I finally found time this month to read Hive Mind: How Your Nation’s IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own, by Garett Jones. I’ve heard a lot of about the book since it was published in 2016, and I think it is worth readers’ time, though not without major problems.

What Hive Mind Gets Right

Cover of Hive Mind: How Your Nation's IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own, by Garett Jones.

Jones is the rare non-psychologist who has written a serious scientific book about the consequences of intelligence differences. There’s no IQ denialism, and it is clear that Jones sees IQ as having a partial causal impact on nations’ economic development. Jones doesn’t pussyfoot around with euphemisms (like “academic skills”) because of a nervousness about the word “intelligence.” He is a realist about the importance of IQ and how much it matters.

I also like Jones’s description of a body of experimental economics literature on how IQ influences people’s behavior for important behaviors, such as prisoners’ dilemmas and contract negotiations. Psychologists do not pay much attention to this research, and Hive Mind (Jones, 2016) is an important compilation of these experimental studies.

I also like how Jones gives examples of how the mean IQ for a society has important implications for decision making. A great example of this is his division of society into “Patients” (usually high IQ) and “Impatients” (usually low IQ). He shows that the greater time horizon of high IQ people and higher reasoning ability makes them better able to plan for the future and delay rewards. This patience and foresight drives saving and economic development and is almost certainly one of the reasons why smarter countries tend to be wealthier.

So, I can see why Hive Mind (Jones, 2016) is getting buzz. However, it doesn’t pack the sting that Jones wants. I see a few major flaws in the book.

The Flaws of Hive Mind

The first flaw in Hive Mind is that Jones sees a “paradox” in individual IQ having a weak correlation with individual income, but a nation’s mean IQ has a very strong correlation with per capita gross domestic product. In reality, it’s not a paradox at all. Correlations of aggregate group variables are usually much stronger than correlations of data gathered from individuals. This is because aggregating individual scores into one overall score (such as a mean IQ) has higher reliability as the luck, error, and other irrelevant influences get cancelled out across people. This is an application of the Spearman-Brown formula. It’s a statistical artifact of examining a variable at two different levels of analysis (i.e., the individual level and the group level).

Jones is correct that a 5-point IQ difference in average country IQs has a bigger impact on people’s income than a 5-point individual IQ difference. But this doesn’t mean that a country’s mean IQ is “more important” than an individual IQ. It merely means that the aggregate decisions of a smarter nation (such as in an election or in choosing an economic system) lead to greater aggregate benefits. Those benefits are still the sum of individual IQ decisions, as recent work on Group IQ shows (Bates & Gupta, 2017).

Second, Jones (2016) is wildly overoptimistic about the possibility of raising intelligence. He sees the Flynn effect as evidence that intelligence can be raised. But, increase in IQ from the Flynn effect does not necessarily mean that IQ can be raised through planned interventions (Gottfredson, 2009). There are some known ways to raise the average IQ in a population (e.g., prevent lead poisoning, avoiding exposure to toxins in utero). But these cannot do not fully explain the Flynn effect.

Third, Jones engages in a lot of happy talk when discussing the implications of IQ differences. For example, he favors open borders and mass immigration from impoverished nations to wealthy nations as an effective way to raise the income of a person living in an undeveloped nation.

For Jones, the point of immigration is poverty relief:

Rather than send aid workers or cash to help people in poor countries, the people of the rich countries could just allow people in poor countries to leave poor countries.

Jones, 2016, p. 161.

Jones’s solution is imperfect, at best. There are too many people in poor nations for everybody to move to wealthy nations. The host nations’ welfare systems and infrastructure cannot handle billions of poor people. There is not a single word in Jones’s book about what the economic limits of immigration are.

To his credit, Jones acknowledges that some people will have anxiety about immigration. He spends much of Chapter 9 trying to assuage fears of large-scale immigration from low-skill countries, showing that average wages are not depressed by immigrants, though low-skilled Americans can see a wage decrease of up to 8% (p. 159). But if your only concern is global poverty reduction, a policy that results in a wage cut for the poorest Americans is a small price to pay if millions of poor people from other countries have a better standard of living. Jones loses sight of the fact that countries’ first responsibility is to their own citizens. He never explains why wealthy nations should put the world’s poor ahead of their own poor.

The only cost of immigration that Jones considers in Hive Mind is wage changes. He never considers the additional expenses to the welfare state, criminal justice system, the health care system, and other costs of massive low-skill immigration. Even if large-scale unskilled immigration doesn’t impact wages, it can still cost host countries a great deal of money. Jones never mentions this reality.

Jones also ignores within-nation variability. He claims that immigrants do not hurt low-skilled citizens jobs because those citizens can just move into higher prestige jobs that are created by the new demand increased population. Jones claims that the citizens’ English skills give them an advantage over immigrants in these high prestige jobs. This ignores the fact that some citizens’ IQs are too low to qualify for high prestige jobs and that the vast majority of immigrants are bright enough to learn English. In Jones’s model, there is nothing stopping them from qualifying prestigious jobs over native-born citizens.

The coup de grâce for Jones’s rosy political implications of his work is in his some of the last few pages (pp. 161-163). He acknowledges that dysfunctional political and economic systems because of the low IQ of citizens who live there. This raises the spectre that importing large numbers of people from dysfunctional societies will be importing dysfunction. Jones’s response:

I sincerely hope that the rich countries will find deep and effective ways to raise the human capital, the education levels, and the test scores of all of these nations’ citizens and all of their immigrants. Our future may depend on it.

Jones (2016, p. 163).

Jones ignores the fact that no one knows how to raise IQ for people already living in a wealthy nation. So, his recommendation is to keep importing low-skilled immigrants and hope that they can be converted into patient, productive, high-IQ citizens. Yep! Just cross your fingers and hope that scientists find a way to solve the problems that arise from importing so many low-IQ people that they decrease a country’s mean IQ (which Jones believes is more important than individual IQ anyway). 🤞 Of course, a prudent policy would be to ensure that immigrants can assimilate and improve the economies of their host countries before importing millions of them.

He also never mentions the obvious proof that large-scale immigration changes host societies. It’s called California. The state has 27% of its people born overseas and now has third-world electricity blackouts, crumbling infrastructure, and massive wealth inequality. The state’s glory days were decades ago, and the place is running on fumes.

Overall Evaluation

Hive Mind is a book that is worth reading. It’s nice to find intelligence research taken seriously be a non-psychologist. Jones’s economic way of thinking results in some novel viewpoints about intelligence and IQ, and his book is a powerful argument for the economic importance of intelligence.

On the other hand, Jones needs a dose of cynicism. His belief about the malleability of IQ far outstrips the evidence. Jones also is incredibly naive about the downstream effects of his proposed policies. It is also frustrating that Jones seems to consider humans to be pretty much interchangeable; when individual people do matter, Jones considers them to be average for their country. There is little consideration of within-group variability.

I would give Jones’s book 3 stars out of 5. A better book about the impact of intelligence on a nation’s economic development is Heiner Rindermann’s (2018) Cognitive Capitalism: Human Capital and the Wellbeing of Nations. As I stated in my review of Rindermann’s book (Warne, 2019), a total understanding of how IQ impacts nationwide economic development is impossible to obtain, given the current data. However, Rindermann (2018) considers a wider range of explanations and variables than Jones (2016). As a result, Rindermann probably gets closer to the truth.

Update

Jones has seen this review and has responded in Twitter. Here is a representative response:

Jones is correct that average country IQ can have a powerful effect on individual income. If you had an IQ of 75, you would be much better off financially living in Spain (average IQ = 94) than Kenya (average IQ = 75; source for these numbers). To me, this is a truism that says little or nothing about IQ. Countries with higher average IQs generally have welfare states, a longer history of capitalism, minimum wage laws, more political stability, etc. These benefits are not necessarily a product of a smarter populace. They can have other origins, such as a culture valuing work, an economic boost from natural resources or tourism, a strong constitution, and more. Jones would attribute the benefits of living in a prosperous nation as being caused by countries’ average IQ.

I respectfully disagree, and not just because correlation is not causation. A fundamental problem is that it has never been demonstrated that group-level IQ is anything more than a composite of the individual IQs of the group members. This is why I cited the Bates and Gupta (2017) article earlier, which showed that about 80% of group IQ differences can be accounted for by the average IQ of individuals in a group.

Source: Bates & Gupta (2017, p. 52).

I see Jones’s (2016) claim about the distinctions between group IQ matters and individual IQ as being artificial. Jones is correct that low-IQ groups (which in his book are nations) do make worse collective decisions that impact the lives of all group members, whereas the good decisions of IQ groups benefit all of its members. But those decisions are usually the collective product of group members’ individual decisions–such as in an election–and not a unique phenomenon.

Moreover, within individual nations, individuals’ IQs can give them vastly different life outcomes. Smart people in low-IQ countries can emigrate to improve their lives, or work the system to their advantage (because they can outsmart government officials). Low-IQ people, regardless of where they live, have worse life outcomes than their fellow citizens. They die earlier, earn less money, etc. Within-nation differences are vitally important for people, especially at the extremes of intelligence.

Ironically, Jones and I agree on a great deal. We both think IQ is important, though how that importance manifests itself is a disagreement between us. I’m also told that Chapter 9 (which focuses on immigration) is not a full representation of his views on the issue.

I think much of the disagreement fundamentally comes down to a different perspective. I am a psychologist trained to investigate individual differences in people. Jones is an economist interested in group decisions that companies, nations, and electorates make. No wonder I disagree with the blithe dismissal of individual, within-nation differences in IQ! And no wonder he thinks group-level IQ is so vital for the decisions that impact millions of lives! Perhaps the best approach is to combine the two perspectives. So far, no book that I am aware of has.

References

Bates, T. C., & Gupta, S. (2017). Smart groups of smart people: Evidence for IQ as the origin of collective intelligence in the performance of human groups. Intelligence, 60, 46-56. doi:10.1016/j.intell.2016.11.004

Gottfredson, L. S. (2009). Logical fallacies used to dismiss the evidence on intelligence testing. In R. P. Phelps (Ed.), Correcting fallacies about educational and psychological testing (pp. 11-65). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Jones, G. (2016). Hive mind: How your nation’s IQ matters so much more than your own. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

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

Warne, R. T. (2019). [Review of the book Cognitive capitalism: Human capital and the wellbeing of nations, by H. Rindermann]. Intelligence, 73, 63-64. doi:10.1016/j.intell.2019.02.001

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