The Genetic Lottery: How DNA is Important for Social EqualityKathryn Paige Harden (Princeton University Press), 312 pages. $29.95
“Luck,” E.B. White once stated, “Luck is not something that you can talk about in the presence self-made men.” It is clear that they worked hard to reach where they are today. However, they have also enjoyed tremendous success in other areas of their lives. They were able to benefit from a fortunate mix of small genetic differences that increased their intelligence, motivation and openness to new experiences. This also helped them with executive functions, interpersonal skills, as well as their ability to persevere in difficult tasks.
Kathryn Paige Harden, a behavioral geneticist, argued that “Like being born into a wealthy or poor family but being born with certain genetic variants is an outcome of a lottery” Genetic Lottery. “And like social classes, the result of the genetic lottery has a systemic effect that determines who receives more and who is less of almost everything in our society.”
Harden’s book is divided into three sections. First, a brief introduction to behavioral genomics. This is the science that studies how individuals’ differences are caused by their environment and genes. In the second, we will examine social scientists’ refusal to acknowledge genes’ effect and show how that leads them to make poor social intervention decisions. The third argument is light in details and argues that genetic inequality “can be used to support the case for.” More redistribution of resources.”
Polygenic indexes can be described as numbers that show how small variations in genetics contribute to complex traits. They are created by behavioral geneticists. Those traits correlate with outcomes relevant to how well people’s lives are likely to go, among them adult height, cardiovascular disease risks, physical strength, longevity, and—key to Harden’s argument—educational attainment.
Harden writes that today in the US, it is more about whether you have a college education than whether you are a part of the “haves” or the “have-nots”. It will be easier to understand the reasons why people are able to go farther in school than other people. This will allow us to see multiple inequalities within people’s lives. Many individuals who don’t attend college still have decent incomes. Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce recently found that the average lifetime income for college-educated Americans is $2.8million. The median lifetime income for Americans without a high school diploma is $1.6 million.
Harden noted that the number of college-educated Americans from every income bracket has been increasing since 1970. However, today only 16 per cent of the lowest income students finish college. Only 62 percent have completed college. A 2018 study that created a polygenic indicator for educational attainment found similar results: The top-quartile students were almost four times as likely to graduate college from school than the lowest quarter.
Harden points to another study, which found that 27 percent children with low polygenic scores who were born in top quartiles of their fathers graduated college. In contrast, 24 percent of those with high polygenic scores were born in bottom quartiles of their fathers. Researchers concluded that poor childhood environments can hinder individuals who have a favorable genetic inheritance from being able to access more lucrative education pathways. Also, socioeconomic status is a major factor.
Harden doesn’t like progressives thinking that they “know what to do” in order to make lives better and reduce social and economic inequalities. There is not a “vast array of interventions and policies that has been shown to effectively address social inequalities in health and education, and they are waiting to be applied, if there’s enough political will. The Department of Education found that 90 percent of education interventions “produced no or weak positive effects”
Harden says that interventions are often unsuccessful because they fail to take into consideration the “genetic” and “environmental factors. According to a 1995 “word gap study,” children of low income families hear 30 million more words on average than their peers from high-income families. It had an enormous impact. A Google Scholar scan revealed that this research has been referenced nearly 11,000 other times. Obama’s administration approved the 2014 findings. It stated that this gap could cause disparities in not just vocabulary but also in school readiness and long-term education and health outcomes. Earnings and family stability can be affected even decades later. To close this gap, governments have spent billions of dollars.
However, almost every word-gap research ignores that Parents are closely related genetically to their children. Harden points out an exception to this rule: A 2016 study found that children from higher income families had higher polygenic scores. The children with the highest polygenic scores were more likely to be able say their first words younger and are better readers at age 7. This is regardless of socioeconomic status. Recent research in Children Development chAllenged the word-gap studies’ general validity: Its authors found that the number of words heard by young children is much greater when you count those spoken by all household members, and the differences were not predicted by family income.)
Harden points out that many academics think “discussing the genetic causes of social inequality is fundamentally racist, classist and eugenic.” A colleague said to her that she “no more than a Holocaust negator” for conducting genetics research. However, it is not necessary to draw pernicious eugenic conclusion from genetic differences.
Harden explained that Eugenics is “a belief in a hierarchy, of superior and lower human beings. One’s DNA decides your intrinsic worth and rank within the hierarchy.” Such logic was used during the 20th-century to justify sterilization laws in 32 US states. In total, more than 60,000. Elizabeth Anderson, a philosopher, observed that it is people, and not nature, who are responsible for turning human natural diversity into oppressive hierarchies.
The same way most people tend to think You can sleep when they hear BedHarden points out that Americans think too much. Race when they hear genes. Her stance on racism regarding population differences is right: “It’s incorrect to assume that genetic research on individual differences within populations gives us information about the causes and consequences of group differences.” She points out, however that the majority of polygenic scores were developed in individuals with European heritage and are therefore not applicable to all populations.
Harden asserts that “scientific understanding of individual human differences” is compatible with full-throated egalitarianism. She then asks: “Why is it that inequalities due to genetics are more accepted than inequalities caused by the socio-economic circumstances in which you were born?” Both are accidentals of birth and forms of luck that a person cannot control.
Harden then shares her views on using behavioral genetics insights to make society more egalitarian. She relies chiefly on the philosopher John Rawls’ notion of the “difference principle,” according to which social and economic inequalities are just if they are arranged so that they provide the greatest benefits to the least advantaged members of society. Harden said, “Society must be designed to benefit those who are less fortunate in the genetic lottery.”
Harden admits to “enormous increases in life span and literacy” over the past two centuries. [and]Everyone’s well-being was ultimately to their benefit.” According to her, the world’s average per-capita income increased eightfold from 1820 to 1992 and extreme poverty decreased from 84 percent down to 24 percent. Her figures were updated to 2018. Global per capita incomes have risen tenfold from 1820, and extreme poverty has fallen to below 9 percent. What is the secret to this success? Harden refers to “innovations in science and technology” as well as government. But she concedes that some of these innovations were “inequality-dependent”—that is, “they were made possible by a system that differentially rewarded different types of skills.”
Rawls believes that the principle of the greatest equality in liberty is more important than the principle of difference when describing a just society. “Each person has an equal right to a fully adequate scheme of equal basic liberties which is compatible with a similar scheme of liberties for all,” he argued. Institutions of liberty can be used to maximize human nature to reduce poverty, increase literacy and raise life expectancy. Although the income distribution of rich countries is not strictly consistent with Rawls’ difference principle, the lives for the less fortunate have significantly improved in modern market societies.
Jim Crow and other inequalities created by governments are bad and need to be removed. Once these government restrictions are lifted, individuals incentivized to prosper by the free market have the chance to make a difference from where they started their lives. We each have the responsibility to make the most of the diverse hands given us by our genetics and cultural upbringings. It is more rewarding to be born into a market society than luck with your genetic or social classes.
Reason.com first published The Politics of DNA