The U.Q. test for success: on the bull curve


It has been demonstrated that those with high U.Q.s, or unscrupulousness quotients, enjoy much more financial success than those with low U.Q.s. For example, those who advance the interests of the wealthy make more money than those who advance the causes of human understanding.

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A chronic puzzle confronting world-betterers through the ages is why some people achieve material success while others lead nasty, brutish and short lives of quiet desperation. In recent years, systematic evidence compiled by social scientists has supported a novel hypothesis that the difference is genetic. In longitudinal studies of thousands of lives, using statistical techniques that hold constant such variables as environment, family status and measured I.Q., the critical factor may have been isolated. That factor has been provisionally named the “unscrupulousness quotient,” or U.Q. It may of course be one of the many coincidences that lead to blind alleys in social science, but lifetime income correlates almost perfectly with U.Q.


The U.Q. effect seems to hold true wherever studied. For example, priests and nuns doing what they believe to be Christian work among the urban poor rarely accumulate fortunes, while television preachers willing to bilk the bewildered out of their meager savings take in millions. Physicians working in public health programs to control the spread of disease earn small salaries, while freelance doctors performing surgery on the aged moribund leave large sums at the ends of their comfortable lives. Lawyers practicing community law or defending civil liberties have modest incomes, but their classmates who single-mindedly file flurries of malpractice and product liability suits invariably drive better cars and fly first class.

Some of the correlations are trivial–it is not surprising that men and women who systematically pursue marriage for money are more likely to gain wealth than those who seek partners among their friends–but others are less obvious. Earlier in the century, men who offered bookkeeping services to small businesses earned, with few exceptions, much less than men who charged clients not to break their kneecaps with baseball bats. Today, urban youths who sell recreational drugs earn far more than those who sell hamburgers. Journalists and producers offering information and art in public broadcasting earn far less than their counterparts delivering mindless swill via commercial networks. Magazines seeking to provide useful information–like The Nation and Harper’s Magazine–require subsidies, but market-research-driven publications feeding conventional ignorance–like USA Today–generate large cash flows. Journalists and scholars willing to write books, articles and papers advancing the interests of great wealth are often allowed to share in it, through foundation grants, think-tank appointments, endowed chairs, well-paid speaking engagements, book tours and high-priced public relations and media blitzes. Others who plod along seeking to advance human understanding typically drive used cars and write for the remainder tables. Plant managers who spend their lives seeking to maintain productive enterprises earn modest amounts relative to the investment bankers who earn hundreds of millions downsizing businesses on spurious grounds.

The distribution of income in America has always favored those with high U.Q.s, but the disparity is growing. In most of the period following World War II, people with low U.Q.s were able to hold permanent jobs offering enough pay to raise a family and enjoy modest comforts. In recent decades, especially during the Reagan years, government itself became an agent of those with high U.Q.s, accelerating the disadvantages of the scrupulous and creating a dangerous instability.


Many are alarmed that growing poverty will interfere with the fruits of high U.Q.s. There is a pervasive fear of crime, which causes the nuisance of guarded residential enclaves. The remaining government programs serving those with low U.Q.s require higher taxes. The alternative of jailing them also, alas, entails taxing and spending. Systematic extermination has been proposed, using capital punishment, denial of medical care, closure of public schools and elimination of welfare programs that interfere with homelessness and starvation. These measures offer only a temporary respite, however, since the total elimination of the low U.Q. population would lead to the unacceptable result of the high U.Q. remnant preying on one another.

A radical proposal is to maintain those with lower U.Q.s as necessary to the continuation of the high-U.Q. way of life. As long as there is a large employed population with modest incomes, supplemented by adequate social programs, the argument goes, there will be a pool of income to be skimmed in relative safety by the unscrupulous. So far, this idea has gained little ground. Those who propose it are regarded, perhaps shortsightedly, as traitors to their class.

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