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Book Review: “Cognitive Capitalism: Human Capital and the Wellbeing of Nations” by Heiner Rindermann

Heiner Rindermann is one of the few social scientists that is not a staunch lefty. His research focuses on the not politically correct topic of intelligence. If you have ever looked into studies on IQ differences between nations or ethnicities, you may have come across his work. As I have read about a handful of his papers on those topics, his book “Cognitive Capitalism: Human Capital and the Wellbeing of Nations” (Cambridge University Press, 2018) presented some material I was already familiar with.

In short, Cognitive Capitalism is a tour de force through intelligence research on the macro level. It presents a summary of the field. While Rindermann does present his own contributions as well, he takes great effort to make this book not about his own work. He also discusses the views of his opponents at length. Whenever he makes an argument, it is built on data first.

What you will learn from this book is that you could almost scrap intelligence research altogether if you only trusted your own experiences. In the most interesting chapters, he expands upon the idea of a colleague of his who stated that everyday life is an intelligence test. This implies that if you are in a country full of stupid people, nothing seems to work, while if you are in a country run by smart people frictions are kept to a minimum. He draws parallels between quantitative results of country-wide intelligence tests and economic performance. He is also rather blunt in his statements, for instance writing about “easy to observe ethnic differences in life outcomes due to ethnic ability differences.” No, Cognitive Capitalism is not your average shitty academic social science book publication steeped in the dogmas of the left.

One important point Rindermann makes is that character traits like conscientiousness, peacefulness and dependability are positively correlated with intelligence, while sloppy, rowdy and fickle people tend to be dumber. If you look at the data he presents, it does make a lot of sense why, for instance, Germany is no longer able to keep his infrastructure up and running. Once the elites pack up and leave, the less able take their place and it is only a matter of time until a country descends into chaos. May those millions of doctors and engineers from Africa and the Middle East help them. Rindermann is normally not quite as polemic as I am, though, and instead sometimes only presents facts, without wanting to draw too many damning conclusions, even when they stare you right in the face, like in the case of Germany, which has been doing a formidable job at enticing members of its intellectual elite to leave in droves.

The effect of culture on intelligence is extensively discussed in Cognitive Capitalism. Rindermann is particularly critical of Islam. One metric he mentions is the number of books published in Arabic every year, which is minuscule. Yet, he is not so shortsighted as to uncritically praise cultures, nations, or ethnicities due to IQ test results. In particular the Chinese get a bit of a beating. He downright makes fun of them when he states that Chinese academic research seems to only “simulate” science. The issue he sees is that cultures influenced by Confucianism place book-learning and recitation above scientific inquiry. Indeed, the number of Chinese scientists who have made top contributions to their field is comparatively low. According to his data, even in absolute numbers, i.e. ignoring that the Chinese have over one billion warm bodies to recruit their top talent from, they cannot measure up to many Western countries.

Cognitive Capitalism does not just diagnose the present. It analyzes the past and also makes attempts to predict the future, based on a statistical model that is described in great detail. I found this most remarkable because it is exceedingly rare that a social scientist dares to propose a model based on real-world data that you could verify if you only waited long enough. It’s almost like science. (Economists propose idealized models that are generally useless.) His predictions for the West are hardly uplifting, however, pointing out that population dynamics indicate that we are past the peak. This is not just about the West importing battalions of welfare recipients with middling IQs from the Third World. Within countries, it is also the case that the underclass by far outbreeds the smart and productive members of society. One aspect I had not taken into account yet is “generation length”. This makes the projections he presents even more dismal because not only do the lazy and stupid pump out twice as many kids as the minority of net tax payers. It is also the case that Billy Beta and his wife may have their first kid when they are in their 30s. At that age, equally old Shaqueesha will already be a grandmother. If you do not see why this is a problem, then brush up on exponentiation.

That Rindermann likes to intersperse his perhaps dry presentation of data with anecdotes may strike some readers as unscientific. That stance would have some merit if he built his arguments on anecdotes, but that is not what he does. Instead, he uses anecdotes to provide real-world examples of the conclusions he draws from his data. Some of those are may be amusing at first, but they are depressing if you think about them for a bit. One example he mentions is how the student dorm he lived in while pursing his degree disintegrated. It was once run by Protestants for Protestants, but the policies where changed bit-by-bit. In the end, it was a multi-ethnic dorm for students of all religions. In the end, a high-trust environment in which people saw it as their duty to help out turned into one full of distrust in which people stole, cheated, vandalized property, and were generally unwilling to contribute to the community, which only existed on paper at this point. The Protestant leadership of that dorm acted like our leftist Western politicians do and refused to acknowledge that there is even a problem. They saw no fault in their harebrained actions. Of course, this goes back to the lefty belief that if you do not name a problem, it does not exist, which is, as Rindermann points out, a kind of reasoning that exemplifies stunted intelletual development.

Indeed, if you are sick and tired of the left, you may enjoy Cognitive Capitalism quite a bit. I chuckled when I came across his statement that, “It is taken for granted that animals have distinct races but for around four decades this has not been the case for humans.” He also mocks eminent psychologists at leftist bastions like Harvard’s Stephen Jay Gould who claims that evolution has stopped 50,000 years ago. I have the impression that Rindermann is skeptical of the status quo of universities in general. He laments that even though universities fund all kinds of obscure research, there is never any money left to study ethnic ability differences. Then, there is this quote:

Small reductions in the average intelligence of educational administrators will result in an increased probability that educational reforms will reduce rather than enhance students’ intelligence, and thereby lead to even lower intelligence in the next generation of educational administrators and even greater deterioration of the educational system.

Isn’t that what we are witnessing? I think that universities have been circling the drain. The increasing stupidity of politicians and administrators will not help them.

Lastly, I have a few criticisms. One is that the English in Cognitive Capitalism is rather poor. Rindermann is German. Yet, he should have engaged a professional proofreader. Heck, there is a grave typo in the very title of his book, since the correct spelling is of course “well-being”. From there it only gets worse as there is a shocking amount of mistakes in the text. Some parts would have been nigh unintelligible for me if I weren’t fluent in German. For instance, he once writes about a stay at a “pension”. What he means is a “bed and breakfast”, which is “Pension” in German. It is also not clear who the audience of this book is. I have the impression that it’s German academics. Otherwise, it does not make sense that he adds German translations to key terms, such as the following:

Epistemic aims and intellectual integrity (Redlichkeit) are more important than strategic aims.

This pattern shows up over and over. He also uses wrong translations for standard terms. For instance, instead of “citizen” he uses the archaic “burgher”, presumably because the equivalent German term is “Bürger”. What he means, though, is “member of the bourgeoisie.”

Some of his sentences are comically bad, unfortunately. I laughed out loud when I read, “better and longer healthy time during working age”. (Yes, his English is really that poor.) What is particularly tragic about this is that there is a suitable standard term he is oblivious of. It is “disability-free life expectancy.”

A particular problem with the social sciences is that people do not seem to understand that a correlation does not imply causation. Rindermann is often careful to draw conclusions that seem unfounded. Then again, you also find claims like the following:

Empirical studies have shown that violence has negative effects on short- and long-term cognitive development, resulting in lower IQs: according to Delaney-Black et al. (2002) an exposure to violence (e.g. ‘I have seen somebody get stabbed’; ‘Grown-ups in my home hit each other’) leads after controlling for confounders to a decrement in cognitive ability of −7 to −10 IQ points.

My assumption is that dumb people are simply more violent, and the dumber they are, the more violent they are. Rindermann does not consider this. Instead, he is quick to conclude, in his substandard English, that “Peace makes smart, violence dumb!”

If you can look past his shoddy English and the occasional jumping to conclusions, you will probably find Cognitive Capitalism to be a worthwhile read.

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: “Cognitive Capitalism: Human Capital and the Wellbeing of Nations” by Heiner Rindermann

  1. Have you considered to proofread a chapter to him, and charge him for proofreading the rest of it? If his book is as toxic and damning of how it is in Germany today, wouldn’t you help him, if you did? Besides, wouldn’t you help him in bashing the current zeitgeist? I have no idea if Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn got help with murdering communism, or if he did the proofreading himself. Do you think Mr Rindermann would like to be compared with him?

    I’ve got a e-copy of the book, and I’d like to read it. Unfortunately, I speak only a foreigner’s tourist-german. I could survive on my own, and learn some. So I’d happily read it after you’d help him with the English.

    Thanks for the blog. Die Gedanken sind frei, sind sie nicht? How would you translate ‘the blog’ to german? Either way, you do your part in spreading heretical yet sane thoughts.

    1. The book is out now, so I don’t think making such an offer would now be appreciated. Besides, his book is over 500 pages long. I would not even have the time for it. I could handle proofreading, but you would have to rewrite a large part of the book to make the language flow properly.

      Germans translate “blog” as “Blog”. You’ll find that many terms are, um, (culturally) appropriated from English. For some reason, the ultra-PC leftists elites have no problem with that.

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