India, Nigeria, and Ghana are some developing countries known for the exploits of enterprising citizens. Due to the achievements of the smart fraction in poor countries, onlookers are puzzled by their relative poverty. Such an assessment is misguided, because the national IQ is more important than the intelligence of outliers. National success requires large-scale cooperation and intelligence predicts the propensity to cooperate. The future-oriented outlook of intelligent people motivates them to acknowledge the benefits of long-term planning. Beset by low IQ, less intelligent people are unlikely to appreciate the consequences of long-term reform.
Notably, this environment creates hostility to reform. However, intelligent leaders guiding smart citizens will encounter fewer hiccups on the road to reform. But highly intelligent people leading the less intelligent may reason that the costs of attempting social reform are not worth risking their political future. Hence succumbing to populist pressures instead of initiating long-term change is a feasible option for leaders in developing countries. According to the cultural mediation hypothesis posited by Woodley (2011), intelligent people are adept at identifying dominant trends in society, so as goal-oriented actors, they have an incentive to deliver populist policies to retain power.
Thinking that intelligent people are altruistic is naïve. Research indicates that intelligent people conform to cultural constructs because they are more appreciative of the benefits of social conformity. Intelligent people are unlikely to sabotage their goals to promote the long-term success of a country when it is improbable that low-IQ people will embrace reform. In this context, manipulating the unintelligent can prove to be more lucrative than exercising the political fortitude to implement controversial reforms.
Viewing intelligent people as self-interested agents, it becomes obvious that they lack the motivation to confront problems bedeviling the population. After all, there is no guarantee that low-IQ people will respect their efforts. National IQ further impacts the trajectory of poor countries in the realm of economics. There is a link between trade openness and economic growth; however, intuitively protectionism sounds plausible. Since intelligence necessitates rising beyond instinctive thinking, low-IQ people are hesitant to support pro-market policies. In fact, studies assert that intelligent people are prone to think like economists. Moreover, market economies are better off, so the low IQ of poor countries demonstrated by their preference for anti-market policies can partly explain their relative poverty.
Accordingly, the less intelligent are more driven by charismatic authority than evidence, so it is unsurprising that the developing countries that successfully transitioned to developed status like Singapore and South Korea were led by uncompromising figures who gained the adoration of the masses. Indeed, research shows that a leader’s commitment to development is a better indicator of success in developing countries than institutions. “Poor countries get out of poverty through good policies, often pursued by dictators, and subsequently, improve their political institutions,” wrote economists in a 2004 paper.
On the other hand, researchers submit that “intelligence may alleviate or diminish the negative effect of weak institutions on economic growth.” A possible explanation is that intelligent people are more likely to trust others. Resultantly, they cultivate strong social capital, thus creating an environment conducive to the networks that birth entrepreneurship. Against this background, it has been theorized by Potrafke (2012) that corruption is lower in high-IQ societies because “people with longer time horizons internalize the deleterious future effects of contemporary corruption.”
Similarly, high-IQ societies possess a larger percentage of citizens with above-average ability. Studies articulate that exceptionally intelligent citizens “generate relatively more national income and are more innovative, with those that have the lowest levels of IQ being less influential on economic development.” Furthermore, related literature suggests that high-IQ countries “can offset the negative effects of weak IPR protection.” As expected, due to higher cognitive abilities, intelligent people can exhibit resourcefulness in less than ideal circumstances thereby accelerating innovation in the absence of appropriate institutions. Therefore, the innovation gap is explicable by poorer countries, on average having less intelligent people.
Likewise, smart people display traits that are linked to national prosperity. Intelligent people demonstrate lower time preference; hence they are likely to engage in long-term planning to reap future benefits. On this account, researchers opine that because high-IQ people are more patient, they are likely to save, thereby ensuring that capital is available for investments. Additionally, intelligence is linked to pro-social behavior, making smarter citizens less expensive to manage. Considering that intelligent people are less susceptible to delinquency, resources can be channeled to productive sectors like education and health care, thus enhancing living standards.
Consequently, smart people are easier to lead, so intelligent people in low-IQ countries will conclude that reforms and innovations are infeasible and instead opt to maintain power by genuflecting to the demands of the populace. For smart people to make a difference in spurring change, they must be held accountable by a discerning public. In short, highly intelligent people cannot maximize national gains when they are unable to overcome the problems posed by a predominantly low-IQ population.
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