IQ and Poverty

One of the big taboo ideas in political discourse is the idea that some people are poverty-stricken not because of the way they are brought up but because they just are not very clever.

Deborah Orr has written a shocking and interesting article in The Independent about this:

fiveI think that you would be churlish indeed to assert that whoever set the ball rolling, and whoever dribbled it to the here and now, the 30 years we have just spent “managing the transition to a skills-based economy” have not resulted in happy and universal inclusivity. The bare fact is that not everybody is intellectually equipped to make for themselves a place in such an economy.

If they are not looked after by their family, then the less bright, it is surely safe to assume, are often excluded from society because of their inability to make intelligent choices. Our refusal to look sympathetically on lack of intelligence as a real encumbrance in the modern world – or sometimes even to admit that it exists – is unfair on those who labour under that disadvantage.

Yes – it is in itself very stupid to claim that stupidity is the only cause of social blights and it is seemingly impossible to write about intelligence without coming across as an arrogant twit – but lack of intelligence is something that is almost never mentioned, because discussing it inevitably comes across as patronising, rude, and pointless.

Orr includes all the usual hedges about the dangers of generalisation, but what she is saying is genuinely important. The big problem is that intellectual disadvantage, either through genes or upbringing, is supposedly an intractable problem. Some are smarter than others.

Transhumanism then, is the ultimate expression of freeing the individual from tyranny. Throughout the Enlightenment new ideas challenged old dogmas. Superstition gave way to rationalism and empircism. Tyranny gave way to democracy.

And now Ray Kurzweil is challenging the greatest of all the inequalities: the skills and propensities we are born with.

[story via The Independent][image from woodleywonderworks on flickr]

6 thoughts on “IQ and Poverty”

  1. Transhumanism only solves inequalities if starting point doesn’t matter, which seems unlikely. Nonetheless it would be great to increase absolute intelligence levels, even if inequality persists.

  2. Freiman talks of a similar concept in Current Events, conservative Outcomes. Freiman writes a chapter called social darwinism where he talks about the new more educated economy and the necessity of post high school eductation. He also believes that the gap between the wealthy and middle class will grow as many Americans will choose to stay out of college because it is not for them. Unfortunately the good paying jobs will continue to be more and more based around higher education and skill levels. You can see some of his concepts at

  3. At the risk of sounding painfully politically correct, I do have a problem with that “either through genes” part. The race/IQ debate should have been buried long ago, but `

  4. …sorry, I was beating the hell out of my keyboard…
    I was trying to say:
    I do have a problem with that

  5. “The race/IQ debate should have been buried long ago but seems to be fueled by people bent on keeping it alive.”

    Well yes. But the problem isn’t necessarily connected with race – Orr is pointing out that some people are born stupid (sorry for the bluntness – I could hedge by saying “born with a predisposition to score less than average in tests of certain narrowly defined areas of cognitive ability” but that would have less impact…).

    These people are at a disadvantage compared to smarter people (I can’t find any reliable references online but I’m pretty sure IQ correlates with things like future earning potential/salary).

    But this is a separate question from any discussion of race and intelligence, which I know even less about.

    Also: Tom the Dancing Bug looks brilliant!

  6. Well, the “born dumb regardless of ethnic group” hypothesis seems hard to argue with. But even among people not so bright, was there a waste of inborn potential somewhere along the line? Mark me down as a radical nurturist, I guess. “No child left behind but we really mean it,” says a hypothetical candidate I would vote for.

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