Bryan Caplan  

Intelligence Makes People Think Like Economists: Further Evidence

The Greek turmoil... David Cay Johnston's Confusion...
Caplan and Miller's finding that "intelligence makes people think like economists" (published in 2010, but largely written in 2006) is holding up well.  A mini literature review, courtesy of Duarte, Crawford, Stern, Haidt, Jussim, and Tetlock:
[T[he observed relationship between intelligence and conservatism largely depends on how conservatism is operationalized. Social conservatism correlates with lower cognitive ability test scores, but economic conservatism correlates with higher scores (Iyer, Koleva, Graham, Ditto, & Haidt, 2012; Kemmelmeier 2008). Similarly, Feldman and Johnston (2014) find in multiple nationally representative samples that social conservatism negatively predicted educational attainment, whereas economic conservatism positively predicted educational attainment. Together, these results likely explain why both Heaven et al. (2011) and Hodson and Busseri (2012) found a negative correlation between IQ and conservatism--because "conservatism" was operationalized as Right-Wing Authoritarianism, which is more strongly related to social than economic conservatism (van Hiel et al., 2004). In fact, Carl (2014) found that Republicans have higher mean verbal intelligence (up to 5.48 IQ points equivalent, when covariates are excluded), and this effect is driven by economic conservatism (which, as a European, he called economic liberalism, because of its emphasis on free markets). Carl suggests that libertarian Republicans overpower the negative correlation between social conservatism and verbal intelligence, to yield the aggregate mean advantage for Republicans. Moreover, the largest political effect in Kemmelmeier's (2008) study was the positive correlation between anti-regulation views and SAT-V scores, where β = .117, p < .001 (by comparison, the regression coefficient for conservatism was β = −.088, p < .01, and for being African American, β = −.169, p < .001).
Those cites:

Carl, N. (2014). Verbal intelligence is correlated with socially and economically liberal beliefs. Intelligence, 44, 142-148.

Feldman, S., & Johnston, C. (2014). Understanding the determinants of political ideology: Implications of structural complexity. Political Psychology, 35(3), 337-358.

Heaven, P. C., Ciarrochi, J., & Leeson, P. (2011). Cognitive ability, right-wing authoritarianism, and social dominance orientation: A five-year longitudinal study amongst adolescents. Intelligence, 39(1), 15-21.

Hodson, G., & Busseri, M. A. (2012). Bright minds and dark attitudes: Lower cognitive ability predicts greater prejudice through right-wing ideology and low intergroup contact. Psychological Science, 23(2), 187-195.

Kemmelmeier, M. (2008). Is there a relationship between political orientation and cognitive ability? A test of three hypotheses in two studies. Personality and Individual Differences, 45, 767-772.

Iyer, R., Koleva, S., Graham, J., Ditto, P., & Haidt, J. (2012). Understanding libertarian morality: The psychological dispositions of self-identified libertarians. PLoS ONE 7(8): e42366. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0042366

Van Hiel, A., Pandelaere, M., & Duriez, B. (2004). The impact of need for closure on conservative beliefs and racism: Differential mediation by authoritarian submission and authoritarian dominance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30(7), 824-837.

To counter my confirmation bias, please post contrary cites in the comments.

COMMENTS (17 to date)
Carl S. writes:

Ron Bailey on the topic earlier this year:

eddy writes:

A 2012 study by Heiner Rindermann found that centrists have the highest IQs, with scores dropping off along either end of the left/right continuum: the more extreme the political orientation, the lower the IQ. In the UK, the centrist party (Lib Dems) had an average IQ of 108, conservatives averaged 103, liberals (Labour) 102, and the British National Party 98. Similar results were also been found in Germany, the Netherlands, and Brazil (where center-right = IQ 105, center = 103, center-left = 100, far left = 98, far right = 97, and those with no political opinion either way at the bottom, IQ = 94).

Miguel Madeira writes:

"economic conservatism (which, as a European, he called economic liberalism, because of its emphasis on free markets). "

Things will be much more easy if americans from USA called "liberalism" to what almost everyone in the world call "liberalism", instead of creating a Frankestein-creature-like called "conservatism" (joining from libertarians to protectionist nativists).

Miguel Madeira writes:

But could be interesting to control by income - more inteligente people tend to be economic libertarians, or is simply a question of people with more income being more economic libertarian, and more inteligente people having usually more income?

Miguel Madeira writes:

An attempt, using the GSS, to make the study controlling to income.

Go to "regression"

And lets use the variables

HELPPOOR ("Should government improve standards of living?" - higher values mean "No")
WORDSUM (answers in a vocabulary test - higher values mean more correct answers)
INCOME ("Total family income" - higher the value, higher the income)
YEAR (year of the survey; I choose to use only the data from the survey of 2008)

First, without controlling for income:

Dependent variable: HELPPOOR
Independent variable: WORDSUM
Selection Filter: YEAR(2008)


The coefficient to WORDSUM is 0.068, with a t-statistic of 2.628; the result is according to the post: more inteligence (using WORDSUM as a proxy means more economic libertarianism)

Now, controling for income:

Dependent variable: HELPPOOR
Independent variable: WORDSUM; INCOME
Selection Filter: YEAR(2008)


WORDSUM: coeficient 0.037; t-statistic 1.336
INCOME: coeficient 0.104; t-statistic 3.487

Conclusion: althoug, after controlling for income, the coefficient for WORDSUM remains positive, it did not remain significant (in other words, the economic libertarianism of more intelligent people largely disappears if you control for income)

Daniel Kuehn writes:

Instead of contrary cites, can I just ask a question: how does this demonstrate that intelligence makes people think like economists?

Doesn't this demonstrate that intelligence makes people think more like conservative economists and less like liberal economists? The net effect of whether it makes them think like economists seems ambiguous from this data.

I wouldn't be surprised if your claim is that intelligence makes people think like economists is true. Indeed I'd hope it is true! But as far as I can tell these data don't speak to that.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

I should clarify - what you've presented here doesn't seem to prove your claim. It's possible that the way they've operationalized "economic conservatism" in the rest of the article does, but if it's more or less "what Republicans think on economic policy issues" it does not seem to prove your title claim.

Nathan W writes:

This could be a matter of how intelligence is defined.

For example, there are many experiments where people with economics majors and others are compared for how they respond in a game. People with training in game theory are "smarter" (or less altruistic/cooperative) according to some narrow definition, but how many knives do they have righteously pointed at their backs in the real world?

Nathan W writes:

Keep in mind that language-related dimensions of "intelligence" can often be easily demonstrated to have social/ethnic bias in favour of some dominant groups.

For example, the drum solo of the century could hardly make it on to an intelligence test, and this drummer is probably quite indifferent as to most of the things used to measure "intelligence".

Stephen Miller writes:

For those questioning whether controlling for income, etc. matters, please RTA:

JayMan writes:

Population in question makes a HUGE difference here. You have to observe each ethnic group separately to avoid ethnic confounding.

eddy writes:

@Nathan W: "language-related dimensions of 'intelligence' can often be easily demonstrated to have social/ethnic bias in favour of some dominant groups" -- that train left the station a long, long time ago. So it's definitely not "a matter of how intelligence is defined," and IQ/SAT/Wordsum tests certainly do not measure "some narrow definition" of intelligence, but instead measure the very essence of a very broad and very general intelligence.

Miguel Madeira writes:

"For those questioning whether controlling for income, etc. matters, please RTA:"

These paper measures the impact of inteligence controling for income, or only for education?

Brian writes:

If you want to avoid confirmation bias, interpret the results in a less flattering way, for example, "this evidence suggests that economists spend a lifetime learning what intelligent people already know." ;)

Stephen Miller writes:

As I said, RTA. There's not only a control for income, but ones for income growth, job security, age gender, race, party id, and ideology.

Roger McKinney writes:

To paraphrase Hayek, intelligence is highly over rated, especially by the intelligent. He wrote decades ago that there is a high correlation between intelligence and socialism, the most intelligent likely to be the most socialist. That's because the more intelligent people overrate their ability to control the economy and direct the lives of others. In other words, intelligent people are very arrogant. Hayek called it the "fatal conceit." Of course, there are a few exceptions.

The assumptions of equilibrium and perfect competition by mainstream econ suits socialists well. They exclude the entrepreneur from any role in the economy so that all change results from random shocks or market failure, giving the state the role of correcting market "failures" to achieve perfect competition and restoring equilibrium when random shocks destroy it. That means most mainstream economists are closet socialists.

More important than intelligence is wisdom, which requires humility. Of course, intelligence with wisdom is best, but a rare combination.

hanmeng writes:

You'd never know it from observing most liberal arts faculty. (Or maybe they're actually not intelligent!)

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