I’m an admirer of Charles Murray’s Coming Apart.  But two big blind spots stand out:

1. Drugs.  Murray chronicles the massive increase in the U.S. prison population without mentioning, much less condemning, the War on Drugs. 

[S]urveys on drug use wouldn’t begin until the late 1970s – but there certainly wasn’t much happening that attracted the interest of the police.  In 1963, there were just 18 arrests for drug abuse violations per 100,000 Americans, compared to 1,284 per 100,000 for drunkenness.

For an explicit libertarian like Murray, this is a massive omission.  Yes, consumer demand and willingness to work in the illegal sector may have changed, too.  But if we retained the lax drug enforcement of 1963, there would be vastly fewer drug arrests and vastly fewer human beings behind bars.  This in turn would have important secondary consequences: A larger supply of free, legally employed men, trying to impress women with their industry rather than their machismo, leading to more marriage and more two-parent homes.

In the acknowledgments, Murray profusely thanks former Drug Czar Bill Bennett:

Bill Bennett deserves a special acknowledgment.  We had originally decided to write a book together and prepared a proposal on the same broad topic as Coming Apart.  At the last minute – and I do mean the last minute – I realized that the book I wanted to write would be such a personal statement that I couldn’t collaborate with anyone, not even someone as simpatico as Bill.

I can imagine how a libertarian and Bill Bennett could be dear friends.  But I can’t imagine how a libertarian could entertain the idea of co-authoring a book on the underclass with a drug warrior.  Even stranger, after dropping Bennett from the project, Murray still wrote a narrative that Bennett could easily accept.

2. The welfare state.  Murray strongly rejects social democracy, but he makes an undeserved concession:

With regard to advocacy of the European model: If you think that providing economic equality and security are primary functions of government, you should be a social democrat.

On the contrary: If you think that providing economic equality and security are primary functions of government, you should favor open borders.  Free immigration is the mightiest poverty program known to man.  It also greatly enhances security more broadly defined – as the Jews denied asylum by Roosevelt tragically remind us.  Open borders Gilded Age America was vastly more humane than any European social democracy could ever hope to be. 

Why not open borders and the European model?  Friedman’s view that “You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state” is greatly overstated.  But there probably aren’t enough resources on earth to give European-level benefits to anyone who scrapes together the cost of a boat ticket.  Realistically speaking, you’d have to be more austere than the U.S. to make open borders work.  Murray should have proudly recommend this open borders + austerity package to the friends of equality and security, and affably insisted: “My policy beats yours on your own terms.”