A little while back I cited “The Horse, the Wheel and Language” on the attractiveness to some of a less egalitarian social structure. Mancur Olson has a similar story in “The Rise and Decline of Nations”: “Though multigenerational distributional coalitions foster inefficiency, inequality, and group prejudice, it is nonetheless important to realize that some individuals and groups outside the society containing these coalitions may improve their positions by joining that society, even if they enter at the bottom. Tribes without settled agriculture, for example, might in some circumstances have found that they would be better off joining Indian society than by staying out of sit, even though they were accorded the lowest status and were victims of special-interest groups to boot. There have been many observations of such assimilation of tribal groups into India’s caste system, and they must help to account for its great diversity.”

This narrative contrasts with that of writers who view truly primitive life as preferable (judged by per capita standard of living) to most agricultural lifestyles. Examples of that perspective are Jared Diamond and James Scott. The latter has even discussed how such cultures are marked by their nomadic resistance to being assimilated into settled agricultural states.

Patri Friedman’s fondness of this book may explain why he is more partial to “resets“, while from my more Burkean perspective the idea reeks of disaster. To argue from my perspective, Mancur’s perspective seems dated in the 70s as America & Great Britain have made France & Germany look like laggards again, and Australia is also doing much better than he would have expected. The continued success of post-Deng China does support his theory, but it still seems to me largely the result of catch-up growth. A final counter-argument against that is How imposed institutional reforms can work: Lessons from the French Revolution. I’d like to hear Christopher Coyne comment on that.

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