Steve Sailer on immigration, economics and human intelligence

Some countries grow wealthy with no natural resources, while others sink into squalor while sitting on vast natural wealth. How does this relate to human intelligence? Photo: Associated Press

FLORIDA, December 27, 2012 — Journalist Steve Sailer wonders why some countries are wealthy, even though they lack natural resources, while others sink into squalor while sitting on top of vast natural wealth. Does this relate to human intelligence? 

Intelligence measurement applied to individuals raises questions, but applied to groups and races, it has an ugly history as a tool of racism. Attempts to link intelligence to genetics risks genetic discrimination and ethnoracial supremacism. How can these be avoided during the years ahead?

Recent immigration trends to the United States have generated massive political resistance. Why is immigration so problematic? And why has multiculturalism become an increasingly contentious issue?

In this second part of our discussion, Sailer addresses these questions, then tells us a bit about his life and career.  


Joseph F. Cotto: How do IQ levels typically relate to a country’s overall economic prosperity?

Steve Sailer: There is a fairly high correlation among countries’ IQ scores, school achievement scores (such as the recently announced TIMSS and PIRLS or the PISA of a couple of years ago), and levels of prosperity. For example, countries such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore score well on tests of intelligence and school achievement and are good at technologically complex tasks. China isn’t yet a rich country, but its test scores suggest it has the cognitive capacity to become one.

Does being smart help you get rich, or does being rich help you get smart? Probably both.

The most interesting case is India. There are numerous smart and prosperous Indians in the U.S., but it’s not clear how representative they are of the billion-plus Indians back home. IQ tests and a PISA test given in a couple of Indian states have been less encouraging than in China. 

I would imagine, however, that if India improved its overall nutrition, sanitation, public health, and education, its domestic test scores would come more in line with those of overseas Indians. For example, a shortage of iodine in the diet can cause the IQ-lowering medical syndrome of cretinism. (If you are interested in making a year-end charitable contribution, Kiwanis International has been doing great work for many years toward helping poor countries supplement their salt with iodine.)

Cotto: One of your gravest concerns relates to modern immigration trends in the United States. Why do you view these trends as being so problematic?

Sailer: Immigration has been great for Democratic politicians. For typical Americans …

Look at California. When I was a child in Golden State a half century ago, the standard of living for the average family may well have been the highest in the world. Today, despite the world-conquering success of Silicon Valley and the continued flourishing of Hollywood, it’s crowded and, consequently, wages haven’t kept up with the very high cost of living. It’s still a great place to be rich, but it’s not at all good place to be average. And the average, as measured by, say, school achievement scores, has slipped toward the bottom of the fifty states. One big reason for that is the enormous influx of unskilled immigrants.

In contrast to America, countries like Canada and Australia treat immigration the way Harvard treats college admission or the New England Patriots treat the NFL draft: as a way to get the talented that can benefit the institution and keep out the untalented. Here in America, we increasingly treat immigration as if it were a sacred civil right possessed by 7 billion foreigners.

Cotto: Multiculturalism is spreading across the Western world at high speed. This has led not only to language barriers, but substantial ethnic, religious, and racial tensions. What is your approach to this volatile subject?

Sailer: If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.

Cotto: Measuring individuals or groups by intelligence might lead to serious problems, such as genetic discrimination or ethnoracial supremacism. How, in your opinion, can these be avoided during the years ahead?

Sailer: Individuals and groups are currently measured by intelligence. We do it formally – for example the SAT and ACT for college admissions or the AFQT for enlistment (the military takes almost no recruits who score below the 31st percentile on the Armed Forces Qualification Test, which is essentially an IQ test). And we can’t help but measure intelligence informally. As Professor Robert A. Gordon of Johns Hopkins notes, life is an IQ test. 

Like Faber College in “Animal House,” my motto is: “Knowledge is good.” The more we study and openly discuss the effects of currently existing genetic differences, the better prepared we’ll be to know what to do about the coming technology of genetic engineering. 

Cotto: You’ve become a prominent journalist and pundit. What took you into that career?

Sailer: Am I? I appear to have a modest amount of indirect influence on public debates because I’m read by some of the more influential pundits, but I am seldom cited by name. My career is simply that I was in the marketing research industry from 1982-2000 and have managed to make a living as a full-time writer since then. I publish regularly in,, and

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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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