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Noted for Your Lunchtime Procrastination for February 21, 2014

The Value of Choosing the Right Parents

Over at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth: : The Value of Choosing the Right Parents: Creg Clark: Friday Focus: February 21, 2014:

It was Samuel Bowles and Herb Gintis who first taught me that very strange things are going on in the inheritance of inequality in America. They found that although measures of cognitive performance like IQ are strongly inherited, “the genetic transmission of IQ appears to be relatively unimportant”: high IQ-parents do have higher-than-average IQ-children, but that is now why the children of rich parents are richer than average. Moreover, “the combined inheritance processes operating through superior cognitive performance and educational attainments of those with well-off parents… explain at most half” of the intergenerational inheritance of inequality.

And Greg Clark has been doing a lot of work on this, so let me turn the microphone over to him:

Greg Clark: Your Fate? Thank Your Ancestors: Mobility has always been slow: When you look across centuries… social mobility is much slower than many of us believe, or want to believe. This is true in Sweden, a social welfare state; England, where industrial capitalism was born; the United States, one of the most heterogeneous societies in history; and India, a fairly new democracy hobbled by the legacy of caste. Capitalism has not led to pervasive, rapid mobility. Nor have democratization, mass public education, the decline of nepotism, redistributive taxation, the emancipation of women, or even, as in China, socialist revolution.... The fortunes of high-status families inexorably fall, and those of low-status families rise, toward the average… but the process can take 10 to 15 generations…. We came to these conclusions after examining reams of data on surnames... in eight countries–Chile, China, England, India, Japan, South Korea, Sweden and the United States–going back centuries….

As the political theorist John Rawls suggested in his landmark work “A Theory of Justice” (1971), innate differences in talent and drive mean that, to create a fair society, the disadvantages of low social status should be limited. We are not suggesting that the fact of slow mobility means that policies to lift up the lives of the disadvantaged are for naught–quite the opposite. Sweden is, for the less well off, a better place to live than the United States, and that is a good thing…. What governments can do is ameliorate the effects of life’s inherent unfairness. Where we will fall within the social spectrum is largely fated at birth. Given that fact, we have to decide how much reward, or punishment, should be attached to what is ultimately fickle and arbitrary, the lottery of your lineage. READ MORE