Sunday, March 12, 2006

New Blog Worth Bookmarking

An Economist in Paradise: Mauritious: a rediscovery”, host Fazeer Sheik Rahim, is an excellent economics Blog (thanks to Economics Roundtable for the pointer to it). Visit his Blog at: (

The article that caught my attention, “
An Incredible Force For Good”, is one of several well worth reading and its worth book-marking the site too. Visit it at: (

This paragraph covers a subject discussed here several times (and in my unpublished 'Pre-History of the Deal'):

But the intellectual battle on free trade is, more than ever, frustratingly hard to win. After all, for much of our evolutionary process, we, humans, have been hunters and have had to envisage our relationship with fellow humans as a zero-sum game in our quest for food, for a mate or for new territories. It is only recently that, with the complexity of modern economies, we have had to develop trust towards strangers in our economic relationships. In ‘The Company of Strangers,’ Paul Seabright (Toulouse) provides a brilliant exposé on the evolution of economic institutions.”

The evolutionary approach to societies of humans is the one I practice and this leads me to make the following comments in a most respectful manner, along the lines of Adam Smith’s model of the evolution of society (societies evolve much faster than species).

The statement that “After all, for much of our evolutionary process, we, humans, have been hunters and have had to envisage our relationship with fellow humans as a zero-sum game in our quest for food, for a mate or for new territories”, regrettably, is problematical. A few moments reflection would suggest that there is something unreal about the implications of this statement.

If hunters viewed their relationships as zero-sum in food, mates and territory then the ‘Hobbesian’ nightmare looms over our predecessors; the war of all against all’, etc. Now not even Hobbes believed his nightmare was true. He wrote, in reference to it that ‘It may peradventure be thought, there was never such a time, nor condition of war as this; and I believe it was never generally so, over all the world.’ (Hobbes, …[1651] 1946. Leviathan, p 83, ed. M. Oakshott, Blackwell, Oxford.)

Gatherers and scavengers preceded Smith’s Age of the Hunters, and as there never was a time when humans did not live in societies, they conformed to certain basic characteristics, if they were to live in any degree of harmony, as discussed in Smith’s ‘Moral Sentiments’ (1759). The first hominid societies were continuations of the societies of the Common Ancestor (as seen in primate societies today, especially our cousins the chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas), and the original division of labour was that females fed themselves and their children and all adult males fed themselves. Once the human brain began to evolve in 4-6 millions years from 400 grams (chimp size) towards 1400 grams (Homo sapiens’ size), food provision had to change if individuals were to survive (the human brain having a ferocious appetite).

Gathering, and catching small rodent-sized animals was insufficient nutrition, which led to scavenging larger game already dead, but taking this food source from rival predators determined to eat and kill anything in their way. This required a shift towards co-operation with the slow, gradual and cumulative evolution recognized by Adam Smith in all of his writings.

Individuals could not locate a carcass, defend themselves against predators, cut sufficient flesh and bones from it, and exit a site on their own. They had to do this with others. Those that managed this, lived long enough to breed and their children lived long enough to mature to become breeders. Those that didn’t became extinct, as was the fate of the associated c.20 hominid species, one of which evolved into the archaic human line that eventually split off to become Homo Sapiens.

This evolutionary process preceded the ‘complexity of modern economies’ by near on a million years. Of course, there was and still is a struggle between co-operation and non-co-operation, between trust and distrust and between violence and trade, but the duration of that struggle is much longer than Smith’s Age of Commerce (itself of older vintage than the 200 years of ‘modern society’). Smith’s ‘Moral Sentiments’ (1759) discusses how humans developed ‘trust towards strangers’ in all of our relationships, and not just our ‘economic relationships’.

Fazeer Sheik Rahim shows he is conversant with economics in its wider context, though he is conversant also with modern economics, in its formal mathematical sense. Consider the opening sentence of his article: “Nobel economist, Gérard Debreu once said that value is nothing but an element of the set of real numbers.” Makes me want to read more of his material…


Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...

I agree with your observations on that period when human bands came into contact, for many of them, for the very first time, after the early bands lost contact during he great migrations within Africa and beyond into EuroAsia.

Population densities were low for hundreds of thousands (possibly a million years during the Hominids) of years, and the world's territory was vastly large. The main problem during the separations was not other human/hominid bands but other species of violent predators. This process forced the development of intelligence/ technology (stone cutters) and co-operation - lone hunters did not prevail. Permanent hostility and violence between bands from 10,000 years ago would have prevented difficult to defend farming from emerging. (See Mithen: "After the Ice").

I do not think Seabright grasped this point, though his broad theme of the growth of trust is excellent.

Detritus left by early gatherer-hunters shows remnants of plunder/trade several hundreds of miles from where the artifacts originated. 'Reading' the form that 'contact' took is open to conjecture.

That violence flared on contact is certain; that it was gradually replaced replaced with 'gift' exchanges and reciprocity eventually,and in separated generations even, is also certain.

But I think these are differences of detail and in no way detract from my admiration for your Blog site.

12:29 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home