American Enterprise Institute scholar Murray (Real Education, 2008, etc.) considers the chasm between the haves and the have-nots and how the welfare state has wrecked the “founding virtues.”
For the first half of the book, the author elaborates on some of the now-well-trod assertions about the “cognitive elite” first promulgated in his book The Bell Curve (1994): that the “new upper class” making up the “most successful 5 percent of adults ages 25 and older” enjoys the highest incomes and IQs, lives in pockets of “SuperZips,” intermarries and ensures that their children constitute the applicant pool for the elite schools and essentially practice “lifestyle choices” that would be approved by the Founding Fathers. These include industriousness, honesty, marriage and religiosity. With the elite isolating themselves in SuperZips and making most of the decisions for the rest of the country (they vote, for example), they have, however, little idea about the lives in the lower strata. Murray creates a detailed comparison between two communities: Belmont, a suburb of Boston inhabited by the aforementioned elite, and Fishtown, outside Philadelphia, where undereducated citizens are mired in low-skill jobs and blighted by a breakdown of the founding virtues—e.g., children out of wedlock and lack of industriousness by able-bodied men. With a plethora of graphs, the author shows that the same problems occurring in places like Fishtown are bleeding into areas like Belmont and contributing to a general erosion of “social capital,” which reflects all of American society, black and white. (“The trends I describe exist independently of ethnic heritage,” he writes, despite the use of an incendiary use of “white America” in the subtitle.) Murray’s mostly straightforward study goes a bit off the rails in the last chapter, in which he slams the advanced welfare state as robbing citizens of personal responsibility, thus “enfeebl[ing] the institutions through which people live satisfying lives.” However, with European states buckling and the U.S. gripped by economic downturn, Murray’s extrapolations may be heeded.
Somewhat cautious, nonacademic work meant to persuade broadly and accessibly.