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Is the Smart Fraction as Valuable as Previously Thought?
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Some years ago Heiner Rindermann and I hacked through a thicket of confounding correlations to argue that the brightest 5% of the population made a disproportionate contribution to national economies, indeed to national societies. The bottom 5% were associated with far less favourable outcomes. Rindermann made a new contribution to smart fraction theory by looking at the average IQ of the top 5% of the population (rather than the associated variable of how many were above the IQ cut-off) and using that in his analyses. Our headline finding was that each point of national average IQ raised GDP per capita by $229, but every extra IQ point for the brightest 5% raised GDP by $468.

So it is with some trepidation that I see a gang of Malaysians led by Nik Burhan piling in with their own work, employing standard models that consist of important control variables to measure how IQ affects well established determinants of technological achievement and national income.

Nik Ahmad, Sufian Burhan, Mohd Rosli Mohamad, Yohan Kurniawan, Abdul Halim Sidek The impact of low, average, and high IQ on economic growth and technological progress: Do all individuals contribute equally? Intelligence. Vol 46, in progress.

Have Heiner and I been out-modelled? To create a simulacrum of dramatic tension, I include a photo showing us debating our relative positions on the Greenwich meridian.

Rindermann at Greenwich

So, what have this gang come up with?

Consistent with the intellectual class theory advocated by Rindermann and Thompson (2011) and Rindermann et al. (2009), our research findings showed strong evidence that those people that have high IQ are the most relevant influence on economic development. Although our results suggested that all three examined IQ categories promote higher economic growth, the intellectual class has the highest impact followed by the mean ability and non-intellectual classifications. Similarly, the intellectual class also has a highly significant effect on generating technological progress, whereas the influence of the other two groups is immaterial.

Phew, that’s alright then. They add:

IQ in this study is represented by cognitive skills, in which the rise in the IQ level brings about more efficiencies, thus potentially producing a higher productivity with the same amount of resources (i.e., doing more with less). This justifies our finding that all three IQ classes have a significantly positive effect on economic growth, suggesting that the intelligence level is a fundamental component of all economic
activities, embracing both the high- and low-skilled labor forces, with the high-skilled labors having the largest impact on productivity.

In fact Heiner and I had always said that very bright individuals need other less bright individuals for their ideas to flourish. Some of Heiner’s papers are shown below, with links to our papers on Smart Fractions and on Cognitive Capitalism.

Rindermann, H. (2007). The g-factor of international cognitive ability comparisons: The homogeneity of results in PISA, TIMSS, PIRLS and IQtests across nations. European Journal of Personality, 21, 667–706.
Rindermann, H. (2012). Intellectual classes, technological progress and economic development: The rise of cognitive capitalism. Personality and Individual Differences, 53, 108–113.
Rindermann, H., Sailer, S., & Thompson, J. (2009). The impact of smart fractions, cognitive ability of politicians and average competence of peoples on social development. Talent Development & Excellence, 1, 3–25.

Rindermann, H., & Thompson, J. (2011). Cognitive capitalism: The effect of cognitive ability on wealth, as mediated through scientific achievement and economic freedom. Psychological Science, 22, 754–763.

As to policy implications, just take your pick, and do what you like. The brightest contribute most. They need other other bright helpers, and so on down. Speaking of his blindness, Milton sadly but piously observed: They also serve who only stand and wait.

(Republished from Psychological Comments by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Science 
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  1. Thanks.

    By the way, the S. Sailer in "Rindermann, H., Sailer, S., & Thompson, J. (2009)" isn't me. I thought it was actually Michael Sailer of Institute of Psychology, Karl-Franzens-University Graz, Universitaetsplatz 2, A-8010 Graz, Austria, who should be "M. Sailer."

    • Replies: @James Thompson
  2. Would I be correct in my belief that the Smart Fraction idea originated with the pseudonymous La Griffe du Lion?

    My guess would be that the smart fraction has very different functions in different nations and at different times in history. It is only in rare and specific circumstances that the smart fraction includes creative geniuses and primary originators.

    Mostly the smart fraction are 'merely' able to understand, learn, implement, maintain, repair other people's ideas – or some of them.

    Sometimes the smart fraction of a population cannot even do this, but 'merely learn (and memorize) protocols and routines.

  3. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    This is very important research that the economics community need to be aware of, but sadly won't show any interest in, I suspect. A very important question for the UK, and for other countries including the Eurozone, is whether migration inflows and outflows over the past decade or so have resulted in a net "brain drain", with a net reduction in the number of citizens of high IQ and hence a potential loss in wealth creation and GDP growth. In other words, can this partly explain the observed collapse in GDP growth throughout the developed world since 2007. Or was the financial crisis solely to blame?

  4. Unless Nik Ahmad, Sufian Burhan is one name, I think you conflated them.

    • Replies: @James Thompson
    , @Anonymous
  5. @Steve Sailer

    Thanks Steve. My error. Michael Sailer. However, isn't time your wrote your own paper? Look back at your many posts, choose one, and then lets get some co-authors to give a hand.

  6. @Bruce Charlton

    Thanks Bruce. Yes, from La Griffe du Lion. The smart fraction at 5% is pretty broad in ability, so it does not necessarily contain the peaks of human genius, depending on which population it is drawn from. Sometimes it may be just protocols, or guarding an ancient flame of learning, but if drawn from brighter populations has a disproportionately powerful effect.

  7. @The fourth doorman of the apocalypse

    Nik Ahmad Sufian Burhan appears to be one person, with one email address, and I will see whether he answers his email tomorrow.

  8. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:
    @The fourth doorman of the apocalypse

    Dear Sir, Nik Ahmad Sufian Burhan is the full name of the main author. His given name is Nik Ahmad Sufian and his father's name (a.k.a last name) is Burhan. Therefore his full name is Nik Ahmad Sufian Burhan, Normally Malays in Malaysia do not have any specific family name. Thank you

  9. Dear Dr James Thompson,

    Thank you very much. This paper drawn its first inspiration from your studies i.e., Rindermann, Sailer, and Thompson (2009) and Rindermann and Thompson (2011). We employed standard growth models to confirm your intellectual class hypothesis. All social classes of IQ were found significant on economic growth, with the 95th percentile IQ has the highest impact, then followed by the 50th and 5th percentile groups, respectively.

    However, in achieving the highest level of technological progress it requires only the role of intellectual class i.e. 95th percentile IQ group. Controlling for other factors (total GDP, number of professional RESEARCHERs engaged in R&D, and population size) we found that 50th and 5th groups were non-significant predictors of technological progress. Moreover, the 95th IQ has entirely eliminated the significance of RESEARCHER. Yet, still the RESEARCHER is a better predictor than does the 5th percentile IQ group.

    • Replies: @JayMan
  10. @Anonymous

    The globalization and "brain drain" are irreversible phenomena. Migration of labors will specialize this world into two main regions i.e. low and high skill economies. This phenomenon could be partially explained by the Kremer's O-ring theory of skill-complementarities. This is, i think, will persistently STRENGTHEN the impact of IQ on economic growth at cross-national level, but at the cost of increasing global income inequality.

  11. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Long since, it has been debated whether life-satisfaction/happiness is associated with income. In contrast, the following paper may be useful and intriguing:

    Burhan, N. A. S., Mohamad, M. R., Kurniawan, Y., & Sidek, A. H. (2014). National intelligence, basic human needs, and their effect on economic growth. Intelligence, 44, 103-111.

    That paper found that life satisfaction was significantly negative in moderating the effect of national IQ on economic growth. Increased life satisfaction reduces desire for better performance, thereby diminishing the effect of IQ on economic growth.

  12. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:
    @Bruce Charlton

    The time has come for the pseudonymous La Griffe du Lion to rise up and reveal himself.

  13. @Bruce Charlton

    Interesting advice from someone called Anonymous. Could you please let me know which Anonymous you are? A code name would help

  14. @Anonymous

    Rindermann has a paper on this, based on a reanalysis of available data. Europe has experience a brain drain.

  15. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    All nations have their smart fractions. Even Subsaharan nations. The most important is organize the society to do smart fraction ocupy their leadership place and not dictators.


  16. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Thank you, James. Can you post a link to his paper please?

  17. @Anonymous

    Yep, so called the decay of civilisation as advocated Arnold J Toynbee. He argues that the breakdown of civilizations is not caused by loss of control over the physical environment, over the human environment, or by attacks from outside. Rather, it comes from the deterioration of the "Creative Minority," which eventually ceases to be creative and degenerates into merely a "Dominant Minority" (who forces the majority to obey without meriting obedience). He argues that creative minorities deteriorate due to a worship of their "former self," by which they become prideful, and fail adequately to address the next challenge they face.

  18. @Anonymous

    Sorry, we are still writing it, so will let you know how it fares in the hands of reviewers.

  19. @Anonymous

    Hey, good to see Toynbee getting a mention! Many thanks for your comment.

  20. J says: • Website

    Mr Nik's observation that "globalization and "brain drain" are irreversible" is sheer nonsense. There is nothing permanent in trade flows, and "brains" move around all the time. Recent example: Emigration of Jews from Ukraine. Emigration of middle class Venezuelans to Miami.

    How do you imagine the world divided into two main regions i.e. low and high skill economies? Say, Japan and Finland and Israel in one region, and Afghanistan and Equatorial Guinea in the other region? Or are these imaginary – not geographic – regions?

    • Replies: @Anonymous
  21. Grey says: • Website

    Although I accept the general point, an army with smart officers, smart NCOs and average soldiers will run rings round an army with smart officers, average NCOs and dumb soldiers and has done many times.

    In a competition between two populations, a 5% who think they are all that is required and are not concerned about the average of the other 95% will lose to a 5% who work to maintain a high average among the other 95%.


  22. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    It is not an easy option to globalize your country. Because once you are fully globalized in a complementary global network then it's getting much more difficult to 'deglobalize' yourselves from others, thus 'irreversible'.

    The two main regions i.e. low and high skill economies are imaginary regions. This occurs even within a country such as China, e.g. Shanghai/Hong Kong with high technology versus poorer regions in China, let's say, Yunnan.

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