April 11, 2014

Interview with Gregory Clark

Here's an interview with Gregory Clark in The Prospect (U.K.) by Jonathan (not John) Derbyshire:

By the way, John Derbyshire pointed out in the comments that Americans think Derbyshire must be a classy surname, but in England it's bog common.

It would be interesting to make up a list of surnames that are well-known in England but rare in America.
... In his new book “The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility“, Clark argues that conventional ways of measuring social mobility between generations have prevented us from seeing that it has always been much slower than we tend (or like) to think. In the standard picture, mobility rates are also held to vary dramatically across societies, with more unequal societies, like the US or UK, having notably slower rates than, say, the Nordic countries. 
Clark’s research tells a rather different story. This is because, rather than tracking changes over two or three generations, as most conventional studies do, he tracks status over centuries using surnames as his guide.  
His conclusions are chastening: “Underlying or overall social mobility rates are much lower than those typically estimated by sociologists or economists. The intergenerational correlation in all the societies for which we construct surname estimated… is between 0.7 and 0.9, much higher than conventionally estimated. Social status is inherited as strongly as any biological trait, such as height.” The political implications of that are unsettling, to say the least. 
I spoke to Clark when he visited London last week. 
JD: In your account, then, there was no “Golden Age” of social mobility? 
GC: Right. One of the things that will make this book controversial is that it’s claiming that all the standard methods for measuring social mobility in fact miss the mark, and are likely to find differences in social mobility across societies and time periods that are in fact just spurious. People look at income correlations across generations and extrapolate from that. What this book says is that although there’s a lot of random fluctuation in terms of people’s income or occupation, there’s a much greater underlying persistence. And only by looking at things like surnames do you see that feature. 
Q. If the standard ways of measuring social mobility are faulty, how do you measure it? 
A. If you look at England, for example, what we measure is whether you were at Oxford or Cambridge; how long you live, which is another good indicator of social status; occupational status; are you a member of parliament? Now one of the interesting findings here is that it doesn’t really matter which measure you use. For the families we’re looking at, all these things are actually highly correlated. The wealthy at any time are also the educated, members of parliament, those who live long. What the book shows is that there’s an underlying physics of social mobility which all of our political efforts seem to have no effect upon. And the startling conclusion is that we may never be able to change social mobility rates. 
Q. That sounds like a counsel of despair. 
A. No doubt people will read this as a gloomy book. But the title, The Son Also Rises, was deliberately chosen to emphasise that there are some very positive elements in it. One of the things it emphasises is that the current data, which finds rapid social mobility in Sweden and slower social mobility in Britain and the US, and slower mobility still in South America, seems to suggest that you have massive social failures going on in a bunch of societies. The book finds no evidence of these failures because it finds very similar social mobility rates everywhere. Another implication is that if even in meritocratic Sweden you get very slow mobility, then it must be based largely on people’s abilities, aptitudes and drive. All that we’re discovering here is that we’re living in a surprisingly fair world—one in which, at birth, we could predict a surprising amount about your prospects. Is that a gloomy fact about the world? 
Q. I suppose it depends what you mean by fairness! Is the UK experience as far as social mobility is concerned similar to the US one? 
A. In terms of the estimates in the book, they look identical. One of the things the book is emphasising is that in a society like the US, there’s a lot more private expenditure by people on education than in a society like Sweden, where it’s mostly provided by the state. So you’d expect, on normal accounts of social mobility, that the US would be a more rigid society with slower rates of mobility. But we don’t see any sign of that. So my interpretation here is that whatever educational system you set up, however fair and however open-access it is, there are just families that are better equipped to figure out what they need to do in the system, how you get ahead. And it’s impossible to stop those processes. 
Q. Well, impossible unless you introduce highly illiberal legislation for which there’s probably little popular appetite. 
A. Right. There are extreme cases like India where they say, “We’re reserving a quarter of all places at university for people who the British happen to have assigned to the various scheduled castes.” Though it turns that, in India, that most of the former “untouchables” don’t benefit from [the policy]. It’s people who were misclassified and are relatively middle-class who are able to take advantage. The surprising finding is that however you construct a social system, it’s still going to be highly predictable that from three or four generations ago elite families are still be found heavily among the elite. 
Q. So when President Obama said that social mobility had “stalled” he was making a mistake? 
A. Because America is such an unequal society there has been more emphasis on the possibilities of social mobility. How else are you going to justify the incredible inequalities in the US? So it’s going to be very unwelcome news for people in the States that there really are very slow rates of social mobility. Now what’s interesting about this book is that its message seems to be equally unwelcome to both right and left. The left loves the idea that there are slow rates of social mobility. But they want to hold on to the idea that there’s going to be a political programme that will end this problem. But the book says that there’s absolutely no sign of our ability as a society to change that. The right hates the idea that there are very slow rates of social mobility, but they love the idea that there’s nothing you can do about it. So it’s an odd book in that it’s welcome and unwelcome to both sides.
     

38 comments:

MJM said...

Those who frame this issue (i.e., who achieves success/money) strictly in terms of IQ seem to miss something important. Much success comes simply from hard work. Having a high IQ *can* make one productive in lucrative endeavors, perhaps with *less* effort than others, but equally, working hard and smart (not in the IQ sense) can also make one successful.

One of my oceanfront home-owning neighbors owned a printing business. I am pretty sure he was not M.I.T. smart, but he was pretty successful as measured by property. I have worked with many M.I.T. types, and most are both smart *and* hard-working, which is why they live in Newton and Wellesley, but a few just didn't work hard, and it showed.

Just my thoughts....

SFG said...

Oh, come on. This strikes me as a great argument for socialism. The lower classes aren't going anywhere, so why not try to improve their position?

Judy K. Warner said...

I can't believe that the U.S. didn't have higher mobility when our immigrants came mainly from Europe. My Jewish grandparents were probably typical of Jewish immigrants -- uneducated and very poor, their five surviving children all became professionals, as did all their extended family. Jews might have been the most upwardly mobile group, but without welfare and quotas people's natural talents won out. As is true now of Chinese and Indian immigrants.

Anonymous said...

"By the way, John Derbyshire pointed out in the comments that Americans think Derbyshire must be a classy surname, but in England it's bog common."

That's odd. I'm an American, but I always assumed that a name like Derbyshire (deriving, as it does, from an English county) would have to be relatively common.

Karen said...

So the book says little more that "Sucks to be you?"

Anonymous said...

Clark's findings are a huge argument for communism.

If social mobility through equality of opportunity is a pipe dream, then the only way to remove the unfairness of better living standards from hereditary privilege is through radical and perpetual redistribution.


Finian said...

So we need to stop talking about mobility and start insuring that those of our own who are going to be at or near the bottom get to live the best lives possible. We might even start by not importing cheap labour.

Huh. That makes a surprising amount of sense.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of surnames and progeny, I just discovered this darkly ironic factoid yesterday.

Ezra Pound, Canto 74:171-173
""""
Till was hung yesterday
for murder and rape with trimmings
"""
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Till

Anonymous said...

Given surnames are patrilineal, any (im)mobility conclusion obtained solely based on surnames are ignoring any mobility of women and therefore potentially mismeasuring the mobility of the whole.

I think this is an opportunity for Steve to "Ezra Klein" some of his earlier work on the matrimonial aspirations of Harvard Business S. coeds.

Cail Corishev said...

Those who frame this issue (i.e., who achieves success/money) strictly in terms of IQ seem to miss something important.

That's a strawman; no one claims that. The debate is between those who claim IQ is irrelevant (or nonexistent), and those who claim it has some general effect on success. This latter group varies in how much effect it has, but I've never seen anyone claim that IQ "strictly" determines success.

The problem is that, if IQ is pretty much set at birth, then if it's even 10% responsible for success, that's unacceptable to the left, because that's a 10% advantage someone has that they can't take away with social engineering. So they're the ones insisting on the absolutism of 100% nurture.

Anonymous said...

SFG

He does advocate socialist policy in the book. His position is that the poor can't help that they lost the genetic lottery (and it is mostly genetic), so therefore we should narrow the living standards between haves and have-nots. Yeah, I didn't really go for that thinking

Anonymous said...

"Oh, come on. This strikes me as a great argument for socialism. The lower classes aren't going anywhere, so why not try to improve their position?"

But as Clark notes with reference to China and Sweden, changing the system only changes the nature of the game; the most able and ambitious will tend to prevail in the revised game as well; the least able and/or poorly motivated people will still tend to end up with lower social status.

John Smith's ghost said...

It would be interesting to make up a list of surnames that are well-known in England but rare in America.


Funny you should say that. I sometimes see bizarre English names like "Anstruther-Gough-Calthorpe" I think to myself, "Huh. I wonder why nobody with names like that moved to the new world."

Presumably, the answer is that the Anstruthers, Goughs and Calthorpes had enough money as it was, and it was the Millers and Andersons who felt they could do better elsewhere.

beowulf said...

"Oh, come on. This strikes me as a great argument for socialism. The lower classes aren't going anywhere, so why not try to improve their position?"

Exactly, I'd note that the poor that would've died in a famine 300 years ago now get food stamps and other income security spending (which is for the good). I suppose being alive when you'd otherwise be dead is a form of social mobility that Clark apparently neglects.

Just saying said...

Upward social mobility is highly overrated.

What we should be focusing on is family instability.

I'd rather come from an intact poor family than a shattered rich family.

Yes, I know that rich families tend to be more solid than poor - just saying, Stevebots, that the focus on wealth is ridiculous. We'll never make everybody rich. But we can foster policies that keep families together.

Matra said...

The right hates the idea that there are very slow rates of social mobility, but they love the idea that there’s nothing you can do about it.

I think a more common argument from the Right is that free markets, less regulation, etc, would increase mobility.

Ryan said...

@SFG

Or it's an argument for aristocratic responsibility. The upper and lower classes aren't going anywhere. So there need to be standards of duty and obligation for both.

Andrew said...

I've said it before here, but 11 centuries of social stability for my family as boringly upper middle class is as positive a proof as I can think of on this topic.

Since the earliest known records upon the arrival from Denmark of Hiallt on the shores of Normandy at Hauteville with Rollo the Magnificent through moving to England, then to Long Island and into the American interior, its been one generation after another of comfortable stability in the upper 2-10% of society. Never rising too far, never falling too much. Undoubtedly Hiallt himself came from a family of some means as he managed to get a boat and lead a band of armed men to Normandy to stake his claim to a bit of French turf which he and his descendants proceeded to populate through furious reproduction..

Andrew said...

Judy Warner:

My Jewish grandparents were probably typical of Jewish immigrants

Your Jewish grandparents came from an area where they were independent businessmen, and upper middle class merchants and traders and professionals among a land of enslaved serfs.

Just because you were descended from a Polish Noble or German Burgher doesn't mean you came from dirt.

Its much more telling that those whites who rolled out of the gutters of Dublin, Belfast, Glasgow, and Inverness and ended up in Appalachia in the 1600's and 1700's are still dirty poor white trash hillbillies 300 or 400 years later.

You can't escape who you are.

Andrew said...

Given surnames are patrilineal, any (im)mobility conclusion obtained solely based on surnames are ignoring any mobility of women and therefore potentially mismeasuring the mobility of the whole.

The mobility of women is that beautiful women of nearly any social class with a modicum of self-control have at all times risen rapidly into the arms of the wealthiest and most powerful available males. Nobody cares about such mobility. What we want to know is what happened to their brothers who didn't have a pretty face and a nice figure and a suitable personality.

jody said...

how common is shropshire? or any of the -shire names.

Anonymous said...

Judy Warner I can't believe that the U.S. didn't have higher mobility when our immigrants came mainly from Europe.

People moving to the US brought their relative status, mostly, with them.

That relative status was often absolutely higher in the USA, or for aristocrats, at least sometimes, was at least occasionally absolutely lower.

But it was relatively the same. European migrants to America occupied about the same position in the hierarchy as they did back home.

There weren't really any "talented people kept chained by the aristocratic social order", except in as much as the aristocratic social order either made the top richer and the bottom poorer or was a worse (or better lol) deal for everyone.

The relative poverty of European Jews has been much exaggerated.

Steve Sailer said...

I wonder if Italian immigrants tended to fall in class when immigrating due to problems learning English. You see that frequently with Koreans -- a guy who worked for me said his father had been a pharmacist in Korea, but when he came to America he couldn't learn English to pass the exam, so now he owned five dry cleaners in the ghetto. If you were a black liquor store owner in Watts, it always seemed kind of unfair that Koreans with advanced degrees were coming 10,000 miles to out-compete you in the South-Central liquor store trade.

The golfer Gene Sarazen (Eugenio Saraceni) who won the 1922 US Open said his father had never wanted to be an immigrant laborer. He'd wanted to be a Jesuit and teach Dante, but his father had died, setting back the family finances, so he had immigrated to the U.S. but he could never learn English well and was always poor.

Here's a test: the Coppolas. Three generations of Oscars. Were they at the bottom of the Italian class system before they immigrated?

Steve Sailer said...

Carmine Coppola was born either in Italy or in New York in 1910. He studied at Juilliard in the 1930s and eventually won a Best Score Oscar. One son is Francis Ford Coppola, a daughter ? is Talia Shire. A granddaughter is Sofia Coppola.

Carmine's brother became a professor of literature. His son is Nic Cage.

Clark's theory would suggest that back in the Old Country, the Coppolas weren't peasants.

Anybody know?

Steve Sailer said...

Sorry, Carmine's son August became a professor of literature.

Carmine's younger brother Anton was the conductor of the orchestra for a lot of Broadway shows and composed an opera about Sacco and Vanzetti.

Steve Sailer said...

So Francis Ford Coppola's maternal grandfather was Enrico Caruso's pianist. His paternal grandfather was a skilled gunsmith:

Both of Coppola's parents were first-generation Italian-Americans, the children of immigrants who left Italy for the United States around the turn of the century. Great ambition and artistic talent ran on both sides of the family. Francesco Pennino, a musician and songwriter, worked for a time as Enrico Caruso's pianist; his grandson would eventually honor him by using a fragment of one of his musical plays, a melodrama called Senza Mama, in a scene in The Godfather, Part II. But Pennino's biggest contribution to Francis Ford Coppola's life and career could be traced to his enthusiasm for movies: He operated several movie theaters in the New York area, and he was responsible for bringing a number of silent Italian films to the United States. He had connections to Paramount Pictures, which led to his being offered a job writing scores for the company's silent films, but Pennino, for all of his love of the movies, wanted nothing to do with Hollywood.

Augustino Coppola, Francis's paternal grandfather, while not a musician himself, encouraged his large family to study music, and two of his sons, Anton and Carmine, went on to have careers in music. Augustino worked as a tool-and-die maker, and he could boast of building the first Vitaphone sound system for Warner Bros. He, too, was immortalized in a scene in Godfather II: A group of Mafia hoods enter and demand that a gunsmith oil their machine guns, which he does while his young son plays the flute nearby. In real life, Augustino Coppola was similarly approached by neighborhood toughs; he oiled their guns while little Carmine stood nearby.

https://www.nytimes.com/books/first/s/schumacher-coppola.html

Steve Sailer said...

What about Scorese's Italian ancestors?

dcite said...

"Clark's findings are a huge argument for communism.

If social mobility through equality of opportunity is a pipe dream, then the only way to remove the unfairness of better living standards from hereditary privilege is through radical and perpetual redistribution."

well, not for nothing did Marx install himself in London for many years. Communism doesn't work. The collective farms were a disaster. Not everybody even wants to be "elite." But they must feel they own something to put themselves into it. Besides, what would the "elite" be without the unelite.

dcite said...

"Given surnames are patrilineal, any (im)mobility conclusion obtained solely based on surnames are ignoring any mobility of women and therefore potentially mismeasuring the mobility of the whole.

The mobility of women is that beautiful women of nearly any social class with a modicum of self-control have at all times risen rapidly into the arms of the wealthiest and most powerful available males. Nobody cares about such mobility. What we want to know is what happened to their brothers who didn't have a pretty face and a nice figure and a suitable personality."

Whether you find them "interesting" or not (and many were dazzlingly so), their genes are part of the "elite."
Orange-seller Nell Gwynne and Chas. II had 12 children of whom at least some descendants must still be puttering about. These beautiful social risers didn't always have it easy. Nell (I think it was she) was mercilessly pelted by eggs, or some such produce, while in her sedan chair in public thoroughfare, by a bigoted mob who mistakenly thought she was another, less popular, of King Charles' favorites. She had to yell at them, "Good people! I am the Protestant whore, not the Catholice whore!"

staying alive said...

"Exactly, I'd note that the poor that would've died in a famine 300 years ago now get food stamps and other income security spending (which is for the good). I suppose being alive when you'd otherwise be dead is a form of social mobility that Clark apparently neglects.'

And one that would change the outcome eventually, you'd think. Although it may lead to idiocracy.

Anonymous said...

"...ended up in Appalachia in the 1600's and 1700's are still dirty poor white trash hillbillies 300 or 400 years later."

Have you yourself seen these dirty hillbillies or do you perhaps just watch a lot of TV?

apple said...

"
Its much more telling that those whites who rolled out of the gutters of Dublin, Belfast, Glasgow, and Inverness and ended up in Appalachia in the 1600's and 1700's are still dirty poor white trash hillbillies 300 or 400 years later."

Dublin? Very few "southern" Irish went to rural areas in America. Overwhelmingly they went to cities, especially after the famine. Cathlic Irish were few and far between in "Appalachia."

The Scots and Scotch-Irish headed for the hills because so many had been highlanders.
While on the topic of Scots, the Scots produced more scientists and inventors in 300 years than any other one country, I believe I read. They also had the earliest compulsory education (1400s). They took this to where they settled most heavily, North Carolina, which had a reputation for education in the South, and for "progressiveness" -- the word wasn't all bad years ago.

Paleo writer said...

"There are extreme cases like India where they say, “We’re reserving a quarter of all places at university for people who the British happen to have assigned to the various scheduled castes.”"

The Indians are in extreme, self-centered bias when it comes to the British occupation of their country. They like to blame them for any and every perceived problem. I've had people from India tell me the British are the reason for their caste system, completely ignoring its existence (and the consequences of it) in place for thousands of years prior to the British. Also conveniently ignored is how the British, much like the Romans, brought the people they conquered into what was the modern age at the time. The Indians were even doing barbaric things like burning live widows on their husband's funeral pyre before the British put a stop to it. Of course its clear the progs have been taking all the necessary steps to rewrite all of it into a tale of the white man's wickedness, damn the facts.

apple said...

""...ended up in Appalachia in the 1600's and 1700's are still dirty poor white trash hillbillies 300 or 400 years later."

Have you yourself seen these dirty hillbillies or do you perhaps just watch a lot of TV?"

I think he just watches a lot of tv/films that pick on them because they can't pick on non-whites. In fact, most of "Appalachia" is very low crime compared to any area full of non-whites of similar socio-economic status. And a remarkable number of scientists and inventors came from places like Kentucky. But I don't if they were "elite" or not.

Anonymous said...

Paleo writer I've had people from India tell me the British are the reason for their caste system, completely ignoring its existence (and the consequences of it) in place for thousands of years prior to the British.

Before the British, the Indians mainly had lots of inbred families (they call them jatis) competing with one another. These inbred families tended to do similar sorts of jobs and generally be extremely nepotistic.

After the British, the Indians still had these inbred families competing with one another, but now these inbred families tended to think of themselves more as part of classes or castes, and show a little more solidarity towards one another in favor of working together to kick the lower castes in the face a little more.

Part of the reason for this was our class system back home, which we exported, part of it was imperial administrators high off of fanciful ideas from ancient texts (remember this was also the period in which amateur Victorian enthusiast historians had decided that abstract French medieval legal texts offered an actually accurate description of medieval "feudal" society, which we now know to be err.... *slightly* inaccurate).

That is part of the *glorious* legacy of we, the British, in India. Rule Britannia! ;) (But not exactly the divide and rule the Indians complain so of, as such....)

Anonymous said...

@Paleo writer,
The Indians are in extreme, self-centered bias when it comes to the British occupation of their country. They like to blame them for any and every perceived problem. I've had people from India tell me the British are the reason for their caste system, completely ignoring its existence (and the consequences of it) in place for thousands of years prior to the British. Also conveniently ignored is how the British, much like the Romans, brought the people they conquered into what was the modern age at the time. The Indians were even doing barbaric things like burning live widows on their husband's funeral pyre before the British put a stop to it. Of course its clear the progs have been taking all the necessary steps to rewrite all of it into a tale of the white man's wickedness, damn the facts.

I am Indian, and I have never heard any Indian saying that the British created the caste system. So I call BS on that. Indians do blame the British for exacerbating their religious differences (the "divide and rule" policy), and there is a lot of truth to that. How wilful a policy that was, I don't know, but the British had a knack for creating and imposing classifications on native people, the result inevitably being more conflict. They did this in Ireland too.
Regarding wife-burning, it was undoubtedly an extremely barbaric practice, but there is little to suggest it was widely prevalent (indeed, any more prevalent than witch-burning was in late-1600s New England.) It used to be practiced on rare occasion by the upper aristocracy, the feudal or property-owning class. And the British were hardly at the forefront of stopping this practice. It was educated Indians who influenced the British administrators to institute laws against this practice. Mostly, the British wanted to keep their revenue-collecting machine intact and left Indian practices alone, especially after the rebellion of 1857.
None of this is to suggest that the British (and their liberal thought) had no positive effect on India. It did, but that was not by design (Macaulay was not representative of British administrators, most of whom considered Indians degraded beyond redemption). Indeed, the entire project of liberalism (Westernization) has since acquired a bad name in India because it was the British liberals who were at the forefront of attacking Indian people and culture.
(You should read some serious history instead of repeating anecdotes and summaries from ideologically-biased sources.)

Anonymous said...

"Macaulay was not representative of British administrators, most of whom considered Indians degraded beyond redemption"

"When the old king — who was suspicious of the English, their railways and telegraphs — died, Purun Dass stood high with his young successor, who had been tutored by an Englishman; and between them, though he always took care that his master should have the credit, they established schools for little girls, made roads, and started State dispensaries and shows of agricultural implements, and published a yearly blue-book on the “Moral and Material Progress of the State,” and the Foreign Office and the Government of India were delighted. Very few native States take up English progress altogether, for they will not believe, as Purun Dass showed he did, that what was good for the Englishman must be twice as good for the Asiatic. The Prime Minister became the honoured friend of Viceroys, and Governors, and Lieutenant–Governors, and medical missionaries, and common missionaries, and hard-riding English officers who came to shoot in the State preserves, as well as of whole hosts of tourists who travelled up and down India in the cold weather, showing how things ought to be managed. In his spare time he would endow scholarships for the study of medicine and manufactures on strictly English lines, and write letters to the “Pioneer”, the greatest Indian daily paper, explaining his master’s aims and objects.

At last he went to England on a visit, and had to pay enormous sums to the priests when he came back; for even so high-caste a Brahmin as Purun Dass lost caste by crossing the black sea. In London he met and talked with every one worth knowing — men whose names go all over the world — and saw a great deal more than he said. He was given honorary degrees by learned universities, and he made speeches and talked of Hindu social reform to English ladies in evening dress, till all London cried, “This is the most fascinating man we have ever met at dinner since cloths were first laid.”"



http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/k/kipling/rudyard/jungle2/chapter3.html

Michael said...

I wonder if he considered the laws that limited opportunities for catholics and Jews? I thought there were some laws against the Irish too. Wouldn't this skew the statistical studies?