Ivy League Admissions and the Economic Value of ‘Gig’ Jobs

An article by Steven Pinker in The New Republic (The Ivy League Is Broken and Only Standardized Tests Can Fix It ) has set off a firestorm of debate on iSteve and elsewhere.

Pinker argues that the admission process for the Ivy Leagues is broken.

The admission process can seem frustratingly opaque, and despite the fears of Pinker and Unz, I still believe the Ivies (along with MIT and Caltech) are the closest approximations to meritocracies that select only the best and brightest out of a very large applicant pool. While the Ivies have no trouble finding good scorers, they also want are alumni that will bring money and prestige to the institution. I do agree we need more testing and testing is the best way to identity exceptionally talented youth, many of whom are bored with schoolwork and may get poor grades as a result. The Ivies, especially for high-paying majors, do provide among the best return on investment for any institution of higher learning, so its no surprise it’s very competitive, and to dissuade anyone that has a good shot of getting in from applying is stupid to say the least.

Of course, no admission process is perfect. Another problem is the inherent difficulty of screening for exceptionally high IQs, versus simply high-IQ.

For a test with a hundred questions, the difference between 98% percentile (>130 IQ) and 95% percentile (>124 IQ) may come down to one or two questions. As Steve noted, the new SAT has a lower ceiling than the old one, making it harder to identity exceptionally high IQ. Harvard has a lot of 130 < applicants and they have to pick whoever they think will bring the most value to the university. Compared to public universities like Berkeley, Harvard, a private university with a very substantial endowment fund, is in many respects like a business. The drama applicant may have a higher IQ than the chemist...it's hard to know because testing extreme IQ is hard and high-IQ does not always correspond with professions people think are 'smart'. Having an IQ above 130 puts you among the best and brightest and such individuals can succeed without the Ivy League, although, without a doubt, in an era of credentialism, the connections from attending an Ivy League can be invaluable. Testing can establish a cutoff of around 130, but that still leaves thousands of applicants and not everyone can get in.

A leftist article by the New York Times criticizing the low pay of ‘Gig economy’ jobs.

In their war on success, the liberals are blaming the ‘gig economy’ for exploiting the poor and desperate. However, we argue that these gig jobs, while requiring long hours with little pay and no compensation, are part of a broader post-2008 economic trend towards value creation and efficiency, which also includes the rise of ‘Big Data’. These gigs, as awful as they may seem, create more economic value than overpaid and redundant jobs, millions of which were systematically and indiscriminately eliminated since 2008 with hardly a second thought. The harsh reality is that, before 2008, there was a labor glut (too many employees relative to the economic value being created), and market forces are restoring the much needed balance in favor of the employer. Workers should take pride in knowing they are helping the economy by not being paid too much. People looking for work should be asking themselves, what can I do to create economic value? We, the American people, need to learn to stop being crybabies about supposedly hard economic times and suck it up. And finally, in a free market, if people didn’t want to do gigs they wouldn’t join those sites. This is also a possible free market solution to the entitlement spending problem, by forcing the low-IQ unemployed to do gigs instead of sucking from the government.

On a related note, Erick Erickson, a popular conservative blogger, took flak from the left for stating what many already know to be true: people who still make minimum wage in their 30′s are failures at life.

In reference to the post on conservative minimalism, I’ll add that voluntarily choosing to work a simple, low paying job to have more time to pursue intellectual endeavors is auspicious. Maybe a more accurate statement is that low IQ-people, many of whom are unemployed or in low-paying jobs, tend to lead mundane lives. Higher IQ people have more choices. However, middle age employment in a minimum wage (or close to it) service sector job, as opposed to a job requiring higher skills with more pay, is predominantly undertaken by society’s losers. There are always exceptions, but, by in large, Erick is right.

He is wrong about the part about not being ‘dealt a bad hand’, which conflicts with our views on biological determinism and original (cognitive) capacity. But that doesn’t mean low-IQ people deserve our sympathy or more entitlement spending; they are still losers even if they cannot control it.