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.