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  


Luke Lea said...

What about the role of the nuclear family, i.e., the prohibition on consanguineous marriages, in mediating the growth of high trust societies in the West?

Sean said...

'FUKINYAMA argues that prosperous countries tend to be those where business relations between people can be conducted informally and flexibly on the basis of trust, such as Germany, Japan, and (perhaps surprisingly) the United States. In other societies, such as France, Italy, and Korea, social bonds are subordinated to family ties and other dysfunctional loyalties, creating rigidities, provoking state intervention, and dampening economic growth.'

The very top intellectual achieving Western Ashkenazi Jews (John Von Nuemann, Einstein went to Switzerland to avoid being conscripted) have been westernised and from the German speaking world, not from the USA. That could be because, as McDonald noted, Jews tend to excel at what their country values most. Germany valued science, the US values material success but several Israeli PMs have been generals such as Ehud Barack, who went to Beirut undercover to kill PLO and has advanced degrees in several subjects. Neteryahu is the kid brother of the Entebbe commander (only soldier killed on the operation).

East Asian societies definitely seem less able to translate their IQ into innovation and I expert that is because monitoring for breaking of rules is efficient only up to a certain level of performance, a modern Chinese Einstein will be kept too busy for abstract theorising.

Unknown said...

throughout the existence of Israel ALOT of Jews immigrated to america. so the smart Jews that knew what's good for them immigrated to america the the stupid Jews stayed or immigrated to Israel. its a process of natural selection taking place where the smart jews go to america and the stupid Jews go to high taxes high regulation Israel

Anonymous said...

Minor offenses like shoplifting were punishable by death in England during the years of the “Bloody Code” in England in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Mary Jones was a destitute teenage mother whose husband had been pressed into the Royal Navy. She was hanged for shoplifting some coarse linen:

" One can well understand why the law in this period in history is now referred to as the Bloody Code. Of the two hundred and ninety four people executed at Tyburn in the decade from 1765 to 1774 only twenty five were to die for murder and three for rape. The rest mostly suffered for various types of property related crime, such as highway robbery, burglary, housebreaking and forgery.

It seems amazing today that a young mother should be hanged for what would now considered to be a minor crime, yet in 1771 nobody would have thought anything of it — it was a regular and perfectly normal event. If it was Mary’s first offence, as she claimed, she would probably get a community service order now, especially as he had dependant children. However Georgian justice was being applied increasingly severely at this time. Sixty-two men and six women received the death sentence during this year, of whom thirty four of the men and one of the women, Frances Allen, were to share Mary’s fate. Frances Allen was hanged on Wednesday the 7th of August for housebreaking."

sykes.1 said...

The non-Ashkenazi Jews have IQ’s significantly lower than the Ashkenazi’s, and they and the low IQ arabs are a majority.

Peter Frost said...


hbd chick has argued that the Catholic Church and manorialism created the Western European Marriage System, i.e., high individualism, late age of marriage, high rate of lifelong celibacy, and large numbers of non-kin cohabiting with kin in the same household.

I argue that the arrow of causality runs the other way. The Catholic Church simply codified and consolidated existing marriage practices. It's difficult to prove who is right because the quality of the evidence decreases as we go farther back in time. We certainly have evidence that the WEMP preceded the spread of manorialism.


Yes, this is the ideological argument. Israelis excel but they are encouraged to excel in other areas of life, such as the military.


The time periods are different. Most Jews emigrated to the U.S. during the Great Wave (1880 to 1924) when around two million came. Most Jews emigrated to Israel after the Balfour Declaration (1917)


Yes, the rate of capital punishment was very high, even higher if we include people who died in prison or who were killed at the time of the crime.


Nonetheless, Israel is 42% Ashkenazi—that's more than three and a half million people. By comparison, American Jews number between 5.5 and 8 million. If we compare the intellectual contributions of the two groups, would they be of the same order?

Anonymous said...

Israel isn't 42% Ashkenazi. More like 25%, and of lower quality (so to speak) than American Ashkenazim.

Sean said...

Olim L'Berlin. America is still a high trust country. There seems to be a lot a agreement that Germany is the highest trust country of all. Going by the thesis of this week's post a German economy is clearly the one that Jews can do best in.

That may have some bearing on why Germany made such a political transition in the 1930s. Nowhere else could the velocity of Jewry's advancement be freed of low trust friction and break what one might call the socioeconomic sound barrier to affect politics.

Germany is integrating its refugees. Merkel's million refugees are not going to exceed the natives. The extent to which that highest trust society can make incomers perform to around an indigenous level of achievement is nevertheless too easily underestimated in the light of Rindermann's theory.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the rate of capital punishment was very high, even higher if we include people who died in prison or who were killed at the time of the crime.

Was it necessary? You've argued that the British have high levels of empathy and guilt inherited from prehistoric times that serve as an internal control mechanism over personal behavior and preclude the need for harsh punishment like capital punishment.

Anonymous said...

"Two million men had died in the trenches in World War I, yet in 1919 a feminist hailed the decline in the birthrate as "the greatest, non-violent revolution" achieved by women, one that gave them "control of life." No wonder the Weimar Republic was distinguished by "the lowest birth rate in the Western world." With this fall in birthrate came "a new hedonism in women's sexuality.""

"The historically low birthrate, explained in 3 charts
US women are having fewer and fewer babies. In some ways, it’s a sign of progress."

"Israel has the highest birth rate in the developed world"

"Parasitic castration is the strategy, by a parasite, of blocking reproduction by its host, completely or in part, to its own benefit. This is one of six major strategies within parasitism...A parasite that ends the reproductive life of its host theoretically liberates a significant fraction of the host's resources, which can now be used to benefit the parasite. Lafferty points out that the fraction of intact host energy spent on reproduction includes not just gonads and gametes but also secondary sexual characteristics, mate-seeking behavior, competition, and care for offspring.[4] Poulin suggests that prolonged host life may also result from parasitic castration, benefiting the parasite.[3]"

Peter Frost said...

"Was it necessary? You've argued that the British have high levels of empathy and guilt inherited from prehistoric times that serve as an internal control mechanism over personal behavior and preclude the need for harsh punishment like capital punishment."

For a long time, in the early Middle Ages, people argued that capital punishment wasn't necessary. The Church had strong reservations about it, and the State felt it best to let people work out their conflicts without State intervention. Eventually, a consensus developed that intervention was necessary because some people were killing for fun or for trifling reasons. The capacity for empathy differs from one individual to another, and even within a high-empathy society there will be sociopaths. A single sociopath can kill a lot of people.

Once the principle of capital punishment became accepted by Church and State, there was a kind of ratchet effect that caused it to become applied to more and more crimes.


The main problem is a lack of will. If governments wish to raise the birth rate, they can. Israel has raised its birth rate, and so has Russia. The cost is high, however, and most Western governments have other priorities. The culture, too, has to become more family-oriented. All of this is possible, but perhaps not politically doable.

I don't understand your passage about parasitic castration. I suppose you could argue that people who have children are taking money from those who don't (via the tax system and family allowance programs). But this is a choice that couples make. The underlying problem is both cultural and financial.

Wanda said...

Your link to Ilf and Petrov's book doesn't work.
Here is the entire book in pdf format:
Little Golden America
It's a quick and fun read.
Note that those two were not sociologists but comedians and aimed at entertainment, not necessarily insight.

Anonymous said...

Peter, what are your thoughts on Tuaregs? They have an unusual social structure for a Mediterranean people, being matrilineal. And what to make of the absence of a Mediterranean honor culture among Berbers - Kabylia, if I remember? The origin of a Mediterranean culture area gets little discussion these days, but little outliers make it problematic.

Anonymous said...

Once the principle of capital punishment became accepted by Church and State, there was a kind of ratchet effect that caused it to become applied to more and more crimes.

Do you suppose it was superfluous for minor property crimes, or do you think it had a selective effect on Britons?

Sean said...

Ideological? The presence of an extremely hostile Arab minority in Israel hardy makes for a high trust society. What Israel would (perhaps will) be like as the truly Jewish state it was intended to be may be something more like a Kibutz. And that movement showed a powerful yearning in Israelis for a total-trust society.

China's social credit systerm every business and every individual will be watched and China's cashless revolution computer rated, even on how they cross the road (facial recognition tech). This sounds like the 'observability' that is a powerful force for cooperation, but achieed on a completely inhuman way.

If you add China's cashless revolution and their 2025 Plan for subsidising key technologies (instead of spending money on buying US high tech products) and bearing in mind the the increasingly liberal Western populations (especially Germany) will never permit the gathering of such data, it seems the Western humanist way is destined to become obsolete in the face of even weak AI developements.

Anonymous said...

[...] 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)

In Japan and East Asia, "I'll do that" or "Yes" don't mean that literally, and people generally never say "No" unless in the context of a polite refusal to a gift or something. The average person is much more shy, timid, and non-confrontational and uncomfortable with directly rejecting or making demands. Moreover, the average person knows that the other people he deals with are like this, and thus goes out of his way and ensures that his counterparts aren't put into an uncomfortable and awkward position in which they have to make or reject demands and which will then make himself uncomfortable and feel awkward. And so people rely on context and various rules and customs to convey meaning and organize. This is baffling to foreigners, but everyone there knows what people mean.

This is related to the difference between high context and low context cultures:


Higher-context cultures tend to be more common in the Asian cultures than in European, and in countries with low racial diversity. Cultures where the group/community is valued over the individual promote the in-groups and group reliance/support that favour higher-context cultures. Coexisting subcultures are also conducive to higher context situations, where the small group relies on their common background to explain the situation, rather than words. A lower-context culture tends to explain things further, and it is thought that this may be related to the need to accommodate individuals with a wide variety of backgrounds.


Low-context cultures require more explicit expression and communication, and therefore tend to be more verbose. This correlates with an increased aversion for ambiguity."

What's interesting in light of the original post is that a particularly high verbal IQ culture will tend especially to excel in low context cultures which place greater emphasis and demand on verbal ability. Moreover, there is an incentive for a particularly high verbal IQ culture to promote "diversity", as greater diversity requires a lower context culture for adequate functioning, and such promotion is made all the more practical by the particular culture's high verbal ability and ability to fashion ideologies which valorize "diversity".

Peter Frost said...


Ilf and Petrov, like many Soviet writers, used humor to make serious observations about society. I like their American travelogue because it points out aspects of American life that only an outsider would bother to notice.


The Tuaregs seem to have adopted matrilineal descent for "colorist" reasons: as a way of discouraging intermixture and preserving their phenotype. They are still visibly lighter-skinned than other peoples of Mali and Niger, and this difference has become an ethnic marker.

I hope to write more about North Africa and the growing resentment of immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa. This subject is underreported in the English-language media, and the few reports I've seen tend to fall into the genre of "Arab racism."


In England, capital punishment reached such high levels that it changed the character of the people, making the English very unwilling to act violently on their own initiative. If it had been used less zealously, the average English person would be more like the Scotch-Irish or the English of the borderlands.


It's easy to blame everything in Israel on the "security issue." The Israelis themselves fall into that trap.


East Asian societies have created high-trust societies by following a somewhat different route. They have a high level of cognitive empathy, probably higher than anywhere else in the world, but much less affective empathy. They are keenly aware of how other people think and feel and how their actions affect others, but there is much less transfer of emotion ("feeling the other person's pain") and much less guilt. If bad things happen to you in China, other people will feel indifferent, except for your own family and close friends (and even they may be indifferent).

Anonymous said...


Sean said...

NYC Jews Ben and Jerry (of the ice cream) left for Vermont and found success there, as did Bernie Saunders, which means the post is not wrong. On the other hand Vermont might be less high trust if the First Nations people were still living there in large numbers.