David Leyonhjelm. Are we really that smart?

In a survey undertaken in 2014, 55% of Americans said they were smarter than the average American, 4% thought they were less intelligent, while 34% said that they were about as smart as the average American.

Those with higher levels of educational attainment were convinced they were smarter, with 75% of college graduates and 83% with post-graduate degrees claiming to be more intelligent. In fact, 51% of the latter said they were ‘much more intelligent’ than the average American.

I expect the same survey in Australia would yield comparable results; indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if the percentages claiming to be smarter than average were higher. I meet a lot of people who assume they are smarter than the average bear.

But clearly there is a problem. It is not possible for more than half a population to be above average (or more accurately, the median), and yet many people mistakenly believe they are. And if they have academic qualifications, they think they are well above average.

Psychologists describe this phenomenon as “illusory superiority”, in which a person overestimates his or her own qualities and abilities in relation to the same qualities and abilities of others. It is found in many aspects of life including school performance, popularity, driving skills and desirable personality traits (such as honesty, generosity or confidence). It explains a lot of stock market trading (each trader thinks they are the best and most likely to succeed) as well as the number of lawsuits that go to trial (because, due to illusory superiority, many lawyers have an inflated belief that they will win a case). It also explains criminals who assume they are too smart to be caught, and police who treat the public as if they are all stupid.

As Chair of the Senate nanny state inquiry last year, I was regularly asked why nanny state thinking is so prevalent. I found I could explain its history (it has origins in the temperance movement), why it is a problem (because it treats adults like children) and how pervasive it has become (there are endless examples). However, it was only when I considered it in the context of illusory superiority that I started to recognise its cause.

The nanny state is a product of illusory superiority. Policy makers and those with influence, convinced they are more intelligent than average, believe the people “out there” not only deserve the benefit of their intelligence, but should be obliged to cooperate for their own good.

Thus we have government policies on such things as bicycle helmets, lockouts, smoking, drinking, gambling and diet, where the law mandates certain behaviour. These policies are not intended to protect others, but to save us from ourselves.

When we look closely at the groups lobbying for nanny state policies, it is obvious. Without exception they are populated by people with academic qualifications, often post-graduate. Quite a few are located in or associated with universities, and many of their personnel are academics.

Among the most obvious are the Australian Health Promotion Association, the Public Health Association, the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, the obsessive individuals who dominate the anti-smoking lobby, and of course a couple of doctor groups which seem to think they have the answer to everything. In each case they are led by individuals with substantial academic qualifications.

On the other hand, I don’t believe I have ever heard a tradesman or trade organisation trying to tell me what’s good for me, despite probably know quite a bit about personal safety. Tradesmen, in my experience, rarely think they are smarter than average even when they are.

Such a refreshing attitude can be explained by an extension of the illusory superiority concept, called the “Downing” or “Dunning Kruger” effect. This refers to the tendency of people with below-average IQ to overestimate their IQ, and for people with above-average IQ to underestimate their IQ.

It seems to me that illusory superiority explains much about those who promote nanny state policies. The people who think we are incapable of behaving ourselves after 1.30 am in Kings Cross, or of deciding when to wear a bicycle helmet, are very likely deluding themselves about their own intelligence.

This would all be easily solved by a dose of humility. Even if we are as smart as we think, that is no reason to try to tell others how to live. Nobody is that smart.

David Leyonhjelm is a Senator for the Liberal Democrats

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42 Responses to David Leyonhjelm. Are we really that smart?

  1. Driftforge

    Given the distribution of intelligence in the US, 55% being over the average seems about right.

    Which is all kind of immaterial to the argument.

    Yet I don’t think the argument holds water. If I look around, I see that people who take advice from others more intelligent or more knowledgable than they are – these people tend to do well. People who don’t , or those who for whatever reason don’t surround themselves with others of greater calibre – these people do poorly. The nanny state is an attempt to replace community with regulation.

    The issue is thus not that there should be no guidance, no restraint on behaviour. It is rather that the nanny state is an exceptionally poor system for a) providing and b) imposing such guidance as and where necessary.

    We appear to have had better systems in the past.

  2. Robber Baron

    The answer to all our problems is…less government.

    Repeal legislation, fire public servants and abolish tax. Simple.

  3. stackja

    Driftforge
    #2457622, posted on August 2, 2017 at 8:36 pm
    Given the distribution of intelligence in the US, 55% being over the average seems about right.

    Which is all kind of immaterial to the argument.

    Yet I don’t think the argument holds water. If I look around, I see that people who take advice from others more intelligent or more knowledgable than they are – these people tend to do well. People who don’t , or those who for whatever reason don’t surround themselves with others of greater calibre – these people do poorly. The nanny state is an attempt to replace community with regulation.

    The issue is thus not that there should be no guidance, no restraint on behaviour. It is rather that the nanny state is an exceptionally poor system for a) providing and b) imposing such guidance as and where necessary.

    We appear to have had better systems in the past.

    To me nanny state came with Gough, Medibank etc.

  4. Delta A

    Driftforge

    #2457622, posted on August 2, 2017 at 8:36 pm

    A good analysis, Driftforge.

    As for the government nannies: I think we encourage them by referring to them as ‘elites’, even when this term is meant in a derogatory way. They are now convinced of their eliteness – and therefore, their right to dictate what we should or shouldn’t do – whilst they do precisely as they please.

    Better that we call them what they truly are: trough-guzzling hypocrites

  5. Bruce of Newcastle

    Psychologists describe this phenomenon as “illusory superiority”

    This bit is worth a mention:

    4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:4-5)

    Christians might describe the phenomenon as The Fall.
    It explains a lot of human behaviour.

  6. Mr Black

    Illusory superiority is not enough. The kind of people who become involved in a nanny state have a malicious will motivating them. They mean to force us to obey and it doesn’t really matter to them what the specifics are, so long as they command and we obey. They should be treated at the enemy, not as opponents or alternatives, but the enemy. For they most certainly are the enemies of liberty.

  7. Chris M

    Yes David that is why they fear giving the poorly enlightened a vote on homosexual ‘marriage’. You would agree that the citizens of Australia should be free to choose right?

  8. Haidee

    I like Senator Leyonhjelm’s conciseness; never anything superfluous in what I’ve read.
    A lot of commonsense.
    If only he weren’t in favour of same-sex marriage.

    The Fall. Strange that Satan is depicted as a serpent, so repellent and sinister; when the devil is so often quite attractive.

  9. Delta A

    the devil is so often quite attractive.

    Superficially, perhaps. Especially to the not-so-smart who fail to perceive anything more than skin deep.

  10. John L

    Did anyone watch the address to National Press Club by Dr Michael Fullilove? It was disgusting.
    Does Prof. Judith Sloan agree with Dr Fullilove?
    How did this fuckwit get a doctorate? What is his doctorate in?
    Now, this doctor is really smart. Smarter than Trump, smarter than God.
    And a roomful of Australian “journalists” agreed with him!

  11. Haidee

    “Especially to the not-so-smart who fail to perceive anything more than skin deep”

    And a pursed-lipped Presentation sister said something very similar once,
    after a fellow student had to leave school because she was pregnant.
    Interesting, the things that stay in the memory.

  12. cohenite

    That’s the rule: don’t tell other people how to live; and don’t tolerate other people telling you how to live.

  13. Sentinel Man

    Dunning Kruger effect says that the more incompetent someone is, the more overconfident they are in their ability to produce an outcome.

    The Illusory Superiority the wets in the Libs are displaying, may very well cause the solution DL suggests. A good dose of humility from a thrashing at the next election.

    Then we will have the advanced version of Illusory Superiority in the peanut head.

  14. The Fifth Bike Rider of the Apocalypse

    As a cyclist who has survived being smacked into the bitumen at a so called slow point by some c*nt driving a 4WD towing a chipper, I can attest to the value of bicycle helmets.
    But I don’t give a flying f*ck about cyclists who don’t wear bike helmets (aka ‘temporary’ Australians).
    As someone once said, riding a bike without wearing a helmet offers a beacon of hope to those Australians needing transplant organs.

  15. squawkbox

    David L is being much too charitable. These people have not the least interest in preserving our health or saving our lives. In fact, with respect to those of us who are white hetero cismale patriarchists, they would really prefer we were dead. What drives them is simply the urge to indulge their power fetishes – to press a button and watch us all jump.

  16. Pedro the Ignorant

    Hammer. Nail.

    Spot on, Senator.

    I offer “Professor” Mike Daube, wowser extraordinaire, as evidence.

    Bingo.

  17. Jo Smyth

    John L I believe this Mr Fullilove gave a nice lecture on how the world should deal with Trump. Trump is just a passing phase, he says, so not to be taken too seriously. Now if NK decided to turn really nasty, I wonder who Mr Fullilove and the rest of the snowflakes would be calling on for help and assistance. Guess who?

  18. Mark A

    The Fifth Bike Rider of the Apocalypse
    #2457689, posted on August 2, 2017 at 10:37 pm

    As a cyclist who has survived being smacked into the bitumen at a so called slow point by some c*nt driving a 4WD towing a chipper, I can attest to the value of bicycle helmets.
    But I don’t give a flying f*ck about cyclists who don’t wear bike helmets (aka ‘temporary’ Australians).
    As someone once said, riding a bike without wearing a helmet offers a beacon of hope to those Australians needing transplant organs.

    I think you missed the point on purpose, or dare I say being too precious.
    Never heard David say you can’t wear a helmet.

    Where I’m working this week, in a provincial European city, the primary transport is bicycle.
    From 6 year olds to over 80s ladies and gents ride a bike to do their shopping and other business.

    Not a helmet in sight, despite the numerous cars on the same road as well, and I can tell you these roads are narrow cf to Aust. roads.

    How do they survive?
    By obeying the road rules, both, cars and bikes.

    PS, If I were to ride a bike I would wear a helmet and probably knee-protectors as well.

  19. Hydra

    Very good, Senator. Another cracker.

    More like this, please.

  20. Hydra

    By obeying the road rules, both, cars and bikes.

    Australia has a much higher rate of compliance with the road rules than any European country, surely.

    I would suspect it is less about compliance with road rules and more about not being a fucking dickhead.

  21. Art Vandelay

    the “Downing” or “Dunning Kruger” effect … refers to the tendency of people with below-average IQ to overestimate their IQ

    A perfect example of the Dunning Kruger effect is our Potentially Great™ Prime Minister.

  22. Mark A

    Hydra
    #2457716, posted on August 2, 2017 at 11:12 pm

    By obeying the road rules, both, cars and bikes.

    Australia has a much higher rate of compliance with the road rules than any European country, surely.

    I would suspect it is less about compliance with road rules and more about not being a fucking dickhead.

    I am not sure what you’re implying there Hydra, I spend half of my time at home in OZ now and until a few years ago all of it.

    Can’t agree with you about who is better at obeying road rules, I can only trust my lying eyes here, seeing the masses of riders and cars coexisting and as I said no helmet in sight. The car drivers are very conscious of bikes and pedestrians I can verify that, and speed limits in town are 50K.

  23. Hydra

    I am not sure what you’re implying there Hydra, I spend half of my time at home in OZ now and until a few years ago all of it.

    Can’t agree with you about who is better at obeying road rules, I can only trust my lying eyes here, seeing the masses of riders and cars coexisting and as I said no helmet in sight. The car drivers are very conscious of bikes and pedestrians I can verify that, and speed limits in town are 50K.

    I’m implying that it’s less about ‘road rules’ and more about driving appropriately for the conditions and setting. I’d argue that Australia has so many road rules that it contributes to accidents, especially with bicycles and motorbikes.

    In particular, the rule around requiring a helmet causes less bikes to be on the road, and thus cars are less likely to look out for them because they don’t see them as often. If more people rode bikes, people would subconsciously be much more cautious.

    For motorbikes, in Victoria they made ‘lane filtering’ legal (it was never illegal). But by making it legal, we now have motorbikes fanging through stopped traffic at 60kmh and cars don’t even see them coming, causing accidents. Many motorbike riders have died as a result of the implementation of this law in the past 12 months.

    Other road rules that contribute to accidents include Victoria’s new rule about slowing down for emergency vehicles (even if on the other side of the road), requiring L and P platers to do slower speeds than other vehicles, different speeds for trucks, giving way to busses in the middle of traffic on fast roads, putting pedestrian crossings after entering into a roundabout (is there anything stupider?), fining people for speeding 3km/h over the limit so that they are always looking at their speedo, and the list goes on.

  24. John L

    Jo Smyth
    #2457707, posted on August 2, 2017, at 11:00 pm
    John L I believe this Mr Fullilove gave a nice lecture on how the world should deal with Trump. Trump is just a passing phase, he says, so not to be taken too seriously.

    A couple of corrections Jo.
    It is not Mr, it is Dr (Doctor) Fullilove!
    The good doctor did not “give a nice lecture”, he instructed the world (world led by Australia) how to deal with Trump. And while he was at it, he also solved some of the most pressing world’s and America’s problems.
    I am just waiting in anticipation how is Trump going to implement good doctor’s suggestions in the next few days.

  25. cynical1

    Even if we are as smart as we think, that is no reason to try to tell others how to live. Nobody is that smart.

    Simple minded dross.

    Every take advice from a doctor? dentist? accountant?

  26. Empire

    Even if we are as smart as we think, that is no reason to try to tell others how to live. Nobody is that smart.

    Simple minded dross.

    Every take advice from a doctor? dentist? accountant?

    The advice from your professional adviser is solicited. No sane person asks Simon Chapman for health advice, yet he won’t hesitate to offer it.

    The dross is all yours.

  27. Bruce

    See also:

    Creeping….er….GALLOPING credentialism.

  28. A Lurker

    The answer to the question posed by Senator Leyonhjelm isn’t how smart we or the next person might be, the answer to the question is how wise we are.

    All the book learning in the world doesn’t equal wisdom.
    All the university degrees in the world won’t equal wisdom.
    All the intelligence in the world won’t equal wisdom.

    In my opinion, wisdom is in very short supply in our parliaments, in the media, in law, in businesses, and in academia. The lack of wisdom is indicated by the parlous state of Western Civilization.

  29. True Aussie

    Good point about IQ David. Now anyone who is smart knows that intelligence is genetic and some races are smarter than others. To make Australia smarter (and decrease the need for the nanny state) we should restrict immigration only to the smarter races. I expect to see you raise this issue in parliament David.

  30. JohnA

    Thus we have government policies on such things as bicycle helmets, lockouts, smoking, drinking, gambling and diet, where the law mandates certain behaviour. These policies are not intended to protect others, but to save us from ourselves.

    Senator, the problem is a bit deeper – these do-gooders are trying to save us ONLY from the consequences of our own stupidity and ignorance.

    I believe this explains the Parkinson’s Law effect in regulation and bureaucracy. If the nanny state actually did save us from ourselves, we would change our behaviours and cease the negative stuff. However, that would see these sincerely helpful people out of a job.

    Firstly, I would distinguish efforts to make our roads/our lives basically safer (eg. the Black Spot program by the insurers [TAC in Victoria] to fix bad roads, seat belts in cars, construction standards for homes) as long as the consequences for breaching standards or failing to use the facilities provided were sheeted home to the perpetrator by eg. denial of insurance coverage, or risk of negligence action against a builder, say.

    However, within that broad scope, I would object, as you do, to some of the minutiae such as air bags in cars (because the American car manufacturers thought the customers would refuse to use seatbelts as a civil liberty issue) or temperature limiters on hot water (where the gas heats the water then cold water MUST BE mixed with it to keep the temperature down. This cooled hot water is then sent around the house to outlets with both hot and cold taps. Why can’t we just do it for ourselves?)

    And the biggest offender is our government Medicare scheme along with the regulation of the health (sorry, hospital) insurance industry. The basic concept of “community rating” means that my bad health choices don’t affect my premiums or coverage – the effect is averaged out across the whole of Australia and I never feel the pain. Thus I never have any incentive to change my behaviour, because I am shielded from the direct financial consequences.

    Before the 1986 changes to Medicare, I had private cover (called “casualty insurance”) against the risk of high medical costs, which operated like regular commercial risk insurance for cars and houses. I had an excess below which I could not claim but cover for the high cost of a major incident – accident, surgery, extended hospital stay, or large cost ancillaries. It was previously very affordable and gave me and my family incentives to stay healthy, look after myself instead of running to the doctor or pharmacist and avoid medical problems. No longer allowed. I wonder how long before the do-gooders will try to tackle life assurance where lifestyle choices and health risks still affect premiums?

    Most of the nanny state stuff could be eliminated if the debate got past the consequences and moved onto actual preventative changes to our behaviours.

  31. .

    True Aussie
    #2457926, posted on August 3, 2017 at 9:14 am
    Good point about IQ David. Now anyone who is smart knows that intelligence is genetic and some races are smarter than others. To make Australia smarter (and decrease the need for the nanny state) we should restrict immigration only to the smarter races. I expect to see you raise this issue in parliament David.

    You really are a white supremacist crackpot. The Bell Curve does not prove that “IQ is genetic”. Fuck off.

  32. Diogenes

    The advice from your professional adviser is solicited. No sane person asks Simon Chapman for health advice, yet he won’t hesitate to offer it.

    Which version of the objective advice ?
    I can’t find it doing a quick search but Mrs D had a video pop up on her Facebook feed that went something like this…. Image a family sitting down to a meal containing eggs and steak. …
    Out of the blue a man pops up and says … I’m from the future wait wait don’t eat those eggs … they are full of cholesterol & bad for you , your gunna die if eat those eggs ….
    a few seconds later he pops up again and says wait wait were wrong, its seems there are 2 kinds of cholesterol, you can eat the whites but not the yokes….
    a few seconds … wait wait, it doesn’t matter how much cholesterol you eat , its genetic
    a few seconds later wait wait don’t eat those cooked vegetables, we need to more like our paleolithic ancestors…

    and so on.

    I forget , is coffee, alcohol, meat, grains, running, weights, raw foods, good or bad for you this week ?

  33. gbees

    You can’t say you are smarter or not than the population if you don’t have evidence of that ‘smartness’. Unless the entire Australian population’s IQ has been tested (and IQ isn’t the only measure of smartness) then you cannot honestly answer the survey. Just like catastrophic anthropogenic global warming this issue lacks empirical evidence.

  34. Tim Neilson

    gbees
    #2458210, posted on August 3, 2017 at 2:27 pm

    In the last Federal election, something like 75% of the population cast valid HoR ballots giving their first preference vote to the Michael Trumble Election Winning Machine, the Peanut Head Trade Union Official Enrichment Scheme, or the Below Minimum Wage/KGB Agent/Hyphenated Land Dugong Collective.

    I didn’t.

    I think there’s objective evidence that I’m in the top quartile.

  35. Haidee

    “I didn’t”

    I didn’t either

  36. Mr Black

    It’s always amusing to see people reject that idea that different races have different average IQ’s. We’re allowed to notice all the physical differences but the moment someone says certain races are duller or smarter, we’re all racists.

  37. .

    Pretty sure Thomas Sowell has a higher IQ than both of us.

    The average isn’t what everyone in that class gets.

    Which is what loon (((True Aussie))) would like to prove.

  38. Tim Neilson

    Mr Black
    #2458388, posted on August 3, 2017 at 6:31 pm

    I’m told that pretty much every set of mass IQ tests ever done says that the race whose name results in “moderation”, and the Han Chinese, are on average more intelligent than us mere Caucasians.

    If that’s true I’d have no problem with it being said, but it wouldn’t make me defer to the opinions of any particular individual in those demographics.

    Average IQ of various races may differ, but those averages would have to be on any short list of the most useless information of all time.

  39. Tom Appleton

    But clearly there is a problem. It is not possible for more than half a population to be above average (or more accurately, the median), and yet many people mistakenly believe they are. And if they have academic qualifications, they think they are well above average.

    Don’t confuse ‘mean’ and ‘median’ David, it IS possible for more than half a population to be above average.

    Most people have a higher than average number of legs. The vast majority of people have two legs. But some people have no legs or one leg. So the average number of legs will be just slightly less than 2, meaning most people have an above average number of legs.

    it is possible for nearly everyone to be above average.

    What’s not possible is for a majority of folks to be above or below the median.
    Most people expect half the population to be above and below average in every context. This is because they confuse mean and median. And even among people who understand the difference between mean and median, there is a strong tendency to implicitly assume symmetry. And when distributions are symmetric, the mean and the median are the same.
    From https://www.johndcook.com/blog/2008/10/20/nearly-everyone-is-above-average/

    .

    Tom

  40. struth

    The nanny state is funded by taxes.
    Always.
    If you are going to give money to totalitarians to be totalitarians don’t be surprised if you get totalitarians.
    To me a healthy situation would be, for example, you go to the doctors and he tells you about your health.
    He doesn’t get paid to weigh in on the problems outside of his field of knowledge because he is a doctor.
    Doctors treat car accident victims.
    It doesn’t make them driving experts.
    The fact they think they are is education over intelligence.

  41. .

    Don’t confuse ‘mean’ and ‘median’ David, it IS possible for more than half a population to be above average.

    Fairly safe to assume a normal or binomial distribution though, even if the standard deviations vary widely among demographic groups.

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