Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Guns, Germs, and Steel

Jared Diamond has a new book out about why some societies made themselves extinct. He sums it up as basically 1) they made bad predictions about the future and/or 2) made bad decisions now. If you think I'm oversimplifying, trawl through the transcript yourself.

His bete noir is catastrophic environmental destruction, and he draws the obvious parallels between deforestation by the Easter Island society in the Pacific and, well, chopping down trees today.

His suffers from a serious case of status quo bias. While it is true that a society which impoverishes itself through poor environmental management has made an error, it is also true that a society which fails to get rich at its potential rate through poor environmental management has made an equal error, but in the opposite direction. Certainly if we tallied up the two columns, failing to get rich at your potential rate would be more common than impoverishing yourself. Unsurprisingly, since Diamond can't see the costs of the status quo, he urges us to embrace it.

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