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Married Man’s Burden: Charles Murray’s Prescription for a Better America

Author says that married people should be smug

More than a decade ago, Bridget Jones's Diary gave us the memorable "smug marrieds" quip. Bridget did not mean it in a good way. Another more serious author did. Take a look at this quote and see if you can guess the year in which it was written:

"Married, educated people who work hard and conscientiously raise their kids shouldn't hesitate to voice their disapproval of those who defy theses norms. When it comes to marriage and the work ethic, the new upper class must start preaching what it practices."

The quote is from Charles Murray in an essay published in the Wall Street Journal. A few days ago. That's right, in the year 2012. The piece is advanced fanfare for Murray's about-to-be released book, Coming apart: The state of white America, 1960-2010.

Murray argues that the elite in white America are not just becoming economically distinct from most of the rest of the whites - they are also becoming isolated culturally and geographically. The cultural argument is a familiar one - wine vs. beer (or boutique beer vs. Bud), arugula vs. iceberg lettuce, and all the rest. David Brooks published a book-length riff in Bobos in Paradise: The new upper class and how they got there. Bill Bishop covered the spatial angle in The Big Sort: Why the clustering of like-minded America is tearing us apart.

What Murray can claim as his unique contributions are his analysis of why the elites are doing so much better than the rest of the nation, what he sees as the policy-related causes of the supposed downward slide of the non-elites, and his prescription for a better country.

Murray believes that the elite group is doing so well because they are much more inclined than the rest of the country to practice the "central American values" of "marriage, honesty, hard work, and religiosity." Seriously. So single people get tossed in with the lazy, dishonest heathens.

To Murray, the 60s are to blame. All that women's lib stuff and the social safety nets? Bad! In his own words:

"I think that the reforms of the 1960s jump-started the deterioration. Changes in social policy during the 1960s made it economically more feasible to have a child without having a husband if you were a woman or to get along without a job if you were a man; safer to commit crimes without suffering consequences; and easier to let the government deal with problems in your community that you and your neighbors formerly had to take care of.

"But, for practical purposes, understanding why the new lower class got started isn't especially important. Once the deterioration was under way, a self-reinforcing loop took hold as traditionally powerful social norms broke down. Because the process has become self-reinforcing, repealing the reforms of the 1960s (something that's not going to happen) would change the trends slowly at best."

Too bad women are no longer tethered to a husband for economic life support! Now they can even have babies without getting married. Murray would love to reverse these reforms - such a shame that other people would stand in the way and the whole process would take too long.

So how does Charles Murray want us to get our country back? Take another look at that opening paragraph, if you can stomach it. Those honest, hardworking, married elites need to be judgmental. It is "condescending," Murray proclaims, not to be.

And speaking of condescending, the elites should go live among the rest of the people. They might even find "smart, interesting, entertaining people" outside of their enclave. The upper crust should show the rest of the country how to live their lives properly. Then those people will know enough to get married (and only then have kids), work hard, go to church, and become honest and law-abiding citizens.

I call it the married man's burden.

Murray is railing against what some dismissively call "the welfare state" or "European socialism." Why, then, is he such a strong proponent of welfare for married people? More than 1,000 federal laws benefit and protect only those people who are legally married. Many of the windfalls are financial, and include, for example, Social Security benefits and tax advantages (yes, even on income taxes - I know you won't take my word for it, complete with a tabled break-down, so read a tax attorney's law review article). What's more, married people do not need to be hard-working or honest or law-abiding to qualify. Marriage itself is enough. They are the ones getting the handouts, subsidized by the single people.

Charles Murray's soulmate is Rick Santorum. (There are so many reasons I love saying that.) Santorum's formula for avoiding poverty is to finish high school, get a job, and get married (before you have kids!). About the marriage part: How well would that work if it were not a government-sponsored social welfare program, with no accountability and no standards? Just asking.

One last thing. Does the name Charles Murray sound familiar? He's an author of The Bell Curve, the inflammatory book about race and intelligence.