How Persistent is Prosperity? (Optional)
There has been so much interest in the Jared Diamond video that we thought we would update that discussion with some new material. Since the publication of Diamond's book, what else have we learned about the relationship between geography and development? To what extent is the current prosperity of a nation the heritage of a more distant past? How much is prosperity determined by the distant past? These fascinating questions still await further investigation, but here is the scoop on where the frontier is at right now.
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Also mentioned in this video:
Olsson & Hibbs: http://www.international.ucla.edu/cms/files/dev.pdf
Comin, Easterly & Gong: http://www.hbs.edu/research/pdf/09-052.pdf
Since all economic development starts with ideas is there any research looking at the correlation between:
1. the degree to which different languages can express abstract thought
2. the presence of a sophisticated written language
and historical economic development? My understanding is that in several indigenous North American languages there was no word for triangle -making the development of geometry or trig rather difficult. Nor was it possible to state something like' your nose is on your elbow' because it is not.
Is there any explanation offered for why the "old" geography of settlers influences them more in their new location than the geography of the new location? That seems entirely counterintuitive.
I would guess that once some knowledge has been gained by a people they will find it easier to apply that to somewhere new than other people would find it to start from scratch. For example if they have learned basic agricultural techniques they will try to apply or adapt them to their new environment.
Going further I would imagine that more complicated ideas such as the development of institutions will give people a big leg up, so for example when settlers arrived in the new world they understood not only agricultural techniques but also how to build, how to organise towns, how to store food, how to read and write, etc, which was a big advantage that was not dependent upon the local geography.
When you mentioned the relative importance of geography and biology to economic development you did not mention the relation between the two. Is absolute latitude important because that is where the domesticated animals originated or are most easily raised? Is the topography of an area important because larger fields are more easily tilled by yoked animals than mountainous land or is the protection offered by the land enough to allow more time to think of ways to improve life rather than providing for defense. This area of study is fascinating and I assume the upcoming lessons will get into these questions.