Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Correlation Between IQ and Success, Is There a Government Connection to Low IQ?

By Robert Wenzel

Ten days ago, Dr. Michael Edelstein sent out to a private email group  a link to "Spurious Correlations":

Since I am not a big fan of any statistical correlations in any complex sciences and knowing that Michael tends to mention from time to time the statistical correlation between high IQs and success in life, I thought it would be fun to respond this way:
Why do you not include IQ and success as a possible spurious correlation?
A multi-day, zillion emails exchange ensued. Others popped in from time to time, including Dr. Walter Block, but it was mostly an exchange between Michael and me.

I am not going to reproduce the entire exchange here because of its length, the jumping around we did, and the refinement of the argument I made over time.

What I am going to write now is my view on the correlation between IQ and success, using parts of the exchange with Michael as they apply.

First, I want to make the point that the problem I have with this correlation is that I believe many use it in this way:

"Well, let's test people's IQs and we will see who is most likely to succeed. And it is tough luck for the others."

I further think that some (I don't put Michael in this camp) then use this "thinking" to suggest some races are inferior because on average they have lower IQs.

Now, I am willing to grant, arguendo, that there is a correlation between IQ and success. However, I must add, though I do not think it is central to my case, that the type of success measured is along the lines of what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls paper shufflers and obedient IYIs. 

So if we assume there is a correlation, my question becomes: Well, if there is such a correlation is this something that is a primary driver that can't be changed or is there something deeper going on?

In other words, could something else be tweaked so that IQs of a group can be changed so it knocks out the argument of those who attempt to anchor a group as low IQ and that nothing can be done to change the IQs of these people?

Perhaps, it is best to understand my point here with a snippet from another exchange that I had today with Michael on high blood pressure and health.

This exchange did not go out to the first group. It was just Michael, Walter and me. Walter's only response was to provide his heart rate. I have not provided mine, because I am sure my rate has skyrocketed after Michael sent me another damn correlation study. I am sure I will calm down by the weekend.

Here's the relevant part of that exchange:
From Michael: 
Bob, Walter, 
This seems reasonable. What is your resting HR?

"Indeed, faster resting heart rates are associated with shorter life expectancies and are considered a strong independent risk factor for heart disease and heart failure."

My response 1:

I find these studies pretty useless. Have you ever seen how doctors collect this data?

But ignoring that for a minute.

Wouldn't it be more interesting to learn what causes some people with fast hear rates to not fall ill like the norm? 

My response 2:

What if the interesting information is in those who have healthy lives with fast heart rates, meaning heart rates alone can not be the cause [or may not be the cause at all just a corrolary factor]?

Suppose there is a primary driver behind high blood pressure that causes both the ill health in most and the high blood pressure.

The study presented needs to answer these questions to be taken seriously.

Consider this example: Suppose there is a very high correlation between a certain special type of cotton paper and price inflation.

And say this is so because the Treasury uses this paper to print money so there would be a high correlation between this special cotton paper and price inflation?

Would you be an advocate of banning the creation of more of this cotton paper to stop price inflation because of the high correlation?
My point is what every first-year statistics student should be taught: Correlation does not mean causation.

Back to IQ. I have a preliminary theory that there is a driver that causes IQ (and often success), that is, IQ is simply a corollary factor riding along for the drive.

I emphasise this is just preliminary thinking on my part and I plan to do more study on it but here is my thinking at present.

From my email exchange with Michael:
If a kid in the hood is forced for survival reasons to have high time preference, he will probably score low on a g factor test. While a kid with the same initial brain composition forced to study complex problems with a family that is low time preference will score very well. 
You see, I believe that one big problem with g factor tests is that there is a hidden assumption that the g factor is at the core of intelligence and that it can't be changed for a  group but I think there is a very strong case that g factor is very much influenced by exposure to government brutality or government services--which distorts fundamental time preferences.
That is, I suspect time preference is at the core of IQ and that a longer-term outlook, low time preference, is a key to success. But it is time preference that is the driver--which I believe can be changed and which as I said in the email to Michael is often skewed by government schools, government welfare etc. toward creating high time preference individuals.

Dr. Barbara Oakley, author of Mindshift: Break Through Obstacles to Learning and Discover Your Hidden Potential and A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra) and who is is on the engineering faculty at suburban Detroit’s Oakland University, has noticed a difference in the study methods of those groups that are successful in math

From The Wall Street Journal:
Ms. Oakley notes that “many, if not most,” of her engineering colleagues “are from countries that have educational systems completely antithetical to the education system in the United States.” In places like China and India, “practice and repetition and rote and memorization are really important parts of education.”
These are, of course, people that are likely to have very high IQs. Further, repetition and rote memorization are not something that is going to be associated with high time preference.

Can you imagine a student in an inner city government school having the opportunity to sit still and go through repetition and rote memorization? Is there anyway most of these kids are not going to be high time preference?

It is interesting that Taleb makes this point about IQ (my bold):
Perhaps the worst problem with IQ is that it seems to select for people who don't like to say "there is no answer, don't waste time, find something else".
That is, he is associating IQ with a certain specific type of low time preference person, the type who is willing to sit through these tests as if they are important.

It is noteworthy that a new study has just come out that informs on the topic.

Researchers examined the behavior of nearly 1,000 boys from low-socioeconomic neighborhoods in Montreal ages 5 and 6 in April 1984 and followed up 30 years later, in December 2015.

From Market Watch (my bold):
Young boys who display disruptive behavior and have trouble paying attention in kindergarten earn an average of $1,295 less per year in their mid-30s than those who display more positive social behavior, a study published by the Journal of American Medicine on Monday found.
From the study (my bold):
The effect size of individual behaviors (eg, inattention) on future earnings was of similar magnitude to that of IQ...Kindergarten teachers can identify boys from low socioeconomic backgrounds at risk of lower employment earnings 3 decades later.
So the question could be: Does low IQ cause high time preference or does high time preference cause low IQ? But the point is that these correlation studies do not answer that question and it could be very possible that time preference is the driving factor and if we dig even deeper that time preference may be linked by the methods of education and the quality of education. And that at an even deeper level, we may learn that inner-city government education is the worst.

Again, I want to emphasize that these are preliminary thoughts on my part. I could extend my argument out to third world countries and the methods of government rule and education there but I am trying to only make the point at this time that we should be cautious of those who think that current correlation studies between IQ and success are the full story. There is a lot more to learn.

Robert Wenzel is Editor & Publisher of


  1. I woulda read the article, but I didn't have time. Wuz working on a tough addition problem.

  2. Ya idk why iq is so important now? I know molyneux has leaned into this topic pretty hard but he made a video sometime ago about mensa statism and the propaganda easily got to these people with these high iq's.

    1. Anyone who raises the matter of IQ differences during a political discussion is getting to propose something evil.

  3. RW is right on with the time preference angle.

    My girlfriend works with foster kids. Some of the kids are off the charts brilliant, but their brain power all goes toward navigating the perils of their circumstances, not abstract symbolic reasoning.

    If every month you are adapting to new parents, new schools, new peers, new environment, all while dodging the sexual predators and gang recruiters, suddenly the question of which triangle comes next doesn't seem to important, but that doesn't mean your stupid. It just means you are hyper-adapted to a crazy situation.

  4. My oldest daughter when she was 5-6yrs old had what is described as high time preference, given the choice of one cookie now or two later she chose the one. Today she's an engineer and soon will have her MBA.