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Inequality by Design: Cracking the Bell Curve Myth [Paperback]

by Claude S. Fischer, Michael Hout, Martín Sánchez Jankowski, Samuel R. Lucas, Ann Swidler, Kim Voss
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 8, 1996 0691028982 978-0691028989 1st

As debate rages over the widening and destructive gap between the rich and the rest of Americans, Claude Fischer and his colleagues present a comprehensive new treatment of inequality in America. They challenge arguments that expanding inequality is the natural, perhaps necessary, accompaniment of economic growth. They refute the claims of the incendiary bestseller The Bell Curve (1994) through a clear, rigorous re-analysis of the very data its authors, Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, used to contend that inherited differences in intelligence explain inequality. Inequality by Design offers a powerful alternative explanation, stressing that economic fortune depends more on social circumstances than on IQ, which is itself a product of society. More critical yet, patterns of inequality must be explained by looking beyond the attributes of individuals to the structure of society. Social policies set the "rules of the game" within which individual abilities and efforts matter. And recent policies have, on the whole, widened the gap between the rich and the rest of Americans since the 1970s.

Not only does the wealth of individuals' parents shape their chances for a good life, so do national policies ranging from labor laws to investments in education to tax deductions. The authors explore the ways that America--the most economically unequal society in the industrialized world--unevenly distributes rewards through regulation of the market, taxes, and government spending. It attacks the myth that inequality fosters economic growth, that reducing economic inequality requires enormous welfare expenditures, and that there is little we can do to alter the extent of inequality. It also attacks the injurious myth of innate racial inequality, presenting powerful evidence that racial differences in achievement are the consequences, not the causes, of social inequality. By refusing to blame inequality on an unchangeable human nature and an inexorable market--an excuse that leads to resignation and passivity--Inequality by Design shows how we can advance policies that widen opportunity for all.

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Following in the footsteps of the critical The Bell Curve Wars (LJ 4/15/94) and Measured Lies (LJ 6/1/96), Fischer and his fellow members of the Sociology Department at the University of California, Berkeley, have collaborated to produce a clear and persuasive counter argument to the conclusions of Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein in The Bell Curve (Free Pr., 1994) that racially related I.Q. scores are the determining factors for explaining the differing economic, social, and intellectual success levels of Americans. Fischer et al. first question the validity of Murray and Herrnstein's statistical results. Then "using history, geography, and economics, [they] show" that such inequalities are rooted in environmental background and circumstances, not the obverse, and that these are shaped by social policy and structure. The authors urge that Americans not scapegoat race but look critically at policy and at a design for society to narrow the gaps between the least and most encouraged in our country. Recommended for academic and lay readers.?Suzanne W. Wood, SUNY Coll. of Technology, Alfred
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.


Named an Outstanding Book by the Gustavus Meyers Center for the Study of Human Rights in North America for 1998

"Inequality by Design's most important findings describe an America deeply stratified by class, an America in which equal opportunity remains only and idle dream...[It] may well after the public discussion...with a shot across the bow of the nation's policymakers."--
Lingua Franca

". . . calmly but devastatingly refutes the view that IQ is the inexorable force behind growing inequality in American society. [This] message deserves wide airing, lest voters and policy makers believe the fatalistic--and false--message that our destiny lies in our genes. . . . The fact that IQ isn't destiny means Americans can't wash their hands of poverty and related social problems by imagining them to be timeless and unchangeable."--Jonathan Marshall, San Francisco Chronicle

"A clear and persuasive counter argument to the conclusions of Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein in The Bell Curve. . . . The authors urge that Americans not scapegoat race but look critically at policy and at a design for society to narrow the gaps between the least and most encouraged in our country."--
Library Journal

Product Details

  • Paperback: 324 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; 1st edition (July 8, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691028982
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691028989
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #190,945 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Claude S. Fischer is a Sociology Professor at the University of California, Berkeley. He started at Berkeley in 1972 with an undergraduate degree from UCLA and a Ph.D. from Harvard. Most of his early research focused on the social psychology of urban life--how and why rural and urban experiences differ--and on social networks, both topics coming together in "To Dwell Among Friends: Personal Networks in Town and City" (1982). In recent years, he has worked on American social history, beginning with a study of the early telephone's place in social life, "America Calling: A Social History of the Telephone to 1940" (1992). Along the way, Fischer has worked on other topics, including writing a book on inequality with five Berkeley colleagues, "Inequality by Design: Cracking the Bell Curve Myth"(1996). Fischer was also the founding editor of "Contexts," the American Sociological Association's magazine for the general reader, and its executive editor through 2004.

In 2006, Fischer co-authored a social historical book with Michael Hout, "Century of Difference: How America Changed in the Last One Hundred Years" (Russell Sage), which describes the shrinking of old divisions and the widening of new ones among Americans over the twentieth century. In 2010, he published "Made in America: A Social History of American Culture and Character" (University of Chicago Press), which analyzes social and cultural change since the colonial era. And in 2011, he published "Still Connected: Family and Friends in America Since 1970" (Russell Sage), a study, using compilations of survey data, of whether and how Americans' personal ties have changed in the last generation.

Among his awards and honors, Fischer was recently elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Fischer has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in urban sociology, research methods, personality and social structure, and American society, and seminars on topics ranging from professional writing to the sociology of consumption.

1972 Ph.D., Sociology, Harvard University 1970
M.A., Sociology, Harvard University
1968 B.A., Sociology, University of California, Los Angeles

Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
27 of 36 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
The numerous authors of this tome do a fine job in their criticism of Herrnstein and Murray. They discuss where those authors were correct, where they twisted stastics to meet their own goals, where they made false assumptions and where they committed bad science. This book doesn't get much into the genetic end of things, but rather discusses other causes of inequality and the flaws in the research of The Bell Curve. Recommended for anyone who wants a serious, scholarly, critique of pop science.
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30 of 45 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Fischer et al. launch a reasoned yet devastating critique on
methodological grounds of Herrnstein & Murray's infamous
_The Bell Curve._ The first half of the book details technical
errors and ommissions from TBC, offering three distinct
arguments against Herrnstein & Murray's basic claims, all
using the same data they used in _The Bell Curve._ Then
the second half of the book offers a substantive proposal
for understanding income and wealth inequality in the United
States, rooted in the same data Herrnstein & Murray used.
Highly recommended.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Poor logic April 7, 2014
The author has the "answer" and skews all the facts to their point of view.
Poor logic, if any at all.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Even conservative authors seem to agree with this book October 6, 2013
One conservative author, while praising certain aspects of The Bell Curve, nevertheless points out several weaknesses, including The Bell Curve's naive use of statistical correlations. Even some conservatives thus agree with some criticisms raised in this book:

"Perhaps the most troubling aspect of The Bell Curve from an intellectual standpoint is its authors' uncritical approach to statistical correlations. One of the first things taught in introductory statistics is that correlation is not causation. It is also one fo the first things forgotten and one of the most widely ignored facts in public policy research. The statistical term "multicollinearity," dealing with spurious correlation, appears only once in this massive book.

Multicollinearity refers to the fact that many variables are highly correlated with one another, so that it is very easy to believe that a certain result comes from variable A, when in fact it is due to variable Z, with which A happens to be correlated. In real life, innumerable factors go together."

--Sowell, Thomas. "Ethnicity and IQ" pp70-79 IN: The Bell Curve Wars: Race, Intelligence, and the Future of America. 1996. ed Steven Fraser
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