The Return of the King

I always enjoy reading the Becker-Posner blog, because their posts are generally big-picture surveys of big problems. That is a fairly rare and valuable thing in a world where the vast majority of critical commentary is focused around small detailing problems. However, at times, I think their persuasive reasonableness masks that they are essentially both still very far on the right spectrum in the terms that I understand. The most recent moment of jarring revelation I was this:

One possibility is that, because of increased assortative mating as a result of declining discrimination and of the efficiency of online search for potential mates, there are greater differences in IQ across families than there used to be.

From Posner’s post on income inequality. [http://www.becker-posner-blog.com/2013/10/equality-of-opportunity-posner.html] In a nice even diction, amongst a range of possible causes of income, we could easily miss the implications of a statement like this. Of course, you know, people try and mate with those who are similar to themselves, so smart people seek smart mates and dumb people seek dumb people, and so you naturally get stratification in society. Obvious! Except that this is little short of suggesting that the reason we shouldn’t pursue an agenda of eugenics is that agenda will be inexorably fulfilled by the natural living conditions in modern society. Let’s not even bother addressing their continuing emphasis on IQ as perhaps the key indicator of future success.

One comment, taken well and truly out of context, isn’t enough to hang anyone as a right-wing ideologue. I thought this specific article made a number of interesting and potentially valid points, such as the value of immigrants. However, the gist of the piece overall is that the rich get richer, and that this is down to good breeding, essentially. I think that this misses a chance for Posner to have seen an even bigger picture – what are the implications of “ranking” people by income to begin with, and what are the political implications for entrenching a monied class? By suggesting that this is essentially a natural process, isn’t Posner implicitly suggesting that the USA is presently on the return to having a de facto aristocracy, where aristocracy is the natural state for human civilisation? How does an aristocracy interact with his clear preference for merit-based social processes? How does it interact with democracy generally?

Inequality is a fantastically complex topic, and the Becker-Posner treatment of it raises a number of interesting points. It seems to me though, that if we begin to accept this kind of premise, we could really end up endorsing a notion of society that does not look very much like the society we’re purporting to desire.

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