One of the main drivers of notions like systemic racism has been the ban on public discussions of IQ. A psychometrician, Arthur Jensen, published an article about race-based differences in intelligence in 1969* that caused an uproar in an early manifestation of cancel culture. He noted the failure of Head Start programs and suggested they would never succeed given the 0.8 inheritability of “g,” general factor of intelligence. Charles Murray and Richard J. Herrnstein in The Bell Curve, published in 1994, point out that the connection between IQ and success or the lack of success is indisputable at this point, though, as Bruce Charlton points out, affirmative action for women and POC is diminishing the IQ/success connection. For this reason, The Bell Curve can be regarded as somewhat dated and this point should be born in mind through out this article. In the social sciences, there can be one study that suggests one thing, and another one that contradicts it. But, the effects of IQ on lifetime achievement is not like that. Despite the horror with which the results are greeted, psychometricians have continued publishing in more or less technical journals and the evidence all points in one direction.
The bottom line is that a simple IQ test administered to a cohort of ten-year-olds has immensely predictive value for the life outcomes of that group. The same accuracy does not apply to individuals, but, on average, we conform to those predictions. As of 1994, children were graduating high school if moderately smart, and college too – needing an IQ of around 106 for an undergraduate degree and 125 for PhD. Socioeconomic status (SES) matters almost not at all. The numbers of very smart students from an impoverished background who do not graduate high school and college is under 1% of the total. Most of those who fail high school are at the extreme low end of intelligence. One concerning thing is the number of students with an IQ of only 75 who graduate; around 60%. That figure is borderline for mental retardation and says something unpleasant about educational standards.
The good news is that there is not much parents with very high SES can do with a dumb child. IQ is much much more important than how smart or rich your parents are. One caveat would be the cost of Ivy League, and other, private schools. Headhunters look to Stanford and Yale, for instance, as a proxy for IQ. But, the exclusivity of schools like that is a combination of selectivity and expense. The expense becomes part of the attraction because it makes the school more exclusive, i.e., it excludes people. How is a student of modest SES background supposed to pay $70,0000 a year? Perhaps, Murray and Herrnstein address this in a later section of the book. The old New Zealand system, like England, had only public universities and academic ability was the only criterion for entry. Education was free to the student, restricted to the top 5% of the population, plus a small stipend was provided to live on. There were no nonsense enrollment selection criteria like “character” or “community service;” just brains as measured by test scores. And the test scores had a 30% range over “A.” So, the exams said, in effect, “OK. You got an A. But, now just how smart are you really, over and above that cut off?”
My wife and I could not have afforded private school fees for just one child, let alone, say, four children. The idea of a $280,000 debt for a measly BA is deeply unappealing. Columbia University recently got singled out as having the worst cost/benefit ratio of any school, with films studies majors making $30,000 per annum, on average with that aforementioned debt. And then, times four, the price goes up to well over one million dollars. We have been lucky that our son got an exceedingly well-paid job as a computer programmer based on brains and diligence alone without any student debt. We contributed maybe $30,000 over four years keeping it that way.
Intelligence is 0.8 inheritable (80%). IQ is affected by your childhood home to a degree, but this effect largely disappears once someone is living by himself, in which case he will generate an environment that reflects his intelligence, including his social environment. The professions that put the highest premium on IQ are the best paid and most prestigious. But then, within those professions, it is those with the highest IQ who do the best. A relatively low IQ lawyer does relatively poorly. The high IQ lawyer is much more likely to be comparatively richer and more successful. The same holds true for plumbers. Smart plumbers are more productive and will earn more money than slower plumbers.
Education does not affect IQ. Education does not make you smarter. Instead, it is typically a reflection of how smart you are. I have said for years that if you give me the top three students from Oswego High School – the only high school in town – and you take a random collection of “A” students from SUNY Oswego – my students will beat your students. They will also be better, smarter, and more productive employees. If you are allowed to select “special” A students, then my margin of victory will be smaller.
Falling education standards do not make people dumber. It just makes it harder to differentiate the super smart from the not so smart by looking at their grades. In fact, academic grades are only 0.1 (10%) predictive of how well a prospective employee will perform, as is the job interview. A twelve minute IQ test, however, will be 0.4 – the factor with the highest predictive value of productivity. The fact is that a high “g,” general intelligence, that IQ tests try to measure, means you are likely to do any task requiring thinking better. Murray gives the example of a busboy. A smart busboy is better able to ascertain which table needs clearing the most at any given moment, in coordination with the servers. And this superior intelligence means he will always perform better. Experience will not compensate for lower intelligence after a newby busboy is given an opportunity to get the idea.
The Pareto distribution means that a square root of a group of people will do 50% or more of the work. If there are ten people, three will do the lion’s share of the work. If there are 100, then just 10 will be generating the most work. This works for pretty much anything. A handful of baseball players hit the majority of homeruns. That particular activity might be a reflection of coordination and athletic ability. But, in office work, or skilled labor, it will be IQ.
At the time The Bell Curve was written, and especially in the 1970s, the US had become exceedingly meritocratic when it came to education and job placement. In 1900, hardly anyone graduated high school or went to college. And then, those who did go to college were not particularly bright, on average. The Harvard students were nothing special. With rampant affirmative action, this state of affairs is returning even at places like MIT and Caltech where women are being admitted at rates above their ability levels. Most businessmen back in 1900, for instance, did not bother getting a degree. In fact, the president of Harvard at the time recommended against it. It was not until the 1960s that elite universities focused on selecting the high IQ students. As of 1994, when The Bell Curve was written, by, educational achievement was very closely tied to IQ.
The bad news is that this fact has been rigorously suppressed. It is a third rail topic. Murray has been called a racist even though he intentionally included only whites in nearly all the studies he examines to take the question of race mostly out of it. The US Supreme Court ruled in Griggs vs Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424 (1971) that employers were not allowed to administer IQ tests to prospective employees due to “disparate impact on blacks.” The tests were “artificial and unnecessary.” The courts happened to be wrong. The tests were in fact the best predictor of employee performance available and it is substantial drain on the economy not to make these tests available, making choosing employees much harder. It is a major reason why the Ivy League schools have got even more money and prestige because they become a proxy for IQ. A “regular” college education means very little. Most students remain functionally illiterate and innumerate, and not from want of trying on the part of their professors. As mentioned before, education does not improve basic general intelligence. Nassim Taleb comments in Antifragile that it might make you passably more interesting to talk to at a cocktail party, but that too will be a matter of IQ to a large degree.
Employers are allowed to administer job specific tests but these are not good predictors of job performance, ironically enough. There must surely be a temptation to turn job specific tests into ones that measure “g,” but employers would be risking a lawsuit if they accidentally measured something meaningful to them that they desperately want to know.
The suppression of the facts about IQ intentionally obscures the causes of differing educational and occupational outcomes. It makes charges of “systemic racism” seem more plausible. This meaningless phrase is based on the lack of equality of results. Blacks do less well than other groups in society, and commit violent crimes, and others, at alarmingly high rates. One in three blacks who dropped out of high school, an indication of low IQ, end up in prison. Low IQ is correlated with antisocial tendencies of narcissism, low conscientiousness and low agreeableness, low impulse control, and an R life strategy: live fast, die young, and do not worry about the future. The average black IQ is 85. Academics are forbidden to mention this or risk putting their careers in jeopardy. Thus, it is not possible to argue against systemic racism because the actual mechanism generating the effects in question cannot be mentioned. In fact, ironically, you are regarded as “racist” for bringing up IQ, a perfect Catch-22. You are racist either way. And, the less culturally biased the IQ test, the worse blacks perform.
As the economy has become more tied to high tech, the more of a premium employers are willing to pay for brain power. A smart engineer is worth many times that of a lower IQ factory worker. Also, factors of scale come into it. A stellar advertising campaign that improves sales by 5% where sales are $100 million, is worth a lot. Murray mentions someone he knows who moonlights on jury selection, increasing the chances of a “favorable” outcome by 5%. He gets paid thousands of dollars a day, but that 5% can be worth many hundreds of thousands or millions making his salary well worth it. This phenomenon of relatively small disparities between people, say 100 IQ vs 130 IQ, the latter putting you in the 98th percentile, is something Rousseau mentions in the Discourse on Inequality. In a primitive tribal system, the smarter hunter gatherer might get an extra wife or two and a bit more food, but that is about it. There simply is no economic means of becoming a multi-billionaire influencing life on the planet in an outsized fashion. Someone commented that before movies were invented, Cary Grant would just have been an unusually good-looking ploughman, no richer nor more famous than his neighbor.
In 1939, half the US population were below the poverty line. This changed radically until the mid-60s by which time poverty had radically reduced. Since then, however, the disparity between rich and poor has increased. Fortunately, this does not mean that poverty increased. Engineers got paid more and more, while factory workers and other low skill occupations had no increase in their wages. And this is because, as already stated, the modern economy is highly reliant on IQ and the very high IQ have thus become more and more valuable and productive. Thomas Sowell, in one of his books, rejects the notion that CEOs are overpaid. If the company is worth several billion dollars, then good and bad business decisions can have consequences worth millions or billions. In that case, it is worth paying a highly capable executive hundreds of millions of dollars given what is at stake. Trying to save money by paying the CEO less could easily be a false economy, costing the company far more in the big scheme of things. As an example of this kind of thing, on a small scale, Le Moyne College once tried saving between 100 and 300,000 dollars on the firm they used to put out their student recruitment and retention mailings, etc. The new firm messed up, did not get things out on time, and students were not provided with the forms or information they needed in order to register for classes (and possibly even to know if their college application had been accepted.) As a result, there was a massive reduction in enrollment as students went elsewhere. That class remained radically reduced in numbers until they graduated. It cost the college millions.
Reading so much about IQ has been a strange experience. It certainly makes one think a lot about one’s own IQ, and those around you. And, it has disproved many of my past conjectures. My parents were among the educated elite of their era, but due to my father being an Anglican minister, the family was on a working-class income. Two of my sisters have ended up, one, as a dentist, the other, as a lawyer at the high-income end of their professions, indicating that they are high IQ even for their occupations. New Zealand had an education system at the time that aimed to eliminate from school the less capable as quickly and efficiently as possible. We all survived this culling process. At one time, I thought it was because we read a lot of books, my parents had huge vocabularies, we discussed intellectual matters around the kitchen table, and so on. Now, I find, all these things are a reflection of high biological IQ, not the cause of intelligence. We did not become smarter than average by doing these things. It is just that we as a family had an artificially low SES thanks to an idealistic parent. Environment is responsible, at most, for 20% of IQ, and, as mentioned, the effects of the parental home vanish in adulthood. As an adult, the home and social life you create will affect your intelligence; but mostly, it reflects your intelligence. Having very smart people to talk to will help you reach your phenotype maximum, as an evolutionary psychologist would put it.
With regard to my own son, all that reading, singing (when he was a baby), talking to him, and musical education did not actually contribute much to his adult intelligence. When it became clear that he was at a formal operational stage of development at age 12, common to people who go on to get PhDs, I thought it might have to do with his home environment. At that age, it would have to be to a smallish degree, but, ultimately, I can take very little credit for it – almost none.
The situation with IQ can be compared with Plato’s Republic. Plato wanted a system of oversight where capable and moral children, in particular, would be selected to be the next philosopher kings ruling society. Children would be weeded out and sent to various occupations, farmer, artisan, etc. as they revealed their limitations. In the modern US economy, people were sorted into their educational and occupational positions largely by IQ, no oversight of children is necessary, until diversity, inclusion, and equity became more dominant.
Cries of systemic racism exist as a way for scared, highly neurotic, narcissistic, Machiavellian white people who want power to control a world they find to be scary, who are not confident in their ability to gain status through legitimate attainment, to use an out group to advance their own status among other whites. Black people end up being hapless pawns of sick white people to advance certain white people’s careers. Those white people do not actually care about the out group since they are not interested in looking at evidence for what actually helps and harms black people. Do not ask them to read Thomas Sowell, or “Mismatch,” a book outlining the demonstrably counterproductive effects of education affirmative action, for instance. Neither does it help to mention to those who call to “defund the police,” that it is the poor and vulnerable and frequently black who are most dependent on the police. “Open borders” floods the country with low skilled workers (if they work at all) who compete with low skilled Americans – again, the poor and vulnerable. None of these policies actually help anyone. But, they do work as a virtue signal in order to gain status among their fellow liberal whites. If you can display your fake “concern” to a high enough degree, you can become a DIE administrator making a six-figure salary.
There is no “white privilege.” In fact, far better to be black or a POC at this point in time. But, there are remnants of an IQ privilege. The US had done an excellent job of eliminating environment as a factor in achievement until affirmative action intervened. The downside is that environment is the only thing we have any control over. The less prominent environment is, the more salient biologically produced IQ is. Things like Head Start programs have no good effect on long-term educational success, though it seems to cut down on behavioral issues in the classroom during high school. The disparity between rich and poor has radically increased thanks to the system efficiently separating people by intelligence and paying the more intelligent far more as a reflection of their economic worth. There is no logical remedy to this. We do not want to replace Elon Musk with Mr. or Mrs. Average. It is not fair that our life trajectory is so much the product of something we have no control over and for which we can take no credit. Which is just to say, life is not fair. There are obviously a lot of things someone will have to do correctly in order to succeed. Having a high IQ is necessary, but not sufficient for unusual accomplishment. But, the high IQ will also do a better job of figuring out what they need to do in order to succeed. Including, self-brainwashing concerning topics like “systemic racism.”
*Arthur Jensen, How Much Can We Boost IQ and Achievement?, Harvard Educational Review, 1969.