Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Hive Mind: to buy or not to buy?


I've mentioned this before. Here's an extract from the blurb at the book's Amazon page.
"... Over the last few decades, economists and psychologists have quietly documented the many ways in which a person's IQ matters. But, research suggests that a nation's IQ matters so much more.

"As Garett Jones argues in "Hive Mind," modest differences in national IQ can explain most cross-country inequalities. Whereas IQ scores do a moderately good job of predicting individual wages, information processing power, and brain size, a country's average score is a much stronger bellwether of its overall prosperity.

"... Jones argues that intelligence and cognitive skill are significantly more important on a national level than on an individual one because they have "positive spillovers." On average, people who do better on standardized tests are more patient, more cooperative, and have better memories. As a result, these qualities and others necessary to take on the complexity of a modern economy become more prevalent in a society as national test scores rise.

"What's more, when we are surrounded by slightly more patient, informed, and cooperative neighbors we take on these qualities a bit more ourselves. ... "
According to the Wikipedia article, the average IQ for sub-Saharan Africa is 82. For ethnic Europeans the average IQ is 100 and for East Asians (Chinese, Japanese, Koreans) the figure is 105. It's not hard to get significant correlations between such disparate national IQ figures and levels of economic development.

The validity of IQ as a predictor of achievement in very diverse milieux has been empirically verified time and time again so in a sense, what Hive Mind is talking about is hardly very new. This could be a reason not to buy it.

On the other hand, ethnic and national IQ differences have to-date been unthinkable to liberal opinion. Repressive tolerance has kicked in, and the interesting and rather intense discussions within the Human Biodiversity (HBD) movement have been ignored by mainstream opinion. Garett Jones is a mainstream academic at a mainstream university (George Mason U.) and he writes in the language of economics, so surely he should be supported: buy his book!

Greg Cochran reviewed it and said some nice things - quite rare from curmudgeon-central! Apparently Jones is quite a good writer too. So why not buy it?

The Hive Mind reviews on Amazon are quite amusing. Most of them are from Garett Jones's colleagues at GMU - as befits academics, they can't just summarise the book and say they like it, they have to write not-so-mini essays! I particularly liked this review from colleague Timothy J. Groseclose, from which I quote this excerpt:
"Jones 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 - specifically no matter which task to which they are assigned 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 left-wing 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 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."
His rather gushing review is exactly how you write as an academic for whom the scales have just fallen from the eyes!

On balance, I think I ought to buy it, if only to provide a review not from George Mason University.

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Update: here is my review.


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