Consensus on Charles Murray’s Quiz


Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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181 Responses

  1. By the time I read your original post and took the test, the thread was too intimidatingly long for me to want to wade through it.  So thanks for posting this.

    (I got a 33, by the way.)


    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

      I’m still the most out-of-touch, I see.  Hrrmmm.  I didn’t expect that at all.Report

    • Avatar Roger in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

      The path to economic security is pretty obvious, as is our multigenerational battle to destroy it:

      1) Get educated — Oops, we screwed up all your schools. Sorry!

      2) Learn a profession or trade that people value and will pay you for — Oops. we built  regulations and licensing requirements and minimum wage/mandatory benefits to keep or price you out of the market. Sorry!

      3) Get and stay married before having kids — We subsidized out-of-wedlock kids for three generations. Oops! Our bad!

      4) Work long and hard at something you are good at — After your 99 weeks of unemployment, that is.

      5) Stay out of prison and the black market — We made legitimate self employment illegal and wonder why men flock to the drug trade? And then we imprison them?

      6) Be courteous, respectful and above all don’t eat the marshmallow — Joachim de Posada says, Don’t eat the marshmallow yet | Video on …

      Pogo was right. We are our own worst enemy.Report

  2. Avatar Bob2 says:

    The initial Charles Murray thought experiment reeks of “When did you stop beating your wife?” to me, but going by the discussion and results, it seems more of a mixed bag than anything.  It’s difficult to quantify the impact since some areas being discussed actually go in opposite directions depending on age cohort, the free spread of information via the Internet, the Internet creating information bubble sites, etc.

    The Internet has enabled  bubble thinking by making it easier to associate with like-minded folk only. For instance, Jonah Lehrer points out this study:  To extrapolate, the Internet allows for like-minded communities on the net that exist entirely without opposing political information.  Another example would be the internet being  complicit in spreading anti-vaccine nonsense more broadly despite lacking any evidence vaccines cause autism:
    Empirical data is not really subject to a democratic vote, but anti-vaccine folks really have gotten an online campaign together in a size that would otherwise not exist.

    Also, the survey needs to tease out whether income inequality, geography and or age groups have impact on lack of knowledge of other classes?  Is this question really about an older demographic than a younger demographic?  Culturally, it seems that the younger demographic is being exposed to more gays on the internet, hence social issues like gay marriage being more popular with youth.

    Apologies if any of this was covered in the other thread. I read posts only up til a certain point last night.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Bob2 says:

      Might it be that the Internet at least allows for some diversity of opinion, where before it we were all fed the same information by the TV networks — and thus belonged to a large, relatively unified,but ultimately inauthentic community?

      I agree that the anti-vaccine campaign is nonsense, but I do like the idea of a more diverse spectrum of political opinions.Report

      • Avatar Bob2 in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Not quite the point I was getting at. A more diverse political spectrum seems to be mostly useful for people who go out of their way to seek other viewpoints.  More diverse yes, but is it a significant number of people to actually enact any sort of change, or just more of the same disconnected elite talking?

        I was pointing out that the vast majority of people not in the elite end up joining one giant community that brooks little dissension.  If you followed, e.g., Instapundit, in the early days, you can pretty much track its slide from right of center news into total right wing propaganda bubble. This is related to Murray’s point: the vast majority of voters in this nation do not bother checking dissenting views or news to get to the heart of a story.  How much impact do you think “Obama is a Kenyan muslim” still has or 9/11 truthers?

        Since you bring it up when you state, ” where before it we were all fed the same information by the TV networks, and thus belonged to a large, relatively unified,but ultimately inauthentic community?” what impact do you think Fox news and right wing radio (which is not new at all) have had? What do you think the data are with people who only get their news via sources that only agree?Report

      • Might it be that the Internet at least allows for some diversity of opinion, where before it we were all fed the same information by the TV networks — and thus belonged to a large, relatively unified,but ultimately inauthentic community?

        Perhaps it did where you grew up, but in my part of the world (down da bayou in Louisiana), there was plenty of divergent opinion expressed regularly around the coffee pot. It often broke on racial or socio-economic lines, but it was never hidden. After all, the Louisiana Republican Party almost got David Duke (he of KKK infamy) elected governor in 1991.Report

        • Avatar dexter in reply to Philip H. says:

          I remember that miscreant well.    One of my favorite lines from that election was said by a drunk redneck woman:   “The reason I’m voting for Duke is because I am tired of buying steaks for N*****s.” 

          I scored 65 on the test.  I would have scored more, but my drunkard father moved the family for the seventeenth time and the new school would not let me play.  I think one should get extra points for working at a job where one day  I had to carry a bodybag to the waiting ambulance.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Bob2 says:

      RE: vaccines cause autism:  talk radio had a large role in spreading this nonsense.  I also read Drudge in the morning, too.   Outrage gets my bowels moving.   Hey, it beats a laxative habit, what can I say?

      For years I’d start my morning with Don Imus.   His wife Deirdre, a grade A kook all on her lonesome, was given pretty much free rein to gabble about thimerosal in vaccines.

      Which had a bigger role in scaring the rubes about thimerosal, the Internet or Imus?  It hardly matters.  Fox News and Talk radio are one way media.  It’s my observation the Internet is more of an echo chamber, repeating and often amplifying stupid voices, the stupider the more effective the echo chamber.Report

  3. “Anyone who has read Paul Fussell’s Class knows that there were class divisions in white American culture long, long ago…”

    “Have you read Paul Fussell’s Class?” – in and of itself, that might be a class division.Report

  4. Avatar Roger says:

    The quiz is thought provoking, but the most interesting bit on what I have read of his book is on the growing divide between the lower and upper class mores.

    The white lower class (he refers to it as Fishtown) is becoming increasingly unmarried, having children out of wedlock, is not actively trying to work as many hours and is increasingly likely to go to prison. The upper class (his Belmont) has continued to value marriage, working, and waiting to have kids after marriage.

    Here is his summary:

    Belmont & Fishtown by Charles Murray – The New Criterion

    Other than this section and the test,  have not read his most recent book, but Human Accomplishment was excellent, and The Bell Curve was fascinating as well as very controversial. The latter was a lightning rod for dishonest reviews and critiques.  (Similar to  The Skeptical Environmentalist by Lomborg).Report

    • Avatar Michelle in reply to Roger says:

      I don’t have time to read the article right now but the cultural divide you pointed out is also one that has been noted between red (especially Southern) and blue states. There seems to be a pretty direct correlation between education level and the maintenance of bourgeois values.

      I have to wonder about of the decreasing industriousness he notes among working class men has to do with the steep decline of the kind of blue collar jobs that paid well enough to feed and house a family, the kind of jobs that have been shipped overseas to people who are willing to do them for a lot less in countries that lack the environmental and workplace protection laws of this country. Why bother to get married and form a family if you don’t see a lot of hope for your future?Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Michelle says:


        Good points, but he distribution of Fishtowners not working 40 hours a week had doubled to 20% before the current recession. They are voluntarily less industrious.

        I think you are right that there are systemic factors, but I would argue that they are the exact opposite of what you suggest. There is no reason an industrious couple working 50 hours a week each can’t raise a family and enjoy a great life.

        The problem is that we have made it increasingly easy to have kids out of wedlock. We have also made it increasingly hard to be self employed (regulations/licenses), get a job (closed shop unions and minimum wage), and we’ve made it increasingly easy to get unemployment payouts. We’ve also made it harder to get a good education (monopolistic public schools run by teachers unions for teachers unions).

        Our society is propagating an increasingly dysfunctional class.Report

        • Avatar Mo in reply to Roger says:

          Except, in real terms, minimum wage is lower now than it was between 1955 and 1985 and private sector unionization is at historic lows. If those two factors are such great hindrances to getting a job, it should be easier to get a job now than it was in the late-50s and 60s.Report

          • Avatar Roger in reply to Mo says:


            Excellent points, but let me push back. You are ignoring the intergenerational delay of these types of things.

            Yes private industry unions are less prevalent now. That is because they shut off two or three generations of jobs. They priced themselves out of the job creation process back in the 70s and 80s. The jobs moved to the open shop states and overseas, or were replaced by robotics. Millions of young men and women who could have gotten a good job in Rochester or Fremont lost their opportunities.

            Minimum wage today is lower and that is a great thing for those believing in eliminating entry barriers to work. The point is that the level has been removing the first rung of the youth employment ladder for generations.

            I believe a substantially more pernicious trend has been making self employment illegal. Why can’t I rent surfboards at the beach? Why can’t I offer to shuttle people for hire from the airport to downtown? Why can’t I perm hair without a license? Why can’t I sell lemonade at the corner?

            The reason is that incumbent businesses have sought privileges of limiting competition in the guise of consumer protection.

            It is not easier to get or start a job now than several generations ago.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Roger says:

              The most disturbing research I’ve seen in the last few years is that Europe has a higher proportion of small businesses than the U.S.  That cuts directly against our traditional sense of self as a nation and suggests that we are drying up what once was a vital source of economic vitality.Report

              • Avatar Michelle in reply to James Hanley says:

                Most European nations have exceeded us in terms of social mobility as well. I don’t think it’s because they have fewer regulations and unions.Report

              • Avatar Mo in reply to James Hanley says:

                Having a bunch of small businesses is a bad thing. There’s an inverse correlation between countries with a high proportion of people employed by small businesses (the highest were Italy and Greece) and per capita GDP. People have small, family businesses because they don’t trust people outside of their family to run things and they can’t grow businesses. Small businesses are good when they grow and start turning into big businesses. We’re better off economically and socially with Targets and Walmarts growing rather than a general store in every town and burg in the country. Wanting small businesses for the sake of them being small is pointless fetishizing.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Mo says:


                I’m not anti big business and I don’t love small businesses for the sake of them being small.  That’s a librul thang and I don’t share it.

                But there is value to small businesses, and they are an indicator of economic vitality.  They demonstrate the possibility of making one’s own way because the barriers to doing so aren’t too high.  I’ve known many small businessmen who struggle to survive against one-size fits all regulations that make their efforts to survive much harder.

                I know a dance instructor in Oregon who had to put an elevator in her two-story dance studio to make it handicapped accessible.  That the first floor was handicapped accessible, so they could easily use that one any time they had a handicapped person, and that the second floor offered absolutely no advantages over the first floor, didn’t matter.  They were also required to have a minimum number of bicycle parking spaces in their parking lot, which required them to rent parking space at a store across the street, even though almost no parent even in environmentally friendly Eugene, Oregon is going to ride their bike in the rain after dark to pick up their kid from dance class (the husband of the guy, who bitterly complained about this, was himself a dedicated biker who rode his bike to work every day rain or shine; but he knew he wasn’t normal).

                I was chatting last night with a friend who’s opening a winery, and is working through the many bureaucracies to get all the permits he needs. He was told he has to build an indoor processing room–but nobody processes their grapes indoors.  He asked other wineries in the area how they’d handled it.  “Oh,” they said, “we just lied to the inspector.”

                It’s not regulations per se that are the problem–it’s whether the regulations promote or inhibit individuals from striking out on their own.Report

              • James – are you aware of any data showing the relative number of people employed by small businesses vs. big businesses in the US over, say, the last 50 years?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Mark Thompson says:


                Not over the past 50 years, no.  Sorry to disappoint. 😉  But I think this is the article I was remembering.  It looks just at fairly recent data (2006, I believe).Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to James Hanley says:

                Good data and examples, James. I haven’t read it all, but I am flabbergasted that it is this bad! I read somewhere recently that over 100% of all net job creation in the US comes from small businesses. On net, larger businesses shed jobs. We have made it harder to be entrepreneurial.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Roger says:

                I read somewhere recently that over 100% of all net job creation in the US comes from small businesses. On net, larger businesses shed jobs.

                I have to say I’m pretty skeptical of that.  Maybe in a given year’s data, but not as a general rule.Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Roger says:

                The number isn’t 100% but it’s a very high proportion. But it’s worth noting it’s not actually firm size but firm AGE that matters. It’s start-ups and capital starved small businesses that do most of the net growth in jobs. It’s just that SMEs serve as a proxy indicator for age, which allows them to claim they make most of the new net jobs.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Roger says:

                Roger you got that 100% idea from this link which I’d posted here. I’ve had it in mind to revisit that topic Roger, but believe you could even do a better job. I get too angry at ignorance, especially concerning business and its place in our societal economics.Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Roger says:

                If I recall that Kaufmann piece was written in support of the Startup Act which they’d been pushing quite hard.Report

              • I wanted to add something here: One of the things that I believe brings down our small business employment numbers is the proliferation of chains. Maybe I’m alone in this, but I don’t consider that to be as big of a problem as I would a dearth of small businesses in more innovative sectors.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Will Truman says:


                Possibly.  I’m still wondering about that one myself.  I have an acquaintance who tried to run his own restaurant.  The place had been a local staple for years before he bought it, but he failed quickly, and one of the things he said to me was that advertising was really expensive for him, whereas the local Applebees, for example, benefited from advertising paid for by the parent firm.

                That’s true, but…during this time another locally owned steakhouse opened, and thrived from the start.  And my community has several independently owned Mexican restaurants that are always packed.  And my acquaintance’s restaurant was just re-opened recently to lots of local buzz.  I think the guy I know just was a lousy businessman.

                Maybe chains do make it harder, and put more of a premium on being a good businessman.  So they may certainly reduce the number of local small businesses.  But it’s clearly not impossible to run your own business if you have the proper skills.

                And I remember going to my 20th HS reunion and being astounded at how many of my classmates had their own businesses.  From the pretty girl who had recently sold the dump truck fleet she’d built up from a single truck 15 years earlier to the guys who owned their own excavating companies and contracted out to general contractors for jobs, to the guy who–I shit you not–makes a living recording voice mail messages for veterinary services all across the country.  Some of those small businesses aren’t affected by chains because there aren’t any chains in their market niches.

                And in Oregon I worked for a family-owned business that had the world’s largest privately owned hardware store, successfully competing in the local market against Lowes and Home Depot.  It can be done, even in a really tough niche like that.  But I think in those it’s just going to require a hell of a lot more effort than most of us are willing to put in.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to James Hanley says:


                Good restaurants and start-ups (ie popular ones that deliver what customers want efficiently) often expand into chains. Bad ones don’t. A great thing about some chains is they offer the opportunity to go into business by buying a franchise.

                I don’t see chains as a threat as much as a natural development of the process. The corner ma and pa video store turned into the local chain, which got replaced by Hollywood Video, which got beat out by Blockbuster, which was replaced by Netflix…


              • Avatar BSK in reply to Roger says:

                I am often surprised to find out that small, local businesses (particularly restaurants) are not small or local at all, but actually part of larger, regional or national chains.  It is getting harder and harder to tell the difference in many instances.Report

              • James & Roger,

                My observation wasn’t intended to be a complaint about evil chains driving M&P’s out of business or whatnot. Rather, it was an explanation and, indeed, a defense of our low numbers. Large corporations have a lot of small storefronts, where in other countries the small storefronts would all be independently owned. I don’t consider this to be as bad for the market health as would be if we were talking about a dearth of software startups or new kinds of businesses.

                There are advantages to chains. Not just for the consumer, but also for the people who work there. Being a manager of a Great Cuts is less risky than trying to open your own place. Now, if a GC manager had an idea about how he could make a salon better, maybe we’d want him to start his own place. Or maybe Great Cuts gives him (or should give him) the latitude to experiment.

                In restaurants, and video rental stores, and salons, it is not impossible for upstarts to make their way. It may be more difficult, but this is arguably as much because the chains have found the right formula than economies-of-scale. If anything, this encourages experimentation (“How do you differentiate yourself from Applebee’s?”), which on the whole is a good thing, I’d think.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Will Truman says:

                Oh, I got that.  I’m just wondering how true it is.  Possibly it’s quite true.  Does anybody have any data, or even anecdotes, about prevalence of chains in Europe?  And if they’re not common, any idea why not?Report

              • I’m not sure how true it is, either. More than one European I’ve known that has come over here have commented on the extremely high number of chain restaurants.

                As for why this might be the case, I can think of a few reasons:

                * Economies of scale… err… scale much better in the US than elsewhere. It’s easier to get a national network going in the US than Europe, where you have to deal with so many different languages and regulatory environments (that differ more greatly than they do within the US).

                * Citizen mobility. Chains thrive on the familiar. A familiar place in Salt Lake City to someone coming in from Texas is a real premium. With everyone moving around, it could provide a greater advantage.

                * Regulatory environment. As restaurant entities become more established, and larger, they are more able to demand regulations – or alternately have regulations demanded on them because they are perceived as faceless corporations rather than That Business Bill Is Running – that might discourage upstarts. There may be a tipping point here.

                * Disposable income. At least as it pertains to restaurants, people eat out *a lot*. We may be more likely to outsource things that people in other countries do for themselves because we have more disposable income and significantly less leisure time.

                This is all speculative.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Will Truman says:

                Some of your possible reasons suggest a hypothesis that chain restaurants should increase in frequency as (if?) the EU continues to develop.  Hopefully we’ll remember this in 10 or 20 years and can take a look-see.Report

              • Avatar BSK in reply to Will Truman says:

                “* Citizen mobility. Chains thrive on the familiar. A familiar place in Salt Lake City to someone coming in from Texas is a real premium. With everyone moving around, it could provide a greater advantage.”

                They don’t just thrive on it… it is core to their model.  The original idea behind chains is that someone can walk into a McChicken Hut anywhere in the country and know EXACTLY what they are going to get.  No fuss, no muss.  Go to the corner pizza store for a slice and you have no idea what you are getting into.  Even from day to day at the same place (I worked in an Italian restaurant and people would only come in on the days their preferred pizza maker was working).

                Perhaps this is my elitism showing, but there are few things I hate more than one tourists visit a new city and go to a chain restuarant.  Seriously?  You’re going to the Olive Garden in Times Square?  There is a great scene in “The Office” where Michael visits NYC and greets the camera crew from outside of a classic New York pizza joint.  The camera zooms out to show him in front of Sbarro’s.Report

        • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to Roger says:

          We’ve also made it harder to get a good education (monopolistic public schools run by teachers unions for teachers unions).

          This is OOT, but hearing some people talk, it is as if school administrators don’t exist at all. Schools are probably the only workplace where the line-workers are the most demonized instead of management.Report

          • Avatar Roger in reply to sonmi451 says:


            Point taken. The administration and bureaucracy of public schools is much worse than the teachers. I foresee a huge revolution in education — both primary and secondary — in the coming decades.Report

        • Avatar Michelle in reply to Roger says:

          De-industrialization and the off-shoring of American manufacturing started well before the last recession–a trickle here and there in the 1970s and and a massive outflow by the 1990s and 2000s. I read the article and am not sure where Murray gets his information. Social critics have been bemoaning the death of the “family wage,” one reasonable enough to allow for the male to be the family’s primary breadwinner, for at least a couple of decades now.

          A couple working 50 hours a week can provide a great life for a family? Again, this depends on the types of work available to them, whether it provides a decent wage and reasonably priced health benefits, the cost of living in the area in which they work, and so on. Is that kind of work readily available for folks with a high school education of less today?

          Closed shop unions? Union membership has been declining since the 1970s and is at it’s lowest point in decades. Even if unions suddenly disappeared, companies are not likely to bring manufacturing jobs back to the US because workers in places like China and Indonesia will work for dollars a day rather than dollars an hour. Plus, companies needn’t worry about paying for their health insurance.

          Murray’s concern about the values gap between Belmont and Fishtown is valid but omits a lot about the way in which the rewards for hard work in this country have been restructured in the last two or three decades to favor certain types of work and certain types of worker. The percentage income gains of the top 20 percent have greatly outstripped those of the lower 80, and as you move up the ladder, the gains have been even more outrageous. This growing disparity has led to decreasing social mobility, where the lower and middle classes in this country have less likelihood to get ahead and to adhere to bourgeois values. Murray is not the first author to point out the values divide between the white working class and white elites. The late Christopher Lasch did so in 1993 in The Revolt of the Elites: And the Betrayal of Democracy. The trends he pointed out in that work have only accelerated in the last couple of decades.Report

          • Avatar Roger in reply to Michelle says:


            See my point above to Mo on the longer term generational effects of union wages and “social critics bemoaning the death of the ‘family wage.'”

            We allowed the rent seekers (those with union jobs) to use government regulations to price future generations out of the market. They selfishly pulled the ladder of economic prosperity up behind themselves. When you increase the cost of something it is normal to expect to get less of it. I am sure the same thing will happen in the public sector in coming decades.

            The entry class has always been based upon two earner households. That is why Murray’s data is so alarming. Women are having kids without marrying, and the husbands they do marry have been working increasingly less.

            A couple working 50 hours a week can provide a great life for a family? Again, this depends on the types of work available to them, whether it provides a decent wage and reasonably priced health benefits, the cost of living in the area in which they work, and so on. Is that kind of work readily available for folks with a high school education of less today?

            No, it does not depend upon “the types of work made available to them.” It depends upon their having the freedom and ability to produce things of value for others. Your economics reasoning is backward. There is no reason they should not be able to enter a profession or trade that others value and will pay them well for. So why have we put so many barriers in their way? Decades of minimum wages, closed shops, regulations, license requirements and public service monopolies.

            Progressives and statists regulated health care and education into the overpriced mess it is and then they ask for more regulation and top down central plans to fix it?

             Even if unions suddenly disappeared, companies are not likely to bring manufacturing jobs back to the US because workers in places like China and Indonesia will work for dollars a day rather than dollars an hour. Plus, companies needn’t worry about paying for their health insurance.

            Two problems here. First, we must not be xenophobic. American lives are worth no more more than those in other countries. Jobs and opportunities moving to Indonesia is — by itself — a wonderful thing. When this happens the normal economic response in a reasonably free market is for those losing jobs to do something else of value. Why haven’t they? Because of the barriers we placed on their getting or creating a job.

            Second, health care isn’t something companies pay for. It is something that employees pay for. If it is a mandatory benefit, then it comes out of wages. The effects of mandated health insurance is probably the most significant new force condemning the emerging class to becoming a permanent underclass.

            Yes, “the rewards for hard work in this country have been restructured in the last two or three decades to favor certain types of work and certain types of worker.” We’ve priced several generations out of the market with regulations, mandates and crappy education. The liberal welfare state is destroying generations. shame on us for allowing it. Will you join me in fighting it?


            • Avatar Michelle in reply to Roger says:

              No Roger. I won’t. I’m not a libertarian; I don’t believe in the wonders of globalization; and I don’t believe that regulations and unions and all the other things you bemoan arose in a vacuum as opposed to being a legitimate response to genuine abuses of the system.

              Sorry dude.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Michelle says:


                There are consequences to our beliefs. I fear yours leads to a permanent underclass and chronic impoverishment.

                The hardest types of social problems to solve are those where the causes are mistaken for solutions. We try to solve them harder and harder and make them worse and worse.Report

              • Avatar Michelle in reply to Roger says:

                Roger–while I see problems with the liberal welfare state, I don’t think they’re the sole cause of the current economic, cultural, and political situation we find ourselves in. I fear the libertarian economic solution would be equally destructive for all but the very wealthy.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Michelle says:


                I agree the welfare state is not our only problem. Nor are our problems even as bad as we make out. This may be a long way from perfect, but life is better now than ever before.

                The libertarian solution is the one that is opposed by the wealthy and special interests.  I ask for competition and choice in business, education and health care. I desire freedom of entry into any profession or trade. I seek the liberty to engage in any activity that does not harm others, and for rules against interactions that do caise harm.

                Until Adam Smith, people were caught up in a dysfunctional, mercantilist, beggar-thy neighbor, win lose mentality. Progressives have rejected the value creating miracle of free enterprise and repackaged mercantilism and privilege seeking as “progress.”Report

              • Avatar Michelle in reply to Roger says:

                Roger–I do share some libertarian sympathies (since this and one of the other political blogs I frequent are defined as libertarian). And, in concept, an economy based on libertarian principles would be great.  The same for small government. I just don’t see how it works out in a country dominated by large corporate institutions where great wealth is increasingly concentrated in a relatively few individuals and corporate entities that wield enormous power.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Roger says:


                I had a similar discussion with David Brin a week or so ago on his blog. We saw eye to eye on economics and history, but he is insistent that the rich always have and always will abuse their power, so we must neuter the rich (my words not his). My position was that those with power have always abused their power, and that there will always be power imbalances. Wealth is just one type of power. If you neuter this type, the others will do just as much harm. Indeed, the very power to neuter wealth will be used to exploit.

                The key is not to neuter power, it is to establish institutions that prohibit exploitation by those with power.  Regulations and regulators and complex tax codes and so on always get captured by the powerful. They always will. The only real hope we have is pursue a state of minimal coercion and more liberty.

                But i could be wrong.


            • Avatar Michelle in reply to Roger says:

              Although I do agree that our educational system is, by and large, pretty crappy for those without access to highly rated suburban schools or private education.Report

            • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Roger says:

              When this happens the normal economic response in a reasonably free market is for those losing jobs to do something else of value. Why haven’t they? Because of the barriers we placed on their getting or creating a job.

              There’s a big assumption buried in there.  I happen to think this assumption is wrong.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Roger says:

                As silly – and limited – of a metric as it is (for various reasons), IQ is interesting because of its distribution.  And (at least in my experience), IQ distribution maps to real intelligence distribution, even if the measure itself when applied to an individual doesn’t necessarily place you accurately on the bell.

                (In other words, if we could have a real measure of intelligence that accurately mapped the population, you’d still see a distribution that looks a lot like IQ distribution, just different individuals would be in different places on the curve)

                When looking at task-oriented skill maps, the distribution is also a bell… about 60% of people are within one standard deviation of “average” for any particular skill set.  20% are above that, and 20% are below.

                This applies to just about everything from digging ditches to being an academic; in any particular population set for a profession, you’re going to see a microcosm of that sort of distribution, barring intentional structural modification.

                The problem is that those curves overlap an awful lot.  Someone who is going to be a good physicist might also be a good line worker at a machine shop or a good ditch digger.  Someone who is going to be a good machine shop worker might also be a good physicist or a good ditch digger, and someone who is a  good ditch digger might make a good line shop worker or a good physicist.  All of that is true.  But the likelihood of someone being good at all three of those things is vastly smaller than the likelihood of them being good at two or one of them… and the person who is likely to be good at only one of them is vastly more likely to be good at only ditch digging.

                The problem is, as the base job – whatever it is – gets more complex, the apex of the curve among the working population itself moves farther to the right of the greater population.

                So someone who has the ability to master a lot of complexity can do very complex jobs, but also very simple ones (although they’re likely to dislike that).  But the converse is simply not true.

                Back to IQ: as limited of a measure as it is, there is a definite correlation between IQ and the ability to master complexity.  So roughly half of the population ain’t very good at dealing with population, and of the half that is good at it, ~80% of those are just average.

                This is all well and good provided that your available jobs are well distributed across complexity, too.  If your available job skill sets more or less look like a bell curve, then it works out fine: everybody gets a job that they’re potentially good at.

                But that’s not what we have.

                To be clear: I’m totally fine with outsourcing basic manufacturing for all the good outcomes, from a globalization perspective.  Having other countries have a robust working economy is good for everybody – for international stability reasons, if nothing else.

                But the consequence of that is that a good number of lower complexity jobs just aren’t around to be had, here in the U.S.  And those lower complexity jobs that *are* available to be had are vastly outnumbered by the individuals looking to get them, because most people just aren’t that good at even medium complexity jobs.

                So we have a situation where the jobs that we have available require skill sets and cognitive abilities that most of the population doesn’t have… and most of our unemployed people have skill sets and cognitive abilities that map to “jobs that aren’t here any more and aren’t going to return any time soon”.

                Most people – worldwide! – are incapable of performing what the OECD calls “level 3 science” (<40%) and “level 3 mathematics” (<50%) at 50% proficiency.  Level 4 – 6 are increasingly smaller numbers of the population.  Reading?  That’s slightly better, but not by much.

                Level 3 math and science… actually, not very awesome. Now, neither math nor science nor literacy is going to map directly to the ability to handle complexity, generally, but put the three together as a proxy measurement and it’s not all that bad.

                In *most* jobs that are available in the modern economy, you’d have to have at *least* the complexity mapping skills of someone who does *better* than 50% at these tasks, regularly.  Like, 85% or so.  And yet much fewer than half of the population can accomplish this at a 50% success rate.

                This is why people are constantly bitching about their co-workers, every industry, everywhere in the U.S.  Because the failure rate of your average worker to perform even the basic skills of their job is so freaking high.  And it’s not because they’re lazy, it’s because they don’t possess the capacity to do complex jobs with any sort of reliable success.

                And this isn’t because our educational system sucks, because everybody knows that education in Finland is way better than the U.S. and most people in Finland suck too.

                We can’t fix this problem with better education.  People, on average, are just really bad at handling meta information and multiple layers of abstraction and context-switching and multi-threaded tasking.Report

              • This is an outstanding comment. This should be a post.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Will Truman says:

                I can do that.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Will Truman says:


                Awesome comment.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                When looking at task-oriented skill maps, the distribution is also a bell… about 60% of people are within one standard deviation of “average” for any particular skill set.  20% are above that, and 20% are below.

                Well, of course.  Mathematically that’s unavoidable, regardless of broad or narrow the distribution is.  /nitpick.  😉Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                Pat-Good comment. You might also talk about the concept of multiple types of intelligence. I don’t think anybody in the know holds that there is one single measure of intelligence any more. Some people can have innate intelligence at one type of task while not being particular bright in other areas. We might ponder if humans have not evolved to be great context switching, multi-tasking and complex levels of abstraction.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:


                Excellent points, though not necessarily contradicting my point on barriers. Both (or neither) can be true. I suspect both are.

                Your comments match up with something that I have been thinking about on comparative advantage. The startling thing about comparative advantage is that it is based greatly upon opportunity cost. The reason that even people that are terrible at everything have jobs is that the opportunity cost is better for those more effective to contract out. The more I can make designing new products, the more it pays me to have others do everything else. This is one reason barbers and landscaper and prostitutes in Silicon Valley make much, much more than barbers, landscapers and prostitutes in Nicaragua.

                Global markets extend the competition sets of comparative advantage. Product designers are now able to get more and more of their services fulfilled by those further and further away. Laborers now face more competition than ever before and thus flock to the naturally or artificially protected fields such as government and human services (such as barbers, nurses, prostitutes, construction and landscapers.)

                The question is, are there enough things of value that those unable to handle complex tasks to do while earning a living? I actually suspect there are. As automation becomes more productive, the machines and programs will work there way higher and higher up the cognitive chain. (in a few decades, teachers may be as rare as farmers are today). Of course we will become incalculably more productive.

                I have no idea where the process will end. Exciting!Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Roger says:

                I have no idea where the process will end. Exciting!

                Ever increasing under-and un-employment? An entire class of people incapable of engaging in meaningful work?Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Roger says:

                The barriers you discuss certainly might be impeding the process, but that was not the extent of your claim.  Your claim was a monocausal explanation of the problem:

                When this happens the normal economic response in a reasonably free market is for those losing jobs to do something else of value. Why haven’t they? Because of the barriers we placed on their getting or creating a job.

                Now, granted, at some level this could be true.  At some level people could subsist on some kind of value they could create for themselves after being separated from a better means of support, and that regulation can impede this to the point of perhaps preventing it in some cases.  But let’s be clear what a catastrophic vision of economic recovery this is in the context of a prosperous country.  What Pat describes are the limiting conditions for reestablishing ay semblance of the kind of life that was available before the loss of a high-paying job.  That is what is necessary for those who experience this kind of displacement to consider it with the kind of equanimity you use here.  What you make sound like a  general reliable way to recover from displacement in a free market is actually potentially a vision of barely surviving by one’s wits after personal calamity.  No one going through it should regard themselves as being served equably by the free market.  it doesn’t matter that their loss is someone else’s gain. Should we make it easier to do it if we can?  Sure, but let’s not pretend we are talking about a pleasant thing here.

                You want to say that we shouldn’t be xenophobic about our loss of fortune, by which you simply mean self-focused.  but that is where you viewpoint really falls apart. There is every reason for Americans to be concerned about adverse effects for Americans of global free markets. To hell with the moral interchangeability of humans across the world: people are, and ought to be, concerned with consequences for themselves. it is exactly this reliance on disembodied counter-interest meta-magnanimity that makes a complete mockery of the all-for-best dicta of global free market evangelism to earth-bound humans.  It’s embarrassing that you even feel comfortable expressing this view when it has to be based on such a ridiculous necessary condition.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Roger says:


                Ever increasing under-and un-employment? An entire class of people incapable of engaging in meaningful work?

                You are assuming that we know where it will end. This is a mirage. The system is incalculably complex, creative and dynamic. My point is that we don’t know. But let me offer some input…

                Prosperity is not a factor of employment, but productivity. The world that Patrick describes is one where more and more tasks can be handled by automation creating more and more value per hour of human input. More for less. (the general trend for past 250 years btw)

                Pat focuses on those on the lower part of the curve. I think he is only seeing the short term effects.  I think cognitive tasks are easier to replace than many physical ones. Technology and complexity will be less threatening to hookers and hairstylists than accountants and college professors.

                For example, the very best professors could be able to teach hundreds of thousands of people at one time with appropriate software support. We could get free education of remarkably higher caliber. Full professors become as rare tomorrow as farmers and buggy whip manufacturers today. But consumers (all of us) benefit.

                So what do these professors do? Beats me. Nobody knew what all the farmers would do 200 years ago either. But the system allows them to create new value. They use their skills and abilities in another way. The key is to not create barriers in the experimentation and creation process.

                Systemic. long term unemployment or underemployment assumes barriers in supply and demand being allowed to interfere in the hiring and job creation markets (or systemic disincentives to find work).  If the pace of change accelerates as Patrick and Robin Hanson fear, we need to ensure that our markets are extremely fluid and adaptive. Otherwise we will get unemployment.





              • Avatar Roger in reply to Roger says:


                Sorry if I implied a monocausal explanation. I agree it is a complex and multi-facted issue. I agree barriers and regulation and minimum wages/mandatory benefits are just one part of the problem in dynamic job creation.

                I also agree losing a job is traumatic. The problem with progress is that it requires change, and that can be painful, even  when our services are replaced by something more valuable.

                And I agree for the need of safety nets to make the transition easier and less frightening.

                I also agree that people can and should be focused on themselves and those they care for. That is why people should be free to do as they please as long as they do not harm another. I believe morality and progress depends upon fostering win/win relationships and interactions and in resisting the selfish and evil tendency toward win/lose. When we fight over slices of the pie all we do is destroy it. The path to prosperity is to grow the size of the pie. This comes from focusing human interaction in positive sum, win/win ways.

                Global free enterprise does not have long term negative effects on Americans. It enriches us and enriches those we trade with. Are you perhaps a mercantilist?

                To hell with the moral interchangeability of humans across the world: people are, and ought to be, concerned with consequences for themselves. it is exactly this reliance on disembodied counter-interest meta-magnanimity that makes a complete mockery of the all-for-best dicta of global free market evangelism to earth-bound humans.  It’s embarrassing that you even feel comfortable expressing this view when it has to be based on such a ridiculous necessary condition.

                It is embarrassing that I express universal caring for human beings? Wow! Where do you stand on slavery and eugenics?Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Roger says:

                Roger, thanks for these concessions.

                I’m a mercantilist, pro-slavery, pro-eugenics, pro-abortion, neo-fascist neo-Nazi, since you asked.

                It is not embarrassing that you applaud general utility gains in the  world. It is embarrassing that you would try to counsel displaced Americans with the advice to be cheered for the good fortunes of the dollar-a-day workers in Singapore who gain by those particular Americans’ loss (even while the rest of gain by more abundant, cheaper goods).

                I will hold potential support for mercantilism over your head until you figure out a way to make your doctrine work for our country in a way that people recognize as actually working for them, I will do that.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Roger says:


                Then I will also concede that it is impossible to console Americans during their time of job loss or insecurity.

                As i stated, progress requires change and change does create pain along the way. Game theory reveals that selfish people (like us) want to play games where everyone else follows the rules and we don’t. It is best to be the sole cheater in a population of cooperators.

                Stated another way, everybody wants to gain from economic prosperity, but nobody wants to pay the price in personal job security. That is the cost.  The choice is ours.



              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                Patrick, if you do write this up as a FP post, I think this comment

                But the consequence of that is that a good number of lower complexity jobs just aren’t around to be had, here in the U.S.  And those lower complexity jobs that *are* available to be had are vastly outnumbered by the individuals looking to get them deserves some special attention, since how this issue is resolved (or even addressed) represents a pretty fundamental difference between competing theories of political economy, especially in light of your earlier comments about it.

                Also this

                Because the failure rate of your average worker to perform even the basic skills of their job is so freaking high.

                deserves lots of thought and consideration. If the failure rate is structural (or consistent across a wide spectrum of job types), then perhaps it’s because the standard is too high. Which again has political implications which need to be addressed.


            • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to Roger says:

              Roger, your thesis is that if workers settled for lower nonunion wages, jobs would be more plentiful (supply and demand and all that).

              Where has this been tested and found to be true?

              From what I can see, unions have been declining for well over a generation, and wages along with them. Yet jobs don’t seem to be any more plentiful.

              Where is the data to support your theory?


              • Avatar Murali in reply to Liberty60 says:

                Liberty60, not only is it fairly well established according to economic theory, the link between labour market regulations, employment and poverty has been well documented.


              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Liberty60 says:

                Yet jobs don’t seem to be any more plentiful.

                Actually, throughout the 80s and 90s and up to the recent economic crisis, the rate of job growth was faster than the growth rate of the workforce.  America’s workforce expanded considerably during that time period, but the unemployment rate had a general downward trend.

                If my uploading works, here’s a chart showing the data.  I’m pretty sure the data was from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (although I stupidly left that bit of info off the chart when I made it).


              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                Well, that was ugly.  Sorry.Report

              • Fixed it. Anyone wanting to see the full-size can just click on it.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to James Hanley says:

                Actually, throughout the 80s and 90s and up to the recent economic crisis, the rate of job growth was faster than the growth rate of the workforce. 

                The problem with those sorts of charts is that they neither track job quality nor worker quality.

                It does push the burden onto guys like me to explain why they think – if you could open up that observation to measurement – the graph would look different than it does, sure.

                I think the graph looks different than it does; that’s pretty much what my latest post was about.  But I freely confess I don’t have the measurements to back that up.Report

    • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to Roger says:

      “The upper class (his Belmont) has continued to value marriage, working, and waiting to have kids after marriage.”

      To which class does Newt belong?


      (sorry, I just couldn’t help myself).Report

  5. Avatar Chris says:

    As I said in the other post, Murray hasn’t identified a class divide. He’s identified a regional one that transcends class. Plus, his stereotypes are kind of out of date, or just off.Report

    • Avatar Roger in reply to Chris says:


      Seems like a class divide to me, and one that is getting more accentuated. Here is a summary of Murray’s arguments from Kay Hymowitz

      The American virtues are not doing so well in Fishtown, Murray’s fictional working-class counterpart to Belmont. In fact, Fishtown is home to a “new lower class” whose lifestyle resembles The Wire more than Roseanne. Murray uncovers a five-fold increase in the percentage of white male workers on disability insurance since 1960, a tripling of prime-age men out of the labor force—almost all with a high school degree or less—and a doubling in the percentage of Fishtown men working less than full-time. Time-use studies show that these men are not using their newly found leisure to fix the dishwasher or take care of the kids. Mostly, they’re watching more television, getting more sleep—and finding trouble. The percentage of Fishtown men in prison quadrupled after 1974, and though crime rates declined there in the mid-1990s, mirroring national trends, they’re still markedly higher than they were in 1970. (Belmont, on the other hand, never experienced significant changes in crime or incarceration rates.) Fishtown folks cannot be said to be clinging to their religion: Murray finds a rise in the percentage of nonbelievers there. In fact, he found the same in Belmont. The difference is that Belmonters continue to join religious institutions and enjoy the benefits of their social capital. About 59 percent of Fishtowners now have no religious affiliation, compared with 41 percent of Belmonters.

      Most disastrous for Fishtown residents has been the collapse of the family, which Murray believes is now “approaching a point of no return.” For a while after the 1960s, the working class hung on to its traditional ways. That changed dramatically by the 1990s. Today, under 50 percent of Fishtown 30- to 49-year-olds are married; in Belmont, the number is 84 percent. About a third of Fishtowners of that age are divorced, compared with 10 percent of Belmonters. Murray estimates that 45 percent of Fishtown babies are born to unmarried mothers, versus 6 to 8 percent of those in Belmont.

      And so it follows: Fishtown kids are far less likely to be living with their two biological parents. One survey of mothers who turned 40 in the late nineties and early 2000s suggests the number to be only about 30 percent in Fishtown. In Belmont? Ninety percent—yes, ninety—were living with both mother and father. Many experts would define the cause as a dearth of “marriageable” men (see above). The causation goes the other way as well. Men who don’t marry don’t work—or at least, they work less hard. Severed from family life, they don’t attach themselves to community organizations, including churches, and in greatly disproportionate numbers they engage in antisocial, even criminal, behavior.

      [Edited to fix the formatting. — JTK]Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Roger says:

        Would you do that for me, Jason? 😉Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Roger says:

        Roger, then you should spend some time with the upper middle class in the South, or Montana, or just about anywhere not on the coasts. As I said in the previous post, they will fit just about every one of Murray’s stereotypes, because the upper middle class culture there is very similar to the working class one, except without the blue collar job and the blue collar paycheck. Like I said, a little time in my hometown, or the nearest big city (Nashville) will make it clear that Murray’s only thinking of the coasts when he thinks of the upper middle class. Hell, I feel like torturing him by putting him in Sugurland, TX for a week. After that, he’ll probably be writing very different books.Report

        • Avatar Roger in reply to Chris says:


          Yes, there is a regional overlay. I spent almost a dozen years in Texas and Mississippi, and am quite aware that the upper middle class was quite different there. I think the Fishtown, Belmont divide is very real growing and true of class distinctions.Report

          • Avatar Chris in reply to Roger says:

            Except that, if it transcends class in most places, how is it a class distinction? There are class distinctions, and they are growing, but they’re not the ones identified in this quiz.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris says:

              This is a good question.  Maybe the best way to phrase it is as a social-identity, one that is more prominent among certain classes and certain regions, but that overlaps each of those categories.  And that might be why liberal elites (itself as bad a term as middle America, but I’ll stick with what we’ve got for now) don’t get that they don’t it.  They say “I’m middle class,” or “I live in Virginia,” and they see that the stereotype doesn’t apply to them, so they reasonably think there must be something wrong with it.  But what’s wrong is probably the class/regional emphasis; if we think of it as a social identifier partially delinked from class and region, I think it becomes clearer.Report

    • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to Chris says:

      “… his stereotypes are kind of out of date, or just off.”

      This. Almost all the wealthy kids I know hitchhike, smoke cigarettes, and aspire to visit factory floors.Report

  6. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    Jason – This was a fun post, and since I was on planes all day yesterday had a bit more time than I normally would to both take the test and ponder both it and my score.  At the end of the day, it felt like this:

    When I was fresh out of college I worked for an athletic shoe manufacturer that prided itself on being edgy and ahead of the curve on corporate trends. I’d been there about a year when we had a mandatory all-day diversity training (back then, a thing none of us had ever heard of before).  People flew out from Boston, and made us work through scenarios of how people that were different from us might actually make us a stronger team.  But the scenarios they gave made everyone feel really uncomfortable:

    Maybe you don’t want to work with an Asian person, but what if you need someone to focus on the repetitive tasks that didn’t require any creativity?  Or, maybe you don’t want to work with a Mexican because they’re all lazy, but have you ever considered that working slow and taking many breaks is just part of their culture, and that maybe you might have some non-urgent but still important work for them to do?

    This test felt very much the same way.  Equating NASCAR, American Idol, pick up trucks and Applebees to poor people feels both incredibly incorrect and like someone who has spent more time listening to Jeff Foxworthy than hanging out with lower income people.  Or maybe to be more fair, that he takes his experience with one group of low income people in a very specific town or county and incorrectly assumes that these  are just universal Stuff Poor People Like.

    Also, score a lower income point for having seen The Kings Speech – what that hell is that all about?

    All of which is to say that I think the consensus analysis you did here was pretty spot on.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      But he’s not equating these things to poor people at all!  These are ordinary, middle-class white things.

      The middle class, though, is downwardly mobile.  It’s suffering from what Paul Fussell called prole drift — while a new elite is increasingly out of touch with it.

      This to me is the key:  Middle-class signifiers are increasingly identified with downward mobility.  Why? Because the middle class is downardly mobile.  It’s a point I’m frankly surprised to see rejected by left-leaning commenters.  They ought to be welcoming Charles Murray’s coming in from the cold, right?

      I’ll grant you The King’s Speech, though.  It clearly aimed at a highbrow audience and somehow found a mainstream one too.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      Maybe you don’t want to work with an Asian person, but what if you need someone to focus on the repetitive tasks that didn’t require any creativity

      Errm, not to be over-sensitive, but the stereotype of the Asian person who is good at focusing on small detils and has the discipline for repetitive tasks but lacks creativity can be offensive.


  7. Avatar James Hanley says:

    I think the purpose of the survey was not to prove anything, but to get people to think about how they relate to “Fishtown.”  And at least as far as much of the populace here goes, he failed.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

      A survey using mostly meaningless cultural indicators that don’t indicate anything, meant to illuminate a stylized, fictitious invention of a place that is used to advance a picture of the world as the author is most comfortable understanding it.   Sounds important and illuminating.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to James Hanley says:

      I don’t think people need to think about it because the vast majority of the country has some experience with Fishtown. New Yorkers, folks from LaLa land, and maybe Bostonites, may not have any experience with Fishtown, but just about everyone else does.

      What I find more interesting is the fact that Fishtown is so utterly clueless about every other town: Atlanta and Memphis are just places where crime happens and the Braves/Grizzlies play, Detroit is a post-apocolyptic wasteland, and hip hop? You either love it but don’t get it, or you think it’s the worst music ever created (and you’re probably not going to even admit that it’s music). In New York, it’s a bunch of liberals sipping on Chai Lattes all day. The Bronx? That’s where the Yankees play, right? LA is for Hollywood elites and gangs. And so on. I know I’m being a bit hyperbolic, but I guarantee you that it’s Fishtown that has the most profound ignorance of its “opposite,” not the other way around. In a way, I think Murray’s survey shows that.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Put another way: black culture? Hispanic culture? hell, even white city culture? These are things that, in Fishtown, few if any have any knowledge of. On the other hand, people in Belmont probably know a fair amount about Fishtown, even if they think Fishtownites are stupid hillbillies.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris says:


          All true, and to Fishtowners discredit.  But they aren’t making claims to speak for those people as liberal elites are claiming to speak for Fishhtowners.

          And as I noted on the other page, I think you’re in error about this being about southern white culture.  Hunting/fishing, pickup trucks, and NASCAR stems across the Midwest and intermountain west all the way to California.


          Those cultural indicators do indicate something.  They indicate two roughly defined groups that are very contemptuous of each other.Report

          • Avatar Mo in reply to James Hanley says:

            NASCAR ratings peaked in 2005 and it’s highest rated race never beat the lowest rated NBA finals. NASCAR has a lot of viewers because it has a lot of races. The TV markets where NASCAR has its highest viewership in 2005 (chosen because that was its peak) were:

            1) Greensboro, NC; 2) Greenville, SC; 3) Knoxville, TN; 4) Charlotte, NC; 5) Indianapolis, IN; 6) Louisville, KY; 7) Atlanta, GA; t8) Birmingham, AL; t8) Jacksonville, FL; 10) Dayton, OH: 8.0

            That looks awfully Southern to me. There’s a reason advertisers don’t choose NASCAR drivers for their national ad campaigns. Because for the bulk of Americans, they aren’t relevant. You can blame this on the “elites” of Madison Avenue, but it’s not like P&G or Coke execs are unfamiliar with NASCAR.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Mo says:

              There’s a reason advertisers don’t choose NASCAR drivers for their national ad campaigns.

              Think again. And again.Report

              • Avatar Mo in reply to James Hanley says:

                I didn’t say they don’t sponsor NASCAR, of course they’ll sponsor the sport to access their fan base.

                And more accurately, I should have said, they’re less likely to choose NASCAR players than those of other sports. Evidence that the NFL is dominant is that a relatively unknown player like Brian Orakpo is chosen as a spokesman for Geico. On TV, you’ll see numerous ads with NFL, MLB and NBA players before you see a single one with a NASCAR driver. NASCAR drivers end up in national ads slightly less often than pro golfers and a bit more often than soccer players.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Mo says:

                Yes, they’re more likely to choose an NFL player.  But so what does that signify?  That he should have chosen the NFL because it’s more popular?  Folks here keep saying that like it actually is a meaningful statement, but football does cross the white cultural divide better than NASCAR does.

                And while NASCAR’s top attended races may be predominantly in the South, they go to Chicago, Kansas and California because their are fans there. And may I remind you–two races per year here in Michigan.  There’s no way in hell they’d run two races in Michigan, one in Indiana and one in Chicago–three adjacent states–if there wasn’t a fan base.  But it’s a fan-base that has more of a cultural divide than does football.Report

              • Avatar BSK in reply to James Hanley says:

                Doesn’t NH have a huge Nascar following?Report

              • Avatar Mo in reply to James Hanley says:

                It’s not an SES cultural divide, it’s a regional (and racial)  one. That there are white suburban Texans that are AND1 fans and familiar with Hotsauce and Spyda doesn’t mean that street hoops isn’t a largely urban, black NYC sport. Rich Southerners love NASCAR more than middle class New Yorkers do. Everything you state about NASCAR could be said about country music, but I doubt you would deny that country music is primarily a regional cultural divider, rather than one based on SES.Report

          • Avatar Chris in reply to James Hanley says:

            They don’t claim to speak for them. They claim to be the only people who should be able to speak (they’re the “real Americans”).Report

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris says:


              That’s the perfect example of liberal elite BS, a false claim masquerading as real knowledge of them.  Come to my town and we’ll go talk to the factory workers.  You’ll see.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to James Hanley says:

                James, I’m trading in generalities, of course, but there’s only one group that consistently pedals and buys the “real Americans” bullshit, and it ain’t liberal elites. There’s no denying that, because they’ve done so fairly publicly.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris says:

                here’s only one group that consistently pedals and buys the “real Americans” bullshit,

                On that one I’d stake my claim that it is far more regional than this general “middle American” stuff.  I hear that kind of thing a lot from southern conservatives; I don’t hear it so much from working class Midwesterners, although our would-be-old-style-Southern-Dem conservative politicians do like to dabble in it.  But that could just be my anti-southern bias showing.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

            Those cultural indicators do indicate something.  They indicate two roughly defined groups that are very contemptuous of each other.

            How do we know about the contempt from a measure of familiarity alone?  and what groups do they indicate besides a group who are conversant in these things and one who is not?  Those are two groups that are identified only by these particular question, two groups that were of necessity going to be identified by the questions, and are the only two groups, and those the only defining traits about those groups, that these questions could have indicated.  It’s completely solipsistic. Anything else you think it shows informed is extraneous ideas you are bringing to the results from elsewhere in your experience.

            How is this not self-evident?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris says:

        I don’t think people need to think about it because the vast majority of the country has some experience with Fishtown….people in Belmont probably know a fair amount about Fishtown, even if they think Fishtownites are stupid hillbillies.

        No, I think they know some facts about Fishtown, so they think they know Fishtown.  But they really don’t.  It’s like an anthropological expedition–you want to really know some people, you need to go live with them.

        And I don’t expect liberal elites to bother doing that, and I don’t expect them to actually understand those white non-elites, and I don’t think they have any inherent duty to understand those non-elite whites, or that they’re any worse for not understanding non-elite whites than those non-elite whites are for not understanding other groups.

        They just need to stop trying to pretend they know them and can speak for them.  That’s really the single point I’ve been trying to make.Report

        • Avatar Chris in reply to James Hanley says:

          Again, I think the set of people who don’t have a fair amount of experience with Fishtown is pretty small, and limited to the coasts. Outside of the coasts, if you don’t have experience with Fishtown, you’re probably from the coasts, transplanted for work, and afraid to leave campus.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris says:

            I agree it’s mostly the coasts, although it’s possible within some large urban metro areas to stay pretty insulated.  But noticeably, it’s the coasts that are most reliably Democratic–and that’s kind of the point, rather than a contradiction of the point.Report

            • Avatar Chris in reply to James Hanley says:

              Again, if that’s the point, I find it uninteresting. It’s both obvious and narrow. It’s sort of like saying rednecks don’t get inner city black people. Duh! Except that there are a lot more rednecks in this country than there are coastal upper middle class liberal elites. I mean, we’re talking about a small percentage of the population. A really small percentage. I guess if he wants to write a book about how clueless that group is, more power to him. At least he’s less likely to have books written about how awful his methodology is, because this time, no one will care.Report

        • Avatar BSK in reply to James Hanley says:


          I touched on this below.  I know who Jimmie Johnson is and a bit about him.  But I don’t understand NASCAR or NASCAR culture.

          What would the opposite test look like?  That might be a fun exercise.  “What are micro greens?”  “Do you know who Dmitri Martin is?”  We’d probably just wade into White People Problems crossed with Stuff White People Do/Like or whatever that crap was called.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BSK says:


            But unlike Jesse you’re not claiming that you know what these folks really want.  That’s really my whole point here, is the arrogance of those who don’t really know these people but only think they do, and want to pretend they somehow truly do represent them (while at the same time expressing an explicit determination to not actually talk or listen to them).

            The opposite test probably wouldn’t provoke howls of outrage from middle Americans.  They’d probably just shrug their shoulders and say, “yep, those other folks are weird, I don’t get them,” or perhaps, “who cares about crap like this?”

            If liberals like Jesse would just say, “I don’t get them,” or “who cares about crap like that,” there’d be a lot more honesty because then they’d not be pretending there’s not this gulf between the groups (whether that gulf is class-based, regional, or just some weird class-and-region-crossing cultural identity overlay).  That’s why I’m OK with Michael Drew’s response of “screw ’em, we don’t need them in order to win elections” (I paraphrase!); while I’m not sure if he’s empirically correct, it’s an honest statement.Report

            • Avatar BSK in reply to James Hanley says:

              There is also a certain “relativity” issue at play.  Within an hour of most big cities, you have an area people will refer to as the Boonies or the Sticks.  They call it this because, relative to the city, it seems rural as hell.  So people who live in cities and visit these areas from time to time assume they know rural or country or whatever you want to call. What they don’t realize is that people from TRULY rural or country parts would look at those same areas and see them as cities themselves or at least big towns.  It took me visiting the midwest to truly understand this.  So it is understandable why others don’t.

              I grew up in an area that we called “the suburbs”.  We were 10 minutes across the GWB from Manhattan.  We had every amenity one could imagine but weren’t as densely populated as midtown Manhattan.  Yet, we were the suburbs because, hey, we weren’t Mnahattan.  For all intents and purposes, we were still urban.  But when you are comparing against Manhattan or LA or Chicago, as I like to say, things get real country, real fast.  Until you get to the REAL country… then the area where I live (Monroe, NY), suddenly doesn’t seem quite so bumpkin-ish.Report

            • Avatar BSK in reply to James Hanley says:

              And wouldn’t it be nice if instead of thinking of each other as “weird” we simply acknowledge a different but equally valid way to live? I would never be happy living miles from my nearest neighbor and even farther from the nearest store. But for some folks that is heaven. And if they can make that happen, power to them.  There are definitely some aspects of that culture (whatever we are calling it) that I think are a bit weird, but there are aspects of my own culture I think are weird.  C’est la vie.

              I make no mystery of the fact that I have spent my entire life living in or within 10 minutes of either NYC, Boston, or Washington DC until today, where I am 50 minutes from NYC.  I know that limits my understanding.  The problem is people who don’t realize that.  I had a friend who worked in politics who would say, “I don’t even understand how Republicans get elected.  They are a fringe group of crazies.  How do they get 48% of the popular vote.”  I had to explain to her, slowly, that there is a huge area of the country that is deeply and genuinely Republican/conservative.  There might not be many near us (she had the same living patterns as I) but they are out there and they are real and, for the most part, they are good people (just as good as us libruls).  Most of them sincerely believe in the issues just as much as she does, but have come to different conclusions.  Most of them want what is best for America and our children, but disagree with her on what that is or how it is achieved.  By viewing them as some characiature, it was easier to dismiss them, but also impossible to understand them and work with them.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to BSK says:

                It would be more awesome if we all celebrated eachothers’ weirdness, and fully acknowledged that hey you are weird, and so am I in entirely weirdly different ways.Report

              • Avatar BSK in reply to Murali says:

                Well, yes.  But we should not equate “not like me” with “weird”.  Weird is weird.  “Not like me” is “different”.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BSK says:

                I had a friend who worked in politics who would say, “I don’t even understand how Republicans get elected.

                Yep. I met a guy from the Twin Cities, who in ’06 confidently proclaimed that there’s no way George Bush stood a chance at re-election. After all, he didn’t know anybody who supported Bush.

                My mom on the other hand could never figure out how Bill Clinton got re-elected, since she didn’t know anybody who supported him.

                If only we could get these people together for a big cookout and let them meet each other.Report

              • Yep. I met a guy from the Twin Cities, who in ’06 confidently proclaimed that there’s no way George Bush stood a chance at re-election.

                Errr, wasn’t he right? By way of  Constitution, if not politics (though one would imagine that the Constitution wasn’t actually the only thing standing in his way)?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Will Truman says:

                Heh, I guess I met the guy in ’02.  Anybody got a towel for this egg on my face?Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to James Hanley says:

                I do, but you look too funny standing there with egg on your face for me to let you use it for free.

                DANCE, HANLEY… DANCE!Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

              I say screw it (not ’em), meaning trying to affect cultural propensities or simply display awareness of them, that aren’t authentically you, as a means to advance electoral prospects, because it’s a completely hopeless, ridiculous endeavor, regardless of whether “we” need “them” to “win” (when? now? always?).  I have no idea what’s going to happen electorally if “elites,” (by which James means “Democrats”) don’t try to effect this cultural wet kiss he wants(?) them to try to extend to Red America, but I do know that if failing to reach out in that way led to one-party rule for a while, basic mean-regression and the fact that we’ll never accept one-party rule in this country would lead back to periods of center-left rule, whatever form the party took.  We’re not that much of a Right Nation that Right-only rule would last for all that long.  People would rediscover the benefits of having at least two viable, mutually competitive parties, quickly and remarkably easily overcome whatever cultural hang-ups led to shunning one of those, and bring the out one back into power before very long at all. As a result of shedding some of those cultural litmus tests, people would likely end up even more focused on their interests and the matrix of solid political ideation that they see as connected thereto in their political choices than they already are (which is already pretty darn much to begin with).

              Americans have interests and values; those interests and values they calculate and weigh idiosyncratically, but when it comes to voting NASCAR doesn’t have jack-shit to do with it (where people feel it does in fact their voting decisions are rigidly determined far before any appeal to such signifiers could do anything to dislodge them, and are determined, again, by deeper, more important values and interests than such ephemera – which is a statement of respect for them, not disdain); they vote based on how they think politicians’ policies advance their interests and core values align with their own.  Candidates can’t bridge deep divides on such fundamental questions with superficial appeals to entertainments and hobbies, and any attempt by a candidate to do so in a way that doesn’t reflect who that candidate actually is will end in a humiliating farce for all involved.  Democrats may swim or sink in this evolving America, but they will do so because they are either able to express their policy aims and means and their basic values to enough people in a way that makes them feel these are consonant with their values and interests, or they are not. Inauthentic appeals to unserious cultural ephemera in efforts to  mask the cultural divides that accompany and often underlay the divides on values and interests that lay between different parts of the population, while they will happen to some extent or other, are absolutely unrelated to whether Democrats will be able to do this successful communicating about values and interests.  Talented politicians may make use of them to good effect in some cases, but that will be a function of the talent of those individual politicians; these kind of cultural signifiers are not in a general a ‘way in’ to get people to be more recptive to the message you have for them.  You either have a message you can deliver in a politic (common touch) way that will get it a hearing by or even persuade people people to accept it who weren’t inclined to be receptive to it initially, or you don’t. If you don’t, being able to talk fishing or NASCAR with them isn’t going to do shit for you. If you do, you’re gong to be successful enough in enough cases to do well enough among the white working class to be able to be a winning political party as much as not.  And engaging in that kind of superficial posing, which demeans the basic seriousness of everyone you think will be brought in by it, isn’t going to turn the former case into the latter.

              Respect people. Tell them honestly what your policy views are and what the values are that drives you to them.  They’ll either give you their vote or they won’t.  that’s my advice for the Democratic Party.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew says:

                this cultural wet kiss [James] wants(?) them to try to extend to Red America

                “Red” America?  Some of us are red.  Some are light blue.  Some are purple.

                “Wants”?  I don’t really care if they do or not.  I only care about them simultaneously pretending they want us while working over time to express their disdain for us. If you all actually are comfortable without us then go ahead and disdain (we’ll happily respond in kind *grin*). Just don’t pretend you actually do, deep down, really care about us.

                (For the record, my wife is an L.A. liberal, well to the left of me.  But she got an even higher score than I did, 69.  And reading this thread she reminded me of how much she hated the departmental parties at Oregon, and how she just wanted to strangle the “liberal elite” type of liberal there.  And she’s a gay-marriage loving, drug legalizing, war hating, European social democrat type liberal.  So it’s not really about being liberal.  It’s about being a conceited prick of a liberal.)Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

                Don’t try to pretend that what Murray is trying to describe here isn’t precisely in his own mind re America, as if I’ve done something wrong by uttering the phrase.

                And don’t pretend you’re not going to do the disdaining one way or the other, James.

                And you can’t pretend that “they” (who was it we were talking about, elites? By which we mean Democrats, no? Whatever, it doesn’t matter) all work from one brain.  Everyone you try to pretend that to is smart enough to know that some will claim to care because they do (in some sense), and certainly don’t disdain you, while others will work overtime to disdain, and you’ll be sitting pretty to disdain back with contempt be cause “they’re” disdaining while claiming to care, whether or not anyone, much less many people or any important people have actually done both.

                Clearly, for you it is precisely about a bunch of liberals in your past being conceited pricks (maybe). That is exactly the kind of baggage that is irrelevant here and that we shouldn’t have to deal with.


              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

                Red AmericaReport

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

                Also, and again, I don’t know what kind of statements of disdain you have experienced, James, but saying something along the lines of “I don’t understand why these people are so unreceptive to a party whose economic policies (I believe) will serve (what I think are objectively) their economic interests better than those of the party they do tend to support!  But I want to try to understand that better and I’d like to try to persuade them to take another look at what the first party has to offer if I can earn that chance” is not an expression of disdain combined with an appeal for support.  And it is not a presumption to be able to speak for those people just because the speaker thinks these policies will advance their interests economic interests better than others.  And the claim that one understands a person’s interests and values is necessary to be able to ever even offer policy proposals to a person along with a pitch for why they might consider supporting them.  To have problem with that is to have a problem with the basic mode of political salesmanship in a popular democracy.

                Now obviously there are presumptions and assumptions in that statement.

                * The assumption that the people in question don’t have very good reasons for basing their political affiliations on things other than their material self-interest

                * The assumption that the speaker’s understanding of what he takes to be these voters’ objective material self-interest is correct on its own terms

                * The assumption that the people in question don’t calculate their material self-interest in a way in which they arrive at a different calculation than the speaker’s ‘objective’ calculation

                * The assumption that the policies the speaker references actually would advance the people’s ‘objective’ self-interest in the way the party offering them suggest they would

                * The presumption that the people in question ought to agree or even see as self-evident, or trust that the policies would benefit them in that objective way (to say nothing of benefitting them by their own calculation of their interests).

                So that’s a lot of assumptions.  But you haven’t said that your problem is that advocates merely make these assumptions in their argumentation to these people for these policies or for support for the party.  What you have said you have a problem with is 1) people presuming to “speak for” people like this on the basis of the assertion of that the policies they support objectively advance their interest, and 2) people saying they want to seek support from these folks while simultaneously expressing disdain for them.

                So back to my sample statement:

                “I don’t understand why these people are so unreceptive to a party whose economic policies (I believe) will serve (what I think are objectively) their economic interests better than those of the party they do tend to support!  But I want to try to understand that better and I’d like to try to persuade them to take another look at what the first party has to offer if I can earn that chance.”

                Is this a claim to be able to speak for such people?  Hardly.  It is a statement of knowledge by the speaker that she lacks understanding of what drives the people in question in their decisions of whom to support politically.

                Is it an appeal for support combined with an expression of disdain?  Well, it’s an appeal for support.  But is a statement acknowledging lack of understanding an expression of disdain?  I hardly see how when it’s phrased this way.

                Of course sentiments expressing these same basic ideas can be expressed in disdainful ways, which you have no doubt experienced.  But I’d like to vindicate these substantive thoughts – this puzzlement (bred of assumptions) about a group of people’s politics in light of an account of their objective interests – from a charge of being inherently disdainful.  The disdain comes only in how such thoughts are expressed – even if the thoughts are themselves mistaken because they are based on unexamined presumptuous assumptions about objective calculations of interest and don’t take into account individual calculations.  Just because they are unexamined and presumptuous does not mean that they are disdainful, and remember you said you problem was with the disdain.

                And with the presumption to be able to ‘speak for’ such people, which is a step way farther than merely presuming to be able to understand their interests objectively and address them with policy proposals.  You say Jesse did that in one of these threads; I’m not sure if I actually saw the comment in question but I trust he did. But that, again, is a step beyond merely what is expressed in the sample statement above, which, while expressing a belief hat there is an objective calculation under which a construal of their interests are better served by a certain set of policies, expresses awareness of a lack of understanding of how the decision whether to support the party offering those policies is made, and a desire to seek better understanding.  A claim to be able to “speak for” such people on the basis of that objective calculation is not implied in those words, and would need to be advanced separately, whether explicitly or implicitly, in further statements (such as, perhaps, something that Jesse wrote earlier).Report

              • At least a part of me wishes that we lived in a country where this were sound electoral advice. But I think that the Democratic Party – at least as defined by its politicians – is right to reject it.

                That is, in my mind, one of the things that hasn’t really come up. The red state shoulder-chipped can complain about liberals more broadly – and I think these complaints have more merit than the scoffers think – but when it comes to Democratic politicians? They do try, at least the national ones, and I think it does help. It was Howard Dean that said “We need the votes of the guy with a gun rack and a Confederate Flag on the bumper sticker of their truck.” He (rightfully) had to backtrack that last bit, but Bill Clinton got by in good part on superficial relateability. Someone like John Kerry was never that guy and shouldn’t have tried. Obama isn’t that guy (for mostly superficial reasons), but he has managed high personal approval ratings (if not job approval) in part by being willing to put on the cowboy hat in Texas and going with the flow.

                This is in contrast to the Republicans, who year by year are alienating the crucial voting block of the educated (to say nothing of racial and ethnic minorities). Yes, degree-holders are a minority, but they vote in large numbers and are very helpful for mobilization (they’re tightly connected to other voters). Maybe I just feel that way because I am one of the ones being alienated. But even in my suburban southern home, the generation gap among educateds (and aspirationals), 50-somethings who remain hard core Republicans and their 20-something kids that I do not believe will be “mugged.”

                I think it’s the Democratic politicians – if not the liberals more generally – who have found the right balance. I know MichaelD is charting out a different course than the more antagonistic one Republicans are taking, but I think the attempts that the Democrats have made have really been worthwhile. The problem, to an extent that there has been one, has not been the party itself – for the most part – but some of the more intemperate advocates. Unlike the GOP, however, the party hasn’t really fed into it.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Will Truman says:

                At least a part of me wishes that we lived in a country where this were sound electoral advice. But I think that the Democratic Party – at least as defined by its politicians – is right to reject it.

                I think it’s an interesting empirical question.  I’m not really sure, but I think it would be a very good discussion to have–one based on soundness of strategy, not arguments about values.

                You’ve got a blog here… 😉Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Will Truman says:


                I’d be interested in what you’d cite as examples.

                Understand, I am not talking about a strategy of picking candidates who are in fact culturally in step with the constituents they represent. That is obviously indicated – it was the basis of Dean’s 50 state plan.  It gave the party Jon Tester, etc.  Jon tester doesn’t have to familiarize himself with foreign (to him) cultural artifacts in order to try to put on a show for Montanans to make him seem more Montanan.  he’s just Montanan.  He is like them; he doesn’t have learn about them.  That’s not what I am talking about.

                I am talking about inauthentic cross-cultural outreach.  If you have example of where that’s been done and been productive, I’d love to hear about them.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

                Also, I’m not talking about Latino outreach, because that is both obviously key to both parties’ viability and in many cases necessarily seemingly inauthentic to an extent (though mostly just awkward because of the language barrier, which is an entirely different matter from and not at all necessarily any more based on cultural ephemera than intra-white cross cultural outreach).

                And note also that examples of “elite-ish”-type politicians just going and trying to talk person-to-person to people across the cultural divide we are discussing wouldn’t at all be a counterexample to the kind of thing I’m dismissing, rather it would be exactly what I contrastingly endorse.  It has to be an approach in large part founded on or significantly enabled by appeals to these cultural signifiers rather than based primarily on straightforward person-to-person discussion across a cultural divide of issues of concern.  In other words, “just outreach” across this divide is not what’s at issue here, it’s the form of it: corny and inauthentic or sober?  I’m a proponent of the sober, and I deny the efficacy of inauthentic-plus-corny form of that outreach.

                Counterexample me into oblivion, sir.Report

              • Okay, we might not be as far apart on this as I initially thought. Some of what I would consider counter-examples to where I think you are coming from is… well, the cowboy hat in Texas, for one. It’s a picture I still see bandied about all these years later. When Obama came to my home town back south, his people asked the local politicians “What do you think we should do?” and ended up going on a hayride (this was in the primaries, as president I doubt he has time to do such a thing again, but you get the idea). No one is going to mistake Obama for a rancher or southerner, but he nonetheless did a bit of culture-embracing that I think was healthy for his image in the over-all.

                Less successful was Kerry’s attempts to embrace and talk about Idaho (where he maintains a home away from home in Blaine County). But he did make the effort and someone other than John Kerry might have been able to pull it off. Not to win Idaho, but get some “regular person” points.

                But I’m partially talking about other things, that I don’t think you’ll disagree with. Not only embracing regional candidates, but listening to them. The whole wolf hunting thing out here hurt Obama more than it helped him, but when Tester went to him and said “We have a problem,” Obama (or his people, anyway) worked with him on it and minimized the damage (in contrast to the left’s general reaction, to the extent that people were aware, which was… not to take the concerns seriously). Obama won’t come as close to carrying Montana in 2012 as he was in 2008, but he might have saved Tester’s senate seat by getting the issue off the table.

                The Republicans, meanwhile, have run away from their education. Run away from the kind of speech that would appeal to educateds and aspirationals.

                This is the difference I am talking about. We could be talking about different things and not really disagreeing. I’m not sure.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Will Truman says:

                Your Texas example is very interesting.  I hadn’t been thinking in terms of national primaries.  Rather than trying to reason that out on the spot, I’ll think it over. But my sense is that the dynamics are different, at least from what I had in mind (which might be just a limitation to how I was thinking about this).  My initial sense, though, is that the issue is largely defused when there isn’t actually a political gap to be crossed.  But Hillary was, by that point, of course, centering her campaign around the appeal to the white working class. It also seems to me that this is a lower-level kind of attempt to bridge the gap than I had in mind – just a photo op in a cowboy hat.  That seems different to me than trying to display knowledge of recent NASCAR standings in order to try to win over Republican-leaning independents in a general election. But maybe this is really more on-point than that suggests.  I’ll think about it.Report

          • Avatar Jeff in reply to BSK says:

            This reminds me of the family farmer who was worried that his farm would be taken over by an AgroBusiness.  Asked what he would advise, Dukakis said “Grow arugala.” and was howled at.  How amny family farms are doig well these days by growing arugala and other “elite” crops?Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jeff says:

              Family farms are diversifying.  I can only speak for Louisiana and Wisconsin, but grass-fed beef takes a year longer than a standard beefer but the margins are better.   Free range eggs sell for almost double a standard dozen.  Many dairy farms are starting in making exotic cheeses and are also maintaining herds of goats for fromages des chèvres.   Elk are now farmed.  Beefalo are making great headway.   Certified organic produce always commands a substantial markup, though it takes a few years to get those certifications and there’s more damage from insects and suchlike.

              Elsewhere, farmers are working with heirloom crops, potatoes, tomatoes and various grains.  Unless you’re an enormous operation, the mainline monoculture crops are almost not worth the trouble anymore.  Everyone’s searching for higher margins.Report

  8. Avatar BSK says:

    I am far from conservative and am probably one of the more liberal people here, so I undermine the notion that there is a conservative/liberal split at least a little bit, acknowleding I am but a data point of one.

    I think there is a conflation of knowledge with familiarity and preferences and comfort.  I know who Jimmie Johnson the NASCAR driver is because I watch enough ESPN to have heard several bits about him.  I’m pretty sure he is an elite driver and a bit less sure that he might be the guy dominating the sport.  But I have never been to a NASCAR event and never watched a NASCAR event.  I’d consider going, for the cultural experience, but am not really interested in the sport at all.  So the extent to which I KNOW about this aspect of the culture and the extent to which I am truly familiar or understanding or comfortable with it are quite different.  Likewise for several other questions on the survey.  Some are truly based on experiences and get more at actually living habits.  But the ones based on what or who you know don’t really seem to get at the issue, and could be resulting in the higher-than-expected scores. I mean, we’re all regular users of the internet, meaning we are probably going to know quite a bit of stuff, even if not all of it is in our wheelhouse.Report

  9. Avatar Winston McFart says:

    My sense on this survey is that’s flawed in a number of ways.  One that stood out for me is the rural aspect.  I grew up in Vermont which is generally accepted to be a fairly liberal and educated state.  Much of this is true, and because it’s rural I have been exposed to many of the things in this survey that I shouldn’t have been given my education (according to Murray’s thesis).  Anyway, the survey doesn’t really take into account a sort of New England “phenomenon” in which large numbers of educated liberals live in rural areas along side the blue collar middle class.Report

  10. Avatar db says:

    +1 for this testing regional markers rather than true class markers. 

    I scored a 66 despite being a DC lawyer and concieving of myself as an east coast upper middle class liberal/libertarian with mostly high-brow cultural tastes.  Looks like I’m not unusual amoung League readers in confounding the test.  I owe my high score mostly to having served as an Air Force officer and grown up in a small southern town.  I’ve also stayed in touch with my small town roots, have a non-ironic passion for motorsports, and have a wife whose filipino father instilled in her a love of fishing.  So I’d say, at least with respect to me, either the test is broken or I’m less upper middle class than I thought I was.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to db says:


      It doesn’t really mean you’re not upper middle class.  It means that you’re not in a bubble because you do have that non-upper-middle background, and still maintain that connection.  If you don’t shudder in horror at the thought of going back to visiting your small southern town, I don’t think you’re the type of person Murray is critiquing.

      And we should all keep in mind that in any group there is a range, a distribution.Report

      • Avatar Sam in reply to James Hanley says:


        Again, I think the assumptions that are playing into these arguments are worth confronting. You say that because db doesn’t shudder at the thought of going back to his small Southern town, he isn’t the person Murray is addressing. Fine. But so what if db DOES shudder at the thought of going back to his small Southern town? What if db has some entirely reasonable, entirely justifiable reason to shudder at the thought of going back to his small Southern town? Does that then automatically mean that is an elitist? Does that then automatically mean that he isn’t an ordinary American?

        I am speaking only for myself when I say that I have a very hard time conceptually with this idea of who is and who isn’t an “ordinary American” and to group all of these people together and then treat them as a monolithic whole is just baffling to me, nevermind how utterly condescending it is to the individuals within that grouping.Report

        • Avatar BSK in reply to Sam says:

          Sam brings up a good point.  I shudder at going to small towns… not because I think I am better than those people.  Just because I generally haven’t enjoyed the lifestyle lived there.  It’s not for me.  Eh.

          And while up above, I agree with James’ point that there is less elitism going the other way, I don’t think it is entirely absent.  I have met people who were exactly who Murray is adressing who look down their nose at city folks.  It is not entirely a one-way street, though traffic is much heavier in one direction than the other.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BSK says:

            I agree with James’ point that there is less elitism going the other way, I don’t think it is entirely absent.  I have met people who were exactly who Murray is adressing who look down their nose at city folks.

            I may not have made myself clear.  What doesn’t go the other way is the belief that somehow we can speak for those people.  But I’m not sure there’s any less elitism in the sense of looking down their noses at coasties (as I like to call people who live within sniffing distance of that dead-fish smell of the ocean).  Many middle Americans actively despise the coasties.  I’ve kicked a few of my students’ asses for dissing California, when they’ve never been out of Michigan themselves.  I’ll admit, my biggest shock about living in San Francisco and L.A. wasn’t that there were gays and vegetarians, but that damn near everyone you met was just trying to make a living and get by while having a good group of family and friends, just like us rural midwesterners.  On that, there’s no regional divide, just regional misunderstandings.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

              Amen, brother Hanley.  If we must argue about regional differences, let it be on such topics as cuisine and how to have fun.   First thing to do when moving to a new area is finding an Old Timer, explain you don’t know anything about his area, buy him a few brewskies, break out a pencil and a paper map from the gas station and let him mark it up.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                That’s some good advice, Reverend Blaise.  And that’s how I came to know the glories of Thai cuisine in San Francisco.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

                SF is an exceedingly difficult city to learn.   Though SF endures great herds of gawping tourists, few of them go anywhere interesting.  You’d need a local guide to each neighbourhood.

                And it’s an expensive burg, is SF.   Hard to last there without exceedingly well-paid work, seems to me, though somehow there are a host of poor people in that town.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

              PS:  The one place this hasn’t worked for me is Los Angeles.  I’ve never met an LA Old Timer.  I had to rely on a high school friend who’d lived there for a decade.   Still managed to get a story out of it.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                L.A.’s more difficult, yes.  I got lucky; married a girl who was born and raised in L.A. and moved there with her.Report

              • Avatar BSK in reply to James Hanley says:

                You live in LA?  I never pegged you as the GLAMOROUS type, Mr. Hanley.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Great piece of writing, Blaise.  You made me homesick, even though I only lived in L.A. for two years.  It was fascinating to see where your L.A. converged with and diverged from mine.

                It’s a strangely seductive place–I only understood the Eagles “Hotel California,” after living there.Report

              • Avatar Michelle in reply to James Hanley says:

                L.A. is one of those love it or hate it kind of places. I lived there for five years and, while I enjoyed its quirky diversity, mostly hated the place.  Too expensive, too crowded, too devoid of history. My Russian husband, however,  was completely captivated by it–palm trees and sunshine being particularly seductive for someone who grew up in St. Peterburg then spent 15 years in Chicago.

                You don’t really meet too many Old Timers though. Almost everyone we knew came from elsewhere.Report

            • Avatar BSK in reply to James Hanley says:

              “What doesn’t go the other way is the belief that somehow we can speak for those people.”

              I MIGHT be inclined to argue that there is a different but parallel phenomenon within that group… dismissing coasties as not being REAL Americans and, thus, rather then presuming to speak for them, simply ignore their voice.  I’m not necessarily going to stake that claim because that may be more about conservative pundits than actual “middle Americans” or whatever we are calling them.

              But, to the original point, of liberal/coastal/elitist/whatever presumption to speak for all whites, let’s investigate why this is.  Is it perhaps because, in many ways, they are the lone voices in so many areas?  Television is dominated by shows set in big cities and, when they do feature “middle America”, it is often a characiature.  A similar dynamic plays out in movies.  Leaving aside country music and some southern rap, most musical movements grow out of major cities, most on the coasts.  The NYT has a larger readership than the Fishtown Post.  Etc, Etc, Etc.  There are obviously practical reasons for most of this (it is hard to start a musical revolution in a town of 27 people).  But there might be more at play than simple elitism and presumptiousness.  It is indicative of a bubble, no doubt.  The problem is that the bubble’s non-bubbleness is affirmed by most major media outlets.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BSK says:

                I MIGHT be inclined to argue that there is a different but parallel phenomenon within that group… dismissing coasties as not being REAL Americans and, thus, rather then presuming to speak for them, simply ignore their voice.  I’m not necessarily going to stake that claim because that may be more about conservative pundits than actual “middle Americans” or whatever we are calling them.

                That’s a good question.  I’d like to say it’s just conservative pundits, but I know in truth it’s not limited to them.  How widespread it is among the “whatever we are calling them” group, though…I can’t pretend to say.

                But, to the original point, of liberal/coastal/elitist/whatever presumption to speak for all whites, let’s investigate why this is.

                I could be wrong, but I think it has to do with liberals’ dislike for the free market.  They tend (speaking broadly, and opening myself up for criticism) to believe that markets benefit the corporate bosses but not the working man.  This is very much tied to the old Union Democrat model, of course.  And so they think that proposals that will help the working class will be glommed onto by the working class.  But in reality their model is over-simplified, in at least two ways.

                One, many working class people nowadays are sophisticated enough to realize that a simple imports-tariff model can harm them.  One, they shop at Wal Mart, because they like the cheap goods, and they get turned off by anti Wal Mart rhetoric.  Two, they realize that some tariffs hurt their companies–I wouldn’t want to be a Democratic representative from an auto manufacturing town who had supported tariffs on steel imports during the Bush presidency because those tariffs hurt auto workers.

                Second, working class people don’t vote only their pocketbooks (although of course that plays a role in vote choice, too), and liberals sometimes miss that.  I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard some of my liberal friends complain about blue collar whites voting Republican that “they’re voting against their own economic interests.”  Well, they may actually interpret their own economic interests differently, wanting to vote against regulatory proposals that they fear could shut down their plant–a higher minimum wage means nothing to a factory worker whose company might not be able to handle the cost of new environmental regulations.  But even more, these voters have values besides their pocketbook values, and those very often just aren’t particularly liberal ones.  I find it ironic that liberals–who sincerely and correctly believe there’s more to life than money–criticize blue collar workers for putting non-monetary values above monetary ones when they cast their vote.  In a way that’s really demeaning, treating the working class yokel as a one dimensional charicature who’s only identity is his paycheck.

                That’s all anecdotal, of course, but it’s also experiential.  It’s my own experience from bouncing back and forth between a social milieu that’s pretty working class and a professional milieu that’s pretty liberal elitish, for whateve value those terms have.  Of course others mileage may vary.Report

              • Avatar BSK in reply to James Hanley says:

                I don’t know if I buy the free market idea.  Not as a primary motivator, at least.  I do think there is an extent to which liberal/elites/whomever presume to know better than “middle Americans”, and it might be partly informed by the apperance that those MA’s are voting against their own best interest (which conveniently ignores all the rich liberals who also do the same damned thing), but I think it is simply part of a larger mindset that views themselves as superior.  I drink a hand crafted organic microbrew that costs $15 a six pack and uses words like “mouthfeel” and “hoppiness” on the label; you drink 30 packs of Keystone.  I go to the opera; you go to NASCAR.  I have all my teeth; you have 7.  Okay, that last one was unfair.  But there is the unfortunate presumption that more exclusive somehow means better and, more importantly, indicative of the superior intellect and value of the consumer.  Which is silly.  And wrong.  But it pervades so much of society.  “If only those people knew better, they’d drink the same beer I did.  Poor those people.  They’re probably too stupid to think right so I’ll think for them.”  They just ignore that the people don’t drink that beer because it is too expensive or not sold in stores near them.  Or because sometimes is just tastes bad.  And that they themselves don’t avoid Budweiser because their palate is too refined for it but because they don’t like to think of themselves as “Bud drinkers”.*

                *On this note, my very unliberal side comes through.  I won’t frequent a bar if a bartender doesn’t know exactly what I mean when I say “Beer and a shot” (Bud and whiskey, obviously) or if they don’t know what a “Bud Heavy” is.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BSK says:

                Hmm, I was trying to avoid that “we’re just smugly superior” argument as just too much a product of my own bias (and resentment), and I would have objected if a conservative had made it, for the same reasons.  But when BSK makes it….

                Now we just need to work on your taste in beer. (I got zero points on that quiz question.)Report

              • Avatar BSK in reply to James Hanley says:

                Oh, I enjoy a whole range of beers.  Dogfish Head 90 Minute is a favorite during the winter months and I crave quality Heffs in the summer.  But, if I’m just going to throw back some swill while watching football, Bud Heavy is the drink of choice.

                Now, here is the question…

                Am I being SUPER elitist by presuming to speak for “middle liberal elites”?

                I work hard to not judge the subjective tastes of others.  Unless they like Miller Lite.  Then they’re stupid and should have their right to vote immediately stripped.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

                Coastal elites don’t presume to speak for all whites.  Those in government may believe their policies will actually materially benefit people who oppose them and justify them on that basis, but that’s not the same as saying that they know what their real views are and they are representing them.  It is claiming to know what’s really good for them, or at least not unjustifiably bad, but that is just the inherent claim in many acts of governance.

                Generally, elites outside of government just profess ignorance of people in flyover country, unless they are in media, in which case they are constantly engaged in trying to appeal to them by what they behaviorally are interested in (i.e. NASCAR has its place on the same networks among other sports; it’s not ghettoized away from general sports media any more than other sports).

                As to what actually constitutes people’s political interests and values – it is absolutely different in different places, despite there arguably being fundamentals that (by some naive theory) could result in broad acceptance by all of the working class because.  This is something that liberals know.  LIberal policies are not set because they think they will appeal braodly across the political culture to everyone with common economic situations.  Liberals don’t set the policy in order to win over all of those people and then just wonder continually why it’s not working as intended with certain parts of the population with given economic means.  Liberals understand the difference in values and valued ideas.  They set these policies because they actually believe that 1) they’re good for the country at large, and 2) they are the popular and preferred policies among those who do identify with them politically – what the movement expects from its leadership, and basically what the movement is all about.  This notion of the policy genesis being pure pandering to whatever group can be appealed to to decide the election is completely backwards.  The policy is set, it puts in motion the existence of a political group in the first place, and from there those policies are sold as well as can be done to whoever will listen. Yes, they make the argument that people in a given economic situation will be helped by them in a particular way, whatever else they might think of the policies.  But they know it won’t work for a certain portion of them because of those views.  They try to sell them anyway, because those are the policies they believe in, and because they believe they will be helpful to the people they are trying to sell them to, but they’re not mystified when it doesn’t work with people who have convictions that differ with those policies.  They get it, and they respect it.  And still they argue for the policies, because those are their policies.

                But doesn’t this all support my point about serious interests and values being the drivers of the political divide in question, and bullshit cultural signifiers being merely offshoot effects? Isn’t that exactly what you are saying here – that

                Incidentally I have to say, James, that your stated conception of what liberals think about things e.g. why Red State working class people just won’t get with their self-evidently appropriate-for-such-people programs – seems like an entirely convenient reflection of the stereotype of such liberals?  Perhaps you are venting about your students, or colleagues – who the hell knows, but it seems damn convenient that it just happens that your experience with liberals  matches up with an entirely common line about them per What’s The Matter With Kansas?  Should I believe you actually have these experiences?  Why do you say you might be wrong about them in that case?  if you’re having them, then you’re having them, but may i remind you of granfaloons?  You’re just having the experiences you are having – it doesn’t define a whole group. If you just want to say that you choose to let your undergraduates speak for liberals in your mind, I think you should get that out.  But no one’s experience with liberals can justify the creation of a general impression of all liberals.  So why even say it?  Why not just say, “I find liberals often say _____,” rather than, “Based on my experience, liberals think ______.” How do we even know what experience you are basing this on?  And why is it generalizable?  Maybe your college recruits idiots in general.  From your anecdotes, it sounds like it.  Shall I generalize?  I bet just the liberals kids are idiots.  Given your project here re understanding of libertarianism I find this a pretty reasonable thing to ask.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew says:

                 Shall I generalize?  I bet just the liberals kids are idiots…Maybe your college recruits idiots in general.  From your anecdotes, it sounds like it. 

                Wow, this degenerated all of a sudden. Do you really think the students making bad assumptions about California were liberals? Do you really think that a few 18 year olds who were a little too sheltered means most of my students are idiots?

                If you just want to say that you choose to let your undergraduates speak for liberals in your mind, I think you should get that out.

                Did we just enter bizarro world?

                Should I believe you actually have these experiences?  

                I can’t make that call for you.

                Why do you say you might be wrong about them in that case?

                Are you suggesting that I ought to have so much hubris that I can’t entertain the possibility that I could be wrong?  Is that really what you want from me?  Or from anyone here?  Really?Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

                It’s because I don’t know what in the hell experiences you are actually having or what arguments are being made… and yet you so often choose to characterize your impression of what liberals think based on these experiences that are hidden to all of us but you.  When there are so many public arguments that are made that you could use to establish a baseline for liberal thought which we could then try to sharpen.  And I do find that the impressions you tend to describe happen to be the predicates of very common lines of critique of stereotypical liberal positions and viewpoints. This doesn’t mean i don’t believe you are having the experiences, but honestly, how does letting a ridiculous viewpoint stand in for an entire ideology (whether or not you say, hey i could be wrong, it;s still the view you choose to lay out and react to) let us do any constructive exploration at all?  It just becomes an easy exercise in ridicule.

                And we have no idea who you’re talking about, or why we should think they speak for anyone but themselves.  You’re not specific about any of the experiences you have, you just allude to having some experiences with some people who call themselves liberal, and say that’s the impression of the liberal view you are going to go  off of, right or wrong.  What else can someone do in response but throw up his hands, if the view is manifestly dumb?  What does this add?  And how the hell do we know what was actually said.  You don’t even describe it, you just describe the general impression of the ideological group you gleaned from certain specific unnamed, mostly undescribed persons’ unquoted words.  I’m not sure why I wouldn’t  wonder if you’re just letting your undergraduates’ unconsidered ruminations constitute some real part of your portrait of what liberals tend to think.  If you’re not just making it all up.  I don’t really think either of those things for a second (well, maybe I think the first is happening to an extent though certainly not primarily), but based on what am I supposed to be understanding what actually is creating these impressions you describe having? All while we could be dealing with on-the-record written views of actual public thinkers as a way of establishing what a general liberal view of the world looks like.

                Incidentally, generally I try not to be this guy, but today I’m just kind of letting it ride, so by all means at whatever point you feel like you just want to give me space, you shouldn’t hesitate, I won’t be offended if you just say I went over the top at some point.  I’m sure I have.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Sam says:


          That’s a good question, and to answer it appropriately I have to put on my methods professor hat.

          First, let me say I would reject the term “ordinary” American, and I won’t use it (on the other thread I even said I consider Latinos ordinary Americans).  It’s an offensive term because, as I think you’re hinting at, it suggests other Americans are abnormal.  I’m not sure if Murray uses that term or how it popped up in these threads, but I think you, I, Jesse, Michael, Jason, Chris, etc., etc., etc., would all join in a chorus in condemning it.

          I have been using the term “middle” Americans, which linguistically is repulsively vague and non-specific, but which seems to be somewhat useful since we seem to have something of a common conception of what it means.  But a more descriptive term would be good.

          Second, if db did shudder at going back to his small town, that by itself wouldn’t necessarily make him non-Middle American.  That is just one variable, and we’re dealing with a set of variables here (whether we accept Murray’s survey questions or not, I think we can all agree that no single variable determines whether you’re ” middle American” or “leftist/cultural elite”–indeed I’d expect a lot of pushback if I suggested otherwise).

          Researchers will take the values on those multiple variables and collect them into a matrix, and then just add up the scores.  A better approach than Murray’s “yes/no” responses, with so many points for a yes, would be to use a Likert scale for each variable, which is just the familiar “strongly approve, somewhat approve, neither approve nor disapprove, somewhat disapprove, strongly disapprove” type set of answers to each question.

          When we add up the scores from that Likert scale, we can distinguish people by their scores. (Note: This all depends on the validity of the questions asked, which in the case of Murray’s survey has been legitimately critiqued.)

          Now, that’s all setup, and here’s the answer to your question.  Because there are multiple variables, if db happens to score particularly low on one, but high on others, those others outweigh that one and still put him in our supposed “middle American” classification.  Perhaps he’s a guy who never misses a NASCAR race, knows all the drivers’ statistics inside and out, eagerly anticipates the opening of duck season in Virginia each year, and drives a beat old pickup truck with NRA stickers on it even though he lives in the D.C. suburbs, but has a deep addiction to Thai food, and he hates going home to Pinpoint, Alabama for Christmas because it means going a week without Tom Ka Gai.  It’s ok that he’s an outlier on that one variable, because the others more than make up for it.

          OK, I hope that actually was straightforward and clear, and I didn’t come off sounding too lectury.  I’m like this every spring when I’m teaching my methods class; tending to go a little too in-depth into such answers because the concepts are so much on my mind.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

            Yes, Murray uses the term.Report

          • Avatar Sam in reply to James Hanley says:

            Here would be my challenge: describe an ordinary American to me. Put scales and charts and measures and spreadsheets and complex statistical analysis and simply statistical analysis and everything else and just describe for me an “ordinary American.” What troubles me is that no matter what the terminology is (normal, ordinary, average, middle, simple, common, etc), the notion that there exists an American who fulfills all of the demographic, social, political, and cultural variables is difficult for me to consume. And as soon as the argument becomes, “Well, it’s okay if s/he does this, because s/he mostly does that,” I think the definition starts to break down in terms of its value.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Sam says:


              First, I’d reject your challenge to describe an “ordinary” American.

              Second, if we did Murray’s work right, we’d take a shit-ton of cultural markers without any preconceptions about what they ought to mean.  Then we’d test a whole bunch of people. (I’m not sure how many for that kind of task–considerably more than a standard survey, though, so we’re talking more than 1,200).  Then we’d do a statistical analysis and see which of those markers correlated with which ones and how strongly.  Then we’d be able to define categories (and we’d probably want to use new terminology, to avoid triggering people’s cognitive preconceptions related to certain common terms).

              We wouldn’t find an “ordinary” American that way.  We’d find out what different social identities there are in America, what distinguishes them, and what regional, class, ethnic clusterings might or might not relate to them.  But most, if not all, of those clusterings would be “ordinary,” in the sense of representing a large group of Americans.

              So you’re right to be skeptical of that term.  It’s a terrible one.  Normal is  terrible for the same reasons.  “Average” might be theoretically possible, but only if there’s a lot less diversity than we expect.  “Middle,” well, that’s a vague term that in a sense doesn’t have much linguistic baggage, unless it means something akin to “those who live in the middle of the country.” But it’s got lots of conceptual baggage that would most likely cause us to chuck it, unless we also surveyed what people think that term means, and both found a fairly common understanding of the meaning and that there was a clustering that actually fit that meaning.

              If you’ve got a source of funding, we could actually do this!Report

              • Avatar Sam in reply to James Hanley says:


                I think that my contention, implied elsewhere in my response, is that Murray started with what he considered to be an ordinary/normal/average/middle/whatever American and worked backwards. That is how he was able to produce some of the questions which are tripping up at least a few of the commenters here. So, for instance, if you think that the ordinary/normal/average/middle/whatever American likes mass-produced American beer, then those disconnected from that group would presumably like whatever the opposite of that beer is.

                I’m not for a moment suggesting, incidentally, that you have a definition available for this ordinary/normal/average/middle/whatever American; I’m simply say that because Murray would appear to (whether or not his definition is correct, which I’d obviously argue that it isn’t), he’s constructing his research in a such a way as that definition becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, even if it isn’t actually applicable to real world people.

                I think what I’m saying, and this goes back to a question I think you asked me in another thread, is that this is a fool’s errand, because I’d argue that this composite ordinary/normal/average/middle/whatever American doesn’t exist, even if you could tease one out statistically, because the real world is simply more complex than that.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Sam says:


                I think you’re right that he worked backward, rather than the forward process I used.  So as a social science instrument, his survey is worthless.

                But as a caveat, his instrument being worthless is not evidence that there’s no there there.  I think some folks here seem to be confusing critique of the survey instrument with evidence against the bigger picture issue Murray’s trying to present, and as a matter of logic that doesn’t work.Report

        • Avatar Gorgias in reply to Sam says:

          Many of us do indeed have good reasons for shuddering from going back to our rural roots.  The only thing that awaits me there is a polity based on the narrowest of parochial grounds that I simply do not fit into- one where I was verbally and physically harassed for my sexual orientation, where I was treated as beyond the pale for my religious convictions.

          And now they have the temerity to cry oppression, that those who they have driven out, or who they have made abundantly clear would not be welcome among them, have hurt their feelings!

          Well ain’t that just the butter calling the corn cob yeller.

          In the interim, I will continue to shape my social world so as to experience a minimum of the abuse I did when I was geographically constrained.  I will stay in my Bostons, my San Franciscos, my Austins, my Seattles and Portlands, because they are better communities, filled with better people.  Anyone who claims otherwise hasn’t ever been a religious or sexual minority in a town dominated by “real Americans.”Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Gorgias says:

            Dude! I feel bad about your personal circumstances, but this reads like a rally cry! Like a sermon!



          • Avatar BSK in reply to Gorgias says:

            I don’t know that they’re crying oppression as much as marginalization.  Or, Murray is advocating a case be made for their marginalization.  I suppose a good question would be… is this, to an extent, self-marginalization?  Can someone really complain about a lack of a “middle American” presence amongst “elite” institutions when much of what defines “middle America” (at least as far as Murray defines it) is an avoidance of elite insitutions.

            It would be one thing if they were clamoring for participation in such organizations and being refused entry (e.g., people decrying the lack of black-directed major motion pictures despite a very willing group of talented black directors willing to take up the charge*); it is quite another if they are simply not interested in participating but then crying that their perspective and experiences aren’t being taken into account.

            * I realize there are a host of reasons that this is the case and don’t want to venture into that discussion here.  It was just an example that highlighted the difference.Report

      • Avatar Jeff in reply to James Hanley says:

        I used to shudder at visiting my Northern California small town.  I was bullied, there was nothing to do (less after they took out the only movie theater) and I had walk 4 miles to get to what little there was in town. 

        It’s easy to like small towns if you’re at the top of the pecking order.  If you’re at the bottom, there’s nowhere else to go.

        Thanks, but I’ll stick to the cities.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jeff says:

          Gorgia and Jeff,

          I hope nothing I said indicated that I would criticize your preference to avoid small towns.  I’m very live and let live, and I’m under no illusions about how petty, invasive, and mean people can be in small towns, particularly to those who are different.  Those who have suffered that kind of abuse should find a better place, and shouldn’t feel bad about hating the idea of going back.

          I like small towns because I hate crowds, noise, and traffic, but miss the diversity of people and restaurants, and we take our kids to cities to explore cultural amenities that aren’t available close by and to help ensure they don’t become those small-minded types.

          If small towns were right for everyone we wouldn’t have so many big cities, so this small town guy’s hat is off to you for finding the place where you’re happy.


    • Avatar db in reply to db says:

      I guess my point is that I think Murry’s test is wrong to assume the following identity:

       Southerner (esp. rural)  == understanding of non-elite

      This can be wrong in both directions.  I suspect those from old money southern aristocratic families would score high on this test and yet have no experience or knowledge of what it is like to live a hand-to-mouth hard scrabble life.  And at the same time northern-urban working class people will score as if they lived in an elitest bubble.Report

      • Avatar db in reply to db says:

        For example, the skies over the Talledega Superspeedway are thick with private jets before and after races.  I’m skeptical of the idea that you get “in touch with the common man” points for taking your G-V to a NASCAR race.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to db says:

          Well, we all agree it’s not a perfect test.  And I’ve seen the mind-boggling motorhomes towing Cadillac Escalades (!!) heading up to MIS.  But go to a NASCAR event and check out the bulk of the crowd.  Or if you don’t want to pay the ticket price, just go hang out outside the gates while people are coming in.Report

  11. Avatar Matty says:

    The more I read this the more I hear Pulp’s “Common People” in my head. You can’t grok someones life by learning lists of Stuff Poor People Like or by following cultural trends and you can’t understand the experience of things like poverty if you’ve never been there.Report

  12. Avatar mark says:

    I am a coastal, rich member of the elite and proud of it. Would not touch Coor’s if I just returned from the Sahara. Consequently, I did not bother taking the test. However, it seems to me that guys who grew up in small towns in the South or were raised by single mothers might do well in this test. I am thinking of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Obama of course; I am sure we can all agree that they are truly in touch with the asppirations of real Americans.Report

  13. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    Just want to say that, having read neither book, a failure to take race sufficiently into account in a discussion of class is a real failure in either case, to whatever extent it is the case.  For all I know, Murray discusses race extensively, and I’m misreading his title to think he’s doing this analysis by looking only at whites.  But if his title does reflect that his conscious proposition is to talk about these things exclusively as they exist among whites, not even trying for a general treatment, even one that doesn’t treat race explicitly, that seems like quite a different matter than failing to treat race with as much close attention as it deserves in this context.

    Fussell’s stated intention in the first chapter of the book goes like this

    In Class: A Guide Through the American Status System I deal with some of the visible and audible signs of social class, but I stick largely with those that reflect choice. That means that I do not consider matters of race, or, except now and then, religion or politics. Race is visible, but it is not chosen.

    “Race is visible but it is not chosen.”  I have no idea what that means; I’d have to read the book to find out.  Surely it undertreats the issue.  But it isn’t making the claim to be motivated by the concern that

    It is a problem if Yale professors, or producers of network news programs, or CEOs of great corporations, or presidential advisers cannot empathize with the priorities of truck drivers. It is inevitable that people have large areas of ignorance about how others live, but that makes it all the more important that the members of the new upper class be aware of the breadth and depth of their ignorance.

    …while explicitly and consciously deciding not just to not treat the race part of class with any particular attention, but to try to treat the question only by addressing the lack of understanding by elites of the lives of the non-elite part one race and only one race explicitly to the exclusion of others (again, allowing for the possibility that the subtitle of the book is completely misleading as to the the basic proposition of the book.  I’m sorry, the two are not the same thing.

    Additionally, and not excusing Fussell’s inadequacy, but it is 2012  here today.  This is a 2012-released book by Murray, an author who had a go-around with making what were received in many quarters as analytically deficient contentions about race previously in his career (whatever the merits of those criticisms). Fussell’s book was released nearly three decades ago (1983), by a man born nineteen years before Murray, in 1924.  These aren’t justifications, but they are differences worth noting and that complicate the similarity, which is already attenuated just based on the title of the books.Report

  14. Avatar Steve S. says:

    “The thesis it’s meant to point up is that you as an educated elite know less about the culture of middle- and lower-class whites than you imagine.”

    As I said in the other thread I quit after two questions because I couldn’t answer them, but if what you say here is accurate then isn’t he going about this in entirely the wrong fashion?  Don’t you administer a survey and then report the results?  The way you summarize it suggests that he reached a conclusion and then set about retrofitting some data to it.

    ” This wasn’t a scientific survey.”

    But isn’t this book supposed to be scientific?Report

  15. Avatar LarryM says:

    I kind of went the flipant response route in the last thread, so let me try to put this objection in more neutral terms in this thread.

    It seems to me that, even apart from the empirical challenge to Murray’s thesis that the responses in the thread provide, there is a deeper conceptual problem. That is, the assumption that, even among whites, we have an essentially two dimensional elite versus middle/lower class cultural division.  (And that may be in part why the empirics, at least among readers of this bog, don’t support Murray’s thesis).  Murray’s questions, whether by design or not (I certainly have my suspicions about that), seem oriented to a particular model of this division which, it seems to me, exists mainly in the minds of certain conservatives (and ironically in the minds of some people on the left as well). That is, there is plenty of diversity among the white middle class and lower classes.  There are variances in cultural signifiers, religion (intensity and denomination), education, and so on, even among the white middle and lower classes.

    This is, I think, only part of the story, but a part of the story which makes Murray’s initial thesis – and the quiz itself – ring false to many of us.  Whatever other merits his book might have. (And however interesting an objective exploration of the larger issue might be.)

    Of course the fact that some of us have a rather low opinion of his previous “scholarship” is a reason why some of us don’t feel the need to read the whole thing to see whether he has answers to some of these objections.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to LarryM says:


      I’m sure you’re right that a simple binary elites/masses divide among whites is too simplistic. That’s part of why I didn’t put much effort into defending Murray.

      But I think the response here demonstrated that there really is an important divide–even if it’s just one among many.  I’m not persuaded that the empirics of this blog disprove that.  Just because some of the lower scorers claimed there’s no gulf between them and middle America doesn’t mean they’re right about that.  And in response to those who announced scores in my range–up in the 60s–I found myself nodding and thinking, yeah, I’ve always felt like I was more on their wavelength.

      Not that the people who scored low aren’t great folks.  I like a lot of them a whole lot.  But I often find that I have to think harder about what they’re arguing because I don’t instinctively get it as quickly as I do with some others.

      Now, doing a real, sound, survey of Leaguers might be really interesting.Report

      • Avatar LarryM in reply to James Hanley says:

        My assumption all along is that there are real divides. Of course there are and always have been (probably and ironically LESS so now than in the pass, given mass media). I guess what rankles for me are the following:

        (1) The fact that some people (not you) state rather explicitly that certain cultures – including the culture at issue here – are more “authentically American” than others;

        (2) The fact that there is a directional bias – on the one hand, it’s supposed to be a problem that us coastal elites (not literally true of me, in either sense, these days, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’m part of that culture even if not coastal OR elite in the literal sense) don’t really “understand” the “white middle class” (even though literally I am part of the white middle class), but NOT a problem that the “white middle class” (or at least the socially conservative, mostly religious, mainly southern and midwestern potion thereof), don’t really understand the other cultures (white and otherwise) of this nation.  And it’s not okay for someone like me to be contemputous of YOUR culture (which I’m not, actually, while freely admitting to being contemptous of a certain political expression thereof), while the contempt that your culture (not you personally) has for MY culture is just fine and even “justified” at some level. That dichotomy is not okay in my book.

        The fact that neither of these applies to you personally, and maybe not to many of your friends, does not mean that both of these problems exist, especially with regard to POLITICAL expression.

        FWIW, I got too frustrated with Murray’s questions to go through the whole thing & score myself. My score would have been moderately low, mitigated primarily by 2 years spent in a small town in PA (not a college town) in my early adulthood.Report