It's more dumb in the Philippines

is the subject of my Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld:

But is it really? It was only when Alvin Capino mentioned it in Karambola (DWIZ, weekday mornings; frankly, it’s the smartest radio talk show today) that I became aware of how shockingly low the Philippine’s average IQ level is. My first reaction was: well that explains a lot, particularly our propensity for undisciplined traffic and for voting idiots into public office.

The Philippines scored an average of 86, which (in the Binet Scale) qualifies as dull. I actually prefer the old, politically incorrect classification (if only to ram the point home): we actually are borderline cretin in terms of IQ, just one level up from moron and two levels up from an imbecile.

The country with the highest average IQ score is Hong Kong (with 107), followed by South Korea (106), Japan (105), Taiwan (104), Singapore (103), Austria (102), Germany (102), Italy (102), Netherlands (102). The US scored 98. On the other hand, the Philippines keeps for company countries such as Libya (84), Lebanon (86), and Burma (86). China, Thailand, and Indonesia all scored higher than us (100, 91, 89, respectively).

Which probably indicates that the ability to speak foreign-accented English means nothing in terms of intelligence.

Scoring lower would be countries like Angola (69), Ethiopia (63), and Somalia (68). And at least Ethiopia beats us (actually many times over) as far as the Olympics is concerned.

The foregoing data was taken from 2002’s IQ and the Wealth of Nations by University of Ulster’s Dr. Richard Lynn and University of Tampere’s Dr. Tatu Vanhanen.

The findings -- expectedly -- garnered its fair share of critics and as rebuttal (along with additional information and analysis) the two released in 2006 IQ and Global Inequality. The two books essentially contain the same general conclusions: that differences in national income are related to differences in average national intelligence. Indeed, a simple glance at the top 10 and the lowest 10 of Drs. Lynn and Vanhanen’s list would show the clear disparity in economic success.

While some, perhaps more for ideological reasons than anything else, will dispute the importance of IQs in place of more politically sensitive ratings such as emotional quotient or EQs, nevertheless, the significance of IQs can’t be denied nor should it be ignored. While it is definitely not the case that IQs are the sole determining factor of individual success or merit, George Mason University’s Garett Jones (National IQ and National Productivity: The Hive Mind Across Asia; Asian Development Review, 2011) gives strong support to the study mentioned above: "National average IQ has a strong positive correlation with gross domestic product per worker across Asian countries. Jones and Schneider (2006) demonstrated that the relationship between national IQ and economic performance is robust across hundreds of growth regressions controlling for dozens of widely used control variables."

Jones insight is that there "are good reasons for thinking that intelligence -- the name used for the underlying trait measured by IQ tests -- matters more for nations than for individuals."

For instance, the capacity of a people to be patient (hence saving more and building up capital), be more cooperative with each other (and preserving better wealth-creating institutions), productive, and open to seeing "the invisible hand," thus making prosperity more likely, all hinge on the people’s intelligence.

The foregoing also seems to support George Mason University’s John Nye. In a recent visit to Manila, he discussed an upcoming paper dealing with the matter of trust: the more intelligent a country’s population the more trusting it is and, as our previously mentioned studies have shown, apparently richer as well.

But I also think intelligence is a trait that restrains promiscuity, produces disciplined motorists, promotes adherence to the rule of law, and makes people demand greater accountability.

However, the question remains: why does our population have such low IQ scores? The answer may lie in something mentioned by Jones: "In the Visayas region of the Philippines, Solon et al. (2008) found evidence that lead levels reduced the IQ of children. In their study, one microgram of lead per liter of blood was associated with a 2.5 point reduction in the verbal IQ of older children, and a 3.3 point reduction in the IQ of young children. In their sample of children, the levels of lead in the blood averaged 7.1 micrograms per liter, so lead exposure could be costing the average child in this sample 15 IQ points even under conservative estimates."

So something in our environment, whether it be lead content in the water or (as sometimes suspected) mercury levels in certain fish, or the quality of media, entertainment, parenting, or education, is dragging the country’s collective intelligence down.

One way or another, this must be addressed primarily because, as mentioned at the start of this article, it obviously accounts for our voting patterns. As the old adage goes, we get the leaders we deserve.

Or put another way: birds of the same feather flock together.