Intellectual Sorting

Richard Florida's cover story in the latest Atlantic is interesting throughout, but this paragraph struck me in particular.

Thirty years ago, educational attainment was spread relatively uniformly throughout the country, but that's no longer the case. Cities like Seattle, San Francisco, Austin, Raleigh, and Boston now have two or three times the concentration of college graduates of Akron or Buffalo. Among people with postgraduate degrees, the disparities are wider still. The geographic sorting of people by ability and educational attainment, on this scale, is unprecedented.

There seems to be a lot of sorting taking place in America.  Marriage has become more assortative.  I suspect that going to college is a lot about sorting, which I think explains why parents are willing to pay almost any price to have their children attend colleges where other parents are willing (and able) to pay almost any price.  Ross Douthat worries that the Republican Party could lose its intellectual base of libertarians and become a purely anti-intellectual party.

If you're a committed liberal, you think, "Oh, goody.  The educated people know what's good for the uneducated people.  Well make this a much better country."  My own view is that the the people who think they know what's good for everyone, from Robert McNamara and McGeorge Bundy through Ben Bernanke, Henry Paulson, and Larry Summers, can get it spectacularly wrong 

The most dangerous thing about sorting is that it serves to insulate the elite.  As a result, they can lose any sense of humility or self-restraint. 

Presented by

Arnold Kling

Arnold Kling earned his Ph.D in economics at MIT. He was an economist on the staff of the Federal Reserve Board. From 1986-1994 he worked at Freddie Mac. He started Homefair.com in 1994 and sold it in 1999. His fourth book, From Poverty to Prosperity, co-authored with Nick Schulz, is due out in April of 2009. He blogs regularly at Econlog.

Why Principals Matter

Nadia Lopez didn't think anybody cared about her middle school. Then Humans of New York told her story to the Internet—and everything changed.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A History of Contraception

In the 16th century, men used linen condoms laced shut with ribbons.

Video

'A Music That Has No End'

In Spain, a flamenco guitarist hustles to make a modest living.

Video

What Fifty Shades Left Out

A straightforward guide to BDSM

More in Business

Just In