the allure of h-bd

In one post at GNXP, gc_emeritus perfectly illustrates why the "h-bd" (human biodiversity) paradigm is a stale avenue of scientific inquiry. While the fact that there are genetic variations between the races is essentially obvious, where h-bd falls flat is its attempt to consistently extrapolate from their existence into the spheres of politics and social policy.

gc begins by laying out an impressively detailed and factual case for South Africa's impending economic collapse. He ties together numerous sources of information brilliantly, making a rigorous argument. And then he blows it:

Sophists and h-bd deniers will denounce anyone who makes the unfortunate but true observation: no nation or polity composed primarily of sub-Saharan Africans has maintained a technological infrastructure. The coming collapse is the predictable consequence of black rule. It is a sign of our times that the person who makes such an observation is considered more evil than the person who pretends that up is down, and black is white...and who whistles past the graveyard of the half a million murders that have taken place since the end of apartheid.

I'm not an h-bd denier and neither will I blame the future collapse of South Africa upon racism. As GC's case study explained well, the root problem is institutionalized reverse-discrimination which is all to susceptible to corruption.

However, to argue that the coming collapse is the "predictable consequence of black self-rule" betrays the danger of taking h-bd too seriously. What GC is trying to say is that statistically speaking, success of a given nation state in Africa is inversely correlated with whether the government is comprised of black people. That statement may be true. What is not true, but is certainly implied by the GC's assumption that race has predictive power for a nation's success, is that the failure of all black states in the past is due to the fact of their being black nations, as opposed to them being (for example) post-colonial nations, resource-poor nations, disease-afflicted nations, low-education nations, external-debt nations, subsistence-farming nations, etc.

There's a good dialog to be had on why South Africa might fail and what that failure will mean for the rest of Africa as a whole. The allure of h-bd however obscures that debate by making race relevant.

Here's the litmus test however. Were the racial situations perfectly reversed in South Africa, would the white majority have prevailed under the precise same conditions, history, and political environment where the present black majority is now failing?

UPDATE: via Dean, comes this story about an experiment in black freedom and self-determination during the Slavery era - in the South. The success of Israel Hill can only be fit into GC's "predictive" model as an outlier, which is as much a head-in-the-sand approach regarding h-bd's limits as h-bd denial itself.

I've had numerous discussions with Razib at GNXP about h-bd's close ties to those (unlike GC) who really do argue racial politics in bad faith. I have been convinced by Razib's arguments that "race" is a meaningful and useful construct with utility in specific fields (for example, in medical treatment, where acknowledging genetic diversity allows racially-optimized patient care). However, the main problem is the obsession of those such as gc with the so-called "predictive" power of racial correlation. I think that this attitude misuses correlation statistics in much the same way that philosophers misuse quantum physics for their existential arguments. correlation is, as ever, not causation.


Godless said...

Aziz -

First, thanks for hearing me out. It's hard to walk the fine line - on the one hand I want to discuss an unpleasant-but-important issue, while on the other hand I want to keep the discussion relatively calm and factual. I'm trying to walk that line as best I can.

Now, on the specific issues at hand, I said this was "the predictable consequence of black self rule".

There's really no way to sugarcoat that statement, jarring as it is. The thing is that the statement brings up visceral images - images of Jim Crow, apartheid era exclusion, and all sorts of things that we've been exposed to since childhood. The problem is that the *emotional* counterargument - the videos of farm destructions and robberies - is unavailable to me. Unlike the Jim Crow videos, it's not a shared premise. We can all agree that irrational discrimination is bad, because we've seen the consequences...but because we haven't seen the consequences of the suspension of *rational* discrimination, the emotional deck is stacked against me from the beginning.

In other words, what I'm saying would probably be unnecessary if there was a camera crew recording the state of the current South Africa.

But ok. Let's return to the points at hand. You say:

What is not true, but is certainly implied by the GC's assumption that race has predictive power for a nation's success, is that the failure of all black states in the past is due to the fact of their being black nations, as opposed to them being (for example) post-colonial nations, resource-poor nations, disease-afflicted nations, low-education nations, external-debt nations, subsistence-farming nations, etc. Well, I think the upstream variable that leads to these downstream variables is IQ. Consider each of your examples in turn:

1) Post-colonial nations: Singapore, Hong Kong, and (to a lesser extent) India are doing ok. So are many of the countries of Eastern Europe for that matter, given the half century they spent under the Soviet boot.

2) Disease-afflicted nations: China, Hong Kong, India, and Singapore are all in tropical climes. All of them are booming (India to a lesser extent than the other 3).

3) Resource-poor nations: Britain, Israel, Singapore, and Japan are all rich. They are richer than Saudi Arabia. In any case, African nations are hardly resource poor - Nigeria and Gabon have tons of oil, Botswana has diamonds, and one could go down the list detailing the bounty of the natural resources of the continent. More here.

4) Low-education nations: IQ is a better predictor of GDP-per-capita than education, as Jones and Schneider (2004) showed:

Human capital plays an important role in the theory of economic growth, but it has been difficult to measure this abstract concept. We survey the psychological literature on cross-cultural IQ tests and conclude that modern intelligence tests provide one useful measure of human capital. Using a new database of national average IQ along with a methodology derived from Sala-i-Martin [1997a], we show that in growth regressions that include only robust control variables, IQ is statistically significant in 99.7% of these 1330 regressions. A 1 point increase in a nation�s average IQ is associated with a persistent 0.16% annual increase in GDP per capita...

We also evaluate the explanatory power of IQ in growth regressions that include Sala-i-Martin's education measures. Among these 56 education-related regressions, IQ was statistically significant in every one, thus passing not only Sala-i-Martin's robustness test, but also Leamer�s [1983, 1985] extreme bounds test. While one might expect that at least some linear combination of primary, secondary, and higher education measures could eliminate the statistical significance of IQ, we did not find this to be the case...
Furthermore, we used IQ to predict the results of the 2004 TIMSS six months in advance. It seems the TIMSS is likewise mostly a measure of national IQ than of educational levels.

5) External Debt: Debt relief for Africa is constantly in the news. This means the "loans" were actually grants of foreign aid. But no country has ever gotten rich from foreign aid. Foreign aid is necessarily a zero-sum trickle, as opposed to the nonzero-sum flood of wealth creation that comes from international trade.

6) Subsistence farming: the question is *why* they haven't progressed beyond subsistence farming, despite copious natural resources.

It's a harsh thing to say, but there are dozens of sub-Saharan African nations, and the statistical profile there is uniformly grim:

The result is that 2.5 billion people have seen their standards of living rise toward those of the billion people in the already developed countries � decreasing global poverty and increasing global equality. From the point of view of individuals, economic liberalization has been a huge success.

"You have to look at people," says Professor Sala-i-Martin. "Because if you look at countries, we do have lots and lots of little countries that are doing very poorly, namely Africa � 35 African countries." But all Africa has only about half as many people as China.

There is, however, one large country where the poor really are getting poorer while the rich grow richer: Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa.

Nigeria's economy has actually shrunk over the last three decades, and the absolute poverty rate � the percentage of the population living on less than $1 a day in 1985 dollars � skyrocketed to 46 percent in 1998 from 9 percent in 1970.

While most Nigerians were falling further into destitution, the political and economic elite grew richer. The problem is not too much liberalization but too little, a politicized economy with widespread corruption.

"The rich guys are doing well, therefore reforms will not come," says a pessimistic Professor Sala-i-Martin. He has begun studying Nigeria, trying to come up with ways around the political problem.

That country is typical of Africa, which is growing ever poorer. Fully 95 percent of the world's "one-dollar poor" live in Africa, and in many countries they make up the vast majority of the population. That poverty, not the rising wealth of Asian countries, is the global economy's real problem."The welfare implications of finding how to turn around the growth performance of Africa are so staggering," he writes, "that this has probably become the most important question in economics."
At some point, one has to accept that this "turnaround" is just not in the offing without GE. Voluntary GE based enhancement is not far off, though, so the tragedy of African poverty may yet have a happy end within our lifetime.

At this point someone usually brings up Botswana. It's a country of 1.5 million whose income is entirely dependent on the diamond trade...and it has the second highest HIV rate in the world (36.5% of adults are infected). There is no economic diversification and the country is not technologically advanced. If it's a success story, we have fairly low standards for success...and given the world-leading HIV rates there the wheels are going to come off in the not-too-distant future. As a GNXP commenter said:

Remember that in the 80's Cameroon, Kenya, and Zaire were success stories. Then in early 1994 they were touting Burkina Faso, Gambia, Hgana, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe, In 1997 it was Togo, Sosotho and Uganda. So it's 2003, and Botswana looks OK relatively--for now.

In all, I'd say out of 52 countries, there are 52 major basket cases. While individuals can flout the rule with ease, countries are more constrained by the law of large numbers, and the average IQ of is simply too low to create a sufficiently large enough critical mass of founding fathers who can create institutions that will engender a lasting peace, stability, and growth.

If the acquisition of voting rights in the US is any guide, where African descendants dominate cities, even in the US these cities quickly approach levels of development comparable to that of any third-world city (eg, Detroit, East St Louis, or Washington DC). I�m sorry, the evidence is without exception.

Wish it weren�t so.
I want to make clear that I, too, wish it weren't so. I wish God existed as well - it would certainly make life easier. But we must deal with the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.

One last thing - you say:

Were the racial situations perfectly reversed in South Africa, would the white majority have prevailed under the precise same conditions, history, and political environment where the present black majority is now failing? But whites have been successful whether they're the minority or the majority. If past oppression predicted future performance, Jews would be one of the worst performing groups around - yet they have economic and academic stats that are off the charts. The same holds for the Chinese of Malaysia and the Indians of Uganda and the Vietnamese of America. And many more whites than blacks have been murdered and oppressed by totalitarian regimes within the past century. More than 20 million civilians were murdered by Stalin in the Soviet Union and 6 million more Jews, gays, etc. by Hitler...but I have never seen a number for the death toll under apartheid, and I doubt it was in the ball park of a million, let alone 20 million. Similar figures hold for China.

Yet many of the states of the former USSR (such as Estonia) have taken off once the Soviet boot was lifted from their necks, and the same holds for China. At some point one must ask whether racial discrimination is worse for a population's future success than state-sponsored mass murder.

Aziz Poonawalla said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.