02 February 2012

Murray, Elites, Empathy

EconLog | Arnold Kling | Kling on Charles Murray

So, I downloaded Coming Apart. I am not disappointed. It is well argued. [...]

I can think of one interesting indicator for being in the "bubble." In the nearest public high school, take the ratio of the number of seniors who will attend an Ivy League school to the number of seniors who will enter the military. Where I live, it is about 0.2. In the better parts of Montgomery County, it has to be at least 5. I would say that if it is more than 1, you are in the bubble.
I grew up in "the better parts of Montgomery County." My graduating class was 450 people. I'd say about three dozen people went to Ivy League schools. IIRC three people joined ROTC programs. I don't think that's what Kling has in mind for typical people entering the military, so let's ignore them. Two enlisted, one in the USMC and one in the Israeli army. Again, I don't think the latter is what Kling has in mind for typical military service. That left my graduating class with a ratio over 30:1!
Beyond college, high-IQ people sort themselves into what Murray calls Superzips, which are zip codes that contain a concentration of people with high educational attainment and high income.
It is not a problem if truck drivers cannot empathize with the priorities of Yale professors. It is a problem if Yale professors [and others in the elite] cannot empathize with the priorities of truck drivers.
I disagree. The inability of the elite professors to empathize with the truck driver is only a real problem if the professor has control over how the truck driver lives his life.

We don't care about wether the truck driver empathizes with the professor precisely because he does not get to make decisions for the professor.

If we're truly worried about this disconnect in empathy one solution is to make people more empathetic. Another is to remove the chance for their lack of empathy to cause harm by reducing the power of elites to coerce others.


  1. Nicely said. We should care about the empathy of group-A towards group-B only in cases where group-A has some control over group-B. (Better yet, eliminate or minimize the control.)

  2. Very good point.

  3. "Elites" should also include Wall Street folk who earn more than 200k a year, and politicians; then you'd have my agreement. Not sure why us professors are picked out here :)

    1. I'm a grad student, so I've got special grudge against professors. Well, I do, but it's usually of the "oh come on, you're rescheduling the seminar at the last minute AGAIN?!" variety, not the "get off your ivory tower throne, you pencil-necked nerd!" variety.

      I only stick to describing professors because that's the example Murray used. My complaint is with anyone — wether they're in academia, government, labor, industry or other — who has more power than responsibility and uses that power to control my life.