Novelty-seeking traits and development

When we compare the economic performance of former colonies with high European populations (e.g. Australia) to those without one (e.g. most African and Latin American countries), we can see that the former are generally more successful. One reason behind this is that Europeans already knew how to make an economy successful when they settled down in those colonies. They then transferred this knowledge to their offspring. Such an intergenerational transmission of traits that are favorable to development was missing in colonies with few Europeans.

One question that may arise is what kind of knowledge/traits are we talking about here? And is it transmitted genetically or culturally? Of course, economic development has many other determinants, but such intergenerationally transmittable traits are very important as well. In this post, I’ll look at the case of novelty-seeking traits: that is whether one likes to explore and try new things.

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Genetics and development

Genetic diversity is an interesting phenomenon. Too little of it and the population can be too homogeneous, too much of it and there will be a lot of mistrust and conflict. This exactly sounds like something that could potentially influence economic development, doesn’t it?

Research on genetic diversity’s effect on development is quite new. It started with Ashraf and Galor’s (2013) paper, which established the pattern described above: that there is a hump-shaped relationship between genetic diversity and development. Some remain skeptical, however. So let us look at a new take at this question.

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Intelligence, genetics and environment

Intelligence is one of the greatly debated concepts in science today. Well, maybe not so much in actual science per se, but definitely so in the blogosphere. A crowd that goes by the name of HBD (human biodiversity) advocates ideas that closely resemble those in Charles Murray’s 1994 book The Bell Curve, which (re)sparked interest in this topic, even in popular circles.

The HBD group tends to believe that genetics play most of the role in intelligence and that groups like African Americans are naturally less intelligent than Whites, while groups like East Asians and Jews are more intelligent. Therefore, any attempt to close the Black-White (income/education) gap is futile. On the other side are people who think environment is exclusively responsible for intelligence. These include left-leaning academic circles (mostly from the humanities), and this view apparently is the leading one in Scandnavia (no surprise).

I decided to look into this matter for real and see where science actually stands. Not surprisingly, it turns out that the truth is in the middle. But there is more to this.

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