Sunday, September 09, 2007

Malthus or (Adam) Smith. Some musings.

I made my previous post on Darfur (arguably an example supporting the Malthusian catastrophe theory?), and then visited some other blogs. At Catallaxy, I found a short quote attributed to Adam Smith;
"Little else is required to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism but peace, easy taxes and a tolerable administration of justice.” [Adam Smith].
Now the ideas are at variance. Diametrically opposed you could say. One pessimistically says catastrophe is inevitable. One says utopia is there for the taking. The first world and the third world would arguably be examples proving each theorem (taken separately). But first world birth rates are slow (most W1 country's populations increase only because of immigration). However, there are plenty (usually of the green left) who subscribe to the Malthusian theory - The Club of Rome's 'Limits to Growth' being a classic example (I eventually found a copy of that! - 'twas hard to find).

Not simple? What makes the difference? Is it 'Guns, Germs and Steel'? I don't think it even gets down to that (though clearly having a technological advantage - or some other advantage, is usually telling).

I think differently. I'll observe there can be dramatic differences between places that should be similar. Look at the difference, economically and in quality of life between North and South Korea, for example, Or Israel and her neighbours (all the more interesting when they have lot's of oil revenue and Israel doesn't!), or Singapore. You could see the difference between one side of the 'Iron Curtain' and the other prior to 1989 (East vs West Germany, eg).
No, it's simpler than simply invoking the 'victim' mentality or argument. Culture, religion, attitude, social inertia (not necessarily bad - that's what 'custom' is isn't it?) play some sort of part, though which is the most potent factor is the $64 question.
Perhaps we should also look, favourably, on the example of Oz herself, ourselves, provide? Arguably, in terms of climate, environment, geology, the place we are most like as a 'place' is Africa. Yet Australia is so much better off than Africa by any measure. Why? I have a feeling that to answer that, and similar questions about, say Israel and Sth Korea, will go in large part towards explaining why some countries do well, regardless of 'place' and some badly.
I think Adam Smith is more likely to have the answer than Malthus.


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