The Agenda

Virginia Postrel and Tyler Cowen on Charles Murray’s Latest

Tyler notes that much of the reaction to Charles Murray’s Coming Apart has been rooted in economic determinism

Virginia Postrel’s has published the first critical review that really lands a blow against Murray. For Postrel, cognitive segregation has clear benefits — for example, the smart set is less alienated. Yet Postrel is also, I think it’s safe to say, less troubled by income and wealth dispersion than most of Murray’s critics, which is a big part of why her critique strikes me as more coherent than most.

Many of those who take exception to Murray’s upbraiding of the white cognitive elite fail to appreciate the extent to which cognitive segregation has exacerbated income and wealth dispersion, through the channel of assortative mating, through peer effects and positional competition, through the productivity gains associated with assortative matching in the labor market, etc. To put a finer point on this: (a) cognitive segregation is okay and income and wealth dispersion is okay is pretty coherent and compelling; (b) cognitive segregation is okay and besides I don’t believe that cognitive differences really exist and why are you making fun of urban liberals and income and wealth dispersion is a terrible thing but Murray doesn’t really care about it is, to me at least, less coherent and compelling. 

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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