Bryan Caplan  

Against High-IQ Misanthropy

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Out of all the reactions I've heard to Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, the most disturbing are all variations on "Except stupid people.  They shouldn't have kids."  I could snark, "You mean people like you?," but that would be dishonest.  The latter-day proponents of negative eugenics have reasonably high IQs.  But their misanthropy is still morally and economically mistaken.

Morally, I just have to ask the high-IQ misanthrope, "What did stupid people ever do to you?"  Their complaints are pretty petty: The dumb kids asked annoying questions in class, made fun of your Star Trek costume, etc.  Are these injuries even remotely awful enough to outweigh the fact that a human being gets to exist and enjoy life?  In any case, once you reach adulthood, people of all IQs generally leave you alone if you leave them alone.  If you want to give your kids a better childhood than you had, use your brains to make some extra money and move to a nicer neighborhood.

Economically, the high-IQ misanthrope has an even weaker case.  Smart people may excel in all activities, but as the law of comparative advantage reveals (see here and here) everyone's better off if people with high IQs outsource their less challenging tasks to others.  In a society of Einsteins, Einsteins take out the garbage, scrub floors, and wash dishes.  What a mind-numbing waste of talent! 

Yes, a handful of people have IQs so low their marginal product is negative.  But the vast majority of low-IQ people pull their weight.  In a market economy, being less productive than average doesn't make you a parasite.  If you produce less, you earn less - simple as that.

Bottom line: When stupid people have kids, high-IQ people should be happy for them.  Being smart is better than being stupid, but being stupid and alive is far better than not existing at all.


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COMMENTS (69 to date)
SG writes:

I appreciate that you legitimately love living. Regardless what anyone says about your book or your arguments therein, I find your zeal for the value of human existence inspiring. If for nothing else, thank you for that.

Steve Z writes:

A misanthrope is someone who hates humanity, not someone who hates potential low-IQ lives.

Stupid people, through supporting and benefiting from confiscatory policies, have me robbed at gunpoint every year. I hold that against them, but don't hate them for it; they are too stupid to understand what they are doing.

I don't know how to weigh the utility function of the unborn. It sounds like you're making an argument for making abortion an illegal, strict liability offense. Does that follow?

Regarding your economic argument, consider how vulnerable it is to technological progress. Automation could render the marginal product of more and more of us negative. Are you comfortable with that?


--I second SG's praise, by the way. I will support you by buying multiple copies of "Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids."

Steve Z writes:

Sorry for the clumsy wording and grammatical errors in the previous post. Time for bed.

Peter Twieg writes:

I think the more difficult question would be why stupid people should have kids conceived from their own genes, as opposed to feeling morally-obligated to use something like a Nobel sperm bank.

John writes:
In a society of Einsteins, Einsteins take out the garbage, scrub floors, and wash dishes. What a mind-numbing waste of talent!

Great point, though we all can agree that cruel people (or people who treat their kids cruelly) should not have more kids. I agree that think some high IQ people remember how cruel kids can be and assume those will be bad parents.

If there is some correlation between IQ and wealth, then it might still make sense for low IQ parents to have fewer children. If a rich guy and a poor guy each have 10 kids with normally distributed IQs, then the rich guy would probably be able to make sure a greater percentage of his kids would have college educations than the poor guy. Hence, the rich guy would be better able to boost the marginal product of his children. If they want to "give the best future for their children", then it might mean that the poor guy would face disincentives on this front before the rich man.

TimG writes:

Their complaints are pretty petty: The dumb kids asked annoying questions in class, made fun of your Star Trek costume, etc.

I'm glad you have never seen these "stupid" parents have a child in an unstable unprepared home. Inconsistent meals, yelling, lots of abuse and often drugs. Its not what they do to me, its what they do to their children. Yes the children get to exist, but they end up damaged, and often inflict that damage on the next generation.

Yes, a handful of people have IQs so low their marginal product is negative.

So is it wrong to say these people are "stupid" and shouldn't procreate? What about the people who don't generate enough marginal product to support their offspring? What if their poor parenting contributes negatively to their marginal product?

Fred writes:

I have found that stupid people can mostly be talked out of stupid ideas. The highly intelligent, on the other hand, show remarkable resilience in defending their stupid ideas.

Evan writes:

Steve Z, where have you met these stupid people who support confiscatory politics? Not around where I live, that's for sure, the stupid people I know aren't politically active at all. Nearly all of them don't vote because they forgot when the election was or were too busy partying and watching TV.

It's been my experience that consistently that confiscatory politics are usually supported primarily by irrational, misguided smart people. To be more specific, people who are smart enough to be think about and be active in politics, but who have become addicted to Hansonian altruistic signaling.

The only role stupid people play in this is an indirect one, they provide a ready source of poor people for politicians to point at to say their welfare statist polices are needed. Other than that, they mainly mind their own business. It's the smart, but irrational people you have to look out for.

Frederick Davies writes:

Mr Caplan,

I think you have forgotten the most obvious economic reason of all: Low-IQ people can have other qualities that make them more successful economically than High-IQ ones. It is not necessary to have a higher-than-average IQ to be a success in some fields and reap the rewards for it; i.e. Sports. The fact that IQ and economic success are not as strongly correlated as they would like is what makes "the elites" critical of the Free Market. I do not know about GMU, but in the University I work in I am tired of listening to professors complaining (sometimes as a joke, sometimes seriously) that they earn 10/20/100-times less than this or that banker; as if IQ should give you economic success instead of your utility to others.

Michael Keenan writes:

Evan, I know stupid people who vote stupidly. They get taken by the idea that it's virtuous to vote - the idea promoted by get-out-the-vote campaigns. I've heard comments like "I voted for the Greens because that's good for the environment." That seemed to be the extent of that girl's thoughts about politics. (That was in the UK.)

In a market economy, being less productive than average doesn't make you a parasite, but we don't live in a pure market economy. In a society where half the population pays almost no taxes and 90% of people pay less than the average contribution to taxes, then maybe being less productive than average does make you a parasite. (I'm not sure about this and would love to see a better analysis.)

In a society of Einsteins, Einsteins build machines to take out the garbage, scrub floors, and wash dishes.

Echoing Peter Twieg's point, I sometimes wonder why we all don't choose our children's genes as carefully as their schools. I might have genes for a quite high IQ, but there are others with better genes by that metric. Might I do my children a disservice by not providing the smartest possible genes?

agnostic writes:

Putting the moral question aside, you're obfuscating on the empirical side of "most pull their own weight," etc. First, focusing on fractions within a group that can pull their weight is wrong -- we care about the absolute size of their drain to society, perhaps divided by how big the pie is.

It doesn't take that many criminals to ruin a neighborhood, for instance -- ah, but then we should just waste a bunch of resources fleeing to places with "good schools" (wink wink), maybe build a gate around the community, and why not make sure it's built on a hilltop and throw in some turrets just for good defensive measure?

Second, for the clearest drains, the fractions are not that small anyway. About 30% of mothers with an IQ below 75 are chronic welfare recipients, and 16% of those with IQs between 75 and 90. Going symmetrically to the high end of the bell curve, the percentages are 2% and 0%.

Here's a graphic on IQ and negative social outcomes from one of Linda Gottfredson's papers. Check her publications list for lots more detail, or The Bell Curve.

http://scienceblogs.com/omnibrain/2007/03/why_iq_matters_a_graph.php

agnostic writes:

Also, the static picture assumed by comparative advantage tells us to make the wrong decision in a dynamic world. What happens when one of the party's skills lose all their value, e.g. because of creative destruction?

Now they have nothing to offer in exchange to their outsourcing partner, and they are going to be horrible at that outsourced task since they've let their skills there atrophy.

With no Plan B to fall back on, the ideal specialist is out of luck. As well all know, voters choose policies aimed to help protect others, not their own narrow self-interests. So they will demand in advance or tolerate ex post a gigantic bailout for the ruined specialist, if he's high-status, or extend very lengthy unemployment benefits if he's low-status.

Moreover, the voters will demand ever more expansive social safety net policies just for this reason -- a person's future is much more precarious and fragile in a specialized world. It's no accident that the welfare state rose in response to unprecedented specialization.

Of course, these ever-ballooning safety net programs are not sustainable, as we already see. Thus, taking comparative advantage seriously to its logical conclusion leads to a worse-off world.

We don't live in a world where there are only some fixed number tasks that will ever need to be performed, and where no party will ever have nothing to offer for very long periods of time. In a random and dynamic world, forget all about comparative advantage.

Angry Voter writes:

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David writes:

Is there no reversion to the mean in IQ? Can't low-IQ parents have an above average child?

Peter St. Onge writes:

Given we live in a sort of topically imperial democracy, I imagine high-IQs see themselves as in competition with lows. They fear the movie Idiocracy.

The misanthropes seem also disproportionately disturbed about African population growth (rather than, say, Dutch growth). It doesn't seem racial to me, maybe they're just unconsciously projecting the democratic accommodation, where the poor become your personal burden.

So I'd suggest trying to shift the debate from the net burden from stupids or poors, towards questioning the whole war-of-all-against-all that naturally results from the politicization of everything from trans-fats to shower length.

RPLong writes:

Bryan, thank you for your wonderful post.

Frederick Davies, thank you for your brilliant comment in reply.

I know plenty of genius plumbers and plenty of idiotic professors. "Stupid people" are always people other than the person doing the talking. If it were up to those labelling others stupid, we'd all be dead.

Biagio writes:

I will play devil's advocate here. I appreciate your argument of the waste of having Einsteins picking up garbage. However as a great fan of your book "The myth of the rational voter", couldn't someone argue that too many stupid people would one day vote in a stupid way?

Foseti writes:

Professor, that is nicely put by someone who moved out to the suburbs of DC to avoid all the stupid people that live in the city.

Things look a bit different to those in my neighborhood (Capitol Hill). In the "what have stupid people ever done to you category," I have: crime, wasted millions on education, electing obviously corrupt politicians, burning entire neighborhoods (see H St. NE), driving down property values, etc.

Obviously these things are harder to see from your escapist position in Virginia, but they're not that subtle either.

staticvars writes:

This Einstein would make machines to do all of that stuff.

I think vastly more people than you imagine are already net negative marginal productivity when measured across all of their increasingly long lives and the cost of their health care.

Cliff Hyra writes:

Sports stars have greater than average IQ- I think about 1 SD.

There is substantial reversion to the mean in IQ. I don't know if that changes the question any, though. Maybe the threshold IQ?

Steve Z writes:

Being a competent plumber takes a fairly high IQ. Also I don't know why we're assuming Einsteins will never enjoy menial labor. Isn't one of the people with the highest IQ's happily toiling away as a bouncer? Many really smart people think better while they are engaged in physical activity. Perhaps we're missing out on insights because smart people don't work with their hands as much anymore. So, we get extra productivity from two Einsteins, even if one is taking out the trash.

Evan: We must know different people. Stupid people being used as the justification for confiscatory policies is strong enough for my purposes.

Let me take a second crack at this -- essentially, Brian has conceded everything negative eugenicists need to be successful eventually. He has conceded that we should think about potential lives in terms of their probable utility. He has conceded that intelligence is highly heritable, and correlated with probable utility. Now he is just engaged in a marginal debate as to when we should begin to support negative eugenics. That's his economic argument.

His philosophical argument boils down to "what did they ever do to you." Well--violent crime, confiscatory policies, clogging up institutions (e.g. public schools), etc. Many of these are government failures, but I'm not holding my breath for the government to be fixed.

Tariq Scherer writes:

In wholehearted support of the author here.
Memory snap from macro 101: long run economic supply is dictated by... population. Right?

Unless somebody can find a better long-term equilibrium aspect to our macro supply variables then perhaps we should just leave it at that and accept: more people is better.

As for the neo-malthusian logic of "we don't have enough of everything and we need more of less to give us more" please... Yes, it might be easier, high IQ or Low IQ, to progress without kids, without family, without anybody. But relatively speaking, it would be a pretty barren existence (all puns intended).

To then insist that child-bearing is an extension of our current production/opportunity set and that lower IQs are disadvantaged in that regards, seriously: if you someone is that good at predicting the future outcome of limited IQ species, then please, the horsetrack is right over there, you can go and prove your worth in predicting the outcome of the 'low' IQ horses. Reality is, we can't predict these outcomes, so come on, be good to the economy, young and old, and have kids.

Tariq Scherer
Twenty Four Something

ajb writes:

This is an odd position for Caplan to take. Surely the man who believes that the less educated and lower IQ are more ignorant voters would see that a lower IQ population will vote for worse policies. Politics has much larger negative externalities than the worst carbon pollution.

This ignores all the social externalities in crime, education, culture, and order that would also be induced. For Caplan to admit that you should just MOVE to a new neighborhood means he concedes the transactions costs. Now it's just an empirical issue of how severe these costs are. I mean, if one likes downtown Chicago, it may not be a trivial issue to me to move to the burbs. I suspect that Caplan is indifferent to the pleasures of the city or those who believe that cultural centers would be better if they were relatively crime free.

davids writes:

david,

yes reversion to the mean is likely but that does not mean that children of low IQ parents will have above normal IQ, only that the kids IQ will likely be above that of their parents. Similarly children of high IQ parents will probably have IQs below their parents but not be below average.

Steve Z writes:

Tariq: It is possible to be in favor of negative eugenics and higher population.

I've been dancing around stating what I think on the issue. I think it's wrong to prevent people from reproducing. It's wrong in a deontological sense. To attempt to capture the wrong using a consequentialist framework is doomed to failure, because extrinsic circumstances can change the utility calculus but the wrong will remain.

Let's say an alien came and offered services equivalent to the utility of some unborn people + 1 utility unit -- would it then be right to prevent those people from being born? No.

Utilitarianism breaks down when it comes to things like the value of unborn lives and choice. That doesn't mean it's not a useful system, just that its domain of usefulness is bounded.

Steve Z writes:

Tariq: It is possible to be in favor of negative eugenics and higher population.

I've been dancing around stating what I think on the issue. I think it's wrong to prevent people from reproducing. It's wrong in a deontological sense. To attempt to capture the wrong using a consequentialist framework is doomed to failure, because extrinsic circumstances can change the utility calculus but the wrong will remain.

Let's say an alien came and offered services equivalent to the utility of some unborn people + 1 utility unit -- would it then be right to prevent those people from being born? No.

Utilitarianism breaks down when it comes to things like the value of unborn lives and choice. That doesn't mean it's not a useful system, just that its domain of usefulness is bounded.

Jeez writes:

Weren't there a lot of high IQ types running the Fed,the banks and think tanks that lacked either foresight or judgement to avoid the meltdown?

The overwhelming majority of immigrants to this nation were poor and undereducated in their home country.

Are there not smart people who fail as adults because of thier personal problems?

Ambition, talent, judgement and social skills count.

Rebecca Burlingame writes:

The best economic tools are those that optimize what people can do with their lives, regardless of their intelligence level. One of the best examples I can think of is a thrift store where the mentally impaired work. They are so proud to have those jobs at the register that they treat everyone who comes in with honor and respect, more than I can say for some people with ten times the intelligence.

Rebecca Burlingame writes:

All of us, no matter what we aspire to, need to share in physical and menial labor as long as we are strong enough to do so: if only for the biological reason, which is the fact that physical labor is one of the main factors that strenghthens our minds.

Taimyoboi writes:

Reading Econlog, I recognize that I'm not that sharp, but my wife and I just had the first of what we hope to be several children.

Although we hail from the "be fruitful and multiply" school of thought, Bryan's postings about his book have added a few quivers in rationalizing our desire for a big family. As long as children grow up to be faithful and hardworking, the rest is immaterial.

Thanks Bryan!

Sporf writes:

You are probably correct that most low-IQ people can be net positives today. But in another 10 years, I think a solid 25% of the population will be economically worthless after being replaced by robots.

Colin K writes:

Agnostic:

a person's future is much more precarious and fragile in a specialized world. It's no accident that the welfare state rose in response to unprecedented specialization.

More precarious compared to what? Less than a century ago, Calvin Coolidge's 16-year-old son died after a blister on his foot became infected. Looking a bit farther back, most families were rarely more than a bad turn of luck away from literally starving to death. A large part of the US population got up and moved halfway across the country because their farms literally dried up and blew away.

Forgive me if I find those things vastly more precarious than the risk that your salary will not ratchet upwards by an average of 5% every year throughout your career.

As for the rise of the welfare state, I say it would have been impossible without the surpluses provided by specialization. As to motives, its greatest advocates were autocrats like the Kaiser and technocrats like Woodrow Wilson, who saw in it great opportunities to remake the nation according to their preferred contours.

Peter Finch writes:

@Sporf

People who are not in the field often grossly overestimate the status of and prospects for robotics.

> But in another 10 years, I think a solid 25% of
> the population will be economically worthless
> after being replaced by robots.

People have been saying things like this for fifty years. It's not true.

Jeez writes:


"If you want to give your kids a better childhood than you had, use your brains to make some extra money and move to a nicer neighborhood."

Nice neighbors are richer(smarter) neighbors.... that's not a nice thing to say.

Brian Clendinen writes:

Ok could someone please point me to me studies that shows that IQ is related to Genetics?

I thought studies had shown there is absolutely no relationship in IQ related to genetics, it is more how one is raised. I find the whole argument stupid people should not have kids Communist. Who will determine who is smart, and who is dumb? IQ has a lot of limitations on measuring many forms of intelligence. This is the same agrument the same people make for abortion of the poor. The kids will lead a unproductive life most likely therefore they should be removed. The problem is how can one know who will be murders and who will be doctors? Plus it assumes the fallacy in that if one is born poor in the U.S. you will live a poor life and mostly likly harmful to society. Homeschooling alone disprove the point , the fact there is absolutely no performance gap on standardized test (average is 86%) related to a families income, nor is civic envolvement (which is on average two times more likely for homeschooled adults) any diffrent based on income or race. It is a culture issue not a race or income issue.

Jake Sexchamp writes:

I agree with Peter Finch about robotics, even though I believe that it's technically possible - today - to design a robot that can thoroughly vacuum a house, including the stairs and under the sofa. It's just that that would be really expensive, and low-IQ people are comparatively cheap, so why bother? Here's a rephrasing of comparative advantage as it applies here: Low-IQ people are valuable to the rest of us because their inherently low value makes it less of a waste to set them doing drudgery.

david (not henderson) writes:

As one of my favourite columnists, George Jonas, once wrote:

"Certain errors require high IQs."

Negative externalities can be created just as easily (perhaps more easily given their position in society?) by the smart as by the stupid.

Peter Finch writes:

> Ok could someone please point me to me studies
> that shows that IQ is related to Genetics?

For example:
http://www.psych.umn.edu/courses/spring06/mcguem/psy5137/readings/devlin%201997.pdf

This is an interesting one because it pushed the broad-sense heritability of IQ down to around 0.5 by considering the effect of a previously neglected component of prenatal environments in twin pregnancies on earlier studies.

We had a monochorionic twin pregnancy, and believe me we had concern about the effect of prenatal environment on outcomes. Concerns that would not be typical in a singleton pregnancy, or for that matter a dichorionic twin pregnancy.

But 50 percent is still pretty high. And it's not like "how one is raised" is the other 50 percent.


Steve Z writes:

Brian: Actually standardized test scores do vary with SES. See: https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http://professionals.collegeboard.com/profdownload/pdf/rr9905_3916.pdf

Arthur_500 writes:

Alas the daughter of some acquaintances is about to have her second child. this wonderful woman has a very low IQ and is unable to take care of her first child. he is so slow I fear he may have some issues such as Down's but I am too polite to bring it up. The government (you and I who pay taxes) paid for her first child and now we are about to pay for her second one. I would rather pay for her sterilization as well as the sterilization of her useless boyfriend (that's right, they aren't married).

many question why there are so many smart Jews. One opinion pointed out that during the Dark ages and the Middle Ages the Catholics urged their best and brightest to join the Church and be celibate. Conversely, the Rabbi had to bless any proposed marriage amongst jews.

In effect the Jews promoted any potential hereditary advantage and the Catholics promoted the elimination of any hereditary advantage.

Stupid people do have a negative drag on our economy. Even manual labor can best be done by people smart enough to work safely and efficiently. Then there are the social costs of suypporting those too stupid to support themselves or become involved with the legal system.

Just as we weed out lousy employees we dream of doing the same in our society. Hitler acted while many in the US talked of the same ideal society. We are too polite to appreciate their actions but we cannot deny their effectiveness. It wasn't until the late 1960's that Germany had to deal with the social issues of accumulated mentally and severly physically hadicapped.

This is rather rude, crude and socially unacceptable but it points out that those who are a drag on our society should be recognized. We may not take the actions of Hitler but we can encourage better education and better life choices by those who truly are stupid.

liberty writes:

I was going to address some of the specific points made by Arthur_500 (not married?! What a travesty!) but I think he's made my point for me by favorably citing Nazi policy...

It is not up to you or me to decide who has babies. If you have even the slightest respect for freedom and independence of the individual you would never deign to assert whether someone else should have a baby or not.

You can advocate against government support after the fact - or argue that if government should care for the child (who, after all, cannot care for itself) then it should do so in a way that would not reward the parent; but to argue that some "objective" measure, be it IQ or any other indicator, should decide who has the right to bear children is to advocate the worst form of social planning.

If anyone here considers themselves libertarian, Hayekian, anti-socialist, anti-NAZI, or any kind of advocate of liberty, they should take a moment to contemplate just how horrific and totalitarian such a policy would be.

Chris T writes:

People have been saying things like this for fifty years. It's not true.

Except that it's happening now; automation is steadily wiping out manufacturing employment and has replaced a lot of mid-level jobs. The jobs created in their stead are mostly high skill or low skill service positions. A substantial fraction of the population can't do high skill (creative) jobs and the service sector is uniquely constrained by the needs of the human population (machines don't need hair dressers).

People can have no comparative advantage in the economy. Something way too many economists ignore.

But 50 percent is still pretty high. And it's not like "how one is raised" is the other 50 percent.

The whole question of how 'how much does heritability contribute to IQ' is actually pretty silly. It's entirely context dependent. In a situation with no environmental variation, the answer would be at maximum (but not 100%, genes still have to be expressed and the expression is hardly perfect). Conversely, in a society with random amounts of lead in a child's environment, the contribution would be mostly environmental.

The correct question should be: what minimum set of environmental conditions are required to maximize heritability?

We may very well have exceeded those conditions for most people in the Western world.

Richard Mason writes:

If you want to give your kids a better childhood than you had, use your brains to make some extra money and move to a nicer neighborhood.

This is tangential to your main point, but it's not clear either that childhood quality is strongly determined by the neighborhood, or that moving to a nicer neighborhood requires making extra money.

It's plausible, for example, that one could have a very good childhood out in the countryside somewhere, where it takes less money to live, not more.

Evan writes:

Chris T, you are making the assumption that there are a finite number of jobs, or at least a finite number of types of jobs.

If I recall, Say's law dictates that when the demand for something decreases, the price goes down, leading people who previously could not afford it to start using it. They then gradually bid the price back up. This applies for labor too. If stupid people are replaced by robots, then there will be a large surplus of cheap labor, allowing people to afford to hire labor to do new, never-before-existing jobs.

What those jobs are, I don't know, if I did I'd be buying stocks now, not posting on somebody's blog. But what I do know is that this has happened frequently in the past, it's no coincidence that the Industrial Revolution in Britain was preceded by the Enclosure Movement. Because the Enclosure Movement had made all those farmers unemployed, factory owners could now afford to hire them to manufacture things.

If you want to keep stupid people employed, the best thing to do is fight against things like minimum wage laws, since those interfere with the functioning of Say's Law.

Peter Finch writes:

> Except that it's happening now; automation is
> steadily wiping out manufacturing employment and
> has replaced a lot of mid-level jobs. The jobs \
> created in their stead are mostly high skill or
> low skill service positions. A substantial
> fraction of the population can't do high skill
> (creative) jobs and the service sector is
> uniquely constrained by the needs of the human
> population (machines don't need hair dressers).

I didn't say robots were useless, I said that 25 percent of the population being worthless in 10 years was fantasy. It will be a while before a robot remodels my kitchen.

> The whole question of how 'how much does
> heritability contribute to IQ' is actually
> pretty silly. It's entirely context dependent.

These studies mostly look at Western populations that share the really big environmental variables, like diet, parasite load, etc.

In any event, I'm more in the "I don't care about the heritability of IQ" camp. I just thought it was an interesting document that helped answer Brian's question.

At anything like the present state of the world, I feel like I have no business mucking about in the fertility of other people. I feel mostly large positive effects, and negligible negative effects, from the decisions of others in this realm. I certainly don't blame people who choose to reproduce for the welfare state system other people have imposed on them.

If people could have millions of kids instead of ten or so, maybe I'd feel differently. But right now I can't get so upset at the impact of Octomom that I want to start trampling on the right of other people to plan their own lives. I'm sure other people feel differently.

Keith writes:

The amazing thing about genetics and reproduction is that two above average adults can have a very below average kid and two below average adults can have an above average child.

In the real world, unlike Lake Wobegon, not all children are above average. Even those from high IQ parents. But that's ok, because every human being offers the chance to expand human capacity in some form or fashion.

Brian Clendinen writes:

@ Steve Z writes:
"Brian: Actually standardized test scores do vary with SES."


Steve, this study in no way address the culture aspects of race. I was not saying SES's did not have differing test performances. I am saying SES's are not the cause of poor performance. It is not racial genes, (or income) but the fact a race has a strong correlation with specific culture behaviors which lead to poor test scores which also tend to lead to poverty.

When I referred to environment, I was referring to what I thought was the only non-random influence on IQ the Individual does not control.

D writes:

Bryan, you listed The Bell-Curve as one of your 5 favorite books.

Nearly the entire book is about what happens as a resut of low-IQ, and none of it was how annoying or plain stupid they are. Nor is that what people like Steve Sailer or his comments section regularly harp on. There are huge social costs - externalities - that low IQ groups cause.

As a show of good faith, why don't you deal with those arguments rather than erecting straw-men?

Chris T writes:

Chris T, you are making the assumption that there are a finite number of jobs, or at least a finite number of types of jobs.

But what I do know is that this has happened frequently in the past, it's no coincidence that the Industrial Revolution in Britain was preceded by the Enclosure Movement.

Broadly speaking there are a finite number of types of jobs. The number of jobs within each type may be infinite, but the number of fundamentally basic actions performed in the economy is actually quite small. Machines filled two entire categories - basic physical labor and energy at the onset of the Industrial Revolution. This is precisely why a major growth inflection point occurred. Prior to the IR, the amount of physical work that could be done and energy that could be provided was limited by humans and animals (with some niche applications for other forms of energy production).

It is indeed true that workers shifted from agriculture to industry, but both are ultimately forms of production. They were simply moving from one form of production to an expanded range of forms. Critically, while most workers were no longer needed for their physical labor, they were still needed for performing a series of computational steps to run the equipment. This what the main role of labor in manufacturing was throughout the industrial period - act as computers.

The advent of the digital computer changed this dynamic. Now machines could be made to run a series of complicated steps on their own and the complexity possible has been growing over time. Thus very little labor is now needed in production and the amount needed is diminishing yearly.

The remaining tasks in the economy are either abstract/creative or human services. A significant portion of the population cannot perform creative tasks to an economically useful extent. The problem with human services is that it is uniquely constrained in demand by the population. Thus you'll have a large number of people competing for low skill service positions that are fundamentally limited in demand for a similar reason agriculture was - the need for it is ultimately finite.

A society of Einsteins would not have this problem, as they could all be moved into abstract/creative tasks if necessary. We do not have that luxury.

Steve Sailer writes:

I favor American citizens deciding how many children to have in the privacy of their own bedrooms. I favor Mexican citizens deciding how many children to have in the privacy of their own bedrooms in Mexico.

clay writes:

Bryan, you know the Star Trek costume argument is a straw man. You should address the more serious concerns:

Responsibility, education, productivity, and measures of intelligence are generally inversely correlated with birth rates. This suggests a dysgenic effect with some very disturbing implications. People are worried that the human herd is rapidly adopting a more irresponsible, unintelligent, unproductive composition that will lead to a less desirable society to live in.

The societies that are least desirable to live in, specifically, most poor African nations, are the ones producing the most population growth, and the most desirable developed nations are producing the least population growth.

Most educated people are torn about this. They realize this a real scary problem that is facing the world, yet almost any thought or solution or even public debate on this issue is socially considered *evil* for many valid reasons. So, most people secretly worry about it, but realize there is no practical option so they resign themselves to not thinking about it and focusing on their own immediate life situation.

The most common practical solution is that eventually genetic engineering technology will allow undesirable traits to be voluntary removed from the gene pool.

devaux writes:

Well, Einstein did some of his best work while he was a lowly patent clerk, so maybe a society of Einsteins doing menial labor would work out after all.

Steve Sailer writes:

Einstein never lived in California, but Richard Feynman did. I can reassure Bryan that California in 2010 is in absolutely no danger of turning into a society of Feynmans.

eric writes:

I think a reasonable question is whether your argument for more children, and fully anticipating the costs and benefits, is more relevant to those with higher IQ/talent/discipline. Are some demographics currently underestimating the costs of raising children, and underinvesting in the children they create? Or does it not matter, everyone overestimates the cost of taking their kid to soccer practice and going over their homework?

Sporf writes:

@Peter

Well it is true that the field of AI has made big promises and not delivered. However, I think your prediction based on past history is a little pessimistic (or perhaps optimistic depending on your point of view). In fact I am planning to write a position paper on why machine learning is about to take off in practical computer systems. The one-line summary: Moore's law not only gives us big computer systems, but it allows the collection of big data sets as people interact with computers more and more. Off the top of my head the best estimates for the computing power of the cortex are about 10^14 flops, which is about the same as 100 Nvidia graphics cards. Of course there may be some special algorithms needed, but within 10 years we will absolutely have the raw computing power, something that was manifestly lacking 10 or 20 years ago.

Right now there are a huge number of people who are employed solely because they can speak English: cashiers at grocery stores or fast food restaurants, technical support people, etc. So just basic success at natural language processing in question and answering might easily put 25% of the workforce out of business, without fancy robots at all.

jstaples writes:

Brian says: Ok could someone please point me to me studies that shows that IQ is related to Genetics?

Popular social programs are based around this assumption. Our society DEEPLY wants to believe that genetics is a very minor component of intelligence. To believe otherwise lends credibility to ugly ideas like racism, classism, elitism, etc... We want to believe that everyone has an equal shot if only given an equal chance.

Unfortunately, science doesn't bear this out. Intelligence is very strongly associated with genetics. This doesn't mean that there isn't some reversion to the mean, but ON AVERAGE, stupid people have stupid kids and smart people have smart kids. No amount of schooling will change that.

We put heavy burdens on teachers by judging them according the performance of their students, yet we pay no attention to the raw materials they are given. We look at the correlation between high performing school districts and higher income and assume lack of money is the reason for the lower performance of poorer districts.

The reality is that ON AVERAGE poorer people are less intelligent and their less intelligent offspring in the poorer school districts are not going to perform well academically. This is regardless of the quality of instruction or number of computers or ratio of students to teachers.

It would be profoundly evil to prevent less intelligent people from reproducing, but at the very least we should take away the incentives to keep having children that are currently in place.

agnostic writes:

"In a society of Einsteins, Einsteins take out the garbage, scrub floors, and wash dishes. What a mind-numbing waste of talent!"

This is a riot. Panglossian economists keep trumpeting how great it is to outsource these menial tasks because -- why, again? To increase the amount of leisure time you have.

The professional who hires a Guatemalan to mow his lawn, take out the trash, etc., uses these extra 2 or 3 hours a week to fart around on Twitter, check email on his iPhone a couple more times, get some reading done, interact with family and friends more, etc.

We see again the profound disbelief in diminishing marginal returns among economists. Einstein working an 8 or 10-hour day is already doing his best. Each additional hour freed up beyond that (by outsourcing or whatever) will contribute less and less -- and in reality, almost nothing -- to his creative output. Instead, he's going to invest that new-found time in getting a life.

Your argument about "wasted talent" would only apply if Einstein had 1 or 2 hours of creative work because he was schlepping away for another 8 in manual labor. Back on planet Earth, your argument can only appeal to "wasted leisure time for the talented." Pretty hard to sell that to others.

Philo writes:

The people who complain about stupid people producing children don't complain about dog breeders producing dogs; but dogs are 'way stupider than even very stupid people. And how about horticulturalists who produce plants? What is stupider than a plant?

miina writes:

It would be abhorrent to prevent people from reproducing--how would such a plan be carried out? How would "stupid" be determined, and how would such people be prevented from having children? I really doubt that people can be persuaded to never ever have sex, and contraceptives aren't foolproof, so sterilization would be the only method to guarantee that an individual will not reproduce. People being labeled as "stupid" would certainly disagree with that labeling, and would object even more strongly to the sterilization. The ones who don't fight back against being labeled as "stupid" and unfit for reproduction would most likely be mentally handicapped to an extent that they would not have children even without such a policy.

If (magically) such a program is implemented, and all the people under a certain IQ die out and their roles in society taken over by robots, would the program end or would it continue but with the IQ bound set a little higher? At what point will "intelligent" people (as I presume all we commenters would identify as) become the bottom rung of the ladder, to be replaced by machines?

Evan writes:

Philo, you make a very good point, but I'm sure someone would reply that dogs and plants can't vote.

That being said, I wish one of them would actually produce statistics on I.Q., voting, and political affiliation. I don't see any reason why low I.Q. people are more likely to leftist than conservative. Sure, liberals might promise to give them money, but conservatives have a lot to offer low IQ people too. Since low IQ is often correlated with being intolerant and close-minded, it seems likely that low IQ voters would be likely to support candidates who railed against gay people, science, and foreigners. I've known a lot of stupid people who were religious fundamentalists, despite being far less versed in biblical lore than I. It seems quite possible that a lot of low IQ people would inadvertently vote for economic freedom by voting for conservative candidates who were campaigning on "family values" platforms.

I actually have a theory that there two kinds of conservatives, reactionary (low IQ), and Burkean (high IQ). The reactionary type opposes social change because they dislike it. The Burkean type opposes social change because they understand are institutions evolved for a reason, so that, while change can be good, institutions have to change slowly to avoid chaos. The left is, in my theory, usually of an in-between IQ level, smart enough to realize that social change can be good, but not smart enough to realize that it will result in chaos if it doesn't happen gradually, and in a decentralized manner.

Adam Gere writes:

Maybe intelligence as a tool of survival in an evolutionary scale is overrated, by virtue of the fact that people who do the rating tend to be smarter that the average. Human beings like us have been around maybe for sixty thousand years. And to be fair we have been remarkably successful. Lumping, all the 6.5 billion of us together, we represent probably the most amount protein of all species (although I do not know if anybody has ever attempted to measure this). On the other hand, the staying power of intelligence as a protein manufacturing factory is far from being certain. Compare our sixty thousand years to the at least sixty million years of the crocodilians. Let’s face it they are pretty stupid, with their brain size of our thumb, only one program in it: eat anything that moves. Or consider the bugs. They are doing just fine and they aren’t too smart either. Intelligence may just be a passing attempt of nature to produce more living stuff and ultimately it may turn out to be a dead-end. Maybe stupidity is the way to go. Who knows, maybe by reducing stupidity in our gene pool we would be foreclosing some evolutionary avenues. Do you think the universe cares?

econo writes:

"Morally, I just have to ask the high-IQ misanthrope, "What did stupid people ever do to you?"

Probably not much, provided that high-SES high-IQ types usually self-segregate away from the low-SES low-IQ types.

Low IQ with lots of social capital is rarely a social problem, but as social capital ultimately depends on having a reasonably high-IQ social structure around...

Peter Finch writes:

Sporf, this argument is missing a lot of important detail.

Single threaded cpu performance basically stalled in 2006. (This is an oversimplification, but not much of one.) Since then, almost all progress has been in the form of adding threads and using parallelism to hide latency. It has gotten much harder to get additional performance from hardware. It's not clear where this trend is going. This is fine if your application is something like matrix math, but if you're trying to do parsing or tree search, it's not easy to use the new power.

I'm really far from believing it's impossible for software to advance, but a lot of changes are coming in how that gets done. You no longer get additional performance from just waiting for the next generation of hardware.

This is a decent overview of the state of the world:
http://www.eecs.berkeley.edu/Pubs/TechRpts/2006/EECS-2006-183.pdf

In my opinion, software is still at the "stone knives and bear skins" stage of development. There is lots still to be done.

All that said, your argument about computers displacing workers seems to ignore competitive advantage. I make better hamburgers than the crew at McDonald's, but when lunch time rolls around, I pay them to make one for me. My opportunity cost is greater than theirs. Were I to spend the time to make that hamburger, I'd forgo a lot more income than the price of the hamburger. The same sorts of trades occur with computers (and less skilled workers) today, and they will likely continue in the future.

Chris T writes:

I'm really far from believing it's impossible for software to advance, but a lot of changes are coming in how that gets done. You no longer get additional performance from just waiting for the next generation of hardware.

Which is probably a good thing, most computer processing power is unused or used very inefficiently. Software has been lagging hardware advances for a long time.

Were I to spend the time to make that hamburger, I'd forgo a lot more income than the price of the hamburger. The same sorts of trades occur with computers (and less skilled workers) today, and they will likely continue in the future.

Except that the owner of the burger establishment would have much to gain in income if burger flipping was automated.

We're steadily getting better at creating our own specialized agents. I don't think comparative advantage really accounts for this.

It's true that new tasks are found all the time, but it is also true that we might very well be able to just build something to perform it for us at a much lower cost.

Peter Finch writes:

> We're steadily getting better at creating our
> own specialized agents. I don't think
> comparative advantage really accounts for this.

Perhaps I misunderstand, but isn't this exactly what comparative advantage accounts for?

If burger flipping were automated, the burger flippers would move to whatever automation did less well.

At any point in time there's a finite amount of robots and people. You have to allocate them to tasks. They'll each be better at some tasks than others. If there's a finite population of people and robots, and the marginal product of the people is positive (which, except in extreme cases, it is), then you would allocate the people to _something_.

To break this down you need to get into far-future assumptions where the distinction between people and robots also begins to break down.

Chris T writes:

Perhaps I misunderstand, but isn't this exactly what comparative advantage accounts for?

My understanding of comparative advantage is that between two agents or economies, even if one is better in two tasks, the lesser agent can do what the better agent does the worst. I don't know that it covers situations where additional agents can be created as needed.

If burger flipping were automated, the burger flippers would move to whatever automation did less well.

It's a rather major assumption that useful work (as opposed to make work) can always be found for someone with burger flipping skills that automation will do less well. When your computer processor becomes obsolete, do you buy a new computer and shift lower priority tasks to the old computer or do you just get rid of the old computer? Why would individual humans be exempt from the same obsolescence?

This seems to be more faith than anything else.

PJ writes:

Only a low IQ individual would fail to recognize that Caplan is employing a strawman argument, and therefore not reaching any conclusion that is logically valid.

Amy writes:

A key problem America faces now, however, is that through economic/trade policy and the Einsteins driving down costs by shipping jobs to lower cost countries we have removed many of the jobs for lower IQ/skill individuals. There is only so much garbage to be taken out. Either we change policies to create more of these jobs, or we will have low IQ/skill individuals with no gainful employment.

Richard Mason writes:

@Steve Sailer:

I'm not certain why you brought up California, but for the record, Einstein did live in California for short periods. He spent his winters at Caltech in 1930, 1931, and 1932.

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