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Should-Read: Andrew Neather: Foragers, Farmers and Fossil Fuels: How Human Values Evolve by Ian Morris

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Should-Read: Andrew Neather: Foragers, Farmers and Fossil Fuels: How Human Values Evolve by Ian Morris: “Ian Morris… argues that key societal values… …are directly related to the way we answer our most basic practical need: energy. Foraging societies captured… energy… through hunting and gathering… semi-nomadic… little opportunity to accumulate wealth…. a daily average of 4,000-8,000 kilocalories per person. They tended to be egalitarian, since hunting and gathering required a high degree of co-operation. And while there was a sexual division of labour, attitudes to female sexuality were relatively relaxed. But they were also violent — Morris thinks 10 per cent or more of adults died violently. Then around 10,000 years ago… farming…. With their high levels of energy capture — up to 30,000 kcal/day per person — came new values… the accumulation of wealth… [by the] industrious or lucky, inequalities… sustained labour…. Women’s sexuality became tightly controlled: these were societies in which inheritance — and therefore fidelity and bloodlines — mattered a lot. But they were also less violent, with rulers imposing legal structures. With the dawn of fossil fuels in the 18th century, energy capture increased exponentially… broke the Malthusian link… generated vast wealth… more egalitarian over gender, and much less violent….

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Should-Read: Andrew Neather: Foragers, Farmers and Fossil Fuels: How Human Values Evolve by Ian Morris: “Ian Morris… argues that key societal values…

…are directly related to the way we answer our most basic practical need: energy. Foraging societies captured… energy… through hunting and gathering… semi-nomadic… little opportunity to accumulate wealth…. a daily average of 4,000-8,000 kilocalories per person. They tended to be egalitarian, since hunting and gathering required a high degree of co-operation. And while there was a sexual division of labour, attitudes to female sexuality were relatively relaxed. But they were also violent — Morris thinks 10 per cent or more of adults died violently.

Then around 10,000 years ago… farming…. With their high levels of energy capture — up to 30,000 kcal/day per person — came new values… the accumulation of wealth… [by the] industrious or lucky, inequalities… sustained labour…. Women’s sexuality became tightly controlled: these were societies in which inheritance — and therefore fidelity and bloodlines — mattered a lot. But they were also less violent, with rulers imposing legal structures. With the dawn of fossil fuels in the 18th century, energy capture increased exponentially… broke the Malthusian link… generated vast wealth… more egalitarian over gender, and much less violent….

What is less sure is whether certain values are really such direct products of a particular mode of energy capture — he shuns any language as Marxist as a mode of production — or more fundamental to the human condition. One place where this becomes clearer is in his brief discussion of post-fossil-fuel societies. Part of the problem is, of course, that he doesn’t know what will come next…

Bradford DeLong
J. Bradford DeLong is Professor of Economics at the University of California at Berkeley and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. He was Deputy Assistant US Treasury Secretary during the Clinton Administration, where he was heavily involved in budget and trade negotiations. His role in designing the bailout of Mexico during the 1994 peso crisis placed him at the forefront of Latin America’s transformation into a region of open economies, and cemented his stature as a leading voice in economic-policy debates.

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