Friday, July 21, 2017

- Flying Cars And Dumpster Fires

I saw this ridiculous Twitter post the other day:

This is obviously a post by a woman who thinks that because she’s black she understands Africa. Clearly she does not. I’ve never been to Africa, so I wouldn’t call myself an expert either. But I think I’ve read enough, and I understand data well enough to put her claim to the test.

In order to get to the world of flying cars and glowing cities, you would need a lot of smart people. We don’t have those things here in America, so one could assume that you’d need people who are much smarter than we are. That’s something we can empirically test.

You could simply look at group IQ differences. IQ is the single most reliable test in all of social science, and has the benefit of a gi-normous sample size across multiple cultures. There are tests which don't even require literacy and are simply pattern matching of graphical objects. A picture of three different shaped rectangles, followed by a multiple choice selection of a triangle, a circle, a hexagon and a square is typical. These tests have been given to millions of people across multiple cultures and always show similar results.

But none of that prevents those that don’t like the data from making the argument ‘yo test be raciss’. So let's forget about IQ per se, and try something else.

How about literacy rates? If the only thing holding back the brilliant and enlightened people of Africa are the oppressive crimes of violent and aggressive white people, that wouldn’t necessarily prevent a superior life of the mind in those countries right? I think it’s all but certain that you can’t get flying cars if you can’t read the instruction manual for the tools you’ll build them with.

The sharing of information is absolutely essential for building a modern society. Literacy lets you retain information from past generations, and widespread literacy lets many people add their tiny bit of wisdom to the whole. It is in essence, the thing that makes a modern society. Drop a bunch of Ashkenazi Jews or Japanese, or even Irish down on a new planet, and after the immediate needs of survival are met, the very next thing someone is going to build will be a printing press. So literacy is closely linked to the capacity for modernity. I don’t think anyone can seriously dispute it.

Africa has had the same access to the written word as the rest of the planet for centuries, so if it were a priority for Africans, there is really no reason for it to not have made substantial inroads. The Vikings had no written language, but as soon as they were exposed to the idea, they embraced it with gusto. Cultural issues might have delayed the process somewhat in Africa. But they’ve now had centuries to get used to it. And today there is no reason any motivated African man couldn’t learn to read in some language. Type the phrase “building schools in Africa” and you get 57 million hits. I think that makes it clear that Africans learning to read is a big priority for someone, if not for Africans.

So let’s have a look at where African literacy stands today.

I was really hoping to look at literacy rates by primary language spoken (paging Audacious epigone), because I thought that would better reflect the tribal nature of culture. Regrettably the data isn’t available. But I did find some data on literacy rates by country on Wikipedia, so I downloaded it, sorted it, and filtered the countries of Africa.

There are some issues with the data that I take exception to, specifically with women. In many countries, and not just in Africa, women are actively discouraged from learning to read. For this purpose though that would be considered an externality. I’m really only interested in the capacity for reading not whether women are discouraged from doing so, and rather than unfairly bias the data against those countries where women are less literate for political or religious reasons, I excluded the data for Females, and only compared Male Literacy rates.

What you see is precisely what you’d expect. The highest overall literacy rates are in first and second world countries. In fact, the Male literacy rate in countries like the US, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Japan and so on down to about Poland, is so close to 100% that they didn’t bother to report it at all. Whether their relatively high literacy rate is cause or effect of their advanced economic status is irrelevant to me. So let’s have a look at the would be paradise of Africa.

The Highest scoring nations are those with higher white populations, oppressed former colonies, or those that had greater access to trade with evil and oppressive 'raciss' white men. But the overall rates don't exactly point to African brilliance:

Nation - Male Literacy Rate
Equatorial Guinea 95.30%
South Africa 94.30%
Botswana 88.50%
Cabo Verde 87.60%
Swaziland 87.50%
Zimbabwe 86.50%
Burundi 85.60%
Gabon 83.20%
Namibia 81.90%
Tunisia 81.80%
Tanzania, United Republic of 80.30%
Algeria 80.20%
Lesotho 79.40%
Congo 79.30%
Kenya 78%
Comoros 77.80%
Congo, Democratic Republic of the 77.30%
Ghana 76.60%
Sudan 75.90%
Egypt 75.20%
Cameroon 75%
Sao Tome and Principe 74.90%
Uganda 73.90%
Eritrea 73.80%
Morocco 72.40%
Angola 71.10%
Rwanda 70.50%
Timor-Leste 67.50%
Togo 66.50%
Malawi 65.80%
Zambia 63.40%
Guinea-Bissau 59.90%
Nigeria 59.60%

After Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, things start to look genuinely dismal. No country where 50% of the people lack the intellectual capacity or inclination to learn to read can expect to provide it's own clean water and power, let alone medical systems, advanced engineering and flying car building factories.

Mozambique 58.80%
Senegal 55.70%
Gambia 55.50%
Mauritania 52.10%
Ethiopia 49.10%
Sierra Leone 48.10%
Liberia 47.60%
Côte d'Ivoire 43.10%
Chad 40.20%
Mali 38.70%
Benin 38.40%
Central African Republic 36.80%
Burkina Faso 36%
South Sudan 31.90%
Guinea 30.40%
Niger 19.10%

This data is from 2015. That means that in Niger right now, today, less than one person in five can count to 20 without taking off his shoes. That is a very long way from flying cars.

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