The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Charles Murray's "Plan": 10,000 for every American

Charles Murray’s book “The Plan” suggests that we rid ourselves of poverty by giving everyone 10,000 a year, with the condition that they spend 3,000 of it on health care, and the strong suggestion that they invest 2,000 of it in some kind of investment plan.

I haven’t read the book, but have mixed reactions to it, some of them on the face, and some due to my own (admittedly) prejudicial reaction to the man based on his book “The Bell Curve.”  I’m going to try hard to keep that part of myself under control, but can’t promise to succeed.

First, because this is the first time I’ve heard of this plan, I have to give credit for original thinking.  At least the man has an idea, and an idea that is pretty broad in implication, and designed to address a variety of social ills.  On the surface.  And possibly, it should be considered honest, straight-forward, with no hidden agendas.

My problem is that I do think he has hidden agendas.  In BELL CURVE, Murray lays out a gigantic grid of social problems, from teen pregnancy to crime to poverty, and suggests that all of them are influenced strongly by lack of intelligence. No argument: certainly the less intelligent ARE going to find themselves making more life errors.  However, he also suggests that the playing field is virtually level, and that racial differences in tested IQ are primarily genetic and intractable.  I interpret that as saying that blacks are genetically predisposed to criminality, immorality and, well, laziness.

Part of the problem here is that the popular image of a “Bigot” is a robed Klansman type, spewing racial hatred into the media.  Even politicians like David Duke, Lester Maddox and George Wallace have apologists, who suggest that they merely took positions in order to harvest votes or represent a constituency.  In other words…by such definitions there really ARE no bigots, or not in any significant amount.

Well, you know my position: to me, this is pure fantasy, designed to cover a truth that ALL human beings are wired for preferences, and that racial preferences are very, very close to the core of who and what we are, and must be guarded against.

If I take the position that
The “Bell Curve” was written to support a point of view (that social programs cannot alleviate the problems of crime and poverty in minority communities because their base is a genetic difference in capability.  Whether I’m right or not, this is hardly a fantastic assumption: thousands of books are written every year primarily to make one point or another.)
Murray, deep in his heart holds the point of view he defended in the book.

What, then, would MURRAY think, really think, would happen if his plan went into effect?  I suspect that he thinks that much of that money would end up in the hands of retailers, that savings plans would come to naught, that in essence, it would be a transfer of government money right back into the hands of the rich.

And I have some agreement with him, but not for the same reasons.  I’d think that the problems of the poor have a wide range of origins.  There is some lack of innate capacity among some, certainly—it would make no sense to suggest otherwise.  But there is also historical oppression, and a system where the more powerful have greater access to resources and law-makers.  This last probably CANNOT be averted.  The only question is, again: how shall we live together?

I’ve spent most of my life around high-I.Q people, and their personal lives are just as much a mess as anyone else’s, in general.  Just as much tendency to obesity and relationship dysfunction…they do make a little more money than average.

Ever go on a diet and then drop the diet?  Or watch someone do this?  Did they go straight for the salad bar?  Hardly.  And it’s not “intelligence” per se.  I could see the exact same thing happening with such a plan to dump billions in cash in to poor coffers. 

But what is the alternative?  Just bigger government?  Well, that comes right back to the question of: what services SHOULD a government provide?  Personally, I think that there needs to be a tension, a pull, between the public and private sectors.  That if “Business” were allowed to run all the schools, and businesses, and medical programs, and so forth, that it would obey the only law that any Corporation can possibly follow (in my mind): make as much money as possible, as fast as possible.  Individual human beings within a corporation might feel differently, but the corporation itself is a mindless monster with a bottomless maw.

But is Government any better?  Certainly, the urge of Government would be to grow as large as possible, and take as much power as possible.  The potential dangers are obvious.

What I think it comes down to is a few basic human traits:
We are hierarchical.
We think “we” are the best.

That means that almost any group that can define itself will define itself as being better than others, more capable, moral, and deserving than others.  Deep inside, I think that Murray would love for his plan to be adapted.  Then he would sit back, wait for disaster, and say: “See?  I told you nothing could help those people.  It is pointless even to try.”
But I cannot claim to read his mind.  I am not saying he is a vicious monster.  I do think he is not entirely honest, and that he believes that blacks, for instance, are on the average inferior to whites both intellectually and morally—and won’t publicly cop to it, although that is the clear implication in his work.  I’m afraid that anything he says, I’m going to hear it through that buffer, and that may be unfortunate.  I may be doing him a disservice—I’m really not sure.

But I’ll stick with my position.  He strikes me, entirely, as the sort of person who, if we were to have a polite conversation, would, after I left, turn to his wife and say, “charming and intelligent fellow.  If only all of them were like that, we’d have no problem.”  I’ve met so many of those over the course of my life…it’s not hard to imagine that he is simply another.

But I could be wrong.

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