That said, the core causal mechanism that Murray identifies has to do with the distribution of human capital rather than the meritocratic elite’s public policy priorities (or its taste in alcohol and recreational activities). The creation of an aptitude-based elite, he argues, has inevitably segregated America by talent: More than at any point in our history, the smartest people generally go to high school and certainly to college with one another, move en masse to “creative cities” after college, marry their fellow high achievers and then raise their kids in the cocoons of what Murray calls the SuperZips. The problem with this system isn’t that the meritocrats look down on working-class culture (though “Coming Apart” does get in plenty of digs at elite snobbery). Rather, it’s that the meritocrats don’t participate in working class culture, and that “assortative mating” and geographic clustering have deprived lower-income communities of the social capital (and with it, strong civic institutions, political influence, and so on) that the smart and diligent possess. In this sense, Murray’s analysis follows the late, great Christopher Lasch in arguing that meritocracy works almost too well: Plucking the best and brightest from every walk of life and then encouraging them to live in community almost exclusively with one another means that the rest of the country is deprived of people who otherwise would have been local leaders, local entrepreneurs, the hubs of local social networks, etc.
Written by Ross Douthat, New York Times columnist and former editor of The Atlantic, magna cum laude graduate of Harvard, son of a lawyer and a writer, married to a fellow writer and Harvard summa cum laude graduate, and resident of “SuperZip” Washington, D.C.
I’ve been following the discussions over Coming Apart, on Douthat’s blog and elsewhere, and my brain simply can’t process the fact that fact that many of those who praise the book, including Douthat, don’t involve his own biography in his discussions about “Coming Apart” at all. He’s exactly the kind of ‘elite’ that Murray is criticizing in the book. Douthat has constantly stated that he understands and appreciates Murray’s arguments. But he doesn’t seem to have actually engaged with it in terms of his own life. At least, not as far as I can tell from his writing.
Kidding aside, I do think that this is an interesting thing to think about, though I think that Murray crucially ignores some of the government policy involved in this meritocratic sorting. Zoning laws that prohibit mixed use and demand minimum housing sizes that keep neighborhoods of all one social class. Public school funding based on local property taxes. Etc.