Article 43


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Society Coming Apart


Narrowing the New Class Divide

By Charles Murray
New York Times
March 7, 2012

There’s been a lot of commentary from all sides about my recently published book, “Coming Apart,” which deals with the divergence between the professional and working classes in white America over the last half century.

Some of the critiques are fair, some are frivolous. But theres one - He doesn’t offer any solutions! - that I cant refute. The reason is simple: Solutions that are remotely practicable right now would not do much good.

The solution I hear proposed most often, a national service program that would bring young people of all classes together, is a case in point. The precedent, I am told, is the military draft, which ended in the early 1970s. But the draft was able to shape unwilling draftees into competent soldiers because Army officers had the Uniform Code of Military Justice to make their orders stick.

Administrators of a compulsory civilian national service program would likewise face young people who mostly didn’t want to be there, without being able to enforce military-style discipline. Such a program would replicate the unintended effect of jobs programs for disadvantaged youth in the 1970s: training young people how to go through the motions and beat the system. National service would probably create more resentment than camaraderie.

That said, I can see four steps that might weaken the isolation of at least the children of the new upper class.

For one thing, we should get rid of unpaid internships. The children of the new upper class hardly ever get real jobs during summer vacation. Instead, they get internships at places like the Brookings Institution, the American Enterprise Institute (where I work) or a senators office.

It amounts to career assistance for rich, smart children. Those from the middle and working class, struggling to pay for college, can’t afford to work for free. Internships pave the way for children to move seamlessly from their privileged upbringings to privileged careers without ever holding a job that is boring or physically demanding.

So let the labor unions win this one: If you are not a religious organization and have more than 10 employees, the minimum wage law should apply to anyone who shows up for work every day.

We can also drop the SAT in college admissions decisions. The test has become a symbol of new-upper-class privilege, as people assume (albeit wrongly) that high scores are purchased through the resources of private schools and expensive test preparation programs.

Instead, elite colleges should require achievement tests in specific subjects for which students can prepare the old-fashioned way, by hitting the books.

Another step would replace ethnic affirmative action with socioeconomic affirmative action. This is a no-brainer. It is absurd, in 2012, to give the son of a black lawyer an advantage in college admissions but not do the same for the son of a white plumber.

Finally, we should prick the B.A. bubble. The bachelors degree has become a driver of class divisions at the same moment in history when it has become educationally meaningless. We don’t need legislation to fix this problem, just an energetic public interest law firm that challenges the constitutionality of the degree as a job requirement.

After all, the Supreme Court long ago ruled that employers could not use scores on standardized tests to choose among job applicants without demonstrating a tight link between the test and actual job requirements. It can be no more constitutional for an employer to require a piece of paper called a bachelors degree, which doesn’t even guarantee that its possessor can writea coherent paragraph.

If Im advocating these ideas now, why didnҒt I propose them in Coming ApartӔ? Because, sadly, they wont really make a lot of substantive, immediate difference. Internships that pay the minimum wage are still much more feasible for affluent students than for students paying their own way through college. The same students who score high on the SAT score high on achievement tests, and for the same reason (they’re smart and well prepared).

Even without socioeconomic affirmative action, a high proportion of academically gifted children from the working class already get scholarships to good schools. And even if job interviews are opened up to people without a bachelors degree, those with the best real credentials will still get the job, and they will be drawn overwhelmingly from the same people who get the jobs now.

There may, however, be a symbolic value in these reforms. The changes that matter have to happen in the hearts of Americans. The haves in our society are increasingly cocooned in a system that makes it easy for their children to continue to be haves. Recognizing that, and acting to diminish the artificial advantages of the new upper class - especially if that class takes the lead in advocating these reforms could be an important affirmation of American ideals.

Charles Murray is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the author, most recently, of “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.”



Is Society Coming Apart? Part I
Comments on a book by Charles Murray.

By Earl Hunt
Psychology Today
April 19,2012

Is our society coming apart, and what should Psychology do about it?

A recently published book about American society, Coming Apart, by Charles Murray (2012), has drawn comments from such distinguished figures as David Brooks (NY Times, Jan. 30, 2012) and Arthur Samuelson (Washington Post, Feb. 24, 2012). Murray himself wrote an OP-ED in the NY Times (March 7, 2012) and was interviewed on the PBS Newshour (March 20, 2012). His thesis is that class divisions amongst White Americans have increased sharply over the past fifty years, and that this poses a major problem for American society.

Murray’s argument also poses a number of questions for those who are interested in individual differences in cognitive skill, i.e. intelligence. To explain why I shall try to summarize a bit of history, then present Murrays findings, and finally discuss the questions they raise for psychology.

The fact that there are social classes in the United States is hardly news. A classic study in sociology (Lynd & Lynd, 1929. described class distinctions before the Great Depression. It has also been argued that class distinctions are a NECESSARY part of the historical evolution of society from tribalism into nation-states (Fukuyama, 2011). The issue is not about the existence of classes, it is how these classes fit together to form a society. This is what concerns Murray. He claims that the growth of class differences greatly accelerated from 1960 to 2010, and that the differentiation goes well beyond economic disparity. Why might this have happened? Here is my own analysis, which is slightly different from Murray’s.

During the second part of the 20th century two technological developments had profound “unintended side effects” on American society. The first, beginning in the 150s, was a spectacular change in transportation. The expansion of the highway/road system and improvements in vehicle quality made the move to the suburbs feasible. Paradoxically, the move to the suburbs was accompanied by a decrease in public transportation systems. (The opposite was true in Europe.) At the same time, income inequality increased. Those who were wealthy enough to take advantage of these trends were able to create neighborhoods where people could live with other people like them.Ӕ

The second technological revolution was the much talked about revolution in information technology; computers, electronic media, and telecommunication. Transmission and processing of vast amounts of information became feasible.

These developments influenced both the economics and social aspects of life. First lets consider the economics.

The modern economy consists of a large number of interacting modules. To take a homily example, the day I wrote this paragraph I was in Michigan, had Mexican-grown strawberries for breakfast, and very well may have Chilean wine for dinner. Oh, yes. I drive a German-designed car that was built in Canada. At a grander scale, Boeing aircraft are assembled in the United States, but the components are built all over the world. This sort of economy only works if (a) material things can be shipped back and forth easily and at relatively low cost҅the transportation revolution again, and (b) a high degree of centralized control can be exerted, to make sure that all the pieces are going to fit together. The computer/telecommunications revolution is what makes (b) possible. The two revolutions greatly enhanced what the military would call command and control capability,Ӕ industries and governmentsҒ ability to plan and monitor activity throughout the world. In addition, the activities being planned and monitored have themselves been automated, in large part because of the development of robotic machinery.

These trends have been documented in several prescient books. For those who want to trace the history, I particularly recommend Shoshana Zuboffs (1988) Age of the Smart Machine, Robert Reich’s (1991) The Work of Nations, somewhat immodestly my own Will we be Smart Enough (Hunt, 1995), and Thomas Friedmans influential The World is Flat series (Friedman, 2005, 2006, 2007). These authors stressed three things; the increasing globalization of economic and social exchanges, the shift away from “hands on manufacturing” by skilled labor to manufacturing by smart machines, in co-ordination with rudimentary and not necessarily very skilled human attendants, and, in Reich’s apt term, the rise of the “symbol analyst” whose expertise is in the management of abstract reports, models of various aspects of society, and financial transactions. The authors, and many other social commentators, emphasized the need to ensure that the American workforce had the appropriate skills for the new society. As the term “symbol analyst” suggests, these skills were largely cognitive rather than manual. Friedman and Reich, in particular, seem to have regarded the obtaining of the necessary skills as very largely a matter of institutional arrangements, ranging from expanding community college programs to reducing the cost of college and university tuition. (The opposite has happened. In the twenty years from 1986-87 to 2006-2007 the tuition and fees for full time attendance at four year universities approximately doubled (College Board, 2006, Figure 3). All the authors focused on how the potential workforce could be prepared to meet the demands of the workplace. What we did not consider is how changes in the relative marketability of cognitive and manual skills would influence the social conditions of the workforce, and by extension, the entire population.

One person did consider these implications; Richard Herrnstein (1930-1994), a Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. In a way, Herrnstein was an unlikely social commentator. His academic specialty was not human cognition, industrial organization or social psychology. He studied basic learning phenomenon in rats and pigeons, and was active in the development of mathematical models in psychology. Nevertheless, he maintained a keen interest in intelligence, although (insofar as I know) he did no research in the field. His book IQ in the Meritocracy (Herrnstein, 1973) presented a minor stir because he took the position that intelligence, as measured by conventional tests, was a trait that people had to have in order to be successful in a society where social rank is largely determined by merit,ђ i.e. by what one does rather than who one is. Herrnstein also took a fairly strong position on two other points; that intelligence is very largely determined by genetics and that it is a relatively stable trait of the individual. Both these positions were counter to the predominant 1970s beliefs that inequalities in social position arose from social advantage or disadvantage, and that such inequalities could be erased by social programs, especially educational ones. Herrnsteins writing enjoyed a brief period of damnation by social scientists, and then was largely forgotten.

Twenty years later, just before his death, Herrnstein joined forces with Murray (a political scientist) to writethe The Bell Curve (Herrnstein & Murray, 1994). This book generated great deal of controversy. The Bell Curve is (in)famous for the wrong reasons.

I wager that if you asked the typical social scientist or social commentator who had been active in the 1990s what The Bell Curve was about their reply would include the terms “discredited” and “racist.” However if you restricted your sample to people who had actually read the book (it is a formidable 912 pages long), and especially to those who had themselves done research on intelligence, you might get a more nuanced picture.

The Bell Curve reported an analysis of the 1979 National Longitudinal Study of Youth (NLSY79) survey. This survey was noteworthy because it contained scores on the Armed Services Qualification Test (AFQT) for a representative sample of American teen-agers, together with data on their life status as young adults, some fifteen years later. Herrnstein and Murray showed that the AFQT scores were predictors of socioeconomic status more than ten years after the test had been taken. From this, they concluded that modern society is organized so that people with high levels of cognitive skills generally do well, and that those we do not have those skills do not do well. Herrnstein and MurrayԒs conclusion can be summarized in Gottfredsons (1997) observation that ғlife is an intelligence test.

This thesis, and the analyses supporting it, were largely lost sight of because of a single chapter, prophetically, chapter 13. There Herrnstein and Murray reported that African Americans tended to have lower AFQT scores than Whites, and also tended to have lower scores on the socioeconomic indicators. Taken together with the other data reported in The Bell Curve most readers (including myself) concluded that the authors believed that one of the reasons for the lower socioeconomic status of African-Americans, compared to White Americans, was a lack of the cognitive skills required for the modern world, i.e. a lack of intelligence, in the African-American population. Herrnstein and Murray also included a carefully worded statement saying that the differences could be either due to environmental or genetic differences, or both, and that the evidence available in 1994 did not provide any way of comparing the relative size of genetic and environmental contributions. That is still true today (Hunt (2011,2012).

The cautions were not enough. Academics and social commentators excoriated Herrnstein and Murray for suggesting that the African-American socioeconomic statistics were due to anything other than the effects of past or present prejudice in the majority (White) population. This sort of reaction on the part of academia was not new. Twenty-five years earlier Arthur Jensen had made a similar suggestion, along with a much stronger statement about probable genetic causes (Jensen, 1969). As a result, “Jensenism” had become a code word for racial prejudice. The only reason that “Herrnsteinism” and “Murrayism” did not replace “Jensenism” as the favorite swear word of the politically correct was that it was too hard to say.

And the major thesis of both The Bell Curve and IQ in the Meritocracy, that the world was being strongly tilted in favor of those with the needed cognitive skills, was lost in the confusion.

In the intervening years since The Bell Curve Murray, who is a member of the scientific staff at the American Enterprise Institute, an avowedly conservative think-tank, has become a respected and I believe influential commentator on political and social issues. He is not a political guru, who relies solely on his own opinions and personal observations. Murray analyzes data bases, tests models, and then reports his conclusions. For instance, his Human Accomplishment (Murray, 2003) analyzed the role of inventions and new ways of thinking in the historical development of modern society. The analysis was based on a statistical analysis of references to ideas and inventions. This is not to say that Murray is without opinions; he has strong ones. In the traditions of the social sciences he tries to substantiate them with data.

In, Coming Apart, Murray applies his statistical approach to return to the thesis that intelligence is really important in modern society. However he goes beyond The Bell Curve to investigate some of the dark sides of this fact.

Murray bases his argument on analyses of publicly available data bases. These include reports from the US Census Office, the General Social Survey conducted by the University of Chicago, the National Longitudinal Studies of the Department of Labor, and (for some of his data on the ԓNew Upper Class) alumni records of selected ԓelite schools, largely in the Northeast. Coming Apart does not report any analyses of ethnic differences. Virtually all of the empirical studies in the book deal with 30-49 year old Whites, an age that Murray chose because he felt that it represents the prime working years, after most people have established a stable occupation and life style, but before they begin to aim for retirement.

The first part of Coming Apart deals with the Upper Class, which Murray defines in terms of education, influence and occupational status. Wealth usually follows, but not always. Murray points out that some people hold upper class status because they follow prestigious but not terribly highly paid occupations. Judges, high level government officials, and university faculty, (providing that they are faculty at elite, preferably Ivy League and similar Northeastern universities) can be non-wealthy Upper Classers. MurrayԒs New Upper Class contains within itself an even smaller group of the true elite.Ӕ These are the people who make major corporate and government decisions, and who have the ear of the national media.

In economic terms the New Upper Class is amazingly productive. Symbol analysis generally pays well both in money and prestige. At this point conservatives will simply nod, saying that that is how it should be, for these are the leaders and innovators who drive society. Murray notes a more ominous trend. He concludes that over the past fifty years there has been a marked increase in social differentiation between those with wealth and influence and the average Joe and Jane, including those who are onlyђ middle class. This trend has been well documented for economics. Many writers have commented on the fact that both earnings and wealth are more unequally distributed in the United States than in other post-industrial nations, and that the present inequalities are much greater than past inequalities. What Murray does is go beyond economics to look at social isolation.

Murrays analysis of the distribution of wealth and education across zip codes (for European readers, postal districts) shows that New Upper Class increasingly lives apart from the less fortunate. Murray questions some fairly well established beliefs; especially the belief that wealthier, better educated people are markedly more politically and socially liberal than those of lower socioeconomic status. In general, he finds that the social and political attitudes of the super elite class mirror those of the ґnormal elite the comfortable 10%, as indicated by population surveys. However there is an important exception. The upper class members who live in zip codes near Washington DC, New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. The Super-Elites in these districts are much more liberally oriented than New Upper Class as a whole. This is important because many of the controlling offices in political, financial, and media circles are located in or near these cities.

As an interjection, I will cite a pair of statistics of my own, rather than Murray’s. Think of this next paragraph as a focus group assembled to illustrate Murrays point.

At the present time (Spring, 2012) there are just under 200 American Bar Association accredited law schools in the United States. All nine of the members of the US Supreme Court hold degrees from either Yale or Harvard. From 1960 to 2010 the United States had ten presidents. Six of them had either graduate or undergraduate degrees from Yale or Harvard. Of the other four, Nixon held a law degree from Duke, which Murray would probably consider an elite private university if it was north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

If the decision makers are living apart from, and have different social values than, those whom the decisions affect, can we expect good decision making? Murray is a bit skeptical. The term “Overeducated intellectual snobs” occurs on page 84. Those in elite universities and intellectually oriented think tanks will know who he means.

I think the bite of Murray’s remark was meant for those upper class social leaders who restrict local problem solving by developing central government programs and regulations to match. The bite could equally well be directed at business and industrial leaders whose decisions make sense, from a strictly economic viewpoint, without considering, sometimes without realizing and sometimes without caring about, the disruptive effects their decisions may have upon people who aren’t like them.

Murray’s final concern about the New Upper Class is its ability to perpetuate itself. Although there have been a few exceptions, entry into the world of the symbol analyst, and certainly participation in a profession, requires at least a college degree. Cognitive tests are used as screening devices, and the fact is that scores on these tests are correlated with socioeconomic status. This is not a criticism of the tests. They do what they were intended to do, imperfectly, but significantly, measure the extent to which an examinee possesses some of the cognitive skills required in our society. And for our purposes here, we need not enter into a debate over whether or not this is because of a biological or social advantage. The point is just that the use of cognitive screening does act to the advantage of the children of the New Upper Class and Upper Middle Class.

Such screening is reinforced by money, and the New Upper Class is certainly willing to spend its money to give its children a leg up. Here is an example Murray would have loved to have, but the report surfaced too late for the book. According to the New York Times (April 14, 2012) a small New York City industry has developed in preparing preschoolers to take tests for entry into the better kindergartens. (One test preparation kit costs $300). According to one of the parents These are the kinds of choices that make a difference in young kids’ lives.

The same thing happens at the other end of the educational system. In 2010 the median household income in the United States was $50,000. That year the estimated cost of an undergraduate year at Harvard was $52,000. To be sure, there are a number of student loan programs, at Harvard and elsewhere, but these are loans, not gifts. The combination of cognitive screening and financial screening clearly act to favor the perpetuation of class differences over generations.

No wonder Murray regards the educational system as a cognitive sorting machine, highly biased toward the perpetuation of the New Upper Class on into the next generation.

In part 2 of this post, I will discuss the second half of Coming Apart and continue my analysis.



Is Society Coming Apart? Part II
If there are “two Americas,” then where do we go from here?

By Earl Hunt
Psychology Today
April 14,2012

The second half of Coming Apart deals with the new Lower Class, which Murray defines as people in the lower 30% of an index of cognition that reflects a person’s education and the cognitive demands of a persons occupation. As a literary device, Murray contrasts ғBelmont, an upper middle class district containing people in the top 20% of MurrayԒs index, and Fishtown,Ӕ where the people are in the lower 30% of the index. Belmont and Fishtown are modeled on actual districts in Philadelphia. Murray homogenizes them by classifiying households as residents of Belmont if at least one member of the household has a college degree and if the head of the household is employed in a professional or management position, and as a member of Fishtown if the highest level of education in the household is high school graduate or below, and if the head of the household is in a blue collar, lower white collar (e.g. receptionist), or service occupation (e.g. hair stylist). He then looks at how each group fared from 1960 to 2010, using as criteria various aspects of social capital, such as the fraction of two parent families, health indices, indices of social networking (e.g. churches, service clubs), and criminal records.

Murray found surprisingly little social change in Belmont over 50 years. There was been some decline in marriage (it is not clear whether he regards civil union declarations as marriage), some increase in single parent families, and, in spite of what I think many academics might expect, a startling array of social networks, including various civic organizations.

Fishtown is far different. Here Murray finds sharp declines in two parent, stable families, a deterioration of social networks, and (most ominous in his analyses) an increase in the number of men 30-49 years old who are neither employed nor looking for work. In British terms, many of these people would be on the dole and resigned to it. Murray points out that at least until recently American society expected adult males to either have a job or be actively seeking one.

Why has Fishtown deteriorated? Two causes have been suggested. The first is psychological. Suppose Goddfredson (1997) was right, life is an intelligence test. It may be that the early 21st century version of the test is just a bit too hard for people in the lower 30% of the distribution. While Murray does not use these terms, the explanation seems consistent with most of his thinking. However there is also a sociological explanation.

The residents of Murrays statistical Fishtown were defined by a combination of educational attainment and occupation. Over the past 50 years there has been an increase in the frequency of college graduates and an increase in the percentage of people in the workforce who hold mid-level managerial and skilled technician jobs. There has been a decrease in the frequency of blue collar work, especially in manufacturing. Murray points out that in the 1960s a larger percentage of the population would have been categorized as ғFishtown than is the case today. One could argue that in the 1960s ԓFishtown and similar communities were held together by the leadership of the most capable people amongst the blue-collar industrial and skilled service population groups. As the economy changed the more capable members of the Fishtown community upgraded their skills and migrated away from Fishtown, not to Belmont, but to the middle-class communities in between. This left the Fishtown society without its leaders, and the deterioration that Murray documents followed.

There is an interesting parallel between MurrayԒs sociological explanation, which is based exclusively on data for White Americans, and explanations that have been offered for the persistent prevalence of social problems in poor African-American communities. W.J. Wilson (1997), in particular, has been an articulate proponent of the view that the end of segregation and legal discrimination in the 1950s primarily benefitted the better educated, more cognitively skilled African-American upper classes, who then moved from the inner-city areas.

The psychological and sociological explanations are not mutually exclusive. The cognitive skills required by the modern workplace have changed, and there has been a selective outward movement from the city to the suburbs. Both explanations emphasize the importance of having a good score on the intelligent test of life.

I will now shift from describing Murrays work to critiquing it.

Has Murray presented a fair picture of the data?. His data sources, census data and widely respected survey reports, are certainly correct. As was the case in The Bell Curve, Murray presents his analyses by using simple graphics that deal with only two or three variables at once. Statisticians who criticized The Bell Curve offered more comprehensive multivariate models that made a case for minor qualifications to the story presented by the simple graphs. See, for instance, the papers in the Devlin et al. (1997). A similar multivariate approach would probably provide minor qualifications of the analyses presented in Coming Apart. However Coming Apart is not addressed to the members of the American Statistical Association, it is addressed to those Overeducated Intellectual Snobs who Murray believes influence decision making. The models used to question The Bell Curve were presented in multi-page tables. I suspect that the analyses needed to qualify Coming Apart would require similar reporting. The tables might be closer to THE WHOLE TRUTH, but the graphs communicate ideas better.

I believe Murray is right about the isolation of the New Upper Class. The gated community was virtually unknown fifty years ago. (I remember my surprise when I encountered one in 1967. I promptly bluffed my way past the watchman.) Although Murray touches on this only tangentially, the proliferation of specialized cable-television channels allows a segregation of sources of information that may be even more isolating than the physical isolation afforded by the suburbs.

The discussion of Belmont and Fishtown present a contrast between the life styles of people in the top 20% or bottom 30% of MurrayҒs index of cognitive skills. What about the middle 50% of the population? By focusing on extreme groups Murray gives the impression of a social, economic, and possibly cognitive chasm between different segments of American society. Does the (unstudied) middle class provide a smooth path between Fishtown and Belmont, or are there washed out bridges and potholes along the way? And if so, where are they? The answer to this question is important for understanding inter-generation mobility across social classes. Moves from Fishtown to Belmont, or the other way, may be rare. How rare is the two generation move, from Fishtown to Midville to Belmont (or the other way).

The talking heads on Sunday morning TV could profitably discuss for weeks the meaning of Murrays results for society at large. I will take a narrower view. What are the research questions that Murray raises for psychologists, and particularly for psychologists interested in intelligence?

There is a methodological issue. In the United States relatively few surveys include explicit cognitive test scores. They often contain information that is known to be statistically related to intelligence test scores. Therefore it is possible to construct inferred cognitive scores. In MurrayҒs case an estimate of intelligence was constructed by combining the known positive relation between educational status and cognitive score with an index of the cognitive complexity of a persons occupation developed by Tara Madhyastha and myself (Hunt & Madhyastha, 2012).

I think that this approach is increasingly likely to be useful. It is particularly likely to be used by industrial researchers who have access to the very large commercial databases that are now being compiled. For example, a researcher who had access to a credit card companyҒs records would not find an intelligence test score there, but, given an adequate program of research, could make a pretty good estimate of a persons intelligence. According to GoogleҒs privacy statement (as of April, 2012) the company records every search that a user makes. There is a lot of information about intelligence there! What is needed is both the development and widespread dissemination of knowledge about how to use such indirect indicators. The social sciences may have to revisit the curriculum on multivariate analysis yet again.

Murrays results show that we should amplify on the idea that life is an intelligence test. To what extent can the success of Belmont and the failures of Fishtown be traced to inabilities to manipulate certain key aspects of life, such as financial management? How does individual intelligence relate to understanding of information in the media, including consideration of likely biases in the source of the information? Where do people at different socioeconomic levels, and with different levels of intelligence, get their information about health care? Here I am not calling for a series of studies the will produce yet more correlations between test scores and this or that aspect of daily life. We need studies of the process by which information is acquired and used, as influenced by both intelligence and socioeconomic status.

Conservatives and Libertarians may see the isolation of the New Upper Class as a reason to call for decentralizing of decision making. However I do not think that this is going to happen. We live in a highly interconnected society. Politics in the Mid-East can drive the price of fuel up or down, which in turn has implications for transport costs, thus influencing the price of Costa Rican bananas in Michigan in January. Central control is always the most efficient way of controlling a system of interconnected, providing that there is no cost for computation at the center and no loss of information transmission between the central decision maker and the peripheral actors. These conditions are never satisfied. However the development of ever more sophisticated computing and communication technology does increase the efficiency of centralized decision making. I believe that trend will continue, so it would be a good idea to investigate ways of mitigating the isolation of the decision makers. Here are a few of the issues.

1) What are the relative roles of personal intelligence and social context upon decision making? Imagine that we gave a non-verbal, knowledge reduced intelligence test, such as a progressive matrix test, to every resident of Belmont and Fishtown. We then study their information gathering and decision making processes in everyday life. What would be the best predictor of behavior; community identity or personal intelligence? In such an experiment it would be important to go beyond trends and averages, to investigate variability. The behavior of the high scorers in Fishtown and the low scorers in Belmont would be of particular interest.

2) With a few exceptions, decision makers do not start their careers in important positions, they work their way into them. How should early careers be planned so that decision makers will retain some feeling for people outside their own social/professional circle? To illustrate, the worldwide coffee shop chain, Starbucks, has many of their professional level employees begin their careers by training as coffee servers (ғbaristas). Does first-hand experience at the ground level improve later executive performance? At higher levels, to what extent is it feasible to have CEOs move from one industry to another? The United States seems to be something of an extreme in the extent to which appointees outside of the government are brought in to fill executive positions in government departments (e.g. Undersecretaries, ambassadors) that, in European countries, would be filled by members of the professional civil service. A case can be made for ԓinjecting new blood so that government functionaries are not isolated from the rest of society. A case can also be made for experience at a low level as a perquisite for holding high level government positions. How should these demands be balanced?

3) Murray and Wilson, for the African-American community, argue that one of the reasons for the deteriorating position of low SES communities is that as the post-industrial economy opened up new opportunities and closed others people whose cognitive and social backgrounds had prepared them to take advantage of the changes simply did so. They moved out of Fishtown, depriving it of its natural community leaders. This explanation raises a host of questions about the role of leaders in social networks, and the traits those leaders require. Barack Obama was once involved in establishing community networks in Chicago. So was Al Capone, though not at the same time nor for the same type of network. The differences between these leaders are pretty clear. What are the commonalities?

There are two very different ways of looking at the issues raised in Coming Apart. From the perspective of social sciences, Murray has given them a host of questions. They will not be answered by research in any one discipline. Can we assemble the necessary interdisciplinary teams?

But from the perspective of a decision maker the issue is more immediate. Are these differences problems to be ameliorated? And if so, how? In Coming Apart Murray is silent on corrections, though he does discuss some in his March 7 New York Times piece. I will leave their discussion for another time.


Posted by Elvis on 04/25/12 •
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