Hey! Randy

The 20/30 Separation

Posted by heyrandy on April 23, 2012

Coming Apart, Charles Murray, 2012

America is self-dividing according to intelligence. This is Murray’s major thesis. The author thinks that the élite 20%, the new upper middle class, is becoming isolated from the rest of the country. He also thinks that the bottom 30% will sink lower. He is correct on both counts.

Murray uses two fictional towns, Belmont and Fishtown, to illustrate his thesis. These are real places, but he fictionalizes them to make matters clearer. Later he addresses the real Fishtown, a small section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to show how the matter stands.

Murray notes that the upper middle class is now so isolated that it has no idea of what the rest of the country is like. The new élite live in a bubble. He has a test to take to determine how thick is your bubble. One of the questions: Have you ever gone fishing? Simple, right? The question reveals the difference between the average family and the new élite: you go fishing, they don’t. In fact, they would not dare go fishing. It is too lower class. Nor would they eat at one of those popular table-service restaurants.

The author points to the self-segregation of the new élite. They live in neighborhoods where they are the dominate family type. Murray calls these the “Superzips.” People there are in the 90+ percentile of income. They are almost all graduates of top-tier colleges. They are what David Brooks call “BoBo’s,” Bourgeois Bohemians.

Murray gives the statistical basis for Brooks’ book. What Brooks does with humor, Murray does with numbers. Murray addresses only whites. He says the affirmative action programs have so distorted the minorities that it is impossible to analyze them. Given the heat that he took over The Bell Curve, it is also prudent.

Things do not look good for the bottom 30% of America. The loss of high-paying, low-skill jobs has reduced many to welfare. This is one of the four core principles that distinguish Fishtown from Belmont. The principles, marriage, industry, honesty, and religion, are a large part of the difference between the two classes. In Fishtown all four principles are in decline. The social cost has been enormous. He has the statistics to prove it. In Belmont all the principles are strong and either increasing or holding steady.

Murray’s assessment of America’s future is bleak. The élite will become increasingly isolated. The élite make the policy decisions that affect everyone. They will be working blind. The lower class will become larger, angrier, and more demanding. They vote.

The book’s cover tells the entire story. At the top of the cover we see a wine flute filled with white wine. At the bottom of the cover we see a crumpled cheap-beer can.

Read the book. This is the future. The middle 50% will have to deal with it.

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