Diamond Criticizes Romney For Not Doing Homework When Diamond Hasn’t Finished His

In Jared Diamond’s New York Times op-ed, he corrects Mitt Romney’s recent mischaracterization of Diamond’s well-known Germs, Guns, and Steel.

Diamond argues:

It is not true that my book “Guns, Germs and Steel,” as Mr. Romney described it in a speech in Jerusalem, “basically says the physical characteristics of the land account for the differences in the success of the people that live there. There is iron ore on the land and so forth.”

Point well taken; it reasons the author of a book would know best what he meant in his book. Yet, while Diamond criticizes Romney he overlooks an imprecise and debatable assertion in his own op-ed. He goes on to argue that despite some countries’ geographical limitations, they have become richer because “they’ve invested” or “they’ve focused” their economies on more profitable and beneficial sectors:

Some tropical and subtropical countries have become richer despite geographic limitations. They’ve invested in public health to overcome their disease burdens (Botswana and the Philippines). They’ve invested in crops adapted to the tropics (Brazil and Malaysia). They’ve focused their economies on sectors other than agriculture (Singapore and Taiwan).

Diamond suggests that what Botswana, the Philippines, Brazil, Malaysia, Singapore, and Taiwan have done right is “they’ve invested” or “they’ve focused” their economy on the right things. This is incredibly imprecise because he fails to explain—who are the “they” and why do “they” get to choose for others what the country will focus on? How does this group know what to focus investments on and be sure they are carried out properly? And if they fail, how are they held accountable? For instance, when economic decision-making is centralized and centered in government, decision makers are less subject to competition. 

An important question remains—do the individuals in these societies really need a select group of government bureaucrats deciding how their economies should be focused on their behalf? Should these select few (who are less subject to competition) have such power and control over so many resources to be able to steer an economy? Perhaps, this forced centralization of resources may engender the society’s dependence on government officials who control the resources.

Nevertheless, Diamond overlooks and obfuscates these issues by referring to the ambiguous “they” and assuming the “they” know best.

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  • Restoras||

    If you haven't read this book, don't bother. It's total garbage.

  • Ice Nine||

    Would you mind briefly explaining why it is? Seriously, I'd like to know. A friend raves about it and recently gave it to me.

  • Restoras||

    See John's comment below. If you have the time to read it, by all means do so - you can write notes in the margins questioning/refuting his conclusions. Personally I don't have a lot of free time and if you don't either this isn't something you need to read. I read it long before I had kids. I found his arguements unpersuasive.

  • T o n y||

    Geography is destiny. After the last Ice Age certain random environmental factors favored "Eurasians" in competition with peoples of other areas, including a larger supply of plants and animals that could be domesticated. Also, due to the long east-west orientation of Eurasia compared to the Americas and Africa, such advantages and innovations (and immunity to certain diseases) were able to spread over a large area, whereas the climate ranges of the other north-south oriented landmasses made such adaptations more difficult. The benefits conferred by environment led to feedback loops that allowed for the success of some groups and domination of others.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    Wow. And he's getting rich pushing this obvious bullshit?

  • T o n y||

    It's basically an argument against genetics or culture being the dominant factors determining different populations' successes--an argument against racism, in other words. What's "obviously" bullshit about it?

  • Fluffy||

    To mention one aspect that hasn't been mentioned elsewhere in the thread, I always regarded his domestication arguments as suspect.

    Domesticated animals and plants undergo dramatic transformations from their wild versions. So it's not really a valid approach to look at the end state of the domestication process and say, "Look how lucky this particular population was to have an easily domesticable animal or plant around!"

    The better argument against racism is that the difference in development times between, say, northern Iraq and south Africa are so extraordinarily narrow that they can't be said to be statistically significant on the time scale of the biology of a species. A century - hell, a millennium - just isn't long enough to require justification by just-so stories.

  • T o n y||

    The contrast was between a wide variety of nutrient-rich grains, for example, in Europe, compared to the relatively difficult maize of the Americas. The former could be cultivated en masse while the latter had to be planted one by one. And the European grains could be stored for a long time.

    With respect to animals, Diamond goes into the several factors that need to be present in order for a formerly wild species of large (i.e., useful) mammal to be domesticated, and these happened to be present in many European species but hardly anywhere else (to this day horses and goats are tamable but zebras and big cats are not).

  • ||

    Corn can't be cultivated en masse?

    I've got some farmers in Iowa and Nebraska who'd like to have a chat with you.

  • Zeb||

    Are those farmers from pre-historic Europe? If not, I'm not sure what your point is.

  • Fluffy||

    Reindeer were domesticable.

    That means the caribou should have been domesticated in the Americas (but wasn't) and other members of the deer and antelope genus should have been potentially domesticable in Africa and the Americas.

    Diamond's claims are more than a little Pointillist. They make a certain amount of sense when you view them from a distance, but when you examine them closely they disintegrate. The details always have giant holes. But that's when he falls back on "Hey, man, it's really complex!"

  • CampingInYourPark||

    "Reindeer were domesticable."

    And bison are as well.

  • T o n y||

    Bison don't fit Diamond's criteria as they are too dangerous, lacking a "pleasant disposition."

  • CampingInYourPark||

    Apparently Diamond has never been pinned to a silo by a fucking bull then

  • WTF||

    Cattle (formerly Aurochs) were also very dangerous before they were domesticated and those traits were mostly bred out of them.

  • WTF||

    Bison don't fit Diamond's criteria as they are too dangerous, lacking a "pleasant disposition."

    Says Tony, blissfully unaware that ranchers farm bison.

  • T o n y||

    Reindeer I think may fit Diamond's criteria but were probably not prevalent enough in the Americas; antelopes (and all other deer-like species) don't fit the criteria of being able to thrive in captivity. (The animal can't be too "panicky.") The Americas had like one suitable species (llama), while Europe had 13, and the rest of the world none, according to Diamond.

  • Randian||

    Eh? Antelope are domesticatable. There are antelope farms all over Texas.

  • T o n y||

    There are lots of examples of semi-domesticated species in the modern world, the point is what species fit the criteria of easy domestication in the relevant time period.

  • Restoras||

    Do you know anything about horses? Very panicky. Potentially dangerous. Very much a herd animal. And yet, perhaps the most important of domesticated animals.

  • T o n y||

    Well you have to be a herd animal to fit Diamond's criteria (they have to be predisposed to accepting a leader). Horses can panic but relative to other species (like their cousin the zebra) are quite tamable.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    Because groups have succeeded in and powers have risen and spread from almost every conceivable environment. Obviously geography was not always, or even usually, the dominant factor.

    To say that geography can have an influence is one thing. But geography is destiny? Bullshit.

  • The Hammer||

    It is likely a factor. The problem is that Diamond in his book treats it as the only factor, and ignores any evidence to the contrary.

  • John Thacker||

    And certainly in the case of the Middle East, it doesn't answer the question of "why is Israel so much wealthier than Syria? Than Egypt?"

    Geography is important. It can definitely constrain the possible results.

  • Randian||

    Were geography destiny, England would have had jack and shit to do with conquering the world.

  • Sevo||

    T o n y| 8.3.12 @ 11:19AM |#
    It's basically an argument against genetics or culture being the dominant factors determining different populations' successes--an argument against racism, in other words"

    No-sequitur, shithead.

  • ||

    This is a really silly debate. Diamond is just pulling shit out of his ass with the whole claim about N. American land animals not being "easily domesticable".

    We have no idea whether they are more or less domesticable than European animals because none of the European animals exist in their original wild form. What we see are the products of millenia of domestication and pre-domestication alteration of the species by selective culling of herds by human hunters.

    Plus, what about Turkeys - not domesticable? WTF?

    I'd submit that ANY animal can be domesticated if you have a few thousand years to breed it.

  • T o n y||

    There are many species that people have tried for centuries or longer to domesticate with no success.

  • Zeb||

    I really don't see why it is bullshit. It makes sense to me. There has to be some reason why some geographical areas and cultures are more successful than others.

  • ||

    Is it possible that this is an instance of correlation does not equal causation?

  • Zeb||

    Yes. Next question.

  • Zeb||

    I should add that when I say "makes sense to me" I just mean that it is plausible that the factors he talks about are a significant factor in how cultures and civilizations develop.

  • Sevo||

    Zeb| 8.3.12 @ 12:00PM |#
    "I should add that when I say "makes sense to me" I just mean that it is plausible that the factors he talks about are a significant factor in how cultures and civilizations develop."

    They are certainly plausible and likely contributors. As are many other issues Diamond ignores, or claims have no effect.
    To cite one case, he uses the supposed deficiencies of the QWERTY keyboard to bolster one of his arguments. That bit of myth has been thoroughly debunked.

  • John Thacker||

    Yes, geography has a large role.

    I don't see how it particularly applies to Israel v. Palestine, though. His big examples of different geographies don't really apply to that one case.

    If he wants to say that it's not cultural, he needs to move to things other than geography in that case, and talk about politics.

  • John Thacker||

    Just like, for example, the differences between North and South Korea can't be ascribed just to geography.

  • ||

    Jarad is pretty much talking about the world before the 1700s.

  • John Thacker||

    Except in the case of this one particular op-ed disputing Romney's speech, it seems.

  • Jarad||

    Hey, leave me out of this. His name is spelled with an 'e'.

  • ant1sthenes||

    While that might play a role, there are lots of other considerations. The Western world can pretty much thank the Mongols for crippling Islamic and Chinese civilization, for example. It's just overly simplistic.

  • Libertymike||

    And curse them for what they did to the psyche of Ivan.

  • ||

    What doesn't make sense is that over the same time period, Europeans, Asians, North Afrians, Perians, have all traded places being #1 repeatedly.

    Europe really only became dominant since the Reannaisance.

  • ||

    If you haven't read this book, don't bother. It's total garbage.

    Bullshit and you suck.

  • Restoras||

    Sorry, but no. The book does have some interesting and plausible, but highly speculative, ideas but unfortunately offers nothing in the way of proof. In the end he was reaching for a blanket apology to assuage his own self-guilt for being born in a prosperous and free society with so much in the way of extra resources it could support his bullshit career.

  • SIV||

    A+ Emily

  • ||

    TOP. MEN.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Jesus, can no one see the stark difference between countries with, relatively speaking, freeish markets and liberal governments? It's not like there isn't overwhelming evidence that those characteristics, not resources or even population, are the key. Even some countries with authoritarian streaks have found success in liberalizing property rights and markets--like, for instance, Singapore.

  • Lyle||

    No, and this is kind of scary.

  • The Derider||

    Diamond's argument is attempting to describe why Europeans had the weapons that allowed them to conquer the world-- Guns, Germs and Steel. He's describing why Spain sailed to the new world and conquered the natives, and not the other way around.

    The development of liberal democracies is beyond the scope of his argument. He posits that there may be some relationship.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Diamond's arguments are neither original nor complete. That's my problem with his conclusions. Geography and other factors play a role in how things turned out, but some of it was dumb luck, too. For instance, the development of guns wasn't intrinsically European. They weren't even invented there. If the Spanish had gone a few hundred years earlier, they'd have lost.

    A better study would be one that isolates the similarities among successful cultures and explaining why cultures that fail with some of those factors still fail.

  • The Derider||

    No, guns weren't invented in Europe.

    Yes, the geographic nature of Eurasia encouraged trade and the diffusion of new technologies within it-- technologies that didn't get to places like North America or Sub Saharan Africa until they were being conquered by them.

  • John||

    They were invented with China, a country that had been trading with Africa for centuries. If it was about the Eureasian land mass, East Africa would have developed the same as Europe. Diamond can't account for that. And moreover, The Arabs were a more powerful civilization than Europe and were in a position to have the best access to both east and west. If Diamond were right, Egypt not England would have conquered the world.

  • The Derider||

    Had the Arabs kept control of the Iberian peninsula, perhaps they would have. It was a close thing.

    In any case, Diamond doesn't postulate why Spain, rather than Russia or Serbia was the first to create an overseas empire with technology. His argument is about the conditions that allowed someone to go about conquering the world, not why one individual nation or another did so.

    I agree this would be a good thing to study!

  • ||

    And Egypt basically was the largest, earliest empire in recorded history.
    With the possible exception of Babylon.

    I don't think Diamond really explains things like why was Egypt superceded by Persia, then Greece, then Rome, then the Islamic caliphates of Africa and Asia, then finally Europe.

  • Zeb||

    The Spanish would have been more likely to lose 200 years earlier, but they still had smallpox, which had a huge impact on new world natives. Who knows. I don't have a lot of patience for alternative history arguments.

  • John||

    The Spanish were just out in America's toughest neighborhoods doing God's work, right Joe?

  • Pro Libertate||

    Start with a conclusion, and work back. Discard inconvenient facts. Rinse, repeat.

  • ||

    Well, Spain vs. Native Americans seems like an obvious one to me. The Americas were only recently (in acheological terms) populated by humans. Around 6000 years since the Clovis people arrived, vs. 50,000 years of modern human existence in North Africa and the Mediteranean.

    There are ruins of advanced civilizations dating back 10,000 years in the middle east. Nothing like that w.r.t the Aztecs. They just didn't have time.

  • Spoonman.||

    But the Aztec culture was also insane and awful. Human sacrificies, ritual wars with the Tlaxcalans for captives to be executed. It's not a huge surprise that innovation wasn't huge there.

    (Not that the Spanish culture and actions weren't reprehensible in their own way.)

  • ||

    No doubt there are vanished civilizations all over "Eurasia" that practices human sacrifice.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Both the early Greeks and Romans practiced human sacrifice!

  • Spoonman.||

    The Romans didn't innovate a lot when they were lionizing Christians in the Colosseum.

    (Yes, I know that's not what lionizing means.)

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Utter nonsense. For example, some of Rome's greatest advancements in construction and architecture were achieved 70 to 150 A.D.-ish.

  • Zeb||

    Sure, but that just leads to the question of why did those countries develop in the way they did? Is it just random chance that some countries are freer than others?

  • ||

    Hong Kong must have invested a lot in all its resources to get so rich, I guess.

  • Pro Libertate||

    They're sitting on solid gold!

  • wareagle||

    it's as if everyone of these blowhards who trumpets the value of investment thinks the money for said investment creates itself. The health care or crop improvement systems cited did build themselves; govt took money from people who earned it and used for some public purpose.

    Like most statists, Diamond lives in this bubble of believing he is among the anointed and his/their role is to protect the unwashed from their own devices and vanity. This group totally ignores that no govt investment occurs without the govt first either taking or borrowing the money necessary to pay for it. And when money is borrowed, it has to be paid back, which means govt will have to take it from someone.

  • John||

    I have yet to understand why Guns Germs and Steel is even a remotely big deal. I found the book to be boring, full obvious points which are then used to make sweeping and generally speculative generalizations. He also is the king of the urban myth. For example, he makes a big deal about how kids are getting dumber today because they watch too much TV. He doesn't provide a single footnote in support of this. And of course in reality IQ scores have been rising for about 100 years. Diamond just repeats the Urban myth and then relies on it to build one of his arguments.

    The whole book is based on the faulty premise that the Eurasian land mass allowed for this development of this huge variety of civilizations that communicated with and fed off of each other. And that is just bullshit. Eurasia is divided by enormous geographic barriers. Rome didn't develop because it fed off the Chinese and the Chinese didn't develop because they communicated with and traded with the English and so forth.

    And of course the entire book totally denies the influence of religion and culture. The idea that maybe say Native Americans didn't invent firearms because their culture or beliefs didn't create a need or want to do so never occurs to Diamond. No, it had to all be about climate and geography.

    It is just a love letter for the notion of central control and top men disguised as a "science book".

  • Marshall Gill||

    In his book, Race and Culture Thomas Sowell states that he believes that the navigable rivers in Europe and Asia made communication and exchange between cultures easier and that Africa's lack of these geographical benefits is one of the reasons for it's slow growth.

  • John||

    Lots of Africa sits on the coast and is very reachable to Arabia and India. The Indians have been trading with East Africa for thousands of years.

    If Sowell were right, East Africa would have developed just like India and the Levant did. I like Sowell but he pulled that one out of his ass.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    It was well on it's way, but then something happened.

  • ||

    "Causes for the decline and ultimate abandonment of the site have been suggested as...famine and water shortages induced by climatic change."

    Climate change LOOMS LARGE!

  • Fluffy||

    That might apply to the interior, but what's the coast territories' excuse?

    Basically all of the east African coast all the way down to Mozambique was completely integrated into the system of "Eurasian" trade beginning in frickin' late Roman times. Any "communication and exchange" that made it as far as Britain should also have made it as far as Maputo.

    When the Portuguese rounded the Cape of Good Hope, there was already a trade network there. They didn't create it; they conquered it. "Poor us, we had no communication!" doesn't apply to the eastern half of Africa.

  • wareagle||

    "what's the coast territories' excuse?"

    My question exactly. Coastal areas are almost always hubs of economic activity with Africa the only exception. But the only maritime activity that occurs is the Somali pirates and ships floating thru the Suez. Other than self-inflicted wounds, there is no reason that a half dozen to a dozen spots along the African coast are NOT major hubs of trade.

  • WTF||

    Because they are oppressed by the white man, and colonialism and stuff. Duh!

  • wareagle||

    I realize you are being sarcastic but it's interesting if not ironic how the quality of life, and institutions, in the African nations formerly run by European nations deteriorated drastically once those places became independent. Maybe all that oppression and colonialism had some merit.

  • Ice Nine||

    Some? The popular notion in certain circles that colonialism, for all its faults, didn't have a lot of merit is manifest rubbish.

  • Zeb||

    I'm not at all convinced that colonialism did any good for most of Africa. The colonial places that have done the best are the ones where the colonizers became the dominant culture.

    But the past is the past and it is useless to argue over what might have happened.

  • ||

    I realize you are being sarcastic but it's interesting if not ironic how the quality of life, and institutions, in the African nations formerly run by European nations deteriorated drastically once those places became independent. Maybe all that oppression and colonialism had some merit.

    One aspect of this that I think is overlooked is the conflict between the European conquerors and the colonials. The colonials simultaneously struggled against and gained from the European institutions. However, their success became dependent on those foreign institutions rather than their own.

    When the European powers left the colonies, both the local and European institutions were incomplete. The Europeans had damaged the local institutions through the colonialization, while the foreign institutions were damaged by the withdrawal of the foreign powers.

    When a country becomes dependent on a way of doing things that is no longer there, they will struggle. In my mind, it's pretty similar to people becoming dependent on centralized government. Once people get used to having everything done for them, they lose their own initiative to make things happen on their own.

  • Zeb||

    This is a good point, darius404. I think that a lot of the reason that the US is so successful is that when they became independent, they kept pretty much all of the British institutions that were already well established, so they started out with a pretty complete legal system and social institutions that valued individuals and hard work.

  • The Hammer||

    Like that mass email that's been going around about how the park service doesn't want people feeding animals because it breeds dependence but the government is trying to get more people on food stamps?

  • Zeb||

    That's true, but there must be a reason for the self inflicted wounds. Geography might have something to do with that. OF course geography doesn't determine everything, but it is certainly damn important, especially in the early development of a civilization.

  • Spoonman.||

    What about the Congo?

  • The Derider||

    I don't think you understood the premise of the book. The argument isn't "The unbroken nature of the Eurasian land mass allowed cultures to feed off of one another", the argument is "The plant and animal resources of Eurasia promoted the development of agricultural societies, which led to the creation of technology like guns and steel, and immunities to diseases like smallpox"

  • WTF||

    Really Joe? Africa doesn't have plant an animal resources?

  • The Derider||

    Sub-Saharan Africa has significantly fewer natural plant and animal resources than Eurasia, as Diamond spends about 100 pages describing.

    If you could domesticate Rhinos like you can horses, world history likely would have been different.

  • CampingInYourPark||

    I guess you missed Ghengis Khan and his herd of elephants.

  • T o n y||

    Elephants are domesticable but not practically so. Growth rate too slow.

  • The Derider||

    Elephants are a pain in the ass, extremely hard to domesticate, dangerous, and most importantly, extremely expensive to maintain.

    There are some niches where they are effective, but certainly not for plowing fields or efficiently transporting goods.

  • CampingInYourPark||

  • WTF||

    And need we point out that those Zebras were not even partly domesticated through selective breeding?

  • ||

    There is some theory that the Saharan desert was created by deforestation and acgriculture by humans. We were around that area for 50,000 years. Maybe North Africa lacks those resources because humans already used them up prior to recorded history.

  • John||

    I think understand it perfectly Joe. And you are moving the goal posts for Diamond. There is much more too his argument than just pant and animal resources. And as WTF points out, that part of his argument is especially unpersuasive. Africa had plenty of animal resources. And South America, even though they didn't have horses, had other large pack animals.

    And as far as the diseases go, sure the lack of immunity made it easy to conquer North America, but North American societies were still way behind the rest of the world technologically. That wasn't caused by a lack of resistance to small pox.

    Good to know you still can make a completely dishonest argument and still read books without understanding them.

  • ||

    pant and animal resources

    See, this is why Britain was able to overcome the Scottish. They could make PANTS! So much more useful than skirts kilts.

  • The Derider||

    South America had 1 pack animal, and it's a shitty one-- the Llama. You can't use it to plow fields. You can't use it as cavalry. It's inherently less useful than a horse-- which is the heart of Diamond's argument.

    Diamond suggests that the advantages in domesticable animals and plants enjoyed by Eurasia caused Eurasia to develop technology more rapidly than the New World, which accounts for both their disease immunity and their technological superiority over native American societies.

  • ||

    Are you trying to claim Diamonds argument is "Horses are the reason the Old World became more successful than the New World"? If so, your argument fails badly for being horribly incomplete. There are plenty of Old World civs that failed as well, despite access to horses. And the horse is only one animal out of many.

  • The Derider||

    1) It's not about individual civilizations failing or succeeding. His argument is about the general technological level of a region.

    2) It's not just horses, although horses are a great example. It's wheat, barley, cotton, pigs, chickens and cows that made the initial development of farming much easier, which gave Eurasian societies a head start in technological development.

  • ||

    N. America had bison and corn. And plenty of poultry. And pigs.

    Arguably, if the Native Americans had had a few thousand more years, they would have bred bison into creatures something like cows. They did practice selective culling of bison herds.

    IMO, they just didn't have time.

  • ||

    Yes and the reason for those advantages are geographical. ie "physical characteristics of the land"

    Romney is right.

    Jarad does not even know what he wrote in his own book....or more plausible he is willing to ignore what he wrote in his own book so he can be a partisan hack.

  • John||

    or more plausible he is willing to ignore what he wrote in his own book so he can be a partisan hack.

    No wonder Joe loves him.

  • ||

    No wonder Joe loves him.

    I love his book...but since it was written Jarad has descended into stupidity.

  • John||

    The Llama is not a shitty pack animal. And South America had wonderfully developed civilizations by ancient standard. If the Helenic Greeks had shown up in Central America, they would have been crushed. If it were about the lack of pack animals, the South Americans would have stayed aboriginal. But they didn't. Why did they develop such advanced and grand civilizations but then not quite make the leap to equal Western Europe. Diamond can't answer that because it sure as hell wasn't the lack of horses.

  • T o n y||

    The Llama is the one species present in the Americas that fit Diamonds domestication criteria. Europe by contrast had 13.

  • ||

    Yeah, but how do animals get domesticated in the first place. You breed them from other animals. Do you think Cows today look exactly like they did prior to domestication? Or horses?

    This stuff took 1,000 of years of gradual selection by humans in hunter-gather societies.

    Native Americans were only around in large numbers for 6,000 years. Modern humans populated the mediterranean for 50,000.

  • ||

    Do you think Cows today look exactly like they did prior to domestication? Or horses?

    Some animals are easier to domesticate then others....The fact is North America and South America really did get dealt a shit hand compared to Asia.

  • ||

    The Llama is the one species present in the Americas that fit Diamonds domestication criteria.

    No they had Guinea pigs as well...plus they had the most important animal ever domesticated by man. Wolves.

    Arguably Buffalo could have been domesticated.

  • The Derider||

    Diamond argues that had the new world been kept separate from Eurasia, that they likely would have developed technology like guns and steel independently.

    His argument is that the biological resources of Eurasia caused societies there to adopt farming earlier than societies in the new world, which gave Eurasian societies a head start in technological development. That's why they conquered the new world, and not the other way around.

  • ||

    Or, humans didn't appear simultaneously all over the planet, they migrated from Africa. And therefore, it makes total sense that humans would have developed domestication and agriculture in Africa (and Europeand the Mediteranean) before they did it in S. America.

  • John||

    Which is complete BS Joe. First Hazel pointed out the Europeans made those domesticated animals. Wild cows are described in Roman sources as being huge and aggressive and rather like American Bison. Why did the Europeans domesticate and breed down the old Germanic cows and the Native Americans didn't?

    And North America had advantages of its own. The potato and corn are much better crops than what the Europeans had. They much more resistant to drought and blight and produce much more consistent crops. Famines were much rarer in the new world because of that.

    Diamond is an idiot peddling half truths and sweeping generalizations.

  • ||

    The potato and corn are much better crops than what the Europeans had.

    And neither of which are particularly suited for moving north and south.

    Wheat on the other hand could be moved east and west very easily.

    No idea why you are arguing this. What the fuck do you care if pre-renaissance European culture was not particularly better then any other in the world?

  • ||

    If the Helenic Greeks had shown up in Central America, they would have been crushed.

    I think bronze tipped spears and arrows work better then stone tipped spear and arrows.

  • Invisible Finger||

    Even within Native American societies the more technologically advanced societies didn't necessarily have any superiority over other Native American societies. Archeological evidence suggests some of the most technologically advanced South American cultures were wiped out before any European contact, while neighboring societies were able to continue for a few more centuries despite their supposed backwardness.

  • Spoonman.||

    Certainly the Mayans were way more advanced in most ways than the Aztecs, but the Mayan civilization collapsed before the Spanish even got there.

    And Diamond, in a later book (Collapse), attributes this to their destroying the environment, rather unconvincingly.

  • ||

    So you breed bigger, stronger llamas.

  • ||

    The argument isn't "The unbroken nature of the Eurasian land mass allowed cultures to feed off of one another", the argument is "The plant and animal resources of Eurasia promoted the development of agricultural societies, which led to the creation of technology like guns and steel, and immunities to diseases like smallpox"

    Actually in the book Jarad made both arguments....plus they really are inseparable.

  • John||

    I pointed that out above and Joe promptly ignored it. I think he reads these books. But he is such a partisan hack he can never fully understand them because he blocks out any part of the argument that doesn't fit is partisan narrative.

  • Zeb||

    I haven't read the book, but from what I gather about his arguments, they seem mostly plausible and interesting. Perhaps he goes too far with his conclusions, though.
    While geography and resources certainly are not the main reason why a particular country like England or the Netherlands were so successful, the underlying cultures from which those cultures came would have been highly influenced by geography and resource availability in their early stages of development. Yes, places with relatively free economies do well. But that didn't just happen. There is some reason why some cultures succeed like that and it's not just because white people are awesome (I'm not trying to suggest that that is what anyone on here thinks, but I haven't seen any real alternatives proposed either).

  • ||

    I haven't seen any real alternatives proposed either).

    Than you're either blind, have terrible reading comprehension, or are willfully ignorant. They're all over the post and the comments.

    here is some reason why some cultures succeed like that

    Uh, that is PART of the alternative explanation. The differences in culture are a big part of why some succeed more than others. That and institutions. Culture and institutions influence each other.

  • ||

    Ok, I take back the part about the post. The post doesn't highlight alternate reasons, but the commentary does all over.

  • Zeb||

    The question is why cultures form differently, though. So culture is not an answer. Why did different cultures form the way they did?

  • ||

    Really, I'm not sure there is any one thing we can pin "the development of culture" on. I'm sure geography and local resources was part of it, but not all of it. Different places with similar geographies have developed different cultures.

  • Zeb||

    I don't disagree. Maybe the fact I haven't read the book is part of the problem. I think that the general ideas about the role of geography and resources in the developments of various civilizations are valid to some extent (though of course are not the sole determining factors). But it sounds like Diamond tries to make too much of it and claim that those are the whole story. But it also seems like a lot of people are talking about today, when it seems like Diamond's point was mostly about the success of early modern Europeans.

  • ||

    Maybe the fact I haven't read the book is part of the problem.

    Hah! I haven't read it either. I really should if I'm going to mouth off. Maybe I can get a library to order it?

  • Fluffy||

    My real problems when I saw that article were:

    1. Although Romney got the iron ore part wrong, he did in fact get the gist of Diamond's work correct. "...the physical characteristics of the land account for the differences in the success of the people that live there..." If you include the surface biosphere as a physical characteristic of the land, and I don't see how you can fail to do that, this summarizes Diamond pretty succinctly. I also would assure Mr. Diamond that latitude is most definitely a physical characteristic of the land.

    2. Diamond writes, "If an extraterrestrial had toured earth in the year 2000 B.C., the visitor would have noticed that centralized government, writing and metal tools were already widespread in Eurasia but hadn’t yet appeared in the New World, sub-Saharan Africa or Australia. That long head start would have let the visitor predict correctly that today, most of the world’s richest and most powerful countries would be Eurasian countries..." The problem with this is that using his theory ET should have concluded that Egypt, Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and the river valleys of India would be home to the world's dominant powers, since those are the places with the longest head starts. Huh whah?

  • John||

    He rapes the term "Eurasia" throughout the book. Your passage is a good example of this. When he is talking about ancient times, it is always "Eurasia" because that includes all of the dominant civilizations of the day. But when he gets to more modern times he starts suspiciously substituting terms like "Western" and "European". As you are reading the book you wonder "hey what happened to Eurasia?".

    That is the central slight of hand to the entire book. Somehow the civilizations in places like Egypt and India get lumped in with all of Western Europe.

  • Fluffy||

    The real punch line is that the dominant powers of the last four centuries weren't the ones with the longest head starts.

    They were the places that were undeveloped backwaters, and were able to take mature aspects of other, older civilizations and apply them to relatively virgin fields in terms of resources. Great Britain. Japan. The United States. Russia / the Soviet Union.

    Diamond doesn't want to conclude this, though, because he's desperate to let sub-Saharan Africa off the hook for its poor development record - and that means he has to avoid like the plague any suggestion that being a latecomer to development can actually be a competitive advantage.

  • John||

    Mancur Olsen provides a great explanation of that. If you are a new civilization, you don't have the vested interests and cultural barriers to change and growth older civilizations have.

    China invented gun powder but were too backward looking to know what to do with it. Same with printing. Europe didn't have that problem.

  • ||

    China invented gun powder but were too backward looking to know what to do with it.

    last I checked China used it to make rockets, grenades, and guns...

    They pretty much used it like Europe used it.

  • ||

    Same with printing.

    John....you should probably shut up now because you do not know shit about the history of China.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I'd like to see a study of the major economic success stories in history, especially the smaller powers that did it, like the Netherlands and the UK.

  • John||

    The success of the Netherlands, a cold rainy swamp, really puts lie to Diamond's thinking.

  • Pro Libertate||

    There are some classical examples, too. Like Pergamon.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    The Republic of Venice is another example.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Good one, yes. Genoa, too.

  • Pro Libertate||

    And Florence.

  • T o n y||

    All of those places exist contiguous with "Eurasia" do they not? They would have reaped the same benefits of immunity to disease, favorable crop and animal species, and such as the rest of the landmass.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Yet not all of the region was successful. Say, why is that?

  • ||

    Yet not all of the region was successful.

    You shut your mouth you. When we tell you "Eurasian Western civilizations were successful", you ask "HOW successful?"

  • Randian||

    I think John won this thread when he pointed out that Diamond's sleight-of-hand is the use of "Eurasia", like that's a useful concept or something.

    I could just as easily say "Eurasia was more successful because the Cradle of Civilization happened to start there". Boom.

  • The Hammer||

    Conflation does seem to be a rather large part of his argument.

  • ||

    He rapes the term "Eurasia" throughout the book.

    The idea is that technological packages could be moved from area of Eurasia to another with little problem.

    Africa and The America's did not have this luxury.

    Essentially you had for more people in a far larger geographical area developing technologies that were far more easier to exchange.

    I do not understand why this is all that controversial for you.

    Just look at the cliamte and geographical barriers transport of technologies had to cross in the american and Africa.

    you never hear about some warlord starting in Quebec and conquering down to Puru. yet in Eurasia you can damn near set a clock on similarly scoped conquests...Alexander the great, Genghis Khan, the Huns, Persia, Rome, and on and on. The reason why is that going east and west for a civilization their war machines and their technology was far easier then going north and south. Really not that complicated.

  • The Derider||

    I would point out that the book doesn't attempt to explain why some countries are rich and poor in 2012, but rather why some countries were quicker to develop technologies like guns and steel that allowed them to conquer the rest of the world in the 16th and 17th centuries.

  • ||

    Gunpowder wasn't even invented in Europe, that came from Asia. Even guns weren't created by Europeans first, but again by Asians (look up "fire lance"). If just "who had guns first" was such a big deal, this book would be written by a Chinese guy about the success of Eastern civilizations. For that matter, the earliest iron and steel production wasn't Western, it was Asian and African.

    hy some countries were quicker to develop technologies like guns and steel

    Except it doesn't answer that question. Diamond claims it all goes back to geography and resources, but that doesn't hold up when you consider where iron- and steel-working first came about. They were ABLE to make those things and had the resources to make them, yet they didn't develop always develop them to the extent necessary.

    And even the assumption that it's all about development of iron/steel doesn't hold up, because there WAS a set of mass-conquerors from Asia, who were VERY successful: the Mongols. They had iron and steel, and conquered most of Asia, and part of Europe. Yet they didn't stay on top. Why? Certainly not because of geography.

  • The Derider||

    Diamond isn't attempting to explain why the Spanish, rather than the English or Mongols were the first to create an intercontinental empire.

    He's attempting to explain the disparity in technology and disease resistance which existed between the new world and Eurasia as a whole.

    The questions you're asking are good ones, ones with answers that are probably quite complex. Diamond does not attempt to answer them in Guns Germs and Steel.

  • ||

    Diamond isn't attempting to explain why the Spanish, rather than the English or Mongols were the first to create an intercontinental empire.

    I'm not talking about a particular country or people either. The Mongols are just an example. A lot of the technology sited was first developed in the East, rather than the West. They had the resources, and disease resistance too (and not as much Plague), yet Asian civilizations aren't responsible for the dominant ways of doing things (for the most part).

    It's not that I think the guy's totally wrong, but he overstates his case. Trying to pin it all on geography and natural resources just doesn't work.

  • ||

    yet Asian civilizations aren't responsible for the dominant ways of doing things (for the most part).

    In the last chapter he does try to explain this. Go read the book already.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    yet Asian civilizations aren't responsible for the dominant ways of doing things (for the most part)

    Except, in, you know, Asia?

  • ||

    "The questions you're asking are good ones"

    Guys, I don't think the Derider is Joe. Joe would never say this.

    Joe never, ever addmitted that someone else had a good point.

    Also, Joe would have begun name calling at this point.

  • Spoonman.||

    The ultimate "culture matters" point is that the Aztecs and Mayans used wheels in children's toys, but not in tools or carts. They were just a novelty.

  • Lyle||

    Jared Diamond has gone to crap after Guns, Germs, and Steel.

    Can Botswana really be compared to Singapore, by the way? That seems like comparing the West Bank and Gaza to Israel. Maybe that is too harsh on Botswana though.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Botswana is an up-and-comer, largely because they have ...wait for it... a relatively free economy. While they do have a lot of diamonds, they have a relatively transparent property rights regime regarding them, keeping the corruption low by African standards.

    Personally, I think natural resources are a curse without well-defined property rights. Countries wind up like Nigeria, going to war over oil money, and the money winds up in the hands of evil, corrupt scum, or backwater shitholes like Saudi Arabia, where the money just goes straight into the hands of the evil corrupt scum.

  • Lyle||

    I agree, a sturdy legal regime is important. Although, conversely China has grown economically while working with a nascent legal system that has had a difficult time adjudicating property rights fairly.

    Enough property rights in China is probably respected, however.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Anyone who is wealthy enough in China to own a factory is wealthy enough to have their property rights respected, assuming they're "smart" enough to ensure that those who would enforce those property rights are taken care of.

  • ||

    Jared Diamond has gone to crap after Guns, Germs, and Steel.

    Yes he has. He doesn't even remember what he wrote.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    do the individuals in these societies really need a select group of government bureaucrats deciding how their economies should be focused on their behalf?

    What a silly question.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    But what did Diamond write that Bob Dylan said on the subject?

  • T o n y||

    Oh Jesus Christ get over yourselves for the love of fuck. Perhaps the single most important thing that distinguishes decent societies from hellholes is the existence of strong institutions. There will always be a government component. You don't deal with disease by waiting on atomistic individuals to spontaneously organize a health response. People like having institutions. It means they have a better shot at surviving than those who are left to fend for themselves. Even if it means they don't have a direct say in every single thing that affects their lives, but rather transfer some responsibilities to governments they oversee as voters.

    What do the virtues of market competition have to do with formulating responses to health crises? What do libertarians want to do with the CDC, by the way? Don't you think you guys are just a little too obsessed with one feature of society--one institution, that is, which wouldn't exist without governments setting them up.

  • John||

    The State organizes the nation, but leaves a sufficient margin of liberty to the individual; the latter is deprived of all useless and possibly harmful freedom, but retains what is essential; the deciding power in this question cannot be the individual, but the State alone ... .

    Right Tony?

  • WTF||

    That decent society - you didn't build that.

  • John||

    In Tony's sad, sick mind, "institutions" or the "state" exist totally above and beyond the individual. It never occurs to Tony that institutions exist because individuals decide to create them. That the quality of the individual might affect the quality of the institutions. No for Tony it is only one way. The individual is defined and determined by the institution as if the institution were some benevolent God. I feel so sorry for him some days. My God was he fed a load of crap by whoever educated him.

  • WTF||

    I would feel sorry for Tony, too, if I wasn't convinced that he is a sock puppet of one of the regulars just seeing how over-the-top stupid they can go and still be somewhat believable.

  • SugarFree||

    Real or fake, there's no reason to feed it.

  • WTF||

    Good point.

  • T o n y||

    It never occurs to Tony that institutions exist because individuals decide to create them.

    Uh, no. That's kind of my entire point. It's you guys who treat government as a malevolent alien force. I constantly argue that they are merely the tools by which people act collectively, with any luck toward positive social ends.

  • wareagle||

    no, we treat those who see govt as some all-knowing, all-seeing entity as a malevolent force. We have a framework for govt that respects the individual. Curiously, it makes no mention of govt's role in dictating light bulbs, food choices, gas mileage, or a host of other proggie sacred cows.

  • T o n y||

    those who see govt as some all-knowing, all-seeing entity

    Who might those be?

  • wareagle||

    the president, the majority of the Congress, the presumptive Repub nominee to a great extent, damn near anyone in charge of one of the alphabet soup agencies and, most important, the people who vote for and support these efforts.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    We also treat government as a malevolent force *when it ACTSy like one*, Tony.

    When government sits on the sidelines, leaves good hardworking (yeah, we know how you hate that term) people alone, and only intervenes sparingly... THAT, is good government.

    We haven't had that in decades.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Fuckin' typos.

  • T o n y||

    We've never had that. Nobody ever has.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    We were a fuck of a lot closer to it in the early days of this country, though I imagine even THAT level of government was too weak for your tastes.

  • T o n y||

    No we weren't. 20% of the population were slaves. Only white landowning males could vote. It was comparatively a very, very unfree time. Granted, if you wanted to live off the land in the middle of nowhere, government didn't need to be in your business all that much. But we're no longer a premodern agrarian society. Freedom means more than a lack of government. For someone being victimized by private parties, freedom can mean the presence of government.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    I'm not talking about the slavery or women not being able to vote, nor am I in favor of either - despite your inferences.

    You just can't get it, can you? To people like you, those of us who don't see an ever-expanding, meddling, busybody, money-grubbing state as a good thing... well, we're just overall-wearin', carburetor-fixin' inbreds. God forbid working-class people have any say, let alone influence at the polls.

  • T o n y||

    Oh you're just leaving out the majority of the population when you wax nostalgic about what a free time 18th-century America was. Okay.

    I don't want a busybody state, and one thing libertarians are good for is pushing back against government sticking its nose where it doesn't belong. That, in my opinion, doesn't include healthcare, but that doesn't make my appreciation for freedom any different in kind from yours.

  • KDN||

    I don't want a busybody state

    Lulz.

  • T||

    You mispelled 'liez', KDN.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    "I don't want a busybody state"

    The fuck you don't... you vote Democrat.

    *I* don't want a busybody state, which is why I _rarely_ vote R or D. (Yes, I've voted for a couple of both. Literally, just a few. And you'd be surprised to know, I've voted for more Ds than Rs over the past couple of decades - just not for high office.)

    But keep supporting the admin that will soon have drones flitting about over our skies. Because Fuck You, That's Why.

  • ||

    one thing libertarians are good for is pushing back against government sticking its nose where it doesn't belong

    Except the left thinks government belongs everywhere, except maybe sex, unless it involves birth control, in which case the government should be handing out free pills and condoms.

    Leftists are frequently ok with population control measures like China's one-child policy, which involves sex.

    So I guess the only thing government shouldn't be involved in is your choice of WHO to have sex with.

  • Tonio||

    Yeah, but all the slaves were in the South; yet the North managed to prosper without them and still maintain a high level of freedom relative to ROW. Also, Canada.

    Women? Really? What a red herring. The US gave women the vote in 1920. Very few other countries gave women the vote earlier than that, and those by only a couple of years.

  • T o n y||

    So as long as we add a bunch of caveats that exclude most of the population, yeah it sure was a free time.

  • ||

    Except if slaves were only 20% of the population, that means that 80% were relatively free.

  • RBS||

    Yeah, but all the slaves were in the South

    I'm curious to know how you define "the South."

  • Randian||

    Apparently Delaware is now south of the Mason-Dixon line.

  • WTF||

    Yes, it is, actually.

  • WTF||

  • RBS||

    Delaware is clearly not south of the Mason-Dixson line, per your on map.

  • RBS||

    *own

  • WTF||

    Sure it is - the Mason-Dixon line demarcates PA from MD, and most of Delaware is south of it.

  • RBS||

    It also demarcates Maryland from Delaware, which is east.

  • Randian||

    Seriously, when you have reached the point where you provide a map that undermines your argument, and then proceed to tell me that my own eyes are lying to me, you need to reevaluate your life.

  • Randian||

    So that red line that runs along Delaware's border...that doesn't count or something?

    And is Delaware properly considered "The South"? I think not.

  • RBS||

    So that red line that runs along Delaware's border

    South, East, same thing right?

  • ||

    While the line indicates that Delaware would have been a free state, it's pretty damn obvious that most of the state is "South" of the line.

  • WTF||

    They prefer to ignore the north/south part of the line, and focus on the east/west part, even though the argument is about north/south.

  • ant1sthenes||

    No, it's a malevolent force representing the will of society's elite. Where do aliens come into it?

  • Bardas Phocas||

    Institutions doesn't equal the State.
    But you knew that already didn't you?

  • T o n y||

    It's pretty much the primary institution in any society and the one that allows for all others to exist.

  • Tonio||

    Um, no. Family, clan and tribe. You can't even properly adhere to the sociological narrative favored by progs.

  • ||

    You know who else was enamored with Strong Institutions...

  • Restoras||

    Yep. Every dictator in history. But don't worry, that's not what Tony means. Not for him, anyway.

  • Invisible Finger||

    You don't deal with disease by waiting on atomistic individuals to spontaneously organize a health response.

    Right. You wait until an entrenched institution tells you what you can and can't do as a response.

  • Bee Tagger||

    You don't deal with disease by waiting on atomistic individuals to spontaneously organize a health response.

    I think the virus/malware and antivirus/malware situation with computers and the internet provides an example that you can expect "atomistic individuals" to deal with this.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Indeed.

    And further, medical advances up through the 20th century never came from strong-state centralized bureaucratic countries but from weak state low bureaucracy countries with laissez-faire economic policies.

  • wareagle||

    institutions are set up by individuals. The ones that actually do some good are the same ones where the people behind them value freedom, a structure of rights, and so forth. Africa has plenty of institutions, almost all of them run by a corrupt, brutal dictator who will take all measures against anyone who tries to stop his looting of the country.

  • T o n y||

    I don't disagree with that. It's libertarians who can't tell the difference between a government that is responsive to people's needs and corrupt thugocracies.

  • wareagle||

    of course, they can tell the difference. It usually manifests itself when some politician attempts to define "responsiveness" and then cram it down our throats. By the way, a stronger case can be made that we live under the latter than the former.

  • T o n y||

    Yeah, because public healthcare and strongman kleptocracy, pretty much the same thing.

  • wareagle||

    they differ in degrees. When the govt takeover of a huge chunk of the economy boils down to its being a tax, it's not far afield from the more obvious kleptocratic tactics.

  • ||

    So you DO believe in slavery Tony?

    I'm so disappointed in you.

  • ||

    I kind of want a government that is unresponsive to my needs. I prefer one that waits until I ask. Whats wrong with people who want more institutions going out and forming their own private co-ops to provide them?

  • Fluffy||

    Not to go all Mary here, dude, but health is a terrible example.

    Generally the state was the one creating the need for a coordinated health response in the first place.

    To use one famous historical example, the Cloaca Maxima was a public health measure that improved the health of Roman citizens by shunting their sewage into the Tiber. But the whole reason this was needed in the first place was because the Republic aggregated the inhabitants of several villages together and made them live in one place (under piles of their own shit as a result).

    Also, the line between a public health undertaking and a private health undertaking in ancient times was always very murky, because the line between the private and public actions of members of the ruling class was always very murky. Not so much in Egypt, but definitely in Sumerian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Punic, Greek, Roman, and Chinese societies it's hard to distinguish between royal and aristocratic "governmental" activities and private, "noblesse oblige" activities.

  • T o n y||

    Interesting point about how the rise of cities led to novel problems, namely people living on top of their own shit. But sewer systems don't get built by free trade, and containment of, say, a viral hemorrhagic fever epidemic, isn't best left up to the whims of individuals.

    And of course one huge factor in the public health crises that occurred in various dense population centers was the lack of the very important institution of mass education.

  • Fluffy||

    But sewer systems don't get built by free trade

    Several of the aqueducts were built by rich Romans who wanted to show off how cool they were.

    That's why I talked about the murky border between public and private activity.

    Even the aqueducts which were built by the Emperors often were financed by the Emperor's private funds and not by tax funds, precisely because the Emperor had usurped most of the "conspicuous charitable spending" functions of the consular class under the Republic and felt the need to keep up the tradition of private infrastructure spending.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    One can imagine Tony spitting at his monitor when he types the word "individual". Most leftsts do.

  • T o n y||

    the murky border between public and private activity.

    No doubt a ruling elite can get large-scale things done. I don't think anyone's arguing for a society in which infrastructure is built by the charity of oligarchs. The point is it's never been done by market capitalism.

  • Randian||

    We have had a free market system when again?

  • Fluffy||

    The point is it's never been done by market capitalism.

    So it's your position that no charity hospitals were built in market capitalism areas?

  • GW||

    It hasn't? Just because you haven't sought out such information doesn't mean it isn't there.

    Look into the history of NYC's subway for a good example. Before government became so huge, free market infrastructure projects were the only way things got built.

  • Libertymike||

    James J Hill's Great Northern Pacific?

  • Randian||

    Tony says:

    The point is [the building of infrastructure never been done by market capitalism.

    Wiki says:

    The Great Northern was the only privately funded, and successfully built, transcontinental railroad in United States history. No federal land grants were used during its construction, unlike every other transcontinental railroad built. It was one of the few transcontinental railroads to avoid receivership following the Panic of 1893.
  • Libertymike||

    Didn't see your post.

    Didn't kill native americans during the construction - unlike other projects.

  • T o n y||

    Seems like the exception to prove the rule. Now find an example of a sewer system built by market capitalism.

    In fact waste management took a lot longer to develop than it could have because private property owners tended to oppose having to pay for their property being rigged for it--preferring the "freedom" of throwing their shit into the street for free.

  • ||

    Now find an example of a sewer system built by market capitalism.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Septic_tank

    You are being more exceptionally idiotic today tony.

  • T o n y||

    I said sewer system, not a septic tank, which as that article notes are not suitable for densely built cities.

    Waste management for cities was originally opposed by the free market (for the same reason pollution restrictions still are). Yet it's indisputably a good thing. It took bureaucrats to make it happen.

  • ||

    Yet it's indisputably a good thing. It took bureaucrats to make it happen.

    You are not only an idiot but I honestly think you are a bit insane as well.

    By the way Ancient Rome had sewer and only land owners were allowed to vote and hold positions within the state.

    I should also point out that in the US Cities are incorporated by a vote of land owners....not a popular vote.

    Your ignorance is not that exceptional...what is exceptional is instead of looking stuff up about which you have no idea instead you just make shit up cuz you want it to be true.

  • Randian||

    Well, to recap:

    1. GW points out that NYC Subway started as a private enterprise
    2. LM points out that Great Northern was private
    3. I point out that sewage systems for current developments are mostly private
    4. Fluffy and JC point out that private citizens built sewers and aqueducts in Ancient Rome

    And Tony persists in saying only government has every successfully built infrastructure.

    There is no level of fact that is going to get Tony to stop spewing BS, apparently.

  • ||

    I should also point out that sewer districts across the county were formed by land owners voting to implement them.

    Note these votes were not popular votes...only land owners in the proposed districts were allowed to vote.

    You are an idiot.

  • Randian||

    Seems like the exception to prove the rule.

    What planet do you live on where an exception proves a rule? The existence of an exception does not validate a rule. This is a brain-dead saying that has been misused forever.

    Here is what the phrase really means:

    Exception probat regulam [Lat.], the exception proves the rule. A legal maxim of which the complete text is: exceptio probat [or (con)firmat] regulam in casibus non exceptis — `the fact that certain exceptions are made (in a legal document) confirms that the rule is valid in all other cases.'"

    In other words, if I say "No Parking 4-6PM weekdays", that exception proves the rule that you may park there at any other time.

    Now find an example of a sewer system built by market capitalism.

    Goalpost moving. You said infrastructure, and both Libertymike and I proved you wrong.

    Likewise, Fluffy showed you that private citizens and eleemosynary institutions build infrastructure all the time, and you refused to believe that, either.

    Now, in modern times, when a new development or subdivision goes in, the developer usually has to kick in 70-80% of the cost of the initial build. Is that totally free-market? No, but it's a hell of a lot closer to it, and I would submit that carping over the 20% as "not free" does not mean that the system is not "mostly free" from government contribution.

  • Libertymike||

    Eleemosynary is a word that is kryptonite to Tony. To put it charitably.

  • Cdr Lytton||

    The Great Northern was the only privately funded, and successfully built, transcontinental railroad in United States history. No federal land grants were used during its construction, unlike every other transcontinental railroad built.

    It should be pointed out that GN, although they did not receive land grants, they did receive right-of-way grants for tracks and structures. They didn't purchase the land or easements for the road.

  • ||

    Rome ran on a patronage society, where wealthy families would philanthropically do things like build fountains and sewers. The Roman senate was basically a collection of representatives from the richest, oldest, Roman families. Very often, public works were initated by collecting voluntary donations from these families to be put towards things like holding games or building aqueducts. A lot of it was horse trading to get elected consul and so forth. You got to be consul, generally, if you had a lot of money to blow on building temples and holding games.

  • Rasilio||

    Um Tony, Institutions The State Government.

    The State is one specific institution which is granted a monopoly on the use of force to achieve ends. Often but not always this is concurrent with government which is the adjudication of rules and rights among the people however there are many institutions which have little to nothing to do with either government or the state.

    As far as Market Competition and the response to a health crisis? Well nothing directly, however a free society is best posed to develop an agile response to ANY crisis whether it is a natural disaster, a war, or an epidemic because it does not rely on a single set of controls.

    Basically a top down hierarchical sysytem can be functional for a while, but it is always fragile because it presents a single point of failure, distributed systems of decision making and control are more nimble and less prone to failure but as a side effect end up with free market competition so having that free market competition gives you the necessary flexability in your institutions to adapt to any situation.

  • Libertymike||

    Where is Tony's empathy for all of those native americans who suffered mightily as a direct and proximate result of the great, iconic, public work of infrastructe of America?

    Conversely, where is his praise for a project which visited no such harm upon native americans?

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    psst....no one tell Tony about the East India Company. The cognitive shock might give him a stroke or something.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Government is PEOPLE!

  • John||

    Shouldn't you have posted that on the Gore Vidal Heston thread?

  • The Derider||

    This article is ridiculous.

    Jared Diamond says "Mitt Romney misconstrued my argument badly"

    Your response "Jared Diamond's theories do not accurately describe a phenomenon I am interested in"

    There's utterly no relationship between those two points.

  • Fluffy||

    Um...did you read the headline?

    I will translate the headline for you:

    "Since Jared Diamond got himself in the news today, we will take this occasion to critique Diamond's argument."

    The points aren't supposed to be related. The first point is just the excuse to talk about the second point today.

  • John||

    It is Joe. Properly reading the headline and the article would require him to make an honest argument. And we can't have that.

  • The Derider||

    As long as we agree that the article is based on a non-sequitur.

  • Sevo||

    The Derider| 8.3.12 @ 12:08PM |#
    "As long as we agree that the article is based on a non-sequitur."

    Nope. We just agree that you're an idiot.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Joe from Lowell has always been an idiot, Sevo.

  • ||

    Jared Diamond says "Mitt Romney misconstrued my argument badly"

    Jared is wrong. From the quote he has Mitt Romney saying it would appear Diamond does not remember the arguments he made in his book.

    Not that that is cleared up Joe can we be allowed to argue other crap about Jared now?

  • VG Zaytsev||

    if you don't have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare voters.

    If you don't have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from. You make a big election about small things.

  • R C Dean||

    I found the book kind of interesting, but he lost me with his repeated assertions that primitive islanders are "at least as intelligent" as white folk.

    My PC Horseshit detector went off at that. They are as intelligent, sure, but more intelligent (as strongly implied by "at least as")? No. And throwing that out there is the kind of thing your smugly condescending PC academics do.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    See Tony's pro-huge state arguments above.

  • CampingInYourPark||

    How about them Cayman Islands with the 8th highest GDP per capita in the world. Great segment on Stossel about them last night.

  • Zeb||

    I think that small places which make money from finance and trade and things like that are outside of the scope of these factors. Places like Grand Cayman or Hong Kong or Singapore did so well because of other civilizations that were already successful.

  • CampingInYourPark||

    " Places like Grand Cayman or Hong Kong or Singapore did so well because of other civilizations that were already successful."

    Well, shit...all we need to do is find another successful civilization and we'll be riding the gravy train then. Why didn't we think of this before?

  • BakedPenguin||

    Who were the successful civilizations the Dutch and UK leeched off of in the 17th and 18th centuries to become so fabulously wealthy?

    If your government allows wealth to be created, people will create it.

  • Rasilio||

    This is actually one thing that does often get overlooked.

    While the feudal serfs of England were still serfs they actually had a great deal more freedom and rights than the serfs of the other European nations and their lords had a damn hard time enforcing arbitrary rules on them.

    This probably had more than a little to do with why England was able to become such a powerful country as Europe emerged from the grips of the Black Death. That small extra bit of freedom basically gave them to entrepreneural spirit to take advantage of the opportunities present in a largely depopulated Europe.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    That thriving economy you have? You didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen.

  • Pain||

    I had a similar reaction. I enjoyed the book and thought it provided some good information. It was clear Diamond had an axe to grind to some degree but I never found it off putting.

    While I don't agree with all his conclusions, I felt that he provided an interesting framework that the rise of dominant civilizations was due to multiple factors, many of them getting their advantages through their environment or geography. Of course that doesn't mean that he's arguing environmental determinism.

    It's also clear with his second book that Diamond doesn't have much of a grasp on really understanding cultural factors and their contributions.

  • ||

    My PC Horseshit detector went off at that. They are as intelligent, sure, but more intelligent (as strongly implied by "at least as")? No.

    The argument was that they have to use their minds to survive while we in our world do not.

    Plausible in my opinion...though unproven and possibly unprovable.

  • John||

    And totally disproved by the available evidence. Diamond claims that westerners are getting dumber because they live such easy lives. Yet, IQ scores have been going up in the West for a century. It is one of the numerous Urban myths that Diamond states as self evident fact without source and then proceeds to base some crackpot generalization on.

  • ||

    Diamond claims that westerners are getting dumber because they live such easy lives.

    Actually I think the argument is that medieval European peasants were dumb compared to hunter gatherers.

    I probably misspoke when I said "we".
    Been reading to much medieval fantasy I guess.

  • John||

    I forget which page, but he claims that Westerners are getting dumber because of TV.

  • ||

    In fairness i am reading Medieval fantasy because of the Game of thrones TV series...which is why i said "we".

    So at least in that point he is right. =)

  • ||

    It is not true that my book “Guns, Germs and Steel,” as Mr. Romney described it in a speech in Jerusalem, “basically says the physical characteristics of the land account for the differences in the success of the people that live there. There is iron ore on the land and so forth.”

    Yes it does...in fact it says that in multiple ways

    In fact the major premise of the book questions why it was Europeans that came to the America's and not the other way around. One reason explained in the book was that Europe is connected to a very long east west axis while the Americas are kind of narrow. What this allowed Europe to do is draw upon technologies (agricultural mostly) that could be transported across Asia and Europe.

    In other words a wheat which first got domesticated in Syria could be grown in China and Spain. The Americas did not have that luxury. Corn did not move from north America to south America and potatoes did not more from south America to north America.

  • ||

    Well, they had boats. The carribean is a perfect region to develop naval technology. And it's much easier to trade by boat than by land anyway.

    To say that the narrow land bridge between N. and S. America prevented them from trading is just stupid.Part of the reason the mediteranean is the cradle of civilization is because people could transport large amounts of people and good by boat. But you could do the same thing in the Carribean, easily. It's got the same climate as greece.

    Heck, one of the great trading powers of antiquity was Crete, which is an island in the middle of the sea. that's why we have legends about fucking Midas.

    It's much harder ot transport large amounts of good by land, which is the whole reason that Columbus decided to sail west to get to China in the first place.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Let's not forget the Americas were only first populated about 35,000 years ago. That gave the Eastern hemisphere a huge head start on everything.

  • ||

    Yes, I've been making that point throughout the thread.

    And although there were scattered humans 35,000 years ago, the main culture today is descended from the Clovis culture that arrived only 6,000 years ago. There really weren't large numbers of humans round before that. A few, but not enough to really have a lot of contact between tribes.

  • ||

    To say that the narrow land bridge between N. and S. America prevented them from trading is just stupid.

    The separation was climate not the land bridge.

    Take a potato plant from south America and plant it in north America...notice something?

    Yeah that is right the growing season is reversed and your plant will die.

    That is if tropical heat does not kill it first when you are traveling north to south from one temperate climate to the next.

  • ||

    You don't transport live plants. You transport seeds. Or in the case of potatoes, you transport potatos. Keep a potato in the dark and it doesn't sprout. Expose it to light when you want to plant, it sprouts. You stick it in the ground, it grows. Seasonal differences are irrelevant.

  • ||

    Keep a potato in the dark and it doesn't sprout. Expose it to light when you want to plant, it sprouts. You stick it in the ground, it grows. Seasonal differences are irrelevant.

    Glad you know that...no way in hell anyone 4000 years ago could figure that out and make a ship and sail it from temperate South America to temperate north America.

    Hell European's did that and brought potatoes to Europe...it took them several tries using trans-Atlantic shipping technology....and only one breed of potato actually survived. Which is why a blight killed all the potatoes in Ireland hundreds of years later.

    Seriously dude it was an insurmountable achievement to move potatoes from south America to north America given the time and technology...moving wheat from Syria to the rest of Eurasia using the same technology; not so hard.

  • ||

    If the native americans were smart enough to figure out how to make poison darts and use cranberry juice to treat UTIs they were smart enough to figure out that keeping potatoes in the dark kept them from sprouting.

    Second, corn is easily transportable in a dried form, just like wheat, so there's still no explanation for why it didn't move south.

  • ||

    So lets get this straight we have domesticated plants and animal technologies that did not move north and south in the Americas and Africa, yet we did have these technologies that moved east and west in the Americas, in Africa and in Eurasia.

    Gee I guess you are right...it must be cultural and racial characteristics...and Christianity...plus space aliens that explain this strange phenomena.

  • Rasilio||

    ????

    Seriously, the plant has no friggin idea which hemisphere it is in, all it knows is whether the sun is shining and as long as the rest of the environmental conditions (temperature, humidity, soil composition, etc.) are right any plant from any continent will grow just fine on any other continent.

  • Spoonman.||

    There still isn't a road through Panama to Colombia. The Darien is pretty inhospitable.

  • Tonio||

    I couldn't read GG+S; my stomach started to heave as I read his smug, preening preface (intro) where he explains to the reader how smart he is and how this isn't a racist history (translation: contrived narrative to prove all previous "racist" explanations of civilization wrong).

    Secondly, I think race does play a huge part but not in the way previously thought. We've just discovered that many europeans and some asians (but nobody in other groups) has Neanderthal genes. I suspect that those genes will be discovered to have been instrumental in determining our destiny.

  • ||

    For the record, genetics /=/ race. When people talk about race, they're nearly always talking about outward physical characteristics (skin color, facial features, hair), while genetics goes much, much, much, MUCH deeper than that.

  • T||

    MidichloriansMitochondrians determine destiny!

  • ||

    Diamond seems to be confusing comparative advantage with industrial policy.

    Many economies drift towards autonomous specialization in particular economic sectors, and this does generally benefit those economies. But this is a result of the efficincies introduced by specializaiton and division of labor - if international trade is allowed in those products. It's not the result of a plan by the central government to focus the economy on some specific sector. It happens automatically if markets are sufficiently liberalized.

    Industrial policy is the deliberate choice by the government to "focus" on some particular sector - by providing that sector with various subsidies and protecting it from international competition. Generally, this has not been very successful, because the government often picks the wrong technology, and the practice of shielding "infant" industries often renders them incapable of competing internationally anyway.

    In addition, by shielding some industries they disfavor others that might be the more natural product for the country to specialize in.

  • ||

    Oh, and the book is Guns, Germs, and Steel. One of the first sentences in this post calls it Germs, Guns, and Steel right before a quote with the correct title. This is just a minor nitpick on my part, but it bothered me.

  • ant1sthenes||

    So, did he come up with the idea for this book when he lost a game of Civ because he got shafted in the placement of his original city? "WTF? No iron, no horse, no coal. What the hell am I going to do with twenty dyes and bananas?"

  • joe gorbstien||

    It is quite obvious who Diamond means by "they". I can not believe that this horrible post is at a site calling itself "Reason dot com".

  • John||

    Drink.

  • T||

    Dammit, I'm still at work.

  • Calidissident||

    One thing that I think gets overlooked a lot in these discussions is the fact that we're looking at a very small snapshot in history. While today we look back and ask "Why did Europe become so dominant?" a thousand years ago we would be asking "Why did the Middle and Far East become so advanced?" Two thousand years ago, Northern Europe was a backwards place devoid of civilization. There were places in Africa and the New World that developed civilization before Germany, Scandinavia, and Britain. Yet these latter places would go on to become world powers in a couple millenia. Who knows who will be on top a thousand years from now.

  • ||

    Julius Ceasar thought that the island of Britain was so useless that it wasn't worth conquoring.

  • T||

    And they appear to be regressing to that historic mean as we watch.

  • ||

    Who knows who will be on top a thousand years from now.

    Orion Cloud Commune of Halo Communities.

    The governing body meets every 50 years on the Halo that bounds Saturn at the approximate orbit Titan use to be...

    But all the do is have sex...not much else gets decided....and if anything did get decided everyone else would ignore it anyway.

  • ||

    Orion Cloud Commune of Halo Communities.

    It should be noted that this is more of role-playing community rather then a "civilization"

    Still it is the only thing remaining that can remotely be described as such.

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