Prosperity

Do Immigrants Import Their Economic Destiny?

How migration shapes the prosperity of countries

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By Garett Jones

How do immigrants change the countries they move to? Immigration has become a big political issue in the U.S., the UK, Germany, and beyond, and experts and pundits alike have tried answering this question. At least among economists, almost all the debate has focused on the short run, and most of that has focused on lower-skilled immigrants. The overall answer is fairly clear: low-skilled immigrants don’t have a major effect on the rest of the economy one way or the other. That means that in the short run, the most important effect of low-skilled immigration is that it helps low-skilled migrants themselves.

But what happens in the very long run? As immigrants shape the culture of their new homelands, will they import more than just new ethnic cuisines? Will they also import attitudes and policies that wound the golden goose of first-world prosperity? Ultimately, will migrants make the countries they move to a lot like the countries they came from?

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This is one of the great policy questions in our new age of mass migration, and it’s related to one of the great questions of social science: Why do some countries have relatively liberal, pro-market institutions while others are plagued by corruption, statism, and incompetence? Three lines of research point the way to a substantial answer:

  • The Deep Roots literature on how ancestry predicts modern economic development,
  • The Attitude Migration literature, which shows that migrants tend to bring a lot of their worldview with them when they move from one country to another,
  • The New Voters-New Policies literature, which shows that expanding the franchise to new voters really does change the nature of government.

Together, these three data-driven literatures suggest that if you want to predict how a nation’s economic rules and norms are likely to change over the next few decades, you’ll want to keep an eye on where that country’s recent immigrants hail from.

The Deep Roots of Prosperity

A glance at the map tells much of the tale: Today’s rich countries tend to be in East Asia, Northern and Western Europe, or are heavily populated by people who came from those two regions. The major exceptions are oil-rich countries. East Asia and Northwest Europe are precisely the areas of the world that made the biggest technological advances over the past few hundred years. These two regions experienced “civilization,” an ill-defined but unmistakable combination of urban living, elite prosperity, literary culture, and sophisticated technology. Civilization doesn’t mean kindness, it doesn’t mean respect for modern human rights: It means the frontier of human artistic and technological achievement. And over the extremely long run, a good predictor of your nation’s current economic behavior is your nation’s ancestors’ past behavior. Exceptions exist, but so does the rule.

Recently, a small group of economists have found more systematic evidence on how the past predicts the present. Overall, they find that where your nation’s citizens come from matters a lot. From “How deep are the roots of economic development?” published in the prestigious Journal of Economic Literature:

A growing body of new empirical work focuses on the measurement and estimation of the effects of historical variables on contemporary income by explicitly taking into account the ancestral composition of current populations. The evidence suggests that economic development is affected by traits that have been transmitted across generations over the very long run.

From “Was the Wealth of Nations determined in 1000 B.C.?” (coauthored by the legendary William Easterly):

[W]e are measuring the association of the place’s technology today with the technology in 1500 AD of the places from where the ancestors of the current population came from…[W]e strongly confirm…that history of peoples matters more than history of places.

And finally, from “Post-1500 Population Flows and the Economic Determinants of Economic Growth and Inequality,” published in Harvard’s Quarterly Journal of Economics:

The positive effect of ancestry-adjusted early development on current income is robust…The most likely explanation for this finding is that people whose ancestors were living in countries that developed earlier (in the sense of implementing agriculture or creating organized states) brought with them some advantage—such as human capital, knowledge, culture, or institutions—that raises the level of income today.

To sum up some of the key findings of this new empirical literature: There are three major long-run predictors of a nation’s current prosperity, which combine to make up a nation’s SAT score:

S: How long ago the nation’s ancestors lived under an organized state.

A: How long ago the nation’s ancestors began to use Neolithic agriculture techniques.

T: How much of the world’s available technology the nation’s ancestors were using in 1000 B.C., 0 B.C., or 1500 A.D.

When estimating each nation’s current SAT score, it’s important to adjust for migration: Indeed, all three of these papers do some version of that. For instance, without adjusting for migration, Australia has quite a low ancestral technology score: Aboriginal Australians used little of the world’s cutting edge technology in 1500 A.D. But since Australia is now overwhelmingly populated by the descendants of British migrants, Australia’s migration-adjusted technology score is currently quite high.

On average, nations with high migration-adjusted SAT scores are vastly richer than nations with lower SAT scores: Countries in the top 10% of migration-adjusted technology (T) in 1500 are typically at least 10 times richer than countries in the bottom 10%. If instead you mistakenly tried to predict a country’s income today based on who lived there in 1500, the relationship would only be about one-third that size. The migration adjustment matters crucially: Whether in the New World, across Southeast Asia, or in Southern Africa, one can do a better job predicting today’s prosperity when you keep track of who moved where. It looks like at least in the distant past, migrants shaped today’s prosperity.

Do migrants bring their institutions with them?

So migration from high-SAT countries bring the seeds of prosperity: But what exactly are they bringing? As the authors of the Quarterly Journal of Economics article speculated, did they bring along a tendency to establish good institutions—the rule of law, low corruption, and competent government? Fortunately, an economist has already checked to see whether SAT-type scores drive good institutions. James T. Ang recently published a truly remarkable paper in the Journal of Development Economics, “Institutions and the Long-Run Impact of Early Development.” Ang ran a variety of statistical tests to see if ancestry-adjusted SAT-like scores had a strong relationship with good institutions. Overall, Ang’s findings are quite clear:

[N]ations that were more developed in the pre-modern era tend to have better institutions today.

He goes on to note:

[M]easures adjusted for the global migration effect perform significantly better than their unadjusted counterparts in explaining the variation in institutions across countries, thus highlighting the fact that migration has played a significant part in shaping current economic performance.

One wonders: If migration shaped institutions in the past, perhaps migration will shape institutions in the future. Or perhaps not: while violent European colonizers imposed their institutions and their culture on lands that had belonged to Native Americans, perhaps peaceful mass migration in the 21st century will leave today’s institutions and culture undisturbed. Perhaps, to coin a phrase, this time really is different.

Let’s consider the case of Chinese migration throughout Asia. By the standards of European colonization, Chinese migration post-1500 has been relatively (I emphasize relatively) peaceful. The non-Chinese residents of these countries tended to have lower ancestral SAT scores than Chinese residents, so we can ask: did Asian countries with a higher percentage of Chinese-descended migrants end up economically freer? Of course, since this is a question about migration from China, China itself should be left out of the analysis. The graph below tells the story. It compares Chinese ancestry data from the Putterman-Weil global migration matrix with the Fraser Economic Freedom of the World Index for Asian countries with substantial numbers of Chinese immigrants:

Notes: The x-axis data come from the Putterman-Weil global migration matrix, reflecting post-1500 flows of Chinese migrants to these nations. The y-axis data come from the Fraser Economic Freedom of the World Index. The correlation is 0.9, significant at conventional levels with a sample size of seven. Results are little-changed if the Rauch/Trinidade Chinese ethnicity measures are used instead of Putterman-Weil. The graph is truncated at three because no nation on earth has an economic freedom score below three.

Overall, the relationship between a nation’s percent population of Chinese descent in 1980 and current economic freedom is strongly positive. Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, the countries with the largest percentage of post-1500 Chinese immigrants, are the freest. Hong Kong, which had only a few thousand Chinese residents before the British arrival, is now the economically freest country in the world. Malaysia (a third of whose residents are of Chinese descent) and Thailand (10 percent) are next, and Malaysia is clearly the freer of the two. The remaining countries, Laos and Myanmar, are substantially less economically free than Singapore. Of course, including China in this graph would weaken the relationship, but to repeat: we aren’t interested in ancestry per se, but in relatively peaceful migration.

Economists have long known that some of the strongest statistical predictors of long-run national prosperity have been “percent Confucian” and “percent Buddhist.” A famed paper coauthored by Xavier Sala-i-Martin demonstrated that conclusively. It’s time for scholars to investigate whether, for most countries, a pro-Confucian migration policy is a good option.

Migrating Attitudes

So, how do migrants change the governments in countries they move to? For a partial answer, we can look at the Attitude Migration literature. The simplest approach is to see if the descendants of, say, Italian migrants to America tend to have the same attitudes toward government as Italians living back in Italy. If they do have similar attitudes, then there really is such a thing as “Italian attitudes toward government,” portable and relatively durable around the globe.

Since public opinion surveys are common around the world, this is an easy topic to investigate. One study looks at attitudes toward income redistribution, finding that second-generation immigrants to the U.S. are more likely to favor income redistribution policies if they come from a country where the average citizen today also favors more redistribution. In this case, attitudes migrate, so heavy immigration from pro-redistribution cultures will tend to boost a nation’s number of pro-redistribution citizens decades later. More importantly, the same holds for trusting behavior: A study published in the American Economic Review, provocatively entitled “Inherited Trust and Growth,” finds that

…inherited trust of descendants of US-immigrants is significantly influenced by the country of origin…of their forbears…

So trusting attitudes migrate. And the link from trust to economic performance is well-accepted at this point: One famous paper, “Does Social Capital Have an Economic Payoff?” [Answer: Yes] is now routinely cited in economics textbooks. And why do low-trust societies generate worse economic performance? One reason is that low-trust individuals demand more government regulation. In “Regulation and Distrust” the authors report:

Using the World Values Survey, we show both in a cross-section of countries, and in a sample of individuals from around the world, that distrust fuels support for government control over the economy.

The authors suggest that this happens because in low-trust societies, people want someone checking up on untrustworthy businesses and individuals, and a strong government is one way to do just that. Together, this literature suggests that migration from low-trust societies will tend to hurt long-run economic performance, partly because low-trust individuals demand more government regulation.

One particular attitude has been well-studied in the migration literature: Strong family ties. This is often known as “amoral familism,” the view that you should help out your family, right or wrong. In comparative anthropology and sociology, it’s well known that cultures strong in amoral familism tend to be places where children live with their parents into adulthood, where corruption is common, and where identity is heavily shaped by one’s extended family. A remarkable handbook chapter by Alesina and Giuliano finds that:

…on average familistic values are associated with lower political participation and political action. They are also related to a lower level of trust, more emphasis on job security, less desire for innovation and more traditional attitudes toward working women.

It’s safe to predict that voters and politicians with these traits are unlikely to support much Schumpeterian creative destruction. And, unsurprisingly at this point, amoral familism itself tends to migrate:

…family values are quite stable over time and could be among the drivers of institutional differences and level of development across countries: family values inherited by children of immigrants whose forebears arrived in various European countries before 1940 [!] are related to a lower quality of institutions and lower level of development today.

At this point, it’s clear that attitudes migrate to a substantial degree, and at least in democracies, they’re likely to take those attitudes into the voting booth. There’s an old saying in the migration policy world, a line by Max Frisch: “We wanted workers, we got people instead.” It looks like that saying needs updating: “We wanted workers, we got voters instead.”

Attitude Convergence: A two-way street

Of course immigrants don’t just become voters: they sometimes become taste-makers, opinion-setters. As immigrants join the culture, they start to shape the culture. That means that immigrants and their descendants may shape political opinions the way they often shape people’s opinion about food: Migrants start eating some of the foods of the country they move to, but at the same time older residents start trying some foods from immigrant cultures. There’s a mutual exchange, and behavior meets somewhere in the middle. As students of migration repeatedly claim, acculturation is a two-way street: America is different because of Italian and Irish migration, and not just because of the food we eat.

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To some extent, this point is obvious, but it has far-reaching implications. It means that one important way that immigrants and their descendants will shape a political system isn’t by directly bringing their own attitudes into the voting booth: It’s also by shaping the political attitudes of their fellow citizens. That’s what happens in a melting pot: We all become a little like each other. So if we really are shaped by our neighbors, then we have yet another good reason to choose our neighbors wisely.

This means that the Attitude Migration channel is perhaps only half the story, but it also means that the other part of the story will be harder to detect. If a nation of 100 million has, say, a million migrants from a particular country, it would be hard to pick out the effect of those migrants on “native” attitudes: the effect of the migrants would be diluted partly because they’re only 1% of the population, and partly because the change in “native” attitudes will occur slowly over the decades.

So while it’s important to know whether migrants assimilate completely or partially, it’s just as important to know how much do migrants change their fellow citizens. Past researchers have documented two quite separate findings:

  • Many migrant attitudes persist to their descendants
  • Migrants and their descendants seem to make their new homes quite a bit like their old homes.

The first point need not be the only cause of the second point. There’s a third point suggested by the common-sense claim that we’re all shaped at least a bit by the attitudes of those around us:

  • Migrants and their descendants tend to influence the attitudes of their new fellow citizens, so that all groups in society become at least a bit more like each other.

New Voters = New Policies

We’ve seen that in the extremely long run immigrants have dramatically changed the countries they’ve moved to; and in the medium run we’ve seen that immigrants and their children bring home-country attitudes along for the ride. But as I’ve already noted, some critics will argue that perhaps “this time is different”, and that even if immigrants import their cultural attitudes to their new homes, maybe they’ll leave those views just outside the voting booth. Perhaps, when it comes time to vote, migrants completely conform to their new home countries.

Here’s one way to check this “New Voters = No Change” theory: Look at times when large groups of individuals were suddenly given the vote, and then check to see if government policies changed within a few years. Even better, only look at large groups of individuals who had been living somewhat peacefully in the nation for decades. Here’s one such case: The women’s suffrage movement across Western civilization. This extension of the franchise has been heavily studied by economists: The best-known paper draws on the fact that different U.S. states extended the vote at different times to create a kind of natural experiment. It turns out that, contrary to the “New voters = No change” theory, giving the vote to women really did change government in a more progressive, expansionist direction:

Suffrage coincided with immediate increases in state government
expenditures and revenue and more liberal voting patterns
for federal representatives, and these effects continued growing
over time as more women took advantage of the franchise…On the basis
of these estimates, granting women the right to vote caused expenditures
to rise immediately by 14 percent…by 21 percent after 25 years, and by 28 percent after 45 years.

Women did not quietly, meekly vote for whatever the men around them supported. They had their own minds, and those minds, when empowered by the vote, moved policy in a more progressive direction. And notice that the longer-run effect was twice the immediate effect: Expanding the franchise to a group that favored more government spending indeed increased government spending, but it took decades to see the full effect. In U.S. history, new voters have mattered.

And this is no one-off study: the policy impact of female suffrage has been studied extensively. To quote a study focused on Europe:

Using historical data from six Western European countries for the period 1869-1960, we provide evidence that social spending out of GDP increased by 0.6-1.2% in the short-run as a consequence of women’s suffrage, while the long-run effect is three to eight times larger.

Again, the long run effect matters more than the short run effect. New voters, new policies: NVNP.

Which brings us to one last test of the NVNP hypothesis: The increase in voting rights for when poll taxes were eliminated in the United States. Here again, evidence supports NVNP: the University of Chicago’s Journal of Political Economy reports that “eliminating poll taxes raised welfare spending by 11 to 20 percent” among other findings, so once again, new voters made important progressive policy change a reality.

How immigrants shape institutions

We now have the key pieces of the puzzle:

  • The Deep Roots literature which shows that in the long run, migration deeply shapes a nation’s level of pro-market institutions, and that a nation’s ancestry-adjusted SAT score (States, Agriculture, Technology) is a good predictor of prosperity.
  • The Attitude Migration literature, which shows that migrants bring a substantial portion of their attitudes toward markets, trust, and social safety nets with them from their home country.
  • The New Voters = New Policies literature, which shows that governments really do change when new voters show up, and that the changes start to show up in just a few years.

Government policies don’t radiate from subterranean mineral deposits: they are in large part the product of its voting citizens. And in the long run, new citizens lead to new policies.

Together, these three literatures provide a combination of big-picture and close-up evidence that if a country is choosing between high-SAT and low-SAT immigration policies, the high-SAT approach will yield big benefits in the long run. Individual countries will always be exceptions to the rule, so some countries taking the low-SAT immigration path will still look pretty good. But wise citizens don’t bet on being the exception: they bet on being the rule.

2016 September 17


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  • Duncan Cairncross

    I’m not at all convinced
    Cultural attitudes change and fast
    What was “normal” when I was a kid is considered outrageous now – and vice versa
    A massive change in 50 years
    And you are talking about cultural “memory” from 500 years ago!

    Yes there is a cultural effect – and maybe in the past it would last hundreds of years
    But today?

    The change and churn is much faster – the vast majority of migrants end up immersed in the new culture and change with it

    • Haven Monahan

      It’s not cultural memory, it’s genetic memory.

      • BobSmith77

        Source?

        • Haven Monahan

          By this guy. Unpublished work, but it’s a taste of things to come…

      • Duncan Cairncross

        All that graph shows is that different cultures have different IQ levels –
        Given that IQ is an appalling measure
        (any measure when six hours training can change your score by one sigma is totally crap)
        And that IQ tests are innately related to culture
        What would you expect?

        If you use a measure that is strongly dependent on culture then you will get a relationship to different cultures
        Strikes me as a “No shit Sherlock”

        Any conclusion about a “genetic effect” sinks on the iceberg of the fact that there is more genetic variability in a single troop of chimps than in the whole human race

        • Haven Monahan

          IQ is the most powerful variable known to social science. And as Garett Jones shows in his book, the effect is larger at the societal level than at the individual level.

          The average practice effect on IQ is not 1 standard deviation but 0.26 standard deviations (4 points) and this effect dissipates quickly and completely over time. The strong predictive validity of IQ indicates that practice effects are unimportant.

          Your claim about chimpanzees is, I assume, about the FST statistic, which is the ratio of between-population genetic variance to total genetic variance. Genetic variation is overwhelmingly neutral, but to the extent that the mean genotypic IQs of different human populations have strongly diverged, it’s due to selection. Therefore, FST is uninformative about population differences at the relevant loci because it is a measure of neutral variation.

          In any case, just about all human traits show large genetic differences between individuals. There are several million SNP differences alone between two randomly chosen individuals, and SNPs are just one type of genetic variant.

          The point of the graph I posted was to show how the SNPs causing differences between individuals in educational attainment and IQ that have so far been discovered map into population differences in SNP frequencies and IQ. As it happens, even at this early stage of research, the regression of polygenic scores (sums of the products of allele frequencies and effect sizes in the 1000 Genomes data) on measured national IQs is very strong (R^2=68%). No cultural effect can explain why the distribution of genetic variants causing higher IQ differs between populations.

          • Duncan Cairncross

            Absolute nonsense
            The “practice effect” is at least 1 sigma
            IQ is a lousy measure and the rest of your “science” is even worse

          • Haven Monahan

            I pointed you to a meta-analysis which showed an effect size of d=0.26. Your personal opinions to the contrary are of no consequence. If practice effects nullified the validity of cognitive tests, then the test would have little validity. But, in fact, they have high validity.

            I’d love to hear what you think is wrong with my other arguments, but I’m not holding my breath. You’re clearly out of your depth here.

          • Duncan Cairncross

            OK Haven

            I will explain simply
            You have got a circular argument

            You have found that certain genes are more common in different cultures – sounds reasonable
            And that different cultures score differently on our western biased IQ test – again very reasonable

            From that it becomes obvious that with your data set you will get a relationship between those genes and measured IQ

            I mean Duhhhh –

            IF the current IQ tests were actually culturally neutral AND measuring an innate property THEN your argument would hold up

            But they are most definitely NOT
            And it does NOT
            (The “Flynn Effect” shows that it cannot!)

            So no wheels left on your wagon

          • Haven Monahan

            Nope, you have misunderstood the argument and the evidence. Those same genetic variants also explain IQ and educational differences WITHIN the West, that is, between individuals living in the West.

            For example, here’s a study showing how those variants predict differences in socioeconomic success in New Zealand. The graph I posted above shows how the same variants that explain between-individual differences in the West explain between-population differences, too. Note that East Asians tend to have higher polygenic scores than Westerners — just like they tend to get higher IQ scores than Westerners on what you call “western biased” tests.

            I’m not arguing that all the between-population differences are due to genetic differences. However, the results so far strongly suggest that genetic differences are a major source of population differences in IQ. Population differences are not just cultural/environmental.

          • Is there a control for A) hours of education / learning and B) method of education / teaching?

          • Haven Monahan

            Which study/analysis are you referring to? Why would there need to be such controls?

          • Schooling / teaching method affect outcomes in terms of educational attainment – and performance in IQ tests. There are differences among states and cultures w.r.t. their schooling apprpaches and ‘philosophies’. Some approaches put in many hore hours as e.g. in some Asian countries.

          • The schooling / teaching / learning approach has a strong impact on the effectiveness and efficiency of teaching even among relatively ‘successful’ countries:

            https://www.muni.cz/press/books/files/mach255.pdf

          • Duncan Cairncross

            Haven
            You still don’t understand
            – Within NZ?

            OK here in NZ people from certain cultures get treated differently – significantly differently!
            The same offence is twice as likely to get a Maori jailed.

            So I would expect genes that are from different ancestry to be related to how well somebody did in society – socioeconomic success

            A “marker” for a pacific islander will correlate both with a low “IQ”
            (because the IQ test is cultural) and low socioeconomic success
            BECAUSE of how we treat them!!

            And New Zealand is actually better and LESS racist than almost anywhere else
            So I would expect the same effect anywhere you tested

            East Asians do better than Westerners? – so what
            The issue is that the present tests suit some cultures more than others
            I never said or even implied that it was a deliberate aim to make white westerner look good
            IMHO it was simply an accident – and maybe East Asians are more like IQ test developers than the average westerner?

          • Haven Monahan

            The NZ sample was >93% white and the associations were linear, so race makes little difference here. Furthermore, the same results have been obtained in monoracial samples and in sibling fixed-effect models; the latter design tests how differences in polygenic scores between siblings relate to their life outcomes. For example, here’s a study that found that the effect of polygenic scores on IQ and education was similar in black and white Americans and also when sibling fixed effects were used.

          • Duncan Cairncross

            You have lost yourself here

            If you have markers that are related to ancestry and you are relating those to IQ then you can’t have a study with only one ancestry – Duhh

            If you are using several ancestries then you can’t remove the effect of racism

            If you can find a perfect non racist society and a test that actually measures something solid – then you may have something

            At the moment you have a circular argument

            And you haven’t said anything about the Flynn effect – 20% in 70 years!!
            So much for an innate ability

          • Haven Monahan

            I don’t think you quite understand how genetics works. For example, genes for light eyes and skin (e.g., rs1426654(A)) are highly informative of European ancestry, but those same genes, when present in non-Europeans, cause them to have light eyes and skin, too. Genes can be informative about both ancestry and phenotypic differences. If two populations differ in genotypic intelligence, then higher-IQ genetic variants will be more common in the smarter population, but the same variants will be common in the smarter members of the less intelligent population, too.

            If you regress IQ on good polygenic scores in monoracial samples of different races and get the same slope and intercept, then any differences in the IQ means of the populations involved can be attributed to genetic differences. This is great because that way you can investigate the intellectual potential of individuals and populations without interference from environmental confounds such as the Flynn effect. Conversely, the same method will also reveal the presence of environmental effects, if any, that are causing differences between populations.

          • Haven Monahan

            I don’t think you quite understand how genetics works. For instance, specific variants of genes for light eyes and skin (e.g. rs1426654(A)) are highly informative of European ancestry, but those same genetic variants, when present in non-Europeans, cause them to have light eyes and skin, too. Genes can be informative about both ancestry and phenotypic differences. If two populations differ in genotypic intelligence, then higher-IQ genetic variants will be more common in the smarter population, but the same variants will be common in the smarter members of the less intelligent population, too.

            If you regress IQ on good polygenic scores in monoracial samples of different races and get the same slopes and intercepts, then any differences in the IQ means of the populations involved can be attributed to genetic differences. Conversely, the same method will also reveal the presence of environmental effects, if any, that are causing differences between populations.

          • Outin Theopen

            You are right. Western intelligence tests are extremely culturally biased. Australian Aboriginals — a poor people with a very distinct culture — tend to score very poorly on these tests. In order to gauge their intelligence accurately we should wait until they raise themselves from poverty and develop their own unbiased intelligence test within the context of their particular culture.

            The question is, do we have the patience?

            (Once the Abbos have come up with something vaguely resembling an intelligence test, East Asians should be barred from taking it. They always cheat.)

          • Copyright101

            Utter, utter nonsense.

        • Copyright101

          Nonsense.

          • CityCalmDown

            When you have the time would you care to elaborate?

          • Copyright101

            He’s claiming that IQ is unsupported, that it has nothing to tell us about human potential and capability. When in fact it’s well correlated with with all sorts of positives.

            He’s also trying to claim the Flynn effect undermines IQ. Sure, it shows that there is more going on than we currently know. What has caused IQ to rise? As far as I can tell though its done nothing to close racial gaps.

            Essentially he’s pushing education/nurture as a solution and hoping boring empirical biology/nature have nothing to do with anything.

            Ironically for the magical effects of education to raise IQ we need the resources of nations/groups with supposedly non-existent high IQ to do it.

      • Herkules12

        It’s funny how some people accept the theory of evolution as true, but at the same time won’t accept the consequences of evolution, i.e. that natural selection combined with genetic mutations will make separated populations of humans diverge in their genetic setups over time (because different environments will produce different selection pressures).

        The key here is that harsh environments will put a higher selection pressure on intelligence and cooperation. In tough environments stupid individuals are less skillfull at acquiring resources, less appealing to the opposite sex and more prone to dying, thus they get weeded out of the genepool.

        For instance Swedes are known for being almost pathologically altruistic, the reason for it probably being that it helped their ancestors to survive the harsh winters. Their innate proneness for altruism is now being exploited by economic migrants (who are not interested in working or becoming Swedes). The Swedes have been tricked into thinking their in-group is much larger than it is, so that they have a moral responsibility to support the whole third world, and that its somehow their fault third world societies are doing badly. Anyway there are different selection pressures in environments with an abundance of resources and not all environments puts selection pressure on intelligence and cooperation, some environments rewards higher aggression and more in-group favoritism.

        There is this idea floating around that human evolution has stopped arbitrarily at some point in time, and that different populations of humans are arbitrarily similar, basically as similar as politically correct ideologues demand humans to be. Almost everyone knows intelligence varies strongly amongst individuals (through simple observations). Given that intelligence is strongly hereditary isn’t it odd they find the fact that intelligence varies between societies unacceptable? it’s fascinating that people are able to hold such contradictory beliefs at the same time.

        “Evolution is change in the heritable characteristics of biological populations over successive generations. Evolutionary processes give rise to biodiversity at every level of biological organisation, including the levels of species, individual organisms, and molecules.”

        As I said, they accept this as true, but can’t get into their heads that a society’s culture is a reflection of that population’s genetic setup. Put simply, that smart populations tend to create civilised societies while dumb populations don’t,

        • CityCalmDown

          The point is that the reductionist, mechanistic, deterministic – almost theological as in the “theology” of Joseph de Maistre – version of the “theory of evolution” that you present is bogus.

          (And you don’t help your case by using what is arguably the best contemporary indicator of an individual and a group that is mentally bereft. The phrase “politically correct” is one the most powerful forces of cognitive stupefaction in popular discourse today…)

          Homo Sapiens is unlike other animals, including ancestors and relatives of homo sapiens. 21st century human beings are not the helpless, powerless and passive recipients of, and participants in – and in many cases *victims* of – “natural” environments wholly beyond their control. Nor that of their “zoological” ancestry.

          21st human beings are also architects of their environments. In a manner radically dissimilar to that of their anthropological and zoological ancestors and relatives.

          We have developmental psychology, education theory, economic and social theories and programmes of human development and happiness etc. We know how to act and create human environments which elevate and improve human intelligence – as well as all the other factors which go to make up the indexes of human development and happiness.

          If anything the danger we face today is the exact opposite of those who complain that we ignore the reductionist, mechanistic, deterministic, Herbert Spencer –like version of the “survival of the fittest”. Our danger is today is “the Myth of Prometheus”. See e.g. Bruno Latour, especially his “We Have Never Been Modern”.

          However the corrective to the modern myth of Prometheus will not be a deterministic, deeply pessimistic primitivism. Notwithstanding what I wrote I wrote above – and in seeming contradiction to those remarks – you are correct to indicate to indicate the possible ideological and political nature and/or deployment of “scientific” theories.

          In this case the “theory of evolution” which you and “Haven Monahan” are putting forward has a strong political resonance of the ideologies of (proto) fascism, and the arch-reactionary, anti-democratic, misanthropic pessimism of Edmund Burke, Joseph de Maistre and, later, Herbert Spencer.

          • Herkules12

            It’s hard to see if you tried to make any points in your ramblings, but I’ll try to respond anyway.

            “The point is that the reductionist, mechanistic, deterministic – almost theological as in the “theology” of Joseph de Maistre – version of the “theory of evolution” that you present is bogus.”

            First of all, evolution is not deterministic, there are a lot of individuals who get weeded out of the genepool by pure chance or bad luck. It has nothing to do with theology.

            “Homo Sapiens is unlike other animals, including ancestors and relatives of homo sapiens. 21st century human beings are not the helpless, powerless and passive recipients of, and participants in – and in many cases *victims* of – “natural” environments wholly beyond their control. Nor that of their “zoological” ancestry.

            21st human beings are also architects of their environments. In a manner radically dissimilar to that of their anthropological and zoological ancestors and relatives.”

            So what, that doesn’t put evolution out of play.

            “We have developmental psychology, education theory, economic and social theories and programmes of human development and happiness etc.”

            You’re bringing up the soft sciences, those which are practiced with the least rigor. Psychology was not even a science until recently when they actually started to measure things. At the same time you accuse me of being “reductionist”, that’s just ironic.

            “We know how to act and create human environments which elevate and improve human intelligence – as well as all the other factors which go to make up the indexes of human development and happiness.”

            That’s just bollocks, it has not been proven in any way human intelligence can be improved by training.

            “If anything the danger we face today is the exact opposite of those who complain that we ignore the reductionist, mechanistic, deterministic, Herbert Spencer –like version of the “survival of the fittest”. Our danger is today is “the Myth of Prometheus”. See e.g. Bruno Latour, especially his “We Have Never Been Modern”.”

            Are you expecting me to go read some random book just because somebody on the internet told me so? Are you autistic or something?

            “In this case the “theory of evolution” which you and “Haven Monahan” are putting forward has a strong political resonance of the ideologies of (proto) fascism, and the arch-reactionary, anti-democratic, misanthropic pessimism of Edmund Burke, Joseph de Maistre and, later, Herbert Spencer.”

            Ok, keep pulling those buzzwords out of your ass and delude yourself you’re being coherent in any way.

          • CityCalmDown

            >>>”That’s just bollocks, it has not been proven in any way human intelligence can be improved by training.”

            Which disqualifies you from any serious discussion.

            Developmental psychology is not a “soft science”. Neither is education in general. It would be a complete of waste time and effort to educate either children or adults if your view was correct.

            For you, the entire history of human civilisation is would seem to be just something that happened to everyone else.

            >>>”Are you expecting me to go read some random book just because somebody on the internet told me so? Are you autistic or something?”

            The general preference on the internet and in real life is to have discussions with people who are informed and up-to-date. And not an interlocutor that gormlessly reveals him/herself by referring to a major intellectual figure as “some random book”.

            The sentence was a *reference* to a body of work. NOT a “recommendation”. But then your refusal to read and your complete ignorance of contemporary thought displays how much your assertion “That’s just bollocks, it has not been proven in any way human intelligence can be improved by training.” is a merely another inadvertent, very revealing *personal* remark on your part which has nothing beyond being of (very slight) autobiographical value.

            Add to that not only the crudity of your assertions but also the general vulgarity which you seemingly must express yourself and you may well find happy company in a far-right skinhead group one day. If you’re not already in one.

            Fare thee well.

          • Herkules12

            “Which disqualifies you from any serious discussion.”

            Fine use of an argument-stopper there. It’s more productive to try to offer some evidence instead of using argument-stoppers. If you make strong claims you have to back them up by proportional evidence. It’s not my job to disprove your assertion. When I said your assertion has not been proven it’s not a personal attack, it’s an invitation for you to offer some proof.

            To be more clear, the following statement needs evidence: “We know how to act and create human environments which elevate and improve human intelligence.”

            “Developmental psychology is not a “soft science”. Neither is education in general. It would be a complete of waste time and effort to educate either children or adults if your view was correct.”

            Acquiring skills is not the same as raising ones intelligence.

            “The general preference on the internet and in real life is to have discussions with people who are informed and up-to-date. And not an interlocutor that gormlessly reveals him/herself by referring to a major contemporary intellectual figure as “some random book”.”

            Sorry, calling me ignorant and appealing to authority is not convincing, It’s not an argument.

            “The sentence was a *reference* to a body of work. NOT a “recommendation”. But then your refusal to read and your complete ignorance of contemporary thought displays how much your assertion “That’s just bollocks, it has not been proven in any way human intelligence can be improved by training.” is a merely another inadvertent, very revealing *personal* remark on your part which is only of (very slight) autobiographical value.”

            I suspect you’re too lazy to construct a valid argument, that’s why you hand wave and point to a whole book. If you can’t succinctly summarize what the author says you probably haven’t understood it anyway.

            “Add to that not only the crudity of your assertions but also the general vulgarity which you seemingly must express yourself and you may well find happy company in a far-right group of sociopathic skinhead barbarian thugs one day. If you’re not already in one and that it was due to your ultra-nationalist psychopathology which drew you to this article.

            Fare thee well. ”

            To be honest, I think that was far more vulgar than anything I wrote. The self-awareness is not strong with this one…

  • Eli Levine

    A few thoughts came to mind:

    1. Economic choices seem to be rooted in tradeoffs between one set of values and priorities, and another. Perhaps some peoples throughout the world had different social values and institutions, and would thus prioritize different things. Native Americans, in North America especially, had very different values, attitudes, and institutions than the Europeans did, thus creating essentially different worlds out of similar starting positions (see Acemoglu and Robinson for more).

    2. People and peoples are also prone to changing themselves and their institutions and values over time with new knowledge, technology, social conditions, environmental conditions, and institutional structures, even if there are attractor points that we generally cluster around and can get locked into. Maybe our past doesn’t completely determine our futures?

    3. Other places in the world were experiencing beginning periods of expansion, prosperity, and development before the Europeans arrived and effectively overpowered, squashed, and manipulated the institutional, social, and geographic space of those other places to their favor. The students from elsewhere who become in charge of their societies tend to be products of those colonial institutions and consequently either do a we’ve done, or fight like Osama bin Laden and others are still doing. We ruined a lot of places through our social “values” and choices. The point is that Europeans played an active role in destroying prosperous or developing societies and cultures, so there’s no guarantee that those patterns of change won’t come up again.

    4. It may be true that there are a limited number of paths to prosperity. However, this doesn’t mean that what’s present today is how it’s going to stay. For example, America and the people who operate America’s key institutions on high and down below, are making some pretty serious mistakes if they want to maintain prosperity and well-being. Meanwhile, new models for prosperity that are backed up by real data and evidence are beginning to permeate in the academic literature. Other countries may adopt these models first and get a very significant advantage for some years, as others react against them and dig themselves into a hole out of fear and ignorance, like the Catholic countries during the Counter Reformation, or Islamic institutions after the Crusades and the Mongol and Turkish invasions did. Again, we see how things change over time in human societies despite strong tendencies for one way over another.

    So do I buy that immigration and immigrants influence other societies with their cultures? Sure, and mostly for good if your society is able and willing to have a broad definition of its social identity. If you make public institutions generally welcoming and allow for the newcomers to mix, mingle, and become prosperous safely, they’ll more likely adopt at least partially to the host society’s traits and identity. See Scott Page’s work on social diversity for more. Do I believe that the past if you and your nation’s fate? Maybe, but there’s always room for change and nothing is truly permanent over the longest arcs of time.

  • Lot’s of interesting questions. Interesting case study Prussian imigration policy towards Protestant Huguenots.

    What about relations of the complex of institutional, technological, scientific, economic and political developments to the supposed origins of agricultural and technological ‘knowledge cultures’ in

    a) ‘Old Europe’ in the Danube region several thousand years B.C.

    b) in the area of northern India / later Bactria

    c) in the steppe between Ukrainia and what later became China

    d) the ‘horizonal’ influence of trade routes such as the silk road

    e) the ‘vertical’ transmission of knowledge and practice packages through different regions and cultures e.g. from Babylonian and Egyptian via Greek and Roman through Persian / Arabian writers and the fall of Constantinople to ‘finally’ western renaissance.

  • CityCalmDown

    Immanuel Wallerstein and his school of World Systems Analysis may provide the best way to critique this article.

    1/ Prosperity is only measured and described in terms which are seen as occurring *internally* to the economic entity and region which is described.

    No attention is paid to the very great role that trade and conquest play in determining an economic region’s prosperity, or lack of it.

    No attention is paid to the role of adverse trade deals. Nor to the role that military conquest and colonialism – past and present – plays in the impoverishment, subjugation, ecological degradation and human suffering of a geopolitical-economic region.

    Instead regions and economic entities are treated as if they were wholly autonomous and separated experiments in a series of laboratory jars.

    The worst, most egregious example of this sort of apolitical, ahistorical neoclassical economics – with a bit of “prosperity culture” thrown in – is David Landes’ “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations”

    Both David Landes and Garret Jones – the author of the above article – seem to think that the real world is apolitical and so their analysis can afford to be pretend to apolitical. They don’t seem to think that history is a causal factor except for a wholly artificial “internal” history. As if in the whole of human history geopolitical-economic-military entities and regions never interacted. That military conquest and colonial subjugation never happened. That vast regions of the world-system are not severely disadvantaged by adverse trade deals specifically designed to enrich the core regions at the expense of the other, subjugated, regions.
    2/ There is the problem of just what constitutes a useful unit of analysis. The boundaries of modern day nation-states and geographical regions are an artificial and potentially highly deceptive unit of analysis.
    Instead, the only accurate and useful unit of analysis must the *entirety* of the Capitalist World-System considered as a totality. And then the operations of geopolitics, economic trade-flows between the regions of the core, the semi-periphery and the periphery

    3/ The historical perspective of the longue duree as described by Fernand Braudel and the Annales School.

    There is a major paradigmatic economic historical break which occurs with the advent of the Capitalist historical epoch. This paradigmatic break and shift must be described and always borne in mind.

    Similarly, there is currently a major paradigmatic economic historical break which occurring at *our own historical moment*. This is the terminal historical crisis of the Capitalist historical epoch. And the historical transition to the post-Capitalist world-system.

  • Thanks a lot for writing this article. It’s the most intelligent anti-open-borders thing I think I’ve ever read.

    • Joe Dineen

      Yes but I really do not like that there is no discussion of the of the effect culture of native population on the immigrants.
      Irish Americans as I have met them are not like Irish people and probably not like Irish people of 150 years ago. Hell the Irish are not like the Irish of 50 years ago.

      • Garett Jones

        Actually, I do, in the paragraph that includes this sentence:

        “There’s a mutual exchange, and behavior meets somewhere in the middle.”

        • Joe Dineen

          Yeah, but where is the middle? You indicate that attitudes and beliefs from the ‘old country’ are retained and influence the host and make some claims about the size of the influence and warnings about negative consequences to the host nation but nothing about the degree that the host nation influences and changes the immigrants.
          I suspect that there is considerable influence by the host on the immigrants and that the degree of assimilation and acceptance vs the extent of ghettoization is a big factor, do you have any data on that?

        • Michael Ryan

          That would be the border between genetic traits and environment behavior. You are never going to fundamentally change the immigrants but they sure can mess up your social dysfunction in the short term. whats worse in the long term their political power prevents measures to correct the native decay as that would further highlight the immigrant problems

  • Olga Shanks

    The ideas of the Deep Roots literature are fascinating, enlightening, and
    unsettling at the same time. If your culture’s potential for economic success
    is pre-determined by events of thousands of years ago, it appears there is
    little you can do except emulate and import the cultures of the higher-SAT
    class. This depressing conclusion is probably the reason people like some
    commentators below resent the views presented in this article with such
    vehemence. However, if we set aside how we feel about the subject and put on a
    hat of a scientist desiring the truth, however hurtful and unpleasant it can
    be, can the data really be supporting such findings?

    I will definitely read the
    articles cited under the “Deep Roots Literature” to get convinced, but several
    contradictions immediately come to mind. As was pointed out earlier in the
    commentary, what about regions that were the cradles of civilization but are
    now not doing so well economically? And what about the fact that different
    countries of the world were at the top of the wealth ladder at different points
    in history and then dropped dramatically or vice versa? Take Greece for
    example, or China, or England before and after the Roman invasion. If we want to generalize more and use regions (i.e.
    East Asia, Northern and Western Europe) instead of countries as an entity under
    examination, then wouldn’t we be lumping too many diverse cultures into few large
    groups reducing the validity of the results using traditional statistical
    methods to analyze them? In the end, this is great food for thought and
    enticement for further reading. Thank you!