The Western Elite from a Chinese Perspective (analysis)

This article went viral a few days ago: The Western Elite from a Chinese Perspective

Warren Buffett has said that the moment one was born in the United States or another Western country, that person has essentially won a lottery. If someone is born a U.S. citizen, he or she enjoys a huge advantage in almost every aspect of life, including expected wealth, education, health care, environment, safety, etc., when compared to someone born in developing countries. For someone foreign to “purchase” these privileges, the price tag at the moment is $1 million dollars (the rough value of the EB-5 investment visa). Even at this price level, the demand from certain countries routinely exceeds the annual allocated quota, resulting in long waiting times. In that sense, American citizens were born millionaires!

If your IQ is as high as the author of this author, who is smart enough to have scored first nationwide in the GCSE (high school) math exam and is erudite enough to have his article published in a prestigious magazine, yeah, maybe that applies, but ‘Bob’ who is middle-aged and has an IQ of 90-105 and is either laid off or stuck in a low-paying, low-status job that does not keep up with inflation, does not feel like a millionaire. Not too many ‘Bobs’ gonna be working at Goldman Sachs, that’s for sure.

French sociologist Pierre Felix Bourdieu in his book Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste describes three forms of capital: social, cultural, and economic. But there is also a forth and more important one, cognitive capital, which is highly correlated with economic capital. Meanwhile, the information age and America’s post-2008 hyper-competitive and hyper-meritocratic economy has put more weight on intellectual capital and less on social and cultural capital, unlike in earlier decades, such as the 40’s, when admission to elite universities was restricted to wealthy gentiles, and also nepotism played a much bigger role in career advancement. But also, American culture has become much more diverse and inclusive– decades-old class and cultural divisions blurred and dissolved by information technology, mass media, immigration, pop culture, and globalization.

America, more so than anywhere else in the world, rewards high IQ, which is why it’s a magnet for the ‘best and brightest’ from all over the world, who apply to America’s most prestigious universities and companies and buy real estate in America’s most expensive neighborhoods…But at the same time, a lot of Americans feel like second-class citizens of their own country, falling between the cracks and weighed down by medical expenses, little to no retirement savings, lots of debt, and overall uncertainty. Studies have shown that half of Americans cannot come up with $2,000 for an emergency. The neoliberal message of optimism and opportunity may overlook these people. Neoliberalism makes the generous assumption that everyone is as smart and rational as those who espouse neoliberalism, and some are, but many aren’t, which,for example, why the lottery is so popular despite having a negative expected return for playing.

This didn’t land well on some of my classmates. They felt I was not treating these matters with the seriousness that they deserved. The professor was very angry. My takeaway was that my interpersonal skills were so bad that I could easily offend people unintentionally, so I concluded that after graduation I should do something that involved as little human interaction as possible.

The problem is we’re living in an era where people are becoming increasingly easy to offend.

From Social Skills and Political Correctness:

I think it’s just the opposite: In a meritocratic society, social skills are a crutch for the incompetent who get by on connections instead of skill or talent, as well as fostering political correctness because people are unafraid to ‘notice’ things and speak their minds. ‘Good’ social skills means taking precautions to not offend ‘protected’ groups and easily triggered people – a willful rejection of reality or a cognitive dissonance to avoid hurting feelings.

Silicon Valley, yes, which I know has various leftist tendencies, values competence and results over social skills. People get rich from creating value, producing quantifiable results (such as coding an app), not by sucking-up and shallow flattery. In academia, particularly in STEM, it’s also that way.

Leave it to foreigners to tell Americans their faults, that are so obvious to outsiders but that Americans are otherwise oblivious to. In the case of the high-IQ Chinese, we should listen, and that’s partly why the article went so viral, but also because other smart people can relate to the author’s confusion over the arbitrariness of social dedicate, making it something of a shared narrative.