A conversation with Heiner Rindermann, for Man and the Economy

hrin_2019  Heiner Rindermann PhD, is Professor of Educational and Developmental Psychology at the Technical University of Chemnitz (Germany). He is psychologist (PhD University of Heidelberg). His work deals with education and ability development, intelligence and student achievement, economy and politics, evolution and culture, and their interplay at the level of individuals and societies. His recent major contribution is Cognitive capitalism: Human capital and the wellbeing of nations published in 2018 by Cambridge University Press.

  Grégoire Canlorbe: An early contribution on your part in establishing the connection between cognitive ability and human development (in the broadest sense) was to show how the spread of AIDS among ethnicities of different continents is greater as the cognitive ability is lower. Could you remind us of your analysis?

  Heiner Rindermann: In two publications from 2007 and 2009 with my German colleagues Georg W. Oesterdiekhoff, a sociologist, and Gerhard Meisenberg, a biologist, I showed that education (as a proxy for intelligence and knowledge) and cognitive ability (comprising intelligence and knowledge) reduce the impact of the HIV spread.[i] If wealth and modernity are added in analyses at the level of nations – comparing different countries – the effects of wealth and modernity even turned positive, increasing HIV rates! Disproving the usual theory, that AIDS is a disease of the poor, the data robustly showed that AIDS is a disease of the low intelligent. But why? Isn’t this result biased or mad?

  In closer consideration not at all: Studies from other authors on AIDS or on diabetes at the level of individuals also show that income and even education are not crucial for health. The crucial factor is intelligence. Again: Why? Here the Piagetian approach can help us as used by Georg W. Oesterdiekhoff and cognitive hermeneutics of everyday life as I tried to explain in my Cognitive capitalism book: People at lower levels of cognitive development and intelligence, especially if living in a social environment with a similar low level, tend to think and act irrationally, e.g. they believe in magic and behave in ineffective or even self-damaging ways. I.e., AIDS is not seen as being caused by HIV transmitted by unprotected sex but being caused by God, magical powers or sorcery and consequently can be cured by magical treatment, e.g. by having sex with a virgin. And these aren’t excuses for sexual abuse or own failings but people really believe this.

  For instance, a quote from a study by African researchers in Mali underscores this: “Accidents are never attributed to faults or incompetence of the people in charge or machine failure, they are always orchestrated by certain superstitious powers.”[ii] Such a mindset will not lead to more cautiousness or better maintenance reducing accidents.

  I myself could not believe this before having done such studies. Academics are living in an entirely different world and cannot grasp such thinking. However: At my first visit to Brazil at the very first day at the Copacabana I saw candles going out and I lighted them up – but my Brazilian acquaintance who has studied in Germany got very anxious because he said lighting up candles at the beach “could cause misfortune”. And he was really worried, even upset. I still remember his eyes and perspiration. This wasn’t at all a joke for him.

  Grégoire Canlorbe: In the framework of classical political economy, it has been believed that economic progress essentially depends on progress in the division of labor; and that, in turn, the latter essentially depends on the intellectual ability to understand the higher productivity linked to an increased division of labor. Does this hypothesis make sense in view of the collected data on the correlation between the wealth of nations and their average IQs?

  Heiner Rindermann: Yes, Adam Smith’s division of labour increases productivity and by this income and wealth.[iii] Cognitive ability may play a role in understanding the advantages of division of labor. However, cognitive ability effects are much broader, e.g. cognitive ability stimulates technological advancement by tinkerers and researchers; it leads to fewer mistakes and higher efficiency of individuals; higher efficiency in cooperation; higher efficiency of organizations; a better and more predictable social and political environment; and more rule of law including property rights.

  As my own data and studies of my American colleague, Thomas Coyle, a psychologist, show, the effects of cognitive ability increase in economically free societies: Cognitive ability improves the external conditions relevant for its positive effects. There are also no diminishing returns, the higher the ability the greater the effects, especially in modern complex societies.[iv] Even the highest levels of the intellectual classes, which are crucial for progress and innovation, profit from further cognitive increases.

  Grégoire Canlorbe: It is not uncommon to depreciate research on the inter-ethnic genetic differences in intelligence on the grounds that up to now no genes of intelligence have been identified—and that everyone can allegedly see that the quality of education provided for children is the most decisive factor in determining the intelligence of future adults. As a scientist originally specializing in educational psychology, how do you assess this line of criticism?

  Heiner Rindermann: Yes, education is important in raising intelligence in youth.[v] However, it hardly explains individual differences. For individual differences, as all behavioral genetic studies show, genetic causes are crucial.[vi] Though, as you mentioned, the genes have not yet been identified and the full chain of causes is not substantiated: intelligence coding genes; their way of working via proteins, neurological structures and neurological processes on cognitive development; resulting in substantial psychological intelligence differences. For international or inter-ethnic differences, we would further need the distributions of the relevant genes in different peoples. Nevertheless, we do not need to give up. There is huge indirect empirical evidence and there are convincing evolutionary theories in accordance with empirical evidence supporting genetic theories.

  To give five examples: One study done with the British biologist Michael Woodley showed that haplogroups being associated with cultural advancement several 100 years ago can statistically explain today’s cognitive ability differences between countries and within Italy and Spain the north-south gradient.[vii] Another study done with the German political scientist David Becker showed that genetically more similar countries are more similar in their IQs, even controlled for latitude, longitude and general human development (HDI).[viii] Genome-wide association studies can statistically explain about 10% of cognitive variance in individual differences and such polygenic scores can explain about 20% of the cognitive gaps between different evolutionary groups.[ix] Nations with larger brains have larger cognitive ability levels, it’s even true for the evolutionary indicator skin lightness with both controlled for culture. Among animals regional variants with larger brains or within human evolution species or subspecies with larger brains show higher intelligence.[x] Finally, the Western European marriage pattern, first described by the economist and statistician John Hajnal, outlines that in the past centuries only those persons could marry, have their own home and children, who could afford them by themselves, having led to an evolutionary selection pressure in the direction of more delay of gratification, self-control (especially of sexuality), conscientiousness, frugality, industry and finally higher cognitive ability.[xi] Until now, we do not have the relevant genes and their causal path, but we have enough evidence to assess a genetic theory as being well founded. As in other research fields, theory (e.g. in astrophysics the theories of relativity or of dark energy) can be a forerunner for discoveries previously seen as being impossible.

  You also alluded to political criticism of science. However, does anybody criticize the term “dark energy” for being racist? Now not but let’s wait. There are no limits of political weirdness. We Germans have our own unlucky experience with the “Deutsche Physik”; maybe soon there will come “decolonized astrophysics”. As with my experience of lighting up a candle in Rio de Janeiro creating anxiety in others – for the proponents it is not a joke!

  Grégoire Canlorbe: It has been hypothesized that in contemporary Western society, the most intelligent individuals (and therefore those reaching the most influential posts in universities, in the media, and in political and economic organizations) also tend to be those most prone to espouse socialism as a value.

  And this on the grounds that socialism—understood as the concern for promoting the material well-being of genetically unrelated others through state welfare programs—is an “evolutionary novel idea” which was absolutely foreign to our ancestral way of life (in tribes whose members were all genetic kin more or less); and which the most intelligent people are therefore those the most inclined to adopt and to promote nowadays… in view of the mental flexibility which their higher intelligence is supposedly allowing. As an analyst of the relationship between IQ and political opinion, do you recognize some relevance of this analysis?

  Heiner Rindermann: Thanks for pointing out Satoshi Kanazawa’s inspiring theory of “evolutionary novelty”.[xii] To judge an idea the IQ level of its supporters can be a beginning. As you mention, many intellectuals supported or still support socialism and other left-liberal ideas as “no borders”. Thomas Sowell’s remarkable book Intellectuals and Society gives many more examples.[xiii] However, we always have to judge the validity of concepts and of empirical statements by themselves and not by the attributes of their advocates.

  Socialism makes people poor, gray, small and unfree. Capitalism leads to wealth, peace and after a while even to clean air. When I was young, we traveled every year to relatives in the socialist GDR; compared to the West there was poverty, repression and polluted air. The German psychologist and sociologist Erich Weede has compiled the scientific evidence of the effects of capitalism in several publications underscoring its positive effects on peace.[xiv]

  Unfortunately, the effects of unrestricted borders can be observed 600 meters away from our University main building in Chemnitz where a German father (with half-Cuban background) was stabbed to death by Arabian refugees. Official statistics show higher crime rates among these immigrant groups. In 2017 thirteen Germans were killed by immigrants, but no German killed an immigrant.[xv]

  However, academics at the university do not want to hear this and disparage people who mention it (both, the empirical facts and the ignorance among academics). As Lee Jussim and many others have shown, the dominant climate at universities is a left one with negative consequences on research, i.e. biased research questions, biased funding, biased publication, biased reception and sometimes even fraud published in Science.[xvi]

  However, the advantage for the minority among scientists not being left is that they have to be better, less biased and to use better designs and statistics. Thus, the left supremacy in science leads to higher quality in non-left science.

  Grégoire Canlorbe: A well-known claim on your part is that, although the cognitive ability of the intellectual classes stimulates—all things being equal—economic productivity, this effect proves to be moderated by the absence of economic freedom. When it comes to explaining why the Industrial Revolution occurred in Britain rather than in France, in Germany, in China (which has always been gifted with a political class composed of “intellectuals,” from mandarins to artificial-intelligence technocrats), or in some African nation, does this imply that a unique combination of economic freedom and a high IQ elite could be found on British soil in the 19th century?

  Heiner Rindermann: Thanks for picking up my study with Tom Coyle as mentioned above. Economic freedom increases the effects of cognitive ability. Your question deals with a specific historical process. As you say, intelligence theory cannot explain why the Industrial Revolution occurred in Britain and not in China, Japan or Germany. It also cannot explain the rise of National Socialism in Germany. There are further factors. For Britain a larger market, more competition and longer peace. Nevertheless, within a short space of time Germany, the Netherlands, North Italy and France and somewhat later the entire West and in 20th century East Asia caught up. Some accidental factors are relevant at some times but in the long run intelligence and for politics also culture are crucial.

  Regarding National Socialism intelligence theory (and Protestant-Christian culture) cannot explain the Nazi reign but can explain why in about 65 years of the 20th century in the free parts of Germany there was democracy, law and freedom. Comparing intelligence and culture the former is more important for technology and economics. The more political or modern-political a characteristic the more important becomes culture, e.g. for human and women’s rights – as shown by a study I did with the famous British Oxbridge sociologist Noah Carl.[xvii] 

  Grégoire Canlorbe: The Flynn effect is commonly conceived of as the eminent cognitive effect of the bourgeois civilization—which you are referring to as the “burgher-civic culture,” and Deirdre McCloskey as the reign of “bourgeois dignity”—; nonetheless one cannot but notice the whole cluster of dysgenic trends—including the progressive rarefaction of geniuses—which has been no less concomitant with the rise of certified intellectual classes under the aegis of bourgeois norms. How do you account for this duality?

  Heiner Rindermann: I am happy that you mention Deirdre McCloskey. In fact, after finishing my manuscript for the Cognitive Capitalism book Erich Weede recommended me her three books on “bourgeois virtues”.[xviii] In chapter 14.2.11 of my book I intensively reviewed her approach and compared it with mine. In a few words: Her conception of a burgher world is too much Christian and liberal; aspects as discipline, order, achievement, rationality and phronesis (common sense) are undervalued. And a culture only promoting working habits but not thinking will create a static society.

  The other point of your question is whether a certain culture and society will (more or less inevitably) lead to its self-destruction. You noted the genius-decline hypothesis as elaborated in an inspiring book of Ed Dutton and Michael Woodley.[xix] I elaborated this idea for Protestantism – you cannot encourage in the long run thinking, thinking by yourself and individualism and in the same time believing in religion. It ends in antinomies. Your point is whether the low child rates among the intelligent (in particular among well-educated women) will undermine in the long run the cognitive foundations of modern society. Yes – when the means of cognitive enhancement by improvements in health, education and technology are exhausted. I tried to predict societies’ cognitive development in 21st century until 2100 in chapters 12 and 13 of my Cognitive Capitalism book. Different factors combined (asymmetric birth rates, migration, Flynn effect aka environmental improvements; Figure 13.13, same source) results a decrease for the West of about −3.33 IQ points until 2100. Generally, the models assume a stronger decline at the top ability level (Figure 13.5). For the final proof of this prediction, I submitted an application for prolongation of life. I need to live about 30 years longer than Richard Lynn…

  Grégoire Canlorbe: It is commonly thought that increasing as much as possible—through state eugenics—the different heterogeneous individual IQs of a given nation would increase as well the cognitive and therefore economic performance of the latter; yet it seems that for the Ricardian law of comparative advantages to operate, it takes not only a dispersion of knowledge within society, each agent enjoying his own comparatively advantageous local knowledge, but an inequality in cognitive abilities. Might there be an optimal situation in which the global uplifting of individual IQs does not compromise an efficient economic organization?

  Heiner Rindermann: This is an interesting question. One smart student in Chemnitz asked me the same: Don’t we need at every level of cognitive ability good-working people? Yes of course! One example: Without air conditioning in the south or heating in the north and skilled manual workers who build and service that equipment it would be difficult or impossible to live there. Nevertheless, all those technical innovations have become more and more complex. I once spoke with the technician of our heating system and it appeared to me that he could not fully explain the feedback control system with its three controllers and two sensors. In my car for about two years a warning light has come on – nobody knows why.

  Regarding diversity – yes, especially diversity in interests and personality seems to be positive. A society only consisting of persons like me would definitely not work. A study by two economists has shown that a medium level of diversity including genetic differences is beneficial for society.[xx]

  Grégoire Canlorbe: It seems that post-Soviet Russia has managed to become a technological and economic power, which stands in the forefront of areas like nuclear industry (with the development of thorium), video surveillance (with Vocord group), GPS (with GLONASS), or informatics—with Yandex, the Russian Google, having been created two years before Google, Russians having their own Facebook through Odnoklassniki, and Kaspersky proving to be a leader in the protection of computers against antiviruses—; in a certain way, contemporary Russia has nonetheless escaped a bourgeois mentality… in the sense that mysticism keeps up being placed above a materialistic approach of reality, and sainthood—and warlike honor—over the pursuing the peace of soul and mundane life comfort. How does this unique situation of Russia in the West fit within the theory of cognitive capitalism?

  Heiner Rindermann: It seems to me that Anatoly Karlin has briefed you. I work in my studies at the international level with three main factors: cognitive ability, culture and evolution. Behind intelligence and knowledge we can put education, but it is nearly never as important as cognitive ability, culture and evolution. For Russia and Northeast Europe there is a minor cognitive difference to with Western Europe (to Southeast Europe is a major difference, also to the southern parts of South Europe). The average IQ is about 97 in Northeast Europe compared to 99 in Western Europe (Table 13.2). Based solely on a cognitive human capital theory Russia, Belarus and Ukraine have the potential to be much richer, freer and having more rule of law.

  I see the main issue in cultural differences based on (traditional) Protestantism and Catholicism (scholastics as Peter Abelard and Thomas Aquinas) in the West and to a certain degree due to the history of fragmentation of power within this culture (e.g., various cities in Northern Italy and Germany, emperor and kings vs. pope and church, France vs. England vs. Portugal vs. Spain vs. Netherlands …).[xxi] This promoted the development of a burgher culture. Culture as a global long-term background factor works through concrete behavior of persons in situations creating differences in measured and well-established causal factors as corruption, rule of law and efficiency of institutions. Similar to intelligence levels and the Flynn effect also culture can be changed, at least to a certain degree, simply look back 100 years.[xxii]

  Grégoire Canlorbe: In the Marxian understanding of capitalism, exchange value is an intrinsic datum which, besides conforming—under the pressure of concurrence—to the level equalizing supply and demand, gravitates around an amount expressing the quantity of human labor incorporated in fabricating the good in question: including in the case of labor power, the price of which therefore gravitates around the worker’s subsistence costs (while the capitalistic profit lies in the “exploitation” of workforce… with salaries approaching the subsistence level inexorably as the rate of profit is decreasing). As a proponent of a theory of capitalism from the angle of cognitive ability, how do you react to this approach centered on the exploitation of labor power?

  Heiner Rindermann: Exchange value is signaled by prices deriving from supply and demand in a market. Depending on the rationality of the participants this sometimes leads to crazy, i.e. not rationally justifiable, prizes, e.g., Leica cameras are too expensive, similarly the iPhone, or, that is for me always striking in the U.S., to high restaurant costs in America compared to similar quality restaurants in Europe. Other things are too cheap regarding their usefulness, e.g. vegetables on Saturday evening. Other “things” includes human labor. Honestly I have to concede this, the latter is frequently much too cheaply valued, e.g. my own work! Being less egocentric (a step in cognitive development aka Piaget) this applies especially for labor in developing countries. For instance, last year in Brazil, near to Crato in the Chapada mountains, I saw men and women working as charcoal burners. They cut wood from the Sertão and charred it in holes in the ground.

  Nevertheless, technological and societal progress boosted by capitalism and the work of intellectual classes helped them too: In their villages, they have used smart phones; e.g., they can use them looking for job offers. Their teeth looked better than the teeth of the poor 30 years ago. In Brazil, obesity is today a much more serious problem than hunger. Children go to school and attend them more years than their parents did. However, progress needs time from generation to generation. The poor of today may help welfare and subsidized health care. Brazil made progress in this regard in the last decades enabled by economic growth.

  Grégoire Canlorbe: Thank you for your time. Is there anything which you would like to add?

  Heiner Rindermann: Thank you for your questions. Speaking with a knowledgeable person who shows me new perspectives is always stimulating.

  That conversation was first published in the December 2019’s issue of the journal Man and the Economy, in a slightly abridged version.

[i] Oesterdiekhoff, G. W. & Rindermann, H. (2007). The spread of AIDS in developing countries: A psycho-cultural approach. Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies, 32(2), 201–222.

Rindermann, H. & Meisenberg, G. (2009). Relevance of education and intelligence at the national level for health: The case of HIV and AIDS. Intelligence, 37(4), 383–395.

[ii] Dissa et al., 2017, p. 72. Dissa, Y., Adjouro, T., Traore, A. & Yorote, A. (2017). A case study of the effects of superstitions and beliefs on Mali socioeconomic development. International Journal of African and Asian Studies, 30, 71–80.

[iii] Smith, A. (1982/1776). An inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations. New York: Penguin.

[iv] Coyle, Th. R., Rindermann, H. & Hancock, D. (2016). Cognitive capitalism: Economic freedom moderates the effects of intellectual and average classes on economic productivity. Psychological Reports, 119(2), 411–427.

Coyle, Th. R., Rindermann, H., Hancock, D. G. & Freeman, J. (2018). Nonlinear effects of cognitive ability on economic productivity. Journal of Individual Differences, 39(1), 39–47.

Rindermann, H. (2018). Cognitive capitalism: Human capital and the wellbeing of nations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Figures 4.4 and 10.3)

[v] Ceci, S. J. (1991). How much does schooling influence general intelligence and its cognitive components? A reassessment of the evidence. Developmental Psychology, 27(5), 703–722.

Ritchie, S. J. & Tucker-Drob, E. M. (2018). How much does education improve intelligence? A meta-analysis. Psychological Science, 29(8), 1358–1369.

[vi] Plomin, R. (2018). Blueprint: How DNA makes us who we are. London: Penguin/Allen Lane.

[vii] Rindermann, H., Woodley, M. A. & Stratford, J. (2012). Haplogroups as evolutionary markers of cognitive ability. Intelligence, 40(4), 362–375.

[viii] Becker, D. & Rindermann, H. (2016). The relationship between cross-national genetic distances and IQ-differences. Personality and Individual Differences, 98, 300–310.

[ix] Lee, J. J., Wedow, R., Okbay, A., Kong, E., Maghzian, O., Zacher, M., … Cesarini, D. (2018). Gene discovery and polygenic prediction from a genome-wide association study of educational attainment in 1.1 million individuals. Nature Genetics, 50(8), 1112–1121.

Lasker, J., Pesta, B. J., Fuerst, J. G. R. & Kirkegaard, E. O. W. (2019). Ancestry and IQ: The effects of ancestry on cognitive ability in African-and European-Americans. Psych, 1(1), 431–459.

[x] Rindermann, H. (2018). Cognitive capitalism: Human capital and the wellbeing of nations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Chapter 10.7)

[xi] Hajnal, J. (1965). European marriage patterns in perspective. In D. V. Glass & D. E. C. Eversley (Eds.), Population in history (pp. 101–143). London: Arnold.

[xii] Kanazawa, S. (2012). The intelligence paradox: Why the intelligent choice isn’t always the smart one. Hoboken: Wiley.

[xiii] Sowell, Th. (2009). Intellectuals and society. New York: Basic Books.

[xiv] Weede, E. (2018). The expansion of economic freedom and the capitalist peace. In W. R. Thompson (Ed.), Oxford encyclopedia of empirical international relations theory (Bd. I, pp. 820–836). New York: Oxford University Press.

[xv] Bundeskriminalamt (2019). Kriminalität im Kontext von Zuwanderung. Bundeslagebild 2018. Wiesbaden: Bundeskriminalamt.

[xvi] Crawford, J. T. & Jussim, L. J. (Ed.). (2018). The politics of social psychology. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis.

One example for fraud: LaCour, M. J. & Green, D. P. (2014). When contact changes minds: An experiment on transmission of support for gay equality. Science, 346, 1366–1369. [retracted]

[xvii] Rindermann, H. & Carl, N. (2018). Human rights: Why countries differ. Comparative Sociology, 17, 29–69.

[xviii] McCloskey, D. N. (2006). The bourgeois virtues: Ethics for an age of commerce. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

McCloskey, D. N. (2010). Bourgeois dignity: Why economics can’t explain the modern world. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

McCloskey, D. N. (2016). Bourgeois equality: How ideas, not capital or institutions, enriched the world. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

[xix] Dutton, E. & Woodley of Menie, M. A. (2018). At our wits‘ end: Why we’re becoming less intelligent and what it means for the future. Exeter: Imprint Academic.

Dutton, E. & Charlton, B. (2015). The genius famine: Why we need geniuses, why they’re dying out and why we must rescue them. Buckingham: University of Buckingham Press.

[xx] Ashraf, Q. H. & Galor, O. (2018). The macrogenoeconomics of comparative development. Journal of Economic Literature, 56(3), 1119–1155.

[xxi] Weede, E. (2012). Liberty in comparative perspective. China, India, and the West. In F. McMahon (Ed.), Towards a worldwide index of human freedom (pp. 189–241). Vancouver: Fraser Institute.

[xxii] Harrison, L. E. & Kagan, J. (2006). Developing cultures. Essays on cultural change. New York: Routledge.

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