IQ externalities

Philip Zimbardo’s The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, which I reviewed earlier in the week, focuses on a message that the situation is more important than the person’s disposition. Good people can do evil things if placed in the wrong situation.

One of my main responses to this message was that the disposition of other people forms part of my situation. Disposition and situation cannot be neatly disentangled.

This is similar to the case of IQ and income. As noted by Garett Jones, boost the IQ of a person by two standard deviations and you get an average 30 per cent increase in their wage. Boosting the average IQ of a country’s population by two standard deviations leads to a prediction of a 700 per cent increase in average wages. By this measure, the situation, which is the IQ of the people of the country in which you live, is more important than your own IQ.

Taking this further, the pay-off to being patient, saving and investing is contingent on the propensity towards violence of those around you. It is contingent on the foresight of those who borrow and invest your savings. It is contingent on the intelligence of the voters and politicians who create the institutional framework that affects the rewards from your work and savings.

There are some massive externalities to the behaviour of other people.

5 comments

  1. Jason,

    Once again thanks for the blog post, this may be getting into hairy waters, but has there been any recent studies into ways to augment IQ? I’m sure there’s those in the wings waiting around with eugenic measures for low-iq groups, but I’ve remained interested in just how much we could affect iq, if at all, through factors such as diet/environment/etc. I’ve asked Evolvify this before and am curious what your response would be, do you find individual IQ to be immutable or is there leeway?

    1. My instinct is that there is little we can do to augment IQ without developing genetic or medical interventions, apart from for those who suffer from severely deficient environments as they develop (as in severe malnutrition etc). Most studies that look for the effects on IQ of schooling, parents etc come up empty. The increasing heritability of IQ as people age suggests that environmental effects level out.

      Where I like to believe there are more possibilities, although this is also lacking in evidence, is by creating the right societal framework for people with different IQs to function. Those possibilities include shaping education as though we are not blank slates and creating varied educational pathways rather than trying to get everyone to university standard.

      We will also need to accept that as opportunity equalises with increasing wealth and well-being in most countries across the world, the heritability of IQ will likely increase. In a winner take all society, loaded with positional goods, that can have some significant consequences.

  2. Thanks a lot for the above Jason, though that final paragraph seemed ominous.

    Regarding this paragraph:

    “Where I like to believe there are more possibilities, although this is also lacking in evidence, is by creating the right societal framework for people with different IQs to function. Those possibilities include shaping education as though we are not blank slates and creating varied educational pathways rather than trying to get everyone to university standard.”

    I’m curious if you’re familiar with the Sudsbury model?

    While I think it’s a little…TOO hands off in some ways, I like the idea of kids learning what they want to learn in their own way

    1. I hadn’t come across the Sudsbury model before, but if there was opportunity for experimentation and choice as to where students go, I’m reasonably confident that the cream of the methods would rise to the top.

  3. Good insights.

    Segregation by ability and interest / ambition is inevitable to some degree, no matter how much a government tries to press its egalitarian agenda.

    IQ is incredibly important, but the extent to which IQ serves as a proxy or a confounder for things not measured on an IQ test is not generally appreciated.

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