2014 August 04 Monday
Social Engineering Doomed To Failure

A review of Gregory Clark's second book, The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility, reminds me: the social engineers at the top of the welfare states are engaged in, at best, a futile undertaking.

In his book Clark takes issue with an argument from Charles Murray's Coming Apart. Says Clark:

We do not, however, find any evidence for the dystopia that Charles Murray fears in his recent book, Coming Apart: The State Of White America, 1960-2000. Murray argues that there is an increasing disparity between the values of the white upper class and the white lower class, and increasing geographical, educational, and social isolation of that lower class. The data represented in this chapter give no indication that social mobility rates have declined in the past few decades in the United States.

But I think Clark is conflating 2 separate questions: Is lower class becoming more dysfunctional? Is the lower class becoming less able to rise up into the middle class? The answer to the first question is Yes. Look at the big increase in single mother households as an example. The answer to the second is probably No. The increasing dysfunction and social pathology (e.g. single mom households) isn't doing much to impede the ability of kids to rise up from the lower classes. But that's because they already had very low chances of rising up anyway. Still the lower classes are becoming more dysfunctional.

What's cool about Clark's book is that he shows that the measures that the social engineers have been using to look for signs of success in government policies aimed at increasing social mobility are flawed. A family's fortunes will vary from generation to generation for reasons having to do with luck and motivation. So fluctuations between income levels for two generations of a family are just noise hiding just how incredibly slowly families move up or down relative to other families.

If you are a long time reader of evidence that the welfare state makes the lower classes less responsible then you might think that if only the welfare state was removed then the lower classes would rise. But no. The welfare state did not lower economic mobility. Economic mobility was already low and remained low when the welfare state began to grow. Absent the welfare state some of the poor folks would necessarily behave more responsibly. But their innate abilities would still leave them in the lower classes.

Is there a solution? Sure. But the solution is way outside the Overton Window. Biological approaches to make smarter babies are coming into reach. We need the will to pursue them. That requires an acceptance of the very large role that genes play in determining intelligence.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2014 August 04 10:42 PM 

Mike Street Station said at August 5, 2014 5:50 AM:

As you say, the solution is way outside the Overton Window. The only way the political and social sphere would be open to anything like making "smarter kids" is if the elites adopt it. Then, the torrent of articles that normally would consider anything like this as Hitler-like would suddenly consider it therapeutic.

Jim said at August 5, 2014 7:49 AM:

To the extent that practical genetic engineering develops no moral scruples will prevent the elites from rapidly adopting such techniques. The most practical technique in the near future might be genetic screening, terminating pregnacies when a scan of the fetal DNA suggests a not terribly bright child.

If the elites come to believe that political correctness stands in the way of benefiting them they will quickly abandon political correctness.

albatross said at August 5, 2014 12:50 PM:

If there's increasing dysfunction in the lower classes, but it mostly doesn't prevent the smartest/most able kids rising into the middle or upper classes, it seems like that needs an explanation. Like:

a. Maybe the dysfunction makes life worse but doesn't really keep your kids down so much. This is consistent with the relatively small effects of home conditions on life outcomes in other places. Your mom having three kids by three different absent fathers, the TV always being on, no books being in the house, never seeing the inside of a church--all those things are probably bad for you as a kid, but they're also probably not enough to keep the smart kids from eventually doing okay. After all, everywhere above the level of being homeless, your kids still get fed, clothed, vaccinated, and schooled. That probably takes them about 90% of the way out of the range of environments that would actually keep them from developing whatever gifts they were born with.

b. Maybe the dysfunction weighs kids down, but other things are balancing that--school breakfasts and lunches mean you don't starve 9 months of the year even if there's no food in the house, head start means you get some functional educated people in your life early, standardized testing means that when you're very bright, your teachers and principal try to get you a decent education even in your crappy school, the internet which your mom keeps available so her latest boyfriend can find porn is available for you to read Wikipedia entries, whatever.

James Bowery said at August 6, 2014 6:49 AM:

"Dysfunction" has, as its root word "function".

What is the function of the lower classes?

For that matter, what is the function of the upper classes?

When we are talking about such a meta-moronic Overton Window, are we not talking about dysfunction of the upper classes?

What is causing the dysfunction of the upper classes?

I suggest, and have been suggesting for over two decades, that it is the shifting of the tax base off of property rights and onto economic activity amounting to a kind of capital welfare in the form of modern portfolio theory's notion of a "risk free interest rate".

How can anyone expect to correct a dysfunctional society without first correcting the dysfunction of its upper classes?

Jim said at August 6, 2014 1:28 PM:

Probably at least 50% of the inner city poor are virtually unemployable in the modern US economy. There isn't anything they can do which is both legal and worth enough for somebody to pay them the minimum wage. Nor is there much prospect of training them to do anything worthwhile. Even warfare has become so high skill today that they are not any fit to serve as cannon fodder.

James Bowery said at August 6, 2014 1:41 PM:

Jim, they vote and hence are of use to "community organizers". Upper classes may indeed be under no illusions about the impact of genes on intelligence -- hence see their positions as threatened primarily by demographies such as the upper midwest pioneer stock that have had world-class scholastic aptitude. In this war against the nation of settlers the upper classes find the manipulability of the otherwise useless voters to be an idea form of "cannon fodder" that will be a minor inconvenience to mop up once the nation of settlers is destroyed through lowered birth-rates of their best and brightest who are sent into urban areas to be de facto sterilized.

Willy's said at August 6, 2014 2:23 PM:

"Biological approaches to make smarter babies"

Intelligence is not a must for human survival.

Willy's said at August 6, 2014 2:50 PM:

The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.

Willy's said at August 6, 2014 4:10 PM:

Owners of capital will stimulate working class to buy more and more of expensive goods, houses and technology, pushing them to take more and more expensive credits, until their debt becomes unbearable. The unpaid debt will lead to bankruptcy of banks, which will have to be nationalized, and the State will have to take the road which will eventually lead to communism. Karl Marx, 1867

Sorry about the quote. I'm not a communist. The relevant implication of this quote is that Karl Marx predicted the financial difficulties of 2008, and that these problems are a precursor to the fall of capitalism. This kind of vision and foresght can only show a great intelligence.

Willy's said at August 6, 2014 4:16 PM:

The unjust distribution of wealth must be obviously an evil to those who are not prosperous, and they are nine tenths of the population. Nevertheless it continues unabated. The tyranny of the holders of power is a source of needless suffering and misfortune to very large sections of mankind; but power remains in few hands, and tends, if anything, to grow more concentrated.

Even in times of peace, most men live lives of monotonous labor, most women are condemned to a drudgery which almost kills the possibility of happiness before youth is past, most children are allowed to grow up in ignorance of all that would enlarge their thoughts or stimulate their imagination. The few who are more fortunate are rendered illiberal by their unjust privileges, and oppressive through fear of the awakening indignation of the masses. From the highest to the lowest, almost all men are absorbed in the economic struggle: the struggle to acquire what is their due or to retain what is not their due. Material possessions, in fact or in desire, dominate our outlook, usually to the exclusion of all generous and creative impulses. Possessiveness—the passion to have and to hold—is the ultimate source of war, and the foundation of all the ills from which the political world is suffering. Only by diminishing the strength of this passion and its hold upon our daily lives can new institutions bring permanent benefit to mankind.

Institutions which will diminish the sway of greed are possible, but only through a complete reconstruction of our whole economic system. Capitalism and the wage system must be abolished; they are twin monsters which are eating up the life of the world. In place of them we need a system which will hold in cheek men's predatory impulses, and will diminish the economic injustice that allows some to be rich in idleness while others are poor in spite of unremitting labor; but above all we need a system which will destroy the tyranny of the employer, by making men at the same time secure against destitution and able to find scope for individual initiative in the control of the industry by which they live. A better system can do all these things, and can be established by the democracy whenever it grows weary of enduring evils which there is no reason to endure.

Guardian of Clarity said at August 10, 2014 10:31 AM:

re: 'elide' - you probably mean 'conflate'. To 'elide' means to skip, suppress. If you're going to use fancy words where a simple one will do, at least get it right.

Randall Parker said at August 10, 2014 11:41 AM:

elide has 2 dictionary meanings. The second one "join together, merge". I actually looked it up before I used it.

Randall Parker said at August 10, 2014 11:47 AM:

Google seems to use the Oxford definitions for elide but some of the other dictionaries do not include the meaning I am using. So I'll switch to conflate.

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