Economic determinants, class and race

I haven’t read Charles Murray’s book The Bell Curve. For whatever reason, I was convinced it was Douglas Murray’s book. This is how ill-informed I am. How and ever, arguments have been made against a specific thesis regarding race, intelligence and their links to economic prosperity. While you can’t argue with the data, the data-sets that were used in the book have been legitimately questioned and it’s been suggested that they are too narrow in defining the links. One might assume if there are any such links that they are socio-economic rather than racial.

Firstly, to stress, any purported gap in intelligence of the kind outlined in the book is said to be shrinking by some academics. This perhaps tallies with the improving economics of the broader population as well as African Americans and other minorities, rather than anything related to race.

Here are some more statistics on poverty and intelligence:

Launched in 1985, a research project looked at the prevalence of heart disease in 3,400 adults. It was subsequently discerned that those who lived in consistent poverty performed worse in cognitive tests than people in the study whose lives were unafflicted by being poor. Poverty affects intelligence.

In 1980, the point from which some of The Bell Curve’s data was compiled, half of all black families were single parent. Single parents are among the poorest of demographic groups. In 2007, 44% of all African American single-parents were living below the poverty line. For their white peers, it was half that number.*

By extension, in the 1979/80 period, if we are to assume that more African American people in the study came from a non-nuclear family (which in childhood, according to some studies, is an indicator of poorer social integration when compared to two-parent families), and a similar number were living in poverty relative to their fellow subjects, these participants will – statistically speaking – perform poorly relative to their peers under testing conditions.

There are other socio-economic determinants.

Continuing the theme of poverty and minorities, what of the current climate? The big recession of 2007-2008 hit African Americans harder than any other demographic. With many on subprime mortgages, although earning similar incomes to whites (on easier-to-pay-off mortgages), they were forced from their homes when they could no longer afford payments. Still recovering today, the levels of home ownership among African Americans is just slightly higher than it was in the early 70s.

For centuries, this minority was denied opportunities in the period during which immigrants from Europe were encouraged to come to the United States (and what were the New World colonies before the USA’s establishment) with the promise of what was in effect free farmland for each person. Those who could afford the transport to America could avail of these opportunities. So the more people a farmer brought along with him, the more land he got for himself. Big European estate owners and those in the merchant class transported servants and families, and each ‘head’ got some acreage (which this entrepreneurial farmer took as his own).

Similar land purchasing acts continued to benefit the majority population as US territory expanded. Often, white people inherited farms and lands while black people rented if they were lucky, or, before the mid-1860s, worked as the white people’s slaves. Although they existed, black people were rare in the land ownership class.

A century later, black people were prevented from even viewing certain property rentals in New York City available to white people, the buildings’ doormen told to inform them that the apartments were no longer available. Property businesses were subsequently convicted of this discrimination.

It’s a tautology that white people still benefit even today from the land they inherited for centuries, and for the discriminatory practices of various kinds that have gone on since – in terms of, say, opportunities in education that would help avoid the poverty trap. Even the civil rights legislation introduced in 1968 related to fair housing was not fully enforceable until some years later.

Black people continue to be discriminated against in property ownership and rental. Anecdotally and statistically, it’s still more-than-difficult for a black person to buy property in an affluent area populated mainly by white people, or to get a mortgage at the same rate. As Chris Rock says, his neighbors are dentists. A person-of-color needs to be at Chris Rock-levels of success to live in a neighborhood populated by white dentists.

What of education? Research suggests that Black kids are punished worse than white kids at school in the United States. Black children are suspended for what are deemed minor infractions when white kids do them. Historically, in education, white veterans received funding for college where black veterans did not.

The Murray book makes similar points about the Hispanic community (a group that is substantially phenotypically “white” and of Spanish heritage). This too reinforces the suggestion that socioeconomic circumstances play a crucial role in intelligence.

People are apparently getting smarter, and as minorities and the poor are seen to make improvements in performance, the factors outlined above continue to feed into the undermining of economic opportunity for minorities in the United States. The measure of “intelligence” in this limited way is itself part of a complex that has economic opportunity as a major influence.

*On a related note to single parenting and poverty, a #PovertyIsSexist worldwide campaign highlights how adversely women are affected by poverty.