On Reading Charles Murray's "Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010": Changes in College Attendance and the Blue-Collar Work Ethic

So I’m reading Charles Murray’s much-talked-about analysis of the state of our States, Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010, and I have to say that so far it’s fascinating. I’m on the opposite end of the political spectrum from Murray, and it’s an understatement to say he doesn’t score any points with me when, early on in the book, he cites David Brooks’s Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There (2000) for some demographic data and cultural analysis, as I find most of what Brooks writes to be the glib pronouncements of a conservative dimwit. And I know enough about Murray’s “conclusions” (although I haven’t reached that section of the book yet) to say I find them rather ridiculous. But the beginning of the book, which focuses mainly on the changes in the U.S. between 1963 and 2010, is lively, if  a bit disconcerting. Mainly it’s a matter of the maldistribution of wealth, of the rise of greed and inequality, and the breakdown in a strong American work ethic. I’ve noticed these things as well, and would draw very different conclusions than Murray, but he does quantify them in interesting ways.  He contrasts the enormous differences in wealth in the upper classes of 1960 and 2010, essentially our country returning to a Dickensian tradition of “the rich get richer, the poor get poorer.” College attendance and graduation is also a great contrast between 1960 and 2010, with many more people going to college now, like through online colleges, but those who don’t in a much worse off position than in 1960, when good working-class jobs were still available.
And I should confess that I’m reading it this election year in the same way that I often check out the CNN website: to see what mainstream, conservative America is thinking. If I only look at liberal news, I get a skewed viewpoint—more to my liking, of course. But I want to know what all those people who think Santorum is a legitimate presidential candidate are thinking. Part of me thinks, How crazy are they? And part of me thinks there must be some real disconnect and outrage to fuel ridiculous candidates like Santorum or Gingrich.

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