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America: We’re #1! We’re #1! We’re #1?

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Are we the best nation on Earth?

Americans take pride in American dominance the way Yankee fans take pride in the number of World Series trophies they’ve won over the years. We have a certain arrogant swagger that is born from winning. Nothing breeds confidence like success.

But the Yankees are a sports team, not a nation. Sports have winners and losers and the outcome is cut and dry. Life on the other hand isn’t so clear-cut. What do we use to define this “number 1” status?

Is it because we are the land of opportunity? We are told from the time we are a child that anyone can grow up to be President. That anyone can go from the poorhouse to the penthouse. We are sold on images of rags to riches stories. But are they real? Not necessarily.

Recent studies have shown that upward mobility is on the decline in the U.S.

A classic social survey in 1978 found that 23% of adult men who had been born in the bottom fifth of the population (as ranked by social and economic status) had made it into the top fifth. Earl Wysong of Indiana University and two colleagues recently decided to update the study. They compared the incomes of 2,749 father-and-son pairs from 1979 to 1998 and found that few sons had moved up the class ladder. Nearly 70% of the sons in 1998 had remained either at the same level or were doing worse than their fathers in 1979. The biggest increase in mobility had been at the top of society, with affluent sons moving upwards more often than their fathers had. They found that only 10% of the adult men born in the bottom quarter had made it to the top quarter.

The Economic Policy Institute also argues that social mobility has declined since the 1970s. In the 1990s 36% of those who started in the second-poorest 20% stayed put, compared with 28% in the 1970s and 32% in the 1980s. In the 1970s 12% of the population moved from the bottom fifth to either the fourth or the top fifth. In the 1980s and 1990s the figures shrank to below 11% for both decades. The figure for those who stayed in the top fifth increased slightly but steadily over the three decades, reinforcing the sense of diminished social mobility.

from The Economist 12/29/04

Income disparity is also growing at the fastest rate since “The Gilded Age.” Income for the bottom 1/5 of American workers rose 6.4% between 1979 and 2000. For the top 1/5 the income level rose 70%. For the top 1%? The income grew at a mind boggling 184%.

That’s the kind of number that you expect to see in the Third World, not the United States. This type of stratification leads to two very different America’s – one for the haves and one for the have-nots. Hurricane Katrina has shown us without prejudice just how different those two worlds can be.

Are we number 1 because of our education system? The answer to that is a solid yes and no. Our university system is unrivaled in the world. Developing countries such as India and China are actively copying (with a no small amount of success) our academic structures. Still, we attract the best and brightest students in the world to our doors.

Which is good, because our own students are increasingly ill-equipped to compete. Our public school system is a joke. Not because the teachers are not hard-working and bright – but because there is something fundamentally flawed with the system. In pure spending, we rank towards the top of the developed world in funding per student, but as a percentage of GDP, we rank at or near the bottom. If you want to know why our kids are having their “lunch” handed to them in math and science by the rest of the world, think about that.

We also have the issue of haves and have-nots come again. in some areas the schools flourish and the children are able to move upwards with relative ease. In other areas the schools are almost without hope, given the current system. Would you want your child to go to a Cleveland public school? Detroit? Me neither, so I moved.

OK, if we are not exactly rocking the world with upward mobility and education, maybe it is our health care system that helps make us the best nation on the planet.

OK, quit laughing.

Really, stop it. Sure we have 40 million uninsured or under-insured. Sure we spend more money per person on health care and get less bang for the buck. Sure our infant mortality rate wouldn’t put us in the top 20 countries of the world and our total life expectancy only ranks us 44th in the world, but hey, it could be worse.

One could make the argument that it is our civil liberties that make us a unique and special place. I won’t argue that our democratic history is unparalleled in the world. I would even claim that the First Amendment to the Constitution may be the most important words recorded in the annals of history.

What I don’t think is that that in and of itself bestows some special status on us. We are not the only representative democracy in the world. Most of the developed world follows a model near enough to ours that freedom of speech or religion is a given, not an exception. We should take pride in our historical role, but history doesn’t mean much in the rankings. Hell the Green Bay Packers used to be good too, but that didn’t help them yesterday.

Our military is one area that does truly set us apart. There is no doubt we are the most advanced military power in the history of the world. There is no one who can match our might when we need to or, sadly, choose to, use it. If the size and efficiency of your army were still the primary measuring stick of world power, then we would be without question #1. Lucky for the world, it isn’t. In a day and age of increased globalization and a flattening world, the biggest gun theory of power isn’t as important as it once was.

That we are a powerful nation is not the question. The question is “are we the best country?”

Honestly, I don’t know. We are a country that does not live up to its own hype and falls far short of our own publicity. We’re more Madison Avenue than James Madison these days. Somehow, some way, we do not match up to our own ideal of who we are as a people.

There is one thing that gives me hope though. Few other countries in the world, in the history of the world, have the capacity to reinvent themselves in ways that can reinvigorate and re-energize the entire nation. We have the capacity to make the changes necessary. Whether we have the will to do it is another matter.

We need to invest heavily, heavily in education, especially science and math. The only way our country can compete in a global world is to out-think and out-innovate the competition. It’s not liberalism at work here, it’s pragmatism. We are competing with the entire world, and the playing field is becoming increasingly even. Since we were the top dog, “even” isn’t exactly in our favor.

Along with that investment in education we need to rethink how education works. What do we expect for our money? We can’t just blame teachers, single parents, busing, immigrants or whatever excuse someone has why our schools don’t work. Other countries figure it out, we need to as well.

We need to do away with this mainstreaming idea. It is a concept rooted in misplaced egalitarianism. We need to do a better job identifying kids with talent, no matter what income bracket they are from and begin training them to be our elite. Yes I said elite. We are not a country that desires to be mediocre, but often, to often, we achieve that result out of political correctness. We need to do better at giving the best and brightest every opportunity to excel.

We need to do a better job creating educational opportunities for the kids who are not so academically inclined. We want all of our kids to be in some sort of watered-down college prep track, but there are lots of kids that just have no interest, or frankly, aptitude for college. Most school systems have some sort of limited vocational program, but to often it is seen as the dummy school. How idiotic can we be!.

Can you fix a car?
Can you install electrical systems or plumbing?
Ever had to pay one of those guys?

Giving a kid at a career is more important than satisfying your own ego about how smart little Johnny is or isn’t.

We need to fix health care. Period. Our health care system is about as cost effective as trying to air-condition downtown Miami in August. Outside. At noon. We need to understand that not every industry is a prime target for “free markets” because the market is not “free.” Every week I pay a “health care tax” in the form of my “employee contribution. Every year it goes up and up and up, and the benefits go down down down. There has to be a better way. Medicare for everyone is my answer.

You don’t like that?

OK, then here is my challenge to anyone out there who hates the idea of universal coverage because it’s “socialism” – give me a market solution that fixes the problem! Show me a way to provide basic coverage to everyone that does it cheaper than what the government can do. I’d love to see it. I don’t like “Big Government” but “Big Medical” and “Big Insurance” sure as hell ain’t getting it done. As a matter of fact, the rising cost of health care is driving business to other countries. Toyota just decided to build in Canada instead of the U.S. because medical was covered by the state.

Once again, it’s not liberalism – it’s strategic pragmatism.

I think we need to quit wasting time fighting enormous battles over minuscule issues. I’m not religious, but it chaps my ass every time I see someone fight to take the word God out of a school, or a pledge, or a building. I cringe just as much when someone drops a 2 ton slab of religious intolerance on a courthouse lawn. We have got to remember that the First Amendment guarantees you the right to free speech as well as religion and you have the right to say “God” as much as I have the right to not to.

We need to balance the budget. Runaway spending is going to cripple this economy. I do not want to be Beijing’s bitch any longer. Society requires money, but it needs to quit begging from the rest of the world.

We have problems, big problems in this country. The good news is, the problems often stem for not living up to our own hopes and dreams. With some effort, will and intestinal fortitude maybe we can solve them.

Then maybe we can say without reservation we ARE #1.

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About Cranky Liberal

  • A very well written article

  • Dan

    Voltarian: “Speaking of disingenuous Dan you might want to do a google search on the Bell Curve. The overwhelming material, at least scholarly material, continues to debunk the book and theory. And the fact that your source is the Wall Street Journal does not help your cause much. Here is just one link to many such articles”

    Voltarian, the link you provided demonstrates exactly the kind of hysterical witch hunting, and mis-representation of the authors, that prompted fifty of the top experts in the field of intelligence to sign on to the paper that was published in the Wall Street Journal.

    Note that the treatise published in the Journal is not an editorial review by a staff writer of the paper. It’s a serious attempt by the most authoritative experts in the field “to promote more reasoned discussion of the vexing phenomenon that the research has revealed in recent decades.”

    In case you didn’t follow my link here is the start:

    “Since the publication of “The Bell Curve,” many commentators have offered opinions about human intelligence that misstate current scientific evidence. Some conclusions dismissed in the media as discredited are actually firmly supported.”

    This should convince you, if you care more about what is truth, and less about what the truth is.

    Your links emphasize things like alleged nazi affiliations of the authors etc. Hardly “scholarly”. The most amusing one seems to be saying- average people are so stupid anyway, what does IQ matter? Not exactly a scholarly refutation.

    In reality, the book has very little to do with racial differences in cognitive ability. The much disparaged Chapter 13 on “Ethnic Differences in Cognitive Ability” concludes thusly:

    “It seems highly likely to us that both genes and the environment have something to do with racial differences. What might the mix be? We are resolutely agnostic on that issue; as far as we can determine, the evidence does not yet justify an estimate.”

    The authors treat both facts and inferences appropriately. The only debatable portion of the book is the authors prescription for social policy. I’m inclined to choose their compassionate, reality based, pragmatism over your Orwellian “level playing field” strategy.

  • Voltairean

    While I have no problem with the Bell Curve discussion which at least has some supporting evidence of both sides, unlike say evolution vs. ID, I still think it misses the point in the way its presented here. Proponents of the Bell Curve hypothesis seem to think, if true, it accounts for much, if not all, of the socio-economic divide in the country. While this alone is problematic, it still should not matter.

    American’s have always held ourselves out to be an open, free, equal and rule of law society. Surely equality and fairness dictate that the playing field of life should be as even as possible. And this is hardly the case. Republican (Dems are also culpable but to a lesser degree – really the system is broken) policy, especially under the current administration, far and away benefits the rich at the expense of the poor. It is hard to look at Bush Administration policy and not conclude a desire to create (or finish creating) an aristocracy.

    If you don’t get lucky and are born into a poor family in a poor part of town which will have lousy schools you have almost no shot of becoming a success irregardless of intelligence. In fact, in America – the land of opportunity, it is now more difficult to live out the American dream than in all of Europe. And that is sad.

    And this is to say nothing of the consequences of this approach. While we still may be a few years away from a French Revolution, there are still many ways we are hurt by these policies. Crime, uneducated labor pool which leads to a drag on the economy, increased racism and hatred to name a few. In fact, because blacks and other minorities tend to be poorer in the first place, racism is surely an affect of these policies whether or not the intent was there.

    In my opinion, much of the great divide in this country including the blue/red north/south black/white religious/non-sectarian deomocrat/republican all stem from slavery and the civil war. But that is for another time.

    In conclusion, even if the Bell Curve were true, it should not change our desire to have a level playing field.

  • The Searcher

    Dr. Kurt:

    Of course someone is paying attention to your blanket statements 🙂

    I do agree with you that birth thru age 5 is “the key” — everyone agrees that the metrics stabilize after that point; but, by believing that, you may be placing yourself in a position that is threatening to your egalitarian sensibilities.

    If you cannot allow that intelligence is heritible, you must then find a set of environmental factors that facilitate the “transmission”. Thankfully, the set of possible factors is finite but it’s not hard to predict that socioeconomic status will be the top favorite, not among psychometricians, but certainly politicians and the socially-minded academicians that drive them. But what do you do when you run out of factors? The set of possibilities is not infinite, unless you’re willing to introduce things like astrology into the equation.

    A further problem you expose yourself to is the implication that giving certain people certain kinds of education after age 5 may not make much sense, assuming that the purpose of education is to make people smarter and not simply to waste time and money and give teachers and students something to do besides pick their noses.

  • voltairean

    MWest – I think that would be cruel and unusual punishment to make someone listen to those tapes, otherwise I am with you. My point on the one judge tribunal or whatever was merely to show how disingenuous the White House position is.

    Speaking of disingenuous Dan you might want to do a google search on the Bell Curve. The overwhelming material, at least scholarly material, continues to debunk the book and theory. And the fact that your source is the Wall Street Journal does not help your cause much. Here is just one link to many such articles


    However, I do agree with 1potato (stop the presses) upon further consideration that even the government did have scientific proof supporting the Bell Curve it would be difficult to reveal. Actually, difficult is a bit strong since the government has gotten extraordinarily good at concealing science.

    But that is about where my agreement ends as 1potato goes off in some pretty weird and offensive territory. Let me be blunt right back, who the F are you to tell anyone who they should or should not marry. Further, if you knew anything about which you write (I know, I ask too much) you’d quickly realize your argument is flawed and, as a result, irrelevant. Jews currently make up less than 2% of the population and more than 50% have interfaith marriages. This hardly fits your stupid beyond belief Time Machine scenario and is not eugenics unless your definition is extinction.

    And it is nice to know that you think having a superior intellect (true or not) can fuel resentment and hatred. News flash: anti-semitism is already prevalent and for some reason I’m not thinking intelligence is the main culprit, though it might be in your case.

    Finally, it is not Jews who look for intelligence and success, it is women. We are animals and have animal instincts. A woman wants to make sure that the male can provide for her young. Well, in today’s society intelligence is a good indicator of success and success itself shows an ability to care for the young. At a minimum, successful men will be able to financially support the children. Thus women really do want the guy who drives the porche, even if he has a small…

  • No need for a tribunal, Voltairean. I have a better solution, provided by one Richard Nixon himself (hey, he had to come up with SOMETHING that wasn’t disgraceful):

    A permanent, un-terminatable taping system. Every conversation the president has, every stray remark, everything everybody tells HIM, on tape. I think it should be required.

  • 1Potato

    West says:

    “”Your post made me think of the people who say things like “Fuck ’em. Let ’em suffer, it’s no skin off my back.””

    Honestly, have you in your lifetime heard someone say that?

    Dr. Kurt says:

    “Yet, some people hate the idea of Head Start and public help…”

    People hate head start? Really? Because they think it doesn’t work or becuase they are just filled with hate?
    [By the way, Dr. Kurt, you need to read the Blank Slate by MIT professor Steven Pinker]

    As for the Bell Curve, the government MUST side against it, at least somewhat, or face being accused as racist. What administration could support a stufy that says some races are more intelligent than others? Talk about politically incorrect!

    As for Jews, their sort of unofficial eugenics selects for several traits. Traditionally the Rabbi or one who was likely to become one was the most sought after to sire children. That means primarily verbal intelligence (mastering the Torah requires great language ability), but also other successul traits – interpersonal skills, competitive drive, etc.
    Jews consider both intelligence and success – probably success more so, but both.

    Historically, Jews had a kind of advantage because they had universal education (everyone was literate) and so everyone could see, if they waited, who was the most intelligent, at least in terms of studying the Torah and whatever else they studied. In the past hundred years or so everyone has the privilege of univeral education. Most everyone gets to go to school.

    But it only works if you wait to see who succeeds. If you marry someone at 17 because he’s cool, you have no idea about how he will perform in school or in business. Now everyone has the chance, like the Jewish people (G-d love them) to select for intelligence and other traits that will give your offspring more likelhood of success and less likelihood of being part of a slave underclass.

    This would be beneficial in two ways: First, more nationalities and ethnic groups would be represented at the top, genius level (nobel prize in the sciences, etc.). I think it’s fine that Jews comprise 40%-50% of geniuses. But remember, Jews are fierce about intermarriage with other Jews and as I said, preferring the most successful and intelligent. That is why their gene pool goes in the direction it does (producing people like, say, Einstein and Frued).
    So what if the percentage goes up to 85 or more. I don’t think that is good for anyone one ethnic group with such an imposing dominance. That could certainly cause resentment which could fuel hatred.

    To be blunt, either the Jews either stop engaging in what is clearly a form of eugenics, intentional or not, or others start doing likewise. The alternative is like the scenario in Time Machine, where over thousands of years humans branch off into different species (that’s extreme, but I don’t have all day here)

    Well, we probably won’t last that long anyway, so what the F.

  • Dan

    “The Bell Curve” debunked? Hardly.

    “Mainstream Science on Intelligence”:


  • voltairean

    A couple of three things:

    1. Searcher – I distinctly remember a government study or study commissioned by the government that debunked The Bell Curve. Not in the sense that it was proven false, only to the degree that the evidence preseented did not support the authors conclusions. I will try to find it tonight.

    2. I think Albert Einstein is a poor example. I have read recently that his brain has been preserved and recently given to a Canadian researcher to study. In the article the researcher stated that just by appearance parts of it were significantly more developed than the average brain.

    3. Michael West you are a wise man. There is absolutely nothing standing between President Bush declaring you an enemy combatant and locking you up forever. Same goes for the next democratic presidential candidate and other potential enemies. For the life of me, I cannot understand why a tribunal cannot be set up as a check to the executive branch. Make it one person with full security clearance. But there has to be someone.

    Without a check the government will just start yanking people off the street. Oh wait, they have already started that.

    And anyone who trusts the executive branch with these decisions has not been following the many cases where the government claimed that people that the captured were terrible terrorists only to be freed later.

    The only saving grace is that the government is moving some resources away from terrorism and the like into enforcement of pornography. So we probably have a bit less to worry about. Though I should probably invest in some better firewalls and hard drive cleaners.

  • Dr. Kurt

    Howdy, Searcher – I didn’t think anyone was paying attention! My net time is limited today, but i will attempt to answer a few of your concerns: I am have a Ph.D. in Education, and work doing Ed research. So no, I’m not some hippy chiropractor. Regarding the school assessment question, one of my professors crunched the numbers here in CO a few years ago; I will look to see if he ever published it. We are currently spending about 20 million dollars a year to assess K-12 in CO, and the point is, we could do a better job for about 20 dollars. Regarding The Bell Curve: the answer is complex. Sir Burt’s data remain highly suspect – the jury is still out. Having looked pretty closely at some of the analyses, I remain very skeptical. The IQ test itself is pretty suspect – we try to manipulate (and as a statistician, boy, can we ever manipulate!) the numbers to fit them on the hypothesized bell curve; it may be a very inaccurate model of how intelligence really works. Regarding multiple intelligences, I would be prone to preferring the old fashioned crystalline kind, since it makes me look really smart – except that years in classrooms have shown me that it just isn’t so. Olympic athletes, musicians, and savants add weight to the idea. After all this, I am still persuaded that early childhood – birth through age 5 – is the key. Also, healthy doses of nature, which helps explain why Native Americans do better on IQ tests than urban African Americans. Environment.
    I don’t claim to know it all, but I also don’t buy the popular, easy explainations. They are usually oversimplified and/or plain old wrong.

  • The Searcher

    Brilliant 🙂

  • It does, indeed.

    I guess that’s what Benjamin Franklin was thinking about when he made that famous quote:

    “People who sacrifice freedom for security, deserve neither.”

  • The Searcher

    That reeketh of dictatorship.

  • Well, according to the precedent set by the Jose Padilla case, the guidelines for being considered an enemy combatant are the following:

    – The President issues an order declaring you an enemy combatant.

    Pending appeal.

  • The Searcher


    Yes it would indeed be the whole cake!

    Do you know what are the guidelines for being considered an enemy combatant, and how many levels of analysis and approval are involved before such a distinction is made?

  • Well then we are all kind of screwed aren’t we JR? I mean if there is not a solution to the energy issue, and there is a finite amount of fossil fuel left – that sound you here is the tick tick ticking of whats left of the modern world.

    However, before we begin stockpiling gas in our backyard, or going crazy every time the Chinese buy a car, lets remember that we already HAVE several alternative fuels. The problem is that oil is cheaper, so there has been no incentive to implement them. Then, like all things (except health care it seems) prices will start to go down as the new technology acheives critical mass.

    Now a smart person would look down the road and start pushing for things to make that transition less painful and less jarring to the economy – but hey who said we had smart people in charge. Not I.

  • Searcher:

    Who says the next suspected terrorist they deport won’t be ME? Thanks to last week’s ruling on the latest appeal of Rumsfeld v. Padilla, the fact that I’m an American citizen can’t stop them from detaining me indefinitely. They don’t even have to provide a warrant, conduct due process, or charge me with a crime–they just have to designate me an “enemy combatant,” with no need to provide any justification for that designation.

    That would be the WHOLE cake, would it not?

  • steve

    I could see the US get involved in a second Cold War with China should they gain more power. Thats the last thing we need.

  • JR

    WHich of course will spur both countires to find new ways to do things and new sources of materials.

    Before or after fighting a war to near extinction?

    People assume there is a solution to our energy problems. I’m not sure how they can be so certain.

  • The Searcher


    What piece of “the cake” would you personally be giving up if the goverment deported suspected terrorists?

  • It’s like the Space Race…the Energy Race. If we market it to the American people that way–“we have to get there first to make sure we stay the best”–we’ll have alternative sources by Christmas.

  • WHich of course will spur both countires to find new ways to do things and new sources of materials. There is a HUGE economic opportunity here if we can be the first to free ourselves of our dependence on oil. The same holds true for other materials. We may not win that race, but we have the opportunity – IF we start taking science more seriously, if we invest heavily in strategic technologies and if we create the economic incentives to be first to market. This is our bread and butter people. This is where we shine.

  • JR

    It makes no difference whether China becomes democratic or not, if both our economies continue on their current trajectories, we will fight over natural resources.

    Our best bet: pray for bird flu. (Although Iraq may turn out to have been a great move.)

  • That’s a very good point, Searcher. And it is the crux of the whole dilemma, isn’t it? How we can have our cake and eat it too, that is.

    But of course, that exact same point can be inverted.

    For example, the government tells us that we must be willing to sacrifice our freedoms in order to protect them from the clutches of terrorism.

    In essence, they’re asking us to give up a slice of the cake in order to not have to give up a slice of the cake.

    Keep in mind that if we sacrifice our freedoms to protect ourselves from terrorists, we are essentially giving in to them: “They hate us because we’re so free, so we’ll just be less free.” Talk about appeasement!

    I never thought there was an easy answer to this one. I still don’t. But perhaps finding a way to have our cake and eat it too is the only way we CAN win.

  • The Searcher

    Dr. Kurt:

    (muttering “bullshit” under my breath)

    Is there a single study which demonstrates that median home value predicts school behavior better than any standardized test, and if so, what is that study?

    What was the fraudulent data The Bell Curve book was based on? You’d better have more than the allegation that Burt’s data was falsified. Was NLSY study itself, and the analysis thereof, falsified as well?

    Also, Gardner’s theoretical model is nebulous at best — it assigns a different type of intelligence for everything under the sun, each of which can stem from a more general intelligence. You seem to be hanging your horse on Gardner’s model, is it because it agrees with your egalitarian sensibilities?

    What sort of doctor are you, if you don’t mind me asking?

  • Interesting argument about China. Whats funny is you and I have no real control about whether or not they surpass our economy at some point. Odds are – they will. We need to realize that we may not be the biggest economy in the world some day, and get over it. Canada isn’t the biggest economy either, but having lots of fmaily there, I can tell you they are pretty damn happy and living a good life.

    England ins’t the worlds largest economy, but their economy is in excellent shape. They also provide healthcare to everyone. Maybe being the biggest isn’t the same as being the best .

    As the Chinese continue to grow in economic might, they will create opportunities the same way the Japanese did, the Germans did, the South Koreans did etc. We will lose some jobs (as we have already) to the Chinese because they are able to do it better\faster\cheaper and we will create new jobs because we will free up capitol to invest in new technologies. 1.3 Billion people are an exciting new market to tap into.

    Think of it this way, China has already taken over many of the nonskilled jobs like the textile industry – yet unemployement is only 4.9%. What we need to do is make sure that our kids get the education needed to not NEED a nonskilled job.

    Economic development in China will probably only be fully realized however if there is a continual move to a less authoritarian style of government.It’s hard to keep people who are increasingly affluent repressed. A growing middle class has done more to spread democracy than any bullet.

    When that happens, whats the differnece between the Chinese and the Japanese? None.

    On to Dr. Kurt’s point about our schools performing poorly – well I would be curious to see your info on the statement that the kids in the wealthy neighborhoods are preformign at the top level in the world. It maybe true, but I have not seen that. I still did not think we were at the top in science and math. Even if we are, they speaks volumes about the growing stratification of this nation. We need to do something so that all kids have a shot at a decent education and the exceptional kids have a chance to shine, not be lost to mediocrity.

  • The Searcher


    The social contract is a trust relationship, wherein we TRUST that we will not encroach upon each other’s freedoms. I think a large part of societal order is the degree of physical safety which citizens can expect, or more accurately the number of degrees above total chaos.

    To whom do we look for safety and protection, both economic and physical? The government, of course. We love them and we hate them, depending on whether we’re on the receiving end of a bullet or a benefit.

    When a fellow walks into an elementary school and detonates a large bomb, who will be blamed for not keeping the children safe? The government, of course. And there will be a host of reasons to find fault with the government:

    1) they should have predicted this would happen.
    2) their unfair policies disenfrachised this fellow from the political processes, leaving him little choice but to bomb the school.
    3) this fellow should’ve been stopped at the door.

    One might well ask how the government supposed to effectively predict who will act, avoid making them angry in the first place, and stop them once they’ve decided to act?

    We certainly can think of many actions we’d prefer the government NOT take:

    1. Keep track of who has purchased bomb-making books or borrowed them from libraries.
    2. Please all of the people, all of the time, enacting laws to please every possible combination of individual difference found in society.
    3. Use any kind of “discriminatory” screening process to identify suspicious people entering the school.

    In a completely free society, government can only react ex post facto, whether it be to economic or physical crimes. And yet, we expect so much more of the government in its role as care-taker.

    If we can we have our cake and eat it too, I’d like to know how.

  • Dr. Kurt

    Obviously a thought-provoking post!
    1. It is inaccurate to say that our K-12 schools are performing poorly. Our schools that are in wealthy neighborhoods are performing at the very top level worldwide; our poorest are, well, among the poorest. Median home value predicts school performance better than any standardized test. Just the facts.
    2. The Bell Curve was largely based on fraudulent data (unbeknownst to the authors); no academic takes it at all seriously, for this reason.
    3. “Intelligence” – which, as we all should know, is a a shakey construct that is better described as multiple intelligences (Gardner, et.al), is probably about 50% genetics and 50% early environment. Families that talk to, play with, and gaze at their infants living in affordance-rich environments tend to raise smarter, healthier, more emotionally skilled children, who go on to do better in school & life. Contrast that with life in an urban hellhole, where one parent is MIA and the other is too poor, tired, and depressed to attend to jr. Surprise! Success tends to breed success, and vice versa. Yet, some people hate the idea of Head Start and public help…

  • what you dont understand Michael; is that if China converted over to capitalism…they would have the perfect economic capability in becoming a superpower that would trump ours. Imagine the Army and Air Force China would have? I am sure that it would only bring shame to ours.

    But Steve, again, that’s assuming that we would still have a dispute with China if they converted over to capitalism. If we weren’t going to fight China, what would it matter if their military power trumped ours?

  • But are you also willing to sacrifice some of your personal freedoms to preseve societal order, to preserve the safety of fellow citizens with whom you share a social contract?

    A fair question, The Searcher.


    Here’s the difference: being the world’s only economic superpower is not the whole point of America’s existence. If someone else’s economy is stronger than ours, I don’t believe that it would undermine the essence of being an American.

    America IS, however, founded upon the personal freedoms of its people. Indeed, the “social contract” you speak of includes the idea that “you have your freedoms, I have mine, and we will live together as Americans without encroaching on each other’s freedoms.”

    You’re not preserving societal order by sacrificing those freedoms. Sacrificing them is precisely what DESTROYS societal order.

    You’re not defending America if you sacrifice personal freedoms, either. Because personal freedoms ARE America. The President tells us that the people we’re defending ourselves from “hate us because of the freedoms we enjoy.” So is the solution to sacrifice the freedoms we enjoy?

  • ss

    Comment 15 by 1potato:

    ‘What separates Bill Gates from the next tier of 1000 secondary geniuses is a couple of IQ points. So at the top the edge matters.’

    Bill Gates wrote the original BASIC program for PC’s, DOS was a knock off of CMOS that he acquired through purchase, and Windows was originally written at I believe an AT&T lab.

    It wasn’t IQ points that seperated Gates from the pack, other early programers were even more brilliant.
    Some of these early programmers simply lacked ambition, all they wanted was a cushy research job.
    Some had to much ambition, and thought they could ‘take down’ IBM, and the whole established corporate structure with it.
    Gates was brilliant enough to spot these wunderkind, and pragmatic enough to swipe their ideas and sell them in the corporate world.
    The edge does matter at the top, but the edge in a world that is a blend of extreme specialities and consumer culure has more to do with having a talent for esoteric learning and discovery without falling into the traps that talent sets, namely meglomania or at the other end, cocooning yourself.
    I’m not sure that trait can be genetic.

  • steve

    what you dont understand Michael; is that if China converted over to capitalism…they would have the perfect economic capability in becoming a superpower that would trump ours. Imagine the Army and Air Force China would have? I am sure that it would only bring shame to ours.

  • steve

    nice approach, searcher. well put.

  • The last thing that we need is a Beefed up Chinese military that could contend with ours.

    But the major point of contention between us is that they’re a Communist state and we’re a democracy. It’s a clash of ideologies.

    If, as you suggest, there were a Chinese coup and China became a democracy, what need would there be for our militaries to contend with each other?

  • The Searcher


    In essence, you would be willing to sacrifice some of your own economic priviledges to ensure the economic rights of a majority of people with whom you have litte else in common than basic humanity. This is indeed a noble, humanitarian position.

    But are you also willing to sacrifice some of your personal freedoms to preseve societal order, to preserve the safety of fellow citizens with whom you share a social contract?

  • steve

    There is no way that China wouldn’t cause somewhat of an impact on our GDP. I am most concerned with their military and politics, which may benefit from their economic success. Their military would without a doubt. The last thing that we need is a Beefed up Chinese military that could contend with ours.

    They have a billion more people there than we do here. A billion! That is a hornet’s nest not to be stirred. Keep them at bay.

  • Steve, I appreciate your loyalty to the home team and all, but you’re not really quite thinking like a capitalist here. You’re talking as if the world economy was a zero sum game, where China wins by taking away from US.

    That’s exactly NOT right. They’re loosening up their economic repression, and thus creating more wealth. They are becoming less and less socialistic- that’s why they’re having increasing success. That’s ultimately good for everyone, though there’s obviously great concern about their military and politics.

    If a Chinese company takes one deal away from an American company, they’ll probably be creating a half dozen more that we can get in on.

  • That’s okay…your post made me think of the people who say things like “Fuck ’em. Let ’em suffer, it’s no skin off my back.”

    I assume you’re not a Christian.

  • steve

    that sounds like it is all in good fun, but you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Even if there was the minute chance that China’s economic improvements would have a detrimental impact to my economic status, I say let the 1.3 billion people remain where they are.

    I would like to agree with you…put after reading your post, it just made me think of the lyrics from “Imagine”

  • Put it this way, Steve. I have no problem with our country becoming more wealthy and powerful…but not at the expense of the Chinese people’s rights to do the same.

    Think about it. What you are essentially saying is, you would rather see 1.3 billion people continue to be oppressed and have their human rights violated, if that means that they will never be in a better economic position than we are.

    I am the exact opposite. I am willing to accept China’s economy overshadowing ours, if it means that its 1.3 billion people will have the same kind of liberties and security that Americans enjoy.

    I don’t call that socialism. I call it humanitarianism.

  • steve

    because you have no longing to further improve our economic status. you are perfectly content in where it is. Any capitalist would say that they want to become even more powerful, improving our country’s wealth.

  • steve

    because you have no longing to further improve our economic status. you are perfectly content in where it is. Any capitalist would say that they want to become even more powerful, improving our country’s wealth.

  • You obviously have a socialist style approach in your thought process if you believe this.

    Wait a minute. I’ve just pointed out that I don’t mind China’s eclipsing us in world economic influence as long as they get rid of the socialist system. So how does that make me socialist?

  • steve

    The goal is to become stronger and even more powerful. Why would you want to flatline your income? That makes no sense. You obviously have a socialist style approach in your thought process if you believe this. Why should China take business opportunities from America?

  • As I said…as long as it doesn’t hurt America’s GDP, employment numbers, or average per-family income, what’s the problem?

  • steve

    so you would WANT the US to lose its foothold as the most powerful nation in the World? That makes no sense. Why would you want to be economically weaker having less of an influence on the world?

  • I mean, are you saying that if China was ahead of us, that our economy would be weaker than it currently is? Or that our economy would be the same as ever, but China’s would be even stronger?

    If China’s economy can eclipse ours without actually doing any harm to our economy, I’m okay with that.

  • With their man power, they would surpass the US without issue.

    So what?

  • The Searcher


    What are the many ways in which SES contributes to intelligence? I think we have a prospective doctoral thesis here.

  • steve

    If China converted to a capitalist state…it would put us under for sure. Just look at the success of the economic hot pockets that they have in China. With their man power, they would surpass the US without issue. So yes, God help us should they turn into a Chinese Democracy

  • God help us should they have a coup and change to a Chinese Democracy.

    So wait. You actually hope that China DOESN’T convert from Communism to Democracy?

    …I don’t even know where to start with that.

  • The Searcher


    You seem to be on a spree of accusing people of “couched racism”. I’ve already received your wrath, but it’s good to know you’re spreading the love. So, what are you, a “couched Marxist”?

    Incidentally, probably the most notable attempt at debunking the concepts of The Bell Curve [notably that general intelligence is measurable and real] was Gould’s “The Mismeasure of Man”, which was actually written before TBC and attacked the prior work of Burt and Jensen, among others.

    Gould’s critique is based on the idea that there is no such thing as “general intelligence” — that any tests which claim to measure such are invalid.

    If such is the case, then one should be able to prove that the only differences between Albert Einstein and the average person are enviromental factors such as schooling and background, and socioeconomic status.

    One might then say that, because Einstein was born into a white middle-class family, he received a better education, better nutrition and better everything, and that these factors were equally or more important than inherent traits.

    Theoretically, then, could we not take Rousseau’s Noble Savage and turn him into a universally-respected theoretical physicist if we could control for environmental factors?

    That’s couched stupidity, if you ask me.

  • steve

    Personally, I am going to enjoy our remaining status as #1. Thanks to Mr. Clinton, we are importing 8x what we are exporting to China. They are en route to surpassing our #1 status. God help us should they have a coup and change to a Chinese Democracy. So lets all enjoy the ride while it lasts.

  • Ah, but Searcher – doesn’t SES contribute to intelligence in many ways? It’s certainly not just the product of genetics.

    And as for people being genetically superior in intelligence, the Jews are not alone. There are those who subscribe to the theory that those of Celtic ancestry are genetically above normal in areas of creativity and self-expression. Certainly within the English speaking world they are disproportionately represented as politicians, poets and novelists. Yet this could just be a cultural tradition of valuing literacy and reading more highly than other groups,, not anything having to do with genetics.


  • The Searcher

    As per usual, intelligence is ignored and socioeconomic status instead receives the fixation, which is barking up the wrong tree, hanging your horse on the wrong post, etc.

    Odds are that if general intelligence were included in those studies, you’d see that intelligence has a stronger correlation than SES.

    Keith Sikora and 1Potato seem to understand this already.

  • Ayu

    A great read. As an outsider I could say that mostly people in the other side of the world–where I come from–have always thiought that you Americans are number 1. There are strict limitations to apply for visas, still people are struggling to get in. And the US President is perhaps the only person on earth whom other presidents are dying to shake hands with. It’s kinda strange to read that there is anything inadequate there. know grass is always greener on the other side though…

  • Shark

    Who is editing my stuff? And why?

    Seems the rules have changed.

  • Thanks for all the great comments. Just to clarify – I do not list GDP as a measuring stick for one key reason – the rising income disparity. If th growing GDP only benefits a few, then by itslef, it is meaningless.

    What I did bring up was educational spending as it relates to GDP – we need to do more.

    Now on to 1potato I can’t believe I’m goign to do this becausI do not agree with his statement, but about 2 or 3 months ago the Economist ran a similar article on the Jewish intelligence question. They did raise a point that because the European Jews were often shunted into jobs that required high analytical and or math skills that over time they sort of self selected those traits. They do preform generaly better on IQ tests (once again, according to the Economist) and also suffer from a few genetic health issues that only strike them. They were making the argument that the two were related (the same gene that was responsible for the slightly higher intelligence carried a flaw or something).

    Just food for thought at the all you can eat buffett of ideas.

  • voltairean

    Dave, you forgot the most important one – LUCK! Being in the right place at the right time is huge. Having parents that graduated from college or, even better, graduate school will have a ginormous impact on your life. Hell, if you are really lucky, you will be one of the few (3% or so of the world population) born in the United States.

    What are the odds of someone getting so lucky as to be born in the U.S. to white, middle class, college educated parents, who have a home paid off and enough money that one parent can stay home with the kids. Here’s a guess: less than .oooooooo2%. Maybe I’m off by a few decimal points, but there is no doubt that that would be a lucky set of circumstances.

    1potato, the reason why posts like yours are tobaoo is because they are merely couched racism. Oh, and your hypothesis that intelligence is linked to genetics as put forth in the book The Bell Curve was thoroughly debunked when the book was published. And before you disagree with me, I might add that I am a full Jew and thus smarter than you, at least according to your post, I think.

    As to the broader question posed here, no statistic will give you an answer because it is a personal observation. For example, Cranky Liberal lists GDP as pne measuring stick. However, I may prefer a country that is more relaxed and has more vacation time and probably a lower GDP as a result.

    In other words, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

  • Chomsky alone is enough to negate the intelligence of at least 10 other brilliant jews.

    But to your other point, I’d argue that at the top a couple of points of IQ doesn’t actually matter nearly as much as other more obscure qualities like creativity, adaptability and pragmatism which aren’t necessarily linked to pure intelligence.


  • Voltairean

    It is lamentable, that to be a good patriot one must become the enemy of the rest of mankind


  • 1Potato

    So what part don’t you get?

    That there exists a correlation between wealth and intelligence?


    It’s hard to read your posts, chunks of them keep getting deleted.


  • 1Potato


    Read The Bell Curve (Hernstein & Murray, 1994).

    But even without the studies, the truth is obvious. Ashkenazi Jews are dominant well beyond their numerical representation in the fields of intellect. How else do you get Freud, Einstien, Marx, Husserl, Deridda, Feynman, Wittgenstein(2/3rds Jewish), Kafka, and many many others (the list is virtually endless), the absolute intellectual pinnacle in virtually every field (some fields, like psycoanalysis, entirely invented by Jews), all in the last century? Add Issaac Assimov, Chagal, Bobby Fisher, Eisenstien, Woody Allen, Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick, Salk, Chomsky – this is all off the top of my head, didn’t even consult a “famous Jews” site.
    No group comes close. Gosh, how anti-semetic of me to point out Jews are intelligent(I’m Jewish on my mother’s side, btw).

    Jewish people have been practicing eugenics (de facto) for centuries. And it has paid off. They marry 1)other Jews, and 2) the most intelligent Jew they can find. This is a deep part of their ethnic identity and culture. Some have argued this intellectual competitive mate-searching has itself become a genetic trait through selection. In other words, Jews are not only smart, they are heat seeking missles for smart spouses.

    There is never really a good time to talk about genetics. But it does relate to the ultra-rich, underclass issue. Genetics have a particularly large effect on the very top. What separates Bill Gates from the next tier of 1000 secondary geniuses is a couple of IQ points. So at the top the edge matters.

    But it matters at every level as well. A very low IQ will keep you in the underclass (especially if you are ugly and can’t sing!), whereas a little more intelligence will at least get you to the middle.

    I am not trying to be cruel or insulting to anyone. But this discussion is taboo in the MSM.
    And who does that hurt? Who do you think?

  • Seems to me the entire concept of classifying any nation as #1 is sort of silly, as is striving to be #1 as an overall description of a nation.

    In individual areas the quest to be the ‘most whatever’ nation is likely to do irreparable harm to a nation. It IS possible to be too caring and too generous, and too productive. Too much of anything can lead to serious economic and social problems.

    I’d rather have a country where the government tries to be less rather than more – how about we try for the least intrusive and least oppressive and least noticable government. Then we can let our individual citizens focus on acbieving superlatives for themselves.


  • Shark

    Edible Tuber: “…when it comes to the gap between the classes I think genetics is the elephant in the room. I am a big believer in individual will power… but we are talking overall averages here.”


  • Shark

    Blogcritics is #1!

    …Where a guy [edited] gets to think out loud about the genetic influence on wealth acquisition.

    [Shark spits out window IN ANY DIRECTION and hits a few thousand retarded sports jocks making gazillions of dollars]



  • 1Potato, although I think you probably mean well, your comments have a somewhat anti-semitic tinge. There has never been credible data to support your assertion that different racial and ethnic groups might have differing intelligences.

  • Oh you cranky liberals! Always thinking of freedom, liberty, and some guy named James Madison. Why can’t you be happy with Madison Avenue?

    What is the matter with the rich getting richer and the poor getting nowhere? It worked in Venezuela.

    Eric O. should lasso this Keith Sikora. Intelligence and wealth might have something to do with…”providence”. Possible.

    More wealth for the wealthy might have something to do with the current governing clique. It is hard to believe but there are people in Washington who want to make rich people happier and richer. What could be wrong with that?

  • Keith Sikora

    I once asked a friend of mine whether he thought intelligence was based more on inheritance or on the environment. He replied, “providence.”

  • 1Potato


    The ultra rich and underclass problem has a lot to do with genetics.

    This is the great internet, right? Where we don’t have to be politically correct, right?

    In a nutshell, Jewish people (no disparagement whatsover meant here)
    are about 2% of the population but comprise about 50% of the billionairs and 40% of nobel prize winners. Why? Their culture teaches it is desirable to marry and procreate with the most intelligent and/or successful person possible. In contrast, in my area, it is culturally cool, if you will, to marry and procreate with the “bad boy” or thug. I am not sure it is a low self esteem issue or the challenge to “change” or “tame” the bad boy or whatever, but intelligence does not enter in.

    Since intelligence is largely genetic, and since it is a great indicator of wealth and success, these cultural customs or habits matter a great deal.
    I don’t want to mention any groups by name, but some come to mind. I like these people a great deal and they are not stupid; however the gap will widen if they don’t see to it that intelligence is “selected” for as in other groups.

    This, I believe, is a serious problem for the future. I do not think it is good for certain groups, for example Jews, to get so far ahead of everyone else that the gap seems unbridgeable (resentment doesn’t help anyone). So we either ask Jewish people to start marrying dumber people so others can catch up, or others must start practicing a bit of eugenics through better procreation.

    This may sound cold, but I believe it is factually based. I am sorry, but Bill Gates inherited his intelligence, as did Einstein. This may seem like a rant but when it comes to the gap between the classes I think genetics is the elephant in the room. I am a big believer in individual will power and all that, but we are talking overall averages here.

  • Justin Berry

    Im no judge of the canadian health care system as I am not Canadian. Therefore not qualified to discuss their issues.(no dog in that fight.)

  • 1Potato

    Are you saying the Canadian health care system is better?

  • Justin Berry

    I would go for the socialist solution of national healthcare if we keep the same insurance companies that we have today.That way every taxpayer chooses his or her own insurance plan and the government foots the bill out of our tax dollars.I am however opposed to the idea of state run healthcare, as its too much like welfare. and new orleans is a good example of the dangers of getting people “hooked” on government assistance.

  • A good read, cranky liberal.

  • Your right, I hate America. Yep. That must be why I want to badly to have it’s reality match it’s dreams. I guess I must hate my child, my mom and my wife the same way 😉

    Thanks for reading.

  • A great post, one worth reading carefully and thinking about. I truly enjoyed it.

    And I wanted to say that now, before Anthony Grande comes and tells you that just by asking the question, you hate America.

  • AFter the inflammatory headline, a good relection on what No. 1 means.

    A good read. Thanks very much. Temple