The Futile Pursuit of Equality
…it’s not just insta-rich tech entrepreneurs who are on the top of America’s post-2008 hierarchy of importance; theoretical physicists, economists, programmers, policy wonks, the high-functioning autistic savant, quants, and mathematicians – regardless of personal wealth – also occupy a lofty position. In more ways than one, The Bell Curve is not just a science book, but a prophetic glimpse into our more unequal future.
In his controversial but prophetic 1995 book The Bell Curve, Charles Murray attributes wealth inequality to cognitive stratification and the difficulties that the increasing complexities of modern life present to low IQ individuals, resulting in the delamination of society into a cognitive elite (which we call smarties) and everyone else. This couldn’t be more relevant today. Never before have the socioeconomic benefits of being smart and rich have been so great, or the disadvantages of merely being below-average been so grave and intractable. Perhaps we should take heed or at least acknowledge the prescience of Murray’s writings, instead of being so quick to dismiss it as ‘racist’.
And from Handle Haus, in a 50000-word review of Tyler Cowen’s Average is Over:
But as many have already pointed out, some of the big problems with efficient meritocracies is that eventually the hinterlands get severely creamed like fresh milk. Not just drained of brains, but of the whole natural local aristocracy capable of judicious community leadership, and willing to perform it in a way where they can use their status to advertise for more civilized standards of behavior. Furthermore, those who don’t succeed are left without any socially acceptable excuse to explain away their pathetic condition, and so must contend with the psychological burden – and the hit to ego and self-esteem via sociometer – of knowing definitively that they are real hopeless losers, and of knowing that everyone else knows that about them too. This seems like a recipe for all kinds of trouble, especially the channeling of these negative emotions into potentially explosive resentments. I guess that’s what the tranquilizers will be for. Not exactly what they meant by, “insure domestic tranquility.”
It’s like The Bell Curve is becoming reality. IQ differences are isomorphic to differences in socioeconomic outcomes, whereas generations ago such intellectual differences weren’t so important. IQ has become a sorting mechanism for success or failure in society, although Tyler doesn’t explicitly say so. It’s mostly implied. “If you’re not smart, the future will be challenging for you” And then there is attitude..awhile ago in an interview or something, Tyler said that poor attitudes are hurting low-skilled workers. In a service-oriented economy, interpersonal skills are important.
AI and robots are unlikely to be as big of a threat as many are predicting, particularly for low-IQ service workers, whose jobs seem to be impervious to automation. Food service, delivery, waiting tables, etc. have all yet to be automated (it doensn’t mean such jobs cannot be automated, but progress has been excruciatingly slow). Furthermore, from the post Why Robots Won’t Take All The Jobs, the ‘old’ jobs never completely vanish, in spite of automation. For example, consider self-checkout machines and fast food self-ordering kiosks. Rather than these machines displacing fast food and grocery jobs, they supplement them, meaning that the total employee count does not fall:
In other instances, automation and employees coexist, meaning that the total employee count does not fall despite automation. Rather than food stores eliminating all cashiers, self-checkouts coexist with them, and also employees are assigned to monitor the self-checkout machines.
Total fast food employment has grown despite automation.
A misconception of The Bell Curve (and HBD in general) is that low-IQ people are useless to society. Too many, yes, can be problematic due to fiscal drain, but due to comparative advantage, as discussed earlier, assuming low and medium-IQ jobs cannot be completely automated, it’s probably optimal for someone with an IQ of 100 to do a job that someone with an IQ of 80-90 can do, than for someone with an IQ of 140 to do that job. The IQ 140 person would probably be very bored.
Furthermore, in agreement with Murray’s Coming Apart, America is splitting (or already split) between elites and everyone else. The meritocracy, although it has helped the talented-poor amd middle class advance, has also contributed to class stratification:
As discussed in the post Collapse, the post-1960′s rise of these high-IQ enclaves parallels the decline of once-powerful manufacturing and blue-collar cities and states such as Detroit, Michigan, and Chicago, which decades later remain in a perpetual funk. As of writing this, Manhattan, Cambridge, and Silicon Valley are smarter, wealthier, and more powerful and influential than ever before, even despite Trump’s win, which was supposed to be a repudiation of ‘cosmopolitan, globalist values’. The ‘coming apart’ as described by Murray is only accelerating, and grip of the ‘university empire’ is stronger now than ever before (especially given how the elite cities have done so well but also how the wage premium between college grads and high school grads keeps widening).
‘University Empire’ is an apt metaphor, but also the ’empires’ of wealth creation and technology. Wealth, capitalism, technology, and intellectualism…all linked together, and are the drivers of society, but also the dividers, too.
A common criticism is that IQ is not everything: conscientiousness matters too. In his videos about IQ, Jordan Peterson stresses the importance of conscientiousness. But it is easier to test for IQ than conscientiousness. IQ tests are objective, can administered in under an hour, can be graded automatically, and the scores follow a normal distribution, whereas measuring conscientiousness is much more painstaking, but also there is no standardization. That is what the interview process tries to do, but also referrals and stuff like that. Often employers will try to screen for IQ first, and if the applicant passes, then try to determine personality factors like conscientiousness.
Often people who are conscientious but not smart enough still fail. Google for example wants people who are smart enough to code. It’s demonstration intellect that gets the the interview; conscientiousness or lack thereof manifests later. If you have a pool of only high IQ people, some of them are going to also be conscientious, but if you hire only people who demonstrate conscientious (assuming conscientiousness can be reliably measured), there is no guarantee any of them will be smart enough, and whereas conscientiousness can be improved, IQ cannot. A person with an IQ of 90 and conscientiousness cannot code, but for someone with an IQ of 120 and unknown conscientiousness, at least there is hope.
Another major problem with personality tests is that anyone who is reasonably intelligent can produce answers that confer to said desired personality. That is why conscientiousness is trainable (because someone can at least pretend and or make an effort to be conscientious), but IQ is not.
Immigration is another concern, although I’m skeptical that it’s the root of all problems as Vox Day and others assume. In 2006-2008 as the housing market imploded, foreign-born construction workers saw a greater percentage decline than native-born workers even though they earned less per hour, suggesting that cost is not the only determining factor in who is hired or fired. If cost were everything, in 2008-2009 there should have been more immigration and lower unemployment for immigrants due to employers replacing expensive American labor with cheap foreign labor, but that was not the case. Workers are not fungible, meaning that a native-born construction worker is not identical to a foreign-born one, save for cost. Vox Day and others argue that immigration destroys jobs for native-born workers. I see plenty of arguments for both sides but no consensus. Bryan Caplan argues that immigration is at net-positive for all workers, but to the best of my knowledge the verdict is still out on this.
Macro factors seem to play a role; for example, the post-2008 decline of the energy, construction, and financial services sectors, which employ medium-IQ people and pay good wages. The decline of manufacturing relative to GDP, which began in the 50’s, however, predates the influx of immigration, which began in the 80’s.
We’re also seeing the rise of the post-labor society. Not only is average over, so too is ‘going to work’ for an increasingly large percentage of the population, who have permanently dropped out of the labor force despite the unemployment rate at decade lows (as everyone already knows, the official unemployment rate does not include the long-term unemployed). Those who are unable to find work either go on government assistance, live with friends and family, or make money ‘under the table’. In Average is Over, Tyler Cowen suggests that the large swathes of the unemployable can live in trailer parts with cheap entertainment and cheap food. Not surprisingly, this solution generated rebuke.
The Inescapable Pull of Biology:
Millions of people, if by no fault but their own genes, are predestined to mediocrity. This may seem bad, but society needs mediocre people in order to function; by statistical fact, not everyone can be exceptional. But maybe we need to dispel this infectious yet erroneous romanticism that equates success with hard work, when in reality luck–whether it’s winning the genetic lottery, being at the ‘right place at the right time’, or something else–plays a much bigger role. But then why do we tell ourselves (and our children, students, etc. ) these lies? Why do we keep spreading these success ‘creation myths‘?
Except for the entertainment industry and sports, a high IQ is becoming increasingly necessary to attain economic and social status. But the thing is, economically but also socially, America is not in a crisis, although some would call the opioid epidemic a crisis. Unless there is an actual crisis, we won’t see a crisis-level response by policy makers, even if for a lot of people things seem to be pretty bad.