Tag Archives: IQ deficit

More on IQ and immigration: Collins, ParaPundit, LGDL

A while back, I blogged about Lynn and Vanhanen’s book Intelligence in a blog post titled intelligence, international development, and immigration. L&V’s earlier books have been important references in many restrictionist arguments based on the alleged IQ deficit of immigrants, so critiquing L&V’s work is crucial to the immigration debate. My basic thesis was that whereas IQ might be quite important in explaining the creation of technology, sustaining and benefiting from technology is less sensitive to IQ, and low IQ people can benefit from new, improved technologies quite well. I asked Garett Jones, a researcher on the nexus of IQ and economics, to comment on my blog post, and I subsequently published another blog post including his response and my further thoughts.

Since then, I’ve discovered some other writings on the web that touch on this issue. I’ll mention them briefly.

  • Immigration externalities, a blog post by Jason Collins where he lays out the key points of contention between competing hypotheses: the intermediating role of institutions, and the debate about whether it is the high IQ fraction or the low IQ fraction that is more predictive. I recall that some of Heiner Rindemann’s results suggest that the high IQ fraction may be more predictive, but I don’t think anything definitive can be said yet.
  • Benthamite Libertarian Collectivists Wrong On Open Borders, a blog post by Randall Parker (for ParaPundit) that offers a number of standard arguments against immigration, including the welfare objection, cheap labor leading to a technological slowdown, crime, and political externalities. The post also links to many other standard restrictionist IQ-based arguments, so it’s worth a read.
  • Smart Fraction Theory II by La Griffe Du Lion, which posits an explanation for how national IQ differences lead to differences in the trajectories of nations.

Garett Jones responds to my intelligence post

[UPDATE: Check out Nathan’s related post Immigration and Institutions]

In my previous post on intelligence, international development, and immigration, I referenced some of the writings of Garett Jones. I sent an email to Jones asking him for his thoughts on the post, and he replied with the following email:

A very nice, thoughtful post. Thank you for giving my writings a careful reading. Much appreciated.

I’d have one critique of your claim, one that is common to many supporters of freer low-skill immigration.

You claim that institutions are important, something I agree with. And you claim that low IQ populations tend to have bad institutions, partly because of the low IQ population, again something I agree with.

But from there you conclude that low-IQ immigrants should be allowed to come to countries with good institutions. That might be reasonable as a moral case but I’m no expert on morality so I’ll leave that to others.

I would emphasize a different conclusion: That the low-IQ immigrants will tend to worsen the institutions of the higher-IQ countries they move to. Low IQ immigrants will, to some degree, tend to make the country they move to more like the country they came from.

Partly this will be due to MRV and Caplan/Miller reasons: low IQ groups vote for bad policies. Partly it’s because they will tend to elect individuals from their constituencies, which will, on average, tend to lower the average IQ of the legislature. And partly it’s because the bureaucracy will tend to hire individuals from low-skill groups, which will lower government quality.

For these and other reasons, new low IQ citizens impose a tax on the nation’s institutions, and this institutional cost should be counted in a candid cost-benefit analysis.

*Shorter version: Good institutions are rare treasures, and institutions are endogenous with respect to (among other things) citizen IQ. *
Again, many thanks for drawing attention to my work, much appreciated.

I think Jones is correct, particularly for those aspects of institutions that are determined through electoral political processes (for more on the political externalities arguments made by restrictionists, see political externalities). I should have acknowledged more explicitly in my original post. This concern would have less applicability to market processes or to those aspects of the law that are deeply entrenched and less subject to political change. [UPDATE: Nathan Smith’s comment below reminded me that I should mention the following: even for those of you who consider the political externalities case to be serious, there are keyhole solutions to the problem such as guest worker programs that allow people to migrate to work but don’t given them voting rights. The focus of this post, however, is to consider the strength of the concern per se, not to propose remedies.]

I still stand by the key point of the original post, namely, that sustaining high quality institutions is a lot easier than creating high quality institutions, and even low IQ people would be able to discern that institutions in the country they migrate to are better than institutions in the country they migrated from, which would limit (but not eliminate) their desire to recreate the situation of their source country.

To make my point a little clearer, I’m arguing that it’s a lot harder to improve a country’s poor institutions by importing a lot of high IQ people than it is to sustain a country’s good institutions even allowing low IQ immigration (importing the institutions themselves might work — that’s the hope behind charter cities). In a sense, I’m arguing that institutions have their own inertia. This argument can be thought of as a version of status quo bias, and it has been made by Bryan Caplan in his digest version of the political externalities of open borders, where he writes (emphasis added by me):

2. The political effect of immigrants on markets and liberty is at worst modestly negative. The median American isn’t a libertarian, and the median immigrant isn’t a Stalinist. We’re talking about marginal disagreements between social democrats, nothing more. Immigrants’ low voter turnout and status quo bias further dilute immigrants’ negative political effect.

I’m actually arguing something slightly stronger: institutions have their own inertia, but good institutions have more inertia than poor institutions, even with low IQ populations, because people can see the results and tell the difference, at least when it’s sufficiently dramatic. They may misdiagnose the causes, and may even misjudge minor differences. But they’re unlikely to undo all the gains achieved through improved institutions.

In Jones’ language, my framing of his assertions that “institutions are endogenous to (among other things) a country’s IQ” would be that it is changes in institutions that are endogenous to a country’s IQ.

That said, I do agree with Jones that, viewed solely from the angle of the quality of institutions in the target country, immigration of low IQ people could have a negative impact, or, even if not a direct negative impact, an “opportunity cost” (i.e., institutions don’t improve as rapidly as they otherwise might).

Intelligence, international development, and immigration

For background reading on the topic of IQ as an objection to immigration, see IQ deficit.

I recently learned from Arnold Kling’s blog post of a new book by Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen titled Intelligence: A Unifying Construct for the Social Sciences (buy here). The book is an extension of earlier work by Lynn and Vanhanen, including IQ and the Wealth of Nations (Wikipedia page).

In IQ and the Wealth of Nations Lynn and Vanhanen introduce the concept of “national IQ” — the average IQ of a nation — and then attempt to demonstrate that national IQ is correlated with a number of measures of national per capita wealth. They then try to argue that at least part of the correlation is causal from IQ to per capita wealth. Controlling for IQ, they find that the extent to which an economy is a free market economy is the best predictor of national wealth. Roughly, they contend that national IQs explain about 1/3 of the variation in national wealth, market orientation explains another 1/3 of the variation, and the remaining 1/3 is explained by a host of other factors (which they don’t attempt to enumerate in full).

In Intelligence, Lynn and Vanhanen extend the analysis beyond wealth to various other measures of well being including health measures, water access, democratization, crime, and happiness. They argue that IQ can explain a significant portion of each of these (though in some cases it is not as significant) and conventional explanations such as market orientation and specific historical events can account for some of the residual. Their overall thesis is that intelligence should be treated as a unifying construct and explanatory variable across a wide range of social sciences, akin to the way that concepts from physics have explanatory power across all domains of the natural sciences.

While L&V’s thesis is new, I think that they make reasonable arguments and attempt to address all the prima facie objections one may have. How well they succeed, and whether their thesis withstands further empirical assault, is not something I feel confident to comment upon. However, I think that L&V sometimes draw the wrong conclusions from their data on the rare occasions that they try to discuss the implications for international development.

Although I don’t have any credentials in this area, I’ve relied, in addition to L&V, on the research of Garett Jones, who largely agrees with the L&V framework but tries to dig deeper into the mechanisms by which IQ might play a causal role in creating wealth. While the synthesis I present is largely my own, it relies on Jones’ work to quite an extent.

Also note: my critique of some of the conclusions that L&V (and others) draw from their work presupposes, for simplicity’s sake, that L&V’s overall framework is correct. Even if it isn’t, and IQ is not as powerful an explanatory variable as claimed, my arguments may still work in a modified sense (replacing IQ by whatever X factor is driving national differences).

National IQs versus individual IQs

Jones, L&V, and many other students of national IQs have argued that there is a relationship between national IQ and economic measures, and that this relationship is logarithmic: a one point increase in national IQ leads to a fixed proportional increase in productivity, hence also in per capita GDP and other measures. However, one of the remarkable findings is that the effects at the national level are much more salient than the effects at the individual level. Continue reading “Intelligence, international development, and immigration” »