If intelligence is the mental ability to adapt, we should expect smart people to get to the top (generally speaking).

On page 35 of the book A Question of Intelligence, journalist Dan Seligman brilliantly writes:

Gangster John Gotti, who long headed the Gambino organized crime family, tested at 110 in Franklin K. Lane High School in Brooklyn; a figure that sounds quite plausible. In Crime and Human Nature, published in 1985, James Q Wilson and Richard J Herrnstein present data indicating that criminals tend to have IQs clustered around 90. In a sense, then, you can think of Gotti’s rise to mob stardom as basically concordant with the general rule that smart people get to the top.

Critics of IQ tests will often concede that high IQ people get to the top, but argue that it’s only because IQ scores (or the proxies like SATs) create a self-fulfilling prophecy, where only those who score high are allowed to get the credentials to succeed.

For example, back in 1995, scholar Robert Sternberg stated:

If you have a high IQ, even if you come from a not very affluent home, you are going to be rewarded by our society for it. If you come from a poor home and you do well on the SATs, Yale and Harvard and Princeton will all be begging to have you so that they can claim diversity. That’s the ticket to success.

But John Gotti rose to the top, because he had a high IQ, not because he had a high IQ score. He was a high school dropout who clawed his way to the top of the criminal hierarchy through sheer ruthlessness and adaptability. He’s an example of how smart people get to the top naturally, we don’t need tests like the SAT to force it to happen. It happens on its own. Brain size tripled in 4 million years of human evolution because smart primates are successful naturally. There was no SAT test one million years ago to decide who gets to prosper, life itself was the test.

The Gambino crime family had about 2000 members according to wikipedia. Making the oversimplified assumption that the average IQ was 90 with a standard deviation of 15, the smartest member should have had IQ of 140 (50 points above the average).

But the correlation between IQ and income (and probably worldly success in general) is about 0.4, so the most successful criminal in the Gambino crime familiy should only be 40% as far above average as the brightest criminal: 0.4(50) + 90 = 110. So the simple linear 0.4 correlation between IQ and worldly success perfectly predicted Gotti’s score on a school IQ test, taken decades before his future success. In many ways, IQ is destiny.

Gotti reminds me of myself in the sense that we both rose to the top of a controversial field becoming famous in the process. Gotti rose to the top of the crime world, and ruled over 2000 criminals. I rose to the top of the HBD world and rule over 2000 daily readers. The difference is, the HBD blogosphere is way smarter than the crime world, so I probably needed far more IQ than he did.