The Problem of Meritocracy in One Graph


This is the relationship between an individual student’s performance on two  study-administered math exams in 9th and 10th grade and their family income when they were in 10th and 11th grade.   Data from the HSLS:09, a nationally representative sample of Americans who were in 9th grade in 2009.

15 thoughts on “The Problem of Meritocracy in One Graph

  1. It is almost as if being intelligent is linked somehow to both fiscal success in life and the likelihood of having intelligent offspring…

    There are always outliers (the intelligent poor, the wealthy dumb), but not enough to show up on this kind of graph. It is the success or failure of these outliers that make meritocracy a good philosophy.

    I don’t see the problem.


      1. Meritocracy is itself valuable. There is a problem, however, when the economy’s rewards become focused on a single focal characteristic relatively unresponsive to social or cultural influence, and when that characteristic becomes increasingly stratified into hereditary castes.

        It also, I think suggests that general AI will be exceptionally disruptive, but that’s a different issue.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. 1) The most valuable modern goods are services provided by the high IQ (medical care, education, etc). Services are by definition scarce, they don’t get ever cheaper like flat screen TVs. Lump in proximity to other high IQ people.

        2) The low IQ can’t offer anything of value in exchange for those services. Or at least billions of them worldwide can’t offer anything that isn’t massively oversupplied already.

        3) The low IQ have externalities that make them difficult to be around, so it makes things like real estate (and things tied to real estate like school districts) an increasingly expensive zero sum game betwee the high IQ to avoid the low IQ.

        4) The middle IQ get squeezed between the two, and can’t possibly survive as a distinct class against the ascending high/low alliance.

        The only thing that would work is to keep the low IQ population % small enough and disciplined enough to be somewhat useful and not too in the way. Encourage high IQ fertility by limiting zero sum games over inherently scarce resources. Outlook for successful implentation not good.

        You can’t mandate that someone/something that isn’t useful really is useful. Only way to make it work is supply/demand it to actual usefulness. Hard to do in age of open borders for both people and goods given the shape of the global bell curve and its likely future fertility patterns.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Much better, thank you. If the percentile data is binned per 5%, I wouldn’t show a smooth median either. Just to avoid inadvertently creating a false impression. As for the data itself, ability is heritable (h~0.5) and predicts income (correlated at 0.4 [Jensen]). What else is new?


      2. The first graph didn’t use binned data- I binned it because otherwise the unsmoothed 25th/75th percentile bounced around a lot and were hard to see the trend.


      3. I remember two guys in the 90s who agreed with Jensen on these issues but wrote a book about how increasing meritocratic sorting created problems. Names escape my mind.


      4. I remember two guys in the 90s who agreed with Jensen on these issues but wrote a book about how increasing meritocratic sorting created problems. Names escape my mind.

        No need to be so snarky. I can even agree that it creates problems, but what do you suggest? Remember what happened the other week when Robin Hanson brought up “sexual inequality”? Have you ever tried to argue with a person much dumber than you are, in a situation where they feel as (or more) entitled to be right as you?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, that is the problem. But I’d add that it captures the problem also by what is not even on the chart. Merit – call it civil righteousness – used to include a whole bunch of other things that are not correlated with money or mathematical prowess. Our civil war is over the disestablishment and reestablishment of a new civil righteousness code. But since we can’t agree on even the basics, all we have is $.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. What would you propose for civil righteousness? How would it become the cultural standard of the day? What incentive structure would cause people to value that which yu want them to value?


  3. The wrong graph, I think. The problem with IQ meritocracy is regression to the mean. If I am a master of the universe, my son will not be. So, taking the system as given, my incentive is to loot, metaphorically or actually. Who cares about what I pass on to someone else’s son? Worse, I have an incentive to subvert the meritocracy so that my son can also become a master of the universe.


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