A Review of Hive Mind: How Your Nation’s IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own

 

41Ryk7GgnlL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_My colleague at the George Mason economics department, Garett Jones, has written an excellent new book, Hive Mind.

The book’s primary and most important contribution is to document the following empirical regularity: Suppose you could a) improve your own IQ by 10 points, or b) improve the IQs of your countrymen (but not your own) by 10 points. Which would do more to increase your income? The answer is (b), and it’s not even close. The latter choice improves your income by about 6 times more than the former choice.

One implication of the regularity should please some conservatives—perhaps especially Ann Coulter and Donald Trump. It says that, if the U.S. continues its current policy of admitting many third-world immigrants, then this will likely decrease the incomes of current citizens. Alternatively, it also implies that a better policy would be to admit only “the best” people, in the words of Donald Trump.

Jones devotes much of the book to explaining why this empirical regularity exists. Many of the reasons that he discusses are political or cultural. For instance, he presents evidence showing that high-IQ countries tend to have less corruption. He also presents evidence from laboratory experiments showing that high-IQ people tend to cooperate with each other more than low-IQ people.

Jones also discusses some reasons from microeconomics that help explain the empirical regularity. Specifically, he shows that your own productivity tends to increase when you work around people who have high IQs.

To illustrate the latter effect, Jones’s constructs an example, which I call “the parable of the vases.” In a moment I’ll explain the details of the example, but first let me briefly discuss its importance. The example has significantly affected my thinking, and it is one of the highlights of the book. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that the parable ranks as one of the all-time great examples in economics. Although it is not quite as insightful and important as Ronald Coase’s crops-near-the-train-track example (which illustrates the efficiency of property rights), I believe it is approximately as insightful and important as: (i) Adam Smith’s pin-factory example (which illustrates the benefits of division of labor) and (ii) Friedrich Hayek’s example of an entrepreneur knowing about an unused ship (which illustrates the value of particular, versus general, knowledge).

The parable begins with a simplifying assumption. This is that it takes exactly two workers to make a vase: one to blow it from molten glass and another to pack it for delivery. Now suppose that two workers, A1 and A2, are highly skilled—if they are assigned to either task they are guaranteed not to break the vase. Suppose two other workers, B1 and B2, are less skilled—specifically, for either task each has a 50% probability of breaking the vase.

Now suppose you are worker A1. If you team up with A2, you produce a vase every attempt. However, if you team up with B1 or B2, then only 50% of your attempts will produce a vase. Thus, your productivity is higher when you team up with A2 than with one of the B workers. Something similar happens with the B workers. They are more productive when they are paired with an A worker than with a fellow B worker.

So far, everything I’ve said is probably pretty intuitive. But here’s what’s not so intuitive. Suppose you’re the manager of the vase company and you want to produce as many vases as possible. Are you better off by (i) pairing A1 with A2 and B1 with B2, or (ii) pairing A1 with one of the B workers and A2 with the other B worker?

If you do the math, it’s clear that the first strategy works best. Here, the team with two A workers produces a vase with 100% probability, and the team with the two B workers produces a vase with 25% probability. Thus, in expectation, the company produces 1.25 vases per time period. With the second strategy, both teams produce a vase with 50% probability. Thus, in expectation, the company produces only one vase per time period.

The example illustrates how workers’ productivity is often interdependent—specifically, how your own productivity increases when your co-workers are skilled.

The example generates an even more remarkable implication. It says that, if you are a manager of a company (or the central planner of an entire economy), then your optimal strategy is to clump your best workers together on the same project rather than spreading them out amongst your less-able workers.

The parable has some interesting implications for immigration policy. Namely, it suggests that Ann Coulter and Donald Trump may be more correct than they realize. Coulter and Trump, when arguing for more restrictions on immigration, most often invoke political and cultural reasons—e.g. they note that more immigrants will cause crime to increase or cause the U.S. to adopt more leftwing policies. The parable of the vases, however, provides an economic reason: Specifically, when the U.S. allows more low-skilled immigrants into the country, it can lower the productivity of native workers.

Perhaps more profound is the following implication. Immigration opponents usually make their argument from an own-country perspective. E.g. Trump and Coulter usually focus on the fact that a more open-borders policy hurts American natives. They rarely discuss the fact that such a policy helps potential immigrants. Related, they do not consider the net effect—that is, whether the costs to American natives are greater than the benefits to potential immigrants. The parable-of-the-vases example, however, takes a worldly perspective, not U.S.-centric perspective, and it suggests that the net benefits are negative. For example, it suggests the following: Suppose you were the secretary general of the U.N.—someone who is interested in the total economic output of the entire world, not just the output of the U.S. If so, then the parable-of-the-vases example implies that you would want the world’s smartest people to clump in only one or a few countries. You’d want the U.S. to restrict immigration from low-IQ countries because it increases the world’s total economic output, not just the U.S.’s. As far as I’m aware, the people who favor more restrictive immigration policies—including Coulter and Trump—have never made this argument.

While the parable of the vases has implications that will likely please conservatives, at least one implication of the book will likely please progressives. This implication is related to the “Flynn Effect”—the empirical regularity, discovered by philosopher James Flynn, that average IQs have been rising significantly over the last several decades. In the U.S., for instance, the average IQ has risen by approximately 20 points since the early 1930s. This increase is so large and has occurred in such a short period of time that most IQ researchers believe that it could not have been caused by genetics. Although some researchers believe the increase is due to artificial factors—e.g. that people are becoming more aware of the questions that are asked on IQ tests—Flynn does not hold that view. He has examined actual answers from early tests, and he concludes that people have genuinely become more intelligent. More specific, he believes that people have become more skilled at abstract thinking. For instance, suppose I asked you the following question: “If pigs could fly, would this make pork taste better or worse?” Flynn’s research suggests that 80 years ago a huge fraction of people would be incapable of even thinking about the question. For instance, they’d answer “But pigs can’t fly,” rather than trying to consider the hypothetical. (Flynn explains many of his findings in this excellent video.)

By and large, Jones agrees with Flynn. And the admiration between the two authors seems to be mutual: Flynn wrote a blurb for the back cover of the book. (“For over 100 years, we’ve neglected the importance of national differences in our cognitive progress; this book is a welcome antidote and an eye opener.”)

Jones notes that humans would benefit greatly if we could experience an additional Flynn effect over the next 80 or so years. Although he does not does explicitly say it, I infer that Jones would favor government subsidies for a program if it could be proven to raise the average IQ of people. Although many will read the last sentence as “more government money for education,” I suspect that Jones (and maybe even Flynn) would favor such subsidies only for subjects that develop abstract thinking—rigorous analytical subjects like math, sciences, logic, and perhaps philosophy and economics; but not “fluff” subjects like gender studies and sociology.

The book deserves a final word of praise for how well written it is. Although it often addresses complex economic and statistical concepts, it does so in a fun and readable way. Non-specialists will be able to understand the book, and I believe they will enjoy reading it.

There are only a few authors who are extremely good at this task. The best, in my view, is Stephen Dubner, one of the co-authors of Freakonomics. (His co-author, Steve Levitt, whom I admire greatly and consider a good friend, is also very good at this task. However, I’ve read many of his single-authored papers. They are not nearly as well written as his work with Dubner.) Just below Dubner are some economists who are very, very good at explaining economic concepts to non-specialists. They include Milton Friedman, Justin Wolfers, Thomas Sowell, and Walter Williams. With Hive Mind, I believe that Professor Jones has shown that his writing ability is in the same league as the latter group of authors.

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Members have made 33 comments.

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  1. Profile photo of Misthiocracy Member

    Like.

    • #1
    • November 18, 2015 at 1:17 pm
  2. Profile photo of Dan Hanson Thatcher

    Is Jones using ‘intelligence’ as a synonym for ‘productivity’? The vase example really has nothing to do with intelligence. The example could apply to work ethic, honesty, attention to detail, communications skills, and a host of other cultural and personal traits that lead to higher individual productivity.

    I know some intelligent people who are a disaster on teams because they are inconsistent, lazy, stubborn, secretive, or have other traits that make them less than optimally productive. I’m not even sure intelligence is the prime determinant of productivity in most industries.

    I wonder if the focus on IQ is the result of academic bias? In academia, intelligence is extremely important for productivity. In a factory or on a productive team, being on time and doing what you said you’d do, when you said you’d do it, may be more important than how smart you are. In fact, if you’re in a job that requires attention to detail rather than abstract thinking ability, intelligence may be inversely correlated with productivity.

    But Jones’ argument does illustrate one thing about emigration: It’s bound to contribute to a global wealth imbalance. What he’s saying is that if the smartest people leave a poor country, that country will be worse off by a much greater degree than the mere loss of people would indicate. So shouldn’t we be opposing immigration on the grounds that it’s terrible for the country of origin?

    • #2
    • November 18, 2015 at 1:24 pm
  3. Profile photo of Mike H Member

    The Jones/Caplan debate on Open Borders.

    Caplan’s thoughts on Hive Mind.

    • #3
    • November 18, 2015 at 1:25 pm
  4. Profile photo of James Gawron Thatcher

    Tim,

    Very interesting stuff. It brings to my mind another question. What are the real costs of the quota-based affirmative action mentality. Overall standards are lowered by the quota instead of the minority students getting extra help so the standards can be maintained.

    Looks like there’s no free lunch when it comes to ignoring standards either.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #4
    • November 18, 2015 at 1:26 pm
  5. Profile photo of RightAngles Member

    In The Bell Curve, Charles Murray talks about the drop in national productivity after they banned IQ tests. He uses the example of a smart busboy vs a dumb one. Very interesting. And let’s hope the author doesn’t get pilloried the way Murray did.

    • #5
    • November 18, 2015 at 1:28 pm
  6. Profile photo of Misthiocracy Member

    Dan Hanson: But Jones’ argument does illustrate one thing about emigration: It’s bound to contribute to a global wealth imbalance. What he’s saying is that if the smartest people leave a poor country, that country will be worse off by a much greater degree than the mere loss of people would indicate. So shouldn’t we be opposing immigration on the grounds that it’s terrible for the country of origin?

    Indeed, that’s one reason the Soviet bloc tried to keep such tight restrictions on emigration. They didn’t want to lose their best and brightest, so they used force to keep them put.

    • #6
    • November 18, 2015 at 1:34 pm
  7. Profile photo of EThompson Inactive

    RightAngles:In The Bell Curve, Charles Murray talks about the drop in national productivity after they banned IQ tests. He uses the example of a smart busboy vs a dumb one. Very interesting. And let’s hope the author doesn’t get pilloried the way Murray did.

    I’m so glad you brought up Murray. He does discuss in Coming Apart the importance of IQ but also stresses emotional intelligence as well. Both are important and should not be mutually exclusive.

    Now that I recall, favorite author Theodore Dalrymple makes a similar argument in all of his books.

    • #7
    • November 18, 2015 at 1:46 pm
  8. Profile photo of Arahant Member

    It sounds very interesting. It also reminded me of a group exercise I participated in a quarter of a century ago. The class was broken into teams and set down at round tables of six. Each person was given an envelope with cut out shapes. The rules were as follows:

    • The goal is for each person to have a square in front of them at the end of the session.
    • Nobody can speak.
    • The only form of communication is that you can pass a piece or pieces to the person to your right.

    At our table was a gentleman who was very, very good at this sort of thing. Within seconds, he had his square constructed. But it was a group exercise. What he could do alone did not matter. He was looking around in frustration as other people struggled and finally moved his entire square to the person on his right. He then stared at the person to his left. That person got it and gave him all her pieces. He quickly constructed the square and moved it to the right. After the second one, everyone got it, and they had a production line going until everyone had their square.

    In that case, the one fellow had extraordinary ability, but it worked to make them the fastest team because everyone else on the team was smart enough to realize it, too. One stubborn idiot who didn’t get it could have stopped the whole line.

    • #8
    • November 18, 2015 at 1:46 pm
  9. Profile photo of RightAngles Member

    I always thought the concept of “EQ” was thought up by someone in the self-esteem movement. I don’t recall reading it in Murray, but who knows. I went to hear him lecture and he signed my book, though!

    • #9
    • November 18, 2015 at 1:52 pm
  10. Profile photo of EThompson Inactive

    RightAngles:I always thought the concept of “EQ” was thought up by someone in the self-esteem movement.

    Not at all. Ronald Reagan was the poster boy for EQ!

    • #10
    • November 18, 2015 at 1:55 pm
  11. Profile photo of Frozen Chosen Thatcher

    Makes perfect sense to me.

    However, I would add that just as important to IQ and EQ is MQ – Moral Quotient.

    Without a moral people neither ours or any other nation will survive for very long – doesn’t matter if they are full of geniuses or idiots. It’s why Europe is circling the drain.

    • #11
    • November 18, 2015 at 2:03 pm
  12. Profile photo of RightAngles Member

    EThompson:

    RightAngles:I always thought the concept of “EQ” was thought up by someone in the self-esteem movement.

    Not at all. Ronald Reagan was the poster boy for EQ!

    But it wasn’t a thing until the mid-90s, which is why I’ve always associated it with self-esteem. I mean I do think it matters a lot and can be more important than IQ, especially in a leader because it contributes to charisma. JFK’s IQ was only 119. But really I believe this EQ thing was invented so dumber people could have something.

    • #12
    • November 18, 2015 at 2:16 pm
  13. Profile photo of I Walton Member

    High I.Q. always break vases, and the higher the I.Q the more valuable vase they break. Immigrants always arrive with lower I.Q. even the Jews did. It doesn’t take long to change that. See Thomas Sowell’s an ethnic history of the US. ( I think that was it, one of his first) Studies are capturing something and since we know how to measure, (sort of) I.Q they make the correlation. Spare me.

    • #13
    • November 18, 2015 at 2:24 pm
  14. Profile photo of RightAngles Member

    I Walton:High I.Q. always break vases, and the higher the I.Q the more valuable vase they break. Immigrants always arrive with lower I.Q. even the Jews did. It doesn’t take long to change that. See Thomas Sowell’s an ethnic history of the US. ( I think that was it, one of his first) Studies are capturing something and since we know how to measure, (sort of) I.Q they make the correlation. Spare me.

    According to Murray, a Sephardic Jew is 29% more likely than the rest of the general population to win a Nobel Prize. I don’t think they arrived on our shores with low IQs.

    • #14
    • November 18, 2015 at 2:29 pm
  15. Profile photo of Arahant Member

    RightAngles: According to Murray, a Sephardic Jew is 29% more likely than the rest of the general population to win a Nobel Prize. I don’t think they arrived on our shores with low IQs.

    Sephardim or Ashkenazim?

    • #15
    • November 18, 2015 at 2:32 pm
  16. Profile photo of Midget Faded Rattlesnake Moderator

    RightAngles:

    I Walton: …Immigrants always arrive with lower I.Q. even the Jews did. It doesn’t take long to change that. See Thomas Sowell’s an ethnic history of the US. ( I think that was it, one of his first) Studies are capturing something and since we know how to measure, (sort of) I.Q they make the correlation. Spare me.

    According to Murray, a Sephardic Jew is 29% more likely than the rest of the general population to win a Nobel Prize. I don’t think they arrived on our shores with low IQs.

    They arrived on our shores with low IQ test scores at first. Whether this was because the tests were just poorly designed for non-natives can be debated, but Jews were not the only ethnic group to start out with low scores that rose suddenly during assimilation.

    • #16
    • November 18, 2015 at 2:34 pm
  17. Profile photo of wmartin Inactive

    RightAngles:

    I Walton:High I.Q. always break vases, and the higher the I.Q the more valuable vase they break. Immigrants always arrive with lower I.Q. even the Jews did. It doesn’t take long to change that. See Thomas Sowell’s an ethnic history of the US. ( I think that was it, one of his first) Studies are capturing something and since we know how to measure, (sort of) I.Q they make the correlation. Spare me.

    According to Murray, a Sephardic Jew is 29% more likely than the rest of the general population to win a Nobel Prize. I don’t think they arrived on our shores with low IQs.

    Do you mean Ashkenazi? The Sephardim have average iq.

    After posting this, I see someone beat me to it….

    • #17
    • November 18, 2015 at 2:34 pm
  18. Profile photo of EThompson Inactive

    RightAngles:

    I Walton:High I.Q. always break vases, and the higher the I.Q the more valuable vase they break. Immigrants always arrive with lower I.Q. even the Jews did. It doesn’t take long to change that. See Thomas Sowell’s an ethnic history of the US. ( I think that was it, one of his first) Studies are capturing something and since we know how to measure, (sort of) I.Q they make the correlation. Spare me.

    According to Murray, a Sephardic Jew is 29% more likely than the rest of the general population to win a Nobel Prize. I don’t think they arrived on our shores with low IQs.

    I think they arrived on our shores with a familial appreciation for education and an ingrained cultural work ethic which is precisely why Jewish Americans have thrived in this country.

    I think this was an interesting article based upon the associations and friendships enjoyed by my family: Is Your Religion Your Financial Destiny?

    • #18
    • November 18, 2015 at 2:38 pm
  19. Profile photo of RightAngles Member

    wmartin:

    RightAngles:

    I Walton:High I.Q. always break vases, and the higher the I.Q the more valuable vase they break. Immigrants always arrive with lower I.Q. even the Jews did. It doesn’t take long to change that. See Thomas Sowell’s an ethnic history of the US. ( I think that was it, one of his first) Studies are capturing something and since we know how to measure, (sort of) I.Q they make the correlation. Spare me.

    According to Murray, a Sephardic Jew is 29% more likely than the rest of the general population to win a Nobel Prize. I don’t think they arrived on our shores with low IQs.

    Do you mean Ashkenazi? The Sephardim have average iq.

    After posting this, I see someone beat me to it….

    Yep, you’re right, sorry. It was Askenazim. Makes you wonder how many scientific advances and beautiful music and literature the Nazis stamped out.

    • #19
    • November 18, 2015 at 2:41 pm
  20. Profile photo of Arahant Member

    wmartin: After posting this, I see someone beat me to it….

    This is Ricochet. You’ve got to be fast to be first.

    • #20
    • November 18, 2015 at 2:44 pm
  21. Profile photo of Joseph Eagar Member

    I’m on my phone so I’ll be brief. It is endlessly amusing to watch our elites relearn what was known to previous generations for centuries. Read Toqueville if you don’t believe me.

    • #21
    • November 18, 2015 at 3:09 pm
  22. Profile photo of Nick Stuart Inactive

    Even if everyone’s IQ were raised 10 points, 50% of the population would still have a sub-average IQ.

    • #22
    • November 18, 2015 at 6:41 pm
  23. Profile photo of Arahant Member

    Nick Stuart:Even if everyone’s IQ were raised 10 points, 50% of the population would still have a sub-average IQ.

    Yes, but if that average is at 120, it’s a lot different from if it is at 100 or as in some countries, around 80.

    • #23
    • November 18, 2015 at 6:49 pm
  24. Profile photo of Freeven Member

    Tim Groseclose: Although it is not quite as insightful and important as Ronald Coase’s crops-near-the-train-track example (which illustrates the efficiency of property rights), I believe it is approximately as insightful and important as: (i) Adam Smith’s pin-factory example (which illustrates the benefits of division of labor) and (ii) Friedrich Hayek’s example of an entrepreneur knowing about an unused ship (which illustrates the value of particular, versus general, knowledge).

    I’m not familiar with any of these examples. Can someone enlighten me?

    Thanks.

    • #24
    • November 18, 2015 at 8:28 pm
  25. Profile photo of Freeven Member

    One thing the vase example neglects is that is that if you pair A1 with A2 (the highly skilled workers) and B1 with B2 (the poorly skilled workers) there’s not apt to be much improvement in overall skill. If you team the skilled with the unskilled, the unskilled will typically show an increase in skill.

    • #25
    • November 18, 2015 at 8:33 pm
  26. Profile photo of Percival Thatcher

    Are these pigs VTOL capable? What’s their top airspeed?

    Hey, it matters!

    • #26
    • November 18, 2015 at 9:49 pm
  27. Profile photo of I Walton Member

    RightAngles:

    According to Murray, a Sephardic Jew is 29% more likely than the rest of the general population to win a Nobel Prize. I don’t think they arrived on our shores with low IQs.

    That’s the point, Sowell had some data on recent arrivals. The point is it all changes within one generation. This hasn’t been the case with Mexicans as these indigenous Americans are retaking land they lost to us so they do not acculturate. It was the case with everyone else, and if we kept data on Latino immigrants separately we’d no doubt find the same.

    • #27
    • November 19, 2015 at 5:26 am
  28. Profile photo of I Walton Member

    Freeven:

    Tim Groseclose: Although it is not quite as insightful and important as Ronald Coase’s crops-near-the-train-track example (which illustrates the efficiency of property rights), I believe it is approximately as insightful and important as: (i) Adam Smith’s pin-factory example (which illustrates the benefits of division of labor) and (ii) Friedrich Hayek’s example of an entrepreneur knowing about an unused ship (which illustrates the value of particular, versus general, knowledge).

    I’m not familiar with any of these examples. Can someone enlighten me?

    Thanks.

    Freeven:

    Tim Groseclose: Although it is not quite as insightful and important as Ronald Coase’s crops-near-the-train-track example (which illustrates the efficiency of property rights), I believe it is approximately as insightful and important as: (i) Adam Smith’s pin-factory example (which illustrates the benefits of division of labor) and (ii) Friedrich Hayek’s example of an entrepreneur knowing about an unused ship (which illustrates the value of particular, versus general, knowledge).

    I’m not familiar with any of these examples. Can someone enlighten me?

    Thanks.

    Adam Smith’s was in The Wealth of Nations, and the best place to understand Hayek is his Nobel prize lecture which you can get on line. “The Pretense of knowledge.” The latter is essential reading.

    • #28
    • November 19, 2015 at 5:31 am
  29. Profile photo of JRez Member

    Sounds like an interesting read. Maybe I’m missing it but the hypothetical seems overly constrained to make its point. The A’s can’t do any better than 100%, only the B’s can improve. Is there anything about the delta in production success between the B’s and the A’s that is not 100% attributable to “skill” or intelligence? IOW, is it completely pig flight patterns that there’s not a single thing about As’ PROCESSES that can be decoupled from their assumed delta in skill over the Bs’? Since the A’s can’t have a 110% success rate, perhaps their next highest utility would be to assist the unmentioned “C1” in streamlining/improving/guardrailing with reliable technology those aspects of B1&2’s PROCESS [unrelated to their skill] that would incrementally enhance B’s production success?

    • #29
    • November 19, 2015 at 6:18 am
  30. Profile photo of Arahant Member

    The parable of the vases is an analogy. It obviously does not and cannot cover all eventualities. As with most models, it is simplified from the real world. Several people here seem to be saying “Well, pigs can’t fly.”

    The general point might also be expressed as a rising tide of IQ lifts all boats; whereas, an ebbing tide of IQ brings us all down.

    In the real world could (and would) the process be changed so as not to rely on the skill of the humans so much? As a process management consultant, I would certainly hope so. But that has nothing to do with the book or the book review. The book is about how the people who populate our society can contribute to our success or impede it given certain variables. It isn’t that difficult.

    • #30
    • November 19, 2015 at 6:47 am
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