How America became Un-Great






Charles Murray, a political scientist, is worried about social breakdown of the USA.  He has authored numerous books and articles criticizing social welfare policy and people who score low on IQ tests, especially if they weren't white.  Murray uses census and survey data to show what should by now be obvious to everyone familiar with the USA. Some people are doing spectacularly well, and a large number are seemingly locked into a downward mobility spiral from which there appears to be no escape.  This time he confines his observations to the white population to avoid muddying the waters with race, unlike a previous book, The Bell Curve.

Murray attributes the  decline of the white working class to the breakdown of the two parent family, laziness, failure to attend church regularly and dishonesty, as in not respecting the law.  Distressingly, Murray notes that working class IQ and SAT (Scholastic Achievement Test) scores are getting lower.

The upper middle class is also complicit in the American Dream breakdown, due to being 'over educated elitist snobs' who isolate themselves in exclusive communities and vote for liberal politicians.

He discusses the importance of standardized test scores such as SATs for access to higher education and the need for higher education to achieve upper middle class status in 21st century USA.  

He also points out that the upper middle class were less likely to have a college education before the 1960's compared to today's upper middle classes. 
 
Fascinatingly, Murray identified the cause of the breakdown but completely ignores it as a factor.

Consider that Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Andrew Carnegie, as well as most of the managers of the organizations that grew the USA into a great power through World War II did not go to college. Many   industry leaders, such as Ford and Edison left school at a very early age, and probably had learning or reading disabilities that would have prevented them from being admitted to college had they been so inclined. Which they were not.  

In the 1920's a highly motivated hard working 14 year old school leaver from almost any social background could realistically work toward some day being the CEO of the company that hired him as a laborer or office boy, if he was a white man.   Men and women who were not white could and did start their own successful businesses in the 1920's.  It was even possible to be elected President of the USA without having a degree.  The last time that happened was 1948. 

By 1960 and after it was pretty much the rule that if you hired on at a low level occupation and did not have post secondary education, you could only pin your career hopes on the security of union benefits and wages.  Your chances of reaching the board room were slim.  It started to be taken for granted that the first step on on the road to higher level corporate management or a well paid profession  required a university degree in addition to specialized training such as med school or law school.

The 1980's began the near complete legislative erosion of unions, and workers rights.  The wealthy clamored for tax cuts and got them. Regulated industries, banks, airlines, telcos etc. lobbied for deregulation and got it. 

So, lets do a quick review of what happened since 1980
  • High paying manufacturing jobs moved to places where workers could be paid lower salaries and had fewer worker protection, safety or environmental protection regulations. First to "right to work" states and then offshore in the wake of free trade agreements.
  • Tax reductions at all government levels resulted in fewer services and upwardly spiraling costs of essential services such as health care and education.  
  • The migration of manufacturing to greener pastures further reduced tax revenue in areas that the factories abandoned.
  • The financial industries learned after the 1986 S&L crisis that it was OK to fail, government would bail them out.
  • Deregulation  initiated a race to the bottom as banks, airlines, energy providers, telcos etc. outcompeted each other on what they could get away with.
  • Loss of tax revenues created a two tier education system.  One for those who could afford to send their kids to private schools and one for those who had to get by with whatever their local cash strapped public schools could afford.
  • People who used to work in auto plants or other high end manufacturing traded salaries that enabled a middle class lifestyle for minimum wages, unemployment and poverty.
Along comes Professor Murray with his standardized testing data.  To review, a standardized test, such as IQ, SAT, MCAT etc., is based on rank, not on raw scores.  They are good predictors of academic performance, ie, how well a person is able to sit quietly in a classroom and absorb whatever the teacher tells them is true, and be able to regurgitate those truths revealed by their teachers shortly afterwards.
To score well on a machine marked standardized test requires the ability to read quickly and pick as many correct answers from four or five choices within the time limit of the test . If you can do that better than the next person, you get a better score. Get a good score and a good school will want to have you for a student, get a really good score, say in the top 1%, and really good schools might even pay you to attend.  
Having graduated from a really good school is pretty much a prerequisite to get through the door to positions that advise, lead, and shape the future of the USA at all public and private levels of power.

Been that way since 1960.  How do you like it so far?

So what does all of this have to do with those low test scoring, shiffless, fornicating, law breaking white folks who won't go to church?  The Redneck is no social scientist, but maybe they have nothing better to do.









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