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America and the Left Hand Side of the Bell Curve | Part V: Finally! Some Good Ideas for Helping the Left Half of the Bell Curve
Part II: How the Other Half Lives
Part III: IQ and the Class Struggle
Part V: Finally! Some Good Ideas for Helping the Left Half of the Bell Curve
In this, the last installment on my series on how to help the left half of the Bell Curve, I finally get around to offering some promising ideas:
Cut Back on Unskilled Immigration -- This is the utterly obvious way to help the left half of America's Bell Curve.
Calls for open borders are occasionally heard in the libertarian and neoconservative fever swamps. But it's just ideological posturing. Border restrictions are plainly necessary to keep Los Angeles from turning into a real-life set from Blade Runner. We must have limits on the number of immigrants. So our immigration policy cannot benefit more than a few of the world's 5.7 billion foreigners. What we can do is help our fellow American citizens.
By providing more jobs and higher wages to the less-gifted American workers, immigration restriction would not only make their wallets thicker. Making it easier for a young man to support a wife and kids also inculcates the bourgeois virtues that government doles undermine. Work and marriage are the great civilizers of young men. But it's hard for Americans to afford a wife and family on the wages prevailing in Mexico.
Sure, this would worsen the upper middle class's Servant Problem. But American civilization will not crumble just because we would no longer have the Western world's lowest-paid pool guys.
The rest of the promising ideas are admittedly more speculative and arguable.
Reduce complexity and credentialism -- The U.S. military has elicited a high level of achievement from blacks and whites in the 85-100 IQ range. A major reason: the military demands its high-IQ officers search out what legal scholar Richard Epstein calls simple rules for a complex world. In dismal contrast, lawyers, regulators, consultants, academics, and others who profit from abstruseness increasingly dominate the rest of America.
National Health Insurance -- Like all software venture capitalists, Jim Woodhill searches obsessively for high IQ talent. And, like an increasing number of people who have gotten rich off brainy programmers, Woodhill has turned toward trying to help America's social problems.
When other Jedi Geeks such as Gates try their hand at philanthropy, they throw money at pre-meritocracy charities suffering from rapidly diminishing returns, such as college scholarships for favored minorities. For example, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates gave $1 billion for "Gates Scholars." Gates, who found college so enormously valuable that he dropped out after a few months, knew perfectly well that there already was too much financial aid chasing too few high IQ black students. But when the Justice Department is breathing down your neck is not the time to try something novel based on your highly realistic worldview. (Fat lot of good this politically-correct donation did him, though.)
In contrast, Woodhill focuses explicitly on helping the left half of the Bell Curve. His "vision is of a society that gives dignity to the work of the average, and, especially, below-average citizen, while at the same time makes life a Living Hell for those who currently have comfortable livings studying/tending social dysfunction while at the same time promoting more of it." [Bio]
Woodhill argues, among many other interesting ideas, that the average citizen's nagging fear of losing his health insurance is the prime reason so many vote for politicians allied with the social service bureaucracies that have so damaged the morals of the poor. He says government-funded health insurance imposes none of the moral risks associated with welfare. Men quit their jobs because they can sponge off welfare mom girlfriends for food, shelter and cable TV. But no-one would tell his boss to take this job and shove it just because he knew that the government would give him a $150,000 bone marrow transplant - if, God forbid, he ever needed one.
I'll be the first to concede that the arguments over health care are extraordinarily complex. Nonetheless, we should keep in mind Woodhill's point: the "moral hazard" of national health insurance would be far less than of many other government programs.
Reduce regressive payroll taxes -- Since cutting payroll taxes on lower income workers would probably require income tax hikes on higher-income individuals, I hope this heresy doesn't get Peter Brimelow in trouble at Forbes! The federal payroll tax is 15.3% (divided between employee and employer), with most of it going for Social Security. This year, you don't pay any Social Security taxes on earnings over $76,200. This impacts low and middle-income wage earners proportionately more than the wealthy.
Is this a good thing? Reagan's cuts in marginal tax rates for the rich were essential to reviving a battered economy. But supply side economists failed badly by predicting that Clinton's tax hikes on the well-to-do would undermine prosperity. Apparently, when the "animal spirits" are roaring, as they have been since the 1994 Congressional election, the capitalist system is so productive that a little higher marginal tax rates on the rich don't hurt much.
Exploit Diversity of Talents -- Harvard's Howard Gardner has become hugely popular with the educational establishment by pooh-poohing IQ in favor of seven or eight "multiple intelligences." They believe Gardner's theory is inherently more egalitarian, more likely to reveal that all groups are the same, than the single-number IQ model behind The Bell Curve.
In fact, the opposite is true. Consider sex differences in intelligence. That males and females have the same average single-number IQ was first proposed by Cyril Burt in 1912, and was definitively demonstrated by Arthur Jensen in 1998; two scientists, ironically, who have been savagely attacked by egalitarians for their other findings. Of course, when you break down the overall IQ number into its multiple components, you find sex differences. Men tend to be better at visual-spatial skills (especially at mentally rotating 3d objects) and at mathematical reasoning. Women are generally superior at short-term memory, perceptual speed, and verbal fluency.
It's theoretically possible that social factors account for all of the 15 point advantage in single-number IQ that whites hold over blacks, or the smaller advantage that East Asians ["Orientals"] hold over whites. But it's extremely unlikely that all racial groups are identical on not just one, but all eight dimensions of multiple intelligence. That would be like expecting to flip a coin and have it end up on its edge eight times in a row.
While that's bad news for the ideologues of empirical egalitarianism, it's good news for moral egalitarians. Why? Because diversity of talents gives different groups different market niches to exploit.
For example, black basketball players tend to be able to not only jump higher than whites, but also outthink them during the flow of the game. As Thomas Sowell notes, "To be an outstanding basketball player means to out-think opponents consistently in these split-second decisions under stress." Beyond basketball, these black cerebral superiorities in "real time" responsiveness also contribute to black dominance in jazz, running with the football, rap, dance, trash talking, preaching, and oratory. Perhaps, blacks could better exploit these skills, along with their masculine charisma, in the corporate arena by focusing on jobs like salesman, motivational speaker, and headhunter. (See my "Great Black Hopes" at http://www.isteve.com/blackath.htm for the full story.)
Master the Fundamentals -- The techniques used by less-naturally-gifted athletes like Pete Rose in baseball or Michael Chang in tennis offer clues for how less cognitively gifted workers can still succeed. Work harder than your more gifted rivals do. Master the fundamentals. Nail the easy stuff. (E.g., the only category in which whites are over-represented among NBA leaders is free throw shooting). Don't improvise: listen to your coach's wisdom. (E.g., the decline of traditional sexual morality has not lead to a high pregnancy rate among coldly logical Dutch teens. For African-American teens, though, the rise of do-it-yourself morality in the 1960's was a disaster.) Challenge yourself, but realistically. (E.g., I personally need to get in shape, but an affirmative action program for Sedentary-Americans that sets-aside for me an opening in Lennox Lewis' next heavyweight title bout might not be in my best interest. The same goes for quotas at elite colleges.)
Raise IQs -- Ever since the Coleman Report of 1965, the evidence has mounted that enriching students' environments does little toward raising their IQ's. Thus, attention has turned toward earlier and earlier interventions such as Head Start and playing Mozart for your nine-month-old. Head Start helps temporarily, but its effects mostly disappear within half-a-decade. And the much-hyped "Mozart Effect" experiment has never been replicated. (So, play your toddler "The Itsy-Bitsy Spider." He'll enjoy it a lot more than the "Symphony in G Minor.")
Nonetheless, the basic concept of focusing on the earliest possible time remains promising. Since IQ is mostly determined by biology, it makes the most since to focus on biological improvements. The single most promising program would be to encourage breastfeeding. The Associated Press reported on 9/22/99:
"The survey by University of Kentucky nutritionist James Anderson [which appeared in the October, 1999 edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition] looked at 20 different studies comparing the brain development of infants who had been breast-fed with that of infants who had been given formula." Our study confirms that breast-feeding is accompanied by about a five-points higher IQ than in bottle-fed infants," Anderson said." -- Tim Whitmire, AP, 9/22/99.
The crucial question: does this five-point increase endure - or does it fade, like Head Start's advantage? If it were permanent, this would offer the single easiest way to narrow the black-white IQ gap. Only about 30% of African American children are breast-fed versus about like 60% of white children. Thus, raising black breastfeeding rates to the white level could theoretically increase black average IQ by 1.5 points, or 10% of the white-black IQ gap. This may not sound like much, but its effects on the right end of the black Bell Curve would be substantial. It would increase the number of blacks with IQs above 115 by around 20%.
This would dwarf any the benefits of the Gates Scholars program. And it would probably cost less. It's just a marketing problem. Bottle-feeding is prestigious among blacks for the same reason that Cadillacs are: black status symbols lag a few decades behind white fashions. It wouldn't take a huge push to make breast-feeding trendy among blacks.
If, say, the world's 2nd richest man, Larry Ellison of Oracle, is tired of rooting through Microsoft's garbage cans, here's a classier way to stick one in Bill Gates' eye. Ellison could pay for a definitive study of the long-term impact of breastfeeding. If it turns out as hoped, then he could finance a campaign to get new mothers to breastfeed.
In summary, it can be painful to speak honestly about such a sensitive topic as IQ. But only realism will allow us to do anything beneficial about it.
September 6, 2000