America’s ‘Cold War Philosophy’

America’s hidden philosophy

This is not an issue for rational choice theory, which concerns cases where my identity is not at stake, such as choosing which brand of toothpaste to buy, or (usually) which candidate to vote for. But when rational choice theory becomes Cold War philosophy, it applies to everything, and everything about me becomes a matter of choice.

‘Cold war philosophy’ seems like an amalgamation of neoliberalism, public choice theory, prospect theory, efficient market hypothesis, rational expectations, behavior economics, and ‘Chicago school‘, all of which came onto the Academic scene during the Cold War, in the 60’s-70’s.

Some of these are contradictory; for example, behavior economics vs. rational expectations, the latter which presupposes humans are utility-maximizing agents who instantly discount all new information (efficient market hypothesis). But both models to some extent are correct: in the short-run stocks seem to exhibit randomness, in agreement with the EMH, but over the longer-run, certain ‘trends’ can emerge (for example, the historical tendency of the S&P 500 to rise).

But the author also writes:

Cold War philosophy also continues to structure US society at large. Consider the widespread use of multiple-choice tests for tracking students. Whether one takes an ACT or a SAT, one is basically being tested on one’s ability to choose, quickly and accurately, from a presented array of alternative answers – under a preference, of course, for agreement with the test designers. Rational choice thus became the key to one’s placement in the national meritocracy, as illustrated by what I call the ‘40’s test’: if you know that someone has got 440, 540, 640 or 740 on the SATs (under the scoring system in effect until March 2016), you usually know a lot about their subsequent life. Someone who scored a 440, for example, likely attended a community college or no college, and worked at a relatively humble job. Someone with a 740 was usually accepted into an elite university and had much grander opportunities. Many countries, of course have meritocracies – but few pin them as tightly to rational choice as the US does.

The SAT has a verbal and math component, so I dunno what he means by ‘440, 540, 640 or 740’, unless what the author meant that these values are doubled to obtain the full score. But seldom do people get identical math and verbal scores.

Also, notice the contradiction. The importance of the SAT as a sort of ‘sorting mechanism‘ for who succeeds of fails in society invalidates such ‘free will’ and choice. Yes, you have choice, but only within one’s biological constraints.

That’s why there is the so-called ‘meritocracy stratified by IQ‘. It’s like the Peter Principle, but applied to life in general, not just work.

But it’s also the meritocracy within the birth lottery; the two need not be mutually exclusive, and that’s the way I reconcile the birth lottery with the meritocracy. Look at the Silicon Valley tech culture, which epitomizes the meritocracy, but is mostly restricted to high-IQ people. Lower IQ people also have their meritocracies within their own IQ caste.

A person with an IQ 130 has much more ‘choice’ than someone with an IQ of only 90.