HBD: Human Biodiversity

The Profit Gene?


Intellectuals have tended to have negative opinions about businessmen. The 18th-century Physiocrats, inspired by Confucian philosophy, believed that all value came from land development or agriculture. In 1767 François Quesnay wrote The Despotism of China, in which he used the practices of that Oriental country to illustrate many of his ideas. While the Chinese actively suppressed trade, the Physiocrats recommended simply not encouraging it. Those who understand modern economics know that in both cases, hostility to merchants was misplaced. Still, even after the theories of Adam Smith have been proven correct the world over, the appeal of Marxism and Keynesianism to modern intellectuals needs no elaboration.

Are intellectuals and businessmen simply natural antagonists? Perhaps those who think are inherently turned off by others of similar cognitive ability who unreflectively do. I personally always found something off about high IQ people who cared nothing for politics or philosophy, that is, until I became a genetic determinist and able to forgive everyone for everything. As someone with a more philosophic orientation, I've also wanted to find out more about the type of men to whom we owe our high standard of living.1 The idea that I may psychologically have less in common with them than I do with the Socialists, Feminists and racial egalitarians that I rally against has always bothered me, though I suspect it's true.

Since those most concerned with profits are not inclined to come up with their own ideas, it's not surprising that the study of business has been infected with all the shortcomings of modern social science. Because everywhere there's too much emphasis on environment in the question of how we turn out, it's not surprising that there are way too many human resource managers, personnel directors, and diversity counselors in the private sector. And while the effects of genes are starting to be recognized in the human sciences, it makes sense that the study of business is behind. Scott Shane, Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies at Case Western Reserve University, is trying to change that with his book Born Entrepreneurs, Born Leaders: How your genes affect your work life.

Now that we know the importance of DNA in determining behavior, it's time to take that information and develop theories about economics, parenting, personal relationships and business. Shane begins with a discussion of exactly how a person's genetic makeup can influence his work behavior and performance. The simplist way is through direct physiological effects. You may be good at math and therefore do well as an accountant.

More subtle are gene-environment interactions and correlations. A person who is inherently good at reading may be more likely to enjoy literature and thus improve his ability. Because as we grow older we can choose more and more about our environment, it's not surprising that genetic influences on intelligence and behavior become stronger in the later stages of life. Also, a person with the genes for success is more likely to have parents in possession of the same. These household are likely to provide more nurturing environments. Conversely, children who find out at a very young age that they're not very smart tend to be unmotivated and grow up in bad environments.

Traditionally, scientists have extracted the importance of heredity from cross adoption studies. And in recent years molecular genetics has contributed to our knowledge, too. Scientists can run "knock out" studies on animals (usually mice), in which they neutralize a gene and see how that affects behavior. Researches may also take a group of people that share a trait and see what genes they have in common.

IQ is the single most important trait determining what jobs each of us can do and sixty to eighty percent heritable. Not everyone can be a chemist or airline pilot. Some are incapable of working as nurses. Cognitive talents alone narrow down our choices. While there are various chapters in this book on things like creativity, entrepreneurial skill, and work performance, none of these abilities can be separated from intelligence.

The amount of testosterone in our bodies depends to some extent on the time of day and what we're doing, but it always hovers around some base amount. Eighty percent of what this baseline is in men comes from an individual's genetic endowment. Male managers have higher testosterone levels than computer programmers and salesmen tend to produce more of the hormone than school teachers. Similar results are found within professions, for example the hormone balance in trial lawyers compared to other attorneys.

Interestingly, thirty percent of people with ADHD end up running their own business, compared to about five percent of those without. Someone with a variation of what the author calls a "novelty-seeking" gene (DRD4) has a significantly higher risk of having the disorder. Others correlated with ADHD affect impulsiveness and persistence. It's not hard to see how these traits can help an entrepreneur.

Researchers have even found that thirty-one percent of the trait called "Machiavellianism" is accounted for by different genetic makeups as is 48 percent of how compliant we are. With regards to the latter characteristic, Shane believes that it's not a stretch to believe that it has much to do with the propensity to go along with groupthink.

Entrepreneurs is for the most part one big inference rather than a contribution of new knowledge. One who simply knew the heritability of the traits mentioned could figure out how the arguments in each chapter play out. There's some information on hormones and biochemical processes, though it seems that everything always comes back to testosterone, serotonin and dopamine. This may not be the author's fault as he has to work off the research that has been done, but it makes for tedious reading. I've also never read a book with so many qualifications and caveats throughout, despite the fact that the author is hopelessly PC on sex and race even going as far as to denounce those who study population differences for having "given genetics a bad name." Business people unaware of the evidence on nature/nurture would benefit from reading this book. But even they would do better with more general writings and those of us who have enjoyed other popular works on the subject can surely skip it.  



1 -- Or maybe I don't. Nietzsche: "The long and serious study of the average man-and consequently much disguise, self-overcoming, familiarity, and bad intercourse (all intercourse is bad intercourse except with one's equals):-that constitutes a necessary part of the life-history of every philosopher; perhaps the most disagreeable, odious, and disappointing part." Not that I'm a philosopher.