"Unchecked, these trends," Herrnstein and Murray wrote, "will lead the U.S. toward something resembling a caste society, with the underclass mired ever more firmly at the bottom and the cognitive elite ever more firmly anchored at the top."
Which leads to the question children ask on long car trips: Are we there yet? Mount says Britain is and Parker says America may well be. And maybe so.
Yet should we be so gloomy about this? The British have tended to see their society as a one-ladder system, with Oxford and Cambridge graduates at the top and lavatory cleaners at the bottom. Yet in America (and I think in Britain, too), there are many ladders upward, with many intermediate rungs. Not everyone has an emotional need to be on top: How many people, if they thought seriously about it, would really want the burdens of a CEO, however lavish the pay?
Meritocracy may leave people with no one to blame for failure. But, as Herrnstein and Murray argued, almost all Americans have the ability "to find valued places in society."
And that depends not so much on intelligence as on personal behavior. Here, perhaps, we are coping with meritocracy already. New York Times columnist David Brooks points out that since 1993, we have seen declines in violent crime, family violence, teenage births, abortions, child poverty, drunken driving, teenage sex, teenage suicide and divorce. We are seeing increases in test scores and, as Parker notes, in membership in voluntary associations.
As Murray has written, all you need to do to avoid poverty in this country is to graduate from high school, get and stay married, and take any job. The intelligence needed to get a place in the cognitive elite may become more concentrated in a fair meritocratic society, but the personal behaviors needed to find a valued place in society are available to everyone.
Meritocracy may mean less mobility, but that is bearable if, as Brooks says, "America is becoming more virtuous."