Charles Murray is a libertarian political scientist, author, columnist, and pundit currently working as a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He is best known for his controversial book The Bell Curve, co-authored with Richard Herrnstein in 1994, which argues that intelligence plays a central role in American society. He first became well known for his book Losing Ground: American Social Policy 1950–1980 in 1984, which discussed the American welfare system. Murray has also written In Pursuit: Of Happiness and Good Government (1988), What It Means to be a Libertarian: A Personal Interpretation (1996), Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950 (2003), and In Our Hands: A Plan to Replace the Welfare State (2006). He published Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools Back to Reality in 2008.
Charles Murray: The elite as I see it are the people that run the country. The broad elite consists of the people who are prominent in Kansas City or Indianapolis or individual cities. They’re the CEOs of the most important industries. They’re the mayor, the people who own the TV stations, et cetera. The narrow elite are those people who have effects on the nation’s culture and economics and politics. That’s a very small group. You’re probably talking about fewer than 100,000 people all together who have that kind of power. And that’s what I see as the class – the broad elite and the narrow elite who have drawn away from the rest of the country and formed enclaves and cultures of their own.
They eat different foods. They drink different alcoholic beverages. The upper class, for example, has a disdain of extraordinary force about domestic mass market beer. You will never see Budweiser in the refrigerator of a member of the new upper class. They raise their children differently. They go to different churches. They have different religious attitudes in general, if they go to church at all. In almost every way they have folk ways that separate them from mainstream America.
Take television for example. The average television set in the United States of America is on 35 hours a week. That’s probably too much, but the fact is, the people that are watching that television get an exposure to a popular culture in very large doses. What does the new upper class watch on television? Downton Abbey, Madmen – the more adventurous probably watch Breaking Bad – but aside from that, they don’t really watch TV. And, in fact, a lot of them will say to you, “Gee, we don’t even really have a TV anymore.” Okay, that’s fine. I’m not saying there’s something virtuous about watching TV 35 hours a week. I am saying that when you have that kind of divergence in that single behavior you have part of the reason that you have an ignorance of, and oftentimes a disdain of, mainstream America by the new upper class, which is very problematic in terms of the future of the country.
One of the things in the book that really worked was my Bubble Quiz. You know, I faced the problem of – because my audience really is upper middle class and upper class people, especially young people – and I wanted to convince them of the degree to which they are isolated in many cases. And since a lot of times you can’t bring too much quantitative data to bear on that, I said, “Well, I’ll let them prove it to themselves.” So I have a 25 item quiz in it, and a high score means you are not in an upper middle class bubble. And a low score means you are.
So some questions are – the importance is very obvious – have you ever lived in a neighborhood in which more than half of your neighbors did not have college degrees? For example. Some of them are a little mischievous – have you ever stocked your refrigerator with mass market American beer? Since the signature of - one of the signatures of the new upper class is that all their beers are handcrafted small batch boutique beers. Other questions, to me, are really significant in what they say about the larger aspect of a person’s life. For example, have you ever walked on a factory floor? Not necessarily, have you worked in a factory before? Have you ever seen a factory floor close up. remembering for a moment that all of these wonderful objects that fill your lives were made – almost all of them – on factory floors? If I had to pick out the one question that I think is the most important of all it is this: Have you ever held a job that caused a body part to hurt at the end of the day? It’s okay if you just have feet that ache because you’ve been standing on your feet all day. That counts too.
But if you have never held such a job, you are intrinsically, inherently, ineluctably unable to understand the lives of a great many of your fellow countrymen who do hold such jobs. I hope that the quiz has had a salutary effect on bringing to people’s attention the degree to which they live in a bubble that seals them off from an awful lot of their fellow American citizens.
Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd
I am asking members of the new upper class to stop concentrating so much on living a glossy life and think of the ways in which they can lead a more textured life.