Matthew Yglesias considers the AEI at one remove:
Charles Murray’s Praise of Human Misery: I kind of scanned Charles Murray’s recent big AEI speech expecting to read something interesting, since I’d seen quite a few conservatives offer it lavish praise. As best I could tell, though, his argument is that the problem with a social democratic model is that it makes people too fat and happy, thus depriving them of the higher contentment offered by suffering and misery. Damon Linker has a good summary:
But that’s not all. Because genuine happiness, for Murray, requires spending one’s life striving to overcome an endless series of challenges and obstacles, the lavish European safety net ensures that individual Europeans will never experience spiritual contentment or satisfaction. The assumption seems to be that a life of leisure — or at least a life with open access to health care, quality child care, generous unemployment insurance, and 4 - 6 weeks of guaranteed vacation time a year — will be an unhappy one. (It doesn’t sound half-bad to me, but I’m a Euro-loving liberal.)
Luckily, though, there is the American alternative (at least until Barack Obama gets through with us). Unlike coddled Europeans, Americans face the constant possibility of personal economic catastrophe. They work their lives away just to make ends meet, never knowing if they’ll be rewarded for their efforts by being fired by their employer or impoverished by medical bills after a life-threatening illness. And that constant insecurity is what opens up the possibility of genuine happiness for them, because if they manage to survive, let alone thrive, they’ll know that they did it on their own, without the help of the state, through heroic acts of self-reliance. This ideology — equal parts Christian masochism, Emersonian individualism, and Nietzschean striving — forms the core of American exceptionalism, according to Murray.
It’s really that weird, and as Linker notes has important similarities with the Donner Party conservatism that John Holbo found in David Frum’s Dead Right.
It's a wonder that Charles Murray doesn't come out against water treatment plants--after all, unless you fear that today might be the day your baby dies of dysentery, you can never be truly happy...