Eric Alterman excerpts his analysis of Chalres Murray’s Losing Ground from What Liberal Media?. The first book showed the same emprical rigor that he would display in The Bell Curve:
Unfortunately, Murray’s assertions were based on a series of internal contradictions, specious arguments and outright phony claims unsupported by his data. For instance, his assertion that that the hope for welfare payments was the main source of illegitimacy among black teenagers posited no evidence for this claim, and failed to explain why the rate of illegitimacy rose for everyone—and not just welfare recipients–after 1972, while the constant-dollar value of those welfare benefits declined by twenty percent. While continually insisting on the impotence of the Great Society programs of the Johnson administration, Murray never once explained the development of the Black middle class during this period. Moreover, why blame the welfare policies of the late sixties and early seventies on for the decline in participation of Black males in the labor market when the decline actually dates back to the late fifties? It turned out that Murray’s calculations relied on the highly disputed figures of an obscure economist named Timothy Smedding. Using more traditional and widely-accepted measurements, Christopher Jencks calculated that contrary to Murray’s central claims, the percentage of the population defined as poor in 1980 was only half the size it was in 1965, and one third the size it was in 1950.
Much of Murray’s argument was taken up by a “thought-experiment” based on a fictional couple he named Harold and Phyllis who lived in Pennsylvania, who made what Murray argued was an entirely rational economic decision for the woman to remain unmarried [AS2] after having a child in order to collect welfare benefits. But Murray screwed up his math. While Pennsylvania was indeed atypically generous to welfare recipients in 1980, the couple’s income would still have been over thirty percent higher if Harold had worked at a minimum wage job rather than Phyllis collecting welfare as the sole means of support for the family.
I’ve always found the idea that people’s sexual relationships are primarily governed by marginal changes in monetary incentives one of the most self-paradoic ideas to emerge from rational choice theory…