Posted on December 28, 2020

National Intelligence Is More Important for Explaining Country Well-Being Than Time Preference

Emil O. W. Kirkegaard, Mankind Quarterly, December 2020

Patient people fare better in life than impatient people. Based on this and on economic models, many economists have claimed that more patient countries should fare better than less patient countries. We utilize cross-national data in non-cognitive traits measured in the Global Preference Survey (GPS). This survey measured six non-cognitive traits — risk and time preferences, positive and negative reciprocity, altruism, and trust — across 76 countries in about 80,000 persons. As such, it provides the best current database of economics-focused non-cognitive traits. We combine this database with existing estimates of national intelligence (national IQs) and model country outcomes as a function of these predictors. For outcomes, we used the 51 national well-being indicators from the Social Progress Index (SPI) as well as the composite extracted from this, the general socioeconomic factor. We find that non-cognitive variables, time preference included, are only weakly predictive of national well-being outcomes when national IQs are also in the model. The median β across the indicators was 0.11 for time preference but 0.39 for national IQ. We replicated these results using six economic indicators, again with similar results: median βs of 0.15 and 0.52 for time preference and national IQ, respectively. Across all our results, we found that national IQ has 2-4 times the predictive validity of time preference. These results are fairly robust to inclusion of a spatial autocorrelation control, alternative measures of national IQ and time preference, or no controls. Our results suggest that the importance of national non-cognitive traits, including time preference, is overestimated or that these traits are mismeasured.