Search This Blog

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Intelligence and Politicians

I'm on a group email list with a bunch of old MIT frat brothers. Many of them fancy themselves as quite intelligent, not just in their area of expertise, not just in STEM, but in all aspects of human endeavors. They definitely strongly disagree with Feynman's quote*:
"I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy."
So needless to say, some were horrified when I wrote:
I think intelligence is way, way overrated. The most successful politicians are highly intelligent sociopaths. The worst possible leaders are the highly intelligent sociopaths.
Debate developed, arguments were added, and hyperlinks were hyperactively heaved ho, supposedly proving my cynical and anti-human and otherwise horrible statement incorrect. I'm not sure what the latin is for argument by overwhelming (argumentum overwhelmem?), but I've learned in the past that being a lone individual hit by an onslaught of righteous argument is an untenable position; you lose whether or not you have some degree of truth on your side. And in this case, I just threw that statement out there to stir the pot (and I certainly succeeded at that!), I didn't know whether or not the empirical evidence would support me.

I picked the first link spewed at me from the onslaught: The impact of smart fractions, cognitive ability
of politicians and average competence of peoples on social development. I fully expected it to prove my statement unequivocally wrong. Instead, I found it almost supportive. First, from the abstract:
The intelligence of politicians was less important...
Oh? That doesn't sound like I'm so wrong. Here's the key table, in my opinion:


Having smart people is correlated with good things like high GDP, but having smart politicians isn't correlated with much of anything good at all, EXCEPT democracy. With democracy, my guess is that causality goes the other way. In a democracy, the politicians have to be intelligent enough to deceive the populous into voting for them. But their intelligence doesn't seem to help much of anything else.

Given that there's a high correlation between a country having smart people which helps things like GDP and having smart politicians which doesn't which doesn't have much impact on GDP, I think this may show that smart politicians are detrimental to a country and that the countries with smart people do well in spite of their political class.

*Thanks to Clovis for reminding me of this quote

19 comments:

erp said...

Feynman and you (nice company you keep) are correct and that's why W was on target when in his talk to the Yale graduating class he said, " ... and to all you C students, you too can be president" and that's why I support Scott Walker, not a brainiac, for president and hoped he would appoint Cruz for SoS and other brilliant minds for the other major appointments.

Your MIT classmates probably rarely take seriously those not among their own exalted number and put your aberration down to la vida loca in the San Diego sunshine.

Howard said...

I think intelligence is way, way overrated.

You know I share that view.

...some were horrified...

Such a ghastly thought. Intelligent people are willing to believe all kinds of nonsense, engage in faulty reasoning or exhibit plain ignorance, just like anyone else. I like to summarize that observation by saying, "intelligence provides no immunity...."

Howard said...

Your MIT classmates probably rarely take seriously those not among their own exalted number...

erp,

What I learned was that even highly intelligent people had a hard time admitting that they didn't know something. They just repeating something that all the right thinking people were saying if they they did not know for themselves. It was a disappointment because I was hoping to get a jump start in answering questions I had about economics and the greater society. Beyond some answers to those questions,it eventually motivated me to formulate these ideas.

erp said...

I remember that post and thought it well thought out, probably because I came to similar conclusions from an early ago. I don't know where you are spending your life, but I spent a large portion of mine among academics, many of whom were at the top of their fields and products of the top schools. The results in human terms weren't pretty.

Clovis e Adri said...

Bret,

---
I fully expected it to prove my statement unequivocally wrong. Instead, I found it almost supportive.
---
So do I. Which makes me curious as to what were the answers when you gave your frat budies the arguments you gave us here...?

Bret said...

Clovis,

My arguments, which were similar to what I posted here, were met with silence. In other words, everybody moved to other topics after my email on the subject. In some fairness, egroup discussions aren't as organized and focused as a blog, but I did at least expect the guy who posted that specific link to respond. He didn't.

Peter said...

Your friends seem to have taken to heart those boilerplate commencement addresses where they were told the world was a mess of thorny problems they were expected to go out and solve by using their brilliance and education to do something splendid. It's interesting how shocked and appalled they were at your heresy. In Victorian Britain, aristocratic breeding was seen as the prized qualification for governance. "Cleverness" was suspect. Happily, the brights took over and bequeathed us such a peaceful 20th century.

This ties into the post below about scientism. Geniocracy may still be a fringe belief, at least in public, but more and more we are coming to see government as problem-solving and our problems as demanding formal expertise that only scholars and experts can acquire and understand. Experience, tradition, observation, intuitive knowledge, common sense, even "what works" count for less and less. They are viewed increasingly as the "prejudices" of the sweaty mob. The brilliant have always been arrogant, but today we see much of the general public bow down to formal expertise and scientific authority about matters that are really about values and political choices. There are many, many examples of the increasing tyranny of formal expertise.

Most of the left has bought into this completely, which explains the sneering disdain for red states and lots of other groups they profess to champion. They weren't always such snobs. I enjoy taunting my leftist colleagues by suggesting that if Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath today, they would dismiss the Joads as stupid, racist fundies.

Bret said...

The Joads WERE stupid, racist fundies, weren't they? :-)

The historian/economist Deirdre McCloskey believes that a change in rhetoric, from disdainful to admiring, towards the innovators of society greatly accelerated the wealth creation of humankind (especially in the west) starting roughly in the 18th century. Before that, there was definite mistrust of clever inventors.

I'm wondering if the scope of admiration went too far to include political leaders. On the other hand, it's hard to get behind aristocracy as the answer either. Maybe just a little less trust in smart politicians.

erp said...

What we need is widsom, not smarts.

Clovis e Adri said...

Bret,

---
The historian/economist Deirdre McCloskey believes that a change in rhetoric, from disdainful to admiring, [...]
---

I am always amazed that people buy trat crap, as The Donald would say. [Sorry for the wording, I am learning with your Politicians]

Where is AOG to tell us here about logoreality, or whatever he used to call those misplaced beliefs that people have on words and rhetoric promptly materializing what is reality? Though, in this case, he is probably one more to fall for that one...

Bret said...

Clovis,

Have you read McCloskey's "Bourgeois Dignity"? Or are you just rejecting it out-of-hand without bothering to see the supporting arguments and evidence?

Peter said...

Or are you just rejecting it out-of-hand without bothering to see the supporting arguments and evidence?

Clovis is preparing for a run for the Brazilian Presidency. He's trying not to look too smart.

Bret said...

Ahh, so he's emulating The Donald. Pretty clever! :-)

Clovis e Adri said...

Bret,

Not quite, but since you dismissed the big bang without having much idea about the supporting arguments and evidence, I felt myself free to shout out my ignorance too.

That said, I did bother to take a look at bullet points on McCloskey's arguments some long time ago (it is not the first time you cite him). I was not convinced.

Bret said...

Clovis,

No problem, that's why I was asking which it was - it obviously changes how to approach discussion, if any.

Clovis e Adri said...

Bret,

Actually you hit something true - I am trying to train a bit more the Instapundit/Judd style of short sentences in English.

The downside is that, if you don't do it right, you end up like The Donald :-)

erp said...

Clovis, McCloskey is a woman now.

erp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Clovis e Adri said...

Erp,

I didn't know she ever wasn't. Anyway, it explains a lot why her arguments are so focused on how people see you.