Inherited wealth is a tangential contributor

Tuesday, February 25th, 2020

Charles Murray introduces the third part of Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class) by mentioning another book about class that he (co-)wrote:

The book’s main title was The Bell Curve. In many ways, it documents the ways in which a segment of American society is a indeed morphing into a castelike upper class. But inherited wealth is a tangential contributor. The bare bones of its argument are that the last half of the twentieth century saw two developments of epochal importance: First, technology, the economy, and the legal system became ever more complex, making the value of the intellectual ability to deal with that complexity soar. Second, the latter half of the twentieth century saw America’s system of higher education become accessible to everyone with enough cognitive talent. The most prestigious schools, formerly training grounds for children of the socioeconomic elite, began to be populated by the students in the top few percentiles of IQ no matter what their family background might be—an emerging cognitive elite. By 2012, what had been predictions about the emerging cognitive elite as we were writing in the early 1990s had become established social facts that I described in another book, Coming Apart.


  1. Kirk says:

    Assertion of the rise of the “new cognitive elite” needs to be proven.

    Based on performance, I want the old elite back, because this new thing ain’t what was promised on the tin.

    Everywhere I look around at the America of today, I see nothing but decline in standards. Academic? At all levels. Public conduct? Again, at all levels–The “elites” ape the behaviors of the sub-classes, listen to their “art”, and elevate them to positions of wealth and influence. Sports? Look at the spectacle we have now, where the NFL is virtually a half-way house for our prison system. Once upon a time, star athletes who were idolized and made wealthy by their talents had a certain set of rules they were made to comply with. Now? Well, I guess if you’re not raping children on national television, it’s all OK.

    Frankly, I think that this entire premise of an “evolving permanent elite” is false–They’re not elite, they’re not evolving, and the permanency is only going to last until their manifest incompetence and utter lack of wisdom brings the whole thing crashing down around all our ears. What remains afterwards? No idea, but it won’t be a pretty place, that’s for damn sure. If I’m around and involved in the rebuilding, most of these “elite” freaks are getting sterilized and herded into work camps, where they can spend the rest of their lives cleaning up the mess they’ve made of things.

  2. Voatboy says:

    Kirk, I don’t suppose you are familiar with the writing of Kirk Dunston? It would be funny if you and he turned out to be the same Kirk.

  3. Kirk says:

    Yeah… No. Not a “graduate philosophy student” ever, at any point in my life. And, frankly, based on the ones I’ve known… Not ever going to aspire to be one, either.

    I’ll have to do more than skim that site, though–Quick read through shows some things I’d be interested in arguing about.

  4. Graham says:

    I wouldn’t want to get bogged down in discussions of the meaning of elite, but it is interesting.

    There’s elite as in, the top level of society, conscious of itself as such and perpetuating itself. They will almost inevitably think of themselves as the second kind of elite, but there’s no need for historians to take their claims at face value even while recognizing their social status.

    Then there’s elite as in ‘actual qualities’ that are considered, if not evenly, superior or virtuous by the people being led. The latter is rarer under any circumstances, though it has existed with variable levels of justification.

    [For example, HG Wells implied that the eloi of his Time Machine future were the descendants of the decadent aristocracy, the Morlocks of the industrial workers. I always thought that rather unfair to the British elite of his time, which had all sorts of decadence but also spent leisure time on dangerous sports like fox hunting and kept their sons trained up for war, and sent off to actual war quite often. I'm willing to grant them some slack for their snobberies.]

    America definitely doesn’t have that latter type now, for all its screeching about “public service”.

    Perhaps it didn’t before either, but there’s an excellent case to be made that the WASP crowd, even when they gave some of their sons the gentleman’s C from Yale, did an excellent job.

    If you think raising America to superpower level from almost nothing while maintaining a solid national identity worthwhile, then they did an excellent job, though I would argue they holed the country near the waterline in the end by overreach. They even sent many of their sons to military service in the classical fashion. The old British elites, ditto, actually.

    Whatever problems I may have with that older elite, look at men like George HW Bush. I had plenty of problems with him and his worldview, but his commitment to put himself on the line was certainly tested and he remained an impressive man all his life.

    What precisely the new version of the American elite has done to better them, I can’t say. Same for Britain. I doubt they can even be compared in the same breath.

    British writer Toby Young claims his father, sociologist Michael Young, invented the term meritocracy in his ~1950s book The Rise of the Meritocracy, which was a satire that pioneered the idea that an elite defined by academic credentials would be more arrogant than any previous elite and would be overthrown all the more harshly. OK, he was a socialist and his idea of said elite was painted in a socialist way, but still. Insightful notions.

    I’m bound by my own experience to be somewhat a fan of the academic approach to life, but also critical of the universities for trends building in them all my life. I’d be happy if they could be cleaned out and then assume a place as one source of the elite. I’m more than happy for military service, business, and plenty of other possible avenues to promote people, degree or not, and for that elite to be restrained in its power to shape society, restricted by consciousness of its own and national traditions, obligated to its people and its own predecessors, and ideally divided internally by region, origin, and political inclinations.

  5. Graham says:

    I didn’t notice it at the time, I was an adolescent and teen, but in retrospect most of the movies targeted at my generation in the 80s were about the replacement of the decadent WASP elite with a new, open, diverse one full of meritocrats and strivers who would smash old hidebound rules. Or sometimes just about no account losers whose only virtue was challenging the old elite values.

    Everything from movies that drew on older tropes and high school settings like The Outsiders, to alleged Gen X totems like The Breakfast Club, to gross comedies like Revenge of the Nerds [as I've pointed out before, less truly nerds and more incels] to comedies set in the business world.

    In that last category, several of Rodney Dangerfield’s movies were successful with the idea of “slovenly self-made Jewish businessman” or his son cracking open the companies or universities ruled by WASPs.

    A relatively forgotten Michael J Fox movie “The Secret of My Success” is interesting in retrospect, because the main character is a wkring class white boy from the farm country midwest who schemes his way to corporate power by outwitting the corrupt old WASP uncle. His allies were a female executive and various working class and ethnic white New Yorker stereotypes. Trading Places, similarly, has a displaced member of the WASP elite take on two archetypal representatives of the old power structure with the help of a butler, a homeless black con artist [Eddie Murphy], and a hooker with a heart of gold.

    Nowadays, the hero would not be a rural white boy or a fallen member of the WASP elite but, hey, it was a transitional era.

    By comparison, a supposedly rebellious story like that told in Robin Williams’ “Dead Poets’ Society”, which amounted to teaching rich prep school boys to disdain their own caste, was practically reactionary. They were, after all, learning the poems of rich white boys past, who had themselves been members of the elite rebelling in a very elitish way.

    I have, though, been interested by the number of movies that have come out in and since that era that have questioned the changes the 80s brought. Wall Street was from about 1987, and already critical of the new Capitalism brought about the the changing of the guard. Multiple recent movies have repeated the critique of cowboy financiers and junk bond types with no long term vision.

    Granted, many of those are still WASPs, but they are disproportionately not, and certainly not working in the context or mindset of their grandfathers.

    Only in recent years have I started to look at the pop culture of the 80s in the context of changes in the elite and the business culture, but there it is. Certainly casts the character of Alex. P. Keaton in a different light for me.

  6. Kirk says:

    It’s a near-certainty that the entertainment industry has been mobilized to “change society for the better”. Look at the number of homosexual and minority characters portrayed–You watch TV, and you get an entirely distorted picture of what the actual numbers are. Ask the average person what percentage of the population is gay/lesbian/confused, and they’ll tell you that it’s a third or more of the population. Reality? Although it’s hard to tease out of the data, the best guess is that the actual number is between 2.5 and 5%. Same thing with blacks–You would not believe how many maleducated young black males there are who think that they’re part of a group that is close to 50% of the population, and who are quite disturbed and frightened to learn that they’re actually around 13% of the American population.

    Mass media has played a huge role in changing things, and distorting people’s perceptions. The WASP stereotype is an example–They want whites in general to feel bad for things that the elites did, while ignoring the fact that a lot of whites are actually worse off than the minorities getting preferential treatment. The whole thing is a scam, and while it’s easy to postulate a conspiracy, what it actually stems from is the amount of self-hatred and outright destructive indoctrination we’ve been pumping out of our schools since the 1960s. Historically, it’s unparalleled–I would defy anyone to show me an example of where this syndrome has taken place, anywhere else but here in the West. Treason of the Clerks, indeed…

  7. Bruce Charlton says:

    Apologies if you’ve already seen it, but my colleague Ed Dutton has reviewed this:

  8. Graham says:

    There are still plenty on the left and not so left arguing that tv and movies and pop culture in general under-represent black people, gay people, and so forth.

    Given the tv I have seen and the music I have heard in my life I cannot possibly credit the statement.

    They must be completely blind and deaf.

  9. Graham says:

    On one hand, sure Friends rarely had any black people and none in the main cast. I don’t think that was credible for a snapshot of NYC in the 90s, but for the sort of characters that show had in the neighbourhood where they spent all their time, probably not far off.

    Plus, consistent with fairly common social lines.

    And even more so for places not NYC.

    Similarly, lots of gay people around NYC then as now, especially the Village. OTOH, statistically speaking it’s not especially likely any given group of six people would include a gay person. Even where they are thicker on the ground.

    The show actually addressed gay and TG themes pretty hard for the 90s- a lesbian wedding, a transgender father played by Kathleen Turner, and so on. Still not good enough for some folks. It must seem even more bigoted if you’re the sort of person who thinks a third of Americans are gay.

  10. Chandalier says:


    I didn’t notice it at the time, I was an adolescent and teen, but in retrospect most of the movies targeted at my generation in the 80s were about the replacement of the decadent WASP elite with a new, open, diverse one full of meritocrats and strivers who would smash old hidebound rules. Or sometimes just about no account losers whose only virtue was challenging the old elite values.

    Only in recent years have I started to look at the pop culture of the 80s in the context of changes in the elite and the business culture, but there it is. Certainly casts the character of Alex. P. Keaton in a different light for me.

    Welcome to Hell.

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