Charles Murray’s Wake Up Call on Race Problems

Charles Murray just can’t help himself; he’s been a social scientist and prolific author for almost 40 years, writing books on the American experience and societal issues. Now he is back in the mix with a book, Facing Reality: Two Truths About Race in America (Encounter Books 2021), that follows up on the book he wrote with Richard Herrnstein, The Bell Curve (1994).  That magnificent work blew the top off of racial debates in America with its in-depth analysis of racial cognitive ability (IQ) differences and socio-economic mobility of Americans and factors that are associated with success in life.


The 79-year-old scholar and warrior at the American Enterprise Institute is back at it, trying to substitute facts and analysis for the sloppy thinking and emotions that pervade academia and politics in America.  While the chattering class and media focus on inequities and claims of social injustice, Dr. Murray (Ph.D. MIT) points out that although there is certainly racism in every society and in America, the reality is that the inequities of socioeconomic status are more the result of cognitive ability and criminal activity.

The majority of the relatively short but powerful and scholarly book, Facing Reality, is focused on data and evidence. Murray repeatedly reminds us that all social science research must always be careful to consider contributing factors.

Murray disputes the fashionable assumption that racial discrimination creates social inequities.  The reality, says Murray, is that racial inequalities in America between European- and African-heritage people in health, wealth, position, status, and income can be traced to a significant disparity in African Americans’ cognitive ability and criminal behavior.  The inequalities are also present to a lesser degree for Latin-heritage people.

The reverse is true for Asians, who have higher IQs and socioeconomic success than Europeans.  Murray holds to the conviction that American society is not pervasively and irredeemably riddled with racism and that meritocratic America is egalitarian and emphasizes individual opportunity, rewards, and accountability.  As Murray points out, if the pipeline to particularly high achievement is considered, the number of high IQ persons in that pipeline is colorblind. 

Murray’s view of the disparate higher rate of criminality in the African and Latin communities is a separate analysis that has to do with how members of a group fit into the society as good citizens.  If your group has a violent crime rate 2 or 3 times or more than the rate of the Europeans and Asians, that produces less assimilation and less success. 

Murray aims to revive what he calls the “American creed,” a set of ideal commitments to foundational freedoms, human dignity, individualism, equality under the law, and the use of neutral, colorblind measures of individual talent and competence to assign economic and social roles. Central to this code, still supported by Americans, is a meritocratic and impartial standard for all.  Murray condemns the distortion of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by the government, judiciary, and political class to create reverse discrimination, quotas, and set-aside racial preferences, impacting employment and academic choices.   Critical Race Theory and its associated concepts have created an environment that repudiates the principles of the founding and created counterproductive and polarizing abandonment of the American principle of a meritocracy and treatment of citizens as individuals, not members of a race, ethnic group, or tribe.

In the cognitive function section of the book, Murray makes the case that widely used and properly developed tests in academia, business settings, and the military do measure cognitive ability and IQ (also called g) and there is no evidence that the tests fail to measure the potential for academic success.  

Murray is assiduous in his use of statistics and research methods.  His population studies information show traits usually fall quantitatively in a bell-shaped pattern with the big bulk of the population in the middle and tails on the low and high sides.  That shape amplifies differences on the tails. For example, Murray estimates that of the 23 million Americans who are in their late twenties, there are currently about 228,000 with I.Q.s in excess of 135. That pool contains only about 2,800 Africans and 9,500 Latins, compared to 50,000 Asians and 160,000 Europeans.  Africans are about 14% of the population but represent only slightly more than 1% of the 135 IQ plus pool -- or about 1 in every 100 people headed for high-level jobs or professions.  So the pipeline to high achievement is dominated by Asians and Europeans (whites).  Such realities create inequities that have nothing to do with racism.

Murray’s opponents continue to cling to the theory that racism creates inequities, and demand a war on structural racism and systematic racism. But Murray is skeptical about the chances to change the fundamental reason for the inequities: cognitive differences.  There is no known way to raise IQs and reduce inequalities in cognition, but Murray points out that genetic determination of IQ is somewhere between 40 and 80%.

 Crime rates 

What about the role of racial gaps in criminal offending? Murray’s message can be simply stated: Africans and Latins commit crimes, especially violent crimes and homicide, at higher rates than other groups in American society. Europeans, and especially Asians, are much less involved in criminal activity.  Especially in minority-heavy urban centers, violence is almost exclusively committed by Africans and Latins and is intraracial, or between, Africans and Latins. Asians and Europeans take a pass. 

Murray tallies criminal activity reports and rates of unlawful violence among Africans and finds that it is as much as 9 to 11 times that of the background population.  Latin crime rates lag but still are higher. The left has faulted Murray’s evidence on crime, claiming police racism, but criminal involvement is far more common among Africans than in other demographic groups.  For violent crime, Murray emphasizes that police bias is much less of a factor in decisions to arrest.

Murray asserts effectively that crime creates community disorder and civil chaos that damage racial relations and certainly impacts the residents, due to the high rate of black-on-black or Latin-on-Latin crime, particularly violent crime.  But this differential crime rate also impacts the choices of other groups on starting or maintaining businesses or choosing homes. Widespread residential de facto segregation is directly related to security and crime issues.  The reality is that elites who claim to be social justice supporters choose high-end neighborhoods, avoiding contact with minorities except for minorities of their social strata.

The American meritocracy that Murray promotes requires dismantling the Diversity Equity Inclusion (DIE) governmental business and academic bureaucracies, now well developed and able to preserve their hegemony.  At present these bureaucracies are blind to the realities Murray discusses.

In The Bell Curve, which was my introduction to Murray 30 years ago, Murray and Herrnstein emphasized that civil conduct and the adoption of sensible and moral social behavior will overcome some of the disadvantages of a lower IQ.  Marriage and work create an ordered personal life that extends to community participation and social justice.  Societies need to promote norms of behavior.

We know little about improving IQs, but the research of Murray and Herrnstein showed that people of limited cognitive ability will be successful if they complete high school, then work and work effectively, marry before children and live a good citizen’s life of obeying the law. Imagine a national program to promote strong intact families and civil society.  Common sense, but far removed from the current political-social attitudes.

Law enforcement is a reasonable activity to reduce crime across the board but, first, the elites need to abandon the idea that criminals should not be held accountable since they suffer from some deprivation or mental disease that makes them criminal.  The mentally ill are a special problem but it is essential not to confuse personality disorders with mental illness. Defunding police and excusing or pitying criminals is not going to fix the crime rate.  The rule of law is the basis for civil order and peace. 

Facing Reality goes over some old ground but the evidence presented is compelling.  Solutions to our problems are not so easy to achieve given the ideologies that dominate the public square.  Murray recommends the American credo, individual freedom, responsibility, accountability, and morality. This is an ideology that can be traced to Aristotle and other ancients and is now the foundation of the conservative consensus.

John Dale Dunn, MD JD is a resident of Brownwood, Texas

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