Gregory Clark finds that social status is strongly heritable. Combined with a very high degree of assortative mating for the genetic factors behind this heritability, social mobility is surprisingly low. This happens without anyone particularly trying to make it this way – although it can happen less if people do try to stop it. An interesting example out of Plomin’s group: genetics explains “twice as much variance in educational attainment and occupational status in the post-Soviet era compared with the Soviet era.”
Plomin ( or maybe more exactly his student Kaili Rimfeld) says that “The extent of genetic influence on these social outcomes can be viewed as an index of success in achieving meritocratic values of equality of opportunity by rewarding talent and hard work, which are to a large extent influenced by genetic factors, rather than rewarding environmentally driven privilege. ”
I don’t think that statement is entirely wrong. Estonia today is better run than it was in 1953, or 1990. But I am just as sure that it isn’t entirely right. We’re talking about genetic factors that tend to increase social status: intelligence helps, sure, but the people at the top, the people running the show are rarely the smartest – or the most decent, or the most effective. If we define ‘merit’ as a tendency to effective action that favors the best interest of society as a whole – surely what high-status people have more of is only loosely associated with ‘merit’. They have more of what works for themselves. Call it moxie.
So the ideal social policy would attempt – and succeed – at picking people for high-status job that were good at getting the job done – not just good at getting the job. Talent and hard work are influenced by genetic factors, but then so is being a back-stabbing, credit-stealing asshole.
I don’t think it would be easy: nature’s agin it. But it’s possible. I think. To a degree.
What should the Classical Greeks have done with Alcibiades, who surely had enough genetic moxie for a platoon? Answer: shoot the bastard. Him better off dead.
In principle this is a question that liberals should be thinking about, but apparently thinking clearly – about anything – is a job that American liberals just won’t do.