Tag Archives: migration

Guns, Germs and Steel – Jared Diamond

Thanks to this availability of suitable wild mammals and plants, early peoples of the Fertile Crescent could quickly assemble a potent and balanced biological package for intensive food production. That package comprised three cereals, as the main carbohydrate sources; four pulses, with 20—25 percent protein, and four domestic animals, as the main protein sources, supplemented by the generous protein content of wheat; and flax as a source of fiber and oil (termed linseed oil: flax seeds are about 40 percent oil). Eventually, thousands of years after the beginnings of animal domestication and food production, the animals also began to be used for milk, wool, plowing, and transport. Thus, the crops and animals of the Fertile Crescent’s first farmers came to meet humanity’s basic economic needs: carbohydrate, protein, fat, clothing, traction, and transport.

Jared Diamond tries to explain why some societies developed better than others. For example, why 168 Spaniards led by Francisco Pizarro  could conquer in 1532 the million-large Inca Empire and not the other way around? Why some societies evolved to guns and others are still hunter-gatherers?

In short, Diamond considers that simple geographical luck, such as proximity to domesticable plants and animals (quite few worldwide) created centers of innovation. Those centers spread, if not stopped by natural obstacles like mountains or seas, their innovations.

Good book on early human development

The book follows the anthropological theory of cultural materialism, which says that environment shaped societies. It sounds a bit deterministic: no matter what you do, geographical luck determines your progress. For example, the Incas were doomed, mainly because they had no defense against the germs brought by Europeans.

Another lesson from this book is that, no matter the society, sooner or later, best innovations will prevail. For example, in the fragmented Europe, even if some societies refused some innovation for cultural or other reasons, the neighboring societies that adopted the innovation had a technical advantage that would make the laggard society to either adapt or be conquered.

Innovations drive the society forward, the society very existence depending on that, such as it is the case with Native Indians. This is a very strong argument for trade. For example, being constantly exposed to others through trade and competition, makes a society seeing what is best and allows the opportunity to adopt the new. This explains, for example, why competing and trading Europeans managed to surpass the bigger and earlier advanced Chinese. The Chinese closed up to trade and their earlier political integration worked in their detriment, the closing up happening to the entire center of innovation which was China.

To sum up, Jared Diamond considers that Europeans are no smarter than Australian Aborigines, they were just luckier to be closer and with easier access to early centers of human innovation.

On the down side of the book, Jared Diamond talks very little about guns and steel, as advertised on the title, and mostly about germs and farming. The book reads like an anthropology book with some detailed history from early human settlements to Antiquity.

Overall, a book with some very interesting ideas and with a strong call for open societies and humanity as whole.

(Featured image by John Doebley – A possible evolution of corn)

Exceptional People: How Migration Shaped Our World and Will Define Our Future – Ian Goldin

At a national level, the educational gains from migration vary with the age of the migrant. Those who migrate to the United States as children (before 13) or as young adults (25-29) reap the greatest educational benefits from moving. Immigration between ages 13 and 19 confers a relative disadvantage on migrants, however, because of obstacles with language and integration in schools – which are no easier to overcome in teenage years.

Ian Goldin, together with Geoffrey Cameron and Meera Balarajan, did a fantastic piece of work with this book. The volume is an almost academic analysis, filled with figures and charts, dissecting with great acuity the movements of humans on the planet. Divided into three parts, it covers the past, the present and the future of migration.

Walking towards a new future

The message is at the end of the book, where migration is portrayed as a short-pain and long-gain strategy. An interesting insight is that people are moving historically less between countries, but further away for the ones that move.

While the book includes some solid references, it fails to see the downside on migration. It is looking at only one side of the coin. Migration indeed brings benefits for both the migrant and the host-state, but what about the drawbacks? This part is not researched, which makes the conclusions looking biased. One of those conclusions is a call for a global leadership that will advance a global migration agenda.

Nonetheless, the book makes a passionate argument for migrants (called “exceptional people”). It looks at the benefits and motives behind immigration, from pre-history to post the World Wars, the present day and the future trends.

A good read, particularly for immigrants and those interested in the subject.