Krugman Against Murray: The Values of the Working Class

In his recent article in the New York Times, Paul Krugman takes down Charles Murray’s book on how the bad mean Liberals supposedly stole the good, traditional values of the working class. I have to say that I’m quite impressed with this article, people. Krugman is slowly rehabilitating himself in my eyes.

First, Krugman makes a very important point that doesn’t get made nearly enough: the erosion of the traditional family has not brought any disaster to society. Just the opposite, it’s been a positive development:

Mr. Murray and other conservatives often seem to assume that the decline of the traditional family has terrible implications for society as a whole. . . Yet the truth is that some indicators of social dysfunction have improved dramatically even as traditional families continue to lose ground. As far as I can tell, Mr. Murray never mentions either the plunge in teenage pregnancies among all racial groups since 1990 or the 60 percent decline in violent crime since the mid-90s. Could it be that traditional families aren’t as crucial to social cohesion as advertised?

If by traditional families we mean couples who get married young and then stay together long after any semblance of love between the partners is dead and who bring up miserable kids whose only relational model is that of endlessly bickering, fighting, yelling or, at best, completely indifferent partners, then I say, to hell with those traditional families. Life without love or a possibility, a hope of love is meaningless. If people don’t seek a divorce as an escape from a dead relationship, that’s true tragedy. The more likely people are to bury dead marriages and move on, the happier the society at large will be.

All of these oft-lauded traditional values are based on nothing but endless self-violation of an individual who is supposed to stifle his or her own needs because, supposedly, that somehow serves society at large. Well, it doesn’t and we now have proof of it.

The second part of Krugman’s insightful article discusses what really constitutes a great problem for the working classes. Forget about the supposedly bad morals of the blue-collar folks, Krugman says. Let’s look at their economic reality, instead:

For lower-education working men, however, it has been all negative. Adjusted for inflation, entry-level wages of male high school graduates have fallen 23 percent since 1973. Meanwhile, employment benefits have collapsed. In 1980, 65 percent of recent high-school graduates working in the private sector had health benefits, but, by 2009, that was down to 29 percent.

So we have become a society in which less-educated men have great difficulty finding jobs with decent wages and good benefits. Yet somehow we’re supposed to be surprised that such men have become less likely to participate in the work force or get married, and conclude that there must have been some mysterious moral collapse caused by snooty liberals. And Mr. Murray also tells us that working-class marriages, when they do happen, have become less happy; strange to say, money problems will do that.

It makes me really annoyed to see how often people harp on the completely erroneous idea that working class folks are somehow less moral than the middle and especially upper middle classes. Sure, it’s easy to preserve one’s relationship as a couple when one can afford to go to a beautiful resort for a romantic getaway a couple of times a year, when any issues you might start having as a couple can be immediately addressed by high-paid therapists and psychoanalysts, when you can share such hobbies as exploring expensive restaurants, traveling the world and collecting exotic wines.

It might just be a teensy bit harder to preserve the romance when one is going nuts over the mounting bills or when one can’t find even a minimum-wage job. In other words,

 The social changes taking place in America’s working class are overwhelmingly the consequence of sharply rising inequality, not its cause.

And I couldn’t agree more.

P.S. Thank you, David Bellamy, for bringing this great article to my attention.

14 thoughts on “Krugman Against Murray: The Values of the Working Class”

  1. “For lower-education working men, however, it has been all negative. Adjusted for inflation, entry-level wages of male high school graduates have fallen 23 percent since 1973. Meanwhile, employment benefits have collapsed. In 1980, 65 percent of recent high-school graduates working in the private sector had health benefits, but, by 2009, that was down to 29 percent.

    So we have become a society in which less-educated men have great difficulty finding jobs with decent wages and good benefits. Yet somehow we’re supposed to be surprised that such men have become less likely to participate in the work force or get married, and conclude that there must have been some mysterious moral collapse caused by snooty liberals”

    On the other hand it’s not as if the snooty liberals (mostly upper middle class) have shown any great concern for issues affecting the working classes (until very, very recently), which is a/the major problem I have with them. This has driven away much of the support of working people and makes the problem worse (the working people, already overwhelmed, are manipulated by conservatives and then blamed and treated with contempt even more by liberals).

    Like

      1. Even if not,
        (a) people in a better position, with easier lives (economically), have more energy & free time, especially when
        (b) they pride themselves on being social activists
        (c) naked self-interest. I have a suspicion that at first it always starts with the working class, but later will affect middle class too, right? Better start fighting an enemy before he is knocking on your door. Otherwise, it can be too late. Reminded me of :

        Are these exotics? They will grow nearer home!

        Grow nearer home – and out of the dream-house stumbling
        One night into a strangling air and the flung
        Rags of children and thunder of stone niagaras tumbling,
        You’ll know you slept too long.

        http://www.ppu.org.uk/learn/poetry/poetry_30s3.html

        The poem is about war, but still very beautiful, so wanted to share.

        Like

  2. I can’t comment on the American experience or even on American society in general, but it is fairly common for Australian women to couple “down” rather than marry someone equal to her on the economic ladder or higher. Very often, this leads to a very good relationship, as working class men are on the whole physically and psychologically healthier than their higher strata counterparts.

    Like

    1. *working class men are on the whole physically and psychologically healthier than their higher strata counterparts*

      Why? I saw that when a woman marries down, the expectations of life and levels of mental (development / life ?) are different and the union is far from being ideal.

      Like

  3. el :
    *working class men are on the whole physically and psychologically healthier than their higher strata counterparts*
    Why? I saw that when a woman marries down, the expectations of life and levels of mental (development / life ?) are different and the union is far from being ideal.

    In Australia, working class men are often more of their own person than those in the middle classes. The attitude of being aspirational (See: http://www.tasa.org.au/conferences/conferencepapers05/papers%20(pdf)/work_robinson.pdf ) is much less likely to pertain to those who have traditionally separated their interests from those of the ideological reinforcers of normality.

    In Australia, the lower middle class (clerical workers and the like) are fascistic ideological dupes. The professional class is often somewhat ascetic and de-sexed, so many women choose a working class guy.

    Like

  4. el and Jennifer Frances: You guys are from very different cultures. In el’s cultures (which is also mine) the system of social classes is very different. I think I should write a separate post about it. But, in any case, el is right. In our culture, intermarriages between different social classes are often quite disastrous. It happens because of how rigid the class system is and because of the basis of class divisions.

    So I agree with el in that in our culture it’s a very complicated proposition that usually doesn’t end very well. And if people end up having children, one of the parents will be very alienated from his or her own kids in very painful ways.

    Like

    1. I would love to read such a post and also hear on the class system in US (and if there are differences between it and Canada). Judging by the blogs, I got an impression it’s no less rigid than in Russia.

      Like

      1. As an actual working class person in the US, I agree that it is very rigid, but it’s all under the surface. This denial of the situation only causes additional pain. Many people have written about this.

        Like

  5. scratchy888 :
    ..working class men are on the whole physically and psychologically healthier than their higher strata counterparts.

    You get this phenomena in the UK too. I suspect though that it’s more about survival in working class communities putting a necessarily greater premium on women who are ingeneous and clever and that carrying over and into unions with middle class women.

    My impression is that middle class men put more on women being objectified trophies, which is one of the things that fuelled (second wave) feminism. The assumption that working class men are intrinsically more sexist, or even more brutishly macho is in my experience, horse manure.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.