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January 21, 2008


Pedro Castro

Jared Diamond (1987) argument that agriculture was the worst mistake of human history is based on the comparison between the standards of living in hunter-gatherer societies and in societies which have adopted agriculture. He concludes that hunter-gatherer societies had a much better standard of living when this is measured by leisure time, quality of diet, average height, etc. The passage from hunter-gatherer societies to agricultural societies was a trade of quality for quantity of human lives. Even making the average human being relatively worse, the agricultural society could prevail because it could sustain much larger societies which were able to impose themselves in conflicts with its hunter-gatherer counterparts. Also, Jared Diamond point out that agricultural society gave rise to gender discrimination and elites who could live in better conditions at the expenses of the work undertaken by the larger part of the population.
Finley (1965) seeks to explain why “Greeks and Romans together added little to the world’s store of technical knowledge and equipment.” He noted that although these societies have considerable intellectual development and a good consideration for wealth there were little improvements in methods of production. He poses several explanations for this. A separation between science and practice probably channeled the scientific effort to areas other than those related to production. Also, physical work was not considered a virtue and then inventions which led to reduction of necessary physical labor were not sought with a lot of enthusiasm. Finley then shows how relevant technical innovations took long periods to spread in contiguous areas and argues that it is a consequence of the low consideration people had for savings of physical labor. Moreover, although these societies had the capital necessary to engage in a virtuous process of innovation the governors were not interest in it. Connected to the arguments above is the fact that commerce and industry in general did not give rise to much interest from society and the work in them was considered something as a second class work. Even in agriculture Finley noted that the psychology of the owners was also one of a renter, extracting their rents from slaves, and then not favorable to innovation.
Temin shows evidence of the existence of a market economy in the Roman Empire. This market, he argues, was more integrated along the cost of the Mediterranean since the transport costs by land were much higher than by the sea. Temin supports that, among the main forms of integration in the human economies described by Polanyi (1977) (reciprocity, redistribution and exchange) only exchange could permit some of the complex relations observed in this period. Finally, he showed that during the Roman Empire there were relations which occurred by market exchanges and a considerable usage of monetary transactions.
Baumol (1990) argues that, although entrepreneurs’ efforts were present in all societies, their allocation in different possible activities were determined by the possibilities of gain that each of these activities provided. The gains here considered in a broad sense, including from pure monetary gains to increased reputation. He expanded the Schumpeter’s analyses of the innovation process in the society and analyzes different societies in order to give evidence in favor of his extensions. He shows that ancient economies did not provide the incentives (material or psychological) necessary for the entrepreneur to engage in technological innovations. The Baumol’s paper allows us also to make a reinterpretation of the Jared Diamond’s argument; in particular, the hunter-gatherer societies gave incentives to the adoption of agriculture since by doing so they could expand.

Thorstein Veblen

The question though, Brad, is why do we have to sit through all those (worthless) first year theory courses? Is quick algebra that critical for research? How come there's never any apologia for that?

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