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Mr. Wattenberg: Hello. I'm Ben Wattenberg. Welcome to a special two-part edition of Think Tank. You know,
sometimes an argument within the scholarly community is so fierce that it spills over into the popular press.
For the next half hour, we'll talk one-on-one with Charles Murray,co-author of the new book 'The Bell Curve.' In it he
asks what is the relationship between intelligence, ethnicity, race and success in America. A conversation with author
and social scientist Charles Murray -- this week on Think Tank.
Our guest this week is one of America's most prominent social scientists and no stranger to intellectual combat. Charles
Murray is co-author, with the late Richard Herrnstein, of a big new book that makes the case that there is a growing stratification
of American society based on differences in intelligence. Entitled 'The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in '
American Life,' the book has already provoked a storm of debate and promises to be one of the most controversial books
of the year. Charles Murray is the author of the highly influential 'Losing Ground,' which chronicled the failures of
the American welfare system. He is currently the Bradley Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and today we are
at his home in rural Maryland.
Charles Murray, you predict that America is in danger of becoming-- and I'll use your words --'a high-tech version of
the Indian reservation for some substantial minority of the nation's population.In its less benign forms, the solutions
will become more and more totalitarian.' Why?
Mr. Murray: We have the thing we call the under class right now,and we have worries about crime and worries about budget problems with welfare that are still at this point on the level of political discourse that we've always had. And what I'm saying is that as the underclass continues to become more firmly mired in the bottom with fewer and fewer jobs that they can hold, with more and more family disorganization, we are going to have an eruption in the upper class,if you want to think of it that way, or what we call the cognitive elite in the book, which says, let's just get these people out of our hair; we'll take care of them, we aren't going to ignore them --
Mr. Wattenberg: That's the Indian reservation --
Mr. Murray: That's the Indian -- it's sort of, keep them out of sight, out of mind, spend as much money as we need to do that, whilewe try to go about our business.
Mr. Wattenberg: And you say that the root of this is because there is a similar stratification in intelligence amongst human beings?
Mr. Murray: It's -- intelligence is part of the story --
Mr. Wattenberg: A big part, according to you.
Mr. Murray: A big part of the story, whereby, over the last century, what used to be social and economic divisions have turned into a screening structure whereby, if you're real smart in the United States today, you'll probably end up going to a real good school, you'll probably end up in a profession that pays good money,and your salary's going to continue to go up while other people's salaries are stagnating; and at the other extreme of society, you've got people who have fewer and fewer jobs they can do that repay the cost of paying for them.
Mr. Wattenberg: I just looked last night at my statistical abstract about this splitting apart of the income distribution. And you know, in the 1980s, that so-called decade of greed, the upper quintile of the population went from -- in other words the top 20percent of the income distribution -- went from 41 1/2 percent to 44 percent. So that was -- you know, you're talking about a couple ofp oints and everybody's making this big rain dance about how everything's splitting apart on the basis of not much of a shift.Those income distribution figures have been fairly stable over time,as you know.
Mr. Murray: Yeah, but if you talk about the upper quintile you're talking about the upper 20 percent.
Mr. Wattenberg: Right.
Mr. Murray: Okay? And I'm saying, look, take it out further. Take what's happening with the graduates of Harvard, Yale, Princeton,Stanford, MIT -- go through the next top 15 20 universities, allright -- with top-rate lawyers, top-rate physicians and so forth, andthere you're going to see all sorts of dramatic increase of income.Let me give you an example. Take the proportion of people in this country who make over a hundred grand a year. Let's say -- let's use that as as rough cutoff point for affluence. For a long time that proportion sort of grew in tandem with the overall increase in income in this country. In the 1980s, actually in the 1970's as well, you had stagnation of ordinary family income. The per centage of families that make over a hundred grand continued to rise quite rapidly with economic growth -- all of this in constant dollars, of course. In other words, what I'm saying is, you're getting a larger and larger affluent class up there at the top of society with lots and lots of clout.
Mr. Wattenberg: And that's because you say there is a difference amongst human beings in intelligence and there are group differences n intelligence.
Mr. Murray: Well, let's talk about the role that intelligence plays in creating this affluent class. Brains are worth more than they used to be. I'll give you an example. Suppose you're an advertising copywriter and you're real good at that -- which takes brains -- but you have a company you're working for where a point ofmarket share is worth $2 million. Well, your value is a certain amount. Suppose a point of market share is worth $100 million or $200 million and you can increase market share by half a point or something. You become worth a fortune.
Mr. Wattenberg: Now, the usual formulation is that poverty causes low intelligence, and what you and the late Dick Herrnstein are doing in 'The Bell Curve' is reversing that causation and saying that low intelligence causes poverty. Is it --
Mr. Murray: We're adding that formulation, because we would also agree that an impoverished background could very well have an effect on IQ. But we're also saying, if you're low in IQ, you have a lot higher probability of being poor, because having low IQ makes it alot harder to earn a living.
Mr. Wattenberg: You say that the IQ tests are accurate in measuring people's intelligence. There's been a big argument about that.
Mr. Murray: There's a dirty little secret that we try to expose in the book which is that the conventional wisdom in the media about IQ tests and what they measure and don't measure, and expert opinion,are 180 degrees opposite. I mean such things as 'Oh, everybone knows that IQ doesn't really predict anything worth knowing,' which is the conventional wisdom? I'm sorry, IQ is a very important predictor not just a of academic success, but of economic success. 'IQ tests are culturally biased.' That issue has been sliced in a dozen different ways. There is not only no evidence that they are; there is powerful evidence that they measure the same thing in lower and upper socio-economic groups, and in different racial groups. And so forthand so on.
Mr. Wattenberg: But, I mean, the argument would be made in a country where, although I think we have made a great deal of progress, there is still -- I don't think anybody would argue that there is still racism in America. That, isn't it plausible to say,were it not for the environment, were it not for racism, people would test out closer?
Mr. Murray: Well, there are ways to look into that.
Mr. Wattenberg: Well, how, in a country that we are both prepared to acknowledge is still racist?
Mr. Murray: Well, there are, for example, all sorts of items that don't call on any verbal content whatsoever. They don't call on an ability to know math. They involve certain kinds of abstract patterns and how you manipulate those, which are not part of any cultural upbringing whatsoever. Okay? And you say, do these items correlate first with the larger IQ test? Are they predictive of the social andeconomic outcomes? And the answer is yes.
Mr. Wattenberg: All right. You were talking that experts are in agreement about this. Christopher Jencks has said this: 'If a child has been neglected and abused for many years, this experience may be as irreversible as having inherited the wrong genes.'
Mr. Murray: Oh, that's absolutely true. See, we were asking two different things. When you say is a test culturally biased, what you're really saying there is that the level of performance that that person would have if they actually got the job or they actually got into the college would be higher than the test predicts. That's what cultural bias means. What Christopher Jenks is just saying is the environment can have a powerful, irreversible effect on intelligence,and he's certainly right.
Mr. Wattenberg: And you in the book, in 'The Bell Curve,' as Irecall, say that a person's intelligence is 60 percent genetic,inheritable, and 40 percent environmental? Is that --
Mr. Murray: We use that as a midpoint. If you take all the estimates of the last decade or so, which are getting more and more sophisticated, they all fall between the range of 80 percent and 40 percent being hereditary, of IQ.
Mr. Wattenberg: So if you had been brought up in rural Mississippion a little farm, a shanty with an outhouse, it is likely that you would not be as intelligent as you are.
Mr. Murray: That's right. It would have an effect. The problem is this: You also say then, ah, what you want to do with the kids in the shanties in Mississippi is provide them with a better environment.And that's a good thing to do for lots of different reasons. But what has puzzled the people who work in this area is how extremely hard it is to take the environment, enrich it, and then produce the increases in cognitive functioning that you think you ought to get. It's realtough to manipulate the environment to improve IQ.
Mr. Wattenberg: But no matter what one thinks, there is that 40 percent to work with.
Mr. Murray: Right. There is potentially a big effect that you can have through the environment. What I am saying is that nobody knows how to do it.
Mr. Wattenberg: Okay. Let's move on now to chapter 13, in which you say in your opening line, I think, 'How come so many of you are starting this book in chapter 13.' So we are not -- this is the chapter about IQ and race.
Mr. Murray: Yeah.
Mr. Wattenberg: Why don't you tell me first just where you come out on it?
Mr. Murray: In the last paragraph to that 50-odd-page chapter, Ithink we say the central finding is that you can face all of thefacts about ethnicity and IQ and not run screaming from the room. Anda lot of the reason why we spend so much time in that chapter is to bring to the surface a topic that all sorts of people talk about privately among themselves or they think about is very politically incorrect, and we say, 'Okay, folks, you want to know what's going on; we will tell you to the best of our ability what the state of knowledge is about this subject.'
Mr. Wattenberg: And it is what?
Mr. Murray: If you take the mean on most tests of cognitive ability that have been given, including up to recent times, there'sabout a 15-point difference between blacks and whites. I would hastento add there is also a --
Mr. Wattenberg: In IQ score, there is a -- if whites --
Mr. Murray: Yeah.
Mr. Wattenberg: Yeah, if whites average 100, blacks average 85.
Mr. Murray: That's roughly -- that's the ball park.
Mr. Wattenberg: And that means, as I recall your numbers, that 80-- that 16 percent of blacks --
Mr. Murray: Are at or above the white mean.
Mr. Wattenberg: Right.
Mr. Murray: Now --
Mr. Wattenberg: And, therefore, 84 percent are below the white average.
Mr. Murray: Yeah. Having said that, there are a whole bunch of other things that ought to be said along with it. And this is not inorder to run for cover; it's in order to be realistic of one of thethings that ought to be said. What that means is that there are blacks along the entire range of intelligence from bottom to top, and there are whites along the entire range of intelligence from bottom to top. It means that IQ is one important aspect of a person'sabilities -- it sure isn't the only one -- and if you add in all the other things like determination and imagination and humor and sensitivity -- you can go through the whole list of human qualities.The reason I'm saying all this is, Ben, that we're dealing with very explosive stuff here --
Mr. Wattenberg: You sure are.
Mr. Murray: -- and when we said you can face all these facts without running screaming from the room, oneof the things that bothers us is that people are all too eager to run screaming from the room. Are there things that -- does this have implications for some aspects of society? Yeah, it does. There are a whole bunch of things that it has absolutely no implications for whatsoever. For example, it has absolutely no implications, as far as I can tell, for the way that any individual white and any individual black should interact with each other. Because when you approach an individual, you aren't approaching a mean and a standard deviation,you're approaching somebody with his own bundle of qualities.
Mr. Wattenberg: Yeah, but you're also -- if you believe your concept --
Mr. Murray: Mmm-hmm.
Mr. Wattenberg: -- you are also approaching someone who, in theback of your mind you are saying, is, 'I've never met this person before, but on average, he is 15 points less smart than the white guy walking alongside him.'
Mr. Murray: And that's one of the things that bothers --
Mr. Wattenberg: And that is called -- I mean, heretofore, whenpeople said that, they were labelled racists.
Mr. Murray: Yep.
Mr. Wattenberg: I mean, it --
Mr. Murray: And one of the things that worries me is that people will do that more than they should. Then, here is another one of the utterly key misapprehensions.
Mr. Wattenberg: All right, I want to get --
Mr. Murray: Let's get this one out on the table. The fact that IQhas a substantial heritable component for individuals, which we'vesaid, and the fact that there is a mean difference between whites and blacks, does not mean that that difference between the two races is genetic, and I'll give you an example of why. Look --
Mr. Wattenberg: You say it's not environmental, and you say it isheritable.
Mr. Murray: Wait a minute. No, no. Here's the reason. Okay, think in terms of a bag of seed corn. All right, so it's been bought from the store, it's genetically identical, every bit of corn in that bagis identical genetically. You take out two handfuls (sic) of them,okay? You plant one handful in the Mojave Desert, and you plant the other handful in Iowa. At the end of the growing season, you are going to have a huge group difference between those two handfuls ofcorn and how well they've done. It is not going to have a single,solitary genetic component in it, even though seed corn has a highly heritable, highly genetic component in terms of individual seeds.Let's just assume, for a moment, that we're comparing just whites.Okay, forget about blacks, we're just --
Mr. Wattenberg: No, I want to talk about -- (cross talk.)
Mr. Murray: We'll take a whole bunch of whites, and we're all then, genetically, you know, all the same and all that. You raise half of them in impoverished Appalachian towns and you raise half of them in affluent, nurturing, intellectually stimulating suburbs, youare going to get a group difference between those two populations of whites which will have no genetic component. My basic point is one that I want both you and our audience to have firmly in their minds, which is that just because there is a group difference in intelligence does not mean that it has to be genetic, even though IQ is substantially inheritable on an individual level. That's just a statement of fact. Mr. Wattenberg: Let's try to finish up on this race issue. You write in the book that this question is still riddled with more questions than answers, and yet you write a book with Dick Herrnstein that is, I think, going to create a fire storm on this issue. Ifthere are more questions than answers available, isn't that irresponsible? Mr. Murray: No. I think that sentence you're quoting is with reference to the genes versus environment source of the difference.That's riddled with more questions than answers, and our conclusion at the end of that discussion is no one really knows. That's not irresponsible, that's the only thing we could say. But there's a very different question, which is, is there a difference, for whatever reasons, whether it's environmental or genetic, at the present time is it a difference that reflects significant differences in cognitive functioning? And on that, Ithink the answer is pretty straightforward and pretty clear, and we know a lot, and the answer to that is yes. Now having said that it'syes does not tell you what policy prescriptions should flow from that, but that answer itself is squarely in the middle of the scientific mainstream.
Mr. Wattenberg: All right, what are your and Dick Herrnstein's policy implications for all of this?
Mr. Murray: Point number one is that the book's purpose is not asa setup for a five-point plan. 'The Bell Curve' is written to bringto a general audience some really important issues, a nd the policy recommendations are secondary to that. Having said that, there are a bunch of very specific kinds ofthings that the book points to. I'll give you an example. You want to have a job training program for welfare mothers? You think that's going to cure the welfare problem? Well, when you construct that jobtraining program and try to decide what jobs they might qualify for,you had better keep in mind that the mean IQ of welfare mothers is somewhere in the '80s, which means that you have certain limitations in what you're going to accomplish.
Mr. Wattenberg: Now hold. You have written about welfare, and one of the things that you and many other conservatives have said, as I have understood it, is that the way we have foolishly set up our welfare system makes it a smart economic decision for people to go on welfare and stay on welfare. And now you're telling me, hey, those aren't smart people. First you say they're smart people, now you say they're stupid people. Now who are they - you've got to get your act together.
Mr. Murray: Ben, you haven't been listening to me. We've saidshort-term decision. In the short term it looks like the smart thing to do. And since I've given this answer lots of times, I know exactly what I say subsequently, which is in the long term it's a disaster.And guess who is most likely to make short-term decisions that ignore long-term consequences. It's people who aren't very smart.
Mr. Wattenberg: Okay. Back to the policy implications. You say it's not a five-point program, but I know there must be a program --
Mr. Murray: No, but we're also talking about policy implications with regard to that. If people think they are going to get out of the welfare mess, for example, by having these subtle long-termincentives, forget it. The way you are going to have an effect on behavior is with very large, simple, easy to understand, short-term,immediate consequences. That's the kind of policy implication that alot of our stuff has. Turning to other kinds of large policy implications, certainly we have policy implications regarding affirmative action. We assert and,I think, document very thoroughly that the way affirmative actionactually operates in this country cannot stand the light of day; that the nature of the edge that has been given to protected minorities,as the phrase goes, in the universities is not a little advantage in the admissions process, it's a very large advantage, which means thatyou have in most universities almost two separate populations of kids in terms of their academic ability, blacks and whites, and, of course, Asians being usually at the top; and that this creates all sorts of terrible consequences. So we would argue very strongly for a much more 1960-ish, early 1960s definition of affirmative action, which says cast a wide net,lean over backwards to make sure you're giving people a fair shot.There's that kind of policy implication. There are also implications in terms, I think, of economics. Dick Herrnstein and I think that in an era when low-paying jobs are increasingly not rewarded in the marketplace, and in an era when coming up in the short end of the stick in the IQ lottery means that that may be the only thing that's open to you, we're sympathetic to the idea of certain kinds of income supplements. We don't say a lot about them, we don't have any prescription, but we're sympathetic tot hat. But we don't really think the solutions lie in economics. We think that what we have to get serious about in this country is asking the question: How is it that people of a very broad range of abilities can find what we call valued places in society, places where, if they were gone, they would be missed? And we argue -- and then I'm giving you a 10-second answer to a 30-page question -- that one of the ways that we have to do this is by radically decentralizing the functions of life. That we've got to take a lot of the things that we poured into large bureaucracies in the center of town and return those functions to the neighborhood, not because it's more efficient to do that but because that's the way that you engage people in a community in the important stuff of life.
Mr. Wattenberg: Let me go on to one other thing. You link many social pathologies --crime, welfare, dependency, out-of-welfare --out-of-wedlock births -- to low IQs. Now, in theory, that would mean that the general -- that as these things have gone up, that IQ scores would be going down, but IQ scores are --
Mr. Murray: Not necessarily.
Mr. Wattenberg: -- IQ scores are not going down.
Mr. Murray: No, no, Ben, what is more -- much more plausible than that is to say something has changed in policy which makes people with low IQs a lot more vulnerable to these things than they used to be. And I would say that out-of-wedlock births is a classic example,that what you're really saying in this case is that in the 1960s and early '70s, with lots of changes in the policy, what happened is we changed things such that, for someone with a low IQ, it suddenly madea lot more sense to have a baby out of wedlock or became much more possible to them in terms of their view of the world than it did before. So I don't think you let social policy off the hook when you talk about the current relationships of IQ to these problems.
Mr. Wattenberg: You say in the book you are not indifferent to the ways in which this book, wrongly construed, might do harm. What are you afraid of as this thing goes through the journalistic mill?
Mr. Murray: I am afraid, first, of racists taking what we say as abasis for conclusions that Dick Herrnstein and I think are utterly unfounded. I am worried -- we were both worried about all the ways in which people are too inclined to take something like IQ and make it into fate. You know, 'Well, if they have a low IQ, then they can't do such and such. ' And so on. Throughout this whole process of writing this, therefore, we constantly had to say to ourself, 'Are we saying exactly what we mean?' And I think that is the reason why, in publishing this book, we are confident that it's going to be a force for good. It may very well be in the short term there will be people who try to do bad things with it. I like to think that we did a good enough job that there will be enough other people of goodwill who will point to what the book says and say, 'Those guys didn't say what you're trying to make them say.'
Mr. Wattenberg: Okay. Charles Murray, thank you very much. END