Category: common good

A review of Charles Murray’s ‘Coming Apart’: do the poor suffer because they are bad or because they are dumb?

By Alan Bean

Charles Murray took so much flak for controversial The Bell Curve that he decided to write a book about white people rooted in much the same argument. 

Coming Apart, a book about the diverging fortunes of upper and lower class white Americans, begins where The Bell Curve ended.  The big factor driving the growing gap between the educated and the uneducated, Murray suggests, is “cognitive homogamy”, the fact that individuals with similar cognitive ability are having children.

In the old world, Murray says, most people lived and died in rural communities and small towns.  The smartest males might have left home for a few years of college, but they generally returned to marry the prettiest (not necessarily the smartest) girl in town.  The result, kids of normal cognitive ability.  Wealth was distributed largely on the basis of inheritance, not ability and the kids at Harvard weren’t much smarter than the kids at a good state school.

Since the early 1960s, however, smart people have been marrying other smart people and having smart kids.  The sons and daughters of these blessed unions have increasingly clustered in segregated neighborhoods in which “everybody has a bachelor’s or graduate degree and works in high-prestige professions or management or is married to such a person.”  Among this new elite, wealth is distributed on the basis of merit, the elite colleges compete for the brightest and the best and lesser institutions make do with students who will never be ready for prime time. (more…)

“The Power to Make us One”: Heather McGhee’s One-People America

By Alan Bean

heather.mcghee – Netroots NationI recently heard Heather McGhee speak at the Samuel Dewitt Proctor conference in Chicago. She began with the obvious fact that America was not created to be one people, or one public.  Some folks were clearly part of the culture; others were not.  The primary dividing line was skin color.  Up until 1965, she reminded us, American immigration policy was built around strict racial quotas.  People of African descent were practically excluded altogether.  People from Eastern Europe were also subject to severe restrictions because they were considered ‘ethnic’.

That all changed in 1965.  In the wake of the civil rights movement, mainstream America was embarrassed by the undisguised racism implicit in the nation’s immigration policy.  The rules changed in fundamental ways.  Now, when you walk through an airport, you see every conceivable shade of skin color and you hear a wide variety of accents.  We have become, in a few brief decades, the world’s most audacious experiment in cultural diversity.


Two kinds of white folks: David Brooks reviews “Coming Apart”

By Alan Bean

Like many people on the progressive side of the political continuum, I have a love-hate relationship with David Brooks. The New York Times columnist has a gift for reducing complicated arguments to their essentials. He likes books that swap the left vs. right divide for a fresh analysis that defies conventional categories. Brooks is a political conservative who cares about the common good. When the Republican side of his nature takes over, the results are as predictable and pedestrian as the next talking head; but when he rises above the culture war claptrap, Brooks is worth five minutes of your time.

“The Great Divorce” (a title he stole from C.S Lewis’s book about heaven and hell) is Brooks introduction to Charles Murray’s Coming Apart.  Murray is the libertarian who reportedly convinced Bill Clinton to end “welfare as we know it.”  He also co-authored the controversial The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class in American Life which argued that the different social and economic outcomes between whites and blacks couldn’t be attributed entirely to structural or cultural factors and must therefore reflect basic differences in intelligence.  Murray thinks public assistance programs, though well-intentioned, have damaged America’s most vulnerable citizens. (more…)

Rick Santorum: Apostle of the Common Good?

Rick Santorum

By Alan Bean

Now that Rick Santorum has emerged as a viable candidate, media scrutiny will likely revolve around his highly traditional positions on abortion, contraception and gay rights (apropos of which, check this out). But David Gerson, a political advisor who has worked in both Republican and Democratic administrations, sees Santorum as a compassionate conservative with a vision of the common good. 

Consider this, for instance:

In a 2005 speech at the Heritage Foundation, Santorum argued that men and women should not be treated either as “pathetic dependents” or as “radical individuals.” “Someone,” he argued, “always gets hurt when masses of individuals do what is only in their own self-interest. That is the great lie of liberal freedom. . . . Freedom is liberty coupled with responsibility to something bigger or higher than the self. It is a self-less freedom. It is sacrificial freedom. It is the pursuit of our dreams with an eye towards the common good.”

Gerson doesn’t think the former Pennsylvania Senator stands much of a chance of getting himself nominated, but sees his rise as a sign that Republicans are remembering the need to add a pinch of humanity to the small government stew:

Libertarians may wish to claim exclusive marketing rights, but there are two healthy, intellectual movements in American conservatism: libertarianism and religious (particularly Catholic) social thought.

Libertarians may damn Santorum as a heretic for supporting prison ministries and expanding colon cancer screenings for Medicare beneficiaries, but Republicans abandon themselves to a radically individualistic libertarianism at their own peril.  Gerson’s column in the Washington Post can be found here.