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The Macrogenoeconomics of Comparative Development

The most non-PC research at Williams is probably conducted by associate professor of economics Quamrul Ashraf. (Fortunately for him, his research output (pdf) is deeply impressive and, if he can ever stop co-authoring with his Ph.D. adviser Oded Galor, a tenure offer from a leading research university will probably become available for the asking.) His latest (pdf):

The importance of evolutionary forces for comparative economic performance across societies has been the focus of a vibrant literature, highlighting the roles played by the Neolithic Revolution and the prehistoric “out of Africa” migration of anatomically modern humans in generating worldwide variations in the composition of human traits. This essay surveys this literature and examines the contribution of a recent hypothesis regarding the evolutionary origins of comparative economic development, set forth in Nicholas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History, to this important line of research.

“[G]enerating worldwide variations in the composition of human traits” is code for, Asians are (genetically) smart and obedient, which is why South Korea is rich, while Africans are (genetically) dumb and violent, which is why Nigeria is poor. Of course, Ashraf puts it much more politely:

Recently, in A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History, Nicholas Wade advances an intriguing hypothesis regarding the evolutionary origins of comparative economic development. Citing a wide range of evidence from evolutionary biology on the nature and pace of recent genetic adaptions in human populations, as well as evidence from evolutionary psychology and behavioral genetics on the association between somatic traits and social behaviors at the individual level, Wade argues that variation in selective pressures across regions of the globe has given rise to enduring differences in social behaviors across groups, thereby differentially shaping the nature of their institutions and, thus, their level of economic development. In particular, his hypothesis of comparative development suggests that in regions of the world that were historically characterized by higher population density and early statehood, favorable genetic traits (e.g., nonviolence, cooperation, and trust) that were initially concentrated among the rich elites gained an evolutionary advantage, proliferated over time, and contributed to the emergence of growth‐enhancing institutions and a superior development trajectory.

In the end, Ashraf and his co-author argue (unpersuasively) against Wade’s hypothesis, but, from the point of view of the typical Eph social justice warrior, the issue is not their conclusions but the fact that they were willing to even entertain such racist pseudoscience. PC restrictions are not just, or even mostly, about the conclusions you draw, they are about the questions you ask. Fortunately, tenure protects (?) Professor Ashraf. Right?

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#1 Comment By frank uible On March 16, 2017 @ 6:42 am

What does your economic crystal ball say the future holds for the long term result of this country’s ever increasing national debt? My SWAG reports that within 50 years politics shall inevitably doom the U.S.A. to having a second class economy. Pray that POTUS be able to drain that swamp!

#2 Comment By John C. Drew, Ph.D. On March 16, 2017 @ 2:00 pm

As we learn more about genetics, I think this sort of debate will become a lot more common and mainstream. I feel slightly better about Williams College now knowing that Quamrul Ashraf is working on this front.

#3 Comment By quibbling ’18 On March 16, 2017 @ 6:12 pm

There are many things I take issue with in this post, but at least one of these is the contrast between the supposed contrasts of “smart and obedient” vs. “dumb and violent”… which aren’t opposites. Violence is all-too-often the direct result of obedience-from soldiers in war or hypermilitarized police forces or conquistadors or smallpox blanket deliverers or dockhands in a slave port. But that violence has a white face too often to be what you were going for. What you really wanted to say was “criminal”, which makes more sense as a contrast to obedience. That would have exposed you to critiques of buying into myths of black criminality. So you replaced it with “violent”, hoping people would substitute Willie Horton’s menacing mugshot in, hoping they would ignore their own white-dominated nation reliant upon violence, hoping that pre-existing racial predilections would perpetuate themselves.

#4 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On March 16, 2017 @ 6:27 pm

buying into myths of black criminality.

Details, please! African-Americans have much higher rates of criminality in the US. This is not a myth. The same is true of people of African descent in other countries and of countries in Africa.

But perhaps you were referring to myths about the causes of black criminality . . .

Violence is all-too-often the direct result of obedience-from soldiers in war or hypermilitarized police forces or conquistadors or smallpox blanket deliverers or dockhands in a slave port.

A fair point. I need a word which indicates violence outside of socially approved venues. Japanese soldiers were incredibly violent in China in WW II but Japan itself is one of the least violent societies on Earth.

But, to be honest, what I am most interested in is your views about Ashraf’s research. Is this the sort of topic that a Williams professor should be investigating?

#5 Comment By quibbling ’18 On March 16, 2017 @ 7:13 pm

I don’t mind his research. Refusing to engage with genetic arguments at any level prevents evidence-based opposition. I would have a problem with the College hiring someone who believes that black students (or any PoC) are, at a biological level, less likely to be able to contribute to society or a Williams classroom.

Williams professors with tenure should be able to research whatever they want. If it is publishable in modern academia, and the faculty have granted them tenure, I see no reason for my disagreement with their views to prevent their pursuit of the intellectual question. But when that pursuit disregards the value of members of the Williams community, it has gone too far. Research claiming that genetics mean black students are dumber than white students doesn’t belong in a Williams classroom as anything more than an example of the rhetorical advantages of sophistry. Presenting it as the serious product of academic deliberation is ridiculous. Teaching it to students is academic malpractice.

#6 Comment By John C. Drew, Ph.D. On March 16, 2017 @ 8:46 pm

– quibbling ’18

Wow! Race realism is a legitimate topic of research and a fruitful source of discussion in any free society. I’m surprised to see you want to call it academic malpractice.

Just because average scores show a profound gap between Asian and African American IQs does not mean that there are no African Americans who are objectively qualified to be Williams College students.

On the other hand, the distribution of IQ scores by race does lead us to believe that the demographics of the student population at William College should reflect the racial distribution of IQ scores and not the racial distribution of the population in general. This is true for both students and faculty members.

This is why it is a crime, and why it is definitely academic malpractice, to artificially reduce the number of Asian students and professors on the Williams College.

Scholars, even those without tenure, should be allowed to pursue the truth, no matter whose toes get stepped on. Low IQ is associated with greater crime, more incarceration, teen pregnancy and poverty. It would be short-sighted and cruel to prevent people from honestly studying this issue simply because it would hurt someone’s feelings. The pursuit of truth is not for snowflakes.

#7 Comment By frank uible On March 17, 2017 @ 4:38 am

An ugly subject which, if pursued, will certainly lead to much regret – so let us drop it.