IQ and policy in a crisis

There is a strong correlation – and causation – between IQ and national wealth. At times there are outliers, such as China (although it is rapidly losing its outlier status). This might be evidence that policy, despite being affected by national IQ, can be an important force in determining national wealth at a point.

In the discussion about the global financial crisis and its continuing permutations, most of the focus is on policy. Given the difficulty in changing mean national IQ, this is reasonable. But how does IQ operate as an underlying factor during the crisis? On average, can we expect the higher IQ nations to develop better policy responses? As this crisis plays out, does national wealth becomes more or less correlated with IQ?

The trigger for this question was a comment in the in the footnotes of Nigel Barber’s article on uncertainty and religious belief (which I blogged on recently):

The reviewer claimed that Lynn and Vanhanen (2002) had very clearly demonstrated that economic development is a consequence of average intelligence. Yet these are correlational data and cannot be used to establish a causal relationship. Lynn and Vanhanen are merely arguing that IQ causes economic development. Their perspective cannot accommodate the fact that Ireland was briefly one of the wealthiest countries of Europe or that African economies are currently growing faster than the United States despite relatively lower IQ scores in each case.

I presume Barber is referring to the often reported mean Irish IQ of approximately 93, the lowest in Western Europe. “Briefly” might the key word. Are we now seeing an outlier return to a level of national income closer to that predicted by national IQ? While certain Irish government policies created an economic boom, the financial crisis exposed the lack of foundation to that growth. Further, the policy decisions during the crisis now underlie much of the Irish government debt problem.

More generally, does a crisis of the type playing out push national income closer to what might be predicted from national IQ? Does higher trust between high-IQ people cushion the shock? Do high-IQ populations support better policy decisions in the crunch? Are bubbles of the type that propelled Ireland to the top of the wealth list exposed? There will be exceptions and it may not hold in the very short-term during moments of panic or gross uncertainty, but my instinct is that on average this crisis will reduce the aberrations, particularly for those countries achieving national income above what their national IQ might suggest.

Once the crisis washes through, this argument should be testable (noting that my Irish example is a single anecdotal piece of evidence). This is something to mark down as a future project.

8 thoughts on “IQ and policy in a crisis

  1. IQ is a suspect measurement. Read Cosma Shalizi’s careful dissection of the concept.

    You might also want to consider the utility of the concept of nation as a means of categorizing people. Are you talking about genetics? Most nations are genetically diverse. Culture? Most nations also display cultural diversity, to a greater or lesser degree? If not those, then perhaps the national educational system? I should think that causation, if any, would run from prosperity to a strong educational system to improved test performance. This would have to be an educational system that stresses the sort of skills that are tested by an IQ test.

    1. One of the more succinct summaries of the argument for the usefulness of IQ as a measure and the direction of causation is in the introduction to Garett Jones’s recent article (pdf) on IQ and productivity.

      Personally, I consider IQ an important and robust measurement as, despite decades of attacks, such as Shalizi’s article, IQ continues to be strongly predictive of so many outcomes, both individually and nationally. Debates about what ‘g’ is miss the bigger picture.

  2. I’m not entirely convinced of any particulars regarding IQ.  However, methinks it protesting too much to claim nothing can be said relating IQ with a person or group’s competition outcomes.  For instance, maybe average IQ is unimportant, but it is important to have wide variance so that there are a few individuals at the very upper end of a group who can do most of the technological and philosophical innovation.  

    Because these innovations and others can be taught and learned (just not derived) regardless of IQ, they are dependent upon the saturation level of individuals with an IQ score necessary but not sufficient for deriving an innovation (higher saturation and score would mean probabilistically a faster result).  My point is that there are many ways in which a population’s IQ may be important to society as a whole, while almost none of the IQ scores are individually relevant (or vice versa).  For instance, many people wonder what it is about the American people that makes them so good at technological innovation.  This has always been intuitively obvious to me (i thought), but then I heard someone credit capitalism, which sounded strange to me since few of our most important scientific innovations (antibiotics, clean water, electricity, relativity, quantum physics and atomic bomb, modern biological synthesis, i could very honestly go on) have been driven by pure $$.  Also, other nations have capitalism.  I’ve always assume that Americans are innovative because America is the most ethnically diverse country on the planet.  So, while ethnic groups largely have (likely) similar average IQ scores, America has an extremely large variance.  We have people from everywhere in the world.  Maybe one group is good in one intelligence modality, another a different one.  Because this affects specialization, and specialization is a property of a group rather than an individual, IQ would in this way be relevant to the fact that our military engineers with the best materials, and ALSO has the best medicines, and ALSO uses evolutionary principles to select dogs with characteristics optimally evolved for the needed environment.  This is all, of course, one arbitrary possibility. To bring it back, I think this totally relevant to American politics at the moment.  There is a direct policy utility for having someone in Washington working on how to protect American citizens (and hopefully the world’s citizens) from the inevitable.  Even more short term, technological innovations funded by THE GOVERNMENT are often responsible for huge efficiency/monetary gains in THE PRIVATE SECTOR.  Boy, if we could only make targeted therapies from stem cells, I can only imagine the erections Merck will design a pill to enhance!  And, you know, that stuff with all of those “children” of “god’s creation” that are dying torturously of diseases that we could be fixing if only it weren’t so immoral.     

  3. Uh.  Wow.  That was not supposed to be one monolithic chunk of indistinguishable text.

    There were paragraphs.  

    1. I’m still experimenting the the Disqus comment system, so hopefully it is not causing problems. However, one of its benefits should be that if you sign in you can edit your previous comments.

  4. Oh no problems.  I will figure that out hopefully.  Thinking is hard…and thinking in big chunks of black electronic text is hard and Orwellian.

    I just didn’t want anyone to think I was a troll or republican or whatever.

  5. Oh yeah and totally irrelevant to all this nonsense…
    You could be a 12 year old or the greatest economist in the world…but whoever you are…thank you for making this blog.  Or, like, paying some genius 12 year old to make it.  Evolutionary Economics is so obviously the solution to our problems that it is clear to me it will never influence a single Washington policy decision.  


    War against Stupid, and War against (big, meaning corrupt) Corporations.  Sounds bad, but we automatically win one by winning the other, so i guess it could in theory be worse.  

    However, you and I, here, are not stupid.  So, we know about the Backfire Effect.  Basically, stupid people (republicans) interpret counter-evidence by increasing the probability coefficients on the very belief targeted.  

    Also we know about the Dunning-Kruger Effect.  Stupid people are too stupid to realize how stupid they — in actual fact — are.  (unknown unknowns i suppose?).

    Anyway, my point is that I am from Kansas, and your logic will not convince stupid.  Well…it will further convince stupid that it isn’t.  So even worse.

    I say we forget about all solutions in any way contingent upon actual reality or the believers and nonbelievers therein.  

    The corporations…?   They aren’t even real things.  A guy can just sign a piece of paper…and BofA is unicorns and god.  Most gods anyway.  

    Maybe we can choose both…  Evolutionary Economics to “scientifically demonstrate” what all of us already knows for a fact is true: people, and especially ones called corporations, will cheat if you let them.  So don’t.  Oh yeah and for the same reason we should cap everyone’s personal bonuses and salaries (at the notch below “international war crime”).  And if any rich people (whatever it means) don’t like it…I can’t imagine a way that could bother me any less.  Especially if I’m rich :-)

  6. re: Cosma Shalizi & the g-factor.

    As Steve Hsu (involved in the Cognitive Genomics Project) has pointed out, anyone who understands factor analysis realises that you can have correlations and a single largest factor even if there are no underlying causal reasons (i.e., it is just an accident). Nonetheless, these models may still be useful.

    Prior to the availability of molecular studies the heritability of type II diabetes was estimated at 0.25 using all those methods. Now molecular studies have identified at least 9 loci involved in the disease. There are other examples in relation to height. So you can’t say that heritability studies, with all their seemingly ridiculous assumptions, are worthless.

    In fact, reading Shalizi closely, you’ll see that he doesn’t think they are either. For instance, he says:

    ***If you put a gun to my head and asked me to guess [whether there are genetic variants that contribute to IQ], and I couldn’t tell what answer you wanted to hear, I’d say that my suspicion is that there are, mostly on the strength of analogy to other areas of biology where we know much more. ***

    Also, in his article on g he seems to accept in the footnotes that intelligence or cognitive ability, as operationally defined by psychologists, is important for economic development.

    His criticism of g is also met here. Still just 1 g: Consistent results from five test batteries Johnson et al
    Intelligence Volume 36, Issue 1, January–February 2008, Pages 81–95

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