With the exception of homosexuality, many on the left adopt a ‘blank slate’ approach to human biology in that upon conception, all individuals have the same potential and that socioeconomic outcomes and cognitive ability are influenced heavily by environmental factors. Therefore, it’s the job of a paternalistic society to ‘program’ these ‘blank slates’ in much the same way a computer is programmed so that egalitarian outcomes can be achieved. Furthermore, no one is intrinsically better than anyone else, and if some individuals are more successful than others it’s because of some ‘unfair’ environmental advantage, never innate talent that can be attributed to superior genes. To close this achievement gap the left seeks redistribution in the form of higher taxes, higher interest rates and other initiatives that specifically punish the most successful and useful members of society, or by wasting money on useless programs such as ‘universal pre-K’.
In the intervening years between Jon Entine’s Taboo and David Epstein’s The Sports Gene, incremental progress has been made in that to make the link between biology and outcomes in physical activity, such as professional sports, is no longer off-limits. But to make a connection between IQ and socioeconomic outcomes or to suggest that some individuals, upon conception, are smarter than others and therefore are more likely to succeed at life, is a position that still garners much criticism by the blank slate left.
The left doesn’t really care about biology as it pertains to things such as running and jumping, because those are skills are are less pertinent in America’s post-2008 hyper-competitive economy. But IQ has a direct influence all of our lives, especially in our winner-take-all economy where the cognitive differences between individuals can have great ramifications from standardized test scores, to income, employment, and professional success. Globalization, hyper-capitalism, technological progress, and financialization has widened the wealth gap between the cognitive elite and everyone else, threatening the left’s vision of some egalitarian utopia. From multi-billion dollar web 2.0 valuations, to surging stock prices and nosebleed prices in high-end real estate, the cognitive elite have been the among biggest winners of the post-2008 economy. Social Darwinism isn’t just some fringe belief of a bygone era; it’s blaring at us, deafening and immutable.
But the left is resourceful. When pressed, many will concede that, yes some people are smarter than others and this intelligence may have a biological origin, but that’s where it ends. The left’s most effective strategy in downplaying the benefits and significance of IQ is turn high-IQ into handicap. Yes, being better now means you’re worse. Some of the excuses used by the left to marginalize IQ include:
…people with high-IQs are deficient in ‘street smarts’
…there is no correlation between IQ and success
…early to ripen, early to rot
…individuals with high-IQs are less ethical, have poor social skills, etc
…humans are irrational, and smart people are the most irrational of all because they fall for the conjunction fallacy (invoking Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman to downplay IQ, in part by trying to show how smart people are irrational. Libs like Nicolas Nassim Taleb habitually cite Long-Term Capital Management of an example of when ‘genius failed’. Nevermind when genius created electricity, rockets, or computers.)
…IQ, as measured by an IQ test, is just one of multiple intelligences, many of which cannot be measured by the traditional test format (If you create enough intelligences, anyone can be a genius at…something)
…high-IQ comes at the cost of ‘common sense’
…IQ and standardized tests, such as the SAT, are biased and don’t measure practical skills
…’I have a friend who has a high-IQ and he did nothing in life…blah blah’ (anecdotal evidence)
…high-IQ people burn out quickly, squander their potential, and achieve nothing in life (the Terman study is often cited)
While the Terman study produced no Nobel Prize winners or technology billionaires, statistically speaking, a higher IQ increases the likelihood of success as measured by academic output, creative output (like punishing a book), income, and other indicators. There is a fascinating tedx talk about how standardized tests, contrary to what the left says about such tests being useless, can predict lifetime outcomes such as wages, being published in a journal, level of academic attainment, and so on. You look at the most successful web 2.0 companies and all of the people involved – from the investors to the founders to the employees – all have above average IQs. The same goes for Wall St., or the vast majority of high-paying professions, where high intellect is required. The next Bill Gates or Zuckerberg isn’t going to have an average IQ. While there are low-tech ways to get rich such as skilled trades, the vast majority of people in unskilled professions, such as the low-paying service sector, make little money and barely get by. That’s not to say we should try to help these people – we shouldn’t because that would be a waste of resources that could otherwise benefit more useful members of society, and entitlement spending is already too high.
The importance of IQ, especially in the post-2008 era, is self-evident and cannot be overstated. In debunking these leftist misconceptions about IQ, we can educate and implore policy makers to create pro-growth policy that will allocate more resources to allow individuals with superior IQs to achieve their full potential, which will help the economy and make all of our lives better.