Hive minds and other insults

Academics who call other academics “racist” usually reveal more about themselves than the person they attack.  Thus I was disappointed to see someone as bright as Noah Smith post this:

One common racist characterization of East Asians is that they are hive creatures, working and thinking collectively like bees or ants, lacking individuality or creative thought. This trope has always annoyed me, but after I lived in Japan, and saw Japanese people behaving more individualistically than most of the Americans I knew, it really became my pet peeve. So you can understand why I am predisposed not to be particularly charitable toward papers with titles like “National IQ and National Productivity: The Hive Mind Across Asia“.

.  .  .

Cooperation is what Jones labels the “hive mind”.

.  .  .

Anyway, in addition to making a few questionable or downright silly arguments, Jones’ paper does not do a lot to dispel the “economists are racists” stereotype. What it does do is strengthen my belief that there is a “hive mind” of a different sort at work in certain corners of the economics profession – a self-propagating set of conventional wisdoms and stereotypes that manages to leap from researcher to researcher, department to department…

Economics is certainly full of conventional wisdom that leaps from department to department, but why insinuate that Garett Jones is a racist?  Noah points out that Jones’s “hive mind” metaphor refers to the alleged ability of certain groups to cooperate.  Bees are also famous for cooperating.  Does that comparison imply that Jones also believes Asians are like bees in all other respects?  Does Jones think Asians lack creativity and individuality?  Does he not know about the long and glorious history of Chinese innovation in science and the arts.  Does he think they sting?  Perhaps, but why leap to that conclusion?

I have to admit that I didn’t see “hive mind” as a racial insult.  But what do I know?  I’m a westerner.  So I decided to check out the editorial board at the Asian Development Journal to see how this racist insult slipped through the process.  Not in a footnote mind you, but in the title of Jones’s article!  And here’s the sorts of names I came across:

At the risk of being accused of being a racist by Mr. Smith, I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that at least 12 of those names sound suspiciously Asian.  Funny how they didn’t notice the racial insult.  But then perhaps they lack the sort of sensitive understanding of Asian culture that you find in people surnamed SMITH.

Noah seems confused on all sorts of issues.  One the one hand he confuses race and culture, regarding cultural stereotypes as racism.  Indeed it’s not even clear that he believes that cultures exist.  After all, what defines a culture other than stereotypical differences?  If all cultures were the same, then how could there be any cultures?  Or perhaps he believes that only the stereotypes he recognizes are acceptable, and all others are evidence of racism:

Oh, and let’s talk about Jones’ data set. His data on national IQ comes entirely from the work of Richard Lynn. In his 2002 book, IQ and the Wealth of Nations, Lynn shows North Korea as having a higher national average IQ than Sweden. First of all, right off the bat, that tells me that Lynn’s methodology must be crap on a stick. Second of all, it strongly suggests what that methodology in fact was – it’s pretty clear Lynn just assumed that since North Koreans are the same race as South Koreans, they must have a similar national average IQ. In other words, Lynn’s “data” basically just uses “IQ” as a polite term for “race”.

That’s right, Noah believes that what unites North and South Koreans is that they are of the same race.  In fact, not only are they of the same race, they were members of the exact same country until about 1945!  If I assumed that the dining habits of East and West Germans in 1989 were probably similar, Noah would presumably claim I based that assumption on the fact that East and West Germans are the same race as Uzbeks.  That’s not to say Lynn’s data is accurate, I haven’t read the book and have no opinion.  I’ve never even been clear as to what IQ is supposed to measure.  (Innate potential intelligence? Actual potential intelligence? Skill at doing IQ tests? Level of education?)  But Noah’s criticism can only be described as bizarre.

Finally, Jones contends that high IQs correlate with support for free-market policies. (This is interesting, since free-market policies seem to be a sort of individualistic belief, the opposite of what you think of when you hear the words “hive mind”. Wonder why “Asian Individualism” didn’t make its way into the title?) The data here is a paper by Jones’ fellow George Mason economist, Bryan Caplan. However, that paper used data only from the United States. It is frankly absurd to argue that the results can be extended to whole nations. Why is it absurd? Because if you try, you’ll see that plain, well-known facts baldly contradict Jones’ thesis. Using Jones’ IQ data set, Scandinavian countries have higher average IQs than America. So if Jones is right, Scandinavia should be more pro-free-market than America. But the opposite is true.

There are so many problems here that I hardly know where to begin.  Free market economies are not associated with “individualism,” whatever that means.  They tend to thrive in economies where people cooperate with strangers.  And Scandinavian economies are some of the most market-oriented on the planet.  Noah is probably confusing two completely separate issues; size of government and degree of market freedom.  For instance, although Denmark has a very high level of government spending on social welfare programs, if you look at the 8 out of 10 categories in the Heritage Foundation Ranking on Economic Freedom that are not related to level of taxes and spending, then Denmark is the most market-oriented country on earth.  Sweden has been very aggressive in privatizing, deregulating, and having a very open policy for international trade and investment.  Every single Swedish child is eligible to use vouchers to go to any school they wish.  Scandinavian voters have quite rationally voted for a very free market regime, and then decided to redistribute the fruits of that system for utilitarian reasons.  BTW, I have no idea whether this has anything to do with IQ, indeed I doubt their average IQ is particularly high.

But Noah is also making a much more basic error, confusing marginal effects with all or nothing claims.  If one claims that IQ is one of many factors that explain a certain economic outcome in a regression equation, it does not imply that one cannot find exceptions to the rule.  For instance, the vast economic difference between Taiwan and Mainland China is probably not due to cultural factors, but rather their different histories, which reflect some exceedingly complex internal and external forces.  No one would claim culture explains everyone, but it does seem to play at least some role in economic outcomes.  Previously commenters have argued that geography, not culture, is what’s really behind the economic similarities in specific regions like East Asia and Europe.  But that doesn’t explain the success of Chinese transplanted to Singapore, Europeans Jews transplanted to Israel, or British convicts transplanted to a big island just south of New Guinea.   Culture matters.  Deal with it.

At one point Noah uses the fall in the Japanese savings rate to refute Jones’s claim that Asians tend to save more.  And yet there is no reference to the demographics of Japan, which is aging faster than any other nation on Earth.  Nor does he include business saving, only “household saving.”  Does he believe that business saving doesn’t represent the preferences of households?  Aren’t Japanese businesses owned by households?

Perhaps I should not have been so snarky in this post.  After all, Noah has pointed out in previous posts that we should avoid being obnoxious:

In case you hadn’t guessed, I’m not a big fan of this aspect of the culture of economics. And the reason is not just that it results in more offensiveness than necessary (thus tarnishing our reputation among non-economists). It’s also that the fetishization of offensiveness reduces the quality of our economics. All too often we use offensiveness as a signal of the intellectual quality of an argument, but it’s a false signal.

That sounds like good advice.  So from now on I won’t get snarky and insulting when debating bloggers with whom I disagree.  I’ll follow Noah’s lead and start calling them racists instead.


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60 Responses to “Hive minds and other insults”

  1. Gravatar of A Brazilian Lurker A Brazilian Lurker
    7. October 2012 at 12:15

    Noah Smith’s just a troll. A young Brad Delong.

  2. Gravatar of Morgan Warstler Morgan Warstler
    7. October 2012 at 12:58

    ROFL.

    My problem with Noah is that he suffers from Econ Blogger Status Disease (EBSD), wherein econ bloggers pretend they are not 99% of the time arguing for a systemic changes where in their own personal relative status increases.

    This doesn’t make econ bloggers wrong, it just means it takes a strong edit of their work BY THEIR BETTERS, the entrepreneurs and businessmen who are in fact the Hegemony.

    A fine example of Noah’s EBSD is that there are a vast number of 18-65 social welfare recipients that he could be dreaming up paternalistic nudges to test out his policy ideas.

    But instead of tormenting Food Stamp recipients, who are proving they need personal help…. he instead wants to control the food intake of EVERYONE, even his betters.

    On immigration, which I support, can’t get Noah and Karl to focus on making it easy for Americans to buy and own the beach front property of mexico… which would make Americans want less onerous border crossings and help develop Mexico.

    Noah HATES the idea of auctioning the unemployed even tough they’d all get a GI.

    And I can’t find ANYWHERE econ bloggers arguing we should nudge single parents to marry.

    —–

    These are of course NORMAL VALID EASY to grasp concepts, that DO NOT improve the status of econ bloggers…

    And unless Noah gets to boss around those of higher social / economic status than himself, he HATES the idea.

    If you want higher status start a business, make a product people love, hire a lot of people, make a lot of money…

    Don’t become an econ blogger and then dream up policies where you matter more.

    EBSD is an Internet tragedy.

  3. Gravatar of Ritwik Ritwik
    7. October 2012 at 13:23

    Morgan

    That is single-most insightful comment I’ve read in along time.

    Scott

    I think Noah was shooting for ‘contrarian for the sake of it’ as the economist hivemind rather than ‘racist’.But your points hold, nonetheless.

  4. Gravatar of david david
    7. October 2012 at 13:44

    We’re in trouble if arguing against race, and for culture, is now ‘contrarian’…

  5. Gravatar of Bob Murphy Bob Murphy
    7. October 2012 at 14:55

    Your posts are so much more enjoyable Scott, when you don’t discuss that One Thing.

  6. Gravatar of david david
    7. October 2012 at 16:02

    I will point out as well that “this can’t be racist about Asians, the publication board is full of Asians” is insensible; there has been and continues to be a lot of cheerleading of the “Asian values!” variety. A journal with a board full of white men going “so white men are Uniquely Individualist” would be likewise racist.

  7. Gravatar of Morgan Warstler Morgan Warstler
    7. October 2012 at 16:19

    Ritwik, because I keep accusing Noah of suffering EBSD, he delete my comments and blocks my tweet stream.

    Noah is weak tea. In a real face to face Skyped debate, I’d CRUSH him. Nothing is so offensive as “public intellectuals” who cannot face the brutish voice of reality spoken by EVERYONE who actually does anything in the private sector.

    It’s like OWS, without the willingness to risk face to face confrontation.

    I’m not standing in a window toasting Noah’s riff-raff, I go down on the street, and try to talk to him, and to teach him, and he hides in a tent, until I go away.

    It isn’t like many in the private sector will even take the time to fix his wagon… if he cant confront the hegemony, what does he really have to offer?

  8. Gravatar of Justin Irving Justin Irving
    7. October 2012 at 16:38

    Wow, Jones has some guts for using Lynn data. I’ve wondered how many economists were aware of Lynn’s (et al) work but just pretended it didn’t exist. Dangerous stuff…

  9. Gravatar of Major_Freedom Major_Freedom
    7. October 2012 at 18:00

    Free market economies are not associated with “individualism,” whatever that means.  They tend to thrive in economies where people cooperate with strangers.  And Scandinavian economies are some of the most market-oriented on the planet.

    Free markets are DEFINITELY associated with individualism. Individualism is what underlies the very phenomena of “people cooperating with strangers”. Individuals cooperate with other individuals when each individual is free to choose how he cooperates, that is, free to choose what to do with his person and property. Markets are based an exchanges, and exchanges are based on private property. Private property cannot thrive unless there is a prevailing philosophy of individualism in society.

    The reference to Scandanavia is incredibly misleading, because the unstated assumption here is that Scandanavia, because it is allegedly not individualistic, yet is heavily market oriented, that this somehow represents a counter-example to the idea of individualism underlying free markets. Yet this almost certainly a confusion over the meaning of individualism. Individualism does not mean or imply greediness, or lack of compassion for one’s fellow human beings. If a country like Denmark has lots of government spending and lots of welfare, then this does not by itself represent a non-individualistic society.

    Individualism is better understood as the extent to which individuals are free to direct their own bodies and their own property. The more property protections the individual has, the more individualism, and the more free-er the market is.

    To take an opposite extreme example, individualism in the old Soviet Union was virtually nil, because no individual was able to own his own private property in the sense of having final authority over its disposition. No individual was able to legally own his own means of production (there were a handful of exceptions, but they do not detract from the main point here).

    The more an individual is free to pursue his own ends, as opposed to the ends of the state, then the more individualism there is. Free markets both imply and presuppose individualism in the way I have explained above.

  10. Gravatar of Noah Smith Noah Smith
    7. October 2012 at 18:54

    Hey Morgan, I like the idea of auctioning the unemployed!

  11. Gravatar of Noah Smith Noah Smith
    7. October 2012 at 19:07

    Scott, come on now. How do you convince yourself that “East Asian hive mind” isn’t racist? Sheesh. I’m not even going to argue about that…

    That’s right, Noah believes that what unites North and South Koreans is that they are of the same race.

    No, that’s what Richard Lynn believes.

    I’ve never even been clear as to what IQ is supposed to measure. (Innate potential intelligence? Actual potential intelligence? Skill at doing IQ tests? Level of education?)… BTW, I have no idea whether this has anything to do with IQ, indeed I doubt their average IQ is particularly high…Culture matters. Deal with it.

    So, Garret Jones’ paper is all about IQ. You realize that, right? So what the heck are you talking about?

    Scott, I realize that you believe passionately that China is Teh Awesome, and I’m not trying to argue about that. You read my most recent Atlantic column, right? But to believe that Jones’ paper isn’t a racist dog whistle requires truly Herculean powers of self-deception.

  12. Gravatar of Morgan Warstler Morgan Warstler
    7. October 2012 at 19:20

    Noah, every post your write, will draw greater and greater attention to your disease.

    Like any dominant meme, now that people start recognizing EBSD, they’ll see everything you say, every argument you make and they’ll note your MO.

    When you seek to nudge folks, you only really can nudge the ones who can’t nudge you back. You can only modify the behavior of the ones, who can’t smack your face and teach others like you to leave them alone.

    This SETS THE TABLE. Now you see your scope is smaller. Your petri dish is beneath you.

    A REAL scientist is satisfied. He has a petri dish, sure it is full of undesirables, glad for anything they can get, BUT they need his help, and he JUST WANTS to test his ideas.

    This is the mind of the entrepreneur. This is the noble mind.

    You start out with a grand product concept, the first actual buyers, you FOCUS on those, you go laser like on the few who show upside.

    The desperate need to solve for even a SMALL part of society, THAT is noble entrepreneurial drive that you Noah don’t seem to yet have.

    There are millions of people Noah, that if you annoy them, will run your day.

    Carefully segment the ones who must be grateful for your ministrations, humble yourself, and serve the desperate, do it joyfully with love in your heart.

    If you haven’t gotten the double narrative here: 1) Christianity is successful because it is free market morality, a dominant meme. 2) Noah is an idiot driven by evil and unearned greed.

  13. Gravatar of dkn dkn
    7. October 2012 at 19:55

    Anyone who thinks comparing members of a society to insects is some kind of racist insult is a cockroach.

  14. Gravatar of Lorenzo from Oz Lorenzo from Oz
    7. October 2012 at 20:16

    Haven’t read the paper apart from the abstract, but I can see how folk at the Asian Development Bank might think that a paper that argues that smart folk have market-friendly policies is a good idea to spread :)

  15. Gravatar of A.W. Carus A.W. Carus
    7. October 2012 at 21:22

    Oops, Scott Sumner is (once again, I worry), falling prey to the widespread habit of confusing cultures and institutions. Unfortunately, he has some highly-regarded economic historians on his side in this respect. But it appears from his occasional remarks about this that he’s not so much guided by Stanford game theorists here as by unreflective habit of thought. He should look at this identification more closely and think hard about whether he really believes in it.

  16. Gravatar of Saturos Saturos
    7. October 2012 at 22:01

    I haven’t read it, but could Jones have written basically the same paper without using the phrase “hive mind”?

  17. Gravatar of Saturos Saturos
    7. October 2012 at 22:10

    Noah, Scott doesn’t think China is “Teh Awesome”, he thinks their government is awful, see the previous post.

    OTOH he probably also thinks that their “culture” might well confer them with superpowers compared to the West…

  18. Gravatar of Daedalus Daedalus
    8. October 2012 at 00:41

    I just want to say that Morgan is a philosopher-troll from a parallel universe.

  19. Gravatar of Nick Nick
    8. October 2012 at 01:48

    “You read my most recent Atlantic column, right?”

    Yes Noah, everyone read your recent Atlantic column. You can stop incessantly promoting it..

  20. Gravatar of Jeff Jeff
    8. October 2012 at 04:30

    Hi Scott,

    Pretty much your entire post follows from an inaccurate characterization of what Noah said: “Academics who call other academics “racist” usually reveal more about themselves than the person they attack.”

    Noah did not call anyone a racist. He (correctly) characterized the Asians-as-hivemind trope as a racist idea. There is a very important difference.

    JD

  21. Gravatar of Alex Tabarrok Alex Tabarrok
    8. October 2012 at 05:02

    Hive mind is not even an insult it’s a compliment – like wisdom of the crowds. The hive mind diffuses knowledge and cooperates–it’s not all thinking alike it’s all using the best of each.

  22. Gravatar of Sarah Sarah
    8. October 2012 at 05:26

    I’ve grown resigned the total ignorance of other cultures and autistic social responses,(not to mention the ingrained sexism) standard economic training evidently induces, but even so this post startles me. To be so instantly, foaming-at-the-mouth furious at the characterization of a very unflattering racial stereotype as ‘racist’ that you fail to understand what you are reading argues a level of denial I rarely see apart from certain whites introduced to the concept of ‘white privilege’.

    I hope you will have cooled down enough by know to have realized your error but if not: the original database assumed that North Koreans would have the same IQ as South Koreans- based solely on their race and shared history before 1945. I assume you are at least familiar enough with history and current events to understand why Noah thought that this, in and of itself, made the data questionable.

    On the upside, this post did introduce me to the epic trolling of Morgan Warstler. Truly he must be economics own Rush Limbaugh. Thankfully with blogs, as with television, it is still possible to switch the channel…

  23. Gravatar of Arthur Arthur
    8. October 2012 at 05:43

    “Kyrgyzstan’s IQ is estimated by averaging the IQs of Iran and Turkey, neither of which is close to Kyrgyzstan”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IQ_and_the_Wealth_of_Nations

    I do not know much about Kyrgyzstan. The people there are closely related genetically to the Turks. Although Iran have a substantial Turkish(Actually not Turks, but other Turkish people)minority, I have no idea why they used Iran.

    I’m also not sure if the cultural pressure from Russia is not stronger than the Turkish cultural background. Especially because they were separated for a very long period of time, and the Turks gave up their nomad lifestyle a great deal of time before the Kyrgys.

    So I thing is not completely far fetched to thing they were using racial categories to calculate IQ.

    Some former nomad Turkish rulers from central Asia were very much influenced by the Persians. So maybe this is it. This points toward using a “long-term culture” as thing that determine IQ.

  24. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    8. October 2012 at 05:45

    Alex, I’m with you, but I guess we lack Noah’s ultra-sensitive antenna for racist insults. As do all those Asian editors at ADR who were “obviously” insulted but just didn’t notice.

    Noah, Interesting that you claim I think China is awesome after I just called their government “horrible” in my previous post. Do “awesome” and “horrible” mean the same thing to you?

    As I said, I haven’t read Lynn and thus my post wasn’t a defense of Lynn, or even Garett Jones’s research, it was a criticism of a post by you that I thought was unfair to Jones. But even without reading Lynn I remain totally skeptical of your claim that race motivated his decision to use South Korean IQ as an estimate for the North. By that logic he would have used South Korean IQ as a proxy for say Cambodian IQ, had the data been missing. Do you really believe that? Seriously? Or did he use South Korean data because they were the same country before 1945, and hence older data sets would essentially be measuring people who had been born in the same country. I can’t say for sure I’m right, but I sure wouldn’t accuse someone of racism on the basis of the LESS LIKELY EXPLANATION.

    I’m also puzzled by your final “dog whistle” comment. Dog whistle to whom? Why would Garett try to appeal to racists who hate Asians in a paper that called them more intelligent and cooperative than whites? Can you tell me precisely who was intended to hear the dog whistle? I’m pretty sure Garett favors more immigration from Asia. Is that typical of the beliefs of anti-Asian whites?

    Even you admit that Garett used “hive mind” as a metaphor for cooperative–which is a good trait. So even if you were right that he accidently chose a poor metaphor, it obviously would have been unintentional, and would not have called for the sort of criticism you gave him.

    No I haven’t read your Atlantic essay, indeed I didn’t even know it exists.

    Jeff, You did read Noah’s comment above, didn’t you?

  25. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    8. October 2012 at 05:46

    Arthur, Even if you are right that has no bearing on my post.

  26. Gravatar of Jeff Jeff
    8. October 2012 at 06:28

    Scott,

    I actually overlooked it (it’s early and I hadn’t yet had any coffee :) ). Certainly that post is much less defensible; I think Noah’s making an unfortunate leap from a legitimate criticism (The Asian hivemind thing is a racist trope) to the accusation of dog-whistling, which accusation requires a lot more context and whatnot in order to level.

    In other words, describing the title as containing a racist trope is true and valid. Describing it as a dog whistle is speculating on the authors’ motives, which is unfair. It’s one thing to accuse the Republican party in the South of dog whistling – that whole Lee Atwater thing plus all sorts of awful history suggests that such accusations have a reasonable basis – but it’s another to accuse some dudes who wrote a paper.

    Nonetheless, I stand by my original comment. I just re-read Noah’s original post, which you responded to, and the closest he actually comes to saying anything about the character of the papers’ authors is to accuse them of mugging for the camera. At no point does he actually accuse them of being racists. Your post mischaracterized his comment. The distinction matters.

    JD

  27. Gravatar of nkh nkh
    8. October 2012 at 06:29

    “If I assumed that the dining habits of East and West Germans in 1989 were probably similar, Noah would presumably claim I based that assumption on the fact that East and West Germans are the same race as Uzbeks.”

    No… I think he would assume that you were ignorant of 40 years of separate cultural development and were ascribing habits solely to ethnic similarities. Which is what it would seem you were doing.

  28. Gravatar of Noah Smith Noah Smith
    8. October 2012 at 06:51

    Scott:

    Noah, Interesting that you claim I think China is awesome after I just called their government “horrible” in my previous post. Do “awesome” and “horrible” mean the same thing to you?

    Calm down…

    I think Japan is awesome, but their government has typically ranged from bad to horrible.

    As I said, I haven’t read Lynn and thus my post wasn’t a defense of Lynn, or even Garett Jones’s research, it was a criticism of a post by you that I thought was unfair to Jones.

    I don’t get it. How can talk about whether I was unfair to Jones without knowing (or, at least, making reference to) what Jones’ research is actually about? It’s all about IQ, which he thinks is genetic. Not culture.

    But even without reading Lynn I remain totally skeptical of your claim that race motivated his decision to use South Korean IQ as an estimate for the North. By that logic he would have used South Korean IQ as a proxy for say Cambodian IQ, had the data been missing.

    I don’t understand that at all. It does not make sense. What “academic racist” or casual racist considers Cambodians to be racially the same as Koreans? None that I know of.

    I’m also puzzled by your final “dog whistle” comment. Dog whistle to whom? Why would Garett try to appeal to racists who hate Asians in a paper that called them more intelligent and cooperative than whites? Can you tell me precisely who was intended to hear the dog whistle?

    The dog whistle is to white people who hold “standard racist” (for lack of a better term) ideas about race, IQ, and racial traits. These people believe strongly in racial differences in IQ, and use these purported differences to argue against policies designed to help black Americans (think of Charles Murray). But the IQ data tell them that Asians on average have higher IQs even than whites. So in order to feel comfortable, they typically promote the idea that Asians think differently than whites, that Asians are uncreative, collectivist, and imitative. This is how they reassure themselves that there is some dimension in which the white race is intellectually supreme.

    I’m happy you (apparently) haven’t had much exposure to this corner of the marketplace-of-ideas, since it’s kind of creepy. But if you feel like taking a stroll through “academic racist” land, check out Steve Sailer’s blog and the website VDare.

    So my guess is that Jones is trying to get attention (“mugging for the camera”, exactly) by using a term (“hive mind”) that has connotations beyond the explicit definition that he applies in his paper. I think Jones wants attention. And I’m happy to give it to him.

    Even you admit that Garett used “hive mind” as a metaphor for cooperative–which is a good trait. So even if you were right that he accidently chose a poor metaphor, it obviously would have been unintentional, and would not have called for the sort of criticism you gave him.

    Maybe. But the fact that the paper is all about cross-country IQ comparisons, which (naturally) happens to be a favorite topic of the “academic racist” crowd, left me with little self-doubt in this case. But there is always the chance that I’ve jumped to conclusions.

    No I haven’t read your Atlantic essay, indeed I didn’t even know it exists.

    Here’s my recent column:
    http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/10/the-secret-to-us-growth-in-the-21st-century-more-asians/263161/

    Now, a lot of people interpreted my column as racist – they thought I was saying “we need Asians because Asians are superior”. Which I was not saying (nor do I believe it). But from that reaction you can see how primed people are to think in these terms…Garret Jones would have to be almost unthinkably isolated from America’s wider culture not to realize how his paper and its title would be interpreted.

    Also, seeing my column, which had already been sent to the editor when I saw Jones’ paper, you should realize that the strength of my reaction is due to me not wanting to be associated with the “academic racist” crowd, despite advocating a similar policy (Asian immigration).

  29. Gravatar of Frank Frank
    8. October 2012 at 06:52

    The greatest strength of economics is that it attempts to explain assuming people are homoeconomicus (no skin colour, no place of birth, no family networks, no culture,etc. (other than doing the best you can given constraints). How far can this take us? A long way. And it is important that a group of thinkers try to see how much of human experience can be explained assuming everyone is basically the same. Both Solow and endogenous growth models explain a lot and adding incentive structures, information, etc explains still more. As soon as one emphasizes differences there is a potential for racism to creep in. Look at the history of anthropology. Culture, etc. may be necessary to understand the world but trying to explain without invoking it is an important task. Not agreeing with Noah’s conclusion but an economist should stand up for our project of explanation without culture or race because it is a noble one. It is ironic that what other social scientist’s think is our greatest weakness is actually our greatest strength.

  30. Gravatar of Noah Smith Noah Smith
    8. October 2012 at 06:55

    Oh, and here is a book written by Richard Lynn entitled “Race Differences in Intelligence”:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race_Differences_in_Intelligence_(book)

    So I think my guess as to why he proxied for North Korean IQ with South Korean IQ (a bad decision no matter what the reason, mind you) is a good guess.

  31. Gravatar of Noah Smith Noah Smith
    8. October 2012 at 07:02

    Here’s a taste: Steve Sailer writing in VDare on Asians and creativity:
    http://www.vdare.com/posts/how-can-we-measure-innovation-and-creativity

  32. Gravatar of Noah Smith Noah Smith
    8. October 2012 at 07:17

    In conclusion: You can’t really talk about whether something is a dog-whistle without knowing what a dog is.

  33. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    8. October 2012 at 07:47

    Noah, I don’t think either China or their government is awesome, except in the sense that any country is awesome. See my next post.

    You said;

    “I don’t get it. How can talk about whether I was unfair to Jones without knowing (or, at least, making reference to) what Jones’ research is actually about? It’s all about IQ, which he thinks is genetic. Not culture.”

    Jones clearly says that both genetics and environment play a role in IQ. Isn’t that your view as well?

    You said;

    “I don’t understand that at all. It does not make sense. What “academic racist” or casual racist considers Cambodians to be racially the same as Koreans? None that I know of.”

    I’m struggling with your logic. So you first assume Lynn is a racist. Then based on that assumption you assume that to Lynn the term “Korean” refers to race and not nationality. And hence you then assume he is a racist. Given that ‘Korean’ actually is a nationality, not a race, that seems an odd assumption to make. Aren’t Japanese originally from Korea, and hence the same “race” as Korean? You are the Japan expert, where are they from?

    Look, I have not read his work, so I’m not going to defend it. But there’s no logic in your arguments. And if you later convince me that he is a racist, it won’t change my view of the arguments you presented in that post and this comment section are bogus.

    You said;

    “The dog whistle is to white people who hold “standard racist” (for lack of a better term) ideas about race, IQ, and racial traits. These people believe strongly in racial differences in IQ, and use these purported differences to argue against policies designed to help black Americans (think of Charles Murray).”

    Garett says that his research actually greatly strengthens the case for public policies aimed at reducing environmental and health risks that reduce IQ. It makes the gains much larger than predicted by standard human capital research, because of the interaction effect. That’s important. He doesn’t say so, but presumably he is refering to things like lead paint, which Matt Yglesias blogged about today. So the implication that Jones is aiding the fatalists who don’t want to help the poor and minorities is false.

    I don’t know any white supremacists, but I find it amusing that they like to hear about studies that show they are stupider than Asians.

    Glad to hear that lots of people (wrongly) accused you of being a racist. Now you know how it feels, and how easy it is to misinterpret what others are saying. In my next post I deny believing in cultural superiority, but I guarantee commenters will nonetheless make that accusation. There’s a game of connect the dots . . . . “Hmmm Noah used to live in Japan, he must really like the Asians . . . and now he wants to bring them to America.” They might even insinuate that you like one particular gender of Asians. People have very vivid imaginations.

    BTW, I’ve read a half dozen papers by Jones, and I don’t get the impression that he’s a racist. But I happen to think that part of the problem is the use of IQ, as you say. The results of IQ tests don’t necessarily have any different implications from the results of something like SAT exams. No one would deny that residents of say Switzerland would do better on SAT exams than residents of New Guinea. So that fact isn’t controversial. But as you say some people tend to link national IQ scores and genetics, despite things like the Flynn effect. And that makes lots of people uncomfortable. So I do understand that much. Tyler Cowen recently linked to a post by someone who argued persuasively that the science on international differences in IQ being genetic was pretty weak, so I’m a bit of a skeptic. But at the individual level I believe there is pretty strong evidence that IQ is partly genetic. Is that right?

    It’s hard to work in this area without sounding insulting, even if you think it’s all environmental. Suppose I said; “155 million Americans, half the entire population, has below average intelligence.” That’s pretty much a tautology, but it sounds kind of heartless to my ears. See how easy it is to misjudge what one is saying in this area?

  34. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    8. October 2012 at 08:03

    Noah, OK, He says that the Japanese complain that the Japanese are less creative. Are the Japanese being racist? Obviously the Japanese have a great tradition of creativity in the arts, especially the visual arts. So I presume that means science and technology. I’ve read endless articles that Asian schools discourage creativity and encourage rote learning. Are all those articles false? So what if it turned out that they were less creative in certain areas, that doesn’t mean they are incapable of being more creative if their schools systems began encouraging that activity.
    Oddly Sailer provides data that 12% of Silcon Valley firms are founded by Asians, whereas they are a larger share of California’s population. But they are only 4% of the US population, which is what matters, as Silicon Valley draws talent from all over the US. So even Sailer’s data is consistent with the view that Asians are very creative as soon as they are exposed to our (creativity encouraging) school system.

  35. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    8. October 2012 at 08:06

    Frank, Well said. I agree.

  36. Gravatar of Daedalus Daedalus
    8. October 2012 at 08:09

    What’s the breakdown? First generation American-Asians starting companies versus Second and so on?

    Couldn’t it just be selection bias?

  37. Gravatar of Noah Smith Noah Smith
    8. October 2012 at 08:25

    Jones clearly says that both genetics and environment play a role in IQ. Isn’t that your view as well?

    Yes! But my point is not to say that Jones is a racist. My point is that he’s using a lot of buzzwords and topic choices that appeal to academic racists (who, I should note, exist in both East Asia and the U.S.).

    I don’t know any white supremacists, but I find it amusing that they like to hear about studies that show they are stupider than Asians.

    I also find this amusing, in a macabre sort of way. But it’s true. And often, their psychological defense mechanism against these studies is to say that Asians are less creative and more collectivist.

    There’s a game of connect the dots . . . . “Hmmm Noah used to live in Japan, he must really like the Asians . . . and now he wants to bring them to America.”

    Oh. Well, that is completely true! My ulterior motive for encouraging Asian immigration is not that I think Asians are racially superior; it’s that I want my friends to be able to move to where I live (and to stop my international-student friends from getting booted out of the country). I make no secret of that ulterior motive. But of course I believe in the idea for abstract, “intellectually honest” reasons as well, so I don’t feel bad about promoting it.

    They might even insinuate that you like one particular gender of Asians. People have very vivid imaginations.

    You mean that I want to promote a policy of Asian immigration so I can hook up with more Asian chicks? Well, that would be a pretty inefficient way of going about it, especially given that I already work at a college that is chock full of Chinese immigrants.

    BUT, now that you mention it, I think that interracial love and marriage is a GREAT way of overcoming racism in he long term. People are suspicious of immigrants taking their jobs, but they definitely want more people to hook up with. I’ve always wanted to do a coffee-table photo book of portraits of interracial couples…I should get started on that.

    BTW, I’ve read a half dozen papers by Jones, and I don’t get the impression that he’s a racist.

    Well, who knows what he himself believes. I was talking about the type of people who will be attracted to his paper by his choice of wording and topic, not about Jones’ beliefs.

    It’s hard to work in this area without sounding insulting, even if you think it’s all environmental. Suppose I said; “155 million Americans, half the entire population, has below average intelligence.” That’s pretty much a tautology, but it sounds kind of heartless to my ears. See how easy it is to misjudge what one is saying in this area?

    Sure, though I myself would pretty quickly get that joke.

    But note that in my post, I do not say that Jones’ treatment of IQ, or his construal of it as genetic, constitutes racism.

    Noah, OK, He says that the Japanese complain that the Japanese are less creative. Are the Japanese being racist?

    Yes.

    Racism is far more socially acceptable in Japan than in the U.S.

    I’ve read endless articles that Asian schools discourage creativity and encourage rote learning. Are all those articles false?

    My guess is yes; I basically don’t trust much education research.

    I went to American public schools, and they didn’t exactly encourage creativity…

  38. Gravatar of Daedalus Daedalus
    8. October 2012 at 08:41

    Okay, having studied in many schools all over India (dad’s transferable job), I’m reasonably confident that the rote learning conjecture is true for a major proportion of the educated population.

    Education standards are low outside of a few elite institutions, which aren’t very good by themselves, but FILTER the smartest science/math students, which btw is culturally venerated here for being central to upward social mobility, so there’s a huge pressure to study science, and liberal arts are massively disdained (I say this as a student in liberal arts college that’s consistently ranked in the top 3, but that’s a really low standard, because the standard is abysmal).

    These smart people filter on to the US, who you end up seeing in your stats.

    Same reason why 90% of students at the IIMs (India’s best management institutions, and the apotheosis of upward social mobility) are engineers, many from the IITs.

    Liberals arts, the traditionally vaunted creative wellspring, cannot compete.
    The entrance exam to the IIMs is exponentially tougher than the GMAT, which is a piece of cake for overqualified engineers.

    Basically, there’s evidence bias. The Indians you know are probably really smart. The rest don’t show up very well on the performance data.

  39. Gravatar of Daedalus Daedalus
    8. October 2012 at 08:43

    And making the cutoff to the entrance exam is the only way to get an interview, which favours quant types.

  40. Gravatar of Daedalus Daedalus
    8. October 2012 at 08:49

    Basically, the Indian education system self-selects for almost purely quantifiable factors (IIMs have interviews, but if you’re invited, your intelligence, traditionally and narrowly conceived, is high.

    That doesn’t mean that non-math types don’t do well, they do, but the system weighs against them, and you rarely see them in Silicon Valley, and consequently your debates on immigration.

  41. Gravatar of Saturos Saturos
    8. October 2012 at 10:00

    Daedalus, I’ve got 3 cousins took that path, know exactly what you’re talking about. Getting into IIT is the hardest exam in the world, worse than MIT, Harvard Law, the Bar, CPA, you name it. Even getting into med school in India is ridiculous, thousands of people left out hardly any less capable than thousands getting in. They just have to force those cutoffs (I guess they can’t compete on price, so…)

    “(I say this as a student in liberal arts college that’s consistently ranked in the top 3, but that’s a really low standard, because the standard is abysmal)”

    Would that be St. Stephen’s, by any chance?

  42. Gravatar of Daedalus Daedalus
    8. October 2012 at 10:20

    Yeah, the odds are quite skewed here. These are kids produced on factory lines in sequestered parts of the country competing for a few thousand seats.

    Med school actively requires you to bribe your way in AFTER doing well in the entrance. It’s insane.

    I study at St. Xavier’s, Mumbai. (3rd in India Today rankings this year, which seem dubious to me, but Xavier’s has brand rep for some unfathomable reason, research/teaching/students are extremely average except the filtered few, but that might majorly an institutional problem. Other liberal arts colleges don’t really have spectacular students either from my limited experience)

    Yeah, I’m extremely lazy and I have mediocre grades. So I’m taking the GMAT. Heh.

  43. Gravatar of Bababooey Bababooey
    8. October 2012 at 10:41

    Noah Smith: “You can’t really talk about whether something is a dog-whistle without knowing what a dog is.”

    A dog is something that hears dog whistles. “Dog” is, in this metaphor, a racist and “Dog Whistle” is a racist taunt. Noah Smith heard the whistle, Scott did not. So…

  44. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    8. October 2012 at 12:37

    Noah, I thought the Japanese were accused of being racist against others, not themselves. Are you saying they exaggerate their lack of creativity? That’s plausible, but I’d call it modesty, not racism.

    I agree with much of what you say, but I am not going to accept your quick dismissal of the “Asian rote education” theory. I’ve spoken to many Asians (my wife is Asian) and I get the strong impression that it is true. On the other hand I’m no cultural determinist, and indeed find Asian culture to be pretty creative in lots of respects. In fact Japanese culture is in some respects my favorite.

    However, I think lots of cultural differences are obvious. Right here in Newton Massachusetts the culture puts way more pressure on kids to do well in school than the culture I experienced in Wisconsin. That doesn’t mean there aren’t economic reasons that can help explain why those cultural changes occur, but once they get set, they have at least a few decades of momentum. The cultural difference I see seems real.

    Regarding dog whistles, you have to admit that Bababooey’s post is awfully clever.

    Bababooey, I owe you a drink next time I’m in LA.

  45. Gravatar of Morgan Warstler Morgan Warstler
    8. October 2012 at 14:29

    Extending bababooey’s point, it isn’t just that Noah can hear the dog whistle, listen to how he conceptualizes it to parody:

    “The dog whistle is to white people who hold “standard racist” (for lack of a better term) ideas about race, IQ, and racial traits.”

    To Noah, there’s a single audience, white people, that Jones is signaling to. So when he says hive mind, all those Asian editors they don’t even know they are being demeaned.

    But Noah does!

    And, it really isn’t white people, it is white Econ phds!

    Noah’s got Jones writing an obscure paper to be read by obscure people… and in that obscure world, convincing whitey the yellow peril isn’t so perilous, is a good career move.

    Look, Noah’s one of yours. He’s calling you all racists. And thinks being a racist is a viable strategy within your profession, and that Noah has to put a stop to it.

    —–

    This is you little monkey world he’s throwing his feces in… so it is a bit of a yawn.

    My concern with Noah is that when he ventures outside your little monkey world, he sticks to running experiments on prisoners and the criminally insane – or Food Stamp recipients.

    Here’s Oswalt & Stiller capturing the delicate Morgan / Noah construct:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlQjTEeW51I

  46. Gravatar of Mike Huben Mike Huben
    8. October 2012 at 14:47

    Bababooey’s “cleverness” fails miserably with his first premise, “A dog is something that hears dog whistles.” That is clearly a false premise: cats and a variety of other non-dogs hear dog whistles as well.

    Why didn’t you notice that simple fallacy, Mr. Sumner? Perhaps you are as insensitive to fallacies as you are to dog whistles?

  47. Gravatar of MaxUtil MaxUtil
    8. October 2012 at 14:54

    @Alex Tabarrok – I won’t wade into the broader debate here. But if you don’t think referring to asian cultures as having a “hive mind” is an insult, you really need to review a little history of depictions of asians in the west.

  48. Gravatar of e e
    8. October 2012 at 15:11

    So I’m keeping score at home Jones is racist because:

    He uses data from someone who makes a questionable assumption about IQ that Jones doesn’t rely on. This assumption is also popular with racists.

    He extrapolates Caplan’s data internationally and because Noah thinks he can show that IQ alone isnt the determinant of free market policies (which is questionable) then we can definitely conclude national IQ has nothing to do with free market policies….. therefore racist.

    He uses something that sounds like an insult in a non insulting way.

    Assuming I got that right, it sounds like the typical Noahpinion post to me.

    But even if Noah’s criticisms don’t hold I’m still not sure what to take from your cultural explanations Scott. If you see a country with “good” official institutions but “bad” culture what does that tell you. Are the institutions actually bad in ways that you can’t see? Is the culture going to change? Or will the official institutions move towards the culture? If culture is the residue of past optimal strategy shouldn’t it always be suboptimal? And there are obviously lots of places you can make mistakes assessing whether a culture is good or bad.

    In why nations fail the authors talk about african villages moving off the roads to avoid slavers and that made plenty of sense. People moved towards autarky to avoid being enslaved and that move had economic costs, end slavery and people will go back to trading. But people in Mass put more pressure on their kids to excel in school than people in Wisconsin. What does that predict?

  49. Gravatar of Morgan Warstler Morgan Warstler
    8. October 2012 at 19:01

    “But if you don’t think referring to asian cultures as having a “hive mind” is an insult, you really need to review a little history of depictions of asians in the west.”

    Sorry Max, you skipped my deeper logic.

    Just because there’s a social justice course someplace that documents past Western propaganda against Asians…. you still haven’t made a point.

    Noah has to say that white ECON PHDs are all tuned into this, and that Jones is serving up red meat.

    If Alex has to “review” the coursework so that he can see the racism, then Jones and well all of the other economists also have to review it.

    So they can realize that “hive mind” can’t possibly be a good thing… I can’t believe economists could be so eggheaded.

    Jesus, you people…

    I have already solve al your problems with my plan to auction the unemployed, can’t you all just retire and play shuffleboard?

  50. Gravatar of Lorenzo from Oz Lorenzo from Oz
    8. October 2012 at 22:06

    Having now read Jones’s paper, the obvious point is that the only thing specific to East Asia is the data. In particular, Jones’s use of “Hive Mind” is entirely generic and applies to any country.

  51. Gravatar of So. Much. Stupid. Conservative blind spots edition « Left Outside So. Much. Stupid. Conservative blind spots edition « Left Outside
    8. October 2012 at 23:31

    [...] Hive mind is not even an insult it’s a compliment – like wisdom of the crowds. The hive mind diffuses knowledge and cooperates–it’s not all thinking alike it’s all using the best of each. [...]

  52. Gravatar of Peter Twieg Peter Twieg
    9. October 2012 at 04:01

    I’ve heard it said before that if the only people who are able to hear an alleged dog whistle are outrage-prone progressives, then this should be decent evidence that we’re not actually dealing with a dog whistle. That would seem to apply decently in this case.

  53. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    9. October 2012 at 07:43

    I think here and even more at a newer post we’ve reached a consensus that Asians don’t recognize it as an insult, nor do most whites. But certain elite whites like Noah do. I’m fine with that consensus–time to move on.

  54. Gravatar of Cthorm Cthorm
    10. October 2012 at 07:33

    Scott & Noah,

    I’m a little late to the party here, but this is a topic that I’m particularly familiar with. My wife is a recovering academic whose specialty is/was cultural psychology, with most of her research regarding Eastern/Western cross cultural differences. She did most of her work with professor Heejung Kim at UCSB. She got disillusioned with the ivory tower b/c this “that’s racist!” taboo is all over the place at UCLA, where she was getting her PhD.

    Anyway – there are significant cognitive differences between people from Eastern and Western cultures. Broadly speaking, Eastern cultures are more ‘communitarian’ than ‘individualistic’. The general outline is that this has to do with Confucian versus Aristotelian values. Noah’s observation that Japanese people can be fiercely individualistic is pretty astute, because Japan’s culture does not draw much from the Confucian tradition (especially versus China, Korea, or Vietnam). These differences can even be seen in early childhoold development: western children’s early vocabulary tends to have a large concentration of nouns, whereas eastern children’s vocabulary is more heavy on verbs. This parallels the Confucian focus on relationships between agents, rather than agents themselves.

    More reading on the topic:
    Deviance or uniqueness, harmony or conformity? A cultural analysis.

    We talk, therefore we think? A cultural analysis of the effect of talking on thinking.

    Choice and self-expression: A cultural analysis of variety-seeking.

  55. Gravatar of Mike Steinberg Mike Steinberg
    11. October 2012 at 00:35

    ***The dog whistle is to white people who hold “standard racist” (for lack of a better term) ideas about race, IQ, and racial traits. These people believe strongly in racial differences in IQ, and use these purported differences to argue against policies designed to help black Americans (think of Charles Murray).***

    @ Noah Smith,

    These people?! What about people who have simply read the literature and find it quite likely that different environments (physical & geographic) would invariably favor different physical and mental traits?

    It doesn’t imply you should argue against policies that help lower scoring groups. Read some stuff by Peter Singer like “A Darwinian Left”. Or as Professor 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.”

    http://infoproc.blogspot.co.nz/2007/01/metric-on-space-of-genomes-and.html

  56. Gravatar of Mike Steinberg Mike Steinberg
    11. October 2012 at 00:53

    ***That’s right, Noah believes that what unites North and South Koreans is that they are of the same race.

    No, that’s what Richard Lynn believes.***

    And he would be correct according to a recent paper on North Korean refugee (“NKR”) health:

    “Additionally, since NKRs are an immigrant group who are the same race and have the same genetic characteristics as South Koreans, this study has the characteristics of a unique type of migrant health study.”

    http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/12/172

    Also, in terms of Lynn’s data – Heiner Rindermann, in a 2007 earlier paper titled The g‐factor of international cognitive ability comparisons: the homogeneity of results in PISA, TIMSS, PIRLS and IQ‐tests across nations, showed that country IQ estimates of Lynn and Vanhanen were consistent with the educational performance data, and that a country level “G” factor explains most of the variation.

    http://www.technologyreview.com/view/421665/standard-deviations-around-the-world/

  57. Gravatar of El El
    11. October 2012 at 01:14

    Whether or not something is “racist” or “insulting: has no bearing on it’s truth value. If Noah was anything more than a nerd, part of the Progressive-Academic hivemind he would just keep his mouth shut.

    Whenever someone attacks an idea without appealing to anything other than “THAT’S RACIST AND OFFENSIVE”, they should mocked, harassed, and undermined in every way, because they don’t care about the truth.

  58. Gravatar of Redistribution and the Sacred Right of Property | @ActonInstitute PowerBlog Redistribution and the Sacred Right of Property | @ActonInstitute PowerBlog
    15. October 2012 at 07:31

    [...] postTweet“Scandinavian economies are some of the most market-oriented on the planet” says economist Scott Sumner, who adds “Denmark is the most market-oriented country on earth.”This peculiar claim is [...]

  59. Gravatar of Paul Paul
    16. October 2012 at 20:13

    Am I the only person who gets the impression that academics doing really good research almost never engage in the racism, anti-antiracism meme? Not that I am saying anything about the validity of the knowledge of economics that either brings to the table, but both of them are active bloggers.

    So, I guess I am saying shame on both: publish!

  60. Gravatar of So. Much. Stupid. Conservative blind spots edition | Socialist Agenda WebzineSocialist Agenda Webzine So. Much. Stupid. Conservative blind spots edition | Socialist Agenda WebzineSocialist Agenda Webzine
    20. October 2012 at 04:33

    [...] Hive mind is not even an insult it’s a compliment – like wisdom of the crowds. The hive mind diffuses knowledge and cooperates–it’s not all thinking alike it’s all using the best of each. [...]

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