Intellectual equilibrium

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I’ve often asked and wondered out loud on this blog about a question that gets at me-the nations that have the highest IQs today, those of northern Europe and eastern Asia, were not the first to be “civilized,” and in fact, lagged for a reasonable amount of time after the first flowering of higher culture in the valleys of the Nile, Tigris & Euphrates and the Indus [1].

As I was walking down the street I thought of my own family. My grandfathers were men of some success, a doctor of medicine and religion respectively. My father is a chemist while of my mother’s six brothers there are engineers, biologists, officers & businessmen (my father’s brothers are accountants, not as big a deal in my estimation ;). But the demographic transition within these generations have been fast & furious. My grandfathers had 6 and 7 children. Of their sons & daughters, my own parents are the most prolific (three sons, one daughter), all my uncles or aunts have one or two children, and in the case of a few, none. In 2002 Bangladesh’s total fertility rate was 2.72, so there isn’t THAT much of a difference, but most of my aunts and uncles had their children in the 80s or early 90s when the TFR was far higher [2]. I share this only to illustrate how quickly demographic transitions can happen-though my grandfathers were wealthy men, my aunts & uncles are far more well off in terms of consumer goods (perhaps less asset rich in land, but more at ease in general)-and they have quickly transitioned to the western middle-class ideal of one to two children. In contrast, I suspect that a typical Bangladeshi peasant has a higher fertility than this, and in fact, perhaps close what their forbears experienced because of the grotesquely higher infant mortality rates in generations past (since peasants are 90% of Bangladesh’s population, that means a TFR of a little over 2.72-no mean feat).

I myself might not have children-and I wouldn’t be surprised if many of my cousins did not. What does that entail? On an individual level, not much. But my general implication and worry has to do with dysgenesis. Greg Cochran has asserted that the United States has been in positively dysgenic since the late 19th century (and the West as a whole). But civilization hasn’t collapsed…yet.

Past speculation about dysgenesis is often empty and slap-dash, so I won’t get into specifics. But, doing a thought experiment, I think it is plausible that welfare benefits that favor dysgenesis carry within them the seeds of their own destruction, and a future re-equilibration of the mean IQ. As social order collapses and resources become scare, perhaps intelligence once more becomes selectively fit, and the fabric of society stitches itself back together…and the cycle starts again. Over time this function oscillates around the mean IQ and gives one the illusion that human mental capacities have not changed over the past 10,000 years.

Just a thought or two….

[1] Though China has a reasonably antique pedigree it did not really catch up to the societies of western Eurasia until the Han Dynasty. For instance, not only did the age of iron come late to China, archaic forms of warfare based on chariots persisted longer than they did in the Near East. Of course, on other fronts, especially theological, some could say that the Sinic way was more progressive.

[2] The comparison is also a bit stretched in the case of my family. I live in the US, but I have cousins in the UK, Venezuala and Sweden (and some half-brown cousins at that, though so far, the white gene pool has been spared, they being half-Japanese, Syrian and Venezualan).

17 Comments

  1. when do you think the Ashkenazi Jewish IQ shot up to current levels? Was it a recent thing or was Jewish IQ in general always pretty high (e.g. where those temples they had signs of high intellectual achievement?) Was it because of the eugenic practice of encouraging rabbis to have large families as suggested by Robert Nozick? and just what the hell happened to the arabs? was it the narrower forms of islam after the fall of the tolerant caliphs that dumbed them down or what?

  2. also I’ve been thinking about the abortion issue and Steve Sailer may be on to something. basically the average people who don’t take precautions and end up with unwanted pregnancies might be pretty dumb. but out of that group those that decide *not* to have abortion might be the dumbest of the dumb while the smarter of the dumb end up having the abortion.

  3. The ability to initiate civilization may not be the same as that needed to sustain civilization. The former probably requires a reasonable proportion of high IQ persons (which can be effected if the IQ distribution has a high mean, or a high variance). The latter probably requires an IQ distribution with a reasonable number of capable individuals (the sustainers) and a small number of very low-IQ individuals (who tax resources and endanger cohesion). Homogeneous (low IQ variance) societies at a reasonable high IQ level might be all it takes to sustain civilization.

    It is well-known that genetic diversity is low in Northern Europe (e.g., in cystic fibrosis). My own little number crunching has shown that while latitude explains only 2.5% of the differences in mean IQ in Europe, it explains 21.4% of the differences in standard deviation of IQ. If indeed this correlation is real, then its cause might be partly genetic. Certainly, a genetic explanation would be in harmony with lower gene diversity in northern Europe, and with intuition, i.e., that in the periphery of the inhabited world, gene diversity would be lowest.

  4. Also, societal outcome is a product not only of the goodness of its units (individuals, measured e.g., by IQ) but also of its organization, i.e., the system by which the units interact. It is also a product of what animates them, i.e., what is their intent or goals. As I’ve suggested all the talk about IQ misses the point that the goal (better societal outcome) could be achieved either via supermen (IQ school), or via re-organization (Social Engineering school). Of course, the consensus now is that liberal “democracy” and ultra-free markets are the optimal way to organize a society. This, coupled with the individualistic bent of the modern West will doubtlessly result on more emphasis on IQ, and less emphasis on the lack of direction (lack of intentionality), and the suboptimal use of the available intellectual capital.

  5. Dienenkes
    I don’t think anyone disputes that the utility of human intelligence is magnified in a well ordered society. Indeed this is Hayek’s basis insight and contrary to the dichotomy you seem to posit between free markets and this greater intelligence via social orgaisation, free markets via the price system means that we can *economise* on the use of intelligence because a lot of tacit knowledge is embodied in prices – we don’t need a super computer programmed in logistics to deal with the fundamental problems of allocating resources (surely an important problem in society) because this is done automatically by a tatonnement process of responding to price signals. I don’t see though how your criterion of ‘goals’ come into it – the virtue of liberal democracy or minimal state liberalism is that everyone can have a multiplicity of goals and this can be accomodated via the basic ‘traffic signals’ like property rights. There is no need to make everyone pursue one ‘goal’ to make social organisation better – in fact this makes the governance problem even more complicated. You’ll have to explain this concept better.

    But getting back to the main point – nonetheless though the whole of human intelligence is greater than the sum of its parts when it is embodied in a well functioning society, surely the more the better. Higher IQ people are more capable of long term rationality for instance (and all rules of morality essentially also embody implicit calculations about long run rationality e.g. the positive sum game of trading versus the zero sum game of plundering), they have better impulse control, and so on.

  6. PS I just clicked on your link and see what you meant – your argument doesn’t really imply social engineering at all. In fact as an economist I don’t disagree with you – improving the rules of the game in a society are equally important to raising its performance but again the argument supports market liberalism. In a lot of over-politicised societies (e.g. Africa) a lot of intellect is invested in politicking, lobbying and redistributing the proceeds of other’s property because this is where the gains are. In market societies, this intellect is better invested in making products that satisfy consumer preferences.

  7. For you people, the (current) IQ levels and biology are everything.

  8. >> But getting back to the main point – nonetheless though the whole of human intelligence is greater than the sum of its parts when it is embodied in a well functioning society, surely the more the better.

    Yes, the whole is monotonic on both the parts and the organization of the parts. With the same parts, improvement comes from better organization. With a given organization, improvement comes with better parts. The IQ crowd focuses on the parts, the ‘social’ crowd forcuses on the organization.

    >> I don’t see though how your criterion of ‘goals’ come into it

    To have an outcome (‘good society’) you need good parts, good organization of the parts and good goals that the parts, through their organization will achieve. For a concrete example, man went to the moon because there were good engineers, organized via NASA, and aiming at a goal (to go to the moon). Neither organization, nor ability has decreased since the ’60s, yet the space program is a pathetic shadow of what it could be, mainly because it has no good goals.

    >> In market societies, this intellect is better invested in making products that satisfy consumer preferences.

    It is true that in e.g., communism, intellect is wasted in bureaucracy. But intellect is wasted on capitalism as well, namely because the goal is often shallow (e.g., making money by doing nothing more than buying and selling stocks – a non-productive activity), or because intellect is wasted in dealing with the competition – while competition makes one try to be better, it also means that lots and lots of resources are tied on non-productive activity (e.g., litigation for its sake, etc.).

    So, I don’t know what the next stage in political development is (liberal “democracy” and capitalism are clearly not optimal), because if I knew, I would write a book about it. Something will eventually replace the current political system, and maybe it will be something better, or maybe it won’t.

  9. First, a short parable. For many years, samples of school children in various European countries were given standardised tests in science and mathematics (the TIMS surveys). Educationists in Britain were usually alarmed to find that British children were near the bottom of the scale in mathematics. Then someone finally got around to taking a close look at how the samples were compiled, and discovered that in continental Europe a significant proportion of children in each school year (used as the basis for the sample) were actually chronologically a year older than their classmates, having been ‘held back’ (which is not done in Britain). When the figures were adjusted to allow for this, the British chidren were above average.

    The moral is that international comparisons, whether in education, crime rates, or anything else, are extremely difficult. Even if the samples are truly random, there is the problem that the same test materials may represent different levels of difficulty according to levels of education, etc. The work of Teasdale and Owen provides strong evidence that length of schooling (and, among adults, the amount of recent experience of abstract reasoning tasks), make a substantial difference to IQ scores. I don’t believe that international differences of up to, say, 15 IQ points, imply very much in terms of innate ability.

  10. I’m at the social end of the argument, obviously. In a given economic structure you might have a shortage either of smart people or stupid people. I’ve known many involuntarily underemployed people whose excess intelligence just made them happy. There are actually some jobs (e.g. janitorial)that the mildly retarded do best because they’re not easily bored. So maybe we have too much intelligence rather than not enough.

    Iron use should not be used as an index of anything. “The Coming of the Iron Age” ed. by Wertime and Muhly. Some backward societies smelted iron while some advanced societies didn’t. When the British reached the interior of Sub-Saharan Africa, the people there were already using their own methods to smelt high-quality low-carbon steel. (This book is NOT a multiculturalism book.)

    Likewise, even the use of the wheel isn’t an index. While the high civilization of Islam (700–1100 AD; along with China the most advanced civilization of the time) knew of the wheel, they didn’t use much wheeled transport but relied on pack animals and water transport. Bulliet, “The Camel and the Wheel”.

    Mm, Razib, aren’t Venezuelans and Syrians white? You’re sticking with that blonde standard.

  11. “Mm, Razib, aren’t Venezuelans and Syrians white? You’re sticking with that blonde standard.”

    the blonde standard is the gold standard ;) the guy who married a venezuelan married someone from the “white” upper-middle class-but you never know what would show up in the geneology. his brother though lives in stockholm, so i assume he’ll bring a blonde into the fam…him or me i guess, it’s a race!

    dave b.-point taken-that’s why i tend to focus on the united states…we get into chicken & egg problems as steve s. has noted….

  12. >> First off: No amount of improved social organization would allow a chimp or dolphin to develop quantum physics. So there is something to be said for focusing on the limitations that human hardware (biology) may impose, and then thinking about software (culture) as an important adjunct.

    True, but no amount of IQ would allow a human to develop quantum physics if there was not the institution of the “university” or something similar were smart people aggregate.

    It is true that dumb people can’t excel no matter what their social organization is. It’s also true that smart people can’t excel if their social organization isn’t good.

    >> Now, it may be that we will develop extrahuman economic systems as we genetically/cybernetically engineer behavioral preferences…but given our current preferences, liberal democracy + capitalism is by far the best way to allocate scarce resources.

    I have my own opinions about the prospects of genetic engineering, which I might share at some point.

    As for the creation of extrahuman economic systems, I will simply say that these will not be extrahuman, when the time for them comes. Liberal “democracy”/capitalism are not the final stage in human political development, because they make sub-optimal use of resources, and because they are focused in very short-term goals (next election, next quarter earnings). The consequences of this short-term micro-management in no way guarantees, or even promotes long-term prosperity.

    >> Contempt for making money avoids the fact that in capitalism, the way to make money (broadly speaking) is to satisfy consumer preferences/needs.

    I did not express contempt for making money on productive activity. I expressed contempt for making money by doing nothing more than buying and selling stocks.

    >> Stock buying is basically the imperfect human transfer of information through price.

    The stock market is basically gambling with fluctuating odds. Whoever estimates the odds the best wins (in the sense of making money). Price fluctuations are the result of both the real world (e.g., company results, which carries information) and the stock market itself (e.g., speculation, bandwagon effect etc., which carries noise). It’s a matter of opinion to determine what the signal-to-noise ratio is in this case and whether the intellectual capital of millions of human beings is wasted or not in this setting.

  13. >> At the risk of seeming inordinately arrogant – it’s not my place to teach you (for one thing, it would take a lot more than a few comments), but I can recommend books if you’re really interested.

    You’re right, you do sound inordinately arrogant.

  14. On the question of the utility of trading in financial markets, no less an economist than James Tobin had this to say:

    “I confess to an uneasy Physiocratic suspicion, perhaps unbecoming in an academic, that we are throwing more and more of our resources, including the cream of our youth, into financial activities remote from the production of goods and services, into activities that generate high private rewards disproportionate to their social productivity. I suspect that the immense power of the computer is being harnessed to this ‘paper economy,’ not to do the same transactions more economically but to balloon the quantity and variety of financial exchanges.”

    – From “On the Efficiency of the Financial System”, Lloyds Bank Review, July 1984

    The trouble is the presence of a lot of noise in markets. In such markets some people are bound to make lots of money due to just blind luck. If some fraction of these lucky people can convince investors or banks that they have superior information and acumen and therefore should be endowed with resources for taking bets, you have a lot of effort being expended on the equivalent of devising systems for picking lottery numbers.

  15. >> But that’s not what Dienekes was saying. He wasn’t saying that *some* or *many* people are just dumb speculators. He was saying that the capital markets themselves had not been proven to be useful – that it was a “matter of opinion” as to whether the stock market was isomorphic to gambling. The major difference, of course, is that:

    I said:

    It’s a matter of opinion to determine what the signal-to-noise ratio is in this case and whether the intellectual capital of millions of human beings is wasted or not in this setting.

    That is of course entirely accurate. The signal to noise ratio is of a matter of opinion, because to know what it is, one would have to know what the signal (i.e., the actual value of a stock was) is. But, as you point out, the actual value of the stock can’t be known, and it’s approximated via the stock market. So, statement #1 is entirely accurate.

    Statement #2 refers to whether intellectual capital is wasted or not in the stock market. That is certainly a matter of opinion, and in the opinion of Tobin, obviously it’s wasted.

    >> He was saying that the capital markets themselves had not been proven to be useful – that it was a “matter of opinion” as to whether the stock market was isomorphic to gambling.

    Ah, no, I just said that “The stock market is basically gambling with fluctuating odds.” Please point to where I said that it’s a matter of opinion whether the stock market was isomorphic to gambling. The stock market is of course gambling (if it was not, then everyone would be making money in the stock market). Gambling is defined as putting money down with the expectation that you will get more money in return. In gambling, some people win, and some people lose. The stock market is entirely the same, with the only difference being that the odds are not fixed, and players estimate the fluctuating probabilities of any given outcome (e.g., “XYZ will go up in the next 6 months”).

  16. >> b) the stock market is not a zero sum game, unlike gambling, as there is real wealth creation going on.

    Being a zero sum game is not in the definition of gambling. Gambling is the action of the verb to gamble:

    1. a. intr. To play games of chance for money, esp. for unduly high stakes; to stake money (esp. to an extravagant amount) on some fortuitous event.

    Hence, the stock market is gambling, because the events of the game are “fortuitous”, i.e., random variables. The only difference with gambling, as I’ve explained, is that in gambling the odds are fixed (by the rules of the game), while in gambling they are fluctuating, as each player tries to anticipate future stock prices.

  17. I’m probably too late on this thread but would like to make a few quick comments

    Jason Soon: Was it because of the eugenic practice of encouraging rabbis to have large families as suggested by Robert Nozick? and just what the hell happened to the arabs? was it the narrower forms of islam after the fall of the tolerant caliphs that dumbed them down or what?

    Part of the answer must be black admixture, but it does not completely or even mostly explain the 15 or so point different below European whites. I have not seen anyone else make this point, but consanguinity may have a lot to do with it, given the high inbreeding rates amongst Arabs, and it generally accepted that consanguinity has an intelligence depressing effect, surely there would be a cumulative factor, although obviously is must plateau out eventually.

    Razib: I’ve often asked and wondered out loud on this blog about a question that gets at me-the nations that have the highest IQs today, those of northern Europe and eastern Asia, were not the first to be “civilized,” and in fact, lagged for a reasonable amount of time after the first flowering of higher culture in the valleys of the Nile, Tigris & Euphrates and the Indus.

    Isn’t the fact that these areas large river basins important, and largely open, non-forested land. In the North tribes were be smaller, had less contact with other tribes. The middle East was the cross roads of the world, and the Mediterrean also provided a maritime route for intercultural exchange. Also people often forget about the Megalithic cultures, going back to before 3000 BC, they must have had a large degree of organization and advancement to construct the stone chambers, monuments and mounds, all across Europe (and by their at least part white relations in America such as the American stonehedge)
    http://www.stonehengeusa.com/
    http://www.jsonline.com/news/state/mar02/24849.asp
    http://www.people.virginia.edu/~lf5b/peopling.html
    Razib: Greg Cochran has asserted that the United States has been in positively dysgenic since the late 19th century (and the West as a whole). But civilization hasn’t collapsed…yet.
    Civilization can be held up artificially for a while, but socially there has been a great decline, and many of the functions formerly undertaken by civil society are controlled by the State, enhanced by technology. Technology advances because, unlike culture, does not have to be exercised to the same degree. Discoveries and advancements are additions to the cumulative knowledge, and only a few very smart people are needed in this role. A more advanced computer may be simpler to use, although high tech jobs are sucking all high IQ people from areas like teaching where they were formerly and creating a cognitive elite. Morals, standards, protocol, knowledge, and tradition must be exercised, though if forgotten can be relearnt from books, but with dysgenics the population may not be capable of this former expression. Even in a very low average IQ country like South Africa a high IQ minority can hold the infrastruture of civilization together, although there will be necessarily be shanty towns or the very least simple housing and a great wealth disparity, because the minority cannot be taxed out of existence; the ANC is trying its best to do this.
    Razib: Past speculation about dysgenesis is often empty and slap-dash, so I won’t get into specifics. But, doing a thought experiment, I think it is plausible that welfare benefits that favor dysgenesis carry within them the seeds of their own destruction, and a future re-equilibration of the mean IQ. As social order collapses and resources become scare, perhaps intelligence once more becomes selectively fit, and the fabric of society stitches itself back together…and the cycle starts again. Over time this function oscillates around the mean IQ and gives one the illusion that human mental capacities have not changed over the past 10,000 years.
    At least in historic times we have had similar cycles but I would characterize it a little differently. It has been a cycle that has drain intelligence in one groups, then moving onto the next. We have not seen the Eyptians, Greeks or Romans restored to their glory; the cycles rather though history have been high IQ tribal people, not exposed to dysgenic and admixture, progressively taking the baton of civilization. While the Egptians were breeding with the Nubians, the Greeks and Romans importing Slaves and abstaining parenthood, the Germans were living in a more tribal extistance, spurning civilization for the land. In contrast the Orientals were able to build a sustainable eugenic civilization, they were a larger people, practiced polygamy, not celibacy, probably less dysgenic warefare too. Robert Graham, and others have observed that civilization itself is typically dysgenic. Not just in terms of intelligence, it also weakens people. When the Celts became Romanised they forget their tribal roots (I believe Sir Arthur Keith has written about this) and were unable to resist the Anglo-Saxons (and the Romans the barbarians generally); yet five centuries later it was the Anglo-Saxons, now Christians, and in larger Kingdoms rather than tribes, who yielded to the Norsemen. It is true that few people are required to make a great Civilization; Athens had less than 20000 and maybe 45000 male citizens. This gives me hope. Yet if nothing changes civilization in the West will be lost, America in 2100, 600m-1Billion people, nearly half Hispanic, and 10-15% black and the whites themselves declining in intelligence; in Europe the EU will provide the infrastructure for a Islamic Republic. Yet all these things are entirely preventable. No one is saying if civilization falls through dysgenics then if will never, never arise again, but that’s not the point. Why let if fall? When it does arise it will because of action, which could have been taken much earlier. And if the West does become what I’ve outlined by 2100 then if there is to be an American Renaissance, then it could be much more potentially bloody than it would have been if measures have been undertaken earlier – like in Galton’s life period, in the 1960s when the immigration floodgates opened and the welfare state spread, or now rather than later.

    For those who don’t know, Richard Lynn, author of IQ and the wealth of Nations, had recently written two books on this subject, Dysgenics and Eugnics.

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