Why Brains Are More Important Than Billions

The one percent that really matter

Posted Jul 04, 2012

Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan are in the top 1 percent in wealth.  What has not been discussed is that both of them are also likely in the top 1 percent in brains.  We know that Zuckerberg is because he was identified by a talent search and attended a summer program for gifted youths which means he had to have scored in the top 1 percent (plus he was accepted by and attended Harvard).  Chan was valedictorian of her high school, was accepted by and attended Harvard, and then was accepted by and graduated from UCSF medical school which taken together indicate that she is also likely in the top 1 percent in brains.

I discuss the connection between the top 1 percent in brains and the top 1 percent in wealth in my feature article for the July 2012 issue of Psychology Today:

"I wanna be a billionaire so [freakin'] bad," sing Bruno Mars and Travie McCoy in their eponymous hit single. They're hardly the only ones. Americans are as enamored of extreme wealth as they are infuriated by it. Post-Occupy Wall Street, the spotlight shines more starkly than ever on the top 1 percent of earners, a fact not lost on Mars and McCoy, who rap, "And yeah, I'll be in a whole new tax bracket/ We in recession, but let me take a crack at it." Whatever one's political and ideological stance, there is no dispute over the power wielded by the nation's highest earners.

Yet the national obsession with wealth bypasses another group of elites, who overlap in a critical way with the top 1 percent in income, and who, in the age of big data and relentless globalization are arguably as important in determining the nation's economic course. This group is the top 1 percent in brains. The world is drowning in data, rendering stellar quantitative skills more critical than ever. The majority of the smartest are those with a demonstrated aptitude for math and spatial reasoning, the cognitive toolkit increasingly in demand in the age of information.

Yet ironically, America undervalues math and spatial skills—it is socially acceptable to be bad at math. (Not exactly the case when it comes to reading.) Overlooking the need for basic proficiency in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields and the pedagogical needs of the most gifted students may have dire creative and economic repercussions.

Read more here.

© 2012 by Jonathan Wai

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