Book Review: IQ and the Wealth of Nations

by Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen

Published by Praeger; ISBN 0-275-97510-X; 320pp; Hardback

IQ and the Wealth of Nations by Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen

From the spoutings of buffoons in red noses and ageing rock stars with their sundry Reliefs and Aids to hand-wringings in the media, it is impossible to miss the fact that wealth is unevenly distributed among the nations of the world. Close examination of the reasons for this is generally discouraged, beyond a general message that they are poor because we are rich and that Whitey must start his or her life by always finishing the least appetising vegetable matter placed on his or her plate, and later dig deep and endlessly into his or her pockets, for the sake of the poor Third Worlders.

But some have gone beyond this facile level to ask why they are poor and we are rich. Explanations proffered fall into two categories – exogenous and endogenous. Exogenous theories find the explanation for the fact that nations today vary in wealth by a factor of more than twentyfold per head of population in external factors affecting the people of each nation – geography, natural resources, climate, native pests and diseases etc.

Poor countries tend to be tropical, poor in resources, too dry or too wet, and afflicted by dire diseases of people and livestock. Though, as the authors of this book point out, that doesn’t explain why countries like the “Democratic Republic of the Congo”, with some of the world’s largest reserves of rare and important metal ores, Gabon, built on massive manganese reserves, and diamond-rich Sierra Leone are among the poorest countries per head, and indeed in terms of quality of life, on the planet.

Historical/economic theories blaming Third World poverty on First World

exploitation and colonialism are of course a liberal and Marxist staple. As we shall see, they fail because they are not, ironically, a radical analysis enough – the root of the problem lies before the two “worlds” met a few hundred years ago. Perhaps the best and most comprehensive attempt to explain the roots of this issue in such terms is biologist Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel, worth reading because, in this reviewer’s opinion, Diamond is partly right. As we shall see, my view is that the rest of the correct explanation is given by Lynn and Verhanen here.

Endogenous theories examine - with varying degrees of Political Incorrectness in today’s climate – factors internal to the peoples themselves. Culture is just about socially acceptable, although S.P. Huntingdon, writing in 2000 in Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress, is likely to find himself in a spot of bother for explaining the fact that South Korea and Ghana had more or less the same wealth per head in 1950 but now the Asian country is 25 times richer per capita than the Africans thus:

South Koreans valued thrift, investment, hard work, education, organization, and discipline. Ghanaians had different values.

No doubt he means the Africans were other-worldly hippies uninterested in mere material wealth and happy to watch their children starve rather than – perish the thought – bone-idle kaffirs...

However, the ultimate in endogenous explanations takes the Politically Correct bull by the horns and looks for causal factors in the inhabitants of the nations concerned. Which is what Lynn and Vanhanen do. Noting that measured intelligence – IQ – correlates well with the achievements, and usually therefore wealth – of individuals, they take the next logical step and look at whether the average measured intelligence – IQ – of nations correlates with their wealth also.

Professor Richard Lynn

Professor Lynn, in particular, is well equipped to do so as one of the most eminent psychologists working in the field of IQ in the world. Graduating and taking his PhD at Cambridge, Professor Lynn ended his distinguished career as Professor Emeritus at the University of Ulster. He has been in the forefront of research into differences in intelligence between individuals and groups for decades. His co-author, Professor Tatu Vanhanen, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Tampere, Finland, and the father of Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen.

This work is as solidly researched and edited as one would expect from such expert authors. It is fair to start by warning the reader that it is not light reading. It is a massively researched and rigorously argued academic treatise, with the authors’ argument advancing inexorably behind a barrage of tables and graphs. No mercy is shown to the lay reader – a grasp of the meaning of statistical concepts such as positive and negative correlation, statistical significance etc is assumed.

The authors start by reviewing the various alternative theories on offer, which are cogently criticised and their weaknesses held up for the reader to see. In particular, Jared Diamond’s thesis that Africa is, and throughout history always has been, backward compared to Asia and Europe because it is isolated and lacks domesticable animals and plants is shown to be factually wrong on both counts.

In fact, there is no external reason in the African climate or fauna why van Riebeck and co. could not have been greeted when they landed at the Cape of Good Hope by Zulus mounted on zebras. Or on the African elephants Hannibal took over the Alps. Sent from cities set amid fields of sorghum and millet, and herds of domesticated wildebeest, eland and buffalo. With tame guinea fowl pecking around the farmsteads. In a climate the same as that which nurtured Greece and Rome.

Zebras, elephant and eland have been tamed by Europeans, and in the case of zebras trained to pull carriages. Domestication, of course, takes many generations of breeding from the most tractable and culling the less. But zebras are no wilder than the tarpan ancestors of Dobbin and Red Rum. Whilst Buttercup the amiable dairy milchcow was bred from the aurochs, a beast bigger and more dangerous than the Cape buffalo. Europeans in Southern Africa have proved that large antelope like eland can be ranched for food even before they have been domesticated. And native African animals are not susceptible to the deadly tsetse fly-borne plagues that until recently made most of Africa a no-go area for cattle and horses.

The Africans didn’t do it because it couldn’t be done. They didn't do it because they couldn’t do it.

Tatu Vanhanen

On the other hand, Lynn and Vanhanen do not really effectively challenge Diamond on the question of why the Americas lagged behind. In this author’s opinion because, just as he is wrong about Africa, Diamond is right about the Americas. They were isolated from the Great Continent of Europe-Asia-Africa (which is really one land mass) and as a result – although unlike the Africans they evolved indigenous civilizations (at least twice, independently) – these civilizations were unable to withstand contact with Europeans. Partly because they were less advanced - at about the level of Sumer in Eurasia 5000 years ago. Not helped by the fact that their ancestors had with great forethought hunted American horses, camels and elephants to extinction when they arrived in the New World over 10,000 years earlier. So they really didn’t have many domesticable animals afterwards.

The Inca, Maya, Aztecs and their precursors were forced to scrape around among dogs and – in the Inca case – camelids like llamas, and guinea pigs for domestic animals (bison could doubtless have been domesticated also, but did not occur in the heartlands of the American civilizations). And partly because for over a hundred centuries they had been quarantined from the diseases – many spread from domestic animals after the coming of farming – sweeping through the peoples of the Old World. Including, as Diamond has to admit though it works against his “isolated sub-Saharan Africa” thesis, the Africans.

The result is that when White Men reached the Americas, 95% of the natives perished from smallpox and other introduced diseases. Which didn’t happen when our ancestors reached even the farthest southern tip of Africa. Hence the White settlers reduced the natives to a tiny minority in much of North America, whilst being swamped by the indigenes in Southern and Eastern Africa. As Lynn and Vanhanen observe, the Maya, who built an advanced civilization in the tropical rainforests of Central America, challenge theories that suggest such environments are the reason there are now no great stone pyramids and ruined cities in the similar forests of the Congo.

Having reviewed alternatives, Lynn and Vanhanen move on to make their own case. They start by explaining what IQ is, and why it matters. They also address the objection that IQ tests measure how good the subject is at assimilating European cultural values and ideas – although in fact since what they are seeking to explain is why some countries like Japan and South Korea have been so good at succeeding on the terms of European civilization and culture whilst others like Gabon and Guatemala have not, this objection could well be argued to be irrelevant even if valid.

If low measured IQ means you are bad at getting on in the European civilization which now envelops the Earth then that is a good reason why nations who have low average IQs do get on badly in it. They may be White Man’s Tests but the issue is how well people and nations get on in what culturally and economically is basically a White Man’s World, even if it is no longer run by or for White people. Indeed, as the authors point out, IQ, including national average IQs, correlates well with tests of reaction times to stimuli – which can be administered to monkeys as easily as to people and thus are wholly culture-free.

They then move on to the heart of the matter, correlating average IQ and wealth per head for the 81 countries where IQs have been measured on a sufficient scale. The results are interesting. What emerges is a graph like a tilted trumpet.

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This review first appeared in the April-June 2009 issue of Heritage and Destiny (Issue 36). You can buy single back issues of H&D for £4.00, while an annual subscription (four issues) costs just £20.00. Visit the Heritage and Destiny page here for more details and to place an order.