08 April 2009


The Objectivist
Eugenics: Improving the Gene Pool
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
April 7, 2009

Eugenics is the idea that we can make the world a better place by improving human beings’ gene pool. It receives little press these days because it was abused by the Nazi and United States governments in the first half of the twentieth century. Despite this history, it is still worth pursuing.

The idea behind eugenics is that there are some inheritable traits that are good for society and some that are bad for it. High intelligence is good for society. Richard Lynn, a professor of psychology at the University at Ulster, has pointed out that it correlates with educational achievement, job performance, high income, and occupational status. In contrast, low intelligence correlates with low educational achievement (for example, dropping out of school), poor job performance, low income, and low occupational status. He notes that criminals have an average IQ that is significantly lower than the average person (92 versus 100). Intelligence is in large part inherited from one’s parents. Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, authors of The Bell Curve (1994), estimate that around 40% to 80% of one’s intelligence is inherited. Others such as University of California at Berkeley psychologist Arthur Jensen estimate that roughly 70% of one’s intelligence level is inherited.

Roughly, 2.7% of the population is developmentally disabled (mentally retarded). About 2.2% of the population is mildly retarded. Some studies indicate that only 20% to 30% of the retarded have full-time employment. One older study indicated that they constitute about 10% of the prison population, about four times their percentage of the overall population. In addition, of the ones who have children, a significant number are unfit parents. Developmental disability also has a significant genetic feature. One study indicated that if one parent is developmentally disabled, then 17% of their children will be so as well; if both are, then 48% will be so. As a group, they impose significant costs in terms of unemployment, welfare, and prison.

In addition, some destructive personality characteristics have a significant genetic component. People with psychopathic personalities have a tendency toward antisocial behavior. Many lack a conscience or the ability to control their behavior. The late Harvard psychologist Richard Herrnstein and Lynn both note that while people with this disorder are around 6% of the population, they constitute 60% of male prisoners, an even higher percentage of recidivist criminals, and a significant portion of drug addicts.

The argument for eugenics is that if we can make our country a better place by changing the gene pool and if doing so does not infringe on anyone’s rights, then we may, and probably should, do so. Among the means by which eugenic goals might be accomplished are through carefully controlling who gets to immigrate to America and by providing incentives for people with desirable genetic traits to reproduce. In the United States, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean immigrants have higher than average IQs and are vastly overrepresented in the professions and scientists. Similarly Jews constitute about 2% of the population and are overrepresented in the professions and intellectual elite. For example, at one point in time they constituted 27% of the Nobel Prize winners. Favoring them in immigration would likely have desirable eugenic effects. One country, Singapore, in the late 1980’s gave economic incentives, such as tax benefits, to better educated women and high earners to have children. This did increase the percentage of children born to more educated women (specifically, women who graduated from high school). State and federal governments might consider such a program.

If one is a libertarian, then the state should not pursue this goal. However, in a country in which the government has run amuck (for example, government at all levels will take 40% of all income produced this year), this concern is beside the point. Eugenic programs should be weighed against other social programs.

One way to see the desirability of eugenics is to consider programs that have eugenic-like effects. Some infertile couples pay women to donate their eggs. They pay a premium ($5,000 to $50,000) for the eggs of women from Ivy League and other elite colleges and often specify that the donors have high SAT scores and good college grades. This is obviously an attempt to get smarter children. Other couples have their fetuses tested for genetic problems such as Down’s syndrome, Tay-Sachs disease, Huntington disease, cystic fibrosis, and spina bifada and abort fetuses with these defects. On one study around 80% of Canadian women who found out that their fetuses had a serious genetic disorder aborted them. For couples that use in vitro fertilization, it is increasingly possible to screen embryos for genetic defects like Down’s syndrome and to implant ones without them. There are also advances made in inserting new genes into animals (gene therapy). It is hoped that the insertions can be used to treat those with genetic diseases and this has been done in some cases with humans. Many of the same reasons that make couples want to use this technology also make it a good idea for both charities and the state to encourage such practices for eugenic purposes.

The usual objection to eugenics is that it has been misused in the past. The United States forcibly sterilized over 64,000 people between 1907 and 1963. The Supreme Court in Buck vs. Bell (1927) permitted the forcible sterilization of the unfit and leftist Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson supported it. In Nazi Germany, the government slaughtered millions of Jews, Gypsies, gays, and others as part of a eugenic campaign. However, the use of atrocious means to achieve a goal does not make the goal bad, nor does it rule out rights-respecting means of accomplishing that goal. Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker notes that what is wrong with these past programs is coercion, not eugenics. In addition, Richard Lynn points out that many other goals have been subject to misuse. Christianity led to the Crusades, the Inquisition, and countless other misuses and this alone does not show that it is false or bad. Just about every government that pursued large-scale genocide also had strong gun-control policies and many do not consider this history a good reason to get rid of gun control.

Eugenics is a policy that could help the United States by increasing the number of talented people and decreasing the people who place a burden on all of us through welfare, crime, and other destructive behavior. It is important that note that while eugenics is a goal worth pursuing, because many of the people with low-levels of intelligence and tendency toward criminality have genetic disadvantages they should be neither blamed nor considered unworthy of care and respect.

1 comment:

Paul Rasmussen said...

You make some interesting comments and I do agree with some of the things that you say.I am currently starting a blog with a number of articles concerning genetic interventions, eugenics and their social interventions.