One Hot Potato

Libertarian intellectual and provocateur Charles Murray on his upcoming Boise visit



The Idaho Freedom Foundation calls Dr. Charles Murray a "revered" and "venerable" scholar. The Southern Poverty Law Center calls him a "white nationalist." When someone told Riverside Hotel co-owner Linda Johnson that Murray was the keynote speaker for the Saturday, Aug. 26, IFF Faces of Freedom Banquet being held at the Riverside, she did some research. Johnson then told IFF that, despite its long-standing reservation, the Riverside would not host the event, citing a responsibility for the safety of employees and guests in light of possible protests.

"We support diversity in our community. We have a diverse workforce. We are a family company. We have people enjoying our hotel who are families. It's no place for that kind of an event," Johnson said.

Murray has been a hot potato since the 1994 publication of The Bell Curve, which he co-wrote with Richard Herrnstein. In it, Murray argues African-Americans statistically get lower scores on IQ tests than white Americans, and that intelligence is a driving factor in political, social and economic inequality as America sorts by cognitive ability. Racial disparities in IQ scores were tempered when adjusted for environmental factors.

Criticism of the book was immediate, lasting and has largely gravitated toward the question of whether, or how, the work is racist. One early review in The New York Review of Books criticized its use of sources connected with extreme-right think tanks and South African Apartheid. Another, published in July in Current Affairs, argues the book "attempt[s] to attribute black-white economic differences to factors intrinsic to black people" [author's emphasis].

Murray told Boise Weekly he is "sick unto death" of some aspects of defending his work and touched on current events. He said there were some parallels between his experience and that of James Damore, the Google engineer who authored "Google's Ideological Echo Chamber," which outlined biological differences between the sexes that may account for gender disparities in the technology industry. Damore was fired over the memo, which was allegedly a violation of the Google code of conduct.

"To fire a person for writing a thing like that is pandering to a mob," Murray said.

Some of the themes of his work have played out politically. In early August, President Donald Trump backed a proposal that would cut immigration into the U.S. nearly in half by limiting the ability of American citizens and legal residents to bring their families into the country—all while keeping the number of immigrants who receive legal residency for their job skills stable at approximately 140,000.

Murray said he supports immigration into the U.S. by high-skill applicants—"Give 'em all green cards, as far as I'm concerned," he said—but he also claimed the proposal could raise the value of low-skill labor, driving up wages and workforce participation for native-born Americans. Still, he said he has "sympathy" for Idaho agriculture and dairy organizations that have called for immigration reform, citing labor shortages.

"There's something that makes me a little queasy about supporting a policy that benefits me, [which] I know very well exacts a price on other people, and that's what I think the elites have been doing in their permissive attitude toward low-skill immigration," he said.

Murray's ideas and reputation have sometimes been met with violence. During a March 2017 interview engagement at Middlebury College, protests against Murray on campus escalated dangerously, resulting in injuries. The incident and the safety concerns it raised are why the Riverside Hotel closed its doors to the IFF banquet.

The event has since been moved to Chateau des Fleurs, where one of the owners, Roshan Roghani-Ishaq, said she was unaware of the controversy surrounding Murray and has received heated public response in regards to the banquet. She and Chateau des Fleurs are moving forward with the event anyway.

"In the face of [the public response to the event], you try to bring people together," Roghani-Ishaq said.


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