Charles Murray, the libertarian sociologist, is well-known (notorious in some quarters) for his work on the underclass. Coming Apart, his new book, out at the end of this month, focuses on the troubling phenomenon of the overclass in the United States. Here is an excerpt from a Daily Telegraph article on Murray's new book:
Murray exposes how the new United States upper class, which he labels a “cognitive elite”, has developed an hereditary stranglehold over the top professions and management positions. The brightest people tend to marry each other, then ensure that their offspring get to the best schools and universities, with the result that, to quote Murray: “The parents of the upper-middle class now produce a disproportionate number of the smartest children.”
These gilded families then inter-marry and socialise together, living in the same areas, creating a phenomenon which Murray labels “super zips” – the 800-plus richest and most desirable postal codes in the United States, where the cleverest and richest congregate. What Versailles was to 18th-century France, these smart postcodes are to 21st-century America – a sure sign of a sclerotic social system and long-term decline.
Murray argues that the emergence of this “hereditary” elite has smashed the bonds of United States society. An essential part of the American myth was the idea that any child, however poor and disadvantaged, could rise to the very top. But those avenues of advancement are now being closed off.
This is only partly because the new elite has cornered the market in the best jobs and universities. More insidiously still, the American dream is being killed by the collapse of the work ethic, allied to the collapse of faith and family values, in lower-class areas. Half a century ago, young men and women were encouraged to escape from poverty through ambition and hard work: now they embrace welfare and helplessness as a way of life.