This research advances and empirically establishes the hypothesis that, in the course of the prehistoric exodus of Homo sapiens out of Africa, variation in migratory distance to various settlements across the globe affected genetic diversity and has had a long-lasting hump-shaped effect on comparative economic development, reáecting the trade-offs between the beneficial and the detrimental effects of diversity on productivity. While intermediate levels of genetic diversity prevalent among Asian and European populations have been conducive for development, the high diversity of African populations and the low diversity of Native American populations have been detrimental for the development of these regions.
Use of population-genetic data to predict economic success sparks war of words.
10 October 2012
The United States has the right amount of genetic diversity to buoy its economy, claim economists.
“The invalid assumption that correlation implies cause is probably among the two or three most serious and common errors of human reasoning.” Evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould was referring to purported links between genetics and an individual’s intelligence when he made this familiar complaint in his 1981 book The Mismeasure of Man.
Oh, boy, here we are in 2012 and “Nature” is still citing the authority of Stephen Jay Gould’s dopey and discredited 1981 bestseller as an unquestioned authority text …
Fast-forward three decades, and leading geneticists and anthropologists are levelling a similar charge at economics researchers who claim that a country’s genetic diversity can predict the success of its economy.
To critics, the economists’ paper seems to suggest that a country’s poverty could be the result of its citizens’ genetic make-up, and the paper is attracting charges of genetic determinism, and even racism. But the economists say that they have been misunderstood, and are merely using genetics as a proxy for other factors that can drive an economy, such as history and culture. The debate holds cautionary lessons for a nascent field that blends genetics with economics, sometimes called genoeconomics. The work could have real-world pay-offs, such as helping policy-makers to set the right level of immigration to boost the economy, says Enrico Spolaore, an economist at Tufts University near Boston, Massachusetts, who has also used global genetic-diversity data in his research.
Spolaore then writes in to Nature to say that he never ever said anything about the I-word.
Here's Spolaore's upcoming review of all non-crimethink theories of why some countries are richer than others. It's pretty good, but the only marginally non-PC thinker it cites is Gregory Clark. Lynn & Vanhanen and Rindermann are conspicuous by their absence, as is Michael Hart, whose theory that winter makes people smarter due to natural selection seems to be the most plausible explanation of Spolaore's own research showing a major role for "absolute latitude." Spolaore's main focus is "long-term genealogical relatedness," which is a very good thing to think about, but intellectual life has gotten so thuggish that anybody thinking useful thoughts has to tread carefully these days to not attract the thugs.
To return to Nature:
But the economists at the forefront of this field clearly need to be prepared for harsh scrutiny of their techniques and conclusions. At the centre of the storm is a 107-page paper by Oded Galor of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and Quamrul Ashraf of Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts1. It has been peer-reviewed by economists and biologists, and will soon appear in American Economic Review, one of the most prestigious economics journals.
The paper argues that there are strong links between estimates of genetic diversity for 145 countries and per-capita incomes, even after accounting for myriad factors such as economic-based migration. High genetic diversity in a country’s population is linked with greater innovation, the paper says, because diverse populations have a greater range of cognitive abilities and styles. By contrast, low genetic diversity tends to produce societies with greater interpersonal trust, because there are fewer differences between populations. Countries with intermediate levels of diversity, such as the United States, balance these factors and have the most productive economies as a result, the economists conclude.
The manuscript had been circulating on the Internet for more than two years, garnering little attention outside economics — until last month, when Science published a summary of the paper in its section on new research in other journals. This sparked a sharp response from a long list of prominent scientists, including geneticist David Reich of Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, and Harvard University palaeoanthropologist Daniel Lieberman in Cambridge.
Mostly anthropologists at Harvard. Unfortunately, the PC critique is intellectually lame and misses the actual flaws in Galor and Ashraf's paper.
In an open letter, the group said that it is worried about the political implications of the economists’ work: “the suggestion that an ideal level of genetic variation could foster economic growth and could even be engineered has the potential to be misused with frightening consequences to justify indefensible practices such as ethnic cleansing or genocide,” it said.
The critics add that the economists made blunders such as treating the genetic diversity of different countries as independent data, when they are intrinsically linked by human migration and shared history. “It’s a misuse of data,” says Reich, which undermines the paper’s main conclusions. The populations of East Asian countries share a common genetic history, and cultural practices — but the former is not necessarily responsible for the latter. “Such haphazard methods and erroneous assumptions of statistical independence could equally find a genetic cause for the use of chopsticks,” the critics wrote.
They have missed the point, responds Galor, a prominent economist whose work examines the ancient origins of contemporary economic factors. “The entire criticism is based on a gross misinterpretation of our work and, in some respects, a superficial understanding of the empirical techniques employed,” he says. Galor and Ashraf told Nature that, far from claiming that genetic diversity directly influences economic development, they are using it as a proxy for immeasurable cultural, historical and biological factors that influence economies. “Our study is not about a nature or nurture debate,” says Ashraf.
“To this end, our work employs migratory distance from East Africa (i.e., distance along land-connected routes) as an “exogenous” source of variation in intrapopulation diversity across regions. Put differently, rather than directly employing the observed diversity measure, which may be tainted by genetic admixtures resulting from movements of populations across space in response to spatial differences in economic prosperity, we employ the variation in the diversity measure that is predicted by distance along prehistoric migration routes from East Africa.”