Handle looks at social mobility:
You could assume, for example, that God loves all his children and creates them, if not ‘equally’, then with an eye to group-statistical equal impact (quite the strange Divine Entity, that one; a very Progressive one) and that therefore the potential for high productivity in marketable traits is not heritable but instead randomly distributed to children in each quintile. We start with an ordered deck of cards in terms of the parents’ household income, but in ideal social conditions, the kids’ deck would be perfectly shuffled, with 20% of the kids from each parent’s quintile going to each kids’ quintile. You could interpret any deviation from this as social injustice per se, and warranting compensatory government intervention and economic redistribution.
And that would be a completely absurd theory.
Ok, maybe you don’t expect such perfect deck-shuffling. Maybe there are aspects of biological reality that constrain ‘perfect’ social mobility to some lesser amount of churn.
Still, if we assume the people are more or less the same in every country and in any generation, then we can compare the churning across nations and through time to give us some idea of this ‘cap’ on social mobility, and also to tell us whether we are ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than some other country, or ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than we used to be.
But those assumptions are also absurd. In fact, the only people I know who believe them are the kind of people who have spent most of their life surrounded by other very intelligent people. When you want to deny the unique circumstances of your social group you have to twist elaborate knots like Michael Chabon attempts here. ‘Trained’ my ass.
It’s not exactly a ‘sheltered’ existence, but certainly segregated from sharing the experience of the bulk of humanity. The self-created niche-bubble machine of the blogosphere just amplifies this intellectual isolation. Every iPad an ivory tower. That helps to enable a feeling of plausibility to otherwise faulty assumptions. A kind of reality apartheid. It’s only in that kind of rarefied social environment that extraordinary and false claims would seem ordinary and obvious.
But let’s talk about some societal changes that might make comparisons along a time series illegitimate. For one thing, starting about half a century ago, baby boom women in the West starting going to college and entering the work force in large numbers. They delayed childbirth, and tended to meet their mates at school. It’s called assortative mating, and one sees it everyday. For another, as I mentioned earlier, the economic returns to intelligence have exploded. And finally, intelligence is strongly heritable genetically and varies amongst ethnic groups – expression of belief in which is a strong social taboo which will get you fired. Note the pseudonymity of the still-employed.
Once upon a time, and before it really broke out in terms of marketability, intelligence really was more randomly distributed across wealth and income classes. Plenty of those peasants and hicks down on the farm had plenty on the ball. There were also plenty of ‘mixed-marriages’ with regards to cognitive-ability, which kept the churn and ‘regression to the mean’ phenomena going. Gradually, that changed.
The educational system (in combination with the white collar labor market) is particularly sensitive and adept at finding individuals of talent and creaming them from their localities to our cognitive concentrator cities in a kind of intra-national brain-drain to complement the international one. The selection, sorting, and mate-pairing mechanisms of higher education have been working on the American society for generations now, and we are witnessing the effects as we slowly but surely solidify into something like rigid castes.
And the US immigration system has its own effects, which themselves have changed over time. In the past, the US accepted a lot of immigrants from European societies at a similar, pre-sorted-by-intelligence stage of development and which a similar intelligence mean and distribution. And these immigrants were generally very poor. This meant that, after a generation, the children of these immigrants, despite all originating in the bottom quintile, tended to have a cognitive potential distribution similar to the overall host society, and there was a lot of social mobility and integration. On the other hand, this never happened for the involuntary immigrant blacks or for their descendants.
Nowadays things are quite different and there are two main immigrant streams. The first stream is of millions of low-skill workers mainly from Mexico and Latin America that tend to have less cognitive potential than the American mean, on average. The children of these individuals are, as you would expect, not catching up even after multiple generation in the country. The second stream are of truly elite intellectuals from all around the world, but principally from Asia. They are, on average, well above the American mean, and their kids are not regressing to that mean either. Most of them are quite elite, if not prodigies like Ashok Rao.
The sponsorship system plays a role, where, for example, Brahmins, already disproportionately represented amongst the existing US South Asian population may prefer to bring over others of their group instead of random Indians. And Visas for education and work (for certain companies with pull) tend to prefer the most competitive, brainiest types from East and South Asia, and it even helps if both spouses in a marriage have PhD’s which may be a top percent of the top percent kind of intellectual power-couple in the countries of their origin.
This is good for the US (mostly), good for the power couple, and probably a mixed bag for the country of origin. But it also means the elite couples have elite kids who are not at all representative of the populations of those countries, tending to be at least two or three standard deviations above the mean. That kind of brain power sure helps a lot with social mobility. I’m betting Ashok Rao knows a thing or two about all this. If he doesn’t he should walk around the quad a little. Also take a stroll a little Northwest of 42nd street after dark, but be sure to check the local crime stats first.
There was once this guy called Charles Murray who wrote two unmentionable books on the subject chronicling the History of what happened, but who cares what that guy has to say, wasn’t he excommunicated or something?