[Marxism] Notes on David Brion Davis' review

Rakesh Bhandari bhandari at berkeley.edu
Wed Nov 1 09:17:09 MST 2006

As proof that anti black and class racism as I 
have narrowly defined remains entrenched in our 
culture, see the following notes in

an excerpt:

Between 2002 and 2003 the number of Americans in 
poverty increased by 1.3 million and poverty 
rates for African American and Latino workers 
stood at over 20 percent. At the same time, real 
income for the bottom 40 percent of 
African-American households fell by nearly 6 

The income disparity of African American families 
as compared to whites actually increased over the 
past decade.

As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recently 
observed, "economic disparities in New York, as 
in the United States as a whole, are wider than 
they have been since the 1920's."

Enter the "Bell Curve." That's the title of  the 
1994 book by early neo-conservatives Charles 
Murray and Richard Herrnstein's that asserts 
intelligence is largely a matter of birth, that 
there is little chance of altering that fact, and 
that poor people and African Americans in 
particular, are thus overrepresented among the 
unintelligent. Their screed was widely denounced 
for its racism and sloppy scholarship. 
Reactionary commentator Pat Buchanan, however 
welcomed it as shooting "a hole straight through 
the heart of egalitarian socialism which tried to 
create equality of result by coercive government 

Those who would have us believe that inequality 
is not only inevitable naturally return to this 
discredited view over and over because its thesis 
advances their idea of the inevitable rise to 
dominance of the "cognitive elite" under 
conditions of advanced technology and 
globalization. They maintain that the U.S. is 
becoming a genetic "meritocracy."

On October 5, The Economist returned to the 
subject of inequality in a special edition 
titled: "The Search for Talent." In it, the term 
"Bell Curve" appears twice. In an editorial 
comment, ominously titled "the Dark Side," the 
magazine said:

     Competition for talent offers many 
benefits-from boosting productivity to increasing 
opportunities, from promoting job satisfaction to 
supercharging scientific advances. The more 
countries and companies compete for talent, the 
better the chances that geniuses will be raked up 
from obscurity.

     But the subject is strewn with landmines. 
Think of the furor that greeted Charles Murray's 
and Richard Herrnstein's book "The Bell Curve," 
which argued that there are differences in the 
average intelligence of different racial groups; 
or the ejection of Lawrence Summers as president 
of Harvard University because he had speculated 
publicly about why there are so few women in the 
upper ranks of science.
     It would be wonderful if talent were 
distributed equally across races, classes and 
genders. But what if a free market shows it not 
to be, raising all sorts of political problems? 
And what happens to talented Western workers when 
they have to compete with millions of clever 
Indians who are willing to do the job for a small 
fraction of the price?

Notice that the Indians are not described as 
smarter, only more "clever" than the "talented 
Western workers."

Then, in the main article, titled "The Revenge of 
the Bell Curve," the magazine continues:

     The second factor that links talent and 
inequality is that members of the talent elite 
are good at hogging "human capital." They marry 
people like themselves. In the heyday of "company 
man," bankers married their secretaries; now they 
marry other bankers. They work in jobs that add 
to their intellectual capital. They live in 
"talent enclaves," away from ordinary 
middle-class suburbs, let alone inner-city 
ghettos. Above all, they pass on their advantages 
to their children. Students from the top income 
quartile increased their share of places in elite 
American universities from 39% in 1976 to 50% in 

     None of this is peculiar to America or other 
rich countries; the same thing is happening in 
the developing world in even starker form. 
Members of the talent elite there live in gated 
communities, some of them with American names 
such as Palm Springs, Napa Valley or Park Avenue, 
that boast international schools, world-class 
hospitals, luxury housing and splendid gyms.

     "Š The talent war is producing a global 
meritocracy-a group of people nicknamed "Davos 
men" or "cosmocrats" who are reaping handsome 
rewards from globalization. These people inhabit 
a socio-cultural bubble full of other 
super-achievers like themselves. They attend 
world-class universities and business schools, 
work for global organizations and speak the 
global language of business.

     Countries that still insist on clinging to 
egalitarianism are paying a heavy price. Sweden, 
for instance, finds it hard to attract foreign 
talent. And across Europe, egalitarian 
universities are losing out to their more elitist 
American rivals.

The answer, then, to rising inequality is to 
cease "clinging to egalitarianism."

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