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Charles Murray

  1. Mar 17, 2005 #1
    This name must come up frequently in this forum, but I'm sure it is mostly when discussing "The Bell Curve." Instead of discussing IQ and race I wanted to discuss the topic of Murray's 1984 book, "Losing Ground."

    Basically, Murray claims that welfare policy is a complete failure that actually leads to more unemployment, and encourages poor women to have children out of wedlock. The poor are poor because of their bad choices, and welfare only promotes further "bad" behavior.

    Admittedly, I can see how conservatives could latch on to Murray's work, it is very persuasive. He has a large amount of empirical evidence supporting his arguments throughout the book. Murray's final solution is to cut ALL welfare programs. I disagree with this, but I cannot determine the variables that Murray is neglecting. Could it be that welfare is completely counter-productive?
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  3. Mar 17, 2005 #2


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    Well a lot has been done on this: google on welfare reform. Basically then-governor of Wisconsin Tommy Thomson, a Republican, initiated a program in which poor people were encouraged to get jobs; of course the jobs they could get were pretty poor themselves, so the state subsidized these new workers up to the level where they could support themselves. You couldn't get the money unless you had the job. It Worked! Thomson had a bunch of other programs surrounding this and was beginning to move on to stage two, when President Bush tapped him for Secretary of HWE and he basically spent four years as a flack for policies he couldn't have felt comfortable with, "Just for a ribbon to wear in his coat".

    But before that, the Clinton administration, and at least some of the Republicans in Congress, formulated a welfare policy that somewhat imitated Thomson's; must have a job, and then get subsidized up to livable poverty level. The subsidizing was done by the Earned Income Credit feature of the income tax, which made it inconvenient for the poor (they had to wait for that refund, and most of them didn't have anything in the bank to support them while they waited). But at least it was better than the old system, and statistics suggest that it did work, even through the 2001-2002 recession.
  4. Mar 17, 2005 #3


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    I know a man who believes that the best long-term solution is to raise welfare benefits even higher than they are now, but to give those benefits only to people who have had themselves "permanently sterilized." He does not go into biological details as to what constitutes permanent sterilization. The choice to apply for benefits would be entirely up to the individual. If one doesn't want to be sterilized, one remains off the welfare rolls.

    His figuring is that whether the inability to cope with modern society is genetic or due to upbringing doesn't matter, the percentage of the population which is inept would have to fall as the generations go by, if one ignores the influx of such persons by immigration into this country, anyway.

    He agrees with me that past eugenics programs by unsavory governments have made it political suicide for any officeholder to spearhead a study on the issue, let alone to actually try to implement it.
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2005
  5. Mar 18, 2005 #4
    So I can assume that you oppose an across the board cut of government assistance (correct me if I'm wrong). So if I were Murray I could say that this type of program by Thomson shows results, but is still unfair given that it transfers money earned and paid by some person to another person that can't quite cut it (at least according to Murray). He might even say that one of the reasons that a person would need the extra help is because of the effect previous welfare programs have had on society, and reforming welfare is just delaying the inevitable (the realization that abolishing welfare is the best option).

    I guess my question is that without a test run of Murray's plan, how do can we say it's not a good one? Can we say poverty will increase by x amount of people and worsen by a certain percentage over time if Murray got his way?
    What would inept mean in this case? I don't think those in need of welfare would be naturally selected out of the population, even if welfare were abolished.
  6. Mar 18, 2005 #5
    Historically there are plenty of examples of (essentially) no welfare, and there was plenty of poverty. The industrial age...
  7. Mar 18, 2005 #6


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    So you would just let the poor and incompetent starve?

    1. I don't think taxation to help others is "unfair". You may pride yourself on having achieved prosperity by your own merits, but by the same token that you would doom the unable for something in their genes, your prosperity is at least partly due to the blind luck in your own genes, and furthermore you would not have been able to achieve it without a community which supported you. Therefore you have an obligation to your community to support its helpless with a small part of your excess.

    2. One thing that welfare reform has done is to show how really capable the low IQ people can be. It used to be the custom among well-to-do whites, who could afford it, to institutionalize their IQ < 70 children as "retarded". Thus did Joseph Kennedy to his lower IQ dautghter. In recent years the movement to de-institutionalize these people has brought them some relief. In the poor communities, where they were more numerous and there was not the money to pay for an institution, they were left at large. And it was found that they did all right in daily life. They could hold a simple job and earn their keep, and where there was something just too hard for them, somebody in the family or from church would help them. After the sad distortions of the old welfare system, the reforms have given them the chance to resume this self-respecting and productive role in their community.

    3. It is often said that the low-IQ people will "outbreed" the high-IQ ones with disasterous results for the nation. I think that this is bunk. Firstly metazoan genetics is mix-and-match by dominant and recessive rules, and IQ is apparently governed by not a few but by many and interacting genes. You cannot be sure a mating of high IQ parents will produce a genius or that a mating of low IQ ones will not. Secondly the needs of our future environment are not known to us. Society has never needed but a few clever people, and most of the present-day smarties are wasted in useless rationalizing of other people's creations.
  8. Mar 18, 2005 #7


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    Not sure if this is the sort of thing you are getting at, but look at the case of a rust-belt town that has lost its industry. If every citizen there wanted welfare and was willing to be sterilized in order to receive benefits, then within less than a century, the town would lose all its inhabitants (again, glossing over the possibility of immigration to the town by outsiders), and from then on, that region would be a ghost town that drains no resources from the taxpayers.
  9. Mar 18, 2005 #8
    I think the effect would be that you wouldn't give much welfare. Few people would opt for sterilization unless they were either not sexually viable anyway, or going to die. They would find ways to live from other sources--their quality of life would just decrease even further.
  10. Mar 19, 2005 #9
    No, in my first post I said that I totally disagree with Murray but I was kind of at a loss for a specific way to refute his argument.
    Your example of welfare reform where there were positive results was helpful, but I guess I was looking for someone to say that the abolishment of welfare would be terrible because _______. I'm a little lazy in that sense.
    I agree.
  11. Mar 19, 2005 #10
    The abolishment of welfare would be terrible because of the awesome human suffering it would cause.
  12. Mar 19, 2005 #11
    ok, but why. before the initial welform programs were implemented in the 1960s there were 50 million americans that were technically impoverished. when the programs were created they were expected to reduce this number by a certain amount because it would affect a certain amount of people. what i'm getting it is that social scientists with the proper time and statistics can estimate what percentage of the population will be affected by potential programs. they can also predict whether those people will be better or worse off. Murray says that the absence of welfare in general will be better for everybody involved because the programs that he analyzed led him to conclude that they fostered abuse and dependency. he provided his proof (again, i don't agree with murray) in mounds of statistics.

    I was just wondering if anybody new of a prominent social scientist that specifically counters murray's argument with his own supporting data.
  13. Mar 19, 2005 #12
    When dealing with human beings, statistics never have single interpretations and the world changes too fast for them to apply reliably in future. Anyone who thinks he can predict social trends should go invest in the stock market and because a sure millionaire. Otherwise he's blowing steam.
  14. Mar 20, 2005 #13


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    What exactly is your proposed alternative to statistical research? You saying that cutting welfare is bad and making it so?
  15. Mar 21, 2005 #14
    I say it's bad because, first, nobody actually needs those people on welfare working. The vast majority of developed economies falls under the category of "stuff not absolutely necessary for survival." Advertising, movies, stylish clothing, unnecessary food, fancy houses, cars as opposed to bikes--everything, actually, besides what is directly needed to provide sufficient healthy food, water, housing, and medical care (and medical care is debatable). Most of a modern economy is makework. We don't actually need very many poor people working. Yes, they could make money for some other people if they did go to work for them, but "making money" is just shifting power from one person to another, like pushing mashed potatos around on a plate. If they aren't working in agriculture, water distribution, low-income real estate, or supporting industries (such as some kinds of transportation), then their jobs are unnecessary.

    So some of them might starve if you take them off welfare, even if it causes more of them to go to work, and if you leave them on welfare (perhaps reducing the number of them at work), then the lives of other people are not endangered. Perhaps slightly inconvenienced is the most you can say; one less McDonald's and one less Blockbuster's.

    To illustrate this idea, you could (given total executive power, and ignoring the vast transitional costs) outlaw the entire mass entertainment industry and put everyone who had been in that industry on a stipend equal to their previous salary, and no one would be seriously troubled. What the average citizen was spending on entertainment he would now be spending on taxation; his life would go on exactly as it had been, except he would find other, non-commercial ways to spend his free time. He might be worse off (or maybe better, after subtracting out passive television viewing), but it would not be seriously worse off.

    Now, my other point (about statistics) is that given the tremendously poor predictive power that we have for political systems, one reasonable argument is just about as good as any other. There are no experts because there is no falsification; if you think some argument is reasonable, that's your only guide.
  16. Mar 21, 2005 #15
    If anybody is at all interested, I found a pretty thorough debunking of "Losing Ground" by Robert Greenstein. I located the article on the database Infotrac, it's title is "Losing Faith in 'Losing Ground'"

    It doesn't seem like economic discussions attract too much attention around here.
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