I am on vacation, and so have only been able to take notes on the posts I want to write for the past week. Here is the outline I jotted down in the car:
When Capitalism Devours Democracy
Ken Star, Mueller, the media, and endless for-profit, anti-nation investigations into the president. (Actually, Tom Nichols’s discussion about the evolution of talk radio and Cable News and their deleterious effects on political discourse is one of the better parts of his book, The Death of Expertise.)
The overly complex legal code + endless investigation + the media + advertising dollars => undermining government function.
Watergate, White Water, Monica, Russiagate, etc.
Can you imagine the national reaction if someone tried to investigate George Washington the same way? It would have been seen not as “anti-George Washington,” but as fundamentally anti-American, an attempt to subvert democracy itself and interfere with the proper functioning of the nation.
Note the complexity of the modern legal, economic, and tax systems, which simultaneously make it very hard for anyone doing much of anything to comply with every single law (have you ever jaywalked? Accidentally miscounted a deduction on your taxes?) and ensure that, with enough searching, if you want to pin something bad on someone, you probably can.
Even though you believe in your heart that you have done nothing wrong, you have no idea whether you might be admitting that you did something that is against the law. There are tens of thousands of criminal statutes on the books in America today. Most of them you have never heard of, and many of them involve conduct that nobody would imagine could ever be a crime.
(Unless you’ve been pulled over for speeding. Then obviously you pull out your driver’s license and talk like a normal human.)
In short, the media discovered, with Nixon and Watergate (at least within the past century or so,) that constant presidential scandals could be good for ratings, and certain folks in the government discovered with Bill Clinton and Monica and Lewinsky that if you go digging for long enough, eventually you can find some kind of dirt to pin on someone–even if it’s completely irrelevant, idiotic dirt that has nothing to do with the president’s ability to govern.
This creates the incentive for the Media to constantly push the drumbeat narrative of “presidential scandal!” which leads to people truly believing that there is much more scandal than there really is.
Theory: Monica, Benghazi, Russiagate, and maybe even Watergate were all basically trumped-up hogwash played for ratings dollars. (Well, clearly someone broke into the Watergate hotel.)
The sheer complexity of the modern legal system, which allows this to happen, also incentivizes each party to push for constant investigations of the other party’s presidents. In essence, both sides are moving toward mutual defect-defect, with the media egging them on.
And We the People are the suckers.
I feel like there are concepts here for which we need better words.
“DNA builds products with a purpose. So do people.” –Auerswald, The Code Economy
McDonald’s is the world’s largest restaurant chain by revenue, serving over 69 million customers daily in over 100 countries across approximately 36,900 outlets as of 2016. … According to a BBC report published in 2012, McDonald’s is the world’s second-largest private employer (behind Walmart with 1.9 million employees), 1.5 million of whom work for franchises. …
There are currently a total of 5,669 company-owned locations and 31,230 franchised locations… Notably, McDonald’s has increased shareholder dividends for 25 consecutive years, making it one of the S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats. …
According to Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser (2001), nearly one in eight workers in the U.S. have at some time been employed by McDonald’s. … Fast Food Nation also states that McDonald’s is the largest private operator of playgrounds in the U.S., as well as the single largest purchaser of beef, pork, potatoes, and apples. (Wikipedia)
How did a restaurant whose only decent products are french fries and milkshakes come to dominate the global corporate landscape?
In The Code Economy, Auerswald suggests that the secret to McDonald’s success isn’t (just) the french fries and milkshake machines:
Kroc opened his first McDonald’s restaurant in 1955 in Des Plaines, California. Within five years he had opened two hundred new franchises across the country. [!!!] He pushed his operators obsessively to adhere to a system that reinforced the company motto: “Quality, service, cleanliness, and value.”
Quoting Kroc’s1987 autobiography,
“It’s all interrelated–our development of the restaurant, the training, the marketing advice, the product development, the research that has gone into each element of the equipment package. Together with our national advertising and continuing supervisory assistance, it forms an invaluable support system. Individual operators pay 11.5 percent of their gross to the corporation for all of this…”
The process of operating a McDonald’s franchise was engineered to be as cognitively undemanding as possible. …
Kroc created a program that could be broken into subroutines…. Acting like the DNA of the organization, the manual allowed the Speedee Service System to function in a variety of environments without losing essential structure or function.
McDonald’s is big because it figured out how to reproduce.
I’m not sure why IKEA is so big (I don’t think it’s a franchise like McDonald’s,) but based on the information posted on their walls, it’s because of their approach to furniture design. First, think of a problem, eg, People Need Tables. Second, determine a price–IKEA makes some very cheap items and some pricier items, to suit different customers’ needs. Third, use Standard IKEA Wooden Pieces to design a nice-looking table. Fourth, draw the assembly instructions, so that anyone, anywhere, can assemble the furniture themselves–no translation needed.
IKEA furniture is kind of like Legos, in that much of it is made of very similar pieces of wood assembled in different ways. The wooden boards in my table aren’t that different in size and shape from the ones in my dresser nor the ones in my bookshelf, though the items themselves have pretty different dimensions. So on the production side, IKEA lowers costs by producing not actual furniture, but collections of boards. Boards are easy to make–sawmills produce tons of them.
Furniture is heavy, but mostly empty space. By contrast, piles of boards stack very neatly and compactly, saving space both in shipping and when buyers are loading the boxes into their cars. (I am certain that IKEA accounts for common car dimensions in designing and packing their furniture.)
And the assembly instruction allow the buyer to ultimately construct the furniture.
In other words, IKEA has hit upon a successful code that allows them to produce many different designs from a few basic boards and ship them efficiently–keeping costs low and allowing them to thrive.
The company is also looking for ways to maximize warehouse efficiency.
“We have (only) two pallet sizes,” Marston said, referring to the wooden platforms on which goods are placed. “Our warehouses are dimensioned and designed to hold these two pallet sizes. It’s all about efficiencies because that helps keep the price of innovation down.”
In Europe, some IKEA warehouses utilize robots to “pick the goods,” a term of art for grabbing products off very high shelves.
These factories, Marston said, are dark, since no lighting is needed for the robots, and run 24 hours a day, picking and moving goods around.
“You (can) stand on a catwalk,” she said, “and you look out at this huge warehouse with 12 pallets (stacked on top of each other) and this robot’s running back and forth running on electronic eyebeams.”
IKEA’s code and McDonald’s code are very different, but both let the companies produce the core items they sell quickly, cheaply, and efficiently.
The difficulty with evolution is that systems are complicated; successful mutations or even just combinations of existing genes must work synergistically with all of the other genes and systems already operating in the body. A mutation that increases IQ by tweaking neurons in a particular way might have the side effect of causing neurons outside the brain to malfunction horribly; a mutation that protects against sickle-cell anemia when you have one copy of it might just kill you itself if you have two copies.
Auerswald quotes Kauffman and Levin:
“Natural selection does not work as an engineer works… It works like a tinkereer–a tinkerer who does not know exactly what he is going to produce but uses… everything at his disposal to produce some kind of workable object.” This process is progressive, moving form simpler to more complex forms: “Evolution doe not produce novelties from scratch. It works on what already exists, either transforming a system to give it new functions or combining several systems to produce a more elaborate one [as] during the passage from unicellular to multicellular forms.”
The Kauffman and Levin model was as simple as it was powerful. Imagine a genetic code of length N, where each gene might occupy one of two possible “states”–for example, “o” and “i” in a binary computer. The difficulty of the evolutionary problem was tunable with the parameter K, which represented the average number of interactions among genes. The NK model, as it came to be called, was able to reproduce a number of measurable features of evolution in biological systems. Evolution could be represented as a genetic walk on a fitness landscape, in which increasing complexity was now a central parameter.
Local optima–or optimums, if you prefer–are an illusion created by distance. A man standing on the hilltop at (approximately) X=2 may see land sloping downward all around himself and think that he is at the highest point on the graph. But hand him a telescope, and he discovers that the fellow standing on the hilltop at X=4 is even higher than he is. And hand the fellow at X=4 a telescope, and he’ll discover that X=6 is even higher.
A global optimum is the best possible way of doing something; a local optimum can look like a global optimum because all of the other, similar ways of doing the same thing are worse.
Some notable examples of cultures that were stuck at local optima but were able, with exposure, to jump suddenly to a higher optima: The “opening of Japan” in the late 1800s resulted in breakneck industrialization and rising standards of living; the Cherokee invented their own alphabet (technically a syllabary) after glimpsing the Roman one, and achieved mass literacy within decades; European mathematics and engineering really took off after the introduction of Hindu-Arabic numerals and the base-ten system.
If we consider each culture its own “landscape” in which people (and corporations) are finding locally optimal solutions to problems, then it becomes immediately obvious that we need both a large number of distinct cultures working out their own solutions to problems and occasional communication and feedback between those cultures so results can transfer. If there is only one, global, culture, then we only get one set of solutions–and they will probably be sub-optimal. If we have many cultures but they don’t interact, we’ll get tons of solutions, and many of them will be sub-optimal. But many cultures developing their own solutions and periodically interacting can develop many solutions and discard sub-optimal ones for better ones.
Life constantly makes us take decisions under conditions of uncertainty. We can’t simply compute every possible outcome, and decide with perfect accuracy what the path forward is. We have to use heuristics. Religion is seen as a record of heuristics that have worked in the past. …
But while every generation faces new circumstances, there are also some common problems that every living being is faced with: survival and reproduction, and these are the most important problems because everything else depends on them. Mess with these, and everything else becomes irrelevant.
This makes religion an evolutionary record of solutions which persisted long enough, by helping those who held them to persist.
This is not saying “All religions are perfect and good and we should follow them,” but it is suggesting, “Traditional religions (and cultures) have figured out ways to solve common problems and we should listen to their ideas.”
Back in The Code Economy, Auerswald asks:
Might the same model, derived from evolutionary biology, explain the evolution of technology?
… technology may also be nothing else but the capacity for invariant reproduction. However, in order for more complex forms of technology to be viable over time, technology also must possess a capacity for learning and adaptation.
Evolutionary theory as applied to the advance of code is the focus of the next chapter. Kauffman and Levin’s NK model ends up providing a framework for studying the creation and evolution of code. Learning curves act as the link between biology and economics.
Will the machines become sentient? Or McDonald’s? And which should we worry about?
The legal system was created by and for the ruling class (cishetero white males) in order to keep the rich rich and the poor and oppressed poor and oppressed.
To this end, crimes the poor commit (such as burglary) are heavily penalized, while crimes the rich commit (such as racism or insider trading) are not.
Many of the “crimes” of the oppressed (like rape, assault, mugging, and mass rioting) shouldn’t be considered crimes at all, but are just desperate attempts at survival
The “real crimes” are things like racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., which create the oppressive capitalist society that creates common street crime
When racism sexism, homophobia, etc. are outlawed, then we can create the perfect socialist state which will have no crime.
Creationism is more factually solid than Critical Criminology, but Critical Criminology is taught in real universities alongside real theories about how the world works.
But let’s step back a moment. #1 is at least partially true–the rich do have a disproportionate influence on the legal system and the poor are often at its mercy. Corporations and wealthy individuals do use their money and influence to get legislation written and enforced in ways that benefit themselves.
But which crimes, exactly, are the rich interested in prosecuting? Do they care if a drug addict steals wallets down in the ghetto? They don’t live in the ghetto. They use their money to insulate themselves from violent crime by buying houses in nice, gated neighborhoods with private security forces.
It’s the poor who are the primary victims of crime, and it’s the poor who’d like murderers to be arrested. Only someone who is rich enough not to live with the threat of violent crime could possibly say something as stupendously idiotic and insensitive as “rape and assault aren’t real crimes.”
If critical criminologists are the wealthy, then wouldn’t they, logically, be trying to reshape the legal system to benefit themselves?
Meanwhile, they accuse the wealthy of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., but these attitudes are actually associated with the poor. Rich whites absolutely pride themselves on being open-minded, tolerant, anti-racist, feminist, etc, and are horrified at all of the racist, sexist, Islamophobic bigotry embodied in low-class Trump voters.
So the crimes these wealthy critical theorists are trying to get outlawed are not things that the rich are doing, but things the rich want the poor to stop doing.
Here I could cite a dozen examples, from Hate Speech laws in Britain being more strongly enforced than rape laws to Hillary Clinton’s “Would bringing down the banks end racism?” speech to Piers Morgan complaining about Islamophobia.
Why are the capitalists so intent on smashing bigotry in all its forms?
Simple: Capitalism wants to make money. Capitalism doesn’t care about oppressing brown people, or women, or gays, or Muslims, or foreigners, or anyone. Capitalism just wants the best possible ratio of worker quality : worker cost. If Mexicans can do the same job as Americans for half the cost, then capitalists want to hire Mexicans and they want Americans to stop trying to pass laws limiting the number of Mexican immigrants who can come work for the capitalists. If Europe is facing a labor crisis because Europeans haven’t made enough new workers to fill the factories and finance the welfare state, then European capitalists must import new workers and they want European workers to stop complaining about the terrorist attacks. Capitalism just wants to hire “the best person for the job” or at least the cheapest person who’ll do an adequate job.
The only odd part is that capitalists are wrapping themselves in the Communist flag while imprisoning people for objecting to the importation of cheap, union-breaking labor. We could accuse them of lying–or gaslighting–except many of them seem to really believe it. Perhaps socialism provides the necessary tool for lying to themselves. “Oh, I am not actually screwing over the poor by advocating on behalf of my own profits.” Most people don’t like to think of themselves as nasty, evil, and self-serving, but they will often project those qualities onto others. (“I’m a nice person, it’s everyone else who’s backstabbing cheaters!”) By casting their enemies (middle and working class white males who don’t want to lose economic security)’s concerns onto the cartoonish figure of the evil capitalist, they simultaneously dismiss those concerns and recast themselves as heroic defenders of the “oppressed.”
Some evolutionary biologists, such as Robert Trivers, have suggested[page needed] that deception plays a significant part in human behavior, and in animal behavior, more generally speaking. One deceives oneself to trust something that is not true as to better convince others of that truth. When a person convinces himself of this untrue thing, they better mask the signs of deception.
This notion is based on the following logic: deception is a fundamental aspect of communication in nature, both between and within species. It has evolved so that one can have an advantage over another. From alarm calls to mimicry, animals use deception to further their survival. Those who are better able to perceive deception are more likely to survive. As a result, self-deception evolved to better mask deception from those who perceive it well, as Trivers puts it: “Hiding the truth from yourself to hide it more deeply from others.” In humans, awareness of the fact that one is acting deceptively often leads to tell-tale signs of deception, such as nostrils flaring, clammy skin, quality and tone of voice, eye movement, or excessive blinking. Therefore, if self-deception enables someone to believe her or his own distortions, they will not present such signs of deception and will therefore appear to be telling the truth.
A recent article in Stanford Magazine highlighted the work of psychologist Richard Lampiere. Back in 1931, Lampiere, a Chinese student of his, and his student’s Chinese wife drove cross-country, visiting 250 hotels and restaurants.
One business refused them service, presumably because of race.
Then Lampiere sent surveys to the businesses they’d visited (plus controls) asking if they served Chinese people. The businesses responded:
235 said NO,
18 said maybe,
and only 2 said YES.
Basically the complete opposite of reality.
Social signalling is cheap; losing actual customers on the ground is expensive.
People today still say whatever they think will gain them approval, though our politics have changed a lot since 1931. For example, 89% of people these days report being willing to marry someone of another race:
but of marriages conducted in 2013, only 12% actually were. By contrast, while a similar number of people said they would be unhappy about a cross-political marriage in their family:
“When I fed the poor, they called me a saint. When I asked why the poor were poor, they called me a communist.” —Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara, Brazilian Roman Catholic Archbishop, 1909 – 1999
In Bishop Camara’s case, they might have been calling him a communist because he was an open socialist who advocated Liberation Theology. But leaving the specific case aside, let’s speak more generally: the problem isn’t that people think it’s inherently communist to wonder why there are poor people; the problem is that you are asking the wrong question.
The state that we now call “poor” was the default condition of the vast, overwhelming majority of humans for the entirety of our existence on this planet. Agriculture has only existed for 10,000 of humanity’s 200,000 years; the vast majority of your ancestors were hunter-gatherers with no more wealth to their names than what they could comfortably carry on their backs or construct in a few hours’ time out of grass and sticks. A modern guy living out of his car has more wealth than our ancestors did.
The important question is not why most of the world’s people are still poor. The question is why some of the world’s people (or groups of people) have become fabulously wealthy, and if whatever they did can work for everyone else.
Why are people poor?
Why shouldn’t they be poor?
You want to be rich? Figure out how the rich did it.
Quality of life and human well-being have increased tremendously around the world in the past 30 years. The number of people suffering starvation has dropped precipitously. Why? Did Ethiopia and China introduce some fabulous new welfare program to provide for their poorest citizens? No. Capitalism and technological advances in food production happened. (Caveat: Russia post-USSR had collapsing well-being due to, AFAIK, terribly managed and opportunistic transition to capitalism. As always, don’t be stupid.)
Before you can make solve problems, you have to understand what the problems actually are–and that requires asking the correct questions in the first place.
In the genomic age, it is now easy to compare the DNA of people from around the world. And it has indeed revealed that our racial categories are fuzzy proxies for genetic difference—an African man may be more closely related to an Asian than to another African.
From there, Zhang basically tries to argue that race doesn’t real even though genetics and medical science sure make it look real, that the differences in the distribution of genetic traits in large, historically isolated populations don’t matter because of a few tiny populations that are the genetic equivalent of the Basque language.
Remember, the world’s entire population of Bushmen wouldn’t even fill the Texas A&M football stadium. Combine them with a few other tiny populations, like the Khoikhoi and Pygmies, and you’re still looking at <1 million people. Meanwhile, there are billions of Europeans, west Africans, and east Asians.
Mundane racial categories work just fine for the vast majority of people, including the vast majority of Americans, who are not drawn from a rainbow of racially-mixed groups like Tuaregs or fringe outliers like the Bushmen, but from distinct populations of West Africans, Europeans (primarily NW Euros,) Native Americans, and East Asians. If I say someone is “black” or “white,” not only do you understand what I mean, there is an actually consistent genetic reality underlying my statements–in almost 100% of cases, a genetic test would in fact confirm that the people I call “black” are actually primarily Sub-Saharan African by ancestry and the people I call “white” are primarily European by ancestry. Exceptions like Rachel Dolezal are quite rare.
Zhang is trying to argue that you can’t make a reasonable argument about the average distribution of traits between whites, blacks, and Asians in the US because there is a handful of tiny, genetically isolated populations over in Africa. A does not follow from B.
On the other side of the coin, we have people who believe it’s morally imperative to only marry people from one’s own race.
Most of the time, people fall in love with people from their own culture and ethnic group. This is what we’d expect, because you’re more likely to meet and share values with people from your own group. (Interestingly, most people are more genetically similar to their spouses than they are to the average person in their community, not because they married a close relative, but because similar genes make for similar people.)
But some people, for whatever reasons, marrying within their own group isn’t a real option. (White men who are under 5’5″, for example.) These people are looking out for their own best interests–really, if you’re considering calling Derbyshire a race traitor, you’re probably thinking too much about other people’s business.
Capitalism works because it self-corrects; it allows consumers to pick the best products at the best prices, and companies to hire the most talented workers for the best wages. Unlike socialism, where companies are told what and how much to produce, consumers are told what to buy and how much it will cost, and ultimately people starve in the streets, capitalism actually works. Self-interest is a powerful organizing principle that has radically increased the welfare of billions of people over the past century.
And capitalism doesn’t care about race.
Where people live in close proximity to people of other races, some of them will fall in love.
That said, don’t date people for status points or because you’re trying to prove how not-racist you are. Like Obama’s parents, most inter-racial couples don’t stay together; the majority of mixed-race children have parents who are not married–according to one study, 92% of biracial children with black fathers are born out of wedlock and 82% end up on government assistance because their fathers do not bother to take care of them.
And if you are ever tempted to compare your vagina to the UN because of the sheer number of different ethnicities that have been in it, you need to stop and re-evaluate your life for multiple reasons.
Ultimately, real-life decisions should be based on real-life concerns.
Say what you will, the IRA, ETA, and PLO had clear, coherent goals. Goals they were willing to kill babies to achieve, but still goals. You knew what they wanted and could at least hypothetically negotiate with them about it.
Since 9-11, the attacks have been increasingly incoherent. Why would Pakistani-American citizens attack the US in support of one side or the other in a civil war going on in Syria? Why would the children of Chechen refugees attack the country that took them in? Why would a guy living in Afghanistan believe it is anti-Muslim for the US to protect the interests of Muslims in Kuwait? Why move to the EU and then violently object to the laws or foreign policy? For that matter, why the hell would anyone support ISIS?
We may infer a kind of pan-Islamic tribalism which regards the US (and other Western nations) as acting against Islamic interests, but even this is incoherent. Why would Osama bin Ladin feel the need to stand up for Saudi Arabia when the Saudis could do it perfectly well themselves?
In reality, the US prior to 9-11 was pretty agnostic on Muslims. Palestinians were unpopular, due to terrorist attacks against Israel, but countries like Egypt and Jordan attracted the average person’s interest only because of their pyramids and long history. Most US actions in the Middle East over the past 55 years had been motivated by Cold War or “peace keeping” concerns.
The US supported Egypt in the Suez Crisis, keeping the Suez Canal under Egyptian control, an obvious economic boon to Egypt. We have supported, at various times, the Shah of Iran, the King of Jordan, Iraq against Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan against Soviet invasion. We intervened militarily on behalf of Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo, Kuwait, and Somalia.
The US gives a substantial amount in foreign aid to other countries every year; in 2013 (the Wikipedia only lists our foreign aid for 2013 and 2012,) we gave 42.829 billion dollars–or $134 from every American citizen–to Muslim countries from Afghanistan to Yemen. (See bottom of post for my list of aid dollars per country.)
It has only been since 9-11 that Americans really become aware of the “Muslim world” as a coherent entity (if such exists) with which “we” are supposedly in conflict.
Before then, as mentioned before, our concerns were largely leftovers from the Cold War era. The “modernizers,” like Kemal Ataturk, King Hussein of Jordan, the Shah of Iran, and Saddam Hussein were “the good guys,” capitalists intent on modernizing their countries and promoting free market economic opportunities.
I recall a conversation I had with a high-ranking US government official in the weeks before 9-11. He pointed out a picture of the King of Jordan he had hanging in his office, and referred to the king as “a good guy” and “one of our friends.”
The “bad guys” were the Communists. If you’ve read Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, then you know that the Iranian Revolution was a communist revolution. The triumph of “radical Islam” in Iran was a Communist revolution against Western Capitalism.
Saddam was our guy against the Ayatollah, until he invaded Kuwait (which may be partially our fault due to our ambassador inadequately conveying the idea that we would invade if he did.)
The Palestinians are supported by the likes of Noam Chomsky, Cultural Marxists, and regular Marxists.
Anti-capitalism is anti-colonialism is anti-modernism is anti-Westernism is radical religious fundamentalism.
The Muslim world is split between two factions, modernizers who want capitalism and are happy to work with the West, and radical internationalist who oppose Western influence and want to return to religious fundamentalism through out the Islamic world.
This is why the invasion of Iraq failed and could not help but fail: we took out our own guy, the modernizer, the capitalist. Who would replace him? Another capitalist? No, we got the opposition party, the fundamentalist, the communist, ISIS.
We took out the capitalist and put the communists in power.
We fucked ourselves, to the tun of 3 trillion dollars and thousands of dead soldiers. (And Iraqis.)
Table of 2013 US Aid to Muslim countries in millions of dollars (I picked Bosnia, on behalf of whose Muslim population the US intervened following the breakup of Yugoslavia, as my “minimum Muslim %” cut-off for inclusion in this list.) My apologies if I’ve missed any.
Burkina Faso 1040.11
Guinea Bissau 103.6
Sierra Leone 443.7
Finishing up with our discussion, (in response to a reader’s question):
Why are people snobs about intelligence?
Is math ability better than verbal?
Do people only care about intelligence in the context of making money?
Now, this is the point in the conversation where somebody tends to say something like, “My cousin / little sister /uncle is retarded, but they are still a beautiful, wonderful person and I love them as much as everyone else, and therefore it is mean to say that smart people are higher status than dumb people.”
It is good that you love your family. You should love your family. I am sure your relatives are lovely people, and you enjoy their company, and would be worse off without them.
But by the same token, I am grateful for the fact that I have never had polio, smallpox, or Ebola. I am thankful that I did not die in childbirth (my own or my childrens’.) I am thankful for life-saving surgeries, medications, and mass-vaccination campaigns that have massively reduced the quantity of human suffering, and I happily praise the doctors and scientists who made all of this possible.
That is why doctors and scientists are higher status than dumb people, and why math-smart people (who tend to end up in science) believe that they should have more status than verbal-smart people.
But on to #3--what is this “intelligence” and “money” connection? (And why does our questioner think it is so bad?)
The obvious answer is no, people don’t only care about intelligence in the context of making money. People also care about enjoying music and reading good books and having fun with their friends, having pleasant conversations and not dying of cancer.
But people are practical creatures, and their first priority is making sure that they and their children will eat tomorrow.
In a purely meritocratic society, more intelligent people will tend to end up in professions that require more intellect and more years of training, which will in turn allow them to demand higher wages. (So will people with rare physical talents, like athleticism and musical ability.) Unintelligent people, by contrast, will end up in the jobs that require the least thought and least training, where they will soon be replaced by robots.
The incentive to pay your doctor more than your trash collector is obvious.
The truly bright and creative, of course, will go beyond merely being employed and actually start companies, invent products/processes, and generally reshape the world around them, all of which results in making even more money.
The truly dull, by contrast, even when they can get jobs, tend to be impulsive and bad at planning, which results in the loss of what little money they have.
We do not live in a purely meritocratic society. No one does. We make efforts to that end, though, which is why public schools exist and employers are officially not supposed to consider things like race and gender when hiring people. Which means that our society is pretty close to meritocratic.
And in fact, the correlation between IQ and wealth/income is remarkably robust:
It even holds internationally:
There are a few outliers–the gulf oil states are far richer than their IQs would predict, due to oil; China is poorer than its IQ predicts, which may be due to the lingering effects of communism or due to some quirk in the nature of Chinese intelligence (either way, I expect a very China-dominant future)–but otherwise, IQ predicts average per cap GDP quite well.
Here people tend to bring up a few common objections:
1. I know a guy who is smart but poor, and a guy who is dumb but rich! Two anecdotes are totally sufficient to completely disprove a general trend calculated from millions of data points.
Yes, obviously some really smart people have no desire to go into high-paying fields, and devote their lives to art, music, volunteering with the poor, raising children, or just chilling with their friends. Some smart people have health problems, are unfairly discriminated against, live in areas with few jobs, or are otherwise unable to reach their potentials. Some dumb people luck into wealth or a high-paying job.
It would be a strange world indeed if IQ were absolute destiny.
But the existence of outliers does not negate the overall trends–smarter people tend to get jobs in higher-paying fields and manage their money more effectively; dumb people tend to get jobs in lower-paying fields and manage their money ineffectively.
2. Maybe everyone is equally smart, but just expresses it in different ways. (Corollary form: IQ is just a measure of how good you are at taking IQ tests.)
Either we mean something when we say “intelligence,” or we do not. If we want to define “intelligence” so that everyone is equally smart, then yes, everyone is equally smart. If we want to know if some people are better than others at doing math, then we find that some people are better than others at doing math. Are some people better than others at reading? Yes. Are some people better than others at football? Yes.
If you transported me tomorrow to a hunter-gatherer community, and they gave me a test of the skills necessary for survival there, I’d flunk (and die.) They’d conclude that I was an idiot who couldn’t gather her way out of a paper bag.
Very well, then.
But neither of us lives in a hunter-gatherer society, nor do we particularly care about the skills necessary to survive in one. If I want to know the kinds of intelligence that are necessary for success in industrial societies–the kind of success that may have led to the existence of industrial societies–then you’re looking at normal old “intelligence” as people conventionally use the term, measured by IQ scores, the SAT, vague impressions, or report cards.
3. “You’ve got causality backwards–people with money send their kids to expensive prep schools, which results in them learning more, which results in higher IQ scores. These “smart” kids then use family connections/prestige to land good jobs, resulting in higher wealth.”
As this shows, the heritability of IQ and of behavioral traits is consistently high, reaching into the 0.8-0.9+ range. This means, out of a group of people, at least 80-90% of the overall differences between them (known as the “variance” in statistical parlance) can be attributed to genetic differences between them. This chart shows that this becomes most evident in adulthood, when genes have been given a chance to fully express themselves. I have summed this up in a neat set of rules:
Shared environment: 0%
Something else [random chance]: 30-20%
In other words, adopted kids end up with the IQ scores you’d predict from looking at their biological parents, not their legal parents. Baring extremes of poverty or abuse, the way your parents raise you–including the quality of the schools you attend–has very little long-term effect on IQ.
On a related note, massively increased school expenditures since the ’80s has done very little to test scores:
IQ doesn’t lend itself to much environmental manipulation – indeed, interventions that attempt to boost IQ have all met with failure. As well, IQ remains predictive even when measured in youth. It is predictive even when one controls for things like socioeconomic status (say during childhood). Indeed, the best control for this, looking at different siblings within a family, finds that IQ is predictive of real world outcomes between siblings – the sibling with the higher IQ tends to do better.
Everybody wants to know why some groups or countries out perform other groups or countries, but no one likes to be told that they–or a group that they belong to–are less intelligent than others. No one wants to be in the red; everyone wants to blame their troubles on someone else.
Thus a great deal of debate; some people want to prove that the wealth and poverty of nations depends on IQ, and some people want to prove that it does not. No matter your personal opinions on the matter, it’s pretty hard to have a discussions about IQ without the debate resurfacing.
Now, I fully believe that rich people enroll their kids expensive test-prep classes, which result in small increases in SAT scores over students who’ve never seen the test before (an effect that wears off once classes are over.) It may also be that people from countries where schools barely exist look at a test and have no idea what you want them to do with it, regardless of intelligence. But if parental income were the entire story, rich whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians ought to all get similar SAT scores, (with the exception of verbal scores for ESL-students,) and poor whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians ought to all get similar, lower scores. Instead, the children of wealthy Black parents have worse SAT scores than the children of poor whites and Asians. (Except Asian verbal scores, which are pretty bad at the low end–probably an ESL-artifact.)
Regardless, a certain kind of intelligence appears to be useful for building certain kinds of societies.
Yes, there are lots of reasons to value intelligence, like making art and enjoying a good book. And there are many lifestyles that people enjoy that do not require making lots of money, nor do they have much to do with capitalism. But there exists, nonetheless, a fairly reliable correlation–at the group level–between average IQ and income/wealth/development level. Most people don’t care about this because they want to exploit each other and destroy the environment, but because they want to be well-fed, healthy, and happy.
So I was thinking about Marxism, and how strange it is that it only ever really caught on in precisely the countries where it itself proclaimed it shouldn’t, and never became very domestically important in the countries where it was supposed to go.
It’s kind of like if there were a bunch of people going around proclaiming “This is what Mexican culture is like,” only none of them were Mexican, and actual Mexicans wanted very little to do with it–you might suspect that the stuff being called “Mexican culture” wasn’t all that Mexican.
Only we’re talking about overthrowing the state and killing a bunch of people, rather than tacos and Cinco de Mayo.
Marx proclaimed that Communism, (by which I mean Marxist-style communism inspired by Marx and written about by Marx in his many works on the subject, which became the intellectual basis for the international communist movement that eventually triumphed in the USSR, China, Vietnam, Cuba, N. Korea, etc.) was supposed to be the natural outgrowth of capitalism itself in industrialized nations, but the list I just gave contains only barely-industrialized or practically feudal nations.
Marx was, of course, a mere mortal; one cannot expect anyone to write thousands of pages and come out correct in all of them. Still, this is a pretty big oversight. A great deal of Marx’s theory rests on the belief that the form of the economic system dictates the culture and political system: that is, that capitalism forces people to act and organize in certain ways in order to feed the capitalist machine; feudalism forces people to act and organize in certain other ways, in order to feed the feudal machine.
So for the capitalist, industrialized countries to not go Communist, while a bunch of non-capitalist, non-industrialized do, seems like a pretty big blow to the basics of the theory.
Kind of like if I had a theory that all noble gases were naturally magnetic, and all metals weren’t, and yet metal things kept sticking to my magnets and noble gases seemed relatively uninterested. I might eventually start thinking that maybe I was wrong.
Of course you can pick and chose your Marxism; you might like the idea of the “commodity fetish” while throwing out the rest of the bathwater. Have at it. But we are speaking here of believing both broadly and deeply enough in Marx’s theories to actually advocate overthrowing the state and murdering all the Kulaks.
My own theory is that Marxism appealed to the wrong group of people precisely because they were the wrong group of people.
Actual scientists tend to have little interest in pseudo science. Actual members of a culture don’t get excited by fake versions of their culture. And people with actual experience with industrial capitalism have little interest in Marxism.
In short, Marxism became a kind of myth among unindustrialized or barely-industrialized people about what would happen when the factories came, and so believing the myth, they made it happen.
Marx had intended to create a “science;” describing patterns in his data and thereby making predictions about the future. When that future didn’t happen, the first reaction of his followers was to double down–the theory must not have worked because evil bad people were sabotaging it.
(If it happens naturally, why would it have saboteurs?)
Many people have accused Communism of being a religion–an atheistic religion, but a religion nonetheless. SSC wisely asks Is Everything a Religion?–since practically everything does get described as a religion. EvenCargo Cult Programming.)
Every worldview–every meme-plex, as I like to call them–involves certain beliefs about the world that help people make sense of the vast quantities of data we absorb every day and make predictions about the future. My observation of the sun rising leads me to believe there is a consistent pattern of “sun rises in morning” and that, therefore, the sun will rise tomorrow. “Science” itself contains many such beliefs.
Religions, like all other world views and meme-plexes, provide a way of organizing and understanding one’s observations about the world, generally through appeal to supernatural agents. (It rains because Zeus is peeing through a sieve; suffering exists because sin.)
The obvious reason belief systems get called religions is to insult them and suggest that they are irrational.
Of course, none of us is entirely rational; the idea that bags of rice that suddenly fell from the sky were the gift of the sky gods makes as much sense as any other if you have no other information on the subject. Scientists believe wrong and irrational things, too.
The critical difference is that science attempts to falsify itself–a theory cannot even be described as “scientific” if it cannot be falsified. All meme-plexes resist change, both because of human biases and because it’s probably a bad idea to try to re-formulate your beliefs about everything every time you happen across a single discordant datum, but science does attempt to disprove and discard bad theories over time–this is fundamentally what science is, and this is why I love science.
A faith, by contrast, is something one just believes, even despite evidence to the contrary, or without any ability to disprove it. For the deeply faithful, the reaction to evidence that contradicts one’s theory is generally not, “Hrm, maybe the theory is wrong,” but, “We aren’t following the the theory hard enough!”
The former leads to penicillin and airplanes; the later leads to dead people.
Note: I feel compelled to add that not all faith leads to dead people. Faith in Communism certainly did, however.
Marxists failed to admit information that contradicted their theories; they just killed people who contradicted their theories for being counter-revolutionaries.