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Amid Protest about Bell Curve, Murray Explains Libertarianism

By Brett Altschul

Last Wednesday, controversial author Charles Murray PhD '74 spoke at the Tang Center about his new book, What It Means to Be a Libertarian.

Murray is a Bradley Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He is best known for The Bell Curve, which he co-wrote with the late Richard Hernstein in 1994.

The book came under fire for its statements about racial intelligence differences. The Bell Curve's most inflammatory point was that blacks and hispanics inherently had lower intelligence than whites, who were below Asians and Jews.

Students who objected to The Bell Curve's conclusions protested the event. They posted flyers near posters advertising the talk and handed them out outside the event.

The flyers said, "Charles Murray is a racist bigot" and attacked the statistical basis for his conclusions. They claimed that MIT was insulting all minorities by inviting Murray to speak.

However, in introducing Murray, Professor of Political Science Steven M. Meyer praised Murray for taking a controversial stand and cited his many influential contributions to political science over the last 15 years.

Because of scheduling confusion, the event began late while Murray waited for people to arrive. In the meantime, he waited outside the auditorium, selling copies of What It Means to Be a Libertarian and signing copies of all his books.

Murray takes fire from every side

In his speech, Murray focused on the basics of libertarianism, explaining his personal views. "I consider myself a mainstream libertarian," he said, "so I take fire from every side."

Murray espoused the idea that government should not do anything that cannot be done by private individuals. He maintained that this should only really include police authority, court systems, national defense, and a form of environmental protection.

Murray also explained something that he claimed was not getting enough attention in analysis of libertarian ideas: the value of independence. "This is critical to libertarians, but we don't do a good job of explaining it," he said.

The things that really produce satisfaction are the things that people play a crucial part in accomplishing, Murray said. "If the work will get done whether you do it or not, it lacks meaning," he said.

Murray claimed that the welfare state robs people's lives of meaning, because they are aided by the government even if they fail to support themselves.

"Social policy of the last 60 years in general and the last 30 years in particular has taken away from people any need to do labor," he said. "A person who's working down at the loading dock can't say, If I weren't doing this, my family wouldn't be able to make it.'"

After speaking for half an hour, Murray answered questions for an equal length of time. The questions frequently targeted the vagueness of his views and their apparent "pie-in-the-sky" nature.

However, Murray countered that a growing number of people would seriously consider his ideas for disposing of much of the government structure, using the Social Security system as an example of a program that many young people would probably be willing to get out of, even if they lost their entire current investment in it.

Although Murray expressed his willingness to answer questions about The Bell Curve in addition to questions about libertarianism, no one in the audience asked him anything about his earlier book.