Contra Jones, Henderson, Adamson, and Caplan On "High-IQ"

David Henderson is a fan of "Scott Adamson's" critique of Garrett Jones' new book, and he [Henderson] cites Bryan Caplan to buttress the case.

Here's The General Idea

Jones argues that high-IQ societies are more cooperative because high-IQ people, whoever they are, are smart enough to realize that cooperation produces better outcomes than noncooperation. In short, Jones suggests that people don't cooperate because they're nice, but rather because they're smart enough to cooperate - and if they're not smart enough, they don't cooperate (hence IQ).

"Adamson," et al. rejoin that if Jones were correct, then we'd see U.S. presidents "pillage the country," since they have at most eight years to extract as much personal gain as possible. The idea here is that, while it may be generally true that cooperation produces the best results, in certain specific cases, it's more rational to "pillage the country." High-IQ people would certainly understand this, and thus we would see them do this to a greater degree than low-IQ people do.

But Dispositional Analysis Can Only Take Us So Far

I haven't read Hive Mind and thus I only skimmed "Adamson's" review of it. I also hate to sound like a broken record, but here are my thoughts anyway:

All of these analyses are steeped in dispositional psychology - individuals behave a certain way because that's how those individuals behave. Caplan's analysis is a little better because he acknowledges the differences among for-profit, a not-for-profit, and public service environments, i.e. the situation matters.

But to take Situationism seriously, we have to let go of dispositional theories for a minute. We already know that merely telling a child that she is high-IQ produces behavior consistent with a high-IQ child (including improved intellectual achievement) even when the child isn't really high-IQ. The mechanism in this case was - you guessed it - situational factors. We also know that motivation matters more to every criterion in a person's life that matters when determining success than IQ does.

These and other results have been studied and replicated many times by many people. I don't see how the empirical data could be more conclusive. It's not the child, it's the situation. It's not the inherent, inert, genetic personal disposition that counts, it's the circumstantial, dynamic, environmental social situation.

Taken seriously, this means that it's not the "high-IQ" societies that are producing good institutions, it's the good institutions producing high-IQ societies.

This Has Important Implications

It means that removing emigrants from bad political situations will not just improve their wage rates, it will improve their actual economic productivity. Don't take that up with me, take it up with the economic evidence - here's some to chew on: increasing employment in a US state has been found to increase productivity by 0.5% for every 1% employment increase attributable to immigrants.

It means that scientists who believe the developing world can't develop because of their lower IQs have lost the plot: Change the situation in a country, and you change the people.

But it's so difficult to get people to seriously question the concept of IQ in this day and age that true, serious social psychology looks incompatible with economics, even though social psychology has it right on this one.


"Racialists" (think Steve Sailer) often criticize others for not being willing to consider race-based explanations for variations in outcome. When Charles Murray says IQ matters, the "racialists" take that idea and run with it. Then, when others criticize them for being racist, they ask why they shouldn't explore politically incorrect or potentially ideas if they happen to be true.

One criticism I have of the "rationalist community" (of which "Scott Adamson" considers himself a member) is that they, too, take the idea of IQ too seriously.

It's easy to understand why both groups would. The racialists are attracted to the idea that the fearsome outsiders will destroy good society because they are dispositionally inclined to do so. The "rationalist community" is attracted to the idea because that community fancies itself a collection of high-IQ individuals who must surely know how irrational their lessers can be.

Both groups are making the same mistake by refusing to consider the extensive, empirical, replicable, clinical countervailing evidence found in social psychology. There is a mountain of evidence out there attesting to the fact that situations matter. When will all these smart people be intellectually honest enough to take a look?

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