Friday, February 13, 2015

In response to @TheEconomist allegations of meritocracy in the USA

The Economist has run an opinion piece about an alleged meritocracy in the USA.

I strongly disagree with this piece, and wish to memorialize my disagreement at length.

At first blush, one might have thought my ex and I were the sort to produce rather prodigious children, but it hasn’t worked out that way at all.  My children are mentally ill, and, tho highly intelligent, are almost completely dysfunctional.

Let’s start with my ex and me.  I have an undergraduate degree and graduate degree from Ivy League institutions, with good marks from both.  My ex has an undergraduate degree from an ivy League college and a graduate degree from an almost equally prestigious university.  We both grew up in upper middle class families. My parents both had graduate degrees and my father was highly respected in academia.  My ex’s father was also a graduate of an Ivy League institution, who had a successful job, and my ex’s mom was a stay-at-home mom.  Tho she did not complete college, she was highly intelligent and articulate.  My brother also has undergraduate and graduate degrees from highly respected institutions. My ex has two siblings with graduate degrees — and the other two both have college degrees.

So why aren’t our kids doing as well as we did?

1. Research shows that older fathers are more likely to conceive children with ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and Bipolar.  Older grandfathers also have higher instances of such issues in their grandchildren. My ex was 36 and 39 when my kids were conceived.  My father was 40 and 42 when my I and my brother were conceived.  I suspect that couples who are academically and financially successful are more likely to have children later in life, which can enlarge the likelihood of such problems.  My kids both have mild autism spectrum disorders.  The younger one has ADHD and depression as well.

2. I believe that autism spectrum disorders are inheritable.  I see them in myself, my parents, my kids, my ex, and much of my ex’s family.  Both of my kids have them. I noticed neurological issues in my older son from birth — and he was born at home, so there were no vaccines for the first six weeks — yet he was showing neurological issues then (arching away from me when he cried, crying to be put down, preferring to be carried facing away from me, unable to mold his body to mine)

It seems to me that academically successful people are more likely to have autistic features.  Autistic features make it easier to have the attention to detail and focus necessary for academic success.  When academically successful people meet in college and have children together, they are more likely to concentrate inheritable autistic features in their children.

3. I still have a concern that my decision to work when my kids were young may have hurt them.  My mom didn’t and my ex’s mom didn’t.  I wonder how much kids would be different if i had stayed home.  Granted I was not of the sort, emotionally, to be happy doing that and my older son infuriated me a great deal, so I might have abused him if I were stuck alone with him.  Still I wonder.

4. Successful people live in larger houses.  Larger houses reduce the amount of contact between parents and children.  My ex noticed this when he moved out to a two bedroom apartment.  In the smaller, space he was better able to supervise the kids than he had been in the house.  When I was on the second floor, I had no clue at all what my kids were doing in the basement.  Granted, I would not have left them alone before they were five, but afterwards they might have been out of my sight and still in the house. I suspect that less financially successful families have mentally healthier kids, because the kids are in closer proximity to the parents more of the time. 

Indeed we see quite often that the children of the rich have serious psychological problems.  I suspect that this large house business is a factor.

5. Having successful parents is intimidating.  I found this with my father, who was such a successful academic.  I never felt I would be able to measure up to him — so, even tho I had the smarts, I probably sabotaged myself, so that I didn’t.  With my kids it was even worse.  My younger son felt so intimidated by my ex’s and my academic successes that he continually sabotaged himself to the point where he could not function at all.

6. History shows it is not so.

Also, historically, it has never been the case that highly successful people had children who were as successful as they were. 

When I studied Chinese history, I learned that they had a meritocracy under the emperors.  I also learned that it was vanishingly rare for those with high success on the imperial exams to have children with similar levels of success.

Also, learning about corporate history in two companies I worked for, I discovered that successful corporations develop something called “Third Generation Problems.” The founder builds the company.  In many cases, the first generation of offspring can continue to build the corporation; however, in general, the second generation of offspring are not competent to run a large corporation.  This is a well-documented phenomenon.

In conclusion, then, I disagree strongly with this recent article alleging a growing meritocracy in the USA.  I would use more pithy terminology to describe the meritocracy thesis, but I want to sound respectable.

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