Reflections on the Hive Mind


I just read Hive Mind by Garett Jones. It is well worth reading.

Garett’s thesis is this:

  • Average IQs vary across nations.
  • A nation’s IQ (the average of the IQ of its citizens) is extremely important for economic development.
  • It is so important, that, for the average individual, it’s much better to have a lower IQ and live in a nation of high IQs than it is to have a high IQ and live in a nation of lower IQs.
  • National IQs can increase.
  • We don’t really know how to raise IQs, despite the fact that many nations have done it.

If you want to evaluate the thesis yourself, you should read the book. It’s not too long.

Here are questions I’m left with after reading the book:

What’s Going on with China?

China’s per capita income (lower) and corruption levels (higher) are different than most countries with similar (high) IQs.

On twitter, I asked Garett for an explanation, and he pointed to Mao as a destructive force whose legacy still causes China to underperform.

I then pointed out that China underperformed its IQ in 1935, before Mao.

Garett then pointed to the decline of the Qing dynasty.

Fair enough, I guess. But if you have to explain away a hundred years of underperformance across a dynasty, a communist tyrant, and the modern Communist party – at some point the story risks becoming a little suspect.

Given China’s game playing with international education tests, my first instinct was that China is overstating its IQ by discounting its rural population.

However, Ian Morris and others have demonstrated that China used to be a world leader in energy production and technology, so perhaps the IQ is (or used to be) there.

Which leads to an interesting question: did China go from a relatively high IQ society to a low / mediocre IQ society to a rising IQ society?


Which leads to a larger issue: most of Garett’s data is from the 20th century – in general, it would be fascinating to try to understand how IQ changed over past centuries and / or millennia.

Test Scores vs. Educational Attainment…. Fluid vs. Crystallized Intelligence

Garett toggles between pointing to test scores (standardized tests) and educational attainment (years of school), while usually emphasizing test scores as a better indicator of progress.

Schooling ain’t learning, after all.

However, in some areas, such as economics, education is a good predicator of supporting sound policies (those aligned with expert opinion).

Readers of this blog will know that Jay Greene and I have been debating whether or not increased educational attainment matters if it is not associated with higher test scores.

My guess is that, broadly speaking, increases in test scores are more important for society, while increases in attainment are more important for the individual.

Which creates an interesting K12 accountability question: should we measure K12 school performance more for impact on test scores or for increases in attainment?

My guess: probably on both, with an emphasis on a certain floor being met.

Moreover, test score performance can be broken down into fluid test score performance (abstract thinking) and crystallized test score performance (factual knowledge).

High-performing charters have been both applauded and jeered for raising crystallized test score performance but not fluid performance.

Even more complicating: most research shows that domain expertise is not transferable, which, perhaps, calls into question our fetish for fluid intelligence (save for the caveat that increased fluid intelligence might help someone gain greater content expertise).

All in all, I’m left with more questions than answers on this subject.

How Can We Raise National IQs? Which Interventions Will Work in Which Nations?

Garett explores the varied research on how we (might) be able to raise IQs.

There aren’t many clear answers.

Here’s a few guesses, drawing both from Garett’s review of the research and my own reflections.

Extreme Poverty: In nation’s that suffer from chronic malnutrition and disease, ameliorating health deficincies is probably the best way to quickly raise IQs, as well as providing for a sound basic education.

Low Income Nations: In countries that are poor but not extremely poor, more effective education (preferably through high school) and modernization (living in a world where you’re constantly dealing with abstract issues rather than issues like hunting) may provide a bump.

It’s interesting to think about interventions that could increase the modernness of an environment at low costs. Perhaps technology and media can do this effectively.

Middle Income to Wealthy Nations: There are statistically significant IQ differences between wealthy nations, with a few (often smaller) East Asian nations often outperforming Western nations.

At this margin, it is very unclear to me if increasing IQ is the most direct path to increasing flourishing in already high IQ nations (would you rather live in the United States, Singapore, or Japan?).

But I do think there are gains to be had, especially with those citizens who are greatly underperforming national averages. My guess is that for a wealthy nation as a whole,  it’s culture first and education + early career work as a potential second.

I really have no idea how to change national culture, but my instinct is that it only really happens due to extreme events.

As for how to increase educational outcomes, readers of this blog will know that I favor relinquishment, whereby power is handed back down to educators (to run schools) and families (to choose from these schools) with some government regulation (to close bad actors and keep an eye on equity).

Time will tell if this is true, though signs are encouraging.

In Sum

Garret’s thesis is a fascinating one. If it’s true, it has implications for health, education, economic, and immigration policy, to name a few.

Moreover, Garett, handles potentially tricky subjects (differences in national IQs) with grace and evenhandedness.

The subject is also complex enough that I’m sure I got things wrong in the above…

Lastly, though this is more of case of fortune than author intention, Garett’s conclusions point to the fact that raising IQs across the globe is potentially possible and likely transformational.

Our marching orders are clear.

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