What The New Upper Class Needs to Do to Reconnect with America
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.
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.
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.
I caught a fair amount of criticism after my book was published because I did not give a five point plan for fixing all of this.
The fact is it does not lend itself certainly to government policies that are going to fix it. It requires a cultural shift and it especially requires a cultural shift among members of the new upper class. What do I mean by a culture shift? Oh, an example might be for, let’s say, that parents of new upper class children do not encourage them in their summer vacations from high school or college to get internships at fancy foundations or think tanks or other kinds of sexy organizations. But rather encourage their children to go out and get a real job. Which means a job that someone is willing to pay them money to do and from which they can get fired.
That would be a step in the right direction. I’m also asking the new upper class to think about choices they are making about where to live. I’m not saying they should go live in slums. They should live in really nice houses. They should live around people that they find interesting. They should maximize the real quality of their life. But what I’m saying to them is you don’t necessarily maximize it by choosing the most exclusive neighborhood you can afford. You know, in New York City you do not necessarily do yourself a favor by getting a cooperative apartment on Fifth Avenue or Park Avenue. You are likely to be surrounded by people first you don’t see at all in the same apartment building but also even if you did see them a lot of them are pretty boring. There are other neighborhoods to live in which have a much broader mix of people and a much more interesting mix of people.
The same thing goes with suburbs. If you are in the Palo Alto area living in Atherton or in Portola Valley, which are the most expensive, most exclusive suburbs, you’re not surrounding yourself with a community that is going to be necessarily the most enriching. In fact, you’re actually putting yourself in a place where you have, in effect, said community is not important to me. And you’re denying yourself that whole dimension in which to live a satisfying life. 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.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.
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