Monday, January 04, 2010

Collapsed: Jared Diamond's Arguments

I came across this brief review of Jared Diamond's books on the blog Not PC.

Diamond tends to follow the liberal way of explaining success and failure, based on 'accidental', geographical or environmental factors, when it comes to human societies. Anyone who has any experience living in Africa knows better...

Jared Diamond’s much praised book Guns, Germs and Steel contains erudition by the plenty, but for me it fell down because his thesis had no place for the greatest boon in mankind’s history, the Industrial Revolution, and no understanding of what that Revolution demonstrated so thoroughly: the role of the mind in transforming existence for human ends.
No, as far as Diamond's book was concerned it might have happened but he couldn’t explain it, it didn't fit his thesis, and so he just left it out.

Bad Jared.

That's just one reason among many I prefer David E. Landes’ similar but superior work The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why some are so rich and some so poor to Diamond's book.
Landes argues that in the end culture is a greater determinant for wealth than are geography or history alone. Cultures, as Thomas Sowell reminds us, are not museum pieces but the working machinery of everyday life – and by that standard some cultural machinery is more likely to make you wealthy than others. Cultures that value property and contract rights and personal liberty are in the end going to be more successful than those that don’t. Read a comparison of the two books here.

And Diamond is ignoring the field of property rights again in his new book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. As Joel Schwartz points out here on Tech Central Station Diamond’s central thesis is once again worthless because he simply fails to address this point -- and this "oversight" means Diamond misses the fundamental explanation for the collapse of some societies, and the flourishing of others.

So Diamond doesn’t appreciate the rolse of the mind really understand markets, he doesn’t understand resource-pricing, and he doesn’t understand how property rights fixed the Tragedy of the Commons problems he cites for the societal collapses in his book.
In short, he doesn’t fully understand his subject. Sad really, because he writes so damn well.

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1 Opinion(s):

Lara said...

Hmm interesting. I will have to give them both a read. Sounds similar to Weber's correlation between the Protestant work ethic and emerging capitalism during the industrial era.