Thoughts on economics and liberty

Tag: ‘Race’ and racism

Myths re: “race” exploded

I rarely watch TV but being somewhat unwell for some weeks now, I've stayed away from the computer as much as possible today, and in this process managed to watch parts of the Ashes series currently underway, as well a documentary entitled, Race and Intelligence made by Rageh Omaar of Al Jazeera TV (formerly of the BBC). [The full episode is available here – noting that this is perhaps accessible only in Australia].

Those of you who've read BFN will recall my discussion of "race" and IQ including a discussion of the Flynn effect (in the Online Notes), and my hypothesis that IQ is impacted very significantly by the level of freedom in society (through various pathways)

This documentary is quite good, and successfully compresses key issues in a fairly short duration. Do watch it if you get a chance.

The documentary demolishes a number of myths:

a) the biological concept of "race" (btw, I've got an extensive discussion of this issue in DOF). There is no bigger nonsense in the world than the concept of "race".

b) the idea that IQ is fixed (it changes over time), 

c) the idea that that IQ measures intelligence (it measures our adaptability to the modern environment), and

d) that it has anything to do with race (it has to do with whether one's culture values academic success).

I agree with the culture explanation but believe that there are two critical cultural ingredients (1) FREEDOM – or the level of freedom we give our children to ask questions, and (2) PARENTAL ASPIRATION from their children. The more parents have high expectations from their children, the more likely will the children be to imbibe an interest in academics and the professions.

And as so clearly demonstrated in Malcolm Cladwell's Outliers, once these two ingredients are in place, the most important is the child's passion or fascination with something. The child must WANT TO succeed in something that it likes.


And now for a review on this documentary published in The Independent on 27 Oct 2009:

[I]n Race and Intelligence: Science's Last Taboo, Omaar dared to examine the notion that black people are genetically less intelligent than whites.

It is an abhorrent notion yet with some scientific credibility. James Watson, the co-discoverer of DNA, has expressed gloom about the future of Africa on the basis that "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours, whereas all the testing says, not really". There are plenty of other illustrious scientists who support the view that there is a kind of global league table of intelligence, apparently with the Australian Aborigine at the bottom, and Omaar talked to several of them. But he found that their assertions are largely based on IQ tests that militate against the developing world, taking no heed of "wisdom, social intelligence and creativity". Moreover, in South Africa, where educational opportunities are no longer determined by race, such ideas are increasingly confounded.

This was a thought-provoking, important and indeed timely documentary, although it is rather dispiriting that Omaar felt the need to make it. He asked one contributor why such flawed scientific evidence should even be available to support racist ideology. The answer was devastatingly simple: because we live in a racist society.

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Continuing evidence of soft racism in Australia

A few weeks ago I wrote about the significant levels of soft racism prevalent in the West, including Australia. I cautioned, however (and continue to do so!) that soft racism does not, as a rule, lead to violent crime (see this post). Hence the hungama made by the Indian press last year was totally unwarranted.

A study reported today (download PDF here) provides detailed evidence about the precise extent and magnitude of soft racism in Australia . According to the study, "Only 19 per cent of Australian-born tertiary educated people aged 35-54 are working in low- or medium-skilled occupations, and only 20 per cent of MESC migrants, compared with 38 per cent of non-MESC migrants." [MESC = main English-speaking countries].

Table: Where tertiary-educated migrants from English and non-English countries end up working (click for larger image)

In brief, 4 out of 10 highly educated Indians who migrate to Australia will NOT find jobs in occupations commensurate with their skills and qualifications, compared with only 2 out of 10 migrants from, say England.

This difference, and hence the extent of racism, is HUGE! True, all of it might not be directly related to racism, but I am certain that a vast portion of this difference is explained by soft racism.

Such soft racism  harms Australian productivity – and destroys the very point about getting skilled migrants tp Australia – but more problematically it loses Australia many friends. Soft racism creates negative perceptions about Australia in the minds of the highly educated (and vocal!) Indians who come to Australia and can't find ANY OTHER reason but racism to explain their lack of career progression.

It would appear to me that many (not all!) Australians would rather see doctorates from India work as taxi drivers and menials than as scientists and policy advisers. A demeaning stereotype about Indians prevails in Australia.

What I wrote in my previous blog post holds good: "A doctorate from a top-ranked (Western) university will be treated as equivalent to a high school diploma from Australia – if that! If you are selected into a job, you can expect to be paid far less than what a 'white' person of comparable skills is paid. And it will not matter that you have excelled in your academic career and outclassed Westerners. It will hardly matter if you have managed massive organisations and large budgets. You will often be valued less than locally qualified graduate with lower degrees and experience. And your career will be frozen at low levels of seniority."

I know of Indian MBAs working in extremely junior positions in occupations that require virtually no skills, and PhDs from Australia (!!) who don't get called even for job interviews in areas they have specialised in. I have been lucky to have found a reasonably good job upon arrival, but every day I sense racism as a barrier to progress. If a glass ceiling applies to women in the West, then a much lower glass ceiling applies to Indians.

It is extremely HUMILIATING for bright Indians to report to lesser educated and poorly experienced local Australians. True, there are some local issues to learn about, but such things are child's play for bright Indians. They simply don't get the opportunity. Merit plays an important role in the private sector and reduces the extent of racism, but racism is rampant in the public sector. 

I would have NEVER left India (and a senior executive job I had worked very hard to get!) had it not reached unprecedented levels of corruption and mis-governance. Why did I need to come to a country where I knew it would be very hard to be valued commensurate with my skills or experience? 

The sad truth, though, is that many of the brightest Indians have been forced to leave India and face daily humiliation since the conditions in India are far worse. As a result of the misgovernance of India by our politicians, (starting with NehruIndians are now homeless both in India and abroad.

I believe that MILLIONS of Indian professionals will return to India – with little (if any) goodwill towards the Western nations that hosted them – once India is better governed.

Unfortunately, India REFUSES to wake up. Virtually no one in India wants to reform the governance of India. 

Solving this huge problem

This disease of soft racism in the West cannot be easily eradicated, leave alone precisely pinpointed in particular cases. It is something like the caste system in India – devious and impregnable. Often unconscious.

Note that I do not advocate Western government interventions to "fix" this problem. This problem is NOT the job of a government to fix. This is a social problem and will need different solutions. Education will help, but the only guaranteed way for this problem to be fixed is for India to become the world's richest country. At that stage Western populations will line up to get visas to migrate to India. Then the tables would have turned and hopefully everyone in the world will finally agree that merit should matter, not the colour of one's skin.

But India can't become rich unless it reforms in a big way. Till then Indians will continue to suffer, both in India and abroad.

I therefore once again invite you to join FTI or otherwise support it if you want to see India rise from its knees during your lifetime. 


ADDENDUM: SBS investigates racism in Australia

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The nonsense of ‘race’

Here's an extract from my current revision of DOF. Comments appreciated.


During the last 5 000 generations since our sub-species came into being in Africa, we have spread across the planet through countless migrations. We thereafter split into groups each with its own cosmetic differences from others due to local adaptation. Among these are people’s superficial perceptions about differences in ‘race’ as well as real differences in religion, language and culture (I enclose the word ‘race’ in inverted commas throughout this book since, biologically, it is an entirely fictitious concept). These cosmetic and cultural differences often divide us politically. Sometimes, these divisions are sharp, almost cutting us off into different species. We are therefore characterised, at the political level, more by disunity than by unity. Our common great-great- – -grandmother, an African lady, would never have imagined that her progeny would split into so many different groups incessantly battling each other. In the rest of this section, I explore some of our alleged differences, for only then can we comprehend the political constraints under which we work, and suggest an approach to address them.

Evolution is unrelenting. It never stops – even for a generation. Millions of mutations occur in each generation, as the life force engages in active experiment to prepare itself for all contingencies. The overwhelming majority of these mutations don’t survive. Millions of unsuitable human foetuses are aborted by nature every year; and thousands that are born, quickly die. Only ‘good’ mutations, those that could give the species a genuine competitive advantage, survive. This allowed our ancestors to roam the earth in all environments with relative ease. In each generation, only the children best adapted to the new environment survived. Our minor cosmetic differences arose primarily from climatic adaptation.

We have all descended from dark skinned African forbears that were adapted to intense equatorial sunlight. However, as humans moved to the higher latitudes they found less sunlight there, which makes it hard for those with a darker skin to produce vitamin D, so vital for bones and general health. In these higher latitudes, children with a natural mutation that helped them produce less melanin (i.e. those with a lighter skin) had better odds of survival than their darker skinned siblings. Over time, the so called ‘white race’ evolved as a local environmental adaptation. Being a function of random chance, evolution does not lead to exactly the same outcome everywhere.[1]

Similarly, children with a mutation for longer hair probably survived better in higher latitudes than those with short, curly hair because long hair keeps the head warmer (the opposite hair condition should be more successful in hot Africa). Once these mutations had emerged, other factors such as their ‘popularity’ (sexual adaptation), would have also come into play.

A wide range of adaptations that are not cosmetic but crucial, have also emerged. For instance, Europeans with a mutation that protected them from bubonic plague survived the Black Death, while those without it, died. The progeny of the survivors (most Europeans living today) are resistant to the bubonic plague.

Such adaptations have led to many minor differences across human populations. Overall, these differences are extremely insignificant, accounting for less than 0.01 per cent of the variation in the human genome. We are identical to each other in 99.99 per cent of our genes. Detecting differences among humans at the DNA level is therefore hard work. In particular, scientists tell us that ‘[i]t is impossible to look at people’s genetic code and deduce whether they are Black, Caucasian or Asian.’[2] The variation amongst individualswithin a so-called ‘race’ is greater than the variation among individualsacross so-called ‘races’. Thus, ‘modern human genetics … deliver[s] the salutary message that human populations share most of their genetic variation and that there is no scientific support for the concept that human populations are discrete, non-overlapping entities.’[3] But though the myth of ‘race’ had long been exploded, such as by the anthropologist Ashley Montagu in his 1942 book, Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race, most people continue to believe that in this concept has a real basis. It is time to grow out of this misconception. The use of such a term, like ‘race’, is a bad habit. It creates categories where there are none, and distorts the social and political discourse.

            Indeed, we are one big family and ought to treat each other as such. Indeed, scientists are now beginning to ask the opposite question: Why are we so similar? Thus, William James Burroughs believes that ‘[g]iven the length of time humans have existed, there should be a wide range of genetic variation, yet DNA from people throughout the world is surprisingly similar.’[4] There are competing theories about this. One explanation is that human population declined to around 5 000 to 10 000 people around 70-80 000 years ago before clawing back from near extinction.[5] If this is true, then despite our subspecies being traced back 150 000 years, we would have evolved from a single tribe, or a handful of tribes in North Africa about 75 000 years ago. We are just one big African family.


Regardless of what happens in the future to the human species, racism has simply no legs to stand on. However, this mis-conception won’t go away easily given widespread ignorance among most humans whose knowledge of biology is weak, at best. Today this idea of ‘race’ has transmutated to the concept of ethnicity, being a combination of ‘race’ and culture.

[1]E.g. Johan Moan, of the Institute of Physics at the University of Oslo, said in a research paper: "In England, from 5500-5200 years ago the food changed rapidly away from fish as an important food source. This led to a rapid development of … light skin." The Australian, 31 August 2009. [,,26004285-26040,00.html]

[2] Henderson, Mark, ‘Gene tests prove that we are all the same under the skin’,Times Online, October 27, 2004,

[3] Lynn Jorde and Stephen Wooding of the University of Utah, cited in Henderson, Mark, ‘Gene tests prove that we are all the same under the skin’, Times Online, October 27, 2004. []

[4] Burroughs, William James, Climate Change in Prehistory: The End of the Reign of Chaos, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005, p.138. Google books.

[5] Transcript of Cusack, Sinead, ‘Supervolcanoes’, BBC2 9:30pm Thursday 3rd February 2000.


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