In a critical review of Charles Murray’s book Coming Apart yesterday, I argued that he fails to explain either the scope or the reasons for the growing gaps between income classes that are the subject of his book.
This being Murray, cultural gaps loom large as well. His hypothesis is that elites and others are growing ever farther apart along cultural dimensions and the book even has a test so you can see just how out of touch you are. Here it is with my answers. Go here to see how he scores the results.
1. Have you ever lived for at least a year in an American neighborhood in which the majority of your ﬁfty nearest neighbors probably did not have college degrees?
I think so, but not for a while—my current neighborhood is just as wonky as Murray would predict. I’m sitting in my home office looking out at the homes of two lawyers and one esteemed budget analyst. My bubble starts out a bit thick here, I’m afraid.
2. Did you grow up in a family in which the chief breadwinner was not in a managerial job or a high-prestige profession (deﬁned as attorney, physician, dentist, architect, engineer, scientist, or college professor)?
Most of my life, the breadwinner was a teacher, so quick, hit me with some non-elitist points (that breadwinner was a single mom, with which Murray has issues, but I’m still claiming credit here)!
3. Have you ever lived for at least a year in an American community under 50,000 population that is not part of a metropolitan area and was not where your college was located?
Nope—I get dinged on this one—I crave urban access. Truth be told, I moved from NYC to DC in ’92 and I still miss the big city…the music, the food (bagels, pizza—at least I’m not talking elite cuisine here), the diversity.
4. Have you ever lived for at least a year in the United States at a family income that was close to or below the poverty line? You may answer “yes” if your family income then was below $30,000 in 2010 dollars. Graduate school doesn’t count. Living unemployed with your family after college doesn’t count.
Yes! I was a struggling musician for years. This may be more artsy than Murray has in mind, but struggling is struggling, no?
5. Have you ever walked on a factory ﬂoor?
Yes, but mostly with the Vice-President during tours related to the Recovery Act, so this doesn’t help me.
6. Have you ever held a job that caused something to hurt at the end of the day?
Assuming pride, ego, and paper cuts don’t count, no.
7. Have you ever had a close friend who was an evangelical Christian?
A relative, who I’m crazy about, so I’ll take partial credit on this one.
8. Do you now have a close friend with whom you have strong and wide-ranging political disagreements?
I do! We generally avoid talking about politics, but when we do, we actually work hard to find things we agree on, and lately we’ve been having good conversations about the Republican field.
My bubble is getting thinner!
9. Have you ever had a close friend who could seldom get better than Cs in high school even if he or she tried hard?
I think so, but at least in one case, I’m sure s/he would be diagnosed with something if they were in primary school today. In fact, s/he might be some sort of genius.
10. During the last month, have you voluntarily hung out with people who were smoking cigarettes?
No…go ahead, ding me. Like the beer question below, happy to lose points on this one.
11. What military ranks do these ﬁve insignia represent?
[See link for insignias.] Well, no…but I showed them to my wife who grew up in a military household and she didn’t recognize most of them either so I’m not gonna take a penalty here. In fact, I’m gonna take some points for marrying so wisely.
12. Choose one. Who is Jimmie Johnson? Or: Have you ever purchased Avon products?
My bad—don’t know Jimmie J and haven’t purchased anything from Avon…recently bought way too many Girl Scout cookies, which I don’t think is elitist but who knows? [Wife didn’t know JJ either..neither did kids…it’s partly a regional thing, I think. I know who he is now, though, so I learned something from Coming Apart.]
13. Have you or your spouse ever bought a pickup truck?
No, but my sister has one so I’m gonna claim non-elitist points on her behalf!
14. During the last year, have you ever purchased domestic mass-market beer to stock your own fridge?
No, and go ahead and whack me for this one because I love a good, dark Belgian beer and can’t stand the stuff he’s asking about here. I’ll gladly take bubble points on this one. But I also wonder is this isn’t really an elite’s view of non-elites. I’d like to learn more about who’s drinking what before I lose credit here.
15. During the last ﬁve years, have you or your spouse gone ﬁshing?
Choosing your lobster in a fancy restaurant doesn’t count, right? (Kidding!—I know that lobster’s delicious but don’t like eating the little guys.)
16. How many times in the last year have you eaten at one of the following restaurant chains? Applebee’s, Wafﬂe House, Denny’s, IHOP, Chili’s, Outback Steakhouse, Ruby Tuesday, T.G.I. Friday’s, Ponderosa Steakhouse
A lot! I rack up some real anti-bubble points on this one. My wife is trying to penalize me because a TGI Friday’s we recently visited was at an airport which she claims doesn’t count…I do not accept such arbitrary scorekeeping, and besides, I recall enjoying the meal quite a bit.
17. In secondary school, did you letter in anything?
No, but that’s at least partly because I was…um…uncoordinated compared to many of my colleagues. Frankly, I think it’s elitist of Murray to ding me here because I can’t hit foul shots or a curve ball.
18. Have you ever attended a meeting of a Kiwanis Club or Rotary Club, or a meeting at a union local?
Yes! I’ve been a member of two different unions in my day, local 802 (musicians’ union in NYC) and I was a founding member of the union at the Economic Policy Institute (I know…Murray would definitely withhold points for this one, and it’s true: we weren’t a particularly burly membership…but we were feisty (and we knew management feared us—can you imagine a strike at EPI?!))
19. Have you ever participated in a parade not involving global warming, a war protest, or gay rights?
Again, yes! That bubble of mine is getting awfully thin. I recently marched in a George Washington Parade and also the great, annual Halloween parade down Alexandria’s Mt. Vernon Ave.
20. Since leaving school, have you ever worn a uniform?
I’m sure a tux to Obama inaugural events doesn’t count, so ding me here.
21. Have you ever ridden on a long-distance bus (e.g., Greyhound,Trailways) or hitchhiked for a trip of ﬁfty miles or more?
Whew…back on track…I have! I’ve taken the cheap bus to NYC a few times, and it wasn’t bad at all. And for the relative price—compared to other modes of transport up there—it’s hugely net-present-value positive.
22. Which of the following movies have you seen (at a theater or on a DVD)? Iron Man 2, Inception, Despicable Me, Tron Legacy, True Grit, Clash of the Titans, Grown Ups, Little Fockers, The King’s Speech, Shutter Island.
Saw Despicable Me with the kids…it was OK, but much better were Tangled (which I loved) and the one with a similar plot to Despicable Me but where the villain was blue—and he turned out to be a good guy in the end—Will Ferrell was his voice…you know which one I’m talking about?
23. During the 2009–10 television season, how many of the following series did you watch regularly? American Idol, Undercover Boss, The Big Bang Theory, Grey’s Anatomy, Lost, House, Desperate Housewives, Two and a Half Men, The Ofﬁce, Survivor
None of the above…again, happy to lose points for not watching too much TV.
24. Have you ever watched an Oprah, Dr. Phil, or Judge Judy show all the way through?
No…(oh no, bubble thickening…!)
25. What does the word Branson mean to you?
Nothing…darn…a weak finish.
But without scoring myself, I’d say my bubble’s not that thick. Former union guy, sister’s got a truck, wife’s a former Air Force brat, rides the bus…OK, I like quality beer and don’t watch Nascar…nobody’s perfect.