Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Yes, the decline is genetic

Average polygenic score for educational attainment, by year of birth in Iceland. The blue line is a quadratic fit for the full range of birth years. The red line is a linear fit for people born in or after 1940. (Kong et al. 2017)

For most of the 20th century mean IQ went up at the rate of 3 points per decade throughout the Western world. This is the Flynn effect (Rindermann 2018, pp. 85-89). Much of the increase seems to have involved a change in mental priorities rather than a rise in intelligence: a culture of doing as we're told has given way to a culture of having several possible responses and picking the right one. But some of the increase seems real, being perhaps due to better nutrition and a more stimulating learning environment.

The Flynn effect is now running out of steam (Flynn 2007, p. 143). In Scandinavia, mean IQ peaked during the late 1990s and has since declined (Teasdale and Owen 2005). Using the Norwegian population registry, two economists, Bernt Bratsberg and Ole Rogeberg, attribute this decline largely, if not entirely, to "within-family variation." In other words, IQ has been declining even among people of similar genetic background, i.e., siblings. So this decline is not due to the poor outbreeding the rich or immigrants outbreeding natives.

All the same, a genetic cause cannot be excluded. In Norway, siblings are less and less genetically similar; they are increasingly half-siblings. This factor can especially affect the methodology of Bratsberg and Rogeberg (2018) because the IQ decline is most measurable between siblings who are born farther apart. As this birth interval increases, so does the probability that the younger siblings is a half-sibling.

This is not a minor factor. Bratsberg and Rogeberg were looking at pairs of brothers. (The IQ data come from the military conscript register, and only men are subject to conscription). To produce a pair of brothers, a woman has to have three children on average. Among Norwegian women with three children, 36.2% have had them by two or more men (Thomson et al. 2014). Furthermore, because those children tend to be born farther apart than children born to the same father, they contribute more to within-family variation.

If the genetic basis of intelligence has been declining within Norwegian families, specifically between older and younger half-siblings, two things must be happening:

1. The average divorced mother has her second child by a man who belongs to a lower-IQ segment of the Norwegian population.

2. Such men have been contributing more than other men to succeeding generations of Norwegians, at least during the last forty years. This point is important. Even if we look only at first-born sons, mean IQ has steadily declined among Norwegians born since c. 1975 (Bratsberg and Rogeberg 2018).

The first point has been proven by Lappegård et al. 2011) in their study of fatherhood and fertility in Norway. Multi-partner fatherhood is most common among men with the lowest level of education (10 years of schooling, "i.e., compulsory education"). Second place goes to men with college or university education (14 to 17 years of schooling, "tertiary degree"), and third place goes to men with upper secondary (11 to 13 years of schooling). 

At age 45, about 15 percent of all men in the 1960-62 cohort with a compulsory education had had children with more than one woman, compared to about 5 percent among men with a tertiary degree. If looking at fathers only (Figure 6), the pattern becomes even more pronounced. At the lowest educational level, 19.3 percent of those who had become fathers, had children with more than one woman, compared to 6.1 percent of those at the highest educational level. (Lappegård et al. 2011)

As for the second point, Lappegård et al. (2011) found that reproductive success is more variable among men with the lowest level of education. Such men have the highest rate of childlessness of all three groups, while having the highest level of multi-partner fertility. Moreover, multi-partner fertility has increased over time among these men, while childlessness has remained constant. Their overall reproductive success has thus gone up:

Like childlessness, multi-partner fertility has increased across cohorts, but unlike childlessness it has increased more among men with lower education than among those with higher education. From the 1940-44 cohort to the 1960-62 cohort the proportion of fathers who had children with more than one woman more than doubled (from 8.9% to 19.3%) in the compulsory schooling group, while it only rose by about 30% in the highest tertiary group, from 4.7 to 6.1 percent. (Lappegård et al. 2011)

Thomson et al. (2014) made the same observation:

In all countries [Australia, United States, Norway, Sweden], however, education is negatively associated with childbearing across partnerships, and the differentials increased from the 1970s to the 2000s.

Moreover, official statistics do not fully capture multi-partner fatherhood. It can be difficult to identify the paternity of children whose biological father is little more than a sperm donor. Lappegård et al. (2011) allude to this difficulty: "some of these men have never been in a stable relationship with the mother." This is less of a problem in Norway, where "only about 1-1.5 percent of the total number of children has no registered father."  The registered "father" may nonetheless be a cuckolded husband or a boyfriend who has agreed to assume paternity of the unborn child. The second situation is not uncommon if the woman is still young and attractive.

It seems, then, that modern Norwegian culture is facilitating the reproductive success of low IQ men. One such man was Anders Breivik's stepfather:

My stepfather Tore, one of my best friends Marius and my more distant friends Kristoffer, Sturla and Ronny are all living manifestations of the complete breakdown of sexual moral. All five have had more than 300 sexual partners (two of them more than 700) and I know for a fact that three of them have one or more STDs (probably all of them).

[...] My mother was infected by genital herpes by her boyfriend (my stepfather), Tore, when she was 48. Tore, who was a captain in the Norwegian Army, had more than 500 sexual partners and my mother knew this but suffered from lack of good judgement and moral due to several factors (media - glorification of certain stereotypes being one).

[...] Tore, my stepfather, worked as a major in the Norwegian military and is now retired. I still have contact with him although now he spends most his time (retirement) with prostitutes in Thailand. He is a very primitive sexual beast, but at the same time a very likable and good guy. (Breivik 2011)

The evidence from Iceland

Iceland isn't Norway but it is culturally similar. According to a recent study, the genetic basis of intelligence has been declining in that country since the cohort born in 1910. The authors used a "polygenic score," based on alleles associated with high educational attainment, to measure the genetic potential for academic achievement from generation to generation:

Here, we investigate the effect of this genetic component on the reproductive history of 109,120 Icelanders and the consequent impact on the gene pool over time. We show that an educational attainment polygenic score, POLYEDU, constructed from results of a recent study is associated with delayed reproduction (P < 10-100) and fewer children overall. The effect is stronger for women and remains highly significant after adjusting for educational attainment. Based on 129,808 Icelanders born between 1910 and 1990, we find that the average POLYEDU has been declining at a rate of ~0.010 standard units per decade, which is substantial on an evolutionary timescale.

This is the same polygenic score I've discussed in previous posts, such as Frost (2018). Certain genetic variants are associated with high educational attainment and others with low educational attainment. Do these variants determine our capacity for intelligence? For the most part, yes, but I suspect that many of them have a stronger bearing on time preference or willingness to sit still in a classroom. The authors concede this point:

We postulate that, in addition to being correlated with cognitive ability (32, 33), POLYEDU is capturing a portion of the propensity to long-term planning and delayed gratification. (Kong et al. 2017)

These other traits still matter. Together, they form a mental/behavioral package that coevolved with the rising middle class over the last millennium, eventually spreading through all social strata (Clark 2007; Clark 2009a; Clark 2009b). That evolution is now unravelling. Reproductive success is shifting toward individuals with "fast life-history": lower cognitive ability, weaker orientation toward the future, and, for men, a larger number of sexual partners with less investment in the resulting offspring (Frost 2012; but see also JayMan 2012). This shift began seventy years before the decline in IQ scores.

It seems, then, that the Flynn effect has masked a longer-term decline in the genetic basis of intelligence and other mental/behavioral traits. This is in line with other recent findings. Woodley et al. (2013) argue that mean reaction time has increased in Great Britain by 13 points since Victorian times, although this finding may be an artefact of better sampling of the general population over time (hbd* chick, 2013). Another study, however, using Swedish subjects, has confirmed this lengthening of reaction time, particularly in cohorts born since the 1970s (Madison 2014; Madison et al. 2016).


The recent reversal of the Flynn effect seems to result from two trends:

1. a positive trend based on increasing familiarity with tests and test-taking, as well as improvements in nutrition and a more stimulating learning environment;

2. a negative trend due to dysgenic factors.

For most of the 20th century the positive trend overwhelmed the negative trend. In Norway, the negative trend has had the upper hand in post-1975 cohorts, partly because the positive trend has exhausted all room for improvement and partly because the current culture is facilitating the reproductive success of sexy, low-IQ men.

I've long believed that human evolution didn't stop in the Pleistocene. Nor did it slow down. In fact, we've changed much more over the past 10,000 years than over the previous 100,000, and I'm talking here not only about our outward appearance but also about our inward qualities of mind and behavior. But we can quickly lose what we so quickly gained. This reverse evolution is now taking place, and it’s visible even in the relatively closed system of Iceland's gene pool.

I used to be unconcerned about dysgenics. Any negative trends would surely take hundreds of years to produce serious consequences. So we would have plenty of time to get all of the relevant facts, discuss everything thoroughly with everyone, and reach a consensus. Well, I was wrong. Our dystopic future is close at hand.


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

Breivik, A. (2011). A European declaration of independence.

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

Clark, G. (2009a) The indicted and the wealthy: surnames, reproductive success, genetic selection and social class in pre-industrial England.

Clark, G. (2009b). The domestication of man: The social implications of Darwin. ArtefaCTos 2: 64-80.

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

Frost, P. (2018). A new yardstick. Evo and Proud, May 14

Frost, P. (2012). Are the cads outbreeding the dads? Evo and Proud, November 3

Hbd* chick (2013). a response to a response to two critical commentaries on woodley, te nijenhuis & murphy (2013), hbd* chick, May 27

JayMan (2012). It's not the cads, it's the tramps. JayMan's Blog, December 28

Kong, A., M.L. Frigge, G. Thorleifsson, H. Stefansson, A.I. Young, F. Zink, G.A. Jonsdottir, A. Okbay, P. Sulem, G. Masson, D.F. Gudbjartsson, A. Helgason, G. Bjornsdottir, U. Thorsteinsdottir, and K. Stefansson. (2017). Selection against variants in the genome associated with educational attainment. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114(5): E727-E732.

Lappegård, T., Rønsen, M., & Skrede, K. (2011). Fatherhood and fertility. Fathering 9: 103-120.

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

Madison, G., M.A. Woodley of Menie, and J. Sänger. (2016). Secular Slowing of Auditory Simple Reaction Time in Sweden (1959-1985). Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, August 18

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

Woodley, M.A., J. Nijenhuis, and R. Murphy. (2013). Were the Victorians cleverer than us? The decline in general intelligence estimated from a meta-analysis of the slowing of simple reaction time. Intelligence 41: 843-850.

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