There appears to be no systematic relationship between genetic diversity and economic development

This is from Caraher and Ash:

We replicate Ashraf and Galor (2013) and find that its conclusions concerning the association between human genetic diversity and economic development depend substantially on inconsistent coding and data selection. We correct the coding inconsistencies and add or update data on genetic diversity and population density from high-quality sources. We find little support for the hypothesis that variation in genetic diversity among subpopulations has a systematic relationship with economic development.

I suspect this debate is just beginning. And for the record, there is no harm in doing these kinds of research. Let the scientific evidence take us where it may.

I also wish that scholars of deterministic origins of development read more world history. For example, the historical record is chockfull of allegedly genetically “inferior” peoples who rose to build great societies. So at some level, I am yet to be convinced of the utility of the insights we stand to gain from these studies — perhaps beyond proving racist 18th century European intellectuals right or wrong (because if we are honest, that is the genealogy of these studies).

Which is to say that differences in incomes across the world are inherently temporal. Today’s backwater may be tomorrow’s Aksum, Timbuktu, or Kumasi. And vice versa.

My two cents on this is that scholars are better off focusing on the organizational origins of development. People (regardless of their genes) organize out of poverty — into firms, trading networks, guilds, market associations, city states, nation states, or empires. Contextually optimal organizations keep everyone locked on focal outcomes (good or bad), allow elites to milk all the surplus that is politically feasible from workers, and enable the same elites to channel some of that surplus towards productive (or non-productive) enterprises a la Olson’s stationary bandit.

We do not really have a good handle on what makes some societies able to organize better than others?

Works on institutions have done a great job on this front. But “institutions” are becoming the new “neopatrimonialism” — hard to define and overused to explain everything, thereby rendering them analytically useless. Always ask: what specific institutions do you have in mind? 

 

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