Sunday, August 14, 2011

Clark, Cowen, DeLong discuss genetics and deep economic history

Tyler Cowen, Brad DeLong and Greg Clark discuss A Farewell to Alms in a seminar from three or four years ago. Thanks to Jason Collins for the link.

I liked Tyler's overview (@36min), which emphasizes that culture, genes and institutions all affect economic growth. He lists of order 10 factors (17!) that impact the industrial revolution, and notes that we have only one historical data point. (To be more accurate we probably have a few, but certainly not enough.) Therefore there must be many models consistent with the facts. (This is of course the fundamental problem for economics and social science, and why progress is so hard.) My review of Clark's book made some similar points. In noting that Clark's ideas are sometimes too simplistic, we should keep in mind he is a primarily an empiricist (economic historian) not a theoretician. He's the guy who pored over ancient British records to obtain demographic data.

DeLong discusses population genetics @31min. Jason recapitulates the argument. My comment on the post (typos corrected) is below.

Brad’s calculation is a bit unrealistic. Most traits are controlled by large numbers of genes and there is a huge amount of extant variation, even within families. No new mutations or special “patience genes" are required for evolutionary change.

A more realistic calculation, that takes into account heritabilities less than one, limited correlation between phenotype and reproduction rate, etc. leads to about 1000 years as the fastest timescale for shift in population mean of about one standard deviation. There has been plenty of time since the dawn of civilization or of agriculture for humans to have changed significantly. A few hundred years is probably not enough time except perhaps in some exceptional cases of really strong selection. I doubt Clark is right that the industrial revolution is primarily a consequence of selection driven pressure in England, although I agree that the British today are probably quite different from their ancestors one or a few thousand years ago.

Apologies for typos — getting used to an iPad.

Clark responds to a question about Guns, Germs and Steel @59min. Pomeranz and Gunder Frank @1:03. Clark returns to more realistic genetic models @1:09. Clark's interest in the heritability of future time preference was stimulated by observations of his three children. Discussion heats up @1:13 -- Brad hews the extreme environmental line whereas Tyler is in the middle. @1:17 Brad reveals again some misunderstanding of population genetics.


galton said...

Brad Delong is really not the academy's brightest product. He deletes any kind of critical comment and is in general persuaded that he's much smarter than he really is. Among other things, he's wrong on stimulus, wrong on inflation, wrong on IQ, wrong on ... just wrong on lots of stuff, and in a particularly self-satisfied and pompous kind of way, kind of like Brian Leiter. He's also a real credentialist, such that he will deign to give hearing to right-of-center arguments only when they emanate from those edging close to the boundaries of reasonable discourse, like Greg Clark on genetics or Mankiw on economics.

All in all, to read Brad Delong is to realize that the people at our commanding heights have a lot less on the ball than you, Roissy, GNXP, and Steve Sailer.

5371 said...

I don't like Delong any more than you do, but that's company that should make Steve Hsu wince. 

Yan Shen said...

I was thinking the same thing. I mean, do you really want to lump someone of Steve Hsu's caliber together with Roissy or Steve Sailer?

botti said...

Well, a lot of non-science people do come across ev-psch/sociobiology type material via Game writer's like Roissy and David De Angelo. As for GNXP and Sailer, those blogs do provide some rare open discussion of 'HBD'. It doesn't imply they all have the same politics, same expertise or agree on other matters. It just means that there are a lot of dishonest people like De Long so the few that break the mold stand out.

Yan Shen said...

On the other hand, despite all of DeLong's shortcomings, he doesn't obsess over the Jewish control of the United States and doesn't make a career out of bashing blacks and Hispanics and Asians. I'm not sure that Sailer's positives outweigh his negatives.

botti said...

IIRC my comment was that Troost was one of several commentator's at Mangan's who couldn't be described as stupid. I think I might have mentioned Moldbug and RKU also.

My basis for that comment isn't so much Troost's actual comments at the site, but his academic background and his book which attracted positive comments from luminaries such as AWF Edwards, Ralph Holloway, James F. Crow & Steve Hsu :-)

I agree comments like the one you cited are beyond the pale. Usually it is people on the other side who try to frame things in those terms to poison the well.

sykes.1 said...

Sailer yes; Roissy no.

ohwilleke said...

One particularly interesting subset of the human evolution in modern times question is the impact of the death penalty, which was used very widely for a long time in early modern Europe, as a selective factor for low frequency genetic variants that predispose someone to criminal activity that can lead to capital punishment.  There is good reason to see capital punishment as having had a significant crude eugenic motive (particularly given the wide use of it for non-murder felonies) as a policy matter, but it is not obvious that it had a whole lot of selective effect.

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