Judge Posner and Limits of Smartness
Richard Posner, while explaining why he dislikes affirmative action, argues:
As discrimination declines, replaced by affirmative action, explanations for lagging achievement that are based on discrimination lose their plausibility. They were never entirely plausible, given Jewish achievement in the face of fierce discrimination, though it is argued by Stephen Pinker in a recent issue of the New Republic that discrimination against Jews in the Middle Ages, by forcing them into middleman occupations where intelligence is a more valued asset than in farming or soldiering, resulted in the more intelligent Jews having a higher birth rate (because they were better off) than the less intelligent Jews and so, through the operation of natural selection, discrimination can be “credited” with some of the responsibility for the high average IQ of Jews today–even its genetic component. (Hitler may have had something to do with this as well, as it is plausible that the most intelligent European Jews saw the handwriting on the wall earliest and left Europe in the 1930s before it was too late.)
Although I admire Judge Posner and have learned a great deal from his writing, I think it is fair to say that I disagree with much of this analysis. It isn’t just that the evolutionary science of intelligence is extremely complicated, which should lead us to doubt claims about the effect of time-limited selection pressures on economic outcomes. Nor is it just that Posner has violated Godwin’s Law.
The problem is rather that smart people are often anti-social geeks, who don’t make better life choices under conditions of uncertainty. It is true that there is evidence that intelligence and ability to perform statistical calculations under controlled conditions are related. But I haven’t seen any good real-world evidence that smarter folks are better able to discount those emotions/biases (such as patriotism, risk aversion, optimism) that would have led Jews in Europe to stay put. Indeed, the conventional wisdom is that smarter people have weaker “street-smarts”, which is another way of saying they are likely to be bad at reading others for social cues. So even if intelligence were hereditable in the way Posner evidently postulates, it seems unlikely to me that the smarter portion of European Jewry escaped the Holocaust.