August 3, 2012

Jared Diamond's frustration with his intellectual heirs

In the New York Review of Books, celebrity economists Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson write in to complain that reviewer Jared Diamond wasn't quite rapturous enough about their new book attributing virtually all differences in national wealth to their unfalsifiable theory that it's all caused by the White Man hogging the good institutions: rich countries, by definition, have good institutions and poor countries have bad institutions, which is the fault of European colonialists, so all that poor countries need to do is get themselves some of those good institutions.

In response, Diamond patiently explains once again what ought to be obvious concepts, such as that geographic differences, including the prevalence of tropical diseases, actually do play a role:
Even while they are still alive, workers in the tropics are often sick and unable to work. Women in the tropics face big obstacles in entering the workforce, because of having to care for their sick babies, or being pregnant with or nursing babies to replace previous babies likely to die or already dead.

While I appreciate Diamond fighting the good fight here, I have to reflect that he helped bring Acemogluism on himself with his impressive but disingenuous Guns, Germs, and Steel. When you think to yourself, "I'm going to shade the truth a little to make some money, but surely future generations will rectify the misleading impression that political correctness persuaded me to make," it may well turn out that instead you just motivate a new generation like Acemoglu to try to make lots of money like you not by putting forward more accurate theories, but instead trying to top you by putting forward far more stupid theories.

42 comments:

Anonymous said...

C'est la vie.

dearieme said...

"Among the countries colonized by Europeans, those that were more prosperous before colonization ended up as relatively less prosperous today. This is prima facie evidence that, at least in the sample that makes up almost half of the countries in the world, geographic factors cannot account—while institutional ones can—for differences in prosperity as these factors haven’t changed, while fortunes have."

Jesus what a stupid remark. It's as if the world hasn't changed over the last few centuries.

Anonymous said...

rich countries, by definition, have good institutions and poor countries have bad institutions, which is the fault of European colonialists, so all that poor countries need to do is get themselves some of those good institutions.

A lot of poor countries would be better off if they were authoritarian rather than demotist regimes. Many of them were run by authoritarian gov't when they were European colonies, but when the colonialists left, they insisted that the former colonies become democracies.

Anonymous said...

Can we just call GGS 'Excuses for Coloreds'?

Anonymous said...

Agreed, I just lost a lot of respect for the guy in the last week when I checked out "Collapse" from the local library. In that book instead of accepting that his buddy Paul Ehrlich was wrong about the entire world starving to death in the 1970's and 1980's he just tries to revise history. He starts by using as a straw man a few uninformed comments by Julian Simon and ignoring the hundreds of things he was right about. In the book he constantly argues about the population density being more important than total population, but then compares the countries with highest per capita incomes with the countries with the highest total population, instead of the countries with highest population density, because the latter would undermine his final chapter. Then showing no correlation between the top ten in per capita income and total population he acts as if he was right. He tries to pin Haiti's and Rwanda's and Burundi's problems as being caused by too many people crammed into too small a place. He ignores of course that the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemborg, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Israel all have higher densities than any of those third world ratholes. Classic bait and switch on his part, because the world stubbornly refuses to bend to his theory. What could be the difference between Israel and Haiti? I wonder? Why is one so rich and the other so poor, I can't imagine an explanation but he better not ask the Palestinians

Anonymous said...

Of course, disease used to be much more common in the temperate regions of the world than it is at present. What changed was that the people living in those temperate regions managed to get disease under control.

WMarkW said...

Credit it all to "Guns, Germs, and Steel," then blame others for not noticing:

Capitalism
The scientific method
Free speech and inquiry
Limited government
Separation of Church and State
Literacy-based religion
Representation before taxation
Universal education

Yeah, everyone would have invented great institutions if whites hadn't intervened in their affairs.

Anonymous said...

Among the countries colonized by Europeans, those that were more prosperous before colonization ended up as relatively less prosperous today.



Sounds like nonsense. More prosperous" than what? "Relatively less prosperous" than what?

If what is meant is that "Kenya is relatively less prosperous compared to England today than it was in the 17th century", then it's all the fault of the English for increasing their prosperity faster than the Africans managed.

Jobin said...

It seems hard to square an accusation of disingenuousness / bad faith on Diamond's part with the introductory section of Guns, Germs and Steel, in which he argues (with passion) in favor of the mental superiority of New Guineans versus modern Europeans/Americans.

Anonymous said...

I thought that book was intellectually dishonest.

Anonymous said...

GGS - The other guys coulda been contenders - but YT caught all the breaks.

Anonymous said...

The Incans built civilization on two staple crops and the llama.

The Africans had a continent of riches and we're still at the mud hut level.

Luke Lea said...

Let's see. Genetics, geography, institutions. How about foreign trade -- does that count as an independent factor? What about foreign investment? Immigration. Multi-factorial. Too bad it's such an unwieldy word.

Also, what did the authors mean when they said colonial countries that were more prosperous before are less prosperous today? I've read that the countries in Africa at least that were never colonized are less prosperous, controlling for other factors, than those that were. What the hell.

tríewþ said...

Isn't this true for liberalism in general? To play the game and get brownie points requires coming up with new spins on the original lies. Its always amazing just what horseshit they come up with next, and they cram it down everyone's throat as like it or lump it, you're gonna accept it or else.

The usual course is, the shit comes out, often from a leftwing professor or public figure. The media runs with it enthusiastically. Virtually no one in the public accepts it. The media pretends it is immediately the new norm, and treats the majority view as a marginal fringe view. To hammer it home, they take a few who are more outspoken against the new outrage as pariahs. People tolerate it with quiet desperation, then, when it seems like it has boiled down and tolerated, they pull out the next one and it all begins again.

Reminds me of the tale of the camel and the nomad. The nomad has his tent set up, and stays inside during the heat of the day. One day, his camel sticks his nose inside, to cool it down from the heat. The nomad is a little annoyed by the snorting animal nose in his domicile, but lets it slide. A little later, the camel sticks its head inside. The nomad feels the eyes watching him, but again, feels it is only a minor intrusion. A bit later still the animal's whole neck is inside. Now there is enough that the smell is beginning to be annoying, but the nomad figures, "well, I've let it go this far, I can tolerate it, and maybe he'll be a little less stubborn in our travel tommorrow." So he puts up with it. By noon the nomad is eating, and the camel now pushes his front legs into the tent, so as to inspect the nomad's food. The nomad is clearly annoyed when the camel's blustering movements knock over his table and spill his water, but by now there is too much beast inside for the nomad to push him out. So he accepts it and figures,"it'll surely leave, how much longer could he possibly want to be cooped up in here?" As the nomad looks out the tent to check the time of the day, the camel scoots in the rest of the way. There is simply no more room inside, and the nomad is left to suffer in the heat.

See 'em run dawg said...

""Among the countries colonized by Europeans, those that were more prosperous before colonization ended up as relatively less prosperous today. This is prima facie evidence that, at least in the sample that makes up almost half of the countries in the world, geographic factors cannot account—while institutional ones can—for differences in prosperity as these factors haven’t changed, while fortunes have."

Jesus what a stupid remark. It's as if the world hasn't changed over the last few centuries."


-I guess the author must magically be able to explain how those evil white institutions set up in Hong Kong during British colonization took it from zero to top rank GDP and success.

anony-mouse said...

NYRB is getting old and senile under its junior editor Robert Silvers (b. 1929).

For example it lists Tony Judt as one if its current contributors (wasn't Gore Vidal available?)

www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/

Anonymous said...

Jared Diamond and Stephen Jay Gould - cast from the same mould.

Anon.

K(yle) said...

Almost all of the PC in GGS is in the first and last ~50 pages. It's the essential "I'm not a racist, and everyone is equal above the neck" disclaimer before gobsmacking the reader with HBDish arguments for inequality.

Diamond is generally disingenuous though, as he turned around from the GGS cognitive tabula rasa disclaimer and wrote an article about the potential for Ashkenazim genetic cognitive superiority.

TGGP said...

Acemoglu is much better known as an academic than popular author. I wouldn't say he's in it for the money, strictly speaking.

Whiskey said...

IT is an article of religion, see the furor over Romney's comments about Israel being rich while Palestinians are poor due to bad culture for the latter, to blame every bad thing on original racial sin by White people. Most/All elites believe this, and one of the biggest problems elites have is holding stupid ideas that not only don't accurately predict the world but are self-evidently false in their failure to predict accurately much of everything.

They have to believe obvious lies for social status reasons, much of it driven by rich White women married to rich White guys who have always ruled the top social cliques. See Andrew Jackson, his fight over his Cabinet official's wives snubbing his late Wife and and the wife of one of his personal aides. Even Old Hickory did not win that one, cause he could hardly horse-whip or challenge to a duel a bunch of middle aged matrons who thought both Rachel Jackson and the woman in question were "trash." And snubbed them at every opportunity.

Elites fail because the stress of holding in the lies and avoiding the truth leaves them no margin for actually recognizing facts when they hit them in the head, worse the elites are self-selected for stupidity and adherence to dogma, not talent and results.

You see this in sports, no dominant teams any more, music, film, TV, literature, business, and politics.

Anonymous said...

heirheads

Anonymous said...

gladwell... out-and-out-liar

Anonymous said...

http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/wrm/2012/08/03/amtrak-fails-in-the-dining-car/

hamtrackburger

stari_momak said...

"Even while they are still alive, workers in the tropics are often sick and unable to work. "

Plus it's hot, like, Africa hot.

Anonymous said...

Trying to explain why France is nicer than a fetid tropical swamp, barren desert, or polar ice cap and has better institutions is silly in my view. The comparison is Europe vs China vs North Africa vs Central America vs other more or less decent places. The GGS geography hypothesis doesn't seem to explain why north coast of the Mediterranean developed so much differently than the south. So why did Carthage lose the Punic wars? Some say Rome had better institutions, but if Carthage won they would say the same thing.

Starting in 1904 (Russo Japanese war) the West's advantages seem to have disintegrated to the point of failures. Failures including China going Red, Korea, Vietnam, and now Afghanistan, Iraq, and the list goes on.

The first glimpse of the West's future decline might even be seen the the USA'a failure to easily subdue Tecumsah in 1812, and Gordon's failure in Sudan. I'll chalk up Isandlwana to really bad luck and all that.

Jeffery said...

How is Diamond fighting the good fight? His work is, in effect, Anit-White. It's not a good fight to me.

Dennis Dale said...

Diamond's thesis leaves the door open for an HBD interpretation. Maybe that's what's bothering the whippersnappers.

Even if Diamond's right about everything, one then has to ask: okay, now why wouldn't these effects mold different human races over tens of thousands of years of isolation? Sounds like Acemoglu's hokum is impervious to such dangerous inferences--he's assigning no role whatsoever to Mother Nature!

Was it just that Diamond felt safe in assuming evolutionary stasis back when he wrote GGS?

Or did he understand the HBD implications, and assume, in a calmer time soon to come (a post-racial presidency perhaps!) his followers would be able to introduce this aspect gently to the world?

We all thought that as genomics advanced the discourse would open up--you can't fight the truth (what schmucks we are!)--but what we've seen is a closing down. Maybe that's what the displacement of Diamond by Acemoglu represents.

Francis said...

Collapse is a really enjoyable book if you read it with the assumption that Jared Diamond secretly agrees with Steve Sailer about absolutely everything.

I'm not sure that he actually does agree, but it's much more fun if you allow yourself to enjoy the possibility.

If you're reading this, Jared, keep up the good work. There's hope for Australia yet!

Mickey said...

""Even while they are still alive, workers in the tropics are often sick and unable to work. "

A more interesting question that the Diamond groupies ignore is why. Malaria is a major problem for countries that have it. It kills ~1 million/yr worldwide and causes hundreds of millions to become seriously sick for weeks, in some cases months. What you may not know is that a large portion of the US initially was a malarious region. Our ancestors steadily cut this down by draining swamps, educating the public about mosquitoes/standing water, and developing pesticides like DDT so that by ~1950, the US was a region that was no longer malarious. The same is true for parts of Europe.

Our ancestors did it a long time ago, having to rely upon the limited resources of the time that they had to pay for, and their own ingenuity. Yet modern Africa, with all the helping hands in donations and supplies given by the world, as well as having the enormous benefit of seeing how to do it laid out by the US and Europe, still are unable to do it. If that doesn't point to internal factors, such as population IQ and self-discipline, as the real source of the problem then what does?

sunbeam said...

I have a theory that intellectual achievement goes down as heat and humidity go up.

Come to think of it, I think EVERYTHING goes down, as it were, as both of those go up.

I'm not talking about anything related to genes here, or diseases.

Hypothetically speaking let's take a bunch of homogenous smart people (you pick any ethnicity you like). Let's go fairly large with the numbers, so we can hopefully ignore outliers skewing things.

Put one half (say 5,000 people out of 10,0000 total) in a place like San Francisco, and the other half in New Orleans.

Come back in 200 years.

What are your guesses for the intellectual "achievements" both populations will produce?

Air Conditioning isn't really a game changer, it just makes some activities theoretically possible in some climates.

I am from the South, and I can tell you that when I go to Seattle I feel like the 6 Million Dollar man. Full of energy and pep. I WANT to go hiking.

Back home hiking is the very last thing I ever want to do.

Yes, I think this effect can be extended to mental activities, as well as physical ones.

headache said...

so all that poor countries need to do is get themselves some of those good institutions.

been there, done that. Blacks got world class institutions handed to them on a silver tray in South Africa, and proceeded to fuck them up within a decade.

That argument has got to be the dumbest thing to say considering the large scale South-African-race experiment gone sour, and so desperately wanted by liberals at that time.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if there's been such crazy liberal Jewish hysteria about McCarthyism because Jews know that many of their kind were indeed involved in aiding the Soviets.

Just think... there was a vast spy network in the US with leftist Jews like Rosenbergs working in the US government and passing the most carefully guarded secret to Stalin, the murderer of millions and arch enemy of the US.
Imagine if German-Americans or Japanese-Americans had passed the atomic bomb secrets to Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan. Imagine if American Muslims passed the bomb to some radical Muslim group.
We would have never heard the end of it.

But, we never hear about how American Jews passed the most important secret--blueprint for a bomb that could kill tens of millions in the Free World--to a totalitarian tyrant sworn to destroy democracy and capitalism.

I'll bet a lot of liberal Jews know that Jews acted terribly in the 40s. So terribly in fact that they don't want us to open that can of worms and see what's inside.
So, by making such a big big fuss about McCarthyism, patriotic Americans are put on the defensive when they should really be on the moral offensive. Even before we get to discuss Jewish culpability in espionage and passing secrets to the Soviets, we are put on the defensive about some lefty folk singer or Hollywood writer who couldn't get a gig for a few yrs.

Joe Blow said...

OT: Jonah Lehrer was a little too imaginative.

http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/30/jonah-lehrer-resigns-from-new-yorker-after-making-up-dylan-quotes-for-his-book/

academic fetishes said...

Robinson is not, technically, an economist, or at least doesn't "identify" as one. Putting aside whichever functional category these CFR airport books would normally go in.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious (well, not really) how Acemoglu and Robinson would explain the rather glaring lack of homegrown lustrous intellectual culture, or at least vibrancy, among the oil sheikh states. It's not as if they can't afford all the best institutions from the Sharper Image catalog.

not a hacker said...

One day, his camel sticks his nose inside

Since I haven't seen any thread in which it's been mentioned yet, I want to bring up a developing instance of the camel's nose. Fueled by a deranged hatred for cars, urban pedestrians are starting to do their walking in auto lanes, even when a paved walkway is available right beside. It's happening all over San Francisco right now. Talk about colonization.

Anonymous said...

Typical Conservative "Thinking":

1783 - Whats all this nonsense about stopping the Slave trade? Slaves are good for America and help us Grow!

1924 - What's all this nonsense about stopping immigration from Poland and Russia? The Jews - even the communists ones - are good for America and help us grow! Why Julius Rosenberg is the hardest worker at my plant!

1965 - Why all this fuss about immigration? Don't you know there's a war on? We need to focus on stopping the commies in Vietnam. Its only thing that matters!

1987 - Whats all this fuss about not giving Amnesty to illegal aliens. Mexicans are socially conservative and will help the Republican party if we give them the vote. And they make America grow!

2001 - Whats all this fuss about Illegal immigration? There's a war on terror!

2007- What's all this fuss about Amnesty. We need to support our commander-in-chief!

2012 -What's all this fuss about illegal immigration. We need to support Mitt and stop Romney!

Anonymous said...

headache@6:52:

"..so desperately wanted by liberals at that time".

It is absolutely true that liberals were desparate for the "decolonialization" of Africa, not just South Africa.

The last thing they are now going to acknowledge is the massive unintended consequences of their delusional belief system. Like all totalitarians, they will never apologize, never admit they were wrong, and will blame whites for whatever unpleasant surprises cannot be concealed.

Textbook Stalinism.

Anon.

Josh H. said...

Diamond's ideas are nonsense also. If geography and a lack of resources were such a hinderance, why the success of Singapore? They have to import everything- from drinking water, food, materials for manufacturing, etc. to get along. Yet they are phenomenally successful, having a higher standard of living than the US and still rising.

Seems to me it was taking a population that was majority Chinese, and coupling it with old British and European style laws and capitalism.

And before some angry nerd complains about Europe or Britain not being heavy handed in laws or being more socialist than capitalist, that was why I used the word,'old'. The caning or hanging of prisoners, system of laws, etc were all a part of the old British style; they were once part of a British colony.

Anonymous said...

A lot of poor countries would be better off if they were authoritarian rather than demotist regimes. Many of them were run by authoritarian gov't when they were European colonies, but when the colonialists left, they insisted that the former colonies become democracies.

Seems to me it was taking a population [Singapore] that was majority Chinese, and coupling it with old British and European style laws and capitalism.

Not quite.

You forget, nearly all those countries were authoritarian before the Europeans arrived. "Oriental despotism", anyone? There were exceptions. Africa, the Pacific Islands, and parts of the Americas were more easygoing, and liberals tend to associate this with all pre-columbian non-Europe. They even seem to believe that China and India were filled with lazy tropical people living in a state of blissful anarchy. The truth is very different.

Ironically, the european Christian missionaries were the ones to create and perpetuate this myth. They thought that a heathen nation was one without any sort of laws, morals, ethics, and health codes. Naturally, the missionaries thought this was a bad thing, and tried to "correct" it. Later, western liberals believed the same story, but thought the mythical anarchy was a good thing.

Colonialism, when done right, benefitted the peasants to an extent, but cut the local royals and nobles out of their traditional despotism. That is why the greatest opposition to anything western came from the third world elites, many of whom attended western universities, and read up on various western political systems.

In short, the peasants wanted democracy; the elites and the tiny middle class wanted autocratic home rule, as in the pre-columbian good old days. The two are not the same, though there is common ground. So the silk-gowned rajahs pretended to support democracy when speaking to the rabble, and to sympathetic Western liberals.

Nationalism also trumps rationalism, and this is true everywhere, even in the West. Most people don't like foreigners running the show, even when foreigners do a good job of it. Revolutionary France got rid of the "Austrian bitch" Marie Antoinette, in favour of Robespierre and later Napoleon. And I won't say any more of Germany's democratic but foreign-controlled Weimar Republic vs. its successor regime.

Post-colonial Third World rebels (later tyrants) were completely obsessed with home rule. It was the only thing that mattered. Democracy was really only a propaganda point, a sop to the peasants. Third World dictators were quick to bash democracy as "another form of Western imperalism", when democracy outlived its usefulness.

The post-colonial people's rulers were definitely not democrats, and not even true aboriginal authoritarians. They picked up many western ideologies, including a certain one developed by two Germans living in London in the mid-19th-century, and tried to mix it with their historical forms of government. Singapore got the right mix; Africa and the Middle East didn't.

Anonymous said...

A lot of poor countries would be better off if they were authoritarian rather than demotist regimes. Many of them were run by authoritarian gov't when they were European colonies, but when the colonialists left, they insisted that the former colonies become democracies.

Seems to me it was taking a population [Singapore] that was majority Chinese, and coupling it with old British and European style laws and capitalism.

Not quite.

You forget, nearly all those countries were authoritarian before the Europeans arrived. "Oriental despotism", anyone? There were exceptions. Africa, the Pacific Islands, and parts of the Americas were more easygoing, and liberals tend to associate this with all pre-columbian non-Europe. They even seem to believe that China and India were filled with lazy tropical people living in a state of blissful anarchy. The truth is very different.

Ironically, the european Christian missionaries were the ones to create and perpetuate this myth. They thought that a heathen nation was one without any sort of laws, morals, ethics, and health codes. Naturally, the missionaries thought this was a bad thing, and tried to "correct" it. Later, western liberals believed the same story, but thought the mythical anarchy was a good thing.

Colonialism, when done right, benefitted the peasants to an extent, but cut the local royals and nobles out of their traditional despotism. That is why the greatest opposition to anything western came from the third world elites, many of whom attended western universities, and read up on various western political systems.

In short, the peasants wanted democracy; the elites and the tiny middle class wanted autocratic home rule, as in the pre-columbian good old days. The two are not the same, though there is common ground. So the silk-gowned rajahs pretended to support democracy when speaking to the rabble, and to sympathetic Western liberals.

Nationalism also trumps rationalism, and this is true everywhere, even in the West. Most people don't like foreigners running the show, even when foreigners do a good job of it. Revolutionary France got rid of the "Austrian bitch" Marie Antoinette, in favour of Robespierre and later Napoleon. And I won't say any more of Germany's democratic but foreign-controlled Weimar Republic vs. its successor regime.

Post-colonial Third World rebels (later tyrants) were completely obsessed with home rule. It was the only thing that mattered. Democracy was really only a propaganda point, a sop to the peasants. Third World dictators were quick to bash democracy as "another form of Western imperalism", when democracy outlived its usefulness.

The post-colonial people's rulers were definitely not democrats, and not even true aboriginal authoritarians. They picked up many western ideologies, including a certain one developed by two Germans living in London in the mid-19th-century, and tried to mix it with their historical forms of government. Singapore got the right mix; Africa and the Middle East didn't.

www.jeyamohan.in said...

http://www.ajithanmotherearth.blogspot.in/2012/08/defending-diamond.html

http://www.ajithanmotherearth.blogspot.in/2012/08/defending-diamond-2.html

Two articles defending diamond from India