Income, IQ, and Effort

Thomas Lifson, American Thinker, December 1, 2013

Liberal media bon pensants are in a huff over remarks delivered by London’s Mayor Boris Johnson suggesting that IQ and effort have something to do with income. See, for example, Steven Erlanger of The New York Times:

Boris Johnson, the flamboyant, self-mocking and ambitious mayor of London, has put his gilded foot in his mouth once again, suggesting that the poor of Britain are victims of low I.Q. and that greed is good. (snip)

. . . his comments on Wednesday night in the Margaret Thatcher Lecture at the Center for Policy Studies here have created an uglier fuss, with the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, of the Liberal Democrats, accusing Mr. Johnson of a “careless elitism” and discussing humankind “as if we are a sort of breed of dogs.”

Mr. Johnson is no scientist, but he has stepped into the kind of debate over the relationship of I.Q. to race and poverty that has tripped up many others before him. He was defending the record of Mrs. Thatcher and her belief in hard work and meritocratic reward, and he urged both helping the poor and giving more support to the brightest. But as he did so, he appeared to mock the 16 percent “of our species” who have an I.Q. below 85 and urged that more help be given to the 2 percent who have an I.Q. of 130 or above.

You can watch excerpts of his talk here:

Britain’s Guardian, which regards itself as the leading organ of the left wing intelligentsia, busied itself ginning up an editorial pretending that Johnson is probably a racist:

[Johnson used] a bizarre metaphor–“The harder you shake the pack, the easier it will be for some cornflakes to get to the top” – which was likely designed to confuse with colour, and make sure that this ambitious politician didn’t say too much. But entrusted with the reins of the most unequal city in an unequal country, in emphasising that “human beings who are already very far from equal in raw ability”, he was plainly using his shattering fact to rally to the defence of an unequal order.

Moreover, the Guardian insists Johnson must be a scientific ignoramus:

As a matter of convention, average IQ has been defined as 100, with the distribution calibrated–again, purely by convention–to a standard deviation of 15. Seeing as IQ tests have evolved to secure the same bell-shaped (“normal”) curve found in physical natural phenomenon, it drops out as a matter of logic that roughly 16% of people will indeed be assigned an IQ below 85, and about 2% a score of 130+. These statements convey no information about anything except the way that IQ is defined. Any idea that they say anything about “our species” is, well, specious. An intelligent man (which Mr Johnson undoubtedly is, whatever his IQ) ought not to claim they are “relevant” to debates about pay.

Is the Guardian really pretending that just because IQ measurements have been normalized that there isn’t a a distribution of intelligence across the population? This question was treated in depth in the monumental 1996 work The Bell Curve, by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, which the Guardian editorial causally slurs as “pop scholarship.”

In fact, Johnson’s lecture was far from racist or hard-hearted. It was a plea to be honest about the origins and solutions for the rising inequality of income in Western democracies, a phenomenon that concerns both conservatives and liberals. Erlanger summarizes:

He said that inequality was inevitable and essential to spur envy and ambition, and hailed greed as a critical spark for economic activity, even as he said he hoped that the financial boom of London would not produce the cruelty of the past.

“I also hope that there is no return to that spirit of Loadsamoney heartlessness–figuratively riffling bank notes under the noses of the homeless,” he said. At the same time, he spoke about growing inequality as a danger to civic peace and made an analogy comparing people to cornflakes in a cereal box that, when shaken hard produced some cornflakes that rose to the top.

“For one reason or another–boardroom greed or, as I am assured, the natural and God-given talent of boardroom inhabitants–the income gap between the top cornflakes and the bottom cornflakes is getting wider than ever,” he said, adding, “We cannot ignore this change in relative economic standing, and the resentment it sometimes brings.”

David Paulin comments on this:

I remember reading years ago in some academic studies that, in fact, you tend to have a range of IQs among various professions and vocations. And I took that to mean that you might have some doormen or janitors with IQs comparable to physicians, and physicians who have IQs no higher than the smartest janitors. (Heck, I know this from personal experience!) But as generalizations go, I don’t think it’s at all controversial to say that well-adjusted people with talent and drive, and other qualities (including IQ), are going to tend to head toward the top of the socio-economic ladder, and you will thus have inequality as a consequence.

Just so. The left is the group that wants to pretend: that effort has nothing to do with outcomes, that all people are equally endowed with talents, and that the only just outcomes are equal, as if effort and ability deserve no reward.

My own take on the reasons for rising inequality is similar to Johnson’s metaphor of shaking the box of cornflakes. Globalization is the primary box-shaker. The worldwide scale of, say, Facebook and Google, has made the rewards going to the innovators and entrepreneurs that succeed far greater than the rewards that used to be possible. At the same time, globalization has brought competition to many occupations that once upon a time were able to monopolize national labor markets through unionization and regulation. The most obvious example are automobile workers. At one time, the UAW was able to extract the highest standard of living the world has ever known for semi-skilled laborers, because foreign automobile manufacturers were not a meaningful factor in the US market in the 1950s and early 60s. But as foreign competition has increased, that standard of living has necessarily declined.

The time for left wing fantasies about social justice is ending. It is time everyone admitted that talent and effort count. Yes, there are people whose intiial starting point in life is less advantageous than others. But effort and ability (and ability is plastic, I believe–it can be enhanced by study, practice, and effort) count for more than does life’s starting point.

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  • Andy

    “[Johnson used] a bizarre metaphor–”The harder you shake the pack, the easier it will be for some cornflakes to get to the top” – which was likely designed to confuse with colour, and make sure that this ambitious politician didn’t say too much. But entrusted with the reins of the most unequal city in an unequal country, in emphasising that “human beings who are already very far from equal in raw ability”, he was plainly using his shattering fact to rally to the defence of an unequal order.”

    The leading organ of the left-wing intelligentsia needs a grammar review.

  • sbuffalonative

    Boris Johnson, the flamboyant, self-mocking and ambitious mayor of London, has put his gilded foot in his mouth once again, suggesting that the poor of Britain are victims of low I.Q. and that greed is good.

    ‘Progressive’ MSM reports have mastered the art of mocking those whom they see as speaking the truth. They are to be ridiculed and marginalized. Let those who agree with them know that this too is their fate.

    Mr. Johnson is no scientist, but he has stepped into the kind of debate over the relationship of I.Q. to race and poverty that has tripped up many others before him.

    This is a new tactic that has sprung up in recent years. The claim that people are speaking outside their education and profession. We must not talk about what we see because we’re not educated enough to deny the truth to ourselves and others.

    • Rick Brooks

      “a new tactic that has sprung up in recent years. The claim that people are speaking outside their education and profession. ”

      Yes- like hard-core Marxist Steven Rose claiming that the co-discoverer of DNA’s double helix and former Human Genome Project head James Watson “was out of his depth scientifically, quite apart from socially and politically” when he speculated on genetics, intelligence and race a few years back.

  • Transpower

    I have a better idea: laissez-faire–just leave us alone. There is a probability distribution of IQ and height and weight and practically every other human trait; the government cannot change that. In the hierarchy of ability, those lower receive benefits from those higher, and everyone wins. Remember the economics work of Ricardo; practically everyone can have a comparative advantage in some field.

    • ms_anthro

      They can’t leave us alone any more than a flea can stay away from a dog. They’d die without us, and they know it.

  • Extropico

    Hey Boris, that normal distribution notion that 16% have an IQ under 85 is applicable to a general White population. London has plenty of Blacks and Browns and likely has more than 16% of its population with IQs under 85.

    • NeanderthalDNA

      Ah the blind meat grinder of pseudo-Marxist totalitarian “democracy”…

      People go in, equal proportions of ground meat comes out. Simple, dehumanizingly beautiful…

  • Spartacus

    Non-White mayor of London: “Sometimes, common sense makes sense.”
    Media: “NAZIWHOWANTSTOKILLSIXMILLIONJEWS! KILL HIM BEFORE HE BURIES UP ANNE FRANK AND RAPES HER SKELETON! “

    • So CAL Snowman

      Pretty much, and yet still so many people that SHOULD be on our side continue to wax nostalgically about how America “won” World War 2. I can’t express how important the TRUTH about World War 2 is to the Pro White movement. Without World War 2 Germany to demonize, White identity and White pride would be perfectly acceptable in the White world.

  • willbest

    Its all luck and privilege. I was lucky that I realized I could fill a need and started my own business, and it was privilege that got me that bank loan. And it was privilege that got me my clients and luck that I was able to do the work correctly.

    • Transpower

      I assume, willbest, you are being satirical!

    • JohnEngelman

      World War II made the civil rights movement possible. After that war most people in the United States did not want to think that racial differences mattered, or even that they existed. In addition, blacks contributed loyally to the war effort.

      • Transpower

        I don’t have a problem with equal rights to life, liberty, and property to each individual. What I object to is special rights and privileges, such as affirmative action and welfare, to anyone.

  • libertarian1234

    “Boris Johnson, the flamboyant, self-mocking and ambitious mayor of London, has put his gilded foot in his mouth once again, suggesting that the poor of Britain are victims of low I.Q. and that greed is good.”

    Is it necessary to say we lost the culture war and this society (and the entire West) has deteriorated into a close facsimile of George Orwell’s 1984 to a large extent?

    We’re not there completely but we’re heading non-stop in that direction. The propagandists have brought us to a point that Orwell made, which is that,” The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.”

    And this example is just one of many that clearly reveals we have drifted FAR from the truth.

    And we are headed to such totalitarian control that Orwell’s famous other assertion about the truth will also prove to be the societal norm: “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

    Of course all this will be true only IF some brave hearts don’t decide enough is enough and march on the castle with pitchforks, as Pat Buchanan once described.

  • Spartacus

    He’s part turk .

  • MBlanc46

    Apparently the argument has become strong enough that all guns have to be brought to bear whenever someone advances it.

  • negrolocaust

    most blacks are drugged up or doped up all the time and this lowers their IQ even more than the average 75 that is it normally. blacks are a waste of DNA and a problem and an eyesore to every community on this earth. to me seeing a black walking down the road is like seeing a pile of garbage or trash in the road only the trash is worth more than the black.

    • The Final Solution

      All that shuckin and jivin don’t make you feel enriched with vibrant ethnic goodness?

  • sshadow

    Blacks in London would be newer to the western world than Us blacks, and have less admixture with whites. They would be nearer the average 70 IQ of unmixed blacks in Africa. This means that the proportion of these people with an IQ of 85 or lower would have to be more than 85%. Only 1-2 % could be near 100 IQ. Easily 3/4ths of these people will have to be permanently on the dole. What a heavy load for the British to carry. This demographic shift is a genocidal crime of the highest order.

    • M.

      I think the IQ would be a little higher. A good portion of blacks who live in Europe were initially students sent by their universities to pursue their studies and go back home. They just stayed there instead. I don’t know about Britain, but that’s how it is in France and some other north African countries. So their IQ is at the same level of the rest of the country. At least, for the former students.

      A friend of mine in Belgium told me that black crime there is very rare, because most of them came that way. Most of the crime there is committed by Arabs.

  • 48224

    SO WHAT ARE THE MAYOR’S DETRACTORS SUGGESTING, AN IQ OF 85 IS JUST AS LIKELY TO PUT A MAN ON THE MOON AS AN IQ OF 175??? A good portion of the world is literally drunk on political correctness.

    • NeanderthalDNA

      It’s all about being polite.

      Honestly, we need to raise our White kids with a more warrior spirit. Compassion and manners and civility and empathy – all fine and admirable qualities…

      IN MODERATION.

      Those of us who see things as they are need to form a political, social, cultural phalanx, a strong defensive formation that can weather the coming storm until enough of our people awaken. Then we march forward.

      But this will take time and effort and some degree of self control and patience.

  • JohnEngelman

    Antisemites enjoy gloating about the lower IQ’s of blacks and Hispanics. They get angry when I remind them of the higher IQ’s of Jews and Orientals.

    • ms_anthro

      Q: What’s an anti-Semite?

      A: Anyone a “Semite” doesn’t like.

  • 48224

    IQ has nothing to do with success….if you play for the NBA or NFL.

  • Carl

    Too little regard has been given to IQ testing as being an extension of, and refinement of,
    basic assessment–including just plain old eyeball estimation of who is the smartest in terms of how a group of guys manage , say, the competing dimensions of loading
    items onto and out of a delivery truck; or how ably a detective keys into the clues of his trade.
    When properly structured, assessment is a useful, if incomplete, means of doing what IQ tests do more precisely and quickly and with greater reach. There is an obvious reciprocal validation process between assessment/observation and intelligence testing.
    The implications are not comforting to lefties. Notions of a racially distinct group being slower mentally arose from a basic financial and ethical responsibility to protect such people from working injuries and to protect machinery and produce from the mistakes of mentally limited people. Pre-judgment? No. Experience, prudence, and practical ethics.

  • Brian

    So much hand-wringing stupidity from the egalitarians on this…must…keep…head…from…exploding.