Rollin' Like Sisyphus

The Landmines Inherent In Self-Reference By Scale And Frame

Posted in A Chronicle Of Decline by Huckleberry on January 27, 2015
He's smarter than you, he's got a business degree!

He’s smarter than you, he’s got a business degree!

The Editorial Board of The Economist wakes up in 1994, noting a problem it doesn’t think is really a problem because, for it to be a problem, the members of the Editorial Board, and the readers of The Economist more broadly, would have to be at fault:

[T]oday’s rich increasingly pass on to their children an asset that cannot be frittered away in a few nights at a casino. It is far more useful than wealth, and invulnerable to inheritance tax. It is brains.


Intellectual capital drives the knowledge economy, so those who have lots of it get a fat slice of the pie.

Are we still insisting this is a “knowledge” economy?

And it is increasingly heritable. Far more than in previous generations, clever, successful men marry clever, successful women. Such “assortative mating” increases inequality by 25%, by one estimate, since two-degree households typically enjoy two large incomes.

I call bullpuckey. Even in the Halls of the Elite, the wives of the rich men I know haven’t so much as drawn within 100 yards of gainful employment since before their first children were born – if we’re talking about a step down from there, a working mom with a wealthy husband is still a novelty, not a rule.

Power couples conceive bright children and bring them up in stable homes—only 9% of college-educated mothers who give birth each year are unmarried, compared with 61% of high-school dropouts. They stimulate them relentlessly: children of professionals hear 32m more words by the age of four than those of parents on welfare. They move to pricey neighbourhoods with good schools, spend a packet on flute lessons and pull strings to get junior into a top-notch college.

All’s well and good, I suppose, but the 90s called, and they want their cognitive dissonance back:

[Assertion 1] Students have to rack up huge debts to attend college, especially if they want a post-graduate degree, which many desirable jobs now require. The link between parental income and a child’s academic success has grown stronger, [Assertion 2] as clever people become richer and splash out on their daughter’s Mandarin tutor, and education matters more than it used to, because the demand for brainpower has soared.

Let me see if I have this straight – it’ll take “junior” decades to pay off the college debt accrued in his clever pursuit of a “necessary” degree, but somehow all of this is the giant playing-out of the consolidation of wealth and influence into the upper crust? I surmise that the Editorial Board for The Economist is insinuating that the clever children of the clever and rich power couples don’t need to burden themselves with crushing degree-accumulation debt, but it’d be nice if an editor had gone over this once to help us out. All of this is straight out of a pamphlet in a high school guidance counselor’s office circa 1994 – It’s a knowledge economy! College is your ticket! Earn a million more dollars in your lifetime!
Yet college in the 21st century is almost entirely a loser’s bargain – the Ivy League’s only value is in forging a viable professional network upon which to leech rely for the rest of your life. But far from colleges and universities serving as the vocational schools of the “knowledge economy,” they do little beyond suppressing genuine inquiry and scholarship in favor of serving as six-year high school field trips for the horrifyingly dull-witted offspring of the so-called “clever” elite; the power couples who, despite their supposed pedigree of intellectual capital get routinely fooled by the duplicitous machinations of the political class, the media both new and old, the academy, and the deified cult of the Progress Train, dedicated to the end despite not knowing who built the tracks or where they lead.

A young college graduate earns 63% more than a high-school graduate if both work full-time—and the high-school graduate is much less likely to work at all. For those at the top of the pile, moving straight from the best universities into the best jobs, the potential rewards are greater than they have ever been.

I don’t think this has been true for a while now.


4 Responses

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  1. El Borak said, on January 27, 2015 at 08:20

    Huck’s a big fan of The Bell Curve, I see…

    • Huckleberry said, on January 27, 2015 at 10:39

      The big problem with The Bell Curve is that it sees the correlation between IQ and something amorphous like “success” and assumes that the former drives the later. If 100 people out of 1000 have a high IQ and a job, we’re supposed to wet ourselves over the fact, despite the fact that 700~ of the remaining 900 have an equivalent level of material success without the benefit of that intellectual pedigree. To say nothing for the haphazard petri dish that is human hereditary genetics, where every supposed “power couple” has a 1-in-4 chance of passing on any particular trait to its offspring, such as IQ, and that’s in the world scrawled out on paper where everything in the Punnett square is in ideal form. In three dimensions, where “power couples” often push off the birth of their one and only child well into their 30s, you have a significantly lower than 25% chance of passing on an IQ of equal or greater value amid such common mitigating factors as the increased risk of mental and physical handicaps, and the diminishing quality of a mother’s ovum past, what, age 28?
      And that’s all if you really believe intelligence is 1) mostly hereditary and 2) some kind of silver bullet.
      I don’t believe either is strictly true.
      The smartest guy I know, genius level IQ and a product of Stanford, who should be the head of a math department somewhere, instead lives in an RV on an 8′ x 22′ plot in a campground by the beach, gets paid a small stipend by the county to tend the grounds, clean the bathrooms and man the snack shop, and has done nothing at all despite his wealth of intellectual capital. I bring this up to point out that while many successful people do have high IQs and formidable intellectual capacities, the one thing all of them have is a modicum of ambition and a well-formulated work ethic.
      And neither of those, as far as I’ve seen, are prohibited by heredity, and each quality is something that every parent of every child can instill if they so choose.
      And we’d be far better off if they did.

      • Doom said, on January 27, 2015 at 11:31

        Actually, Huck, I think a high IQ is… a net negative, as to success. Between knowing too much, not being able to necessarily focus that horsepower, a certain… state of realizing one can skate, and some other things… Yeah, a high IQ is not a boon, not for all, probably not for most. I used to think that if it was harnessed, and properly trained, and, and, and… that it could prove out. I am doubtful on that notion at this time. Something about one being capacity, the other being based on taking risks, and the two rarely crossing.

        It’s why NASA lost it’s job of creating the first mach one aircraft, it’s why brilliant scientists work for corps. and .gov. In raw risk analysis, no one would be foolish enough to attempt to make a business. Too risky for the “brights”. As a general rule. Hey, I’m not pointing at other people. I know I am included. Don’t like it, but I am done with excusing my own behavior, or hiding from the truth. *skating^*

        ^Although, my heart condition is a real impediment. I knew this before that happened.

      • El Borak said, on January 28, 2015 at 09:40

        Heh, I just put “rich” “IQ heredity” and “1994” together and it came up Bell Curve… while completely missing that little part about the pampplet and ‘circa’.

        Reading comprehension, FTW.

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