Culture or Economics: What Causes Poverty?

Libertarian political scientist Charles Murray explains how culture contributes more to poverty.

A homeless encampment made of tents and tarps lines the Santa Ana riverbed near Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California, January 25, 2018. (ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
A homeless encampment made of tents and tarps lines the Santa Ana riverbed near Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California, January 25, 2018. (ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
By Tom Anderson / February 18, 2018 2:11 pm

In the age-old poverty debate between the left and the right, the left argues that poverty is mostly about economics while the right says culture has at least as much to do with it. Charles Murray, a libertarian political scientist and co-author of the controversial book The Bell Curve, squarely blames culture as a root cause of poverty. “I believe—I’ve believed for 40 years—that the reforms of the 1960s and the sexual revolution combined to create a perfect storm,” Murray said. “By 1970, it had become much easier if you were a guy to commit a crime, get caught for it, and still not go to jail. It was much easier to slide through school, even if you were a troublemaker, and end up with a diploma without having learned anything or having faced any pressure to learn something. If you were a young woman at the end of the 1960s, if you had a baby, you were not the only girl in your high school class who had one. There were probably half a dozen others. The stigma was pretty much gone. You could afford to take care of the child without a husband. And you could live with a boyfriend, which you couldn’t have done before.”

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