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I agree with you about the social benefits of a more educated population, but I disagree with you on your prescription. Choice and teacher accountability through testing measures haven't been shown to be effective and they seem to be more likely to lead to scandals and corruption. Choosing instead to focus on childhood poverty and the opportunity gap would lead to more socially beneficial outcomes.

Don Harris

Having read this blog for a number of years, it seems to me that Posner has migrated to the left. His more recent writings show an greater concern with the effects of policy on people of modest means and a willingness to question the aims of conservative economic and legal doctrines. Becker has softened as well, but only just a little, and mostly under the prodding of Posner's analyses.

Now if Posner would just let go of his obsession with IQ as a fixed trait in spite of the evidence which suggests a considerable plasticity in human intelligence throughout the life course.

In any event, there is often something to learn from reading this blog. Thank you, Gentlemen!

jim kirby

What an exercise in false dichotomy!

Becker has never worked as a farmer. If he had, he would recognize that you don't improve results much by expenditures on fattening inferior cattle or fertilizing genetically inferior corn.

The answer is to control the breeding of both cattle and corn. It you put in place a policy of discouraging the better breeds while encouraging the inferior ones, you get the problem we have in the USSA.

We all read that professional women aren't marrying, much less breeding, and we have put in place policies, like foodstamps, medicaid, CHIP--ad nauseam--to encourage the worst educated, youngest, least prepared, hopeless, dependent, immature and uneducated women to breed the most.

Stop the wanton breeding! That's the solution.


I agree with Becker that lowering dropout rates would be helpful, and that programs like school vouchers and rewarding successful teachers would help lower dropout rates. The effects of these programs, however, may not be strongly felt by those most likely to drop out of high school or college and fall under poverty line. Getting these people to graduate high school (instead of joining local gang, for example) may require a holistic approach, improving the economic environment, institutions and social norms at the same time. Perhaps coming up with such a solution involves prohibitive costs because it would require combining expertise in several different fields.

As for the 'breeding' comment above, I've talked to several highly educated women about their decision to 'breed' or not. The main concern seems to be whether they will be able to maintain their career once they have children. The natural solution, according to them, is affordable and reliable child care institutions, which America insufficiently provides. Communist states (at least in their early stages) provided excellent child care to all their working women; there's no reason why American cannot do the same. I'm sure with some ingenuity, a good market solution can be found.

jim kirby

Right, the Commies provide all sorts of "equalizing" social measures. The effect has not been to bring the needy up to the level of the well-off, but to make the well-off also needy.

Need I cite Russia, Cuba, North Korea?

And MoreThoughts: why do you think we need to encourage more breeding, with the $10,000 plus for expended perinatal care and the $150,000 plus for bad education of EACH child, only to end up with an indolent teen-ager or an unemployed lawyer, when there are loads of bi-lingual potty-trained young adults ready to immigrate and "work like a Mexican"?

Terry Bennett

Regarding Don Harris' post,

Perhaps IQ is not the right measure. It's not my field - I don't have a field - well I do but it's 7 feet high in corn about now - but my understanding is that early psychologists making ordinary observations postulated that there was a fixed component to intelligence, apart from any variable component, and IQ was an attempt to isolate it. This makes some sort of street-level sense. In my life, I don't see smart people getting dumber or vice versa in any big way, and I think this same informal sentiment is coming through in Judge Posner's posts.

One computer can have a really fast processor, and another can be loaded with a lot of useful software and data, and maybe the second will be more effective in its intended domain, but the first machine can be given the software and ultimately outperform, in any domain. The search for IQ is for the processor, the fixed part. Maybe you can vary this a little bit with diet or good timing in exposure to creative ideas during the nurturing years or some new drug out of Flowers For Algernon, but if it turns out to be variable that doesn't necessarily prove there is no fixed component. It may prove that the tests have not been perfected to correctly isolate the fixed component. Perhaps the label "IQ" is long in the tooth and the consideration is ripe for a new, more precise term.


I believe you have cause and effect mixed up a bit when you conclude that education leads to more stable marriages and fewer out of wedlock births. Kids who have kids of their own are not typically the kids that will pursue a higher education, or make for long term marriage partners.
As for the need for more affordable child care, one would assume that if both parents are working in good careers, they should be able to afford child care, which would give career women the opportunity to have more children. Unfortunately there is this thing called a progressive income tax. If both husband and wife are working, that extra income from the second salary is taxed at a much higher rate than the first income, especially when you consider the tax breaks 'used up' on the first salary. This isn't the only additional expense, and loss of efficiency on a 2 wage earner household, but it is a big one.

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