Last summer, my brother Adam, my nephew Austin, and I took a day trip to visit the real Bob Evans Farm in Rio Grande, Ohio. Along the way, Adam and I discussed politics as we weaved through the beautiful rolling hills of southern Ohio on the edge of Appalachia.
I argued that socialism and the welfare state slowly weaken and corrupt societies. I voiced the neoconservative objection to the welfare state; treating adults like children rather than rational, responsible agents leads to civic deterioration and social pathologies when such adults still maintain their freedoms. We simply remove the natural consequences of bad decisions and thereby keep such people from learning the hard logic of life. I also explained my social Darwinian view that our welfare state subsidizes the breeding of the vicious, irresponsible, and stupid; it diverts society’s resources from cultivating the best to be better to making the worse more numerous. I stated that artificially imposed equality by the state is unjust in principle and harmful in practice. It incentivizes behavior that weakens a society and makes beneficial behavior less rewarding.
Adam surprised me with his counter argument. Instead of defending the welfare state as a matter of social justice, he proposed that a certain type of welfare state exists for society’s convenience by removing unproductive and unsightly denizens from the life of the society. The welfare state, ideally, keeps the hobos from the streets and from our daily lives. Of course, if you live in an urban area of the United States, you know how well the welfare state accomplishes that job. Adam responded, though, that such would be far worse without H.H.S. and H.U.D. The welfare state, then, provides a public health and public convenience service for the middle and upper classes by keeping the poorest of the poor from bothering the rest of us.
This is a novel take on the old view of the welfare state as a pressure valve that relieves mounting proletarian rage. You may have heard that Bismarck subdued the Marxists by instituting limited socialism and that Roosevelt made America safe for millionaires by keeping the peasants with pitchforks fed and secure enough to allay their economic anxieties and class resentment. Adam’s argument holds that the welfare state does not simply make the world safe for the rich but more pleasant for everyone. After all, what else should we do with these people?
I remain committed to my opposition to socialism, as its deleterious effects on a population are evident for those with eyes to see. Yet, what are we to do with the least of these?
I think that a good society should allow enough economic dynamism so that a virtuous, talented, and disciplined person may escape his impoverished circumstances and lead a reasonably prosperous life. The United States is such a society, but poverty continues, as it always will, because not everyone is equally virtuous, talented, and disciplined. Naturally, an idiot born into a rich family will fare better than an idiot born into a poor family, but it is less likely that the rich will raise an idiot. Genetics, environmental factors, and choices all matter, and no social construct shy of inhuman totalitarianism can provide even the semblance of an even playing field. Moreover, sometimes, people just have bad luck. A fine bourgeois pedestrian may end up as a paraplegic if an automobile swerves and hits him through no fault of his own. Fortune always plays a role.
Given that the poor will always be with us, what should we do with them? It seems that less industrialized societies fare better in this regard. For as a society increases in its economic and technological complexity, the proportion of the population that has the ability to navigate civil life with success decreases. To argue this, I must first address I.Q.
Let us look simply at intelligence, and by intelligence I mean general problem solving abilities. Dogmatic egalitarians find intelligence research horrifying because they cannot bear to acknowledge the obvious truth that human beings differ in their abilities. They ceaselessly rattle on about studies that show how environmental factors affect I.Q. levels, and they chant the Flynn effect as a mantra. However, the fact that environmental factors influence intelligence does not mean that they are the decisive factors in determining intelligence. It is necessary to look at the evidence and see where it leads. Steve Sailer provides a bounty of information about I.Q., and he is fearlessly honest in such a dishonest age. I recommend his blog; it is insightful, and his style is entertaining to read, as well.
From what I have read, from common sense, and from personal experience, it seems that human beings have innate ranges of potential ability levels and that environmental factors influence where in those ranges people end up. I.Q. junkies often use athleticism as a parallel example because the egalitarians have not brainwashed the many to believe that everyone has the same potentiality in regards to athleticism. It is likely that an athletic training facility could take an “average” child with respect to athletic ability and render that child superior in athletic ability to the vast majority of people. A lot of polishing can make a mediocre specimen shine. Yet, we see that there are exceptional people who excel in athleticism without ever having benefited from such investment. Their musculature, cardiovascular system, reflexes, and the like are just naturally superior to the average person’s. Nature provides us with diversity in populations. As such, if you want to have an athletic Übermensch, you need to invest much in a person with a superior potential, just as the Chinese Olympic machine.
I believe that intelligence is similar, and such explains the Flynn effect. As educational opportunities and a more intellectually demanding lifestyle applied to more and more people in the twentieth century, the intelligence quotient rates for given populations rose. Yet, where we have seen a rise, we have also witnessed a tapering off in the most advanced societies. For modern, industrialized society has increased its investment in cognitive development, and we have seen I.Q. rates rise correspondingly. We might even see further increased rates as we learn more about brain development. Nonetheless, the bell curve remains; it just shifts to the right, and we have noticed that the law of diminishing returns has kicked in.
So, what does I.Q. have to do with poverty? Clearly, less intelligent people are going to have more economic troubles. Achieving material prosperity is a problem, and intelligence is the problem solving skill. Recognizing patterns, seeing connections, analyzing situations, and imagining various solutions to puzzles are all elements of intelligence that contribute to success in life.
In static, caste like societies, there is little social mobility. Thus, it is possible to have people with high intelligence potential remain at the bottom of the social ladder. Consider, for example, Ashkenazim in premodern Europe, and compare their state with the Ashkenazim after Jewish emancipation. By contrast, in an economically open and mobile society like ours, poor people are usually stupid people. Vice leads to poverty, as well, but vice seems to occur with more frequency among the less intelligent. I do not hold that intelligence and virtue are the same, and most of us know smart, wicked individuals. I suspect, though, that virtue demands intelligence. The Forrest Gump type of virtuous idiot is rare; he is of a sort similar to Aristotle’s divine man, whose virtue seems to come inexplicably from the gods. Regardless, the poor are generally stupid, and that is why they remain poor.
I would like to introduce a distinction between two types of poverty. Let us say that there is the meaning of poor as lower class. In that a natural inequality exists among men, there will always be a lower class. Let us also grant another meaning of poor as destitute, meaning unable to provide the basic material needs for oneself and one’s family because of one’s economic situation, some of which are natural and some of which depend on the conventions of one’s society. This meaning of poor as destitute is what interests me.
It seems that the level of economic complexity in a society determines the percentage of the population that can rise above destitution. Imagine an agrarian society with a low population density and abundant land. In such a society, assuming that there is a rule of law and unclaimed land, very few people would be destitute because of their natural abilities. Indeed, even if all the land were controlled by lords, a peasant could make a living working for another. Of course, an intelligent farmer might prosper while an idiotic farmer might scrape by, but scraping by still raises him above our definition of destitution. He can provide for himself as life is relatively simple. The necessary I.Q. to navigate such a society successfully is not very high.
Contrast such a world with our highly complicated and technologically advanced society. There is a much higher proportion of the populace that cannot survive in such a society without the largess and/or management of benefactors and of exploiters, be they individuals, groups, or the state. The material standard of living of the poor in the Western world is quite high, compared to historical standards, but many of these poor only manage such a standard of living because of the welfare state. They could not navigate the modern world on their own.
Aristotle suggests that some men are natural slaves. They are fundamentally unable, through stupidity or vice, to manage their own affairs. They are perpetual children, who must be managed and directed by a mind other than their own defective and insufficient one. Hence, such a man is a natural slave to another man—a master. The Greeks seemed to have suffered no Kantian illusions about treating every human being as an end. An idiot might as well be useful to someone else if he himself is incapable of human agency. For we very well cannot expect a man to look after another man’s good to his own detriment, which would be the case if a fellow busies himself with another person’s good. Yet, we can expect a man to utilize another man as one employs a beast. One should be kind and just, but a master still exploits the labor of the slave. The slave, in turn, has his life managed for him and his action directed to beneficial production.
I wonder if natural slavery provides a solution to our problem. However, given the earlier discussion, I question if one’s status as a natural slave would change depending on the complexity of a society. It seems problematic to consign a person to natural slavery because he cannot function in an advanced society but could have gotten well enough along in colonial America. Maybe this is simply my inner Luddite’s wishes, but perhaps our complex society is inherently incompatible with much of the human race. For unnaturally natural slavery seems unjust, and our current system is unsustainable and self-destructive. Although not a reader of Rand, I ask when Atlas will shrug, or when will the demographic consequences of our current mess lead us to an Idiocracy? We are well on our way.
Furthermore, as a Christian, I find it difficult to accept natural slavery for morons. I enthusiastically embrace natural slavery for the vicious. I think that the wicked should become slaves of the society, but I find it repulsive to treat decent men like animals. Nonetheless, perhaps a moderated form of natural slavery is needed. Such is the wisdom of feudal societies, clans, and the system of the Roman pater familias. If we assigned fools to the care of their kin, such kin would more likely be kind and even beneficent masters. This solution has the further advantage of not increasing the power of the state over the lives of its competent citizens.
We see such a situation in our own society to some extent with people who are so mentally challenged that they cannot even get by on the dole. Without the welfare state and with certain modifications of the law, the destitute unable or unwilling to work voluntarily as servants under another’s charge would be placed in the custody of their families, who would have a legal obligation to look after their stupid relatives. The vicious who endanger their relatives would become natural slaves of the state, having forfeited their freedom by transgressing the law and disrupting the social order.
Our liberal society, based on individual autonomy and self-gratification, would abhor such a transformation. For it would burden family members with obligations not of their choosing, and it would refuse to grant moronic adults their self-determining destruction. Yet, when Western liberal society crushes beneath the weight of its own many follies and confusions, either we shall end up in a state of primitivism wherein most idiots can get by with a hoe or we shall have some form of feudal or clannish order wherein the more clever ones direct the less clever ones. Or likely both . . .
It worked for thousands of generations. It will work in the future.