Did my father - Michael Young ) predict the populist revolts of the last year?
He thought that in time a meritocracy would always be replaced by a hereditary elite
Citaat : Toby Young, de zoon van Michael Young, stelt dat zijn vader in 'The Rise of meritocracy' -1956 - beklemtoonde dat de intellectuele aanleg grotendeels de sociaal-economische status bepaalde.
Vlaamse sociologen als Jacobs, Agirdag, Nicaise ... beroepen zich vaak op Michael Young, maar verzwijgen/negeren dat volgens Young de SES grotendeels bepaald wordt door de intellectuele aanlag.
It often surprises people to learn that my fathers critique of meritocracy was underpinned by his belief that human differences are rooted in genetics, a view many on the left associate with neo-liberal economics and the libertarian right.
How could the man who wrote the 1945 Labour manifesto and played an important part in creating the welfare state be a hereditarian? Surely the creed of socialism depends on believing that all men are born with the same innate capacities, and the reason some succeed and others fail is because of environmental differences?
Before trying to solve this puzzle, let me summarise the reason Michael thought meritocracy was doomed to fail. The problem, according to him, is that the abilities rewarded in a meritocratic society, namely, exceptional intelligence and drive, are natural gifts rather than learned characteristics.
So you get plenty of social mobility when the principle first takes hold but, as a meritocratic society matures, this begins to tail off because the offspring of those at the top are more likely to have these traits than the children of those at the bottom.
Of course there are exceptions. Genetic variation means highly able children are born to parents of lower intelligence and vice-versa. But the children of the cognitive elite still have the dice loaded in their favour, and that remains true even if you eliminate environmental advantages. Over time, my father believed, the fluidity and dynamism unleashed by meritocracy would be replaced by a rigid caste system underpinned by biology, leading to widespread discontent.
Was that the cause of the electoral revolts of last year? The conventional wisdom is that it cant possibly have been, because Britain and America arent genuine meritocracies. However, when you ask people why they think that, they automatically point to low levels of social mobility, and, by itself, that doesnt disprove my fathers hypothesis. On the contrary, it could be evidence that both countries are on their way to becoming mature meritocracies.
You have to look at other things, such as the extent to which IQ predicts socioeconomic status, and whether it is indeed genetically based.
I interviewed several leading authorities on these subjects for my radio programme, including Peter Saunders, a former sociology professor at Sussex University, and Professor Robert Plomin, a behavioural geneticist at Kings College, London. It turns out my father may have been on to something, although I should say that neither Saunders nor Plomin share his pessimism about meritocracy degenerating into a genetically based class system. Of all the people I interviewed, only Charles Murray, a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, endorses this prognosis.
Murray himself has been the target of left-wing student protests ever since he co-authored The Bell Curve in 1994, a book that documented the emergence of Americas meritocratic ruling class and warned of the potentially harmful consequences of segregating society according to IQ.
He happens to be a conservative, but often points out that theres nothing inherently right-wing about believing variations in human personal characteristics, such as intelligence, are based on genetic differences. It doesnt automatically lead to social Darwinism or eugenics, as some on the left seem to think. After all, if the exceptional abilities of the meritocratic elite are characteristics they were born with and have done nothing to deserve, then they dont deserve the rewards that flow from them.
Seen in this light, the hereditarian critique of meritocracy could be the basis of an argument for more redistributive taxation.
My father thought social status should be based on how decent and kind people are, not whether they happen to have the right genes. Idealistic, perhaps, but the left would be wise to try to incorporate the findings of behaviour geneticists into their political philosophy rather than continue to deny them. Why? Because theyre almost certainly right.
The Rise and Fall of the Meritocracy is on Radio 4 at 8 P.M. on 10 April.
However, my father also identified another problem with meritocracy one thats harder to dismiss. Thats the tendency within meritocracies for the cognitive elite to become a self-perpetuating oligarchy. This isnt a criticism youll often hear of grammar schools, because it involves accepting that intelligence, or lack of intelligence, has a genetic basis and, as such, is at least partly passed on from parents to their children. Thats a live rail in the education debate, because once you accept it then various unpopular conclusions follow. For one thing, it means that a more meritocratic education policy wont necessarily lead to greater social mobility. Perhaps in the past, when intelligence was more equally distributed between classes, it would have done. But in todays Britain, where IQ is the single greatest predictor of socioeconomic status, the children of the better off are more likely to pass the 11-plus, and that would remain true might even become more true if you could design a tutor-proof test.
Admittedly, if you compare childrens IQ to that of their parents, theres a reversion to the norm, but the decline isnt steep enough to offset the built-in advantage that children of high-IQ parents have. Its also true that people of below-average intelligence can have bright children, but, again, it doesnt happen often enough to solve the problem of social ossification.
The unwelcome truth is that the underlying rate of social mobility in meritocratic societies is bound to be quite low probably a big part of the reason its so low in contemporary Britain. Not that the UK is wholly meritocratic, but its meritocratic enough that any expansion of grammar schools would probably mean less social mobility rather than more.
In The Rise of the Meritocracy, the absence of opportunities for the vast majority to better themselves leads to a bloody revolution in 2033. Were some way off that, but its still a big problem that successive governments have
Bijlage 2: Toy Young over zijn vader Michael Young
Michael Young was born in 1915, the son of an Irish bohemian painter and a Daily Express journalist. He had a miserable childhood, being packed off to the sort of prep schools that George Orwell wrote about in Such, Such Were the Joys, but was saved at the age of 13 by a fairy godmother in the form of Dorothy Elmhirst, an eccentric American millionaire. She had started a school in South Devon called Dartington Hall that was the only school in England that taught fruit farming. As luck would have it, my father had a rich Australian uncle with a fruit farm who offered to pay the fees.
Dorothy and her husband Leonard, a Yorkshireman, more or less adopted Michael. Instead of sending him home in the summer holidays, they took him with them on their annual jaunt to America and treated him like one of their own. He travelled in a first-class berth on RMS Aquitania, learned how to sail on Marthas Vineyard and, on one memorable night, dined at the White House with Franklin D. Roosevelt.
When he left Dartington at the age of 18, Dorothy set him up with a small trust fund, as well as a lifetimes supply of Sobranie cigarettes.
Michaels first notable achievement was writing a pamphlet for a pressure group called Political and Economic Planning at the age of 22, in which he argued that if war broke out the government mustnt delay introducing conscription.
Churchill read it and was so impressed that he immediately offered my father a job as his private secretary. He accepted, but the offer was withdrawn when Churchill discovered he was a member of the Holborn branch of the Communist party.
Michael went on to run the Labour partys research department and, in that capacity, wrote the 1945 Labour manifesto. He spent the next six years at the heart of the Attlee government, laying the foundations of the welfare state, then left in 1951 to do a PhD at the LSE. His doctorate formed the basis of a book called Family and Kinship in East London which, to this day, is referred to by sociology students as Fakinel.
But it was his next book that really made his name The Rise of the Meritocracy. A dystopian satire in the same mould as Brave New World, it purported to be an historical essay written by an academic in the mid-21st century about the emergence of a new ruling class whose claim to power was based on their superior intellect.
The book was intended as a satirical critique of what my father regarded as a pernicious way of justifying inequality and it irritated him for the rest of his life that the word hed coined to describe this ghastly new phenomenon meritocracy was generally used by politicians to describe something wholly desirable.
At this point, Michaels place in the history of post-war Britain was guaranteed, but he was just getting started. He set up a research institute in Bethnal Green that, for the next 50 years, became a kind of organisational supernova, pumping out an endless stream of new institutions: the Consumers Association, Which? magazine, the Social Science Research Council, the University of the Third Age, the School for Social Entrepreneurs, Grandparents Plus
it goes on and on. The historian Noel Annan compared him to Cadmus, the founder of Thebes in Greek mythology: Whatever field he tilled, he sowed dragons teeth and armed men seemed to spring from the soil to form an organisation.
And if you think all of that is impressive, he also co-founded the Open University. Whenever Im at risk of feeling a little too pleased with myself because Ive helped set up a handful of schools, I remind myself that Michael helped establish the single largest educational institution in the world. At any one time, the Open University has a quarter of a million students, an astonishing figure.
I was the product of Michaels second marriage and shared a home with him for the first 18 years of my life. At the time, I thought he was a great dad, a figure of towering authority, but now that Im a father myself I realise how little time he spent with his children. I can clearly remember playing football with him in Waterlow Park on my ninth birthday. A lovely memory, to be sure, but the reason I can recall it is because it was one of the very few occasions he took me to the park. My children, by contrast, will have no specific memories of playing football with their dad, because we do it every weekend.
For Michael, the work always came first. Hed been given a great gift by Dorothy Elmhirst, whod saved him from neglect, and that left him with an overwhelming sense of obligation to do the same for others. If Im going to achieve anything else in the next 30 years, it must be driven by the same philanthropic impulse.
Great Lives: Michael Young will be broadcast on Radio 4 on 23 December at 4.30 p.m. and repeated on Boxing Day at 11 p.m. Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.