68 of 83 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950-1980, 10th Anniversary Edition (Paperback)
It is not often that you read a perfectly convincing argument, but this book did it for me. The charts alone tell the whole story: increased spending on welfare while poverty is decreasing, coupled with higher crime, illegitimacy, unemployment, low birth weight all beginning within the years 1964-68. I've never cried at a movie, but if any book deserved a few tears, this would be it. Apart from the increase in birth rates, which Murray tries but fails to explain as a function of rational choices (can it ever?), every other statistic is shown by Murray to be the indirect result of well-intentioned and perfectly disastrous policies. Beginning with the indifference to poverty in 1954, to the modest programs under Kennedy, to the whole-hearted expansion under Johnson, to the institution of a permanent minimum income under Nixon, the war on poverty was lost within three years without anyone bothering to call off the troops. Murray makes the point that any slight "variance" in the statistics, even if only a tenth of a percent, is considered significant, but illegitimacy among poor blacks, for instance, drops from 80% to 40% in a matter of a few years. How human behavior, perfectly stable for decades, can change in a matter of a few years is, in fact, shocking, and Murray engages in a little detective work that is entirely convincing. The reason is in fact no mystery: if you pay people to stay unmarried, live apart, and not work, they will do precisely that. If, on top of that, you stop jailing criminals and seal their juvenile records, crime will also go up. That the Watts riots occured just two weeks after the 1964 civil rights legislation, and the new welfare poliicies were instituted the same year, is no accident either. Murray is perhaps so hard for liberals to swallow because he fingers precisely their liberal guilt and its attendant policies for the subsequent underclass epidemic. When the lawyers and social workers start justifying handouts and remove the stigma from welfare, the poor are made to feel that only chumps work for a living, and that feeling can only be exacerbated by what they see of white wealth on tv. (No one is more attuned in America to the magical power of brand names than the poor). Which brings up my only criticism of Murray: just because rational choices can explain the entirety of a behavior does not mean they are the sole cause. As Magnet argues in "The Dream and the Nightmare," part of the reason for the wholesale breakdown of the poor black family has to be pinned on the "counterculture" and its disparagement of work, thrift, etc., but as for what he does try to show, Murray gets everything but a confession.