Winston Churchill

Second, social scientists have not grasped how much noise there is in the different measures they look at, such as income and academic attainment, and thus haven”€™t noticed how much all these traits are correlated.

If a CEO’s son becomes a tenured professor of philosophy, there won”€™t be much correlation in their income, but they”€™ve both been successful at getting what they want out of life.

For example, the occupations of Charles Darwin’s great-great-grandchildren (most of them now middle-aged) include a mathematician, sculptor, screenwriter, computer scientist, musicologist, adventurer, novelist, botanist, conservationist, historian, author, poet, physicist, wife of a Nobel laureate, entrepreneur, and painter. Their incomes no doubt vary widely, but their class status is readily distinguishable from a truck driver’s.

Clark suggests that measures like income and education are facets of a hard-to-measure but underlying general factor he labels “€œsocial competence.”€ (Gregory Cochran calls it “€œmoxie.”€)

This shouldn”€™t really come as a surprise. It’s not as if elites didn”€™t tell us they thought they were better by blood. Until recently, elites liked to brag about their magnificent ancestors. For example, Winston Churchill spent much of the 1930s writing a four-volume biography of his ancestor John Churchill, the first duke of Marlborough. John Churchill was more or less the English Bonaparte, helping overthrow King James II in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and then defeating the French army of King Louis XIV at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704. Winston was born at colossal Blenheim Palace 170 years later.

The descendant’s goal was in part to burnish the name Churchill with voters by telling them, page after page for more than 2,000 pages, that his great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather was great.

Professor Clark’s surname research techniques aren”€™t terribly new. The 1963 book The Geography of Intellect by the swashbuckling spymasters Nathaniel Weyl and Stefan T. Possony (sci-fi author Jerry Pournelle’s mentor in the espionage game) introduced most of the methodologies.

Here are some still fascinating articles from the early 1960s hosted on in which Weyl used surname analysis to analyze British classesScots, and Jews. Weyl then returned to the subject in 1989 with his book The Geography of American Achievement. For example, in the mid-1980s, surnames of Sikhs (e.g., Singh) and Chinese (e.g., Chang) were found on lists of scientists about seven times as often as typical Americans. French surnames were moderately underrepresented, while Spanish surnames were found among scientists at a rate only 6 percent of the national average.

Clark’s findings use data that are both newer and much older (e.g., English inheritance records back to the Middle Ages) than Weyl’s, but the overall lessons are quite similar.

For example, Clark still finds the same pattern of relatively low performance among Americans with French Canadian surnames, even though most of these families arrived from Quebec at least a century ago. And this weak achievement at becoming doctors or lawyers isn”€™t restricted just to Louisiana Cajuns, but is found in New England and Oregon as well.

Clark’s confirmation of Weyl’s finding has implications for immigration policy. It is widely assumed in Washington and New York (although not in Los Angeles, where locals have far more experience) that Mexican and Central American illegal aliens are, if not the New Jews, at least the New Italians, who will surge into the middle class real soon now and start to pay lots of taxes and use little in the way of social services. A more likely scenario is that the below average outcomes of French Canadian-Americans represent a best-case scenario for the Mexican-American masses. And, Clark’s data implies, it would take into the next century (if ever) for Mexican-Americans to reach the low levels of French-American accomplishment.

Clark has found that class persistence is not around 0.4 as previously believed, but more like 0.75. Rather than regress 60 percent toward the mean per generation, people regress merely 25 percent. So, the fifth generation would retain on average 32% of the advantage or disadvantage of the current generation. And that’s within ethnic groups. Racial differences can persist for, roughly, ever.

For example, Norman names appear in disproportionate numbers on the rolls of officers and men in British battles for many centuries after 1066, suggesting “€œa taste and facility for organized violence.”€

Some of the persistence of traits attached to surnames may be aspirational. For example, I was once hiking in the Hollywood Hills with Jerry Pournelle, who very much identifies with his Norman forefathers. The shape of a canyon reminded him of a blood-drenched wadi in the Holy Land, in which his Crusader ancestors had been brought to battle in their suits of armor under the broiling sun by Saladin’s wiles.

Similarly, Winston Churchill strongly identified with John Churchill, and thus felt it was in his blood to lead a crusade against anyone attempting to monopolize power on the Continent.

Some of this persistence of various traits is no doubt genetic, although much of that is from assortative mating. For example, Winston Churchill would have inherited only 1/256th of his genes from John Churchill. But the glamor of the Marlborough title attracted numerous high-powered spouses along the way, such as Winston’s mother Jenny Jerome, daughter of a self-made New York millionaire known as “€œThe King of Wall Street.”€

Strikingly, Clark finds that class persistence appears to be around 0.75 not only throughout British and American history, but all over the world, including Japan and welfare state Sweden. Heck, in China, Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution didn”€™t put much of a long-term dent in which surnames are high-class. (Perhaps in a future edition Clark can measure whether the Khmer Rouge’s policy of murdering everybody who needed to wear eyeglasses did much for Cambodian social mobility.)

The one exception to the Law of Social Mobility Clark has found is caste-ridden India, where Clark finds an “€œoverall rate of social mobility close to zero. India seems to be a uniquely immobile society.”€

Interestingly, Winston Churchill wasn”€™t the direct male line descendent of John Churchill. He was born Winston Spencer-Churchill because the first duke hadn”€™t left any male heirs, so the title descended through his Spencer grandson. Spencer is also a mighty name in English history (Princess Di was born Diana Spencer), but the Churchill connection appealed more to Winston.

A challenge left for Clark is to prove systematically that this kind of aspirational name-changing doesn”€™t materially bias his results. For example, three of the last seven Presidents”€”Obama, Clinton, and Ford”€”were known by different surnames at some point in their lives.

Life tends to be complicated, and complications can accumulate. I look forward to Dr. Clark’s future work on this subject.



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