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Freddie, I'm a relatively new reader of yours and, having read your (excellent) book and columns on the inevitability of ability-based hierarchies of educational and other achievement, I'm left with one lingering question. While I accept (and even admire) your honest Marxist support for a more redistributive economic system to ameliorate the impact of these hierarchies on the of quality of life of those on the lower rungs of these partially-inherited hierarchies, how do you propose to continue to create the wealth necessary to fund such a system if you significantly reduce the incentives (prosperity for one's own family, desire for social status, greed, or just "winning the race") that drive the relatively more gifted to seek places on the higher rungs through constructive achievement? I concede that we might live in a better world if these aspects of human nature weren't so central to the efficient creation of the goods and services needed to raise an entire society's standard of living, but I haven't seen much historical evidence that such a system is actually possible over the long term. (Some might argue that Scandinavia offers hopeful examples in this regard, but I question whether their social welfare systems could be supported over the long term if those countries were required to bear the true economic costs of their own national security, currently subsidized by the United States--because, I hasten to add, it's in our interests to do so.). I'm sincerely curious!

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I loved your book, which I had pre-ordered and read immediately when it arrived. You are advocating for an educational system that is similar to what exists throughout Europe (where I live): students are tracked according to academic ability, based on testing that is done usually around fifth grade. Only about 10–20 percent of students go on to university; the rest do apprenticeships and job training. And at the end of these trainings is a well-paying job and a social safety net.

So many Americans I talk with are horrified by this system, but really, is our way more humane? For every academically talented kid in Europe who tests poorly and has to go to an apprenticeship rather than university, there are likely a hundred students in the US who we push into college even though they’re not able to do the work, and who wind up dropping out deep in debt with no prospects for getting a job at a wage sufficient to pay back that debt (because credential inflation means lots of jobs now require a BA when a generation ago a high school diploma was needed).

We readily acknowledge the different levels of ability in sports, music, acting, art, and other fields. Why should academics, uniquely, be the only area where everyone is exactly equal?

Anyway, thank you for writing your book, which reframes the education discussion in an important way.

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I talk to my wife (a teacher) about this a lot. Her education degree made her a fervent believer that everything was due to environmental factors, and that there was no limit to what a quality teacher could do. A few years teaching Kindergarten flipped her perspective. She now believes she has a pretty good idea which of these 5-year-olds will be successful in life and which won't.

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Thanks for giving those of us new to your articles a synopsis of your book. This helps a lot to understand where you're coming from. My problem is not your excellent analysis. It's your solution. I wrote in an email that my dad was a HS social studies teacher and a Marxist. I remember a conversation I had with him when I was 10 or 11 years old. He was explaining the principle "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need." He had this idyllic vision of everyone doing a job perfectly suited to his/her abilities and preferences, and then getting remunerated according to what he/she needed. I remember asking, "ok, but who becomes the garbage collector?"

I guess here's where we agree: life is not fair. Meritocracy aside for a moment, we live in a world filled with metaphorical weighted belts and bouncy shoes. Your point is that even if we have a world filled with jumpers neither hampered nor helped, life is still not fair. There are those that naturally are better jumpers. And my response would be, "yup, life is not fair," but history has shown us a world of damage that can be caused by people wanting everything to be fair. (Even now - a lot of the well-intentioned social justice warriors are really about wanting equity/fairness and IMO are causing a lot of damage in the pursuit of that goal.)

People are hierarchical. Society is Hobbesian. Do you think that if we divorced financial incentives from merit, that society wouldn't realign with a new hierarchy and power structure? (For proof, look at the Hobbesian world of Twitter where everyone is scrabbling for primacy.) There will always be haves and have-nots. There will always be the leaders and the garbage collectors. At least with Capitalism, there is some control over one's own success and if education is not the path to your success, maybe it's art or music or cooking. Maybe you're of below average intelligence, but have a ton of charisma and harness that to build a career. Capitalism has led to great innovations, great general wealth and overall ease and leisure. This is not to say that there aren't aspects that go too far; we still need a strong safety net. But when you speak of getting rid of a society where intelligence and creativity are no longer rewarded and prized, I'd ask that you think really carefully about the unintended consequences of that.

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I made the mistake of reading Cult of Smart last year as a teacher about to enter grad school for an education degree. After a year of expensive and highly-rated education about education, I can say with confidence that just about nobody in the education policy complex and its university offshoots is talking as honestly about intelligence distribution or relative vs. absolute value as Freddie in his book. I didn't read anything in my grad coursework that explained educational outcome disparities as parsimoniously and clearly as Cult of Smart.

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As with much of your writing, I absolutely love this. I'm a teacher and know all too well the grind of state testing and how negatively it affects so many of my students. Your first post convinced me to subscribe, this one has convinced me to pick up the book.

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This book is great and you should buy it. Share it with people that work in education.

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There is no falsehood in America more resilient than one which benefits influential core constituencies of the Democrats and Republicans.

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I have long been an uninformed believer in the transformative power of education. But everything in this succinct sum-up I agree with. I'm afraid I must buy the book.

And pass it on to everyone who thinks critically and thoughtfully about what the country can do better. Thank you , FDB.

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> Eventually I traced it all to a single anonymous account with a Michael Cera picture for an avatar and less than a thousand followers, who was confidently reporting specific details about a book that, again, only existed in my head, and even there was just a vague and loose idea.

That's so awesome. maybe it was a Fight Club situation and you were actually tweeting from an alt account in the dead of night.

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I agree strongly that innate human worth depends no more on intelligence than on property owned, beauty, or any other marker, and that we all have a baseline dignity that must be respected. However - it is not likely that we can transform human nature into perfectly loving our enemies and caring for the disgusting, the abusive and the disagreeable as we care for ourselves. (Christianity has tried for 2k years, and that problem is not solved.) Given this, the remedies that FDB promotes ask too much. Instead of assuring everyone of opportunity to flourish, it is likely better to simply start with assuring everyone of the chance to flourish - a commitment to not get in their way. This commitment to individual liberty would, I think, serve most people far better than attempts to redistribute wealth in a way that is intrinsically intrusive and historically subject to abuse and corruption.

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Just subscribed a few weeks ago. Sam Harris' appeal to me began to wane after his interview with Ezra Klein though I didn't particularly like either side because I thought Sam had a point but reading about the history of IQ made me realize it's a challenging point to make that many racists will take the wrong way. This feels like the full articulation of the point Sam had in that debate.

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Just wanted to pop in here to say that I just convinced a professor friend of mine to pick a copy of the book, as I strongly suspect he'll get far more out of it than I did (and I enjoyed it greatly, as someone who wasn't a very good student and always felt disserved by the educational system).

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You make some good objections to our education-based meritocracy, but I don't think your critique goes deep enough. (This isn't necessarily a problem. No one can cover everything in a single book.)

Even if everyone had equal intellectual potential and one's success depended solely on one's effort, meritocracy would still be unjust. Why? Because (to quote an often mocked but rarely addressed teenage talking point) I didn't choose to be born. None of us did. None of us chose to come into existence as vulnerable creatures with a multitude of needs that can be satisfied only through effort. None of us signed up to have our quality of life determined by our "work ethic."

Of course, no one, aside from your parents, is individually responsible for setting you up with a good life. And if this were a hunter-gatherer society, in which everyone lived at a subsistence level, then I could understand the argument that each person bears complete responsibility for their own flourishing. (Ironically enough, though, it's hunter-gatherer societies that are the most tight-knit and mutually supportive.)

But we don't live in a hunter-gatherer society. We live in a post-industrial society that already produces enough food to feed everyone and is in the process of automating many of the processes that produce things that people need. Yes, society must incentivize work to some extent. But there's a difference between incentivizing work and saying that you don't deserve to escape misery unless you're putting in the effort to escape it. I'll leave the policy details to others, but let me say this: at this point in humanity's technological and economic development, it is morally obscene to make a decent life dependent on "hard work."

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Yes, I was one of those kids who went to college not because I really wanted to, but because every adult in my life told me that I "have" to go to college, that I had no future without that degree. So I went and got a worthless BA degree. I learned nothing in college except how to bubble C on those stupid scantron tests. What a waste of 4 years of my life and thousands of dollars.

Meanwhile I have several friends who have trouble finding jobs in their chosen industries like sales, marketing, software development, etc. even though they have years of experience in those fields, which they attribute to not having that stupid bachelor's degree. So many employers just use it as an easy sorting mechanism - throw every resume without a degree in the trash, no matter how little a degree would have actually prepared the person for doing the job.

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Your book is great. That said, this is the correct answer to the problem, you have to seriously consider letting go of certain instincts you have to help others. The market knows better than you do who is good at what....

So no JG, no UBI, instead, we do Weekly Wage Subsidies:

1. Everyone who wants welfare or UI is in the database at LABOR.GOV

2. Only SMBs and families can hire the cheap labor.

3. Employer in for $100/wk + Govt in for $200/wk.

4. Every $20/more employers offer, Govt in for $10 less (toping out at $480/wk with govt in for $10)

At the $100/wk, THIRTY MILLION people not working now will be offered 100's of jobs each immediately. $5200/yr is massively non-marginal. This ends labor slack FOREVER. It wins full conservative support bc no more welfare queens (your opinion here doesn't matter, it wins cons support). AND it wins ALL the upper-class liberals bc they get the cheap labor.

It doesn't win union support BUT it wins the blue-collar employees of the Fortune 1000, bc the only way Walmart and Amazon etc can get employees to stay with them long term is to pay above the $490/wk.

This gives you full employment forever. Anyone who wants "welfare or UI" from the govt, has to work on the 100s of jobs offered to them, to get the govt money.

As the economy improves, SMB and families have to keep offering more, which reduces the Govt spend. And note: when we have a shock, like COVID, the machine INSTANTLY redeploys the cheap labor. It's really very simple, once you price welfare labor AFTER welfare, you can run a giant kiddie pool of capitalism that competes vibrantly vs the Fortune 1000.

One example, using Amazon. Bezos has 300K SMBs he loves to tout who sell stuff on his site. With this plan in place, those 300L+K can not afford their own pick, pack, ships staff, so they they can store inventory themselves and sell across Ebay, Walmart.com, etc. They do not have to lock up their inventory at Amazon. Mom and pop everything will finally have a leg up, and it's one they DESERVE because they pay for the welfare AND there is a terrible natural trend of BIG BIZ = BIG GOVT. This recasts welfare as a LABOR RESOURCE that we give SMB and families to fight back vs Big Biz.

C'mon Freddie, you can get here


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