Wednesday, February 01, 2012
A Modest Proposal
How Niall Ferguson Can Save the World from the Rabble Unfit to Rule
An interesting conservative meme is bubbling to the surface in time for the 2012 presidential election.
Call it “The Rabble Are Unfit to Rule.”
In essence, it’s trying to turn the 99% doctrine on its head, saying “Yes, I am the 1%. Not just the richest 1%. I’m the best and smartest 1% too.”
Making this argument on behalf of the 1% also provides the delicious side benefit of celebrating one’s own intellectual endowment.
Niall Ferguson, history professor at Harvard University, set the argument forth in an article for Newsweek that, one year from now, may be remembered as the ultimate resume stain on his CV, or perhaps an opening salvo in the rich’s counterrevolution against the grasping poors.
The article, meant to reassure rich Americans in an unhappy period in which they are publicly identified as deliverers of financial dysfunction, economic inequality, and political gridlock, is titled, Rich America, Poor America.
Ferguson turns to the work of Charles Murray and Murray’s new book, Coming Apart, for inspiration.
Murray is famous for his previous book, The Bell Curve, a tendentious work that explained US racial inequality through the division of America into two separate gene pools. The inbreeding white gene pool was locked in a virtuous cycle of moral and cognitive perfection, while the black gene pool…well, according to Murray, it’s headed in the opposite direction.
Murray’s book, though vigorously and effectively attacked for its confounding of cause and effect (the key issues: do poor people who do badly in school do badly because they are poor, or because they are dumb; or some combination of the two? Maybe it’s the schools? Yada yada yada), was adopted by conservatives of a certain Caucasian persuasion as a talisman, reassuring them that the U.S. racial hierarchy was indeed a meritocracy (and a rapidly diverging one at that), and that any attempts at liberal minded social engineering were just howls in the genetic whirlwind.
Murray recycles the same themes in Coming Apart, while simply substituting the labels “Rich” and “Poor” for “White” and “Black”.
Ferguson elaborates on Murray’s thesis that the world’s problem is that people on the top of the heap (like Ferguson himself) are just too darn smart and are pulling away from an ever more incapable and resentful lumpen class. However, in a gesture toward inclusiveness, he does expand the elite from 1% to 5%:
Murray sees two nations where there used to be just one: a new upper class or “cognitive elite”—to be precise, the top 5 percent of people in managerial occupations and the professions—and a new “lower class,” which he is too polite to give a name. The upper class has gotten rich mainly because the financial returns on brainpower have risen steeply since the 1960s. At the same time, elite universities like Harvard (where I teach and where Murray studied) have gotten better at attracting the smartest students. The fact that these students are very often the offspring of better-off families reflects the fact that (as Murray puts it) “the parents of the upper-middle class now produce a disproportionate number of the smartest children.” They do this because smart people tend to marry other smart people and produce smart children.
An issue that I wish Ferguson would address is how it turned out that rich people did a lot of stupid things during the boom and bust of the Great Recession.
Could rich, smart people who studied at Harvard under the solicitous care of Niall Ferguson and maximized the financial return on their brainpower do stupid things like totally cock up the world’s economy? Maybe there was a fifth column of cognitive proles that were dedicated to destroying the system from within? How could their dim minds grasp the complexities? Did they have help? Shouldn’t there be some kind of investigation?
Ferguson’s argument is something of a refinement of the traditional conservative defense of rich people: accusing their critics of the politics of envy and divisive class warfare.
Instead, poor people are just plain stupid, and in their stupidity they will cook the goose that lays the golden eggs instead of waiting gratefully for it to drop out golden eggs out of its butt.
Where this is apparently headed is that what we really need is a Millionaire on Horseback, an omniscient and benevolent figure who will protect the rich, capitalism, the economic system, and even the poor themselves from the poor.
And you thought the rich were screwing things up. Silly you!
It’s an interesting idea for a democracy, but conflating race and class is a potent American political cocktail. Murray provides the intellectual underpinnings and Ferguson is pulling for Romney to make the sale:
I say we tackle the inequality issue head on. This is the perfect year to do it, after all. The choice in November will be stark. On one side, the president’s project to make America more like Scandinavia, with higher taxes on the rich and yet more federal programs to spend their money on the poor. And on the other?
As Murray shows, there is a conservative solution to the problem of inequality. Scrap the failing welfare programs of the ’30s and ’60s before they bankrupt America. Ensure that everyone has a basic income. Then simplify the tax code to restore the incentives that used to exist for everyone to work hard. Finally, end the state monopolies in public education to launch a new era of school choice and competition.
A welcome return to Dickensian squalor, however, does not offer a permanent solution to the underlying problem: the unwashed, undeserving, and underbrained majority racing to taxfarm the cognitive elite, the free market, and democracy utterly out of existence before they themselves succumb to terminal genetic decline.
Unfortunately, Ferguson is unwilling to grasp the nettle and propose a thoroughgoing solution to the problem: a massive sperm transfer from the cognitive 5%, the “supers” as it were, to the underclass.
Surely society’s losers would understand, albeit dimly, that superior sperm, freely offered, is their ticket out of the underclass, and the program will be enthusiastically oversubscribed.
Approximately 140 million babies were born last year; the ejaculate of a healthy man contains perhaps 30 million sperm. It would seem to me that Niall Ferguson could set the world on the shining path to a eugenic future over a pleasant weekend, or even, with more energetic application, in a single day.
Less time, and time better spent, I would hazard, than Ferguson expended writing his article.