Book Reviews



In Our Hands
A Plan to Replace the Welfare State 

by Charles Murray

Review by Richard Sheppard


Libertarian thinker Charles Murray is best known for co-authoring a controversial book - The Bell Curve (1996) - which drew quite politically-incorrect conclusions about the distribution of intelligence across America society. This reviewer, not having much of a personal stake in the "education debate" is only passingly familiar with The Bell Curve, but understood the validity of Murray's argument. Perhaps having now read In Our Hands, it might be worth checking The Bell Curve out of the library. While In Our Hands might not lead to the policies the author so convincingly promotes, it surely offers a gourmets feast for thought. And places Charles Murray among the most original and sagacious thinkers of our times.

Because in 127 short pages (not counting statistical appendices Murray uses to support his conclusions), Murray presents what he terms "the Plan": a complete dismantling of most if not all direct government benefits payments, replacing these myriad programs with a straightforward, no-questions-asked $10,000 annual grant to every person over 21-years-old. No more Social Security, food stamps, education assistance, agricultural subsidies, "welfare as we know it", unemployment insurance, the whole panoply of the government nanny-state zeroed out. Ten-thousand dollars for anyone making up to $25,000, with the subsidy decreasing as an individual's income increases. Is it a "radical" idea? Of course it is, but the clarity Murray's reasoned arguments of how his Plan would practically operate are a tour-de-force of common-sense policymaking. Does anyone seriously think that the present system of American wealth re-distribution works? Murray never arrogantly predicts his way is better. He just analyzes some indisputable facts and statistics and draws conclusions so compelling you want public officials to act on them immediately. No exaggeration, TODAY. Above all, while Murray's extensive statistical analyses (and he builds wide skeptical cushions into his analyses) presents the Plan as financially feasible, it's in his Libertarian's understanding of social behavior and incentives where his Plan could have the greatest human impact beyond dollars-and-cents. 

It is beyond the capacity of this reviewer to present Murray's elegant arguments here; it would be supremely advisable for anyone with, say, a passing interest in the coming Social Security and Medicaid demographic debacle, to read this book. The lucidity and brevity of In Our Hands means that reading it would be among the most thought-provoking and profitable few hours you could spend. 


Wasn't sure who to email, but wanted to pass along that having just finished Charles Murray's incredible tour-de-force In Our Hands, thanks to you folks at AEI for supporting such a creative thinker. That he was able to explain his fascinating Plan in just 127 short pages (besides the appendices), demonstrates gargantuan clarity of thought. If only the preening pols in the beltway had even a smidgen of his powerful intellect. Best book this reader has read so far this year, and there's been a lot read. 

Cheers to AEI for all the good work you do.

Rich Sheppard
Jersey City, NJ

From AEI

Dear Mr. Sheppard,

Thank you for your kind words. I will forward your e-mail to Mr. Murray.

Véronique Rodman
Director of Public Affairs
American Enterprise Institute

From Mr. Murray

Veronique Rodman forwarded your lovely note to me. Many, many thanks,

-- Charles Murray

Apart from the purely economic arguments of handing out the $10,000 annual stipends, Murray predicts an accompanying rejuvenation of America's overall happiness quotient. Murray persuasively describes how his Plan, directly and indirectly, will generate far greater individual and community benefits than the current entrenched and woefully outdated welfare state. Murray has the Libertarian's faith in the judgment of individuals over the state. He makes no bones that there will be serious dislocations from his Plan, but fewer than the present debased hopelessness expressed in government-organized social engineering.

Murray is no pie-eyed dreamer, and he begins his work by describing it as a "thought experiment" facing significant obstacles (entrenched government, special interests, and stultified thinking) for implementation. But likely as he was finishing his fascinating work, a ray of optimism permitted him to decide that - given America's stupendous wealth - some of his arguments might eventually prevail. They should prevail tomorrow.

If there is one public policy book you are considering reading soon, burn all of the others and read In Our Hands, Charles Murray's short, concise, and hopefully influential proposals for America's future. The status-quo, which we know from decades-long futility, has failed. It is time indeed for serious considered and well-reasoned alternative - Murray's Plan.