My debate partner and former co-blogger Garett Jones’ Hive Mind: How Your Nation’s IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own is finally out.  It’s a wonderful book in both substance and style – peak Garett.  He instinctively hews to my seven guidelines for writing worthy non-fiction.  Guideline-by-guideline:

1. Pick an important topic.  “Why are some countries rich and other countries poor?” is perennial.  “Why does national IQ have a bigger effect on national income than personal IQ does on personal income?” may not seem earth-shaking on the surface, but Garett powerfully argues that IQ is an elephant in the room.

2. Learn a lot
about your topic.
  Garett’s read widely in macro, development, psychology, experiment econ, and beyond.  You can also tell he’s traveled the world with his eyes open.

3. Keep telling yourself: “Once I perfect
the organization of my book, it will practically write itself.”
  Garett breaks his book down into a gripping introduction and ten pithy chapters.  The introduction shines a blinding spotlight on the key facts about national IQ and national prosperity.  Having piqued your interest, he then tries to get every reader on the same page.  Chapters 1-3 target reach out to IQ skeptics, and explain the saga of the Flynn Effect.  Chapters 4-8 explain the most plausible mechanisms behind IQ’s macroeconomic effects.  Chapter 9 explores the implications for immigration so fairly I found myself nodding throughout.  Chapter 10 wraps it all up.  Elegant!

Never preach to the choir.  Garett earnestly tries to reach not only the typical IQ-apathetic economist, but the typical IQ-phobic intellectual.  While I’m often saddened by Garett’s Twitter-tone, Hive Mind is a sociologically Mormon book – thoroughly intellectually friendly.

5. When in doubt, write like Hemingway.  Hive Mind is probably the most beautifully written book ever produced by a GMU economist.  Flip to a random page, and you will find great sentences.  For example, here’s what I found when I randomly flipped to page 143:

The lawyers working on a billion-dollar corporate merger are probably working with an O-ring technology, in which one typo can mean a $100 million lawsuit down the road, and if you’re having open heart surgery it’s probably a good idea to have the best nurses, the best cardiologists, and the best anesthesiologists together in the same room.  On a routine appendectomy you’ll rarely see that combination: we all say we want “the best doctor,” but the best doctor’s time is scarce, and it’s probably best for his time to be spent working on crucial surgeries as part of a high-quality team.


In Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, the Enterprise is trying to escape another Federation ship.  Scotty, the engineer of the Enterprise, had been on the pursuing ship a little earlier.  When the Enterprise jumps to warp speed, the pursuing ship tries to do the same, but sputters to a halt.  Back on the Enterprise, Scotty pulls some electronic gadget out of his pocket and turns to Captain Kirk: “The more they overthink the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain.”  The longer the chain of production, the easier it is to break the links.

Treat specific intellectual opponents with respect, in print and
otherwise, even if they don’t reciprocate.  But feel free to ridicule
ridiculous ideas.
  Garett is especially effective at undermining defensive statistical illiteracy: “Every person we meet, every nation we visit, is an exception to the rules – but it’s still a good idea to know the rules.”

7. Don’t keep your cards close to your chest.  While Garett strives to be friendly, being understood is his top priority.  He knows that many readers won’t like the idea that poor countries are poor to a large degree because their inhabitants are cognitively slow.  But he says it anyway.  If you’ve watched my debate with Garett, you may be tempted to object that Garett kept even more controversial claims out of the book.  But when you have as many cards as Garett, you’ve got to avoid information overload.