MR. WATTENBERG: Hello. I'm Ben Wattenberg. Are high-IQ Americans leaving their fellow citizens behind? Are people with lower IQs falling ever deeper into an impoverished and violent underclass? Is there a racial difference in IQ? And what is the future of America if it becomes increasingly stratified by intellectual ability? Two weeks ago on this program, Charles Murray, author of the controversial book "The Bell Curve," addressed these questions. And last week we started a roundtable discussion, and now we continue the debate by looking at the policy implications of Murray's ideas. Joining us again to sort through the conflict and the consensus are Roger Wilkins, professor of history at George Mason University; Linda Gottfredson, professor of educational studies at the University of Delaware; Douglas Besharov, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute; and Christopher Winship, professor of sociology at Harvard University; and from Boston via satellite, Glenn Loury, professor of economics at Boston University. The topic before this house: IQ, American society and Charles Murray, this week on Think Tank. On the last edition of Think Tank, I talked with a panel of experts about the issues of race, IQ and success as discussed in Charles Murray and Richard Hernnstein's highly controversial new book, "The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life." What are the policy implications, if any, of their analysis?
CHARLES MURRAY: (From videotape.) We think that what we have to get serious about in this country is asking the question, how is it that people of a very broad range of abilities can find what we call valued places in society, places where, if they were gone, they would be missed?
MR. WATTENBERG: Murray and co-author Richard Hernnstein argue that America's worst social problems are increasingly concentrated among people with low IQs. For example, the majority of out-of-wedlock mothers, hardcore welfare recipients and jail inmates score in the bottom 20 percent on IQ tests, according to Murray. And he worries that these trends will worsen as high intelligence becomes even more critical to achieving economic success in modern America. Murray fears that the growing gap between the smart and the not-so-smart could tear apart America's social fabric.
MR. MURRAY: (From videotape.) As the underclass continues to become more firmly mired at the bottom with fewer and fewer jobs that they can hold, with more family disorganization, we are going to have an eruption in the upper class, if you want to think of it that way, or what we call the cognitive elite in the book, which says, "Let's just get these people out of our hair. Keep them out of sight, out of mind. Spend as much money as we need to do that while we try to go about our business."
MR. WATTENBERG: Perhaps Murray's most controversial assertion is that many well-meaning social programs which do not take IQ into account do not work. He says, for example, affirmative action on the job and in higher education is ineffectual or, even worse, counterproductive.
MR. MURRAY: (From videotape.) We assert and, I think, document very thoroughly that the way affirmative action actually operates in this country cannot stand the light of day. You have in most universities almost two separate populations of kids in terms of their academic ability, blacks and whites, and, of course, Asians being usually at the top, and that this creates all sorts of terrible consequences.
MR. WATTENBERG: Let's talk about policy. Linda, you've written about this affirmative action situation. Why don't you --
MS. GOTTFREDSON: We now have out there what I call the egalitarian fiction that all groups are equal in intelligence. We have social policy based on that fiction. For example, the 1991 Civil Rights Act codified Griggs versus Duke Power, which said that if you have disproportionate hiring by race, you are prima facie -- that's prima facie evidence of racial discrimination. So that fiction is driving policy right now and it's having --
MR. WILKINS: All right, let me --
MR. WATTENBERG: Okay, now, hold it. Hold it. Roger.
MR. WILKINS: If you take the gross conclusion that people take from this book that they are suggesting that IQ is fate, then you just don't do affirmative action because it's going to skunk up good organizations.
MR. WATTENBERG: Couldn't you make the case that, if one group is particularly disadvantaged or partially disadvantaged because of genetics, they deserve an extra boost?
MR. WILKINS: You could take that, but that's not the political conclusion that people will come to in this society. But let me go back to the Griggs issue. I certainly am not arguing that you shouldn't use -- that you shouldn't look at racial differences in IQ. But I think when you do it, you have to be very careful and you have to surround it with an understanding of the culture in which these differences occur, and you shouldn't just, as Bill Raspberry said in The Washington Post, throw it out there like a stink bomb.
MR. WATTENBERG: Referring to the Murray-Hernnstein book.
MR. WILKINS: Exactly. And the second thing is that I would say that the Griggs case did not stand for the fiction that everybody has the same IQ. The Griggs case, as I understood it -- now, I haven't practiced law in a long time, so my analysis may be wrong -- but as I understood it, it stood for the proposition that there is so much racism in the way hiring is done in this society that the burden of proof for the disproportionate number, small disproportionate number of blacks in the workforce, has to fall on the hiring entity rather than to have the person, who doesn't have access to the information in the first place, prove that he or she was discriminated against.
MR. WATTENBERG: Hold on one second. Glenn Loury in Boston, Murray and Hernnstein --let me just sort of quickly give you a list of some of the things that they come out for. They want to restigmatize out-of-wedlock births. They want to cut welfare payments. They want to recast affirmative action and avoid proportionality. They want to reorient job training to account for lower IQs among the chronically unemployed. So what do you make of that list? Is this sort of a standard neocon-conservative list, or have they gone off the reservation?
MR. LOURY: There's nothing wrong with the list. The problem is that Dick Hernnstein and Charles Murray manage to give many good policy ideas a bad name by embedding them in the IQ argument, as if the reason that we need to encourage moral sexual behavior among all of our people is that we'll stop the low-IQ types from breeding, you see? And the reason that we need to rethink affirmative action is because some people are just too dumb; let's stop kidding ourselves that they can ever compete. I would argue that there are quite independent arguments for much of what's on their policy list that I'd be prepared to advance on another program, but I wish I didn't have to do it under the burden now of disassociating myself from a eugenicist-style justification of those programs.
MR. WATTENBERG: I was just going to ask that. I mean, are they preaching latter-day eugenics, in your judgment?
MR. LOURY: No, no, no. I don't want to tar them so much with that brush. But people are going to say they are. You don't see anywhere in their book that I found that they preach eugenics. But it's the political environment within which any kind of discussion of race and intelligence differences takes place that that kind of question will come up.
MR. WATTENBERG: Glenn, Doug Besharov has something to say.
MR. BESHAROV: Well, I want to pick up on the point you were making about affirmative action. I think it is, as Roger said, that if you adopt the Hernnstein-Murray argument, then you undercut the moral argument for affirmative action. I don't think you create a political movement to put people who aren't smart in doctors' jobs and so forth. I think the moral argument for affirmative action is that there have been centuries of deprivation and that we need some way to jump-start this generation to catch up. And that's the reason why so many people support affirmative action. Let me mention -- we've been throwing around --
MR. WATTENBERG: Doesn't that undercut another American principle, which is merit? I mean, the argument -- everyone seems to be in favor of something called affirmative action and everybody seems to be against something called quotas. But when you go too far on affirmative action, don't you butt up into quotas?
MR. BESHAROV: Sure. But the argument here, I think, is that African-Americans particularly, because of their history, were by our society denied that kind of social capital that would put them on an equal level with other white people in this -- with white people in this country. That's the argument. And it's substantially undercut --
MR. WILKINS: Moreover, the argument about merit is ridiculous. Ben, you and I were in college at a time when you could yell merit all you wanted and Jews and blacks were discriminated against in entrance --
MR. WATTENBERG: And liberals were against quotas at that point. They said, "This is a terrible thing. People ought to get into college on the basis of merit."
MR. WILKINS: Right. Right. But the point is, when everybody goes back to that hoary old thing about America was a meritocracy until this affirmative action came along, it's just baloney. There wasn't merit for Jews and there wasn't merit for blacks.
MR. WATTENBERG: Right. But when you and I were going to college, I bet you were in favor of merit and not in favor of quotas.
MR. LOURY: Look, can I say something here?
MR. WILKINS: Sure, but --
MR. LOURY: Here's the problem.
MR. WILKINS: But it's a different quota. It's exactly a different quota.
MR. LOURY: Affirmative action really diverts our attention and it does invite the dirty little whispering that Murray talks about, which is ongoing, about these people and what they're incapable of doing.
MR. WATTENBERG: Linda.
MS. GOTTFREDSON: I think it illustrates the dilemma that we're up against. With regard to personnel selection, for example, in Griggs, at the time of Griggs we thought that if we just improved tests, made them more valid and less biased -- we assumed they were biased -- that we would have more equal outcomes by race. We set about doing that, and sometimes it actually made greater imbalances. What the field of personnel selection now faces is the following problem. On the one hand, it has Griggs and social pressure, political pressure and personal sense of obligation in many cases to have racial balance in the workforce. However, the best test and other selection criteria we have often have enormous adverse impact. It's slight in the lower-level jobs. It's more as you go up through mid-level jobs. And when you get to the high-level jobs, it's really quite enormous. And so what they often end up doing is reducing the merit component of the selection system, making it less accurate in order to increase the number of minorities.
MR. BESHAROV: If you think about family wealth, white family wealth is seven times that of black family wealth -- seven times. Now, you can think of wealth as an extra car, some money in the bank. I like to think of it as accumulated social capital, which is to say my grandmother did this, my mother did that. There are differences that come, and this is something we can measure which is the clearest outcome or result of those 200 years of slavery in this country, another 150 years of discrimination. We can see that. And why should we be surprised that when there's that kind of disparity in what you could call social capital, that there are going to be these differences when we test people on what is, in effect, a combination of innate and social characteristics?
MR. WATTENBERG: Those wealth numbers, though, are directly -- correlate directly to poverty, not to race. In other words, all people in poverty have very little accrued wealth. So you're not talking race there. You're talking poverty.
MR. WINSHIP: No, I think that's wrong, Ben. You know, about a third of the African-American population is in poverty. What is it -- 11, 12 percent of the white population is in poverty. That's nothing like the kind of difference he's talking about in wealth.
MR. BESHAROV: There are analyses --
MR. WINSHIP: If you look at people with the same incomes --
MR. BESHAROV: No, but what I'm saying --
MR. WILKINS: There are large wealth differences even at the highest range of black income because there has not been intergenerational transfer --
MR. BESHAROV: Exactly.
MR. WILKINS: -- of either wealth or kind of the accumulated ease with the culture that people pass along and make their kids able to do business or do these tests very well. MR. WATTENBERG: Chris.
MR. WINSHIP: The point is that you look at a white and a black family at the same level of income. That African-American family on average has had substantially less wealth, even though their yearly income is the same level. So it really is not just an income difference. It is something associated with race.
MR. WATTENBERG: Glenn, come on in.
MR. LOURY: (Laughs.) Well, I'll say this. I -- this last discussion is very interesting, and there's an irony here. The irony is that if you had policy directed in a class and not a race way, the benefits that would accrue to blacks would probably be less, at least in some arenas, than they are now. For example, with respect to university positions and affirmative action, if you did affirmative action on a class basis and not on a race basis, there would be fewer blacks in the universities. Are we prepared to give up some of the racial goodies in order to establish a discourse of social policy in this country that would be more humane and ultimately more secure against the kind of manipulation and race-baiting that Roger Wilkins was talking about? I hope that he thinks yes to that question, because I think in the end our grandchildren would be a lot better off, black and white, if we did.
MR. WILKINS: I've always believed that the thing that hurt poor people and working people was the racial divide that made it virtually impossible for them to see the identity of their interests across class lines. And if you could build those identities of interests and build that into the American political, economic and social dynamic, I'd be -- I'd die a happy man.
MR. WINSHIP: The basic argument is -- if we go back at least as far as the New Deal, if not before -- we've had welfare and race mixed up. Roosevelt, in order to get the New Deal passed, had to make a deal with southern politicians that the blacks would be excluded from Social Security, minimum wage and all that type of stuff. This theme gets repeated, you know, in the war on poverty, again, where you have liberals trying to, you know, essentially have a war of poverty to deal with racial injustices. And, you know, I think at every turn, at least in this century, when we've had an opportunity to try to create universalistic policies, perhaps with the exception of Social Security, we've done it in a way that has, you know, been race-targeted, which has either meant we exclude blacks or include blacks, but we don't make it a policy that applies to all people in attempts to help across the board.
MR. WATTENBERG: Linda, if you could give a brief comment.
MS. GOTTFREDSON: Well, I'd like to step back and take some perspective on the whole discussion about the book and the things that have been published about it. There is obviously a lot of anxiety and fear and attempts really to put it all back in the bottle again because of racial issues primarily. But I think it does an injustice to everybody. What the book shows is that a low IQ is an enormous disadvantage in life. You get more goodies if you have high IQ, but a low-IQ person has the odds stacked against them, whatever their race or social class, and that we don't do any good for those people if we don't admit that we need to deal with the difficulties of low IQ.
MR. WATTENBERG: All right. I'm going to come back to you. Glenn, we have a couple of minutes with you, and I wanted to ask a question that I will then ask the rest of the panel. Is the publication of this book and the publicizing of this argument, is this a useful exercise or something that is harmful to the well-being of this republic?
MR. LOURY: I honestly don't know the answer to that. I think that's a very important question. It may yet prove to be useful. But there could be tragedy here in that the authors could end up having defeated their purpose. I think their intent is to provoke a useful discussion. But consider the following contradiction. They say intelligence is important. Many people have low intelligence. That's associated with some profoundly sad outcomes in life, and nothing seems to be able to make any difference about it. Right? So, if nothing can make any difference about it, then how can the engaging in a discussion have any beneficial consequence, particularly when we throw in the racial mix?
MR. WATTENBERG: It's a gloomy book in that sense?
MR. LOURY: I don't buy the conclusion that nothing can make any difference here.
MR. WATTENBERG: Nor do I.
MR. LOURY: I think we have not been all that successful with many of the things that we have tried, but I see that that is no good reason to stop trying. And again, I think having done the job that they've done in pointing out how profoundly debilitating the failure to develop one's cognitive capacities can be for what happens later in life, that should give us all the more impetus to search in a serious way for methods, not necessarily through large-scale government programs, to change what's happening to these youngsters from the time of conception until they're 10 or 12 years old so that we get more out of the potential of our human resources.
MR. WATTENBERG: Okay, let's go around the room here on that same question, which is, is this argument, is this book, useful or harmful to this republic that we all love?
MR. BESHAROV: Maybe, maybe not. This last conversation we've had, I think, is a very helpful and powerful one because it's let us talk about things that frankly we don't talk about very much in our society. So if the book does that, great. If it creates some kind of negative response to either the further discussion or to our ability to do something, that would be too bad. My disappointment about this book is you could have written most of this book and then said, "Whether or not government can make a difference, you know, parents, family, there are other things that can make a difference in a child's developing IQ."
MR. WATTENBERG: Doug, is this going to sabotage the effort at welfare reform?
MR. BESHAROV: I think if this book is identified as a racist book, then his moral stature in the welfare debate is diminished. And he was a very convenient source of pointing -- of guidance on the welfare debate. This could set back that part of the debate that says get tough, put the responsibilities on welfare recipients, cut them off. This could undercut the welfare debate.
MR. WATTENBERG: Roger, has this been a useful exercise, the publication and the dialogue of this book?
MR. WILKINS: Oh, I think so. I think that -- I obviously am no admirer of Charles Murray's, but I think that the discussion here today and Linda's last comment about low IQ being a real impediment and we've got to do something whether a kid is white, black, brown, whatever -- that you focus on that. One of their terrible, terrible mistakes is to talk about this as if economics doesn't matter as well as all the rest of it. I mean, we had low-IQ people come into this country by the droves and low-IQ people come up from the south by the droves and do quite well, thank you, when we had lots of unskilled work in this country for people to do. One of the things that's occurring in the United States right now is that low-skilled people, particularly low-skilled men, are becoming economically redundant because of the way we organize our economy, because of where we put our industrial work now, whether it's in the suburbs --
MR. WATTENBERG: Yeah, that's what Murray and Hernnstein say. You agree with them on that, that we're splitting apart the highs and the lows.
MR. WILKINS: Well, that's right, but that's not just about IQ. That is about all kinds of other things that we can do something about. We can, if we choose to, create a much higher opportunity society for the people at the low end of the spectrum. And if this book opens it up so that we're not just talking about IQ, but we're talking about economics and we're talking about culture and we're talking about race and we're talking about the bifurcation of this society, which will rip us apart and give us something that is very ugly in the next 50 years, if this book helps us do that, then these fellows have done a good service.
MR. WATTENBERG: Chris Winship, is this a --
MR. WINSHIP: I think Roger's --
MR. WATTENBERG: -- useful book?
MR. WINSHIP: I liked that last point you made, Roger, and it's really part of the policy discussion. My own political persuasion is very much on the liberal side. I see two very attractive things in this book, along with a number of the negatives. One is there's a very strong argument in this book that we need to be a lot more worried about income inequality. To have two prominent conservatives making this argument is terrific. The book is also suggesting that race in society, as it's structured now, is not fair. Well, this is not a typical argument by conservatives. Let me just conclude and say I think I'm worried that the book is not going to be constructive because I think 95 percent of the discussion is going to be about race. I think I agree with Roger that it would have been better if they'd left those two chapters out of the book or they put them in appendices or kept them at home or whatever, because I think there's an enormous amount that's interesting and important in this book, and it's not what it has to say about race.
MR. WATTENBERG: All right, let's -- Linda, you get the last comment.
MS. GOTTFREDSON: Oh, the -- a lot of people are attributing ideas to them that are not in the book, and I think maybe out of fear or misconception. They do not say that race or social class or motivation or other things are unimportant. They do not say that environment doesn't matter. They say that intelligence is more important than most of us thought before and that we have to take this seriously. I think that some of the responses to them are out of fear and/or a wish to, as I say, put them back in the bottle. One thing I would point out is that I would be very sorry if the reaction stifled the debate, because differences in intelligence have real world effects, whether we think they're there or not, whether we want to wish them away or not. And we don't do anybody any good, certainly not the low-IQ people, by denying that those problems exist. So I very much hope -- I take the question not -- the question should be not whether this book will be constructive but whether the reaction to it will be constructive.
MR. WATTENBERG: Okay. Thank you, Glenn Loury in Boston, Christopher Winship, Roger Wilkins, Linda Gottfredson and Douglas Besharov.
And thank you. We enjoy hearing from our audience very much. Please send comments and questions to New River Media, 1150 17th Street, NW, Washington DC 20036. Or you can reach us by E-mail at email@example.com. For Think Tank, I'm Ben Wattenberg. END