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January 16, 2018



Recent research shows that many human factors and traits are affected by the effects of poverty-induced stressors, so all other things being equal, regardless of initial IQ at birth, we stack the deck against poor people. An argument for greater distributional equality.


>differences in IQ do nothing to justify inequalities of income, status or power

Sure they do. If differences in income, status, or power were arbitrary, that would be a very good argument against them. But when they are merit-based and earned, it's a different story.


Hi Anon, if we follow your argument then a 'just' wealth and income distribution should mirror the distribution of IQ. In which case, a standard deviation in IQ should be reflected in a standard deviation in prosperity, no?

Given that Mensa members (IQ 132+, top 2% of the population) are only two standard deviations from the norm, presumably you wouldn't want them enjoying an income more than two standard deviations from the mean annual salary for full time workers?

In 2012/13 the standard deviation was £133. So if I understand you correctly, you'd like to see people with Mensa-level IQs earning roughly £270 more than the average? Martin Sorrell must put Einstein to shame, then.


Couldn't agree more Chris. The only thing interesting about TY and so, so many others, is the context/political arena within which they thrive.


Hi Chris, long time reader, first time commenter. I don't know if you saw or would even care to devote more time to the topic but Frances Coppola had an excellent post that engaged with Young's arguments and is certainly worth a read http://www.coppolacomment.com/2018/01/toby-youngs-repugnant-eugenics.html . Thankfully recent reaction would make it seem that eugenics is still beyond the pale of social acceptability but with developments in genome sequencing I fear this is going to be fertile ground for many spurious arguments from the right in coming years.

B.L. Zebub


"Another reason, of course, is that rich parents don’t only give their children higher IQs: they also give them role models and networks."

There's another much better and important reason, Chris: rich parents give their children lotsa mulla. So, mon and dad are rich, they gotta be smart; their kids inherit the mulla, boy they must be geniuses.

B.L. Zebub

Come to think of it, a very recent example to illustrate that: Isn't Donald Trump a regular original very stable genius?


Mrs Dipper had our children eugenically screened for (lack of) intelligence whilst they were foetuses. As do nearly all the pregnant population of the country. Not sure what the big issue is here really other than a free pop at a controversial figure.


It's worth keeping in mind that even good twin studies can only measure "heritability conditioned on growing up in our current system". If we found a way to educate people starting with lower IQs that narrowed the gap, and made it available to half population, heritability of IQ would decrease. Also if we made it available to everyone heritability might stay the same while the overall range of IQ was reduced.


You make a big jump in this article from the correlation you initially mention to he causation (genes). I think it's still the case that intelligence is still much less well understood than you imply, and that while a genetic link is accepted to exist, its importance in relation to other (environmental) factors has not been determined.

I didn't have time to read the study you cite, but in the conclusions they actually say:

"The results are somewhat surprising: wealth, race and schooling are important to the inheritance of economic status, but IQ is not a major contributor and, as we have seen above, the genetic transmission of IQ is even less important."

I really enjoy your writing, but this piece seems to be on ground as shaky as that on which Toby Young positioned himself doesn't it?


@toby1kenobi - You're right. But for me not much rests on it. Let's say the transmission mechanism is via environment. This suggests a case for improving the environment in which the children of low-IQ parents grow up. The obvious way to do so is to raise their incomes. But I'm arguing for this anyway. I guess the distinction between the genetic and environmental mechanisms matter for some, but not me.


Just to make a point, people on here are discussing IQ like it's a proper measure of something. It is not like weight or height, and those measures are dependent on things such as diet which reveal various social factors as well as genetic ones. There are all sorts of problems with IQ such as, for instance, repeat measurements that converge to the mean, and it is not clear how much of a measure is cultural, how much is to do with other social factors such as taking abstract questions seriously, self image as a clever person who does well in exams etc etc. My general view is that anyone trying to use a measure of IQ to prove anything is up to no good.


From the very first point here, surely there's something seriously iffy about any statement when the correlation "varies between 0.42 and 0.72"?

To put it another way, "the chance of being as intelligent as your parents is somewhere between quite a bit and less than evens and we're not sure which". Or "the chance of inheriting a parent's IQ is roughly a coin toss".

Or "we're not really measuring anything but there is enough noise in the system that...oooh, look! a cloud very like a whale!"


@chris - ok, thanks for the clarification.


Clearly for Young and his ilk it's not about merit or fairness, he just wants to justify the status quo and legitimise sneering at the less privileged.

You mention economists, shouldn't you be looking to geneticists when trying to understand eugenics? Look at Dr Adam Rutherford and Prof Steve Jones' response to Young and you'll see his ideas have no basis in truth.

Finally, isn't what we're aiming for the chance for more people to live better lives? All the focus on IQ, merit and career is missing the bigger picture.

Handy Mike

If my job were not quite so busy I'd have a go at trying to unpack the following irony:

IQ is the issue on which intelligent people most reliably say stupid and ill-informed things.

And BTW, I don't mean Toby Young. I mean almost every comment above.

But not Mr Dillow's, who I suspect has also spotted this but has not descended BTL to intervene because he knows how much more stupid things can get when you try.


"it means that equality of opportunity is a utopian sham"

Not at all. We should have equality of opportunity, so that my electrician's kid has the same opportunity to get to Oxbridge as the Marxist professor's.

We're nearly there, as the electrician's kid with 4 A grades gets in (he got a first), as well as the Marxist professor's kid with 3 B's and a D.

But alas, the electrician's kid, bright as he be, didn't get a Kennedy Scholarship, or nice jobs on quangos, or research jobs with senior politicians.

Fredrik deBoer


Fredrik deBoer

Alex above - IQ becomes more heritable over the course of life. Also, the more that you equalize the environment (which most everybody here claims to want) the more genes assert themselves. You can argue how you'd like, but to dismiss the strong heritability of intelligence is know-nothingism. I would argue that that connection is among the most well replicated and robust findings in the history of social science.


you can apply your policy of equalisation of genetic luck with IQ, to other unfairly distributed traits which a have genetic or family-cultural basis - things like industriousness & conscientiousness.

Combine IQ, industriousness & conscientiousness, and you get Competence. And why should the most competent get ahead?


This seems odd to me. This essay seems to admit to genetic unfairness, in that some people are smarter, more hard working, etc. making them more likely to achieve high wealth and social status. Correcting this unfairness at a genetic level (I prefer "Going Gattaca" to "eugenics," but whatever) is condemned as a terrible evil. But right afterwards comes a case for social correction, wealth redistrubution/luck egalitarianism.

Is there reasoning for this beyond bias? Regardless, here's my counter-argument:

If given a choice, the presently unconceived children of this universe would prefer to be genetically engineered to be smart, conscientious, agreeable, etc. and thus able to do well in society. That would be much better than being dull, hapless, off putting, etc., and getting a monthly check from rich people.

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