Saturday, 15 March 2014

Where do we get our technologies from? (Answer: everybody else)

How much of your success comes from your ability to read?  Would you be able to feed and clothe yourself without the help of others?  Would you have Gore-Tex or Teflon or even woven cotton cloth without millions of other people inventing and continuing to produce such things?

If you were not literate, you would almost certainly not have a job, and much of your knowledge would be absent from your head - even basic things, like general information about foreign countries, or cooking instructions, or warnings on electrical sockets.  If you didn't have all the foodstuffs and technologies you depend on, you would be incapable of doing what you want to do with your life.  You wouldn't be able to use Google, even; not because of stupidity, but because nobody taught you how to do the things necessary to make sense of it.  You probably wouldn't survive for very long, really.  And the really important thing about the techologies you use and take for granted, including writing, is that they all came from different groups of people living at different times and interacting with one another in different ways.  We are all mutually reliant, even if we think we aren't.

If you restrict yourself to the important plants of the world today, then you will find that most of them were domesticated in disparate parts of the globe: apples and marijuana in Kazakhstan; peanuts and manioc in southwest Amazonia; wheat and barley in southern Anatolia/Syria; rice and millet between the Yellow and Yangzi rivers; cloves and nutmeg in eastern Indonesia; sugarcane and bananas in New Guinea; maize, squash, and tomatoes in Mexico and Guatemala; potatoes, sweet potatoes, quinoa, and some chile peppers in the foothills of the Andes; cotton, sorghum, African yam, and African rice between Niger and Ethiopia; carrots in Iran/Afghanistan; wine grapes in the Caucasus.

If you look at military and navigational technologies, you'll see the same thing: gunpowder, guns, and the compass in China; the sail in the Red Sea; outriggers in the South China Sea; the principles of navigation by the stars in the Arabian Peninsula; clinker construction in northern Europe; carvel construction in Iberia; the crossbow either in Sinitic-speaking or Austroasiatic-speaking societies in southern China; the bow probably in sub-Saharan Africa; the composite bow in the steppe east of the Caspian Sea (probably in the Andronovo culture); the wheel and wagon in the Caucasus; the chariot in southern Russia; iron in Anatolia (and possibly north-central Africa, too); horse-riding on the Pontic steppe; dromedary camel-riding in Somalia; chainmail in western Europe; the armoured knight in Sasanid Persia.

If you look at diseases, they show the same pattern: smallpox in north Africa and India; Yersinia pestis (the 'Black Death') somewhere in central Asia; syphillis in the Americas; ebola in the Congo; influenza from somewhere in Eurasia (it is not known where); measles again from somewhere in Eurasia; malaria throughout Afro-Eurasia.

The same pattern holds true, of course, in writing systems (the script this is written in ultimately comes from Egypt by way of countless intermediaries, and the same is true of the Mongol, Brahmi, and Arabic scripts, among so many others); literature (Persian Vis and Ramin inspired European Tristan and Yseult); mathematics (South Asian numerals being introduced to Europe by Arab merchants) and consequently economics; cuisine (Persia also turns out to be the source of ice cream); philosophy (Christopher Beckwith has provided persuasive evidence for the claim that standard forms of argument in medieval Europe, from which Renaissance philosophy and scientific inquiry developed, had their origins in central Asia); and in fact every sphere of human activity.

Human history depends on all of these developments.  Imagine a Spanish conquest of the Americas that involved nothing from outside Iberia; not only would there be no domesticated horses or cotton clothes, there wouldn't have been any wheat, any writing, any carvel-hulled ships (without the clinker as inspiration), any sails, any guns, any crossbows.  They also wouldn't have had any smallpox, and while they may have been grateful for that, being only somewhat more immune to it than the indigenous Americans, they wouldn't have been able to complete their conquest of the Aztecs - which would, of course, have floundered in the absence of their technological advantages.


http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c9/Jal-ixco.jpg
The entrance into Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico.  Consider the horseman: without developments on the Pontic-Caspian Steppe in the Eneolithic, he wouldn't have a horse; without the invention of the stirrup in India and central Asia, he would not have such control over the animal; without the spread of the pre-Islamic Persian court culture of the armoured knight, he would have none of his armour or training.  Consider the wider context: without writing or agriculture, neither of which developed indigenously in Europe, he would have few organisational advantages over the Mexica; without carvel-hulled ships, he would not have been able to even get to Mexico in the first place; without sails, he would have had to row across the Atlantic (assuming he even knew how to row); without Arabian and Chinese navigational techologies, he'd have no idea where to go.

Without the conquests in the Americas, not only would Mexico not speak Spanish today nor the Connecticut English, but the Spanish economy probably would not have crashed in the sixteenth century, Europe would have continued to wallow in its status as a relative backwater, English would never have ended up as a world language, and the last five hundred years of global history would never have happened.



Human history is primarily the story of thousands upon thousands of years of interactions of all sorts between all sorts of populations, and depends far more on accidents of geography and cultural history than anything else.  It is not primarily explained by biological evolution, even though that does play a role - albeit a role which can be circumvented by technology, as we may see in the development of vaccination.  It is also not explained by the idea of a single gifted population, like the Indo-Europeans or Ashkenazi Jew or western Europeans or Chinese, who singlehandedly invent everything through their genius.

Trite axioms like 'evolution explains history', propagated by seemingly wilfully ignorant acolytes of HBD dogma, cannot account for the processes that have actually create(d) our world, and they only serve to demonstrate the carelessness and dogmatism of such Tory approaches.

It's not 'evolution explains history'.  It's: we all stand on the shoulders of giants all of the time, even when tying our shoelaces.

119 comments:

  1. Some cultures though nonetheless contributed more than others and over time the division of labour and social stratification of some societies would create selective pressures. I don't really see what this has to do with the HBD bloggers.

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    1. HBD bloggers like Jayman regularly claim that biological evolution explains human history - which it doesn't - and that the only way to truly study human life is through 'scientific' disciplines, i.e. biology, not history. But historical evidence is needed for historical claims, not just theoretical formulations.

      "over time the division of labour and social stratification of some societies would create selective pressures"

      Possibly, but all of this has happened in such a short time frame that I don't see those selective pressures as significant. Certainly they are much less significant than the force provided by cultural innovation. Just because a theory sounds prima facie plausible, that does not mean that it is actually realistic or valid when put up against the evidence.

      What you need for innovation is pre-existing knowledge - without clinker hulls, you almost certainly won't develop carvel hulls. With enough pre-existing knowledge and enough wealth and necessity to compel them, innovations are naturally going to build on one another, and there's no need to invoke genetic explanations for any of it. The short time-span renders such explanations a little difficult to uphold, anyway; I can believe that a century is long enough to force changes in the peppered moth, but not in humans.

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    2. I saw that you claimed the same thing about JayMan in the very long winded thread on HBD of a few days ago. I only occasionally read Jayman's blog so I may have missed it. Does he really claim that biological evolution explains human history?

      I find that hard to believe. Is that supposed to mean that common historical contingencies like Putin's recent actions in the Ukraine are determined by his genome? Or that we can solve the mystery of missing airliner if we only knew the race of all the passengers. That sounds completely crazy.

      I didn't read all of the thread on HBD (life is short) but do the HBDers also mischaracterize your position in this way?

      BTW your choice of historical examples is poor. The idea that the Chinese invented gunpowder is a popular misconception.

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    3. "I find that hard to believe."

      So do I. But JayMan says it anyway. He says it so frequently that I'm surprised you haven't seen it if you frequent his blog at all, and I have even seem him quote himself saying it on Cochran and Harpending's blog.

      "Is that supposed to mean that common historical contingencies like Putin's recent actions in the Ukraine are determined by his genome?"

      Apparently, all behaviours are inherited, so, yes.

      As for whether HBDers mischaracterize what I'm saying - well, of course.

      Where do you believe gunpowder was invented? All of the evidence points to China, as far as I'm aware.

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    4. "Apparently, all behaviours are inherited, so, yes."

      What he said is that all behaviors are heritable, which is a completely uncontroversial claim.

      He did not claim that all details about human history are explained by referring to genetics.

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  2. If not for the invention of fire, we wouldn't have the internet. So, I guess we can leave the Sentinelese out of all this, because apparently they still haven't invented fire.



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    1. Perhaps they haven't found it necessary to 'invent' fire. That's what people are like: if they're happy enough that they don't see the need, then they won't bother. Lucky them, I suppose.

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  3. "maize, squash, and tomatoes in Mexico"

    With respect to the third element, I recall attending a lecture on the anthropology of food in which Professor Christine Hastorf was discussing the origins of certain food stuffs. At one point, she asked the class to identify the name and site of domestication of the fruits and vegetables on the powerpoint. Some students believing that vanilla was originally domesticated in Madagascar were shocked to find out that the plant was originally cultivated in Mesoamerica. When it came to the tomatoe I personally believed that it is of Mesoamerican origin only to receive word that it is originally Andean.

    After reading your post I had to check to see what other scholars have to say on the matter, and it looks like some do concur with Professor Hastorf:
    http://aob.oxfordjournals.org/content/100/5/1085.full

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    1. That seems plausible - quite a few of the American fruits and veg are contested, I think. Squash varietals were domesticated in southwestern Amazonia, the Andes, and Mesoamerica, so that's not exactly secure, either. I'll change the post slightly, for sure.

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  4. Giants all the way down, until the Sumerians. I liked the last post, but this is overreaching.

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    1. Not sure I understand. Do you mean to say that the Sumerians are totally different and invented so many things that they ought to be treated separately? Actually, they didn't invent so much; didn't domesticate the horse, didn't invent the wagon or chariot, didn't domesticate their crops or animals, etc. They developed writing gradually over many generations from tokens used in business and they probably developed some neat irrigation systems, but their writing system died out with no surviving descendants. Hardly different in kind to other developments, I don't think.

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    2. Implicit in what you are saying is that cultural innovation would have led to relaxation of selection for mental ability in some countries but not others. Isn't it a mirror image of the denigration of Third World people's mental ability that you're objecting to?

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  5. Surely if one noticed the origins of the people putting forth those "specific places" arguments or doubted their knowledge of history in certain areas, one would be call biased or even worse, a "lunatic."

    "Outbreeding" and various other correlations, on the other hand, explain everything. Google books searches for the win.

    I do disagree with the way you framed some of your items but eh.

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  6. "Human history is primarily the story of thousands upon thousands of years of interactions of all sorts between all sorts of populations, and depends far more on accidents of geography and cultural history than anything else. It is not primarily explained by biological evolution, even though that does play a role - albeit a role which can be circumvented by technology, as we may see in the development of vaccination."

    Most groups of people in history have contributed nothing to technology. Outside of Eurasia, the number becomes so vanishingly small that it essentially drops to zero. And if you look at critically important technologies, without which modern life becomes impossible, the number is probably zero.

    You could live today at the same quality of life without a tomato sandwich or mashed potatoes. You could not have anywhere near the same quality of life without computers and the combustion engine, without modern engineering and advanced math, without antibiotics and vaccines, without modern arts and cinema.

    "Interactions in human history" are never fair in the sense that they are taking place between equals. They are often between the strong and the weak, the large and small, the smart and the dumb, the vicious and the pacific. Even within a homogenous society, that's true.

    "It is also not explained by the idea of a single gifted population, like the Indo-Europeans or Ashkenazi Jew or western Europeans or Chinese, who singlehandedly invent everything through their genius."

    Well, of course no one argues that any group "singlehandedly" invented everything on its own without help. What they notice, however, are the large disparities in accomplishments that you ignore. Whole continents of people could've never existed and modern life would not be significantly different than it is today. We would be immeasurably poorer in our knowledge about human potentialities for not knowing about the experiences of Australian aborigines, for example, but we would not literally be poorer and life wouldn't be any different.

    Over the last five hundred years, European ideas and technologies transformed life around the world. That's incontestable. Before that, the most interesting and useful of technological inventions were far more diffuse, but rarely did they ever originate outside the Eurasian continent. Even within Eurasia, huge disparities existed between peoples, and many groups on the largest continent contributed little to the long stream of technology leading to modern life.

    The question ought to be why. (And, no, the answer is not always biological.) The topic shouldn't be an excuse to work up to a rhetorical flourish about how we are all so lucky to be standing on everyone else's shoulders.

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    1. European dominance isn't a great mystery. Columbus and da Gama both sailed about five hundred years ago, and the resources their discoveries brought to Europe were more than enough to kickstart European dominance.

      As for the claim that some groups contribute more - this is certainly true, and it's basically because they have had more contributed to them, not because they're inherently superior. The European peninsula has been able to benefit from developments all over Eurasia, and that, combined with favourable climate, access to several seas, plentiful water (and so much else), is sufficient to make sense of later European dominance.

      "Before that, the most interesting and useful of technological inventions were far more diffuse, but rarely did they ever originate outside the Eurasian continent."

      This is because, for tens of thousands of years, the vast bulk of humankind has lived in Eurasia. More people not only means more inventors, more mouths to feed, and so on - it also means more interactions between more groups and a much greater amount of techological and cultural sharing.

      And you may be right about tomatoes, but you'd be dead wrong about potatoes, sugarcane, and other crops that transformed global and European diets and, equally importantly, European wealth. Selling sugar made enormous amounts of money for European investors, money that was invested in arms, scientific expeditions, and other things that helped Europeans dominate the earth. Potatoes are significantly easier to grow than other crops and provide feed for animals and people in all seasons, unlike many other common temperate crops. Also, what would Russia or Ireland be without the potato?

      "You could not have anywhere near the same quality of life without computers and the combustion engine, without modern engineering and advanced math, without antibiotics and vaccines, without modern arts and cinema."

      All of which relied on developments brought about by wealth commandeered from around the world by European military dominance brought about by European wealth brought about by countless small cultural and technological innovations being brought to Europe.

      "Well, of course no one argues that any group "singlehandedly" invented everything on its own without help."

      Well, of course they do. All the time. That's the thrust of so much pop HBD stuff.

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    2. Pincher Martin, if you can't understand that the machine on your desk in front of you was invented because a Homo Erectus figured out how to control fire hundreds of thousands of years ago, then you just don't get human history.

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    3. Technically, of course, that's a strawman. But it's also accurate, if you accept Homo erectus figuring out how to control fire as one step in an extremely long chain of causes going back to the origin of the universe and continuing up to the present day.

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    4. Also, what the hell am I saying? My quality of life would be shit without tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and all of the other delicious things in the world. I have to say that I live to eat, and without wonderful new things to eat, I suspect that I'd be significantly less fulfilled.

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    5. Anonymous,

      "Pincher Martin, if you can't understand that the machine on your desk in front of you was invented because a Homo Erectus figured out how to control fire hundreds of thousands of years ago, then you just don't get human history."

      I stand on the shoulders of the Turkana Boy.

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    6. Yes, you do stand on the shoulders of the Turkana Boy.

      That's what AJ's silly argument amounts to here. A complete disinterest in a calculus of achievement. The peasants who knew for centuries that mold had some kind of healing property deserve as much credit for penicillin as Duschesne and Fleming and their labs. Just like the kid next door who saw that my tire looked a little flat deserves as much credit as I do for spending time and money to fix the flat. I'm not saying he deserves no credit, just that the effort he put into my nice new tire pales in comparison to the effort I put into it.

      I have been impressed with some of his posts, but lately, our host is coming across as another politically correct puritan.

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    7. You do understand that the first example differs from the second?

      In the first instance, a group of people have some form of knowledge (we can infer that this knowledge is the result of experience, but it may have also been put into use); whereas, the second examples describes a simple observation.

      If this is the analogy by which you attempt to ignore the facts then by all means continue to make a fool out of yourself.

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  7. "European dominance isn't a great mystery. Columbus and da Gama both sailed about five hundred years ago, and the resources their discoveries brought to Europe were more than enough to kickstart European dominance."

    Pish posh. What have the Spaniards and Portuguese contributed to technology? Next to nothing. What Spanish and Portuguese inventions do you rely on? A handful at most. How many Spanish and Portuguese Nobel Laureates in science were created out of that New World gold? None that I can think of.

    So what did da Gama and Columbus contribute to the scientific revolutions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries? Nothing. Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Hooke, Brahe, Vesalius, Harvey, Leeuwonheok, Pascal, Boyle, von Guericke, and the anonymous Dutch inventors of the microscope derived no advantage from Columbus.

    You're making a horrible mistake by believing that colonization fed science and became necessary to it in some way just because the Age of Discovery and the Scientific Revolution were roughly contemporaneous. Science did eventually feed colonization by creating larger and larger power gaps between Europe and the rest of the world as the European technological edge widened to a gulf, but that is not the same thing as your reverse Leninist interpretation of colonialism, that somehow the West came to rely on colonialism to sustain and grow itself.

    "As for the claim that some groups contribute more - this is certainly true, and it's basically because they have had more contributed to them, not because they're inherently superior."

    If having something contributed to your group automatically sparked creativity, then no group today would be more creative and intelligent than aborigines. They've had everything given to them from written language to airplanes.

    The key is not what is contributed to you, however, but what you can contribute back. And many groups don't contribute anything at all. The flow in technology is all one direction, from others to them.

    Look at Ashkenazi Jews. Before 1800, the contributed almost nothing to modern science and technology in Europe. The Scientific Revolution was almost entirely a goyish affair.

    Then as Europeans secularized and Jewish emancipation spread in the nineteenth century, Jewish accomplishments in science rose dramatically. The three-hundred-year head start by goy scientists didn't prevent Jews from catching and surpassing their European neighbors almost immediately. Heavy-handed discrimination in universities against Jewish students and professors also didn't prevent it.

    Yet other groups still can't manage the slightest accomplishments in science even with abundant state aid and a widespread public belief that they have what it takes.

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    1. Money from colonies was vital for the development of European military and scientific dominance. It didn't come in all at once - in fact, the Spanish economy crashed in the sixteenth century as a result of the massive influx of cheap money from the New World, so naturally Spanish investment didn't take off. It took time for real profits to be made, but once they were, that was it. Game over for everyone else.

      "So what did da Gama and Columbus contribute to the scientific revolutions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries? Nothing. Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Hooke, Brahe, Vesalius, Harvey, Leeuwonheok, Pascal, Boyle, von Guericke, and the anonymous Dutch inventors of the microscope derived no advantage from Columbus."

      What they contributed was European presence and colonies in Asia and the Americas to be fought over. They contributed the existence of ships going across the Atlantic laden with treasure, like Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion, which could be raided by pirates, like Francis Drake, with vast quantities of stolen gold going to northern Europe. They also showed roughly how big the world is, how to round the southern Africa coast to get to the Indian Ocean, how to cross the Atlantic without getting lost, and where the 'spice islands' were.

      It isn't a coincidence that many of the scientists you mention came from the Atlantic nations of Europe and those that didn't had strong economic, linguistic, political, and cultural ties with it. Dutch scientists came to prominence because of their mastery of the waves due to the massive amount of money they made from trading spices - spices they only knew the whereabouts of because of da Gama (and Alboquerque, Antonio de Abreu, and others). Dutch scientific achievements did not take place in a vacuum; they took place as the Netherlands became the wealthiest nation in Europe, and the one with the most powerful navy. This simply cannot be ignored or hushed by straw man arguments about Columbus.

      Other nations, like France and England, became wealthy from Caribbean sugar, a crop domesticated in New Guinea, brought to Spain by Arabs, and farmed on large plantations by African slave labour. This money funded observatories, lecturers, universities, navies, explorers' expeditions...

      James I/IV of England and Scotland thought his little spice-producing colonies of Ai and Run in eastern Indonesia were so important that he included his ownership of them among his titles, on a par with his rule in England.

      Europe became powerful because of money and it got that money from colonies. It managed to take those colonies because of millennia of advances in all spheres generated by interactions between diverse human communities - crossbows ultimately from Southeast Asia, writing from Egypt, and so on. The countries that became wealthy and did not have colonies nonetheless benefited indirectly from the massive amount of money available to their neighbours, and the development of stock markets and companies anyone could invest in meant that private investors across Europe could make money from colonies and expeditions.

      "If having something contributed to your group automatically sparked creativity, then no group today would be more creative and intelligent than aborigines. They've had everything given to them from written language to airplanes. "

      Yeah. All you have to do to get something to be able to make something complex is to show it to them, right?

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    2. This money funded observatories, lecturers, universities, navies, explorers' expeditions...

      The literature on this is divided, and you're being very simplistic, driven to it, I'll grant you, by the medium of internet debate. England, at the very least, was already a wealthy country well before the advent of African slavery. Hence the constant invasions of it.

      And on a purely logical level: nations that could come to dominate and "steal" the resources of lands half a world away clearly already had a lot of wealth and power and know-how at their disposal. Even without looking into the details, your path of causation is problematic.

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    3. "And on a purely logical level: nations that could come to dominate and "steal" the resources of lands half a world away clearly already had a lot of wealth and power and know-how at their disposal."

      Or alternatively, they had a measure of resistance to smallpox, measles, and influenza that indigenous Americans did not. And they had guns, crossbows, and horses.

      "England, at the very least, was already a wealthy country well before the advent of African slavery. Hence the constant invasions of it."

      On a global scale, it was a backwater with a tiny economy, but it did have productive agricultural land and a relatively high population density. It wasn't invaded 'constantly' though, and its economy was miniscule compared to that of Egypt (e.g.). Don't forget, either, that the African slave trade began right at the beginning of English imperial expansion.

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    4. The world's total stock of capital, including its human and social capital, its scientific knowledge, its manufacturing plant and equipment, transport and communication technologies, etc. -- what is it if not the accumulated crime and sacrifice of centuries, plus interest? And drawn from all races and all four quarters of the globe, including, lest we forget, European peasantry.

      You will see this is the conclusion to my new book, A Part-time Job in the Country, coming out soon on Kindle. ;)

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  8. continued...

    "This is because, for tens of thousands of years, the vast bulk of humankind has lived in Eurasia. More people not only means more inventors, more mouths to feed, and so on - it also means more interactions between more groups and a much greater amount of techological and cultural sharing."

    Even on a per capita basis, the accomplishments of peoples outside of Eurasia are next to nothing. Africa had more than half the population of Europe in 1500. The Americas had about 15 percent of Europe's population that same year. There were more native people in Oceania than there are Ashkenazi Jews.

    It doesn't matter. Africa has quadrupled its population in the last sixty years. What has that done for the African contribution to world technology and science? Nothing.

    "And you may be right about tomatoes, but you'd be dead wrong about potatoes, sugarcane, and other crops that transformed global and European diets and, equally importantly, European wealth."

    There was no transformation of wealth. Just because a European made money selling sugar doesn't mean he couldn't have made money selling something else. The potato fundamentally changed agriculture in Europe, but you have no evidence that anything about Europe would be much different today without it, other than perhaps a small drop in population.

    "Also, what would Russia or Ireland be without the potato?"

    Well, since both lands existed prior to the introduction of the potato, I would have to say they would be exactly what they are today.

    The question ought to be, did the potato build up Russian and Irish accomplishments in other areas? Would Lord Kelvin and his Kelvin Scale have not existed without the potato? Did the Russians need the potato to build the first nuclear power plant or launch Sputnik?

    "All of which relied on developments brought about by wealth commandeered from around the world by European military dominance brought about by European wealth brought about by countless small cultural and technological innovations being brought to Europe."

    No, as I said, you have the order reversed.

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    1. "Africa has quadrupled its population in the last sixty years. What has that done for the African contribution to world technology and science? Nothing."

      I'm growing a bit weary of your pathetic strawmen. In order to make scientific or mathematical progress these days, you have to be familiar with all of the scientific or mathematical discoveries in the field. It is easy, under such conditions, for pre-existing knowledge to give an insurmountable advantage, and nigh impossible for populations with weak states and weak infrastructure to make significant advances.

      "Well, since both lands existed prior to the introduction of the potato, I would have to say they would be exactly what they are today."

      Yeah, because what is vodka anyway? And potatoes have never helped anyone get through a difficult winter, have they? Foods have no impact on population growth, after all. Right?

      And the potato famine? Just a little problem and nothing to do with the potato. Right?

      ...Right?

      "Just because a European made money selling sugar doesn't mean he couldn't have made money selling something else."

      What else could they have sold that could possibly have begun to generate quite such startling profits? Do you imagine that communities can simply conjure up items for sale from thin air and then develop their economies and societies on the back of them? What a brilliant world that would be. Sadly imaginary, of course.

      You don't seem to have any idea of the history involved here. I've been somewhat impressed by some of the knowledge in some of your previous comments, but this one is just shocking.

      "There were more native people in Oceania than there are Ashkenazi Jews."

      You are probably right there - but the thing about Oceania is that the archipelagos and islands are all rather far apart, and so little significant interaction occurred between many of them. Ashkenazim didn't live in a similar situation - mostly urban, wealthy, and with strong international links. Leeettle bit different.

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    2. Do you imagine that communities can simply conjure up items for sale from thin air and then develop their economies and societies on the back of them?

      Mostly, yes... More than fifty per cent of modern economies is not "stuff", but services. Knowledge, know how and savour faire, and ideology (dignity and liberty to the entrepreneurs) - all of it matter way more than gold. You need to acknowledge yourself with the cutting edge research on the causes of the Industrial Revolution. People learned a lot on the last decades. Deirdre McCloskey is a good start, because she writes well and is very erudite.

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    3. Many, maybe most, new agricultural crops were developed to increase the agricultural surplus a complex society might generate, which surplus, in turn, was used to field larger armies in the field with superior weapons, transport, etc..

      So I think West is right here if you trace it back far enough.

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  9. The idea that "colonies made Europe rich" is a naive, antediluvian argument which takes no account of the work of economic historians. Just because resources flowed from the New World to Europe, does not mean this transfer constituted a net increase in the stock of European capital. Indeed, the Spanish Crown spent much of the gold trying to dominate Europe. In addition, a large share of New World silver ended up being exchanged for Chinese silk, china, and tea as well as textiles from India and Ottoman lands. It's called trade. If you make a money flows argument, then you must reckon with pesky things like the balance of payments.

    As for the role of the sugar colonies in British economic development...well, the British home market consumed most of the sugar produced in the West Indies and this had to be paid for...that balance of payments thing again. The profits from the British West Indian sugar industry ? Estimates pale relative to total British economic output at the end of the 18th century. When the (public) costs of defending and maintaining those sugar colonies were calculated, Roderick Floud and David (now Deirdre) McCloskey concluded some time ago that these colonies represented a net economic drain, rather than a net addition to British GDP. Colonialism was usually a story of private gain but public loss.

    Forget about the indirect impact of the New World on European countries without colonies. In order for German states to benefit from the New World you need some other country to have a net increase in the supply of capital as a result of those colonies, and that surplus must be exported to Germany to finance industry. But it didn't happen.

    In the simplest terms : West's money narrative doesn't add up.

    What about the Dutch ? Didn't they get rich from spices ? All those literary potboilers with titles like "Spice Wars" or "How Cinnamon Changed the World" notwithstanding, the prosperity of the Dutch economy in the 17th and 18th centuries was based on multiple industries -- textiles, fisheries, ceramics, paper, shipbuilding, and finance. By the last term I mean it in the broadest sense : not only banking, but also insurance, commodities futures markets, and many kinds of trade intermediation. In the 17th century Baltic timber, Ukrainian grain and cod caught & dried by Basques reached European markets through Dutch hands. These are functions that used to be performed by northern Italian merchant houses but their heyday was long gone (thanks to the Spanish strangulation of northern Italy made possible by New World bullion?).

    "Dutch scientists came to prominence because of their mastery of the waves due to the massive amount of money they made from trading spices"

    The VOC was founded in 1602. The microscope was invented in the Netherlands in the late 1500s -- in the middle of the Dutch wars to free themselves from the Spanish Habsburg yoke. Forget the flashy microscope. Look up the Dutch inventor ‪Cornelis Corneliszoon. He probably did more for Dutch wealth than the microscope or all the spices of Banda. And he died before a single pod of cardamom was transported in Dutch ships.‬ (Well, cardamom mostly came from Kerala and the Malabar coast, but it was more euphonious to say "pod of cardamom" than a "seed of clove".)

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    1. "These are functions that used to be performed by northern Italian merchant houses but their heyday was long gone (thanks to the Spanish strangulation of northern Italy made possible by New World bullion?)."

      Perhaps more important was the Portuguese control of the major trade centres in the Indian Ocean - Venice et al relied on goods and trade from the Ottomans, who got many of their goods in overland and overseas trade that the Portuguese diverted after the battle of Diu. But yes; ultimately, those early conquests were partly to blame.

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  10. Perhaps this is why Kenneth Pomeranz, when he reprised the role of the New World in the economic rise of Europe, produced a more sophisticated argument than "money from the colonies made Europe rich". In The Great Divergence Pomeranz argued that New World resources (as well as the coal deposits of England and the Rhine valley) made it possible for Europe to escape the ecological constraints which he says would have stopped European industrialisation in its tracks. Virgin land in the Americas facilitated the European shift from agriculture to manufacturing by sparing Europeans from having to find more land to grow food & raw materials (like cotton and wool), as well as freeing labour for industry.

    There was little room for expansion of sugar agriculture in the Mediterranean, but Cuba, Jamaica and Brazil made it possible to get cheaper sugar ; American timber made it possible to slow the deforestation of Europe ; Indian and later American cotton spared Europeans having to grow more wool in the form of sheep (which would have affected food prices since sheep are land-intensive); etc.

    Pomeranz's book is brilliant (and I haven't even mentioned the part about China) but I find it just as possible that the New World delayed European industrialisation but slowing productivity growth because the incentives for a more efficient utilisation of land were reduced.

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    1. Pomeranz's book is brilliant indeed, but it's not exactly what we're concerned with here. Why did Europe innovate so much in the last five hundred years? That's not exactly the same as 'why did the Industrial Revolution happen in England?'

      "Virgin land in the Americas facilitated the European shift from agriculture to manufacturing by sparing Europeans from having to find more land to grow food & raw materials (like cotton and wool), as well as freeing labour for industry."

      Right - and this is what I mean by the claim that the conquests in the Americas put European nations ahead (not only 'money' in the simple sense). This is a well-established claim, and it provided resources - including land - which, in the long-run, put Europe ahead. It also allowed for the creation of new markets overseas that depended on European products, both for staples and luxuries; Dutch traders made a lot of money selling goods in English colonies in North America, for instance.

      It is certainly simplistic to say that sugar put England or France ahead, but it's also wrong to say that this is invalidated by data from 1805. By that time, Britain was well past any reliance on sugar it might have had, and in fact there was a general boycott of West Indian sugar by hundreds of thousands of people, inspired by the abolition movement, that led ultimately to the abolition of the slave trade in the empire in 1807.

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    2. West: Why did Europe innovate so much in the last five hundred years? That's not exactly the same as 'why did the Industrial Revolution happen in England?'

      Actually, the great divergence in living standards only really took off by the XVIII century. The Golden Age of Exploration did nothing to raise Europe from poverty - at least not directly. Industrial Revolution, on the other hand... But it's causes weren't gold or colonies (if so, why not Spain?). It was an ideological revolution : for the first time in history, entrepreneurs (bourgeois) were free and dignified to pursue innovation relatively unharmed, and with sufficient self reliance to maintain their whig-ish instincts, without being coopted into aristocratic tory-ness.

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    3. "Why did Europe innovate so much in the last five hundred years? That's not exactly the same as 'why did the Industrial Revolution happen in England?'"

      I have less issue with the "standing on all previous shoulders that ever balanced a head" gist of your blogpost, than with your subsequent claims about the role of colonial booty in the industrialisation of Europe. After all, it hardly matters (to me, anyway) where and when all the indiscernibly small antecedents of the technologies enabling the Industrial Revolution had first emerged. What matters, rather, is why those cumulative effects were first manifested in Northwestern Europe as economic growth rapid and sustained enough to break through the Malthusian barrier. Some time in the 18th century Britain was the first to escape the constraints of animal ecology.

      "It is certainly simplistic to say that sugar put England or France ahead, but it's also wrong to say that this is invalidated by data from 1805. By that time, Britain was well past any reliance on sugar it might have had, and in fact there was a general boycott of West Indian sugar by hundreds of thousands of people, inspired by the abolition movement, that led ultimately to the abolition of the slave trade in the empire in 1807"

      1805 was not chosen randomly. Sugar output in the French West Indies had always risibly eclipsed that of the BWI, but the Haitian revolution dramatically changed the balance. 1805 was actually the zenith of BWI sugar, in absolute terms. In relative terms (British sugar output relative to total output), the zenith was approximately 1770. But again, the magnitudes were not impressive. At any no time was BWI sugar more important than domestic wool, cotton, wheat, coal, iron and flax industries. Britain's was a well-diversified economy throughout the 18th century, without a single "key" industry which allowed the British industrial revolution. Perhaps you are thinking of Portuguese and Spanish dependence on the slave-sugar complex during the 18th century. So dependent on Brazilian and Cuban sugar had Portugal and Spain become by the 1700s, that they might as well have been a Pacific guano monoculture or an Arab oil sheikhdom. (That's a slight exaggeration to make a point, but only slight.)

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    4. "…this is what I mean by the claim that the conquests in the Americas put European nations ahead (not only 'money' in the simple sense). This is a well-established claim, and it provided resources - including land - which, in the long-run, put Europe ahead."

      It is not a "well established claim". It's a much controverted claim which cannot be straightforwardly assessed. In a completely different political context, nobody would dispute that the production structure of an industry would be altered if suddenly the cost of labour or the cost of energy were made dramatically cheaper (for example, because dirt-cheap Bangladeshi workers were made available to the international economy, or there was a dramatic global expansion of fracking). In such cases, it would be unremarkable to claim industry would employ more Bangladeshi workers or consume more carbon resources, at the expense of labour-sparing machinery or fuel-efficient technology. The same reasoning applies to the New World : the sudden availability of all that land ripe for intensive exploitation necessarily changed the input mix of the world economy in favour of more land use (and more labour use, in terms of slaves), at the expense of capital and technological intensity in production. Pomeranz chooses to believe Europe was facing diminishing marginal productivity of land and labour faster than technological change might have slowed or reversed it, and only fresh land and fresh labour changed the equation. (The converse of his analysis that China was not capable of breaking through those constraints, and therefore stagnated after 1700.) But that is not a given, and it requires nano-level data about European prices, wages, industry output, etc. in 1500-1700 to flesh out. The value, and brilliance, of Pomeranz's thesis is that it revolutionised the research agenda, not that anything he argued was "well established". There's a reason previous theories of the importance of the New World to Europe's industrial takeoff were dismissed by historians who were economists (as opposed to historians who did economic history) : the narrative did not cohere quantitatively or economically.

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    5. "It was an ideological revolution : for the first time in history, entrepreneurs (bourgeois) were free and dignified to pursue innovation relatively unharmed"

      You could make this argument about France in 1800 or the Netherlands in 1600, but not England or Britain in 1500, 1600, 1700. Gregory Clark would go farther and argue property rights had always been quite secure in England since the Middle Ages.

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    6. I see people here seeking "deep" explantions for Europe proeminence but the truth of the matter is that -- social or genetic alike -- we don't need them. "Modern growth" -- i.e. annual per capita growth in the order of 1% a.a -- is really easy to replicate on a country get its s**t together. China was an underachever from the XVI centuries to the 1970s, but when the took off it was really fast. Same thing in France, Germany in the XIX century, and now India in the 1990s (you don't need to have blue eyes to catch up).

      What all these countries seem to have in common is an ideology that let some room to some people innovate and not only become rich by doing it, but also highly esteemed. Isn't it highly "suspicious" that China's take off begun at the same time that they threw Mao's policy on the dustbin of History, and raised Deng Xiaoping to the bloody throne?

      Deng Xiaoping decreed: 致富光荣 (zhìfù guāngróng: To get rich is glorious!) -- and modern growth came to China, as by fiat.

      Modern growth in Indica began on the early nineties, when they abandoned the infamous Licence Raj that have condemned them to the even more infamous "indian rate of growth" between 1947 and 1990: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Licence_Raj

      Since then, they have been growing at almost chinese rates. Needless to say, they aren't exactly Aryan or East Asiatic, when it comes to IQ. Not that having a high median IQ in a population doesn't help. And I'll not commit the same mistake of our host and preclude any role to genetic explanations (it is almost certain that East Asian have a median IQ that is higher than that from populations of mostly European descent). But I have to add: I leave in Brazil, and China is way poorer than São Paulo, which have an median IQ even lower than that of Europe. Actually, China's gdp per capita is the same as Alagoas one of our poorest states, from the impoverished Northestearn coast (it has a heavy afro-american population, if you want to ask). We have the luck of honoring our entrepreneurs more than the chinese for most of the XX century, I think.

      But I digress. My point is: modern growth is too easily replicated to be either on the genes or to deserve a deep sociological explanation full of delicate mechanisms. It can germinate on too many different, and even slightly hostile, soils. I highly commend this lecture from Deirdre McCloskey to introduce you to this way of thinking about this fundamental issue:

      www.deirdremccloskey.com/docs/australia.docx‎

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    7. @ Pseudoresmus: "You could make this argument about France in 1800 or the Netherlands in 1600, but not England or Britain in 1500, 1600, 1700."

      It was't only liberty -- property rights were well guarateed in Ancient Rome by the time of the Principate, for God's sake. It was a qualified form of liberty and dignity -- one that honoured innovation, commercial life and the like, instead of marcial prowess, accidents of birth and the like. If you have liberty to commerce without dignity you have Trimalchio, or Cicero's advice about trade: not tottaly improper for an ambicious young man, as long as later he brought land and retired from that unhonored occupation once he became rich. Only in England the dignity of commercial ("bourgeois") life was not coopted by the tory-ness of the old ways (Cicero's advice had a strage allure along the ages: it was not honorable to be an entrepreneur and those puritans from Britain, the Netherlands and New England were really a strange lot -- go read some Quicksilver, by Neal Stephenson, to get the vibe).

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    8. I think we need to give some credit here to the role of ideas, including religious ideas and ideals. I'm thinking of Francis Bacon's vision of future technology (he was of Calvinist stock btw), Weber's thesis on capitalism and the Protestant ethic, Rodney Stark's argument linking the rise of science to the Hebraic conception of God and his unified Creation, indeed, the Hebraic conception of world history (and of a God of history), leading to a transfromation of mankind at some future date. Ideology is important.

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    9. West: Why did Europe innovate so much in the last five hundred years? That's not exactly the same as 'why did the Industrial Revolution happen in England?'

      Let's not slight the signal importance of steam engine. By tapping a cheap and virtually unlimited source of energy it removed the ceiling on human economic and technological development. When all you have is wind, water, and muscle you can only go so high.

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  11. Not "seed of clove" but a "bud of clove", which is even less euphonious.

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  12. The British Caribbean sugar industry's value added (=contribution to GDP) has been estimated by David Eltis and Stanley Engermann at approximately 2.5% of British national income in 1805. English wool and Scottish-Irish flax industries, each, were more than twice as big as the Caribbean sugar industry.

    2.5% of GDP would be the size of a moderate recession -- by which I mean that if the sugar colonies had just disappeared off the face of the map, the British economy needed only but endure a moderate adjustment. Sugar wasn't vital to anything. To the contrary, it was expendable.

    More specifically on profits from Eltis and Engermann ( http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/2566799?uid=3739704&uid=2&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21103764111713 ) :

    "Suppose that all the profits of the slave trade and sugar were dedicated to industrial capital formation, that slave- and slave-shipowners together refused to expand their own activities or to spend profits on consumption. Under these extreme (and improbable) assumptions, sugar and slavery would have been a major contributor to British gross fixed capital formation. Using Engerman's estimates, Barbara Solow has pointed out that profits from the slave trade alone could have formed "one half of 1 percent of national income, nearly 8 percent of total investment, and 39 percent of commercial and industrial investment." Such ratios she rightly describes as "enormous."' But what could have been true for the slave trade or sugar could, under the same extreme assumptions, also have been the case for many other economic activities, both at home and abroad.32 Banking, insurance, horse-breeding, canals, hospitality, construction, wheat farming, fishing, and the manufacture of wooden implements are just a few possible industries that could have yielded the profits to fund the Industrial Revolution. It is not clear that the profits from slave trading, or from the sugar sector at large, were more oriented toward industrial investment than were those from other lines of business…"

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    1. It is not only the size but the concentration of those sugar (and tea, and tobacco, and opium, etc..) profits that count. And 2.5% is not negligible. Plus all those other profits from trade -- with Russia, etc. -- count also. A lot of profits were generated in the luxury trades, basically between elites in widely separated parts of the world, whose incomes were wrung from their peasantry.

      Not sure whose side of the argument this favors, but I'm thinking Ed West's.

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  13. Pincher : "Just because a European made money selling sugar doesn't mean he couldn't have made money selling something else"

    West : "What else could they have sold that could possibly have begun to generate quite such startling profits?"

    West, the profits from sugar were not that startling. In fact the rate of return in sugar was not greater than cotton factories, canals, coal mines or government war bonds.

    Eltis and Engermann's analysis supports exactly the intuition offered by Pincher.

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  14. Pseudoerasmus's contributions here and in the previous blog entry are well worth reading. He has made many of the arguments I was trying to make about Europe's early modern economy more detailed and coherent than I could ever make them.

    It's ironic that Mr. West, who strongly denies that race exists, is forced to rely on a crude racial view of the global economy to explain persistent economic and technological gaps around the world.

    He believes, for example, that the overseas Chinese remained at the top of the heap in SE Asia for four hundred years because of their cultural and economic connections to China. He also argues that Spain's loot from the New World allowed western Europe (but nowhere else?) to somehow share in the bounty and move ahead together.

    But this crude economic analysis doesn't make any sense for explaining why culture matters more than biology when looking at the three examples (overseas Chinese, Ashkenazi Jews, and Europeans) we've been considering. And West, with his rather grandiose views about the power of cultural interactions, should be the first to understand that.

    Many of the overseas Chinese were indeed the kind of classic middlemen West claims them to be. They imported goods that non-Chinese in the region needed, and they exported goods that non-Chinese in the region created or grew. They also saved money that non-Chinese in the region could borrow.

    But that activity should have been a huge opportunity for the SE Asians who weren't Chinese. According to West's theory, it should have facilitated the kind of cultural and economic exchanges that closes and eliminates gaps. But that hasn't happened.

    Similarly, West seems to believe that Spain's loot financed universities only in Europe and therefore contributed exclusively to scientific development. But since the Spanish were still willing to trade with Chinese and Muslims at the same time they were paying for their wars in Europe, why didn't that loot also finance universities in other parts of the world as well?

    Does West think that once gold and silver dollars got into Spain's hands they were stuck in Europe for good. As Pseudoerasmus points out: "...a large share of New World silver ended up being exchanged for Chinese silk, china, and tea as well as textiles from India and Ottoman lands." So why didn't Spanish loot also finance Ottoman and Chinese universities?

    Mr. West obviously hasn't given a lot of thought to the economics holding up his hypothesis.

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    1. "Similarly, West seems to believe that Spain's loot financed universities only in Europe and therefore contributed exclusively to scientific development."

      It's not just, or even primarily, 'Spain's loot'. It was all of the resources of the Americas (and elsewhere - e.g. eastern Indonesia) that ended up in European or Euro-American hands. Other countries didn't actually own that stuff; they had to pay whatever prices Europeans were willing to sell them for. If you wanted cloves between the early seventeenth and late nineteenth centuries, you had to pay whatever the Dutch wanted you to pay.

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    3. A big part of China's problem was that, historically, and unlike Europe, it did not have a large, independent bourgeoisie. Also it had no vision of a future world transformation.

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  15. I do appreciate Mr.West's comments. I've enjoyed reading his recent posts and arguing their fine points with him. He's bright, informed, and likes to debate - all of which are qualities I value in a person. He's made me consider how shallow my knowledge is of the history of sub-Saharan Africa and pre-Columbian America. On his recommendation, I've ordered one of Graham Connah's books on Africa.

    But surely one can appreciate and take a strong interest in the native peoples of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas without exaggerating their achievements. I find the tribes of New Guinea interesting on their own merits. But do I need to claim that the rest of humanity stands on their shoulders because they were among the first people to domesticate the banana?

    I like bananas, but I don't think I need such a utilitarian justification to defend what I and many other people find inherently interesting. Nor will I be strapping on a penis gourd anytime soon to show my fashion solidarity with them. One need not romanticize these people to appreciate them.

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    1. "But do I need to claim that the rest of humanity stands on their shoulders because they were among the first people to domesticate the banana?"

      Well, they weren't; modern people in New Guinea are not the same as the people who domesticated the banana, and it would be a spurious idea indeed for people in New Guinea today to feel proud of having domesticated the banana (just as it is a silly idea for modern Spaniards to feel proud of having conquered the Americas, or for modern British people to feel proud of having defeated 'the French' at Agincourt).

      My point is more that anonymous people around the world, known only through archaeology and, occasionally, historical linguistics, developed many of the foundations of the modern world. Bananas may not seem so important, but they actually provide a very significant proportion of calories in tropical Africa and were at least partly responsible for rising population density in the region since their introduction. Just as money can't be conjured out of thin air, neither can calories, and an easy-to-plant, easy-to-eat year-round crop of nutritious fruits is going to have an impact.

      "I don't think I need such a utilitarian justification to defend what I and many other people find inherently interesting."

      Neither do I. I was merely pointing out that the foundations of most human societies were laid in diverse corners of the planet.

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    2. "Bananas may not seem so important, but they actually provide a very significant proportion of calories in tropical Africa and were at least partly responsible for rising population density in the region since their introduction. Just as money can't be conjured out of thin air, neither can calories, and an easy-to-plant, easy-to-eat year-round crop of nutritious fruits is going to have an impact."

      The point, however, is not whether some foods like the potato and banana are more efficient vehicles of calories than what was previously consumed, but whether they deserve to be considered "foundations" of the modern world.

      Would developed societies today be substantially different without the banana and potato? The answer is, they obviously wouldn't. The United Fruit Company and the Irish Potato Famine are not sufficient rejoinders to that argument.

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    3. " The United Fruit Company and the Irish Potato Famine are not sufficient rejoinders to that argument."

      Ireland is a developed society and it would not be anything like the way it is today without the famine. The entire history of Ireland from the mid-nineteenth century onwards would be completely different (millions of people emigrated and lots more died, which was huge in a place as low in population as Ireland), as would the history of the North Atlantic Archipelago as a whole. As would the history of the USA, where over fifty million people apparently consider themselves to have Irish ancestry - a direct result of the famine. Demographically, the potato has been pretty important, I'd say.

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    4. "Ireland is a developed society and it would not be anything like the way it is today without the famine."

      This is too vaguely stated to be meaningful.

      Obviously the potato is important to a history of the Ireland (and even to agriculture), just as slavery is important to U.S. history. But that doesn't make either one a "foundation" of the technology we use in modern world, which was the gist of your blog post. One can easily imagine the modern world having exactly the same range of technologies as it does today without the potato or slavery ever existing.

      I can't say the same thing about the scientific revolution or the free organizations of the medieval world (corporations, universities, cities, guilds, etc.) or the knowledge borrowed by Europe (or rediscovered) from the Middle East. If any of those developments had not happened, the technology we use today would look quite different and far less impressive. They were foundational to our current technology in a way that the potato and slavery are not.

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    5. Ireland's population fell by a quarter. That statement is only 'vaguely stated' if you know nothing about the history of the nation.

      I don't think we'd have anything like the 'same range of techologies' without slavery or the potato. Little things have big consequences. And slavery wasn't a little thing, of course.

      And why privilege the bigger, flashier technologies? Food has an enormous impact on your life, and has had a bigger impact on more people for far longer than computing ever has. I think you forget, too, the impact that famines once had in the world; before the Green Revolution and the development of hardier and more productive crops, famines were regular and predictable on much of the planet. It is, needless to say, hard to be productive in any sense if you have no food. A small increase in the hardiness and flexibility of crops can have a massive impact, and the potato has helped mitigate the effects of food shortages, just as flint corn did in the New England famine of 1816.

      And the foundation of the world is to be seen in the agricultural revolution, in a large number of cultivars, and in significant and powerful technologies, like the bow and arrow, the sail, and the gun. It isn't to be found in a single place or in a single technology, but in the results of collecting as many of the earlier ones as possible together.

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    6. "I don't think we'd have anything like the 'same range of techologies' without slavery or the potato. Little things have big consequences. And slavery wasn't a little thing, of course."

      Starvation and slavery are very important to the people who have to endure those conditions, as well as to the people who deliberately and directly perpetuate them. But they have nothing to do with technology. They were peripheral to innovation and technology, which is proved by the fact that the world's economy easily moved on without the Irish starving and without slaves toiling in the fields.

      You remind me of the chaotician in Jurassic Park who declaims the theory that a butterfly can flap its wings in Beijing and in New York City there is sunshine instead of rain. Pseudoerasmus makes a joke somewhere about those literary potboilers like "Spice Wars" or "How Cinnamon Changed the World," but you're taking your cues from Thomas Cahill's "How the Irish [and their potatoes !] Saved Civilization."

      If you have this kind of philosophical predisposition, then I suppose everything is foundational. Could Newton really have created the Grand Synthesis if that apple hadn't fallen from the heavens and conked him on the head? I would have thought so, but maybe you have a different view.

      "And why privilege the bigger, flashier technologies? Food has an enormous impact on your life, and has had a bigger impact on more people for far longer than computing ever has."

      Once you've satisfied your basic nutritional needs, I don't see how food is important enough to be a foundation of technology.

      Aesthetically, it's quite important, of course, what kind of meals we eat. Having some diversity in foodstuffs is pleasurable. And to the people who lived at the extreme margins, it was certainly important that they had extra calories at a cheaper price. But did that wider range of dietary choices impact technology? No.

      "I think you forget, too, the impact that famines once had in the world; before the Green Revolution and the development of hardier and more productive crops, famines were regular and predictable on much of the planet. It is, needless to say, hard to be productive in any sense if you have no food. A small increase in the hardiness and flexibility of crops can have a massive impact, and the potato has helped mitigate the effects of food shortages, just as flint corn did in the New England famine of 1816."

      Many things can have an impact on people without affecting technology in a foundational way. A hurricane. An earthquake. A flood. A fire.

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    7. So averting or causing famine has no impact on the development of technology? What if the wrong place experiences a famine at the wrong time? What if a fire had killed baby Isaac Newton? The world would almost certainly be very different even with a few small changes.

      What if Edmond Halley's father's soap business had failed after a fire, and Halley had grown up in a poor family? Newton might never have found a financial backer willing to tolerate his non-conformist religious views and Principia would never have been published.

      What if Mikhail Kalashnikov had succumbed to the childhood illness that nearly killed him? What if he'd died in a famine resulting from a poor crop of potatoes? Would we still have the Kalashnikov, do you think?

      Do you not think there might have been an impact from any of this? Or does science and technology proceed regardless, moving forward even in the absence of causes?

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  16. In the end all this discussion is futile. Mr. West seems to have an interest in Eastern Indonesia. I assume he's spent some time in the area, and knows many of the local people.

    If he hasn't noticed that the natives of Eastern Indonesia are *way* dumber than the average European or Chinese person, well I just have to conclude he has very weak powers of observation.

    And no amount of argument is going to change that.

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    1. They're not '*way dumber' than the average European. They just have much less money and much less in the way of formal education. They make the same logical leaps anyone would make in their situations, and they make the same kinds of decisions we all do all the time.

      Actually, most of the people I know from eastern Indonesia are well educated and all of them speak at least two languages fluently. They are not 'dumb'. And frankly, having spent a good deal of time in the Far East, I haven't noticed that Chinese people are significantly smarter than anyone else. Quite the opposite.

      No HBDer likes to be called a racist, apparently. But you ought to wear it as a badge of pride.

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    2. West: "I haven't noticed that Chinese people are significantly smarter than anyone else. Quite the opposite."

      You've just accused your interlocutor of being a racist (which he apparently is, indeed), to just act link a racist yourself?

      Shame on you.

      Notice that people speak about a cognitive advantage of East Asians based not on anedocts, but on facts like: (i) the last PISA tests, that show poor rural areas on China doing as well or better than Finland; (ii) the fact that great cities like Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau and Shangai have -- besides a lot of chinese -- the highest median IQs in the world; (iii) that people of chinese descent are overrepresented in top Universities around the world.

      I think you should retract your statement. HBD have a lot of racists and these is a shame, we don't need a bright and tolerant person like you to lose your temper and act like some (not all, let's be clear) of them.

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    3. Yes, you're quite right. It does sound a bit off. Sorry.

      What I meant, though, was that in visiting China, I have seen a lot of seriously dumb behaviour and heard a lot of seriously irrational opinions. Obviously, this counts for very little in asserting that Chinese people actually are 'dumb' or 'irrational' - they aren't, of course. Observations of this sort are worthless in telling us about what people are mentally capable of.

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    4. Pincher Martin - "The point, however, is not whether some foods like the potato and banana are more efficient vehicles of calories than what was previously consumed,"

      Anything that increases agricultural surpluses favors the accumulation of capital, especially in its early (primitive) stages. One doesn't have to be a Marxist to believe this.

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    5. West - "in visiting China, I have seen a lot of seriously dumb behaviour and heard a lot of seriously irrational opinions."

      One Chinese observed of his own society that while one, two, or three of his countrymen can be quite intelligent, when you get thousands of them together the are capable of the most insane things. There is something to this, I think, and it has to do with the fact that China is a clan-based society. The very notion of the public good, something we take for granted, is foreign to them. here is an extreme example.

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  17. "It was all of the resources of the Americas (and elsewhere - e.g. eastern Indonesia) that ended up in European or Euro-American hands. Other countries didn't actually own that stuff; they had to pay whatever prices Europeans were willing to sell them for. If you wanted cloves between the early seventeenth and late nineteenth centuries, you had to pay whatever the Dutch wanted you to pay"

    Reading the above one might think Europeans behaved like one giant Microsoft of precious commodities. But even a monopolist knows if you manipulated prices enough consumers would seek alternatives or competitors are attracted. And, indeed, starting in the 18th century the spice trade became quite regularised. Cloves, your example, were cultivated in the lamentably unNetherlandic Zanzibar and all those obscene profits of the VOC were but a shadow of what had been in 1650. Indeed, when did it go bankrupt, the storied VOC ? 1798.

    Of course the Dutch government took over the VOC and its colonial administration in Java coerced the locals to produce coffee, indigo and such at fiat prices set by the Dutch. These proceeds went straight to the Dutch Treasury. But the colonial administration was much more expensive to maintain in Indonesia than for the British in India.

    But the key point here, parallel with the British sugar issue, is how much did the Dutch East Indian trade benefit Dutch development ? Angus Maddison has done estimates, and Dutch extraction out of Indonesia peaks in….the 1920s. The rate was only about 1% of Dutch domestic output in 1700.

    Unfortunately, the dates and the numbers don't work for the impact of the colonial periphery on Dutch development.

    More important than the spice trade as a cause of Dutch wealth in the 17th century was the influx of people fleeing the Counterreformation. After Antwerp fell to the American-bullion-fattened armies of the Holy Roman Emperor, Protestants in Flanders were given the choice of exile or recantation. As it so happened, Flemish Protestants were disproportionately merchants and craftsmen, and the loss of the future Belgium was the glory of the Netherlands. Likewise, the Huguenots fleeing France and many of the Sepharadim who had already fled Spain for parts various also showed up eventually in Dutch cities. It's not coincidental that France's industrialisation was slower than Germany's, and Spain's even slower.

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  18. I've always thought "Europe industrialised thanks to colonial booty" was a much less promising line of inquiry than the "Third World was impoverished by colonialism". I don't agree with either but the evidence is potentially stronger for the latter than the former. The second approach is now quite popular amongst economists who argue "bad institutions" that keep countries poor were usually the legacy of colonialism. Cf. Daron Acemoglu.

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    1. I'm learning quite a lot from your comments, so thank you. My area is world prehistory more than anything, not the creation of the modern era (as you may be able to tell).

      Certainly, though, I can see little in any of the competing accounts that you've cited that would entail IQ differences as the leading cause of greater European wealth and power.

      And when it comes to earlier historical events, like the Spanish conquests of Mexico and Peru, it seems quite clear that superior organisation or social structure, or even ideology, were not major causes; the Spaniards fought one another almost as much as they fought the indigenes, and they relied on horses, crossbows, guns, swords, cannons, and mastiffs to win battles, not Christianity or superior tactics. The origins of these technologies aren't particularly mysterious. The fact that European populations ended up dominating the Americas has much more clear-cut causes than does the Industrial Revolution, that's for sure.

      As for colonialism ravishing developing nations - it certainly makes sense in some cases (e.g. Myanmar) and not in others (e.g. Singapore).

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    2. "My area is world prehistory more than anything…

      And Austronesian, it would seem. Razib Khan reports they've just sequenced ancient DNA (mtDNA) from the remains of an 8000 year old skeleton on an island in the Taiwan Straits. And it's haplogroup E, consistent with expectation.

      The highest frequency of E is found amongst the Chamorro of the Marianas. It's >90%, which is much higher than other Austronesian-speaking places. I assume this is because no one other than their ancestors has ever occupied the Marianas ?

      "The fact that European populations ended up dominating the Americas has much more clear-cut causes than does the Industrial Revolution, that's for sure."

      Now that you are on the HBD radar screen I'd hate to say anything nice about Jared Diamond lest the blood-smelling species of locust darken the skies over your blog. But I always thought his account of the Americas was largely sufficient. I now find it likely there were cognitive differences between American indigenes and European conquerors, but invoking those seems unnecessary, even overkill, for explaining the straightforward events. (Africa is another matter.)

      "Certainly, though, I can see little in any of the competing accounts that you've cited that would entail IQ differences as the leading cause of greater European wealth and power."

      Well, I would never use the IQ data of current and recent populations to make inferences about historical populations. Past IQ is like Nostratic : even if we can speculate reasonably, we cannot actually corroborate the speculation, so what's the point. Some people use the current correlates of IQ that have historical analogues (like income) as proxies for past IQ, but I find that line of reasoning quite shoddy, for reasons innumerable.

      Of course, genomics holds the promise of finding the genes associated with intelligence, and through genotyping of prehistorical & historical remains we might be able to infer the cognitive abilities of past peoples. Maybe. Somewhere I saw estimated that locating the genes for a polygenic trait like intelligence might require a sample size of 1 million genotypes with associated IQ scores. We are far from there yet. And even if we got there, I'm not sure I would trust the IQ "securely reconstructed" from the genotype of a Roman Jew circa 400...

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    3. I think you expressed some scepticism for Cochran and Harpending's Ashkenazi theory. I find it very plausible, but theirs is still a three-part speculation -- the genomic correlates of intelligence are speculative, the historical selection mechanism is speculative, and the dating of that selection is speculative. I don't know if you know Greg Clark's A Farewell to Alms, but he documented before our eyes a demographic change in the population of England 1100-1800 that's extremely convincing as a selection mechanism. Using birth, death and probate records Clark showed, will by will, that the most successful outbred the less successful and, over time, through downward mobility, the descendants of the successful pervaded the English population. He boldly asserts, "The modern population of the English is largely descended from the economic upper classes of the Middle Ages" (The surname Cholmondeley, listed in the Domesday Book, and still a hereditary holder of one of the ceremonial offices -- Grand Chamberlain of the Royal Privvies ? -- had become common amongst farm labourers somewhere in the North by the 19th century.) Clark carefully sits on the fence about whether this demographic change implied cultural or genetic changes, but it's still the closest we have ever come to witnessing recorded history's version of Darwin's finches, evolution almost in real time. But Clark never talks about IQ. Rather he discusses the evolution of violence and patience in England. (Interest rates falling steadily over the course of centuries can be an index of patience, and thus the willingness to defer consumption.)

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    4. @ Pseudoerasmus: He boldly asserts, "The modern population of the English is largely descended from the economic upper classes of the Middle Ages"

      And then he waives his hand and more boldly still asserts: therefore, Industrial Revolution HAD to occur first in England.

      Facepalm.

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    5. True, but Clark has also argued, similar demographic studies should be performed for other countries and the results would be relevant to whether that was one of the reasons that put England first.

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    6. Pseudoerasmus, I've to second West's gratitude: thank you so much for these superb free economic history lessons. I've learned a lot reading this thread :-)

      Back to the issue. "A Farewell to Alms" is a superb-great-mediocre book all at the same time, and p. 6 and ss from this review is a very good apreciation of Clark's strengths and weaknesses: http://www.deirdremccloskey.com/docs/alms.pdf

      But, please, just ignore page 9, through, unless you want to see two world renowed scholars (Samuel Bowles and Deirdre McCloskey) embarass themselves with a faulty understanding of the concept of regression to the mean.

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    7. " I now find it likely there were cognitive differences between American indigenes and European conquerors, but invoking those seems unnecessary, even overkill, for explaining the straightforward events."

      But does any informed HBDer think that intelligence differences were the primary cause for the European conquest?

      If IQ differences are cited, I'm sure they are used to explain current differences between Native Americans, mestizos, and those of exclusively European descent. Diamond thought his history was also sufficient to explain those: why some had "cargo" and others did not.

      Since many quite large differences in IQ exist across the Eurasian continent, with some gaps as large as between the European conquerors and America's original inhabitants, I too doubt that IQ had much to do with the conquest. With up to 90 percent of the native population dying from wave after wave of disease, the American indigenous people could've been as smart as Ashkenazi Jews and I'm not sure it would have mattered.

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    8. I've read that McCloskey piece before.

      What's most valuable in A Farewell to Alms is the actual genealogical documentation of demographic changes in a population. That supplies a method to be replicated in other countries. Which is also why Solow's criticism is utterly stupid. How do we know that the same processes Clark described for England did not also take place in Japan and China ? In fact, the Clark-like process might be quantified and we might talk about degrees of demographic "embourgeoisement" which all countries would have but in unequal amounts.

      On page 6 of McCloskey, the insufficient documentation of causal links A and B, and State 2, becomes irrelevant, if the Clark process is assumed to be genetic transmission along with assortive mating. But it would have to be verified by other means beyond Clark's purview. We now know from his latest book (A Son Also Rises) that Clark most likely believes the process is genetic.

      It's true Clark doesn't much work on causal link C ( = he did not quantify the impact of "embourgeoisement" on economic outcomes ). But neither did Landes or other neo-Weberians and I don't remember economists castigating them for it. In fact, I have never seen post-Weberian culturalist arguments of any kind ever specify a precise mechanism, let alone quantify it, for the transmission of cultural traits from one generation to another. It's just assumed there's some community of behavioural traits that emerges (often through self-selective immigration) and gets reproduced one generation after another. At least Weber himself thought the behaviours were grounded in religious belief (which seems unlikely now). But Landes ? Harrison ? Sowell ? In the latter two self-selection is used a lot. Why is Costa Rica so much more stable, peaceful and democratic than other Central American countries ? Well, because the poverty of the land (relative to the more fertile Nicaragua) failed to attract the ne'er-do-well quick-buck-artist younger siblings of Castilian nobility and instead attracted lower-class Spaniards with a more "Puritan" attitude. Funny, I've never seen documented which region of Spain is supposed to have supplied these Hispanophone East Anglians….

      Besides, quantifying the link between "embourgeoisement" and economic outcomes is a tall order from a book which already entails an excruciating amount of scholarly labour on something economists never examine (birth, death & probate records). But even worse, McCloskey says she agrees with Clark on causal link C but just can't quantify it herself ! What a useless criticism.

      McCloskey's basic problem is that he/she has problems with neo-Darwinian explanations of social phenomena (or, as in Clark's case, explanations that may be neo-Darwinian). McCloskey :

      "For another, non-Europeans, those Untermenschen, become astoundingly rich when they moved into places in which bourgeois values are honored."

      Oh ? The African diaspora in North America ? 7th-generation Mexican-Americans in New Mexico ? Highland Berbers in France and the Low Countries ?

      He-she and other institutionalists need to distinguish between those rich ethnic diasporas who fare much better than the average in their homeland (e.g., Indians), and those diasporas who perform about in line with what we would expect given their coethnics' performance in the home territories (e.g., Chinese).

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  19. "My area is world prehistory more than anything…

    And Austronesian, it would seem. Razib Khan reports they've just sequenced ancient DNA (mtDNA) from the remains of a 8000 year old skeleton on an island in the Taiwan Straits. And it's haplogroup E, consistent with expectation.

    The highest frequency of E is found amongst the Chamorro of the Marianas. It's >90%, which is much higher than other Austronesian-speaking places. I assume this is because no one other than their ancestors has ever occupied the Marianas ?

    "The fact that European populations ended up dominating the Americas has much more clear-cut causes than does the Industrial Revolution, that's for sure."

    Now that you are on the HBD radar screen I'd hate to say anything nice about Jared Diamond lest the blood-smelling species of locust darken the skies over your blog. But I always thought his account about the Americas was largely sufficient. I now find it likely there were cognitive differences between American indigenes and European conquerors, but invoking those seems unnecessary to explain the straightforward events. (Africa is another matter.)

    "Certainly, though, I can see little in any of the competing accounts that you've cited that would entail IQ differences as the leading cause of greater European wealth and power."

    Well, I would never use the IQ data of current and recent populations to make inferences about historical populations. Past IQ is like Nostratic : even if we can speculate reasonably, we cannot corroborate the speculation, so what's the point. Some people use the current correlates of IQ which have historical analogues as proxies for past IQ, but I find that line of reasoning quite shoddy, for reasons innumerable.

    Well, it may end up more like Indo-European than like Nostratic. Genomics holds the promise of finding the genes associated with intelligence, and through genotyping of prehistorical & historical remains we might be able to infer the cognitive abilities of past peoples. Maybe. Somewhere I saw estimated that locating the genes for a polygenic trait like intelligence might require a sample size of 1 million genotypes with associated IQ scores. We are far from there yet. And even if we got there, I'm not sure I would trust the IQ "securely reconstructed" from the genotype of a Roman Jew circa 400 who would be grave-robbed for our psychometric fascination.

    I think you expressed some scepticism for Cochran and Harpending's Ashkenazi theory. I find it very plausible, but theirs is still a three-part speculation -- the genomic correlates of intelligence are speculative, the historical selection mechanism is speculative, and the dating of that selection is speculative. I don't know if you know Greg Clark's A Farewell to Alms, but he documented before your eyes a demographic change in the population of England 1100-1800 that's extremely convincing as a selection mechanism. Using birth, death and probate records Clark showed, will by will, that the most successful outbred the less successful and, over time, through downward mobility, the descendants of the successful became more numerous in the English population. Clark carefully sits on the fence about whether this demographic change implied cultural or genetic changes, but it's still the closest we have ever come to witnessing recorded history's version of Darwin's finches, evolution almost in real time. But Clark never talks about IQ. Rather he discusses the evolution of violence and patience in England. (Interest rates, adjusted for risk, are an index of patience. The lower the rate at which you are willing to lend money [=save money], the more you are willing to defer consumption.)

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  20. (Several times my comments seemed to post successfully, then disappeared.)

    I've read that McCloskey piece before.

    What's most valuable in A Farewell to Alms is the actual genealogical documentation of demographic changes in a population. That supplies a method to be replicated in other countries. Which is also why Solow's criticism is utterly stupid. How do we know that the same processes Clark described for England did not also take place in Japan and China ? In fact, the Clark-like process might be quantified and we might talk about degrees of demographic "embourgeoisement" which all countries would have but in unequal amounts.

    On page 6 of McCloskey, the insufficient documentation of causal links A and B, and State 2, becomes irrelevant, if the Clark process is assumed to be genetic transmission along with assortive mating. But it would have to be verified by other means beyond Clark's purview. We now know from his latest book (A Son Also Rises) that Clark most likely believes the process is genetic.

    It's true Clark doesn't much work on causal link C ( = he did not quantify the impact of "embourgeoisement" on economic outcomes ). But neither did Landes or other neo-Weberians and I don't remember economists castigating them for it.

    And at least Clark makes his transmission precise and explicit. I have never seen post-Weberian culturalist arguments of any kind ever specify a precise mechanism, let alone quantify it, for the transmission of cultural traits from one generation to another. It's just assumed a set of behavioural traits emerges and gets perpetuated from one generation after another. At least Weber himself thought the behaviours were grounded in religious belief (which seems unlikely now). But Landes ? Harrison ? Sowell ? In the latter two self-selection is used a lot. Why is Costa Rica so much more stable, peaceful and democratic than other Central American countries ? Well, because the poverty of the land (relative to the more fertile Nicaragua) failed to attract the ne'er-do-well quick-buck-artist younger siblings of Castilian nobility and instead attracted lower-class Spaniards with a more "Puritan" attitude. Funny, I've never seen documented which region of Spain is supposed to have supplied these Hispanophone East Anglians….

    Besides, quantifying the link between "embourgeoisement" and economic outcomes is a tall order from a book which already entails an excruciating amount of scholarly labour on something economists never examine (birth, death & probate records). But even worse, McCloskey says he-she agrees with Clark on causal link C but just can't quantify it either !

    McCloskey's basic problem is that he/she has problems with neo-Darwinian explanations of social phenomena (or, as in Clark's case, explanations that may be neo-Darwinian). McCloskey :

    "For another, non-Europeans, those Untermenschen, become astoundingly rich when they moved into places in which bourgeois values are honored."

    Oh ? The African diaspora in North America ? 7th-generation Mexican-Americans in New Mexico ? Highland Berbers in France and the Low Countries ?

    He-she and other institutionalists need to distinguish between those rich ethnic diasporas who fare much better than the average in their homeland (e.g., Indians), and those diasporas who perform about in line with what we would expect given their coethnics' performance in the home territories (e.g., Chinese).

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    Replies
    1. "The African diaspora in North America? 7th-generation Mexican-Americans in New Mexico ? "

      They are wildly rich by any historic standard and very rich by world standards. Is it your point is that their median lower IQ probabilly contributes to lower economic performance? It is besides the point: apparently, low IQ people are embourgeoise-able too, as we can see by the accelerated growth rates of countries like India and, since the nineties, even in Subsaharan Africa. Needless to say in all these cases, low IQ doesn't seem an unsurmmontable barrier. It is more like French labour laws, I think: a nuisance that slows growth, not an absolute obstacle to it.

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    2. "[the African diaspora in North America] are wildly rich by any historic standard and very rich by world standards.

      That is correct. But we are interested in explaining inequality of income and wealth, as well as absolute increases in income and wealth, aren't we ?

      :apparently, low IQ people are embourgeoise-able too, as we can see by the accelerated growth rates of countries like India and, since the nineties, even in Subsaharan Africa. Needless to say in all these cases, low IQ doesn't seem an unsurmmontable barrier."

      Yes, this is true, but there are multiple caveats.

      A people need not be technologically innovative to become rich. Malta, as a wild example, does just fine, but they've done nothing in the sciences as far as I know. You can import technology invented by other people. And as technology becomes more independent of social infrastructure (e.g., mobile telephony, as opposed to landed telephony which requires a more complex interaction between politics, society and finance to create) it will become easier to achieve growth using other people's technologies and organisational methods.

      But here is the biggest caveat to the above. I quote from what you said earlier, which I forgot to comment on :

      "Modern growth" -- i.e. annual per capita growth in the order of 1% a.a -- is really easy to replicate on a country get its s**t together."

      Absolutely true. Not only is it true, much of the Third World was doing just that in the 1950s and 1960s. (China and India were notable exceptions.)

      But like the institutionalist economists, you seem think "getting its shit together" is an entirely exogenous matter, or the persistent inability to get its shit together came about exogenously. But what if it's endogenous, as I think it is likely at least in part ?
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      "I leave in Brazil, and China is way poorer than São Paulo…Actually, China's gdp per capita is the same as Alagoas one of our poorest states, from the impoverished Northestearn coast"

      You are comparing maracuja with papaya. Compare the same fruits. Shanghai is richer than São Paulo. It's difficult to quickly find comparable international dollar estimates for cities and regions, but it looks at least 5 Chinese provinces are richer than São Paulo state. And China had less time under market conditions than Brazil.

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    3. I think graphs like these:

      http://media.economist.com/sites/default/files/imagecache/original-size/20110108_WOC856_0.gif

      Will prompt some soulsearching on HBD people, that will have to relutanctly acknowledge that the impact of actual IQ between populations pales in comparision with institutional (a la Acemoglu) and "ideological" (a la McCloskey) factors... Look, there are diferences on the order of two orders of magnitude between the median productivity per worker between different countries and these kind of discrepancies aren't artifacts of IQ. Seen in this context, the asian-white-african gap (on income/productivity/wealth/sports name your achievement) in well governed countries like USA is an interesting, but definetely secondary thing, don't you think?

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    4. "well-governed" is probably not 100% an independent, exogenous factor.

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    5. Also, a lot of the growth rates in 2001-2011 are due to energy and commodities prices, kind of like the 1970s. Chad had 8% growth rates. Do you think that country has its act together, or is it the new oil ?

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    6. @pseudoerasmus

      Agreed. But with the exception England all the other "growth miracles" were exogenous -- even those made by blonde. The brits learned how to play "modern economy", so the game didn't have to be invented many times. But I agree that low IQ probably will make GDP per capita lower at the end of the road (even if the road can be a long one).

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    7. I meant that the ability of countries to create the optimal institutional arrangements for economic growth is not 100% exogenous. That is, the good or bad institutions a country happens to have, are not due to accidents of recent history, or to external imposition or influences -- at least not totally due. Institutional and cultural factors are not independent of each other, and neither is independent of cognitive factors, at least not totally.

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    8. @ Pseudoerasmus: "the good or bad institutions a country happens to have, are not due to accidents of recent history, or to external imposition or influences -- at least not totally due."

      I think they seem to be, to the LARGER extent: South/North Korea ---- Inland/Mainland China ---- East/West Germany... take your pick!

      And McCloskey really has a point when she says that the suddenness of transitions point to a "rhetorical" or "ideological" cause. As you know, "ideas" are a bit like fashion which -- on Academy and clothes alike -- can change really fast. Take my country, Brazil: in the seventies it was "cool" to be a leftie /PINKO if you were from the middle classes; now this kind of thing is becoming démodé, and people are much more entrepreneurial friendly, at least at the talking classes. I can see her point, and it makes me hopeful. But we have to be a little lenient with McCloskey: she is also a creature of her time; I don't think she'll learn to accept the fact that hereditability is so important a factor in almost every aspecto of mind and behavior so late on her life.

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    9. I think [accidents/external imposition] seem to be, to the LARGER extent: South/North Korea ---- Inland/Mainland China ---- East/West Germany... take your pick!

      But those things actually point to the weakness of the purely institutional approach : there's not only great inequality of income and wealth in the world, there's also a great inequality of the ability to move beyond a bad institutional legacy. Whether the legacy is communism, civil war, genocide, colonialism, whatever -- some countries make a faster transition to democracy and modern capitalism than others. There's a pattern. You cannot just point to history and say, "that's why the institutions are bad". You must ask, why do some countries create new institutions more easily than others ? Why have Poland, Mongolia, and South Korea put their past behind so much better and faster than Bulgaria, Turkmenistan and the Philippines ?

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    10. "And McCloskey really has a point when she says that the suddenness of transitions point to a "rhetorical" or "ideological" cause. As you know, "ideas" are a bit like fashion which -- on Academy and clothes alike -- can change really fast. Take my country, Brazil: in the seventies it was "cool" to be a leftie /PINKO if you were from the middle classes; now this kind of thing is becoming démodé, and people are much more entrepreneurial friendly, at least at the talking classes."

      The fashion phenomenon you describe was global, not only Brazilian. But in the case of Brazil, what made it "démodé", ultimately, was that the dirigiste policies of the 1930s-70s ultimately exploded in massive external debt and hyperinflation. Once you are in that predicament there are not many directions you can follow other than austerity in the short term and eliminating sources of waste and inefficiency in the long run.

      Yes, ideological cycles are a bit like fashion, but not exactly because they are not capricious, they are responive to real events.

      Starting in the 1930s there was a global shift to the left because the Great Depression had discredited free markets. Post-colonial countries followed global fashion, but they had a real, non-fashion incentive for them to adopt left-wing policies. As an assertion of sovereignty they nationalised industries owned by colonial powers, especially those in the natural resource sector that could provide revenue for the new governments ; and in order to accelerate development and diversify their economies, they pursued import substitution and directed state resources toward heavy industry. Most of them actually had 20-30 years of good growth pursuing these policies. But the growth was fuelled by capital accumulation, not efficiency gains. If you have a virgin jungle you can get a lot of growth just by throwing money at it and building roads, schools, hydroelectric dams and steel mills. But the waste eventually catches up with you (in the form of diminishing returns to capital). It might have happened sooner but the commodities boom of the 1970s came to the rescue and showered developing countries with new revenue like manna from heaven. More spending -- populist consumption as well as (unsustainable) industrial investment. When spending ambitions exceeded the boom revenue, developing countries turned to western banks. Ironically, the huge transfer of resources from the developed to the developing countries in the form of commodity payments, took place mainly as ledger entries of American and European banks. The dollars, francs, yen, marks & pounds exchanged for Chilean copper, Iranian oil and Ethiopian coffee were deposited in western banks, who were happy to shuffle the pot and lend it back. Then, catastrophe. The US Federal Reserve decided to disinflate the US economy by throwing the whole world into the greatest recession since the 1930s. The price of commodities -- everything, oil, gold, silver, wheat, coffee, tin, copper, bauxite, everything -- collapsed (and did not recover until the middle of the last decade). The interest rates on Third World debt shop up, at the same time revenue fell, and everything went to hell. The rest -- the 1980s and 1990s -- was the painful struggle to manage this process which discredited the previous 40-50 years of state-led industrialisation. Of course, Brazilians don't need to be told this.

      Anyway, my point is that people do happen to believe correlation is causation, if the events are BIG enough. Justifiably or no, the Great Depression discredited free markets in the 1930s. Justifiably or no, dirigiste policies were discredited by inflation & slow growth in the developed countries, and by debt & hyperinflation in the developing countries. Then the Soviet Union collapsed.

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    11. @Pseudoerasmos: "Starting in the 1930s there was a global shift to the left because the Great Depression had discredited free markets. (...) Justifiably or no, the Great Depression discredited free markets in the 1930s.

      Again, you are trying to reduce everything to materialistic causes -- a marxist vice, if you permit me the joke. In the XXth century, some countries -- e.g.: all the anglosphere -- survived the storm with relatively minor tweaks to their economic and social systems -- they remained mostly democratic and capitalist -- while others (Germany, Italy, etc. -- for a while; China, Russia, for much longer) roamed much longer through strange seas of economic and ideological experimentation. Is it possible that IDEAS and the relative prestige of capitalism in these countries played a (THE?) role in these different outcomes? I think McCloskey is into something BIG here.

      @pseudoerasmus: "Whether the legacy is communism, civil war, genocide, colonialism, whatever -- some countries make a faster transition to democracy and modern capitalism than others."

      Before the nineties, you could say something like this. Now, with a multidecade generalized economic boom in low IQ India and sub-Saharan Africa I think the ball is on your court...

      And it is not only oil or commodities, because the boom didn't begin in the mid 2000s, but earlier. It raises productivity on no-export sectors and living standards, etc. "The Economist" is a great source for Africa (and other remote places) economic news, I think. See, e.g.: http://www.economist.com/node/21560912 or http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21566022-report-describes-sacrifices-poor-make-keep-mobile-phone-vital

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    12. In the XXth century, some countries -- e.g.: all the anglosphere -- survived the storm with relatively minor tweaks to their economic and social systems

      Yes, but that doesn't refute my "materialistic" point. How far left a country went starting in the 1930s depended on its initial conditions. Relatively rich right-centred countries -- most of the Western world -- simply gave capitalism a more "human face" (if you will forgive the Czech Marxist joke) through regulation and social democratic redistribution -- what you call tweaks. That is, most did not abandon market capitalism. Not even Germany and Italy, which despite their political revolutions, still remained, at least in peace time, largely market economies.

      But if their initial conditions were different -- a much shallower history of liberal institutions -- these countries followed a very different trajectory and were much more "experimental". I don't think you can dispute this pattern. The degree of experimentation correlates very well with the historical depth and breadth of liberal institutions.

      Before the nineties, you could say something like this. Now, with a multidecade generalized economic boom in low IQ India and sub-Saharan Africa I think the ball is on your court...

      I thought we already agreed "low IQ" countries can achieve perfectly respectable rates of growth by importing technologies and organisational methods and "getting their shit together". Forget the 1990s-2010s ! "Low IQ" countries were already doing it in the 1950s and 1960s !

      But history is history and you cannot change the fact that some countries abandoned or repaired bad institutions faster and more easily than others. South Korea spent a year, only a year, in adjustment from the oil & debt shocks of 1973-80. Your country spent almost 20 years making the same adjustment. The same South Korea recovered from the Asian financial crisis in a year. Mexico took almost 10 years after the 1994 peso crisis. Poland and Ukraine go through the same shock therapy but the one transforms almost overnight whereas Ukraine is more backward than Russia..

      Maoist China may have killed tens of millions in the process but by 1980 they had achieved food sufficiency and near-universal literacy. Socialist-Nehruvian India deliberately killed no one, but Amartya Sen cogently argues the rate of death, through infant mortality and shorter life expectancy, was comparable with Maoist China. And India in 1990 hadn't even achieved basic literacy. Lesson : some countries even do socialism better than others !!!

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    13. @ pseudoerasmus: "But history is history and you cannot change the fact that some countries abandoned or repaired bad institutions faster and more easily than others."

      China only abandoned its "bad institutions" in the 1970s, and it took not only the greatest famine on recorded History, but the death of Mao to the changes really take effect. Some countries really take THAT long... Who is denying history here?

      @ pseudoerasmus: "Increasing productivity in just one sector raises general living standards."

      My point is that THIS boom cannot be reduced only to resources. It affects a lot of subsaharan countries, not only oil rich ones. Also, resource booms can result in dutch disease -- especially in third world countries, that have not a strong manufacturing/services sector to begin with --, so YOUR point isn't even true! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_disease

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    14. @pseudoerasmus: "low IQ" countries can achieve perfectly respectable rates of growth by importing technologies and organisational methods and "getting their shit together".

      But this is besides the point. What it obvious so far -- and Africa really send the ball home, I think -- is that any country, even the poorest, low-IQ-est, seem to be able to grow very fast when it adopts a certain respect for commercial life and a penchant to admire entrepreneurs. Didn't you get the capitalistic / Horatio Alger vibe that imbue that Economist's article about the incipient Nairobi startups?

      http://www.economist.com/node/21560912

      Third, since 2010 Nairobi has had a place, called the iHub, for local techies to get together and exchange ideas. The iHub has expanded to include a consulting arm, a research department and an incubation space called m:lab, which supports start-ups developing mobile applications.

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    15. @pseudoerasmus: Socialist-Nehruvian India deliberately killed no one, (...) And India in 1990 hadn't even achieved basic literacy.

      This example really brings water to my grinder, not yours: what happened to India when it abandoned misguided socialistic policies in the early 1990s was almost EXACTLY what happened to China when it did the same a little bit earlier, in the late 1970s. At least GDP-wise (the best indicator of BRUTE economic performance that we have, anyway):

      http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/57/India_GDP_without_labels.PNG

      Lesson: poor socilistic countries do very well when they abandon socialism and value commercial life a little more -- be their IQs lower (India) or higher (China) than that of Europe/USA.

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    16. You also miss my point about China and India. NO ONE DISPUTES that both did better when they abandoned communism and socialism, respectively. My point was that China did BETTER even under a more violent, coercive revolutionary communism than India under a socialist economic regime which still allowed private property & enterprise. Understand ? It's not just institutions, it's people too.

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    17. Sorry, companheiro anônimo, I don't know what we are arguing about. Every time you say something, I mostly agree, but you miss my point. Which is that institutionalists don't seem to understand that there are natural variations in people's abilities to acquire modern institutions. That doesn't mean it's impossible, but the road is harder and longer. As for Africa, I think our disagreement is a matter of degree. I repeat, I agree even the least capable are capable of economic growth and of executing the "correct" policies. They can even bring LSE and HEC educated functionaries to staff central banks who know all about how to sterilise Dutch disease effects.

      But look at <a href="http://cdn.static-economist.com/sites/default/files/imagecache/290-width/images/print-edition/20111203_BBC166_12.gif</a>this chart</a> from the institutionalists' own mouthpiece. The recent small divergence in the time series is almost entirely explicable by 4 countries -- Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya and Mozambique, which are benefitting indirectly from oil because they receive Middle Eastern and Chinese FDI, and East African countries especially have guest workers in the Middle East whose remittances rise and fall with oil revenue. Maybe they are benefitting also from a new spirit of entrepreneurship -- older people retire or die and younger generations realise global ideological fashions in their economic lives (you can never eliminate materialism out of me) -- but I am not a romantic so I need hard evidence.

      Delete
    18. Also, India's heavy legacy of misguided economic policies were very, very easily abandoned -- I insist that tt doesn't seem to be THAT hard, my dear @pseudoerasmus, and my emphasis on India (and China and Africa) is explained by the following reasons: (i) together they are half of humanity and more than half of our poor; (iii) they are so different (ethnically, cognitivelly, historically, culturally and otherwise); (iv) and yet the pattern of <> seem by and large the <>: after a long spell of FAIL! (the economic version of it), all of them experienced have been experiencing -- like Western Europe since the XIX century -- a credible spell of GREAT SUCCESSes!

      In India and China's cases they are clearly associated with (caused by?) freer markets and other classically liberal policies (as well as values and ideology?), don't you think?

      Delete
    19. you are debating with air, since nobody disputes that india and china have done much better as market economies than as command economies

      Delete
    20. You also keep dismissing the convergence effects of catchup after wars, crises and stagnation. Everybody is capable of a per capita income much higher than 1% of Switzerland. That's what Ethiopia had about 10 years ago. Now it's about 3%. The real test is whether Ethiopia can get to 10% or 20%, and how fast it takes to get there.

      Delete
    21. @ pseudoerasmus: I don't know what we are arguing about.

      We are arguing about magnitudes and the relative importance between factors. I think "natural variations in people's abilities to acquire modern institutions" are dwarfed by the importance of these institutions and (which is even more important) ideologies in the first place. That's why I largely agree with McCloskey approach even though I agree with you that THERE ARE significant and important variations between populations (how could it not be so? We're not creationists, for god's sake!). Like I've already said: the fact that India can replicate almost verbatim China's capitalistic sucesses after a socialistic débâcle is proof that these "variations" aren't so important, after all! They explain, let's say, most of the achievement gap in well-governed countries like the USA (v.g.: why are there more asians than blacks in Caltech, or the income gap between Ashkenazi jews and the rest of your whites) but not why a black in America is so so so so much richer than a Black in any other place in the world. This is an interesting, but secondary point; a footnote. The big story must be something else. Something institutional/ideological/rhetorical/what have you.

      What convinced me that this is the case? China 1975 onward vis-à-vis India 1990 onward vis-à-vis Africa nowadays. You don't seem to me like an ortodoz HBD -- if at all -- but I really would like to see a HBD-type account of these three almost parallel economic "miracles" that didn't seem utterly ad hoc and "forced".

      Delete
    22. @pseudoerasmus: "The real test is whether Ethiopia can get to 10% or 20%, and how fast it takes to get there."

      I think only time can really say, but we can have an idea of how well they can thrive by researching their achievements on a well governed society (the "exogeneity argument doesn't really apply, because as I say, only England had an endogenous generated modern economy -- all the rest of us are copycats). We know for a fact that african-americans (as well as latino-americans, sweden-americans, french-americans, hindu-americans, what have you) all do very well on the USA usually way better than in their home countries. This is a far from perfect indicator, but is is circumstancial evidence for the hypothesis that difficult-to-change-factors (not necessarilly biological) are easilly dwarfed by easy-to-change-factors.

      Delete
    23. I'm going to answer at the bottom and leave this nested series of responses. I hope A J West isn't annoyed that we've commandeered his comments section for random arguing...

      Delete
  21. "The highest frequency of E is found amongst the Chamorro of the Marianas. It's >90%, which is much higher than other Austronesian-speaking places. I assume this is because no one other than their ancestors has ever occupied the Marianas ?"

    Well, apart from the Spanish, Filipinos, and more recently Japanese and Americans. It's probably a good thing we're looking at mitochondrial DNA here.

    The Chamorro language is pretty close to the Philippine languages and probably split off from an early stage of Malayo-Polynesian. I don't think the details have been worked out yet, but it seems clear from the linguistics and archaeology that the first Austronesian-speaking forays into the wider Pacific took place much earlier than the time of the Lapita peoples and involved people speaking something close to proto-Malayo-Polynesian. It doesn't surprise me that their descendants are genetically close to Neolithic southern Chinese/Taiwanese.

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    Replies
    1. And it is not only oil or commodities, because the boom didn't begin in the mid 2000s, but earlier.

      I did not say it is all energy, but when you cite Chad or Russia how can you not mention energy ? Obviously recovery from the 1980s/90s is a part of it, also the new technologies developed in the industrial core during the same time also matter. Was I not the first to mention mobile phones ?

      It raises productivity on no-export sectors and living standards, etc.

      Doesn't mean anything. Increasing productivity in just one sector raises general living standards. If this wasn't true, auto workers would be paid 100 times street cleaners (no export sector). Besides, labour productivity is easy. Total efficiency is more difficult. When the growth accounting of the 2000s and 2010s is done, we will see if developing countries really did much better in total input productivity than they did in the 1950s-1970s. My guess, it's a little better, but only because the technology is inherently more efficient.

      But we have to be a little lenient with McCloskey: she is also a creature of her time

      it's not just his/her age. Economists in general are strongly biased toward explanations which are universalist, i.e., where all human beings respond similarly to similar incentives, institutions and environments. Cultural explanations are okay as long as the cultures are seen as shallow adaptations to local conditions that can be changed. Biological explanations are not resisted as long as they apply uniformly to all people.

      In addition McCloskey has always been sympathetic to social constructionist critiques of science -- both when he was David and now that she's a Deirdre. I don't know if this is related to his/her gender identity. There are several famous transgendered scholars and I get confused which has done what, but didn't McCloskey play a prominent role in the crucifixion of both Larry Summers and J. Michael Bailey ?

      Delete
  22. You also keep dismissing the convergence effects of catchup after wars, crises and stagnation. Everybody is capable of a per capita income much higher than 1% of Switzerland. That's what Ethiopia had about 10 years ago. Now it's about 3%. The real test is whether Ethiopia can get to 10% or 20%, and how fast it takes to get there.

    ReplyDelete
  23. @Anônimo,

    [HBD] explains, let's say, most of the achievement gap in well-governed countries like the USA (v.g.: why are there more asians than blacks in Caltech, or the income gap between Ashkenazi jews and the rest of your whites) but not why a black in America is so so so so much richer than a Black in any other place in the world.

    It’s conventional HBD to claim : the difference between American blacks and African blacks is mostly environmental, and the “good” environment in the West has maximised the cognitive potential of Africans. You and I may care, but I don’t think most HBD people care whether this environment is “institution” or some other kind.

    …we can have an idea of how well [the Ethiopians] can thrive by researching their achievements on a well governed society…We know for a fact that african-americans do very well on the USA usually way better than in their home countries. This is a far from perfect indicator, but is is circumstancial evidence for the hypothesis that difficult-to-change-factors (not necessarilly biological) are easilly dwarfed by easy-to-change-factors.

    Most HBD people would agree with you that the theoretical limit of income in Africa is set by African-Americans, the richest members of the African diaspora.

    But that doesn’t make African-American income a good indicator of potential African income. After all, African-Americans live under institutions which they did not create and which they have limited ability to influence (given their <13% share of the population).

    By contrast, Africans must govern themselves. So why do you pick well-governed Africans outside Africa as an indicator of African potential ? I thought you agreed with me that there is a limit to how much Africans can copy western institutions or creatively adapt them ? They can do better than now, but there’s a limit.

    I said before, you don’t have to originate technology in order to import and use it. In theory, that’s the same with institutions, but in practise, “institutions” — things like property rights, disinterested judiciary, central bank independence, laws against nepotism and corruption, free elections — require a large amount of voluntary compliance, cultural commitment and spontaneous adherence to work. They cannot function only on incentives, a schedule of rewards and punishments.

    In other words, you cannot recreate the “Western environment” in Africa to the extent necessary to raise African incomes to African-American levels.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Maybe black-majority regions of the United States are a better indicator of the economic limit of Africa. Detroit ? Their average income is less than half of the African-American average. Another possible governance model is Washington DC, which was >70% black in the 1970s when it was granted political autonomy. Within a decade the city government destroyed itself financially and had to be placed under permanent financial review by an IMF-like authority appointed by the US government. Other possible models are Barbados and Bahamas, which are pretty rich by 1980 standards, with >90% African-descended populations whose average income is about 65% of African-Americans. But these are very small populations.

    But for me, a much better indicator is South Africa. The economic institutions of South Africa were created by Europeans but, since blacks took over the government, they have preserved those institutions. South African whites have incomes equivalent to Sweden or Switzerland, but black South African income is about 15-16% of Sweden. That’s a big inequality, but that also means South African (and Namibian) blacks have a higher average income than all other Sub-Saharan Africans except those living in countries with a lot of oil, plus Botswana which has a small population but huge deposits of gems and minerals. In the late 1980s South African black income was about 8% of white income but today it’s about 16%.

    Of course there are some reasons to believe income is naturally higher in temperate southern Africa than in tropical west and central Africa and possibly also East Africa.

    ReplyDelete
  25. the fact that India can replicate almost verbatim China's capitalistic sucesses after a socialistic débâcle is proof that these "variations" aren't so important, after all!

    Why do you believe this is inconsistent with an HBD perspective ? Here is what I consider to be “normal” HBD responses. (1) Indians’ average cognitive ability is impaired by an immiserated environment, just like Africans. So the current Indian IQ is not indicative of their potential. But even now the average Indian is comparable with the average African-American. So when Indian GDP doubles or triples you can be sure Indian IQ will be higher. (2) India has 1 billion people, remember ? So if Indian IQ is 80, which is a little lower than the African-American average, you would still have about 20 million Indians at least as smart as the Ashkenazi Jewish average. There are only ~160,000 African-Americans at IQ >125. There would be over 1.3 million Indians at or above that score. The “smart fraction” (a very big deal with the HBD people) may not be very big, but the absolute numbers are staggering and maybe that’s all you need. If you have millions of smart elites to run the businesses and the ministries and execute “correct” policies, then a labour-intensive economy can be well managed.

    Objection from neoclassical economics : you are reading too much into early stages of growth. You are familiar with the concepts of convergence growth and input accumulation, yes ?  It's easier to grow from a lower initial condition, than from an already high position.  Thus, the maximum potential growth rates in rich countries are low, compared with maximum potential growth rates in poorer countries. When you build a house on empty land, its "economy" has grown by an amount equal to the market value of the house minus labour and materials.  Later, you can get more growth by making the house bigger and taller.  Let's call it "brute growth".  But since both the land is finite, there are limits to that process. You can get “smart growth” only by making more technical improvements to the house, such as central heating & cooling, energy-efficient windows, or installing a Siri-2000 automaton to control your house’s every function from your iPhone.

    Countries are like that house. Rich countries' low rates of growth are about 1/3 "smart growth".  Countries that grow by 10% or 12% ( assuming they aren't wasting oil revenue on projects with a negative rate of return ) are accumulating inputs, i.e., mostly “brute growth”, which is much easier as long as you are not printing too much money or borrowing more than you can repay or other foolishness. Their “smart growth” component can be between -1% and 3%, but because they can import the technology invented somewhere else. But as poor countries get a little richer, they must sustain more and more “smart growth” which depend more on technological competence and organisational efficiency.

    So just as I said with Ethiopia, the test of sustainable growth isn’t going from the condition of an Afghanistan devastated by war/famine to the condition of Pakistan (a little better) or Egypt (still better). The test would be arriving at the level of Peru or Iran. India is still much closer to Pakistan than to the level of Peru, Iran or China.

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  26. @pseudoerasmus: Thank you very much: your rebuttals to the points I've arised are very satisfying. I'll stop here, too, because I don't want to overextend my welcome. Great blog by the way; congratulations, A. J. West! Tchau! :-)

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    1. No overstay possible - I don't own the comments section (there's no such thing as 'off-topic', I'd say) and I've found your exchange very interesting. I've been at work and otherwise very busy over the past week, so I haven't been able to join in, but what I've seen has been enlightening, so thank you!

      Delete
  27. ''If you were not literate, you would almost certainly not have a job, and much of your knowledge would be absent from your head - even basic things, like general information about foreign countries, or cooking instructions, or warnings on electrical sockets. ''

    How you can explain us about the savant people??? How this people get to learn unbelievable things without any help? Your assumptions part of contextual, technical and subjective perspective about intelligence, exactly like many hbd'ers finish in the end of day (iq to you is ''education''). But i think should be there a pure and non-utilitary concept of intelligence and i think that is WISDOM. Yes, i agree with you when write about the disadvantages about iliteracy TODAY but during the majority of humanity, the majority of people was illiterate. How explain the success of older civilizations without your education ones??
    Right people in a right place
    Intelligence like a inherited but chrono-complex and adaptative human virtue were people need brains and not books to work, to think, to feel, to love...
    If i follow your logic, i finish (supposedly) like a leftist, extreme environmentalist and neutral causalist like you.
    Deny the genetic influence is deny the own free will and accept the ''exceptionalism'' of the ''creationism''.


    ''If you didn't have all the foodstuffs and technologies you depend on, you would be incapable of doing what you want to do with your life. You wouldn't be able to use Google, even; not because of stupidity, but because nobody taught you how to do the things necessary to make sense of it.''

    You are mixing ''today contextual things'' like google with ''essencial-survive things'' (timeless) like food. Yes, some archaic tribes in Indonesia can live without internet or other modern commodities. They can live without a book and we know many archaic tribes who can live without a words. They are dumber 'cause like that???

    Obvious, life is intelligence, bacterias are intelligent, majority of the humans have a brain. Do not debate in Hbdosphere this kind of things, do not debate the similarities ONLY but specially the diversity and diversity IS difference. The focus of the hbd people is the difference, the difference that make us different.
    Oooo, human diversity is soooooo complex, correct, i agree
    ooOOO, intelligence is sooo complex, correct, i also agree with you
    but is not reason to give up, is not a scientifically correct attitude.

    To say ''human history happens ONLY by social and cultural interactions'' is in the first, deny the existence of organic nations or isolated cultures like aborigenes or some amerindian tribes. In the second, is conclude that ''humans collide each other, WITHOUT desire to do''. When two individuals are interact each other, this already are a interaction. So, many organic cultures like amish interact each themselves. Is not need trans-interactions to have interactions AND when a one individual only can interact with himself. When us talking with our inner we are interact with ourselves.
    You to be deny the human free will because both, genetic determinism and environment determinism deny the desire of the choice, the desire is the choice. You are denying all the essencial human identity.
    When hbd people talk about iq and personality traits, we are talking about ''desire levels'' because the life is desire and is factually obvious that humans are not the same and are not blank slater, the desires are not the same and are complex, not sooo complex like you think.

    Gottlieb

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  28. ""Human history is primarily the story of thousands upon thousands of years of interactions of all sorts between all sorts of populations, and depends far more on accidents of geography and cultural history than anything else."

    Why couldn't you say, with equal truth, that human history is little more than a story of warring states in a relentless competition for power, as I argue here:

    https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http://vixra.org/pdf/1101.0027v2.pdf

    Not that these two interpretations are incompatible with each other: competition for power generated a lot of (maybe most?) technological innovations, which were then imitated around the world.

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    1. "Why couldn't you say that human history is little more than a story of warring states in a relentless competition for power"

      Because it isn't true, and there are several reasons for it not being true. One is that human interaction is not restricted by any means to warfare, and while it certainly encourages interaction on some level, so do trade, industry, and the desire for status-enhancing exotic products, all of which have been demonstrably important in transmitting (for example) virulent diseases and important technologies.

      In addition to this serious flaw with the idea, you must also contend with the fact that, until fairly recently, states were weak, and many people lived in non-state societies. It is rather hard for competition between states to be the substance of human history when, for nearly all of human history, states simply did not exist, and in many areas still did not until the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

      I read your paper, but I'm not sure what it is supposed to say vis-a-vis your claim above.

      I stand by what I wrote, which is more realistic and more comprehensive than your limited and incorrect notion.

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  29. Your explanation is more comprehensive, for sure! I think of history as what happened between political states. And I grant you that not all interactions were military in nature. The luxury trades were also important. But military competition (and conquest) was the driving force of economic inequality within states and empires, and economic inequality is what leads to (or is necessary for) the accumulation of capital. I hope you will grant me that much.

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    Replies
    1. "I think of history as what happened between political states."

      Then you should think differently. History is about people - how they got to where they are, why they do what they do, and so on. Humans have only lived in states for a small period of time.

      Delete
    2. Dear Ed West, But that is precisely the difference between history and pre-history. History is the story of civilization. I would not make it co-equal with the existence of written records (as has been done in the past) because writing is not the crucial innovation that distinguishes civilizations (as witness the Incas). Rather (and I hope you will keep an open mind about what I am about to say) conquest is the essential new thing in the world: the fact that with the establishment of agriculture over extensive areas it (rather) suddenly became possible for one group of men (or a tribe if you like) to overpower and subdue another and reduce them to a state of agricultural servitude. This is the origin of the political state and it was a development that independently occurred in roughly the same way in six or seven places around the world, starting in Mesopotamia.

      Why is conquest so important? Because it destabilized the neolithic world. Once men realized that it was possible to capture one's neighbors and put them work, the thought became: "If we don't do it to them, then they will do it to us." This is what propelled the rise of empires: warring states in a relentless competition for power. Do you want evidence? How about this: it is nearly impossible to point to a single extensive region on the globe (with the possible exception of the highlands of New Guinea or small islands) in which settled agriculture was the established way of life, in which the various neighboring tribes had not either conquered or been conquered, in most cases many times over. How can this not be considered a turning point in the story of human societies?

      That it is not widely recognized as such can best be explained by the fact that it was politically incorrect to say so throughout most of recorded history before the rise of modern democracies. Conquest was the original sin -- a sin the conquered the whole world. You see it everywhere there are political states. It is the main preoccupation of the ruling classes in every known civilization, without exception so far as I know. (It is sometimes alleged that Harrapan civilization in India knew nothing about conquest, but then the same thing used to be alleged about Mayan civilization too.)

      Once you admit that conquest between states was the driving force behind the history of civilizations it becomes easier to recognize that it was also the driving force behind many if not most technological developments, whether in metallurgy, transport and communications, or, in modern times, industrialization.

      Now maybe I am wrong, but it seems to me that it is more enlightening, that it adds more to our understanding of the past, to point out the importance of conquest (together with the luxury trades) as the mainspring of most technological developments since the beginning of civilization, than to say in more general terms, what is really just a truism, that all our technologies were the result of "interactions" between peoples, and that history is the story of everything people ever did since the beginning of human interactions.

      Prehistory is a useful category too, don't get me wrong, and it covers a lot of technological developments in the story of mankind: fire, clothing, stone tools, even the domestication of animals and the development of early horticulture (before peasants and the plow).

      BTW, an excellent book on the logic of historical development is Shmookler's The Parable of the Tribes in case you haven't read it. And for a very informal and perhaps amusing tour of my own thinking on the importance of conquest as a human institution you might go here.

      Best to you Ed West. I like much of what you say.





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    3. You have me confused with another West, I believe. Nevertheless, your view of the past is simplistic and presumably based on a poor understanding of the archaeology. Moreover, you conflate the warfare of the Neolithic with conquest as states do it, and this seems incorrect.

      The development of technology owes a great deal to religion, trade, and other sorts of contacts, and if you see conquest - as you've broadly defined it - as the 'driving force', you'll miss out on a lot of other developments. You will find it impossible, for example, to explain the presence of Indian numerals in medieval Europe.

      There is no single prime mover in human history, and your view is typical of a certain class of historical opinion that sees events as having simple origins. But that is not so.

      Delete
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You can post anonymously if you really want to, but I'd appreciate it if you could provide some means of identifying who you are, if only for the purpose of knowing who has written what.