Even if you trimmed the meritocratic elite back from one fifth to, say, one hundredth of the population, there would stlll be a big problem with the cognitive elite theory, arising from the sociology of its members. Let's say that Herrnstein and Murray are right that the most selective colleges today efficiently "soak up" virtually all the American adolescents with the highest IQs and that these people are plainly the most able members of their age cohort. Ever since the meritocratic apparatus in the United States became mature, around 1970, the undergraduate atmosphere in Ivy League colleges has been one of intense anxiety about the perils of pursuing careers outside the professions of law, medicine, and MBA business (which generally leads to management consulting or investment banking, not, as Herrnstein and Murray imply, to corporate management). Because these fields are tightly screened on the basis of test scores and grades, they present the lowest risk career option to people who have very high test scores and grades. You enter them as part of an extremely limited pool of people, most of whom are virtually guaranteed high incomes.
In fields that aren't as tightly screened, from
entrepreneurship to show business to corporate management, the odds
are much longer for members of the cognitive elite than they are in
the professions. So a stampede into the professions, driven by risk
aversion, is a key cultural phenomenon for meritocratic Ivy League
students, the subject of many hand-wringing commencement speeches
(and, years later, of the students' middle-aged longueurs). It would
even be possible to take the perverse position that people with high
IQs may have actually become less powerful in recent decades because
they are so firmly channelled into advisory roles in the proiessions.
This is why the Ross Perots and David Geffens of the world don't find
themselves competing with many anointed members of the cognitive
elite during their rise into the economic elite.
Lemann, Nicholas. (1997). Is there a cognitive elite in America? In Devlin, B., Fienberg, S.E., Resnick, D.P. & Roeder, K. (Eds.). Intelligence, genes, and success: Scientists respond to The Bell Curve. New York: Springer-Verlag.
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