Charles Murray Lecture, cont’d

A great presentation by Charles Murray — I just finished listening to the whole thing.

Some random samples, with my comments.

At 34m10s:  The older you are in this room, the more likely it is statistically that your parents did not have college educations, and that you grew up in a working-class or lower-middle-class home yourself … The younger you are in this room, the more likely it is that your parents were in the upper-middle class, were college-educated, and that you have spent your entire life living in an upper-middle class environment.

Too true. In academic/policy/intellectual circles, it’s rare to meet anyone under thirty — under forty, I think — who is not from an upper-middle-class family.

The post-WW2 opening-up of college education to boomer kids with prole parents was a one-off event. That generation of college graduates — people like me and Bill Clinton — has some distinctive traits setting it apart from those who came before and after. (Though the first generation of American college graduates from poor immigrant-Jewish families offers some parallels.)

Time and again in the presence of these elite youngsters, I find myself in the same frame of mind as the hillbilly in Deliverance who tells Ned Beatty “You don’t know nuthin’.” No offense intended to anybody. Well, not much.

At 43m10s:  Over the course of the next decade or so, we in the United States are going to be watching the European model implode. It’s going to implode in some countries that do not permit massive immigration because they just can’t pay the bills any more, and they’re going to go bankrupt — their welfare states are. In other countries that do encourage massive immigration to help pay the bills, they will undergo cultural transformations; and the people who have new political power in those countries are not going to be people who are really fond of the Swedish model of the welfare state.

Murray is such an incorrigible optimist, it leads him into error. His argument here (which he develops further) is that we Americans, seeing the implosion of those misguided European states, will take the warning and get back on the straight and narrow.

But by that time — Murray is talking about ten years or so in the future — our own fifty-year experiment with “massive immigration” will have caused us, too, to “undergo cultural transformation,” won’t it? Hasn’t it already done so, in fact? Why should we think that “the people who have new political power” in the U.S.A. will be any more respectful of the traditional American exceptionalism Murray treasures (and speaks about very eloquently in his lecture) than immigrants to Sweden are of traditional Swedish attitudes?

(Although — and I’m not sure if this helps Murray’s case or hurts it — they do seem mighty fond of our welfare state.)

(This also speaks, by the way, to the issue raised by commenter Timbuktu to my previous post. In fact Murray fielded a question along those lines at 1h17m20s.)

On the welfare state itself, which he has been studying most of his adult life, Murray is infallible, and very quotable.

At 44m00s:  There has to be an alternative. We are the richest country on earth, with a couple of hundred million people out of our population who don’t need a penny of government support. The entire welfare state could disappear tomorrow and they would do just fine. And yet we spend a couple of trillion dollars a year on transfer payments. For those of you who don’t think that Social Security and medicare are transfer payments, you have not been paying attention …

His central theme, though, is the one that was the topic of The Bell Curve: the way the upper-middle class is hardening into a caste, while those who fail to make it through the academic and occupational filters sink ever further into dysfunction and dependency. One factor here, which I’ve commented on myself somewhere, is the utter failure of the upper-middle class to perform what always used to be understood as one of their key functions: setting an example to the lower orders.

At 1h20m45s:  One of the curious things about the new upper class is precisely that they are behaving in all the right ways. They’re getting married, they’re working hard … They’re doing all the right stuff [but] they won’t dare say: “This is the way people ought to be.” They will not preach what they practice. I put this down to non-judgmentalism …

A tour de force, Charles — thank you. I can’t wait for the book. [Cough, mumble] review copy [cough] …