Wednesday, 25 May 2005

Collapsed: Jared Diamond's arguments

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 because he couldn’t explain it, he just left it out of his thinking – just one reason 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 Diamonds’ 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 – 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 oversight.

            Diamond doesn’t understand markets, he doesn’t understand resource-pricing, and he doesn’t understand how property rights fixed the Tragedy of the Common problems he cites for the societal collapses in his book.

            In short, he doesn’t really understand his subject. Sad really, because he does write so well.


  1. He's no different than most other humanities professors and their students. They are either oblivious to and/or dismissive of the system that supports their speculative pursuits! Still, despite its faults - I enjoyed GGS. Not sure I'm going to bother with "Collapse" though - sounds too Ehrlichy for my tastes (the truth)...

  2. Personally I think the reason some cultures didn't develop so far is because their civilisations didn't transmit storeable knowledge to more vibrant neighbours before they collapsed. A problem not shared by the Egyptians, various Med islands, Greeks, the Romans, etc.

    I think you need high population densities and rapid communication pathways for useful knowledge to be saved from the inevitable collapse of an urban civilisation.

    Still, it was an interesting book. Very thought provoking.

  3. The remants of high-intensity agricultural structures found beneath the Amazon rainforest should add much interesting information to civilisation collapse theories.


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