Murray is probably extremely bright given his large cranial capacity, enormous influence on society, high income, and elite education.  He looks a bit like Charles Darwin, and his reflective haughty speaking style adds to his learned air.

Picture of Darwin

A few years ago, Murray wrote a fascinating book (which I’ve partly read) about the new upper class called Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010, the theme of which is that today’s elite is different in kind than elites of past generations.  The biggest, and from an HBD perspective, most fascinating, difference between today’s elite and elites in the 1950s is that the former are Jews and the latter were WASPs, but that distinction is perhaps too taboo even for Murray, lest he lose the respect of Charles Krauthhammer and William Kristol, the latter of whom describes Murray as the best social scientist in America!

Although I find Murray an absolute pleasure to listen to, I struggle a bit to fully grasp his point.  Yes today’s elite is far more likely to have attended an elite school than in past generations, but that seems largely because today many people attend college, while in 1920, just attending any college at all was an elite education.  Seems to me like a simple case of credential inflation, and perhaps not the social revolution Murray implies.

But perhaps Murray’s most compelling point is that in cities like LA, San Francisco, and New York, there are entire geographic areas consisting of at least 100,000 people, where the average person is in the top 0.5% of all Americans in a composite of education and income.

I would estimate that people who average in the top 0.5% of attained socioeconomic status average in the top 5% in IQ (IQ 125 U.S. norms, IQ 123 white norms), and given regression to the mean, their kids might average IQ 115; U.S. norms (IQ 112 white norms).

Murray worries that having so much money, education and brains located in just a few geographic areas instead of being spread out all over the country like it used to be, is creating social classes much less mobile than they used to be, thus killing the American dream.

I think Murray is overestimating how much cognitive stratification has increased, partly because as I mentioned, elites have always been the most educated, it’s just that Ivy League degrees are the new college degrees.

But more importantly, Murray thinks people who’ve attended elite colleges are obscenely smart, having an average IQ of 135+ (U.S. norms) (see page 375, note 36 from his book), which is certainly true if measured by SAT scores, but not even close to true if measured by neutral test that they weren’t explicitly selected for. Murray vaguely acknowledged this issue when he co-wrote The Bell Curve (see page 694, note 32), but seems to greatly underestimate it.  This is not to deny that SAT might be a valid measure of IQ (I cite SAT scores all the time), but only when used to measure the IQs of people not largely defined by being selected by it, lest you get a selection bias effect where the test used to screen a group gives systematically higher scores than all other tests the group has taken.

But Murray does make a great point when he implies brains have far more market value (independent of education) than they used to, probably because society has become so complex.  I’ve noticed this just from perusing old issues of the Forbes 400.  The richest Americans used to be retail and oil tycoons.  Today they’re largely nerds, and the average self-made decabillionaire might have an absolutely stratospheric IQ of 151 (it’s unlikely the richest few Americans have ever before been that far above the cognitive average).

But if Murray is right that the college sorting system combined with market forces are turning America turning into an IQ caste system, with more and more assortative mating and stratification by IQ, and that this has been going on since the 1950s, compound one generation after another, then what we should find a secular increase in IQ variance, as the cognitive elite mates with each other, and so does the other extreme, making the cognitive gap between the brightest and dullest 10% higher each generation.  Of course the standard deviation (SD) on IQ tests is set at 15 in each birth cohort, but by giving a very old IQ test to a representative sample of kids today, we should expect to see an increased SD if Murray is right.