Shitholes: Where the President is Wrong

I am both a brilliant social scientist and a sensitive moralist. Both facts force me to wade into the “shithole” controversy. I will try to diverge from what has been said ad nauseam in the media but I cannot avoid some repetition.

First, I would bet 60/40 that he said it, just as reported. The president is a sort of verbal pervert, an addict. He gets so much pleasure from scandalizing the prim liberals that he can’t stop himself. Policy successes only encourage him; they give him room to maneuver, so to speak. I can certainly empathize. So, I don’t want to deny him but I wish he had not said it. See why below.

Second, yes, some countries are shitholes. That’s why so many, NOT displaced by war, are eager to risk drowning in the cold winter Mediterranean to escape. That’s why some escape a couple of unnamed countries in the Caribbean by floating on inner tubes. That’s why Venezuelan border guards are unequal to the task of keeping immigrants out. (I made this up. I want to make sure you are paying attention.) All the same, there are plenty of good people who live in shithole countries, friends and potential friends of America. The president should avoid making them feel worse than they already do.

Third, there was rush, a veritable melee, to charge President Trump with racism because of the comment. Rude and crude is not enough because not enough Americans care. (Many of us are both; many more are one or the other, at least occasionally.) The president has to be a racist; that’s important. So, this leaves me pondering: If Mr Trump had called, say, Russia a shithole it would have been OK because Russians are 97% white? Do you see the credibility problem here?

What provided the steam, the power in this matter is Mr Trump’s infatuation with merit-based immigration. His eruction took place shortly after Mr Trump had declared the US needs more immigrants from countries such as Norway (where many people must have merit, obviously).

I think that here his logic is dead wrong or, at least, mostly wrong.

For whatever historical reasons or because of their own current virtues, or because of their oil deposits, Norwegians live very well. I think it’s all Norwegians. Even poor Norwegians have it good. Possibly, it’s especially poor Norwegians who have it good because of an insanely generous social safety net. I hate to tell you but Norwegians have both a GDP/capita higher than Americans AND a welfare state. The only weak spot is the climate but then, they are used to it, what, after centuries, and many are rich enough to go south for part of the winter anyway.

Given all this, what kind of Norwegians would think of emigrating to the US? I think, two kinds. First, there would be adventurers and very ambitious entrepreneurs. Second, there would be the scum of Norwegian society, including a large criminal element not satisfied with the lifestyle the dole provides.*

Now, think of a society that is less than rosy. (I won’t call it a bad name because I follow my own advice.) I am thinking of a society where there is no escape from garbage and even from human feces except deep in the tropical forest. Would the well educated, decent people with middle-class aspirations from such a society wish to come to the US? You bet! That society has given us thousands of quality entrepreneurs, many dedicated and hard workers, and talent in every segment of American society, including academia, the judiciary, and literature. I am thinking of India, of course.

So, here is the question: Would we rather have the cream of an objectionable society such as India or the scum of a good society such as Norway**. I think that’s the real choice and Mr Trump does not begin to understand it.

* I use the conditional here because there is currently practically no way for a Norwegian to emigrate to the US except by marrying an American.

** I understand that there are moral objections to skimming off the cream of poor societies such as India. Another topic, obviously.

26 thoughts on “Shitholes: Where the President is Wrong

  1. The average IQ of Haiti is 69, which is classified as mentally deficient. The average IQ of the United States is 98, meaning Haitians are on average approximately two standard deviations away from the mean, or equivalent in intelligence to the bottom 2-3% of the American population.

    Norwegian average IQ is, by contrast, 100. In China, 105. Hon Kong, 108. Is it any wonder these places are so advanced when their human capital is of such quality?

    Holding the golden door open to all Haitians in the hope the exceedingly small number of remaining, excellent Haitians will immigrate – and, to be honest, the smart ones already have – is folly. The president sent the media into conniptions because he hit them right in the solar plexus on this issue.

    • In a merit immigration context it’s better to aim for Haiti than for Norway. PS I am very skeptical of international comparisons of IQs. You are aware of the chidlin IQ test, right?

    • Assuming what you’ve argued in your post, then sure. It would be nice to have more people like this in America: That being said, any merit-based test will have to take IQ into consideration, and that will eliminate most potential immigrants.

      I am aware of the Chitling Test, and I am also aware it is a test of knowledge and not of aptitude. If there is anything credible refuting IQ testing as a good measurement of general intelligence, I haven’t seen it.

    • Matthew: No, immigration merit tests do not have to take IQ into consideration. The Canadian and the Australian merit systems, for example certainly do not.
      I have felt the same skepticism about the IQ test for forty years. One of my teachers in college declared, : IQ tests measure whatever IQ tests measure. I think all versions are hopelessly language-dependent and therefore that the claim that they are aptitude tests only is greatly exaggerated. Every so often, I dive into the topic again and don’t find my original skepticism beaten back.
      Perhaps, you could do something useful by writing an essay for NOL debunking my views, after providing a factual general introduction. It would be especially good if you could draw out the implications of what you write for individual liberty.

    • “any merit-based test will have to take IQ into consideration”


      Just to get some things out of the way so as to clear the deck for the real point, I will stipulate for the sake of argument that 1) there is a general intelligence variable “g” which 2) can be measured by IQ testing, 3) said testing controlling relatively well for cultural variances, and 4) statistical differentials in g existing by e.g. racial demographics.

      So, why would immigration restrictions necessarily screen out lower, and select for higher, IQ?

      Crops have to be picked. Chickens have to be plucked. Houses have to be roofed. Lawns have to be mowed. For some of those jobs, high IQ is not just a prerequisite, it’s a bad thing.

      Do you really want the guy who’s mowing your lawn to cut his toes off because he’s thinking about the ramifications of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity vis a vis the accuracy of atomic clocks instead of watching where the fuck he’s going?

      And do you want YOUR kid competing in the market for good jobs against the cream of the world crop in engineering and neurosurgery? As opposed to having his pick of good jobs because the immigrants who come here go to work in poultry plants?

    • The IQ floor for participation in the economy moves higher each year as unskilled jobs are removed through automation. Crops will soon no longer be picked by hand, as farmers are moving towards machines. The cashier will soon be phased out. Ultimately, anything that can be automated will be.

      Over time, this will produce a large underclass that cannot meaningfully contribute to society. We will already have a significant number of these people even if immigration were to cease today. Why increase the size of the underclass and the problems inherent to managing them when you don’t have to?

      We can prepare for the economy of the future by selecting for the most advantageous demographics now. A nice side effect of eliminating the importation of the cognitively challenged would be that similarly situated Americans will have to be hired for unskilled labor in the meantime, perhaps at a wage that is not so low only an illegal alien would take it.

    • OK, sorry — didn’t realize I was talking with a Marxist (collectivism, check; claim of a predictive theory of history, check; advocacy for central planning, check).

    • No, just noticing where you’re coming from. Are you a Hoppean (he admits right up front that he’s a Marxist)? Or some other kind of pro-central-planning collectivist and alleged clairvoyant than a Marxist?

    • Who cares?

      Matthew: You’re advocating for (continued) restrictions on the liberty of billions of people, but your reasoning seems to be based on a single, arbitrary concept (“IQ”) that doesn’t have much use in telling us anything except that national public education initiatives are going to hurt rather than help poor people (the Bell Curve in a nutshell). In my experience on the internet, “IQ” is used for one of two things: to troll or to thinly veil your racism. Did Trump say something about IQ when he called those countries shitholes, or did you volunteer the IQ angle yourself?

      Your predictions for the future are bold, if nothing else, but I couldn’t find any sources…

    • “Arbitrary” False. Out of the many variables influencing human behavior and performance, IQ has great predictive power. At the individual level this is less so due to other competing factors, but at the society level, IQ becomes much more important in determining national outcomes. For more on this:

      “National public education initiatives…” The assumption is that a bad environment is the reason for the poor performance of groups. That is true to a certain extent, but probably doesn’t account for more than 10-15 IQ points. The average IQ of countries like Gabon, Ghana, Mali, Angola, etc. range from 65 to the high 70s. The average African-American IQ is 85. Assuming the genetic picture has not significantly changed in the last several hundred years, you could conclude the influence of a superior environment in America is responsible for a bump in IQ – but within limits. Environment can only work upon the genetic picture you are born with, and for whatever reason, intelligence has not been as important a trait for survival in Africa as it has been in Europe and Asia.

      “Racism” Is this a true accounting of the facts or not? I am not an expert on genetics or, more specifically, on behavioral genetics. I will side with the hard scientists 100 percent of the time in a discussion of human biology and its effect on society, however.

      If you want to educate yourself on the science, a pretty exhaustive list of peer-reviewed papers and blog posts exploring them can be found here: Look for 3 and 6 under the ToC.

      And that’s a wrap, I think.

    • “Out of the many variables influencing human behavior and performance, IQ has great predictive power.”

      Performance in what?

      The prediction which you claims justifies your authoritarian collectivist recommendations is that jobs which aren’t based heavily in g (general intelligence as measured by IQ) are going to disappear. Which is basically the same prediction Luddites have been making every decade or so for 200 years, a decade after which there are more, not fewer, such jobs.

    • My skepticism has to do with the ability to devise IQ tests that are not dependent on verbal culture. (I notice you did not respond to my question on the Chitlin IQ test.) Take the low Gabon IQs. I assume you refer to the arithmetic mean of all IQs tests given in Gabon during some defined period. First, I wonder what de facto sample of Gabon’s population is the base on which this mean can be calculated. I suspect it’s a small sample and not representative in ways that I will explain if this conversation continues. Second, I wonder in what language the tests were given. Was it in the several languages that are mother tongues to the population? I don’t believe it; the difficulties would be daunting. Or, was it in French, a secondary, acquired language and mostly (I know) a poorly acquired language. This is not a small matter. Most native-born Americans who took a test in any language other than English learned at school would be lucky to get a score of 70. (Abundant personal observation!) There is no reason to believe amalgamated IQ scores and their derivatives without clear answer to these simple questions. No reason at all. Next, I am not inclined to deny a genetic component to what is measured by IQ tests but I pay attention to those who do. I am under the impression that in all developed countries (where the conditions are right to do such things). IQ tests have to be reformulated every year to prevent children’s scores from drifting steadily upward., and to keep the mean at 100. If that is correct (if) it implies one of two things. Either the genetics of the relevant populations are changing fast. There is no conceivable mechanism allowing such a thing to happen. Or, children’s verbal abilities are improving steadily. And then, see above and wonder if such an improvement would not undermine the belief that what IQ tests measure is genetically determined?

    • Those are all interesting points, but once again I’m going to stipulate to Mr. Strebe’s claim (that Haitians average an IQ of 69), and point out that immigration from Haiti, as you describe it, is precisely an instance of the “cognitive sorting” that Murray and Herrnstein discuss in The Bell Curve, which makes similar claims vis a vis a genetic component of IQ.

      Per your observation, the smarter Haitians are abandoning Haiti for the US. We’re not getting the ones with the 69 IQs, we’re getting the ones who either managed to save enough money for a plane ticket (in that country’s “shithole” economy), and had the brain power to navigate the immigration maze to get a visa, or the ones with the gumption and brains to make it here on an inner tube. What’s the average US IQ — 98? I suspect that the Haitians in question weigh in at a higher score than that.

  2. Of course, I agree with your comments on Haiti, Thomas. I was also trying to re-ignite a basic issue around IQs. I mean the issue of the tests’ dependency on verbal knowledge and also on how easy it is to commit grievous mistakes of measurement. I had a French girlfriend in the US once who was denied an entry-level job because her IQ was determined to be too low. Her English was rudimentary and hesitant and she had been tested n English. The employer was not interested in her technical protests. Granted, this was a long time ago. Yet, I would not bet that, today, someone of unknown credentials working in fairly primitive conditions in Gabon, without the benefit of peer – imposed discipline would not make the kind of mistake I allude to in my previous comment. In fact, I think everything is possible because of the heavy ideological load of all intelligence issues. The verbal dependence matter is so important that I sometimes try to convince the credulous that my real IQ score is my score in English plus my score in French. I am joking, of course, but not completely! PS Brandon and everyone else who reads this: You may dispense from pointing out that the young woman in my short story above obviously had a low IQ since she was my girlfriend.

    • Jacques,

      I certainly agree with you that the concept of IQ deserves a lot more examination for skewing factors.

      I do have to assume that your girlfriend had a low IQ because she wasn’t MY girlfriend 😀

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