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Selecting for Intelligence as Causing Societal Inequality:

I just ran across this post of mine from a couple of years ago, and thought it might be worth re-posting (my apologies if I thought wrong, but maybe in several generations' worth of improvement, my descendants won't make the same mistake):

I've often heard the argument (buttressed sometimes by citations to the movie Gattaca) that letting parents use genetic technology to boost their babies' intelligence, athletic prowess, or musical ability would make it easier for rich people to improve their kids' genes, which will increase social stratification, as descendants of the poorer people will find it harder to compete. I profoundly disagree with this argument. (I set aside the quite different arguments that certain techniques, especially in their early stages, may have problems that increase the risk of serious genetic defects, and that certain genetic traits help kids at the expense of others -- imagine a gene that makes people resistant to some contagious disease but increases the chance that they'd be asymptomatic carriers.)

1. If you take this argument seriously, it would be largely an argument against private education (and I've heard the argument made this way), since of course private education lets rich parents improve their kids' competitiveness relative to poor kids.

It might even be an argument against smart people deliberately seeking out other smart people to marry, which is basically a lay form of genetic engineering. Would you therefore urge "breeding for equality," in which smart people self-consciously try to marry dumb people, so their kids wouldn't have too much of an unfair advantage? Or how about programs that try to persuade smart men that the feminine ideal should indeed be the dumb airhead woman (and, of course, to persuade smart women that they should marry dumb men)? True, there might be a significant difference in degree between the IQ benefits to be gained by genetic engineering and the IQ benefits to be gained by lay genetics or education. But I stress the "might be," and in any event the principle strikes me as quite similar.

2. Technological progress is on balance very good, and generally speaking it's disproportionately produced by smart people (technologists, businesspeople, and so on). More smart people means more chance of cures for disease, of better transportation and information technology, of space flight, of good environmental inventions, and so on. True, smart people do harm, too; if Hitler had been dumber, the 20th century might have been less bloody. But on balance, I'm pretty sure that it's good for society generally to have more smart people.

3. Most technologies -- computers, CD players, and the like -- start out expensive enough that only rich people or institutions can afford them, but then, with technological development and economies of scale, the price falls, and more and more people can access the technology. Some Americans may be too poor to afford them, but most Americans can afford technology that provides most of the key features. Rich people can still afford better stuff, but the marginal quality difference between what the 90th percentile can afford and what the 50th percentile can afford isn't that vast. (Consider, for instance, personal computers.)

So if you're concerned that only the top 5% will ever afford getting higher IQ for their kids, that seems highly unlikely. And if you're concerned that only the top 70% will afford it, and oppose the technology because of the bottom 30%, then I think you have the wrong set of priorities. Work on ways to eventually make the technology accessible even to the bottom 30%, rather than denying it to the top 70%.

There's an old Soviet joke about the man who visits Hell. (Actually, there are many different Soviet jokes about the man who visits Hell.) In Hell, there are three giant cauldrons in which the sinners are being boiled. On the rim of one stands a regiment of demons, shoulder to shoulder, constantly using their pitchforks to smack down the sinners who are trying to escape. On the rim of the second walk a few demons, who occasionally whack someone down. The rim of the third is empty, but no-one is getting out.

What's going on here?, the visitor asks. "There are three kinds of people," the Devil says. (In the original joke, they are Jews, Russians, and Ukrainians, but in honor of the 2004 Orange Revolution I've sworn off Ukrainian jokes.) "The first kind is in the first cauldron. When one looks like he's trying to escape, all the rest follow him. We need a lot of demons to manage them.

"The second kind is in the second cauldron. Occasionally someone is trying to escape, but the others don't pay any attention. It takes just a few demons to deal with this kind.

"The third kind is in the third cauldron: When one is starting to escape, all the others drag him back down by the ankles."

Don't be that third kind.

Perseus:
As I pointed out in Orin Kerr's post about using consultants to gain an advantage in college admissions, if you're serious about eliminating these kinds of social inequalities (which don't disturb me), you should abolish the family or have arranged marriages.

I suppose that a Rawlsian egalitarian might accept such inequalities insofar as they eventually benefit the worst off or at least the majority (Prof. Volokh's 2nd &3rd arguments), who could receive even more of the benefits of genetic engineering via hefty redistributive taxes.
5.23.2006 4:35am
Will:
In your initial statement you write, "I've often heard the argument (buttressed sometimes by citations to the movie Gattaca) that letting parents use genetic technology to boost their babies' intelligence, athletic prowess, or musical ability would make it easier for rich people to improve their kids' genes, which will increase social stratification, as descendants of the poorer people will find it harder to compete. I profoundly disagree with this argument."

I'm a little confused. It seems that your arguments all support the stance that the use of such technology or private schools or whatever means one might use to advance their own progeny would actually do exactly what you seem to indicate you disagree with them doing (increasing the competition gap).

Is it that you disagree with the argument that these things DO cause a greater gap in the ability to compete based on socio-economic status... or is it that you disagree with using that point as a foundation for the argument of requiring equality in restricting the use of those 'enhancement generators'?
5.23.2006 4:45am
Steven Jens (mail) (www):
I think there's quite a difference between worrying about a new technology increasing inequality and "being serious about eliminating these kinds of social inequalities."

Also, let's suppose that the social equality benefits of prohibiting a new technology are similar to the social equality benefits of prohibiting selective breeding. I think the costs are a lot lower - the right to use a new technology is less fundamental than the right to decide whom to raise a family with.

Though, now that I think of it, arranged marriage has been a popular tradition in a lot of times and places -- maybe it just seems like a fundamental right because I'm used to it.
5.23.2006 4:55am
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
This is as good as any, a time to ask this question - or at least as good a time as I will get. I fundamentally fail to grasp, why is social inequality considered to be per se a bad thing? Suppose A makes $25k, and B makes $100k. After, say, some new technological advances, B increases his annual income to $150k, but A remains at $25k. If by virtue of B's increase, A is actually no worse off - he still has his $25k - then what's the problem? In law school, it feels like everyone has a problem with this dynamic except for 3 people in any given class? Am I just missing the moral nexus in my brain that's supposed to make me feel bad when someone who is poor ends up being even *more* poor than the rich, by virtue of the rich outpacing him economically?
5.23.2006 5:10am
Perseus:
now that I think of it, arranged marriage has been a popular tradition in a lot of times and places -- maybe it just seems like a fundamental right because I'm used to it.

Exactly!
5.23.2006 5:35am
John Castiglione (mail):

Am I just missing the moral nexus in my brain that's supposed to make me feel bad when someone who is poor ends up being even *more* poor than the rich, by virtue of the rich outpacing him economically?


Imagine everyone gets richer, save the one guy who stays poor. Relatively speaking, he is more poor than he used to be. Additionally, if everyone has more money, inflation has probably chewed away the poor guy's spending power, so he is actually more poor in real terms than he used to be, even though he makes just as much as he used to.

Now, you personally may not feel bad about this situation, but make no mistake about it - through no "fault" of his own, the poor man has become poorer when the rich become richer.
5.23.2006 8:08am
AnandaG:
<blockquote>
Relatively speaking, he is more poor than he used to be.... the poor man has become poorer when the rich become richer.
</blockquote>

Only if you accept the notion of poverty being relative at all, which is far from uncontroversial. (Would you switch places with Charlemagne?)
5.23.2006 9:02am
AppSocRes (mail):
May I insert a simple thought into the discussion: Very smart people often seem oblivious to the possibility that increased intelligence is not necessarily always a good thing. The genes that relate to increased intelligence may also relate to various mental and physical illnesses. There is some evidence for this in recent research. It may also be that too many very intelligent people are not good for society. My experience has been that very iintelligent people tend to work less well together and with others than those of average or just above average intelligence: Think of your typical faculty meeting. The evolutionary advantages that individuals gain from increasing the intelligence of their offspring might well be more than offset by the disadvantages to the species of an increasing negative genetic load in the gene pool and an increasing negative impact on politics and other areas requiring social cooperation. The potential we seem to be developing for altering the human genome is a two-edged and unwieldy sword, whether unregulated genetic engineering is done by libertarians on an ad hoc basis or by totalitarian organizations seeking to create a super race.
5.23.2006 9:13am
Vorn (mail):
As Mr. Castiglione mentions, it is not as if income inequality does not affect the poor. After all, people compete in markets as consumers, and obviously, in our economic system, rationing benefits those with more wealth. And do not think of this as just applicable to particular discrete goods, but instead the allocation of social resources which could be put to many uses. Clearly, people have more incentives to provide those with more wealth with goods and services more than those with less wealth. To the degree that resources are interchangeable, this can have a negative impact on lower income individuals. Imagine that X engineers can either work on building and maintaining a private jet for some rich person. If that rich person was not around, then those engineers would presumably be available to work on projects benefitting those with lower incomes.

The problem with income inequality, is one of using resources for important things before unimportant things. If X celebrity wants to have some silly lavish party for $50 million, then presumably a lot of social resources will be devoted to providing that party. Those social resources with then be unavailable (or cost more) for more important things, like providing medicine or housing to those with lower incomes. I think that most people would agree that providing basics is more important than providing luxuries. However, income inequality results in a shift of resources from basics to luxuries to some degree.

It is a basic matter of supply and demand. The demand of those with wealth for luxuries (or "conspicious consumption") results in a decrease in supply (a shift in the supply curve) for basic goods for others, to the extent that the resources used to provide for these luxuries could have been used to provide basic goods.

It is not the case that the person making the $150k and the $25k in Mike BUSL07's example have no impact on each other. Isn't it absurd to think that would not be the case? Rich and poor alike share a common world with limited resources, after all.

Of course, this is not to say that we should not allow inequality to some extent. Inequality, has benefits as well as costs. For example, allowing inequality to some degree increases incentives to work hard. However, it is beyond ridiculous to pretend that inequality is FREE. It is not. Assume that social resources are constant. Increase one persons income to 150k from 125k. More social resources will shift to the person making 150k. The person making 25k will face higher prices for basic goods and services.

(I should mention another cost of inequality. That is social friction. Certainly, as the existence of communism has shown, this is a cost of inequality that the wealthy are likely to face as well.)

Increasing intelligence, as Eugene Volokh mentions (while not using this terminology), is likely not a zero-sum game, however. If someone with increased intelligence is more productive, it can result in an increase in social resources. This in turn could end up benefitting BOTH the person making 150k AND the person making 25k. I think we have seen this phenomenon often with the advent of new technology. It is not only Bill Gates who is able to benefit from the existence of personal computers, new life-saving drugs, new medical procedures, or the more efficient production of food.

I think it would be beyond foolish to not take advantage of technologies that allow for increased intelligence. There is no reason that with properly designed social policies, we could not exploit such technologies so that everyone is better off.

And who knows, perhaps such technologies would actually result in decreased inequality. After all, such technologies are likely to benefit the less intelligent more than the most intelligent. Someone who would be born to be as intelligent as, say, Eugene Volokh, without such technology would likely experience a smaller gain than someone who would otherwise only have the intelligence to perform manual labor without such technology. To the extent that income is related to intelligence, the use of such technology would decrease rather than increase inequality, to the extent that the technology is widely used.

This would suggest the following policy for those concerned with decreasing inequality. Allow such technology and subsidize its use among those with lower incomes. The result would most certainly be less inequality, not more.
5.23.2006 9:23am
bluecollarguy:
So much for The Selfish Gene.
5.23.2006 9:32am
Vorn (mail):
AppSocRes,

Your point about increased intelligence decreasing cooperation strikes me as bizarre. If anything, more intelligent people would be more able to comprehend the advantages of cooperation. I have seen plenty of conflict between of all intelligence levels to buy into your argument.

Your point about faculty members misses major environmental explanations for their behavior. Faculty members with tenure are minimally accountable to each other. It is not like they are likely to lose thier job for anti-social behavior. So, this example strikes me as a fairly poor one to make your point. It illustrates only that when the cost of non-cooperative behavior is lower, people tend to engage in such behavior more. I think that, stated at that level of generality, this holds for people at all levels of intelligence.
5.23.2006 9:35am
Terrified Baseball Fan:

I'm not a big fan of the idea of allowing parents to use genetic tech to manipulate their kid's intellegence. I don't see it as an issue of inequality; I'm pretty well in favor of inequality. The problem is the slippery slope that leads to the destruction of our national pastime.

If we were allowing parents to manipulate their kids "smart" genes we would almost certainly have to allow them to manipulate their kids "home-run-hitting" genes as well, would those kids get to play in the majors? Would their records get asterisks?
5.23.2006 10:00am
Josh_Jasper (mail):
At some point, you amy want to check out how maluntrition at birth affects inteligence, as well as hightened stress levels affecting childhood development, and overall health throughout one's life.

Poor people have more stressful lives, and the verry poor can suffer from malnutrition. The rich have a great advantage in getting ahead in life. We could raise the world IQ average by a big leap just by making sure everyone got fed and wasn't living in a war zone.
5.23.2006 10:05am
Evan H (mail) (www):
This is false analogy. The difference between genetic modification and environmental exposure is that genetic modification increases a child's intrinsic ability while environmental exposure only allows the child to develop whatever innate talents they may have.

As far as smart people marrying smart people, while I think that this is generally the case I doubt many successful marriages are built on the solely on the foundation that both partners are intelligent.
5.23.2006 10:11am
Steve:
I am in complete agreement with hilzoy on this topic.
5.23.2006 10:15am
Vorn (mail):
Baseball Fan,

What does it mean to be "in favor of" inequality? Do you mean you are in favor of it for its own sake? If so, why?Do you mean to say that you think it has no costs associated with it?

Another thing I find puzzling is your assumption that allowing parents to modify one sort of gene "smart genes" would have to "home-run-hitting" genes. I don't see why this is at all. If there were important reasons to distinguish between the two, why couldn't we?

But more fundamentally, what is wrong with letting kids with modified genes play in the majors? Do you think that those who play in the majors have no genetic advantages? Or that they have "earned" the genetic advantages they do have? Clearly, those who are genetically superior now did not earn their advantage. No one chooses their parents, after all. So, I can't see any fairness rationale for being concerned with whether those with deliberately altered genes get into the majors. It would be exactly as fair or unfair (depending on your perspective) as the current system.
5.23.2006 10:17am
jimbino (mail):
The silly society that doesn't promote eugenics will eventually be conquered by one that does. Remember that some half of all Europeans carry Genghis Khan's genes.

And consider that, here in Texas, where the poorest and dumbest have the most kids, the great apes are about to surpass our high-school graduates in SAT scores. Another reason why we need all those smart, if illegal, Mexican immigrants is to help stem that tide.
5.23.2006 10:45am
Mega Mutant Baseball Player:
First, "in favor of inequality" was semi-tongue-in-cheek. I was making no pronouncments as to the fairness of any particular distribution of wealth, brains, or biceps, just noting that we are not all equal, and as such, I will be trying to get as smart, healthy, and wealthy as I reasonably can rather than just accepting the status quo.

Second, I maybe spoke out of turn here, because I am not an expert on hypothetical gene therapy legislation, but it seems to me that one would be hard pressed to come up with a logical argument that it's OK to make your pre-natal child the future champion of the debate team, but not the future champion of the baseball team. If there ever was a slippery slope, this is it...

Third, this is just a question of how you view the integrity of the game. By your rational, you must be OK with the use of steroids in the game. I am not. I think it does the sport a historical injustice. On top of that, I want the myth and mystery of great baseball players to endure. I don't want my daughter to see baseball as a game played by geneticists and pharmacologists, but as a game played by ordinary folks.
5.23.2006 10:56am
great unknown (mail):
jimbino:
Try to read the very apt and prescient novella "The Marching Morons" by C.M. Kornbluth.
5.23.2006 11:03am
Freder Frederson (mail):
I think the problem here is that Eugene is equating material wealth and success in this society with intelligence. This is obviously a false assumption. Just because you fall ass-backwards into money doesn't make you smart. Just because you are a ruthless, backstabbing, bastard doesn't make you more intelligent than someone who devotes his life to public service and never makes more than $100,000 a year. Look at the most intellectually challenging careers or degree programs, they are in the hard sciences and engineering, and except for medicine, they are generally not going to make you rich, and even a brilliant doctor is hardly going to reach the income levels of the CEO of a major corporation. You speak about Bill Gates as being a great intellect. Nonsense. He is a good businessman who got lucky and then used anti-competetive and monopolistic practices to foist second-rate software on the world.
5.23.2006 11:05am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
One thing to keep in mind is that this level of sorting that we are now seeing is a very new phenomenum. Yes, there were arranged marriages in many cultures, but the gene pool was just not that big for there to be a major effect. Add to this the natural tendancy for alpha males to cukhold their less successful peers (in some cultures, somewhere around 25% or so). Of course, it was much easier to pass off the alpha male's kids as those of a woman's husband, if both men were blond and blue eyed.

Nevertheless, at least in terms of selecting for intelligence at the top, there is now a national gene pool, that will, very possibly, be international. The best and the brightest go to the same top colleges, regardless of where they originally came from, and because of that, marry each other. And, as I think has been mentioned above, we are just starting to see the affect of this selective breeding. Geek Syndrome anyone? (supposedly, autism and Alsperger's are increasingly common in pairings where both parents have the type of brain that is good with computers and engineering).

I think that we are starting to see some of the other effects too. For example, how many here really have that many friends with normal or below normal intelligence? Again, friendships are also going national, and tending, international. For me, at least, a significant number of my friends any more live nowhere near me. I have picked them up over the years across the country. People I went to college with, graduate school, worked with as a programmer, or, later, as a patent attorney.

The problem is that to a great extent, this country is starting to sort itself economically and socially based on intelligence. This is a natural result of the fact that the best paying jobs, overall, require the most intelligence. And this is because intelligence anymore is what creates wealth, and not physical strength. The Microsofts, Apples, Intels, eBays, Googles, etc. of this world get their founders so insanely rich because they provide such profound efficiencies. And, of course, they do it by hiring the smartest people they can find.

This is a true story. A company had been competing relatively successfully in the semiconductor industry for a number of years bringing out a new generation of a certain chip every year or so on a regular basis. A new CEO took over the company and found that they were paying the chief designer some outrageous sum, say $1,000,000 a year. CEO said that, without bonuses, he didn't even make that. The chief engineer was working as a consultant, and so they didn't renew his contract because he was making too much money. Fine. The figured that they would replace the one $1,000,000 a year engineer with a couple of $100k engineers, and pocket the differential. The chief engineer that replaced him plus all his minions struggled with the design. But as any who have worked in this area know, it is rarely easy to keep up the level of innovation, and, as a result, they started missing deadlines, ship dates, etc. Their product shipped almost a year late, which, of course meant that it might well have never shipped. The product line was shortly shut down as uneconomic. The moral? This company started paying what it took to make those deadlines, even if it meant paying an engineer more than most of the vice presidents.

The problem is that in our knowledge based economy, a 5 point increase in IQ may have an economic worth of 25% to a company. Before, if one guy was 10% stronger than the rest, he was worth maybe 10% more. Now, a 10% smarter employee may be worth 100% more.
5.23.2006 11:20am
John Castiglione (mail):
And what about the personal sovereignty of the genetically-manipulated child? While we cannot choose our parents or our naturally inherited genes, should not a person be allowed to make the decision to reject the fundamental modification of who they physically are? Eugenics is the ultimate in paternalism - we know how to make a better person than nature does, and we're going to change your genes whether you like it or not.
5.23.2006 11:23am
Vorn (mail):
Mutant Baseball Player,

Maybe you are right that it would be difficult to distinguish between improving intelligence versus improving "home-run-hitting" genes. I personally am for allowing the improvement of both, and I have a hard time distinguishing them. What is puzzling to me, is that you may not object to improving intelligence, but for the damaging effect it will have on baseball. Which is very interesting. Is preserving baseball so valuable that we should not do what we can to increase intelligence, which will have positive effects in all areas of life?

I think that you are right in that the idea of "great baseball players" is to some degree a "myth" at least to the extent that the existence of great baseball players can be explained by talent, which in turn is explained by superior genes. Of course, talent is only part of the equation, training and hard work is the other part. But, clearly, if we allowed genetic alteration, then presumably training and hard work would remain a part of the forumula.

I think you are right on that I do not object to steriod use, in terms of concern that it will destroy the "myth," "mystery," or the "integrity" of the game. However, I do object to steriods. Because of the harmful health effects steriods have, rather than completely artificial concepts like maintaining the "integrity of the game." Baseball is just an idea, and as such, is capable of evolving. I do not think that it would be a good thing if competition drove people to harm their health, thus I would oppose allowing steriod use. But if steriods had no harmful effects, I would not oppose it.

Frankly, I think there are all sorts of things that we allow athletes to do with their bodies that give them advantages. Usually, we do not outlaw them unless we believe their is some sort of harmful effect, like that caused by steroids. I think that is sound policy.

One last thing concerning the "myth" of baseball and the "integrity of the game." Already, people face huge disadvantages due to genetics. You can't escape that. Why aren't natural (and unearned) variations in talent considered as violating the "integrity" of baseball?

Ultimately, I think the "myth" of great baseball players is likely to be destroyed in the long run anyway. Unless you outlaw the advancement of knowledge (as oppossed to the application, as we are discussing here) we are likely to KNOW why certain people have a talent for baseball, as our understanding of genetics increases. We will be able to see what genes great baseball players tend to have that the rest of the population doesn't. I think your myth is in danger. And this is as it should be, because it is, in your words, a myth.

None of this is to say we aren't losing something when that myth disappears. There is something special about maintaining certain myths. But, nonetheless, much to be gained by discarding some. Holding back people's individual and collective potential for the sake of advancing a myth seems like too high of a price to pay.
5.23.2006 11:28am
Paul Gowder (mail):
A quick note on the relative inequality issue: there's good reason to believe that the experience of being relatively poor is negative. Subjectively, there's things like envy. Objectively, there's the fact that prices, etc., get driven up. If you live in a city with a bunch of people much richer than you, your objective standard of living will be lower because the rest of the population will be much less price sensitive. (I've seen a couple recent papers demonstrating this, sadly, I can't remember where offhand.)

So it is harmful to have relative poverty, even if the poor only stand still while the rich get richer.

(I haven't determined my opinion on the intelligence-gene-modification issue. It seems like aggressive redistribution would be the answer.)
5.23.2006 11:29am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Freder Frederson

Well, you seem to have missed the .com boom, the eCommerce boom, the Internet, etc. I suspect that you are writing your comments here on a PC (or Mac), using the Internet to send it in, Google to back up your comments, etc. And, guess what. All of those inovations made a bunch of very bright engineers very, very rich. Bill Gates didn't get where he is today on the Forbes list of richest people in the world based on the hard work of his fellow social science majors.

If you don't think that engineers make a lot of money compared to everyone else, it is only because you are comparing them to the top lawyers, doctors, etc. But the common thread with almost all the self-made billions is high intelligence, whether it be an engineer, an attorney, a doctor, etc.
5.23.2006 11:32am
JonC:

The silly society that doesn't promote eugenics will eventually be conquered by one that does.


Didn't some German dude circa the 1930's have an idea similar to this? I seem to recall that whole episode ended badly for about 6 million or so folks.
5.23.2006 11:35am
Vorn (mail):
Mr. Castiglione,

Your objection about the "sovereignty" of the child makes no sense. As you say, children do not choose their parents genes or their own genes. This alone disposes of your point. You mentioned this counter-point, but you did not address it.

Your point about "modification" is arbitrary. I could just as well say that NOT altering the genes of a child is a "modification" compared to who they could be with genetic engineering.

I think ultimately, your idea is about escaping responsibility. Like, if we don't employ genetic engineering when we could, that we are not making a choice. But we are making a choice when we choose NOT to engage in genetic engineering. A choice with consequences. We should take responsibility for the consequences of our choices.

As for your point about "paternalism" I find that interesting. Obviously, when it comes to children (and future children) paternalism is completely appropriate. The unborn have no ability to choose their genes or even whether to be born. Thus, the decision must be made by someone else. Paternalism is not bad for children! Imagine if your parents decided to abandon you after you were born. And that the rest of the society did as well. Do you think you would be better off without paternalism at that stage in your existence? Of course not. Because you wouldn't even be able to survive.
5.23.2006 11:41am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Freder Frederson

Let me expand a bit. You suggested that a lot of the wealthy "fell into" their wealth. But that is not accurate, unless you consider falling into having the right genes and upbringing falling into wealth. The vast, vast, majority of millionaires these days are first generation, or, at worst, second generation. The insane wealth that has been made in the last 25 years or so has not had a chance yet to be passed down through the generations - but, obviously, this is behind the push to repeal the Death Tax (also known in liberal circles as the Estate Tax). So, yes, in another generation or two, we are going to have a lot of Kennedys, Rockefellers, etc. running around living high on inherited wealth. But not yet.
5.23.2006 11:43am
John Burgess (mail) (www):
I think Vorn is missing an important part of the "$50 million party." That $50 million did not goe from the celebrity's pocket into some black hole. It when into a lot of pockets (presumably less endowed). Hundreds, if not thousands of people saw their incomes increase through that act of "extravagance".

That helped at least some of them close the gap between their situation and that of the celebrity.

Was it wasteful? Probably. There are certainly more efficient methods of redistributing wealth. But within the constraints of personal liberties, there's no law or moral obligation to behave in the most efficient method possible.
5.23.2006 11:44am
Vorn (mail):
JonC,

Your comparison to Hitler shows nothing.

(1) Hitler owned a german shepherd.
(2) Hitler pet his german shepherd.

Therefor,

It is wrong to own and pet a german shepherd???

That is ridiculous logic, isn't it? Well, I must say, yours is similarly silly. That Hitler was an insane murderer does not mean that we should discard the possibility of improving humanity through genetics.
5.23.2006 11:45am
Barry Bonds:
Fair enough... I agree that there's way too much at play here to focus on baseball. It's a relevant and apt illustrator of the concept, but it doesn't go all the way...

I guess I'm a big fan of myth. I don't have any real faith in some sort of overall purpose or guiding hand in our universe, but I like the idea of fortune and surprise. I don't want kids growing up with the expectation/responsibility/burden of being in any particular way superior to their peers. It just seems like it would take the magic out of growing up/raising a kid.

On top of that, I don't see the advance of technology/wealth/innovation as any sort of higher purpose to which we should be dedicating ourselves as a society. I'm not a luddite, nor am I a communist, I'm just not clear that Microsoft (which folks here seem to be citing as an example of what our society ought to be championing) has made my life any richer/fuller/more worth living. I guess I don't really care if Joe and Sally Schmoe manipulate their daughter into some sort of super-genius. It's all the talk of using this technology to guide the progress of society that begins to sound a bit scary. Not to jump back to slippery slopes, but this all gets to sounding a bit Buck v. Bell to me.
5.23.2006 11:50am
Vorn (mail):
John Burgess,

Good point. I think there are two kinds of resources expended on a $50 million dollar party. One is real resources which are truly consumed, like the time of the people involved. Another, are imaginary resources, like the time of a chef that charges $250,000 for one meal. Clearly, the use of that chef versus another does not consumer a huge amount of "real" resources, and so a good portion of that $250,000 is not harmful to anyone, but simply represents a transfer payment from the celebrity to the chef. To this, I entirely agree with your sentiment that this is a "who cares" sort of issue.

On the other hand, such a party is likely to consume real resources. Say it is held on some remote island, and private jets are utilized. These jets in turn consume the talents of many people to build and maintain. That represents a consumption of real resources that in turn effects the supply of basic goods and services for those with lower incomes.

As for your point about liberty, I think that is completely valid. But that goes to the point of whether we should do anything about the problem of inequality, rather than whether it has negative effects on others. I have not addressed the issue of what, if anything we should do about inequality, but am rather establishing the point that it has negative effects on others. Inequality has costs. It is not free.
5.23.2006 11:53am
Josh_Jasper (mail):
Also of interest are correlations between extraordinary high IQs and autism or aspergers syndrome. Breeding for high IQs might not equal sucess in life. In fact, it might well cause the opposite.
5.23.2006 11:54am
Freder Frederson (mail):
But the common thread with almost all the self-made billions is high intelligence, whether it be an engineer, an attorney, a doctor, etc.

Nonsense, good luck, ruthlessness, and a willingness to break the rules or even the law can be just as an important a factor. Look at Bernie Ebbers, Ken Lay, Richard Scrushie, Jeff Skilling, John Gotti, not great intellects, but they sure got rich. Again, for all his billions, Bill Gates simply got lucky with DoS. Everything Microsoft has produced since then has been second-rate, the genius has been getting the products pre-installed on every computer at the factory.

As for the internet, well that was invented by government and academic scientists, and they sure didn't get rich from it. And yes, some engineers and scientists will launch a startup or write the killer app that will make them rich, the vast majority or them are going to toil their lives away at jobs where they earn a salary, and their inventions are the property of the company they work for, the .com boom (you seem to have forgotten the ensuing bust) notwithstanding.

Ability to make money is a very crude and poor indicator of intelligence. Look at the greatest minds of the twentieth century. How many of them were truly rich? Einstein, Heisenburg, Teller? Even your heroes on the right and libertarian fringe weren't all that rich.
5.23.2006 11:57am
Mr. Mandias (mail) (www):
"I think that we are starting to see some of the other effects too. For example, how many here really have that many friends with normal or below normal intelligence?"

raises hand But I'm of normal intelligence myself, so if anything that just proves your point. In fact, a really remarkable post. Thanks. Though I still don't know what I think about gene-editing for kids.

Also, to those commenters who think that relative poverty is a bagatelle-- Nerts! Status is a big, big factor in human affairs. It's not just *envy* that makes the poor discontent, its the fact that they get looked down on, are given less respect, and themselves feel less worthwhile. Just because this is true doesn't mean we need to rush off and support big government redistribution and so on, but we shouldnt' kid ourselves that inequality is meaningless if everyone is somewhat better off.
5.23.2006 11:57am
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
Well, Eugene, how far are you willing to take it?

Should poor people be given medical care, or if they can't afford it, should they be allowed to simply die from diseases for which we have readily available cures?

I think your argument only tells one very limited side of the story. Yes, we want to allow individuals as well as people generally to improve their condition. But can you really see no potential problem with a society where certain individuals gain such extraordinary advantages over others that competition becomes essentially meaningless?

Of course, that doesn't mean we want to get rid of advancement simply to avoid any advantages. It does mean, though, that one has to consider whether certain resources or rights become so critical to a decent life that society as a group of people has to come together and make an agreement that certain elites will not be allowed simply to lord over the rest, making all the decisions, and getting everything good that comes along.

It's not a reason to ban genetic improvement, but it's a reason to be careful with how it's allowed to be used.
5.23.2006 11:58am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
There is both good and bad about relative poverty. Without a significant gap between the top and the bottom, there is little incentive to take the gamble of starting a new business for the possibility of getting rich. The bigger the gap, the bigger the inventive to take the gamble - which is one of the big problems with attempts to redistribute income. The more you redistribute, the less incentive there is to work hard and, probably more importantly, to take the gamble of starting that new company that will sell you the next PC.

On the other hand, as was pointed out, there is the envy factor too. If the rich could just sit on their wealth and be happy with that, it wouldn't be a problem. We could have our incentives to take the gambes required to make all this new technology, etc., and still minimize the envy. But unfortunately, we are human, and one of the reasons to make a lot of money is to fluant it. It is just natural. Think of it as little different from the mating displays of many animals. Besides, the generation earning wealth rarely spends according to its ability to spend. Rather, it is the succeeding generations, those who Freder suggested fell into their wealth, that are going to be the real problem as to envy.

I don't think that many really are overly upset about the house race that Gates and Dell got into awhile back, because the millions they spent on their houses were small percentages of their wealth, and most could appreciate where they got their wealth - with many running Windows and Office on their Dell computers. But a lot would be a lot more upset if their grandchildren got into the same type of race to build the biggest, fanciest house. Luckily, Gates at least, has seen fit to make sure that his progeny won't find themselves in that position. But he is unique there, giving almost all of his wealth away (he is apparently giving less than 1% of his wealth to his kids - which is of course still substantial by most people's standards).
5.23.2006 12:02pm
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
Mike,

The problem with extreme inequality is a result of the world we live in, not of a mathematical comparison of wealth.

If one group of people is put in a position where it knows it has no chance of competing with another group that is put in a substantially superior position, such a society is going to quickly disintegrate. It's very easy for the rich people to say to the poor people, "Hey, well you're not put in any worse position simply because we're swallowing up all the societal advances, so why don't you just simmer down?" Sadly, that just doesn't work.

People don't want to be slaves to other people. It's only by ignoring reality that you can say that a rich person becoming richer has no effect on a poor person. Pretty soon you have a little incompetent brat who just inherited a billion dollars from his parents, and now he's lording it over the poor kids who are smarter and work harder. That may not be a problem in an economic model, but in the real world, it clearly is.
5.23.2006 12:10pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
The vast, vast, majority of millionaires these days are first generation, or, at worst, second generation. The insane wealth that has been made in the last 25 years or so has not had a chance yet to be passed down through the generations - but, obviously, this is behind the push to repeal the Death Tax (also known in liberal circles as the Estate Tax). So, yes, in another generation or two, we are going to have a lot of Kennedys, Rockefellers, etc. running around living high on inherited wealth. But not yet.

First off, there is no "death tax", people (not just liberals) call it the Estate Tax because that is its name. Secondly, it doesn't even affect "millionaires", you have to have an estate worth $2 million or more before you even have to worry about it. Even then, it only applies to assets above that threshold, not the entire estate. And of course the other thing the opponents of the Estate Tax fail to mention is that heirs inherit wealth at the basis of the asset at the time of death, potentially exempting from tax liability a lifetime of gains on the wealth. (e.g., If your father bought stocks worth $100,000 in 1955, died in 2005 and left it to you and when they worth $2.1 million, you could sell them without paying a penny in tax. If your father sold them the day before he died, he would have to pay capital gains on $2 million).

Secondly, lots of people have done well for themselves over the last twenty-five years, but the gap between the "well-off" and the super-rich is growing ever faster.
5.23.2006 12:13pm
Jason Giambi:
Since nobody has made the obvious connection between genetic engineering and the orange revolution (and I think that this is what EV was hoping for by bringing up the Ukranians) what kind of genetic manipulation would it take to make all our women look like Yulia Tymoshenko?
5.23.2006 12:16pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Freder,

Actually, there was a bit of underhandedness with Gates and DOS. What must be remembered is that he didn't write DOS. He just sold it to IBM. Prior to that, Microsoft had been a compiler company, not an operating systems company. (If you want to see some of his own work, some of it may remain in Qbasic that shipped with Windows up through Windows NT 4.0 and 98).

There is a lot of the story about what actually happened there that will probably never come out. But I was lucky enough to have read the unpublished autobiography of Gary Kildall, the founder of Digital Research, and the programmer who wrote the product from which DOS was cloned. The picture Kildall paints of Gates and IBM is not very nice. By the accounts of those who knew him, he went to his grave in 1994 this way.
5.23.2006 12:17pm
Houston Lawyer:
There's already a whole lot of eugenics going on here, you just don't see it unless you or your wife is pregnant. What do you think all that pre-natal screening is for. They aren't looking to see if you kid is smart, but whether he will be defective, in which case you will be encouraged to kill him off.

On what basis is it OK to kill off the less than perfect but verboten to help the average?
5.23.2006 12:18pm
Paul Gowder (mail):
Without a significant gap between the top and the bottom, there is little incentive to take the gamble of starting a new business for the possibility of getting rich. The bigger the gap, the bigger the inventive to take the gamble - which is one of the big problems with attempts to redistribute income.

Yea, but won't that incentive go away if the poor know that competing with the rich is vastly more difficult because the rich have genetic advantages too?
5.23.2006 12:20pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
The problem is that somebody has to decide what traits are desirable. And that can get pretty ugly pretty quick as was demonstrated by the eugenics movement early last century, which ultimately resulted in Hitler's Germany. A century later we may know more about genetics, but are we really wiser or less capable of corrupting science for evil ends? The anti-intellectual and anti-science sentiment that runs through this society really doesn't give me much hope.

Even if we could manipulate genes to make people "smarter", I doubt we could even agree on what intelligence is.
5.23.2006 12:28pm
Joel B. (mail):
This post is premised on a uniform definition of equality and as a result, it can be read in multiple ways, some far more disturbing than others. Ultimately the choices we make will have a great impact on our conception of equality.

Now, Eugene disagrees with the argument that because selecting for intelligence will lead to greater inequality of outcome we should oppose genetic selection for intelligence. Generally, I would say I agree with this, BUT it is not the inequality of the outcome per se that makes me oppose artificial selection to increase intelligence.

It is instead my opposition to the idea of baseline, or innate inequality that leads me to believe that genetic selection should be morally opposed.

If if one accepts the Biblical Creation of Adam and Eve and through one man all men were created then, it follows that there is a far strong argument for fundamental equality. (Some have justified slavery on the basis of Noah's curse on Canaan, but note even this is an appeal to a past action not...as it is an appeal to an innate failing of Canaan's descendents...Even still, this argument is hideously flawed, but we need not get into the exegesis here.) All men are as Jefferson put it...created equal endowed by their creator with certain unalienable by rights. Not only can we say that all men are created equal through Adam...we know all men are fundamentally related, distant cousins perhaps, but cousins nonetheless. This is a strong argument for the inante equality of each man relative to each other man.

HOWEVER!, the converse story of man's origins is one that entails men rising up above the beasts through a positive selection of genes, eventually these men begat better men who begat better men, and still better men. And eventually we reach the current pinnacle of evolution we have today. Then, as we can differentiate now, genes from other genes we foolishly believe we can accelerate the process of "evolution," parents deluded as they often are by the belief that their offspring are truly better than the rest, perpetuate such a dangerous myth letting them know, you were chosen for selected for, that is why you are smarter than the rest, because you are better than the rest. Will this not happen? It for certain will the convergence of eugenics and evolution is exceedingly dangerous.

I do not need an equality of outcome, that is dangerous as it holds men to do no more than they need to subsist, a negative outcome, however as our fundamental belief in the equality of all men innately wanes, then the danger in eugenics become greater.

I do not believe one should pull the escaping man back into the couldron, but I neither believe that I should stand back and encourage the development of Napoleon, Mao, Genghis Khan, or other such men.
5.23.2006 12:34pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Actually, since I am currently unmarried, the Death Tax strikes me at $1 million, not $2 million. The only way you get to the $2 million figure is if a couple does some estate planning. If a guy accumulates over $1 million in his own name, and then tries to pass it all to his kids, and not part to his wife, the excess over $1 million is taxed. And, realistically, I have friends who have had their houses appreciate over this threshold. And, of course, there is no assurance that it will be at this level when I die. It is scheduled to drop back down to the $600k range, and the date of this reduction in the deduction (which translates to this $600k/$1 million figure) is supposedly being pushed back another couple of years in Congress right now. But I have no doubt that if the Democrats take the White House and Congress in the next couple of years, it will be allowed to drop back down.
5.23.2006 12:35pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Freder,

I should also note that your argument that the gap between the well off and the truly wealthy growing so fast undercuts your argument about the Estate/Death Tax, because as it currently exists, it hits the moderately well off often harder than it does the truly wealthy. It just isn't that hard having an estate over $1 million anymore. Over $10 million maybe. And definately over $100 million. But $1 (or $2 for a couple) million doesn't make you wealthy these days. It doesn't even make you that well off.

Think of it this way, if you tried to retire on $1 million and you still had kids in school, you probably can't take more than $50,000 a year unless you are relatively close to your life expectancy, esp. given what interest rates are today - the $50k is greater than the interest you can safely earn on that amount. But $50k isn't going to pay for private school for even one kid, and definately won't pay for private college, and still leave anything left for food and shelter.

And maybe that is part of my point - that the current Estate/Death Tax hits at a point where if all the money went to the next generation, even if it consisted of a single person, that person in the next generation could not live well enough to send even one kid to private school, and definately not private college.

I just can't consider that level of wealth to be more than moderately well-to-do, if that.
5.23.2006 12:49pm
Q the Enchanter (mail) (www):
I agree that social justice is too broad a concern to mount an objection to a parent's use of eugenic technologies. But I don't see how anyone could think that social justice isn't implicated. Social inequality pretty clearly figures in human happiness. If you are concerned about human happiness at all, then you should be concerned about social inequality.
5.23.2006 12:50pm
Paul Gowder (mail):
Bruce: if you're retiring when you have kids still in school, you're rich.
5.23.2006 12:54pm
Q the Enchanter (mail) (www):
Aside from relative status concerns, of course, there are other reasons differential access to eugenics technologies will widen the happiness gap.

Universal eugenetics now!
5.23.2006 1:05pm
Rue Des Quatre Vents (mail):
There's always what's called the leveling down objection. If equality is so good, why not make everyone equally worse off? Why not have everyone at an IQ of 100? We'll institute programs to handicap the gifted. (A wonderful send up of this consequence is Harrison Bergson by Vonnegut.)

There's a great paper by Nick Bostrom on the role of cognitive biases play in our intuitions about these genetic enhancement cases. The question is: why is the current state of affairs the optimal point? That assumption has to be defended and justified. If we propose acheiving equality by making everyone worse off, and the egalitarian objects, we have to know why.
5.23.2006 1:06pm
Q the Enchanter (mail) (www):
Hmmmm, I'm not sure, but I think "eugenetics" (as opposed to eugenics--see above) would be the use of genetic technologies to select better Eugenes.
5.23.2006 1:07pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
Another question on the relativity of poverty. If poverty is relative, then why do we have Mexicans, (and Indians, and Pakistanis, and Russians, etc.,) who are willing to sacrifice middle positions in their respective economic hierarchies, for what is often a smaller relative piece of the pie here, as long as the piece is bigger in absolute terms of course?

Speaking from personal experience, I can say that there are a *lot* of Russian immigrants in my former community (Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn), who were doctors and engineers in Russia - and now drive cabs and run groceries. They are worse off with respect to their relative standing, but better off in absolute terms. They made great sacrifices to be able to make that switch.
5.23.2006 1:15pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
Another question on the relativity of poverty. If poverty is relative, then why do we have Mexicans, (and Indians, and Pakistanis, and Russians, etc.,) who are willing to sacrifice middle positions in their respective economic hierarchies, for what is often a smaller relative piece of the pie here, as long as the piece is bigger in absolute terms of course?

Speaking from personal experience, I can say that there are a *lot* of Russian immigrants in my former community (Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn), who were doctors and engineers in Russia - and now drive cabs and run groceries. They are worse off with respect to their relative standing, but better off in absolute terms. They made great sacrifices to be able to make that switch.
5.23.2006 1:16pm
Ken Arromdee (mail):
While we cannot choose our parents or our naturally inherited genes, should not a person be allowed to make the decision to reject the fundamental modification of who they physically are?

How is that not equally an indictment of more conventional things done to a child, such as how the child is raised or educated? It's not as if someone can, years after the fact, choose to have been raised in a different way, and it's certainly true that how one has been raised or educated has lifelong effects.
5.23.2006 1:16pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
As for the internet, well that was invented by government and academic scientists, and they sure didn't get rich from it. And yes, some engineers and scientists will launch a startup or write the killer app that will make them rich, the vast majority or them are going to toil their lives away at jobs where they earn a salary, and their inventions are the property of the company they work for, the .com boom (you seem to have forgotten the ensuing bust) notwithstanding.
I do know one of the designers of TCP/IP who has done exceptionally well as a consultant, leveraging off of the work he did as a grad student. But he is admittedly an exception. But also note that it wasn't the government that invented the Internet, but rather engineers working in academia under government contract. The "scientists" weren't from the biology department, but rather computer science and electrical engineering.

You are correct that most engineers are going to spend their lives working for a salary. But those salaries are substantially higher than those that their humanities and social science brethern can expect. PhD holders in the later disciplines flock to academia because that is typically the only place where they can make a decent living with their degrees. But engineering slots go begging at those same universities because PhDs in many engineering disciplines can earn more in industry. Often significantly more. Indeed, what is weird is taking engineering classes and finding most of the departments being foreign born.

Nevertheless, there are a lot of engineers getting very rich from their engineering. If you don't know them, it is most likely because you run in the wrong circles. I should note that a decade or so, Seattle was rated as having the most millionaires per capita, and that was primarily a result of one company there, Microsoft. Yes, it made Bill Gates and Paul Allen insanely rich. But it also turned many hundreds, if not thousands, of its employees into millionaires. And if you spend any time in engineering schools, this is what they talk about - getting in on the bottom floor of the next Microsoft, Apple, Google, etc.
Ability to make money is a very crude and poor indicator of intelligence. Look at the greatest minds of the twentieth century. How many of them were truly rich? Einstein, Heisenburg, Teller? Even your heroes on the right and libertarian fringe weren't all that rich.
You are arguing a general proposition based on specific instances, and this is esp. questionable given the 250 million plus population we are talking about (or, more likely, a couple of billion). Besides, you are arguing from past instances, whereas we are talking a modern trend.

I have no doubt that when all those illuminaries were in their prime in the workforce, they didn't get rich. Back when I was growing up in the 50's and 60's, you could live comfortably on a tradesman's wages, esp. if it was a union job. Indeed, when I graduated from high school, a lot of guys then laughed at us because they were jumping into jobs that paid better than I would be making with a BA from a liberal arts college. An engineer then often didn't earn that much more than the line workers did.

That was then, and this is now. Most of those high paying union jobs have disappeared. Now, there is a significant statistical correlation between number of years of schooling and income, and between number of years of schooling and IQ. That wasn't the case when those illuminaries you cite were doing their best work. This intellectual meritocracy though has only grown up in the last 25-30 years.
5.23.2006 1:19pm
Paul Gowder (mail):
Mike BUSL07: Part of what they're doing is increasing their relative wealth to the people back home. Many immigrants, for example, send money to their families back home, raising the family's standard of living in the original society.
5.23.2006 1:22pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Yea, but won't that incentive go away if the poor know that competing with the rich is vastly more difficult because the rich have genetic advantages too?
I would think so. The more stacked the deck appears, the more resentment there is likely to be. But as some others have pointed out, how is this different from where many of us see us going right now, a fairly drastic meritocracy.

Back when my parents were growing up in the 1920s and 1930s, the best jobs, making the most money, went to those with the best connections. Those with the best connections got them through their parents and by going to the best colleges. And, of course, their parents' connections are what got them into the best colleges. If you go back another generation, you can see how incestuous this all is.

But this started to change significantly in the 1960s and 1970s. George W. Bush and John Kerry would probably not have gotten in Yale a decade or two later, and the same for Al Gore and Teddy Kennedy for Harvard. By then, admission to these schools was primarily merit based. The best and the brightest were being sifted out to attend the best colleges, etc.

But it looks like we may be going back in the opposite direction, with parents with money and dedication being able to give their kids an edge through private schooling, SAT prep, etc. - all the stuff that we talked about on those earlier threads. I guess maybe you could look at it that we are moving from a relatively actual merit based system to one that rewards apparent merit, where there is some correlation between apparent merit and actual merit (or aptitude, etc.), but not as much as many would like.
5.23.2006 1:38pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Getting back a little closer to Eugene's original post about selective breeding and genetic engineering, yes, it is going to happen, and it is going to be all but impossible to prevent. You may be able to prevent the genetically enhanced player playing major league baseball, but you aren't going to be able to prevent a company from hiring a genetically enhanced engineer from inventing the next PC. There is just too much money involved. Plus, the inventions, once made, stand on their own, and, if they create efficiencies that translate into wealth, few are going to eschew the efficiencies just because the engineer making the invention had been genetically engineered.

Ask yourself whether you would eschew the use of search engines if it turned out that the founders of Google had had their IQ enhanced by, say, 10 points each? Most of us would, in the end, give up any ethical concerns here, and continue to utilize Google (or whatever search engine you prefer).
5.23.2006 1:43pm
Truth Seeker:
I love discussions of equality because it is the holy of holies of the Leftist belief system and yet it is so obviously dead wrong. Mozart is equal to log beating, Cranach the Elder is equal to Rothko, Shakespeare is equal to a freshman's free verse, IQ tests don't fairly judge since minorities score lower, and the only fair taxes are progressive to take care of those damn rich.

But it is basic human nature (at least for some) to strive to be better. So the only way to make equal societies has been to kill or lock up those pesky achievers. Look at the Soviet system, China, Cambodia. People who owned land, had a college degree, or ran a business had to be re-educated, sent to concentration camps or killed.

And the places where humanity made the most progress were where people were free to be unequal and the times when the economies grew the most were when the rich were getting richer. Horror of horrors! We have to let the rich get richer to help the poor?!

Imagine there was so much more income inequality that 100 people became rich as Bill Gates. Sure some would have $50 million parties, but some would probably start making private rocket trips to the moon and Mars others would research new energy sources and others would investigate cancer cures.

The choice is between an equality of poverty and stagnation for all, or inequality and income disparity and a vibrant prosperous society.
5.23.2006 1:47pm
wood turtle (mail):
I think before anyone gets too excited about genetic engineering we should see what are the long term effects of in vitro fertilization to begin with. Secondly, exactly how easy would it be to select eggs and sperm with the desired characteristics? Thirdly, what does the joke have to do with genetic engineerying?
5.23.2006 1:52pm
Vorn (mail):
Truth Seeker:

I feel you are simplifying things a bit. You write:

"The choice is between an equality of poverty and stagnation for all, or inequality and income disparity and a vibrant prosperous society."

My goodness, if you were right about these being the only two choices, I would surely go for inequality with a vibrant prosperous society. But what you have created here is a false dichotomy. You are limiting our choices rather drastically. Not only that, I think that if you have too much inequality, you aren't going to get that vibrant prosperous society that you want.

Think of it this way. On some level, inequality is harmless or even good to the extent that it is necessary to achieve other ends. But like chocolate, too much inequality can make you sick.

The costs of a perfectly equal society are too high. But inequality has its costs too, and at some point, the costs of inequality are greater than the benefits.

How about this for a concept: Optimal inequality.

The thing is, those who think that any inequality is wrong are crazy. But those that go to the other extreme and think that inequality has no significance whatsoever are equally crazy. There is a better way, and that is to try to reach for the optimal level of inequality.
5.23.2006 2:04pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
But engineering slots go begging at those same universities because PhDs in many engineering disciplines can earn more in industry. Often significantly more. Indeed, what is weird is taking engineering classes and finding most of the departments being foreign born.

This of course is simply not true. Engineering slots at universities are very much coveted and hard to get. There are many more applicants than positions available.

Back when I was growing up in the 50's and 60's, you could live comfortably on a tradesman's wages, esp. if it was a union job. Indeed, when I graduated from high school, a lot of guys then laughed at us because they were jumping into jobs that paid better than I would be making with a BA from a liberal arts college. An engineer then often didn't earn that much more than the line workers did.

But you are also missing the point that by providing decent wages and livings to working people, their children, many of whom may be extraordinarily bright, have the opportunity to excel, because they live in a stable home and have access to a good education at both the primary and secondary level. If you encourage income disparity and destroy equality of opportunity, leaving all the benefits of society only to those at the top of the income strata, the pool of talent inevitably shrinks.

When we can't even provide decent medical care to all our citizens the last thing we should be talking about is providing a leg up to those who need it least.
5.23.2006 2:07pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Mozart is equal to log beating

Remember, Mozart died unappreciated and penniless in his time, so by your measure he was a failure (as was Van Gogh and many other people we now recognize as geniuses).
5.23.2006 2:10pm
ox (mail):
The problem with Eugene's joke is that escaping the cauldron is not analogous to improving your children's education. As other have suggested above, education is a positional good. It improves people's welfare relative to the welfare of others. So improvements for some diminish the chances of others, especially in elite competitions. That's not the case in the cauldron joke. If one person leaves, the outcome is pareto superior because no one is worse off. But that's not the case with education. And so concerns about the effects of family, private schools, genetic engineering, etc., cannot be dismissed by criticizing the idea of leveling-down. That's why Eugene has to make his second and third arguments, which would show that his claim can satisfy some distributive criteria such as average utility-maximation or the difference principle. Without it, he's left with the first argument, which, standing alone, is not compelling. There are personal liberty reasons to permit inequalities based on the family, and perhaps even arising from private schooling (although that's by no means clear), that need not extend into other domains. And even if we permit the extension, we can nevertheless retain the belief that the inequality is unjust, or at least regrettable because of the positional effect it will have on the worse-off.
5.23.2006 2:19pm
Truth Seeker:
Paul Gowder said
Bruce: if you're retiring when you have kids still in school, you're rich.
No, maybe he just had a child at 50, who will still be in school long after normal retirement.
5.23.2006 2:29pm
markm (mail):
TS, you're too optimistic. The socialist ideal of an equality of poverty and stagnation does NOT achieve equality - it just restricts humans' natural tendency to seek status to the realm of political and bureaucratic power. Look at the Soviet Union in it's later days. No one could "own" a limousine or a dacha, but you could tell a person's position in the heirarchy by the car and house(s) assigned to him - and many people would send their own parents to Siberia for the chance to move up a step.

It's much, much better to have people seeking to advance themselves by providing products and services others want than to have them seekiing the power to coerce others.
5.23.2006 2:37pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
So improvements for some diminish the chances of others, especially in elite competitions.

The real problem is that by focussing on improving the lot of a very small minority who really don't need any help at all we are going to divert funds from people who could benefit greatly from the same expenditures. Boosting one child's IQ 10 points into genius range through the use of genetic engineering at an exorbitent cost in order to satisfy rich parents' vanity when intelligence alone doesn't mean the kid will do anything meaningful with his life (he might still end up being a total asshole, drug addict, or irredeemable criminal). Yet there is no doubt the same amount of dollars pumped into education programs could boost the achievement and raise the IQ of dozens or even hundreds of average children 10 points (since this certainly within the environmentally variable range of IQ for people of normal intelligence). And that may be the difference between McDonalds and college for a lot of people.
5.23.2006 2:39pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
It just isn't that hard having an estate over $1 million anymore. Over $10 million maybe. And definately over $100 million. But $1 (or $2 for a couple) million doesn't make you wealthy these days. It doesn't even make you that well of

All reasonable arguments for modifying the threshold for the estate tax or the exemptions (that already exist) for residences--but not a reason to completely eliminate it.
5.23.2006 2:42pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
It's much, much better to have people seeking to advance themselves by providing products and services others want than to have them seekiing the power to coerce others.

And you somehow think these traits are mutually exclusive? That just because someone advances themselves by providing products and services they can't also want to seek power to coerce others? You must live in some kind of fantasy world.
5.23.2006 2:46pm
Truth Seeker:
Freder Frederson said:
The real problem is that by focussing on improving the lot of a very small minority who really don't need any help at all we are going to divert funds from people who could benefit greatly from the same expenditures.

And by wasting money on Columbus silly voyages, Queen Isabella lost the chance to use the same money to feed a lot of poor people in Spain for a day.

So what's better, a few extra meals to a few poor or a chance for hundreds of millions to have a better and brighter future in a New World? Leftist programs accomplish almost nothing. Free market ideas change the world!
5.23.2006 3:14pm
Truth Seeker:
Freder Frederson said:
Mozart is equal to log beating
Remember, Mozart died unappreciated and penniless in his time, so by your measure he was a failure (as was Van Gogh and many other people we now recognize as geniuses).


Mozart was an example of how the Left's obsession with inequality blinds them to actual genius.
The only thing his penniless death proves is that in a (relatively) free society geniuses may or may not find success. In an unfree society he probably would have been working on a collectivist farm.
5.23.2006 3:21pm
Sparky:
Please post more Soviet jokes about Hell!
5.23.2006 3:26pm
Vorn (mail):
Truth Seeker:

You mention Columbus's voyage to the New World. May I point out that this is not the product of the free market, but rather of government financing a particular venture. So, it is not apt. Not that this says anything one way or another about the larger point of free markets.

Am I understanding you correctly? You seem to be suggesting that any concern with inequality is equivalent to socialism. Is that a correct understanding of your meaning, or are you just targeting "the Left?"
5.23.2006 3:41pm
Wild Pegasus (mail) (www):
As a sidenote, I think Prof. Volokh needs to gather up all the Russian jokes he knows and publish a book of them. They're terrific.

- Josh
5.23.2006 3:48pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Leftist programs accomplish almost nothing. Free market ideas change the world!

So are you saying all government programs are by definition "leftist". By that definition, Columbus' journies (in fact most of the expeditions to the New World) were "leftist". As was the westward expansion in the U.S. All those settlers were lured west by free, or practically free, which the government gave away (we are still saddled with mining laws out west which gives away the minerals on Federal lands in the west). The railroads were built across the country because the government gave the private companies that built the railroads land along the routes (which they often illegally swapped with more lucrative land off of the routes or just plain stole through the government or Indian tribes through various nefarious means). And I bet you can't name one serious technological advance of the twentieth century that wasn't heavily subsidized or owes its success or dissemination due to direct government support.
5.23.2006 4:02pm
Truth Seeker:
Vorn, you're right Columbus is not an example of the free market, it is an example of how society's resources are better spent on things like the space program than on anti-poverty programs. For example a program to help student geniuses find their niche and succeed would be more useful to society than a program to help retarded kids get jobs at McDonalds. It's sad we can't do wvwrything for everyone, but the question is do we want to help the lowest among us get a little more equal or the whole of society get a little more advanced.
Your second question looks loaded. The short answer is that an obsession with making everyone equal seems to be the main goal of the left.
5.23.2006 4:06pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Mozart was an example of how the Left's obsession with inequality blinds them to actual genius.

And how exactly is that an example of that? Mozart was rejected by the musical establishment, which depended on the sponsorship of royal court in Austria, hardly the "Left" by any stretch of the imagination. I doubt there was even a "left" to be found in Austria in the 18th Century, and if there was, they certainly weren't in a position to sponsor Mozart.
5.23.2006 4:07pm
Paul Gowder (mail):
The real problem is that by focussing on improving the lot of a very small minority who really don't need any help at all we are going to divert funds from people who could benefit greatly from the same expenditures. Boosting one child's IQ 10 points into genius range through the use of genetic engineering at an exorbitent cost in order to satisfy rich parents' vanity when intelligence alone doesn't mean the kid will do anything meaningful with his life (he might still end up being a total asshole, drug addict, or irredeemable criminal). Yet there is no doubt the same amount of dollars pumped into education programs could boost the achievement and raise the IQ of dozens or even hundreds of average children 10 points (since this certainly within the environmentally variable range of IQ for people of normal intelligence).

Yes, yes, yes! I just wanted to repeat this comment from Freder. Does anyone have an answer to it? Assuming the factual premises are true, is there any reason it's superior to expend resources advancing (in path-dependent fashion) the lot of one rich family when those resources could be more dramatically used to help many more?

(In Soviet Russia, Hell makes jokes about you!)
5.23.2006 4:09pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
The short answer is that an obsession with making everyone equal seems to be the main goal of the left.

No, our obsession is equality of opportunity. There is a huge difference. Is it too much to ask that a bright child of modest means should have the same opportunity to excel and succeed as the not-so-bright son of a Congressman and grandson of Senator who gets into Yale on a legacy admission, is a failure at various business ventures, yet still gets elected governor and then president.
5.23.2006 4:13pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Joel B.-

I do not believe one should pull the escaping man back into the couldron, but I neither believe that I should stand back and encourage the development of Napoleon, Mao, Genghis Khan, or other such men.

How do you propose to identify these men? Unless you have an ultra-accurate crystal ball, I suspect you will just resort to trying to "stop" people you don't like, or whom you're competing with, or who are in danger of achieving more success than you or your children, etc. It seems like you would in effect become what you're claiming to fight - a petty tyrant claiming to be protecting people from people you've demonized for one reason or another.
5.23.2006 4:15pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Paul Gowder-

Yes, yes, yes! I just wanted to repeat this comment from Freder. Does anyone have an answer to it? Assuming the factual premises are true, is there any reason it's superior to expend resources advancing (in path-dependent fashion) the lot of one rich family when those resources could be more dramatically used to help many more?

If a rich family is trying to boost the IQ of their kid isn't it self-funding? (I'm not getting into the ethics of this - I'm just commenting on the hypothetical situation being discussed.) We're not talking about tax dollars here - we're talking about people spending their money on a service they want. I suppose if such a service existed it would be sort of like plastic surgeons - where they have a very lucrative practice catering to the rich that allows many of them to perform pro bono procedures for the poor.

I don't see how Freder's scenario is applicable.
5.23.2006 4:24pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Re: Columbus, etc.

Since Spain was a monarchy its arguable that Columbus' voyage can be considered a government project. Generally, wasn't everything viewed to be the property of the monarch? So Ferdinand and Isabella could have easily (and likely did) view the voyage as a private business venture that they were investing in?
5.23.2006 4:29pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
If a rich family is trying to boost the IQ of their kid isn't it self-funding? (I'm not getting into the ethics of this - I'm just commenting on the hypothetical situation being discussed.) We're not talking about tax dollars here - we're talking about people spending their money on a service they want. I suppose if such a service existed it would be sort of like plastic surgeons - where they have a very lucrative practice catering to the rich that allows many of them to perform pro bono procedures for the poor.

Well no, genetic engineering is a highly specialized and technical field. There are only a handful of people in the world who are capable of performing this kind of work. If a very few rich people buy the services of the few providers of this kind of technology to produce superkids, then those scientists are going to be unable to conduct research in areas that would be of greater utility to the society as a whole (say discovering cures for Parkinsons, MS or Down's Syndrome). So by being selfish and creating a few superkids, the rich parents are being the people in the third cauldraun by putting their own self-interest ahead of the good of the society.
5.23.2006 4:53pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Since Spain was a monarchy its arguable that Columbus' voyage can be considered a government project. Generally, wasn't everything viewed to be the property of the monarch? So Ferdinand and Isabella could have easily (and likely did) view the voyage as a private business venture that they were investing in?

Well yes, people forget that the concept of private property, even in the west, is a fairly new concept, and that even in the 15th century the idea of an ordinary man having free and clear title to land was an astounding concept. So anything that Columbus discovered belonged to Ferdinand and Isabella.
5.23.2006 4:59pm
jimbino (mail):
Freder said:


The problem is that somebody has to decide what traits are desirable.... Even if we could manipulate genes to make people "smarter", I doubt we could even agree on what intelligence is.


That's the beauty of the market, Freder. Nobody chose Toyotas and Hondas as the best cars in the world and there is certainly no agreement. Nobody selected Walmart over Montgomery Ward. The market did and our cars got better real fast, once we let the Japanese in, and department stores have never been better. Using the market to raise kids implies:

1. Parents need to finance the creation and upbringing of their own kids, just as Sam Walton had to do with Walmart.

2. A parent who lacks the money can finance his kid project by selling the idea to investors who will closely monitor the project's progress and reach for excellence, just as Sam Walton did.

3. The parent who has the intelligence, foresight and industry sufficient to turn out a great product will bask in glory forever and can leave something meaningful to other generations, as Sam Walton did.

Still I, for one, put my money on a future Genghis Khan to take over Amerika.
5.23.2006 5:00pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
The choice is between an equality of poverty and stagnation for all, or inequality and income disparity and a vibrant prosperous society.

I wouldn't quite call this a false dichotomy. It's important to understand that each dollar taken from the private economy by taxes (including those intended for "equalization" efforts) weakens and hinders it, making everyone less well off. It's a continuum - with pinch points and tipping points in various places. But one side certainly does seem to lead to misery.

If the libertarian near-utopia of a 10-15% flat tax and a massively scaled back government were to occur, I would tend to think the economy would be so strong most equalization efforts would be unnecessary. The economy would be so vibrant that nearly everyone would be able to experience a reasonable degree of success. And a tighter labor market would likely force businesses to fund their own equalization efforts for employees and prospective employees. The remainder of any equalization efforts could be handled through charities and pro bono work. So scenarios exist where the libertarian model would be more effective for all the stakeholders involved than the collectivist model.

Yeah, I know this is all hypothetical. But then again so is this whole thread.
5.23.2006 5:02pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Well yes, people forget that the concept of private property, even in the west, is a fairly new concept, and that even in the 15th century the idea of an ordinary man having free and clear title to land was an astounding concept. So anything that Columbus discovered belonged to Ferdinand and Isabella.

Yeah - glad those days are OVER.
5.23.2006 5:05pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
If the libertarian near-utopia of a 10-15% flat tax and a massively scaled back government were to occur, I would tend to think the economy would be so strong most equalization efforts would be unnecessary.

Why would this work today when every time in the past where there has been limited government and low taxes there has been huge income inequality and people starving in the streets? The world prior to World War I was like this and it led to devastating wars and bloody revolutions. Why will it be different this time around? Because we have computers?
5.23.2006 5:14pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
2. A parent who lacks the money can finance his kid project by selling the idea to investors who will closely monitor the project's progress and reach for excellence, just as Sam Walton did.

Or alternately, I guess poor people could just sell their kids to rich people for spare parts. I think Jonathon Swift had a similar idea a few years back.
5.23.2006 5:17pm
Paul Gowder (mail):
Psikhushka: yes. However, if that family has sufficient surplus resources to do so, could those resources be better used by taxing them and using the tax revenues to lift many more boats?
5.23.2006 5:17pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Well no, genetic engineering is a highly specialized and technical field. There are only a handful of people in the world who are capable of performing this kind of work. If a very few rich people buy the services of the few providers of this kind of technology to produce superkids, then those scientists are going to be unable to conduct research in areas that would be of greater utility to the society as a whole (say discovering cures for Parkinsons, MS or Down's Syndrome). So by being selfish and creating a few superkids, the rich parents are being the people in the third cauldraun by putting their own self-interest ahead of the good of the society.

I think you're shifting the frame of the argument. If that kind of thing got to the point where it was approved by the FDA and whomever else it would be able to be performed by many more practitioners. So it would necessarily get to the scenario I described.

And medical research doesn't necessarily work the way you describe it - there's plenty of rich people that have relatives with the maladies you described who would fund research in those areas.
5.23.2006 5:18pm
The Original TS (mail):
All these posts and no one has yet tried to define "equality."

There is "equality of outcome." That seems to be what most people are discussing. It's easy to measure and easy to define. But it is also socially pernicious. I don't support it.

There is, on the other hand, "equality of opportunity." This, it seems to me, really does define a just society. It provides for maximal individual freedom while encouraging maximal "social output" in the form or wealth, art, science, etc. Unfortunately, it can be almost impossible to measure and even worse to implement.

But we can take steps to create more of this kind of equality even if complete equality of opportunity is impossible. For example, while punitive income taxes are aimed at "equality of outcome," inheritance taxes are aimed at increasing "equality of opportunity." Why should anyone start out in life with $10,000,000?

There are also other, more positive steps society can take. The GI bill in the United States had probably the most impact on creating equality opportunity of any government program in the last 100 years.

Of course, things like inheritance taxes don't eliminate other things that drive inequality, like rich parents who can afford private tutors for their children. But not being able to do everyting is no reason to do nothing.

Eugene's hypothetical genetic manipulation obviously promotes inequality but falls somewhere in between opportunity and outcome. Let's assume you could pay to have your children's IQ increased when they were 6 years old. Is that increasing your child's abilities so that they will better prosper under a regime of equality of opportunity or is it providing your children an opportunity that poorer children are denied? How does this differ from increasing your six-year-old's abilities by sending him or her to private school, providing tutors, etc.?

The biggest problem I see with genetic manipulation is that it risks create a permanent "underclass" of people who haven't been genetically enhanced, especially if these manipulations breed true. There is already some risk of that as more intelligent people are more likely to marry more intelligent people because of the growth in University attendance. People used to choose mates based almost solely on proximity. But, especially among college attendees, that's hardly a factor at all anymore.

Unfortunately for these folks, due to a phenomenon called regression to the mean, their children are rarely as intelligent as they are. As a result, there is little danger of dramatically increasing social stratification based on genetics.
5.23.2006 5:22pm
jimbino (mail):
Freder said:

Or alternately, I guess poor people could just sell their kids to rich people for spare parts.


That's where to put your money, Freder. Kids in the form of embryos are already being sold for spare parts.
5.23.2006 5:24pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Paul Gowder-

No, because taxation is coercive, wasteful, and makes everyone poorer. When the rich family buys the service it goes into the private economy - making everyone better off. The practitioner, if he is so inclined, becomes so successful that he can perform many more pro bono procedures if he is so inclined. He might also decide to fund his own research into other fields.
5.23.2006 5:26pm
Vorn (mail):
American Psikhushka,

This is a little off-topic, but since you have ventured into discussing your libertarian utopia, I want to ask, does it include a Federal Reserve which raises interest rates to keep unemployment at the Non-Accellerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment (NAIRU), also known as the "natural rate" of unemployment.

Because, if not, it sounds like there could be an inflation problem. But if so, then it sounds like we have unemployment and low wages built into the system. No one said capitalism, and the wonderful things it provides, would be free. One of the costs is that some people have to pay a price (that is, be unemployed) to keep labor markets competitive and keep wages and inflation down. Notice too, that unless you want to periodically have depressions (not merely recessions), you need government intervention. Are free markets really free? They sure don't sound like it, cause there is a whole lot of government intervention going on.

I do not see how a "free" market where people cooperate, form master servant relationships, and where some people tell other people what to do, and those people who are told what to do feel as they have no real alternative, is anything other than collectivistic. Your libertarian model is not individualistic, just another kind of collectivism. It still involves coercion, only through a different set of rules. It is hardly a utopia providing true individual autonomy.

Anyway, saying that we have to choose between equality or inequality and that is it is a false dichotomy. Obviously. Because there ARE, logically speaking, an infinite number of choices in-between that where we choose to remove some inequality, but not all.

Look, at some point, inequality creates costs that exceed the benefits. Imagine a world in which one person owned 99.9% of the wealth and everyone else owned 00.1% of it. Clearly, such a society would be fraught with social tension and there would likely be violence. Further, social resources would not be used efficiently, but instead that 1 person with all the wealth would decide how social resources should be allocated. This would basically be the equivalent of a planned economy.

Once you acknowledged that the worst case inequality scenario is undesirable, then it simply becomes a question of what level of inequality between that worst case scenario and complete equality is desirable.

Inevitable, one is drawn to a middle ground. Where one draws the line between complete equality and unlimited inequality is not an easy question. But, it is a worthwhile one.
5.23.2006 5:30pm
Joel B. (mail):
American Psikhushka-

Apparently you missed my point. Quite simply put, if we allow people to design their children, parents will teach their children that not only are they better in different ways than other children, but that they are actually designed better than other children. Why do I think this? They will believe themselves...eventually...to be "the next stage" in human evolution. I have no desire nor need to support such a dangerous idea.

As long as, as procreation is gone about in the semi-random way, no one can think that their children was specifically designed as better in one way or another. Now...do innate differences exist...yes, but as it stands now, those who have such innate differences thank...God, their lucky stars, whatever they may choose, but those differences were not designed for. No one can rationally think they were made better. But if we start designing people like we do cars, then eventually people will say, of course person X is better than person Y, person X was made better.
5.23.2006 5:31pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Kids in the form of embryos are already being sold for spare parts.

That is simply a lie and you know it.
5.23.2006 5:35pm
Vorn (mail):
The Original TS,

I don't see why you assume that genetic engineering would increase rather than decrease inequality.

Think about this way. Since Eugene Volokh or Bill Gates probably have really good genes from an intelligence perspective, they probably could not improve as much as someone else. They could improve, but there would be limits to the improvements that the state of the art could provide.

Most likely, those who would be least intelligent would be the ones that would benefit the most from genetic engineering. And intelligence IS correlated with income (though, obviously, many other things explains income as well).

I don't see how you can really say you are increasing equality of opportunity merely by providing education. At least as much as you could be doing. Clearly, different people with different talents have different potentials in terms of how much they can benefit from education. By increasing the intelligence of the least off the most, it seems you are increasing their opportunity most. So, it seems if your goal is to increase equality of opportunity, you would be in favor of genetic engineering.

Why not subsidize genetic engineering for intelligence for the less wealthy? Wouldn't that decrease intelligence inequality, and thereby increase equality of opportunity?
5.23.2006 5:40pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
No, because taxation is coercive, wasteful, and makes everyone poorer.

Well, that's just silly. From the roads that you drive on to the UCC to the Corporations and property rights that exist only because the government is there to create those entities those rights, taxation is necessary to sustain all those rights you hold dear. Your neighbor doesn't issue the deed to your property, and you would have no right to it if the plat hadn't been laid out by the government (and if you don't live in one of the thirteen original states, the federal government).
5.23.2006 5:41pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
And intelligence IS correlated with income (though, obviously, many other things explains income as well).

Even if this statement is true (and you capitalizing 'is' doesn't make it true), correlation doesn't prove causation.
5.23.2006 5:44pm
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
So this is the question: If we find a way to make people 100% smarter, should we worry if it is costly enough that only 50% of people -- say, those making more than $50,000/yr -- can afford it?

Or should we go through the greatest possible lengths to make sure that everyone has access to this procedure?

If we don't, we will essentially be relegating half the country to quasi-slave status. I can't imagine the US government allowing such a procedure to be available, but only on a very expensive basis. Perhaps if it were so absurdly expensive that only a very small number of people could participate, but if it started to grow at all, I think it would be extremely important to get everybody involved, if anybody.
5.23.2006 5:46pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
I think you're shifting the frame of the argument. If that kind of thing got to the point where it was approved by the FDA and whomever else it would be able to be performed by many more practitioners. So it would necessarily get to the scenario I described.

No, I'm not. We're twenty years into the in-vitro feritlization and other expensive reproductive technology revolution, and it is still limited to the upper-middle class and above. Genetic engineering will always be a much more complex and exotic technology. No matter how you slice it rocket science is still rocket science and no matter how many fantasies we may have of trips to space for the average working joe, nobody has yet launched a successful private space program and we have been messing with that for sixty years now. Heck, the world still hasn't figured out how to successfully run an airline without massive government support.
5.23.2006 5:51pm
Vorn (mail):
Joel B.,

Of course some people are "designed better." Think of very intelligent people who go to, say, Harvard Law School and end up getting married. Their children will be probabilistically more intelligent than average.

Do you think it is purely random that both Eugene Volokh and his brother Sasha have intelligence that is significantly above average? It is not random. (You can respond, that it is all environment. I can't really disagree, because it is impossible to say definitively. But I can say that I doubt it.)

Social circumstances being what they are, more intelligent people are likely to be attracted to each other. Both for reasons of intellectual stimulation, and because they are more likely to be in social situations where they intermingle.

It is simply a lie to tell a child with two parents of below average intelligence that they have not been designed in an inferior manner. Because of course they have. Sure, there will be a tendency to fluctuate towards the mean, but, that tendency hardly makes the identity of one's parents irrelevant. Perhaps occasionally, you will get a child with parents of below average intelligence who ends up being extraordinarily intelligent. But, probabilistically, it is not likely.

Further, with respect to your point about "design" I should also point out that it is not correct that many women do not consider the traits that will be passed on to their children from their significant others. I have had some tell me point blank that they wanted to have intelligent children, and thus were looking for an intelligent mate. That IS design. Some people are purposely DESIGNED to be more intelligent.

The question arises, why shouldn't this opportunity be more widespread?
5.23.2006 5:53pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Why would this work today when every time in the past where there has been limited government and low taxes there has been huge income inequality and people starving in the streets? The world prior to World War I was like this and it led to devastating wars and bloody revolutions. Why will it be different this time around? Because we have computers?

I think because you're comparing apples to cabbages. There were a lot more variables than you mention - colonialism and its fallout, lots of interventionalist, imperialist, and racist thought, territorial squabbles, etc.

In fact the wars you mention were responsible for much of the increase in the size of government and taxes. Interventionalist thought led to our involvement in the wars which led to bigger government and more taxes.

Can you provide examples for this statement:

Why would this work today when every time in the past where there has been limited government and low taxes there has been huge income inequality and people starving in the streets?
5.23.2006 5:53pm
Vorn (mail):
Freder,

While correlation does not prove causation, in the case of intelligence and income, it makes sense that those who are more intelligent would, probabilistically, have higher incomes. Take two people from identical backgrounds, and the one with higher intelligence is likely to have superior academic opportunities, including a higher probability of admittance to an ivy league college. On average, one would expect that to cause a higher income, though, obviously, you can come up with a million counter-examples.

But the causation story linking intelligence and income, while it can't be proven, is highly plausible and intuitive. Don't you think?

(And capitalization IS a good way of adding emphasis.)
5.23.2006 5:58pm
Vorn (mail):
Marcus1,

I agree with you. With one caveat. It sometimes takes time for the price of new technologies to decrease so as to be widely available. Taking that into consideration, if such a technology did become available, I would favor heavy government subsidization, as I presume you would as well.
5.23.2006 6:00pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
Freder:

"'And intelligence IS correlated with income (though, obviously, many other things explains income as well).'

Even if this statement is true (and you capitalizing 'is' doesn't make it true), correlation doesn't prove causation."

Well, him capitalizing may not make it true, but let the Economist lend a hand: "Several studies have shown that intelligence, as measured by IQ tests, is highly correlated with income in jobs such as banking."

Now Freder, just because correlation does not per se imply causation, certainly does not mean that the relationship *must* be acausal. On the contrary, COMMON SENSE AND EXPERIENCE supply the answer. Simply put, smart people do better in school -- and go to better schools -- than dumb people. People with high grades in school are more likely, on average, to secure high income jobs. Hmm, Correlation here looks suspiciously like causation.

Freder, I understand that you don't like this. But do you really believe, in your heart of hearts, that smart people are no more likely to get rich than dumb people? In America?
5.23.2006 6:09pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
Sorry Vorn - you hit while I typed. I even inadvertently ripped off your cheeky use of caps.
5.23.2006 6:11pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Why would this work today when every time in the past where there has been limited government and low taxes there has been huge income inequality and people starving in the streets?

Umm, most of recorded history in most of the world.

Take two people from identical backgrounds, and the one with higher intelligence is likely to have superior academic opportunities, including a higher probability of admittance to an ivy league college.

I am sure this is true. But take one person of average intelligence from a rich family with lots of family connections and a very bright person from a lower middle class or poor family with no connections. The one with the average intelligence is likely to have superior academic opportunities, including a higher probability of admittance to an ivy league college. I would bet that a parents income and social standing IS a much better predictor of success in this country than intelligence, no matter how you measure that (and it is measured very crudely in this country, and the poorer you are the more crudely it will be measured)
5.23.2006 6:17pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Vorn-

No - the libertarian near-utopia would involve currency backed by precious metals or a basket of commodities. There would be no Federal Reserve.

No one said capitalism, and the wonderful things it provides, would be free. One of the costs is that some people have to pay a price (that is, be unemployed) to keep labor markets competitive and keep wages and inflation down.

Theoretically there will always be some unemployed, although with low taxes there should be less of them.

But what alternatives are you proposing? Communism? Everyone is employed but everyone except the top bureaucrats and black marketeers are poor, often there is starvation. Heavy unionization? Under unionization there are more unemployed because wages are held above the market clearing rate.

Notice too, that unless you want to periodically have depressions (not merely recessions), you need government intervention. Are free markets really free? They sure don't sound like it, cause there is a whole lot of government intervention going on.

Government intervention, especially via central bank manipulation of the supply of fiat money and credit - exacerbates and to some extent creates boom/bust cycles. Since there is no central bank, a backed currency, and no government intervention in this situation there are business cycles but they are not as wild as they would be under government manipulation.

I do not see how a "free" market where people cooperate, form master servant relationships, and where some people tell other people what to do, and those people who are told what to do feel as they have no real alternative, is anything other than collectivistic. Your libertarian model is not individualistic, just another kind of collectivism. It still involves coercion, only through a different set of rules. It is hardly a utopia providing true individual autonomy.

It's not a master/servant relationship because the employee can quit. It's individualistic because there is a market for labor. Where's the coecion? And what's your proposed alternative?

Inevitable, one is drawn to a middle ground. Where one draws the line between complete equality and unlimited inequality is not an easy question. But, it is a worthwhile one.

No, the inequality is not unlimited, its set by the market and its set by law. How is that unlimited?
5.23.2006 6:19pm
Joel B. (mail):
Vorn,

The "design" involved in choosing a mate, and procreating is not just a matter of degree in difference to actually picking and choosing the genes of your children. There is a difference in kind, that is, the given chance of you actually having the child you designed if one had gone through the "ahem" traditional method is on the orders of millions to one.

Sure, maybe the child has better odds of getting better overall genes, but better odds is no guarantee.
5.23.2006 6:28pm
Vorn (mail):
Joel,

I agree with you that it is not guaranteed what sort of genes your child will have, and that it is more probabilistic than engineering.

The question arises, why does this randomness seem like a good thing to you? It isn't a random randomness, it is tilted in favor of certain individuals and against others.
5.23.2006 6:35pm
Splunge (mail):
There are two facts I believe Professor Electron Volt overlooks in his post, viz.:

First, the experiment proposed has already been tried. Humans have not been breeding randomly for the past umpty thousand years. Quite the contrary: like all animal species hominids have evolved through megayears of intense sexual competition. Hence, we can already get a pretty good answer to the question of whether breeding primarily for intelligence is adaptive, because if it were, we should see signs of it in our genetic heritage. The selfish genes would not have overlooked such an obvious route to success.

Alas, I believe the answer to the question of whether higher intelligence is uniformly more adaptive is a strong no. I suggest the clearest evidence is in the canonical "bell curve" of IQ (or whatever your preferred measure of intelligence is; it doesn't matter, because they're all bell-shaped).

A little statistical analysis tells you that if a characteristic (like intelligence) is controlled by many variables (like genes), and if survival is a monotonically increasing function of intelligence, then the equilibrium probability distribution of intelligence above the median is an exponentially-falling curve, i.e. a long, slow drop-off. (You get similar curves for the distribution of lifetimes of complex machines with many points of possible failure, for essentially the same reasons.) While higher and higher intelligence is rarer and rarer, it is also, ex hypothesi, more adaptive. The result of these conflicting trends is the long exponential tail. More fundamentally, the intelligence distribution would be asymmetric: it would fall off more sharply on the low side of the median than on the high side.

But the actual distribution is symmetric, and very close to a "normal" distribution. This can only happen if something is suppressing the high-intelligence tail. That is, there must be some maladaptive side-effects of intelligence. The result is that intelligence is cut off by natural selection on both sides of the median: it is, roughly speaking, equally unfortunate to be 20 IQ points smarter than average than it is to be 20 IQ points dumber than average. The end result is a distribution that looks like what you get when a process (in this case an individual's genes at birth) is designed to hit a "target" (in this case the median intelligence), and many small random errors or deviations make the process typically miss the target by a bit. Like the pattern of holes in a dartboard around the center: highest near the "target", falling off symmetrically as you go further from the "target."

Why would median intelligence be more adaptive than high intelligence? This brings us to the second fact I think Professor EV overlooks: humans are so social a species, like termites, that individual reproductive success depends far more on social success than on any individual prowess. That is, the "alpha male" in human societies is most likely to be he who is most adept at recruiting other humans to his philosophy and enterprises, and no more likely to be he who has brilliant insights into physics or chemistry than to be he who can deadlift the most weight. We mock the concept that human leaders are always the biggest and strongest in the biceps, and quite rightfully, but forget that it's equally true (and for the same reason) that our leaders are not the smartest among us either.

I suggest that historically the alpha primate with dozens of breeding opportunities is not the underfed distracted matted-hair baboon who realizes if you (seemingly foolishly) stick one of these tasty seeds into the dirt instead of your mouth, you get a whole bush full of seeds some months later, but rather the primitive Bill-Gates type who exploits Mr. Smarty Baboon's idea, and then recruits and the organizes the whole tribe into doing it. Even the beta male who is very good at sensing which way the wind is blowing, and picks out the right rising alpha to serve as lieutenant and/or enforcer, will do better than the brilliant loner. Either way, an intelligence -- a way of seeing the world -- that is much different from everybody else's is clearly socially maladaptive. (Just hang out at http://www.slashdot.org/ for a while to observe...)

In short, I think there are good reasons to suppose that human intelligence has been pegged to its current median for millenia by the forces of natural selection acting through our social interactions. Unless those social interactions are radically restructured -- and how would that happen? -- these same forces will prevent any bit-by-bit eugenic improvement in intelligence. Which is not to say that any small segment of parents could not sporadically and occasionally breed smarter children, but, like the fortunes of millionaires, these blips in the overall trend will simply die out in a matter of decades and have no permanent influence on the species.

The only way to raise average intelligence would be to (1) deliberately make most people smarter all at once, in one generation, or (2) kill off most everybody except those already smarter than the median. Either generates, all at once, a new and higher median intelligence, which the existing social forces would then blindly enforce as the new "target."
5.23.2006 6:42pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
But what alternatives are you proposing? Communism? Everyone is employed but everyone except the top bureaucrats and black marketeers are poor, often there is starvation. Heavy unionization? Under unionization there are more unemployed because wages are held above the market clearing rate.

Your alternative is just as ridiculously unrealistic as a pure Marxist system. Why on earth would you want a monetary system backed by precious metals or a basket of commodities? What madness. What happens when we run out of either? And as much as you like to pretend none of this has been tried and hasn't failed miserably, it has and it did. Look at the Irish potato famine or the conditions in Europe before World War I, or in this country that led to the Great Depression (I'm sure you will trot out the old canard that the government caused the depression).

And if you don't like unions, fine. Then lets get rid of the other great government created fictional entity, the corporation. That way there really be equality of bargaining power.
5.23.2006 6:44pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Joel B.-

Possibly. But there are already a bunch of people that raise their kids - explicitly or implicitly - to think they are better than everyone else.
5.23.2006 6:45pm
Joel B. (mail):
Vorn,

This randomness is slightly tilted in favor of people to certain individuals and slightly against others, but the overall tilt is probably so slight as to not really be worth putting much thought to. Moreover, this randomness preserves the equality of everyone before each other, sure, I may have better odds of having a child with a higher IQ, if both my wife is smart, but I cannot guarantee it, as a result, my opinions are based upon the knowledge that my children could be quite smart, or quite average, as a result, I want to preserve the dignity of the average, even if I see myself as quite smart.

This randomness ensures that even if we are above average on IQ, we recognize that it was nothing we or anyone else did to accomplish that, I was in fact just fortunate, and as a result ought to be grateful.
5.23.2006 6:47pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
On the contrary, COMMON SENSE AND EXPERIENCE supply the answer. Simply put, smart people do better in school -- and go to better schools -- than dumb people.

Common sense says that Paris Hilton should be flipping burgers at McDonalds, but she isn't.
5.23.2006 6:48pm
Joel B. (mail):
AP,

And fortunately, at the current time, it seems the majority of parents who raise their children in such a way, tend to have particularly forgettable and not all that impressive individuals. They may think that their kid is genuinely better, but most of us see right through it.

I should note, this is something different that thinking that your kid is the greatest kid in the whole world, or that he is the most sweetest kid in the whole world. You're kid can be best in your eyes, but you can still teach that his innate worth as a person is as great as anyone elses. Where the danger lies, is in teaching a child that they are innately worth more than another person.
5.23.2006 6:54pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
Common sense says that Paris Hilton should be flipping burgers at McDonalds, but she isn't.

Wow, you really hate the rich. Common sense says that Hilton would be flipping burgers (or more likely doing much worse) if her parents weren't rich. However, one right attendant to the possession of property is the right to dispose of it as one sees fit, even if means conveying it to an idiot offspring.

Freder, are you suggesting that talented (or indeed, lucky) people who become wealthy should not be permitted to transfer their wealth? That wealth should only be "earned"?

And just to provide some context, consider the following. Aside from the handful of super-rich, the best paid and wealthiest people in America are doctors, lawyers, bankers, etc. The average LSAT at a decent law school is in the mid 160's - not quite Harvard, but not Cooley either. MENSA recognizes, I believe 164, to be the equivalent of the IQ score required to join the club. I don't know whether they accept other tests, like the GMAT, MCAT or GRE, but there are correlations between the tests themselves. What we have, pretty plainly, is a group of people, all of whom have very high intelligence, gaining entry to the most lucrative fields. The end result is, the smartest people make hte most money. People who have money who are not smart, like Paris Hilton, can generally trace their wealth to the efforts of an ancestor who was intellectually superior.

And, just to hammer it home -- I came here (to the US) when I was 12, with my Mother. We were living in the projects. She worked shit-jobs, but put herself through NYU dental school, graduating in the top 5% of her (day, not evening) class. In this country, we started with nothing. Please don't tell me that if you are poor the deck is stacked against you. Sure, the rich have a leg up. But the deck is only stacked against you if you are stupid and/or lazy. Being poor hardly seals off access to education and a comfortable life. You are living in the greatest meritocracy in the world, yet all you can focus on is the perceived injustice that it's easier for some than for others. Well - "Duh." But smart people will always succeed, and won't be offended that someone somewhere is driving a nicer car.
5.23.2006 7:17pm
Vorn (mail):
American Psikhushka,

I am not going to give your points the response they deserve because this is (1) off-topic and (2) complex.

First:
I do not buy your precious metals theory. We have been there, done that. And, as you note, the business cycle was still a major problem. However, this topic is beyond the scope of this thread.

Second:
If you do not think that their is any coercion or power in employment relationships, I say your silly. Most employees will put up with quite a bit before they will quit. When people do things they do not want to do because other people tell them to, I call that coercion.

Here is one way to explain it.
(1) Person x does something they don't want to do, because of the negative consequences.

Person x could be someone who is an employee. Or they could be a taxpayer. Ultimately, it is the negative consequences that someone else can cause to happen to them that induces their compliance.

In one sense, I could say that a taxpayers decision to pay his taxes is completely voluntary. Because it is. Sure, you may go to jail if you don't pay them. That is just a negative consequence. Or I could that the taxpayers decision to pay taxes involves a certain amount of coercion.

Likewise, I could say that an employee's decision to not quit is completely voluntary. Because it is. Sure, that person may lose the health insurance their family depends on, be unable to pay rent, end up with bad credit that makes it harder to get jobs in the future, and also mess up their resume. But those are just negative consequences. Or I could say that the employers compliance with the orders of their employer involve a certain amount of coercion.

Third:
By pointing out problems in your libertarian utopia, I am not suggesting that we should do away with capitalism. I am only suggesting that you take off your rose-colored glasses and see the market clearly. Good and bad. It is a common defense mechanism employed by libertarians to suggest that any criticisms of their utopia means one is advocating communism. A silly defense. Because we don't live in an all-or-nothing world. I don't have to choose between all-powerful government and an all-powerful market.

James Madison had it right for government. Lets have a system of checks and balances. I think that this idea applies to the relationship between government and the private sector too. There should be checks and balances.

While I would not move away from capitalism, I certainly would not move towards minimizing government either. (As a general matter, I would be open to minimizing it in particular ways.) I think the government has a role in increasing opportunity and correcting inequality and, believe it or not, reducing the coercion that ordinary individuals feel in their everyday lives. Government is one source of coercion, not the only source. If one denies that people experience coercion from their bosses in the private sector, this shows nothing more than that one is out of touch.

Fourth:
You write - "No, the inequality is not unlimited, its set by the market and its set by law. How is that unlimited?"

The market is consistent with a huge number of different levels of inequality. Saying that we should let the market decide provides no guidance, since before the market "decides", we must set the background rules upon which the market operates. What are the rules of property. Intellectual property? Criminal law? Civil procedure? All these rules and more have implications for the levels of inequality which will result from market forces.

My point was never markets versus non-markets. Nor was my point that market outcomes under our current legal regime leads to results with unlimited inequality, a point that would be clearly counter to fact. My point was that unlimited inequality is obviously not good. And that we should not pretend that inequality has no costs, because it clearly does. Just as inequality has benefits, it has costs. And so, one should ask, what is the optimal structure and degree of inequality? And further, one should realize that "leaving it to the market" is not an answer, because market outcomes (1) interact with ground-rules and laws set by government and (2) are consistent with many different levels of inequality, most of which are, by definition, not optimal.

Ultimately, my conclusion, which remains unaltered, is that determining the optimal level of inequality is a difficult question, but a worthwhile one.
5.23.2006 7:26pm
Vorn (mail):
Feder,

Your point about social connections versus intelligence in determining wealth is one of relative causation, not one about whether intelligences is a cause, to some degree, of income.

In terms of which is more powerful, social connection or intelligence, I have no idea. I am sure it varies from situation to situation, but I do not know how it would turn out in the general case.
5.23.2006 7:32pm
Vorn (mail):
Mike BUSL07,

To the degree that your mother's intelligence is a product of raw talent and genes rather than hard work, I would say that her success is NOT the result of merit.

Those who are less intelligent as a result of genes did not choose to be that way, and those of who are more intelligent are not more morally deserving because they happen to have talents that are valued by society.
5.23.2006 7:39pm
Vorn (mail):
Joel,

I agree with you. Those of us who happen to have above average intelligence out to be grateful, and recognize that we did nothing to earn it to the extent that it was simply a matter of genetics.
5.23.2006 7:44pm
Vorn (mail):
out = ought in the last post
5.23.2006 7:44pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
Vorn, I do not agree with your concept of "merit." One merits the wealth that she honestly earns in a fair market, or receives as gift or bequest, (or 1000 other things I'm probably leaving out). A kind heart, while morally commendable in one (important) sense, does not merit accession to wealth - it's apples and oranges. You are taking one moral definition and applying it to a context in which it does not belong.
5.23.2006 7:48pm
Vorn (mail):
Mike,

Okay. But then you are just saying there is no connection between merit and morality. Which means, of course, that we should have no moral concerns about violating norms based on merit. Which means that we should feel free to violate "meritocracy norms" whenever we feel the benefits are greater than the costs.

One does not morally deserve a gift they did not earn. But I suppose you might say they "merit" the gift.

I kind of wonder about your seperation of merit and morality when you talk about a "fair" market. Why does a market need to be "fair" and what exactly does that mean? Is fairness really necessary for one to "merit" the wealth one "earns" in a market? What if the market is unfair? And if fairness is necessary, doesn't that make merit a moral concept after all?
5.23.2006 8:00pm
Wintermute (mail) (www):
This thread too long. Fortunately, as it took forever to scroll, I was pacified and occasionally thrilled by listening to a free stream of the new Dixie Chicks' album. I do wish some of the good and smart commenters would shoot their best shot the first time.

You gotta like "Eugenics" Volokh for his guts in subject matter.

Maybe a good prelude to this discussion is Brave New World. Personally, I think advances in robotics will reduce needs for under-caste workers, and advances in biotech will give most an affordable shot at improving their own genetics, first in elimination of weaknesses and defects and consequent needless lifetime costs. Next, enhancements will be attempted, but who's to say everyone will choose the same ones?

Exceptions to the rule will squawk, but perhaps a gene-spliceable increase in intelligence will counteract the tendency of the more intelligent to breed fewer offspring. A one-dimensional approach here, though, can yield undesired consequences. An exceptionally bright child, like a polyploid, needs an extraordinarily supportive environment to fulfill his potential and avoid the agony of being a misfit. If making money or being popular are a parent's goals, overloading on IQ wouldn't guarantee either.
5.23.2006 8:01pm
Vorn (mail):
Wintermute,

May I suggest you not scroll with the mouse wheel, but rather simply use the mouse and pull the scroll bar that is on the right of your browswer up and down. It takes no time at all to get to the bottom of the comments that way.

"Eugenics" Volokh. I like it. I will definitely remember that.
5.23.2006 8:08pm
Just:
"Since Eugene Volokh or Bill Gates probably have really good genes from an intelligence perspective.."

"Do you think it is purely random that both Eugene Volokh and his brother Sasha have intelligence that is significantly above average?"

GAG! Vorn, you're killing me here. Are you Mrs. Volokh, or some relative? If these two aren't embarrassed for themselves at these comments, I'm embarrassed for them.

I suppose they must be smarter (or more intelligent rather) than say... Abraham Lincoln?

I think the "you are your genes" and "high intelligence necessarily indicates a better man overall in terms of societal contributions" is very anti-American. Not how this country was built. At some level, whether you believe it or not, all types of Americans are necessary for America to continue functioning as it has in the past. It's a collective experience, made stronger by individual contributions, but no one operates in a vacuum.

It's funny how if you have the desirable qualifications for breeding up (here, intelligence; in Germany, Aryan features and physical strength), eugenics is ok. Are y'all sure you're ok with that, considering the "desirable qualifications" may change to something else in the future? I'm not.

Finally, anybody following comments by breeders regarding that injured horse's genetic condition? There is concern that in breeding for one feature, you just may be messing with other aspects of physical health.

No matter how smart our wise men are, it's good to remember that there's lots out there we still don't know and act accordingly. (not YOU, of course. Your genes make you an infallible SuperRace specimen that all should emulate. No such thing as too much of a good thing, too much of one type, and of course we are qualified right now to know which traits are desirable in advancing society.)
5.23.2006 8:12pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
I thought this guy was banned.
5.23.2006 8:25pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
Oh and Vorn, unfortunately I have to focus on my (very frustrating) thesis, but just to throw it out there (though due to being very tired I'm not convinced I fully understand what you said) - the moral barrier to such systemic transgression would be the violation of the "right" of self-determination, something I hold very dear. The "merit" is that you get to do what you want (w/o stepping on toes), but this definition of merit is of course different from what "merits" a good samaritan award, or a good kick in the ass, or a spot on the England World Cup team.
5.23.2006 8:30pm
Just:


"I thought this guy was banned."

I was bred for resiliance. You intelligent types will always need my kind around. We're just dumb enough to head into burning buildings to save lives, and brave enough to speak out and fight to the death when everybody else is content to just hop on the train and hope for the best.

Try banning that, Mike.
5.23.2006 9:56pm
Just:

And that's "resilience", of course
5.23.2006 9:57pm
Khan Singh:
What I don't understand is the "profound disagreement" with the notion that such technology will cause stratification. Lots of things cause or contribute to social stratification, but on balance, the benefits of these things out weigh the accompanying negative (perceived or actual.)

I think you CAN take the Gattaca argument seriously while not having to also argue against private education. For me, it seems the focus should be on the relative benefits and costs of eugenics, rather than focusing on a single outcome--that is the likely outcome of increased stratification.

Because the comparison of private education to eugenics was used, I'll run with it. The costs of private education to society in general are quite minimal. But the benefits can be quite profound. On the other hand, I am not sold that the benefits of eugenics out weigh the potential costs. Now compare eugenics to using gene therapy for some on suffering from a genetic illness, there the balance tips toward the application of this area of science due to the benefits obtained. Ultimately, I think that the differences between private education and eugenics are sufficiently different as to render the analogy just not apt.

Regarding the Russian joke, I think it serves to further the Gattaca argument. To large degree I think successful opposition to this argument requires one to suppose a rational population with all the necessary information about eugenics. But I think that there is/would be a notion that genetically enhancing your children would be an "automatic ticket" for them (and through them you.) So while it may be true that such technologies aren't significantly more stratifying than private education, I am fairly sure that most people would not perceive it as such. It would, I think, be perceived a "magic bullet" of sorts. So I think the response by those that couldn't access the technologies would be to lash out and try to pull those of more means into the cauldron. This social disruption might be too high cost to pay for the general use of such technology.
5.24.2006 11:05am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Don't have time to wade back into this, but I just wanted to address one point.

Freder-

Regardless of what you think my feelings about unions are, it's an economic fact that they increase unemployment by raising the wage level above the market clearing rate.
5.24.2006 1:40pm
Helian (mail):
"The genes that relate to increased intelligence may also relate to various mental and physical illnesses. There is some evidence for this in recent research. It may also be that too many very intelligent people are not good for society. My experience has been that very iintelligent people tend to work less well together and with others than those of average or just above average intelligence: Think of your typical faculty meeting. The evolutionary advantages that individuals gain from increasing the intelligence of their offspring might well be more than offset by the disadvantages to the species of an increasing negative genetic load in the gene pool and an increasing negative impact on politics and other areas requiring social cooperation."

No doubt some of the wiser and more philosophic members of the species Homo Erectus came to exactly the same conclusion. Oddly, none of them seem to be around to elaborate.
5.24.2006 9:14pm