Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Why is IQ declining in Norway?

Norwegian conscripts (Wikicommons: Soldatnytt) – in Norway, the conscript register provides invaluable information on IQ. This information can then be linked to other registers of the Norwegian population registry

IQ scores have been gradually increasing since the 1930s at the rate of 3 points per decade (Rindermann 2018, pp. 85-89). This increase, named the Flynn effect, has been much debated. Are we becoming more intelligent because of better nutrition and more stimulating learning environments? Or are we simply becoming more familiar with tests and test-taking?

Whatever the cause, this increase seems to be slowing throughout the West (Flynn 2007, p. 143). In Scandinavia, mean IQ peaked during the late 1990s and has since declined (Teasdale and Owen 2005).Why? There is plenty of speculation. Perhaps the poor are outbreeding the rich. Or perhaps lower IQ immigrants are replacing higher IQ natives. Whatever the cause, it seems to be something that is more advanced in Scandinavia than elsewhere in the West. 

Two Norwegian economists, Bernt Bratsberg and Ole Rogeberg, have tried to pin it down. 

Population intelligence quotients increased throughout the 20th century—a phenomenon known as the Flynn effect—although recent years have seen a slowdown or reversal of this trend in several countries. [...] Using administrative register data and cognitive ability scores from military conscription data covering three decades of Norwegian birth cohorts (1962-1991), we show that the observed Flynn effect, its turning point, and subsequent decline can all be fully recovered from within-family variation. (Bratsberg and Rogeberg 2018)

"Within-family variation" means that IQ is declining even among people with more or less the same genetic background, i.e., siblings. More to the point, this within-family decline seems to account for most, if not all, of the IQ decline among Norwegians. So this is not a matter of the poor outbreeding the rich or immigrants outbreeding natives. In fact, it doesn't seem to reflect any sort of genetic change.

All of this assumes, of course, that the genetic differences between siblings are the same now as in the past. That assumption may appear reasonable, but appearances can deceive.

Siblings in Norway are increasingly half-siblings. Among Norwegian women with only two children, 13.4% have had them by two or more men. This figure rises to 24.9% among those with three children, 36.2% among those with four children, and 41.2% among those with five children (Thomson et al. 2014). This multiple paternity is produced not so much by family size as by the passage of time. The probability of a relationship breaking up will increase over time. Brothers who are born farther apart are more likely to have different fathers.

Stepfamilies typically arise when a woman divorces and has a child by a second husband. Or she may divorce, have a child out of wedlock, and then marry a man who provides for the family without ever fathering any children. In this chain of sexual partners, the second or third man is qualitatively different, on average, from the first man. The stepfather, in particular, is less able to compete in the marriage market for one reason or another. In general, he has been less successful in life, and life, in itself, is an IQ test.

So, within a stepfamily, one would expect to see an IQ decline between older and younger siblings. The methodology of Bratsberg and Rogeberg (2018) is especially sensitive to this stepfather effect because the IQ decline is a function of time, i.e., the decline is most visible between brothers born farther apart. As this birth interval increases, however, so does the probability that the younger brother is a half-brother.

How strong is this stepfather effect? Bratsberg and Rogeberg studied the recent IQ decline in Norway by looking at pairs of brothers. The IQ data come from the military conscript register, and only men are subject to conscription. Now, to produce a pair of brothers, a woman has to have, on average, three children. Among Norwegian women with three children, 36.2% have had them by two or more men. So this is not a trifling matter.

There would be no problem if the word "father" in the registries means "biological father." It is now common practice, however, for a stepfather to adopt his wife's children. At that point, he becomes the "father" for all intents and purposes. This has been the case since 1986, when Norway passed The Adoption Act: "If a spouse or cohabitant has adopted a child of the other spouse or cohabitant, the said child shall have the same legal status in relation to both spouses or cohabitants as if he or she were their joint child." The Adoption Act (1986), Chapter 3, Section 13.

This paternity issue affects different registers to different degrees. The family register is most vulnerable. It is updated annually and thus identifies the current legal father as the “father” (Black et al. 2011, note 4). The birth register is least vulnerable. The mother will usually identify the biological father as the "father." The exceptions are cases of infidelity or cases where a new relationship has formed during the pregnancy and the stepfather wishes to be recognized as the child's father.

Bratsberg and Rogeberg (2018) were most interested in the conscript register. This was where they obtained the IQ data. They then used the family register to locate the conscript's brother or brothers, at which point they returned to the conscript register to find that person's IQ. The family register, however, will most likely identify a stepfather as a "father." One would have to go back to the birth files and double-check, but this doesn't seem to have been done.

When I discussed this issue with one of the co-authors, Ole Rogeberg, he replied that very few of the brothers could be half-brothers because the correlation between brothers for IQ was 0.47, and this figure is similar to a previously published estimate of 0.49 for inter-sibling correlation (Paul 1980). That estimate, however, is largely based on American whites, who are a more heterogeneous population than native Norwegians. The inter-sibling correlation should be higher in Norway, and higher figures have in fact been estimated from British samples. Record et al. (1969) found a correlation of 0.55, based on 5,054 pairs of English siblings. 

As for the correlation between paternal IQ and child IQ, this is because most of the fathers are, in fact, biological fathers. Probably about two-thirds of them. That is enough to produce a father/son correlation, but it is not enough to prevent a within-family decline in IQ between older and younger brothers.


The Norwegian population registry has long been popular with population geneticists. It is actually a collection of different registers with information on different life events, but if you know a Norwegian's unique personal identifier you can easily navigate from one register to another to collect information on that person and on all related individuals. Black et al. (2005) have described these registers at length:

Our primary data source is the birth records for all Norwegian births over the period 1967 to 1997 obtained from the Medical Birth Registry of Norway. All births, including those born outside of a hospital, are included as long as the gestation period was at least 16 weeks. The birth records contain information on year and month of birth, birth weight, gestational length, age of mother, and a range of variables describing infant health at birth including APGAR scores, malformations at birth, and infant mortality (defined as those who die within the first year).

[...] Using unique personal identifiers, we match these birth files to the Norwegian Registry Data, a linked administrative dataset that covers the entire population of Norwegians aged 16-74 in the 1986-2002 period, and is a collection of different administrative registers such as the education register, family register, and the tax and earnings register.  These data are maintained by Statistics Norway and provide information about educational attainment, labor market status, earnings, and a set of demographic variables (age, gender) as well as information on families.

[...] Another source of data is the Norwegian military records from 1984 to 2005 which contains information on height, weight, and IQ.  In Norway, military service is compulsory for every able young man. Before entering the service, their medical and psychological suitability is assessed; this occurs for the great majority between their 18th and 20th birthday.  For the cohorts of men born from 1967 up to 1987, we have information on height, weight, and Body Mass Index (BMI), all of which were measured as part of the medical examination. We also have a composite score from three speeded IQ tests -- arithmetic, word similarities, and figures.

At first sight, this collection of registers seems to be a gold mine of information. Unfortunately, the quality of the information has suffered from a social trend that has been stronger in Scandinavia than elsewhere in the West, i.e., the redefinition of the family. As a result, the word “father” no longer has a consistent meaning. In some cases, such as birth records, it usually means the biological father—the man who provided half of the child’s genetic makeup. In other cases, such as the family register, it means the man who provides the family with at least some economic support. Increasingly, the two roles are no longer played by the same person.

This is the nub of the problem. The family unit is no longer defined as a vehicle for procreation. Its members no longer have to share a biological commonality. Increasingly, it is an administrative entity, and as such it can be dissolved and reformed in many ways.

This redefinition of the family calls into question the value of this population registry. Some of its components, particularly the birth records, still provide reliable information on biological relationships, but the same can no longer be said about information that is collected at later times in a person's life and which is continually updated. As a result, we know less and less about the people who are providing the genetic material of the next generation.


Black, S.E., P.J. Devereux, and K.J. Salvanes. (2005). From the Cradle to the Labor Market? The Effect of Birth Weight on Adult Outcomes. IZA Discussion Paper No. 1864

Black, S.E., P.J. Devereux, and K.J. Salvanes. (2011). Older and Wiser? Birth Order and IQ of Young Men. CESifo Economic Studies 57(1): 103-120.

Bratsberg, B., and O. Rogeberg. (2018). Flynn effect and its reversal are both environmentally caused. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Jun 2018, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1718793115

Flynn, J.R. (2007). What is Intelligence? Beyond the Flynn Effect. Cambridge University Press.

Government of Norway. (1986). The Adoption Act. Act of 28 February 1986 No. 8 relating to adoption,

Paul, S.M. (1990). Sibling resemblance in mental ability: a review. Behavior Genetics 10(3): 277-290.

Record, R. G., McKeown, T., and Edwards, J. H. (1969). The relationship of measured intelligence to birth order and maternal age. Annals of. Human Genetics 33: 61-69.

Rindermann, H. (2018). Cognitive Capitalism. Human Capital and the Wellbeing of Nations. Cambridge University Press.

Teasdale, T.W., and D.R. Owen. (2005). A long-term rise and recent decline in intelligence test performance: The Flynn Effect in reverse. Personality and Individual Differences 39(4): 837-843.

Thomson, E., T. Lappegård, M. Carlson, A. Evans, and E. Gray (2014). Childbearing across partnerships in Australia, the United States, Norway, and Sweden. Demography 51(2): 485-508

Monday, June 11, 2018

Doing better in the promised land

View of Tel Aviv. Israel shows good intellectual achievement, but not the top intellectual achievement of Jews in the U.S. How come?

Why do Ashkenazi Jews do worse in Israel than in the United States? This question is raised by Heiner Rindermann in his new book Cognitive Capitalism. Israel is an advanced country and shows promise in certain areas, like nuclear power and certain high-tech goods. Yet it underperforms when compared with Jewish communities in the West. "There is clear evidence for good intellectual achievement; however, not for top intellectual achievement as from Western Ashkenazi Jews" (Rindermann 2018, p. 149).

Israel is 42% Ashkenazi, a proportion that works out to more than three and a half million. By comparison, American Jews number between 5.5 and 8 million, and their intellectual creativity—in whatever field you choose—has been many times greater. So what gives?

One reason is that the above figure of 42% includes the recent wave of Russian immigrants to Israel, and they are on average only half-Jewish (Wikipedia 2018). It is also possible that offspring of Ashkenazi-Sephardic or Ashkenazi-Mizrahi marriages tend to self-identify as Ashkenazi. 

A second reason is ideological. The Zionist movement sought to create a "new Jew," who would be less intellectual and more interested in other pursuits. Furthermore, Israel is home to over a million Haridim (strictly Orthodox Jews), who confine their intellectual pursuits to Torah study.

A third reason is that Israel is not a high-trust culture, at least not to the same extent as Western countries:

Statistics from Transparency International on corruption corroborate these political observations: while Scandinavian nations are leading in non-corruption, closely followed by (present and past) British and European countries, Israel comes at rank 37, after Botswana, [United Arab] Emirates and Chile. (Rindermann 2018, p. 150).

This is consistent with mainstream thinking. When Jews immigrated to the United States, they found a land of opportunity where they could use their abilities to the fullest. This narrative, however, is usually framed in terms of freedom from discrimination: America offered a haven from antisemitism. Just as importantly, however, it also offered a high-trust culture. Americans could generally be counted on to do what they said they would do and charge only what they said they would charge. When two Soviet journalists, Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov, visited the U.S. in 1935, they were struck by the integrity of the average American:

The American sits in his office with his coat off and works. He works quietly, unobtrusively, without making any fuss. He is never late anywhere. He never hurries anywhere. He has only one telephone. No one waits for him in his reception room, because an appointment is usually made with absolute accuracy, and not a single extra minute is wasted during the interview.

[...] Should an American say in the course of a conversation, even incidentally, "I'll do that," it is not necessary to remind him of anything at all in the future. Everything will be done. The ability to keep his word, to keep it firmly, accurately, to burst, but keep his word—this is the most important thing which our Soviet business people must learn from American business people. (Ilf and Petrov 1937)

Migration and productivity

The same could be said for other immigrant groups. People do better when they move from a low-trust culture to a high-trust one. They can fully realize their potential. We see this with PISA math scores. Asian American students do better than students in Asia, White American students do better than students in Europe, Hispanic American students do better than students in Latin America, and African American students do better than students in sub-Saharan Africa (Sailer 2013).

This benefit of migration is affirmed by mainstream economists, although they usually attribute migrant success to abstractions like "good government" and "good institutions"—as if these entities are not composed of flesh-and-blood people who think and act like other people of the same culture:

There are many reasons why this is so. Among them are that the lower earners usually live in societies with predatory governments that arbitrarily confiscate wealth, are rent asunder by civil war and other armed conflicts, and lack the social, political, and economic institutions that are the foundations for economic growth, as well as numerous other factors. By contrast, residents of developed countries face fewer political and social barriers to economic growth, thus incentivizing the long-term accumulation of the machines, knowledge, and human capital that propel the economy. (Nowrasteh 2016)

As a result, migrants are more productive in First World societies like the United States than they were in their home societies:

[...] the median worker from the developing world can expect a fourfold increase in wages by coming to the United States. Across the board, wage growth can range from a twofold increase for Dominicans to a 15-fold increase for Yemenis. Thus, just by moving to the United States, these workers will experience increases in income that few in the developed world can imagine. These gains do not come at the cost of Americans' losses, but from the increased productivity of the immigrant workers themselves. (Nowrasteh 2016)

Their productivity will increase because they are now interacting with a high-trust culture. They receive their supplies on time, and these supplies don't have to be checked and double-checked. The product of their labor is then distributed or further processed by people who do what they say they will do. More work gets done, and less time gets wasted.

This is the main argument for labor mobility. Workers from a Third World country can do better if moved to a First World country. This is not because they have become better workers. It's because they are now immersed in a culture that functions better.

So why not let people migrate from the Third World to the First World? Their productivity will rise, employers will get cheaper labor, and the global economy as a whole will benefit. It's a win-win, isn't it?

Well, no. If you fill a high-trust culture with people from low-trust societies, you'll eventually get .... another low-trust culture. You'll kill the goose that laid the golden egg.

Parting thoughts

When I raise these points with other people, I soon run into disagreement, even when among people with open minds.

Disagreement often comes from a belief that immigrants will "assimilate." The habits of a low-trust culture will be shed and replaced with those of a high-trust one. To some extent, this does happen when immigrants are relatively few in number. As they become more numerous, however, the pressure to assimilate slackens and may even go into reverse. The pressure to assimilate is also weakened by new technologies, particularly the Internet, which are making it easier for migrants to live in their native culture anywhere on the planet.

There is also disagreement over what creates a high-trust culture. At one time this question used to interest social scientists, but now that interest has refocused on "whiteness studies." It seems that societies like Iceland function admirably because of their "white privilege."

Sarcasm aside, trust does matter. It has been key to the rise of Western societies to global dominance. But how is it created? I've argued that Western societies have extended the high-trust environment of the family to a much larger social context, specifically through a more individualistic mindset that is governed by universal moral rules, rather than by a dual morality that favors close kin over everyone else.

This high-trust mindset has four main components:

Independent social orientation - independence of the self from others, including stronger motivation toward self-expression, self-esteem, and self-efficacy and emphasis on personal happiness rather than social happiness. 

Universal rule adherence - capacity to obey universal and absolute moral rules, i.e., moral universalism and moral absolutism, as opposed to situational morality based on kinship. These rules are enforced by monitoring not only others but also oneself. Rule-breakers may be branded as morally worthless and expelled from the entire moral community, as opposed to being ostracized by close kin.

Guilt proneness - capacity to self-monitor thoughts and behavior for rule adherence in order to self-judge and, if necessary, to self-punish.

Affective empathy - capacity to experience the emotional states of other people in order to prevent harm and to provide help if needed. This help is conditional on the other person being judged morally worthy, i.e., a rule follower. In most human populations, affective empathy is largely confined to relations between a mother and her offspring. In northwest Europeans, it has become generalized to all community members (Frost 2017).

In addition, there is a fifth and historically more recent component: pacification of social relations. This is an outcome of the first component. Once violent individuals had become branded as immoral, they were removed from society with fanatical zealousness (Frost and Harpending 2015). Finally, there is increased cognitive ability, which I mention last partly because it receives too much attention in this sort of discussion and partly because it too may be relatively recent. Rindermann (2018, pp. 86-87) has argued that mean IQ rose in Western Europe during late medieval and post-medieval times as a result of the greater reproductive success of the nascent middle class.

All of the above components have medium to high heritability. If we wish to impose this mindset, we will be constrained by the underlying genotype. Guilt and empathy cannot be elicited from people who are not guilt-prone and empathic. Nor can such people be made to feel calm if they have exceeded their anger threshold. There remain only "carrot and stick" methods to make them act in ways they normally would not. As for cognitive ability, the room for improvement is slim. Any gains made during adolescence will largely "wash out" during adulthood.

That may not be the message you want to hear. And perhaps it is too pessimistic. Again, it depends on the numbers. It would also help if Christians were still interested in enforcing proper behavior. Nowadays, most aren't.

Finally, I should point out that there may be more than one way to build a high-trust culture. East Asian societies, for instance, rely more on rule adherence and less on affective empathy and guilt proneness (Frost 2015).


Frost, P. (2017). The Hajnal line and gene-culture coevolution in northwest Europe, Advances in Anthropology 7: 154-174.

Frost, P. (2015). Two Paths. The Unz Review, January 24

Frost, P. and H. Harpending. (2015). Western Europe, state formation, and genetic pacification, Evolutionary Psychology 13: 230-243.

Ilf, I. and E. Petrov. (1937). Little Golden America

Nowrasteh, A. (2016). The Case for More Immigration. Democracy. A Journal of Ideas. Fall. No. 42

Rindermann, H. (2018). Cognitive Capitalism. Human Capital and the Wellbeing of Nations. Cambridge University Press.

Sailer, S. (2013). PISA racial results for Americans on Math. December 3, Steve Sailer. iSteve.

Wikipedia (2018). 1990s Post-Soviet aliyah

Monday, June 4, 2018

Evolution of the market economy

First page of The Wealth of Nations (1776) (Wikicommons). Adam Smith mainly wished to understand why the market economy worked in his time, not why it didn't work in earlier times.

In his newly published book, Cognitive Capitalism, Heiner Rindermann argues that the market economy requires a population that thinks and behaves in certain ways. Without these mental and behavioral qualities, the production and exchange of wealth is handicapped. This factor, argues Rindermann, best explains why some countries are poor and others rich ... even when both share the same economic and legal system.

This argument would have seemed self-evident half a century ago. Since then, however, the trend on both the left and the right has been to treat humans as entities who can be freely substituted for each other. 

Yet this was not the view of Adam Smith, the founder of economics. In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, he noted that people do differ mentally and behaviorally, particularly in two key qualities:

The qualities most useful to ourselves are, first of all, superior reason and understanding, by which we are capable of discerning the remote consequences of all our actions, and of foreseeing the advantage or detriment which is likely to result from them: and secondly, self-command, by which we are enabled to abstain from present pleasure or to endure present pain, in order to obtain a greater pleasure or to avoid a greater pain in some future time. In the union of those two qualities consists the virtue of prudence, of all the virtues that which is most useful to the individual. The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Part IV, Chapter I

Today, these two qualities are called "intelligence" and "time preference." A third one, mentioned in The Wealth of Nations (1776), is the willingness to refrain from using violence as a means to gain wealth or status:

In those unfortunate countries, indeed, where men are continually afraid of the violence of their superiors, they frequently bury and conceal a great part of their stock, in order to have it always at hand to carry with them to some place of safety, in case of their being threatened with any of those disasters to which they consider themselves as at all times exposed. This is said to be a common practice in Turkey, in Indostan, and, I believe, in most other governments of Asia. It seems to have been a common practice among our ancestors during the violence of the feudal government. The Wealth of Nations, Book I, Chapter I

When the German and Scythian nations overran the western provinces of the Roman empire, the confusions which followed so great a revolution lasted for several centuries. The rapine and violence which the barbarians exercised against the ancient inhabitants interrupted the commerce between the towns and the country. The towns were deserted, and the country was left uncultivated, and the western provinces of Europe, which had enjoyed a considerable degree of opulence under the Roman empire, sunk into the lowest state of poverty and barbarism. The Wealth of Nations, Book III, Chapter II

This theme runs through The Wealth of Nations, albeit peripherally. The author repeatedly uses the terms "savage" (18 times), "barbarous" (36 times), and "civilized" (58 times). This theme also comes up in his private correspondence when he discusses Western Europe in an earlier and more barbarous age. The threat to life and property had a chilling effect on trade:

Travelling, from the disorders of the Country, must have been extremely dangerous, and consequently very rare. Few people, therefor, could propose to live by entertaining travellers; and consequently there would be few or no inns. Travellers would have be obliged to have recourse to the hospitality of private families: in the same manner as in all other barbarous Countries. The Correspondence of Adam Smith, p. 142

Adam Smith studied the workings of a market economy in its full flowering. Centuries earlier it had been much more rudimentary, and elsewhere it was still nonexistent. He knew this but failed to mention these constraints in his model of a self-generating, self-regulating market. Nor did he explain the long and painful evolution of a peaceful society where people understand the future consequences of their actions and prefer long-term gain even at the price of short-term pain.

Why this oversight? One reason is that he mainly wished to understand why the market economy worked in his time, not why it didn't in earlier times. A second reason was more ideological. He believed that this kind of economy had taken so long to develop in his country and was still nonexistent elsewhere because of ignorance: most people misunderstood how markets work and their benefits. If only they could be made to understand …

In reality, people had understood markets and their benefits since the dawn of history, even to the point of protecting them with walls and armed guards. Nonetheless, these islands of economic activity remained limited in space and time; there were plenty of markets but no market economy. Most economic activity was non-monetized and done within the family or for the local lord. The average person simply didn’t think and behave in a way that would let the market mechanism encompass the production and exchange of all wealth.

Adam Smith understood that certain qualities of mind and behavior had kept the market economy from developing, especially low foresight, high time preference, and high propensity for violence. But he attributed these qualities to lack of education. Like other Enlightenment thinkers, he believed that education would level all differences:

The difference of natural talents in different men is, in reality, much less than we are aware of; and the very different genius which appears to distinguish men of different professions, when grown up to maturity, is not upon many occasions so much the cause as the effect of the division of labour. The difference between the most dissimilar characters, between a philosopher and a common street porter, for example, seems to arise not so much from nature as from habit, custom, and education. The Wealth of Nations, Book I, Chapter II

Adam Smith lived in a society where the lower classes largely failed to reproduce and were steadily replaced, generation after generation, by the downwardly mobile cast-offs of the middle and upper classes (Clark 2007). The result was a shift toward middle-class values: thrift, foresight, and a rational mindset. By his time, most of the people he met were either middle class or impoverished descendants of the middle class.

This demographic shift may have caused the Enlightenment itself, which was not so much a time of new ideas as one of existing ideas being understood and appreciated by more people, as if the "smart fraction" of society had increased. Such an increase is possible even with a modest increase in mean IQ because the relationship between the two is nonlinear: "constant increments in mean IQ will not produce constant increments in the smart fraction" (La Griffe du Lion 2002). If mean IQ increases, the smart fraction will initially increase at a faster pace. If the level defining the smart fraction remains the same, this trend will reverse once mean IQ reaches a certain level. The same increase in mean IQ will then produce a smaller increase in the smart fraction.

The most intelligent members of society have a disproportionate impact on its development. Rindermann and Thompson (2011) summarize the literature on this subject, including their own research. Patent rates, GDP, and average annual GDP growth correlate much more with the smart fraction of a population than with the mean IQ of a population. "In concrete numbers, an increase of 1 IQ point in the intellectual class raises the average GDP by $468 U.S., whereas an increase of 1 IQ point in the cognitive ability of the mean raises average GDP by $229 U.S."

The Enlightenment may thus have been the most visible sign of a less dramatic change in the general population. Using soft data and Jean Piaget's theory of cognitive development, Rindermann (2018) argues that mean IQ was steadily rising in Western Europe throughout late medieval and post-medieval times. Previously, the average person had never developed beyond the preoperational mental stage, i.e., good ability to learn language and norms but limited ability to reason because of cognitive egocentrism, anthropomorphism, finalism, and animism (Rindermann 2018, p. 49). From the sixteenth century onward, more and more people reached the stage of operational thinking, i.e., the average person was better able to understand probability, cause and effect, and the perspective of another person, whether real or hypothetical (Rindermann 2018, pp. 86-87).

This cognitive shift seems to have been driven by the nascent middle class, essentially artisans who produced for a growing and increasingly dynamic market. A similar but stronger trend may also explain the rise in Ashkenazi intelligence during the same period (Frost 2007)


Adam Smith lived in a society where most people, whatever their station in life, had more or less the same genetic potential because they shared the same origins of ethnicity and class. He could be forgiven for thinking that a philosopher and a common street porter had the same inborn talents. But what's our excuse?

Heiner Rindermann has picked up where Adam Smith left off by seeking to describe the market economy as more than a mathematical model. It is in fact a radically new way of organizing society that has largely replaced the older one of family, kinfolk, and community. Going from one to the other required profound changes to mind and behavior:

Wealth in modern times is the result of cognitive capitalism. Cognitive capitalism refers to the idea that the cognitive ability of society as a whole, and of its cognitive elite in particular, is the prerequisite for the development of technological progress, for the historic development of modern society with its increasing cognitive demands and complexity, and for the wealth-furthering norms and institutions that form the core of the capitalist system (economic freedom, free markets, rule of law, property rights). (Rindermann and Thompson 2011)


Clark, G. (2007). A Farewell to Alms. A Brief Economic History of the World, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford.

Frost, P. (2007). Natural selection in proto-industrial Europe. Evo and Proud, November 16

La Griffe du Lion. (2002). The Smart Fraction Theory of IQ and the Wealth of Nations, March, 4(1)

Rindermann, H. (2018). Cognitive Capitalism. Human Capital and the Wellbeing of Nations. Cambridge University Press.

Rindermann, H. and J. Thompson. (2011). Cognitive Capitalism: The Effect of Cognitive Ability on Wealth, as Mediated Through Scientific Achievement and Economic Freedom, Psychological Science 22(6) 754 -763.

Smith, A. (1759). The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

Smith, A. (1776). An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.

Smith, A. (1987). The Correspondence of Adam Smith, edited by E.C. Mossner and I.S. Ross, Oxford: Clarendon Press

Monday, May 28, 2018

Outsourcing torture and execution

Member of an American prison gang (Wikicommons: Border Brothers). A jail sentence is no longer just a jail sentence.

When my scholarship was cancelled I began looking for short-term contracts to support myself. At that time Quebec City offered little in the way of long-term employment, but demand was strong for bilingual contractuels who knew software packages like WordPerfect (which was not at all user-friendly in the late 1980s). 

One day I got a call from a maximum security prison west of Quebec City. A renewable six-month clerical position. Good pay. But I'd have to get vaccinated for hepatitis B. "You never know. There's always a risk of rape in these places." I politely declined. Later someone else phoned to reassure me that the risk was "minimal" and nothing to worry about. I still declined.

Rape and assault are frequent in prisons. This is no surprise. More surprisingly, prison violence is becoming a deliberate form of punishment—a way to make the original sentence a lot worse. This punitive function has been discussed in a recent paper:

To what extent are rapes, beatings, and other assaults essential to the punitive function of the modern prison? Officially, violence of this sort is unlawful and clearly outside the bounds of legitimate punishment. The United States Supreme Court has declared more than once that being assaulted is not "part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society."

[...] In reality, violence thoroughly defines the prison experience. Prisoners face a substantial risk of being beaten, raped, and even killed at the hands of their fellow inmates or keepers. In a way that is sometimes difficult for those who are unfamiliar with prison to appreciate, prisoners inhabit a world comprehensively defined by this kind of violence. Such violence is the dominant arbiter of social status in prison. It is the means by which authority, hierarchy, and privilege are articulated among prisoners and between prisoners and their keepers. And it is, paradoxically, the most reliable protection against being the victim of violence. (White 2008, pp. 737-738)

When did this punitive function come to be? To some extent it has always existed, but it began to gain much more importance during the "demographic shift" of the 1960s and 1970s (White 2008, pp. 745-746). The baby boom was invading all spheres of life, and this dramatic growth in the number of young people coincided with a weakening of informal social controls by family and church. People were also moving from rural communities (where these informal controls were strong) to big cities (where they were weak). All of these factors facilitated an explosion of criminal behavior, especially the violent sort that young males specialize in. American prisons were overwhelmed, "and by the mid 1970s the correctional model had totally collapsed, superseded by a very different regime" (White 2008, p. 745).

Male violence: pathological in some societies, normal in others

This surge of violent crime happened in all racial groups, but much more in African Americans. Why? The usual explanation is social deprivation. Young men turn to violence when denied full access to education, employment, and social acceptance. Such behavior is abnormal and will disappear in normal circumstances.

That view of “normal” behavior applies only to some societies. Elsewhere, young men are supposed to fight. And not simply as a last resort. They're expected to fight proactively, as a means to gain status, to impress women, and to strike terror in potential enemies (Frost 2010; Frost and Harpending 2015). 

This is in contrast to pacified societies, where the State has imposed a monopoly on violence, and where even self-defense is not always a sufficient excuse. In such societies, violent behavior is criminalized and pathologized. The ideal young man goes to "school" and "work" without ever using violence to defend himself and his family, or even to impress women. Sheesh!

Pacified societies exist throughout much of Europe and East Asia, with interesting exceptions. The strong arm of the State has historically been weak in mountainous regions, like Albania and the Caucasus, and this is also where men are most willing to act violently on their own behalf. In England, endemic violence persisted until the 18th century in the northern border regions, where any encounter with non-kin, however innocent, could turn violent. Disputes would grow into long-running feuds if not settled through payment of blood money (Fischer 1989, pp. 621-632).

These two kinds of society can work fairly well ... if kept apart. In non-pacified societies, the level of personal violence is not as high as one might expect. A sort of dynamic equilibrium makes young men think twice before acting violently, since any violence will be repaid in kind by the victim, his brothers, and his male kin. So violence tends to target people who cannot retaliate, either because they're physically weak or because they have no kinfolk to stand up for them. 

Problems begin when these two kinds of society co-exist on the same territory. When the non-pacified society becomes sufficiently numerous, but not necessarily the majority, it can impose its rules, and everyone will have to play by them. If you cannot fight back and have no "brothers" to defend you, there remains only one option: submit. This is now the case in American prisons and, increasingly, in prisons throughout the Western world.

Indeed, the demographic profile of prisons has changed a lot even in Western Europe, where native Europeans make up fewer and fewer of the inmates. More and more are from societies where State control of personal violence is recent and widely perceived as being illegitimate. They come mostly from North Africa, West Africa, Somalia, Southwest Asia, and South Asia. They are predominantly Muslim, and the Muslim proportion of the prison population gives a rough idea of the demographic shift. This proportion is 60 to 70% in France (Moore 2008), 45% in Belgium (Sudinfo.be 2013), and 15% in the United Kingdom (Allen and Watson 2017, p. 14). Furthermore, Muslim inmates have power beyond their numbers because they are willing to fight for each other. This is a recurring theme in interviews with prisoners:

“there's no gangs in Rochester it's just Muslims stick together”, Muslims “walk around the wings in tens” and 'people will say that the only gang in here are the Muslims they always stick up for each other”. For many Muslim prisoners the solidarity engendered by sharing a faith was viewed as presenting certain obligations just as area allegiances required mutual defensive protection for prisoners: “I see Muslims will stay closer together so ...obviously you have to look out for your brother, help his brother, it's a Muslim's duty. And it's like whatever, whatever I want for myself I should want for my brother.” (Phillips 2012, p. 60)

Some prisoners even convert to Islam as a way to get protection (Phillips 2012, p. 62).

Prison violence as an instrument of law enforcement

Beginning in the 1970s, American law-enforcement began to turn this situation to its own advantage, initially to assert control over prisoners:

In some circumstances, it is clear that rape is used by prison officials as a means of control in its own right—as a means of punishing inmates who are (by the officials' reckoning) especially troublesome, of breaking the will of defiant inmates, and of rewarding (by accommodating their victimization of others) inmates who are in some way helpful to the institution's interests. Where rape is sanctioned in this fashion, a victimized inmate has little hope of gaining the institution's protection from further abuse. Even where it is not so sanctioned, victims of rape often encounter considerable indifference on the part of administrators and staff who would rather not antagonize powerful rapists, who anticipate difficulties with successful investigation, or who for some other reason cannot be bothered. Many staff simply may take the position that defense against rapes and other assaults are an inmate's own obligation. (White 2008, p. 757)

This punitive function has since been extended to people currently outside prison. Initially, it helped to keep juvenile delinquents in line by sending them a crude but simple message: if you're not careful, we'll send you to a place where you'll be raped, assaulted, and perhaps killed. 

Today, that message is no longer aimed solely at juvenile delinquents. Every American knows that a prison sentence is a lot more than time behind bars. In theory, the State no longer maims or tortures. In practice, it does … and on a scale not seen since medieval times:

That such violence is so thoroughly unlawful allows it to serve the state as a mode of punishment without the state ever confessing the true extent of its resort to such barbarity and without thereby surrendering much in the way of its legal and political legitimacy. Indeed, by deeming prison violence illegal, the state in its various manifestations can actually condemn the phenomenon, while yet relying on it as part of [the] regime of control. (White 2008, p. 740)

Toward a new regime of control

This regime of control has developed in an atmosphere of "They’ve got it coming to them anyway!" Prison sentences are normally handed down for serious crimes, like murder or gang rape, and there is still a widespread feeling that such people are not being punished enough. In recent years, however, prison sentences have begun to be imposed for minor offenses, especially in the United Kingdom. 

Last year, an English man was found guilty of placing two bacon sandwiches outside the door of a mosque. He was sentenced to a year in jail, and halfway through the sentence he was found dead in his cell (Curtis 2018). The prison sentence is itself incredible. This was a first-time offense that would have been considered a misdemeanor scarcely a decade ago.

A similar sentence was handed down to Tommy Robinson, the founder of the English Defence League. Not long into his sentence, the inevitable happened:

"They gave him a pasting. He was being taken for a legal visit and was then put in a room with these guys. The door was locked and the warders all disappeared. He has quite a few injuries to his face and neck and needed two visits to the medical wing." The source said his attackers were Muslim prisoners but that could not be verified. Robinson suspects the situation was engineered by the warders because of the obvious threat posed to him by opponents of the EDL. He fears he is a marked man inside the category A prison. (Gover 2014)

The official reason for the sentence? Making an incorrect statement on a mortgage application—a misdemeanor normally punished by a fine. And for this Tommy Robinson was sent to a category A prison. 

This past week, he was again sentenced to jail:

At 14h00 on 25 May 2018 Judge Denise Marson QC summarily sentenced Robinson and issued a notice under Section 4(2) of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 banning any reporting of the hearing, sentence, evidence offered or any other matter relating to the proceedings against Robinson indefinitely until the conclusion of a series of child grooming trials in Leeds Crown Court. (Wikipedia 2018)

This time, Tommy Robinson was sentenced to jail for broadcasting information that might influence the outcome of a rape gang trial (he was livestreaming outside the courthouse). Yet that information had already been published in a local newspaper. Even more strangely, the judge extended the reporting ban to the outcome of Robinson’s trial. That trial had no jurors to influence. It was a trial by judge and was completed in four hours. One final point: some reports state that the judge simply reactivated an existing suspended sentence, hence the speedy trial. But only a few months remained on that sentence, and this one seems to be much longer. For a new sentence a defendant is normally given time to prepare a defense, find witnesses, and choose a lawyer, rather than having a court-appointed one (as was actually the case).

Because of the reporting ban, news reports on this story have either been pulled or modified. Fox News states that he was sentenced to 13 months in prison despite protests from his lawyer, who said this measure would be tantamount to a death sentence, “given his profile and previous credible threats” (Fox News 2018).

One might wonder about these jail sentences for misdemeanors that hardly justify such punishment. And is the punishment really the time spent behind bars? Or is it something else? Like something in the prison environment that can “finish the job”? A strange collusion seems to be developing between the UK justice system and the vilest elements of prison society.


Allen, G. and C. Watson (2017). UK Prison Population Statistics. Briefing Paper. House of Commons Library.

Fischer, D.H. (1989). Albion's Seed. Four British Folkways in America, Oxford University Press, New York and Oxford, pp. 621-632.

Curtis, J. (2018). Man jailed for leaving a bacon sandwich outside a mosque is found dead in prison halfway through his 12-month sentence. Daily Mail, May 27, 2018

Fox News (2018). Right-wing activist Tommy Robinson reportedly jailed after filming outside child grooming trial.

Frost, P. (2010). The Roman State and genetic pacification, Evolutionary Psychology 8(3): 376-389. http://www.epjournal.net/filestore/EP08376389.pdf  

Frost, P. and H. Harpending. (2015). Western Europe, state formation, and genetic pacification, Evolutionary Psychology 13: 230-243.

Gover, D. (2014). Fear of Muslim Attack Beaten up in Woodhill Prison. International Business Times, February 5

Moore, M. (2008). In France, prisons filled with Muslims, The Washington Post, April 29

Phillips, C. (2012). 'It ain't nothing like America with the Bloods and the Crips': Gang narratives inside two English prisons. Punishment & Society 14(1): 51-68.

Sudinfo.be (2013). 45% des détenus des prisons belges sont de confession musulmane, Sudinfo.be, May 23

White, A.A. (2008). The Concept of "Less Eligibility" and the Social Function of Prison Violence in Class Society. Buffalo Law Review 56: 737-820.

Wikipedia. (2018). Tommy Robinson (activist).

Monday, May 21, 2018

The end of Jewish achievement?

Neurons show more axonal growth when exposed to higher levels of sphingolipids (last figure) (Cochran et al. 2006)

Jewish achievement is a difficult topic. Recently, it has been addressed by Jordan Peterson, as in this interview with the Forward:

"You can assume that they [Jews] are intelligent and have a culture of learning, or you can think that there's some kind of cabal," Peterson told the Forward. "So if I'm gonna hit the hornets nest, I might as well hit it on the side that takes the wind out of the sails of far-righters and their idiot anti-Semitism." (Feldman 2018)

That quote appeared under the headline "Is Jordan Peterson Enabling Jew Hatred?" There was also a photo montage (since removed) juxtaposing his image with that of Hitler. It's hard to believe that this topic was freely discussed in the mainstream a mere decade ago. At that time Commentary ran an article by Charles Murray on "Jewish Genius":

From 1870 to 1950, Jewish representation in literature was four times the number one would expect. In music, five times. In the visual arts, five times. In biology, eight times. In chemistry, six times. In physics, nine times. In mathematics, twelve times. In philosophy, fourteen times.

[...] What accounts for this remarkable record? A full answer must call on many characteristics of Jewish culture, but intelligence has to be at the center of the answer. Jews have been found to have an unusually high mean intelligence as measured by IQ tests since the first Jewish samples were tested. (The widely repeated story that Jewish immigrants to this country in the early 20th century tested low on IQ is a canard.) Exactly how high has been difficult to pin down, because Jewish sub-samples in the available surveys are seldom perfectly representative. But it is currently accepted that the mean is somewhere in the range of 107 to 115, with 110 being a plausible compromise. (Murray 2007)

Murray then discussed a paper by Gregory Cochran, Jason Hardy, and Henry Harpending, likewise published in a mainstream journal. The authors argued that Ashkenazi Jews had historically worked in occupations that select for cognitive ability, i.e., sales, finance, and trade. Non-Jews usually worked in intellectually less demanding occupations, most often farming. Sephardic Jews were similarly selected, but not to the same extent. They tended to work in a wider range of occupations, with more emphasis on crafts than on finance. Furthermore, beginning in the 17th century, Ashkenazi craftsmen were more entrepreneurial than their Sephardic counterparts; they produced for a larger market, geographically and demographically, where the rewards for success were greater and where successful craftsmen had only one way of increasing their workforce to meet demand: marrying younger and having more children (Frost 2007).

This theory is supported by a striking piece of evidence: the high incidence among Ashkenazim of certain genetic disorders: Tay-Sachs, Gaucher, Niemann-Pick, and mucolipidosis type IV (MLIV). All four of these disorders affect the same metabolic pathway: the capacity to store sphingolipid compounds that promote the growth and branching of axons in the brain. Although these disorders are deleterious in the homozygote state, they're a net benefit in the much more frequent heterozygote state. They provide the brain with higher levels of sphingolipids without the adverse health effects (Cochran et al. 2006).

This is not to say that only these four disorders explain the higher mean IQ of Ashkenazim.  They're simply witnesses to a selection pressure that has probably acted on the many thousands of genes that in one way another influence cognitive ability.

A strange collapse

If Jewish achievement is genetically based, it should be relatively stable, shouldn't it? Yet it has been far from stable over the past forty years. Ron Unz (2012) has ably documented what he calls "the strange collapse of Jewish achievement":

- In the U.S. Math Olympiad, over 40% of the top students were Jewish during the 1970s. During the 1980s and 1990s, the percentage averaged about one-third. During the thirteen years since 2000, two names out of 78 or 2.5% appear to be Jewish. 

- On the Putnam Exam (a mathematics competition for American college students) over 40% of the winners were Jewish before 1950. Between that year and the 1990s, the percentage was 22-31%. Since 2000, it has been under 10%, without a single likely Jewish name between 2005 and 2012.

- Of the national finalists for the Science Talent Search, 22-23% were Jewish from the 1950s to the 1980s. The percentage was 17% in the 1990s, 15% in the 2000s, and 7% from 2010 to 2012. Of the thirty top students over the last period, only one seems to have been Jewish. 

- Jews were over one-quarter of the top students in the Physics Olympiad from 1986 to 1997. During the 2000s the percentage was 5%.

- From 2000 to 2012, only 8% of the top students in the Biology Olympiad were Jewish, with none from 2010 to 2012. 

- Between 1992 and 2012, only 11% of the winners of the Computing Olympiad had Jewish names, as did 8% of the Siemens AP Award winners. 

- From 2010 to 2012, none of the Chemistry Olympiad winners had a probable Jewish name.

A similar decline seems to be under way in Israel. Rindermann (2018, p. 148) cites student assessment studies that indicate a decrease in that country's IQ from 101 in the 1960s to 95 today. Yet the intervening years saw a large influx of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union—about 979,000 between 1989 and 2006 (Wikipedia 2018b). The Ashkenazi proportion of Israel's population is consequently higher today than it was in the 1960s.

So what is driving this decline in academic performance? Ron Unz opts for a social/cultural cause: "today's overwhelmingly affluent Jewish students may be far less diligent in their work habits or driven in their studies than were their parents or grandparents, who lived much closer to the bracing challenges of the immigrant experience."

Hmm ...It's a bit of a stretch to say that most Jewish American kids were still the children or grandchildren of immigrants as late as the 1970s. In this, Ron is echoing the frequent claim that the immigrant experience has a transformative effect, turning slackers into strivers or at least encouraging the slackers to stay home. 

Let's take off the rose-tinted glasses and look reality in the face: most immigrants are not high achievers. Either today or back in the challenging 1970s. As for the minority who are, they typically come from groups that were already that way in their countries of origin. So the immigrant experience, in itself, has little explanatory value. The explanation is that certain cultures have selected for mental and behavioral traits that make high achievement possible.

Unz is on firmer ground when he says that over the last two decades up to half of the Jewish winners of the Math Olympiad were recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union. But why, then, did the mean IQ of Israel decline when that country took in a similar influx of Soviet Jews? That influx was much larger proportionately—almost a million in a country of eight and a half million. Today, Russian Jews number 1.2 million in Israel, if one includes non-Jewish household members (Wikipedia 2018a; Wikipedia 2018b). 

Perhaps Soviet Jews who went to the United States were somehow different from those who went to Israel.  In the U.S., about half of them arrived under the Lautenberg amendment (1990) which authorizes the entry of religious minorities "with a credible, but not necessarily individual, fear of persecution." In Israel, they arrived under the Law of Return, which lets in anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent or a Jewish spouse. 

Israel is thus more open to immigrants from the former Soviet Union ... as long as they have some sort of Jewish affiliation. The affiliation is often weak:

In 1988, a year before the immigration wave began, 58% of married Jewish men and 47% of married Jewish women in the Soviet Union had a non-Jewish spouse. Some 26%, or 240,000, of the immigrants had no Jewish mother, and were thus not considered Jewish under Halakha, or Jewish religious law, which stipulates one must have a Jewish mother to be considered Jewish. (Wikipedia 2018b)

Out-marriage has increased considerably in those countries that provide Israel with immigrants, not only the former Soviet Union but also the United States, Canada, and France. If Jews are becoming less and less Jewish by ancestry, it should be no surprise that anything specific to them genetically is likewise becoming less and less, whether they live in Israel or in the United States. This genetic change should be most noticeable on the right tail of the bell curve ... among the most gifted.


So the decline in Jewish achievement may be both an argument for and an argument against a genetic cause. Ron Unz sees an argument against: "the innate potential of a group is unlikely to drop so suddenly." Well, only if the group has a closed membership. According to a 2013 American survey, the intermarriage rate is now 58% among all Jews and 71% among non-Orthodox Jews. Yet 81% of all Jews still raise their children as Jewish (Goodstein 2013). It seems that "Jewishness" is increasingly self-defined and self-ascribed.

Besides out-marriage, something else may be going on. There are signs that fertility is sharply declining among the most intelligent women (Kanazawa 2014). Jewish Americans would be harder hit in this respect, but the problem may be a much larger one, as indicated by the recent slowing down and reversal of the Flynn Effect and by the steady increase in reaction time from about the year 1980 onward (Flynn 2007, pp. 143; Frost 2014; Madison 2014; Teasdale and Owen 2005).

In conclusion, the decline in Jewish achievement may have a genetic cause, a social/cultural one, or both. It nonetheless looks real. Much has been written about the bleak outlook for Jewish Americans due to their high out-marriage rate and their low fertility rate. But what if, on top of this numerical decline, there has also been a cognitive and intellectual one?

What will happen when Jewish millennials and post-millennials pick up the torch, move up in the world, and begin to make their mark? We may see another collapse: that of the remarkable Jewish presence in American life and culture.


Cochran, G., J. Hardy, and H. Harpending. (2006). Natural history of Ashkenazi intelligence, Journal of Biosocial Science 38: 659-693.

Feldman, A. (2018). Is Jordan Peterson enabling Jew hatred? Forward. May 11

Flynn, J.R. (2007). What is Intelligence? Beyond the Flynn Effect. Cambridge University Press.

Frost, P. (2007). Natural selection in proto-industrial Europe. Evo and Proud, November 16.

Frost, P. (2014). What happened in the 1980s to reaction time? Evo and Proud, May 3.

Goodstein, L. (2013). Poll shows major shift in identity of U.S. Jews. The New York Times, October 1.

Kanazawa, S. (2014). Intelligence and childlessness. Social Science Research 48: 157-170.

Madison, G. (2014). Increasing simple reaction times demonstrate decreasing genetic intelligence in Scotland and Sweden, London Conference on Intelligence, Psychological comments, April 25,  #LCI14 Conference proceedings

Murray, C. (2007). Jewish Genius. Commentary, April 1

Rindermann, H. (2018). Cognitive Capitalism. Human Capital and the Wellbeing of Nations. Cambridge University Press.

Teasdale, T.W., and D.R. Owen. (2005). A long-term rise and recent decline in intelligence test performance: The Flynn Effect in reverse. Personality and Individual Differences 39(4): 837-843.

Unz, R. (2012). The myth of American meritocracy. The American Conservative, November 28

Wikipedia (2018a). Russian Jews in Israel

Wikipedia (2018b). 1990s Post-Soviet Aliyah