The Manhattan Institute at 25

Tom Wolfe, in Brian Anderson, ed., Turning Intellect into Influence, Manhattan Institute, 2004.


But when the smoke cleared, Losing Ground was still standing. It had proved impossible to pigeonhole it in any ideological fashion. Murray had served in the Peace Corps in Thailand for six years after graduating from Harvard and wrote with a genuine sympathy for the poor. He wasn’t talking about “welfare queens” but poor people smothered by a government policy that assumed they were hopeless cases with childish minds. He had no political agenda. His research proved to be incontestable, despite the early outcries. And his prescription was simple: for humanitarian reasons it was time to scrap welfare as it currently existed.

Losing Ground proved to be one of those extraordinary books that redirect public policy all by themselves, like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring or Michael Harrington’s The Other America, the book that triggered the War on Poverty in the first place. By 1996, Bill Clinton, the most liberal president since Franklin Roosevelt, was calling for “an end to welfare as we know it” and saying about Murray: “He did the country a service.”