December 22, 2009

"From Poverty to Progress"

Arnold Kling and Nick Schulz have a new book, From Poverty to Prosperity, which David Brooks writes about in his NYT column:

The success of an economy depends on its ability to invent and embrace new protocols. Kling and Schulz use North’s phrase “adaptive efficiency,” but they are really talking about how quickly a society can be infected by new ideas. ...

There's a distinction between how fast a society can adopt new ideas and how fast it can invent new ideas. For example, Mexico's standard of living has improved in recent years because there are now 109,000 people in Mexico working for Wal-Mart. But, how many Wal-Mart-scale ideas have spread from Mexico to the U.S. in recent years? Outside of cuisine, I can think of "human directionals" (those poor bastards standing on the side of the road obnoxiously wiggling big arrows) but that's about it.

Brooks goes on in a Gladwellian vein:
But they are still economists, with worldviews that are still excessively individualistic and rationalistic. Kling and Schulz do not do a good job of explaining how innovation emerges. They list some banal character traits — charisma, passion — that entrepreneurs supposedly possess. To get a complete view of where the debate is headed, I’d read “From Poverty to Prosperity,” and then I’d read Richard Ogle’s 2007 book, “Smart World,” one of the most underappreciated books of the decade. Ogle applies the theory of networks and the philosophy of the extended mind (you have to read it) to show how real world innovation emerges from social clusters.

"Banal character traits" -- has Brooks ever worked in an entrepreneurial company? In 1981, Apple employee Bud Tribble coined the term Reality Distortion Field to describe the impact of Steve Jobs on the people around him, getting them to accomplish the implausible. It's now 28 years later, and we can see the repeated impact of Jobs' charisma, passion, and bluster. Charismatic Reality Distortion is real.

On the other hand, taboos are a huge drag on innovation. It's like heliocentrism in post-Galileo Italian science -- if you aren't supposed to mention that the Earth goes around the sun, well, it's pretty hard to get anything else right..
Economic change is fomenting intellectual change. When the economy was about stuff, economics resembled physics. When it’s about ideas, economics comes to resemble psychology.

That of course leads to the question whether the best quantified idea in psychology, IQ, will ever become admissible in economics.

If I had a magic wish that would radically improve the quality of public policy discourse in the U.S., it would be that African-Americans, Jews, and white gentiles all had average IQs of 100. It wouldn't matter for the popularity of good social science if the Asians were a little above average and the Hispanics a little below average. If Jews and blacks were, on average, average, then David Brooks would be applying insights from IQ research in his columns every couple of weeks.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

While I agree with your comments about Brooks ignoring the importance of "passion and charisma" in entrepreneurs, I think that in some contexts, the social nature of innovation should not be ignored. But since I have read neither of the books you reviewed, it is possible that one view was being presented exclusive of the other in a way that Brooks found unacceptable.

TH said...

In his book "The Bottom Billion", Paul Collier, a development economist, comes up with all sorts of reasons for the underdevelopment in Africa. For example, he says that being landlocked is very bad for a country's economy. What about Switzerland? Collier says that being landlocked is bad only if you have poor neigbors. So a landlocked African country is poor because it has poor neighbors. As to why those neighbors are poor, Collier has some equally incisive explanations, which unfortunately I do not recall at the moment.

When Collier was asked what he thought about Lynn and Vanhanen's research on IQ and economic development, this what he said:

I don’t know this stuff and don’t want to. But I am just about prepared to believe that the average Chinese person is smarter than the average Englishman. Despite this, the average Englishman is more than 10 times richer than the average Chinese person — so intelligence is manifestly not closely related to the performance of an economy.

Collier is a guy who loves to make all sorts of statistical inferences based on various datasets of spotty quality, yet he refuses to even discuss Lynn and Vanhanen's research. Note that he casually acknowledges the superiority of the East Asians, implying that he has actually read something about the topic. He knows that no one will come after him even if he says that Lynn right about the East Asians. He also knows that even talking about Lynn's Africa data could get him Watsoned. The genetic basis of black underperformance is THE taboo of the contemporary Western society.

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, Steve Jobs has a very Obama-like parental background. His biological dad is Syrian immigrant Abdulfattah Jandali, a political science professor, and his biological mother was a young grad student who opted to put him up for adoption. The two later married and had a kid they kept, the novelist Mona Simpson. So if you fall on the nature side of nature/nurture, Jobs obviously came from pretty impressive biological stock.

Max said...

If I had a magic wish that would radically improve the quality of public policy discourse in the U.S., it would be that African-Americans, Jews, and white gentiles all had average IQs of 100

Really? REALLY? You would waste your magic wand to "improve public policy discourse" by bringing everyone down to the average "uninformed stupid" level (which is what 100 really is)? - I bet this "noble" goal kinda coincides with egalitarian leftists idea whose only goal in education to reduce black /white gap. By dumbing everything down to lowest commmon denominator

I 'd think with magic wand I ll just decrease population size by a factor of 1000, but increase everyone IQ to a minimum of 200. That would improve public policy I am pretty sure

Kylie said...

"Brooks goes on in a Gladwellian vein..."

What was a great way to start my morning--thanks.

"If I had a magic wish that would radically improve the quality of public policy discourse in the U.S., it would be that African-Americans, Jews, and white gentiles all had average IQs of 100...If Jews and blacks were, on average, average, then David Brooks would be applying insights from IQ research in his columns every couple of weeks."

Yes, but Brooks (et al) would still be producing columns. How about something simpler? That IQ differences remain the same but Jews and blacks discourse primarily if not exclusively with one another. They seem to have so many thoughts and beliefs in common. I'm sure they'd have plenty to talk about.

Mark Time said...

Another classic Brooks article in which he grasps the essential aspects of a problem but, having to run them through his tikkun olam filter, draws a completely false conclusion.

America is turning into a low trust society in front of our eyes and Brooks is mute. We are still running on the fumes of the first 150 years of Anglo-Saxon leadership and culture.

Anonymous said...

Do you have any idea what a stupid little prick David Brooks is?

Even if Jews and Blacks were average in intelligence, he'd be against discussing IQ because people like him are ALWAYS in favor of keeping people in the dark about reality.

If the masses weren't kept in the dark about reality, do you think they'd let themselves be kept under the thumb of people like David Brooks?

Do you think they'd have supported Americans dying in Iraq for no non-Israeli reason?

And if America didn't do things like invading Iraq, the lives of little "Freedom" and "Democracy" Worshipping twerps like David Brooks would be entirely devoid of meaning.

Anonymous said...

Per Paul Sheehan of the Sydney Morning Herald, May 20, 1995:
• Most victims of race crime—about 90 per cent—are white, according to the survey "Highlights from 20 Years of Surveying Crime Victims", published in 1993.
• Almost 1 million white Americans were murdered, robbed, assaulted or raped by black Americans in 1992, compared with about 132,000 blacks who were murdered, robbed, assaulted or raped by whites, according to the same survey.
• Blacks thus committed 7.5 times more violent inter-racial crimes than whites even though the black population is only one-seventh the size of the white population. When these figures are adjusted on a per capita basis, they reveal an extraordinary disparity: blacks are committing more than 50 times the number of violent racial crimes of whites.
• According to the latest annual report on murder by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, most inter-racial murders involve black assailants and white victims, with blacks murdering whites at 18 times the rate that whites murder blacks."

Toadal said...

Steve said That of course leads to the question whether the best quantified idea in psychology, IQ, will ever become admissible in economics.

Emily Singer of Technology Review wraps up 2009's biomedicine advances today with The Year in Biomedicine , where she describes;

"In another first for the brain, scientists discovered this year that our IQ, or general intelligence, depends in large part on our white matter--the fatty layer of insulation that coats the neural wiring of the brain ("Brain Images Reveal the Secret to Higher IQ") .' 'Using a type of brain imaging called diffusion tensor imaging, researchers analyzed the neural wiring in 92 pairs of fraternal and identical twins and found a strong correlation between the integrity of the white matter and performance on a standard IQ test. In addition, the researchers found that the quality of one's white matter is largely genetically determined. They are now searching for genetic variants tied to white matter and IQ."

While economics may remain as dismal as ever, biomedicine is not, and through the use of diffusion tensor brain imaging, someday educators, employers, and immigration services can make their institutions, corporations, and countries less dismal too.

BTW, the MIT article remains open for readers comments.

jody said...

sure. this is how the modern world, almost completely an invention of europeans, has been disassociated from them, and most features of modern society are not identified as european. people do not immediately connect most things with europeans, because their culture is so ultra dominant, it has become ubiquitous. using a telephone is not considered acting white. but, it is. watching a television is not considered acting white. but, it is. driving a car is not considered acting white. but, it is. these society underpinning tools are all expressions of white culture and are things that no other culture was doing, or even had a conception of, but were such good ideas that they have proliferated outward from europeans to all other groups. sometimes various foods are used as examples of culture coming into european nations, but stuff like hamburgers and coca-cola are so widespread around the world now that they are not considered an example of outgoing white culture. yet, they are. even mass produced beer, stored with preservatives in a bottle or can, and which can keep long enough to be transported very far and which is now consumed everywhere, is a white thing. developed by germans in the US 100 years ago, we can't imagine the world of only 150 years ago where all beer had to be locally produced and could not be be transported. no budweiser, no miller, no (insert whatever your favorite is).

western music theory is one of the most widespread examples (all black american music is written using it instead of anything that africans use) but i think the ultimate example is how most people around the world wear white people's clothes. we don't even think about it because european culture is so ultra dominant, but you don't get up in the morning and put on the clothes of china or india or nigeria. instead, they get up and put on white clothes. these clothes are not worn everywhere, but you can go on the web and get international news, photos, and videos and find humans all around the globe wearing european clothes.

because all the other groups combined have exported much, much less of their culture, anything that they have exported has retained it's connection and identity with their origin. throwing a boomerang, practicing karate, eating a taco, all are activities instantly associated with the groups they came from. but most the stuff developed almost solely by europeans, has not retained any particular "white" identity, because there's just too much of it to keep it all straight. american football, baseball, basketball, and boxing are all white things, for instance.

albertosaurus said...

Brooks is very much like Gladwell - both have a lot of contempt for men of accomplishment and both indulge in facile arguments that flatter their readers.

Clearly Brooks knows nothing of software development. He wants us to believe that economic activity today is different than it was formerly. He thinks that steel manufacturing is real and concrete while software development is just "a set of instructions". This is of course nonsense. Steel is an alloy that much be created through a long detailed set of instructions. The Iron Age began about 1200 BC. Steel, until the nineteenth century, was a very rare product. It took three thousand years to get the steps right. Corn also is a manufactured product that took even longer to develop from teosin.

So Brooks' distinction falls apart. Software and almost all manufactured products are the result of "sets of instructions". Brooks claims that unlike real physical products, software can be used by many people simultaneously. It sounds like he means reentrant code but he could mean only time sharing. But Bill Gates was a billionaire before he sold his first reentrant program and IBM was also very large and powerful long before time sharing. Sharing of physical items predates software by millenia. When Egyptian peasants dug water channels in the Old Kingdom were they not all using a common product simultaneously?

Brooks tries a Gladwellian ploy when he tries to claim that today we have a "protocol economy" whereas before we used "physical stuff". This is pop best seller kind of thinking. It reminds me of Alfred Korzbski.

Brooks betrays his biases with the phrase "banal, character traits". Character as an explanation for success is banal in the sense that it has been used for a long time. Today many people remark on the character and charisma of Steve Jobs. Much the same was said about Rockefeller in the nineteenth century. They were very different kinds of men except in that they impressed the hell out of everyone who met them. But Brooks like Gladwell wants to tear down the idea that some men were born gifted.

In the arts you get a lot of fools who will tell you that Placido Domingo can't sing and never could. There are indeed some guys who can't sing - I went to a Karaoke bar for the first time last night - I understand inability to sing as never before. But Domingo sang more roles on more stages and made more recordings than anyone else in history. Was Lincoln wrong? Can you fool all of the people all of the time?

No - but there always seems to be a market for those who like Brooks or Gladwell who want to disparage talent and genius.

Anonymous said...

What Jody said...

Ive bee arguing with plenty of left/liberals online in a similar vein. Quite literally they cannot see for the wood for the trees.

Ive used the example of the internet. A white invention that is seen as so vital for as many people as possible worldwide to have it. Charities operate in the 3rd world to enable internet access. Telephone access, radio, medicine etc all wholly white things but seen as so important that that the lack of them is seen as positively debilitating for a society.

Is there any non-white innovation that comes anywhere as close?

DAJ said...

Is there any non-white innovation that comes anywhere as close [to the internet]?

Arabic (Indian) numerals?

I am not trolling, but agree with the gist of the previous comments. White culture is most impressive.

Anonymous said...

Is there any non-white innovation that comes anywhere as close?

To what extent are these modern innovations Nordic, or mostly Nordic, products?

Anonymous said...

"Economic change is fomenting intellectual change. When the economy was about stuff, economics resembled physics. When it’s about ideas, economics comes to resemble psychology."

Perhaps he is secretly reading Griffe Du Lion (Verbal IQ trumps Full Scale IQ for economic strength?)


Middletown Girl said...

Brooks makes a lot of good sound points. However, I doubt if he'll ever have the guts or honesty to ask whether some races are naturally more inclined--due to their intelligence or emotional qualities--to develop and maintain cultures, values, and systems that tend to be more functional and productive.

Middletown Girl said...

Steve Jobs has charisma? I guess geeks have different standards for these things.

At any rate, charisma, bluster, or whatever is no good unless a person has real talent and skills. Muhammad Ali wouldn't have amounted to a plate of beans if he wasn't a great boxer. Indeed, charisma without real talent behind it is just bluster, empty boasting. There is no shortage of boxers who do the ALI "I'm the greatest" act but they 'aint worth shit' unless they can deliver and take the punches in the ring.

Of course, social skills and personality do matter. I doubt if Einstein would have been good as a
CEO or military commander.
But, I think we should keep in mind that Jobs really knew what he was doing. He wasn't just the wizard of Oz pulling bogus stunts.

I heard George Lucas is a shy guy and lacking in what we might call charisma. But, besides will and patience, he had good business sense, a vision, and hired the best people to lead his gizmo departments.

Anyway, it could be 'charimsa' is more or less important depending on the situation. In a biker gang or viking tribe, it may indeed be very crucial. But, in some situations or some cultures, charisma may matter less than other qualities. Among geeks, wit and smartiness could count for more than charisma. This also seems to be true with guys' taste in women. Some guys like big breasted big assed Pamela Anderson types while others go gaga over the demure innocent types. And some women totally fall in love with geeks. Lots of brainy women worship genius men. No wonder many young female Ph.D candidates have affairs with fat blobby elderly college professors or gross looking 'great' artists. Or, just consider Debeauvoir's undying devotion to nerd-boy Sartre. Why? He beat her in class rank. He came first, she came second. It could be a whole bunch of geeks at Apple have man-crushes on Jobs not so much because he's charismatic but becaue he's so damn smart and creative.

In some cases, an entire nation looks up to someone because the 'great man' is supposed to be holy. Take Hirohito, a geek if there ever was one. But, all of Japan was willing to die for him because he supposedly had Yamato-god-blood.

Mr. Borat said...

My vote is for discovering that fermented berries make better juice.

Mr. Anon said...

I see no need to ever pay attention to anything written by David Brooks - a man so desperate for the approval of the powerful that he let himself be felt up by some deviant Senator.

Anonymous said...

All software, except that deliberately tied to one machine through elaborate security, can be used by as many people as can get it and have hardware on which it will run. Once it has been written, debugged, and verified, its only production cost is the cost of distribution, which can be zero, or a small fraction of its cost to press a CD/DVD, print a manual and a cardboard box for sale.

With most "shrink wrap" commercial software, the primary cost is not the writing of it but the marketing, advertising, and the support of it to paying customers. Invariably parts must be rewritten, sometimes many times, and fixes must be distributed.

Nevertheless, software is VERY profitable if your product is the market leader, or fills some niche no one else's does. Otherwise, it's a boom or bust business.

Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are both poor programmers but in different ways excellent business developers.

It's interesting that there is a huge amount of free software out there, that most people who complain about Microsoft or Apple will not as much as investigate using. That tells me that people that don't like Microsoft or Apple have another problem than Microsoft or Apple per se.