Fred Kaplan reports in Slate that the U.S. Army is struggling to meet its recruiting goals, and so
first it relaxed restrictions against high-school drop-outs. Then it started letting in more applicants who score in the lowest third on the armed forces aptitude test—a group, known as Category IV recruits, who have been kept to exceedingly small numbers, as a matter of firm policy, for the past 20 years.
But what is the effect on the Army's performance? How smart do you really have to be? Kaplan provides a few examples, and here's one:
One study examined how many Patriot missiles various Army air-defense units had to fire in order to destroy 10 targets. Units with Category I [93-99th percentile in the aptitude test] personnel had to fire 20 missiles. Those with Category II [65-92 percentile] had to fire 21 missiles. Category IIIA [50-64]: 22. Category IIIB [34-49]: 23. Category IV [10-33]: 24 missiles. In other words, to perform the same task, Category IV units chewed up 20 percent more hardware than Category I units. For this particular task, since each Patriot missile costs about $2 million, they also chewed up $8 million more of the Army's procurement budget.
The good news? There's a Category V, those who score in the bottom tenth percentile. Kaplan says that "presumably" they will never be accepted into the army.
Kaplan's report should remind us that there are more causes to poverty than just systemic economic injustice. Generally speaking, for any given task, someone with greater intelligence will be trained faster, make fewer mistakes, and be better able to solve unanticipated problems. Assuming social skills and work ethic are equal, the more intelligent are more employable; they are adaptable to a variety of tasks, they are more likely to be promoted, and are in a better position to change jobs and careers. Also, assuming an equal sense of individual responsibility, the less intelligent person is more likely to make poor financial decisions.
This page offers the type of jobs typical for people at various IQ levels. As blogger Vache Folle notes, no jobs are listed for people with IQ's appreciably under 90 -- although 25% of the population has an IQ of 90 or below. 8.9% has an IQ below 80. Folle writes,
I can't imagine how someone with an IQ of 70 or 80 would be able to survive in our highly regulated and controlled economy unless he had a stronger support system than most of the rest of us. It's hard to run a marginal sort of business what with all the licensing and taxes and other obstacles to entry. You have to get a full time job of some kind to get health insurance or any kind of credit to get an apartment, and these are likely to pay very little if they are to be had at all. You can't realistically run a small farm any more as you need too much cash for taxes and other needs, and it is hard to come up with the capital to acquire a piece of land. You can't easily build your own house on the cheap due to building codes and huge costs for materials.
But, as Folle concludes,
A lot of folks I talk to seem to think that variations in intelligence can be overcome with education. They deny the validity of the concept of general intelligence. I think that this does a disservice to people who are intellectually challenged. It allows us to judge them harshly rather than thinking about how society might be structured to account for their abilities. It is no sin to be less intelligent than someone else any more than it is to be less fleet of foot or naturally musically talented. It is just an accident of birth, and there is not a whole lot anyone can do to make anyone any smarter than when they were born.
Are there ways to alleviate poverty? Definitely:
- Abolish all taxes on capital, income, and sales. People shouldn't be punished by working and buying what they need. Shift taxes to land values, pollution, and user fees. Instead of big government programs, redistribute this money to the people as a Citizen's Dividend. To begin this process, end the practice of removing Social Security and Medicare "contributions" from paychecks -- this hurts the working poor. Shift them into the general tax code, and then start the process of tax reform from there.
- Cut income taxes by increasing the personal exemption.
- Conquer inflation by balancing the budget. Even when inflation is low compared to 1970's standards, it still exists. When the government spends more than it takes in, it prints up more money to make up the difference. The value of the dollar we earn is cheapened. Prices go up. The "inflation tax" falls on the poor the hardest.
- Abolish the Federal Reserve System, and have Congress define the dollar as a particular weight of gold. When the money supply is attached to the gold supply, monetary inflation can't set in. Also, Congress wouldn't be able to continue excessive deficit spending. The dollar would then actually increase in market value, meaning prices would fall. This will help the poor the most.
- De-regulate the entire economy, so that employers can hire laborers or part-time help without hassle or paperwork, and pay them in cash. Unburden the poor from licensing, fees, and other red tape that prevent them from either getting jobs or starting their own businesses. This will decrease idleness and dependency among the poor, as they know that they can indeed work because they now have the chance.
- Reform the educational system by dismantling most if not all of it. Many people, especially of lower intelligence, will neither care about or remember all the things that get taught above grammar school. It is more useful to them and to society to learn a variety of manual skills and then perhaps specialize in one as a paid apprentice. The public school for them today is more of a day prison than a learning center.
- Withdraw federal and state support for anti-poverty programs. Voluntary organizations and networks are better able to address the specific needs of individuals.
- Make communities where the poor tend to be congested safer by legalizing drugs, thereby reducing the level of gang crime. A safer community is a more business-friendly one.
- Both expand and de-regulate urban transportation services, from taxis to commuter rail. This will open up more employment opportunities for those who previously had no means of transportation to possible jobs.
- Reconsider what poverty is, and its degrees. Living paycheck to paycheck with few luxuries, is quite different from being cold and hungry. Not everyone with a "low" standard of living is in desperate circumstances. If we define poverty as those in , say, the bottom 20% income bracket, then guess what: 20% of the people will always be poor. But if the standard of living of those on the bottom continues to rise, perhaps the problem of poverty isn't as bad as we think.
No matter how helpful these steps will be, however, in any social system there will be some who fall behind. That would include bright people who are mentally ill, lazy, addicts, or criminals. But there is indeed an association between income and intelligence. What, really, is intelligence, but the capacity to create value with one's thought? The least intelligent, in general, produce the least value. Unless they can get rich from their athletic prowess or looks, "marry up," or otherwise find themselves in a supportive network, people of lower intelligence will generally be the people with the lowest incomes. And this is a statistical reality that government is powerless to change.