Jared Diamond delves into how some societies fail, succeed, and revive in global human history.

Becky Berkman

2021-11-06 11:18:51 Sat ET

Jared Diamond delves into how some societies fail, succeed, and revive in global human history.

Jared Diamond (2004)

 

Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed

 

As a Pulitzer Prize winner and author of Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond delves into human cultures and societies such as the Anasazi, the Maya, the Viking colony on Greenland, and so forth. Diamond traces several common and pervasive patterns of both external and endogenous factors from environmental damage and climate change to poor political evolution. These factors help explain why several societies fail, succeed, and revive in global human history.

Jared Diamond tells the dramatic decline of past civilizations: the Easter Islanders, the Anasazi in Southwestern USA, the Mayans in Central America, and the Norse Vinland settlement in Greenland. These civilizations seem to have suffered drastic reductions in population and productivity. In this historical account, these societal collapses result from distortionary economic incentives and resources, lost friends, new enemies, climate changes, and most importantly, their cultures and beliefs etc. Diamond provides informative histories, anecdotes, and descriptions to explain the economic sciences for piecing together the human histories. The reasonable policy prescriptions follow the basic principles of economic cost-benefit analysis. In most cases, people respond to incentives and then societies fail, succeed, and revive in accordance with several dramatic changes in the external environment.

Diamond presents these human histories of societal collapses as allegories. These allegories serve as rich descriptive parables that we can apply to help our modern civilization avoid a similar fate. Diamond claims that our modern human civilization may collapse due to a common shortage of economic resources such as fossil fuel, topsoil, and even sunlight. In order to save our modern human civilization from this fate, we should shape our cultures, rules, institutions, and technological advances (especially in renewable energy) to better manage scarce economic resources and common hold-up problems in resource reallocation.

In his prior book Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond attempts to explain why Eurasian and North African civilizations seem to have survived in due course. At the same time, Diamond argues against the basic notion that Eurasian hegemony arises from any form of Eurasian moral, intellectual, or inherent genetic superiority. From a practical viewpoint, Diamond argues that the substantial gaps in power and technology between human societies result from environmental differences. From time to time, various positive feedback loops seem to amplify these environmental differences. While cultural or genetic differences seem to have favored Eurasians (for instance, both written language and the development of resistance to endemic diseases among Eurasians), Diamond asserts that these internal advantages can often arise from the broader influence of geography on cultures and societies. For example, global geography allows trade and commerce between different cultures. These economic interactions worldwide cannot be found in Eurasian genomes. In essence, Diamond advocates that structural changes in the external environment help shape human interactions worldwide through cultures and beliefs across core civilizations in global economic history. When push comes to shove, the basic law of inadvertent consequences counsels caution.

 

Jared Diamond describes the collapse and survival of past civilizations.

Jared Diamond describes the collapse and survival of past civilizations. Diamond constructs a multi-causal theory of societal collapse, and this theory explains why the societies on Easter Island and Greenland experience their ultimate collapses. Moreover, this theory explains why the 1,153 residents of Tikopia continue a 3,000-year experiment in sustainable civilization. In recent times, scientists re-construct the main characteristics of past civilizations with similar climates, bones, houseflies, and core samples drawn deep from bogs. These scientists can reveal details about past civilizations with respect to their diets and lifestyles by sifting through the trash heaps of long dead pack rats. Some techniques help develop the adult version of Encyclopedia Brown. Diamond further provides a thick blunt allegory. The earth is an island, and we are Easter Islanders cutting down old growth forests. From some fundamental viewpoint, this allegory is quite analogous to the macro island model built by Nobel Laureate Robert Lucas. Just as the Easter Islanders built beautiful churches and stone heads, we build super highways, giant stadiums, and big box department stores. This analogy serves as an integrative nexus between past and present. The Easter Islanders, the Norse, the Mayans, and the Anasazi would not anticipate their ultimate societal collapses due to dramatic changes in the external environment (and neither do we). In a nutshell, Diamond outlines how we can save ourselves from a similar fate of societal collapse. Of all the technological advances made over the past 200 years, Diamond specifically highlights Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane (DDT) and Chloro-Fluoro-Carbons (CFC). Humankind eventually chooses to abandon the use of both DDT and CFC because they are both harmful. Diamond leaves out computers, medications, planes, trains, and automobiles from his analysis of both societal collapse and survival in recent decades.

Diamond strives to understand why human societies survive and then collapse. By societal collapses, Diamond means unsustainable trajectories of development that precipitously fall in due course. In this fundamental sense, some civilizations seem to be humming well until one day the bottom falls out. Economic historians refer to this kind of societal collapse as some sudden rare event due to drastic changes in the external environment (such as drought, flood, famine, earthquakes, cyclones, typhoons, pandemic crises, and other natural disasters). Over the long run, human civilizations that wisely manage their scare economic resources can often survive, whereas, civilizations that cannot manage well their resources eventually collapse due to a lack of sound response to some environmental degradation. However, the core Diamond theory of societal collapse includes not only the mismanagement of renewable natural resources, but also 4 additional root causes. These root causes are institutional and cultural failures, environmental changes, lost friends, and new enemies.

 

Jared Diamond indicates that common societal collapses can often arise from both cultural and institutional failures.

Diamond refers to institutional and cultural failures as 2 separate ripple effects that merit distinct treatments in his theory of societal collapse. Institutional failures refer to poor institutional choices that result in the failure to solve some collective action problem. Cultural failures refer to the daily ways of organizing social and economic life. These fundamental ways often equate the common ways of seeing the world with blind spots, limits, constraints, dangers, and opportunities. For example, both culture and tradition encourage people to see their relationship to the earth in some particular ways. Specifically, the Norse choose their way of life in Vinland close to the way of life for their ancestors in Scandinavia. The Norse would not adapt to the new environment. The endowment includes the wrong cognitive map for the Norse ecosystem. Diamond presents his hypothesis that the Norse may have had a taboo against eating fish. In the Catholic tradition, fish ranks third behind bread and wine as a symbolic source of nourishment. One little stomach virus would hardly seem sufficient for the Norse to abandon a unique way of life through tacit knowledge.

Diamond suggests that most cultures change slowly over time. In several societies, the people cannot one day wake up to change their unique way of life. In fact, most people stubbornly hold onto their beliefs and traditions, as well as their rare unique ways of economic life. In the case of Easter Island, the rare unique inability of the society to change their culture seems to have contributed to the ultimate collapse. It takes about 800 years for the Easter Islanders to clear forests in order to create open space for new forests. A few decades of planting forests would help reverse the trend. Unfortunately, replanting forests cannot succeed if the topsoil has blown out to sea.

Weather refers to the month-to-month and year-to-year variations in temperature and precipitation. From time to time, weather means wet Aprils and warm Augusts. Climate changes refer to large-scale fluctuations in weather: decades of no rain, a century of wet weather, or a mini ice age. Both our current and primitive civilizations would seek to adapt to weather and climate changes. It can be quite tricky for most scientists to separate seasonal fluctuations from global weather trends. The earlier societies probably lack centuries of accurate temperature data. It becomes almost impossible for scientists to discern slow gradual climate changes over centuries.

The Norse, the Anasazi, and the Mayans all seem to have experienced some form of a major drought. The drought then leads to the concurrence of societal collapse. Specifically, the Mayan civilization seems to have survived over 3,500 years up to a major drought. In combination with some other factors such as over-exploitation, invasion, and lost alliance, this natural disaster somehow precipitates the ultimate societal collapse. The long prevalent Mayan culture continues to influence our new school of thought about social and economic development in recent decades.

 

Jared Diamond finds that several societal collapses result from some combination of lost friends, new enemies, and climate changes in the external environment.

Diamond attributes societal collapses to 2 additional factors. These factors include some decrease in friendly relations with outsiders (e.g. global trade and commerce) and some increase in hostile relations with enemies. In fact, these external factors help bolster the Diamond theory of societal collapse due to a lack of environmental stewardship. Just as no man is an island, no island is an island either. In this light, Diamond must include friends and foes in his analysis.

In his analysis of societal collapse, Diamond crafts the parable that a lack of trade partners would cause information cascades. Several reductions in global trade and commerce would then encourage hostile invasion from new enemies. In this causal chain, a society begins its ultimate collapse when the people start to trade less and therefore trade declines in due course. In light of lost friends and alliances, hostile relations with new enemies would lead to wars and severe economic recessions. This combination of both lost friends and new enemies would hence cause societal collapses, especially when natural disasters strike in the external environment.

Societal failures can often make both cities and nations more susceptible to enemy attacks in the absence of strategic alliances. Diamond presents evidence in favor of the economic logic that frequent fluctuations in environmental degradation would lead to societal collapses (if technological advances cannot help civilizations come up with adequate responses to drastic weather and climate changes). Nonetheless, Diamond only studies 4 major ecosystems as marginal places for past civilizations. Few would describe Greenland, Chaco Canyon, and Easter Island as fertile places. As economists would suggest, some past civilizations that fail to control population growth in the rare events of both drastic climate changes and enemy attacks often probably collapse in due course. Modern societal collapses may recur under these external conditions, especially if our technological advances cannot help address the common problems of both extreme climate changes and geo-political military conflicts.

Our modern cultural diversity permits experimentation. This diversity further offers internal advantages that past civilizations would lack in common societal collapses. Better environmental management helps sustain biodiversity in the broader global ecosystem. Over-exploitation can therefore become a lesser concern due to slow gradual declines in global population growth. The same logic applies to economic developments in transport, residential property protection, and global ecosystem management. After all, we can choose to develop both successful and sustainable inclusive institutions and economic policies worldwide. Institutional diversity further provides insulation against widespread societal collapses. Regardless of what the future holds, some cultures are likely to have the essential skills for people to thrive in the world.

Climate change works quite differently in the modern context. Past societies tend to fail because long-scale droughts and mini ice ages would mean a lack of crops. In our modern age, hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions can wreak havoc. With better technological advances, our ability to respond globally to these local catastrophes can help mitigate their future impact. Our current political and economic institutions can often help promote both disruptive innovations and technological advances in renewable energy in response to the gradual depletion of oil, natural gas, and uranium. These inclusive institutions not only help promote valid and reasonable property rights, but also help better respond to environmental degradation problems (such as deforestation and carbon over-exploitation). From time to time, replanting rain forests is relatively easy in stark contrast to re-creating the full ecosystem worldwide. Our modern environmental interactions are far more complex than past civilizations. Cutting up turf, exhausting soil, and chopping down trees would have straightforward consequences. Our widespread use of chemical fertilizers would cause complex and unpredictable adverse effects on the broader bio-diverse ecosystem.

Environmental devastation competes for our low bandwidth with many other local and global catastrophes such as terrorism, avian flu, corona virus pandemic crises, asteroids, nuclear weapons, and geopolitical risks etc. Environmental degradation does differ from many of the other potential catastrophes because we have some degree of control over drastic climate changes in the external environment. In fact, we can choose to reduce our odds of going through societal collapses due to some drastic climate changes such as extreme storms and mini ice ages. Diamond helps compile a list of productive modern activities for better environmental management. We should avoid making our biodiverse species and habitats extinct over time. We should avoid depleting our clean fresh water and topsoil. In several cases, we need not use up all available sunlight. We should not introduce new chemical pollutants in the air and water. We should strive to design technological advances in order to make the best uses of our finite oil, natural, gas, and coal reserves. This Diamond doomsday list can lead some economists to classify such modern activities as part of another alarmist environmentalist tract. Sometimes environmental problems can cause political and economic instability due to the central cultivation of new fields. In turn, this cultivation strains property rights and inclusive institutions. At the same time, political and economic instability can allow for ecosystem mis-management, over-exploitation, and environmental degradation. In dynamic equilibrium, the law of inadvertent consequences counsels caution.

Some political economists such as Elinor Ostrom (1999) and her co-authors show evidence that smaller communities can often find feasible bottom-up solutions to solve common pool resource problems. Free markets cannot solve these common pool resource problems, but the free market mechanism can create incentives for new technological advances and disruptive innovations. In turn, the technological solutions help address environmental resource problems. In practice, economists and environmentalists differ dramatically in terms of discounting future cash flows. Long-term time horizons may be environmentally beneficial, but these longer-term considerations run counter to economic logic. If we discount the future cash flows by 5% per year, we really do not care about what happens 100 years from today. At most, we care about what happens in the next 20 years. In reality, this relatively harsh economic logic explains the eventual end of known oil reserves can be well in sight but cannot affect real incentives for people to address this natural resource problem. In addition to free markets, government intervention would be necessary. We would need some top-down support for technology before economic incentives take hold. This top-down support can complement bottom-up solutions from small communities in response to environmental resource problems.

 

As a Pulitzer Prize winner and author of Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond delves into human cultures and societies such as the Anasazi, the Maya, the Viking colony on Greenland, and so forth. Diamond traces several common and pervasive patterns of both external and endogenous factors from environmental damage and climate change to poor political evolution. These factors help explain why several societies fail, succeed, and revive in global human history.

Jared Diamond tells the dramatic decline of past civilizations: the Easter Islanders, the Anasazi in Southwestern USA, the Mayans in Central America, and the Norse Vinland settlement in Greenland. These civilizations seem to have suffered drastic reductions in population and productivity. In this historical account, these societal collapses result from distortionary economic incentives and resources, lost friends, new enemies, climate changes, and most importantly, their cultures and beliefs etc. Diamond provides informative histories, anecdotes, and descriptions to explain the economic sciences for piecing together the human histories. The reasonable policy prescriptions follow the basic principles of economic cost-benefit analysis. In most cases, people respond to incentives and then societies fail, succeed, and revive in accordance with several dramatic changes in the external environment.

Diamond presents these human histories of societal collapses as allegories. These allegories serve as rich descriptive parables that we can apply to help our modern civilization avoid a similar fate. Diamond claims that our modern human civilization may collapse due to a common shortage of economic resources such as fossil fuel, topsoil, and even sunlight. In order to save our modern human civilization from this fate, we should shape our cultures, rules, institutions, and technological advances (especially in renewable energy) to better manage scarce economic resources and common hold-up problems in resource reallocation.

In his prior book Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond attempts to explain why Eurasian and North African civilizations seem to have survived in due course. At the same time, Diamond argues against the basic notion that Eurasian hegemony arises from any form of Eurasian moral, intellectual, or inherent genetic superiority. From a practical viewpoint, Diamond argues that the substantial gaps in power and technology between human societies result from environmental differences. From time to time, various positive feedback loops seem to amplify these environmental differences. While cultural or genetic differences seem to have favored Eurasians (for instance, both written language and the development of resistance to endemic diseases among Eurasians), Diamond asserts that these internal advantages can often arise from the broader influence of geography on cultures and societies. For example, global geography allows trade and commerce between different cultures. These economic interactions worldwide cannot be found in Eurasian genomes. In essence, Diamond advocates that structural changes in the external environment help shape human interactions worldwide through cultures and beliefs across core civilizations in global economic history. When push comes to shove, the basic law of inadvertent consequences counsels caution.

 

This analytic essay cannot constitute any form of financial advice, analyst opinion, recommendation, or endorsement. We refrain from engaging in financial advisory services, and we seek to offer our analytic insights into the latest economic trends, stock market topics, investment memes, personal finance tools, and other self-help inspirations. Our proprietary alpha investment algorithmic system helps enrich our AYA fintech network platform as a new social community for stock market investors: https://ayafintech.network.

We share and circulate these informative posts and essays with hyperlinks through our blogs, podcasts, emails, social media channels, and patent specifications. Our goal is to help promote better financial literacy, inclusion, and freedom of the global general public. While we make a conscious effort to optimize our global reach, this optimization retains our current focus on the American stock market.

This free ebook, AYA Analytica, shares new economic insights, investment memes, and stock portfolio strategies through both blog posts and patent specifications on our AYA fintech network platform. AYA fintech network platform is every investor's social toolkit for profitable investment management. We can help empower stock market investors through technology, education, and social integration.

We hope you enjoy the substantive content of this essay! AYA!

 

Andy Yeh

Chief Financial Architect (CFA) and Financial Risk Manager (FRM)

Brass Ring International Density Enterprise (BRIDE) © 

 

 

Do you find it difficult to beat the long-term average 11% stock market return?

It took us 20+ years to design a new profitable algorithmic asset investment model and its attendant proprietary software technology with fintech patent protection in 2+ years. AYA fintech network platform serves as everyone's first aid for his or her personal stock investment portfolio. Our proprietary software technology allows each investor to leverage fintech intelligence and information without exorbitant time commitment. Our dynamic conditional alpha analysis boosts the typical win rate from 70% to 90%+.

Our new alpha model empowers members to be a wiser stock market investor with profitable alpha signals! The proprietary quantitative analysis applies the collective wisdom of Warren Buffett, George Soros, Carl Icahn, Mark Cuban, Tony Robbins, and Nobel Laureates in finance such as Robert Engle, Eugene Fama, Lars Hansen, Robert Lucas, Robert Merton, Edward Prescott, Thomas Sargent, William Sharpe, Robert Shiller, and Christopher Sims.

 

Follow our Brass Ring Facebook to learn more about the latest financial news and fantastic stock investment ideas: http://www.facebook.com/brassring2013.

 

Follow AYA Analytica financial health memo (FHM) podcast channel on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvntmnacYyCmVyQ-c_qjyyQ

 

Free signup for stock signals: https://ayafintech.network  

Mission on profitable signals: https://ayafintech.network/mission.php 

Model technical descriptions: https://ayafintech.network/model.php

Blog on stock alpha signals: https://ayafintech.network/blog.php

Freemium base pricing plans: https://ayafintech.network/freemium.php 

Signup for periodic updates: https://ayafintech.network/signup.php

Login for freemium benefits: https://ayafintech.network/login.php

 


If any of our AYA Analytica financial health memos (FHM), blog posts, ebooks, newsletters, and notifications etc, or any other form of online content curation, involves potential copyright concerns, please feel free to contact us at service@ayafintech.network so that we can remove relevant content in response to any such request within a reasonable time frame.

Blog+More
The Economist offers a special report that the new normal state of economic affairs shines fresh light on the division of labor between central banks and governments.
Jonah Whanau

2019-11-15 13:34:00 Friday ET

The Economist offers a special report that the new normal state of economic affairs shines fresh light on the division of labor between central banks and governments.

The Economist offers a special report that the new normal state of economic affairs shines fresh light on the division of labor between central banks and go

+See More
Former Vice President Joe Biden enters the next U.S. presidential race with many moderate policy proposals.
Monica McNeil

2019-05-05 10:34:00 Sunday ET

Former Vice President Joe Biden enters the next U.S. presidential race with many moderate policy proposals.

Former Vice President Joe Biden enters the next U.S. presidential race with many moderate-to-progressive policy proposals. At the age of 76, Biden stands ou

+See More
The recent Bristol-Myers Squibb acquisition of American Celgene is the $90 billion biggest biotech deal in history.
Jacob Miramar

2019-01-10 17:31:00 Thursday ET

The recent Bristol-Myers Squibb acquisition of American Celgene is the $90 billion biggest biotech deal in history.

The recent Bristol-Myers Squibb acquisition of American Celgene is the $90 billion biggest biotech deal in history. The resultant biopharma goliath would be

+See More
Reuters polls show that most Americans blame President Trump for the recent U.S. government shutdown.
Olivia London

2019-01-05 11:39:00 Saturday ET

Reuters polls show that most Americans blame President Trump for the recent U.S. government shutdown.

Reuters polls show that most Americans blame President Trump for the recent U.S. government shutdown. President Trump remains adamant about having to shut d

+See More
Conor McGregor learns a major money lesson from LeBron James.
Daisy Harvey

2019-08-07 12:33:00 Wednesday ET

Conor McGregor learns a major money lesson from LeBron James.

Conor McGregor learns a major money lesson from LeBron James. This lesson suggests that James spends about $1.5 million on his own body each year. The $1.5

+See More
CNBC stock host Jim Cramer recommends Caterpillar and Home Depot during the current U.S. stock market rally.
Charlene Vos

2019-03-15 13:36:00 Friday ET

CNBC stock host Jim Cramer recommends Caterpillar and Home Depot during the current U.S. stock market rally.

CNBC stock host Jim Cramer recommends both Caterpillar and Home Depot as the U.S. bull market is likely to continue in light of the recent Fed Chair comment

+See More