The Bell Curve and Its Relevance to India
I know this is a highly controversial topic, but the authors of The Bell Curve, Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray have argued that intelligence is one, if not the most, important correlative factor in economic, social, and overall success in America.
They maintain that, apart from having lower income, people with lower IQ tend to have lower ethical standards and are prone to committing more crimes than their higher IQ peers.
I don't agree with all of the authors' assertions, but at the same time do believe that a higher IQ of the general population in India would be a significant factor of its economic growth in the coming decades. And working towards that is the most significant investment we Indians can make today, to pave the way for a higher standard of living in our future.
And, no, I am not going to suggest any controversial scheme like eugenics, for instance. What I am going to recommend instead is improving education in rural areas, and taking care of IQ-affecting health issues simultaneously.
Where do we Indians stand?
According to another book, IQ and the Wealth of Nations, the average IQ score for an Indian is 81. To put this in perspective, the corresponding figures for Japan, China, the US, Philippines, and Nigeria are 105, 100, 98, 86, and 67 respectively. According to the same book, differences in national income (in the form of per capita gross domestic product) correlate with differences in average national IQ.
So what does this mean for us? According to some analysts, India is supposed to have the third largest GDP behind the US and China by 2050. From 2007 to 2020, India's per capita GDP in dollars will quadruple. They base these estimates on current trends in the economic growth patterns of these countries.
But I am skeptical about these figures. These financial analysts seem to be oblivious of social factors that could dampen these kind of rosy projections.
Some major factors include corruption, lack of planning or foresight, terrorism, refusal to honour basic social contracts (witness the political drama in Karnataka now), Maoism, goondaism, disregard for the environment, etc.
In all these regards, China is much ahead of India as of now. Right now their main problems seem to be a lack of knowledge of English, and a substantial rural population (with lower productivity). But given China's rapid pace of building new cities and encouraging their children to learn English, these problems would diminish in the next couple of decades. China is poised to become the superpower of the mid-century, easily overtaking the US.
Unfortunately, we Indians don't seem to have any such long-range plans. Our infrastructure projects are haphazard and paved with controversies of one sort of the other. Corruption is rampant at every stage of the bureaucracy and political machinery. Politicians indulge in vote bank politics, and not focus on key issues like primary education and health care for everyone.
This is perhaps the pitfall of being a democracy where the majority of the voting population does not even have a high school education. Since there is a strong correlation between education and IQ levels, I guess one could say the main fault lies with the voting populace itself.
If we go back to the history of developed countries, we will find that the majority of them had fared much worse at some point in time. But they somehow managed to extricate themselves from their miseries and rose up to becoming what they are now.
On the other hand, countries with an average IQ substantially less than that of India (like most in sub-Saharan Africa) degenerated into complete disasters with famine, civil wars, genocides, AIDS epidemics, etc. and are constantly looking towards the rest of the world for assistance of one form or the other.
It is my own belief that, however rotten the current system might be, India can find a way out, and that would be largely due to the efforts of people in the top ten percent of the IQ profile in all levels of the administration and the corporate world.
But at the same time, we have to make sure the remaining ninety percent don't derail this process. This is because, most of the factors which are detrimental to progress, like corruption, religious fundamentalism, crime, Maoism, and just plain incompetence, have to do with the sections of the population that are towards the lower end of the IQ distribution, approaching that of sub-Saharan Africa.
One way to mitigate this is to shift the whole IQ profile up by at least 5-10 points, so that even those on the lower end are out of the range that leads to societal collapse.
Fortunately, I believe, there have already been some social and infrastructural changes that are in favour of higher IQ for future generations of Indians. Let me list them out.
1. General awareness has increased - Thanks to televisions, cell phones, and even the Internet, many Indian youths (even rural ones) have become more knowledgeable on a range of topics compared to those ten years ago. Many now are aware of the opportunities that globalisation has presented them with, and attempt to learn new skills (even brown collar ones). Since job opportunities for these skill sets are limited in the rural sector, there has been unprecedented migration to urban areas. While this does place a burden on the urban infrastructure, at least they are not rotting in villages with nothing to do. However, it seems like communities with less clout like the Scheduled Tribes and the Dalits are not reaping the benefits of this paradigm shift, since they are kept out of the loop by some of the castes higher up in the order. The growing Maoist threat is a direct result of this frustration among these unprivileged sections.
2. Elimination of leaded petrol - More than 100 million people in India (or 10%) battle the debilitating effects of lead poisoning, according to a recent study. Children with high blood lead levels suffer from lower IQ, poor motor coordination, and anti-social behaviour. One of the main sources had been leaded petrol which was prevalent till a few years ago. With its phase-out, we will see less people exposed to high lead levels, and this would cause a positive shift in the IQ. Unfortunately, another major source of lead poisoning, leaded paint, is still being manufactured in this country on a large scale. It is imperative for the government to mandate a gradual phase-out of lead-based paints made here. It is noteworthy that China is precisely doing this now after the controversy surrounding its exports with high lead content.
3. Intercaste marriages - Indians have a diverse gene pool, since we have had migrations/invasions of several ethnic groups for millenia. Unfortunately, most rural people had historically married from the same village or extended family. This leads to IQ-diminishing recessive traits (where both parents have to contribute the defect) in their children. With more people migrating to urban centres, the odds of them getting married to someone from a different caste or region increases, and the likelihood that they share the same recessive traits diminishes, so the chances of their children being affected are much smaller. I have myself seen many cases where the children of intercaste marriages seem to be more successful compared to those from the same castes in question. Another advantage of intercaste marriages is that, the prominence given to castes will in itself diminish over time, since we will see a greater percentage of the population which doesn't have allegiance to any one community, which means fewer caste-based conflicts.
Even though the above factors are in our favour, they are not enough. We need to be more proactive in this regard. These are what I believe are needed-
1. Compulsory education for children - It is really sad that there is no successful government policy in place that ensures all children get the fundamental right to have a decent education. This is true of most of rural India (where the schools are totally dysfunctional), as well as the migrant labour population of urban India. The children have no choice but to help their parents with their work, effectively dooming them to the same standard of living as their parents.
2. Improving prenatal and childhood nutrition - If you observe the employees at your local Food World store, you can make out that most of them have stunted growth, and are not particularly smart either. The average "silly village girl" in India looks nowhere near Priyanka Chopra (who is 5'8), but rather is around 5'2 and weighing 45 kgs.
According to the Nutrition Foundation of India, 90 per cent of adolescent girls, women and children suffer from iron deficiency. In children, anaemia can cause a 5-10 point deficiency in IQ and hamper growth and language development. Fortunately, anaemia can be easily prevented by iron supplements which are really cheap. Two years ago, an `Anaemia-free India' campaign was launched by Lions Clubs International and the Indian Medical Association to address this problem. Let us hope it is successful.
I would also like to see fish oil made available to pregnant women across India (since this has been shown to boost the IQ of the children), but this is not practical given that a) many Indians are vegetarian and b) it is very expensive to produce high quality fish oil without toxins like mercury.
Regarding protein deficiency (which causes stunted physical growth), I speculate that the greater purchasing power of all Indians would automatically lead to a diet richer in protein. And this would be true of vegetarians as well as non-vegetarians.
If we take care of the above aspects, as well as phase out lead from paints, all the factors put together should bump up the average Indian IQ by about 10 points, to about 91. That would place it almost on par with a Western nation like Greece which has a value of 92 currently.
The Bell Curve and Its Relevance to India
- » Published on October 09, 2007
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