Saturday, March 10, 2012

Coming Apart - Are You in a Bubble?

It's presidential election season in America, which brings with it more than the usual accusations by the political parties that their opponents are proposing, if not actively engaging in, "class warfare."

Many Republicans leveling the class warfare charge against Democrats are energized by concerns over wealth transfers extracted from the upper classes that in their view will only serve to render both the upper class and the lower classes less motivated to create future wealth (or at least economically beneficial activity).  For a few Republicans, class warfare may bring to mind Madame Defarge, silently knitting the names of people she is watching step up to the guillotine.  (Who I am to say that Newt or Rick or the departed Rick don't really see Barack Obama as potentially capable of using the national park as gulags?) 

For some Democrats, visions of class warfare include the wealthy, the one percenters, lounging in the sitting rooms of private clubs, smoking cigars, drinking single malt scotch, all the while plotting ways to beat back unions and minimum wage hikes in order to fuel an insatiable need to consume luxury goods, and purchase vacation homes and elite private schooling for their children.  For other Democrats, class warfare means eliminating educational subsidies for poor kids, reducing food stamp eligibility, and decimating public transportation, all while maintaining government subsidies for corporations, unlimited mortgage deductions and a military system that sends America's poor and middle class kids off to get blown up in oil-rich parts of the world.

One problem with addressing tensions between the classes in America, according to Charles Murray is that there is so little meaningful contact any longer between the classes at the edges of the social and economic strata.  Murray, the moderately controversial co-author of The Bell Curve, has been stimulating a lot of discussion recently with his new book on the class structure in America called Coming Apart.   It's been reviewed in the New York Times, Salon, the Wall Street Journal.  David Brooks of the New York Tines has said: “I’ll be shocked if there’s another book that so compelling describes the most important trends in American society.”

Murray points to the period after World War II, when there was substantial integration between the classes growing out of massive compulsory military service, and the subsequent educational benefits of the G.I. Bill, as one in which there was less of a divide among the economic classes.  Now, Murray says, the wealthy elite are living in a bubble, where there is little contact with, or understanding for, the middle and lower classes.

Murray website has a test you can take to see if you are in a cultural bubble.  Try it out here.  It takes 60 seconds.  I scored between 9 and 12. 

There is an interesting interview of Murray by Charlie Rose here

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