Race: Asking the Right Questions, Avoiding the “Wrong” Answers

(Steven Hayward) Robert Putnam, the Harvard political scientist who became famous 20 years ago for his “bowling alone” hypothesis about the erosion of social capital in the U.S., is out with a new co-authored book (with Shaylyn Romney Garrett) on racial disparities, The Upswing. Although a liberal, Putnam has not shrunk in the past from reporting data findings uncongenial to liberals, such as his careful work concluding that “diversity” and high rates of immigration actually lead to the erosion of social trust.


Social scientists such as the recently deceased Walter Williams, Thomas Sowell, Charles Murray, and others have pointed out these facts for decades now, and have been asking whether the Great Society social programs backfired. This hypothesis remains forbidden to liberals still—it is an answer so “wrong” that you aren’t even allowed to ask it in polite liberal company, and sure enough, Putnam and his co-author propose that the cause of the halting of black progress after the mid-1960s is attributable to two possible causes far removed from any effects of the welfare state.

The first is “white backlash,” which is hardly new, though strangely neither Putnam nor the legions of other thinkers who make this charge ever demonstrate any significant contraction in social welfare programs, civil rights enforcement, or “affirmative action” efforts to assist blacks and other minorities. Nor do the proponents of “white backlash” ever entertain reasons why whites might have thought the Great Society made a cascade of mistakes.

The second explanation runs toward the bizarre. Putnam and Garrett say the reversal of black progress owes to what they call “a single meta-trend that we have come to call the “I-we-I” curve: An inverted U charting America’s gradual climb from self-centeredness to a sense of shared values, followed by a steep descent back into egoism over the next half century.”

Source: Race: Asking the Right Questions, Avoiding the “Wrong” Answers