Take a tote but don’t choke

David Frum has some more pieces on Charles Murray’s book (here; here; here). I’ll summarize: the book is mostly about how much Charles Murray hates tote-baggers, whom Murray wrongly believes make up the vast majority of the 5% of wealthiest Americans.

Nevertheless, Tote Brother Number One, Nick Kristof (maybe he’s number two, after E.J. Dionne) finds Murray’s arguments bracing – and in themselves evidence that the book has already helped move the debate to more earnest grounds. Kristof doesn’t agree with the whole thing, mind you, but thinks that liberals should indeed admit that their anti-marriage, anti-rich-people jihad is misguided (read it, I’m not exaggerating that much).

In other words, it doesn’t matter to Kristof if the book is accurate or not. Thus it often is when liberals read right-wing screeds. Commenter MikeJake found this nugget, from an interview with economist Jonathan Gruber:

Charles Murray (in the earlier book “Losing Ground”) took the economic concept of moral hazard – the concept that if you reward people for bad behaviour then they behave badly – and turned it into prose. Reading the book moved me a notch to the right. It posed a challenge to liberals – to get more rigorous in our analysis. It showed the simple facts didn’t look so good for us and that we needed to address questions like, “Is welfare causing women to become single mothers?” Murray really challenged the way I thought.

It turned out his facts were largely wrong, so it’s really more a book to read for an example of how someone can shift the debate with potent use of clear arguments.

One legitimate criticism of many liberals’ focus on diversity and equal opportunity (a focus I support completely) is that it can at times devolve into the soft bigotry of lowered expectations. I’ve seen this professionally, with regard to gender, and it is genuinely insidious.

When someone says “Murray’s book is all bullshit, but I like it anyway because it was pretty good for a conservative”, they are, whether they like to admit it or not, being bigoted.

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82 replies
  1. 1
    Maus says:

    When someone says “Murray’s book is all bullshit, but I like it anyway because it was pretty good for a conservative”, they are, whether they like to admit it or not, being bigoted.

    I hope this means no more “Sully is making a lot of sense for a conservative” stories, or perhaps I’m misunderstanding?

  2. 2
    Linnaeus says:

    …someone can shift the debate with potent use of clear arguments.

    Indeed. Some guy wrote about it about 2,000 years ago.

  3. 3
    Mnemosyne says:

    “It turned out his facts were largely wrong, so it’s really more a book to read for an example of how someone can shift the debate with potent use of clear arguments.”

    So Murray’s arguments made Kristof think, except that it turned out the Murray’s actual facts that supposedly backed up those arguments were wrong, but somehow Murray is still right because the arguments based on falsehoods were convincing? WTF?

    And haven’t liberals been saying for years that the stupid moralistic “no man in the house” rules that took welfare money away from married or cohabiting women helped force single motherhood on a lot of women who otherwise would have had partners? Apparently that was an unconvincing argument, but Murray’s fact-free bullshit was totally convincing.

  4. 4
    DougJarvus Green-Ellis says:

    @Maus:

    I hope so. I’m not the biggest Sully-hater, but I don’t like the “not bad for a conservative” stuff.

  5. 5
    JGabriel says:

    DougJ @ Top:

    One legitimate criticism of many liberals’ focus on diversity and equal opportunity (a focus I support completely) is that it can at times devolve into the soft bigotry of lowered expectations.

    When we have a sound economy, full employment, affordable or state funded universal health care, and free access to college education for anyone with the intellectual capability who wants it, then, maybe, we can talk about the failure of some individuals to succeed as the result of the “soft bigotry of lowered expectations”.

    Until then, I’ll continue to regard it as a rhetorical redirection intended to blame the victim.

    .

  6. 6
    Rafer Janders says:

    Murray has a quiz (link below) in his book that’s supposed to illustrate how thick is the bubble wooly-headed elitist liberals move in, i.e. how far from Real Murkins they are. Now, no one who knows me could believe that I’m anything other than the epitome of “a second- generation (or more) upper-middle-class person with the television and moviegoing habits of the upper middle class”, and Murray predicts that my score (out of a possible 99) will be a majestic 2.

    My actual score? 69. Which according to Murray means I’m most likely a “lifelong resident of a working-class neighborhood with average television and moviegoing habits”.

    I, uh, question his methodology, therefore. And I’d be curious what others here would score…

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/7734.....urray-Quiz

  7. 7
    Someguy says:

    Way to go, Dug. It’s not every day I can come here and catch a BJ’er sticking up for the (monetarily and politically speaking) top tier of the 1%. Inside-the-Beltway conservatives (who are NPR listeners primarily to get fodder to use to bitch about NPR) probably think you’re doing a pretty good job for a liberal.

    We laugh about how non-elite rank & file Republicans would die on a hill to preserve a low capital gains tax. I’m starting to think rank & file Democrats would die on a hill to prevent the Republicans from stealing a Democratic issue… No Child Left Behind is a good example of issue-stealing, and I’m convinced that (other than the stupid testing) the root of liberal opposition was that Republicans were drinking our milkshake. Is that what’s happening here?

  8. 8
    mistermix ... World Peace says:

    Why are you picking on EJ and Nick? Don’t know you it’s always tote bros before hos?

  9. 9
    slag says:

    Dougj, is your blockquote broke? Please tell me your blockquote is broke. I’d hate to misdirect my disdain for Jonathan Gruber toward you.

  10. 10
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    As David Frum has artfully pointed out, you can only buy into Murray’s arguments if you suspend disbelief and turn your brain off.

    Which is what Kristoff obviously has done, which isn’t surprising in the least, as Kristoff is Villager vermin.

  11. 11
    jibeaux says:

    Well, I for one was already aware that people can shift the debate with the potent use of factually incorrect arguments.
    Still, if Kristof’s a Villager, he’s my favorite of them. He uses his platform to advance some good things rather than just wanking about centrism. There’s a role for that in the ecosystem.

  12. 12

    @jibeaux: Soft bigotry of low expectations.

  13. 13
    schrodinger's cat says:

    Why all this focus on white men, working class or otherwise, it is almost like some animals are more equal than the others on the Animal Farm. Is that what Murray and the media Village is trying to tell us?

  14. 14
    DougJarvus Green-Ellis says:

    @slag:

    I think the “soft bigotry of lowered expectations” is real. I’ve talked a lot about it with a (liberal, black) friend of mine who taught high-school and did educational research, and he is adamant and, at least to me, convincing about it.

    And I’ve seen it at work, with regard to gender. It’s a real thing.

  15. 15
    JGabriel says:

    DougJ:

    When someone says “Murray’s book is all bullshit, but I like it anyway because it was pretty good for a conservative”, they are, whether they like to admit it or not, being bigoted.

    Fuck. This is what happens when I post before caffeine, I scan a comment out of context at face, and miss that it’s a setup line for an ironic observation until I wake up a bit.

    Sorry, DougJ. You’re right, calling Murray’s book “good for a conservative” is the epitome of the “soft bigotry of lowered expectations.”

    .

  16. 16
    schrodinger's cat says:

    @Rafer Janders: Stupid Quiz is stupid, as is Murray.

  17. 17
    slag says:

    @DougJarvus Green-Ellis: Yes. It is real. But you know who it’s most real for? White men!

  18. 18
    Steve says:

    Frum’s takedown of Murray was devastating. Far more effective than any criticism of Murray I’ve seen from a liberal, by the way, which isn’t a great sign.

  19. 19
    schrodinger's cat says:

    DougJ@top

    I think the “soft bigotry of lowered expectations” is real. I’ve talked a lot about it with a (liberal, black) friend of mine who taught high-school and did educational research, and he is adamant, at least to me, convincing about it. And I’ve seen it at work, with regard to gender. It’s a real thing.

    I am not sure what you mean, can you explain.

  20. 20
    geg6 says:

    @JGabriel:

    Yes, exactly. THIS.

  21. 21
    DougJarvus Green-Ellis says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    People can be weird about women mathematicians. The (worthy) desire to increase the number of women in a department or graduate program sometimes devolves into viewing women as some entirely different species that you can’t judge the same way as men, as mathematicians. I think it will go away but it is a problem for now.

  22. 22
    DougJarvus Green-Ellis says:

    @slag:

    Sure, but I think it’s bad whenever it arises.

  23. 23
    Maus says:

    @DougJarvus Green-Ellis: And what did your friend suggest as the “solution”? What do you?

    Because pointing out problems, then passively allowing conservatives to insert their non-solutions is not proactive or going to fix the issues before us.

  24. 24
    Chris says:

    Charles Murray (in the earlier book “Losing Ground”) took the economic concept of moral hazard – the concept that if you reward people for bad behaviour then they behave badly – and turned it into prose. Reading the book moved me a notch to the right. It posed a challenge to liberals – to get more rigorous in our analysis. It showed the simple facts didn’t look so good for us and that we needed to address questions like, “Is welfare causing women to become single mothers?” Murray really challenged the way I thought.

    How does this not apply to capitalism itself? “If you reward people for their greed, then they’ll only get greedier?” And greed is a sin for the same reason that unmarried motherhood is (e.g. Bible says so).

  25. 25
    slag says:

    @DougJarvus Green-Ellis: Oh you don’t get out of this that easily. That point has nothing to do with “liberals’ focus on diversity and equal opportunity”. That’s bullshit and you know it.

    If that’s the point you were making, then you could have just as easily (and more accurately) said:

    One legitimate criticism of many conservatives’ focus on preserving white male dominance is that it can at times devolve into the soft bigotry of lowered expectations.

    But you didn’t. You need to check yourself.

  26. 26
    DougJarvus Green-Ellis says:

    @Maus:

    Bend over backwards to hold everyone to the same standard and avoid preconceived notions about students.

    He didn’t mean it in terms of policy, he meant it in terms of one’s own behavior as an educator.

  27. 27
    Jeff Boatright says:

    @Someguy: No, that’s not what is happening here.

    SAFSQ

  28. 28
    Maus says:

    @DougJarvus Green-Ellis:

    He didn’t mean it in terms of policy, he meant it in terms of one’s own behavior as an educator.

    Ok? That’s self-enforced, I don’t see why it’s relevant in the context of what conservatives think of liberals, especially since they believe we’re being far too generous with the underclass, women, minorities, anyone who’s not fitting their Predestinationist success-mold.

  29. 29
    DougJarvus Green-Ellis says:

    @slag:

    I see your point too, that 9 times out of 10, it’s for white men. I can only tell you that professionally, I’ve seen people get so into “women in math” that they put the actual women in math off a bit. I’ve had students tell me exactly this.

  30. 30
    brantl says:

    this crap is the high spark of low-brained boys, this is.

  31. 31
    DougJarvus Green-Ellis says:

    @Maus:

    I think it’s relevant because it’s exactly what Kristof is doing with Murray. He wouldn’t go so easy on a bullshit book by someone who wasn’t a conservative. Ditto for Gruber.

  32. 32
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Chris:

    Exactly so. We have a serious problem in this country with people using other people’s money to gamble. Over at Corzine’s place, to the tune of a billion bucks of other people’s money to cover gambling debts.

    It’s funny that “moral hazard” only applies to the 99%, not the 1%. Yes, quite funny, that.

  33. 33
    Nylund says:

    This idea that “the facts are wrong, but the thoughts are interesting” is something I came across recently.

    My latest work has me involved with groups involved with anti-poverty measures in Africa. Basically, the gist is that we know that if people have object X, it’ll improve their lives (be it tools, mosquito nets, whatever). The question is, who pays for it?

    The liberals in the group say we should give the things away to these poor people. The conservatives overall stance is that they don’t want their money being used to give free things to poor people. They can’t say this though because it makes them sound heartless.

    Instead, they brought up this idea that if people get things for free, they don’t value it much and thus won’t use it much. If you force them to pay for it, they ascribe more worth to that thing and are more inclined to actually put it to good use (so they get their money’s worth). They admit that if people have to buy it, less people will get it, but since they’ll be more inclined to use it, overall usage rates will be higher.

    A liberal stood up and mentioned that this has actually been studied extensively with numerous random field experiments where some people get it for free and some people pay for it, then, months later, those people are visited to see whether or not they are putting the item to use. They found that usage rates were identical between those who paid for it and those who didn’t. Thus, all that really happens when you charge people for it, is that less people get it and overall usage decreases. There is no offsetting increase in usage from valuing things more when they’re paid for.

    But…this thought that bought things were more valued was out there, and it was obviously effecting the decisions of the group even though it was shown pretty thoroughly that years of research had shown that this idea was not factually true. The facts didn’t matter though. The line of reasoning, even if wrong, changed the way people acted. It was the kind of thing I could see David Brooks praising as a brilliant insight.

    The “reasonable” people were all yelling, “Yes, it’s an interesting idea, that’s why we tested it, but it’s NOT TRUE. It DOESN’T happen, so don’t base decisions on it!”

  34. 34
    liberal says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:
    Yeah, his quiz is stupid. Here’s the first question:

    Have you ever lived for at least a year in an American neighbor-hood in which the majority of your fifty nearest neighbors prob-ably did not have college degrees?

    Uh, yeah, I lived in such a neighborhood, for 4 years, when I was getting a PhD…from MIT. So the usefulness of the question is…?

  35. 35
    Rafer Janders says:

    @Nylund:

    Or, as the economist said, “yes, yes, it works in practice, but does it work in THEORY? That’s the question.”

  36. 36
    Marc says:

    When someone says “Murray’s book is all bullshit, but I like it anyway because it was pretty good for a conservative”, they are, whether they like to admit it or not, being bigoted.

    I agree with this, but I don’t think that’s quite what’s going on with Gruber in that passage you quoted. What Gruber is doing is very similar but in some ways far worse. It’s not the liberal focus on diversity and equal opportunity that’s led him astray there, it’s the liberal totebagger focus on open-mindedness and tolerance of opposing viewpoints as virtues in and of themselves, to the exclusion of careful consideration of those viewpoints.

    Stanley Fish wrote about this a few years back, how the humanities and liberals in general focused so much on questioning dogma, regardless of advancing any particular intellectual framework for conducting that questioning, that conservatives were able to slip in and use the same rhetoric to promote intelligent design and global warming denialism. Hey, “teach the controversy,” right?

    That’s what I see when I read Gruber’s quote. Sure, he was “challenged” and “moved a notch to the right” by arguments that turn out to be baseless, but hey, it’s a great example of “how someone can shift the debate with potent use of clear arguments.” Those arguments might be built on a foundation of lies, but the important thing is that Jonathan Gruber showed us how goshdarn open-minded he is.

  37. 37
    slag says:

    @DougJarvus Green-Ellis:

    I can only tell you that professionally, I’ve seen people get so into “women in math” that they put the actual women in math off a bit. I’ve had students tell me exactly this.

    I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that, professionally, you’ve seen it in many, many other ways as well–ways that you just haven’t noticed. Consider it as a possibility.

  38. 38
    Maude says:

    @DougJarvus Green-Ellis:
    I read some of it and some of the comments. It seems the phrase unwed mothers was used a lot. None of it made sense.
    It seemed to be like Reagan’s Welfare Queen and Young Buck with a bit of Oh, but there are white people who are working poor too.
    I didn’t understand Kristof and I took his name off my tote bag.

  39. 39
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    I’m reminded of the desert island joke with the can of beans, and the economist opines “well, assume a can opener…”

  40. 40
    Sly says:

    @Steve:

    Frum’s takedown of Murray was devastating. Far more effective than any criticism of Murray I’ve seen from a liberal, by the way, which isn’t a great sign.

    Most liberals wouldn’t even bother reading anything by Charles Murray. People study what they expect to be tested on. You don’t really see the best critical examinations of Richard Cohen and Tom Friedman coming from the right, now do you?

    Frum travels in conservative circles, parlays with other conservative pundits (at least the “respectable” sort), and so would be expected to know what Charles Murray wrote about in Coming Apart. So he read it, and found it entirely wanting because Frum is not really a part of the faction of the conservative movement that blames everything that went wrong with America on hippies and Huey P. Newton.

    Neo-Conservatism is more than just the blind support of the Likud Party; it began among American Trotskyites rebelling against the rise of Stalinism. Frum is from the tradition that basically accepts everything from the New Deal forward as legitimate and necessary to promote social stability in the face of larger, more radical impulses toward social change. Radical change that, they believe, would only produce totalitarianism.

  41. 41
    Corey says:

    I don’t know. I actually read the book and it wasn’t that bad, in fact most of the claims are completely non-controversial, it’s just that Murray is kind of a book-length troll and frames his arguments in the most contentious way possible.

    I think that, particularly in bad economic times, progressives (including myself) have a tendency to economic determinism that isn’t always appropriate. Values actually do matter a bit when it comes to economic success. That doesn’t mean being poor is the fault of the poor person, but poverty tends to inculcate a worldview that generates more poverty over the long term.

  42. 42
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Sly:

    Frum is from the tradition that basically accepts everything from the New Deal forward as legitimate and necessary to promote social stability in the face of larger, more radical impulses toward social change. Radical change that, they believe, would only produce totalitarianism.

    Given the historical examples that we have to gauge this by, that’s not an unreasonable conclusion, either.

    The problem is, we have no Otto von Bismarcks around right now to tell these idiots that they’re saying “bring it on!” to tumbrel rides.

  43. 43
    TXG1112 says:

    Doug, I think you’re being a bit harsh on Kristoff here. He is making a nuanced argument using Murray as a springboard, but he rejects his conclusions.

    Where Murray is profoundly wrong, I think, is to blame liberal social policies for the pathologies he examines. Yes, I’ve seen disability programs encourage some people to drop out of the labor force. But there were far greater forces at work, such as the decline in good union jobs. […]
    There aren’t ideal solutions, but some evidence suggests that we need more social policy, not less. Early childhood education can support kids being raised by struggling single parents. Treating drug offenders is far cheaper than incarcerating them.

    While I’m happy to criticize Kristoff when he falls into totebagger bad habits, he isn’t in the same league as Friedman et al. Kristoff is largely agreeing with Frum’s criticisms and framing the solution in a liberal “this is what happens when you break the economy and provide no safety net” terms that totebaggers will understand. While I don’t think this particular column is great, I think you’re overdoing your criticism in this case.

  44. 44
    Capri says:

    @Rafer Janders: After reading the questions it’s pretty clear he did his research by watching Thirtysomthing re-runs.

  45. 45
    elm says:

    It turned out his facts were largely wrong, so it’s really more a book to read for an example of how someone can shift the debate with potent use of clear arguments.

    What the fucketty-fuck? The Right Wing has never lacked for clear, completely wrong arguments. “Obama is a Muslim”, “Obama is a Socialists”, “Welfare Queens exist”, “Trees cause pollution”, “Weapons of Mass Destruction”, etc…

    Has Gruber been in a coma for the last forever?

  46. 46
    DougJarvus Green-Ellis says:

    @TXG1112:

    He does accuse of liberals of not liking traditional marriage. That pisses me off.

  47. 47
    Sly says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    Given the historical examples that we have to gauge this by, that’s not an unreasonable conclusion, either.

    It’s a reasonable conclusion, but its a reasonable conclusion that can produce horrific results if implemented in a way that fails to recognize the demands of democratic consensus. See Iraq: 2003 to Present. No one could of predicted that destroying a nation’s institutions and air-dropping Ahmed Chalabi in to clean up the mess, without any consent of those he would govern, would produce disaster.

    Neo-Conservatism will invariably fail in this regard because it positions democratic consensus as part of the problem rather than part of the solution. It’s allegiance to Strauss’s distrust of popular consent is its undoing, and this is fundamentally where they get the roots of New Deal liberalism wrong.

  48. 48
    catclub says:

    @Corey: Go read today’s Andrew Tobias on lead poisoning of children. Then tell me about how poverty leads to more poverty by its very nature.

    Instead, it [lead poisoning and its aftereffects]
    is a fixable problem that would have huge benefits to society if eliminated.

  49. 49
    Egg Berry says:

    they’ve breached the totebag!

  50. 50
    Judas Escargot, Your Postmodern Neighbor says:

    @JGabriel:

    Until then, I’ll continue to regard it as a rhetorical redirection intended to blame the victim.

    Amen.

  51. 51
    schrodinger's cat says:

    @DougJarvus Green-Ellis: There is a similar problem with women in Physics. Where does the notion that women and math don’t go together come from.

  52. 52
    slag says:

    @catclub: Seriously. There’s a raft of social, economic, and environmental problems that keep people poor. When we throw up our hands at all of the things that we, ourselves, can possibly do to address those problems, we are hoarding all the soft bigotry of low expectations for ourselves. And do we really need to hoard more shit? Maybe we can share a little.

  53. 53
    schrodinger's cat says:

    @liberal: What the hell does he mean by nearest neighbor? How can someone have 50 nearest neighbors? In one dimension you can have at most 2 nearest neighbors in 2D you can have 4. In 3D it depends on the geometry but it can never be 50. What an idiot.

  54. 54
    Mnemosyne says:

    @JGabriel:

    Yep. I’ve seen a whole lot more “lowered expectations” aimed at propping up incompetent white men than I’ve ever seen extended towards minorities of any kind. But maybe that’s because I work in the corporate world and not academia.

  55. 55
    handsmile says:

    @DougJarvus Green-Ellis: (#31)

    He wouldn’t go so easy on a bullshit book by someone who wasn’t a conservative.

    In fact, he would simply ignore such a book and not bother to grant it the imprimatur of a NYT column.

    His epistle today illustrates why I find Kristof such a confounding pundit. He has written with great insight, painstaking and pains-giving detail, and moral suasion on topics deemed unseemly by Village salon habitues: e.g., sex trafficking, global disease. Moreover, he has demonstrated a years-long commitment to writing about such subjects.

    This column, however, reveals such naivete as to raise questions about his true apprehension of the international issues on which his reputation rests. The piece is littered with strawmen and Capra-esque musings on his “beloved hometown”: “We Americans think of our rural American heartland as a lovely pastoral backdrop.” And, of course, the requisite bashing of liberals.

    Apparently this cosmopolitan has just discovered-perhaps while reading Murray’s book from the plane’s first-class cabin-that:

    I fear we’re facing a crisis in which a chunk of working-class America risks being calcified into an underclass, marked by drugs, despair, family decline, high incarceration rates and a diminishing role of jobs and education as escalators of upward mobility.

    And while Murray is “profoundly wrong…to blame liberal social policies for the pathologies he examines” and Kristof himself “disagrees with important parts” of Murray’s book, nevertheless he hopes that it can “trigger a national conversation about these dimensions of poverty.”

    Because to VSP like Nicholas Kristof, “profoundly wrong” sociological analyses by a political scientist who has been shunned by both academic disciplines for the shallowness and ineptitude of his research and methodology should be granted favor to set the terms of this debate.

    And Charles Murray himself has warned that his patience with our ingratitude is nearing an end. “If I can’t persuade people at this point, I’m not going to persuade them with another book,” he huffs in yet another NYT valentine to this sage, published on Monday (“A Lightning Rod in the Storm Over America’s Class Divide”). Certainly the New York Times is doing its part.

  56. 56
    DougJarvus Green-Ellis says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    For us, the proportion of math PhDs that go to women is low, like 20%. I don’t now why.

  57. 57
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @catclub:

    It’s fixable, but it might cost the 1% a tiny fraction of their wealth to fix, and some actual effort.

    That’s a prohibitive cost to them.

  58. 58
    TXG1112 says:

    @DougJarvus Green-Ellis:

    I get why you say that, but I still think you’re over reacting.

    Liberals sometimes feel that it is narrow-minded to favor traditional marriage. Over time, my reporting on poverty has led me to disagree: Solid marriages have a huge beneficial impact on the lives of the poor (more so than in the lives of the middle class, who have more cushion when things go wrong).

    I’m assuming you object to this graf, however I happen to think it’s true in some senses. What he doesn’t do (As Krugman does) is directly link the reduction in marriage rates to economic factors, though he does imply it later in the column.

    I don’t intend to spend a lot of time defending Kristoff because I think he does have some totebagger tendencies that lead him astray. Having said that I get the feeling that you have been spending too much time staring into the abyss.

  59. 59
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @handsmile:

    And Charles Murray himself has warned that his patience with our ingratitude is nearing an end. “If I can’t persuade people at this point, I’m not going to persuade them with another book,” he huffs in yet another NYT valentine to this sage, published on Monday

    Oh, please Massa Murray, don’t go Galt on us, please!

    Also, do not throw us into the brier patch!

  60. 60
    Maus says:

    @DougJarvus Green-Ellis:

    I see your point too, that 9 times out of 10, it’s for white men. I can only tell you that professionally, I’ve seen people get so into “women in math” that they put the actual women in math off a bit. I’ve had students tell me exactly this.

    Attempts to address actual, systemic problems and be more inclusive aren’t attempts to push people away. I really don’t understand your logic here.

    The stereotype is based on the reality of a misogynistic system. My friend is a philosophy professor. She dislikes the way academia handles women in general, but her department is apparently especially bad.

    Should they not attempt to examine their own failings and her needs, under the false goal of “fairness”?

    How is this not just lazily going along with conservative stereotypes? Inclusiveness mishandled is an issue with the handling, not inclusivity.

  61. 61
    Brandon says:

    I too am a bit dumbfounded by DougJ’s ‘soft bigotry’ analogy with women in maths. As far as I can tell, the argument is that conservative critiques of diversity are partly well founded because the liberal desire to promote diversity has the unintended consequence of biasing individual behavior in enforcement of common standards.

    It is an argument that could hold water if you believed that there were pre-existing neutral standards in the first place.

    I will always remember an exchange I had about 3 months after starting my first job after college. A Black manager had just been hired, the only one in the organization, and there were low murmurs about him not being qualified. One day in the elevator, some douche thought it a bright idea to share this view with me. I don’t know what inspired me, but I probably delivered the best instantaneous rejoinder of my life. I responded something to the effect of, “Listening to people around here, this organization has been promoting incompetent White managers for decades, if this guy is as incompetent as you say he is, what makes it any different?” His response was just a furled brow and a “huh”. It was brilliant and I always think back on that exchange when people try to argue about diversity programs lowering standards and expectations, when in fact this has been the norm since the beginning of time. I guess the key difference is just that lowered expectations and incompetence can only be tolerated for White guys. If the only outcome of diversity is that unqualified women and minorities get the same opportunities as White men have since forever, then I am satisified.

  62. 62
    Bruce S says:

    I don’t think there’s much that’s substantively objectionable in Kristoff’s column if you took the weak-sister references to Murray out. But that said, Kristoff suffers from a flaw among establishment liberals of bending over backwards (or perhaps in this case, forwards, with pants dropped around ankles) in order to foster discourse across political boundaries, and it’s more damaging than his ridiculous and unfounded “fear that liberals think inequality is all about taxes.” It’s telling that David Frum is much harder on Murray than terminal “nice guy” Kristoff.

  63. 63
    matt says:

    ‘it made me change my mind, even though the facts were wrong’

    Weak person.

  64. 64
    Brian says:

    So, I’m not sure exactly what your criticism is of Gruber. What he seems to be saying in that excerpt is that the book is worth studying for its rhetoric. And good rhetoric requires more rigorous analysis to refute. Which I think is both true and worth bearing in mind …

  65. 65
    Sly says:

    @DougJarvus Green-Ellis:

    For us, the proportion of math PhDs that go to women is low, like 20%. I don’t now why.

    How does that compare to the gender ratio in the applicant pool?

    Systemic bias is kind of like a value-added process, and in education there are several points where there unconscious steering of women away from certain disciplines. Early childhood, middle-school, high school, applying for an undergraduate program, etc.

    If, by the time you reach the post-graduate level, you’re working with a pool of applicants that is, say, 5% female and 95% male, a department that awards 20% of its post-graduate degrees to women might actually be correcting systemic bias rather than reinforcing it. It’s just not correcting it enough.

  66. 66
    schrodinger's cat says:

    @DougJarvus Green-Ellis: I think the problem starts much before the graduate school stage. There is this perception in the US at least, that women/girls are not good at math, starting at extremely young ages and women/girls are steered away from taking math classes and such.

  67. 67
    handsmile says:

    @TXG1112: (#58)

    I found that very paragraph to be one of the howlers from Kristof’s column.

    Liberals recognize the benefits of “solid marriage” in expanding social and economic welfare. They find “narrow-minded” conservative insistence that such a union can be found only in “traditional marriage” between a man and a woman.

    Kristof deserves reproof for adopting this lazy equivalence between solidity and tradition.

  68. 68
    Maude says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:
    There was a magazine cover, either Time or Newsweek that had a study of men and women’s brains and women can’t do math.
    That perception is still out there.

  69. 69
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    Frum’s demolition of the book is well worth reading in full. He makes a few vital points: one, that Murray has lots of graphs, but not many arguments; two, that his prescriptions don’t have any basis in his earlier assertions, and actually mirrors his earlier complaints about tote-baggers.

    He’s honest enough to admit that the values he claims as conservative — hard work, education, self-reliance — increasingly don’t bring the rewards that conservatives have promised — in short, that the conservative credo is looking like a shell game.

  70. 70
    Rafer Janders says:

    @liberal:

    Here’s some of my my answers to show how useless this test is:

    3. Have you ever lived for at least a year in an American community under 50,000 population that is not part of a metropolitan areaand was not where your college was located? — Yes, the Hamptons and Vail.

    5. Have you ever walked on a factory floor?– Yes, as part of due diligence when my firm was acquiring them.

    6. Have you ever held a job that caused something to hurt at the end of the day? — Yes, sailing and skiing instructor.

    10. During the last month, have you voluntarily hung out with people who were smoking cigarettes?– Yes, mainly wealthy Italian and Spanish bankers who live in Manhattan.

    15. During the last five years, have you or your spouse gone fishing? — Yes, deep-sea fishing in Bermuda and fly-fishing in Montana.

  71. 71
    Maus says:

    @Sly: It’s just such a weird sort of argument. There are stereotypes, based on reality, but the reality must be because liberals are trying to directly address the stereotypes and this pushes women and minorities away even further?

    The personal anecdotes just seem bizarrely placed and if not passively victim-blaming, seem to put the responsibility solely on the shoulders of those victimized by a misogynistic society.

  72. 72
    TXG1112 says:

    @handsmile:

    I read it not as a comparison between the traditional marriage between a man and a woman and other types of marriage, but of traditional marriage versus various things that aren’t marriage. IE, single motherhood, “shacking up”, serial boyfriends, etc. The sorts of relationships that are much more common in the lower socioeconomic rungs. It is true that liberals are much more tolerant of this things and believe the solution is a stronger safety net, which is something Kristoff explicitly mentions. If you want to see Kristoff as claiming that liberals dislike marriage, I can’t stop you, but I don’t think that’s what he was aiming for.

  73. 73
    Brachiator says:

    It turned out his facts were largely wrong

    This saves so much time that would otherwise be spent wasting time with Murray or his apologists.

    @TXG1112:

    I read it not as a comparison between the traditional marriage between a man and a woman and other types of marriage, but of traditional marriage versus various things that aren’t marriage. IE, single motherhood, “shacking up”, serial boyfriends, etc. The sorts of relationships that are much more common in the lower socioeconomic rungs.

    Sorry, it’s much more complicated tha what is supposedly common in the lower socio economic ranks. There is an interesting bias at work here (and I am not accusing you directly of anything). Middle class people see it as their right to be happy, and to divorce when unhappy, but I could make a good case that divorce often results in the spouse who ends up with custody, usually the woman, ending up with a seriously lowered standard of living. I could also make a case that even when in the case of re-marriage, children who end up as somebody’s stepkids often have worse outcomes than children whose parents stay together, even when they despise one another.

    And then we have the case of Scandanavian countries, with low marriage rates and high cohabitation rates, whose families and kids still end up with good outcomes. But then again, the Scandanavian countries have strong economies.

    In short, a lot of people love to impose all kinds of supposed pathologies on the lower classes, while ignoring the crazy shit that often goes down in other classes, because ultimately poor people are The Great Unwashed Other. They also rarely get invited to pundit shows or to be members of think tanks.

  74. 74
    Kathy in St. Louis says:

    Love that the guy is discussing welfare causing women to become single mothers. So new, so vital. I am in my sixties and this exact, and I mean exact, argument was being made when I was a teen back in the sixties.

    Welfare sucks and the benefits are so poor in most states that this is totally laughable. Poverty and all the ramifications of a life in poverty such as broken homes, poor schools systems and lack of support systems are the real culprits, not some crappy welfare payments. I can’t believe that anyone would have the guts to believe or write such tripe in the second decade of the twenty-first century.

  75. 75
    Brachiator says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    I think the problem starts much before the graduate school stage. There is this perception in the US at least, that women/girls are not good at math, starting at extremely young ages and women/girls are steered away from taking math classes and such.

    This stuff again. A friend’s daughter talked about how much she hated math and wasn’t “good at it.” I pointed out to her how she imitated her mother, who attended fashion school, and like her mother made her own clothes. She was also, like the other women in her family, a great cook. I gave her some easy examples of how she used geometry and algebra in doing these things. She was amazed, and asked why they didn’t point this out to her at school.

    There are other girls who can do math just fine, but are not interested in it, even when people attempt to “encourage them.” Maybe this is social. But it’s interesting to see how often young people push back against learning stuff. Maybe they also see adults, who shrug off anything that smacks of education just as soon as they can. And how many movies and TV shows proclaim that anything more than minimal education is for nerds and geeks?

    And there are also kids, especially boys, who get slapped around by crappy math teachers, and yet who can juggle all kinds of sports stats in their heads.

    And yeah, it’s not that teachers are bad, but also, too, that in some districts the math teachers are not teaching their speciality or are, unfortunately, just not creative.

  76. 76
    TXG1112 says:

    @Brachiator:

    You obviously haven’t been following the whole thread. Marriage rates on the bottom rungs are much lower mostly for economic reasons, not because poor people are the unwashed masses. The point is that the middle (and upper middle) classes undergo much less economic stress and have more recourse when they do get divorced. It works in Scandinavia because of the social safety net, which is something that is explicitly being recommended by Kristoff.

    People focus on the lower economic rungs because middle class people largely have middle class problems. All your sanctimony shows is that you have an axe to grind.

  77. 77
    Brachiator says:

    @TXG1112:

    The point is that the middle (and upper middle) classes undergo much less economic stress and have more recourse when they do get divorced.

    Not necessarily true when you look at all the outcomes related to divorce.

    It works in Scandinavia because of the social safety net, which is something that is explicitly being recommended by Kristoff.

    It’s how the Scandanavians have arranged their version of the safety net, and also the larger degree of income equality, and how the people there view society and religion.

    In Norway, half of all children are now born to unmarried mothers. In Pettersen’s county, 82% of couples have their first child out of wedlock. The numbers are similarly high for Sweden and Denmark. While many couples marry after having the first or second child, it’s clear marriage in parts of Scandinavia is dying.
    __
    In Scandinavia, however, social trends have been reinforced by policies designed to promote equality for women and further separate the church and state. As a result, the link between marriage and having children has all but disappeared.

    Government and government policy is a reflection of a stronger consensus about Scandavian family values.

  78. 78
    eyelessgame says:

    This is the Murray who wrote _The Bell Curve._

    Why are we wasting virtual ink on this racist bullshitter?

  79. 79
    Brachiator says:

    @eyelessgame:

    Why are we wasting virtual ink on this racist bullshitter?

    Exactly. Even though his new line is, “see, there are inferior white people, too. But it’s because of welfare.”

  80. 80
    DougJarvus Green-Ellis says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    I think the problem starts much before the graduate school stage. There is this perception in the US at least, that women/girls are not good at math, starting at extremely young ages and women/girls are steered away from taking math classes and such.

    I agree completely. And that is why I don’t like the overlying smothering “you’re a woman, wow, you’re taking advanced math classes” stuff. It may be well-meaning but it enforces silly stereotypes.

  81. 81

    […] lot has been written about Charles Murray’s new book Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. Basically, the […]

  82. 82
    Maus says:

    @80:

    I agree completely. And that is why I don’t like the overlying smothering “you’re a woman, wow, you’re taking advanced math classes” stuff. It may be well-meaning but it enforces silly stereotypes.

    Be more mad at the people who prevent women from getting there than you are at the people welcoming them there, FFS. it does not “reinforce the stereotype” because they’re not acknowledging that women are only there because of “loose standards”. That seems to be your argument, which is so distressing/confusing.

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