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12/27/2004

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Steve Sailer

According to a UN report earlier this year, one of the most cost-effective ways to raise the national wealth of 3rd World countries is to subsidize the fortification of food with micronutrients, including ones that prevent diseases lowering IQ.

This survey, "Vitamin & Mineral Deficiency: A Global Progress Report" ( http://www.unicef.org/media/files/vmd.pdf ), co-produced by UNICEF and the Micronutrient Initiative, begins:

"Few outside specialist circles are aware of the scale and severity of vitamin and mineral deficiency, or of what it means for individuals and for nations. It means the impairment of hundreds of millions of growing minds and the lowering of national IQs And it means the large-scale loss of national energies, intellects, productivity, and growth."


The survey notes, for example, that iron shortages are driving down national GNPs by lowering national IQs:

"In most developing countries today, iron deficiency is now estimated to be preventing 40% to 60% of children from growing to their mental potential In the last 10 to 15 years, iron deficiency has assumed even greater importance as evidence accumulates linking iron deficiency with mental impairment. In various tests of cognitive and psycho-motor skills, for example, lack of iron has been found to be associated with significant levels of disadvantageaffecting IQ scores by as much as 5 to 7 IQ points.

Similarly, iodine shortages cause the swelling of the thyroid gland called goiter, which can lead to what the U.N. report calls "cretinism."

In the U.S., these two problems were almost completely solved decades agoby fortifying salt with iodine and flour with iron and other micronutrients. Similar methods should work in the Third World.

Of course, the expense and organizational challenges are greater. In Pakistan, for example, there are 600 commercial salt producers. Getting each to iodize is a sizable undertaking.

Yet it can and must be done.

Of course, you probably never heard of this UN report, because it mentions IQ, and ever since "The Bell Curve," we aren't allowed to mention IQ in polite society... no matter what the harm this taboo does to humanity.

Giles

Population growth is typically to symplistic a measure to capture the effects. Its also important to look at fertility rate - more children means less savings and hence less capital. In africa, the death rate of infants keeps the fertility rate high and savings low.

Similiarly population structure itself is also very important, over sized young cohorts tend to be a drag on development - as seen in the Middle East and Africa - the reason being too few cheifs and far to many indians to develope an efficient production methods. Thus Aids, by sliming the population structure may be economically beneficial.

T J

The (comparatively) denser populations in such diverse places as Kansas and NYC undoubtedly live better today than they did 100 or 200 years ago, and not merely because of technological advances. Larger populations allow for specialization, and thus for higher technical competence. It may even be that the denser populations foster, rather than impede, technological advances. Of course, having institutions congenial to economic progress is key, as you point out.

jm

I think the population and the land it inhabits are in constant, dynamic relationship. Ideally, there is the right amount of people for the land to sustain. The population is constantly changing: increase, decrease, disease, enrichment, , etc., trying to maintain this equilibrium.

loyopp

A circuitous comment... I've encountered a few African expatriates and diplomats while living in Washington over the years, and it seems from talking to them that there is a serious brain-drain problem. I'd be curious to know your views on the magnitude of this problem and possible solutions. My impression is that well-educated Africans tend to locate in DC, New York, London, and other big wealthy cities, but that if everyone else went back to the homeland, so would they. Talk is cheap, of course, but those anecdotes do suggest a problem with multiple equilibria. Any thoughts on how to crack that nut with changes in economic institutions and inherent incentives? It's hard to picture impoverished African countries developing a home-grown market economy when the human capital is getting skimmed off the top. Without a diversified economic base and elimination of the resource extraction mentality of the elites in the country and out, aren't these countries doomed to a future riding the roller coaster of international primary product markets? In that context, its hard to picture the majority of the population moving away from subsistence farming. Thus, reducing disease wouldn't necessarily have a first-order effect on human capital. People would have more years of returns on the capital, but the return per period might be so small that the increase in investment would be negligible.

AdamSmithee

A number of African countries *have* followed similar --or better-- policies than China and India and yet still see chronically low economic growth rates. Ghana is the classic example.

Having said that, I would agree that population growth wasn't Africa's 'problem' in the past. And that AIDS is now leading to population decline in Southern Africa is first off a human tragedy and second an economic disaster.

Dilley

Before anyone can begin to talk exports beyond borders we must begin with education which comes in many shapes and sizes to consider. Beginning with traditional education is unrealistic in my view, but specialized education is not. Finding individuals that can be trained in a specific job function can be efficient in jump starting production. As Becker states I believe that bigger populations become an asset rather than a liability to economic growth, I think he is right. There are vast quantities of goods and services that require very little education to assemble, produce, or offer as economies such as India and China have discovered. If you have a large number of trained workers they can out produce competition by flooding the market and controlling the price of that good, again we are back to economic constrains, which Becker cites as the predominate issue to getting an economy started; I think we all agree. Outside investors will turn their heads if they can be convinced that an organized group can save them money by producing a needed item, or service. A great example is the guy from India who calls my office asking for the meter read on my Xerox copier; he recites a script, hardly rocket science.

Naval

Interesting as the arguements are, first I would like to make some factual corrections. The illustration of India is very apt, however, a) the forced steralization process was not in response to the slow per capita income growth but as a result of Emergency that was declared, and was a means of spreading terror in the name of Family Planning; (b) to say that politicians recognized that Indias real problem was not population, but terrible economic policies, is too simplistic - india suffered from a terrible balance of payments problem and had no option but to liberalize its economy. In India experts have consistently reported that population is a very big problem because the peasants as you have opined in the last half of your blog post felt that the more the children, the more the no. of hand but forgetting that the bodies which have those hands have mouths as well!
The success of India till date has been definately because of the liberalization of the economy but more so because of education which produced a huge pool of high school graduates and to a lesser extent college graduates who because of the system they are ground through are quick to learn, intelligent and are able to work in computer R&D centers, call centers, etc. at rates cheaper than those in the US.
Population remains and will continue to remain a bane on India, China and other countries because after the first layer of educated people is scooped up there is an empty box. The system is to blame yes, but the system cannot cope with the pressures of the no. of people in developing countries.
As they say, everything in moderation is good!

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