By E. Volokh.
‘I don’t intend to blog much more on this, but since a bunch of people raised this point, let me speak to it. The argument (buttressed sometimes by citations to the movie Gattaca) is that rich people will improve their kids’ genes, which will increase social stratification, as descendants of the poorer people will find it harder to compete. I profoundly disagree with this argument.
1. If you take this seriously, it would be largely an argument against private education (and I’ve heard the argument made this way), since of course private education lets rich parents improve their kids’ competitiveness relative to poor kids. You might even be upset when smart people marry other smart people.
Would you support “breeding for equality,” in which smart people self-consciously try to marry dumb people, so their kids wouldn’t have too much of an unfair advantage? Or how about programs that try to persuade smart men that the feminine ideal should indeed be the dumb airhead woman (and, of course, to persuade smart women that they should marry dumb men)? Yes, I realize that there’s potentially a significant difference in degree between the IQ benefits to be gained by genetic engineering and the IQ benefits to be gained by lay genetics (i.e., smart people marrying smart people) or education. But I stress the “potentially,” and in any event the principle strikes me as quite similar.
2. Technological progress is on balance very good, and generally speaking it’s disproportionately produced by smart people (technologists, businesspeople, and so on). More smart people means more chance of cures for disease, of better transportation and information technology, of space flight, of good environmental inventions, and so on. Yes, it’s true that smart people do harm, too; if Hitler had been dumber, the 20th century might have been less bloody. But on balance, I’m pretty sure that it’s good for society generally to have more smart people.
3. Most technologies — computers, CD players, and the like — start out expensive enough that only rich people or institutions can afford them, but then, with technological development and economies of scale, the price falls, and more and more people can access the technology. Some Americans may be too poor to afford them, but most Americans can afford technology that provides most of the key features. Rich people can still afford better stuff, but the marginal quality difference between what the 90th percentile can afford and what the 50th percentile can afford isn’t that vast. (Consider, for instance, personal computers.)
So if you’re concerned that only the top 5% will ever afford getting higher IQ for their kids, that seems highly unlikely. And if you’re concerned that only the top 70% will afford it, and oppose the technology because of the bottom 30%, then I think you have the wrong set of priorities. Work on ways to eventually make it accessible even to the bottom 30%, rather than denying it to the top 70%.
There’s an old Soviet joke about the man who visits Hell. In Hell, there are three giant cauldrons in which the sinners are being boiled. On the rim of one stands a regiment of demons, shoulder to shoulder, constantly using their pitchforks to smack down the sinners who are trying to escape. On the rim of the second walk a few demons, who occasionally whack someone down. The rim of the third is empty, but no-one is getting out.
What’s going on here?, the visitor asks. “There are three kinds of people,” the Devil says. (In the original joke, they are Jews, Russians, and Ukrainians, but in honor of the Orange Revolution I’ve sworn off Ukrainian jokes . . . .) “The first kind is in the first cauldron. When one looks like he’s trying to escape, all the rest follow him. We need a lot of demons to manage them.
”The second kind is in the second cauldron. Occasionally someone is trying to escape, but the others don’t pay any attention. It takes just a few demons to deal with this kind.
“The third kind is in the third cauldron: When one is starting to escape, all the others drag him back down by the ankles.”
Don’t be that third kind.’