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What Feminist Celebrity Eugenics Teaches Us about Immigration Policy
Part I: Jodie Foster's Baby
In the wake of Father's Day, we'll consider some of the fascinating implications surrounding a special kind of father, one that's increasingly in demand in Hollywood: the Sperm Donor Dad.
("What does this have to do with immigration?" you might well be asking. Well, just wait and see. One reason why immigration is such a tremendous topic is that to think rigorously about the peopling of America you have to consider such elemental aspects of life as mating and birth.)
Lesbian rock star Melissa Etheridge recently revealed the identity of the sperm donor who is the father of the two children of her girlfriend Julie Cypher. (Ms. Cypher was previously married to actor Lou Diamond Philips, but that's a whole different story.) The test-tube dad turned out to be Rock and Roll Hall of Famer David Crosby of Crosby, Stills, Nash and sometimes Young. Admittedly, Crosby is equally legendary for substance abuse so severe that he's still alive only because of a liver transplant. But Melissa would sacrifice a lot for those guitar god genes. She explained her choice with typical rock star articulateness: "For one, he's musical, which means a lot to me, you know, and I admire his work."
Feminist heroine/single mother/glamour queen Jodie Foster apparently undertook a more methodical search for the perfect sperm donor. According to numerous reports in the British press in 1998, she had proudly announced that after a long hunt, she had had herself impregnated with the gametes of a tall, dark, handsome scientist with an IQ of 160.
While Miss Foster will neither confirm nor deny these articles, this does not at all seem out of character. In her movies and personal life, Miss Foster has often appeared to be loyally trying to reproduce her unusual upbringing. According to her ne'er-do-well brother Buddy's tell-all book Foster Child, Alicia Foster's nickname of "Jodie" is a tribute to "Aunt" Jo, who was their mother's pistol-packing live-in lesbian lover. Jodie was a child prodigy who thrived in this environment, reading at 18 months, becoming the Coppertone Kid at three, and later on graduating summa cum laude from Yale. Thus, her first directorial effort was Little Man Tate, in which she played a single mother raising a seven-year-old genius. Similarly, her production company received multiple Emmy nominations for Baby Dance, a Showtime cable movie about artificial insemination. Not surprisingly, she named her firm Egg Pictures.
Now, just because a wide gamut of the British press runs a story that jibes so well with her personality doesn't mean it's true. (Other rumors suggest various Hollywood players as the donor dad.) Interestingly, according to my web search, the only American outlet to even mention that the London papers were having a field day over the 160 IQ story was the National Enquirer. All the other U.S. newspapers and magazines periodicals just dutifully parroted Jodie's "no comment" responses to Who's Your Daddy questions about her little Charles Foster.
Nevertheless, this hardly disproves the Fleet Street stories. Stars routinely blackmail "respectable" American publications like Vanity Fair by threatening to never, ever again pose for a glamorous cover photo if they dare publish anything image-tarnishing. Since the Enquirer, in contrast, prefers cover pictures of deranged-looking celebrities being hauled off to the Betty Ford Clinic in straitjackets, it is less shackled by the rules of "access journalism."
And Jodie is widely celebrated for her leftist activism. The last story she would want circulating is one that makes her sound like Nazi film directrix Leni Riefenstahl brainstorming with Himmler and Goebbels over the specs for the Master Race's next generation. Especially because Jodie actually is going to produce and star in an upcoming bio-pic called The Leni Riefenstahl Project.
Whoever the father of Jodie Foster's baby really is, the general truth is that, despite the strident egalitarianism of so many feminists, the process of getting artificially inseminated inevitably turns women who can't bear to be impregnated by a man into practicing eugenicists. They have to ask themselves which sperm donor is genetically superior. Leafing through fertility clinics' catalogs, they are forced to agonize over such politically incorrect questions as, "Does Donor #543's curly blonde hair and 6'-3" height mean he gives better seed than Donor #361, who is only 5'-7" but has an SAT score of 1450?"
Now, the purpose of this column is not to mock sanctimonious feminist hypocrites (although it's hard to think of anyone more deserving). The necessity of choosing gamete donors based on estimated genetic desirability is hardly restricted to lesbians. Heterosexual couples suffering the tragedy of infertility often face the same choices. For an example of what a fertility clinic's catalog looks like, check out this sample from a lovely young egg donor at FertilityOptions.com
The going rate for an Ivy League coed's egg has shot up to $5,000 each. (If any males reading this are suddenly envisioning themselves making money hand over fist down at their neighborhood fertility clinic, well, the going rate for sperm is several orders of magnitude less.) Denmark has become a major exporter of sperm to meet global demand for blonde genes.
Nor is this article just another sermon by a bioethicist about the dangers of genetic technology. Because even people who are creating children the old fashioned way are also informal eugenicists. All heterosexuals look for a member of the opposite sex who can supply good genes for their children—trust me on this one: I know, because I got turned down for a lot of dates. In contrast, Wilt Chamberlain, the nearly superhuman basketball legend, claimed (not all that implausibly) that he had had sex with an average of 1.2 different women per day for forty years. Charles Darwin devoted much of his great book The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex to the important consequences of mate choice. Geoffrey F. Miller's The Mating Mind is a lively updating of Darwin that argues that much of the expansion of human capabilities over the last few million years stemmed from competition to impress the opposite sex. Why did early men invent music, art, humor, and sports? In effect, because chicks dig it. By demonstrating skill in these venues, males try to show females they have all-around good genes.
Now, eugenics has a terrible reputation. Much of its notoriety may be well deserved, since its most visible manifestations in the 20th Century were governments murdering or sterilizing people they didn't like. Voluntary eugenics, however, is too universal and too fundamental to human life for us to continue to observe the taboo against discussing it in print. The study of the competition for genes has broad implications for public policy, including immigration.
One benefit of thinking frankly about eugenics is that we can see grasp its practical limitations. Consider the alleged 160 IQ of little Charles Foster's daddy. That's an extraordinary number: Only 1 out of about 30,000 Americans scores so high. Does this guarantee that, if the rumor is true, the Foster family will be blessed with another prodigy? Definitely not. According to psychologist Chris Brand , author of The g Factor (not available for sale—it was yanked from store shelves by its publisher, John Wiley, for political incorrectness shortly after its 1996 release), the expected boost in the kid's IQ from using a sperm donor with an IQ of 160 instead of a one with the average IQ of 100 is only 12 points. And your mileage may vary … and almost certainly will vary dramatically. (Another book showing how to do these calculations is Daniel Seligman's delightful introduction to the science of IQ, A Question of Intelligence.)
Now, twelve IQ points (80% of a standard deviation) is nothing to sneer at. It's the difference between the 50th percentile and the 79th percentile on the Bell Curve. Still, I fear Jodie would find herself a tad disappointed.
Why is the expected payoff of even such painstaking eugenic efforts as this so small and so uncertain? Regression to the Mean. We each carry two sets of genes. You might have gotten lucky and gotten dominant genes that granted you a huge amount of some desirable trait. But your recessive genes are also a random selection from the average of your ancestors' genes, weighted by their closeness to you on the family tree. At the moment of your child's conception, you and your mates' four sets of genes are completely reshuffled. Thus, the children of the highly intelligent tend to have kids who aren't as bright as they are. That's why royal dynasties are founded by usurpers with exceptional talents, but quickly recede to nothing-specialness. In merciful contrast, the exceptionally dim tend to have children who are a little smarter than they are.
So, who will little Charles Foster take after the most? His Nietzchean Superwoman mom? His handpicked dad? Or, just maybe, his Uncle Buddy?
Understanding regression to the mean is helpful in understanding the effects of the 1965 Immigration Act, especially the "family reunification" policy under which most immigrants are now admitted to the U.S. I'll consider that in detail in my column to be posted tomorrow.
TOMORROW: Part II: What It All Means for Immigration Policy (and the proposed H1B visa increase).
When feminist icons like actress Jodie Foster and rock star Melissa Etheridge search for a sperm donor, they unavoidably turn themselves into eugenicists looking for men who can give their children genetic superiority. But that's just an ironic instance of a truth that applies even more universally to heterosexuals: everybody looks for a mate who can supply their children with good genes.
The market for desirable genes, however, extends far beyond the mating game. All sorts of heritable traits—whether for height, good looks, musical skills, a winning personality, or intelligence—are in demand in the business world.
For example, the extremely smart are to America's high-tech economy what seven foot tall men are to the National Basketball Association: highly useful freaks of nature. A November 25, 1996 Fortune article by Randall E. Stross, entitled "Microsoft's Big Advantage—Hiring Only the Supersmart," featured some surprisingly frank statements by Bill Gates that sound like The Bell Curve on steroids:
Gates is blunt. "There is no way of getting around [the fact] that, in terms of IQ, you've got to be very elitist in picking the people who deserve to write software." … Microsoft could teach its employees in specific skill areas, but it could not instill intelligence and creativity—those, Gates said, were "reasonably innate." The best programmers, in Gates's view, are people who are "supersmart." … His self-confessed "bias" in hiring—"toward intelligence or smartness over anything else, even, in many cases, experience."
The NBA has discovered that America, with only 1/22nd of the world's population, has no monopoly on seven footers. Thus, it imports centers like Rik Smits (Holland), Hakeem Olajuwon (Nigeria), Arvydas Sabonis (Lithuania), Dikembe Mutombo (Congo), and that charter member of the Human Biodiversity Hall of Fame , 7'7" 190 pound Dinka herdsman Manute Bol (Sudan).
Similarly, Silicon Valley is famously peppered with the high-IQ folks from all over the world, like Andy Grove (Hungary), longtime CEO of Intel, and Vinod Khosla (India), venture capital dealmeister extraordinaire. The number of jobs and wealth created for Americans by the most brilliant immigrants has been enormous. The best immigrants also pay far more in taxes than they consume in government handouts.
Like the NBA and seven-footers, America is in the privileged position of being able to brain-drain the most talented people from all over the world.
How many immigrants we should admit is a separate question. But whatever that number should be, my own view is that we ought to admit the best immigrants available, with "best" defined as "most benefiting current American citizens."
Possibly the most impressive of all the new immigrant groups were the early arrivals from India. Although immigration enthusiasts like Michael Barone and Ron Unz often compare immigrants from East Asia to Jewish immigrants of a century ago, South Asians are even more similar. Like the Jews, and unlike the East Asians, their verbal skills tend to be as strong as their technical talents.
So what's not to like about our current immigration laws? Plenty. Let's look at what's been happening recently even to the poster children of the modern immigration era, the Indians.
American Demographics magazine reported:
The median income for Asian-Indian households is $44,700, versus $31,200 for all U.S. households, according to the 1990 census. Not all Asian Indians are affluent, however. Dr. Arun Jain, professor of marketing at the State University of New York in Buffalo, divides the market into three distinct segments. The first, the majority of whom immigrated in the 1960s, is led by a cohort of highly educated men who came to this country because of professional opportunities. Most are doctors, scientists, academics, and other professionals … The second segment includes immigrants who came to the U.S. in the 1970s. Like the first segment, the men are highly educated professionals. … The third segment is made up of relatives of earlier immigrants who have been sponsored by established family members in this country. They are often less well-educated than members of the first two segments. This is the group most likely to be running motels, small grocery stores, gas stations, or other ventures. …
"The earlier immigrants came because of their qualifications. They had no trouble getting green cards or professional posts," says Dr. Madhulika Khandelwal of the Asian/American Center at Queens College in Flushing, New York. … "The more recent immigrants differ … This wave includes lower-middle-class Indians who tend to work in service industries, usually with members of their extended families," says Khandelwal. [Asian-Indian Americans by Marcia Mogelonsky ,August 1995]
Please note that India has not suddenly run out of extremely smart people who want to become Americans. Its population just hit one billion. Certainly, the majority are undernourished, poorly educated peasants, but India's middle class is estimated to be as large as 150,000,000. Many of these speak fine English and attend schools that still do a good job of following some of the principles instituted by Thomas Babington Macaulay in the 19th century. Southern India, lead by the software center of Bangalore, has become to computer programmers what the Dominican Republic is to baseball players: an unexpected mother lode of talent.
So, why are we getting fewer professionals and more cabdrivers out of India these days? The 1965 Immigration Act "family reunification" policy gives priority not to immigrants who would most benefit the American public as a whole, but to recent immigrants' siblings, parents, and adult children. Plus those relatives' spouses and kids. This is flooding the country with mediocrities admitted only because they are previous immigrants' brothers-in-law.
The Wall Street Journal's front page reported on December 1999:
Of the 660,000 foreigners the U.S. accepted as permanent residents in 1998, 476,000 had family ties; just 77,000 others came in as employees, 40,000 fewer than in 1996 and half the limit set by law. Of the 77,000, half were spouses and children. Among working immigrants, more than half were heavyweight academics, hotshot executives, or celebrities. In other words, only about 14,000 came in exclusively because they were skilled or educated.[ Northern View: In Canada, the Point Of Immigration Is Mostly Unsentimental]
Why does the system have less and less room for talented would-be immigrants who lack family connections? During the early years after the 1965 Act, many immigrants were admitted because they had special skills needed by American organizations. But as America's immigrant population swells, more and more new Americans thus possess the legal right to bring over their adult relatives and their spouses. In turn, each newly imported in-law can gain the power to bring in his or her relatives and in-laws. And on and on ad infinitum.
Second, our family reunification-based immigration system tends toward mediocrity for the same reason celebrity feminists who pick out tremendously talented sperm donors to father their children will tend to end up frustrated: genetic regression to the mean. However, extremely smart or musical people almost always have relatives who aren't as smart or musical on average. And the genes you pass on to your kids aren't just the ones you display, but also a weighted average of all your ancestors' genes. This means that Melissa Etheridge's girlfriend's kids probably won't grow up to be rock legends like their test tube daddy, David Crosby. Who knows? They may end up tone-deaf like some great uncle in his family tree.
When a Vinod Khosla helps found a Sun Microsystems, American customers, workers, and stockholders all benefit. But say this tech wizard's sister's husband's mother's sister's husband gets into the U.S. through "family reunification." Due to regression to the mean, the odds are greatly against him being another wizard. So, say he buys a Motel Six, fires the old employees, and staffs it with his extended family. The economic results for current American citizens are much more mixed than when his distant in-law started Sun. American customers presumably get a slightly better product, but at the expense of the jobs of the laid off American workers. Maybe the tradeoff is positive for America, maybe it's negative. (Wealthier Americans who vacation frequently will tend to see it as a benefit, poorer Americans who need jobs as motel maids will see it as a detriment.) But the opportunity cost is undeniably severe. Because we are admitting this run-of-the-mill middle-aged motel keeper, we aren't admitting some young genius.
You might think that America's high-tech "Jedi geeks" would want to reform the immigration laws so America would get more high-IQ computer geeks and fewer non-descript nobodies. After all, these moguls sure wouldn't hire their employees the way the government selects immigrants. If they let their most recent hires start hiring all their relatives, their oldest employees and stockholders would rebel. All the Sand Hill Road set would have to do is cash in a few stock options, fund a few think tanks, rent a few Congressmen, and, voila, we'd have a more rational immigration law.
Of course, you don't get to be a billionaire without being one sharp operator. Nor do you make the gigabucks by putting the general welfare of Americans ahead of your own. Sure, Silicon Valley bosses desperately want more smart employees. But, what any employer wants, in his wildest dreams, are smart serfs.
So, rather than reforming the immigration system, the zillionaires got their pet Congressmen to bolt the ingenious H-1B system on top of the old law. Foreign technology workers admitted under H-1B are often referred to as "indentured servants" because they can't quit to work for anybody else. Thus, their masters can pay them much less than they'd have to pay free American labor. (To understand how competition from the bondsman drives down the free man's wages, see the 1858 campaign speeches of A. Lincoln.)
Of course, labeling this mechanism "indentured servitude" does a grave injustice to the colonial American practice. True indentured servants were allowed to remain in America after their half dozen or so years of servitude. In contrast, when H-1B workers are just beginning to get assimilated after six years, they are kicked out of the country and replaced by new foreigners straight off the plane. Our high tech moguls don't want their H-1B workers starting companies that would compete with them! So, don't call these poor bastards "indentured servants." Call them "high-tech coolies."
What would the perfect system for evaluating applicants for admission look like? Well, if you want to emigrate to Canada you can find out if you qualify online here. The Canadians let in way too many immigrants—even I, an aging pundit, would qualify. Still, they've grasped the basic principle that we've forgotten in America: immigration is not a right possessed by foreigners, it's a tool for benefiting the current citizenry of America. So why not the best?
June 19, 2000