Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Jared Diamond collapsed again, and again

Jared Diamond's influential theory of societal collapse 'attributes the demise of societies such as Easter Island principally to environmental degradation and destruction.'

I pointed to one critique of Diamond's thesis here some weeks ago, saying that his analysis ignores the historical importance of culture and of property rights in protecting against such 'degradation and destruction.' Here's another by Gene Callahan making that same point. And a more lengthy critique by John Bratland says it again, arguing Diamond fails because he ignores the value of individual entrepreneurship:
For Diamond, societies are entities that act independent of the actions of individuals. He sees societal ascent or collapse as being contingent upon the extent to which societies embrace a centralized structure and management. But in so doing, he ignores institutions critical to peaceful, prosperous social interaction and the formation of society: (1) private property rights and (2) human action leading to division of labor and emergence of cooperative monetary exchange. With these institutions, individuals are able to avoid conflict and rationally reckon both scarcity and capital. Without these institutions, societies such as the Soviet Union and Easter Island are seen to have a common fate in that scarcity implies conflict, chaos, ‘waste’ and eventual collapse.

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