The Problem With Singapore

Singapore’s long-time leader Lee Kuan Yew died a couple of weeks ago. His death brought a surprising outpouring of praise from all quarters: even Barack Obama praised the man, and John Kerry, in a characteristically infelicitous phrase, said Mr. Lee ‘exuded wisdom’.

You should find this acclamation puzzling, because Mr. Lee was the polar opposite of a man like Barack Obama, and his extraordinary success in Singapore was built entirely upon — indeed, was a towering monument to — the summum malum of the modern Left, namely discrimination. He knew very well that people, and peoples, differ widely in the qualities that make for stable and productive societies, and so he wrapped his island nation in a semipermeable membrane, a kind of Maxwell’s Demon, that admitted for entry only those who would make a positive contribution to Singapore’s cultural and commercial well-being. (This is rather like what I saw happening at Google a few years back.)

The idea worked very well indeed: Singapore is one of the safest and most prosperous places on Earth. Imagine Yemen, dear reader, or Honduras, or Ferguson, Missouri — and you have imagined everything that Singapore is not. If one were to suppose that John Kerry were a humble, intelligent person capable of searching self-reflection (which I do not suppose), then one would imagine that, having characterized Mr. Lee as ‘exuding wisdom’, he would be forced to conclude that our own regime, therefore, exudes something completely different.

For all that Mr. Lee’s Singapore was a flamboyant success by most conventional measures, however, it had a serious problem: it was what neoreactionary thinkers have identified as an IQ Shredder. Most of you probably aren’t familiar with this concept, so I’ll explain it for you.

Observers of the life-cycles of civilizations long ago noticed that there is a natural demographic process that tends to enfeeble high civilizations as they reach their apogee. The idea is that as civilizations advance, they create more and more knowledge, literature, art, etc., and that for the civilization to continue to advance requires that there be enough people in each succeeding generation with the cognitive and behavioral capacity to absorb it all and carry it forward. The fact that these traits are highly heritable means that those in each generation who possess these necessary qualities must maintain a certain rate of fertility in order to ensure that there will be a large enough pool of such resources in the next generation.

The problem, however, is that high civilizations offer a great many agreeable distractions and diversions for these cognitive elites (not least of which is the work of building upon the knowledge and culture passed to them by their antecedent generation) — and so the messy, expensive, and time-consuming work of raising children becomes less and less attractive. Once the fertility rate drops below a certain critical point, there simply aren’t enough children of sufficient quality to shoulder the load, and the whole structure becomes more and more top-heavy. Eventually it collapses. This has happened again and again throughout history.

What Lee Kuan Yew realized was that the Singapore he had worked to create was just such a place: lots of money and high culture, and lots of fun and productive things for its affluent and intelligent population to do. The birth rate, however, is absurdly low — in 2012, it was 1.2 children per woman, which is far below replacement rate — and so Singapore constantly imports new residents. This is easy for Singapore to do, however, because it’s such a nice place to live. And because of that, Singapore can be very selective indeed about whom to let in.

What this means, then, given the high heritability of these desirable cognitive and behavioral traits, is that Singapore is effectively a kind of ‘black hole’ that continuously sucks in industrious, conscientious, high-IQ individuals from all over the world, and removes their genomes from the future human population. Hence the term “IQ Shredder”.

The term itself was coined by the blogger Spandrell in this post from a couple of years back. Nick Land discussed it also, last year, here.

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  1. The black hole analogy would argue for the term “IQ Spaghettification“.

    Posted April 5, 2015 at 4:40 pm | Permalink
  2. Whitney says

    When I was young, in the 70s and 80s, the US was referred to as a ‘brain drain’ of the world. I honestly don’t know if this phrase was used only in my family or in the larger world. It is not true anymore. Obviously.

    Posted April 5, 2015 at 7:00 pm | Permalink
  3. Whitney says

    Nevermind. Larger world

    Posted April 5, 2015 at 7:01 pm | Permalink
  4. Human capital flight is an Economics term equivalent to the Sociology term, brain drain, which refers to the emigration of intelligent, well-educated individuals to somewhere for better pay or conditions, causing the place they came from to lose those skilled people, or “brains.” Typically, emigrating brains have learned English and have moved to the United Kingdom, the US or some other English-speaking country.” — Wikipedia

    Posted April 5, 2015 at 10:44 pm | Permalink
  5. Malcolm says

    The key distinction to be made here is that the old expression “brain drain” described a transplantation of human capital, with the unspoken assumption that it would become not just a temporary asset to the host nation, but also would add itself to that nation’s human stock, thereby making itself an asset for generations to come.

    An IQ shredder, on the other hand, mines and discards human capital, removing it forever from circulation.

    Posted April 5, 2015 at 10:52 pm | Permalink
  6. Orthodox says

    If there’s loss of future GDP due to depleted human capital caused by working women, then compare the present gain in GDP from women against the expected loss, which can be reasonable approximated by immigration rates. One should also consider real estate. Is a society wealthier if the wives work, and some significant percentage of that wealth is spent on low skilled child care workers, maids and higher real estate prices? Now factor in hypergamy, does society need a $300,000 per annum salaried wife of a $2 million pa salaried husband?

    Posted April 12, 2015 at 9:35 am | Permalink
  7. RJ Moore II says

    Stop subsidizing the breeding of lumpenproletariate. It’s much more realistic than convincing intelligent people to breed for no personal gain. Sympathy for the underclass is social idiocy.

    Posted January 23, 2016 at 12:45 am | Permalink

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