Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 

Not everybody can be a rocket scientist, and we should worry about that.

Posted by Jason O on Jun 11, 2012 in British Politics, Irish Politics, Jason's Diary, US Politics |

Watching the enormous windfalls being enjoyed by various Facebook persons, one can’t help pondering the effect that new technology is having on the socio-economic life of the planet. The truth is, technical knowledge and ability, in specialist areas, will allow people of any class to rise to the top of the economic pile. Technology will be the great social leveller, and if you have the skills it doesn’t matter whether you come from Jobstown in Tallaght or the lowest caste in India. There’ll be a place for you in Silicon Valley.

But what about the other people, the majority who just aren’t smart enough, through no fault of their own, to reach those levels of skill? Are we seeing the development of a global economic caste system based not on race or creed but on merit, and is this a good thing? What a question, you may ask. Of course merit is a good thing! But what about the people who just can’t compete? Yes, we will always need people to stack shelves in Tesco, and I don’t say that disparagingly. I myself did not attend university or have any third level educational qualifications of significance, so Tesco could well be the place for me too. We should also recognise that not everybody needs to be a millionaire to be happy, and I have certainly encountered the odd miserable one.

But what happens in a generation, when the very successful are intermarrying and interbreeding, creating a new class of global citizenship? Genetically alone, they will be more attractive (money attracts good genes), more driven (successful people tend to be), smarter (the vast majority of wealth is generated by intelligence, despite what our modern celebrity age might tell us) and quite logically attracted to each other. In short, by the mid-21st century we will have a global aristocracy not unlike 19th century European royal families except, admittedly, on a much broader scale. But you will only be talking maybe 350 million people out of a population of seven billion. As a class, it won’t be as exclusionary as a royal family, but with access to expensive education, its children will be more likely to intermarry. Of course, just because your forebears were smart and hardworking, it does not mean that your grandchildren will be, but you can’t fight the genetics. The old rich families merged through snobbery, whereas it will be the right mix of genes that will bring this new class to the top table.

That does not mean, I should stress, that they will be bad people. Some of the greatest social reformers came from the wealthiest classes, but it is worrying nevertheless because we will even begin to eventually see physical differences between the Skillocracy and the rest of us. Smart people eat better, exercise more, look after their health, and attract people like them.

Watch them eating their rocket salads at Davos as we chomp down our Dominos. 

Coincidentally, although I wrote this post a few weeks ago, I recently saw this piece in The Daily Telegraph which makes some interesting points on this.

3 Comments

Sinead
Jun 12, 2012 at 11:38 pm

You made my counter argument in your article, just because your parents are smart/beautiful doesn’t mean you will be, there are so many combinations of genes possible with the intermingling of just two people’s DNA that it this new two class system just wouldn’t happen. There will always be smart people born to stupid people and vice versa. That IS genetics, the reason humanity has survived is the potential for great diversity within our DNA.
And, if there was a true meritocracy, and I doubt there ever will be, the billionaires son who’s only good for stacking shelves, should go stack them and the pauper’s brilliant daughter should go on and do what ever great things she can imagines.


 

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Mark
Jun 30, 2012 at 3:10 am

This is one of the big social challenges coming down the pipe. It will make wealth distribution even more skewed, with large numbers of people effectively unable to participate in the economy. In the old days the productivity difference between the best and worst assembly line worker was only a small margin, whereas the productivity gap between the best and worst programmer is gigantic.

“we will always need people to stack shelves in Tesco”

The real trouble starts when this is not true. A lot of these physical tasks are going to be automated, and much sooner than people think. I would guess that certainly within two decades all shelf stacking will be done by robots. The forerunners are in labs right now, it’s obvious that this is coming. Currently 1% of the entire US workforce is employed at Walmart, but not for long. Simultaneously self-driving cars will replace truck and taxi drivers. Its going to be a huge social shock that will happen pretty quickly. We’re going to have to invent a lot of makework to spread the gains around.


 

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