Arnold Kling  

IQ, Race, and History

Expressing Economic Ideas... More Passengers on the Titanic...

Michael H. Hart's book, Understanding Human History, probably first came to my attention via Tyler Cowen. In his conclusion, Hart writes (p. 416),

The central hypothesis of this book is that genetic differences between human groups (in particular, differences in average native intelligence) have been an important factor in human history. The opposite hypothesis--that genetic differences between human races are insignificant--is at present the conventional hypothesis and the only politically correct one.

Lawrence Auster has a longer summary and evaluation.

Hart is not someone whose views I trust. My instinct told me to probe deeper to find out where he is coming from.

It took a while, but I managed to find my way to this essay by Hart, in which he argues for allowing Americans to voluntarily segregate themselves into a white state, a black state, and a multiracial state.

What I would suggest is reading his essay, but substitute "academic intellectual" or "Jew" or "right-winger" or "left-winger" every time he uses the word "black." I don't think that the essay would change much, which tells me that he was suffering from a rather strong racial bias.

In his book, Hart argues strongly for accepting the concept of a race. He draws an analogy between human races and breeds of dog. I find this unconvincing. I don't know much about dogs, but my impression is that pretty much any healthy greyhound is going to outrun any healthy poodle. Similarly, my impression is that some breeds of dogs are essentially uniformly more intelligent than other breeds. Some breeds are uniformly more placid. Etc.

My impression of humans is that blacks are not uniformly more athletically gifted or uniformly less intelligent than whites. In fact, the distributions overlap considerably. Hence, for me the analogy with breeds of dogs does not work.

I believe that IQ measures something at an individual level. I believe also that if you take two groups of people and one group has a higher average IQ, then that group will have an advantage in a competition that involves intelligence. The academic departments with higher IQ's are likely to publish more papers. Firms whose workers have higher average IQ's are likely to have higher productivity (although not necessarily higher profits, because wage rates can adjust) than competing firms. Countries where populations have higher average IQ's are likely to have better government and higher GDP per capita than countries with lower average IQ's. And it may very well be that, historically, countries that developed more quickly and gained technological leadership did so in large part because of higher average IQ's.

But blacks as a group do not compete with whites as a group. Groups that happen to contain many blacks may compete with groups that happen to contain many whites. And, given the large within-group variation in IQ's, it is quite plausible for a group that contains many blacks to out-compete a group that contains proportionally fewer blacks.

I also believe that it is difficult to change individual or group IQ's. The Flynn effect suggests that some environmental factors influence group average IQ. But as far as I know, we have no study that offers us a promising policy tool that uses environmental factors to affect IQ.

I think that recognizing that IQ is important and yet difficult to change is somewhat discouraging for those whose project is to remake the world. If the populations of underdeveloped countries have low IQ's that cannot be improved through nutrition or health care, then there may not be any policy mix that works.

The project to remake the world in terms of income distribution tends to presume that education is the answer. But if the main causal factor is IQ, then education will not work--at least, not to the extent that people hope.

My point is that I think that much of the interesting things to say about IQ, including many politically unpalatable propositions, can be said without buying into Hart's emphasis on race.

At an analytical level, the book leaves a lot to be desired. Often, Hart writes as if there is some "magic number" that average IQ has to hit in order for society to achieve a new stage of development. That strikes me as pretty dubious. But even if I were more convinced by the analysis, I would still believe that it makes more sense to look at a person as an individual rather than in terms of racial identity.

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CATEGORIES: Economic History

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This is a posting from my blog on intelligence, made several days ago:

In his book "On Intelligence," Jeff Hawkins says that intelligence is the ability to detect and predict patterns. I would go a step further and say that the isgnature of human intellligence is the ability to then create new patterns. If we look to what it is that IQ tests test for, it is pattern recognition. The more complex the patterns are that one can recognize, the more intelligent a person is said to be. Of course, there are many kinds of patterns, and some people are better at picking up some kinds patterns than they are at others. Thus there could be social intelligence, emotional intelligence, psychological intelligence, artistic intelligence, literary intelligence, memory-intelligence, mathematical intelligence, etc. Some patterns, like those in math, are extremely simple patterns -- so simple that math is difficult for many people.

So we see a variety of kinds of intelligence. We should also then expect that, with the way we measure IQ, we should see differences in IQ based on the complexity of a society one finds oneself in. People in more complex societies, cultures, and sub-cultures would then test as having higher IQs than do those in less complex societies, precisely because those in more complex societies would be more likely to encounter and have to recognize more complex patterns. Complexity in a society (or in a person's mind) is something that emerges over time. Some places, due to any number of factors, have more complex soceties than others. When an environment changes, a society can and oftentime will react to become mroe complex. This helps to make sense of the fact that IQ has steadily gone up in Western countries throughout the 20th century (it doesn't appear to be the case only because by definition 100 is average, meaning they have had to modify the tests). Obviously, evolution could not be working quite that fast, to make people at the end of the 20th century smarter than those at the beginning. However, I think we can all recognize that Western culture and society have gotten more complex over that same period. People living in the more complex societies, being exposed to more complex patterns, would naturally be able to detect the more complex patterns associated with high IQ. This also makes sense of the fact that IQ can and does oftentimes go up as a person gets older. Some children can see complex patterns right away and easily. Others learn to do so.

Is there a genetic component to IQ? Undoubtedly. But with 1/3 of our genes being expressed exclusively in the brain, good luck figuring out what combinations make for high intelligence. Also, the massive shifts and migrations of people throughout history and pre-history, along with the bottlenecking that occured several tens of thousands of years ago to make us almost genetically identical, makes any racial component to IQ so unlikely as to be almost laughable. Intelligence comes about through the interaction of genes and environment, and the more complex the environment is, the higher the IQ of the people in that environment. As noted, social-cultural-environmental differences are accidents of geography as much as anything, as Jared Diamond observed in "Guns, Germs, and Steel." As the world becomes more complex, other cultures around the world will respond to that complexity -- sometimes by lashing out, sometimes by becoming more complex themselves. But we have to recognize that this is where the differences lie: in our psychosocial complexity. It is that component to IQ that is variable among groups, not genes. The world we live in, and how complex we think the world is that we live in, makes a difference. Individual differences, rather than group differences, may be another matter, as different individuals may be better or worse at detecting patterns, or certain kinds of patterns. And there is certainly a difference in ability to create new patterns. Artists, poets, and musicians aren't all that common, after all. But my guess is that they are also less common than they could be.

Arnold Kling writes:

where is your blog?

One of the more interesting things in Hart's book is that he looks at various measure that correlate with IQ. One is pure reaction time. You watch lights flash and push buttons in response. This is very highly correlated with IQ, according to Hart.

What that suggests is that it is not simply a case of people reacting to the complexity of their environment.

Acad Ronin writes:

1) Dr. Camplin: Interesting point re complexity. I believe I saw a post somewhere that argued that over the last 20-30 years the plots of TV shows have become more complex with multiple story lines extending over several episodes. So are we now more intelligent, or are we simply used to working with more complex patterns?

2) The blog, "you not sneaky" has an informative post

pointing out that via a simulation analysis that sampling from 250 "economies" or "countries" created to be identical in terms of their income distributions can generate positive but spurious associations between "average" income across the economies and the Gini coefficients (a measure of income inequality) for the economies. I suspect one could generate equally spurious associations between IQ and income.

General Specific writes:

Those obsessing about IQ and race are wasting their time, our time, and feeding unecessary ammunition to racists. I've yet to see a good study on IQ and eye color, or IQ and adipose tissue, or IQ and acne. Yet IQ and race seems to be a topic of interest on this blog (both Caplan and Kling).

Why the interest? What public policy will come of it? Why not just accept a certain level of inefficiency in society as we try to help people rise up beyond possible limitations (racism, etc) and then be done with it. Move on to more relevant topics. Forget the IQ stuff.

I get tired of those who sing the song of IQ and race and then beat their chests as if they are warriors against political correctness, when in fact they just look silly--at least to me--beating their chests.

I say nothing good will come of attention to IQ and race. Please point out how I'm wrong.

Acad Ronin writes:

Arnold: I have seen data that shows that walking speed correlates positively with the side of the city one lives in. That would suggest that some physical behaviors are correlated with complexity of the environment.

Brad Hutchings writes:

General Specific... So how do you feel about people who might examine IQ and sex? In the US, the IQ bell curve for men is a little flatter with more of the population at each extreme (high and low) than the IQ bell curve for women. Does researching that or presenting the data consistent with that fact make one a sexist? Does it do no good other than to provide aid and comfort for the sexists? Does a respected economist like Larry Summers become a pariah when he attempts to find explanations for the obvious observable dearth of women in the hard sciences that aren't discrimination, patriarchy, and glass ceilings?

Let's ignore race for a moment. If a nation of people, say Nigeria, has an average IQ of under 80, which would qualify about 1/2 the population for adult assisted living in our country, do you think that One Laptop Per Child or a school district managed by Oprah Winfrey or all the USAID programs ever conceived are going to spark an economic miracle in that country? Ask that question in an awkward way and, even if you won the Nobel Prize for inventing DNA, you get run out of town for the whole line of questioning, not the stupid remarks anyone over 75 these days is bound to make with no real malice in their hearts.

I have to agree with General Specific in one sense though. Any time these arguments are brought up, it's painful to watch. You know someone is going to get kicked in the crotch and it will be replayed 1000 times in super slo-mo from every conceivable angle. The empathic pain of the impact is only apoplified by knowing that any reasonable grain of truth or insight in the discussion was just kicked away as well.

Tyler Cowen writes:

I thought the book was weakly argued and I am not surprised by the background information you dug up. My goal in linking to it was to ask in what way Clark's explanation really is different. That's still in my view an open question.

Troy Camplin writes:

My blog is at

You might be interested in some of the stuff I wrote there on economics.

Steve Sailer writes:

It's crucial to understand what a racial group actually is. The way we use the term in the U.S., as for example on U.S. Census forms, is this: A racial group is an extended family, a particular kind of extended family that has more coherence and duration because it is partly inbred.

If you can keep that in mind, all sorts of otherwise baffling social phenomenon become much easier to understand.

For a fuller description of the definition of race, see my 2002 article "It's All Relative: Putting Race in its Proper Perspective" at

Steve Sailer writes:

For a comparison of Hart's book to Gregory Clark's rather similar "A Farewell to Alms," see

abe writes:

Keep in mind that Lawrence Auster has as much racial bias as Michael Hart.

8 writes:

This topic is like the Straussian position on religion: there is no God, but don't talk about it.

Snorri Godhi writes:

Another difference between human races and dog breeds is that dog breeds are not the result of natural selection: they come from artificial selection.

There was a guy with a funny mustache who tried to apply artificial selection to humans, all the while pretending to be a good Darwinist, which he was not. It did not work out, and natural selection caught up with him.

Michael Hart writes:

I was disappointed that your comments on my book avoided discussing the facts presented in my book and instead consisted mostly of ad hominem comments.

I thought your readers might like to see what is actually said in my book and then form their own conclusions.

To make this easy, I am making the book available to your readers at no cost, for a limited time, at the link below.

Incidentally, my previous book on history ("The 100") has sold 500,000 copies and been translated into 15 languages.

Click on this link for the free book:

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