Sunday, August 26, 2007

Malthusian trap

This somewhat dated but still very interesting book review in the NY Times just came to my attention:
It relates to demography, fertility, and and somewhat builds on our suggestion that we might view malthusian growth as a 'law' in light of our understanding of limit myths...

Also check out recent posts on the John Hawks weblog (link on sidebar to right), especially "Natural selection 101."


Justin Smith said...

Thanks for the link, Oskar; I was thinking of Dr. Clark's work as I read the Hill and Kaplan paper yesterday.

It wouldn't be the New York Times without a critical error or two. Most importantly, A Farewell to Alms doesn't come out "next month." was already shipping it on on August 7th when this review was published.

Dr. Clark has summarizes his thesis here.

Human macroecology admin said...

Sure thing. I'm not familiar with Dr. Clark's work. As an economist, is he someone you'd recommend? He certainly sounds provocative. We aren't supposed to like his viewpoints but its hard to separate the actual empirical tests of what he's proposing from our socially conditioned reaction, you know? I'd really like to see the data he compiled for that study...

Justin Smith said...

You're right, Dr. Clark's thesis directly contradicts Jared Diamond and the Nobel-prize winning work of economic historian Douglass North, which is what we all have been trained to like, and undermines a basic assumption of economics--that all individuals respond to the same incentives the same way. I've read enough of the anthropological literature to not be too attached to that viewpoint, however, so I'm willing to let him try to convince me.

But you don't need the book for a taste of the empirical work behind it. See Clark and Hamilton, “Survival of the Richest. The Malthusian Mechanism in Pre-Industrial England” Journal of Economic History, 66(3) (September, 2006): 707-36, and Clark, “Human Capital, Fertility and the Industrial Revolution” Journal of the European Economic Association, 3 (2-3) (2005): 505-515, for starters.

If nothing else, Alms should stimulate a great deal of new empirical work, and hopefully get more brains targeted onto the problems that human behavioral ecology has been grappling with. The economic and anthropological approaches have some interesting complimentary strengths and weaknesses, so I'm optimistic that it'll lead to a good deal of progress. So yes, I'd definitely recommend him.

I'm really looking forward to this week's classes, and to bringing the economic hammer down on some of those weaknesses of HBE and life history theory.

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