February 14. 2012
to be posted on nobabies.net

Charles Murray
The American Enterprise Institute
1150 Seventeenth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036

Dear Charles Murray:
I read Coming Apart (Crown Forum, New York, 2012) with much interest.  I was particularly taken with the richness of the evidence you presented. 

There are a few data sources I thought might be of interest to you. The first regards the issue of marriage.  You are for it and you give data to support your view.  There is an article that might interest you that was published in SCIENCE some years ago.  Charles L. Nunn et al Promiscuity and the Primate Immune system SCIENCE (vol. and issue numbers not clear.  I think it’s volume 2190.) November 10, 2000 pages 1168 1170 what they found was that primates come with two mating styles, faithful species and promiscuous species.  The faithful have a weak immune systems while the promiscuous have a robust one.  Humans have the weak sort.  Nature expects us to marry. 

The second regards the survival of the most educated members of the society.  You portray them as honest, diligent, involved in their community and posessed of religious faith, not to mention rich, powerful and happy.  The worst to be said is that they consitute an isolated community from which they direct the lives of others without having much idea what life is like for the others.  Theh tend to have children, to score high on IQ tests and have a society that seems stable; in a way they are reminiscent of what the whole country was in 1960.  You identify them as the upper class.  But according to Watching the English by Kate Fox, the hallmark of the English upper class is an indifference to what other people think about them.  This they share with the working class.  They are not dilligent.  Between the two classses lies the middle class, where ceaseless effort and attention to proper issues is very conspicuous.  In other words, in 1960, in spite of some problems that were more complex than modern sterotype would suggest, Americans were essentially all middle class.  The elite is all that is left, but those folks appear to be doing well, at least for themselves, whatever they may have done to the rest of us. 

One characteristic of them is their high scores on IQ tests, which they need in order to achieve the educational and professional levels they hold.  And you drop the seed of doubt by introducing “regression to the mean.”  That is that the children of any couple will be 40% closer to average IQ than the average of the IQ of the parents.  Correct me if I am wrong, but it sounds to me that if there is a threshold for elitism, then 40% of the children of the elite drop below it each generation.  That means each family must have 3.5 children if they are to maintain themselves.  I find it hard to believe that they do.  So they must recruit, and you assure us that this is done with great efficiency, the high IQ young people the country over are drawn to the best schools.  But where do they come from?  Well while the elite have maintained the traditional middle class values, the least educated have not, so they will not be a source for fresh talent.  One way or the other, those replacements of the losses to regression of the mean must come from say the top half of the population in terms of IQ scores and probably education.  Since they lose a trifling number to the elite, and since those children that move to below average IQ are balanced by a like number rising above the average, that half of the country need not have such a high fertility.  2.1 children per family would suffice.  But I doubt that happens either.  So until the demographic issue is fixed, the elite is doomed as a class.  Assuming that they actually are needed for the society to operate, which to me is not completely clear, we are all doomed.  So how do you get more children?

You suggest that the elite, beyond simply practicing honesty, diligence, deep religious faith and community involvement, should exhort the rest to do the same.  But exhorting people to have more children does not work.  Augustus Caesar tried it with the Senate.  It didn’t work.  The Senate never regained its old clout. 

But fertility, among otherwise normal people, has already been worked out.  It depends on kinship.  Seriously.  Look at this graph.


That’s “Helgason,” sorry.  Going back 10 generations, they calculated how kin couples were, the equivalent of second cousin “or closer” meaning first cousin once removed and so forth.  Want babies?  Marry a cousin.  Want to die out?  Marry a stranger.  Look at how tight those two standard deviation error bars are.  Sometimes they don’t even overlap.  There just is not room, from a statistical standpoint, for choice, income, education or anything else to make a significant difference.  You decide on how many children you will have when you decide whom to marry.  I just thought you might like to know.

Third, you refer to Arnold Toynbee, who described the process by which a civilization festers and dies.  For instance a warning sign is when the elite begin to adopt the chaotic habits of the less than elite.  OK, then, lets watch some civilizations die.  Here is the entire history of Southern Mesopotamia.  The vertical axis is the chance a civilization has of going on for another fifty years.  The horizontal axis is the ages of the civilizations.  They have been arranged so they all start at the same time. 

Information taken from R. H. Carling THE WORLD HISTORY CHART International Timeline Inc. Vienna, VA 1985.  The experience of Southern Mesopotamia.  The vertical axis is The chance of an empire of any age continuing to rule locally for another 50 years.  The horizontal axis is the ages of the empires. 
I took the liberty of breaking the Ottoman Empire into two regimes, one when the Janissaries were slaves and a second when the Janissaries were the children of Janissaries.  As you see, the line falls steadily until all are gone.  Choose your own source and see whether this pattern is consistent elsewhere. 

I cannot get over how clean the line is.  There are not that many data points.  There ought to be more statistical chatter.  So the process is not random.  It is pre-ordained.  If Toynbee was right, and virtues such as marriage, faith, community involvement and honesty are what keep a civilization alive, and if these are not themselves the result of some other factor, then those blessed with virtues should have a higher life expectancy than those lacking them.  The time when such virtues collapse should be variable, and the line should be horizontal.  If Jarred Diamond in Collapse is right and the cause of collapse is climate change or environmental neglect, then the line should be horizontal as climate is unresponsive (at least until recently) to human civilizations.  (All right, they say agriculture, particularly in China, resulted in climate change long ago.)  Environments should vary in how long they can resist exploitation.  So the line should be horizontal.  The only thing left is the presence of babies, and their decline because of the very fact of having a civilization with an elite that enjoys a broad social horizon.

Now of course we are looking at conflicting predictions.  The Icelandic fertility data seem to predict a slow, genteel decline over many generations.  The infertility saturates.  On the other hand the historical evidence points to a sort of a brick wall of doom.  To resolve the difference look at gapminder.com.  I’m sure you have studied that data set many times, but probably not this particular combination: set the graph up so that births per woman is on the horizontal axis and average age of first marriage for women is on the vertical axis.  Run the program through the range of dates on offer.

What you will see is that until fairly recently both fertility and age at first marriage either are stable or bounce around without obvious pattern.  Then the fertility in developed countries drops.  Once it drops below two children per woman, it stabilizes, but then at the same time age at first marriage starts to rise.  We used so speak of a woman’s biological clock.  Those clocks are stopping.

The situation is inherently unstable.  Age at first marriage for women cannot rise above a certain level and still maintain fertility.  Late in the process there is not much choice about what happens.  If fertility drops further, extinction beckons.  If age at first marriage rises, fertility drops.  Fertility cannot rise with constant age at first marriage because women are having their baby or two at the last possible time.  The only survivable way out is for the age rise to reverse itself.  But for the many countries that exhibit the phenomenon, I have not noticed this happening, not for a single year.  Fertility can increase a bit, but the age at first marriage never looks back.

I think you are right that what is going to happen in Europe will not be pretty.  I think the suicide rate, already high and rising rapidly, will probably rise even more rapidly.  Here is a link.  http://www.befrienders.org/info/index.asp?PageURL=statistics.php
And empty houses will be bulldozed to keep homeless from taking shelter in them and to keep at least some value for the occupied ones. 

Hope this isn’t too much of a downer.  I don’t know if it can be fixed, but there was certainly a time when it could have been fixed.  Unfortunately our intellectual horizon is now limited to Liberal or Conservative, with every issue polarized – rather arbitrarily – under those labels.  Anything off the axis is, I fear, literally unthinkable. 

If you want to see more evidence and the explanation of why nature should have pulled such a dastardly trick on it, go to nobabies.net and look at the Orlando entry.

Let me know what you think. 


M. Linton Herbert MD 

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