Smart people are a scarce — albeit renewable — resource. When individuals, groups, institutions, and governments fail to foster a situation in which that resource can be renewed, it must deplete over time, because people aren’t immortal or even especially durable.
Contemporary opinion in polite society are that smarts are not a scarce raw resource, but instead something that can be only cultivated by a long period of education. The raw material that goes into that educational process can, in turn, be modified by programs like universal pre-school for everyone. The data, after all, shows that rich people all send their children to pre-school enrichment classes when they’re young, and those children tend to turn out smarter, so therefore (the theory goes) that if you send both rich and poor children to the same sort of intensive educational program, their outcomes will be similar.
The more common view (which predated Darwin), historically speaking, was that many important traits are heritable. Curiously enough, almost all right-thinking people believe that most important traits in nonhuman animals are heritable. It’s noncontroversial to say that a certain breed of dog is more intelligent than another, or more capable of performing certain feats than other breeds. It’s a firing offense to state something similar about people. Even prestigious scientists and journalists can’t get away with stating what was once common knowledge.
If we saw intelligence as a scarce resource, we would have to think harder about how to foster its promotion, and to protect it from being overwhelmed by the unthinking and envious majority. Much of the ‘meritocratic’ sorting machinery we use now to try to discover talent would become superfluous, because nature does much of that sorting for us already by bestowing smarter children on smarter parents.
Further, it would raise more questions about how compatible the different genetic groups brought together into one country and political system really are, regardless of whether or not they share similar intelligence or not. The meritocratic system tends to deny other important moral qualities apart from mere cleverness, which if we’re honest with ourselves, we know is just as likely to be morally troublesome as it is to be a benefit to a group, institution, or government.
Our approach might also shift from telling everyone that they can become anything that they want to if they work hard enough at it — and more towards that everyone ought to find a station appropriate to their circumstances and capacities, no matter how high or low that position might be.