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August 29, 2014


Left Outside

Can confirm having recently hired a private school boy who gave off lots of competence queues but who is, it turns out, a useless twat. It's very irritating, but I'm not sure it will have a huge effect.

Don't think I'll get burned again having learned my lesson so aren't emergent phenomenon limited to an extent if people recognise them happening?


An uni, a public school educated friend once said to me (only slightly tongue-in-cheek) "you have to bear in mind that at school it was constantly drummed in to us that we're better than you, so its not always easy to treat you as an equal".

So to add to your competence cues, I'd say that confidence is a large part of it. You've written before about the effects of confidence on career success.

It works the other way round. If I walk into a really rough pub with an ex public school boy, I feel a lot more confident than he does and this helps me get served quicker. Not that this is a massive benefit of a state education.


I know you like your cognitive biases...

Is the representativeness heuristic playing a part in preventing people seeing emergent processes?

If we like to see effects resemble causes, then we find it hard to believe effects come about unplanned because of the interplay of various, seemingly unrelated processes.

Richard Elwes

Emergence is something increasingly studied by mathematicians, computer scientists, and physicists. One thing some colleagues and I have been looking at is the emergence of racial segregation. Of course it might simply be that segregation arises because the underlying population is very intolerant. But the economist Thomas Schelling realised that it need not be so - high levels of segregation can appear, almost inevitably, even among a very tolerant population.

I've written a blog-post about an "absurdly simple" Schelling-type model we've recently been looking at:


We've even found situations in which greater tolerance leads - inevitably! - to higher levels of segregation. (This is all within the context of the absurdly simple model - I've little idea if this actually happens in the real world.But the point is that such counterintuitive mechanisms can exist, and many presumably do, and when they do, their causes are highly unlikely to be correctly identified.)


The Sun cover story on Rotherham this week - headlined "1400 victims of PC brigade" - clearly demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of emergence.


I know what I am going to tell is just anecdotal, but it does illustrate things.

As a migrant, with a distinctly non-Australian name and accent, as I arrived to Australia I applied to a lot of jobs. Never receiving a reply from the head-hunters, I decided to go see one of them, to get some feedback.

I arrived unannounced and finally got to speak with a recruiter (a female, with a "Mediterranean" appearance, as local TV uses to describe people like her and me) who was in bad mood.

"Why should she waste time with me?", or something, is how she greeted me.

To make a long story short, she told me it didn't matter what my resumé said. Head-hunters, like her, are paid if the candidates they recommend are actually hired by their clients.

She would never recommend me or "people like you" for an interview, because, in her opinion "people like you" had a very low chance of getting the job, regardless.

Further, for her, it was clear I didn't look the part; and I had no common experiences with her client, my potential employer (not only work-related experiences, but social in general: I didn't go to the same parties, didn't attend the same schools, universities; we had no friends in common).

Bottom line: In my own experience, for what it might be worth, it's not necessarily a matter of the employers themselves being racist (or elitist, or bigot), but also of the recruiter's expectations.

And for recruiters, it seems, it's better be safe than sorry.


Left Outside
"Can confirm having recently hired a private school boy who gave off lots of competence queues..."

I'm sure you're right. But about half of Chris's blogs make the point that what happens to you is not necessarily a representative sample of the world at large. If he's not weeping, he should be.

The golden calf of political correctness

Complex social forces, yeah. Like the medieval attitudes of the Muslim community. Like social workers, police and politicians being terrified of accusations of racism and "Islamophobia" and thus protecting the Muslim rapists (and ignoring the plight of 1,400 rape victims) in order to cover their own asses.

Can you feel the enrichment? 1,400+ raped girls can.



People who want to discriminate have a tendency to try and explain it away as "it just happens". They'll "be more conscious" in the future!

People are extremely class (and race) conscious. For the most part, it's best to assume that they *are* conscious of it without fairly affirmative evidence otherwise. In the job market, what I often hear about are that the twats (as per Left Outside) get hired over and over without much organizational learning. Mistakes are one thing. When they are repeated? Well, you know something else is happening.


The source escapes me but I recall reading many years ago about the political science research done many decades ago about MP selection panels. To get elected you must be selected by a party but the selectorate almost never choose women or ethnic minorities.

Why? Are the selectorate racist? Or sexist? Well apparently they said when asked how they voted they just wanted their party to win. They were not prejudiced you see but the voters well are backward so would never vote for a women or black or brown etc...

On the other hand when you look at the voting patterns very few voters refuse to vote for a minority candidate.... so the selectorate are wrong.

This is the sociological process that leads to self censorship. just thought you may all like to be reminded of this interesting process.


Just got off a plane and am feeling jet lagged. Sorry for the disorganized presentation below.

People get into jobs through social networks, and they get into social networks by adopting easily identifiable markers of tribal (or class) membership. Private school kids meet other private school kids at private schools. Their high-status fathers hire each others kids (I have witnessed, and know other who have witnessed, many, many instances of this). At private school, these kids learn the speech patterns of that particular tribe.

Competence cues are to some degree incidental. Humans are easily impressed with displays of self-confidence in any culture, and those who display lots of it, regardless of their true underlying competence, wind up leading others and reaping the benefits that accrue to leadership. All cultures' leadership classes radiate competence cues because there is natural selection in favor of that trait (being a bit of a sociopath is also a major bonus for any aspiring leader). The reason foreigners sometimes find it hard to break into alien leadership circles is because they lack the knowledge and experience required to display the alien leadership's particular idiosyncratic markers of tribal membership. They suffer for this deficiency because people are not good at evaluating the skills and competence of others and instead resort to the heuristic, "does he seem like one of us?" instead.

On patriarchy - if by this you are talking about the Patriarchy that excites the imaginations of feminists all across the developed world, well, can we please let this bogeyman die? Men wind up in certain jobs and women in others because we're a sexually dimorphic species and for that reason, the genders have certain comparative advantages. We divide labor according to those comparative advantages. Not saying male chauvinism is totally non-existent, just that it's not the major driver of gender outcomes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-Nw3zyYpvs


The Rotherham case and others like it illustrate the practical difficulty of dealing with social problems. With little support in law and afraid of criticism for heavy handedness what exactly are the police etc expected to have done? I suppose in former times some could have been locked up in a nunnery but somehow I think the courts might object these days. So, much screaming and raving and nothing in the way of practical solutions - so we go on.


Did I misread you? Or did you suggest that a baker's desire to make an honest living and provide for his family is a `nasty motive`?

It may not be the best motive in world, but surely it isn't nasty?

Or to give a later section of the same quote by the great man: 'I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good'

Stuart Ingham

Alan Rusbridger doesn't have to hate oiks in order to participate in a culture of self-conscious nepotism. He just has to look the other way when his editors hire their friend's daughters straight out of uni. In every major industry that I know people working in, the primary reason for the disproportionate influence of the privately educated is as straightforward as this.


«shows that, even controlling for university, the privately educated have a slight advantage in their chances of getting top jobs.»

Why exactly "controlling for university"? Isn't university prestige something that having a private education confers in order to get a better chance of getting a top job?



«I had no common experiences with her client, my potential employer (not only work-related experiences, but social in general: I didn't go to the same parties, didn't attend the same schools, universities; we had no friends in common).»

«People get into jobs through social networks, and they get into social networks by adopting easily identifiable markers of tribal (or class) membership. Private school kids meet other private school kids at private schools. Their high-status fathers hire each others kids»

«He just has to look the other way when his editors hire their friend's daughters straight out of uni.»

And that's why gender discrimination is essentially non-existent compared to discrimination based on skin color or nationality discrimination, which are both essentially social-network discriminations.

Because women of a privileged tribe are already well connected and show the right social cues.

In older times women competed in the job market largely by proxy by delegating that inconvenience to their husbands, and someone might have looked the other way when a woman's daddy asked a friend to hire her husband (which as a rule was the son of another of daddy's friends) for a good job.

Now her daddy will ask a friend to hire her directly for a good job; and her husband's daddy will do the same for him.

Luis Enrique

I suspect Rusbridger would be very uncomfortable in the company of most oiks, if by that word you mean to cover track suit wearing Sun readers. Of course he'd have no problem in the company of oiks sufficiently culturally close to a Guardianista. This is probably part explains the compositon of his staff. Guardian-reading types are thin on the ground in council estates, but public schools churn out tens of thousands of metropolitan hipster left wingers. If the Guardian merely recruits writers who resemble its readers we should expect to see public school types disproportionally represented. I went to a public school, all my friends read The Guardian.


I wonder to what extent it is because people from less privileged backgrounds are that bit more likely to decide the whole thing isn't worth the candle.

Sample size of one, I know, but being state-school educated, eldest son of single-parent on minimum wage job, I got a first class degree from a Russell group university, found a reasonably well paid job in government, and have seen people much more driven than me get a fair bit further up the greasy pole. Me, having grown up with not a lot of money, I'm happy enough earning a shade more than the national median wage, it's great not having to think about money, and not spending my entire life thinking about work.

Deviation From The Mean

I am a firm believer that interviews should be abandoned as a basis for employing people and all those who meet the job specifications should be put into an hat and drawn at random.


Good post, but let's also remember that there's a massive glut of people with degrees and a shortage of roles which actually require a degree qualification.

This has two effects. First, it forces employers to raise the bar artificially in order to reduce the administrative burden of reviewing too many applications. When you have 600 applicants for an entry level market research role, as I once did, the first thing you do is get the cheapest salary in the office to filter-out all the Business Studies students from former polys. Sure, you might miss a diamond in the rough - but you'll not be short of diamonds per se.

The second effect is to lower the price of people with degrees, which is often expressed as unpaid or very poorly paid internships, often for extended periods. Guess who can afford to take these 'opportunities'? That's right: grads from wealthy families.

The over-supply of graduates creates the illusion of social mobility while actually perpetuating the advantages of wealth, private schooling and elite universities.

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