Monday, September 26, 2022

Is intelligence all that matters for a successful society?


If we consider intelligence to be the only worthy mental attribute, we’ll end up with an elite that is not only intelligent but also narcissistic … and indifferent to the rest of us.




George Francis and Emil Kirkegaard have come out with a study that shows a strong correlation between IQ and wealth creation. The higher the mean IQ, the more a nation can create wealth:


We find national IQ to be the “best predictor” of economic growth, with a higher average coefficient and average posterior inclusion probability than all other tested variables (over 67) in every test run. Our best estimates find a one point increase in IQ is associated with a 7.8% increase in GDP per capita (Francis and Kirkegaard 2022)


The study is essentially an update of an earlier one by Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen (2002). It’s better done, and I agree more or less with the conclusion. Wealth is not created in a vacuum. It’s created by flesh-and-blood humans who possess certain mental and behavioral attributes, one of which is high cognitive ability.


I do, however, have two criticisms.


Criticism #1: On a societal level, cognitive ability is confounded with other mental and behavioral attributes


Yes, high cognitive ability is important. But sustainable creation of wealth also requires other mental and behavioral attributes, notably:


·         propensity to identify social rules, obey them, and enforce them on others

·         feelings of guilt when one breaks the rules, even when there are no witnesses

·         empathy for others and a desire to understand how one’s behavior affects them

·         inhibition against using violence to settle disputes

·         high degree of future time orientation (also known as low time preference)


High IQ + high trust + low violence + low time preference = sustainable creation of wealth (Clark 2007; Clark 2009a; Clark 2009b; Frost 2020). Some will argue that intelligence goes hand in hand with high trust and low time preference (Carl 2014; Kirkegaard and Karlin 2020). That is true on a societal level: the same selection pressures that favor high intelligence usually favor the entire mental and behavioral package. On an individual level, however, intelligent sociopaths do exist, and they can prosper while others suffer. If they become too numerous or too influential, they will eventually destroy their host society. But that can take time.


In all fairness, Francis and Kirkegaard did investigate social trust and time preference. Unfortunately, those attributes are confounded with IQ: successful societies tend to have people who are not only intelligent but also trustworthy and future-oriented. That’s survivorship bias: if a society lacks the full mental and behavioral package, it usually goes extinct, and extinct societies get overlooked by cross-national studies. To be precise, societal extinction happens when the intelligent are unrestrained in their contempt for the less intelligent in their midst; they thus prey on them by any means possible, and the resulting strife leads to societal collapse.


IQ, social trust, and time preference are normally confounded with each other, at least in most existing societies. Therefore, if you control for IQ, the other two variables will go away, and you’ll think: “Aha! The key variable must be IQ!”


And you’ll feel all the more certain because IQ is not just equal to social trust or time preference in predicting wealth creation. It’s actually better! That greater predictive power, however, has a simple explanation: measurement of IQ is based on less subjective data. In this study, social trust is measured by self-report, and time preference is measured by an amalgam of survey responses and credit risk.


Criticism #2: The correlation is driven largely by unreliable African data


This study has another weak point: the correlation between wealth creation and IQ is driven largely by economic and cognitive data from Africa. If you remove Africa from the chart, the correlation becomes a lot weaker.


How reliable is the African data? Not very. First, a lot of African economic activity is “off the books.” That is particularly true for subsistence farming in the countryside, but it’s also true for many businesses in the towns and cities. GDP thus tends to be underestimated.


Second, even HBD writers disagree among themselves on mean African IQ, as pointed out by Heiner Rindermann:


The [cognitive] ability levels for Africans in Africa are the subject of strong disagreement. Rushton studied positively selected samples (South African university engineering students; Rushton, Skuy, & Fridjhon, 2003), but the mean differences between Africans and Europeans (14 IQ points) were similar to the ones found in Western countries. Lynn and Vanhanen (2006) estimated that sub-Saharan African countries had a mean IQ of 70. Wicherts, Dolan, and Maas (2010) using a different selection procedure came to a mean IQ of 82.


Rindermann’s “best guess” is 75. He concludes: “Given the quality of the data, it is not possible to come to a really precise result” (Rindermann 2013, p. 3). If we look at the chart from Lynn and Vanhanen (2002), we see that most sub-Saharan African countries are assigned mean IQs lower than 75. In fact, 75 seems to be the upper limit. That’s the IQ dataset of the new study.


Francis and Kirkegaard (2022, pp. 22-23) are aware that the IQ/GDP correlation is a lot weaker without the African IQ data, and they defend the validity of that dataset at some length. I’m still unimpressed, for two reasons:


·         If mean African IQ is 70, one must conclude that Africans are much less intelligent than African Americans, whose mean IQ is usually estimated at 85. Such a large difference cannot be explained by European admixture, heterosis, or nutrition.


·         The Yoruba of Nigeria have about the same polygenic score as that of African Americans (Piffer 2021, Fig. 7). Their mean IQ should therefore be 85. Yet, according to Lynn and Vanhanen, Nigerians have a mean IQ of 67. Since Nigeria is 18% Igbo, and since the Igbo show high academic achievement, mean Yoruba IQ should therefore be much less than the presumed Nigerian average of 67 (Chisala 2015; Frost 2022). The numbers don’t seem to add up.


Please don’t get me wrong. I agree that mean IQ is lower in Africa than in Eurasia, but the Lynn and Vanhanen estimates seem too low. In any case, they are not widely accepted even by researchers who accept that cognitive ability varies among human populations.


Similarly, I agree that more wealth is created per capita in Eurasia than in Africa. The difference, however, is overstated because so much of African GDP goes unreported. Furthermore, I don’t believe that lower IQ largely explains Africa’s economic underperformance. There is also the excessive use of violence to achieve one’s goals, both by the State and by private individuals. There is also the low level of trust that people have in each other—for the most part, Africans trust only their immediate family and friends. Finally, because family ties are so important, nepotism is widespread, and successful entrepreneurs end up being plundered by greedy relatives. The market economy cannot realize its full potential because the logic of the market has to compete with the logic of kinship.

Edit: George Francis has informed me that the correlation between IQ and GNP per capita remains unchanged if African cognitive and economic data are excluded. Without the African data, GDP per capita would increase 7.7% with each one point increase in IQ, rather than 7.8%.



Cognitive ability is only one of several mental and behavioral attributes that are key to building successful economies and societies. If we focus on it to the exclusion of others, we will be talked into supporting policies that have unintended consequences. A good example is the idea of reorienting immigration policy toward recruitment of high-IQ individuals.


That idea has the support of many conservatives throughout the West, but the consequences are very un-conservative. In short, we would be selecting immigrants who excel at creating wealth for themselves, by hook or by crook. The eventual result: an elite of rich narcissists who feel little sympathy for common people and who see them as objects to be used, when useful, and thrown away, when not.


Please don’t get bamboozled by reassurances that IQ correlates with trustworthiness and low time preference. That’s true only at the societal level. Those three attributes align with each other because they have to: otherwise, society would become dysfunctional and collapse. That’s survivorship bias: we get data from societies that have survived, and not from those that haven’t. If we cherry-pick high IQ immigrants from all over the world, we will create a new kind of society that has not stood the test of time.


Actually, that kind of society has arisen in the past:


And you should know that all the Cathayans [Chinese] detested the Grand Khan's rule because he set over them governors who were Tartars, or still more frequently Saracens, and these they could not endure, for they were treated by them just like slaves. You see the Great Khan had not succeeded to the dominion of Cathay [China] by hereditary right, but held it by conquest; and thus having no confidence in the natives, he put all authority into the hands of Tartars, Saracens, or Christians who were attached to his household and devoted to his service, and were foreigners in Cathay [China].

            The Travels of Marco Polo, Book 2, Chapter 23


Why do you think revolutions happen? It was precisely to avoid such a prospect that elite schools sought to develop not only intellect but also character, including the idea that the powerful have a duty to rule wisely and fairly. That view of higher education has given way to “meritocracy” throughout the West, with results that could have been predicted.




Carl, N. (2014). Does intelligence explain the association between generalized trust and economic development? Intelligence 47: 83-92.


Chisala, C. (2015). The IQ gap is no longer a black and white issue. The Unz Review, June 25.     


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.  


Francis, G., and E.O.W. Kirkegaard. (2022). National Intelligence and Economic Growth: A Bayesian Update. The Mankind Quarterly 63(1).  


Frost, P. (2020). The large society problem in Northwest Europe and East Asia. Advances in Anthropology 10(3): 214-134.     


Frost, P. (2022). Recent cognitive evolution in West Africa: the Niger’s role. Evo and Proud, April 30.  


Kirkegaard, E.O.W., and A. Karlin. (2020). National intelligence is more important for explaining country well-being than time preference and other measured non-cognitive traits. Mankind Quarterly 61: 339-370.  


Lynn, R. and T. Vanhanen. (2002). IQ and the Wealth of Nations. Westport, Conn: Praeger


Piffer, D. (2021). Divergent selection on height and cognitive ability: evidence from Fst and polygenic scores. OpenPsych     


Rindermann, H. (2013). African cognitive ability: Research, results, divergences and recommendations. Personality and Individual Differences 55: 229-233.     


Anonymous said...

Slow clap for Peter. great job writing this and great points all around! also i apologize for my attacks on you. you seem to let everyone speak for themselves which is necessary for a better outlook on how insight can be developed.

Luke Lea said...

Excellent post.

Santocool said...

''On an individual level, however, intelligent sociopaths do exist, and they can prosper while others suffer. If they become too numerous or too influential, they will eventually destroy their host society. But that can take time.''

Especially since the rise of civilized societies, sociopaths have dominated socially.

And no, most of them, especially the ''brightest'', don't destroy the traps they created to exploit/opress others and enrich themselves...

Many rules were created to normalize and renforce the economic exploitation of the poorest and the parasitism of the ''elites'', those who accumulate an amount of resources much greater than their gross contribution.

You don't need sociopaths to become numerous in the higher social strata [they almost always do], because having an army of obedient "normies" would be enough to enforce their often cruel rules and alienating beliefs.

But this, a really discerning person should easily perceive...

The class struggle/parasitism of the “elites” are not theories, hypotheses or beliefs, they are human social and historical realities.

But I'm not going to waste any more time trying to instill a little critical thinking into your elderly, white, and conservative head.

HBD is a cult, like almost every ideology...


Peter Frost said...


No apologies needed. We learn through debate and criticism.




Where do I go to become a member of the HBD cult?

Anonymous said...

The crucial role of Christianity and of effective Law and Justice is demonstrated by this.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Francis, Kirkegaard and others associated with HBD would deny that genetic distance and diversity lead to unstable societies. Rather that's something they tend to emphasize.

I think the dynamic goes both ways. With greater diversity and genetic distance between the elite and common people, you don't just have an elite with less sympathy for commoners, but also the commoners have less sympathy for and identification with the elites and are more likely to be hostile and spiteful towards them, and more rebellious.

Yuan Dynasty China would be an example of this sort of genetic distance and diversity between elite and commoners, rather than an example of cherry picking high IQ immigrants from all over the world. The Yuan Dynasty consisted of a military conquest dynasty elite based on military status and ethnic background, namely non-Chinese, while the commoners were Chinese. It's not really analogous to our current society, other than the genetic distance and diversity apart. Other aspects of our current society, such as the affirmative action and civil rights regime which benefits certain ethnies, would be more analogous. Also, it was arguably less diverse than our current society is increasingly becoming.