Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Monday, November 17, 2003
Wealthy in pocket, rich in ethics: Can IQ help?
Ever since Adam Smith's "The Wealth of Nations" economists have been debating why some countries are rich and others poor. Smith wrote his inquiry into the causes of wealth in 1776 - the year America declared its independence from Britain...
Ever since Adam Smith's "The Wealth of Nations" economists have been debating why some countries are rich and others poor. Smith wrote his inquiry into the causes of wealth in 1776 - the year America declared its independence from Britain. In that new epoch, China had already begun its downward spiral from a long period as the wealthiest country in the world. It lost the throne - but logic dictates that it will regain the golden seat if you accept the argument in a recent study that compared world IQ levels and GDP rates. The researchers found that wealth in pocket correlated to intelligence - and the Chinese were among the smartest.
Richard Lynn, professor of psychology at the University of Ulster, and Tatu Vanhanen, professor of political science at the University of Tampere in Finland, concluded that the societies with the highest average intelligence were Japan, South Korea, Chinese mainland, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore, with IQs averaging 105. The next brightest were Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, averaging 100. In South Asia, North Africa and most of Latin American, the average was about 85, and in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean closer to 70.
China, Russia and Eastern Europe had high average intelligence quotients but low incomes, the two academics noted in their book, "IQ and the Wealth of Nations". But citing China, Professor Flynn said that since the country has moved towards a market economy, the GDP rate has raced ahead, and he forecast it would catch up with the West by the middle of the century.
Their findings led me to mull on another issue - the wealth of ethics of nations. A society's golden stock of shared values or "social capital". Ethics concerns cooperation and crime is the opposite. For more than half a century, Interpol and the UN have been drawing up comparative tables of world-crime rates. The statistics paint a comparatively bright picture in East Asia, dimmer in the West and darkest in Africa and Latin America.
What relevance does intelligence have to this issue? Broadly speaking, many crimes do not require great skill. A smaller proportion hinges on brainpower - from planned heists, counterfeiting and complex trans-national operations to computer extortion and white-collar misdeeds on the stock exchange. While high-tech police units target sophisticated criminals, ultra-smart felons are a minority. A far larger number of criminals achieve success by brute force (a low-IQ thug can buy a gun and get a foot up the career-criminal ladder).
What a contrast this makes with the work domain. In most careers it is simply impossible to succeed without aptitude. The process of getting richer through honest sweat requires intelligence. The issue of morality and IQ is more complex. The high GDP countries of East Asia enjoy low-crime rates - but this is less so in Europe and far less in America.
Low IQs and crime. Is there a link? A report by the Australian Institute of Criminology noted: "Researchers have found that the average IQ of offender populations is about 10 points below that of the general population ... offences such as assault, homicide and rape are associated with lower IQs than the average within the offender population. Crimes of violence are usually crimes with an immediate payoff, in contrast to crimes requiring planning and preparation and possibly a deferred payoff. Impulsiveness itself is a negative correlate of intelligence. and there is evidence to suggest that low-IQ scores are associated with impulsive crimes."
The concept of intelligence and good behaviour can be looked at in a wider way - not in terms of the individual but his birthright. If you are born into a society with an "intelligent" culture, the chances are that you will be better behaved than if the prevailing ethos lacks wisdom. Cultures are different all over the world and the citizens of a country are the inheritors of its collective wisdom: the wealth of thought that dates back to ancient times.