Garrett Jones has a new book out: Hive Mind. He argues that “while individual IQ scores predict our independent success moderately well, a country’s average score is a remarkable bellwether of its general prosperity.” Makes sense. I might even call it obvious.
More on that later.
Of course there are other general factors that create differences in national prosperity – the biggest are valuable natural resources (oil in Saudi Arabia) and being currently or recently under a Communist* government. But average national IQ has the largest effect. I didn’t see much direct discussion of this, but this general trend was a lot less true at points in the past. The Communism ref is a hint: there used to be a lot of Communism, now there’s not – this makes the relative importance of IQ differences larger than it was in 1970. Generally, you could say that most of the world has signed on to roughly the same form of economic organization, just as statesmen everywhere wear suits, so that differences in national prosperity have more to do with differences in biological capital than they used to – just as differences in individual height are more driven by genetics today, in the US (where we are fat), than they were in England in 1800 (where the poor were hungry and five inches shorter). Not than biological difference were ever unimportant.
Jones talks about IQ – what it is, what it predicts. He knows his psychometrics, which is damned unusual for an economist. You would almost think that he’s spent a lot of time (sub rosa) conferring, conversing, and otherwise hobnobbing with devotees of the Dark Arts. He talks about how nice it would be if we could raise national IQs (then Indonesia could do what Germany does – and did) – but of course we don’t really know how, except with iodine supplementation.
He talks about the ways in which a higher national IQ pays off – more patience (low time preference), higher savings rates, more cooperation, more ability to form teams suited to complex tasks with little room for error, less incompetent government. I’d also mention differences in inventiveness, a higher fraction of people that exceed required thresholds for complex tasks, more people believing in and practicing basic maintenance (zero or crappy maintenance is the bane of the Third World), more effective deterrence of crime, fewer accidents, etc etc. If you’re ever watched a decent but dumb guy confidently fire a nail gun into the palm of his own hand, you will know what I mean.
Of course, he doesn’t mention how higher IQ increases susceptibility to various kinds of nuttiness, which can have substantial economic costs. Just to make it clear, I have no doubt that the average Ivy League graduate would be less likely than the average graduate of State U to agree with the major thesis of this book. Probably if you stated the conclusions sufficiently trenchantly (Haiti is fucked-up because Haitians are dumb!) they would violently reject his thesis. Not literally violently, because I doubt if the average Harvard graduate actually knows how to tar and feather anyone, but they would try to hurt his feelings. And get him fired, of course.
The icing on the cake is the policy prescription: since we know that higher average IQ is a good thing for a country, it behooves us to let in lots and of low-IQ immigrants – which will leave us more prosperous! Jones stomps on the dick of his own argument with hobnail boots, in a fashion I have only seen matched by Jared Diamond’s claim that every population on Earth has the same average IQ, except for Melanesians in PNG, who are smarter, presumably because of their Denisovan admixture.
Does he worry about the fact that we live in a welfare state, and that low-income immigrants (on average) soak up a lot more money over a lifetime than they will ever contribute to the Federal coffers? Not one bit. This is just as true for England and France and Sweden. Reminds me of the scramble for Africa, in which every colony was a money-loser, but no European country could do without some. He worries a little about furriners bring along their noxious political traditions – but Bryan Caplan assures him that they’ll pick up our political notions, in the same way that Bryan Caplan thinks and talks about politics just like an old Midwestern farmer.
Think of it this way: some of the products of an advanced technological civilization are generally valuable and cheap. They can and are used by poor countries as well. I’m thinking things like vaccines, and penicillin, and right turn on red. But they can’t be used unless someone invents them, and that happens less as the national IQ drops. Maybe we need to leave at least one major advanced country alone, not fucking it up any more than it already is, so that on those odd occasions where actually getting something right matters, humanity has at least a Chinaman’s chance.
I said earlier that the general conclusion was obvious, but I’m using that word with no meaning again. If you have a reasonably detailed picture of the world – sure it’s obvious. If you talked to a smart, fair-minded guy in 1900, one with wide experience, and asked which countries would do well if native ability were the main determinant of national success – I think he would have predicted something roughly like what we see today. It’s highly correlated with peoples that managed fairly high levels of sophistication since the Bronze Age**.
If it’s all that obvious, why haven’t other economists come to similar conclusions? Because they didn’t like these conclusions, of course – because of professional risk – because they don’t have a reasonably detailed picture of the world – because they never bothered to learn anything about psychometrics. Look at the reaction of the economists to Lynn and Vanhanen’s work: puerile.
* Mainstream economists weren’t any too good at noticing that Communism fucks you up , although I think they saw that living over an ocean of oil paid off. Only one out of the three major factors understood – not good even by Meatloaf’s standard.
** Which Jared Diamond noticed, and which makes no sense in his explanatory framework. “The nations rising to new power are still ones were incorporated thousands of years ago into the old centers of dominance based on food production, or that have been repopulated by peoples from those centers.”