Arnold Kling  

I'll Defend IQ

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Against Tyler Cowen's attack.


I've spent much time in one rural Mexican village, San Agustin Oapan, and spent much time chatting with the people there...

I'm also sure they if you gave them an IQ test, they would do miserably. In fact I can't think of any written test -- no matter how simple -- they could pass. They simply don't have experience with that kind of exercise.

When it comes to understanding the properties of different corn varieties, catching fish in the river, mending torn amate paper, sketching a landscape from memory, or gossiping about the neighbors, they are awesome.


I should note that Jared Diamond makes very similar observations in Guns, Germs, and Steel.

There are indeed multiple intelligences. The one in which I am weakest is sometimes called "naturalist." I would not understand the corn varieties or how to catch fish. If you left me alone in the woods, I would die. Heck, if you left me alone on a farm teeming with crops, cows, and chickens, I would die.

IQ probably tends to measure intelligences that relate to reading, logic, and math. Other intelligences include kinesthetic, music, and social.

But the reality is that the intelligences that feed into IQ are what drive economic success. I have an unwritten essay on the meadow and the food court. It's a way of capturing Gregory Clark's economic history in a metaphor.

In a meadow economy, the human race is a grazing herd. The naturalists are the ones who eat the best. This was the economy up until about 1800 everywhere, and it still applies in the underdeveloped world today.

In the West since 1800, we've been moving to the food court economy, where we use complex recipes and convoluted trading mechanisms to translate basic ingredients into fancy consumption goods. Overall, most of the value nowadays is in the recipes, not in the ingredients.

And the people who can best create value in the food court economy are people with high IQ's. I have not read the book IQ and the Wealth of Nations (it strikes me as an issue that is not worth an entire book), but my guess is that Tyler's critique is not overly compelling.


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COMMENTS (19 to date)
dearieme writes:

And the people who refuse to believe that IQ has any content, and are certain that it is not at all heritable, feel free to mock other people for not believing in evolution. It's a funny old world.

Ned Ilincic writes:

General inteligence (g) is strongly inheritable, and has strong predictive power vs. lifetime earnings etc. Other abilities (music, verbal, golf playing, whatever) are best termed 'talents', but are sometimes dressed up as "music intelligence" etc. to make people feel better.

'G' can be measured using brain waves, so literacy is not necessary. There is a paper (will need to dig up the pointer to it) that shows that IQ of the population is correlated with both development level and growth in countries around the world.

Matthew c writes:

There are other kinds of success than monetary and career success in corporatia or academia. I have seen many academics like Cowen and Diamond who appreciate those cultures who value those other dimensions of "intelligence" more than our modern western institutions do.

I also think you are overstating the extent to which IQ skills guarantee success in our modern institutions, or in life satisfaction.

Eric Falkenstein writes:

His patronizing view of peasants, with their relative advantage in parochial skills, is quite common. He's the kind of guy who would go into the worst ghetto in the US, and talk to a group, and come away with how much they respected the family (especially the grandmothers!), oblivious to the bigger picture. New Guineans are much smarter than Europeans, according to Best Selling Author Jared Diamond (though, 'intelligence' is meaningless when applied by European researchers).

You see what you believe.

Matthew c writes:

I couldn't disagree more strongly with Ned.

Intelligence is simply not one-dimensional. Just as an example, I do very well on most everything else on an IQ test, but am relatively weak with anagrams. My standardized test scores are high, but I have a relatively poor memory for names and memorization of episodic details. According to simplistic "g" theories these kinds of individual differences don't exist, because "g" is all that matters to intelligence.

Sorry, that's simply ignoring the lumpiness and complexity of real life.

Matthew c writes:

Eric,

I'll take the viewpoint of someone who has spent much time with the Amate painters of rural Mexico over the viewpoint of someone who judges their entire lives, value and culture solely based on the numbers on this chart.

Jeffrey Horn writes:

This is interesting. I dismissed Cowen's post this morning, because I thought it seemed a bit too anecdotal. Thanks for the insight.

It makes me wonder though, just how fast an economy can change, fundamentally, to require a new kind of "intelligence." IQs aside, it seems most people adapt pretty quickly to their environment. I suspect those people in Mexico that Cowen cites would adapt fairly quickly to new economic infrastructure. Well, at least within a generation (a lá Roberts' own analog presented in The Choice).

Don Lloyd writes:

If we were to randomly seed the world's population with 1000 people with IQs of 180, even though this ignores genetic clustering, what would be the distribution of the ones who actually are recorded on an IQ test, independent of its form?

I would expect that the ratio of recorded 180 IQ scores to population would be several times greater for modern, wealthy economies, as compared to mass subsistence economies, for multiple reasons, including the fact that poor economies cannot generally afford or benefit from IQ tests.

Regards, Don

michaelj writes:

I don't buy Arnold's rebuttal. Of course you can't catch fish or predict the rain, because these skills have no value to you. But you're telling me that if you had grown up in a group of stone-age farmers you'd have the same deficits? I find that hard to believe; the same abstract reasoning skills that serve you well as an economist would help you determine when to plant your seeds and harvest your crops, and to make other subtle and complex decisions involving incomplete data. For the same reason, I believe that someone from Papua New Guinea who grows up in the US will score far higher on a conventional IQ test than his identical twin who stays behind.

Brandon Berg writes:

There are indeed multiple intelligences. The one in which I am weakest is sometimes called "naturalist." I would not understand the corn varieties or how to catch fish.

That's not intelligence. It's knowledge.

Matt writes:

Well it is kind of a tautology.

Intelligence is precisely the ability to deal with society; and society is precisely concerned with predicting future value.

Buzzcut writes:

For the same reason, I believe that someone from Papua New Guinea who grows up in the US will score far higher on a conventional IQ test than his identical twin who stays behind.

That is one explanation of the "Flynn Effect". Modern life makes you smarter. Evidently, smart guys like Flynn and Murray don't put much stock in that explanation.

TGGP writes:

You don't need a written IQ test. There is also Raven's progressive matrices (the most g-loaded, which as a result causes more disparity than less culture-neutral tests).

The "multiple intelligences" is bull.

Just as an example, I do very well on most everything else on an IQ test, but am relatively weak with anagrams. My standardized test scores are high, but I have a relatively poor memory for names and memorization of episodic details. According to simplistic "g" theories these kinds of individual differences don't exist, because "g" is all that matters to intelligence.
g is the "general intelligence factor". It does not mean that if you get the highest verbal IQ scores you will also have the highest visuo-spatial IQ scores, the two are subfactors of g. However, findings do show that all the different abilities (including anagrams and memory and whatnot) are correlated. Peoples have tried to make tests that do not show the same recurring correlation and instead result in multiple orthogonal factors, but all attempts to do so have failed. IQ scores work better for predicting the outcomes on average for large groups of people rather than individually (there are enough random factors, such as the ones Judith Harris discusses in "No Two Alike"), so Matt C pointing out his own scores as an argument against psychometric theory is rather weak.

TGGP writes:

michaelj, there have been actual studies done on identical twins adopted by different families. Heritability is still quite high, more than .7

Matthew c writes:

multiple orthogonal factors

Who said the factors would all be orthogonal? That's a straw man argument.

Matthew c writes:

TGGP,

I have known many people of very high IQ (140-160+ range) and many of more moderate IQ (100-125).

I find that the very high-IQ individuals tend to be more angst-ridden, more prone to depression, have worse social skills, and less life satisfaction than the more moderate IQ people. Also more family history of mental illness in the very high-IQ individuals.

I simply don't find the IQ - success correlation nearly as convincing as you do, at least at the higher ends of the IQ spectrum.

cuchulkhan writes:

Good points by TGGP. Remember - half of all people with IQ's of 80 do better in life than would be expected by the mean stats of their group.

Kevin McGrew explains

http://www.slideshare.net/iapsych/forrest-gump-and-iq-expectations/

TGGP writes:

Matthew C, the reason they are supposed to be orthogonal is because g is the correlation among all the tests. If one of your "multiple intelligences" shows substantial correlation with all the other intelligences, it is fully accommodated by the g-model and can just be considered a sub-factor.

Perhaps more intelligent people are more angst ridden and whatnot. I don't know, but I'd like to see some data rather than relying on your anecdotes. The Inductivist does that sort of thing, here he is on nihilism, and here he is on mental illness. I think you need to start looking at studies that have been done on this sort of thing before you start objecting based on the unrepresentative sample of people you know and the uncontrolled manner in which certain things are salient in your memory.

Troy Camplin writes:

The problem I see here is that everyone is confusing IQ with complexity of thinking. One can have a very simple way of thinking, because one lives in a fairly simple world, and have a higher IQ than someone who has a more complex way of thinking because they live in a more complex world. More complex ways of thinking combined with high IQ are what make for the great advances. I refer you to the book "Spiral Dynamics" by Beck and Cowan (different Cowan) for more on the levels of psychosocial complexity.

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