It is hard to believe that there is anyone on the planet who is not familiar with the story of A Christmas Carol. Written in a six-week period in October and November of 1843, the novel was the first of five short Christmas books published by Charles Dickens. Obviously, it was the most successful novel in the series. In fact, he was so certain that people would like his story that he refused to sell the rights to his publisher and instead paid to publish it himself. His instincts proved correct, and soon after its publication all of the copies were sold.
The focus on individuals is so entrenched, however, that even those who think they’re taking social factors into account usually aren’t. This is as true of Murray’s critics as it is of Murray himself. Perhaps Murray’s greatest single mistake is to misinterpret the failure of federal antipoverty programs. He assumes that federal programs actually target the social causes of poverty, which means that if they don’t work, social causes must not be the issue. But he’s simply got it wrong. Welfare and other antipoverty programs are ‘social’ only in the sense that they’re organized around the idea that social systems like government have a responsibility to do something about poverty. But antipoverty programs are not organized around a sociological understanding of how systems produce poverty in the first place. As a result, they focus almost entirely on changing individuals and not systems, and use the resources of government and other systems to make it happen.