Yesterday I posted a methods-focused item at the Monkey Cage, a follow-up of a post from a couple years ago arguing against some dramatic claims by economists Ashraf and Galor regarding the wealth of nations.
No big deal, just some standard-issue skepticism. But for some reason this one caught fire—maybe somebody important linked to it, maybe it was my click-friendly title, “Why is Africa so poor while Europe and North America are so wealthy?” It got 1323 comments! Usually my posts at the sister blog get about 5 comments and I have no idea if anyone reads them at all. Not that getting comments is my goal, this was just unexpected.
I also got some emails which I’ll share with you without comment.
I disagree with your reasoning of genetic “diversities”…….I believe there is a simpler explanation, that being the Jewish, Oriental & Caucasian races are more intelligent & motivated than other races…….What more examples do you need beyond the last 125 years ? Evidence is EVERYWHERE you look !
Reason #2…… These populations have embraced Capitalism to a larger or lesser degree, with a degree of Socialism thrown in……. I didn’t make it this way…… if you don’t like what I’ve posted here, talk to God about it…….. I only make observations………
This is pertaining to the article you wrote entitled: Why Is Africa So Poor While Europe and North America are So Wealthy?
You seem to imply that Africa would be better off if more whites and Asians went there. That is exactly the problem in the first place. Who do you think is funding the civil wars all over Africa? Multinational companies headed mostly by whites and Asians. Who do you think is supplying weapons to rebels occupying these resource rich areas in Africa? Mostly whites and Asians.
The fact is that America and Europe would not be wealthy if it weren’t for Africa. Didn’t white Americans make Africans pick cotton for them? All the minerals that are in the everyday items that you use, where do you think they come from? What about gold and diamonds? It’s young African children that are digging the minerals that ignorant whites like you are profiting from.
Instead of writing about Africa — which you know nothing about — you should talk about why there are so many white males sleeping on the streets of America and begging for spare change. I’ve never seen an African do that.
I saw your tired article written in the Washington Post. Let me give you a simple answer and a few references for you to read.
White people by nature are thieves and criminals and steal, people, labor and resources. Africa has the best people, the strongest labor and the best resources. Since white people are greedy, lazy and weak of course they steal and make war against those who have the the most. After you destroy the people then you write the history and narrative as you desire to tell it. Like you are doing in your weak newspaper article. It’s time for black people to start to check this foolishness you are peddling. Let’s not go into genetics because it is a proven fact from Margaret Meade, Louis Leakey from Mendel’s law that white people are weak, genetic recessive and inferior to black people in ALL aspects. I will suggest a few books to you that I know you and your students are NOT reading at Columbia and they are: How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney, Destruction of Black Civilization: Great Issues of a Race from 4500 B.C. to 2000 A.D. by Chancellor Williams and lastly Stolen Legacy by Dr. George G.M. James. Speak facts and not white nationalism and the people will learn the truth. Sit down with that foolishness somewhere.
Why is Europe and USA so rich and Africa so poor ? Its really very simple, Africa is laboring under centuries of self inflicted CURSES of witchcraft upon its people groups.
Having been to Kenya and Tanzania I speak of these matters from on site observations. People in most cases do not want to overturn these curses but continue using them.
If you disagree, help yourself.
Your recent article in the Washington Post titled “Why is Africa so poor while Europe and North America are so wealthy?” reminded me of some important research on that topic. Most refer to the effects of ethnic diversity on growth and public goods provision.
Along with others, you have criticized the Ashraf-Galor study of genetic diversity and economic development. I believe that the correlations observed in that paper are the shadow cast by underlying ethnic diversity effects.
I recommend to you the following peer-reviewed studies of this and adjacent topics. They are prominent authors and their papers provide a wealth of associated studies. I believe that their conclusions are almost universally accepted. PDF copies can be found on scholar.google.com
Africa’s Growth Tragedy: Policies and Ethnic Divisions, Easterly+Levine 1997
Ethnic diversity and economic development, Montalvo 2005
Ethnic Diversity and Economic Performance, Alesina+Ferrara 2003
Ethnic Divisions, Trust, and the Size of the Informal Sector, Lassen 2003
Public Goods and Ethnic Divisions, Alesina+Baqir+Easterly 1999
Economic versus Cultural Differences: Forms of Ethnic Diversity and Public Goods Provision, Baldwin+Huber 2010
Ethnic diversity, social sanctions, and public goods in Kenya, Miguel+Gugerty 2005
As a well-traveled journalist in the U.S., having lived for years in each of in five distinct regions of this country, with time spent in all 50 states, I’ve observed differences in regional societal advancement has much to do with individual levels of curiosity and risk-acceptance reflected by those who stayed where born and those who ventured far geographically.
What accounts for those variations, often found among siblings, I don’t know, but when you look at poor, conservative, suspicious and religious rural Southern families you find they’ve stayed-put while more open-minded, inquisitive kinfolk migrated to, say, the Pacific Coast and have been or became far more open to new ideas, to other cultures, to innovation and adventure.
Then think of the lack of advancement among Africans who for generations remained in Africa, satisfied enough with what’s there, to the progress made by those who migrated, beginning eons ago, northward and then across the upper half of the globe. You see a similar pattern differing, I strongly suspect, mainly in scale.
What genetics has to do with all that is beyond my ken, but it doesn’t appear to be a big factor given the variations within families.
Thank you for the well written, highly entertaining article.
The question, “Why is Africa so poor while Europe and North America are so wealthy?”, is very similar to “Why is the culture of Phocoena so impoverished?”
The answer is that economists tend to look at apples, oranges, and tomatoes and see agricultural commodities, the labor, trade and wealth that might be represented, rather than fruit.
The economy of Bolivia is much more wealthy than economists can imagine. The economy of more ‘primitive’ cultures, globally, is being destroyed at rapid pace by the parasitic cultures of North America and Europe, to the ultimate detriment of all. The economy of sub-Saharan Africa is the product of centuries of colonization which has given it the genetic diversity and doomed the dark continent to the same ugly fate which awaits North America, Europe, Asia and Australia. And i would humbly posit that the next great civilization on this planet will arise from either South America or Africa, although my bet would be on Bolivia.
The Phocoenan economy, which was once one of absolute abundance, is in peril. All the commodities necessary to life, food, water, air and space, were at one time freely available to all. What threats existed were to individuals not to the entire culture. Today they face the threat of extinction due to the ignorance and arrogance of a very few people. And yet, to date, not a single economist has considered the wealth of this noble culture.
Economists have determined that the culture of the ancient civilizations of South and Central America failed due to a change of weather. The agricultural portion of the economy could no longer sustain the people of all portions of the economy so they died out or moved, changing from an ag-based economy to one less advanced, leaving behind their structures and art to silently testify to their former glory.
In a hundred years all that shall remain of the economy of North America will be some faces carved into stone, which will look almost nothing like the inhabitants, and some lines across the continent that once were roads. Those people who remain will be hunter/gatherers. Agriculture will survive in South America and Africa, where the soil has not been so contaminated as it is elsewhere and where the people are yet well acquainted with their environment.
The economy of Bolivia will survive the coming cataclysm. The economies of Europe, Asia, North America and Australia will not.
“Why?”, you might ask.
Because all of the “more advanced” economies rely upon technology, infrastructure and trade. The economy of Bolivia does not need America, or any other location. It was isolated and will be self-sustaining when a series of some relatively minor problems bring about riot, panic, anarchy and implosion of the more advanced economies. The poor will eat the rich and not be satisfied. The strong will eat the weak until only the vultures remain. It will only be one very bad season, that will degenerate into a very very bad year for economists and all those who do not actually produce anything but rely on the strength of capital and the largess of the state to sustain them in their leisure.
Such is my opinion and my amusement with economists and statisticians.
I am excited (and inspired!) by your article today in the Washington Post.
I think I know the answer to why both Africa and Bolivia are poor, and why they will continue to remain poorer than their neighbors. My two-decades work on the physics of evolution (and civilization) predicts this.
I have a new book The Physics of Life that summarizes the phenomenon and its prediction. . . .
I read your op-ed piece on the Africa hypothesis for relative poverty. I agree with your analysis and critique. For my undergrad thesis I wrote a historical comparison/contrast between frontier development in Brazil versus the United States. It was clear that a number of extraction and mercantilism practices rendered the Brazilian economy lame for 200 years. Gold alone accounted for a huge disparity. Brazil had more than we did – it all went to Europe. Then agricultural practices, yeoman farmers like Jefferson envisions versus plantations and slavery on a scale that would have made the anti-bellum South blush. It had nothing to do with genetics.
But longer term I have been interested in both statistics and genetic disease. Malaria was the first clue. In Vietnam the military noted that some soldiers were more resistant to malaria. General Stilwell and General Mountbatten in WW2 Asia had to cope with huge casualties from diseases. Latent sickle cell carriers are more resistant. That is not a trait North Europeans have. Later it was supposed that 6-8,000 years ago in the Mediterranean a mutation led to cystic fibrosis, which made latent carriers more resistant to rampant respiratory diseases. So it is a modern genetic “disease” in the sense that maybe one out of 50,000 persons suffer severe symptoms and early death. But all the other latent carriers are more adaptable to new environmental threats.
Recently I have seen sheepish suggestions that autism or Aspbergers is another possible genetic mutation that enhanced survival. It is not diagnosed often in Africa or southern populations with high ancient genetic diversity. That may be because of poverty and poor medical care. But it is also seen that some of the proposed genes that cause autism do not appear to occur at all in African or south Asian populations. As a possible survival mechanism, it may be that in Pleistocene diasporas those genes allowed for two additional traits…. Rapid memory recall of new environments (think a milder form of Rainman), and also a milder form of restless and desire to move from one location to another. There are sedentary populations in Africa and southern regions of Asia where the same people have lived for millenia. Not so in Europe, northern Asia, the Americas. No substantial proof yet, but it fits in the model for other genetic “diseases.”
Then economic success is relative. In the Pleistocene, African populations were sedentary in most places, and they were comfortable in the terms of the day. They did not have to move as all the means to “make a living” were available. Other populations had to move to eat. As no other primate species has this urge it must come from some new mutation. And to “make a living” in new environments technology is necessary. Not so in safe regions of Africa. So a combination of a safe environment and mutations, like lactose adaptation, or skin melanin changes, all contribute to how a small ethny or clan would adapt and “make a living.”
Today we may consider African backward and “poor.” But given a choice in 40,000 BC I think I’d prefer to live in comfortable and well-fed Africa as to say the edge of a great desert, or a ice covered tundra steppe. Technology of course has changed that formula in the intervening millenia. But a perfect more modern example is the difference between say California First Nations, an old population going back to the original migrants around 14k year ago. They had in the Central Valley no recorded conflicts, minimal organization, with very small ethnies and over 200 languages. They remained in situ for ages. They ate well, had to work little. Later Na Dene migrants such as Athabaskans like Navajo, Apache, or Nahuatl moved a lot. The Aztecs liked these tribes as easy captives and slaves and sacrifices. One group had to work little due to a comfortable locations, another had to work hard in deserts, mountains, icy forests and plains. . . .
The one thing people always leave out of why Africa may be so poor is the possibility that they lack long term neanderthal DNA The neanderthal DNA made its way back to Africa around 3,000 years ago whereas it has been a part of Eurasia for tens of thousands of years.
Neanderthal’s created the first art, have the oldest burial/sprit world graves and had a larger brain and larger visual cortex.
The bonobo chimpanzee, our closet relative, shares 99% of our DNA and humans that are not from Africa have a percentage of neanderthal DNA that is equivalent to the differences in chimpanzees to humans and look how different they are.
Perhaps a story on the possibility of neanderthal DNA making the difference would be a good follow up article.
So there you have it. If you don’t like what I’ve posted here, talk to God about it. I only make observations.