February 23, 2014

"In modern meritocratic societies, success still depends on individual effort. Our findings suggest, however..."

"... that the compulsion to strive, the talent to prosper and the ability to overcome failure are strongly inherited. We can’t know for certain what the mechanism of that inheritance is, though we know that genetics plays a surprisingly strong role. Alternative explanations that are in vogue — cultural traits, family economic resources, social networks — don’t hold up to scrutiny."

Writes the economics professor Gregory Clark, in a NYT piece titled "Your Ancestors, Your Fate."

Go to the link to scrutinize the scrutiny under which the alternative explanation did not hold up. If the not holding up holds up, consider Clark's conclusion:

As the political theorist John Rawls suggested in his landmark work “A Theory of Justice” (1971), innate differences in talent and drive mean that, to create a fair society, the disadvantages of low social status should be limited. We are not suggesting that the fact of slow mobility means that policies to lift up the lives of the disadvantaged are for naught — quite the opposite. Sweden is, for the less well off, a better place to live than the United States, and that is a good thing. And opportunities for people to flourish to the best of their abilities are essential.

Large-scale, rapid social mobility is impossible to legislate. What governments can do is ameliorate the effects of life’s inherent unfairness. Where we will fall within the social spectrum is largely fated at birth. Given that fact, we have to decide how much reward, or punishment, should be attached to what is ultimately fickle and arbitrary, the lottery of your lineage.

54 comments:

Paco Wové said...

Screw that "equality of opportunity" bullshit.

Chase said...

Exciting and delicious! Another Bell Curve debate! Oh bring it on!

It's high time the Obama youth of America meet reality.Looking forward to Democrats" defending science" over this one. Yes!!!

Mike Roark said...

So, does this mean there really is a Bell Curve? He seems to indicate he likes Swedish socialism. Does this mean we are to support those on the "low" end of the curve by giving them resources so they are "equal" with those on the high end?

somefeller said...

Actually, this article (and book) isn't something that falls neatly on the right or left spectrum. While it says hierarchies may be inevitable and there's little that redistributive policies can do to prevent them, it also undermines the Horatio Alger version of conservatism that says all you have to do is work hard to prosper and that the free market gives everyone an equal shot at success. This book is getting a lot of attention and rightfully so.

virgil xenophon said...

And lets don't forget the fickle lottery results that engender "lookism" and "heightism" Just GOT to have quotas in the NBA for short white guys that can't jump and the mandatory mating of the beautiful with the less fortunate in "looks" so as to average out the population. Marriage licenses for two good-looking high-IQ lawyers or physicians? ABSOLUTELY VERBOTEN!"

YoungHegelian said...

Sooner or later, aren't folks going to figure out that a racial group within a society more or less equals a gene pool within that same society, and that what this research is doing is giving a scientific basis to racism?

These scientists seem to think that the answer for folks who lose the genetic lottery is social democracy. I think, given the realities of human history, the more likely answer is feudalism. We're all probably much better off to believe the "fiction" of equality of opportunity and let the chips fall where they may from there.

Drago said...

somefeller: "..all you have to do is work hard to prosper.."

BS.

Working hard is not sufficient for success in and of itself.

Working hard may be a component of success in many cases.

In every case you must be able to deliver a service/product that is valued by potential purchasers.

You know, sort of the opposite of obamacare.

But thanks for coming along and misrepresenting conservatism.

We all appreciate it.

In today's America, all you need is to be a member of a favored group and/or have political connections and your rent seeking efforts can be quite successful.

Patrick O said...

This is where core Christian beliefs part ways. Determinative history is not itself defining in light of a conception of a God who can bring everything out of nothing.

This is why, for instance, Pentecostalism is one of the fastest growing movements in the world. It emphasize, above and beyond even other Christian traditions, that there is more possibilities to life than either our genetics or our histories allow.

It's the element of theology that led 300 years of persecution become a source of expansion for the church. Flummoxed cultural and political leaders. "Who are these people who keep believing they're something when we keep demanding they realize they're nothing!"

That's why slave owners were so careful about preventing literacy and preaching from only certain passages. Hope there's something more, that you're something more, is crazily transformative and often revolutionary.

virgil xenophon said...

PS on the marriage lisc bit: Unless one is homosexual, of course..

Drago said...

Mike Roark: "Does this mean we are to support those on the "low" end of the curve by giving them resources so they are "equal" with those on the high end?"

Not really.

The lefts answer to any disparity is always the same: crush those who do well and/or prosper in order to level the playing field.

Leftism/leftists have no intention, and could not if they tried, "lift" anyone.

Mike Roark said...

Drago - It seems the Left does both. They reward the low end with unearned resources and bring down the high end as you point out.

dbp said...

In a system which rewards talent and drive, some will do much better than others. Most people will try pretty hard though.

A system which fails to reward drive and talent will result in fairly equal outcomes and few will try very hard.

Of course, since politicians will be doing all of the deciding, they and their pals will be well rewarded indeed. In the end, those with drive and talent will use it to get ahead politically. So our best people will stop designing better mousetraps and devote themselves to gaming the system.

What could go wrong?

somefeller said...

In today's America, all you need is to be a member of a favored group and/or have political connections and your rent seeking efforts can be quite successful.

Heaven knows, that's never happened before.

These scientists seem to think that the answer for folks who lose the genetic lottery is social democracy. I think, given the realities of human history, the more likely answer is feudalism. We're all probably much better off to believe the "fiction" of equality of opportunity and let the chips fall where they may from there.

The article and book aren't arguing for genetic determinism. But they do say they can't rule out the importance of genetics. They also don't minimize individual effort or the benefits of equality of opportunity, but they also say that there's more to success on a general level (families over time) than one's own efforts. Also, while I see your point about social democracy and its limits, feudalism was basically rule by descendants of military conquerors (noble houses were created by the sword rather than trade or scholarship), so I'm not sure that's where this line of analysis leads.

Unknown said...

What a bunch of bunk! "Where we will fall within the social spectrum is largely fated at birth." My husband was born into a desperately poor family among all the desperately poor crowding Hong Kong. They lived in a tin shack squatting on the roof of a tall building downtown, with leaking rain in the winter and searing sun in the summer and just enough rice to make a meal at night. Three of the daughters managed to be chosen by American Chinese as brides and that brought the rest of the family to the U. S., where with hard work and the belief that in America, one could become anything, my husband studied, got a full ride scholarship to a Big Eight school, and subsequently two additional masters degrees and we have a very good life. This is America. As long as there is freedom, there is still opportunity. Authors like this are using obfuscation to ever so delicately lead us away from freedom.

Michael K said...

It's a nice rationalism of racism. Sort of a leftist Bell Curve.

One problem is that Sweden seems to be giving up on Socialism.

High quality global journalism requires investment. Please share this article with others using the link below, do not cut & paste the article. See our Ts&Cs and Copyright Policy for more detail. Email ftsales.support@ft.com to buy additional rights. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/006f9758-477c-11db-83df-0000779e2340.html#ixzz2uAU2yqkm

The election of Fredrik Reinfeldt, Sweden's first centre-right prime minister in 12 years, suggests that some Swedes are now ready for a change. The challenge for Mr Reinfeldt and his new coalition is to deliver.

Mr Reinfeldt's Alliance for Sweden, with 48.1 per cent of the vote and a seven-seat majority in parliament, campaigned on a platform of moderate free market reform. It plans to cut income tax on the low-paid and payroll tax on employers who hire long-term unemployed youths. Mr Reinfeldt wants to privatise some state-owned companies. One of his coalition partners has even proposed to cut unemployment benefit.

These policies are aimed at some of the persistent problems with Sweden's economy.


Oh Oh Another leftist dream shattered.

Michael K said...

FT is getting tricky. They put the ad at the top now.

Illuninati said...

It's good to see that this subject is no longer taboo. The article seems to be solid. Everyone doesn't have to be elite. Life in the middle class is just fine. Let's just keep growing the pie so that everyone gets a healthy piece.

Roger Sweeny said...

Given the fact that whether two sets of chromosomes came together to form you is ultimately and arbitrary, it is only right that "we" decide to give me the power to determine who shall live and who shall die.

I'm smart and have a number of degrees and it is unquestionable that I am a good person. I look forward to my new power, and I promise I will use it wisely.

dbp said...

North and South Korea have very different standards of living. It must be genetics.

Birkel said...

One of my colleagues was poor in Sweden and he seems to have had a different experience than that described in the linked article. But of course I trust the opinion of the good doctor over somebody from Sweden...

lemondog said...

7 Things to Know About Jan Koum, Founder of the $16 Billion WhatsApp

1. He was born and raised in a small village outside of Kiev, Ukraine.

2. As a teenager, Koum taught himself computer programming.


Yes, yes... it is statically insignificant but fatalism is unattractive.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

Let's call this the iron law of social immobility. And if there is sufficient immobility for you to be comfortable in your high social position, then you have the perfect conditions for socialesse oblige.

The problem for this style of socialism in the United States, as this article notes without understanding, is that white European descent is not a high status group in the United States.

Hagar said...

"Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations" ia san old saw, and old saws become old saws because there is truth in them.

rehajm said...

Large-scale, rapid social mobility is impossible to legislate. What governments can do is ameliorate the effects of life’s inherent unfairness.

While Times readers will no doubt read this article and gleefully conclude the United States needs to be more like Sweeden, little care is given to determining which policies work best. Very often chosen policy interventions create and perpetuate inequality and reduce social mobility, rather than ameliorate.

Jupiter said...

"We used two indicators of social status: the American Medical Association’s directory of physicians and registries of licensed attorneys, along with their dates of registration, in 25 states, covering 74 percent of the population."

I think we can all agree that there can be no joy in life for those who do not graduate from a professional school.

Carl Pham said...

Jesus, who cares, except a mindless endlessly jealous projecting Stalinist?

Suppose the capacity to want success badly enough to achieve it is 100% inherited. In what strange world would it make any sense to structure your society so that it fails to give either the driven or the undriven that to which they are naturally inclined?

People who prefer to watch "American Idol" than go to night school learning to program prefer it that way. They'd rather have the leisure than the money or "success." Why screw with that? Why take the money from the guy who really, really wants it, and give it to the guy who doesn't want it enough to get off the couch? That this is obviously a nonoptimizing approach to group happiness is obvious from the fact that you need force to make it happen.

If you really want to improve the "success" that people further down the natural gifts spectrum feel -- make them happier -- than stop being such intellectual elitist snobs. Stop looking down on the guy who doesn't go to college, who prefers a trade, who doesn't mind living in a trailer, who laughs at crude jokes, drinks macrobrewed commodity beer, couldn't care less about your noble causes -- global warming/cooling/whatever, saving the planet or the whales -- but who treats his wife with respect and his kids with affection (even if he does buy them toy guns). Stop being such a God-damned soulless materialist and channel a little Christian charity.

David said...

"Sweden is, for the less well off, a better place to live than the United States, and that is a good thing. And opportunities for people to flourish to the best of their abilities are essential."

Perhaps it is for those who are going to stay "less well off." It's not for those who are not. There's more opportunity here, simply because we are larger, more diverse, more dynamic, more chaotic.

Hagar said...

That actually refers to the "shooting stars" of the nouveau riche and is not all that reponsive to the article or the Professor's challenge.

However, what I know to be true of Norway and assume is likely true for most of northern Europe, is that until the 20th century, there was very little spatial movement in the old country.
The early settlers, in Norway largely from the Migration Period, just before the Viking Age, but some even older, naturally settled in the best farm locations, and the families tended to stay there for generations, and indeed they were the well-to-do, the best educated and leaders of the community; they had the best land. I have followed my direct lineage back to the middle-late 15th century, and descendants of the couple that held "the family farm" then, still live there today (cousins 20-odd links removed.) Never met them, of course, so I can't speak to their individual worth, but judging from Google Earth, it is still good land.

For this study, it might be worth noting that though this farm is still largely in the same family, most farms have changed family ownerships through time, and the new families then got the name of the farm, which would not show up in this study.

I remember reading about a study of place names in England that showed that the Anglo-Saxon and older place names had generally been maintained for the better farm lands, and that Norse and Danish names were common in the less favorable locations, indicating that, fierce as they might have been, the late-coming invaders settled for what they could get, and the older inhabitants stayed put on the good land.

In the Scandinavian countries this did not break up until well into the 20th century. People did not just marry to the neighboring farms, but out of the parishes, then out of the counties, and now in different countries around the world, and staying there or bringing their spouses home. It is all becoming quite cosmopolitan, and that is why "Scandinavian socialism" is going out of style.

Dr Weevil said...

Whether Sweden is "for the less well off, a better place to live than the United States" is a matter of judgment, and will differ from person to person. To take one example, those (well-off or not) who derive a significant percentage of their joie de vivre from drinking will find that alcoholic beverages are (I've heard) far far cheaper in the US than in Sweden.

MnMark said...

If we're going to start making things "fair" by taking money away from the genetically talented and giving it to the genetic failures, then the genetic failures need to be mandatorily prevented from reproductively expanding their numbers. Maybe they can have one child per couple - assuming they are married and behaving as responsibly as their genetics permits - but no more. If society is going to be engineered for "fairness" like this, then we need eugenics to increase the numbers of people with good genes and reduce the numbers with bad genes.

MnMark said...

Sweden is, for the less well off, a better place to live than the United States, and that is a good thing.

Or, contrarily, Sweden is, for the more well off, a worse place to live than the United States, and this is a bad thing.

Hagar said...

E. Hemingway: "The rich are different from you and me - they have more money!"

or they have better land.

orthodoc said...

"Given that fact, we have to decide how much reward, or punishment, should be attached to what is ultimately fickle and arbitrary, the lottery of your lineage."

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.

Thanks, Diana Moon Glompers!

Paco Wové said...

"The problem for this style of socialism in the United States ... is that white European descent is not a high status group..."

ButButbut I have this knapsack full of WhitePrivilege©™...!!

Hagar said...

Should also point out that the Scandinavian -sen or -son names say absolutely nothing about status, particularly in the US. Up to 1900 everybody were known by their first name, their father's name plus son or datter, and a family name or the name of the farm or place they lived on.
Most men emigrating to the United States or other countries, would naturally be younger sons and may have stayed with the -sen patronymic for that reason. Or the name of their home farm may not have been readily pronounceable for English-speakers.

Hagar said...

And the names he gives as "Native American" are Navajo. The "500 Nations" also spoke 500 languages, or close to it, and most Indians use an English (or Spanish or French) name for convenience in dealing with the Anglos, rather than trying to explain how their real names should be pronounced or spelled.

J said...

"Sweden is, for the less well off, a better place to live than the United States, and that is a good thing."

Sweden is also something like 90%+ white Lutherans. Maybe Gregory Clark thinks that is also a good thing and wants to get rid of large amounts of minorities in the US.

Racists leftists always trying to turn the US into a whiter place.

Hagar said...

See above J,
The Scandinavian countries today are changing complexion due to a large invasion of strangers from all over the globe, particularly from Moslem countries with large surpluses of young people with little economic opportunity in their homelands.
So things are changing faster than many can readily deal with.

roundeye said...

Steve Sailer and John Derbyshire are patiently awaiting everyone's apologies.

RecChief said...

so there is something unique that set apart my ancestors who left Europe from those who chose to stay behind as serfs. Do tell.

roundeye said...

MnMark: I see what you are doing there...


Seriously, no one will talk about this in six months. It is the sort of thing the right sort of people do not discuss.

Paul Zrimsek said...

I think most people who think it through would agree that diligent people deserve the rewards which diligence tends to produce, whether diligence is heritable or not.

skragnon said...

Social Darwinism rears its head once again?

EDH said...

somefeller said...
...it also undermines the Horatio Alger version of conservatism that says all you have to do is work hard to prosper and that the free market gives everyone an equal shot at success.

Doesn't it say that the propensity for hard work resulting in success is highly correlated with lineage, rather than estimating the efficacy of hard work irrespective of lineage on achieving success in a free market.

wildswan said...

This article is an update of Francis Galton's Hereditary Genius which asserted that because it could be shown that a certain group of families in England produced a disproportionate share of top politicians and scientists this meant that human ability was a material quality and was inherited. Proper breeding could guarantee an increased supply of these great types and so from this to eugenics was but a short step. Galton has been challenged because in the period he studied many groups were excluded from the universities and politics, e.g. Jews and Catholics. These professors are asking whether in the era of meritocracy the same findings as those of Galton exist. And I think the same objections could be made. The African-Americans until very recently and the ethnic Americans such as the Irish and Jews were excluded from universities and professions. The statistics are culled from the 25 states with 75% of the population - the coasts are therefore overrepresented and the South underrepresented. The chosen groups, doctors and lawyers, require expensive, prolonged training which almost requires well-off parents. Members of minorities by-passing such restrictions by entering IT or sports, for example, are not represented. (Galton's own family made money by selling guns to slave trade so he knew that such by passes existed but he ignored that). Merely having a aristocratic name does not prove that that person is descended from the branch of the family that made the money or fought in the battle that led to the title or great name. Lots of aristocrats of today are descended from a remote relation of the original family = a second cousin on the mother's side - because the main line died out and this remote relation with possibly no genes in common inherited the money or title and took the name. So generally I think the statistics are not very conclusive.

Hagar said...

And you are quite right ma'am. This study is a bit shaky, both in assumptions and methodology

David said...

"Or, contrarily, Sweden is, for the more well off, a worse place to live than the United States, and this is a bad thing."

I do not see the rich Swedes moving here, or even angling to get green cards to use in emergencies.

The rich Swedes have a wonderful life right were they are.

These days, a $500k investment in certain US infrastructure projects can get you a green card or its equivalent. You can use it any time there's a revolution at home.

The rich Chinese are gobbling them up.

Fred Drinkwater said...

Paul Z: The way I'd put it is this: You can only get diligence by rewarding diligence with the fruits of that diligence.
If society wants diligence, that's the only way to get it. If society does not want diligence, then they can reward however the hell they want, and reap the results thereof.

wildswan said...

Take the family of the Duke of Marlborough. The founder of the family had no children so his totally undistinguished brother took the title. Winston Spencer Churchill was a member of this family descended from this brother. He was also descended through his mother from an American Indian and who is to say what he got from his Indian side? But that name is not in the books - that we know of.

Douglas said...

I love it, an "economist" who doesn't care about incentives. What's next, an academic who doesn't care about academic freedom? Oh, wait, we have those, too. http://www.thecrimson.com/column/the-red-line/article/2014/2/18/academic-freedom-justice/

Simon Kenton said...

Mrs Kenton - I should give her her due - Dr Kenton (PhD Neurobiology) was somewhat - not sidesplittingly - amused at an economist pronouncing on heritability. If the Good Economist could just point to some particular, mapped genes that provide "that the compulsion to strive, the talent to prosper and the ability to overcome failure are strongly inherited. We can’t know for certain what the mechanism of that inheritance is, though we know that genetics plays a surprisingly strong role." How on earth does someone with confessedly no training whatever in the subject lecture the rest of us so improbably on the "genetics" of overcoming failure? Is the Good Economist going to straighten out the physicists next? Maybe elucidate the connection between dark mater and superstring theory?

I tried, fruitlessly, to interest Dr. Kenton in writing an article on the genetics of economists posting on subjects of which they have no training or comprehension - perhaps she can find in the mapped genome a combination that produces an irrestistable, heritable attraction to generating twaddle.

Hagar said...

wildswan,
The "Great Duke" himself came from quite unremarkable circumstances. And he did have children, just not surviving male ones, so that when he died, the dukedom passed to his oldest surviving daughter, who had married a Spencer. (It is the only dukedom in Britain that can pass in the female line.) One of the later dukes got permission to call himself Spencer-Churchill in memory of his redoubtable ancestor, and then some members of the family went to calling themselves just Churchill. Thus Winston Spencer Churchill of our times.

Paul Zrimsek said...

While it's certainly true that there would still be good reasons to let diligence reap its reward even if the reward isn't in some sense "earned", I also feel that the attack on deservingness needs to be confronted head-on.

Hard work is our paradigm for how you earn something; whatever we may otherwise think about moral desert, if we learn that a person has worked hard for what he's got, nearly all of us would say "you've earned that, all right." When you run across someone who instead comes back with "Prove to me that you deserve to be hard-working"... well, how could you prove that? If your interlocutor won't accept that you earned your nice house by working for it, he's not about to agree that you earned your diligence by working for it! What he's really telling you, whether he knows it or not, is that he considers it impossible for anyone to deserve anything.

Rusty said...

EDH said...
somefeller said...
...it also undermines the Horatio Alger version of conservatism that says all you have to do is work hard to prosper and that the free market gives everyone an equal shot at success.

Doesn't it say that the propensity for hard work resulting in success is highly correlated with lineage, rather than estimating the efficacy of hard work irrespective of lineage on achieving success in a free market.

But that doesn't fit Somefellers view of the market as predatory. hard work and persistance pays off. just as long as you keep in mind that there are no guarantees. Something the left seems to be uncomfortable with.