Complexity Correlates with GDP and IQ

Average IQ correlates with a nation’s GDP, and GDP correlates with economic and technological complexity. via AlFin

Joseph Tainter’s The Collapse of Complex Societies details how societies grow in complexity as they solve problems that allow them to prosper. But if a society grows beyond its ability to maintain the level of complexity that sustains it, it will tend to “decomplexify” or collapse.

Collapse = A society can be said to collapse when it undergoes a rapid and substantial loss of an established level of socio-political complexity. This, according to Tainter, is always a political process. It stems from the destruction and decay of social organisations and institutions. He gives a list of the kinds of things you can expect to see less of in a society undergoing collapse. These include: less social stratification and differentiation, less economic specialisation, less centralised control, less trading and economic activity and less production of ‘cultural epiphenomena’ such as monuments, buildings, and artworks (Tainter 1988, 4)

Quoted in Philosophical Disquisitions

Every Prosperous Nation Today is Caught in a Technology Trap

The complex problems of modern societies are not being solved by average individuals. They are being solved by their most intelligent residents who often operate at a far higher cognitive level than 99% of their fellow citizens and residents. This means that the scientific and technological solutions to more and more complex problems will remain incomprehensible to most citizens of advanced countries.

When the underpinnings of the complex machinery of society breaks down, if decomplexification occurs too rapidly it may not be possible for society to recover.

In advanced societies, intelligent women are choosing not to procreate. In addition, too often immigration is not restricted to people who are cognitively capable of sustaining or improving an advanced society’s current average population IQ. This means that both native births and immigration often work together to lower national average IQ. So, when collapse takes place, the new population will be even less able to exhibit resilience in the face of challenge.

The ability to master complexity varies with a person’s IQ, executive functions, and levels of curiosity and creativity. The graph of “occupation vs. IQ” below illustrates the IQ demands of various occupations. The average population IQ of some nations is too low to provide many individuals to perform the high-end occupations, and thus those nations have lower GDP and lower complexity.

This graph was adapted from Figure 12 of Hauser, Robert M. 2002. “Meritocracy, cognitive ability, and the sources of occupational success.” CDE Working Paper 98-07 (rev). Center for Demography and Ecology, The University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin. The figure is labelled “Wisconsin Men’s Henmon-Nelson IQ Distributions for 1992-94 Occupation Groups with 30 Cases or More” and is found at  taken from IQ Comparison Site

When a society adopts an unnecessarily complex and costly solution to a problem, it makes itself more vulnerable to collapse. An example would be the current political mandates in western countries to rely more and more exclusively on wind & solar energy for national power grids. Or consider the unbelievably (impossibly) complex supply chains that are required to fulfill government mandates to adopt an all-EV automotive fleet. Another example might be a society that bans the use of physical cash in favor of electronic forms of money — forms of money that evaporate when the electricity supply disappears. In fact, decomplexification occurs in rapid cascades when electrical power supply comes under threat.

Some solutions to problems contribute to societal fragility, and others can contribute to anti-fragility or resilience. In recent years, western governments and societies have tended to choose solutions leading to greater vulnerability to collapse.

As global and national average IQs continue to drop, the overall capacity for resilience and recovery declines. An IQ of 115 is close to the minimum for a person to thrive in a rigorous 4 year college program. As the supply of viable students drops, the innovation that comes from universities will decline.

Modern universities developed in Europe in the late middle ages, and even today the best universities in the world tend to be either in Europe or in parts of the world that were colonized by European powers. These nations are the source of most of the world’s innovation and complexity. Without the cognitive output of these nations, the global economy would collapse. Unfortunately, natural and political trends are bringing about the demise of those problem-solving populations who initially brought widespread organized knowledge to the world.

Notice from the graph below that Russia contributes virtually nothing to global science and innovation.

Ben Hopkins Via AlFinNextLevel

But as global IQ drops, eventually the smart fraction of the human population will be too small to solve the problems of the world that are growing in number and complexity.

It is impossible to make a reliable prediction as to when and why the modern human edifice of complexity will collapse. It will probably not happen everywhere all at once, just as “Rome” did not collapse everywhere and at once.

Any areas that can simplify their supply chains for critical infrastructures and vital industries, will lower their exposure to complexity risk.

If North America simplifies its supply chains — as Peter Zeihan is predicting — the rate of collapse in Africa and Asia is likely to accelerate quickly, while collapse would happen less quickly in North America and allied countries (Japan, UK, Australia, Colombia, and perhaps Chile). Europe’s rate of collapse would fall somewhere between, and South American collapse would vary with the level of economic cooperation with North America.

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