The geography of tyranny and despair: development indicators and the hypothesis of genetic inevitability of national inequality
Morse, S. (2008) The geography of tyranny and despair: development indicators and the hypothesis of genetic inevitability of national inequality. Geographical Journal, 174. pp. 195-206. ISSN 0016-7398
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Development geography has long sought to understand why inequalities exist and the best ways to address them. Dependency theory sets out an historical rationale for under development based on colonialism and a legacy of developed core and under-developed periphery. Race is relevant in this theory only insofar that Europeans are white and the places they colonised were occupied by people with darker skin colour. There are no innate biological reasons why it happened in that order. However, a new theory for national inequalities proposed by Lynn and Vanhanen in a series of publications makes the case that poorer countries have that status because of a poorer genetic stock rather than an accident of history. They argue that IQ has a genetic basis and IQ is linked to ability. Thus races with a poorer IQ have less ability, and thus national IQ can be positively correlated with performance as measured by an indicator like GDP/capita. Their thesis is one of despair, as little can be done to improve genetic stock significantly other than a programme of eugenics. This paper summarises and critiques the Lynn and Vanhanen hypothesis and the assumptions upon which it is based, and uses this analysis to show how a human desire to simplify in order to manage can be dangerous in development geography. While the attention may naturally be focused on the 'national IQ' variables as a proxy measure of 'innate ability', the assumption of GDP per capita as an indicator of 'success' and 'achievement' is far more readily accepted without criticism. The paper makes the case that the current vogue for indicators, indices and cause-effect can be tyrannical.