(Murray’s) story starts in 1963. There was a gap between rich and poor then, but it wasn’t that big. A house in an upper-crust suburb cost only twice as much as the average new American home. The tippy-top luxury car, the Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz, cost about $47,000 in 2010 dollars. That’s pricy, but nowhere near the price of the top luxury cars today.
More important, the income gaps did not lead to big behavior gaps. Roughly 98 percent of men between the ages of 30 and 49 were in the labor force, upper class and lower class alike. Only about 3 percent of white kids were born outside of marriage. The rates were similar, upper class and lower class.
Since then, America has polarized. The word “class” doesn’t even capture the divide Murray describes. You might say the country has bifurcated into different social tribes, with a tenuous common culture linking them.
Berkeley’s Brad DeLong will have none:
How can a book that explicitly leaves out Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Amerindians, African-Americans, people of mixed race, and Arab-Americans possibly describe “the most important trends in American society”?
How can the New York Times editors publish a piece without asking David Brooks why he does not dare mention the subtitle of the book he is puffing? (ed. “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010“)
Why oh why can’t we have a better press corps?
But Brooks had an answer, if DeLong had bothered to read his article:
Today, Murray demonstrates, there is an archipelago of affluent enclaves clustered around the coastal cities, Chicago, Dallas and so on. If you’re born into one of them, you will probably go to college with people from one of the enclaves; you’ll marry someone from one of the enclaves; you’ll go off and live in one of the enclaves.
Worse, there are vast behavioral gaps between the educated upper tribe (20 percent of the country) and the lower tribe (30 percent of the country). This is where Murray is at his best, and he’s mostly using data on white Americans, so the effects of race and other complicating factors don’t come into play.
Controlling for race and “other complicating factors” is a customary way to gain clarity in research, whether that be in the field of medicine, social science or – I would imagine – economics. Control for what you can, and extrapolate as you are able. If Murray had included Asian-Americans, Hispanic-American, African-Americans and people of mixed race but omitted Amerindians and Arab-Americans, would we be acceptably close to describing “the most important trends in American society”? Or have we left anyone else out?
Or are the institutions of marriage and family – society’s fundamental, and I would argue, irreducible building blocks – so very different between white Americans and all the rest of us that to exclude the latter in this research necessarily invalidates it? Does a black family, for one example, wake up and think of themselves as a black family, or do they think of themselves only as “family.” Because that’s what both Murray and Brooks are on about.
I suppose you could make those arguments, but Professor DeLong doesn’t bother to. He may have an alternate theory of what the most important trend in American society might be, but he declines to submit it for scrutiny in this post. He may even have something substantive to say about David Brooks, the press corps or even Charles Murray, and just hasn’t gotten around to saying it yet.
With the audience he’s pitching to, he may not think it’s even necessary. Or perhaps it’s just a bit of attack casuistry, thrown out as red meat to the masses before turning to matters of greater or more proximate import.
There’s a lot of that going around, but you’d hope for more from a professor at Cal.