Garett Jones on IQ as a Social Multiplier

Roko, author of Transhuman Goodness, who I just met in person for the first time at the 2009 Singularity Institute Summer Intern Program in Santa Clara, pointed me to an interesting economist, Garett Jones, assistant professor at George Mason University and colleague of Robin Hanson. His work is quite provocative:

As a macroeconomist, I investigate both long-term economic growth and short-term business cycles. My current research explores why IQ and other cognitive skills appear to matter more for nations than for individuals.

For example: A two standard deviation rise in an individual person’s IQ predicts only about a 30% increase in her wage. But the same rise in a country’s average IQ score predicts a 700% increase in the average wage in that country. I want to understand why IQ appears to have such a large social multiplier.

The story is much the same for math and science scores: A person’s individual score predicts little about how she’ll do in the job market, but the richest and fastest-growing countries in the world tend to do much better on math and science tests. If the IQ multiplier is even half as large as it appears to be, then health, nutrition, and education policies in developing countries should be targeted at raising the brain health of the world’s poorest citizens.

An even more important implication of my research is that low-skilled immigrants should be allowed to migrate to the world’s richest countries: Low-skilled immigrants have little or no net effect on the wages of the citizens of rich countries, but their lives massively improve when they immigrate to these countries.

In the past, I’ve worked on Capitol Hill and I’ve studied the monetary transmission mechanism. I speak on policy topics regularly via Mercatus’ Capitol Hill Campus program and in other forums. Recent media include,, Wisconsin Public Radio, and

I’ve heard the idea before that improving IQ among the world’s poorest might be the best way to improve their lot in life, but it’s nice to see an economist primarily focused on the concept. For starters, we need to encourage the addition of iodine to salt and iron to bread in developing countries, as has been done in developed countries since WWII. According to the WHO, in 2007, nearly 2 billion individuals had insufficient iodine intake, a third being of school age. The numbers are similar for iron deficiency. Implementing these relatively cheap measures would be easy, if it weren’t for the controversy of acknowledging that IQ exists and can be improved.


  1. Thuris

    According to his research, a difference of 1 IQ point between individuals corresponds to a 1% difference in income; whereas a 1 point difference between the average IQs of nations corresponds roughly to a 6% income difference. It’s astonishing.

  2. lokiUnbound

    Consider that this could be more of a correlation rather than cause-effect relationship. It could even be causation in the other direction.

    For one, higher IQ can be caused by better education, in turn available when GDP is higher. Higher IQ can also be measured in people who live in a social environment that is compatible with the type of skills tested.

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