How it would help if ours was an Intelligent Nation!

2013-08-06 08:25

Come On! Are we in fact looking for a better life for all - like the politicians say? Somehow I don't think so!

Comparative research into national per capita incomes suggests that on our current trajectory we are barking up the wrong tree if we expect long term success and prosperity as a nation. With a growing population and plenty of poverty and unemployment, we cannot afford the continued redistribution of assets and jobs according to political favour and elitist patronage. At this rate, entitlement priorities could cause our tanks to run dry with too few productive people left to prime the pumps.

What resources do we really have?

For many years, people accepted the notion that a nation’s physical advantages - such as precious mineral resources, favourable geography and agricultural and climatic conditions – were key to the well being of its citizens. Building on that, man-made enhancements also assumed importance, so that sound transportation systems, commercial infrastructure and communications enhanced comparative advantages. These natural and man made benefits defined the South African economy as successful during the 20th century.

Unfortunately though, the rewards accruing from the nation’s assets were skewed by asymmetries in the capacity of people to contribute and the coercive nature of apartheid laws, which favoured whites and impeded the economic progress of most other citizens. Today such impediments have been removed and replaced with 21st century neo-socialism – a quaint systemic relic from the last century that renders previously productive assets largely inert and prey to inept management, poor judgment, corruption and economic stagnation.

Assets are important for and contribute to the wellbeing of a country’s citizens only under important preconditions like the competent management of the state and employing the best talent available. But we have not done that. Instead we have preferential hiring - a travesty of good governance that has dumbed down government, the civil service, parastatals and diluted private equity whilst cultivating a delinquent corps of union protected workers.

In the meantime, private enterprise too has been emasculated by intrusive regulations that fuel unemployment and halt much needed growth. The clarion call for such regulation has been “workers’ rights” and addressing “inequality” – both misguided notions that make it difficult to replace poor quality employees and ensures that they are paid over the odds in the name of social justice. The “unexpected results” (a government term for politically driven initiatives with outcomes predictable to anyone with common sense) are that few get hired, opportunities become largely politicized and grant recipient numbers soar.

So where is the Silver Bullet?

Studies undertaken on the topic of cognitive capacity sought a link between human capital, GDP and per capita income because some had started to question the role of physical resources and to dismiss the state as an economic contributor. How, for example could Taiwan, Singapore, Nordic nations and others with few resources, come near the top in per capita income distribution whilst some mineral rich nations are often at or near the bottom? Equatorial Guinea has ample oil reserves and huge wealth but most of its people are dirt poor. Although now growing rapidly, for years Nigeria too has an abundant resource base with a population polarized into a rich elite and widespread poverty.

Could it not be the people themselves - perhaps?

In their study “IQ and the Wealth of Nations”, social and statistical academics Lyn and Vanhanen revealed a strong positive correlation between IQ and per capita national income in 192 countries. Moreover, measures of income inequality were often far greater in countries with abundant natural resources.

Then the think tank La Griffe du Lion also found a strong correlation between intelligence and GDP, and added to their findings a “smart fraction” theory that concluded that only in excess of a given intelligence threshold (i.e. national average IQ) is GDP growth likely to happen.

Both findings – and others beside – point to a need for excellent education.

But sadly – as with our economy and the functioning of state – education is held hostage by ideologies that have been discredited in smarter countries. With the passing of each year, bad teachers are shielded from dismissal and discipline, the inspection of schools is open to ongoing harassment and many in the profession are more interested in time off and more pay than delivering in the classroom.

As a result, our societal intelligence remains in decline relative to the rest of the world, where it is advancing. Indeed we are probably already there with a mathematics literacy ranking 142nd out of 144 countries. It was Einstein who said that to expect different results from the same repeated actions requires more than a poor intellect; it demands stupidity.

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