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November 01, 2014



Heritability has been proven by a fact that is not considered here: the correlation reported in Telegraph vanishes when it comes to adopted children. Qualifications are highly correlated with genetics inheritance.

Of course, intelligence inheritance doesn't involve social mobility. That would require meritocracy, which is becoming more and more scarce in our world. But even in a highly meritocratic system, social mobility would only happen for a while, until people reached a social level according to their intelligence/skills. After that, social mobility would decrease again because of intelligence's heredability.


Intergenerational immobility may indeed be “no problem”. We’re not all blind to the lack of virtue being “middleclass” will embrace. It seems to me that addressing inequality per se (big-picture inequality) rather than relative inequality (current iniquities) is more a tactic than a concern of both left and right.

Matt Moore

To what extent to we think this is related to (i) relative quality of state schools - i.e. the US and UK operate a postcode lottery much more damaging than the small number of private schools and (ii) a decline in the value placed on education by working class culture?
, more so here than elsewhere?


Its very simple - the underclasses place no importance on their children achieving anything of educational note, and the State run education system does its best facilitate those kids achieving their goals, ie no qualifications whatsoever.

Its not a case of the middle classes pulling away from the rest by over achievement due to more resources, it a case of the underclasses dropping away from the rest by dint of their consideration of education having zero value whatsoever. In poor countries an education is seen as a way out of grinding poverty, in the UK its seen as a pointless effort given the State will provide for you however stupid/uneducated you are.

The world's smartest garbageman

"Inequality" is impossible to eradicate. There will always be people who have more money than others. There will always be people who are cleverer than others, and more ruthless. There will always be people who have more friends in high places than others. It's no good whinging about it - that's life.

But what can we do about it? Should we do anything? If so, what, and how much difference is it likely to make? Where do we draw the line? Do we destroy capitalism? (What does that even mean?) Do we redistribute wealth until all humanity has an equal number of coins in their pocket? How would that rid us of structural inequalities? Would the world really e better off?

All the grandstanding and whinging and bleeding-heartism aside, the real problem is human nature, and human nature can't be wished or legislated away.

We can constrain human nature with laws, up to a point, but that's hardly a fix. The best thing we can do is to educate ourselves, to learn to recognise the social forces and cognitive biases that shape our thinking and try not to fall prey to our baser natures. (Don't look to politicians to solve the problem. We can only do it ourselves).


"In poor countries an education is seen as a way out of grinding poverty, in the UK its seen as a pointless effort given the State will provide for you however stupid/uneducated you are."

Education is seen as too much like hard work. Why bother? Believe in the dream of the easy route to success. In poor countries children want to be doctors, lawyers, scientists, engineers. In the UK children want to be footballers and pop-stars.

Igor Belanov

What a load of rubbish. How many children 'in poor countries' get to become doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc? I'm sure just as many want to be footballers and pop stars as children in Britain.
It would interesting to see what would happen in a utopian (or probably dystopian) society where everyone had a degree. Education in the abstract is hardly such a major force for individual or collective change as some people think.


"How many children 'in poor countries' get to become doctors, lawyers, engineers"

Quite a few judging by the numbers who we import to come and work here. The top ten countries for foreign workers in the NHS are India, Phillipines, Ireland, Poland, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Portugal, Pakistan, Spain and Germany. Not all will be professionals of course, but poor countries provide a huge amount of qualified staff in the NHS, indicating that plenty of people in those countries aim for careers in medicine and nursing.

India alone has 12 million university students, and plans to expand that number to 30m by 2025. China has 20m students. Nigeria has 1.7m. Brazil has 6m.

I expect they are all doing media studies or sociology degrees.

call the sociologist

Since curriculum 2000 began under Blair - more working class kids, more girls, and more minorities are getting better GCSEs , A levels and Degrees. The trends are upwards and the expansion of 6th/HE under New Labour was creditable as all figures show over those years. So we were going in the right direction.

I do not accept the denigration of the ed. system favoured by the hate D/Mail types where they attack the million or so education servants who generally work tirelessly especially with kids from less advantaged backgrounds. However yes the class differential is there be it cultural capital or economic selection by mortgage. The dominance of the bourgeoisie remains economically and culturally and any govt. should look to put bright graduates into disadvantaged schools to lift aspirations and performance as their peers have in the private and better off secondary schools.

call the sociologist

The world's smartest garbageman- I will resist personal remarks. Your analysis is biased. 'Inequality' when measured varies by societies so say Finland or Sweden or Germany has far less than say America or Brazil or emerging Asian societies. Income, opportunities, welfare support, free schooling, access to Uni. life chances are a function of your society. Try a night in the poorer areas of say Chicago in Ohio or Caracas in Venezuela then you will appreciate sir that inequality is not just about an individual's ability but also about your social class, ethnicity, health, opportunities provided. Politicians do effect this - see Copenhagen in social democratic Denmark the happiest people seemingly in surveys.

An Alien Visitor

The rich do like to lump themselves in with the bright. I guess this is their only justification?

But, in order to ensure the brightest are identified better and that they are put to best use for the good of all you would certainly have to ditch capitalism and replace it with something more rational.

Many bright minds are destroyed in this system before they have a chance to shine and those that do shine, often do so in ways that have negative impacts.


"Why should ability be more heritable in the UK than Germany and more heritable in Germany than Finland?"

Perhaps Charles Murray has the answer, following the thinking of "Coming Apart" and "The Bell Curve": some societies have simply spent longer than others selecting and isolating a cognitive elite through assortative mating.


Nobody has mentioned evolution. If what we call intelligence were inherited and beneficial to the individual across societies, then we should all be geniuses by now.

Instead, what we see historically is class and caste civilizations that remain stable, with little social mobility, for centuries, without the lower castes or classes dying out or diminishing. Even in the case of the U. S., which was once the land of opportunity, the descendants of slaves are still low on the totem pole. Genetic differences in competence are amplified or obscured socially and economically.

Icarus Green

I always enjoy it immensely when Tim Worstall provides oral relief to his golf club buddies.

Even taking Tim credibly, that he is not a conservative priest apologist arguing in bad faith, like the rest of his work indicates, there is a hole in his argument.

The sleight of hand in lumping in the 'bright' with the 'rich' amounts to a kind of ipso facto argument that being bright is what mainly makes people rich in the first place.

While that may or may not be broadly right, that isn't the problem with inequality as I see it.

The problem is even assuming Tim is correct, when you consider genetic mutations or variable environmental factors in society throw up children of middle class and lower class people with high IQs we have a situation where many industries and professions have protectionist hiring and regulatory policies which protect 'insider' high IQ upper class people from 'outsider' high IQ lower/middle class people.

The barrister profession is an egregious example of this in particular.

Combined with the basic fact that a large chunk of people with high IQs born to lower class families never make it to the top, Tim's backward rationalisation and fawning of conservative elite privilege seems ridiculous.


I think it is merely special pleading by the rich and their admirers to equate success with genetic endowment. And hardly a new defence mechanism.

I will merely recall what a friend of mine always said about this argument, that it is irrelevant to public policy if true. Morality requires that a just society help all its members to be as happy as they can be and so as successful in all ways as possible. If some people are less bright for genetic reasons then it would be only correct to try harder to help them in life to make the most of their abilities.

In the same way that people do not choose their parents or genes they do not choose their skin colour or gender. Which is why racism and sexism are wrong and unethical.

The tendency for the right to accept racism and sexism or even to advocate them is part of the mindset that justifies injustice rather then combats it.

While it is true and I accept not all right wing people are racists or sexists that merely shows that they aught to support economic equality as well. The logic is the same.

An Alien Visitor

"some societies have simply spent longer than others selecting and isolating a cognitive elite through assortative mating."

The flaw in this is the fact that Germany outperforms the UK in many key indicators of 'intelligence', and let us not talk about China and their dominance of mathematics! Maybe spending longer on facilitating a small elite is less productive than trying to raise everyone's standards?


About non correlation of incomes with parents in case of adopted children: http://rortybomb.wordpress.com/2009/09/01/genes-and-income/


The garbo nailed it. It's simply human nature. Finns are good people, Germans are pretty ok but Brits and Yanks are utterly detestable. Or maybe he didn't.

Dave Timoney

Worstall's view is reactionary in that it posits a natural order (the inheritability of intelligence) that we would be fools to tamper with. It's always amusing when those who valorise competition admit that there are natural limits to their demand for personal freedom.

Such appeals to an intrinsic justification are meant to distract from the extrinsic reality - i.e. that society is ordered by historic violence and coercion (hence the need for mental gymnastics such as Rawls's original position and the veil of ignorance).

All justifications of inheritability, whether of intelligence, taste or racial/national characteristics, ultimately reduce to the defence of existing privilege. As the author of The Great Gatsby once said, "The rich are considerably better than yow" (or perhaps that was Harry Enfield).


@Min - you're way off!

"If what we call intelligence were inherited and beneficial to the individual across societies, then we should all be geniuses by now."

Compared to other species, we are. But many of the genes that make us human have multiple extant alleles, and so there is variation in most of the measurable traits. Evolution absolutely does not predict that all individuals of the same species will end up identical. Indeed, it's the pool of variation that necessarily drives future evolution.

"the descendants of slaves are still low on the totem pole. Genetic differences in competence are amplified or obscured socially and economically."

The number of black college students in the US has doubled in the last 20 years. Also, the highest educational attainment of any ethnic group in the US is that of immigrants from African countries; immigrants from Nigeria are more than twice as likely to have a college degree than white Americans.

So there is clearly vast scope for educational attainment to be improved (or damaged) without tinkering with anyone's genome, and there is no evidence at all linking the genes that determine skin colour to any traits affecting education results. (Not directly anyway; indirectly there is a kind of link, but only via widespread racist assumptions surviving during the handful of generations since slavery was officially abolished.)

Alex Bollinger

1. Isn't Worstall's argument basically an argument against economic inequality? If rich people have intelligence, motivation, etc., because of genetics and not incentives, then why in the world should doctors be paid more than janitors? Also, if rich people aren't trying harder but simply won the genetic lottery, then how is it fair that they get to win the financial lottery as well?

2. As an American, I get uneasy with arguments like Worstall's. African Americans tend to be poorer than white people in the US. There is no link between race and intelligence, but there are certain folks who keep pleading against all evidence that there is because, if one assumes racism and other social origins of inequality do not exist, then racial stereotypes is all that one is left with.

3. Worstall's assertion that the rich are smarter (not just more educated) than the poor flies in the face of my lived experience and he provided no evidence for it. Next!


Not at all convinced by intergenerational heritability - look at the Saxe Coburgs or the Camerons or the Osbornes - well organised and able to use the system but especially bright - not really. Given the long period the upper classes have been on top one would expect some visible sign of heritable intellect, certainly not obvious.

But it would be a harsh admission to make 'we are on top now and we will d%^m well stay that way'. Not a great election slogan - so shift the blame.

But if heritability does not seem to have a strong positive effect does it tend to have a negative effect, can people drag each other downwards? Looking around I would say this does look credible but something most people avoid. Which would suggest that most of us are at or close to some upper bound brain-wise, so make the most of what you've got.

Simon Nicholas

Most young people from working class backgrounds have degrees these days but unfortunately they generally have either a qualification in a not particularly academic subject(Media,for example), or they have a decent degree but not from a Russell Grp establishment. The worst scenario is a degree in window dressing from Bogstandard Uni(ex-polytech)in nowheresville and unfortunately there's a lot of those around, hence you have young folk with degrees working in Call Centres - I know because I work in one. Some of these kids have decent qualifications but the associated area of employment is oversubscribed (IT). The only upside is that they don't earn enough to have to pay back the student debt, though that's a sad fact in itself.

Laban Tall

I think what we're seeing here is mainly

a) the increased 'to the winner the spoils' culture - in concrete terms the tax changes of the last 50 years which have increasingly favoured the intelligent/wealthy/connected (e.g. 10% tax for PE gains), coupled with the mass immigration of the last decade which has dragged wages down at the bottom and so stretched the income distribution (yes, I know, you can find academics who will assert that supply of labour has nothing to do with wages, just as Henry VIII could find academics to assert that his marriage was invalid. Academics have mortages (or rent if they're younger) to pay just like the rest of us)

- with a little bit of

b) the end of the grammar school system, trashed by a Wykehamist and buried by a St Paul's girl. A working class kid can still get four As and a first at Oxford, there just won't be as many of them as there used to be.



c) increased assortative mating in a post-feminist world might also play a role - the male doctor who would once have married a nurse now marries the female doctor, the male lawyer marries the female lawyer. The kids are likely to be (on average) brighter than if he'd married a legal secretary or paralegal, so you're creating a Murray-style (Charles not Al) cognitive elite.

The above is to some extent mitigated by

d) dysgenic fertility trends - the most educated women have lowest fertility, the least educated have the highest. But ... this will tend to lower average IQ, possibly increasing the ability of the highest-IQ to defraud/con the average person - all legally of course. Remember trickle-down theory?

john problem

Some schools are failing. I'm taking my boys - Problem Minor and Problem Major - out of Eton because, observing the competence of our leaders, there is clearly a problem with the quality of the education obtained there.....


Here's something that intrigues me: prominent efties who voice their angst at the lack of social mobility always seem to have kids who went to university.
Surely, if people like, e.g Polly Toynbee want to see greater social mobility, they would set an example by encouraging their offspring to be plumbers or bricklayers? After all, to socialists surely all work is equally worthy?


As Laban Tall inadvertently demonstrates, one of the probable reasons that inequality is greater in the UK is the persistent emphasis in education policy on high achievers, as reflected in the obsession with bringing back grammar schools and all parties’ failure to have any constructive policy whatsoever on further education. There is research evidence http://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/toolkit/ability-grouping/ that streaming and setting benefits high-ability pupils, but harms lower-ability pupils: the same effects are even stronger for 11-plus rejects. It is possible to mitigate such harmful effects of academic separation by putting a higher level of resources into teaching the less-academic pupils. But UK governments aren’t interested in putting serious money into technical education for non-academic children because the middle classes aren’t agitating for that.

As for Trofim’s comment, I’m a socialist and my child is probably going to university, but that’s because that’s the way her individual talents lie. If she wanted to be a plumber or a hairdresser, I’d be doing my best to get her the best possible qualifications and training for those jobs. But you need specific kinds of skills to be an effective nursery nurse or bricklayer or waitress and if those don’t come naturally to you, you’re not likely to enjoy doing those jobs.

Laban Tall

"There is research evidence that streaming and setting benefits high-ability pupils, but harms lower-ability pupils"

Or to say the same thing

"There is research evidence that not streaming and setting benefits low-ability pupils, but harms higher-ability pupils"

In other words, lower-ability pupils do better (than they would otherwise have done) in a class with higher-ability pupils, and higher-ability pupils do worse (than they would otherwise have done) in a class with lower-ability pupils.

I'm sure it must have taken a huge amount of study to reach that unremarkable conclusion.

The wealthy can buy their kids better results by going private, when they'll find themselves surrounded by many high-ability kids. But it looks as if it's tough for the bright child whose parents haven't got 10K a year lying about.

"one of the probable reasons that inequality is greater in the UK is the persistent emphasis in education policy on high achievers, as reflected in the obsession with bringing back grammar schools"

Why was inequality so much lower in the post-war years, I wonder ? Why were six successive Prime Ministers state-educated from 1964 to 1997, and none since ? As for the obsession with grammar schools, it's non-existent among our political or educational elite - otherwise where are the new ones ?

Igor Belanov

Grammar schooling does not create highly-paid jobs. The reason equality was lower in the post-war years is due to a prolonged economic boom and a strong labour movement, neither of which was caused by the education system.

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