Controversies over economics and genetics

To critics, the economists’ paper seems to suggest that a country’s poverty could be the result of its citizens’ genetic make-up, and the paper is attracting charges of genetic determinism, and even racism. But the economists say that they have been misunderstood, and are merely using genetics as a proxy for other factors that can drive an economy, such as history and culture. The debate holds cautionary lessons for a nascent field that blends genetics with economics, sometimes called genoeconomics. The work could have real-world pay-offs, such as helping policy-makers to set the right level of immigration to boost the economy, says Enrico Spolaore, an economist at Tufts University near Boston, Massachusetts, who has also used global genetic-diversity data in his research.

But the economists at the forefront of this field clearly need to be prepared for harsh scrutiny of their techniques and conclusions. At the centre of the storm is a 107-page paper by Oded Galor of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and Quamrul Ashraf of Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. It has been peer-reviewed by economists and biologists, and will soon appear in American Economic Review, one of the most prestigious economics journals.

The full story is here.  The previous MR post on the dispute, which includes a link to the paper, is here.


Racism!? yet no one gets upset when economists have a race variable in their regressions.

Indeed, and I note excellent comment from the Nature article:

"2012-10-12 10:30 AM

Adam Cherson said:It seems that any social research involving human genetics runs the risk of being attacked as 'crypto' genetic determinism, racism, or even eugenics. I look at this type of research another way: the laws of biology apply to humans as they do to any other species. If population genetic diversity confers an adaptive advantage in other species than why not in humans as well? And if so, then why not seek empirical confirmation of this hypothesis? To view this type of work as anything other than valid social science-- that could someday benefit our understanding and avoidance of human conflict-- verges on shock-jock paranoia.
The investigation of a possible relationship, causal or merely associative, between genetic diversity and social wellbeing lead to the creation of a Genetic Diversity Index as one component of a multi-variable Intellectual Energy Index . Global ecological footprints in terms of this same Y-DNA haplogroup data have also been examined.

I mention all of the above to help corroborate the merit of work being done by Galor and Ashraf and others in the areas of genoeconmics and socioecology. While we should not rush to interpretive conclusions, early indications are that the data reveal more than a random juxtaposition of events."

I've only read the abstract of the paper, but it's not encouraging: "the most homogeneous country, Bolivia, placed at 0.63 and the most diverse country, Ethiopia, at 0.77." How does Bolivia pass any kind of reality check as the "most homogeneous country"?

Heck, Bolivia and Ethiopia are oddly rather similar in some ways: both have isolated highlands and both feature some population groups that are part-Caucasian, part indigenous to the continent.

My guess is that the way they came up with Bolivia as the least genetically diverse and Ethiopia as the most is that they got fooled into naively focusing on the so-called junk genes that population geneticists study to determine racial groups' genealogies. (And they may have also followed the population geneticists' rule of thumb of ignoring everything from 1492 onward -- e.g., you sample DNA extensively from isolated indigenous tribes in Bolivia's Amazon and mountains, you don't sample much from the big cities where most people have both Caucasian and Amerindian background).

Population geneticists try hard to avoid looking at economically useful mutations, such as lactose tolerance, because those get selected for and thus can be misleading about the past. Instead they prefer to study mutations on parts of the genome that don't have much effect on anything important, because those genes tend to get passed down according to the laws of statistics governing random phenomena.

Those are much easier to project than economically powerful genes, such as lactose tolerance, which can set off wildly contingent consequences (e.g., the spread of the Indo-European languages may, or then again may not, have been caused by some Eurasian group getting that mutation and setting off on a career of conquest).

Looking at junk genes, sub-Saharan Africa has the most genetic diversity since most sub-Saharans' ancestors didn't get squeezed through the Out-of-Africa event. Pre-1492 South America had the least junk gene diversity because its ancestors were squeezed through both the Out of Africa and Out of Siberia events.

Africa is the poorest continent so you assume that's because of its high rate of junk gene diversity, and South America is kind of poor, so that must be because of its low rate of junk gene diversity. Europe is rich and it's in the middle in terms of junk gene diversity, so all you have to do is fit an upside down U-shaped curve to your datapoints and voila, you have a cause celebre paper.

Or, I may have this all wrong, but this is the terrible feelign I got from reading their abstract.

Do you really, really think that this is what that paper says?

Here's the extraordinarily depressing opening of the article in Nature that Tyler quotes:

"“The invalid assumption that correlation implies cause is probably among the two or three most serious and common errors of human reasoning.” Evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould was referring to purported links between genetics and an individual’s intelligence when he made this familiar complaint in his 1981 book The Mismeasure of Man.

"Fast-forward three decades, and leading geneticists and anthropologists are levelling a similar charge at economics researchers who claim that a country’s genetic diversity can predict the success of its economy."

Oh, boy, here we are in 2012 and "Nature" is still citing the authority of Stephen Jay Gould's dopey and discredited 1981 bestseller as an unquestioned authority text ...

Are we ever going to make any intellectual progress?

Some of us clearly never will.

You seem so proud of it, PA.

Well, Sailer certainly is - but then, living in one of the most successful and most diverse polities in human history, it takes a lot of wilful effort to disregard the success that is represented by the American experiment.

Of course, possibly he is at least intellectually honest, and thus very likely to have been one of those people at the forefront of fighting the wave of those immigrants from Eastern Europe before and after WWI, based on the best eugenic science then available (head measurements and IQ tests included).

But then, history would have proven him wrong (check out the wikipedia article here to see affirmative action as applied in the U.S. after that wave of immigration -, even though he is peddling the same, though renamed, junk science.

And the term 'junk science' is being very charitable. But then, some people seem to have another agenda than one based on facts, or even historical awareness.

It's very charitable to label the work of leading researchers in genetics and evolutionary biology "junk science"? Wishful thinking on your part.

@ prior_approval,

I think you'll find he is largely correct about human bio-diversity (see 'Before the Dawn' by Nicholas Wade, 'The 10,000 Year Explosion' or Greg Clark's work). There are persistent group differences in terms of educational outcomes for example. And these are going to cause significant problems down the line as low skill jobs continue to get replaced by technology or off-shored.

Yeah, Gould really got it wrong about that hole correlation/causation thing. That's been discredited for years. Another gem from the guy with low iq jobs in diversity mongering and local politics.

GiT, your first point taken but your second point is off. You see you're doing to Sailer what he did to Gould? I often learn a lot from people I disagree with...if nothing else they force me to think hard about my beliefs. No discussion would not be better than this discussion.

In this case, Gould really did get it wrong. You're not trying to argue that his book was not discredited scientifically, are you?

Cliff - the quote from Gould was merely a source for the oft cited correlation/causation fallacy. Whether or not his book is discredited has little to nothing to do with whether or not the proposition Gould was quoted for making is discredited. Bringing up the status of the book from which it is quoted is straight up polemic.

Claudia - I'm merely applying the same standard to Steve he applies to Michelle Obama. Further, in some cases the morally beneficial practice of shunning and directing contempt towards racists outweighs any insight to be gained from their pretensions to knowledge. In other words, sometimes cultivating a moral community trumps seeking truth.

Git preaches: "In other words, sometimes cultivating a moral community trumps seeking truth."

GiT's moral community: the many, the smug, the ignorant

Feel free to scurry off to vdare or amren or whatever other swamps you frequent. I'm sure your "insights" will be appreciated as they surely deserve to be there.

@ GiT,

Surely policy is best informed by understanding the world. You can be aware of the truth of group differences and still maintain individual rights or even left wing views (see Peter Singer, "A Darwinian Left'). Or as Steve Hsu notes:

"Finally, it is important to note that group differences are statistical in nature and do not imply anything definitive about a particular individual. Rather than rely on the scientifically unsupported claim that we are all equal, it would be better to emphasize that we all have inalienable human rights regardless of our abilities or genetic makeup."

If I want to inform myself about the "truth" of group differences, I can do it without consorting with physicists pretending to be geneticists, astronomers pretending to be historians, and "low IQ diversity-mongers" pretending to be scholars.

@ GiT,

Hsu is involved with the BGI Cognitive Genomics project. He knows what he's talking about.

And yet, you started by defending a paleontologist writing about psychology

Here's economists Ashraf and Galor's defense of their study:

Their critics are pretty silly, but Ashraf and Galor screwed up almost exactly the way I figured they did, only maybe even more so: instead of using diversity of junk genes in isolated pre-Columbian tribes like I assumed, they went one step farther and used a measure of migratory distance from the ancient Out of Africa event to come up with a stylized version of how much Out of Africa junk gene diversity there _would_ be if there hadn't been any post-1492 admixture with Europeans or Africans!

"To this end, our work employs migratory distance from East Africa (i.e., distance along land-connected routes) as an “exogenous” source of variation in intrapopulation diversity across regions. Put differently, rather than directly employing the observed diversity measure, which may be tainted by genetic admixtures resulting from movements of populations across space in response to spatial differences in economic prosperity, we employ the variation in the diversity measure that is predicted by distance along prehistoric migration routes from East Africa."

Oh, dear ...

So, that's how Bolivia comes out genetically most homogeneous in their study. To you and me, Bolivians may look pretty genetically diverse, with major contributions from Europe and the indigenes, with maybe some African in there in the lowland.

But, to Ashraf and Galor, Bolivia _has_ to be the most homogeneous because it's just about the hardest place to walk to from the Olduvai Gorge. You have to get out of Africa, then you have to get out Siberia, then you have to get past the Panamanian isthmus, then you have to climb high into the Andes. I'm tired just typing all that.

The funny thing is that genetic differences in non-junk phenotypic genes obviously play an economic role in Bolivia. Real estate prices in La Paz are strongly negatively correlated with altitude. The richest, whitest people tend to live at the bottom of the canyon in La Paz where the air is thickest because white women tend to have pregnancy problems at over 10,000 feet, while the upland suburbs are cheap and almost all Indian. Cynthia Beall of Case Western has isolated the mutation that allows the indigenous people of the Altiplano to get by there better than outsiders.

If economists want to study the impact of genetic differences on economic life, just look at life as it really is in Bolivia.

The funny thing here is that Sailer has, at best, a layman's superficial understanding of genetics that he's gathered from a few science blogs and a listserv. But reading from this comments, you'd think the man is some geneticist. Granted, he is certainly more knowledgeable and informed than your average movie critic/blogger/columnist. Unfortunately, this little knowledge has gotten to his head, and he's increasingly portraying himself some expert in genetics in the internets. Scratch a bit, you won't find much beneath the surface. It is also obvious he has not read the Ashraf and Galor carefully, if at all.

Dear Sewell:

Thanks for that high signal-to-noise post, with its deep insights into the topics under discussion. You really have a lot to contribute.

Don't ever change.

You're welcome. You may not consider what I write to be full of substance, but I think it's important readers to know you don't have the expertise that you are trying to project here. Your claim about the genetic diversity of African was debunked on a previous MR thread on this topic. That does not seems to have slowed you down a bit.

Why does someone have to be an expert in genetics?

Andrew' read the part with Dan Benjamin at the end of the "full story" link for an example. Experts have an important role to play in this discussion...there's no need to constantly re-invent the wheel. It's going to be a massive (multidisciplinary) enterprise to unpack these relationships. Sailer has every right to voice his views, but I do wish there was a little more context here of who's talking to whom.

ooo, genetic determinism! Scary! As we all know, geographical determinism is where it's at.

Or is it institutional now?

I forget.

Point is, determinism is Objectively True, but to suggest that the biology of an organism itself could be the determinant, that's right out. That's CRAZY talk.

That's funny.

Unfortunately, it's not funny how we collectively get dumber as more and more data piles up. Poor Nicholas Wade has been publishing carefully documented articles in the New York Times' Science section for a dozen years now on how various genetic differences among various racial groups have real world consequences, yet Stephen Jay Gould is still the Oracle.

But the question is "so what?"

e.g. "So, we stop throwing money at stuff that isn't working"

So, what? Weren't we already saying that?

Take education - We spend YEARS trying to granulate people on human capital and still do an unbelievably shitty job. Do you think we are really precise enough to incorporate a racial component in most things?

Get rid of all the ACTUAL racism, and suddenly you don't have to muddy the waters with affirmative action.

Personally, I subscribe to the motto of Faber College, as featured in "Animal House" -- "Knowledge Is Good."

But, many appear to disagree.

Some of us agree, but we accept "people are different" and then move on to interesting questions.

I agree, that as long as people deny reality there is a market for preaching reality. But what are the practical implications racial/genetic differences?

For example, if we were interested in something like a tendency towards violence, at this point wouldn't we just skip the race part and go straight to whatever genes we think we are interested in? If there were violence genes and they happened to overlap with a racial category that would just be an interesting sidenote.

"'So, we stop throwing money at stuff that isn’t working' So, what? Weren’t we already saying that?"


Here's the open letter from a host of academics denouncing the two economists for their sins against political correctness:

Unfortunately, the PC critics are too obtuse to notice the real problems with Galor and Ashraf's paper.

Don't worry Steve our full rebuttal with all the statistical, historical, genetic and other problems with Ashraf and Galor's paper is on its way.....

Here's Enrico Spolaore's latest survey of theories of why some countries are richer than others:

It's pretty good other than the way it conspicuously all crimethinkers other than Gregory Clark (e.g., Lynn & Vanhanen go unmentioned.) In particular, Spolaore appears indebted to the unmentioned Michael Hart's ultra-reductionist Theory of Everything, which Tyler briefly discussed here:

And I discussed more fully here:

One of the refreshing things about this blog is that Tyler will regularly post about race and white supremacists will regularly flood the comments. And then occasionally, a similar bunch of white supremacists will then accuse their political enemies of racism. Keep up the good work Tyler.

Surely you mean "lactose supremacists".

Yeah, hate all those white supremacists like Steve Hsu and Razib Khan...

So you're telling me Steve Sailer is Asian? Thanks Cliff, for once again demonstrating the supremacy of the white mind.

Interminority racism and white supremacy can be quite complementary.

What about bio-realism? Or Peter Singer's idea of "A Darwinian Left"? Where does that fit? Perhaps people need to look at the facts, while appreciating a) group differences are statistical & don't imply much about individuals b) individual rights are not dependent on equal abilities.

The work could have real-world pay-offs, such as helping policy-makers to set the right level of immigration to boost the economy

Phew! What would we do without genoeconomics?

as I wrote to Nature (Comments), I never said that this research could help policy-makers "to set the right level of immigration to boost the economy" - that was a misunderstanding of my actual view, which is about reducing barriers to the flows of ideas and innovations across populations. The policy implications of the recent research on the long-term determinants of development are discussed in the Conclusion of my article with Romain Wacziarg, forthcoming in the Journal of Economic Literature:

Dear Professor Spolaore:

I very much enjoyed your survey of theories explaining the wealth and poverty of nations, such as Jared Diamond's. I also think you are definitely on the right track by focusing on matters such as long term genealogical relatedness and absolute latitude in building your models of economic success. Along those lines, you will find Hart 2007 full of valuable information and insight:

Also, Rindermann's profusion of work correlating per capita GDP to PISA test scores and IQ scores is, of course, of much interest to all:

We (as humans) do not really understand genetics yet, particularly when it comes to the epigenomic expression of genes. We also don't really understand economics (no doubt I will be howled down by all you economists here, but really, what has econ, and especially heavily quant econ (that is to say, almost all of it these days), gotten us in the past 10-20 years? Economics has serious academic value but it's application to the real world, in my opinion, is still shaky at best).

So let's combine the two into a new field that is completely worthless outside of academia and probably dangerous if actually applied outside of that field. Genoeconomics!

Come on, Tyler, just admit it, you find the HBD theory (sorry, "genoeconomics") compelling. You've seen the data, you're not an idiot, Occam's razor says that the explanation is population differences in IQ and time preference (or g). Andrew Sullivan sees the writing on the wall, too, he just won't let himself admit it because it means the conversation gets awkward between him and Ta-Nehisi Coates at the parties he goes to.

I'm amazed at the ability of some people to look at all the circumstantial evidence for anthropogenic global warming, and come to the correct conclusion that the one thing that explains it all is that human-emitted CO2 is causing warming. And yet, with this stuff - differing crime rates in the United States, ability to form a functioning government in some countries, even things like, the number of inventions (old things, like agricultural techniques) that were not developed in certain parts of the world, and oh yes, differing brain sizes and IQ tests among different races - it's so shocking to people's view of the world that they can't accept the obvious, clear, simple theory that explains all of the observations. As Sailer would put it, it's crimethink.

Now, here's where I differ from Sailer. He wants all of the smart writers in the world to admit the truth of HBD. He constantly puts forward this sort of evidence to convince you of it. (I think you're already convinced, like I am, but just won't admit it.) To what end? (Steve, I know you're reading this - to what end?) I suppose, once the high-IQ groups of the world accept this fact, we can just, I don't know, stop allowing immigration of low-IQ groups and wash our hands of those countries? Accept that they'll never have a high level of development? And that in the United States, certain groups will only ever be fit to be the labor class?

I don't buy it. Unlike many people, I don't think that all knowledge is worth pursuing. When it comes to humanity, certain things become self-fulfilling - if it is common, accepted knowledge that your skin color determines your average IQ, then we can preach all we want that individuals should be judged as individuals, but people are still going to use the skin as a shorthand, because we want to take shortcuts. It's just what we do. And also, if you're from one of those groups, being told from a young age that you're probably not going to be anything special, because your racial group has a low average IQ, can hurt your chances even if you are bright!

It's the same problem with accepting the view put forth very tentatively in that recent Atlantic article that women simply aren't cut out for high-level jobs because they find it much harder to neglect their children. Whereas men can be Vice President of a company and are happy to leave the child-rearing to the wife, and only see their kids in the morning and night when they're sleeping. If this view becomes accepted, people are going to pass over women for promotions because hey? who knows if later she'll quit when the company needs her, because she wants to be with the kids more? Even if that's not true of every woman, people will judge based on the averages.

So, to wind up a long post, yeah, this stuff is crimethink. But for good reason. Instead, here's my prescription, which should piss of Sailer and Cowen both: the intelligent people of the world need to accept the truth of HBD ("genoeconomics"). But then we need to not talk about it. We need to use that knowledge to try to reduce the harm being done to America's school systems by the All People Are Interchangeable crowd. Push cases like the Fisher supreme court case that's going on right now. But don't demand that everybody come out and have some grand Societal Consensus that there are racial group differences in IQ and time preference. Because that will just make the problem worse.

'the number of inventions (old things, like agricultural techniques) that were not developed in certain parts of the world'

I'm curious. With possible and explainable exception of Australia (very dry continent in general, and with a history that is essentially 3 times longer than human habitation in a place like the British Isles, due to the recent ice age), which continent hasn't discovered agriculture on its own? Corn is clearly a Meso-american crop, rice is distinctly Asian, and there is little question that the Africans in Egypt were masters in creating a long term civilization based on agriculture (which according to the most current commonly accepted data based theories, comes from what is now Turkey, at least if wheat like cereals is your extremely limited definition of an agricultural crop - see above about rice and corn).

Try harder.

Or just read about the history of corn alone -

'The domestication of maize is of particular interest to researchers — archaeologists, geneticists, ethnobotanists, geographers, etc. The process is thought by some to have started 7,500 to 12,000 years ago. Research from the 1950s to 1970s originally focused on the hypothesis that maize domestication occurred in the highlands between Oaxaca and Jalisco, because the oldest archaeological remains of maize known at the time were found there. Genetic studies led by John Doebley identified Zea mays ssp. parviglumis, native to the Balsas River valley and also known as Balsas teosinte, as being the crop wild relative teosinte genetically most similar to modern maize.[31] However, archaeobotanical studies published in 2009 now point to the lowlands of the Balsas River valley, where stone milling tools with maize residue have been found in a 8,700-years old layer of deposits.[32][33][34] A primitive corn was being grown in southern Mexico, Central America, and northern South America 7,000 years ago. Archaeological remains of early maize ears, found at Guila Naquitz Cave in the Oaxaca Valley, date back roughly 6,250 years; the oldest ears from caves near Tehuacan, Puebla, date ca. 3,450 BC.[35] Little change occurred in ear form until ca. 1100 BC when great changes appeared in ears from Mexican caves: maize diversity rapidly increased and archaeological teosinte was first deposited.'

"I don’t think that all knowledge is worth pursuing."

this is the policy the west has been following for the last 60 years, at least. and what has it gotten us? trillions of dollars wasted. lives ruined. unnecessary wars. enforced hypocrisy. injustices as far as the eye can see. lies piled sky high.

don't you think it's time for a change? time to... do the right thing? truth is beauty and knowledge is truth, and the unabashed pursuit of it is a moral good. it is self-evident.

mr. lies, truth is not always beauty, sometimes it sucks the beauty right out of an experience. Perceptions are often just as important as reality. Sure knowledge can be beautiful, but so can humanity, nature, and dignity, so I'm not seeing the self-evident principle in your argument.

"but so can humanity,"

humanity is never beautiful when its comity must find its support on a foundation of lies, and truth-seekers are persecuted in service to the lie machine. hth.

are you really sure it's truth you're seeking?

"are you really sure it’s truth you’re seeking?"

this is the sort of question i would expect from a sophist.

nah, I'm an economist.

The dude is still seeking the 'shift' key on his keyboard.

And a girlfriend.

Yes this is ad hominem. But it's fun for me. And it's true. And clearly old lol loves the 'truth'.

Gnostic systems which refuse to acknowledge reality must eventually fail. The labor theory of value may make the proletariat feel good about themselves, but then comes systemic failure. Welfare states spend billions of dollars pretending equality of inputs yields equality of outcomes, and they are failing too.

Isn't economics the province of the iron laws? It always surprises me how gimlet-eyed economists get all mushy when certain topics like, say, the market for white/Asian school districts comes up.

nah, AG, not mushy either.

It was mr. lies who first went all poetic with his "truth is beauty..." speech (which btw pairs well with your 'reality bites' refrain). I agree that this research should be done...with lots of care, collaboration, and humility. I'm sorry but you and mr. lies are not good cheerleaders for this research...scaring people (and/or insulting them) is usually not a winning strategy. But maybe that's for the better...

I agree that this research should be done…with lots of care, collaboration, and humility. I’m sorry but you and mr. lies are not good cheerleaders for this research…scaring people (and/or insulting them) is usually not a winning strategy. But maybe that’s for the better…

Who do you think you're talking to? The people who are already doing this research and beginning to make some polite 'ahems' about what they see wouldn't know or care what I think.

The geocentric universe upset a lot of people. Microbe theory offended a lot of esteemed surgeons. Candid talk about risk factors for AIDS offends homosexuals, but that foreknowledge can save their lives. Evolution offends conservatives and liberals alike, now that all those mean, scary people are pointing out that it works from the neck up in addition to the neck down and didn't stop 40,000 years ago. I can come up with a longer list.

Not to speak for Sailer, but I have heard him say he wants to focus on IQ-based interventions in poor countries. I.e., recognize IQ is the problem and then focus on it directly.

RmDeep's prescription that what we need to do is to hold extremely sophisticated understandings of the workings of human biodiversity in the privacy of our own minds, but then never mention them to anybody, especially not in writing is quite common.

Unfortunately, very few people are smart enough to keep things straight in secret. For example, look at this brouhaha that is the subject of this post. On one side of the controversy are two economists, Science, and the American Economic Review. On the other side are Nature and a whole bunch of Harvard professors. Neither side has noticed that the whole controversy is pointless because the original theory is silly because the authors don't understand how population geneticists work.

The only person who has pointed out that this contretemps is a waste of time is Mean Old Me. And that's because I get into public discussions of these kind of important topics all the time. I can't afford to be as wrong as all these other worthies because I'm out there in the arena.

Written public debate is how knowledge advances. In contrast, crushing dissidents (e.g., James D. Watson in 2007 or Larry Summers in 2005) is how we all get dumberer.

***nstead, here’s my prescription, which should piss of Sailer and Cowen both: the intelligent people of the world need to accept the truth of HBD (“genoeconomics”). But then we need to not talk about it. ***

That sounds ideal, but how do "the intelligent people of the world" learn about that if it's taboo? At least publications like Nature need to stop creating "genetic determinism" straw men and scare words. Also, if people are going to agitate against forms of inequality then it's difficult to not bring it up as a potential contributing factor.

Total conjecture, but I wouldn't be surprised if the memo hasn't been circulating discreetly in Ashkenazi circles for the past few years at least, as the data dribble in. These are people who understand the delicacy of the situation.

Can we stay on point? The 'diversity is wonderful' crowd is picking this fight with this kind of analysis. Sailer is entitled to critique the analysis, which I think he does well, but I guess I have this miraculous ability to separate the arguer from the argument.

The reasoning in the paper sounds poor to me, for the reasons described by Sailer.

To me, people are mostly people. I don't find group differences to be taboo, but within group differences swamp between group differences to the extent that racial prejudice in a specific situation (and isn't that the concern?) is almost never warranted.

The problem is that so much of public policy and thus public spending is based on politically correct yet false premises, leading to an absolute waste of money, e.g. education policy in the US. If public spending wasn't so high, then the 'diversity is good' crowd can make all the claims they want, spend their own money to boost their own causes, and it would hardly affect their polar opposites the crimethinkers.

But because the crimethinkers are also expected to pony up taxes to support policies with low ROI, they do have a right to assert their case.

"a country’s poverty could be the result of its citizens’ genetic make-up"

file under: no, duh!

ps boy caplan and the rest of the open borders zealots wept.

NB: the paper allegedly claims diversity is good and that the optimum is because beyond the peak people lose trust in each other, not that the diversity itself becomes bad. Now, I see this emergent diversity as very different from someone attempting to micromanage diversity (either way).

So can the 'skin color coded genetics is crime destiny' people explain why Russia has a higher homicide rate than Liberia?

Official homicide rates in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially in West African countries like Liberia are gross underestimates. Victim surveys for violent crime and rape are always much higher in these countries than those reported to police.

According to the UN, the ratio of homicides in public health surveys versus police records can be an unbelievable 10 to 1:

"For nine countries in West Africa, for example, the public health average rate is 10 times that of the average criminal justice rate. Information on mortality is not available for the majority of countries in Africa and public health values for those countries are derived from estimates using cause-of-death models. Nonetheless, it is likely that law enforcement and criminal justice institutions in these countries significantly underestimate the levels of violent deaths. This can be due to many factors, including limitations in the capacity of police and law enforcement agencies to identify and record homicides."

So, basically, you can go ahead and scrap any comparison between Liberia and Russia based upon official murder rates.

Or not, depending on time scale and one's tolerance for offical statistics -

Russia - 'The value for Intentional homicides (per 100,000 people) in Russia was 11.20 as of 2009. As the graph below shows, over the past 14 years this indicator reached a maximum value of 30.80 in 1995 and a minimum value of 11.20 in 2009.

Definition: Intentional homicides are estimates of unlawful homicides purposely inflicted as a result of domestic disputes, interpersonal violence, violent conflicts over land resources, intergang violence over turf or control, and predatory violence and killing by armed groups. Intentional homicide does not include all intentional killing; the difference is usually in the organization of the killing. Individuals or small groups usually commit homicide, whereas killing in armed conflict is usually committed by fairly cohesive groups of up to several hundred members and is thus usually excluded.'

Unfortunately, the only commonly agreed to figure I could find concerning Liberia was 16.8 - and this in 2004. So, while it is certainly reasonable to assume the statistics for Liberia are underreported, it would be interesting to see whether they reach the Russian level of the mid-90s (which, it must be noted apparently exclude the brutal conflict in Chechneya) when the effects of armed conflict are excluded.

Let's just say the data is not exactly conclusive over a longer time frame, but it is possible that Liberia's homicide rate equals or exceeds Russia's in the last two decades. On the other hand, it is also quite likely that both countries are quite comparable, and that both have extremely high homicide rates by Western European standards.

Assuming you're actually correct about that, I suppose the answer is no. Still, given no other choice, I'd rather emigrate to Russia than Liberia. For similar reasons, it appears people will take on a lot more mortgage in order to have white neighbors.

Let's back up a bit:

A. Science journal and the American Economic Review are promoting a new Theory of Everything to explain wealth differences in 145 countries.

B. The Harvard anthropology department and Nature journal are denouncing the new theory for violating political taboos, etc.

C. I'm pointing out that the new theory appears to be based on a common misunderstanding of population genetics, so the controversy among establishment elites is moot.

D. Quite a few of Tyler's comments are in turn denouncing me on various grounds:

1. Why am I obsessed with a topic that nobody else is?

Well, it appears that a lot of people -- Ashraf, Galor, Science, AER, Nature, Harvard anthro dept. -- are pretty obsessed with it. The only difference is that they are all, in their various ways, wrong, while I've done the scientific world a favor by pointing out that this theory is a waste of time for technical reason. Why? Because I try hard to understand how the world works.

2. Why do I try hard to understand how the world works?

a. It's interesting.

b. It's bad for the soul to believe things that aren't true.

c. It might be useful.

There's a reason d. for studying it, isn't there?

d. it might justify a sense of white racial pride

For that matter, why is Tyler subtly flirting with HBD and race realism without going ahead and being frank about it? He's shown no such compunctions about consigning whole sections of the American working class to perdition in his writings about zero marginal product workers. He's even taken seriously, although not endorsed, the view that ZMP workers might just be "dregs of the earth".

Is he frightened to draw the link between discussions like this about genoeconomics and issues concerning low quality workers? Or is he saving it up for his next book? If enough intellectual leaders got over fears of professional ostracism, the whole world could sigh with relief that their unspoken assumptions were always based on reality. The sky won't come crashing down.

Why is it surprising that genes may be a factor?

1. Behavioural traits are heritable to some extent

2. Different environments (geographic & cultural eg. polygmamy rates, female farming systems)) could favor different physical and behavioural traits?

Why would this surprise people? Some basic examples

In related news: Chocolate eating associated with more Nobel Prizes:

Which is more plausible- this chocaolte study, or that genetic diversity has anything to do with trust?

Well it seems plausible that the more similar people are the more trusting of each other they might be. In fact isn't that what Robert Putman found?

Robert Putnam found that people can sense genetic similarity? News to me. I'm probably closely genetically related to Steve Sailer, but I don't trust him one bit.

@ economist1,

1. Well it seems Putman looked at the impact of ethnic/racial diversity on social capital/interpersonal trust etc.

2. People from the same race are more genetically similar to each other than to individuals from other races.

3. People can tell if someone is of a different race to themselves, no? Say Chinese, African and so on.

Part UK and part Native Canadian seems like the best genetics and Ukranian the best carrot for women who inspire said men
I know Romney is big on taking personal responsibility. This works for some mindsets, networths and brains. But it's not my fault. I'm not living by their rules, looking for work longer than the job itself lasts, anymore. It's not my fault Mormons asked me to make friends at work. It's not my fault their women laughed at my jokes. It's not my fault they were all married to male employees there. It's not my fault they became around at my jokes or even my presence. It's not my fault they fired me. I had the kavaarka. What is the Mormon workplace cure for that?

What the hell? Among all that weirdness, kavaarka doesn't seem to be a word in any language

Allow me to make a suggestion for economists interested in studying the impact of genetic differences on economic phenomena: start small. Don't go for a Theory of Everything right away, look for a well-understood example of genetic differences and see how that plays out in the economic sphere, such as, say, the impact of altitude tolerance on real estate prices.

For example, there are a handful of well-established, uncontroversial cases of simple gene variants helping individuals adjust to a particular environment. For example, the Duffy allele fights vivax malaria and the famous sickle cell mutation fights the worst form of malaria, falciparum.

Similarly, Cynthia Beall and colleagues have identified separate mutations in Tibet and Bolivia that make life at very high altitudes more endurable. (There appear to be other adaptations in Ethiopia, but they hadn't yet been pinned down.)

The various lactose tolerance mutations have huge economic effects. The population density of northern Europe, such as Denmark and Ireland, before the industrial revolution would have lagged substantially without this mutation.

These noncontroversial genetic differences have obvious effects on quantifiable measures such as who lives where and how much the land costs. For example, the Beijing government has been trying to swarm Tibet with Han colonists, but lowland Chinese have problems adjusting to the lack of oxygen. I would predict that real estate prices in Tibet, all else being equal, would be highest in the deepest valleys and canyons, just as they are in La Paz, Bolivia.

In Nepal, the Tibetan population doesn't like to live below about a mile high because they lack malaria resistance that the Indian population enjoys. The Indians, in turn, don't like to get too high.

In Colorado, resort towns at around 8000 feet like Aspen and Vail are vastly expensive because they appeal to energetic, aerobically fit rich white people. But Leadville, a couple of thousand feet higher at 10,152 feet, remains something of a curiosity due to its extreme altitude, which is definitely pushing the envelope for whites, so land prices are lower.

A study of altitude tolerance in different populations would be relevant to say, real estate developers. Is a retirement community at 9000 feet a good idea, or does altitude tolerance drop off with age? How about 7000 feet? Does the growing Mexican-American community of the Rocky Mountain States, many of whom are migrants from fairly high altitude parts of Mexico, have better or worse altitude tolerance than whites? There are a host of interesting implications, large and small, that might be uncovered by an exploration of the interplay of altitude, genes, and economics.

If economists do want to plunge into a Theory of Everything, let me point out that the rudiments of a modest one exist in what we already know about the interplay of altitude / latitude with three uncontroversial forms of genetic difference: lactose tolerance, disease resistance, and oxygen processing efficiency. For example, high altitudes and latitudes (e.g., Swiss Alps and Iceland, respectively) were long highly dependent upon having the lactose tolerance mutation in order to make use of a dairy-centric economy.

Similarly, altitude/latitude interacts with various kinds of disease resistance -- e.g., white workers in South Carolina tended to die of tropical fevers that had less impact on black slaves, while black slaves in Boston tended to die of respiratory infections more than did whites. The impact on the economic and political development of the U.S. is obvious. In South America, different peoples tend to live at different altitudes, with blacker people in the warmest places, and Indians adapted to high altitude at the highest.

It's not difficult to come up with examples of your own.

The Litany of Tarski: If the sky is blue, I desire to believe that the sky is blue.
If the sky is not blue, I desire to believe that the sky is not blue.

The Litany of Gendlin: What is true is already so.
Owning up to it doesn't make it worse.
Not being open about it doesn't make it go away.
And because it's true, it is what is there to be interacted with.
Anything untrue isn't there to be lived.
People can stand what is true,
for they are already enduring it.

The authors say they are focusing on "long-term" relatedness, but why should diversity a millennium ago be more relevant than diversity since the Columbian exchange?

"The authors say they are focusing on “long-term” relatedness, but why should diversity a millennium ago be more relevant than diversity since the Columbian exchange?"

Right. The population geneticists' focus on the world of 1491 is perfectly reasonable -- we have pretty good historical records of what has been happening since then.

And it's not unreasonable for economic historians to pick 1491 as their cutoff date, too. But make that clear to readers. Spolaore's work is pretty good at saying we're looking at the world of 1491 (I think he calls it 1500), but Ashraf et al didn't do as good a job of making that clear.

But anyway, let's go back to Ashraf and Galor's example of Bolivia as suffering economically -- even in 1491 -- due to a lack of genetic. diversity. Let's do a reality check. I haven't been to Bolivia, but I have been to Peru, and the place is full of ruins built by a large, industrious pre-Columbian population. Not just the tourist attraction ruins either -- all sorts of random mountainsides were laboriously terraced to grow potatoes on near-cliffs. And the Inca engineering of aqueducts was remarkable.

So, Peru-Bolivia was at the end of a series of genetic bottlenecks on the long walk from Africa, yet the economic/technological development level before smallpox arrived in the 1500s was easily comparable with Meso-America and well above anything north of the Rio Grande, or in Siberia, either. I'm just not buying that the Incas were genetically lacking economically compared to, say, Siberian tribes who had more diversity in their junkish genes. The Inca level of development is particularly impressive because, yes, they were at the end of a long, long walk and cut off from technological developments in the rest of the world. Even North America was getting influxes of new people and a little new technology from the Old World after the Bering Straits event -- the Na-Denes (e.g., Navajos) crossed over from Siberia maybe 6000 years ago and the Inuit since then.

Now, if you want to tell me that the Incas were lacking in, say, genes for resistance to Old World disease, well, yeah. But a generalized lack of diversity in their junkish genes is just a red herring.

Even if you are just focused at the world as of 1491, the Ashraf's focus on the Out-of-Africa event in the distant past is excessive. As Cochran and Harpending documented in the 10,000 Year Explosion, the invention of agriculture is a more relevant event genetically.

The work could have real-world pay-offs, such as helping policy-makers to set the right level of immigration to boost the economy, says Enrico Spolaore, an economist at Tufts University near Boston, Massachusetts, who has also used global genetic-diversity data in his research.

As I mentioned above, I did not say that. It was a misunderstanding of my point, which was about reducing barriers to the flows of ideas and innovations across populations. That error has now be corrected in the text of the article in Nature.

That's just a spam-bot

After reading the entire exchange, I have to conclude that the criticism is subjective and is not based on the evidence presented in
this exchange. The anthropologists from Harvard statements suggest that the economists treat the genetic diversity of different countries as independent data, when they are intrinsically linked by human migration and shared history”.
However, according to the Nature article: “Sohini Ramachandran, a population geneticist at Brown University who provided the genetic data for the study… adds that Galor and Ashraf used estimates of genetic diversity that she and her colleagues specifically developed to overcome many of the confounding factors caused by the overlapping genetic and cultural histories of neighboring countries.”
Moreover, Ashraf and Galor in their response argue: “First, on the statistical front, our critics have falsely suggested that we treat socioeconomic and genetic data as if populations are independent of one another. On the contrary, our empirical analysis accounts for the possibility of spatial dependence across observations, including analytical methods that correct for spatial autocorrelation in “error terms” and bootstrapping. This criticism of our work thus reflects either a misunderstanding of the techniques that we employ or a superficial reading of our work.”

You're in way over your head, Sailer. Your Bolivia/Peru example makes this clear. In fact, it smells an awful lot like the silly example about the Maya and the Aztecs that the Harvard anthropolgists quoted in their critique. Ashraf and Galor's response took down this argument nicely: "They challenge our findings that diversity can be beneficial for innovative activity, stating in their letter that our hypothesis must be fundamentally flawed because it "implies that the Maya and Aztecs should not have been able to achieve high population densities because of their low genetic diversity." Such an inference is based on a misunderstanding of basic empirical methodology. In simple terms, it is equivalent to suggesting that if we were to observe a 100-year-old person who smokes then research that concludes that smoking is harmful must be flawed."

They go on " order to use the example of the Maya (or the Aztecs) to falsify our hypothesis, the right thought experiment is to ask: if we were to take another society that is identical to the Maya (or the Aztecs) with respect to all factors other than in the extent of intra-population diversity, how would the level of development in that society differ from that of the Maya (or the Aztecs)? Framed differently, given that actual societies differ from one another in many respects (geographical, institutional, cultural, etc.) and not just in their levels of diversity, once all these other differences have been used to explain not only their comparative development but also the differences in their levels of diversity, is the unexplained variation in development related to the unexplained variation in diversity? Indeed, this is precisely the question that is answered by a regression analysis of the type that we conduct, one that not only controls for differences across populations in observed factors other than diversity but also addresses the issue of correlation vs. causality that arises when differences in unobserved factors (as captured by variation in the "error terms" in a regression model) are statistically correlated with differences in diversity."

Oops, mea cupla! Please strike out that last sentence about regressions and observed/unobserved heterogeneity, since you obviously don't have the capacity to fathom it.

Hi All,
Please see my group's comments here:
This responds to some of the comments here (Anke yours in particular)....and also some of the problems with how the genetic data is being used. Please note, you constantly refer to us as a group of Harvard Anthropologists, we are in fact a group that does contain anthropologists, but also geneticists, Human evolutionary biologists, a statistician and archaeologists. We are denouncing this paper for far more than political taboos.

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