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July 30, 2009



Today, a major determinant of someone’s economic success is their education.

Or maybe their ability to tick all the right boxes, irrespective of education or experience.


Very insightful post. It's interesting to see how our own societies are changing and are far from equal. Thanks for this post!

N Holzapfel

I think your first explanation is considerably more likely than the second. Very interesting finding in the Farewell to Alms paper though; I'm surprised things changed so much in just a couple of centuries. I wonder how this compared with other societies.


Reminds me a lot of what J.M.Keynes said about the Long Run - we're all dead.

People measure social inequality trends partly as a measure of the success or otherwise of our present (and recent past) social and political arrangements. To say that, over an enormously long time, heritable inequality fades away is irrelevant to this important question, and is to that extent an uninteresting statement.

Doc Searls

I was just turned on to your excellent blog by the also-excellent Martin Geddes. Reading back through your many posts, I'm amazed to find each one thoughtful, constructive, informative and clarifying. This post is no exception.

The one statement that crossed my grain a bit (and that's not a bad thing) is "cognitive skills are partly inherited." I agree that there is much to be included in the (nature) side of the (nature)+(nurture)=(forms of success) equation. But decades of IQ testing has led us to conceive of these tests as thermometers or dipsticks, the hard quantitative scores of which can be taken as measures of intellectual weight. But intelligence isn't a quantity. It's a set of characteristics, the best of which are valuable beyond measure.

This subject is close to home for me because in school my IQ scores had a range of 80 points. (My mother taught in the same system and was familiar with my records -- and no less exasperated with me than were my teachers.) In Kindergarten I was one of the bright ones and by the end of eighth grade I was being routed to what a "vocational-technical" high school, where they taught academic losers "trades" like woodworking and auto mechanics. Fortunately, my parents didn't let that happen, and I went on to a productive life in the wide world beyond formal schooling.

John Taylor Gatto, perhaps the most brilliant and iconoclastic schoolteacher in U.S. history, writes, "After a long life, and thirty years in the public school trenches, I've concluded that genius is as common as dirt," and attributes his success to this: "I dropped the idea that I was an expert, whose job it was to fill the little heads with my expertise, and began to explore how I could remove those obstacles that prevented the inherent genius of children from gathering itself."

I suggest that with less head-filling, and less test-based judgment about the inherent capacities of childrens' (or anybody's) heads, we would see more social mobility.

And I salute the high degree of respect you give, throughout your blog, to the worth -- and needs -- of individuals.

(FWIW, there's more about all this stuff here: http://www.linuxjournal.com/article/8280 )



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