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Bill Maher versus Charles Murray: An Informed Not Inflamed Look.

by John on 04/28/2012

So I’m watching Bill Maher interview Charles Murray on Real Time last night.  You can watch it here.

They had a major disagreement.  It was civil.  No Fox News-NHL style arguments broke out.  No liberal bias yelling or conservative bias cheap-shots.  But there was a big question unresolved on air – that I will tackle here.

Here’s the Informed-Not-Inflamed take-away:

Don’t digest any facts you hear on TV and don’t quote any so-called facts you hear on TV.  Go find it for yourself.  (For that matter, go check my facts here.)

Murray, in his new book, says the lower class of white America is suffering more today because of a lack of morals and good habits.  He compares today with 1960; there is an erosion of community and family life today, not seen 50 years ago.  Murray blames, among other things, the sexual revolution and feminism.

But Maher wondered if the reason is income disparity between the upper and lower classes.  Murray said no; income is not a factor.  He says the income levels of today are very similar to the income levels of 1960.

Maher couldn’t believe that.  He tried to challenge Murray, but he was not armed with any facts — only a gut feeling.

From my research, Maher’s gut was right.  (Please confirm or contradict.)  I am using this research from the website Clear Picture Online which compares statistics from 1960 to 2008.  (I will assume 2008 figures are similar to today.  Let me know if you disagree with that assumption.)

Murray, in my opinion, uses a verifiable fact to create a false assumption

First, Murray is right: income levels today are similar to income in 1960.

But here’s where he’s wrong: it takes two of those incomes today to manage a household.

Here’s how Clear Picture Online explains it:

[E]ven with today’s two income families, there is very little more left …after paying for the necessities than in 1960. The data shows that the increases in government costs and health care costs have consumed most of the growth in personal income. With everything being equal, it now takes two incomes to match a lifestyle enjoyed by our parents or grandparents in 1960.

I think Murray’s book correctly portrays the problems in lower income white America.  He admits to not covering the reasons for the problems; he felt liberals would trash the book if he cited his causes.  But who can argue with a lack of community and family structure that hurts kids especially – and eventually all of us.  Still, understand that Murray is libertarian and, in my opinion, appears to make the facts fit his beliefs.

But I think Maher is right on the causes.  Let me add some. 

  • You can see it in the sports arenas of today.  (This is not my theory, but I cannot find the person who said this recently; let me know if you find it.)  Luxurious sky boxes adorn the new stadiums.  They’re paid for by wealthy corporations.  As a result, the wealthy executives no longer sit in the box seats, let alone the bleachers, to watch games.  The mingling of the two ends of society never happens like it used to in the 1960s.
  • Someone else also points to the country clubs of America.  (Again, someone said this on TV this week and I can’t find it.  Help, if you can, by either confirming or rejecting.)  The wealthy never see the suffering or the commonality of the “other half”, so they have no sympathy or empathy.  As someone who has played on both private courses and municipal tracks, I have some knowledge of this.
  • It’s also made worse by our communication technology.  We’ve become closer to our families and our customers through social media and smart phones, but not with our suppliers or the establishments in our physical community.  Here’s an interesting theory about Congressional gridlock which corresponds to all of our lives, using the rings of Saturn as a symbol.  I see myself in that one.

There is a double-edge to technology that, in my opinion, is the solution that major corporations are stifling.  We should be using the communications technology to encourage the creation of more businesses, among the masses, rather than creating laws to encourage corporations to create jobs they don’t need in our new economy.

This would help wreck the so-called Dependence Society that Murray talks about in his book.


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