Thursday, 21 September 2006

Jared Diamond at Auckland Uni tonight

Just so you know, the author of Guns, Germs and Steel and Collapse is delivering three Robb lectures at Auckland Uni, beginning last night, and finishing tomorrow, Friday. These are public lectures. Details here.

By all acounts Diamond is an intelligent and engaging speaker, and I might try and get along tonight. If I don't get there (or even if I do), feel free to ask the many questions I'd like to ask on my behalf. Here's just three posts here over the last year challenging some of Diamond's views:
There are several points of disagreement with Diamond's thesis:
  • Jared Diamond’s much praised book Guns, Germs and Steel contains erudition by the plenty, but his thesis collapses at the time of that great boon in mankind’s history, the industrial revolution, when man's mind began to tranform the world. As Julian Simon pointed out, the mind is the ultimate resource -- as Ayn Rand pointed out, the industrial revolution is the primary historical evidence for that -- and Diamond's thesis has no place for it.

  • 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. Specifically, cultures that value property and contract rights and personal liberty are in the end going to be more successful than those that don’t, and that is a greater driver to post-industrial revolution history than geography or history alone.

  • Diamond's thesis in both books fails to understand the importance of these particular human institutions, of markets and trade, and he in no way understands the Tragedy of the Commons, which is in fact the answer to the problems he cites.

  • As John Bratland points out:
    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.
  • And New Scientist magazine points out that Jared Diamond's speculations on the history and geography of Easter Island, upon which he bases most of the thesis of his book Collapse, is -- not to put too fine a point on it -- just bunk:
    "Much of what has been written about Easter Island is little more than speculation," says Terry Hunt of the University of Hawaii. "When you start to search for the actual evidence for some of these claims, often it just isn't there." There are ... problems with almost all aspects of [the much-cited 'Collapse'] story, say Hunt and his colleague Carl Lipo of California State University in Long Beach.
    In 2002, Paul Rainbird of the University of Wales, Lampeter, investigated the idea of eco-disaster on Rapa Nui and concluded that there is no compelling archaeological evidence for any of the key claims of societal dissolution and breakdown before the 18th century.
Since these points have been made to Diamond now for many years, it will be interesting to see if he has addressed them. It could be interesting tonight.

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  1. Did anybody get along to this? I didn't, I confess.

    Falafulu Fisi, any reports? Anyone?

  2. Yeah, I went along, but disappointed with his explanation of the civilization collapsed in the Easter Islands. He dismissed property rights because, all the inhabitants should have been banned from using the tree resources they had. He thought that the islanders were over-using their natural resources and nothing left about 400 years later.

    I didn't have a chance to put a question to Prof. Daimond, because it was overflow at B28, and all latecomers to the theater were re-directed to 2 more theaters which I was at the Engineering School one. It was packed, lots of Greenies because I overhead some saying that banning cutting trees in your own property is the right direction so civilization will not be collapse.

    If I had the chance, I would have asked him, that the reason, it collapsed because everyone were using resources as they thought that they were something falling from the sky, meaning you exploit something if they are not your property. If they had property rights, then people would be responsible for replenishing their own resources.

    I am disappointed, so I am not going to his final lecture tonight.


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