Sunday, February 12, 2012

Poverty As Moral Trupitude

As the Harper Conservatives peddle the myth that the Old Age Security program is unsustainable, we should be prepared for the next assault. It comes in the form of Charles Murray's latest book, Coming ApartMurray, who has been criticizing the welfare state for decades, advances the thesis that our current economic malaise is not about money. It's about morals. The root cause of our problems, Murray argues, is the decline of the traditional family.

Conservatives are very good magicians. They are well versed in the art of creating distractions. Paul Krugman writes that:

. . . the truth is that some indicators of social dysfunction have improved dramatically even as traditional families continue to lose ground. As far as I can tell, Mr. Murray never mentions either the plunge in teenage pregnancies among all racial groups since 1990 or the 60 percent decline in violent crime since the mid-90s. Could it be that traditional families aren’t as crucial to social cohesion as advertised?

Still, something is clearly happening to the traditional working-class family. The question is what. And it is, frankly, amazing how quickly and blithely conservatives dismiss the seemingly obvious answer: A drastic reduction in the work opportunities available to less-educated men. 

High school graduates who went to work for GM, Ford or Chrysler used to have it made. Micheal Moore chronicled their story in Roger and Me. Now, Krugman writes:

For lower-education working men, however, it has been all negative. Adjusted for inflation, entry-level wages of male high school graduates have fallen 23 percent since 1973. Meanwhile, employment benefits have collapsed. In 1980, 65 percent of recent high-school graduates working in the private sector had health benefits, but, by 2009, that was down to 29 percent.

So we have become a society in which less-educated men have great difficulty finding jobs with decent wages and good benefits. Yet somehow we’re supposed to be surprised that such men have become less likely to participate in the work force or get married, and conclude that there must have been some mysterious moral collapse caused by snooty liberals. And Mr. Murray also tells us that working-class marriages, when they do happen, have become less happy; strange to say, money problems will do that. 

There is a moral crisis. But it's not the fault of the poor. However, Mr. Harper is targeting precisely those people. It's remarkable how supposedly bright people can put the cart before the horse. Poverty is not caused by poor people.


thwap said...

In the NYT comments section, a "conservative" attempts to argue with Krugman.

Krugman points to a drop in violent crime and teen pregnancies as evidence against the hacktackular Murray's argument about moral decline amongst the poor.

The commenter says credit must be given to Repugnican slashing of welfare rates and their tuff on crime policies.

There's some consistent internal logic there. If you didn't know that the USA's incarceration rates were stratospheric, you'd think there might something to it.

But then, whatever the reality is, Charles Murray is still trying to conflate neoliberal unemployment with moral failure.

Given that he's a racist prick already, that just makes him even more scuzzy.

Owen Gray said...

Murray made his reputation by blaming the decline of African American families on moral failure, thwap.

This is just more of the same -- except this time he accuses the less educated of moral failure.

ChrisJ said...

I'm glad you've written about this; I've been fuming for a couple of weeks!

Margaret Wente in The Globe and Mail points out (disingenuously I think) that Murray does not include other than whites just TO SIMPLIFY!!! Considering the US demographics, this is simplification to the absurd.

Interesting too, isn't it, how white middle- class and upper-middle-class values can be the only ones associated with financial security. Reminds me of Alfred Doolittle complaining that he can't get charity because he doesn't share beliefs with the charity-givers. (GBS knew what he was about.)


Owen Gray said...

It's worth remembering what Shaw wrote in Major Barbara, Chris: "The greatest of evils and the worst of crimes is poverty."

He might have added, "The greatest of criminals are those who blame the poor for being poor."