Tag Archives: Industry

Bill & My Excellent Hypothesis

In January I said:

In October I reviewed explanations for the clearly-maladaptive demographic transition, whereby societies consistently have fewer kids as they get rich. I leaned toward:

Lower … acceptance of childbearing and motherhood as measures of the status of women.

On a recent long drive, Bill Dickens and I developed an intriguing elaboration of this theory. The key idea: farming pressures strengthened a fem forager tendency to, when personally richer, invest more energy in pursuing status, relative to raising kids. So when all fems are rich, they all invest more in status, relative to kids, and fertility falls.

Ok, now for the details. When men vary in status and mating can be covert, high status men have two kinds of mates: a few “overt” mates, whose kids will inherit much of his status, and many “covert” mates, whose kids won’t inherit his status and who may have their own overt mates. While a top man will want as many covert mates as possible, he will be choosier about overt mates, wanting them to seem high status, to raise the status of his overt kids. Women will want to be overt mates of such top men, so that their sons can have a better chance to be top men, and then get many covert mates. Continue reading "Bill & My Excellent Hypothesis" »

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Falling Creativity

I’ve argued “school functions in part to help folks accept workplace domination,” said modern workplaces don’t reward creativity, and cited evidence that schools discourage creativity:

Creativity and mental flexibility are directly penalized in terms of school grades, holding constant test scores, Citizenship, and Drive to Achieve.

So I’m not surprised to learn creativity has been falling for decades:

In the 50 years since Schwarzrock and the others took their tests, scholars … have been tracking the children. … After analyzing almost 300,000 Torrance scores of children and adults. Kim found creativity scores had been steadily rising, just like IQ scores, until 1990. Since then, creativity scores have consistently inched downward.

HT to Alex, who is skeptical:  ”I am not at all convinced that creativity is on the decline.” Me, I’m surprised the decline didn’t start earlier.  More tidbits on creativity:

A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 “leadership competency” of the future. … The age-old belief that the arts have a special claim to creativity is unfounded. When scholars gave creativity tasks to both engineering majors and music majors, their scores laid down on an identical spectrum. … Preschool children, on average, ask their parents about 100 questions a day. Why, why, why—sometimes parents just wish it’d stop. Tragically, it does stop. By middle school they’ve pretty much stopped asking. It’s no coincidence that this same time is when student motivation and engagement plummet. … When creative children have a supportive teacher—someone tolerant of unconventional answers, occasional disruptions, or detours of curiosity—they tend to excel. When they don’t, they tend to underperform and drop out of high school or don’t finish college at high rates.

CEOs may give it lip service to creativity, but their actions speak much louder than their words. Most (not all) workplaces punish creativity, and while that situation remains most schools will drill it out of kids as well.

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Self-Control Is Slavery

I’ve been pondering 3 related points.  1) Self-Control Is Culture-Control:

It seems to me that … the key change after farming [was] an increased sensitivity to culture, so that social sanctions became better able to push behavior contrary to other inclinations. … This increased sensitivity to the carrots and sticks of culture generally appears to us as greater “self-control”, i.e., as our better resisting immediate inclinations for other purposes. And since we have more self-control in far mode, I suspect an important component of change since farming has been greater inclinations toward and abilities in far mode.

2) Fogel & Engerman’s economic classic analysis of US slavery:

Plantation agriculture based upon slave labor … may have been significantly more efficient than family farming. … The typical slave field-hand may have been more productive than a free, white field-hand. … Slavery was not incompatible with industrial production. … Slave-labor farms were 28 percent more productive than southern free-labor farms and 40 percent more productive than northern free-labor farms. …

Plantation operators strove for a disciplined, specialized and coordinated labor force. Labor was organized into something like the assembly line operations in industry. This involved “driving” the slaves’ efforts to maintain a pace of production. The “drivers” or foremen were slaves themselves. …

Plantations had a much higher rate of labor force participation, two thirds, as compared with a free population, one third. This was achieved by finding productive pursuits for the young and the elderly and maintaining nurseries so that slave women could work.

3) The latest AER on designing work to aid self-control:

The Industrial Revolution involved workers moving from agriculture to manufacturing; from working on their own to working with others in factories; and from flexible work-hours to rigid work-days. … Some work-place arrangements may make self-control problems more severe, while others may ameliorate them. … The firm … can use regular compensation to … make the returns to effort more immediate. Firms can also create disproportionate penalties for certain types of low efforts … so as to create sharp self-control incentives. … Conforming to an externally set pace, however, can decrease these self-control costs. … Workers planting rice-fields often find it helpful to synchronize movements to music or to beats. In industrial production, the assembly line may serve a similar purpose. … An intrinsic competitive drive may make the momentary self exert more effort when surrounded by hard-working coworkers. Young boys run races faster when running alongside another boy than when running alone. …

[Farming] creates difficult self-control problems. First, it involves long time horizons — farmers must tend their land constantly for months before reaping benefits at harvest. These lags can generate suboptimal effort in early stages of production. Financially, farmers may also fail to save enough money out of lumpy harvest payments to make efficient investments during the production cycle, further affecting labor supply returns and output. Second, agriculture often involves self-employment or very small firms. As a result, there are rarely firms or large employers to mitigate the self-control problem. Tasks cannot be structured, compensation altered, or work intensity regulated. Finally, agrarian production by nature is also geographically dispersed, which makes colocation of workers difficult. … This can help explain the observation that work hours appear to be low in modern-day subsistence agriculture. …

In the workshop system, workers rented floor space or machinery in factories, received pure piece rates for output … Clark presents evidence that workers under the workshop system had very unsteady attendance and hours, spent a lot of time socializing at work, and concentrated effort in the latter half of the week leading up to paydays. Clark argues that this led firms to transition to the factory discipline system to solve self-control problems.

OK, now let’s put it all together.  Apparently, factory-like methods that greatly increase farming productivity have long been feasible.  (First known factory: Venice Arsenal, 1104.)  Yet it took slaves to actually implemented such methods in farming. Even after ten thousand years of Malthusian competition, a farming method that could support a much larger population per land area did not displace other methods.  (And if factory-fortified foraging was possible, the timescale problem gets much worse.)

The introduction of farming was associated with important new elements, like religion, that encouraged more “self-control,” i.e. sensitivity to social norms.  However, those additions were not sufficient to achieve factory-like farming — most humans had too little self-control to make themselves behave that way, and too strong an anti-dominance norm to let rulers enforce such behavior.

This dramatically illustrates the huge self-control innovations that came with industry. School, propaganda, mass media, and who knows what else have greatly changed human nature, enabling a system of industrial submission and control that proud farmers and foragers simply would not tolerate – they would (and did) starve first.  In contrast, industry workers had enough self/culture-control to act as only slaves would before – working long hours in harsh alien environments, and showing up on time and doing what they were told.

So what made industry workers so much more willing to increase their self-control, relative to farmers?  One guess: the productivity gains from worker self-control were far larger in industry than in farming. Instead of a 50% gain, it might have been a factor of two or more. Self-controlled workers and societies gained a big enough productivity advantage to compensate for lost pride.

Humans are an increasingly self-domesticated species. Foragers could cooperate in non-kin groups of unprecedented size, farmers could enforce norms to induce many behaviors unnatural for foragers, and the schooled humans of industry would willingly obey like enslaved farmers. Our descendants may evolve even stronger self/culture-control of behavior.

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Lord of the Factories

Lord of the Flies is an allegorical novel. … Using as an example a group of British schoolboys stuck on a deserted island, … the book portrays their descent into savagery. … Left to themselves in a paradisiacal country, far from modern civilization, the well-educated children regress to a primitive state. …

The central theme is the conflicting impulses toward civilization—live by rules, peacefully and in harmony—and towards the will to power. … Jack endeavours to empower himself instead by turning his choir group into “hunters”, who are responsible for hunting for meat and taking care of the fire. … Jack’s tribe gradually becomes more animalistic, emphasising the practice of applying face paint from coloured clay discovered by Samneric and charred remains of trees. The narrative voice in the story reveals to the reader that these painted faces represent the hunters’ masking their more civilized selves in order to liberate their inner “savages”. … The pig head … the “Lord of the Flies” … discloses the truth about itself — that the boys themselves “created” the beast, and that the real beast was inside them all.

This famous novel suggests that it is only our “civilized” rules and culture that keep up from the fate of our “savage” ancestors, who were violent dominating law-less animals.  But though this may be true regarding our distant primate ancestors of six or more million years ago, it is quite unfair slander regarding our face-painting forager ancestors of ten thousand or more years ago.

While our kids are segregated into schools where light monitoring lets them terrorize each other and form dominance hierarchies, forager kids are mixed among forager adults, who enforce their strong social norms against violence and domination.  At school, our kids are rated and ranked far more often than most adults will tolerate, even though this actually slows their learning!

It seems that modern schools function in part to help humans overcome their (genetically and culturally) inherited aversions to hierarchy and dominance.  Modern workplaces require workers who are far more accepting than are foragers of being told what to do when, and of being explicitly ranked, and our schools prepare kids to accept this more primate-like environment.  It is “primitive” social norms that overcame the violent domination of our primate heritage, and our “civilized” schools teach us to repress such prudish forager norms.

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Inventors’ Two Cents

Even in societies in which markets were relatively free and developed, there was rarely any proportionality between the contribution of an innovator and the rewards he or she reaped.  At least in that sense, the situation was not different from what it is today: Nordhaus (2004) has estimated that in modern America only 2.2 percent of the surplus of an invention is captured by the inventor him/herself.  Things surely looked no better in the eighteenth century. … If ever there was a divergence between social and private net benefits, the Industrial Revolution was it.  The impact of the technological elite on the rest of the economy was thus vastly larger than proportional to their size.

That is from Joel Mokyr’s The Enlightened Economy: An Economic History of Britain 1700-1850 (p.88).  Not sure I believe the fraction is as low as 2%, though I expect it is well below 1.  We need better ways to encourage innovation!

Mokyr gave a talk at GMU yesterday, which I found disappointing.  His book convinces me that Britain’s exceptionally skilled workforce and high farm productivity were important enablers of the industrial revolution, but his claim that this was due to “enlightenment ideology” seems to me too vague to evaluate.

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