For my article Of Brainiacs And Billionaires for Psychology Today which explores the connection between the top 1% in brains and wealth I had the opportunity to interview Charles Murray—the author of Coming Apartat great length.  Our conversation was quite wide ranging, and I could not include everything we discussed in the actual article itself.  What follows are some of his thoughts on:

1. How companies are placing increasing value on brainpower: “Take a look at the quants.  I went to eat lunch at the patio outside Renaissance Technologies—arguably the most successful of the quant firms—and I was thinking I’ve probably never been in a place with a higher mean IQ. Most of them were pure mathematicians and Ph.D.s in physics. I would be willing to bet that the mean IQ of the 25 guys sitting around me was at least 150. People at Microsoft, Google, and Apple are highly screened for IQ.  But it’s not just the tech firms.  A lawyer that is able to negotiate an extremely complex merger or a regulatory maze can make a difference in a case involving hundreds of millions of dollars, so they can charge four figures per hour.  The same is true of managers in corporations, who are making decisions involving huge sums of potential profit or loss.  The financial rewards for brains are much higher today in various occupations up and down the ladder than they were in the past.”

2. How there has certainly been a convergence over time between the populations that compose the top percentiles in brains and wealth.  However, some companies may not even be recruiting from the most elite schools today.  What he wonders is whether “the children of the new upper class are being raised as such hothouse flowers that they won’t have the resilience, toughness, and competitiveness that other less talented kids have.  I’ve talked with a CEO of a very large corporation, and he said to me his company no longer even recruits at Harvard, Princeton, Yale, or Stanford.  They would much rather have kids at Southeastern Oklahoma State because those kids come to the job with the ‘right values’ and are much readier to work hard.”  However, he notes that “I have no idea to what extent other corporations are beginning to feel that way.”

3. How the cognitive elite may be eroding their own competitiveness: “I hope it is the case that the cognitive elite are eroding their own competitiveness in the way that they raise their kids because I don’t like the idea that there is such a powerful transfer of socioeconomic status from one generation to the next.  But maybe the cognitive elite are also smart enough to correct their own child-rearing mistakes. In the audiences I'm talking to since Coming Apart was published, I'm often talking to upper class parents about the isolation of their children and asking whether they really want that. A lot of them don't. Parents in the new upper class who grew up in the middle or working class tell me that they are indeed worried.  So these parents might be smart enough to realize that for their kids to have the best possible chance they need to toughen them up.  They might correct the current weakness in their situation.  Also, the self-esteem movement is nearly gone in the upper to middle class.  These parents understand that if you tell your kids they are smart all the time it backfires and you should reward genuine accomplishment instead.”

© 2012 by Jonathan Wai

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