Common Knowledge

Michael Barone, National Review, December 5, 1994.


The Bell Curve is not an argument for racial discrimination. It is an argument against racial discrimination, against the one form of racial discrimination that is sanctioned by university and media and government and corporate elites: racial preferences and quotas. It shows that the discipline of psychology supports the inference suggested by (to take a vivid example) the preponderance of people of Chinese descent in mathematics departments: that abilities are not randomly distributed among different ethnic and racial groups. (If we assumed they were, we would have to suppose that an old boys’ club of Chinese was plotting to keep the rest of us out of those math departments.) The case for racial quotas is that in a fair society desirable positions would be randomly distributed among all identifiable groups. Herrnstein and Murray confirm the ordinary citizen’s intuition that this is absurd.

More specifically, by showing strong relationships between intelligence as measured by IQ tests and behaviors ranging from job performance to a propensity to commit crimes or bear children outside marriage, The Bell Curve makes a powerful case that the disproportionately low number of blacks in top positions and the disproportionately low number of blacks in top positions and the disproportionately high number of blacks in prison (just under half our prisoners are black) do not result from racial discrimination. I hasten to add that, as a society and as individuals, we all have an obligation to remain alert to acts of individual unfairness, and we all have an obligation to do something about the continued existence of a criminal underclass, even though most of us are highly unlikely to be its individual victims. The Bell Curve does not deny, it affirms that nurture contributes importantly to intelligence; and just as we would have an obligation not to leave the Wild Boy of Aveyron in the woods, so we are obliged to do something (there is plenty of room to argue just what) to help those children fated to grow up in neighborhoods where the criminal underclass rules. But it is quite another thing to say that statistical inequalities require racial preferences, radical social engineering, or economic redistribution, as the Left has long insisted. Will the elites get the message that The Bell Curve and the people are sending? Perhaps. The public response to the 1993 Clinton economic package made it clear the Democrats cannot raise taxes again. The response to the Clinton health-care plan made it plain that there is strong and enduring opposition to social engineering. And the 1994 election results prove that voters don’t want more government.

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