The Solutions Murray Should Have Proposed
By Bryan Caplan
I’m fan of Coming Apart. But I’m baffled by the policy “solutions” Charles Murray proposes in today’s NYT. Impose a minimum wage on internships? Ban the SAT in favor of achievement tests? Switch to socioeconomic affirmative action? Forbid the use of the B.A. in employment decisions?
The whole point of Murray’s book, I thought, was that the working class needs to be more like the professional class. Indeed, Murray’s main complaint about the professional class is that it fails to “preach what it practices.” How on earth is symbolically snubbing the professional class supposed to help put the working class back on the bourgeois path to success? Even in the most optimistic scenario, Murray’s proposals would merely help the 2nd-highest decile at the expense of the top decile.
What should Murray have said? First and foremost, he should have harked back to Losing Ground‘s attack on the welfare state The welfare state isn’t the sole reason for the moral decline of the working class. But it is surely one important reason for this decline. Free government money is a key foundation of long-term male unemployment and out-of-wedlock births. Reduce or eliminate that free government money, and you start a virtuous cycle of working class self-improvement. Males would be a lot more likely to find and hold a job. Women would be a lot more likely to focus on men’s industry and dependability instead of aggressiveness and machismo. This in turn would raise the status of working class men who actually work for a living. And if you take behavioral economics seriously, you should be totally open to the view that the working class would be better off as a result.
But welfare state austerity is only the beginning. There are many complementary reforms that might actually improve the lives of the American working class. Ending the drug war. School vouchers. Vocational education. Why doesn’t Murray propose even one?