Charles Murray and Robert Putnam on class

Charles Murray recently wrote Coming Apart about growing class differences in white Americans. Robert Putnam, a Harvard professor of government or something, has a new popular book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. They apparently say much the same thing (I haven’t read Putnam’s yet). They appear together at the Aspen Institute, whatever that is, in an excellent Youtube video. They are on the opposite ends of the political spectrum yet they have no disagreements about substance.

When the audience asks about policy implications, Murray has little to say because, he says, he is a libertarian. Putnam’s response, on the other hand, is chilling. We need more pre-K education and we need to train our teachers to fill the role of inadequate parents for our children. Scary: I hope that he will leave our children alone.

One wonders how Putnam thinks about these issues. While we are on the topic I quote a review of a previous famous Putnam paper by the great John Derbyshire from his book We are Doomed.


In September 2006, political scientist Robert Putnam was awarded the Johan Skytte Prize, one of the most prestigious in his field. The prize is awarded in Uppsala, Sweden, by a Scandinavian scholarly association. (Skytte was a seventeenth-century Swedish grandee.)

As usual with such events in the academic world, Putnam presented a research paper to commemorate the event. The paper is titled “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century,” and can easily be found on the Internet. I’ll refer to it in what follows as “the Uppsala paper.”
That paper has a very curious structure. After a brief introduction (two pages), there are three main sections, headed as follows:

The Prospects and Benefits of Immigration and Ethnic Diversity (three pages)
Immigration and Diversity Foster Social Isolation (nineteen pages)
Becoming Comfortable with Diversity (seven pages)

I’ve had some mild amusement here at my desk trying to think up imaginary research papers similarly structured. One for publication in a health journal, perhaps, with three sections titled:

Health benefits of drinking green tea
Green tea causes intestinal cancer
Making the switch to green tea

Social science research in our universities cries out for a modern Jonathan Swift to lampoon its absurdities.

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32 Responses to Charles Murray and Robert Putnam on class

  1. JayMan says:

    “The Prospects and Benefits of Immigration and Ethnic Diversity (three pages)
    Immigration and Diversity Foster Social Isolation (nineteen pages)
    Becoming Comfortable with Diversity (seven pages)”


    My wife can’t forgive Putnam for coming to Lewiston of all places when looking at trust and social well-being in the state of Maine. (Lewiston is known as the “armpit of Maine – and this was before the Somalis came.)

  2. Flinders Petrie says:

    I see the difference being that Murray has a realistic conception of humanity (some level of inequality is natural), whereas Putnam believes that inequality is an unnatural state that must be fixed. In fact is is a moral imperative.

    Speaking of Mr. Derbyshire, his quote in an article he published yesterday is appropriate here, from none other than Oscar Wilde:

    “I have never come across anyone in whom the moral sense was dominant who was not heartless, cruel, vindictive, log-stupid and entirely lacking in the smallest sense of humanity.”

    Perhaps overstated (Putnman seems like a good man, if misguided), but Wilde’s point is a good one.

    • Thanks for kind words here. I used to walk past the Flinders Petrie museum 2-3 times a week on my way from University College math department to Dillon’s bookstore.
      The great Canadian geometer “Don” Coxeter said somewhere (in Regular Polytopes, I think) that Petrie’s son John was the only mathematician he knew who could answer questions about four-dimensional figures by visualizing them. That kind of spatial insight could come in handy when exploring the interior of an Egyptian pyramid, I should think. Inheritance? Epigenetics?

      • Flinders Petrie says:

        I didn’t know that about his son, but it definitely figures. Ah, the early 1900s really was the pinnacle of archaeological fieldwork, in terms of highly intelligent, no-nonsense archaeologists doing their thing.

        Petrie, General Pitt-Rivers, Dorothy Garrod. We’ve mostly been on a free fall ever since.

        I wonder what these giants would think of the field of
        queer archaeology?

        • Cloudswrest says:

          Has there really been any new fundamental physics developments since the early/mid 20th century? We’ve come a long way technologically, but I can’t think of any significant physics we know now that Einstein didn’t know about. At least nothing that impacts the world around us like electricity, Maxwell’s equations, thermodynamics, etc. does.

          • ursiform says:

            I think the application of group theory to particle physics was significant. But since c. 1970? Hard to think of anything.

          • Well . . .

            “It seems to me that we are passing from the Age of Physics to the Age of Biology. It is not quite the case that nothing is happening in physics, but certainly there is nothing like the excitement of the early 20th century. Physics seems, in fact, to have got itself into a cul-de-sac, obsessing over theories so mathematically abstruse that nobody even knows how to test them.

            “The life sciences, by contrast, are blooming, with major new results coming in all the time from genetics, zoology, demography, biochemistry, neuroscience, psychometrics, and other ‘hot’ disciplines. The physics building may be hushed and dark while its inhabitants mentally wrestle with 26-dimensional manifolds, but over at biology the joint is jumpin’. A gifted and ambitious young person of scientific inclination would be well advised to try for a career researching in the life sciences. There is, as one such youngster said to me recently, a lot of low-hanging fruit to be picked. Charles Murray, in his elegant New York Times op-ed piece on the Larry Summers flap (for more on which, see Christina Hoff Sommers elsewhere in this issue), wrote of the ‘vibrancy and excitement’ of scholarship about innate male-female differences, in contrast to the stale, repetitive nature of research seeking environmental sources for those differences. Sell sociology, buy biology.”

          • William Newman says:

            New physics developments? Nothing on the scale of relativity and quantum mechanics, and the smaller deep surprises that I can think of pile up near your mid-century: the chirality of the weak force, various details of the strong force (quarks…), and strangeness in cosmology (cosmic microwave background, universe looking as though it is teetering absurdly exactly on the razor’s edge between expansion and contraction). And we’ve learned more about enduring puzzles left over from before 1950, like the fundamental catfight between QM and GR at short scales, and the imbalance between plentiful matter and scarce antimatter.

            Though I am cynical about our institutions, it looks to me as though the slowdown is not primarily due to institutional change, more that the remaining fruit hangs much higher than it used to. It is not too hard to understand the fundamental laws known up to 1900, even 1905. (Special relativity is peculiar, but not remarkably difficult compared to 19th century physics, at least not until you mix it with QM to get quantum electrodynamics, which is pretty difficult.) But starting with general relativity, the solutions to the solved problems are hard, graduate-school level stuff for most people (with a partial exception for QM, where we put some effort into teaching undergrads) and generally keep getting harder as the decades go on.

          • Florida resident says:

            Sure, if you art talking about “that impacts the world around us”, there is nothing like “electricity, Maxwell’s equations, thermodynamics, etc.”, to which I would add “quantum mechanics, semiconductors and nuclear physics”.
            But now and then you get such (figuratively) diamonds as graphene (Physics Nobel prize 2010; play of words — both diamond and graphene are made of carbon atoms only; femtosecond optical frequency combs — super-precision spectroscopy (Physics Nobel prize 2015.) The latter has its special contrast: femtosecond pulses mean duration 10^(-15) second, super-precision means in that particular case phase stable during 10^(+3) seconds, i.e. during about 10^(18) optical cycles.
            Life is still good !!!

        • Florida resident says:

          Correction: super-precision spectroscopy was Nobel-prized in 2005.

  3. Flinders Petrie says:

    The look on the panel’s face and awkward silence after the question at 53:55 is classic.

    It was an extraordinary feat of self-control that Murray was able to answer such a ridiculous question without the slightest bit of hostility.

  4. Patrick Boyle says:

    I’m about the same age as these two. I remember my childhood as a kind of Golden Age. When I was quite young I went everywhere unsupervised. The only thing dangerous anywhere in Arlington Va. was the mean dog tied up to a post down the street. I got my mother upset once by claiming that I had gone swimming in the Potomac – an open sewer in those days. But my cousin Willie and I rode our bikes into any neighborhood. There was no such thing as an unsafe area.

    Those days are long gone and for reasons which Putnam and Murray won’t discuss – race. They were both eager to agree that they were talking about class not race – too eager For all practical purposed blacks were simply not allowed in Arlington county when I was a kid.

    We know a lot more about race now than we did then but we aren’t allowed to discuss it. Except maybe with our barista. Do you want a job at Harvard? If so figure out how to hide racial problems as class problems. Work out some way to explain that the black mob that is beating you to death with hammers is somehow a class phenomenon.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “Those days are long gone and for reasons which Putnam and Murray won’t discuss – race.”

      Although I agree black people (on average) were the first to succumb to the 1968ers and that fact magnified the 1968er’s refusal to accept reality since off-shoring began in earnest in the 1980s blue collar white people are starting to catch up and eventually non-churchy white will sink below churchy black. By then the difference between those people on the left side of the curve who are clinging on to a pre-1968er culture and those who were drowned by the 1968ers will be too obvious to hide.

    • Philip Neal says:

      Children no longer roam freely in Britain, certainly in the towns, and I am told it is the same in other countries. When I was a seven year old, I regularly walked about a mile to school on my own, which would be unheard of today. I doubt if race is the main reason, as there are few truly unsafe areas in the country (there are many places where you risk being robbed in broad daylight, but none where you take your life in your hands if you go there). More likely, the explanation is the greater number of women with careers. My mother was a housewife for most of my childhood and there were far more eyes behind the lace curtains forty or fifty years ago than there are now.

      • Patrick Boyle says:

        Whistling past the ghetto.

        • Anthony says:

          Not always. I walk my seven-year-old to school, but my biggest fear isn’t crime, it’s cars. The people zipping down our residential arterial streets at 15 over the posted speed limit aren’t vibrant; they’re white and Asian soccer moms.

  5. Greying Wanderer says:

    “We need more pre-K education and we need to train our teachers to fill the role of inadequate parents for our children. Scary: I hope that he will leave our children alone.”

    They won’t. The left side of the bell curve need traditional culture, marriage, religion, strict criminal justice etc on one side and full employment on the other as scaffolding. When the scaffolding is removed everything starts to collapse. Capital obviously won’t go back to full employment unless they’re forced to because they prefer “labor flexibility” (aka desperation) as long as they can hide from the consequences behind secure gates. More critically the 1968ers will never admit they were wrong on the cultural stuff and the chaos in the urban blight is constant proof they were wrong about everything.

    So what they’ll do (if they haven’t already started in some states) is what they already started in the UK – secret courts snatching thousands of kids claiming it’s about abuse but in reality parents deemed to be unsuitable for whatever reason. The courts have to be secret because the decisions are based on actually based on subjective judgement of suitability rather than abuse (although obviously sometimes the abuse is real).

    Of course they won’t be able to provide “adequate” parents for all these kids even if they could afford it. In fact the lack of money to house all these thousands of kids will mean they’ll have to build all the new children’s homes by converting houses in the cheapest areas. The thing about that is the cheapest areas are also the places where businesses house their illegal workers, house after house with 20+ people,almost all men with no girl friends and paid very little. So basically this process Putnam is describing ends up boiling down to the state snatching thousands of children, moving them to children’s homes in different towns where the kids don’t know anyone and then feeding them to child prostitution gangs.


    Also as the courts have to be secret it allows the 80s feminist types who colonized child non-protection as their economic niche to indulge their prejudices on what counts as “unsuitable” so they’ll snatch kids from good parents with unsuitable opinions if they can get away with it.

    And last but not least there’s a lot of money to be made in adoptions so now the courts are secret and there’s no scrutiny over dubious decisions some of the social workers will drop out and set up adoption agencies then woe betide parents with a cute and adoptable five year old who are too dim or poor to fight the family courts.

  6. Hesse Kassel says:

    Any intelligent man can see that the real solution to inequality is to have unprotected sex with as many unintelligent women as possible. That’s probably what leftists mean when they say “It feels good to do good”

    As for unintelligent men they need to chase the really smart women. That’s probably what they mean when they say “Being good ain’t easy”

  7. Bullwinkle: Hey Rocky! Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!
    Rocky: But that trick never works.
    Bullwinkle: This time for sure!
    Putnam: Diversity will work eventually.

  8. I work in a pre-K/daycare and it sucks pretty bad. Most of the kids are unhappy and want to go home. The best ones are the kids who spend the least amount of time there, which of course is a big no-no to the other teacher I work with because she genuinely believes excessive structure is what shapes their personality. She is also for mandatory/universal pre-K.

  9. Hat tip to the Derbyshire comment with the message “sell sociology, buy biology.”

    Sociologists and for that matter all of the ridiculous political ideologues are living in Lalaland when they think they have simple solutions to complex problems relating to present day human society. Science can work especially when you pick the right field at the right time. This is the century for biology, Derbyshire is right about that.

    Speaking of elitism and what can we do about it.

    Nothing. It is going to continue to increase. The rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer. Certainly pontificating asswipes aren’t going to do anything to help. To Murray’s credit he tries vainly to explain this but no one listens to him. Murray is just a reporter of very interesting generational trends which can be looked at through a scientific mindset or a wishful thinking mindset. This babble about looking at the real world through blue lenses or red lenses is retarded.

    I remain contemptuous of all assholes who don’t give their children lots of love and time. Ditto with very old parents. Matter of fact from a futuristic stand point nothing else matters. In one hundred years it won’t matter what you did, just that you were once important in the eyes of a child. And if you don’t help your parents out when they need you most, when they are old and helpless, don’t forget your kids are watching what you do and payback is coming.

  10. Dale says:

    You write, “Social science research in our universities cries out for a modern Jonathan Swift to lampoon its absurdities.”

    Sir, some things are beyond parody. Indeed, I expect that if you try to invent a parody of modern social science, a few minutes on the web will most likely show that someone before you said it in all seriousness.

  11. namae nanka says:

    Jussim tries.

    There was Ilkka Kokkarinen. But they got to him. They tried it for Mike Adams, and succeeded for a fair bit.

    Of course there is Steve Sailer. What has happened to articles?

    Prof. Putnam reminds me of Carleton Putnam whose Race and Reason will be akin to reading the devil’s work itself today. The noises of egalitarianism were there even during Galton’s time as he mentions in his infamous Africa for the Chinese. So the roots go further back than the ‘modern’ off shoots.

  12. In what way is Derbyshire great? He motivates his enemies to work harder than him if he would just drop the vehemence down a notch and just keep quiet about it he could probably have whatever goals he wants.

    • Honesty is important to analysis – in social interactions – not so much. Many ppl want to be spoken to softly. I suspect you are one of those, sanguine, thus your moniker? I like Derbs honesty, his straight talk and his dry humor. I have learned a lot from him.

    • Toddy Cat says:

      “if he would just drop the vehemence down a notch and just keep quiet about it he could probably have whatever goals he wants.”

      Wanna bet ?

      This reminds me of the old joke; two Jews are about ready to go into the gas chamber, and the Nazi in charge asks them if they have any last words. One of them yells, “Go to Hell you Nazi bastards!”. The other Jew leans over to him, and says, in a low whisper, “Chaim, don’t make trouble!”

      You can’t keep quiet enough for totalitarians. Besides, why SHOULD he keep quiet? It’s the truth, dammit!

  13. JH says:

    “They are on the opposite ends of the political spectrum yet they have no disagreements about substance.”

    America’s Overton Window is almost closed, all right. I like the idea that the real political divide is not horizontal – left and right – but vertical: those who laud hierarchy (Up) and those who want to level us all (Down). Not many Uppity folk out of the closet these days.

  14. Mark Minter says:

    While this might be a mere trickle, there appears to more written this past couple of weeks about repression of speech and the dangers that this entails. The question might be “Who is listening?” But there is more and more “standing up” recently. And I think of the biggest names in the whole “Free Speech” business stood up and was counted. Floyd Abrahms.

    A little wikipedia background on Floyd Abrahms.

    “Floyd Abrams (born July 9, 1936) is an American attorney at Cahill Gordon & Reindel. He is an expert on constitutional law, and many arguments in the briefs he has written before the United States Supreme Court have been adopted as United States Constitutional interpretative law as it relates to the First Amendment and free speech. He is the William J. Brennan Jr. Visiting Professor at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. Abrams argued for The New York Times and Judith Miller in the CIA leak grand jury investigation.”

    The two New York Times cases he argued in front of the Supreme Court New York Times Co. v. Sullivan,New York Times Co. v. United States literally set the judicial interpretation of free speech.

    In a speech in front of Temple University, he argued that the biggest threat to free speech today is occurring on college campuses. And not due to repression on the part of administrations but rather due to that of some minority of students who scream to repress viewpoints different from what they hold.

    He quotes Oliver Wendell Holmes, of all people (talk about calling in the big guns)

    “Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. put it well, when he was a Harvard undergraduate before the Civil War and was a student editor of Harvard Magazine. “We must,” he wrote in 1858, “have every train of thought brought before us while we are young, and may as well at once prepare for it.”

    And while it is not Eisenhower calling out McCarthy, when the biggest name alive in Free Speech says “Enough”, it begins to give others cover to stand up also.

  15. Dale says:

    It’s curious that Putnam frets that diversity breeds social isolation, but he doesn’t mention “Americanization” or “assimilation” or whatever it’s called these days — US culture has a long history of turning bundles of groups that are considered ethnically incompatible into larger groups that are considered ethnically homogeneous. The current overclass, “whites” is made from numerous Europe-derived nationalities that would have been fearsomly at odds in any major city 150 years ago.

  16. bigstockplays says:

    This guy sees only what he wants to see Guys got a real problem

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