Arnold Kling  

Moral and Mental Development

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'Audacious Epigone' writes (UPDATE: link fixed),


A state's live-in desirability, as defined by CQ Press in the form of a livability index that considers 44 social, cultural, and economic factors, rigorously correlates with that state's estimated average IQ. The correlation using my numbers is .78, while using VCU Professor McDaniel's subsequent better numbers yields an r-value of .80. In both cases, the p-value is effectively zero.

Read the entire post. I was curious as to the 44 factors that make up the livability index. I believe I found them here.

I was concerned that the livability index discriminates in favor of the tastes of high-IQ people. For example, one of the positive factors is "books in public libraries per capita," as opposed to, say, number of NASCAR events per year. But apart from the library book measure, all of the indicators appear to be things like income and crime, as opposed to high-brow taste.

I think that economists tend to be unduly reticent about reporting on the influence of IQ and moral discipline on the standard of living. People get squeamish when you try. David Warsh speaks for many when he writes,


There were a lot of things I would have rather done last week than read A Farewell to Alms. But then I wasn't won over by Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, either. And it was a much better written book.

Everyone would much rather believe Jared Diamond than Gregory Clark, so Diamond gets away with flimsy evidence while Clark has to undertake painstaking research.

For those of you with prurient interests, here is a post on the negative correlation between IQ and early sexual activity. The post looks at a number of potential explanations.

My guess is that the reason that resistance to the use of IQ as an explanatory variable is high, and particularly high among people on the left, is that it appears to offer less scope for government policy to achieve social improvements. If everything depends on IQ, and IQ is fixed, then social programs can ameliorate problems but not solve them.

If you think that the key variable is college education, then sending more low-IQ youngsters to college is good policy. If you think that the key variable is IQ, then sending more low-IQ youngsters to college is a waste.

One of the stereotypes that people have about IQ is that it is 100 percent inherited, with no environmental influences. I believe that this stereotype is wrong. I believe that the Flynn effect is real and important.

A social interventionist could get a lot of leverage out of policies that could achieve gains in IQ that appear to be available from environmental influences. As Randall Parker (who sent me the link to the post by "Audacious Epigone") points out, this would do a great deal to improve economic growth.

I have written on these issues in Appreciating our Mental and Moral Development and For Whom the Bell Curves.


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COMMENTS (9 to date)

That stereotype is so frequently insinuated by those hostile to anything resembling a serious consideration of the importance and attributes of IQ even as it is never asserted by serious thinkers in the IQ-matters camp.

This hysterical branding illustrates very well your presumption that those who advocate big social programs and spending as a means of ameliorating societal pathologies fear anything that might aid the 'nature' side, thereby reducing the perceived necessity of their proscribed solutions.

It's sad to see the respectable position is the one that assumes an almost exclusively external, environmental role, when our innate characteristics clearly play some role. It's even more tragic in that it happens as our knowledge of human genetics is exploding.

The War on Poverty isn't being won. It's long-past time we at least thought about adding some other tools to our arsenal.

By the way (I feel so vain in pointing this out), I don't believe there is a link to the post in your excerpt from it.

jaim klein writes:

If you think that the key variable is college education, then sending more low-IQ youngsters to college is good policy.

If you are a teacher or your claim to merit is in your education, you tend to assign great importance to education.

hanmeng writes:

A state's live-in desirability? A lot of these factors vary so widely across the state that it really depends on where you live in the state.

I live in a college town located in a rural area; whether that makes the IQ's above or below average, one way or another, you certainly smell the bullshit.

Kimmitt writes:

The possibility of spurious correlation with liberal social programs (which, themselves, tend to involve investment in education and early childhood development which would be expected to allow intelligence to fully express) and, of course, self-selection, makes this a nasty sort of thing to study.

Steve Sailer writes:

IQ is such a powerful explanatory variable (relative to most other variables) that somebody should do a study of market failure among economists looking for research topics who still avoid IQ. Right now, IQ is the $20 bill lying on the sidewalk while almost the entire economics professions walks by with their noses in their air, too refined to deign to notice it.

Steve is right.

Selfishly, it's nice that so many of the sharpest thinkers shy away from anything having to do with IQ, because it allows those of more modest intellect like myself actually contribute in some small way to the knowledge base.

But there aren't enough giants looking at it seriously (Steve being one of the few).

Hanmeng,

I don't follow. The benefits of a college demographic is going to be proportionally seen on the IQ side. It's basically a wash. Why would there be any major distortion?

Robert Rounthwaite writes:

How strange that you think that books in public libraries per capita is a "high IQ" taste. My impression is that the fat middle of the IQ distribution tends to have few children's books at home and to tend to utilize libraries (again, for their kids). "High IQ" adults buy the books they want to read, and could almost as easily buy the books for their kids as go to the library (assuming they are also reasonably well off).

What I find odd is the acceptance of the state as a boundary -- I've lived primarily in two very heterogenous states, Texas and Washington, and they are not fairly characterized by a sum over the entirety. But that is fairly typical.

I note that there is at least one very IQ-related item: % of the population with a bachelor's degree or greater.

As far as raising IQ -- how about reducing childhood exposure to lead? See http://www.slate.com/id/2172544/

"One of the stereotypes that people have about IQ is that it is 100 percent inherited, with no environmental influences. I believe that this stereotype is wrong. I believe that the Flynn effect is real and important. "

You are absolutely right. Psychologists measure several types of IQ, and they definitely differentiate between inherited and social IQ - a comrehensive IQ test should include parts to measure both types of IQ.

Lucy Harris
School Teacher

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