The Kerala Myth

kerala-backwaters-thumbnailThe discussions about poverty and prosperity in India almost never mention IQ.  But, IQ matters more than almost anything.  

Manu Joseph in the New York Times:

Much of Kerala’s wealth comes not from within, but from a work force spread across the country and the rest of the world, chiefly in Middle Eastern nations. But the fact is that, because Kerala has invested in education and health care, it has ensured that a large proportion of its population, and not just its elite, could pounce on opportunities wherever they sprang up.

I do not trust the statistical data collected by Indian researchers. I do not respect the tendency to base one’s opinions on the statistics collected by government bodies in third world countries. But, let me accept these figures for the sake of an argument.

Now, Think. In 1951, Kerala had a literacy rate of 47% when the national average was only 18%. Many economists have argued that Kerala has not made spectacular progress after the Independence. True. Many states like Himachal Pradesh have radically improved the literacy rate. Kerala’s performance is by no means extraordinary. But, this is not the argument I wish to focus on here. Consider the argument that the remittances from abroad do not fully explain the high income level and development indicators in Kerala.  But, if Kerala’s literacy rate was nearly 3 times of that of the national average, and nearly twice of that of the second most literate state, Maharashtra, why is it so hard to assume that Malayalis have, on average, higher intelligence? Though no one has really done a study, I will be very surprised if this is not true. Isn’t it true that for this reason alone, we should expect Kerala to be far more prosperous and literate than the other parts of the country? Intelligence and other positive traits are correlated. So, isn’t it possible that Kerala would be far ahead of other states in health indicators too?

Remember. My point, still, is NoT that Keralites have a higher average intelligence. My question is: Why did such an obvious possibility escape the countless researchers who had praised or denounced the Kerala model? And, if all this is true, what needs explanation is not Kerala’s success in improving its people’s lot, but its failure. 

Ignoring IQ is like ignoring the elephant in the room. From Lynn’s “IQ and the Wealth of Nations”:

“Per capita income has been positively correlated with national IQs since 1820. The correlation between national IQs and per capita income increases from .540 (the average of the Pearson and Spearman correlations) in 1820 to .720 in 1997 to 1998 (the average of six Pearson correlations). Thus, national IQs explain 29 percent of the variance in per capita income in 1820 and 52 percent of the variance in per capita income in 1997-1998. The average of six Spearman correlations in 1997 to 98 rises to .833 and the explained part of variation rises to 69 percent. We conclude that differences in national intelligence provide the most powerful and fundamental explanation for the gap between rich and poor countries.”

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