Jennifer's Reviews > Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010

Coming Apart by Charles Murray
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May 02, 2012

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Read in April, 2012

The author argues that the class divide (economically and socially) among white Americans has widened in the last 50 years to the extent that the elite and the lower class have little in common and he is convinced this has the potential to end the American experiment.

He believes the elite are more elite because the increasing numbers attending college have resulted in social sorting with the supersmart marrying the supersmart, having super-smart babies, working only with other super-smart people and moving to enclaves of the supersmart (who are now super rich) and barely interacting with anyone else. The elite are, as a whole, more liberal than the rest of the country but, he argues, that leftward leaning should not be exaggerated. (Given the amount of money given to Republican political candidates from wealthy donors, I find it hard to believe there aren't a lot of elites who are conservative.)

Murray spends a great deal of time discussing what he terms the founding virtues - those virtues central to the founding of the nation: (1) marriage, (2) industriousness, (3) religiosity and (4) honesty. He believes there is now a growing underclass because of the decline of these virtues among the working class over the last 50 years (and he has pages of statistics and charts showing this decline). There has not been a corresponding decline in these virtues among the elite. He identifies as a libertarian and belives this decline is the result of the social programs put in to place under LBJ's Great Society because people no longer belived they had to take care of themselves or their children. (This begs the question why society didn't start to disintegrate after the introduction of Social Security under the New Deal.) He argues that Europeans have also seen a decline in these virtues as a result of their social programs and traces the current economic problems in Europe to this.

Murray's book is short on solutions but, in essence, he believes we should dismantle social programs and have less government so that the poor will man up and take responsibility again. Having worked with the poor through welfare reform and the cutting of cash benefits under time limits, I can't say that I agree that giving the poor less money makes them more productive - there are too many other barriers to success.

I have been thinking a lot about this book since finishing it last week, which is almost enough to make me want to give it 4 stars.

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