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It’s better to be born rich than gifted (washingtonpost.com)
220 points by joeyespo 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 192 comments

This isn’t going to be popular, but:

Should parents be allowed to try to give their children a boost in life? If the answer is yes, then it follows that parents with more resources will be more able to provide that boost.

For me, the line is drawn at “legacy” admissions or jobs, where a clearly lesser candidate is given the nod over someone who is more qualified. But if the parent is able to provide e.g. volunteer opportunities or early business exposure, tutoring, and other extracurriculars, and their child grows as a result of that, I think that’s actually progressive at a societal level (spurring more growth at earlier ages).

The problem with summary statistics like in this article is that there’s no nuance — just a brute “unfair” reflex triggered in the reader.

> Should parents be allowed to try to give their children a boost in life?

Should society be allowed to try to give the poor but genetically gifted children a boost in life?

Nobody’s suggesting that parents shouldn’t use whatever resources they have. The question is what we should do as a society with all the potential we’re wasting. If every dollar we spent on boosting smart poor children yielded two dollars back to the economy, why shouldn’t we do that?

> if the parent is able to provide ... I think that’s actually progressive at a societal level

The argument that those with private wealth helping their children is making society better is the opposite of what is normally called “progressive”. It’s trickle-down economics. When people say “progressive” they are talking about policies that benefit everyone, not policies that say if the rich do well, then surely we’ll all benefit from the margins and leftovers.

> The problem with summary statistics like in this article is that there’s no nuance — just a brunt “unfair” reflex triggered in the reader.

Life is extremely unfair, and very biased toward the rich. It’s not a surprise, we already knew it. This article just highlights some papers that confirm scientifically one of the many ways life is unfair. There might be some nuance, and of course there usually is when the press covers scientific research, but are you suspecting some specific nuance?

> Should society be allowed to try to give the poor but genetically gifted children a boost in life? Nobody’s suggesting that parent’s shouldn’t use whatever resources they have.

But to a certain extent it is zero-sum. The way you boost smart poor children is by taking money from non-poor parents. So you really are suggesting that non-poor parents "shouldn't use whatever resources they have." I don't think anyone fundamentally opposes this, but there is a legitimate philosophical question about how much redistribution is appropriate, and what criteria go into defining "appropriate."

> But to a certain extent it is zero-sum.

It is not zero-sum, there is not a fixed amount of wealth in either the US economy nor the global economy. If we educated everyone, and everyone with potential reached their potential and contributed to the economy, we can all have more wealth. It’s not a requirement that someone lose, and this is what I meant by a return of two dollars for every dollar spent.

> The way you boost smart poor children is by taking money from non-poor parents. ... how much redistribution is appropriate...

In practice, we could fund university education for all in the margins of what we willingly spend on the military or several other programs, people have been pointing this out for decades. It doesn’t have to be a change in taxation for anyone, nor does it need to come from “non-poor” disproportionately.

But, larger picture, I find it ironic that you use the word redistribution with respect to the rich, but not with respect to the poor. Where does rich people’s money come from? And if you’re going to worry about rich people funding social programs, how about also tallying the benefits they get from national infrastructure that poor people also have to pay for?

College is already overpriced because of government subsidies. Your plan would make it worse.

> College is already overpriced because of government subsidies.

That is an interesting narrative. Direct state funding per-student for college is down in almost all states over the last 10 years and the last 30 years. Tuition has risen for several reasons: 1- to compensate for lack of state funding, 2- because colleges and universities have larger higher paid administrations than ever before. Some of the subsidies we have are nothing more than consolation prizes for state funding cuts that are larger than the subsidies, so I simply don’t buy that public funding has caused tuition to rise, when public funding is declining overall.

> Your plan would make it worse.

I didn’t share a plan, so I’m not sure what you mean.

But, I have to wonder, why does it matter if tuition goes up, if it’s a net positive to the economy? Why would it matter if tuition goes up, if it’s paid for? Why do you assume that tuition prices would look anything like they do now if all of education was publicly funded?

I don't know about the trends in public budgets directly funding colleges, but...

Government backed student loans for anybody who wants them has inflated the cost of college in the United States.

Your plan I refer to, is when you said the government could entirely pay college costs for every willing student.

With all that free money, where is the motivation for schools to improve?

> we could fund university education for all in the margins of what we willingly spend on the military or several other programs

> Government backed student loads for anybody who wants them has inflated the cost of college in the United States.

I heard it the first time. Do you have anything new to add, any evidence, or any explanation of how your theory actually works, given that total public funding has declined?

Is it possible you’re assigning causation where there is only correllation? Tuition hikes certainly correllate with loan programs that were put in place to compensate for state budget cuts, I can see how easy it is to assign blame to loan programs, but isn’t tuition going up when state financing is cut the simpler explanation?

> With all that free money, where is the motivation for schools to improve?

Norway’s higher education system is ranked higher than the US, and is free for all citizens. So you tell me.

It’s your assumption that public funding leads to stagnation, an assumption that requires ignoring contradictory evidence in order to hang on to.

I will read this pdf and bing some articles about "total public funding" and see what I believe.


Not actually true, except under very skewed systems and assumptions.

Luckily, there are massively diminishing returns to money's effect on educational outcomes and overall happiness, so a dollar taxed from the rich is worth much less to them than to the poor it is given to.

Not just educational outcomes. More money has massively diminishing returns to happiness, health, fitness, longevity, creative output, ...

The biggest constraint is often individual people’s time/attention; additional money is only slightly (if at all) helpful for the already rich.

But a little bit of money goes a long way to help people who are not eating well, don’t have a place to live, need to work 3 stressful part-time jobs to make ends meet, ...

Massive inheritances (dropping someone tens of millions of dollars or more) are one of the greatest problems in our society. The top marginal tax rate for inheritances should be 90%+, and we should be cracking down hard on all the sneaky ways people hide gajillions of dollars for their descendants. Maybe with an exception for small family farms, since presenting farmer sob stories is one of the biggest ways billionaires have figured out to market their intergenerational hoarding.

I do not see inheritance as a problem. My motivation for accumulating wealth is largely driven by a desire to provide for my future family members.

Inheritance tax is theft.

Money is generally taxed anytime it changes hands so an inheritance tax seems fine to me. Although, a 90% one would be ridiculous.

Also, if you are in the US, the estate tax is now $11.18 million per taxpayer (so 22 million for a couple) due to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. As a result, only approximately 2,000 people (or 0.0006% of the population) in the US are currently liable for estate tax [0] so you should be fine unless you already have fuck you money at which point it doesn't really matter because again, you have fuck you money.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Estate_tax_in_the_United_State...

> if you are in the US, the estate tax is now $11.18 million per taxpayer

I think you mean estate tax exemption.

Oops, wrong wording. You are correct, you are only taxed on any money passed down after the first 11.18 million.

Attach whatever label to it you want. The only thing that matters is whether it makes society happier overall. It certainly makes you unhappy, but the people who receive the money are made happy, and histories have shown us the stratified societies that result from a lot of hereditary wealth/position are less happy than the ones with high social mobility. You might think this is unfair. Being born in an underclass in a stratified society is unfair too.

If you really believe in individual sovereignty, a society that maximizes social mobility should be inherently attractive to you. The John Galt type that the right idealizes would have been nothing if he'd been born an untouchable in pre-British India.

That being said, I recognize that a tax would discourage some people from being as productive as they might otherwise be. At the same time, I suspect that many people will work harder under more fair conditions. It's hard to say what the net effect will be.

Of course, if you have other ideas for promoting a fair society with social mobility along with realistic methods of paying for them, I'm happy to hear them.

"My motivation for accumulating wealth is largely driven by a desire to provide for my future family members. inheritance tax is theft."

So its bad because it would hurt you.

This is the problem. The way you think. Estate taxes could pay for services that help the poor and inprove our society as a whole. But you're only concerned with making sure your own kids get out ok.

But thats your job as a parent. I get it. You see a dog eat dog world out there, and you wanna get your kids out alive. But just why are we so scared? Why is everyone fighting over scraps?

"Hurts me is bad" is an excellent line of reasoning; I can hardly imagine a valid reproach. You can't dictate to another person that what hurts them is good.

> But you're only concerned with making sure your own kids get out ok.

I can't speak for grandparent, but I'm concerned with all the kids getting their rightful inheritance from all their respective parents, not only my kids.

That said, I don't think there is anything wrong with providing for your kids and not others.

"all the kids getting their rightful inheritance from all their respective parents, not only my kids."

Some kids dont get an inheritance. Some get a huge one. None of it is "rightful"... Its not deserved. Its not based on need or on merit. Its based on who your parents are. There are few things less democratic.

"That said, I don't think there is anything wrong with providing for your kids and not others."

In the context of widening inequality, your sentence should read "at the expense of others". Im not opposed to inheritance per say but it should be highly taxed.

Some kids with a rich parent also don't get an inheritance; the faithful butler gets everything. It's not necessarily true that there is no element of merit.

> There are few things less democratic.

Many of them are important to be that way: like who is permitted to enter your home; who gets to touch you and so on. Should that all be more democratic?

The modern sense of "democracy" refers to concepts like constitutional representation and controlled use of force.

If a mob decides that access to your pockets should be open to everyone, that is not democracy in the modern sense.

There is nothing “rightful” about a 100 million dollar inheritance (or whatever). Just like there is nothing “rightful” about inheriting a royal throne. Money is an arbitrary social convention, and wealth is generated by the whole society not by single individuals.

Inheritances that provide centuries of descendants with a work-free life and the power/influence to corrupt the government make a grotesque mockery of our society / politics.

The main reason there is nothing rightful about inheriting a royal throne is that there is nothing rightful about holding it in the first place.

That's the point: there's nothing self-evidently "rightful" about holding $100m either, and there are multiple political/economic systems practiced today that would consider it unjust.

Not paying taxes is theft from the society that lets you accumulate and keep wealth.

I don’t think anyone is saying avoid taxes entirely. I honestly don’t see why money should be taxed twice. Take income tax, fine, but if I decide to save money for my descendants then let me be. On its face it’s literally just a gift.

The "double taxation" argument is nonsense. There are many taxes that apply to the same money multiple times. I have to pay income tax on the money when I get it, sales tax when I use it to buy something with it and then property tax on the thing that I bought. (Also, gifts and inheritances are taxed identically).

Not sure why the parent is being downvoted; it's just as mypopically black and white as the GP. Wealth accumulation is inarguably a two-way street, where a well-functioning society with dependable economic infrastructure enables people to accumulate wealth and contribute to the economy which further develops that infrastructure.

And personal property is theft too, eh comrade?

And when you are taxed for services you dont use, or are used against you, what is your recourse?

Even if you taxed estates at 100% you wouldn't contribute any meaningful amount of money compared to total government revenue or expenditures. So let's be honest, it's about punishing wealthy people (and accepting all the downsides to society of doing that), not actually helping people.

The point is not the amount of revenue. The point is that having billion-dollar inheritances creates incredibly skewed political incentives which end up leading to significant harms.

If they taxed the estates at a high marginal rate with no gaping loopholes, auctioned off all the assets thereby recovered by the government, and then just zeroed out the bits representing the dollars in the resulting accounts, that would be just fine with me.

Ultra ultra wealthy people are not being “punished” by having their estates taxed at a steep top marginal rate. The great-great-grandchildren of industry titans do not have a preordained right to massive wealth at the whole society’s expense. Money is a social construct, and can and should be designed to work for all of us.

In a functioning society with a growing (or even stagnant) economy, each generation should inherit a greater wealth of public infrastructure, capital, services, knowledge, ... than the previous one. Instead, in our society there is an incentive for public officials to transfer collective assets to individual aristocrats in corrupt deals, to underfund/destroy public institutions, to take out loans guaranteed by the state and pocket the money, etc., impoverishing the next generation. This amounts to basically theft/fraud against the polis.

Unless I've read the figures wrong, a 100% estate tax could provide around 1/6th of government expenditure in the UK. This would be a meaningful amount of money.

Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/inheritance-tax-sta...

Nah. Rich farmers deserve little sympathy. The traditional farm evokes by pictures on milk cartons and politicians has been dead since the 80s.

Pick a number around the 80th percentile of 401k balance at age 70 and tax it at 50%, then go up to 95%.

The kickback to this modern gilded age is going to be brutal.

That’s probably more due to the fact that the value of an education is less necessary for the wealthy to succeed. Why bother trying when you can be president with a gentleman’s c?


Table 3 is interesting.

"Almost half (50.7%) of the children with low IQ [0–79] came from families with income <Rs. 50,000/month [$675/mo]. On the other hand, 65.6% of children with high IQ [above 120] came from families with more than Rs. 50,000/month (P = 0.001)"

The famous utilitarian argument. Beware, it is also much better to seize your phone and computer to provide food to a starving african child.

> Should society be allowed to try to give the poor but genetically gifted children a boost in life?

I think the idea is that it benefits society for the best to rise and spread their genes. Additionally, it helps to pacify society and prevent revolutions and other violence if poor people have a realistic path to wealth.

An unequal society is an unstable one. I hope we don't have to relearn that lesson in the US when we can see it around the globe.

It is definitely inequitable. However, it is also how humans work - we want to advantage our inner group over other groups.

This cuts directly to the heart of the meritocracy argument (most strongly in technology, but it exists everywhere): how can you claim that everyone is judged by their merits (directly related to how hard they work and how smart they train themselves to be) when being lucky (in genetics, in birth, in support and growth, in opportunities) plays such an overwhelming role?

I don't think meritocracy implies cosmic fairness.

The way it's used by most hackers is to say that someone's work is judged only on its own merits, rather than the author's social status or how good they are at playing political games or anything else orthogonal to the work actually being valuable.

At least, that's the ideal.

Judging people on their work is partly about fair play. But it's also justified by concern for the results. A system which rewards the people doing great work will produce much more of that than a system which rewards political connections.

I care quite a bit that the best cancer researchers should get hired, and the best ideas get the money -- their progress is likely to directly affect people close to me. And this is true but less obvious for almost every field... an economy where everyone was focused solely on zero-sum competitions would not grow very fast.

I don't quite know what cosmic fairness means. But perhaps cosmic unfairness involves people's talents not being identical. The goal of trying to get the fastest progress against cancer does not align with the goal of trying to remedy such unfairness.

To back up the other comment, recent studies find that students from worse secondary schools with worse grades end up outperforming students from more selective schools with better grades once in medical school.

So in order to get the best doctors you can't just be all "meritocratic" by looking only at the results, i.e. grades, but have to take other factors into account.


The relationship between school type and academic performance at medical school: a national, multi-cohort study https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5589012/

What is the effect of secondary (high) schooling on subsequent medical school performance? A national, UK-based, cohort study. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29792300

If our concern is with results, then we should be looking for the best predictor of results, and school type may well improve our predictions, as you say.

We should aim to admit to medical school the people who'll make the best doctors at age 40, not just the people with the best scores at age 18.

The problem carries through time, not just at the moment you're making the decision to invest. What about the better potential cancer researcher who was left behind because their parents were poor? What about the one that decided to go learn programming because they couldn't get the exclusive internship due to lacking connections?

The position that states "remedying inequity costs more than simply giving it all to the current best" is a shortsighted one.

I had a meeting with a very successful guy who is CIO at a major tech startup who was looking to acquire our company.

Because we were friends for a while I said something to the effect of "I just want to make sure this doesn't look like nepotism"

His response was basically, "Who cares? I love Nepotism. that means me and my friends do better and help each other out."

Kind of shocked me to be honest, but after thinking about it it makes total sense. Why wouldn't you help your friends? I mean I help my friends all the time, but there seemed to be an artificial cutoff when it came to hiring and buying companies or otherwise giving them outward signs of "success."

Not sure I can make a rational case against Nepotism even though it feels wrong.

Suppose it is clearly the wrong business choice for your friend's company to acquire your company.

Suppose a friend promoted you over someone else who was vastly more qualified, and worked much harder than you for that promotion.


Now suppose you're the one getting screwed over instead of the friend benefiting.

It's not nepotism if friends benefiting is merely a side effect of making the best business (or whatever) decision. But if that decision process is subverted in order to benefit friends, negatively impacting other stakeholders that you have a responsibility to, creating a work environment which is deeply unfair and unmeritocratic, etc., then that is absolutely a problem. This should be pretty obvious.

The problem with that approach though is that it's never clear cut.

Maybe someone is "vastly more qualified" technically but doesn't have any business sense or some other quality that is unknown to the rest of the group. There were many times where I thought that the wrong person was promoted or hired, to find out later that they were actually a good fit. Were they the PERFECT fit? I don't know, but there is value in having history with someone to have a higher confidence they will meet the minimum standard.

There's always someone or some group that is "better" for a job or acquisition or whatever based on some metric.

It's a real problem in my mind for "market information." Generally people go for a product they know, that can fit the bill, over a product they don't know that might be better. Same goes for hiring and personnel etc...

I was merely giving you the clearest possible examples, since you seem to be confused about what possible harm nepotism could cause.

Sure, in some situations, it may be ambiguous who is actually the better pick. For argument's sake, let's assume such choices are ALWAYS ambiguous. If you're consistently picking your friends in those situations, you're nevertheless creating a perception of nepotism (read unfairness) throughout the rest of the company, which will minimally be harmful to morale. So yeah, even if you're not being particularly nepotistic, guarding against the perception of nepotism is still important.

My bigger concern, however, is that it's very easy for someone to rationalize nepotism when they're a beneficiary.

I really don't know enough about the specifics of your situation to know if nepotism is much of a concern, but I definitely don't think your friend's "nepotism is GREAT" stance is worth taking seriously.

What is confusing is that I realized there are cases where Nepotism could be net-comparable or even net-benefit. I had never considered there to be an ethical upside to nepotism before, only a downside.

So that's why I was shocked.

If you are directing other people’s money to your family it is a disservice to those other people. If it is your own money, go nuts. Nepotism vs family business, basically.

Nepotism is generally bad but there is one small perk to it within reason - they know the person they are hiring more already. It is a form of risk aversion in that sense if they already know that a person is adequate - assuming they don't appoint someone regardless of being qualified.

I know of one case of using it productively involves incentives. If you have sensitive data to process that is resistant to automation but fundamentally simple and know a son of a high level partner who is receive considerable support from him with things like paying for college or apartments then that sort of nepotism makes some objective sense even if it is unfair. Betrayal on their part would also be betraying their family and harm their means of support.

I don't think the cutoff is artificial. It comes down to conflicts of interest. If you give your friend a ride to the airport, he benefits, you choose to do it, and that’s the end of it. If you hire your friend preferentially, you’re compromising your duty to your superiors to hire the best candidate.

In your example, your CIO friend has a responsibility to the company to make the best acquisition on the best possible terms. If he’s treating you preferentially because you’re friends, he’s not doing that.

In the societal sense, it is maladaptive - your CIO friend assumes that his friends deliver the best outcome.

That's not what the friend is assuming per the wording.

The friend seems to be plainly stating they don't care if the max outcome is what is occuring or not, insofar as they all at least do better. Helping their friends out is more important than maxing out the quality of the outcome.

Societally, reinforcing and protecting social trust systems may be dramatically more important than maxing out business success outcomes.

I don’t see how that can be true. Tribally, it might be (for a small tribe in a large group). Society wide, it’s definitely bad. I don’t want a bridge built by an uncle politician who “trusts” his nephew engineer’s company. Outcomes should (and do) result in trust, not the nepotism.

Nepotism in a private company is very different to nepotism in government.

The price in the first case is paid by the litigious investors. In the second one, by the unwilling tax payers.

There's another good reason for nepotism - trust - the most valuable commodity in business, and one of the hardest to acquire/assess.

I interpret meritocracy as being judged by the outcome of your doings. If someone has IQ 10000 but spends it to dominate WoW, then... I don't see why they should be paid a lot (some other people might disagree, though). Likewise, if someone leverages their genetics, family, wealth, skills, efforts, and luck towards great outcomes (e.g. Elon Musk), then they should be rewarded, as they're meritocratically the best.

To all "proponents" of "the luck argument": there are thousands of people far more lucky than Elon and Steve (born to wealthier families, smarter, better connected, etc) that didn't achieve what they have. So... luck obviously isn't the answer.

Having said that, even if luck were the answer, I'd still support meritocracy, because it results in the best outcome. It's not about fairness, fundamentally - it's about creating the best society. If the only people who can do that are "the wealthy" (or whichever category you choose - most likely "the intelligent" these days), then so be it - it's best for all the rest of us if they "rule", meritocratically.

Power doesn't work like that - it accretes to those who are able to leverage it. You generate a permanent power disparity with a gloves off laissez-faire system like that.

I'd worry about your definition of "best society". Is the current system an existence proof in your mind?

"Permanent power disparity", "best society" - that's completely orthogonal to meritocracy. You could implement meritocracy (i.e. most skilled people in temporary position of most power) even in a system that has a "reset" every generation (e.g. by eliminating breeding and growing people Matrix-style). Like markets, meritocracy should be used to "optimize" the outcome towards whatever the society deems beneficial - e.g. these days we consider renewable energy beneficial, so policy is guiding markets to force investment into renewable energy (by taxes etc - despite renewable energy not being competitive on its own) - just a simple example of markets adapting to the values of society.

Yes, the current system (Western-style democracy, capitalism, freedom, markets) is the most meritocratic of all systems realised so far (AFAIK), but that doesn't mean we can't do better still.

I can't speak for anyone else, but when I use "best society" it is code for the following argument that gets as long and involved as there is time to explain:

Human instincts and morals are really well calibrated to small-village life. I take things like the Dunbar number [1] to indicate that we are optimised for a small circle of close relationships.

"Fairness" has a sister in "equality" that is very powerful force on the local scale and scales horribly, to the point where equality being scaled up is usually a warning sign of an incoming economic breakdown where everyone starves. Unfortunately, people keep trying to scale equality up because they want it in their local relationships.

Talking about "permanent power disparities" touches on the same vein of thinking - we know that permanent power disparities are an inevitable feature of society. The attempts to set up societies where there are no permanent power disparities have resulted in permanent power disparities forming, and frequently going to very nasty despots. Modern western civilisation has done _extremely_ well compared to the competition by dangling systemic advantage as the reward for massively improving the industrial base and consumer access to resources. This has worked a lot better than attempts to suppress inequality under, eg, the communist systems.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar%27s_number

I don't see what fairness and equality have to do with one another. Consider a poor person and a rich person. The poor person gives $100 to charity and the rich person gives nothing. They're not economic equals, but which would be more fair? A tax deduction for the poor guy or the rich guy? Extrapolate.

Without splitting hairs, I think we should avoid normatives when speaking across the board about merit. For example, "should be rewarded" is a bit of an odd phrase given that the market and other factors will affect the degree of the reward. You can be a very accomplished scholar, but make very little because the market doesn't reward that kind of stuff. Plenty of things escape market reward and it is profoundly erroneous to elevate the market to some kind of supermetric of human worth or merit and reduce all valuable activity to the profitable. I certainly prefer fairness over unfairness as a general principle, but fairness has its place.

Whether luck is involved or not is of little interest to me. I think we obsess too much about money and tie it too much with human worth. In part because we like to think of ourselves as meritocratic, some of us feel compelled to justify our wealth differences to ward off the envious (plenty of that to go around). I'm not sure how you tie this into creating a "best society". I think arguments can be made that intersections of money and power/power and ambition are the most dangerous. Indeed, an argument against democratic republics is that those with a lust for power will tend to seek office and once they have it, believe they are entitled to it because they merit it as a result of their own actions. Hereditary monarchs, on the other hand, know fully well that they didn't ascend to the throne through their own efforts and that they are in a position of responsibility w.r.t. their people. (Note that most monarchies were not despotic despite the folklore because they were checked to varying degrees by tradition, the lords, the Church, etc, and were guided by advisers who brought their knowledge to the table, thus divorcing expertise from that bounded and constrained power.)

"Should be", "best society", "meritocracy" etc - I used all of these in the sense of my ideal world, not the actual one. Feel free to critique either the concept of meritocracy (in an ideally meritocratic world), or the current society, but please don't combine the two, saying "meritocracy is bad because markets don't reward the best academics" or something similar, that simply a logical fallacy.

This is a frequent criticism that is IMO completely off base. Nobody is saying that this world is particularly meritocratic (although I think Western-style democracy+capitalism+markets is experimentally the most meritocratic system ever realised).

"If the only people who can do that are "the wealthy"..."


Unless you're a strong believer in free will, someone who is lazy, sleazy, unintelligent, etc. (has little "merit") did not 'choose' to be born that way, or even if they say they did, they did not choose to have the nature/nurture that caused them to be the kind of person to make that 'choice.' No more than a bird chooses to eat a worm or a salmon chooses to swim upstream, anyway. We can build productive societies based on incentive structures we put around merit, such as capitalist market systems. But in reality, nothing is fair and simultaneously everything is fair. Fairness is undefinable outside of a closed system. It's just how it is. Heuristics to define merit are just forms of evolution for human society that allow more productive people to command more responsibility.

> However, it is also how humans work - we want to advantage our inner group over other groups.

This is too broad. Is it really so? I believe that we don't want to disadvantage ourselves relative to other groups. But that we want to gain advantage at somebody's else expense - not sure.

It is absolutely so.

I would much rather help a friend or group of friends do well as opposed to randoms or people I don't like. First, I like my friends and want them to be happy (and am going to be the one who hears about it when they aren't), so I have a vested interest in helping them achieve happiness and success whereas I have a weak interest in the happiness and success of randoms as we have no relationship. Second, if I can help my friends become happy and successful, they become better able to help me become happy and successful (by pooling resources, providing advice, providing introductions, creating mutually beneficial opportunities, creating happiness by spending time with me, providing trust and facilitating vulnerability, providing capital or expertise etc). This sets up a positive feedback loop and creates strong ROI for my efforts. I get net negative ROI from helping a random (assuming no relationship will develop and I expend time or funds) so it's far less likely that I will use my scarce time and resources to do it.

The entire world runs on relationships, favors, and reputation.

Exactly. How many friends have you helped move for free? How many total strangers?

We do a lot more for people we know and like and trust than for randoms; I don’t believe this is restricted to just a few cultures. It shows in nature as well, unless there’s a massive amount of anthropomorphism going on in those studies. Rather more likely, it seems there would be selection pressure in favor of helping your offspring and those close to you.

How do you know that's not a cultural norm you learned? Blanket pronunciations on human nature tell me more about you than anyone else.

I'm fully willing to admit that there may be functional cultures in the world which frown upon showing preference to friends or family at the expense of random people. I've yet to see any of them though.

Well this is certainly one axis along which they vary.

There's a line between "is it OK to start a start-up with your dorm-mate?" and "is it OK to spend 5% of the nation's budget buying submarines through your brother-in-law's banana company?"

You have information about your dorm-mate, and you aren't acting on behalf of others. But if the same norms applied to CEOs and judges, we could not have our civilisation.

"But if the same norms applied to CEOs and judges, we could not have our civilisation."

Those norms don't apply to CEOs and judges?

News to me.

There was an article posted here recently about the originator of the term "meritocracy". He wasn't entirely positive about it:


From one of my comments: That's the weird part: “I.Q. + effort = merit” sounds pretty positive, right?


"A system of class filtered by meritocracy would, in his view, still be a system of class: it would involve a hierarchy of social respect, granting dignity to those at the top, but denying respect and self-respect to those who did not inherit the talents and the capacity for effort that, combined with proper education, would give them access to the most highly remunerated occupations."

The intended result doesn't sound very appealing. Then there was this quote:

"Young’s vision was decidedly dystopian. As wealth increasingly reflects the innate distribution of natural talent, and the wealthy increasingly marry one another, society sorts into two main classes, in which everyone accepts that they have more or less what they deserve. He imagined a country in which “the eminent know that success is a just reward for their own capacity, their own efforts,” and in which the lower orders know that they have failed every chance they were given. “They are tested again and again…. If they have been labeled ‘dunce’ repeatedly they cannot any longer pretend; their image of themselves is more nearly a true, unflattering reflection.”"

That sounds familiar.

"But one immediate difficulty was that, as Young’s narrator concedes, “nearly all parents are going to try to gain unfair advantages for their offspring.” And when you have inequalities of income, one thing people can do with extra money is to pursue that goal. If the financial status of your parents helped determine your economic rewards, you would no longer be living by the formula that “I.Q. + effort = merit.”"

And so does that.

> Should parents be allowed to try to give their children a boost in life?

Like many things in social contract, the answer is - okay to a reasonable degree, but extremes should be discouraged / forbidden.

Some concrete examples: annual limits on gift taxes, inheritance tax beyond a certain estate size etc. Policies which will level the playing field between rich and poor kids:

- very high rate of inheritance tax beyond $1M estate (some reasonable adjustment for inflation)

- no legacy based admissions for any university benefitting from govt money

- funding schools strictly at state level; not allowing local district to fund extra school activities in any way (because that is prone to gaming)

- CA specific: disallowing inheriting tax basis for inherited homes (one of the most stupid aspects of Prop 13 and CA housing policies)

I am confused about taxes. When a person gives their family member a gift, why do you feel entitled to a portion of this private exchange of wealth?

I think the point is that if you can hand down a lot of wealth to your kids, they are already on a different playing field than other kids. it's fine to transfer wealth, but the way things are today means that that wealth can be used to buy a better education.

The only reason you can accumulate and have wealth, is that the society exists.

Same question but for wages or purchases. Are you arguing against estate taxes or all taxes in general?

> Should parents be allowed

To paraphrase: "the question is not who will let them, but who will stop them?"

What theories of economics tell us is that favoring one party over the other for reasons that aren't utility or value derived is being inefficient with your allocation of resources, compared to a market only allocates based on how much utility is derived (a free competitive market or globally scoped decision making, I'm not sure if "free market" is even how economists view the market anymore). So the argument is that Nepotism, Nationalism, or anything that favors parties for reasons other than value / merit is seen as inefficient.

To understand this, consider this - if you're bill gates, would you rather live in a society where your just your kids are well educated, smart contributors to making the life of all humanity better, or a society where EVERYONE that has potential is well educated and smart contributors to society. If you have $100 bucks, you'd think - my limited resources is not able to do the latter, even though its better both for me and humanity as a whole to invest in everyone, so let me stick to the former. But a rational actor with infinite resources who cares about their own well being will realize that their society is only as good as everyone in it, and would push for the latter kind of resource distribution.

Of course, your goal doesn't have to be acting efficiently in a global market. It's not morally wrong to act inefficiently (although some would have you think it is).

The problem isn't that rich kids get stuff that helps them. It's that other kids don't, which puts them at a major disadvantage.

This. If society must be based on equity rather than equality, then I'd rather see it be done by boosting people up to the same level, rather than knocking everyone down to the same level. Otherwise, society could start looking a lot like Harrison Bergeron, and that's not a society I'd want anything to do with.

This isn't going to be popular, but the "general idea" of what could be fair and "the specific application" will never be on the same side.

Why? On one hand - I love the general idea that everyone should start on the same playing field.

On the other hand - My work ethic should infact give my children a major advantage.

I know it's not PC to say that, but most fathers would like to "give an advantage" to their children. It's baked in to our basic psychology.

Maybe the question is "who decides" and then "who enforces" fair?

To me, it's not so much that they shouldn't be allowed to do that - it's just that we need to recognize the advantage it gives.

These statistics should give a person pause when they talk about "bootstraps" or when they hold a Calvinist perspective that a person not being successful somehow "deserved it." It doesn't mean that we need to have some sort of totally even playing field: but it does mean that we shouldn't pretend the field is even - even if the actionable result is just to treat poor and/or unsuccessful people with more empathy and compassion than we might have previously. And perhaps a measurement more of self-examination when we decide (consciously or unconsciously) that we are "better" than others due to our success.

The question is what interest we have when designing our laws and culture in providing opportunities to people born with fewer of them. People who can provide tremendous value are being shut out because of inequality, and I want a talented person who could start a business and create tens of thousand of jobs to have that chance not just out of fairness (like you say) but because it's also good for all of us.

So yeah, people can inherit wealth but it seems obvious there is tons of opportunity to unlock a lot of potential that's being thrown away due to people being blind to the costs of income inequality.

Are they actually being shut out because of laws and culture, though?

Most of the instances I've heard of where talented but disadvantaged people are shut out of opportunities are actually because of implicit bias. Someone may be very good at a particular skill, but they don't "pattern match" as the type of person who would be successful, and so they get passed over by the folks who could give them opportunities.

The thing is - this is self-correcting by market mechanisms. It's profitable to spend a little more time overcoming your unconscious biases and learning to evaluate candidates on their own merits, because by doing so, you can get a talented employee who others are not extending offers to, likely for less money. And then once people realize this, either they'll do it or they'll be outcompeted by people who do it, and wages will go up for disadvantaged groups.

We don't need collective action or societal change, we just need more greedy bastards who want to fuck over their competition by being smarter than them. There's a market opportunity here for people willing to get over their prejudices.

> The thing is - this is self-correcting by market mechanisms.

Read the article. Clearly it is not.

well it's always the conflict between what are our instincts and what we renounce in the name of civilization. The dramatic illustration is just that powerful people can just use violence to get food from other people, it's natural, but we have created laws against it.

Do we want meritocracy because it is an enlightened value or do we want to follow the instinct of having our genes spread as far and wide as possible. That's the kind of societal dialog politics is made for.

> legacy admissions

Parents who donate a lot of money to a college will expect preferential admissions treatment for their offspring. Colleges certainly know this, and they want the money.

Obviously, but that's not how it should be because it's ridiculously unfair.

Our best universities involve a symbiosis between the bright and the rich. They're famous for the talents of the brightest, which achieve their full extent because the rich paid... to be around this fame. This has, for a few centuries, been quite a productive system.

Other systems are possible, but they have other tradeoffs. You can for instance pay for everything out of taxes, but this means putting those in control of the tax system in charge, and they have their own interests. The extreme of this was the USSR, and it did great science in some areas. But was far from paradise.

Universities in the UK are tax funded, and they're pretty independent...

Donating $5 million to get one kid into an university allows a new lab to be built. Or more scholarships to be offered for lower income students. Or better quality of life overall for the students on the campus. It feels slimy and unfair in that someone can just buy their way into college, but unless we start funding colleges in a much more sustainable way in the US, I'm okay with donation based admissions.

When a parent donates 1 million dollars to a school with the expectation that their child will gain admission and that 1 million dollars allows the school enough resources to bring on 5 more students than they expected does it really matter?

We should be optimizing for maximum utility not dubious concepts such as fairness.

Many times those colleges are great because of those donations... So maybe it is fair... Perspective

Colleges are also likely to publicly insist they don't do legacy and donation based admissions, but do it anyway. For Rodney Dangerfield's hilarious lampoon of this, see the movie "Back to School".

Who are you to decide what's fair?

Honestly, I think that the boost provided by money is probably quite small. At a certain level, poverty is going to detract from a young person's ability to succeed, but money very rarely begets success.

What I think is far more likely the case is that parents who succeed in their lives are far better prepared to teach their children how to succeed as well. Further, that they're better at giving them a leg-up in networking and opening doors for them.

The fact that this study cites "academic success" as a measure for determining capability for business success shows that the author himself doesn't really understand how to make big money. Does he really think most entrepreneurs are genius level IQ?

I have a totally different interpretation. This study is evidence pointing towards the extreme failure of the public school system. The purpose of public schools is to provide talented, hard-working people with the tools to succeed. Schools haven't been preparing children for success, they've been largely focused on preparing them for college, and in turn for graduate school. They have not been teaching kids the values and skills which allow them to genuinely get ahead in life.

The thing about money is that you don't need to be successful if you have enough of it. The job of a heir(ess) is to live long enough to inherit and not get disowned.

Granted there are a few cases where even money can't save someone. A severe schizophrenic for instance could have poor quality of life even if they receive top quality care and have a trust fund. Technically they are better off than if they were poor and had it but the good is greatly reduced.

> Should parents be allowed to try to give their children a boost in life?

I'm pretty happy to have been brought up poor. I had to figure things out for myself, and if things went wrong, it was my fault. Emerson's "Self Reliance" became my guiding star. To be "indefatigable" is not something easy to teach if you have options for exits.

As Dylan put it, "helpless, like a rich man's son"

It doesn't make me rich; but it certainly doesn't make me think of wealth as the end all, be all, in life.

>Should parents be allowed to try to give their children a boost in life?

If society really believed and committed in meritocracy, no. But this is always the trap of meritocracies: people lower ladders for friends and family. And that is what always corrupts meritocracy in a free society.

Of course they should be allowed,the only line I would draw is to not let the boosting cripple your child. You would rob the child perseverance and many life lessons if you don't let him/het fight for their share of the figurative pie.

Good old meritocracy[0]

[0]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GT2iU9pAI_Y

Equality can be considered as many different things:

* Equal treatment under the law

* Equal treatment by kinda-public things like corporations and universities

* Equivalent opportunities in general

* Equivalent results

Could society benefit if more people had these opportunities?

If people really wanted a level playing field the only solution would be to remove children from their parents at birth and implement a state controled education system from that point to your active life.

But most socialists are ok to take from other to give until it touch their family.

> Contrast that with a finding from the other end of the genetic scoring scale: about 27 percent of those who score at the bottom quarter of the genetic index, but are born to high-income fathers, graduate from college.

Is this "genetic index" real and scientifically accepted? It sounds vaguely like eugenics.

> And their work has limitations, in addition to being limited to white people for now.

I guess you can use the idea of "genetic scoring" as long as you side step race, but the idea has a long dark history and strikes me as un-scientific.

They talk about these things in the article. Somebody did a study on retirees, and 20,000 of them gave DNA samples as well. They used the DNA samples and did a broad test (i.e. not 1 gene but 1,000,000) and were able to correlate the genetic test at a significant level with educational attainment. The article says it explains 11% of the difference. It also mentions that it only explains these things for white people because most gene tests are on white people and attempting to correlate things in other ways can come up with bizarre findings. The test has reportedly been independently verified.

It has nothing to do with eugenics. One can also create a genetic index/profile for heart disease risk or anything else.

Pre-disposition to illness is fine. But that's not what the researchers are talking about when they talk about a superior "genetic score".

No-bullshit link: https://archive.is/Yp12Q

Also, I feel like it's necessary to point out just how scummy this site really is. They advertise a more expensive, no-tracking subscription, but say "By subscribing, you agree to the use by us and our third-party partners of technologies such as cookies to personalize content and perform analytics" on the subscription page.

I think this article sets up the paper against two incorrect worldviews:

1. America is a genetic meritocracy -- you achievement is based on your potential. My interpretation of "traditional" American values is more focused around hard work, toughness, and foresight ... this sort of thing: https://www.trumanlibrary.org/lifetimes/farm.htm . I'm pretty sure the idea that your academic performance determines your place in society is the tradition of somewhere but I don't think it is America: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperial_examination .

2. That going to college is not a direct product of wealth. Spending 4 years of adulthood doing something other than work could itself be used as a measurement of wealth. It feels to me like they are comparing two slightly different measurements of wealth and acting like it is something else.

Almost everyone in the study population would have gone to college before 1990, so their choices aren't based on the current situation, they are based on the situation 30 years ago as well.

The one thing I am positive about is that is provides evidence that wealth is actually a positive influence on education ... maybe it will help people who value education above all support pro-wealth policies like lower tax.

I never really understood why lower tax is pro-wealth. What does it really mean? I am not trolling, I am really curious. Let's say I see some opportunity to grow my wealth, am I going to look at the current tax level and if it's above certain threshold I am just gonna say screw it, I am not taking it?

Yup, exactly which is why the rates for capital gains are reduced. If you make the capital gains high enough the reward you get for taking the risk won't be high enough.

I think it has a bigger deterrence effect with non-capital gains income. Once you start getting in the higher income tax brackets, it isn't really worth it to put in more hours for additional income when 50% of it is taken in income tax off the top. That's how I look at it at least.

I am paying 52% income tax rate in the upper bracket. I doesn't stop me from trying to increase my income.

Clarification - I am not making any claims as to whether I support this tax level or not. I am just saying it doesn't discourage me from trying to get ahead.

For my own account, I pay a similar marginal rate (my state tax is slightly lower than yours, but all in I’m at 50-ish percent).

That distorts my willingness to employ lower skilled help. I change my own brakes because the $250 in labor/markup that I might have to pay costs me $500 to earn. If I don’t have a productive way to earn more than $500 in exchange for the small time savings, my family is better off with my changing brakes than working on something else and a mechanic doesn’t get 2.5 hours of pay and some shop loses out on their cut. Same story for lawn care and other tasks that could easily help support employment of some workers.

In economic modeling of course it does, and in terms of individual experience, which can vary from that , Im willing to challenge it as well.

If they told you that if you volunteered for government on saturdays, they would exempt you from income tax altogether, would you do it?

I would, that's a great deal.

Im pretty sure most people would: its working more time, for paying less taxes. An intuitive example of how taxation does affect the amount of time worked, at any income level.

> reward you get for taking the risk won't be high enough.

Also, as long as the tax rate is less than 100%, the reward will be higher than 0, which is what you get if you don't invest at all.

That reasoning is correct if the investment is risk-free.

But what if you are investing in stocks or corporate bonds or a broadway play or a promising health technology company like Theranos? There is a non-trivial chance that your reward will be less than 0 - and it could even be a complete wipeout. The low capital gains rate is meant to encourage people to put money at risk rather than sit on it.

We are talking about risk-adjusted return. That's right. So as I long as expected risk-adjusted return is positive, a rational investor is supposed to invest regardless of the tax rate. I would think.

It's not that simple because taxes modify gains but not losses.

Imagine we bet $1 on a coin toss. The expected value for either of us is $0. Now imagine the winner is required to pay 10% tax on his proceeds. The expected value becomes (-$1.00 + $.90)/2 = -$0.05.

Very good example. Let's look at it. Note that the new expected value will be negative regardless of the tax rate. No matter how low it is. Even if the tax is 0%, the expected value is still, as you pointed out, $0. So a rational investor would not bet on this coin toss regardless.

Also, as brorfred pointed out, capital losses are deductible, afaik.

But aren't business losses tax deductible?

Capital gains tax is calculated from nominal gains instead of inflation-adjusted gains. That's one reason it's lower.

I'm not really considering incentives. I think most people will basically spend their whole lives working, even if you take half their money and throw it down a hole -- maybe especially even if you do that.

To increase wealth the lower tax will have to mean more money under the control of the individual. It doesn't guarantee savings and investment but it makes it possible. For the portion that is taxed, you don't control consumption versus savings, you're locked into the same outcome as everyone else.

One problem you may be encountering with your phrasing is that you aren't distinguishing between two very different things:

1. A lower tax for everyone, including the super-rich.

2. A lower tax for the poor/middle-class, but a progressive and higher tax for the rich.

The first, lowering the tax-rate for everyone, only really helps the super-rich in the first place. The poor currently pay relatively few taxes. Lowering the tax-rate across the board will result in the rich taking home a larger absolute increase in wealth, so it will shift further spending power to the rich.

The second is a common enough socialist talking point, and if that's what you mean to talk about, saying "lower taxes" is a terrible way to do it and will put socialists against you.

I don't really see how you think lowering the tax rate will increase individual wealth for anyone not already doing well. If we reduce the tax rate, that means public transit, healthcare, and schools (all heavily tax subsidized) will suffer, and any change in those disproportionally impacts the poor.

I know you're not literally saying "fuck the poor, they pay negligible taxes now, so let's cut taxes and raise their healthcare costs by crippling the government", but talking about cutting taxes across the board really isn't far from saying "give the wealthy lots more money, the poor a tiny bit more money, and cut funding on social safety nets that only help the poor."

Yes, in microeconomic modeling you find that when your income increases, two competing forces go into effect: that you want to work more because you make more money for each unit you provide, and the "consumption" of leisure goes up because it is now affordable.

Which one wins is something to figure out empirically, but look at the fact that europe has more leisure than the US does, even at the same level of income.

A rational investor is concerned with risk-adjust returns after taxes. The fact that capital gains rates are lower than income rates allows an investor to accept a higher level of risk than if the two tax rates were lower.

Ok, but this has only to do with relative tax rates - capital gains vs. income. It says nothing about absolute rates.

> The one thing I am positive about is that is provides evidence that wealth is actually a positive influence on education ... maybe it will help people who value education above all support pro-wealth policies like lower tax.

I think a valid take away would also be "we should break this relationship such that everyone gets education, regardless of wealth and background".

That seems easier to educate more people than to make more people wealthy.

> maybe it will help people who value education above all support pro-wealth policies like lower tax

I value education very much. I want to see a significantly higher tax-rate because I think it improves the quality of education for those worse off.

I don't think this article changes my view in the least. Our public school system is disgustingly bad in poor neighbourhoods, and I would argue that no small part of wealthy kids going to college is because their parents put them into better schools, either by living in more affluent areas with better public school systems, or by paying for private school.

I would much rather see higher tax-rates with that money allocated to the public school system to reduce the disparity between the public schools in poor and rich areas.

One project I think is interesting is LeBron James' school. When I looked at what the biggest changes are between his school and a normal school, it all looks to me like surrogate parenting -- like he is moving elements from the parenting column into the school column: meals, clothing, transportation, scholarships, literally helping the parents find jobs. My vision for what creates academic and financial success is similar to LeBron James, but I don't support expanding the education system to include more daycare and parenting elements, and I think the government is uniquely horrible at delivering those elements at scale.

In my view the educational component is fine, access to information is better than ever, the major difference is the negative effects of the poverty environment, which can't be resolved through the education system.

Another thing that has to be identified is the components that are zero-sum versus non-zero-sum. In a zero-sum competitive process if educational attainment is based on resource consumption, the wealthy will always win.

I think we basically have an opposite view of the causal relationship. I think education is a product of prosperity, and I think you view prosperity as a product of education. It could be resolved by a randomized controlled trial like drugs are tested, but unfortunately it would be unethical since we'd have to randomly deny people education, or destroy their prosperity.

Based on that example and your support for lowering taxes, I think we may have a more basic disagreement.

I think good societal change, whether it's improving the quality of the life of the ghetto, or whether it's improving education, is better driven by the government than by rich people taking pity on the rest of us.

LeBron's experiment is laudable, but a sustainable solution will come from the government, which is the only entity that can truly direct the money of the entire country (via taxes).

Whether the true problem lies in education or environment, I see a significantly higher tax rate on the wealthy as the easiest way to sustainably improve our situation.

At least on the point of pity of the rich versus government organized relief, I'd definitely support closing the charity and religion loopholes that let the rich escape huge taxes. Another measure I'd support is removing all distinctions between types of income and spending so labor isn't punished relative to capital. It will be difficult because the rich are the most resistant to being taxed, and if they aren't their wealth is temporary. But I think the political will is there and I think it can be done.

Here is a chart of 2015 government spending vs GDP: https://data.oecd.org/gga/general-government-spending.htm

So the US is on the low end of things with the government spending 37.6% of GDP ... looking at the current level of service provided by the all levels of government, that is based on an almost 40% share of the output of the wealthiest country to ever exist. I think that is a pathetic result. Given 40% of the output of the US economy, I think the government should be able to provide all necessities to all citizens at a high level of service: food, shelter, transportation, medicine, education, law enforcement, military defence.

So based on their huge GDP share and horrible performance, I'm against allocating them a higher share. I think the most promising approach would be pure redistribution since it would sidestep the issue of the government's inefficiency. Just take the money from the rich and literally give it to the poor but I don't think it is politically feasible.

My observations are that the problems with the public schools in poor neighborhoods are much more neighborhood and family related than money-for-schools related. Sure, more money might help some, but you’re not going to turn a currently terrible school district into a model one with school money alone.

Parents have at least 3x as much time and probably a greater ratio of impact on education than the school does.

Reminds me of the original "Ocean's 11" -- after silver-spoon punk Jimmy Foster [Lawford] is done needling his gangster soon-to-be stepdad Duke Santos [Romero], Santos launches in to a story about growing up tough in the streets and how it prepared him to "always fight" [and thereby become wealthy], but at a cost of years and health.

After a beat, Foster says "Just goes to show : My way's better."

Santos [incredulous] : "What way is that?"

Foster : "Choose rich parents."

Santos : "Ha! You can bet your boots it is."

Just take a look at Wikipedia. There are more people on there with parents who are university professors, doctors or succesfull entrepreneurs than parents who are farmers. Even though the amount of farmers vastly outnumber the others.

I don't think it is just the money. You also have someone (your parents) to mentor you everyday about how to be "succesfull". They probably have a network you can tap into, someone who knows someone. You wanna start your own business, great let us call X,Y,Z and set up a holding company. Also here is some bootstrap cash.

You most likely also live somewhere nice and have resourceful friends growing up. Hey let us start a business together. You are not going to settle for working at a supermarket because you would have no chance of keeping of the standard of living you had growing up. And those friends, they are dining at the Fat Duck again, while you go to McDonalds.

Almost all of my "succesfull" friends have "succesfull" parents. Even though I lot more friends with parents who have ordinary jobs.

> Just take a look at Wikipedia. There are more people on there with parents who are university professors, doctors or succesfull (sic) entrepreneurs than parents who are farmers. Even though the amount of farmers vastly outnumber the others.

Do you have any data to back this up?

I'm also curious. Strong claims like that require strong evidence.

I'm not just going to take that comment at face value and neither should anyone else.

The article repeats several times something along the lines of "money trumps genes" at the beginning, but it does mention what you're saying later on when talking about why IQ tests were deceiving:

"Such tests can’t be administered at conception, birth or infancy — before high-income parents have given their young children a head start by feeding them well, reading to them at higher rates and enrolling them in more activities.

“Two people who are genetically similar can have strikingly different IQ test scores because the richer ones have invested more in their kids,” Papageorge said. When you look at the raw genetic potential of the two people, though, “you see they’re actually quite similar.”"

Depends on how 'better' is defined. It looks like they are defining 'better' in this study as 'graduating from college'. That seems like an awfully narrow view of better.

Graduating from college is correlated with better life outcomes in a lot of areas, including income, health[1], and life expectancy[2][3].

The causal effect of college graduation on those aspects of life varies, but the correlation is so strong that it makes sense to use it as a proxy for "better".

[1]: https://www.luminafoundation.org/files/resources/its-not-jus... [2]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4435622/ [3]: https://www.mpg.de/10795685/longevity-education

Just if wealth is correlated with graduation, and graduation is correlated with success, doesn't mean that wealth is correlated with success.

If anything, the article could be interpreted to apply the opposite - those skilled poor people that do graduate have climbed so high so fast compared to unskilled rich graduates that they're very likely to climb even farther further in life.

If you're born to wealth but not particularly bright, you might have some any degree and live a lifetime of silenced frustration through easy habits; if you're gifted and poor, you'll struggle and it might take you decades longer but there's still a decent shot at finding deep fulfillment. Gifted talent, pursued, provides a deeper feeling of gratitude in the long run than any means.

Is "deep fulfillment" really linked to accomplishments from being gifted, vs social/family/personal accomplishments?

I think everyone has bright spots so that gifted is something you discover about you, and maybe anyone can be so, given enough hypothetical time. Being gifted in such a social context means actually finding and working your gift, the latter of which takes time and explains why most people haven't/aren't.

You're right that the deeper, long-lasting fulfillment is found in community and personal growth, but there's still a distinct feeling that goes together with being really skilled at something and executing well, including social of course.

Rich always have the advantage of better nutrition, information and resources (if parents don't have time, they hire tutors). Is it truly a genetic advantage or a socio-economic advantage? Is there a good way to hold all other variables as a constant in this study?

Rich parents also are more likely to show their kids how to handle money and get rich. See the book "Rich Dad Poor Dad" by Kiyosaki.

Edit: Teaching kids how to manage money, the time value of money, the basics of running a business, how markets work, etc., is painfully neglected by the schools. Young adults often have little knowledge of this, and it definitely puts them at a serious disadvantage.

Thanks for the info, I didn't know that about him.

I've read his book, and the fundamental idea of looking at money differently is sound. I know I look at money very differently now than I did when I was young. I.e. I view it now as a tool rather than a scorecard.

Yeah, I can see that.

I rather believe in the "God can draw a straight line with a crooked stick" principle, so it's quite possible his advice is good, or at least part of it. Just figured it'd be good to know this about him.

Completing college and getting a well paid job is not the absolute measure of a person, nor the highest attainment of success.


Joan of Arc.

Jesus of Nazareth.

Dr. Martin Luther King.

William Wallace.



Freedom, human dignity, compassion, knowing how to live right. These all tend to fall outside the scope of corporate aspiration.

The article is talking about "success" by essentially a single metric. Humankind does not live by bread alone.

Mohandas aka Mahatma Gandhi (not "Ghandi", please) went to law school in England and had a successful law practice in Apartheid-era South Africa. He was considered a pillar of the Indian community in SA, one of its major civic leaders. It's hard to believe he would've attained such respectability and influence within the community without achieving "conventional" success first.

And his successes against the racist colonial government in SA were what built his reputation and gave him instant credibility when he returned to India.

"Gandhi" (गांधी), not "Ghandi"

born rich (his dad was a provincial minister)


poor (middle-class, if you think a carpenter is that way, maybe)


rich (born a landed knight)

rich (although his father's engineering firm went bust but restarted and did well in the second time and they had money worries at times)

about 0.5-5% of people are rich by most definitions

humankind does not live by bread alone, but put a human in a box and don't feed them and see what happens

Put all humans in a mental box that suggests that how much money they make and how much profit they turn are all that matter and see what happens. That isn't pretty either. We are seeing some of the gruesome outcomes of that currently, for example:


I just skimmed the article, but one huge problem:

Intelligence is known to be largely genetic, but we have almost no idea what genes, or combination of genes are responsible. So whatever genetic correlation this is based on is bound to be nearly meaningless.

We've identified over a thousand genetic loci that predict educational attainment [1], though each one has only a very small effect. That's far from being all of them, of course.

[1] https://www.gwern.net/docs/iq/2018-lee.pdf

It literally specifies all these things in the article. There are thousands of genes that are all in part responsible and the study was initially performed across 20,000 people and then was replicated in independent studies.

I'm sure they used all available knowledge.

My point is that right now we know very little.

For every silver spoon who flies through higher-ed to the gilded cage at the end of the rainbow, there are several more left back home--still living under daddy's shadow--duking it out with the others for a bigger share of the corpse.

Sometimes, we need adversity. Not so much for our bank accounts as for our souls.

You know what's better than both? Perseverance. Learned or by birth,those who can persevere succeed. The world is full of gifted losers. Even those born rich might not amount to more than what they were born with.

If a child grows up to be a decent human being,a functional member of society ,a responsible spouse,parent,child and can hold down a decent job is that person not doing better than a rich and gifted person that can't function well in society and does not treat others well?

All I'm saying is 'better' should mean across the board better. Not just financially , career wise or contributions to society.

So we measure „better“ in life using academic success now? Is academic success the ultimate goal in life, the key to happiness? Or is the WP just pushing typical political propaganda using fake science these days?

"Academic success" as a useful proxy because of how it predicts income, health, longevity, and so on [1], [2], [3].

I'm not sure whether "fake science" in the absence of obvious, easy-to-google evidence is mere intellectual laziness, or if you actually believe that because some people are successful (by many reasonable measures) without an education that this somehow means that education itself is not valuable. In either case, here you go.

[1]: https://www.luminafoundation.org/files/resources/its-not-jus...

[2]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4435622/

[3]: https://www.mpg.de/10795685/longevity-education

> it predicts income, health, longevity, and so on [1], [2], [3].

We already knew that rich people live longer, so what's the point in using "academic success" as an intermediate predictor?

> if you actually believe that because some people are successful (by many reasonable measures) without an education that this somehow means that education itself is not valuable.

Straw man.

It's not a valid (scientific) conclusion to apply the result of correlation studies on a large mixed group to selected subgroups and assume it will apply equally. IOW, rich people with college degree might not live longer than those without just because the general population does.

But my point was something else: a better life is neither measured by wealth nor academic success or life expectancy at 25. It's entirely subjective and such click-baity titles are misleading. It should read "it's better for academic success to be born rich than gifted", but then it would't be sensationalist enough.

> We already knew that rich people live longer, so what's the point in using "academic success" as an intermediate predictor?

That’s because we can then explore if it’s causal or not. Current best research suggests it is, at least in the USA[1]

[1]: Lleras-Muney Adriana. The Relationship Between Education and Adult Mortality in the United States. Review of Economic Studies. 2005;72(1):189–221.Kawachi Ichiro, et al. Money, Schooling, and Health: Mechanisms and Causal Evidence. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 2010;(1186):56–68

> Straw man.

Sorry: how exactly have I misstated your point?

You’ve got a controversial opinion, and an aggressive way of presenting it (fake news). You’re giving it even though it’s not the mainstream opinion, and you’re doing it without reference or attribution. If you actually think I’m not giving you a fair shot, please explain.

My understanding is: You think that since money and lifespan are related, and education and money are related, that IFF lifespan and education are linked it must be through money?

If you've actually got a different point, then you haven’t yet made it clear to me. If you can manage that, I’ll try to address it, but this one has been addressed.

Lot's of nonsense here.

Rich vs gifted? Yeah, right, as if you can control for all the other factors and compare the two.

Rich correlates with so many other things (genetics, support network, exposure to the right kind of things).

Gifted is also impossible to ascertain (e.g. exam scores aren't a perfect indicator of gifteness as ability, perseverance, hard working ethic etc all drive success in life).

What's discussed here cannot be science. Take it for what it is.

The article fails to adequately emphasize a huge point.

Even if wealth gives better odds, it’s not like it’s 10:1. Being gifted, educated, and having a modest but healthy environment are massive advantages.

It would be difficult to calculate the fundamental contributions to society of people in the latter category.

How the hell is this study seen in a negative light? Genes, how fast your brain processes information, CANNOT be changed. That's just biology. Money, education, knowledge - these CAN be changed.

It's better to be born rich than gifted, if you think that college graduation rates are the number one most important thing in the world.

This should be the tag line for politicians in the UK!

The understatement of the century

It's much more likely for a gifted person to become rich than it is for a rich person to become gifted.


A complete fuck up by objective standards? That's the most subjective thing I've heard so far. Everyone that has worked with him has praised him. What are you smoking?

The ABA downgraded him in 2005 from "well qualified" to "qualified", then in 2018 said that his confirmation to the Supreme Court was not in the best interests of the legal profession or the Association. Those are certainly the people who worked most closely with him.

Objectively, you'd want to find one of the top handful of legal scholars in America to serve on the court. Kavanaugh is not one of those people. He has a scant record of legal scholarship. He does have a documented record of getting into fights in bars.

You may not like him, but you are confusing opinion with facts.

Here are some facts:

At least 13 of his opinions have been vindicated by the Supreme Court already.

The American Bar Association unanimously gave him its highest rating: well-qualified.

He has served on the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, often called the Nation’s “second highest court,” for more than 12 years.

He has written more than 300 opinions and heard more than 2,000 cases.

He has taught for more than a decade at the Nation’s two top law schools, Yale and Harvard

He served more than five years in the White House, including as White House Staff Secretary and as Associate White House Counsel.

There are many many more.


I think he is a shitty person and not qualified to be on the supreme court. However, regardless of that he succeeded by any conventional level of success. He was involved before this in the highest levels of government, and is now at arguably the highest level.

Jordan Peterson says it's the opposite. I guess it also depends on how one defines 'rich'. If you're the only child of a multi-millionaire family, then you're in a much better financial position than being one of 3-5 children of a family that is only upper-middle class. But one cannot underestimate the power of having a high IQ though in terms of making wealth. You look at at all these successful people in STEM and start-ups, many from middle-class families and 2nd gen. immigrant families, and they tend to all have high IQs. Just a few days ago someone solved the 310 bitcoin challenge and made a cool $2 million. The person who solved it probably has a high IQ. Same for ppl who invested in bitcoin early. Again and again, with the possible exception of some actor and athletes, you find that with wealth, a high IQ is not far behind.

If I had to pick between IQ and pre-existing wealth, I would choose wealth.

Having a high IQ still requires you to rely on luck by rolling the dice at investing (knowing to buy bitcoin is more gambling than intelligence), squeaking past super selective all-or-nothing societal gateways like Ivy League admissions, FAANG interviews, YCombinator, etc. against very stacked odds, tenacity whenever life randomly and inevitably decides to punch you in the gut, and tremendous sacrifices in terms of hard work, time, MORALITY (screwing people over and fighting hard to prevent others who are actively working against you from doing the same to you), and personal health.

I think the fact that you can solve puzzles really well on a test doesn't really lend itself well to money making at all. There's FAR too much of a chance/luck component to making money to attribute it to IQ alone. Any time I've ever made money, I came back thinking wow, I was very lucky -- even though everyone is still biased towards themselves in terms of their own personal attributes or qualities (intelligence, hard work, savviness, hustling, etc.) when they make money, I can still recognize that yes, buying and selling crypto at the right time was almost entirely luck -- so was teaching myself how to code when I was 8 years old growing up in a rural area where everyone else thought it was a waste of time. Hard work is a necessary but not sufficient condition to make money -- same applies to IQ. Often you'll find people who had the exact same amount of "talent" or worked just as hard doing exactly the same things as someone who has a lot of money but don't have anything to show for it. Right place, right time.

Meanwhile, having money handed to you on a silver plate by virtue of your birth family means being able to accomplish all of the above without doing or sacrificing anything at all, and you even still have a free pass from society to still have an ego about it. Even worse, many people somehow see having money as a moral characteristic while selectively ignoring the very often immoral cost of acquisition.

>If I had to pick between IQ and pre-existing wealth, I would choose wealth.

It depends how one defines wealth. If the choice is framed as choosing between $10 million lump sum with no taxes or any conditions vs. an IQ of 130, then maybe the $10 million and an IQ of 100 is the better bet. However, these studies define 'wealthy' (assuming they even quantify it at all) to be merely upper-middle class, which is much less, and this this wealth is further diluted by number of siblings and other factors.

>. Hard work is a necessary but not sufficient condition to make money -- same applies to IQ.

That's my point and I agree. But many of these articles downplay or ignore the role of IQ. IQ is still necessary but it may not be sufficient.

You need an IQ of at least 140 probably even 150 to make $10 million (4+ stddev). You see people on the street every day with a 130 IQ, that's your average software engineer right there.

No you don't, where is this supposed to come from? 130 IQ on 15 SD is probably significantly too high as well to be the mean average.

Mean IQ world-wide (and also in America) is 100. Software engineers here in San Francisco are nowhere close to average intelligence across the US. Data shows differences across professions for IQ, and software engineering lands firmly on the 2 stddev (130 IQ) mark. Remember, populations aren't distributed evenly, and smarter people than average tend to end up in SF Bay. It's difficult to be well-calibrated if you haven't spend enough time outside the bubble here.

I'm open to being wrong here, but where can I find a source on this?

I only found this one chart [1], and the mean averages seem to be lower than 130. I have no idea how reliable this is. I can't speak to San Francisco at all, but I can't find the data.

I'd also include "web developer" with software engineer, and everyone with no knowledge of CS theory, just all software developers in my opinion.

[1] http://www.iqcomparisonsite.com/Occupations.aspx

Without doing too much digging, one of the first results in my quick Google search suggested a 128 IQ average:


Google and Facebook engineers even push 140 IQ when you look at how selective they are. For example, many Top 10 university graduates work there, and just based on SAT score acceptances alone, the average IQ at a top US university crosses 140-150 easily.

I still disagree on the IQ requirement for money, but looks like you're right about this. I was mistakenly searching for "average IQ by profession", rather than "average iq for engineers". Thank you for the link!

Right, I wouldn't call it a "requirement" per se, but not having such a high IQ is like being only 6 feet tall in the NBA. It takes some serious cognitive abilities to be able to amass 8 figures without any prior family fortune of any sort.

I've lived in the Bay Area since before starting kindergarten. No way the average IQ of software engineers here, or anywhere, is close to 130. Software engineering might be one of the only STEM disciplines that gives credibility to the Ortega hypothesis.

How so? I don't see how the average software engineer IQ being 100 vs 130 affects the (rather questionable) proposition that the large mass of average/mediocre software engineers MIGHT outperform the handful of Jeff Dean's (the claim made by the Ortega Hypothesis). Just based on the IQ population distribution alone, it's not unreasonable to think that Jeff Dean has a 160-170+ IQ.

It is still a questionable proposition -- "10x engineers" are a thing, and brilliant singular insights that unlock billions of dollars in productivity like the concepts of convolutional neural networks and MapReduce are the brainchild of rare chart-defying individuals, rather than a product of the masses working in tandem. The Pareto Principle still seems to hold, even for software engineering (just ask any Bay Area software company's HR department).

Regardless, as an appeal to intuition, there is some sort of minimum bar (software engineers are still a VERY scarce commodity, as evidenced by market dynamics), suggesting that the average individual (100 IQ) is ill-equipped to take on the sort of abstract reasoning and novel thought processes so readily discarded by billions of years of prior evolution (indeed, knowing C++ would not have helped you as a primordial human fighting off that hungry sabertooth tiger) needed to comprehend and write robust code wading through some of the most complex systems (the Linux kernel is millions of lines of code) ever fathomed by humankind. This is the whole premise behind IQ theory, which really just boils down to a simple statistical argument.

Haha, in my various jobs I always considered myself fairly gifted in intelligence. Then one day I met a guy who is actually clearly damned intelligent - a technical cofounder of a company. The speed with which he would comprehend a problem and approach it was off the charts in comparison to me. Quite remarkable, really, and it sort of made me realize how smart some people can be. It was like going to college again and finding out that while you were exceptional in school, you’re now with a lot of people just like you. Love it.

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