Sunday, July 29, 2012

What are the Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty

Lots of people would like to know the answer to that and many answers have been proposed.  Daron Acemoglu dismisses the most popular explanations and proposes a contrast between societies run on extractive and inclusive lines.  He says that societies are usually  run on extractive lines but it is the inclusive societies that are the runaway successes.  Below are his illustrative case-studies.  I am not  persuaded but will add my doubts at the foot of the extract below:


There is no better laboratory that demonstrates how extractive institutions emerge and persist than the New World. The Americas provide a brilliant example for understanding how different institutions form, how they become supported within different political frameworks, and how that, in turn, leads to huge economic divergences.

The economic and political institutions in the New World have been largely shaped by their colonization experience starting at the beginning of the 16th century. While the tales of Francisco Pizarro and Hernán Cortés are quite familiar, I'd like to start with Juan Díaz de Solís — a Spaniard who in 1516 initiated the colonization of the southern cone of South America, in what is today Argentina and Uruguay. Under de Solís's leadership, three ships and a crew of 70 men founded the city of Buenos Aires, meaning "good airs." Argentina and Uruguay have very fertile lands, with a climate that would later become the basis of nearly a century of very high income per capita because of the productivity of these areas.

The colonization of these areas itself, however, was a total failure — and the reason was that the Spaniards arrived with a given model of colonization. This model was to find gold and silver and, perhaps most importantly, to capture and enslave the Indians so that they could work for them. Unfortunately, from the colonists' point of view, the native populations of the area, known as the Charrúas and the Querandí, consisted of small bands of mobile huntergatherers.

Their sparse population density made it difficult for the Spaniards to capture them. They also did not have an established hierarchy, which made it difficult to coerce them into working. Instead, the Indians fought back — capturing de Solís and clubbing him to death before he could make it into the history books as one of the famous conquistadors. For those that remained, there were not enough Indians to act as workhorses, and one by one the Spaniards began to die as starvation set in.

The rest of the crew moved up the perimeter to what is now known as Asunción, Paraguay. There the conquistadors encountered another band of Indians, who on the surface looked similar to the Charrúas and the Querandí. The Guaraní, however, were a little different. They were more densely settled and already sedentary. They had also established a hierarchical society with an elite class of princes and princesses, while the rest of the population worked for the benefit of the elite.

The conquistadors immediately took over this hierarchy, setting themselves up as the elite. Some of them married the princesses. They put the Guaraní to work producing food, and ultimately the remainder of de Solís's original crew led a successful colonization effort that survived for many centuries to come.

The institutions established among the Guaraní were the same types of institutions that were established throughout other parts of Latin America: forced labor institutions with land grants for the elite Spaniards. The Indians were forced to work for whatever wages the elites would pay them. They were under constant coercive pressure — forced not only to work but also to buy what the elites offered up for sale. It is no surprise that these economic institutions did not promote economic growth. Yet it's also no surprise that the political institutions underpinning this system persisted — establishing and continuously recreating a ruling class of elites that did not encourage economic development in Latin America.

Yet, the question still remains: Could it have been geography, culture, or enlightened leadership — rather than institutional factors — that played a critical role in the distinct fates of the two teams of explorers?


Roughly a thousand miles north, at the beginning of the 17th century, the model of the Virginia Company — made up of the elite captains and aristocrats who were sent to North America — was actually remarkably similar to the model of the conquistadors. The Virginia Company also wanted gold. They also thought that they would be able to capture the Indians and put them to work. But unfortunately for them, the situation they encountered was also quite similar to what the conquistadors witnessed in Argentina and Uruguay.

The joint stock companies found a sparsely populated, very mobile band of Indians who were, once again, unwilling to work in order to provide food for the settlers. The settlers therefore went through a period of starvation. However, while the Spaniards had the option of moving up north, the captains of the Virginia Company did not have this option. No such civilization existed.

They therefore came up with a second strategy. Without the ability to enslave the Indians and put them to work, they decided to import their own lower strata of society, which they brought to the New World under a system of indentured servitude. To give you a sense of this, let me quote directly from the laws of the Jamestown colony, promulgated by the governor Sir Thomas Gates and his deputy Sir Thomas Dale:

No man or woman shall run away from the colony to the Indians upon pain of death. Anyone who robs a garden, public or private or a vineyard or who steals ears of corn shall be punished with death. No member of the colony will sell or give any commodity of this country to a captain, mariner, master, or sailor to transport out of the colony or for his own private use upon pain of death.
Two things become immediately apparent in reading these laws. First, contrary to the image that English colonies sometimes garner, the Jamestown colony that the Virginia Company was chartered to establish was not a happy, consensual place. Pretty much anything the settlers could do would be punished by death. Second, the company encountered real problems that were cause for concern — namely, that it was extraordinarily difficult to prevent the settlers they brought to form the lower strata of society from running away or engaging in outside trade. The Virginia Company therefore fought to enforce this system for a few more years, but in the end they decided that there was no practical way to inject this lower stratum into their society.

Finally, they devised a third strategy — a very radical one in which the only option left was to offer economic incentives to the settlers. This led to what is known as the headright system, which was established in Jamestown in 1618. In essence, each settler was given a legal grant of land, which they were then required to work in exchange for secure property rights to that plot. But there was still one problem. How could the settlers be sure that they had secure rights to that property, particularly in an environment in which a stolen ear of corn was punishable by death?

The very next year, in order to make these economic incentives credible, the General Assembly offered the settlers political rights as well. This, in effect, allowed them to advance above the lower strata of society, to a position in which they would be making their own decisions through more inclusive political institutions.


The above examples seem to me to offer no insight into the two runaway economic and political successes of the  19th century:  Britain and Germany.  Britain inherited a system of individual liberty from way back which was emphasized by the governments of the day,  notably by both the Liberals under Gladstone and the Conservatives under Disraeli.

Germany, however, was created by Bismarck in 1872 and flourished under his authoritarian rule.  And the systems which he set in place survived his term in office and led to continued economic advance in Germany.  And by 1914,  Germany was arguably more powerful and prosperous than Britain.  It was only a tenuous lead in naval strength that gave Britain any headway over Germany.  Compared to the German army, the British army was of course laughable.  It took the combined might of France, Britain, Russia and the USA to bring Germany to heel.

So how does Germany fit the Acemoglu model?  I cannot see that it does.   Both Prussia before 1872 and Germany after 1872 had parliaments with varying degrees of influence but both Prussia and Germany remained substantially under the control of political strongmen, first Bismarck and then Kaiser Bill.  One of the most famous episodes in his career  was when Bismarck ran Prussia for four years in the name of the Kaiser alone  -- completely ignoring the Prussian parliament. 

So it seems to me that the Acemoglu model gives us no insight into the ORIGIN of powerful and prosperous societies.  It does however give a reasonable DESCRIPTION  of powerful and prosperous societies -- secure property rights etc.  But we already knew that.   It is the origin question that we want answered. 

And I do have an answer  -- but it is so politically incorrect and will initially be seen as so improbable that I hesitate to say much about it.  Briefly, I think that a tradition of respecting the individual is the key and that such an orientation was historically basic among Teutonic peoples and is still alive (though gasping)  today.  I think it  is that tradition which led to both British and German eminence in the 19th century.  I set out some of the history behind my thinking on the matter here

Friday, July 27, 2012

Has Ron Unz built his castle on sand?

Among his many worthy attributes, Ron Unz, publisher of The American Conservative, is an expert on the statistics of Hispanic crime.  He concludes that Hispanics are not as crime-prone as many people think.

I have neither the time nor the inclination to match his expertise and one reason why is that many of the available statistics that form the fodder for analysis of Hispanic crime are very likely hopelessly wrong.   They are sandy ground on which to build anything.

I confess that I have myself used official U.S. census data  to look at Hispanic crime but reflection tells me that  I was pissing into the wind.  Using surveys and censuses to study a group who have a fervent desire to stay beneath official notice is surely a foolish enterprise.  A huge slice of the target group will simply be missed by surveys and censuses.  It is presumably for that reason that the year 2000 US census showed only 0.7% of  Mexican born males aged 18-35 as having a criminal record.   And other Hispanic groups are similar.  That compares with 3.04% of the male  population as a whole in that age group.  According to the census, Hispanics in the USA are super-law-abiding.  You don't have to be very cynical to conclude from that that the boot is on the other foot:  Only unusually law-abiding Hispanics fill out the census.

But Ron Unz does not confine his attention to surveys and censuses.  He also uses what prison statistics he can get his hands on.  So perhaps he still has something.  If he does, Obama is a colossal liar.

Now I don't rule that out.  I think Obama is only as honest as it suits him.  But his oft-repeated claim that he deports 400,000 illegals a year has never been challenged to my knowledge and it is surely something that could fairly easily be challenged by anyone in touch with such matters if it were grossly inaccurate.  It is, moreover, only a small increase over what was recorded in the Bush years.  And Obama assures us not only that the deportees are all criminals but that they are SERIOUS criminals.  Minor offenders are let off.  But 400,000 is 3.3% of the approximately 12 million Hispanics in the USA.  And that 3.3% is being repeated EVERY year.  So over a 10 year period a THIRD of the Hispanic population would have been deported.  So is it 33.3% of the Hispanic population rather than 0.7% who have criminal records?

I put the Obama claims to Ron Unz in correspondence and his reply was:  "Relying upon the Obama deportation data as evidence of "serious criminality" is totally absurd: the deportations involve things like traffic tickets, driving without a license (illegals being unable to obtain licenses), or lying about immigration status"

So I guess it's his word against Obama's.  Not an easy choice in the circumstances.  Given Obama's obvious reluctance to deport, I find it hard to believe that he does so on trivial grounds.  I am inclined to think that the Hispanic community would have rumbled him by now were he doing so  -- JR


I posted the article above elsewhere yesterday so already have a reply to it from Ron Unz.  He has emailed me the following curiously "ad hominem" reply as follows:

I do agree that if I'm correct then the public speeches of President Obama would be "colossal lies," though probably no more than the political rhetoric of most politicians.

However, perhaps being a psychometrician in Australia you are perhaps unfamiliar with the dynamics of the American criminal justice system. In particular, illegal immigrants who commit "serious crimes" are NOT immediately deported, and never have been. Instead, they are *prosecuted* and sent to prison.  Sometimes, after they have finished their lengthy prison sentence (for a "serious crime"), they are then afterward deported.

Think a bit about it. Suppose an illegal immigrant raped or killed someone. If he were just deported instead of being punished, he might very well just sneak back again, and once he turned up in the same neighborhood, having escaped any punishment for his crimes, the public outcry would be enormous and all the responsible politicians would be defeated for reelection.

From what you say, you are a trained psychometrian and have every right to dispute my IQ analysis on technical grounds. If you invest some time and effort, you could certainly familiarize yourself with the detailed evidence on Hispanic crime rates to challenge my article (which, incidentally, has over the last couple of years persuaded pretty much everyone of an open mind).

But you make yourself look extraordinarily foolish when you take a political campaign phrase by President Obama that he has only been deporting illegal immigrants who are "serious criminals" to therefore conclude that at least 10% of all illegal immigrants are "serious criminals."

If you bothered reading any of the hundreds or thousands of major newspaper articles on this contentious subject, you would quickly see it was absurd. I'm not sure that I can think of even a single American-based rightwing blogger or writer---no matter how fanatically anti-immigrant or extreme in views---who has ever made the claim that you make.

I don't claim to be an expert on Australian society, but I'm sure if I'm tried I could take some random phrase by some local politican and use it to draw social conclusions which were utterly absurd and ridiculous, making me look like an idiot. I strongly suggest that you focus on your areas of expertise.

Ron Unz

My reply to the above was as follows:


So you are telling me that MY castle is built on sand because I live in Australia!

I don't think I was overlooking anything.  I actually have a blog called "Gun Watch" that posts daily on American crimes of violence so I think I am pretty aware of what goes on in American courts.  I think that does in its way give me some small expertise on the subject.  I certainly read a lot of cases.

And a key observation is that most offenders receive only short jail terms, and under  plea bargains, may spend no time in jail at all.  So some offenders rack up a huge "rap sheet".  In other words, there are a lot of "serious criminals" wandering around America.

One thing for certain is that ICE is very picky about whom they deport.  They have too few resources to deport everyone who comes to light.  And when people like sheriff Joe try to send them illegals they often delay until the offender has to be released.

So I actually support Obama's various edicts that only serious offenders who are presented to them should be deported.  And such presentations can come off the street or at the time of jail release

So I see Obama as having a consistent and sensible policy that is the result of a lot of heavily contested political debate and believe what he says in this instance. It is core policy, not some random utterance

I presume that Ron Unz will now turn his data-analytical virtuosity to a dissection of Obama's deportation statistics.  He would do us all a great favour if he did that.  CIS already have a heap of data on  immigration  so with their help he should be able to get access to the raw data fairly readily, one imagines  -- JR

Friday, July 20, 2012

Is the female of the species really more intelligent than the male?

New research into IQ levels could end the modern taboo on comparing cleverness, says Michael Hanlon

We accept that some people are taller than others, or darker- or lighter-skinned, or better at running. We also accept that these differences are due, at least in part, to genetics. Yet there is one area where we continue to insist that there cannot be any innate biological distinction between different people, or groups of people, and that is in our minds. The merest suggestion that there may be hard-wired disparities in intelligence causes the most terrible wailing and gnashing of teeth, even though such physical and mental variations – dictated by genes and environment – are exactly what you would expect in an abundant species that has adapted to just about every corner of the globe.

That taboo, however, may be breaking down. In his new book, the brilliant psychologist James Flynn, of Otago University in New Zealand, has revealed that, for the first time, women (in some developed countries) are systematically outperforming men in standardised tests of intelligence. This contradicts earlier findings which suggested that, historically, men have had IQs that were a couple of points higher – or rather, have performed marginally better on a whole slew of intelligence metrics, which measure subtly different things.

The reaction to this finding has been largely positive. Most reports have concentrated on women’s ability to “juggle” and to “multi-task”, with the conclusion: “Didn’t we know this all along?” Expect to hear the old clarion call of “men are redundant”, with the human male reduced to a shambling, knuckle-dragging brute lost in a sea of feminised modernity.

Imagine, however, that Flynn had found the opposite. Suppose that his trawl of standardised measures of intelligence in schoolchildren and young adults, in countries as disparate as Estonia, Argentina, Israel and New Zealand, had confirmed, once and for all, that men had slightly higher IQs. Would that finding be celebrated?

Of course not. Howling columnists would queue up to pour scorn on the very notion, stating that the idea of innate sex differences in IQ is utterly chauvinist. Others would take issue with the whole notion of measured intelligence: “What is IQ,” they would ask, “but a measure of the ability to do intelligence tests?”

Either way, it is important to stress that the differences we are talking about are very small, a percentage point or two at most – and whatever the truth, it’s not as though we can do much about it. The more interesting question is not whether women are cleverer than men, but why this should be so, and why this seems to be a recent trend.

First, we have to dismiss the pernicious but persistent fallacy that IQ is meaningless. The tests used today attempt to measure something called g, a measure of innate general intelligence that is divorced, as far as possible, from cultural and social bias. Thus questions tend to involve not word associations (which are influenced by your level of literacy and knowledge) but connections between patterns and shapes, order and structure.

Most psychologists now accept that while IQ (or g) may not be a measure of pure intelligence per se, it is certainly a measure of something that correlates very well with it. People with high IQs tend to end up with better qualifications, better jobs, higher earnings and longer lives. Crucially, they are also perceived as “cleverer”. Like it or not, being a successful human has a lot to do with being smart – and IQ, or g, does seem to be a fair measure of smartness.

This brings us to one of the most interesting – and scientifically counter-intuitive – findings to have emerged in the last 100 years: namely, that we are all, men and women alike, getting brighter.

The trend was discovered by, and named after, Flynn himself back in the 1980s. In industrialised countries, both adults and children are routinely subjected to various IQ measurements. And, since such testing began in the first half of the 20th century, the average IQ of both sexes has risen by between 10 and 20 per cent. Every few years, the tests had to be revised to make sure that the average score remained at 100 – and in every country, that revision meant making the tests harder.

This means that if a British child scores 100 on an IQ test set in 2012, he would score 110 or so on a test dating from the 1970s. In some countries, such as the Netherlands, where the Flynn Effect was first spotted, the increase has been even more spectacular – a full 30 IQ points between 1950 and 1980. Overall, IQ in both industrialised and developing nations is rising by about three points per decade.

For years, the cause of the Flynn Effect was a mystery. One thing it could not be was genetic: the effect is happening too fast for any form of evolution to be occurring. Better diet was a popular theory, but places like the US, Canada and Scandinavia have been well-fed for a century or more. Education may have been a factor – but again, the increases continued well into the era of compulsory universal schooling in most countries.

In the end, it was Flynn himself who solved the mystery. The effect, he argued, is not due to innate changes in our brains, but to how they react to the sort of problems that define the modern world. Flynn gives an example: “If I were to have asked my father, say, 'What do a dog and a rabbit have in common?’ and then ask the same question today of a bright schoolchild, I would get two answers.” His father, like most “old-fashioned” people (Flynn is in his eighties, so his father was a product of the 19th century) would look for associations. “Dogs hunt rabbits,” he might have said – which is not wrong, but nor is it the answer to the question.

Today, any schoolchild would give the “right” answer, namely: “they are both animals” or “they are both mammals”. Flynn’s point is that until recently, this categorising of the world, putting things into boxes – mammals or not-mammals, dollars or pounds, Apples or PCs – was not the way people thought. In this sense IQ, or rather differences in IQ, may not be so much a measure of intelligence as of modernity.

It is this that may give us a clue as to why women are not only catching up with men but, in some places, starting to overtake them. There may be something innate about the way women’s brains are put together (or the demands placed upon them) that allows them to cope with complexity and the need to systematise. As Prof Flynn said at the weekend: “In the last 100 years the IQ scores of both men and women have risen, but women’s have risen faster. This is a consequence of modernity. The complexity of the modern world is making our brains adapt and raising our IQ.”

Many mysteries remain about human intelligence. Will the Flynn Effect continue, so that our grandchildren look down upon us as barely sentient dullards? Or will it go into reverse, as dysgenic effects (the fact that people with lower IQs tend to have more children) take over? Will the developing world continue to catch up with the old industrialised world? Why do men continue to outperform women in intelligence tests in non-industrialised societies?

Some of this research may be controversial. After all, if talking about sex and IQ is tricky, talking about race and IQ is incendiary: as with high-IQ women, we are generally happy to talk about certain ethnic groups (such as some Jewish populations) having high IQs, but less happy with the corollary, namely that others are less well endowed.

Yet in an increasingly knowledge-driven world, where brains are more important than brawn to a degree never seen before, we need to understand these differences, if for no other reason than to help raise everyone to their potential. Being scared to talk about it is – well, just stupid.


The above article is informative and well-argued and it is pleasing to note that  it appeared in a major British newspaper.  On some matters of detail, however, I have to differ. 

Flynn's argument that we have only recently started to categorize is absurd. Every noun in our  language stands for a category of things.  Categorization is a central human survival strategy.  It enables us to make predictions and thus protect our futures to  some extent.  Even cavemen would have readily detected the difference between a dog and a rabbit, for instance (to use the example above).  Their hunting trips would have had little success otherwise.  Expecting a rabbit to help you bring down prey would be pretty futile.

So  what alternative do I offer to Flynn's explanation? I agree with him that modernity generally is the explanation but I differ on which aspects of modernity are involved.  One aspect is increasing test sophistication.  As education has become more widespread and extended into the late teens, kids have developed strategies for passing tests (guessing when uncertain, for instance) and those strategies help with IQ tests too.  A test of that explanation is that the rise in IQ should now be levelling off as just about everybody now is exposed to a lot of education.  And that does indeed appear to be happening in some countries.  The Flynn effect appears to be fading.  IQ levels seem to be approaching an asymptote, in statisticians' terms.

  But there are other aspects of modernity that are presumably important too -- improved peri-natal care, for instance and also childbirth itself.  Babies can quite easily be brain-damaged to varying degrees during birth and the much increased use of episiotomies and Caesarians would obviate a lot of that.  So more babies are born with their brains functioning to their maximum potential.

So what do I make of the current slightly higher scores of women in some countries?  For a start, it is perfectly easy to design a test that will show either sex as brighter.  Women have better verbal skills and men have better visuo/spatial skills so if you want to show women as brighter you put in more verbal questions and if you want to show men as brighter you put in fewer verbal questions.  So it is possible that recent re-standardizations of tests have added more items in areas that women are good at.

Another possibility is the way the educational system has become anti-male, with female characteristics praised and male characteristics deplored.  This has led to extensive alienation of young males and a much higher educational dropout rate among them.  In such circumstances, then, males get on average less opportinity to acquire that test sophistication I referred to above.  We live in a feminized environment generally, in fact, compared to (say) 100 years ago so there may be many ways in which females are subtly advantaged.

The important point, however, is to recognize that people do differ in many ways and that, like it or not,  IQ is one difference that affects a lot of things that we value.  High IQ, for instance, is associated with greater wealth and better health while low IQ is associated with higher levels of crime and greater poverty.  -- JR

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Why Are Conservatives Happier Than Liberals?

By Jaime L. Napier and John T. Jost

I commented briefly on the  study bearing the title above yesterday (See here) but I thought a few more  comments showing what rubbish it is might be in order.  It is of course an attempt to show that conservatives are happy for discreditable reasons.

They started out in their study 1 conflating ideology and party preference. They found that rating yourself as conservative and as a Republican were "highly correlated".  But that is nonsense.  Lots of conservatives think that the GOP is comprised mainly of weak-kneed compromisers etc.  And the study data actually showed that.  The correlation between the two variables was .46,  which meant that the two variables had only a quarter overlap (shared variance).  But Napier & Co simply added scores on the two variables up, to create an artificial conservatism score,  when the  two variables  should clearly have been treated separately

And it gets worse.  They found that the correlation between conservatism and happiness could be accounted for by "rationalization of inequality".  So how do they measure rationalization of inequality?  By the mean of responses to  six antiegalitarianism items, e.g.  "It is not really that big a  problem if some people have more of a chance in life than others," and "This country would be better off if we worried less about how equal people are").

But equality is the great mantra of the Left.  Conservatives think it is unattainable and undesirable nonsense.  So it is no wonder that a measure of it correlated (negatively) with conservatism.  It is itself a (negative) measure of conservatism.  So what Napier & Co did was remove the influence of one measure of conservatism from the influence of another measure of conservatism!  What sense does that make?  None that I can see.  Doing so certainly explains nothing.  So much for their Study 1.

There are other criticisms that I could make but while I have the energy, let me go on to their study 2.  The big finding there was that conservatives "endorsed meritocracy".  But how was that measured? 
Endorsement of meritocracy was measured with a single item; participants rated their beliefs on a scale ranging from 1 (hard work doesn’t generally bring success—it’s more a matter of luck) to 10 (in the long run, hard work usually brings a better life)

I would have thought that the question endorsed hard work rather than "meritocracy"!  What a simpleton I must be.  I would have thought that to support meritocracy, you would be saying things like:  "Only  highly educated people should have the vote".  So once again Napier & Co draw extravagant inferences from their very limited data.  Far from being meritocratic, conservatives simply believe in the virtue of hard work.  Is that any surprise or any disgrace?  Not as far as I can see.

I will leave my criticisms there,  not because there are no more to make but instead  because it is rather boring to flog a dead horse.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Journalist Chris Mooney is feeling his way towards an understanding of the psychology of politics

In his article below he has acknowledged that there are two sides to the debate over the merits and demerits of conservatism and notes that conservatives as a whole are markedly happier than Leftists,  which is a considerable step forwards for him.  Perhaps the best indication of his naivety is that he sees the debate as going back "well over a decade".  In fact it has been going on for over 60 years.  He still has a lot of catching up to do.

His basic mistake below is one common throughout science -- interpreting a correlation as if you JUST KNOW the direction of  the causal arrow.  He assumes that conservatism makes you happy when there is a much stronger case for arguing that happiness makes you conservative. 

That is most easily seen if you look at the converse of conservatism:  Leftism.  What is ABSOLUTELY distinctive about Leftism?  Dissatisfaction.  They seem to like very little in the world about them and are never satisfied.  Regardless of what they have already achieved, they are always wanting to change something  -- whether by legislation or by revolution.   So conservatives are simply people who don't have such motivations.  There are a lot of things that conservatives would like to change  -- such as Obamacare and affirmative action,  but they don't have that PERVASIVE dissatisfaction with the world about them that Leftists do.  In psychological terms, Leftists are maladjusted and conservatives are not.

Poor old Mooney is still relying on the ludicrous Kruglansky work for much of his understanding.  One hopes that as he explores the world of psychological research, he realizes what a crock it is.  Kruglanski argues that conservatives are less "open", a question that was originally addressed by Rokeach in 1960. 

Another energetic proponent of that view is Van Hiel.  But nobody has managed  to prove what Mooney believes.  See here for Van Hiel and here for problems in the work of Rokeach. 

Rokeach in particular might be something of an embarrassment to Mooney in that he argued that closed-mindedness is  equally found on both the Left and the Right.   And research with general population samples using  Rokeach's methods bears that out.  Given the problems in Rokeach's measurement methods, however, the question is best regarded as unresolved.  Mooney would be wise to forget the whole idea.

Since Mooney mentioned it, perhaps a brief comment on the Napier & Jost paper is in order.  They conclude that "the relation between political orientation and subjective well-being is mediated by the rationalization of inequality".  You could, however, quite reasonably replace the quite loaded psychological term "rationalization" with "acceptance" and get a rather different impression.  Once again you find that conservatives are well adjusted to the world as it is and Leftists are not.

Mooney ends up concluding that conservatism is "somnambulant"  -- i.e. that conservatives are happy only because they are sleepwalking through the word, unaware of the realities of it. I myself once tried to assess that proposition by constructing a measure of "realism" but gave up because I could see no way of doing it in a non-ideological way.  If Mooney has any evidence for his assertion, I would therefore be delighted to see it.
Conservatism makes you happy

In general, political conservatives haven’t been very pleased with a slew of scientific attempts — sometimes dating back well over a decade — to psychoanalyze their beliefs and behavior. Indeed, some on the right wrongly interpret these analyses as implying that conservatives have “bad brains” or a “mental defect.” Yet if psychology-of-politics research is really a veiled attack on the right, then why does it contain so many findings that cast conservatives in a positive light?

Chief among these, perhaps, is the discovery that conservatives, across countries, tend to be just plain happier people than liberals are. That’s not bad news for the right — it’s seriously bad news for the left.

Indeed, the left-right “happiness gap” is no small matter. In a 2006 Pew Survey, for instance, 47 percent of conservative Republicans said they were “very happy,” compared with just 28 percent of liberal Democrats. Furthermore, the Pew Survey found that this result could not simply be attributed to the seemingly obvious cause: differences in income levels between the left and the right. Rather, for every income group in the study, conservative Republicans were happier than Democrats.

The fascinating question is why this is the case. The left-right happiness research was recently singled out in a New York Times op-ed by Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, who suggested that conservatives’ subjectively greater sense of personal happiness may be attributable to factors like marriage and religious faith. In other words, married and religious people tend to be happier, and conservatives are more likely to be both. That seems to make a lot of sense … or does it?

In truth, this analysis fails to peer very far beneath the surface. There is every reason to suspect that there may be something deeper, inherent to political conservatives, that makes them more likely to be married, religious, happy and a great deal of other things besides.

What might it be? Well, let’s start with the body of well-documented personality differences between people who opt for the political left, and people who opt for the political right. Using the well-established “Big Five” personality scale, conservatives and liberals differ on at least three out of five major personality traits that have implications for their personal happiness.

First, one striking finding is that conservatives tend to be less neurotic — or, more emotionally stable — than liberals. It is part of the inherent definition of neuroticism that one is less happy — more fretful, more depressed.  Liberals, then, don’t just worry about the poor, and the rights of those different from themselves — it appears that they worry more, period, than conservatives do.

Although it has a smaller effect, conservatives also tend toward more extraversion in some personality studies. That means they probably make more friends and feel more comfortable in groups and communities. They’re more sociable. Once again, this probably helps confer a subjective sense of greater happiness.

But perhaps most significant, personality research shows that conservatives tend to be less open, exploratory people than liberals are. Indeed, based on a large body of research by University of Maryland social psychologist Arie Kruglanski, conservatives tend to have a higher “need for cognitive closure,” meaning that they are uncomfortable with ambiguity and prefer to seize on and hold fixed beliefs and views. And if you think being more closed-minded makes you less happy … well, think again. Instead, it appears that the relationship runs in the opposite direction.

The need for closure is often interpreted very negatively — understandably so. But if it has an upside, it may well be the happiness and peace of mind that it confers. Conservatives tend to be more assured in their views and confident in them; thus, they have less need to agonizingly question them. They know their place in the world and aren’t troubled over it. “It’s kind of a peaceful bliss, cognitively speaking,” explains Kruglanski.

Furthermore, the need for closure — for certainty, fixity — may underlie much else about the right. Kruglanski notes, for instance, that there’s a known relationship between closure and religiosity. “Religion or any comprehensive belief system is one that provides you answers to everything — and therefore belief and happiness,” he explains.

Finally, there is the related argument that the conservative tendency to rationalize politically or economically unequal social systems — to overlook how the other half is forced to live, either through simple dismissiveness, or affirmation of the fairness of free markets and meritocracies — also confers happiness. In his New York Times op-ed, Brooks dismissed this argument, associated with New York University social psychologist John Jost, but that’s not so easy to do. In a 2008 study in the journal Psychological Science, Jost and Jaime Napier showed that conservatives were happier than liberals in nine countries beyond the United States (including Germany, Spain and Sweden) — and further demonstrated, through statistical analyses, that the rationalization of inequality was a key part of the explanation. “Meritocratic beliefs account for the association between political orientation and subjective well-being to a significant degree,” wrote Napier and Jost.

The upshot of this research, to my mind, is that it provides a huge wake-up call to liberals who would dismiss conservatism, and their conservative brethren, without understanding this ideology’s appeal or what its adherents are getting out of it. Overall, the happiness research suggests that conservatism is giving something to people that liberalism is not — community, stability, certainty, and perhaps, in Jost’s words, an “emotional buffer” against all the unfairness in the world.

Knowing this, one still may not want the type of somnambulant happiness that conservatism conveys (I certainly don’t). But it would be foolhardy to mistake its appeal. The world is hard and cruel and perhaps, as predominantly liberal atheists suspect, ultimately meaningless. In this context, it appears, political conservatism is doing much more than political liberalism to get people through the day.


Friday, July 13, 2012

Mexican IQ

The article by Fred Reed below gets a lot of things right but gets a simple thing wrong so I thought it might be useful to put it up for both reasons.  His comments about the characteristics of Mexican and US culture seem spot-on to me and the differences between the two cultures do play a part in explaining why Mexico is in an apparently permanent  mess.

In his coments about IQ, however, Fred seems to forget what an average is.  The Mexican IQ average includes the large, semi-literate rural population and that drags the average down.  So showing that the Mexican middle class performs better than what that average would lead one to expect proves nothing and is essentially irrelevant

And in any case, smart fraction theory says that it is the IQ of the top 5% that matters, not the average IQ.  The most vivid example of that is Israel, which has overall only an average IQ (Due to the large fraction of the population that came from Arab lands).  But Israel also has a very bright sub-population of Ashkenazi origin and it is that sub-population that mostly accounts for Israel's frankly brilliant achievements.

What the average IQ of Mexico's top 5% is I have no idea but Fred is right in saying that cultural factors would hold them back even if they were very bright

The higher up the Mexican social hierarchy you go, the whiter people seem to get so Mexico is, like Israel, still a mixture (not a blend) of two broad sub-populations of different racial origins  (Spanish and native).  So that could well be integral to explaining why the Mexican middle class performs well above what one would expect from the national average.  They have a larger Spanish genetic component

The Mexican authorities are of course aware of the demographic differences  in their population and appear rather nervous about its potential for social combustion.  So they have promulgated the amusing doctrine of "La Raza"  -- the pretence that there is such a thing as a Mexican "race".  I doubt that it fools many Mexicans, though.  Its main use seems to be among Hispanics living in the USA

I belong to a list-serve of exceedingly bright people (I am not one of them) to include Ivy profs, who believe that IQ largely determines human destiny. This is in part I suspect because IQ is something they have, but it is possible that I am being snide in this. They regard as canonical the book IQ and the Wealth of Nations, which purports to show a correlation and by extension a causal relationship between mean national IQ and prosperity. They assert that the mean IQ of Mexico, where I live, is about 86, well below the mean of roughly 100 of white Americans. This, they further assert, accounts for the comparative backwardness of Mexico. Does it?

Now, some brush-clearing. Intelligence obviously exists, in the street sense that we all recognize. Some people obviously have more of it than others. There is obviously a genetic element. No biological reason exists to believe that genetically distinct groups cannot vary in intelligence. IQ, within cultures anyway, provides at least a rough measure of intelligence: It is easy to distinguish people with IQs of 180 from those with IQs of 80. So, in principle, Mexicans could be innately stupid. Are they?

 I would like to think not, but what I want to think doesn’t seem to determine reality. (I regard this as a major design flaw of the universe.) How could I tell whether Mexicans were dull? It seemed to me that the alleged deficit, almost fifteen points, ought to be obvious. In fact I wondered whether a nation with a mean IQ of 86 could run airlines, hospitals, and telephone and internet companies. Which Mexico does.

While I could not test the entire population, I thought a reasonable approach might be to compare the apparent intelligence of Americans and Mexicans in professions of which I knew something. This I did.

A few days ago, I saw a retinologist in Guadalajara. Ophthalmological specialties are not for the fumble-minded, yet he was as intelligent and competent as any I have seen in the US. He also spoke near-perfect English. I tend to ask questions, which gives doctors a chance not to know the answers, or half know them. Not this guy. He was sharp. He sent me to a local retina clinic for optical-coherence tomography and a fluorescein angiogram. I have had these things done in the US, and saw no difference in the competence of those administering them.

Now, the IQist response, reasonable enough as a question, is to argue that even in a country with a mean IQ of 86 there will be a few who can perform at a high levels. True. This is the argument of The Only Fifty Smart Mexicans. The question is how many hundreds of thousands of the Only Fifty you can have before the numbers become embarrassing. After nine years in Mexico, I have seen a lot of dentists and doctors, using all manner of, for example, ultrasound-Doppler  gear, and seen no difference in apparent intelligence.

A small difference would not be detectible by this method. But fifteen points?

Take another field, one that I know well: journalism.  I have read lots of Mexican newspapers (they are on the web). They are as well-written as American. The Spanish in editorial columns is syntactically more complex than American journalistic English. Such journalists as Ihave met have been very smart. Television journalism is like the American, except that in talking-head shows there is civility and people don’t talk over each other. (And, overall, the content is less controlled, but this is anaother matter.)

The same happens in daily life. I have no sense that the civilized population is dim-witted. Here things are tricky: A large part of the country has barely risen above peasantry, and seems stupid, as much so as America’s Scotch-Irish louts of the 1800s or inhabitants of Chinese villages today.  Among the approximately middle class—more a psychological than an economic designation—people seem as bright as Americans. I see them in banks, travel agencies, pharmacies. And I encounter way too many kids who have learned fair to good English, many in high school. I mean English English, not Frito bandido dialect.  With a mean IQ of 86?

An IQist asked me a bit challengingly how many kids I knew who could qualify for Harvard. Two. One is my stepdaughter. The other is a guy whose mother owns a local bar. Natalia is in university, he by choice in some nothing job. (The women in Mexico are regularly more impressive than the men.) Obviously kids whom Natalia chooses as friends are not average, but two Ivy intelligences out of the perhaps ten kids I know squares poorly with the IQist theory.

In saying all of this, I am not suggesting that Mexico has achievement the intellectual development of Finland. While it is generally literate, much of it is barely so. Very large chunks of the population live in ignorance and do not produce retinologists. What I do suggest is that far too many people here do technically and otherwise demanding things for the IQ-86 theory to hold water.

When do exceptions cease to be exceptions? Maintaining modern cars with their linguini wiring and computers is not for the stupid. They do it. Ditto, building highways through mountains. They do it. Ditto, walking internet customers through the internals of modems. The Telmex techs regularly do it. Ditto, pirating software with tight security, such as Adobe, or Windows 7 so that it updates. Young techs do it.

So, the IQists ask reasonably, if Mexicans are not stupid, why is the country backward? Where are the Nobelists in physics, the Intels, the Apollo programs? Why no Bill Gates?

There are several becauses. Because the society is profoundly corrupt, with (it sometimes seems) everything and everybody being for sale. Because of a lack of entrepreneurial spirit, a tendency to be content with enough. Because Mexicans tend to live entirely in the present, instead of having one foot in the future as Americans do. Because of a resentful envy of the smart and ambitious (cf. “acting white”) instead of following their example; this is serious. Because envy and distrust of one another make it hard for them to work together. Because of a lack of interest in study. Because so very many of the young marry at sixteen, have a baby, and do nothing thereafter.

If these were just Fred’s opinions, they would be ignorable. It is also the view of Violeta and Natalia. Should anyone want a truly insightful exposition of why Mexico is as it is, read Mañana Forever, by Carlos Casttañeda, a former foreign minister of Mexico. His view, with which I entirely agree, is that Mexico is mostly a modern country creeping into the First World, but crippled by the culture of a century ago. See above.

Am I (and Castañeda) right about this? IQists tend to dismiss the invocation of culture as an evasion—real men believe in IQ—or to argue that defects of culture are the results of low intelligence. This is highly debatable. Consider the following list of founders of major companies in the information technologies (laragely from memory, so I hope right):

Google (Sergei Bryn, Larry Page), Intel (Gordon Moore, Robert Noyce), Apple (Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak), Microsoft (Bill Gates), Dell Computer (Michael Dell), Facebook (Mark Zuckerberg), YouTube (Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, Jawed Karim), Netscape (Mark Andreesen), Yahoo (Jerry Yang, David Filo), AMD (long list of guys from Fairchild Semiconductor), Twitter (Jack Dorsey), Wikipedia (Jimmy Wales, Larry Sanger), (Ron Unz), PayPal (Peter Thiel), Ebay (Pierre Omidyar).

Note that they are overwhelmingly either American or working in America. Why America? Gringos are no smarter than Europeans, Chinese, Japanese, or Koreans. The countries of all of the foregoing countries run huge high-tech companies, but their college kids don’t think, “Geez, I’m bored. I guess I’ll start Dell Computer, or Facebook, or maybe Microsoft. Beats doing a doob.” Certain thoughts seem embedded in American culture: “Why not?” “Who says I can’t?” “Bet me.” “Let’s wing it and see what happens.” It is not Mexico. Or much of anywhere else.