April 18, 2015

What Hitler Couldn’t Accomplish Through Eugenics, Society Has Effectively Done Through Incentives

The United States is facing a significant cultural challenge driven by basic biology that could radically redefine our socioeconomic structure.  That isn’t hyperbole, it’s a statement of fact.

Hitler Eugenics Intellectual Elite and Associative Mating

Over the past 50 years, societal trends and assortative mating habits have resulted in the intellectually gifted forming their own communities, cultures, institutions, companies, and societies. In generations past, the town valedictorian and high school drop out might live a few blocks apart from each other. Today, all of the valedictorians throughout America relocate to a handful of communities, marry among themselves, and have intellectually gifted children. The town dropouts stay at home and, likewise, have children. Cycle this over 4, 5, 6 or more generations, and the cultural, financial, and political implications are devastating. It explains, in part, why nearly all of the economic gains since the 1970's have flown to the top of society. How do we fix it? I have no idea.

Several years ago, I began reading research papers, essays, and other data on assortative mating patterns in human populations.  In essence, people want to be around people who are like them.  Often, people want to marry, and have children with, people who are like them.  Before the rise of fast transportation and widespread infrastructure, this led to communities having certain genetic consistencies – the flaming red hair of Ireland, the light features and blond hair of the Nordes, the tall, dark, and handsome archetype of the Spanish.  It led to Jews wanting to marry Jews and Muslims wanting to marry Muslims.  Republicans tend to want to marry Republicans and Democrats tend to want to marry Democrats.  Successful people tend to want to marry other successful people.  This is all normal, well, and good.  It is a phenomenon as old as humanity itself.

Then, something happened.  The information revolution transformed the global economy.  

The Increasing Isolation of the Successful and Wealthy

When the information revolution changed the world to the same extent that the industrial revolution did two centuries prior, one of the major shifts was the expectation that those with high cognitive ability – the lifeblood of a knowledge based economy – would leave home for college, get a degree, and then earn a high income.

Those who excelled in their fields did just that.  They went off to school and, like most normal people, they met someone and settled down together.  Then, they started having children.  Assortative mating kicked in and you often found college graduates only marrying other college graduates; doctors marrying other doctors or high-performing professions; programmers marrying other programmers.

The Problem No One Would Talk About Publicly

This was completely unique.  The implications were enormous for the cultural fabric of the United States.  It wasn’t discussed in polite circles outside of university halls or dinner parties, but the concern that seemed to be on everyone’s mind was this:

We know that raw intelligence is almost entirely genetic.  It is set for life by the time you reach kindergarten.  A good education can improve upon what you already have, but the core engine is determined by the particular combination of genes that are inherited from parents.

In the past, this wasn’t a problem.  Successful individuals lived in towns alongside less successful individuals, went to the same social clubs, resided in the same neighborhoods, attended the same churches, and went to the same barbecues.  Their children met, mingled, and married based on rough compatibility, but it wasn’t unusual for a brilliant male scientist to be married to a female with only a high school diploma who stayed at home and raised their children.

Today, that is not the case.  A brilliant male scientist is likely to be married to a brilliant female scientist (or someone of high intelligence who is also educated).  They are likely to both be interested in the same things, read the same books, discuss the same theoretical concepts, and have children.  They are likely to live in an neighborhood with other, equally as successful people who are also raising children.  

The implications are powerful.  In the past, the children of successful individuals inherited nothing more than money and a good culture.  That is important.  However, in the present, children born to successful parents are inheriting something much more.  They are getting genetics from two parents that are perfectly suited for the economic system in which we now find ourselves.  Those children are ideally equipped to succeed in a knowledge based economy due to vastly superior cognitive abilities resulting from assortative mating.  On average, they have a built-in advantage over the typical American child.  That means the phenomenon of the rich getting richer could very well accelerate.

If you have foresight, you realize the dangers.  What Hitler couldn’t do with eugenics, society has effectively done with incentive systems.  In the past fifty years, we have created a culture where the best and brightest leave their farm towns, go off to school, meet someone, and then move to an enclave with other intelligent, educated, high-income people, never to return.  They have their own zip codes, their own churches, their own book clubs, their own schools, their own daycares, their own restaurants, their own vacation spots, and their own shopping centers.  The above-average children then stay in these communities, seeking out others who are like them, and the cycle repeats.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have assortative mating going on in the intellectual dredges.  High school drop outs are more prone to marry high school drop outs.  Criminals are more prone to marry criminals.  They are now likely to live together, go to the same bars, and think their behavior is normal.  In three, four, or five generations, the disadvantage, at birth, of the typical child born to a bloodline of people with low IQs is nearly unimaginable in comparison to their more fortunate counterparts, who were born to a third, fourth, or fifth generation intellectual elite.  There will always be exceptions – a smart couple will have a dumb child and a dumb couple will produce a genius – but the law of averages applies.

Bluntly, our grandparents lived in a world where the class valedictorian lived next to the high school drop-out.  Our grandchildren will live in a world where the two will have never met.  

Both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal began discussing this and brought up a book by Harvard Professor Charles Murray called Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 that examines the core socioeconomic group that made up the typical American family from the “Mad Men” era to today.  In it, he addresses the very concerns that have been on my mind for the past few years.  He examines the evidence that one of the reasons successful people tend to come from successful self-made parents is the confluence of assortative mating, the sexual revolution, and the rise of the information age.  (He also, humorously, points out that if you are inclined to pick up a book that is predicated upon the notion that associative mating patterns threaten the fabric of society, you probably fall into the very elite that is being discussed rather than an impartial bystander.)

The End of America As We Know It?

The end result is that the people who are making the decisions that influence the lives of all Americans increasingly have no idea how most Americans live.  They don’t understand the struggles the typical Americans face.  They don’t get why things just aren’t “easy” for most people.  Over time, a very real cognitive gulf is developing.  In another 30 to 50 years, this could tear apart the nation.

As Murray discusses in his book, the top 5%, on average, don’t know anyone who smokes cigarettes.  They don’t know anyone who doesn’t have a retirement plan.  They don’t know many people who are overweight.  They don’t know anyone who is against marriage equality.  They don’t know anyone who isn’t thinking about their chid’s education.  They don’t think anything of spending hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars on a baby stroller.  They don’t think of an international vacation as being out of the ordinary.  They don’t watch a lot of television.  They don’t watch sports, unless they themselves are in the minority and play one.

When the poor and working class complain about the out-of-touch “intellectual elites”, they aren’t wrong.  There is an intellectual elite.  And it is growing more and more elite as time passes.  This had lead to the creation of two Americas, as John Edwards put it.  He was correct.  There are two Americas.  Even I, who grew up around working class people as a child, have lived in a bubble since I was 18 years old.  All of my friends have college degrees.  Most earn far more than the median American family.  Nearly all are married.  Nearly all have parents who are still married.  Most have had retirement accounts since their late teens or early twenties.  Nearly all are socially liberal and fiscally conservative.  Our conversations revolve around things like Frontier Theory of American development or the most recent news out of CERN.  That is normal to us.  

How can the culture stay together when the successful essentially have a self-contained society with its own cities and behaviors?  God knows none of us want to leave it.  I like my extended vacations, gourmet meals, on-demand cappuccinos, intellectual debates, nights at the opera, and shopping trips to New York or Beverly Hills.  I’m not going to waste time hanging out with stupid people to fix the balance.

What’s the solution?  I don’t see a way out of this, although the threat of a French Revolution could act as a countervailing force.  The problem is, in today’s world, the elite could simply flee.  I love America, but if I had to spend the rest of my life in an enclave like Monaco reading philosophy and running an insurance company or something, I’d be just as happy as long as I was around other intelligent, successful people, had great restaurants, and an active stock market.  

And that is the problem.  How does advanced civilization facing these biological behaviors avoid fracturing?  As of now, I have no answers for you.  Peter Drucker spent a great deal of time talking about the possibility of taxes designed to redistribute wealth away from high performers to prevent civil unrest but acknowledged the near impossible task of convincing smart people they should give up part of their paycheck to keep dumb people from feeling poor.  A doctor who spent a decade training for his profession actually feels morally superior about the $15,000 per month base salary he receives.  It is a source of pride, not shame.  Try taxing him at 50% so the town drunk can afford a decent house and you’ll have a revolt on your hands.

  • Adamwoods137

    Some thoughts in no particular order:

    I see this argument a great deal (ever seen idiocracy?)  Unfortunately, I think worrying about it is rather unnecessary because you’re missing some important bits of information. While successful people may tend to marry successful people, you assume here that intelligence is a relevant factor for success.  The effect you’re worrying about would go away if intellegent people were successful but very very intellegent people were unsuccessful.  There is perhaps some evidence of this.

    The genetic component of intelligence might be very weakly correlated with success.   Anecdotally, in my experience motivation, and one’s environment have a lot more to do with success that raw intelligence.  Also you may want to ask yourself what you mean when you say intelligence, and what the source that you use for evidence that it is primarily genetic means.  Does it mean success on IQ tests? In that case you may want to take a look at the Flynn effect.  It shows that in general the average IQ has been rising, most of these gains have come from groups that had lower IQ’s which would be contrary to your thesis.  (You might expect increasing IQ, though with successful people in general having fewer offspring you might not.  But you would expect to see the IQ gap increasing rather than converging).  There are possible explanations (of the Flynn effect) that just claim that IQ is a poor measure of innate intelligence, but there are other genetic explanations (heterosis).  Furthermore if highly successful people start inbreeding from a small pool overmuch, due to factors other than their pure success (wanting to mate with similar people in general), this would probably reduce their intelligence. 

    Additionally, the very stupid have trouble finding mates.  There is evolutionary evidence to suggest that human intelligence is mostly the product of sexual selection rather than natural selection to begin with.  If only the bottom 1% of intelligence have trouble breeding then that might be enough to offset any worrying effects, as that could boost the average intelligence of the subset of people you’re worried about falling behind more than assortive mating will boost the intelligence of the already very intelligent. 
    There are some more issues with this, but these are the ones that hit me off the top of my head.  I’d be happy to discuss it in more detail if you’d like to shoot me an email: the username I posted this as at google’s emailing service.

    • Joshua Kennon

      Those are good thoughts.  Touching on the problem of in-breeding in limit gene pools you mentioned, one other thing I would have liked to have discussed but didn’t get into due to length is how nature sometimes introduces countervailing forces.  Look at Silicon Valley, known for its maladapted tech wunderkinds.  The genetic inbreeding among successful people has lead to a significant increase in Asperger Syndrome and autism among the offspring of yesterday’s tech moguls, offsetting the advantages those children would have been expected to enjoy. The current theory is that the lower gene diversity of the parents is to blame. This very well could be a type of evolutionary counterbalance. If that sort of situation repeats itself in various fields, it may offset some of the advantages one would have expected progeny to enjoy.

    • Ian Francis

      Well I agree with you that this problem is probably not as serious as it sounds sometimes, but I strongly disagree with you that any of your arguments solve this issue. Intelligence is absolutely correlated with success. I would argue that the primary definition of intelligence is being able to understand the world and be successful at life. Genetics, therefore, absolutely play an integral role in intelligence and success. IQ tests are a poor measure of intelligence, since as you say, those who do extremely well in such tests often struggle socially. Social intelligence is just as important as what you are taught in school for success in life. Look at politicians. So in terms of those hyper-intelligent, socially awkward people, or those bordering on mental defect, yes, they will have trouble reproducing, but there is certainly still a widening gap between the successful and unsuccessful. Those issues only put a cap on the spread, they don’t solve the problem. Is this going to be a society-defining problem? I doubt it. As you say, there are multiple factors that limit the gap between the rich and poor. But there is definitely a widening gap.

      • Joshua Kennon

        I really like your definition, “I would argue that the primary definition of intelligence is being able to understand the world and be successful at life.”  

        I just read a post by a guy with a 120+ IQ who hasn’t had a job in 5 years and has a felony that is causing him to be evicted.  It sounds like he blames the government and the top 1% for his troubles, though he doesn’t come out and say that.  My first thought was, “He must not be *that* smart, regardless of what the IQ stats indicate”, which made me realize that even I subconsciously define intelligence in a way other than raw cognitive ability.  

    • Teeka Tiwari

       What Adam said.

  • Chad

    Great article. My wife and I have felt this way for years. Totally agree with you on the fact that wealthy americans would just leave if the tax burdens became too great.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jacobxcaliber Kristoffer Adams

    I would like to add that you notice this on college campuses hard working and intelligent students don’t associate with average students. I have many conversations with my fellow students that seems to be way over their head they do not understand money or how it works. They are given 300 dollars at the beginning of the semester to supplement what they eat and its usually gone within a month. When you see this you notice who was taught what. They are already spending more than what they have. This is a Micro economic example that shows where we are headed as a country these are supposedly the intellectual elite the ones who go to college. There is a real strand of Darwinism in this the survival of the fittest is in full play on the college level. There are even crass jokes among some of my associates where they look at people and call them future McDonald’s workers implying that they have no future. 

    • Joshua Kennon

      That is a great point.  In any institution, the smarter people tend to congregate together, socialize together, and become romantically involved with each other.  

      Personally and professionally, I cringe every time I hear someone use McDonald’s as an example of a bad career.  It is one of the greatest employment opportunities in the United States.  Virtually everyone at the top of the chain ranks among the 1%, many of the people who now have net worths in the tens of millions of dollars from their own franchises began by flipping burgers and learning the company’s operating model, there are discounts available on stock purchases to make ownership more accessible, and the geographic limitations inherent to some career paths are largely not present as you can get rich in a town of 30,000 just as you could in a major metropolitan area.  

      For teenagers, even those working at minimum wage, learn valuable skills, including dealing with irate customers, meeting deadlines, staying organized, and working efficiently.  The refusal of people to take work they think is beneath them explains a lot of the nation’s economic problems. I have no doubt that had I been so inclined, I could have started at McDonald’s at 16 years old and retired obscenely rich without ever buying a share of stock in any other firm.  Anyone who has the business management skills necessary to operate that type of enterprise successfully can do very well for himself or herself.  

      The associates you mention who use McDonald’s as an example of failure will most likely reach the end of their life with a fraction of the wealth and career success as those who own their own franchise groups or who sit at regional or corporate headquarters.  It shows, if you’ll pardon me, incredible stupidity on their part.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jacobxcaliber Kristoffer Adams

        My reply to them is the old saying you get out of it what you put in. There was a experiment I read about years ago that mentioned asking everybody that works for you for input and see what the results are. In most cases there are people who have brilliant ideas and they write them down. Next you have the ones who don’t do it because they don’t care or they can’t express themselves. Finally you have the ones who just write something down so that it can be said that they did what was asked. In my mind the ones who had ideas are the go getters they care about what they do and they are the successful people you mentioned. The ones who don’t reply are just getting by doing enough to live and that’s it. The tricky part would be the ones who did it simply because they were asked kind of seems like followers to me. As we all know can’t everybody be a leader there has to be a follower. Later on in the experiment it is proposed that the people who didn’t reply at all should be fired since they obviously don’t care at all about what it is they do. This would leave the ones who moved forward and the ones who followed. These are the people that tend to be together in the first place. If you noticed it in most cases companies fire their low end employees so judged to be so by monthly evaluations. They are always the first to go bureaucratic agencies i.e corporations look to get rid of the weak first.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Abhay-Saraf/750130226 Abhay Saraf

    I think one of the major point missed out it how the future will play out for the children who are born in complete comfort. The 3-generation rule means people will grow and fat and happy and the gap will close.

    Families are always rising and falling.

  • http://www.joshuakennon.com/ Joshua Kennon

    Welcome to the site =)

    The question of income inequality is an interesting one. To some degree, it comes down to what a person values – relative or absolute results.

    Specifics are always helpful, so take the median, typical income in Ireland vs. the United States. A quick look at the most recent figures from a couple of years ago shows us that it’s true that Ireland has less disparity between the rich and the poor. However, in the United States, a typical, similarly situated family has an income of $1.42 for every $1.00 the Irish family has. Enjoying 42% more income is one hell of a difference.

    In that sense, the issue in the United States is not so much the “rich vs. poor”. It’s the “rich vs. richer”. Our poor are rich, globally speaking. The Federal poverty line for a married couple with a few kids is almost $50,000 per year. It’s absurd if you stop to think about how unique that is in history. We literally have assistance programs for people who are richer than 98% of all humans living on the Earth at the moment. Food assistance, housing assistance, university assistance, medical assistance, unemployment assistance …

    Thus, the moral question: Isn’t a system that produces disparity in income the greater “good” when it results in higher standards of living and more disposable income for the poor and middle class? Even though they have relatively less, they enjoy absolutely more.

    It’s an important question to ponder. I’ve come down on the side of “yes”. I would gladly double the income disparity between the rich and the poor here in the United States if it meant the poor got to double their standard of living. The one caveat: Money must be kept out of politics, otherwise income inequality can be transformed into political power and then you get an oligarchy. The Supreme Court decisions in the past few years leave me concerned about that possibility. We have a very perverse situation over the past ten or so years in which vested financial interests are able to essentially buy off elected representatives to write laws that favor them. An example is the car industry using its political power to try and shut down Tesla because it wants to sell directly to consumers for a lower price and help them save money.

    • O’Leary123

      That’s a very interesting way of looking at it. I’m genuinely shocked that the Federal poverty line is so high, it’s absolutely ridiculous. In comparison with Ireland the national poverty threshold is 210 euro per adult or roughly 22 grand a year(euros) for a couple, I don’t know how children change that figure but it is definitely a far cry from $50000 which is around 38000 euro.

      Sometimes I think that if a family are slaving away to earn 30 or 40 grand a year then they really are better off going on social welfare. In Ireland for instance, a married couple with children can receive 210 euros each per week and that is before you account for rent allowance, child allowance, university grants etc. It’s a scary thing in a society that you are actually better off to go on the dole (social welfare) than working for minimum wage (8.65 euros) in most cases. And you get the whole week free. Scary stuff in my opinion. We really are breeding a future generation of bums with those kind of incentives to stay at home.

      • http://www.joshuakennon.com/ Joshua Kennon

        Thanks for sharing that info; I wasn’t aware of how Ireland handled social welfare.

        I do worry, like you, about the incentive system put in place. The biggest problem I have is not so much safety nets, which can be necessary and good, as well as reduce crime rates and human suffering, but that they (at least here in the United States) are designed in a sort of take-it-or-leave-it manner. That means there is this gap that a hardworking person still struggling reaches where, as you correctly point out, it does make more sense not to work. It rewards laziness. If someone needs food benefits to help raise their children, it seems a bad policy to punish that parent for picking up a second shift at work.

        (As for our poverty guidelines, it’s so bizarre that the media in the United States actually ran a major news story through the Associated Press arguing that 1 in 2 people in the United States are poor or low income. Their definition of poor or low income included people who are richer than 98.28% of the entire global population.)

        This baffling assertion comes from a practice of the Federal government that involves using a published “sticker” threshold that is in line with other nations – parents with two kids would qualify at $23,550 in 2013, for example – but then they apply multipliers to raise the effective threshold to much higher. Those multipliers are used to establish the “effective” threshold. Poverty and low income is usually considered anything up to 199% of the sticker rate. Looking at the 2013 figures, that means a married couple with two kids would qualify as destitute if they were making just shy of $47,000 under many social welfare programs. All sorts of laws and benefits are based on the multiplier, from housing assistance to medical benefits. It’s a needlessly complex way to run things.

        In a sort of paradoxical way, though, it makes me happy that we are always trying to improve life. Can you imagine 99.99999% of all humans who have ever lived on this planet reacting to the assertion that this is what the United States considers poverty or income instability? The very fact that we, as people, aren’t satisfied and strive for more is the reason standards of living, lifespans, health care, et cetera keep getting better. So on one hand, you want to say, “Do you realize how absurd this is? You, the manager of a department store, have a higher standard of living than King Henry did” but on the other, you the sentiment that life should be improving is why we now have air conditioning, electricity, and washing machines.

        • m r

          That’s why I’m not working. Paid off my college degree and current job offers aren’t very much better than what I’d get for just collecting unemployment. Why bother? Gonna relax and enjoy my 20s until work is worth my time. Not worried about retirement. I’ll have no problem finding work that I enjoy doing. For now I just want to see this country fail for it’s stubborn greed.

          Stocks are artificially inflated and hinge on how much money they need to keep printing. Housing won’t improve anytime soon because Millienials can’t afford 100k+ homes with $10 an hour part time jobs.

          Your whole article makes zero sense if you base intelligence off success because people can spend a lot of time on activities that don’t increase their wealth. Video games for example. I’m pretty sure being amazing at Civ 5 isn’t going to get me labeled successful anytime soon.

          Would you also consider the bankers at HSBC who financed terrorism and Mexican drug cartels successful? 16.8 billion profits annually. They must be intelligent by your standards. But not intelligent enough to realize the effects their greed had on the rest of society in which they live. I guess they can always run away to Monaco.

          The real problem is when you restrict the ability of kids like yourself to go to school and elevate themselves like you did with 8% interest on student loans by 2016 when 70% of the new jobs being created in America are only earning burger flipping salaries under $15. You’re basically signing yourself up for slavery because not everyone in the world can be an investment banker. You need people to fix your car, build your bridge etc regardless of their intelligence.

          But one thing you’re absolutely right about is that we need money out of politics. So that we don’t have an obstructionist congress that’s sitting with their thumbs up their asses for corporations who are raking in profits while everyone else waits for handouts.

  • Clint

    I wonder if assortative mating could play a part in something I have noticed across small towns across the southern half of Oklahoma; that the intelligence of the people left in small towns has fallen over the past two or three generations. As intelligent children leave for college and never look back, the remaining population becomes genetically predisposed to a lower and lower intelligence. At least in Oklahoma, the problem is exacerbated by two factors. The first is that Oklahoma is consistently in the bottom of the nation when it comes to teen pregnancy prevention, possibly due to the overwhelming abstinence only education program in the state, with many school districts refusing to mention the existence of contraceptives. This leads to an accelerated “genetic depletion,” as the area has, and will continue to experience a shorter generation than other areas of the country. The second is a phenomenon I find rather strange, but people from the area tend to not leave the area, ever. I knew several adults who had never been more than 75 miles from the hospital where they were born. The first few times I encountered this I didn’t believe them, it just sounds ridiculous, but they had actually never traveled any farther than grandpa’s house. No vacations, no sightseeing, nothing. Not even a trip to the far side of the nearest metropolitan area (term used loosely) 65 miles away. Several people I asked were consciously opposed to leaving, even for short trips, because they didn’t want to be away from home. This leads to them finding partners from the same area where they grew up, in small town southern Oklahoma, settling down, and having three children by the age of 23. The thing about southern Oklahoma is, if you have a college degree in anything but agribusiness or veterinary science, there is nothing there for you. there is no reason for the vast majority of the adults intelligent enough to graduate college to fit within the geographic limitation for a partner set by the cultural rule of don’t leave home, not even for a minute. I am curious to see what happens to the area in the next few generations, and what my children will see when they look at the place their great grandparents grew up.