The Genetic Lottery and Fairness


Part III of Human Diversity (2020) addresses the assertion that class is a function of privilege; not merit, character or hard work.  I was on the side of the debate vigorously against a dark, leftist orthodoxy narrative that sees class as just a manifestation of oppression:

A. The system is rigged in favor of heterosexual, white, wealthy males who oppress everyone else and pass their privilege down to the next generation.

My prior view (perhaps idealistically conservative) was:

B. Class is a function of character, determination and hard work (bourgeois values) which are passed down to the next generation.

Both are in contrast to a third view; Murray’s more correct explanation of class:

C. Class is a function of the genetic lottery PLUS character, determination, hard work and a post birth luck.

And this third explanation of class is becoming increasingly obvious, more undeniably true because of two epochal reasons:

  1. Technology, the economy and legal system are growing more complex, making the value of the cognitive ability to deal with complexity soar; and
  2. The American education system has become open to all who are qualified, which has created a new cognitive elite

This is all bad news for the mass poor (the non-cognitive elite) as detailed in books like Murray’s Coming Apart (2012), Average is Over (2013) by Tyler Cowen, and The New Class War (2020) by Michael Lind.  Murray ties wealth and intelligence together in 4 chapters:  Chapter 10 – establishes the heritability of cognitive repertoires.  Chapters 11 and 12 demonstrate that these inherited cognitive repertoires are profoundly important to success in life.  Chapter 13 explains that outside/Government interventions don’t work because the effects they have on personality, abilities and social behavior are inherently constrained.


There is indeed a genetic lottery for cognitive ability.  Murray explains the scientific definition of heritability with an example – SAT scores.  Ordinary public high school SAT scores are in the range of 400-1,600 [low heritability because of the variance ratio].  An elite private high school may be in the range of 1,500-1,600 [very high heritability because denominator of the variance ratio is much smaller than the ordinary school].  The narrower score range at the private school population means those students inherited their cognitive abilities [from their parents’ DNA, not superior upbringing or a good ‘ole boy network].


Murray’s most striking point:   As society does a better job of enabling all of its citizens to realize their talents, the heritability of those talents will rise.  It is a statistical necessity.  Inheritance of valuable IQ, social behavior, personality and other ability is growing in importance.  Is this unfair?  We’ll see latter in Murray’s conclusion that advanced societies have replaced one form of unfairness with another.  The old unfairness was that talented people were prevented from realizing their potential because of artificial barriers rooted in powerlessness, discrimination and lack of opportunity.  The new unfairness is that success is a matter of luck in the genetic lottery.  But this new unfairness is better, more just, less artificial, because…. a mind is a terrible thing to waste.  It’s also deeply baked into our Nation’s philosophical roots, as we’ve seen here often [e.g. my 4/4/18 posts were on the new aristocracy in which we all reside].

Next week, we move to why parental attempts to foster self-discipline, grit and ambition in their children really don’t make much of a difference.  As a success-oriented parent, I was shocked at this!


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