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My recent post on demographic myths unleashed a lively discussion on the issue of race and IQ in the comments section. I’m not too interested in wading into it: not out of any misplaced respect for political correctness, of course, but simply because though I think there are good arguments for both sides, it misses the largest issue. On the one hand, that there exist differences in measured IQ between races in the US and between nations is beyond dispute, and there is strong evidence to suggest that IQ is a strongly hereditary trait. On the other hand, one must also keep in mind that culture plays an indelible role on the formation and very definition of IQ. One striking demonstration of this is a “similarities test” administered by Michael Cole on members of the Kpelle tribe in Liberia, in which they were asked to group objects into categories such as food, tools, etc. They chose functional pairings – e.g. knife and potato, because a knife could not not cut a spoon – because a “Wise man could do such-and-such”. It was only when the researchers asked “How would a fool do it” that the tribesmen rearranged the items into their “correct” categories. So can the Kpelle really be called dumb? Isn’t their form of intelligence, though demented in the eyes of industrial man, actually eminently suited for their natural environment?

However, once upon a time, European peoples too had this psychology. Throughout the world the illiterate peasant tended to be dull, uninquisitive, childlike. (In stark contrast to the slick, lettered, cosmopolitan city-dweller). For instance, in an earlier post I mentioned the article Reconsidering Weber: Literacy and the Spirit of Capitalism by Russian sociologist Andrey Korotayev.

Literacy does not simply facilitate the process of perceiving innovation by an individual. It also changes her or his cognition to a certain extent. [A study by Soviet psychologists on Central Asians during the 1930's] shows that education has a fundamental effect on the formation of cognitive processes (perception, memory, cognition). The researchers found out that illiterate respondents, unlike literate ones, preferred concrete names for colors to abstract ones, and situative groupings of items to categorical ones (note that abstract thinking is based on category cognition). Furthermore, illiterate respondents could not solve syllogistic problems like the following one – “Precious metals do not get rust. Gold is a precious metal. Can gold get rust or not?”. These syllogistic problems did not make any sense to illiterate respondents because they were out of the sphere of their practical experience. Literate respondents who had at least minimal formal education solved the suggested syllogistic problems easily (Luria 1974, 1976, 1982: 47–69).

Therefore, literate workers, soldiers, inventors and so on turn out to be more effective than illiterate ones not only due to their ability to read instructions, manuals, and textbooks, but also because of the developed skills of abstract thinking…

So, 1970′s Kpelle = 1930′s Central Asians? Now fast forward to today. Many Central Asians are Turkic, and their level of social development – if not economic development (due to an adverse geography and a socialist legacy) – is similar to Turkey’s. The Turks are estimated to have a national IQ of 85-90; not retarded, but substantially less intelligent than average Europeans and East Asians. For instance, the IQ of the US is estimated to be around 10 points higher. But if American children during the 1930′s had taken the IQ tests of the 1990′s, it is estimated they’d have performed about 20-25 points lower (that’s like today’s India or Brazil, or 10 points lower than Turks)! This is explained by the rapid secular rise in intelligence during the past century called the Flynn Effect.

iq-world-map

[Map of world IQ (Richard Lynn & Tatu Vanhanen, 2002). Click to enlarge.]

Such an increase is beyond the power of genetics. According to Flynn – and I find this to be convincing – his effect can be ascribed to the environmental changes produced by modernization and the industrial system. He cites the following example: in response to the question “What do a dog and a rabbit have in common?”, whereas a modern respondent would say they are both mammals (abstract answer), someone from a century ago might say that one would catch rabbits with dogs (a concrete or functional answer). It would appear that it’s not so much general IQ that has improved – though probably it did too thanks to better nutrition – but the specialized IQ (abstract, categorizing) that is needed to sustain an industrial system.

But I’d prefer to imagine it in the following way. Think of the brain as hardware. Just as human races* possess various skin colors and physiologies that have evolved over eons in their environments, so it is likely that there appeared subtle racial variations in the genetic component of intelligence. To take a (very idealized) example, it would seem intuitive that someone descended from “hunters” would have a predilection for motor skills (to chuck spears at prey), while someone whose distant ancestors were “gatherers” would be relatively more adept at pattern recognition (to notice berries and be able to tell which are poisonous and which are not).

Nonetheless, three factors would mitigate these differences. First, the human species is very mixed and interbred; apart from small groups that spent a long time in isolation (such as the Tasmanian aborigines), inter-racial distinctions are unlikely to be very sharp. Second, the brain’s hardware works much more effectively if properly maintained; to that end, improvements in nutrition would have the effect of raising IQ levels, especially from the lower end of the scale (as indeed happened in the US during the 20th century). Third, and most importantly, the actual software of intelligence – the intangible of culture and memetics, which is a product of an (ever-changing) environment – has been evolving far, far faster than the hardware. Whatever their racial differences, a Gaelic office worker has far more in common with an ethnic !Kung physicist living in Ireland (mentally, psychologically) than with his own ancestors of a mere century ago.

Peasants and hunter-gatherers may not have much skill in abstract thinking, but they do tend to be intimately aware of the world around them and cognizant of things that will help them get food on the table or cure a sickness. Today’s Arabs in the Middle East may score low on IQ tests and have the lowest literacy rates outside sub-Saharan Africa – even bin Laden complained that more books are translated into Spanish every year than have ever been translated into Arabic! – but many of them are phenomenal mentats who can recite the Koran from cover to cover (if not necessarily actually read the script!). Very impressive, but not that useful for building an industrial base, let alone an innovation economy. As for the typical Westerner, unlike a few decades ago – or unlike today’s Russians, for that matter, who still memorize Pushkin and Lermontov by heart at school – he or she can’t recite a single classical poem. But Westerners are unparalleled at creating and inventing new products and services in the unfolding Information Age…

Why have some human societies been much more successful at industrializing and modernizing than others? The roots are unlikely to be racial differences in IQ. The work of people like David Landes or Jared Diamond explains this better…

Furthermore, the link between modernization and IQ is not one way. The main determinant of long-term economic growth is a country’s human capital (see 1, 2, 3), which for the most part consists of the educational attainment of its population, which in turn is strongly correlated with its level of national IQ**.

 education-capital

[In my old post Education as the Elixir of Growth, I worked out a Human Capital Index for a range of countries - based on things such as literacy, international standardized test scores (which are closely correlated with national IQ) and tertiary enrollment - and plotted them against their levels of GDP per capita. Red dots are countries with a socialist legacy and are below the level they are expected to be at; green dots are countries propelled into being upper outliers by virtue of resource windfalls, such as Saudi Arabia. Cyan dots are all other outliers. Click to enlarge.]

education-growth

[Countries are marked by GDP / capita growth rates from 1997 to 2007. The colors go as follows: white (1.0-1.9%); yellow (2.0-2.9%); orange (3.0-3.9%); red (4.0-5.9%); dark red (6.0%-7.9%) and black (8.0%-14.9%). GDP per capita figures (on the y-axis) are for 1997 – this is because what we are interested in is the influence of education levels on future growth, which we know for the period from 1997 up until today. Unfortunately, educational stats for 1997 are much less comprehensive (PISA and TIMMS embraced much fewer countries then), plus it would take a lot of time digging them up – hence I made a rough assumption that they were the same as for 2007 (which is fairly accurate - it is impossible to radically change a country's human capital profile within the space of a single decade). Note how almost all the fastest-growing countries were well below the logical level dictated by their human capital potential. Click to enlarge.]

This, incidentally, explains my fundamental optimism about the long-term prospects of China and Russia (1, 2) – and my pessimism on India and Brazil. (Amongst the Economist-reading class which thinks liberal democracy is a panacea the impression tends to be the inverse). In summary:

  • China is the biggest creditor and set to become the world’s biggest manufacturer in 2011; though its level of tertiary attainment is still low, it has good basic education and a high national IQ. Russia has superb human capital, energy windfall and fiscal firepower. Similar things can be said for most of the rest of Eastern Europe, East Asia and Eurasia.
  • Many Indians remain functionally illiterate; though Brazil has progressed further, international standardized tests confirm its woeful educational standards. Similar things can be said about most of the rest of Latin America, South Asia, the Middle East and Africa. These regions are unlikely to converge to developed levels anytime soon.
  • In the West itself, the Flynn Effect has stalled and may even have gone into slow retreat – in any case, human capital development is no longer a driver of growth. Meanwhile, it faces many challenges, such as fiscal (un)sustainability and aging populations. It will remain near the theoretical upper boundaries of development, but these boundaries are likely to start contracting in the years ahead under the pressures of energy depletion.

None of this is due to the fact that Estonians or Chinese are “superior” to Indians or Germans. These are deep structural factors we’re talking about. Quite simply, unlike Mexicans, the former have the type of culture, education, IQ (call it what you will) that will enable them to sustain a developed techno-industrial base. According to the results of the PISA 2006 standardized tests in science, only 15% of Brazilians, 11% of Indonesians, 18% of Mexicans and 22% of Turks possessed skills beyond those needed for purely linear problem-solving, in contrast to 40% of Israelis, 48% of Russians, 51% of Americans, and 68% of Koreans. In other words, the latter nations have about 2-5x as many cadres capable of moving into hi-tech and high added-value manufacturing or services as the former. Is it really a logical leap then to consider their long-term development prospects that much brighter?

Likewise, the reason that Russians and Chinese will gain on Germans and Americans is also simple – the former have the capacity to absorb modern productivity-enhancing technologies, whereas the latter are already developed. This is just catch-up growth. Interestingly, I suspect that their catch-up will be very rapid in historical perspective due to 1) the economic waning of the Western world due to unsustainable fiscal policies, debt and rising costs of energy inputs and 2) the unprecedented ease of technology transfer (and theft!) bequeathed by the Internet.

In the near future, there will appear definite limits to further growth of the global techno-industrial base. Consequently, in a globalized world in which capital resources flow to where they can produce the greatest returns, we can expect nations like China to expand their share of global manufacturing to levels commensurate with their skilled industrial workforces. In fact, this seems to have been the case in the oil shock-induced crisis of 2008-2009: for instance, whereas global vehicle production fell by 14%, it expanded by a blistering 48% (!) in China, which now accounts for nearly a quarter of world output.

* Yes, I realize some scientists deny race and prefer to talk of genotypes, phenotypes and clines. For the sake of clarity, I’ll use the term “race” with the understanding that it is highly qualified.

** See my first post Education as the Elixir of Growth for the original argument. I didn’t bother connecting education with national IQ there, though I was familiar with their close relation, because I didn’t want to incite controversy. (Now I realize that’s a bad idea for a popular blogger!). In the last comment Steve Sailer made the connection explicit.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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A while ago I wrote Education as the Elixir of Growth on DR, in which I noted that in most countries the educational profile is closely correlated to their level of productivity. The major exceptions are nations with resource windfalls (inflated productivity) and socialist legacies (deflated productivity). Furthermore, the greater the gap between the ‘potential productivity’, as suggested by the human capital level, and actual productivity, the greater will be the rate of economic convergence. This rate in turn depends on the openness of an economy (i.e. the rate at which it can absorb the latest know-how). Some countries, however, cannot converge to advanced industrial levels, since their human capital is set at a low level – they have reached an asymptote relative to the developed world and cannot converge without improving their educational profiles relative to the latter.

I have come across this article by Russian sociologist Andrei Korotayev, Reconsidering Weber: Literacy and the Spirit of Capitalism, which places the above into a long-term historical perspective. I will quote in extenso:

As has been mentioned earlier, human capital development has been suggested as one of the most important factors of economic growth, whereas education is considered to be one of the most important components of human capital (see, e.g., Schultz 1963, Denison 1962, Lucas 1988, Scholing and Timmermann 1988 etc.)…

In the 20th century mass literacy spread around the globe, and nowadays differences in literacy levels between different countries tend to disappear. At the same time, according to our hypothesis, the differences in economic developments of various countries are rooted in the period of the beginning of modernization era. Therefore, it seems reasonable to explore the connection between such indicators as GDP per capita at present and the literacy level in the early 19th century.

The data in Table 6.1 show that the level of economic wealth in the early 19th century in various regions did not differ greatly enough to be considered the leading factor of economic differentiation between the regions later on.

Diagram 6.1 shows that there is a strong and definitely significant linear correlation between the literacy rate in 1800 and GDP per capita at present. R2 coefficient indicates that this correlation explains 86% of the entire data dispersion.

Therefore, the hypothesis that the spread of literacy was one of the major factors of modern economic growth gains additional support. On the one hand, literate populations have many more opportunities to obtain and utilize the achievements of modernization than illiterate ones. On the other hand, literate people could be characterized by a greater innovative-activity level, which provides opportunities for modernization, development, and economic growth.

Literacy does not simply facilitate the process of perceiving innovation by an individual. It also changes her or his cognition to a certain extent. This problem was studied by Luria, Vygotsky, and Shemiakin, the famous Soviet psychologists, on the basis of the results of their fieldwork in Central Asia in the 1930s. Their study shows that education has a fundamental effect on the formation of cognitive processes (perception, memory, cognition). The researchers found out that illiterate respondents, unlike literate ones, preferred concrete names for colors to abstract ones, and situative groupings of items to categorical ones (note that abstract thinking is based on category cognition). Furthermore, illiterate respondents could not solve syllogistic problems like the following one – “Precious metals do not get rust. Gold is a precious metal. Can gold get rust or not?”. These syllogistic problems did not make any sense to illiterate respondents because they were out of the sphere of their practical experience. Literate respondents who had at least minimal formal education solved the suggested syllogistic problems easily (Luria 1974, 1976, 1982: 47–69).

Therefore, literate workers, soldiers, inventors and so on turn out to be more effective than illiterate ones not only due to their ability to read instructions, manuals, and textbooks, but also because of the developed skills of abstract thinking. Some additional support for this could be found in Weber’s book itself:

“The type of backward traditional form of labor is today very often exemplified by women workers, especially unmarried ones. An almost universal complaint of employers of girls, for instance German girls, is that they are almost entirely unable and unwilling to give up methods of work inherited or once learned in favor of more efficient ones, to adapt themselves to new methods, to learn and to concentrate their intelligence, or even to use it at all. Explanations of the possibility of making work easier, above all more profitable to themselves, generally encounter a complete lack of understanding. Increases of piece rates are without avail against the stone wall of habit. In general it is otherwise, and that is a point of no little importance from our view-point, only with girls having a specifically religious, especially a Pietistic, background” (Weber 1972: 75−6).

We believe that the above mentioned features of the behavior of German female workers in the late 19th−early 20th centuries simply reflects a relatively low educational level of German women from labor circles at that time. The spread of female literacy in Germany, as elsewhere, lagged behind that of male literacy (see Chapter 7). In the early 20th century the majority of women could write and read only in the most developed parts of Germany (Meliantsev 1996). More rational behavior of German workers from Pietistic circles could be easily explained by the special role of education in the lives of Protestants.

The ability to read was essential for Protestants (unlike Catholics) to perform their religious duty − to read the Bible. The reading of Holy Scripture was not just unnecessary for Catholic laymen, for a long time it was even prohibited for them. The edict of the Toulouse Synod (1229) prohibited the Catholic laymen from possessing copies of the Bible. Soon after that, a decision by the Tarragon Synod spread this
prohibition to ecclesiastic people as well. In 1408, the Oxford Synod absolutely prohibited translations of the Holy Scripture. From the very beginning, Protestant groups did not accept this prohibition. Thus, Luther translated in 1522–1534 first the New Testament, and then the Old Testament, into German, so that any German-speaking person could read the Holy Scripture in his or her native language. Moreover, the Protestants viewed reading the Holy Scripture as a religious duty of any Christian. As a result, the level of literacy and education was, in general, higher for Protestants not only than it was for Catholics and for followers of other confessions that did not provide religious stimuli for learning literacy (see, for example: Malherbe 1997: 139–57).

In our opinion, this could explain to a considerable extent the differences between economic performance of the Protestants and the Catholics in the late 19th − early 20th centuries in Europe noticed by Weber. One of Weber’s research goals was to show that religion can have independent influence on economic processes. The results of our study support this point. Indeed, spiritual leaders of Protestantism persuaded their followers to read the Bible not to support the economic growth but for religious reasons, which were formulated as a result of ideological processes that were rat
her independent of economic life. We do not question that specific features of Protestant ethics could have facilitated economic development. However, we believe that we found another (and probably more powerful) channel of Protestantism’s influence on the economic growth of the Western countries.

Literacy is a means of sharing information. Someone knowledgeable writes something (or not – but on average they will be more knowledgeable than the average reader on their subject, and in neural networks, that’s what matters), you read it and become more efficient at something, more productive. (It is not the only – another example would be speech, albeit the latter is much less intense and preservable.)

Looking back, the means of sharing ever larger amounts of information have been growing at a doubly exponential pace. Speech evolved a few tens of thousands of years ago. The first cuneiform tablets appeared in Mesopotamia a few thousands of years ago, and writing migrated to paper within that timeframe. The printing press appeared a few hundred years ago, first fitfully in China, then in Europe with gusto. The seeds of the Computer Age were sown in the past decades, and have since metamorphed into the information highway. Within several decades Singularitarians predict the occurence of such paradign shifts every few years, then months, then days, then seconds, unto and beyond the event horizon of our current world consciousness. Our universal history has been characterized by this one meta-narrative, of technological progress which proceeds at a doubly exponential pace, and of which the means of sharing information is a subset. (For the theory behind this observation, take a look at Korotayev’s Introduction: Millennial Trends).

And to peer into the future you need this kind of universal perspective. For even as in the decades ahead civilization’s material base is constrained and undermined by the limits to growth (resource depletion, catastrophic climate change, overpopulation), the electronic web will embrace the world ever tighter and ascent above it and float, lighter than air, even as the forests below wither away to reveal the desert of the real.

I am of the opinion that just as industrial take-off appeared first in the most highly literate countries and explains current international wealth disparities, so the key transformatory technologies of this century (nanotechnology, strong AI, etc) will be best utilized by those countries with the highest proportions of connected agents, netizens (as measured by Internet penetration, share of Top 500 supercomputers, spending on nanotechnology, etc). Even as the populations of these advanced regions gradually transcend, laggards will be stuck for a time in the (rapidly degrading) material world, just as in the nineteenth century the rest languished as the West made the world its oyster.

However, literati must precede digerati. The most networked countries also tend to be those which are best educated, like South Korea, Finland, Taiwan and the Netherlands. And in general education gives very good returns on investment. As such, in the name of egalitarianism and development, the flow of information must be made as free as possible so that as great a percentage of the world’s population could partake of the economic and spiritual benefits of the Singularity, as soon as possible. The maximum rate of catch-up of follower countries (developing) relative to leader countries (developed) in the nineteenth century was 1-2%; today, with improvements in transport and communications, it’s closer to 10% (see China). Imagine what it could be with the phenomenal bandwidths we’ll see in the decades to come! Unlike with the Industrial Revolution, or the Agricultural, this paradigm shift could in principle be a collective, universal human experience.

1. Abolish intellectual property. The main argument is that it won’t reward creators. I disagree. IP rights are a relatively recent Western development and great works of art and scientific progress has occured before the term was invented. Truly genuine artists and scientists do it out of altruism (a few) or a desire for recognition (the many), to satisfy their thymos, and monetary benefits are not the key factor.

2. Free information. The world’s libraries, universities and think-tanks should fling open the doors to their ivory towers, at least in the electronic world. People should be able to access the contents of courses on any subject, take the exams in them any time they want and following verification, get their degrees.

3. Universities should enter the modern world. For supposed bastions of enlightenment, universities are remarkably backwards today. In some people are expected to go to lectures and have qualified professors waste their time reading out elementary concepts in some subject or another to freshmen, when they could do it once, record it and post webcasts, and have students view it at their leisure, anywhere. They also tend to have Kafkaesque bureaucracies. Admittedly, at least on some fronts (access to course contents), trends are moving in a positive direction – but it is happening far too slowly.

4. Encourage denser networking and informatization in as many spheres as possible. Because crowds tend to be wiser than individuals and bio-metric data is more reliable and easier to procure (it’s always on you, duh!) than paper ID’s.

5. Encourage a culture of enlightenment. The state should do its utmost to ensure society respects intellectual culture instead of dissing it and invest the greatest resources into it, seeing as how it is the basis of long-term productivity growth and on a larger scale universal history itself. Shift the masses from materialistic concerns (mass consumerism) to a green civilization based on broad participation in scientific research and artistic endevours. Suppress factors that go against this culture (religion that tries to interfere in social and political life would be a prime target).

The countries that follow the above prescriptions and have the best pre-requisites (a solid educational profile – literacy, PISA scores, tertiary enrolment, etc – and a densely networked citizenry) will be at the forefront of those who will experience information takeoff – the new ‘leader’ countries, like as Britannia of industrial yore.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.