IQ and Politicians

Vox Day put out a video refuting Taleb’s criticisms of IQ, as well a blog post. Recommend watching the video in its entirety:

I disagree regarding the ‘inappropriately excluded’ hypotheses, as discussed awhile back. My explanation is, IQ tests underestimate extremely high IQ, which means individuals who score above 135 or so may be miscategorized as only having IQs of 135, because that is the ceiling of the IQ test . And that people with IQs above 145 or so are less inclined to choose political or legal careers, not because they are being excluded from such jobs.

Vox argues that government is dysfunctional because competent people with high IQs are being excluded, because the ‘communication gap’ makes high-IQ politicians un-electable. However, one may be surprised to learn that having a very high IQ (>145) is not necessarily a hindrance to success at public office. High-IQ politicians tend to start early in life at politics or law (often graduating from a prestigious university which helps immensely for gaining invaluable connections), rise up the ranks quickly, get on the ballots, and have a knack for understanding how the political machine works. If you are on the ballot for one of the major parties and have a sufficiently good ad campaign push, and your opponents are unable to mount an effective offense–it does not matter how well you connect with voters; you will get a lot of votes and maybe even win. Look at Mitt Romney…temperamentally, he’s the polar opposite of Trump and probably has 15 IQ points on Trump and still got 47.2% of the popular vote in 2012 compared to Trump’s 46.4%. Or Hillary Clinton, who is a very successful politician despite lacking charisma and being very high IQ. Historically speaking, it’s only a relatively recent development that politicians are expected to ‘connect’ with voters; the Founding Fathers, for example, were well-educated landowners, and according to Brown University emeritus history professor Gordon Wood, “They were the elite of the day, involved in highest levels of the society.” [1]

Off the top of my head, I can name many living people involved in politics who could plausibly have IQs above 145:

Ron Unz (Harvard grad; studied theoretical physics)

Michael Bloomberg (founder of Bloomberg LP)

Hillary Clinton (National Merit finalist)

Jimmy Carter (regarded as one of the smartest presidents)

John H. Sununu (MIT PHD in mechanical engineering)

Bobby Jindal (graduated from Brown at 20)

Charles Schumer (1600 SAT; probably one of the five most important politicians alive) Schumer, based on his SAT, score likely has an IQ of 155 yet has taken to politics like a fish to water despite being well-beyond the limits of the communication gap.

Smarter politicians won’t necessarily make for better politics, because government is inherently corrupted due to incentive structures. Politicians use other people’s money or money they create, so the incentive to use money in the most efficacious manner is not in place as one would find in the private sector, in which accountability is unavoidable. A government can create money at a whim; a business or individual cannot. Second, democracies are wasteful due to time and money spent on the transition of power, which undoes earlier policy, and time wasted on campaigning rather than governing. Third, the worst outcome for a politician who errs gravely is losing office, even if the consequences for everyone else are collectively substantial. Look at Jimmy Carter. Possibly the worst president in recent decades by allowing the overthrow of the Shah and destabalzinig the Middle East. We’re still paying the price for his mistake. Or Reagan’s 1986 amnesty bill, which at the time may have seemed like smart politics, but as anyone who knows math knows, populations grow exponentially. Also, given the positive correlation between having a post-grad degree and voting democratic, having a much smarter ruling class would presumably accelerate liberalism even more so than already. There’s really no optimal IQ level for political leadership. During crisis, you probably want smarter policy makers, but in times of prosperity a hands-off or minimalist approach is probably optimal. Smarter politicians can devise better solutions, but also devise really bad ones too. A less intelligent politician may not be cunning enough to do as much damage as smart politician but can still cause damage in other respects.

[1] Were the founding fathers ‘ordinary people’?