Wednesday 6 March 2013

The National Consequences of Intelligence

In two previous posts (The Wealth of Nations, Cognitive Capitalism) I had mused on the contribution of human intelligence to the creation of wealth

Last week I belatedly came across Earl Hunt’s (2012) “What makes nations intelligent?Perspectives on Psychological Science 7 (3) 284-306. In this piece he sets out some of the evidence for intelligence making people and nations rich. 

One strong example is that intelligence predicts job success at r= 0.4 for low complexity jobs, r= 0.52 for medium complexity jobs and r=0.58 for high complexity jobs.  These complex jobs make the biggest difference because they increase the rate of productivity gains. Societies had few such permanent jobs before the industrial revolution, and the increasing complexity of the emerging industrial economy depended on such occupations.  Bright people were needed to fill these demanding posts, which led to the emergence of a middle class of skilled workers. 

Another strong example is that in our own age the very, very brightest in adolescence (top 99.75th percentile) go on by age 40 to be three to five times more productive than even the very bright (99.25th percentile) and at least 12 times more productive than the rest of the population (in terms of patents, which is a good predictor of economic innovation and wealth creation). Intelligence matters.

But my eye was drawn to a simple summary of the causes of wealth, based on Rindermann’s 2008 work on 17 nations for which he had data for cognitive data.  So, in the hope of getting comments, I leave you with a single table showing some of the desirable national consequences of intelligence, and some undesirable consequences of the lack of it.

Table 4. Correlations of National Levels of Cognitive Ability with selected desirable and undesirable attributes of the country 1960-1996

Desirable                                 Undesirable
Attribute      Correl          Attribute      Correl

Rule of law            .64     Fertility rate          -.73
Quality govt          .64     Gini inequality      -.51
GDP per capita      .63     HIV infection rate -.48
Economic freedom .52     Govt spend %        -.47
Economic growth  .44     Homicide rate        -.23
Solved homicides   .32     War: freq & impact -.22

Rindermann, H. (2008) Relevance of education and intelligence at the national level for the economic welfare of people. Intelligence, 36, 127-142.


  1. Is government spending necessarily bad?

  2. I had to summarise to get everything into the narrow column width. It should read "Govt spending as a percentage of the economy". I would argue that high rates (50% and higher) are bad because they lead to a collapse. I think that countries can get to 65% before the crash comes. The Economist had a special edition on Scandinavia, showing how they had recovered from these high levels, with better managed and targeted public spending.

  3. Nice to see you blogging James! and a nice article too!

  4. Glad to have a distinguished reader!