventually find a job that pays $28,000 a year. That’s not poverty! Yet you seem to waste a lot of time playing video games, watching porn, and sleeping in. You aren’t married, and you don’t go to church. I blame Frances Fox Piven.
The last half of the review, interestingly, strongly echoes a post Steven Taylor wrote here yesterday. I’m not suggesting that Frum cribbed it without attribution. Rather, that a lot of us who were indisputably “conservatives” as recently as the middle of the George W. Bush administration now find ourselves on the outside looking in.