Recently, I’ve noticed a lot of articles about IQ — from liberal websites. For example, Vox has published a number, most recently, So You’ve Learned You’ve Got A “Pitifully” Low IQ. How Worried Should You Be? And I always hear the same thing: IQ measures something real, but it doesn’t mean anything on an individual basis. So: smart people will rise to the top, but we shouldn’t assume that a brown-skinned person, say, is dumb because it doesn’t work that way.
Liberals Embracing The Bell Curve
The problem is that this is exactly the argument that Murray and Herrnstein were making in The Bell Curve. The book wasn’t saying that blacks are stupid. It was just saying that blacks tend to be stupider and that this is why they are much more likely to be poor. Thus, the income inequality that we have is not random but based on IQ. Thus, we shouldn’t have Affirmative Action, because black people are poor because they just aren’t as smart as white people.
It bothers me that so many “liberal” people are so comfortable with this argument. Because here’s the thing: it’s bunk. We don’t have economic inequality because our system is so good at rewarding the productive people. For one thing, the number one reason people are rich is because they inherited their money. As I discussed two years ago, Donald Trump Is Rich Because He Was Born Rich. He actually has far less money today than he would have had if he had simply put his inheritance in an indexed mutual fund. That means that I’m better at business than America’s most famous rich guy.
But it’s more than just that. I haven’t inherited any money from anyone. But I did inherit a relatively (middle-class) social circle. I also got lots of other things like parents who greatly valued education. All of the things I inherited date back thousands of years. African Americans inherit little that is older than 150 years. This is critically important.
IQ Is Not Inherent
Let’s get back to the whole IQ debate, however. When I was in college, I read a psychology paper that looked at children who were adopted by affluent families. Now if IQ was just this thing that we were born with, those kids should have had average IQs. But they didn’t. Their IQs were well over one standard deviation above the average. That’s because IQ is greatly affected by life experience. Being around people who care about ideas helps. Going to museums and similar mind-broadening places helps. But the theory that IQ is a great indicator of success just makes it less likely that poor children will get the experiences that will help them develop high IQs.
I got some push-back some time ago when I noted that being smart was its own reward and that if anything, I deserved to have less money than those who are not similarly blessed. But I still think that. Or more accurately, I don’t think that being smart is something that society should reward me for. Nothing that went into giving me a high IQ was my doing. My IQ is no more a moral function of me than my diminutive body size.
Don’t Be Tricked, Liberals
Liberals need to be careful. And rich liberals need to be especially careful. It’s very easy for conservatives to wrap their vile ideas in a patina of science. And before you know it, liberals are saying that income inequality is no big deal. It is. It’s a very big deal. Of course, I don’t really think of myself as a liberal for this very reason. I don’t think humans should need to prove their productivity to have a decent life.
All humans deserve that.