Bryan Caplan  

The Architecture of Hive Mind

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My debate partner and former co-blogger Garett Jones' Hive Mind: How Your Nation's IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own is finally out.  It's a wonderful book in both substance and style - peak Garett.  He instinctively hews to my seven guidelines for writing worthy non-fiction.  Guideline-by-guideline:

1. Pick an important topic.  "Why are some countries rich and other countries poor?" is perennial.  "Why does national IQ have a bigger effect on national income than personal IQ does on personal income?" may not seem earth-shaking on the surface, but Garett powerfully argues that IQ is an elephant in the room.

2. Learn a lot about your topic.  Garett's read widely in macro, development, psychology, experiment econ, and beyond.  You can also tell he's traveled the world with his eyes open.

3. Keep telling yourself: "Once I perfect the organization of my book, it will practically write itself."  Garett breaks his book down into a gripping introduction and ten pithy chapters.  The introduction shines a blinding spotlight on the key facts about national IQ and national prosperity.  Having piqued your interest, he then tries to get every reader on the same page.  Chapters 1-3 target reach out to IQ skeptics, and explain the saga of the Flynn Effect.  Chapters 4-8 explain the most plausible mechanisms behind IQ's macroeconomic effects.  Chapter 9 explores the implications for immigration so fairly I found myself nodding throughout.  Chapter 10 wraps it all up.  Elegant!

4. Never preach to the choir.  Garett earnestly tries to reach not only the typical IQ-apathetic economist, but the typical IQ-phobic intellectual.  While I'm often saddened by Garett's Twitter-tone, Hive Mind is a sociologically Mormon book - thoroughly intellectually friendly.

5. When in doubt, write like Hemingway.  Hive Mind is probably the most beautifully written book ever produced by a GMU economist.  Flip to a random page, and you will find great sentences.  For example, here's what I found when I randomly flipped to page 143:
The lawyers working on a billion-dollar corporate merger are probably working with an O-ring technology, in which one typo can mean a $100 million lawsuit down the road, and if you're having open heart surgery it's probably a good idea to have the best nurses, the best cardiologists, and the best anesthesiologists together in the same room.  On a routine appendectomy you'll rarely see that combination: we all say we want "the best doctor," but the best doctor's time is scarce, and it's probably best for his time to be spent working on crucial surgeries as part of a high-quality team.
And:
In Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, the Enterprise is trying to escape another Federation ship.  Scotty, the engineer of the Enterprise, had been on the pursuing ship a little earlier.  When the Enterprise jumps to warp speed, the pursuing ship tries to do the same, but sputters to a halt.  Back on the Enterprise, Scotty pulls some electronic gadget out of his pocket and turns to Captain Kirk: "The more they overthink the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain."  The longer the chain of production, the easier it is to break the links.

6. Treat specific intellectual opponents with respect, in print and otherwise, even if they don't reciprocate.  But feel free to ridicule ridiculous ideas.  Garett is especially effective at undermining defensive statistical illiteracy: "Every person we meet, every nation we visit, is an exception to the rules - but it's still a good idea to know the rules."

7. Don't keep your cards close to your chest.  While Garett strives to be friendly, being understood is his top priority.  He knows that many readers won't like the idea that poor countries are poor to a large degree because their inhabitants are cognitively slow.  But he says it anyway.  If you've watched my debate with Garett, you may be tempted to object that Garett kept even more controversial claims out of the book.  But when you have as many cards as Garett, you've got to avoid information overload.




COMMENTS (17 to date)
Jim writes:

You've added this "chaps, not maps" argument to your Marx great man theory. Just sounds too Randian.

Easy to look "cognitively fast" when you live near Asian deepwater port far from the equator, and cognitively slow when landlocked in Africa, Central Asia, or flyover country nearer equator.

E. Harding writes:

Singapore is practically at the Equator. Flyover country in the U.S. doesn't perform that poorly on educational rankings.

Just look at Malaysia. Chinese v. Malays. That should allay your concerns.

Mactoul writes:

On page 2 I find the statement

Nations with test scores in the bottom 10 percent worldwide are only one-eight as rich and productive as nations with scores in the top 10 percent.

Is this association corrected for the population of the nations? In other words, is Iceland (pop 0.3 million) given the same weight as China (pop 1.3 billion)?

liberty writes:

I know that he must argue that IQ tests have nothing to do with a good education (otherwise it is obvious the direction of causation) but it is also difficult to take any test when you ate hungry or worried about your family or have a corrupt official breathing down your neck. So I still think he has causality backwards.

Garett Jones writes:

Liberty:

Not either-or but both-and. Causation goes both ways, not just one way as you suggest.

The best analogy is health and income. Everyone knows getting rich makes you healthier (especially for the poorest countries), but that doesn't stop people from thinking that if you became healthier that would make you more productive and hence richer.

I address this in much greater detail starting in the intro and chapter 1, both of which are free online at Stanford UP's website.

Pedro Albuquerque writes:

Sorry to have to say it, but I find the association between possible IQ correlations and the policy prescription of closed borders abhorrent. It amounts in my opinion to "geographical eugenics." Borrowing from Angela Merkel, it's not because it can be done that it should be done. Not compatible with basic notions of human rights, and not desirable under the perspective that there are many alternative reasons why people may want to migrate or associate with other people. For example, based on the same principle, should we screen migrants based on BMI? What about including.some beauty and height screening too?

Psmith writes:

Pedro, I'm fairly conflicted about restricting immigration, but I don't think calling it "geographic eugenics" is actually an argument against them. Improving the genetic quality of the human population in a particular area is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. It might be the best thing that ever happened to the human race, depending on how seriously you take the role of medieval outbreeding within the Hajnal Line in the development of the modern world. Specific eugenic programs might be bad, but an argument against IQ-based immigrant restrictions collapses into an argument against immigration restrictions in general. IMO.

chedolf writes:

Pedro - Sorry to have to say it, but I find the association between possible IQ correlations and the policy prescription of closed borders abhorrent. It amounts in my opinion to "geographical eugenics."

Do you have the same opinion about the spouses your children choose? Is it abhorrent if they want smart husbands/wives in part because they hope to have smart children?

Pedro Albuquerque writes:

@Chedoff: not at all, what you describe is perfectly legitimate because it respects individual preferences and choices. Let me use your own example to make my point. Obviously you should have the right to marry anyone you want. And this is exactly why a closed border based on IQ is abhorrent! It would impede you from marrying someone with a low IQ no matter how much you love the person, no matter how much the other characteristics of the person make up for low IQ.
Suppose now that you have a son that is mentally disabled that was conceived during your army tour in a foreign country. You realize at some point later in your life that you love your son and vice-versa and both want to be reunited in America. The IQ policy impedes you from reuniting your family.
Suppose now that we make the policy even more stringent by applying it symmetrically as a justification for forced exile. It's not far-fetched, forced exile existed in the past and nationalists of all colors have routinely defended it. Well, an IQ policy of forced exile means that your family members and friends with low IQ should be sent on forced exile to some low-IQ region of the world, or maybe to a designated area in America fenced-up just for that. This is in part what the UK did when they sent certain people to Oceania, and I don't think that human rights watchdogs would take it easily these days for very good reasons.
No matter how you cut it, if used as a policy prescription for closed borders, it's abhorrent to me.

E. Harding writes:

"The IQ policy impedes you from reuniting your family."

-Yay. You've just given exhibit A of how love is not the answer to everything.

"It's not far-fetched, forced exile existed in the past and nationalists of all colors have routinely defended it."

-I don't support that, but I do favor subsidizing the movement of the lowest-IQ Americans out of the country.

liberty writes:

Garrett,
You make my point for me - being healthy makes you more productive and more able to take an IQ test. Anyway, perhaps you address these issues in your intro which I will read if I can find the time, but it seems to me that there are obvious reasons why being poor will affect recorded IQ and also that IQ will not be different across countries based on some arbitrary other factor -genetics. So you are clearly seeing things backwards if blame poverty on IQ.

liberty writes:

Garrett,
You make my point for me - being healthy makes you more productive and more able to take an IQ test. Anyway, perhaps you address these issues in your intro which I will read if I can find the time, but it seems to me that there are obvious reasons why being poor will affect recorded IQ and also that IQ will not be different across countries based on some arbitrary other factor -genetics. So you are clearly seeing things backwards if blame poverty on IQ.

Salahodjaev writes:

I have also started reading the book. What interests me is that the poverty has deep roots, while intelligence may not.
What i mean is that around 1000 years ago central asia was leading in Medicine and Astronomy (e.g. Avicenna). Maybe 2000 years ago Egypt was the cradle of intelligence of that time.

The recent IQ scores do not capture the historical intelligence. For example, Egypt and Central Asia have global average IQ scores. So does this mean that intelligence is not inheritted?
While Europe was barbarian, central asia was flourishing. So how can this be justified?

Rauf

E. Harding writes:

liberty

Chinese v. Malays

Vietnamese-Americans

PISA results of Vietnam v. India

Far greater upward mobility of low-income Whites as opposed to low-income Blacks.

The failure of any Black-majority country to enter the First World when not under White rule.

You haven't even attempted to seriously explain these.

Floccina writes:

If Garett is right, I think it is quite possible that better communication technology would reduce the differences in percapita income between the lower IQ nations and Higher IQ nations by allowing people to team up more across boarders?

chedolf writes:

@Pedro Albuquerque - not at all, what you describe is perfectly legitimate because it respects individual preferences and choices. Let me use your own example to make my point. Obviously you should have the right to marry anyone you want.

I didn't ask about rights. We have the legal right to do countless repellent things. I asked if you'd find it morally troubling if family members picked spouses based on eugenic concerns. The point of the question is to figure out if your objection is to eugenics per se or to government policy intended to promote eugenics.

Your objection to immigration policy in that regard seems to boil down to the position that we shouldn't pick new citizens based on the effect they will have on our country because selection criteria might screen out some people unfairly. Does that fairly characterize your view?

Pedro Albuquerque writes:

@chedolf: a policy can obviously be legal but repellent (abhorrent). I'm not proposing a discussion on what can or not be legal but on what's abhorrent according to liberal values. So I'll repeat myself: as a matter of individual choice eugenics is not abhorrent (it is individual freedom compatible), but when imposed on individuals as a collective restriction on the freedom of association or family formation then it becomes abhorrent. A concern for fairness exists in the sense that a low-IQ person being born in a rich economy becomes entitled to privileges that a low-IQ person born in a poor economy isn't entitled to, but this argument isn't central because immigration controls are anyway rarely fair. What's central to the new abhorrent aspect of this policy is the fact that it brutally interferes with freedom of association and family formation in a way that isn't compatible with human nature and liberal values.
Example: a geographical eugenics policy to forcefully deport low-IQ children of American families to an isolated colony for the "mentally impaired" in Alaska is abhorrent. Caplan refers to these as "Soviet-style" restrictions in another post on the subject.

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