Saved by trade!

jeudi 3 décembre 2009 ·

We were created by economics. I am perfectly aware of how ridicule this may sound at first, but hear (or read) me out. From Adam Smith to Milton Friedman, trade has been presented as a way to promote the growth of civilization. But we rarely hear the case that we were created by trade.

In a paper from the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization titled "How Trade Saved Humanity from Biological Exclusion: an economic theory of the Neanderthal exclusion", an economic approach to the rise of the homo sapiens and the fall of the neanderthals is provided.

The usual explanations are that even though cranial size was greater, the brain of the neanderthal was less evolved in terms of neural development. They did however practice hunting and gathering activities which shows a certain degree of specialization and they did live successfully for two hundred thousand years before ... well...our arrival.

But humans did also specialize, but we had to compete for a very limited pool of exploitable ressources with neanderthals. The paper constructs a model where everything is equal for humans and neanderthals, except the capacity of humans to trade and specialise which was greater. This allowed humans to collect more food ressources than neanderthals which drove an increase in population (humans basically outbred neanderthals). The finite amount of ressources left (considering the nomadic living mode) was reduced and the neanderthal population went into decline for that very reason. They just progressively got less numerous than humans and ultimately disappeared. They actually disappeared very quickly.

I have to say I enjoyed the concluding remarks from the auhtors of the paper which sum up my personal view on the nature of evolution:

(...)our rise to power depended on an exceeding number of exogenous factors including the Cambrium explosion, comet and meteor hits and the demise of dinosaurs, leading Gould to conclude that we are a “wildly improbable evolutionary event” (Gould 1989, p.381). If we rewind the tape of history and run it again, he wrote, the chance of human domination is exceedingly small.(...)the fate of humanity may have been even more uncertain..even on the current and improbable trajectory leading to human domination, interaction with contemporary rivals some 40,000 years ago could have been fatal to humanity. We did not enter a vacant niche in ecological system..we had to conquer it.

R.D Horan, E. Bulte and J.F Shogren. How Trade saved humanity from biological exclusion: an economic theory of neanderthal extinction. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization. 2005, 58: 1-29

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Bryan Breguet est candidat au doctorat en sciences économiques à l’université de Colombie-Britannique. D’origine Suisse, il a passé les cinq dernières années au Québec au cours desquelles il s’est engagé en politique provinciale malgré le fait qu’il ne possédait pas encore la citoyenneté canadienne. Il détient un B.Sc en économie et politique ainsi qu’une maitrise en sciences économiques de l’université de Montréal. Récipiendaire de plusieurs prix d’excellences et bourses, il connaît bien les méthodes quantitatives et leurs applications à la politique.

Vincent Geloso holds a master’s degree in economic history from the London School of Economics, with a focus on business cycles, international development, labor markets in preindustrial Europe and the new institutional economics. His research work examined the economic history of the province of Quebec from 1920 to 1960. He holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science from the Université de Montréal. He has also studied in the United States at the Washington Centre for Academic Seminars and Internships. Mr. Geloso has been an intern for the Prime Minister’s cabinet in Ottawa and for the National Post. He has also been the recipient of a fellowship from the Institute for Humane Studies and an international mobility bursary from the Ministère des Relations internationales du Québec. Currently, he is an economist at the Montreal Economic Institute.

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