Why genetic determinism is inevitable in a meritocracy

Yes, the title is a bit asinine, but it got your attention didn't it? This post is a response to Chad Orzel's response to my response to his response to last week's "Ask a Science Blogger" where I allude to the benefit of tightening labor for our working classes (these United States). Chad states:

...the point is to make it possible for the children of the lower classes to become scientists and engineers rather than factory workers and farmers. Economic class should not be hereditary, and one of the purposes of public education is to keep economic class from being hereditary.

There is a major issue I have with Chad's assertion: social mobility when opportunities arise is inevitable when you transition from a non-meritocratic system to a meritocratic system. Over the generations one should see the movement to the "top" of the genetic cream, so to speak, and the "decline" of those who retained their elite positions due to custom and tradition. But, subsequent movement should be dampened assuming that a large portion of the abilities that allow the attainment of high status are heritable.

Let me give you a concrete example: during the 19th century German Jews were emancipated and allowed to participate in public life as Jews (before, they had to convert to Christianity like Karl Marx's father). Jews swarmed institutions of higher education previously closed to them and were heavily overrepresented in many professions. But this was only a transient phenomenon, once the destitution of the German Jewry was alleviated by open opportunities pauper to professional stories became less common. Some of this is likely due to the capital, social and economic, accrued by professional parents passed on to their children, but some of it is surely due to the innate cognitive (intelligence and personality) traits of the individuals in question which span generations due to genetics. The recent hand-wringing about the high SES bias of Harvard students is in my opinion overwrought because the transition that the American elite experienced with the change from WASP oligarchy (and "gentlemen's C" students like George W. Bush) to a more open meritocracy (e.g., Bill Clinton) was a peculiar moment. An increase in SAT scores on the order of hundreds of points in the 1960s across the Ivy League was a reflection fo the transition from oligarchy to meritocracy. Over the longer term "snaps" in social structure pepper history, consider the cyclical nature of Chinese dynasties, which often started off with relative equality and a peasant-mandarin-emperor dynamic, but eventually shifted toward greater power toward well off peasants, who accrued more and more wealth to their own lineages at the expense of their peers and the central government. The point is that within the broad scope of Chinese history one could see the general cycles and epicycles. I suspect too many Americans extrapolate from the massive "uplift," both social and economic, that occurred between 1945 and 1965 as of a perpetual social revolution is inevitable, when stasis is also part of the eternal cycle.

But, to a specific genetic point, I would like to offer a rough model for what is going on in America and why social mobility should decrease the more open opportunities we have over the generations. The key is the concept termed narrow sense heritability, or additive genetic variance. Additive genetic variance can be thought of as the parent-offspring regression coefficient, roughly, the slope of the line which is derived from plotting the values of the offspring vs. the parent on a given trait. On a molecular genetic level additive genetic variance can be conceived as deriving from the contributions of of a host of loci, genes, cumulatively to a given trait independently. As an example, consider a trait which a value of 100 (e.g., height?) controlled by 10 loci, in an idealized scenario each locus could contribute up to a value of 10 to the overall total (ergo, 10% of the variation would be attributable to any locus). Variation at the individual loci, which are independent, would result in a rough normal distribution of a given trait.

I bring this point up to highlight the fact that as environmental variation decreases additive genetic variance should account for a greater proportion of the variation of any given trait in a population (height, IQ, even income). When it comes back to our example of a perfect meritocracy, if an elite education is open to all then the differences between attainment and outcome should be predominantly innate since the environmental variation is minimized. There is evidence that as socioeconomic status increases, the heritability of IQ increases. This means that among the affluent, differences in intelligence are more likely to be due to innate factors than amongst the poor. The reasoning is simple, the poor are buffeted by many more environmental factors which could decrease cognitive performance than the wealthy. Bill Gates might be worth billions of dollars, but the Harvard education that his children might be given will not be qualitatively different than that of a prosperous lawyer across town. In other words, the environmental inputs toward this trait probably hit saturation at some point in the upper middle class so that a threshold effect can be seen across the population. In a perfect meritocracy, where environmental variables are mitigated by equal opportunities the differences due to genetics would be paramount because those are the only major non-stochastic parameters. Additionally, social factors like assortative mating will also increase heritability.

Models are models, and life is more complex. I'm not stating here that I believe non-heritable factors are trivial, though I think a lot of traits are compounded by gene-environment correlation. Rather, I think that we should take into account that the recent past is not always a good map of the future. The more open opportunities are present in American society, and the longer these opportunities are present, the more likely that generation-to-generation changes in class will decline, all things equal. Large scale uplifts, some of which we've seen in our own nation in historical memory, are the outcome of structural inequities being remediated and subsequent talent being unleashed.

Addendum: My own opinion is that the difference between the super-wealthy and the upper-middle-class is in larger part due to stochastic factors, being at the "right place and right time." Most small business fail, but some succeed wildly, this is not necessarily always (or mostly) due to differences in individual talent. Rather, I am generalizing mostly about the "bottom" 95% of the population, where I believe non-stochastic factors are more important. Given a work ethic, moderate amounts of intelligence and a willingness to take on major debt for those without familial resources, it is truly not that difficult to become a professional. Similarly, I know of individuals of little talent who slowly run through their trust fund. Though they may ensure the affluence of their own lives, they often have little to give their own children because they do not have the abilities to build upon the capital which fortune provided them.

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By Rikurzhen (not verified) on 10 Jun 2006 #permalink

Even partialing out environmental inequality between high & low SES, I believe that the playing field is very uneven. As is made clear, the meritocratic system is not the ideal social model, I believe -- although I, admittedly, have no idea of what an ideal system would be. Because of genetic determinism, people will rise & fall according to how much g they're born with -=- although wealth condensation could even sustain the cognitively impoverished, at least for a while, if they're born high SES. While the meritocratic model appears attractive from a distance, it is simply a system where rewards are accrued to the genetically rewarded, I believe. In the meritocratic model, one can only achieve class mobility if one's level of g happens to be atypical for SES. It's all genetic determinism, now compounded by assortative association. Look at the covariance for IQ=> SES => Wealth; it's all one, hopeless, intertwined deterministic package. It[meritocracy] gives people an unjustified hope. It is time to dispel one of the greatest of modern myths. Even Herrnstein saw things more optimistically than I do.

postscript: There is no hope[There is ^no^ hope].

By Rietzsche Boknekht (not verified) on 10 Jun 2006 #permalink

This is a pretty philosophical, rationalistic approach without much grounding in the actual issues. What you say might be true in some ideal world, and I do see your point (one-time class mobility during certian historical periods).

People talking about increasing equality in America aren't mostly talking about affirmative action or the like. There's been a real increase in the costs of education at a time when the real income of bottom half of the population is static or declining. (A lot of what is being said is a comparison with fairly recent times). There are a multitude of ways well-off parents can help set their kids up in life, regardless of the kids' IQ. There are also enormous geographical differences in the availability of quality education at the pre-college level -- an individual poor parent can sometimes improve his kids' chances just by moving into a richer neighborhood, but that's not easily possible and in any case isn't a generl solution.

The test of whether a society is actually meritocratic is whether there are talented people who are underemployed because of lack of opportunity, and whether there are talentless people who do very well because of inherited advantage. I've seen both cases. I've never seen a genuinely brilliant person (genius) stuck in a deadend job, but I've seen a lot of bright normals, who could be professionals, deadended. I likewise I have seen thoroughly mediocre, lazy people do pretty well with lots of family help.

A lot of the argument depends on favorable assumptions about the importance of IQ, the heritability of IQ, and the actual meritocracy of our society. Relatively small errors in the estimate of these three factors could lead to a significantly erroneous conclusion.

I guess I would like to see this argument set up and argued in a theoretical context, but I don't really think that it's a useful contribution to a discussion of the contemporary situation.

Hate to sound like a broken record, but this is a perfect reason for why we should only reward based on effort contributed to your job, not your output or station (one of the good ideas from Participatory Economics). The more your station becomes a reflection of genetic endowment, the more you're rewarding for luck if you remunerate for output (either you were lucky to be born to smart parents, or to have benefited from epistatic luck if born to dull parents). If the purpose of rewarding is to act as an incentive to get the best/most out of each person, then rewarding luck is the worst way to do it.

To use an analogy from studies -- if a bright student writes an A paper, but didn't put much thought or effort into it, then we should give them only a B or C -- if they want the shining A, then they must produce the best quality product that they can. Conversely, if a dull student knows that writing even a C paper would be a miracle, they might just give up in frustration and produce diddly; so if we gave them a C or B for a D-quality paper, they'd bother doing it and give it their best.

Now, we wouldn't do away w/ the notion that some students are smarter than others (or some athletes stronger / more agile than others), so we'd keep 2 tallies: one for effort, used in calculating remuneration, and another for ability, used in calculating who gets what job. So, society would be stratified by ability (no affirmative action), but would only be stratified by wealth to the extent that some were more or less lazy than others. True, that too could be under genetic influence, but it's easier to use incentives to alter your work ethic (or "will do" component) rather than your ability (or "can do" component).

My own opinion is that the difference between the super-wealthy and the upper-middle-class is in larger part due to stochastic factors, being at the "right place and right time."

Hmmm, what about a talent for being in the right place at the right time ... striving to be where the opportunities are being handed out?

By The Real Richa… (not verified) on 11 Jun 2006 #permalink

Agnostic says:

Hate to sound like a broken record, but this is a perfect reason for why we should only reward based on effort contributed to your job, not your output or station (one of the good ideas from Participatory Economics). The more your station becomes a reflection of genetic endowment, the more you're rewarding for luck if you remunerate for output (either you were lucky to be born to smart parents, or to have benefited from epistatic luck if born to dull parents). If the purpose of rewarding is to act as an incentive to get the best/most out of each person, then rewarding luck is the worst way to do it.

In that case, if I was an employer, I would have incentive to monitor the output of my employees, and arrange accidents for those who don't produce. I would probably also have incentive to find ways to measure their actual output prior to employing them.

By The Real Richa… (not verified) on 11 Jun 2006 #permalink

Relatively small errors in the estimate of these three factors could lead to a significantly erroneous conclusion.

no, the errors can be large. there is about a .5 correlation between IQ and SES, and probably around a .5 heritability of IQ. as for the meritocracy of our society, it doesn't have to be perfect or even close to perfect. the point is that if you iterate over generations you can have substantial change even if the system is not determistic or perfect. e.g., you don't need a high selection coefficient to drive evolution, you just need persistence in one direction. e.g., if there was a negative correlation between parents' SES and children's SES, let's talk, but otherwise, you only need movement in one direction for this to work.

I have forgotten to mention that the merits of the meritocracy are obvious, & they kinda tie in w/ capitalism/free markets, I think. What I'm saying is that without our meritocracy, we'd probably have almost none of what we currently enjoy -- technology, scientific advancement etc. The meritocracy by it's very nature is an ability sorter, allowing those w/ the most to rise to the top.

But, apart from these positive attributes of the system, there is a certain unfairness to it.
It is the greedy capitalism that has arisen from the meritocratic base that angers me, I believe.

As for my personal life, I can tell you this -- I'm low SES, very low in IQ, etc., but I'm not entirely clued out; I sort of know what's going on in the world around me(thanks to the fact that I was raised w/ someone of very high IQ). I'm deeply hurt by the fact that my IQ, which I had no part in creating, is keeping me poor -- in fact, I'd truly be a welfare or homeless case if it were not for the fact a high IQ family member is somewhat financially supportive of me. Because of my extremely low IQ, I'm only fit for cleaning/washing stairwells & courtyards, which pays little. If I had an IQ maybe 60 points higher, I be high SES & fit for any job I desired, right; & my salary could be tens of thousands of what it is now.
Maybe my problem is more w/ today's greed-capitalism than it is w/ the meritocracy. I dunno.

By Rietzsche Boknekht (not verified) on 11 Jun 2006 #permalink

Agnostic,

Danger Will Robinson, labour theory of value alert! Prices -- including wages -- bear no relation to how much effort it takes to make something, nor should they; they're a signal for demand relative to supply. This is why the market isn't, can never be, and categorically shouldn't be a perfect effort-meritocracy -- trying to make it one would destroy the information signals that make it work so well. Reward should go to whoever can fill demand at least cost, not to whoever puts in the most effort. The role of luck in this couldn't be more irrelevant.

And if you think the genetically well-endowed don't respond to incentives like anyone else, you're very much mistaken -- if anything higher-IQ individuals tend to be *more* conscious about (and sensitive to) cost/benefit analysis. Yes you have the odd genius freaks who are driven to do what they love even if they pay is crap, but they're rare and about as far from the marginal case as you can get.

I know you think you're proposing a good thing, but you're really, *really* not. It would kill productivity, and productivity is the only sustainable way to conquer poverty. Over the medium-to-long run, the wellbeing of the least-well off depends on the fact that reward in the market doesn't necessarily track effort.

This isn't even to mention that any government with the power to enforce these kinds of things would necessarily be totalitarian. What you're proposing is roughly the equivalent of massive non-consentual eugenics programs -- because hey, what could go wrong, right? (If you're suggesting it should be entirely voluntary, then I apologize and withdraw this objection -- this is about as quaint and harmless an idea as anarcho-syndicalism.)

Sorry for the rant, but this is a big button for me. Bad things happen when people uncritically try to scale their moral intuitions up to the level of whole societies.

Agnostic, why not just completely destroy progress in any pursuit while you're at it?

Razib, very very enjoyable read.

But umm, what exactly is wrong with those with 'better' genes doing better?

Last time I checked that's what evolution was all about...

Matt -- In Participatory Economics, signals are communicated via federalized consumer councils to federalized producer councils, mediated (but not controlled by) an Iterative Facilitation Board; no state involvement. You can read more on it at the Wikipedia entry, www.parecon.org, or the two books Michael Albert & Robin Hahnel have written about it. Markets misprice anything that has an externality, which tend to be pervasive. So that info's lost.

Re: higher IQ people -- so a lawyer who works 10-hour days in a Manhattan firm and earns $75K a year would work 10-hour days in Manhattan sewers if the pay were right? I'll bet he wouldn't do it long-term even if he got $1 million a year. This is where most libertarian homo economicus stuff is "quaint" -- its view of human nature is mostly wrong. We haven't been earning salaries long enough to have a strong intuitive conception of what money is (which is why we're bad w/ it), though prestige, status, dominance, and so on -- that's something we're wired to pay attention to and maximize to our advantage. Of course, all is judged relative to our peers.

Even if you made piles of dough, toiling your workday in a sewer would put you at the bottom of the totem pole, and damn few girls (let alone desirable girls) would want to have your babies... or even introduce you to her parents. So as long as we accord greater status to certain jobs, you're right, the smarties will haul ass to those jobs, in order to be the alpha-male and reap the social benefits. The pursuit of more money, aside from pathological cases, is either a means to the end of having more stuff or a proxy for status. So, as long as folks still have a way to get more stuff (by working harder) or accrue greater status (by getting as high-status a job as possible), then the incentive system is fine: money per se isn't a good incentive.

IndianCowboy -- progress stagnates more when you're rewarded for output. It favors giving a mediocre or lazy effort when you've been blessed w/ good genes, rather than making the most of what you've been given. Rewarding effort lights a fire under people so they try their hardest. In real life, rewarding output also messes up when X and Y produce different output b/c X has access to better tools than Y, even though both are workers and neither has invented their tools, nor is capable of inventing better tools, not being engineers. So again we're rewarding being lucky enough to work there there are good tools that someone else designed.

Also, almost no progress ever resulted from free-market workings. The artistic & scientific work comes from people who aren't in it for the money. Even the business stuff doesn't work this way -- every industrialized country became that way by stealing somebody's else's good idea (Samuel Slater) and using the state to shut out superior foreign products or mobilize violence against other countries. I'm not criticizing these things (except the violence), since otherwise we wouldn't be where we are. But we shouldn't misunderstand where they came from.

And I doubt you take seriously the normative application of "survival of the fittest" -- you just have to imagine being on the bad-end of the draw. If you were dropped into a fierce Amazonian tribe tomorrow, they'd eat you alive, but you wouldn't coldly reflect, "Well, hey, they're more fit in this environment than I am, so it's for the best that my genes by weeded out."

what exactly is wrong with those with 'better' genes doing better?

Well, to answer your question, *nothing*, from the pov of evolution. Nothing is wrong w/ anything in the world outside of the moral framework that biases us. This is an "anything goes" world, right? *Everything's* neutral to the objective. But, being creatures, objective we're not. This is moral talk, but moral talk is very, very important, at least w.r.t. society, I believe.

Personally, I just think it's unfair to mislead people like telling society that *anyone* can achieve "anything they want if they'd just put their minds to it". By telling people this, you can fool them -- with poisonous, oppressive lies. When both the fortunate & unfortunate accept axioms of junk like that, it allows unjustified blame, & unjustified reward. Crushing such axioms is a first step -- somewhere. Why unjustified? Because, I believe, determinism is everything. That's just how I see things.

Note: I see myself as a *strong* determinist in my view of the universe. Nothing is really stochastic; *all* deterministic. Just a quick look at a philosophy book & I had made up my mind.

By Rietzsche Boknekht (not verified) on 11 Jun 2006 #permalink

But umm, what exactly is wrong with those with 'better' genes doing better?

you never heard anything about ought (or 'better') pass my lips :) all about is (and will be).

this is a perfect reason for why we should only reward based on effort contributed to your job, not your output or station (one of the good ideas from Participatory Economics)

Ummm, this is a dead letter economically for many reasons. It's basically warmed over Marxism -- "from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs".

But specifically:

1) think about doing a math problem, say integrating 1/x from 1 to 2. That would be almost no "effort" at all for you. But it would be a lot of effort -- an essentially infinite amount of effort -- for a low IQ basketball player.

Conversely, it would probably be tough for you to dunk, let alone dunk entertainingly enough that people would pay to watch it. But that might be no "effort" at all for the basketball player.

See how rewarding on "effort", even a theoretically idealized "effort" sets up bad incentives? It means you will be best compensated for doing those things that you're *BAD AT* rather than those things you're good at.

2) Even more importantly, who is assessing "effort"? In practice it will have to be a bureaucracy, an enormously powerful bureaucracy, which will have to rate every single person's level of "effort". This will inevitably be racked with corruption as such ratings are entirely subjective. Moreover, product quality -- and output -- are not even factors!

Note how this differs from a market economy. In a market economy, we reward the hard drives (say) that *work well* by buying them. The price of the hard drive reflects the difficulty of making the product. We don't buy products on the basis of how much "effort" the manufacturers put into them -- we buy them on the basis of quality and price point.

Anyway, for these reasons and more besides "parecon" is a non-starter. Not a coincidence that the same people promoting it are the ones who didn't get the point of why communism failed.

progress stagnates more when you're rewarded for output

Whattt??!!? Progress IS output. If you don't reward output, you're rewarding something which is not what you want. If you want to get someone to produce a movie on time, you don't reward them for doing something else...you pay them for doing moviemaking!

Rewarding effort lights a fire under people so they try their hardest.

No, it makes them slack and pretend that they've been "trying hard".

So again we're rewarding being lucky enough

You are never going to get away from the fact that genetically determined abilities are not equally distributed. Not everyone is going to be tall, smart, industrious, athletic, etcetera. Your definition of a "fair society" is an ant colony.

I mean, look...let's not mince words. What you describe is a nightmarish Harrison Bergeron society where the able are handicapped so that the not-so-able feel less envious. But everyone suffers in this scenario!

http://instruct.westvalley.edu/lafave/hb.html

THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren't only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

Some things about living still weren't quite right, though. April, for instance, still drove people crazy by not being springtime. And it was in that clammy month that the H-G men took George and Hazel Bergeron's fourteen-year-old son, Harrison, away.

It was tragic, all right, but George and Hazel couldn't think about it very hard. Hazel had a perfectly average intelligence, which meant she couldn't think about anything except in short bursts. And George, while his intelligence was way above normal, had a little mental handicap radio in his ear. He was required by law to wear it at all times. It was tuned to a government transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains.

almost no progress ever resulted from free-market workings. The artistic & scientific work comes from people who aren't in it for the money.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. What about Hollywood? Silicon Valley? Apple? Google? Silicon Graphics? The X Prize? Intel, Genentech, Dreamworks, and Draper/Fisher/Jurvetson?

Yes, there is a place for govt. funded pure research (if for no other reason that the military is an indisputably legitimate function of government for even a hard-core minarchist, and military modernization requires pure scientific research).

But the free market has been the most efficient system ever devised to bring science and art to the world.

every industrialized country became that way by stealing somebody's else's good idea (Samuel Slater) and using the state to shut out superior foreign products or mobilize violence against other countries.

This is a rather confused reading of history. Taken in reverse order...

Violence against other countries is often times regrettably necessary to survive. Those that were poor at organized violence are no longer around to feel guilty.

Shutting out superior foreign products, in general, is bad economic policy. England was the first country to learn this. Protectionist trade policy never enriched any country.

As for the idea that the spread of industrialization was about "stealing" good ideas...

1) scientific and engineering ideas are inevitably going to be shared (and how is this a bad thing??)
2) it requires nontrivial IQ to invent something like the car or the airplane...
3) ...and quite high IQ even to copy it!

And I doubt you take seriously the normative application of "survival of the fittest"

When it comes to business, ALL of us subscribe to the survival of the fittest. That is, unless you prefer moldy milk to the kind made safe by modern agriculture, or rotting vegetables, or unsafe drugs, or nonfunctional electronics, or incompetent pilots, engineers, or physicians.

You don't prefer those things -- you prefer the fittest.

Politics is not important for getting what we need on a day to day basis, thank god, because we have the vote that counts: we can vote with our wallet. And we can do so on a day-to-day or hour-to-hour basis, whereas voting out the venal politicians requires us to wait *years*.

Simple control theory will tell you that capitalism has far superior time constants and feedback control than even the most optimally functioning democracy. For most things, the market *is* the proven best way to allocate resources -- not yet another thinly veiled variant of communism.

the US could reward effort in a binary fashion by giving everyone a refundable tax credit for having >$0 in taxable income.

By Rikurzhen (not verified) on 11 Jun 2006 #permalink

the US could reward effort in a binary fashion by giving everyone a refundable tax credit for having >$0 in taxable income.

but that would in effect make the tax system less progressive ! which is equivalent to a regressive tax! which is heresy!! :)

Agnostic, I think you may have been infected by some kind of germ that has adversely affected your economic reasoning, unbeknownst to you. It may have rinsed you with a brainwash.

by the way, there is a larger lesson to be learnt here. If someone like *agnostic* -- a fairly smart guy, and a good gnxp commenter -- thinks that parecon passes the smell test, then our school system has indeed failed to teach *anything at all* substantive about what actually went on during communism, and why it failed.

Listen, for example, to this guy Albert babble on about the wonders of forcing the intellectuals into the fields, and the field workers into the universities:

http://www.parecon.org/writings/qabjcs.htm

Q: Wouldn't it be horribly inefficient for Doctors and other highly trained professionals to be required to do unskilled work like changing bedpans?

A: This isn't true, depending, as always, what you mean by efficiency. For Mozart to do unskilled work instead of writing music costs humanity every time it occurs far more than for me to do unskilled work rather than, oh, whatever I may do that is skilled. This is true enough...

The question is what happens when we talk in terms of large numbers of people, on the one hand, and what is at stake beyond merely the material or service product of each person's labors, on the other. Thus, for whatever losses society incurs for some people spending some time not utilizing their greatest and most revered talents, even in the case of geniuses - how much is gained by the release of new talents and genius from constituencies previously dumbed down to fit rote work slots? And how much is gained, in a social and other sense, from attaining equity of circumstances and empowerment? It is pointless to look at one side of a trade-off without attending to the other side....

So, even if we ignore the increases in justice and sociality, etc., from having balanced job complexes - the question over output becomes do we lose more by the fact that Mozart and some great surgeon have to spend time on tasks that are onerous or boring than we gain by the fact that (a) there are many more Mozart's and people of great surgical talents discovered due to a school system and culture that promotes excellence in all and (b) across the board we are getting more capacity-enrichment and utilization from everyone previously dumbed-down and consigned to have their talents hidden and made dormant and dead?

Of course, this is exactly what happened during the Cultural Revolution:

http://olimu.com/WebJournalism/Texts/Commentary/Diary%202006-05.htm

5-1-6

The Chinese have a neat way of tagging the great events in their recent history by just the digits of the date--a bit like our "9/11," though the Chinese would do it as "9-1-1." Well, we had a memorable set of digits this month: 5-1-6, the 40th anniversary of the Central Committee edict that launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution on May 16, 1966. The entire edict is here if you can read Chinese, or here if you can't. (That first site also has a fine period-piece picture of the Chairman.) The key bit, the bit every Chinese person of a certain age knows, is a page or so down in paragraph 3 of "main errors." It's a quote from Mao Tse-tung: "All erroneous ideas, all poisonous weeds, all ghosts and monsters, must be subjected to criticism; in no circumstance should they be allowed to spread unchecked." (Fanshi cuowude sixiang, fanshi ducao, fanshi niugui-sheshen, dou yinggai jinxing piping, jue bu neng rang tamen ziyou fanlan.)

The next few years were a horrible disaster, with mass killings, appalling cultural destruction, total disruption of the educational system, the economy, China's diplomacy, even the military. Middle-class people of the generation older than my wife (who was born in 1962) had their lives comprehensively wrecked. There were innumerable private calamities. To take just one at random: One of my wife's aunts went into labor just as the local hospital was being "rectified." The hospital's nurses and doctors were found to have been concentrating too much on acquiring expertise in their jobs, not enough on cultivating true revolutionary spirit. So they were all sent off to "learn from the peasants" by digging ditches and shoveling manure. Their replacements were workers, peasants, and soldiers who had proper revolutionary credentials, and some rudimentary First Aid training. Unfortunately they didn't know nothin' 'bout birthin' babies, so when Aunt started to hemorrhage, no-one knew what to do, and the poor woman bled to death.

Of course, far worse things than that happened--massacres, gang rapes, cannibalism. It was a nightmare, and it lasted eleven years. Yet in the Chinese media of today, it is all passed over in silence. Well over a million died, yet they have no official memorial. The ChiComs made a partial, grudging apology to "their" citizens in 1981, but have uttered not a word since. Historical dramas on TV and in the movies are very plentiful; but there is a great silent gap in their coverage from 1966 to 1976. The whole period has been pushed firmly down the memory hole. And of course, official Chinese media made no mention whatever of this month's anniversary.

THIS is what ParEcon is about. Gawd, it's just rehashed communism.

The inability to recognize it as such is sad and important. For once, I agree that it is our educational system that is to blame. The blackout of any kind of in depth study of leftist crimes during the 20th century prevents us from learning from history, so as not to repeat it. Compare for example to the (hyper)developed ability to recognize a similarly obvious parallel to that *other* odious 20th century ideology, and you'll see what I mean...

thinks that parecon passes the smell test, then our school system has indeed failed to teach *anything at all* substantive about what actually went on during communism, and why it failed.

age matters. i am a 'child of the 80s' so i won't forget communism...but some of these kidz :) perhaps we should sponosr cuba tours?

Agnostic:

- About the "externalities" argument, please see this paper: http://www.mises.org/journals/scholar/barnett.pdf

"Externalities" is a recent invention of statist economists who feel the market doesn't always generate the "desirable" results. When you check what "desirable" is, it pretty much turns out to be either what those statists prefer, or most probably something egalitarian.

- When you consider being gifted/ungifted a matter of luck, you commit a common fallacy: mistaking the part for the whole. In matters of social policy, we cannot see things only from an individual perspective. What is luck (stochastic accident) at the individual level is necessity at the societal level. By using social engineering of the kind that you propose, we only end up distorting necessity.

For example, you assume economic productivity to be a fixed total, like the proverbial "pie". But that is the most misleading view of economic value, which is always an instant in a process. If you start rewarding the less gifted more and the more gifted less, you end up creating disincentives for the naturally more productive to produce less, which causes the total output to fall, and increase the costs of the less productive labor, which causes prices to increase. So the less gifted actually ends up worse off because all items become more expensive, more out of reach of the less gifted.

- As for the bottom groups' income becoming stagnant, I never fully understand what that means - even when all prices are relative, and signal relativistic preferences at delta time. For example, even the net income levels may be the same 30 years ago, you can buy for $750 a computer which would probably cost $7,500, or even $75,000 30 years ago. How is that "stagnant"?

- Equally important, the so-called "gifted" at the top do not just accrue rewards, they also shoulder larger and larger risks and responsibilities. The fact that Bill Gates and his immediate subordinates are considered worth billions of dollars means when they screw up they are punished with multi-billion dollar losses.

Hate to sound like a broken record, but this is a perfect reason for why we should only reward based on effort contributed to your job, not your output or station. . . True, that too could be under genetic influence, but it's easier to use incentives to alter your work ethic (or "will do" component) rather than your ability (or "can do" component).

The heritability of work ethic is .68, nearly as high as intelligence.

Keller, LM et al. (1992). Work values: Genetic and environmental influences. Journal of Applied Psychology, 77(1): 79-88.

By Jason Malloy (not verified) on 12 Jun 2006 #permalink

Kampron says:

- As for the bottom groups' income becoming stagnant, I never fully understand what that means - even when all prices are relative, and signal relativistic preferences at delta time. For example, even the net income levels may be the same 30 years ago, you can buy for $750 a computer which would probably cost $7,500, or even $75,000 30 years ago. How is that "stagnant"?

You know, I remember the computers of 30 years ago. Try $1,000,000,000.

We just purchased a LapTop with 768MB of D24200 memory, 60GB of disk, and a processor that is more than 100 times faster than and IBM 360/148 or even larger or a UNIVAC 1100/40.

Those machines cost somewhere around or above $1M for maybe 1MB of memory and less than 100MB of disk. Of course, they used lots of tapes.

By The Real Richa… (not verified) on 12 Jun 2006 #permalink

Hmm, I'll start w/ the simplest comments first.

Razib -- I was born in October 1980, so am officially Gen X / child of the '80s like you. :P

Jason -- like I said, work ethic being under genetic control is unfortunate, but it's easier to change via incentives than ability. You can't light a fire under someone and then boom, they gain 10 IQ points. And then GC's points:

Economic progress -- most of the examples you named were created by the state w/ public funds, zero market influence. To use a behavior genetics analogy, these are the good genes / parents who produce the good kid, while the private companies the stuff is handed over to once viable are like the foster parents who raise it to full potential. None of them innovate on their own, though -- they're smart enough to have figured out that it's better to take risks w/ someone else's money, not one's own.

Protectionism -- may be bad econ policy, but is the only way anyone's figured out to industrialize, rather than be swamped by superior products, preventing native companies to take off. Britain w/ Indian textiles, US w/ British steel, South Korea punishing illegal capital flight as if it were murder (somewhere around 10 years jail minimum, death maximum), etc.

Communism -- ParEcon isn't communism, no state ownership, no state control or central planning, except as we'd have here (to prevent slavery w/ laws, etc.). As far as rewards, Communism & Market Socialism rewarded output just like we do; there was never "from each according to his ability...", which is not what ParEcon rewards either. Some of the things ParEcon proposes are wrong, of course, like the above quote showing ignorance of differential psychology. The "balanced job complexes" wouldn't work in real life, so I'd junk that part. All I'm saying is we should cobble together the better parts of each system, in light of how human beings really are. Empirical studies loathe ideologies, so my guess is that further understanding of human nature will vindicate some parts of most theories, left, right, center, or otherwise, and we'll let the chips fall where they may.

So, the one part I think will emerge victorious is rewarding effort. If you think that, even if you gave him 10 times his salary, the Manhattan lawyer would work in the sewers long-term, or work all day digging up a hole & then filling it back up over and over, then your view of human nature is that we're motivated more by sheer money than by status, dominance, pleasure, and so on. If this were true, then rewarding effort may have the awful results you imagine; if this isn't true, then it won't.

Subjectivity of effort -- it's not subjective. When you're grading papers, you know whether X gave it their all, or whether the guy is slacking off. You know which of your colleagues works harder & which are lazier. In ParEcon, effort is tallied by your workmates, not a central bureacracy. There's no fooling them. Again, that dovetails w/ human nature: our innate concern over what our close fellows are doing, gossiping, and so on. The only danger is if your workmates decided to gang up on you, but there's a simple appeal process -- you'd just show the panel the ratio of what your output was going back X amount of time to your recent output. Assuming the ratio is near 1, you couldn't have gotten lazier, & thus the low marks from workmates are wrong. It's an elementary calculation & would take a few minutes to resolve; no long meetings.

Just in case folks think I'm being unfair by imagining the Manhattan lawyer in the sewers -- let's say we made him a mathematician, nice air-conditioned job, etc., only he's innumerate, so he'd be expending lots of effort doing this work. Then the competing hypotheses make different predictions: the motivated-by-money hypothesis predicts that the average person would prefer being a wealthy fuck-up, an utter failure and perpetually at the bottom of the totem pole, and so an embarrassment to anyone they're ever introduced to. The motivated-by-status/dominance/pleasure hypothesis predicts that the average person would prefer being as close to alpha-male status as possible, even if they were paid less than for being a failure.

Although, in reality, an innumerate lawyer wouldn't be allowed to be a mathematician. Remember, two tallies: 1 for ability, to decide if you can do the job; 1 for effort, to decide your pay. As lower-ability people couldn't ascend higher up on the job pyramid, the only worry is whether or not the higher ability people would abandon high-status jobs to be rich dishwashers, as I originally said.

Historically, you see this with the labor movement. We used to see brilliant guys who started out working with their hands because that's what everybody in their neighborhood did, then they got into union organizing, and eventually ended up having a major impact on American history. Nowadays, a lot more of those kind of guys go to college and never hold a union card in the first place. So, the labor movement is bereft of high level talent.

A three points that haven't been made:

1) Meritocracy might not be so bad if it were more regionalized. Today the intellectual elites almost all gravitate to a few cosmoplitan states, aiming for a place in the national ruling classes. As a result today's media, universities, law schools, etc., are completely out of touch with the South and Mid-West, home of most Americans. Those areas are particularly under-represented in the Ivy League (see the recent memoir of a Harvard student, "Privilige" by Duthout (sp?). Even the "cognitive elites" leftin the South and Midwest, such as they are, have little policy input at the national level (as witness the illegal immigration debate).

2) It is technically possible to link effort to income without a gross inequality of living standares resulting between the cognitive elites and everybody else. The key is wage subsidies along the line of the Earned Income Tax Credit, but vastly expanded to cover 80% of the working population, to be financed by a progressive tax on consumption, not income (in other words, by a tax on annual income minus annual net savings). This is a doable thing in the age of information technology, as witness the success of IRA's.

3) Finally, in our post-industrial age, we need to radically redesign the available life-styles for the bottom half to three-quarters of society -- defined as those permanently stuck in so-called "dead end jobs" -- to make them more humanly fulfilling in terms of human nature, as that nature as been shaped over eons by the processes of human evolution. For one way this might be done -- maybe the only way? --see my homepage: http://luke.lea.googlepages.com/ Even so, for it to work it would be necessary for a lot of the cognitive elites to stay home and become leaders in the communities they grew up in. Careers in NYC and D.C. must lose their lustre, as they certainly would were the everyday realities of life in those cities better known.

like I said, work ethic being under genetic control is unfortunate, but it's easier to change via incentives than ability. You can't light a fire under someone and then boom, they gain 10 IQ points

The thing is, I'm not sure it is any easier to make lazy men into dynamos than it is to make dumb men into mathletes - that's just your assertion. The heritabilities and shared environment figures for intelligence and work ethic are substantially similar. The one environmental policy that we do have a pretty good idea works is the invisible hand, so why is it that every other major environmental theory is just another permutation of undermining it - counterproductive systems that attempt to "assign" economic value where it can't be assigned?

Let's say height was substantially explained by just two major variables: genetics and eating your vegetables. Socialism in all its permutations tells us first that genetics don't count and second that we should eat cookies instead of broccoli. As if it was designed to be as wrong as possible.

Let's be more practical and more creative: how can we experiment with boosting intelligence or work ethic without undermining our one major efficacious nongenetic variable.

By Jason Malloy (not verified) on 12 Jun 2006 #permalink

Agnostic,

I totally agree with gc, that what you are proposing is Communism, under another guise. No one can objectively measure effort and reward accordingly. But the bigger question is why would you want to do this? Also what is "Market Socialism", surely that is an oxymoron if ever ther was one?!

Luke,
You're proposal seems also to penalize the elites for the supposed betterment of the proles. But what you are forgetting is that the elites would just go elsewhere, where they would be appropriately rewarded for output, and then the US would be a country of proles, and become a thirld world country in a generation.

This seems to be happening in South Africa right now - I see that professionals from South Africa are flooding into Ireland.

Communism is bad, ok, but where in the world is the market really free? Subsidies all over the place, etc.

By jo monday (not verified) on 12 Jun 2006 #permalink

So, the one part I think will emerge victorious is rewarding effort. If you think that, even if you gave him 10 times his salary, the Manhattan lawyer would work in the sewers long-term, or work all day digging up a hole & then filling it back up over and over, then your view of human nature is that we're motivated more by sheer money than by status, dominance, pleasure, and so on. If this were true, then rewarding effort may have the awful results you imagine; if this isn't true, then it won't.

Agnostic -- money is a HUGE factor in status, dominance, pleasure, etc. Possibly the single most important determinant of status is the amount of money you have. And this determines access to mates, etcetera.

I don't think you've thought this through.

Most white collar jobs are not particularly intellectually fulfilling. If you're a laywer or junior investment banker, a significant fraction of your day is spent doing mind numbingly repetitive tasks -- boilerplate legalese, or formatting powerpoint slides. Read "Monkey Business" sometime to get an idea, or talk to any i-banker friend.

Yet these guys do it. Why? Because they get compensated financially very well.

You can't get around the fact that even *if* you could come up with some idealized, objective measure of effort...that it would incentivize you to do things you were *BAD AT* rather than things you were good at.

Moreover, what is the motivation behind rewarding effort rather than performance? Rewarding the ability to put forth effort only rewards the "lucky" who were born with the ability to work hard, and as Malloy's cite shows (as do several GNXP archive posts + tons of papers), industriousness is almost as heritable as IQ!

So, the labor movement is bereft of high level talent.

Which is, on balance, a good thing. Less strikes, less union violence against "scabs", less sympathetic portrayals of communism, and above all more competitive enterprise.

It's no surprise that the least nimble and effective businesses in America today are those that can't move a box from one room to another without having some union thug OK the task.

agnostic, if someone wants to pay me half as much for getting twice the objective work done, just because I'm bigger than the other guy doing the shit shoveling, guess how long it'll be till guys like me pick up our shovels and stove in some heads?

Why the hell would those with more potential allow themselves to be subjugaged in such a manner? Because it makes for good collectivist bs? RIGHT.

on the subjectivity of effort. Exchange from work a couple days ago. My thoughts in italics, normal font is speech
me:"I finished what you gave me. what do you want me to do next?"
boss person:"what about the other thing?"
me:"put it on your desk a couple hours ago."
boss person:"wow you're a hard worker!"
I was playing on google and blogging half the time
me:"I guess. I just try to get things done."
boss person:"well, we don't really have anything else for you to do today."
me:"want me to go home early then?"
bah! I'm going to lose money for being efficient
boss person:"no you did the work, stay on the clock."
woohoo! more dicking around!
me:"will do."

true story. Seriously, I don't want to be insulting, but I've never heard a greater amount of dreck than participation economics.

Bear in mind that, historically, high-achieving men have tended to pick wives whose desirability was measured more by looks or inherited wealth than by brains. That pattern probably helps bring the intelligence of their offspring back somewhere close to average.

There was an article in The Economist regarding social mobility, which said that social mobility is higher in Europe than in the US. Aside from the obvious methodological deficiencies (no mention is made of race), I wonder if the fact that the U.S. has been more of a meritocracy for longer than most of Europe that has contributed to lower social mobility in the U.S.

All right, so ParEcon has no public ownership of productive property, no central planning, federated producers & consumers councils, rewards effort instead of output, and has balanced job complexes -- and yet is Communist? Seriously, I don't call you guys Fascists, so watch it w/ the name-calling, or I'll bite back. The only commonality w/ Communism is no private ownership. Everything else is different. I've already said the balanced job complexes idea is bad, and that I'm only after the good parts of various models. Incidentally, the thing that makes balanced job complexes a bad idea -- namely, it ignores that some are naturally better than others at X -- is a central dogma in standard economic theory. IQ doesn't exist/matter, right?

Re: industriousness vs IQ -- both heritable, but one of these refers just to one's baseline preference for hard work, while the other is written in stone. Even if someone prefers not to work much (the trait), you can still affect their behavior (not the trait) via incentives: if you are lazy, you'll live in poverty. It may grate more on the nerves of bums than of hard-workers, but we don't have to change the trait (industriousness). IQ isn't a preference, so you can't affect either the trait or the resulting behavior.

Market Socialism is what the former Yugloslavia was -- there was zero central planning; the allocation mechanism was a market. Ownership was public, though the state had no involvement in allocation.

GC -- in our system, money & status / prestige are highly correlated, so we need to decouple them in order to understand which one people strive to obtain, which one people use to judge the mate value of others, etc. A rich dishwasher or a middling lawyer. A refined doctor who made $50K or some boorish HS dropout who won the $10 million Powerball lottery. We strive for status, not money per se (epiphenomenon); ditto for what male competitors & female mates use to judge us by.

And to reiterate -- if you're bad at some job, you will not get the job. Remuneration only happens after you've successfully gotten the job -- I've already said that there are two tallies, one of which tracks ability & determines whether you get a certain job or not. But did anyone honestly think that in any economic system, you'd get to do whatever you felt like, even if you sucked at it? ParEcon would not hire incompotent doctors. So like I said, the real issue is whether or not talented people would abandon high-status jobs to do shit-status jobs in order to get wealthier.

Subjectivity of effort -- your boss isn't your workmate, so their impressions are irrelevant. They are typically clueless of any goings-on in the office. You would only be evaluated by people you worked w/ on a day-to-day basis. If you're telling me you don't know which of your close workmates put in a good effort and which tend to slack off -- you're bullshitting. Or a selective lesion in some social center of the brain. You can't help but notice these things about people you interact with over time.

And if you're bigger & thus shovel more coal in half the time, yet feel gipped that you're paid the same as a guy who puts in the same effort, but who shovels less in the same time b/c he's thin -- well, get over it. You didn't do anything to deserve your bigger muscles, so why should we reward you for it? What if I had better tools than you did -- should I be rewarded for being lucky to work in a place where some engineer designed better tools for me to use? If anything, reward the damn engineer, not the worker!

Agnostic! You're joking, right?

Agnostic! You're joking, right?

Yikes!!

Nah, screw Agnostic's model. We need outputs - we need coal shovellers who are strong, scientists who are intelligent, etc. etc. for society to be able to provide for all its members. Reward output - but complement this with some redistribution of wealth and public funding of essential services such as health and education combined with regulation to prevent corruption and abuse of the system.

Maybe - maybe - there's some way to make Agnostic's kind of system work. Attempts thus far, though, have not been successful - free market capitalism has worked far, far better than communism, and it seems to me to make more sense to keep the functioning system running but develop systems to correct error there than to smash the machine and begin again. When you smash the machine, people get crushed...

1: How can you have ParEcon without the Balanced Job Complexes? Who manages the economy if it is neither the state, nor the individual, nor the Balanced Job Complex? (Which appears to be just another added level of the state, complete with force monopoly, etc.)

2: "Market Socialism is what the former Yugloslavia was -- there was zero central planning; the allocation mechanism was a market."

That would make Market Socialism the least interventionist economic system ever, anywhere. Impressive! In reality, Yugoslavia ran lots of price controls, with plenty of government intervention in the allocation of goods and services - the exact amount depending on the time period.

3: "And if you're bigger & thus shovel more coal in half the time, yet feel gipped that you're paid the same as a guy who puts in the same effort, but who shovels less in the same time b/c he's thin -- well, get over it."

No, you don't "get over it" - you take more breaks and work at a gentler pace, yet come up with the same result as the weaker guy.

There is more to comment on (much more, as is usually the case with desk-made-top-down reorganization of the whole of society), but let's take a step back:

Your entire premise is based on that somehow unequal outcomes create such enormous misery in society that we have to smash an enormously successful model (by almost any standard) and start over. (Not just adjust tax rates or labor time regulations mind you - we are talking the wrecking ball here) Do you really have any good evidence for this?

Agnostic,

I think the underlying premise of your theory is that it is unfair that all people are not created equal - then you imagine a system where this unfairness might be removed.

But evolution, market capitalism and all natural system thrive on this very unfairness that you seek to mitigate against. If everyone were equal, where is the variation that can be selected for in various environments. For example, in times of peace it might be of benefit to be an effete attorney and not a macho building site worker, but in times of war it might be of benefit to be a building site worker - that's the way nature balances things out.

Remember Communism didn't start out as a bunch of people wanting to be thugs and force millions to live in coerced poverty and misery - no, it started out as a theory among intellectuals who sought to re-balance nature artifically, for the benefit of the lesser man, and ended up as the Orwellian nightmare that it became.

Dobeln --
1) I don't want BJCs, so clearly I don't want ParEcon as it's stated. I do like the idea of rewarding for effort, the only facet of it I wanted to highlight in the context of this post. Allocation is done via the Iterative Facilitation Board, which has no direct control, but conveys info back & forth between producers & consumers councils.

2) The allocation of goods & services from producers to consumers in Yugoslavia was not determined by a central planning board of the state; rather, by a market. All industrial countries have seen varying degrees of state intervention, but the allocation mechanism has always been a market. Lack of 100% free market doesn't imply the allocation mechanism isn't a market, just not a libertarian's dream market.

Wouldn't it be a natural impulse for any set of powerful, high status people to ensure that their own children attained to the same status and power regardless of their innate talents?

And wouldn't they tend to succeed more often in passing along status and power to their children if the rewards for power and status were themselves heritable and to some extend reverse exchangable--like property is.

So if intelligence and industriousness are both, say, 65% heritable, and high status individuals are, say, 85% successful in conferring high status to their children regardless of IQ or industriousness. All of these numbers seem plausible to me and they would seem to argue that meritocracy is actually impossible because of natural parental impulse to favor one's own children (as famously worried about by Plato in his Republic).

In which case we would expect to see no consequences of the presence of meritocracy, because we would expect no such thing to exist.

One can imagine that the high SES of Harvard students is merely a side effect of the fact that most all of the smart people were allowed to make money in the latter half of the 20th C., but frankly I see little reason to think that to be the case.

I imagine that phenomenon would more likely be related to the current balance sheets at Harvard. This issue actually inspired one of Lawrence Summers' more admirable projects.

Agnostic, your system of rewarding effort as opposed to output is fascinating. This is really a management technique. There is nothing illegal about doing this. Right now, a manager can give someone a raise because he works hard, even if he didn't produce as much for the company as the other employees did. You seem to be advocating legislating that employers must do this -- which is completely wrong. As far as I'm concerned, an employer can give someone a raise for whatever reason he wants, working hard, or being smart, or whatever.
Gc definitely has a point about industriousness being almost as heritable as IQ. If this is true, then this management technique won't work any more than rewarding someone for being smart would.
Ultimately, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Can you point to a company where they've rewarded effort rather than output and the result has been an increase un productivity?

By President Barbicane (not verified) on 13 Jun 2006 #permalink

Razib,

in line with Gould-esque reasoning and what other's have already said.. I don't think the meritocracy necessary in order to allow for social mobilization chiefly on intelligence could ever exist. The paradox is that truly equal opportunity necessitates the absense of, or invariability of, social factors (the most salient environmental variable when it comes to social mobilization), but social mobilization relies on the premise that one is participating in a society and ergo under social influence and pressures which, realistically, could never be non-stochastic from individual to individual. This makes opportunity available an inseparable function environmental input and circumstance. Since the concept of meritocracy relies on the idea that one advances based purely on merit, which requires equal opportunity for all individuals, a true meritocracy could never exist -- social mobility based on intellectual criteria alone is hopelessly mythical since such set opportunity availability is impossible in a real-world (i.e. horizontally dynamic) social framework. The upshot of this seems to be that above-average intelligence is neither a sufficient nor necessary condition to vertically socially mobilize in a society of social organisms (although not to suggest one can be mentally deficient, obviously some cognitive development is necessary to be socially effective in the first place).

But perhaps you were being mostly hypothetical, idealistic, and hyperbolic; perhaps you never meant to suggest that a meritocracy such as what you envisioned could ever exist. In a true meritocracy with truly equal opportunity (and perhaps therefore, truly leveled SES starting points) of course genetic factors would become more salient as a variable determining social hierarchy and the maintenance thereof, but not necessarily because of it's influence on "intelligence" (whatever that may entail exactly) -- at least not by itself. But then again perhaps you never meant to imply that.

Interestingly, on Steve Sailor's blog, you made some statements in 2002 which seems to illustrate the crux of my point..

Oran Kelley says:

Wouldn't it be a natural impulse for any set of powerful, high status people to ensure that their own children attained to the same status and power regardless of their innate talents?

Indeed. We see this in some monkey societies (often those with matrilocal societies) where mothers can accumulate status and maintain control of resources. We also saw that in countries like England.

In my view, the stranglehold that the existing rich and powerful had on riches and power was reduced when the industrial revolution occurred, and then in the 1900s in England they introduced IQ tests for access to public schools, and that further broke the hold that the already rich and powerful had on ensuring that their offspring stayed at the top.

However, there does still appear to be a sorting process by IQ, and that people do climb out of the lower classes by dint of ability, and others sink to the lower classes because of lack of ability.

By The Real Richa… (not verified) on 13 Jun 2006 #permalink

OK, for the record, I think Agnostic hasn't done a bit of research; he reminds me of all these idealistic college students who read some socialist manifesto and were immediately drawn to it, yet never bothered to do any research on the subject itself.

The system that Agnostic is proposing PUNISHES people for attempting to benefit from their inherited abilities, such as their intelligence or physical prowess, and promote the unfit into jobs and positions that they do not have the ability to effectively perform. It's a blank-slater concept, plain and simple, and ONLY WORKS if it's your first assumption about everything.

And the bit about the former Yugoslavia being "market socialist" is absurd. It was a Communist state, with extensive state planning apparatuses, government interventions in every sector of the economy, regulations to hell and back, etc. Just because it was less extensively regulated and controlled than the Soviet Union doesn't make it any less Communist. I've seen people like Agnostic attempt to claim that Yugoslavia was a decentralized market of collectives, but it's just bogus statements put out by people who haven't done their research.

Lastly, Agnostic's statement about there not being a completely free market in anywhere the world is just a strawman. There are free-markets all over the place, just different degrees of economic freedom.

Now, back to the subject of Razib's post...

Mmm, I think that the problem is that people like Agnostic and me and working from different priorities as the other people here. We---or at least I---tend to think its a crime that some people are trapped in unfulfilling lives and unfulfilling work, and yes, squalor and poverty and violence, no matter how stupid they may actually be. If this is your problem (as it is mine), it necessarily narrows your range of solutions, and more importantly, it impells one to seek outcomes that avoid what razib is talking about.

And these things are relative. As time goes on, technology may indeed provide more fulfilling outcomes to those less abled, if you really believe that. But they'd then provide even more fulfilling outcomes to the top class. Few people alive think day to day on their status wrt the poor schmo peasant ten centuries ago. And that's a good thing. Envy: one of the better mortal sins.