Tag Archives: Farm

The Great “Charity” Storm

Around 1800 in England and Russia, the three main do-gooder activities were medicine, school, and alms (= food/shelter for the weak, such as the old or crippled). Today the three spending categories of medicine, school, and alms make up ~40% of US GDP, a far larger fraction than in 1800. Why the vast increase?

My explanation: we long ago evolved strong feelings of respect for these activities, but modern context changes have allowed out-of-equilibrium exploitation of such feelings. Details:

1. Foragers who personally taught kids, cared for sick folks, and gave food/shelter to weak folks, credibly signaled their loyalty to allies, at least when such needy were allies. Weak group selection helped encourage such aid as ways to signal loyalty, in place of other possible loyalty signals. Humans eventually evolved deep feelings of respect for such activities.

2. Farmers inherited such feelings, and thus also gave social credit to those who donated money instead of time to promote these three classic charities. Rich farmer elites felt this more strongly, as they had more forager style attitudes. As such donations were less observable than forager help, farmer donors had weaker incentives to help. Also, the indirection often resulted in money being spend badly.

3. Industry era folk also inherited such feelings, strengthened by wealth. Voters today get social credit for supporting tax-funded activities that look similar to the three classic charities: medicine, school, alms — even though one can fake such signals without having the loyalty that such signals are seen as showing. That is, votes supporting spending taxes on medicine, school and alms are interpreted as showing loyal “caring” for one’s community, even though most of this spending is on typical voters, not those in special need, and even though one person’s vote doesn’t change outcomes. And even if a vote did change outcomes, paying via taxes doesn’t sacrifice personal income relative to local rivals, making this signal mostly “cheap talk.” Indirection continues to hurt effectiveness. All this creates a perfect storm of vast voter support for tax-funded medicine, school, and alms. So we can all feel fantastic about how caring we all are. Yeah us.

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Cheated-On Personalities

Ron Guhname took a dataset of ~1500 people, and predicted which people said their spouse cheated on them from the victim’s five-factor personality, as well as his or her age, social class, religiosity, and body mass index. He found less cheating on religious people, on older and less agreeable men, and on conscientious and closed-to-experience women. These personality effects are much bigger than the religion effect!

More on agreeableness:

Agreeableness is a tendency to be pleasant and accommodating in social situations. … empathetic, considerate, friendly, generous, and helpful. … believe that most people are honest, decent, and trustworthy. People scoring low … may … be suspicious and unfriendly. … Agreeableness [has a] positive association with altruism and helping behavior. … In the United States, midwesterners and southerners tend to have higher average scores on agreeableness than people living in other regions.

More on openness:

Openness involves active imagination, aesthetic sensitivity, attentiveness to inner feelings, preference for variety, and intellectual curiosity. … Closed to experience … [people] tend to be conventional and traditional in their outlook and behavior. They prefer familiar routines … [and] have a narrower range of interests. … Openness to experience correlates with creativity … [and] crystallized intelligence, but not fluid intelligence. … People who are highly open to experience tend to be politically liberal and tolerant of diversity. As a consequence, they are generally more open to different cultures and lifestyles. They are lower in ethnocentrism. … People living in the eastern and western parts of the United States tend to score higher on openness to experience than those living in the midwest and the south.

I am puzzled by many things here. It makes sense that older people are better able to detect cheating, but then why doesn’t this effect work for women? It makes sense that suspicious people are cheated on less, but then why no agreeable effect for women. It makes sense that conscientious people are cheated on less, as they should be more careful in watching for cheating. But why no such effect for men? Could all women be suspicious enough, and all men conscientious enough?

And what is going on with openness, and why does it only influence women? Open vs. closed personality seems to correlate both with more of a forager than farmer mentality (art, travel, rich, liberal, intellectual, female promiscuity), and also with more of a far than a near mental mode (creative, larger social groupings). Makes me wonder how much forager mentality and far mode correlate.

Added 3p: I read that chart way wrong! Sorry – have edited the above greatly to correct my error.

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Rich Happy Individualists

In the last week I found three top academic journal articles on how the key difference between societies today is whether they emphasize conformity to social rules/norms, or individual initiative and responsibility. Poor scared societies tend toward a farming-style big-on-rules approach that today makes people less happy and also innovate and grow more slowly. But more secure comfortable societies tend toward a forager-style reduced rules and more individualism approach that leads to happiness and faster innovation and growth.


[Researchers] found that societies exposed to contemporary or historical threats, such as territorial conflict, resource scarcity, or exposure to high levels of pathogens, more strictly regulate social behavior and punish deviance. These societies are also more likely to have evolved institutions that strictly regulate social norms. At the psychological level, individuals in tightly regulated societies report higher levels of self-monitoring, more intolerant attitudes toward outsiders, and paying stricter attention to time …

The substantial variation in religious involvement among nations can be explained, in large part, by perceived levels of security. Religion thrives when existential threats to human security, such as war or natural disaster, are rampant, and declines considerably in societies with high levels of economic development, low income inequality and infant mortality, and greater access to social safety nets.

American Economic Review:

The individualism score … measures the extent to which it is believed that individuals are supposed to take care of themselves as opposed to being strongly integrated and loyal to a cohesive group. The individualism component loads positively on valuing individual freedom, opportunity, achievement, advancement, and recognition; and negatively on valuing harmony, cooperation, and relations with superiors. … The individualism-collectivism dimension is the central cultural variable that matters for long-run growth. Other cultural variables may of course affect other aspects of economic behavior and economic performance, but they do not appear to robustly influence long-run growth.

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology:

What is more important: to provide citizens with more money or with more autonomy for their subjective well-being? … [We] examined national levels of well-being on the basis of lack of psychological health, anxiety, and stress measures. Data are available for 63 countries, with a total sample of 420,599 individuals. … Individualism was a consistently better predictor [of well-being] than wealth, after controlling for measurement, sample, and temporal variations. … Wealth may influence well-being only via its effect on individualism. …

Among the more traditional and collectivistic societies, increases in individualism were associated with increased levels of negative well-being. Among more individualistic European societies, increasing individualism was associated with increasing well-being. …

The only study-level variable that significantly predicted mean state anxiety was whether the population was composed of students (vs. general population). Students had significantly higher state anxiety means. Both greater wealth and greater individualism were associated with less anxiety, when entered individually. When entered together, only individualism remained significant, but wealth was not significant.

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Join The Party Party?

Born in ’59, I assimilated some 60s counterculture, even joining a pentecostal Jesus-freak “cult” as a young teen. And I still hold the “hippy” image to be somewhat positive. Some today try to say hippies were mainly about presaging their current political views, such as by opposing racism, pollution, or the Vietnam war. But most such folks trying to claim hippy heritage really aren’t very hippy like. Consider this hippy manifesto:

We want fun, good health and mutual caring … We love diversity. … We try to live a simple life with simple rules. … Everything about others can and may be different. … We still love marijuana brownies. (more; see also)

Hippies are more about going back to basics – paying more attention to simple things that seem obviously important, and less attention to all the other things folks say to worry about. So worry less about being “successful”, and do something you like. Worry less about satisfying official concepts of marriage and relationships, and more about just enjoying the people you are with. Eat good ingredients, prepared simply. Avoid getting weighed down by too many material goods. Worry less about defending your nation, ideology, race, or religion, and focus more on collecting friends, lovers, etc. that you like and get along with. Instead of obsessing about preparing your kids for the future, just treat them well and enjoy your time with them.

My colleague Bryan Caplan’s new book Selfish Reasons To Have More Kids (read it; it’s good) is in fact a pretty hippy book, a description Bryan mostly accepts. He says you can’t really change kids much by parenting, but you can influence how much they enjoy their kid years. Bryan and I also agreed on relatively hippy positions on school, medicine, housing, and war, especially for the US. These things are just less useful, and matter less, than most say. The US would do well to cut our military in half, cut medicine in half, and subsidize school and housing less.

I’ve been impressed lately with the play vs. serious distinction. Obsessing about politics seems a much better way to signal your seriousness than your playfulness. Those who want to seem playful focus more on partying, joking, etc. So politics is biased, I think, toward taking most things too seriously. For example, on medicine the familiar political parties all say medicine is too important to be left to those other fools. None want to say medicine hardly matters for health, and so should be drastically cut. On war familiar parties similarly all agree on the great importance of fighting terrorism, or building nations, or supporting democracy. None want to say our military can’t do much about such things, and should be drastically cut.

Even today, when the US desperately needs to cut spending to avoid going bankrupt, few dare to take such hippy-style positions, that most of the things we spend so much on just matter much less than most think, and so can be drastically cut. One might imagine starting a Party Party, based on a fun-loving hippy-style emphasis on simple living. But alas those who agree are less eager to be political. So I expect the usual political parties will continue to fall over themselves to emphasize how very important are things like war, medicine, school, parenting, etc., so important that you shouldn’t dare to leave such things in the hands of those other incompetent parties.

The hippy mentality is largely a forager mentality, which we should expect more of as society gets richer. But we are more hyper-farmers at work, and our farming fears also seem over-represented in our politics, which seems biased to emphasize the serious over the playful.  Turn on, tune in, drop out; the rest just matters much less than you think.  That won’t necessarily always be true, but it is for now.

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Farmers Commit

Our worthy overlords speak:

A survey … invited the very rich to write freely about how prosperity has shaped their lives and those of their children. … Roughly 165 households responded, 120 of which have at least $25 million in assets. The respondents’ average net worth is $78 million, and two report being billionaires. … Respondents report feeling that they have lost the right to complain about anything, for fear of sounding—or being—ungrateful. Those with children worry that their children will become trust-fund brats if their inheritances are too large—or will be forever resentful if those inheritances (or parts of them) are instead bequeathed to charity. ….

If the rich do take jobs, they sometimes find that co-workers resent them on the grounds that they’re “taking away the jobs of people who need them.” The rich also leave jobs more quickly than others, for the simple reason that they can afford to do so. … An heir … earned an M.B.A. from a top-tier school and was an obviously intelligent man. He nonetheless moved from one high-tech job to another. “At some point, something would happen at each job that those who have to work for an income would learn to tolerate. … And he’d just say, ‘I don’t want to deal with this.’ Eventually he had to say, ‘I don’t have a career.’” …

One issue that … comes up frequently is the question of at what point in a relationship to reveal one’s wealth—a disclosure he makes sound as fraught as telling your date you have herpes. “When do you tell someone that you have got a huge amount of money?” he asks rhetorically. “If you tell them too soon, you are going to worry that they want you for your money. If you wait too long, can the person really trust you? (more)

The right to complain, and when to disclose to mates, are issues mainly because the very rich are a minority. But committing less to careers because they don’t have to put up with stuff, that issue applies to all of us to a lesser extent, in this our rich world. Our farmer ancestors were way into commitment, to marriage, to land, to family, to religion, etc. But with increasing wealth, we feel less of the fear that inclined farmers to follow strong norms. Overall this self-indulgence is probably good, but let’s not pretend that something valuable is not being lost in the trade.

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Dumb Farmers

Apparently the foraging life is more mentally demanding than is the farming life.  Brain size rose during the forager era, but fell during the farming era. During the industry era brain size is rising again, yet another way we are returning to forager ways with increasing wealth.

Combined with social brain theory, that our brains are big to deal with complex social worlds, suggests farmer social worlds are less complex.  Perhaps this is because stronger town social norms better discourage hypocritical norm evasion.

The data: Continue reading "Dumb Farmers" »

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True Em Grit

The new movie True Grit is a well-done celebration of the central farmer value of self-control. Not that foragers didn’t use self-control, but farmers took it to a whole new level, to get folks to act in quite un-forager-like ways. George Will’s latest column echos that gritty farmer theme, with a standard conservative warning that wealth and modernity tempts us to excess:

Daniel Akst[‘s] … book “We Have Met the Enemy: Self-Control in an Age of Excess” notes that the problems of freedom and affluence – of “managing desire in a landscape rich with temptation” – are desirable problems. But they are problems. …

American life resembles “a giant all-you-can-eat buffet” offering “calories, credit, sex, intoxicants” and other invitations to excess. … Life in general has become what alcohol is – disinhibiting. … Today capitalism has a bipolar disorder, demanding self-controlled workers yet uninhibited shoppers. … The inhibiting intimacy of the village has been supplanted by the city’s “disinhibiting anonymity.” … As traditional social structures have withered under disapproval, and personal choice and self-invention have been celebrated, “second careers, second homes, second spouses, and even second childhoods are commonplace.” …

Pondering America’s “aristocracy of self-control,” Akst notes that affluent people, for whom food is a relatively minor expense, are less likely than poor people to be obese. Surely this has something to do with habits of self-control that are conducive to social success generally.

Before you dismiss Will’s concerns as the no-longer-relevant paranoid fears of a sad stick-in-the-mud, consider that when I recently discussed future Malthusian ems, several commentors responded that em poverty wouldn’t be so bad because very vivid and luxurious video games and virtual reality would cost only a tiny fraction of their subsistence cost. Also, since ems wouldn’t eat food, get sick, or have biological bodies, they needn’t feel hunger or pain. But I think this image misses the revival of farmer-style grit in an em world:

Ems, or whole brain emulations, are my best guess for the next big transition on the order of the farming and industry transitions. Farmer-style stoicism, self-sacrifice, and self-control, detached as needed from farmer specifics like love of land or sexual monogamy, might well be more effective [than a forager-style] at creating acceptance of em-efficient lifestyles. Religious ems might, for example, better accept being deleted when new more efficient versions of themselves are introduced. “Onward Christian robots” might be the new sensibility. And em’s low incomes might help farmer-style fear-based norm-enforcement to gain traction.

Ems would need some resources, and their bodies and minds would collect defects and errors, even if none of these resources or defects are biological. So it would be functional for ems to redirect their hunger systems to track the collection of needed resources, and redirect their pain systems to monitor possible defects and errors. They might of course sometimes enjoy pleasant vivid daydreams when their minds need non-shut-down rest, but it would be more functional for ems to daydream about variations on their own lives, rather than about completely alien lifestyles. They might also, if possible, redirect their needs for sex and kids toward em style reproduction activities.  If so, ems should feel hunger, pain, desire, and deep frustration, because such things are useful to feel.

As with our ancestors, it might be functional for much of em leisure to be devoted to relatively functional social bonding and mutual signaling of abilities, shared loyalty, and values. Farmer leisure differs from rich forager leisure, for good functional reasons. Compared to us, ems might prefer leisure that more celebrates self-control, religion, honor, loyalty, submission, grit, and determination. They might on average be happy, but with a grittier farmer style happiness. Whether such lives seem worth living to you probably depends on how fiercely you side with foragers in the forager-farmer divide.

Added 11a: Many commenters think direct modification of em brains would quickly lead to “happy slave” ems. Seems likely we’d try such modification, and they’d probably add some degree of cooperativeness, but my guess this will be a minor contribution.  The ability to select just a few of the billions of humans to make em copies will allow big changes between ems and humans, but I expect most of that to be used to select very high ability em minds, and that relatively little will need be spent on a willingness to submit to low incomes and high work regimentation. The farming revolution has already selected humans for plasticity in that direction, and it wouldn’t have been possible if humans didn’t already have a lot of such plasticity.

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Rome As Semi-Foragers

It seems that an “almost” industrial revolution happened around 500BC. For example, this graph of estimated world population shows a population jump then similar to the start of the ~1800 jump. Also, consider this brief history of the Roman Empire:

~5 century BC: Roman civilization is a strong patriarchy, fathers … have absolute authority over the family.
~1 century BC: … Material wealth is astounding, … Romans enjoy the arts … democracy, commerce, science, human rights, animal rights, children rights and women become emancipated. No-fault divorce is enacted, and quickly becomes popular by the end of the century.
~1-2 century AD: … Men refuse to marry and the government tries to revive marriage with a “bachelor tax”, to no avail. … Roman women show little interest in raising their own children and frequently use nannies. The wealth and power of women grows very fast, while men become increasingly demotivated and engage in prostitution and vice. Prostitution and homosexuality become widespread.
~3-4 century AD: … Roman population declines due to below-replacement birth-rate. Vice and massive corruption are rampant. (more; HT Roissy)

Yes this exaggerates, but the key point remains: a sudden burst in productivity and wealth lead to big cultural changes that made the Greek-Roman world and its cultural descendants more forager-like than the rest of the farmer world. These changes helped clear the way for big cultural changes of the industrial revolution.

These cultural changes included not more political egalitarianism, but also more forager like attitudes toward alchohol and mating:

Historically, we find a correlation between the shift from polygyny to monogamy and the growth of alcohol consumption. Cross-culturally we also find that monogamous societies consume more alcohol than polygynous societies in the preindustrial world. … Studies find a positive relationship between alcohol use on the one hand and a more promiscuous and high-risk sexual behavior on the other hand. … The Greek and Roman empires … were the only (and first) to introduce formal monogamy. … Hunting tribes drink more than agricultural and settled tribes. … Hunting tribes … have more monogamous marriage arrangements than agricultural tribes. …

The emergence of socially imposed formal monogamy in Greece coincides with (a) the growth of “chattel slavery” (where men can have sex with female slaves) and (b) the extension of political rights. … The industrial revolution played a key role in the shift from formal to effective monogamy and in the sharp increase of alcohol consumption (more; HT Tyler)

This roughly fits my simple story: forager to farmer and back to forager with industry. The key is to see monogomous marraige as an intermediate form between low-commitment feeling-based forager mating, and wives-as-property-for-live farmer polygamy. Let me explain.

Forager work and mating is more intuitive, less institutional. Mates stay together mainly because they feel like it; there is more an open compeition to seduce mates, and there’s a lot of sneaking around. Foragers drink alchohol when they can, and spontaneous feelings count for more relative to formal commitments. The attitude is more that if you can’t hold her interest, you don’t deserve to keep her. Men show off abilities to obtain resources mainly to signal attractive qualities; most resources acquired must be shared with the rest of the band.

Farmers, in contrast, don’t share much, and are far more unequal in the resources they control, by which they can more directly “buy” wives. Farmer wives so bought are supposed to be committed to their husbands even when they don’t feel like it. Marriage was less about mutal attraction and more about building households and clans. Husbands worry about cheating wives, and so try to limit access and temptations, which includes alchohol. Musicians and artists are also suspect if they excite wives’ passions, which might lead to cheating.

When empires like Greece and Rome achieved sustained periods of prosperity, their elites reverted to more forager-like ways. They had more drinking and art, more egalitarian politics, fertility fell, and [non-slave] mating became more egalitarian and about feelings. If a bit of alchohol was enough to get your wife cheat to on you, well maybe you didn’t deserve her. The Greek-Roman move from polygamy to monogamy was a move in the direction of more forager-like feeling-based mating, though it retained farmer-like lifelong commitment.

The Greeks and Romans became models for Europe when industry made it rich again. In our era, fertility has fallen far, divorce and out-of-wedlock births are common, and alchohol, drugs, and sneaking about are more tolerated. Women need men less for their resources, and choose them more on other grounds. Dropping the lifelong commitment element of marriage, and often the expectation of any sort of marriage commitment, we have moved even further away from farmer wives-as-lifelong-property and toward forager “promiscuity.”

Added: Razib Khan and Jason elaborate.

Added 1Feb: A new study says that in places where marriages are more arranged by parents, there is more mate-guarding. Discouraging alcohol seems a reasonable mate-guarding strategy.

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Gays As Foragers

Artists are iconic foragers, seen as promiscuous, leisurely, non-materialistic, non-domineering, well-traveled, etc. In our great political conflicts between forager and farmer styles, we expect artists to take the forager side. (more)

Traditionally, gays have also been seen as iconic foragers – promiscuous, artistic, professional, cosmopolitan, well-traveled, with few kids, etc. Meanwhile, marriage and the military are two of our most farmer-like institutions – they are contexts where we most expect long term commitment, loyalty, self-sacrifice, and strong adherence to social norms. These two facts together help explain why gays in the military and gay marriage are so politically combustible – folks who lean farmer may feel uneasy with iconic foragers being openly placed as equals in core farmer institutions.

Today’s cultural elites lean heavily forager, however, and often go out of their way to deny any downsides to promoting gays. The Post has a weekly “5 myths” editorial, and out of ~250 myths “busted” in 2010, they chose this as one of ten to emphasize at year’s end:

Some defenders of the Catholic Church’s response … say that homosexual priests are responsible for the majority of abuses, in part because more than 80 percent of the victims are male. They argue that true pedophiles – adults who are pathologically attracted to pre-pubescent children – constitute a small minority of offenders. … Such assertions have numerous flaws. For one thing, research shows that gay men are no more likely to molest children than straight men. (And celibacy doesn’t seem to be a determining factor, either.) Yes, 80 percent of the victims were male, but many offenders assaulted children of both sexes. (more)

This seem a bizarrely weak argument to emphasize. If a) straight men don’t molest boys, b) straight men molest as much as gays, c) gays are a small fraction of men, d) priests have contact with similar numbers of girls and boys, and e) priest selection and monitoring treat gays and straights alike, then it is hard to see how f) 80% of victims could be boys. Surely something in the process favored gay molestation.

Attitudes toward gays and polygamists offer an interesting contrast. Gay sex was illegal not that long ago, while polygamous sex has long been legal. Yet today gay marriage is much closer to being legal than polygamous marriage. “Save the children” is one of the main arguments against polgamy; young girls are supposedly unfairly persudaded to marry. Yet boys seduced by gays fail today to motivate much of a “save the children” impulse among elites against gays.

Polygamists are usually framed as rural, religious, fertile, etc. – much more farmer than forager. As forager attitudes rose, framed-as-forager gays became favored over framed-as-farmer polygamists.

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On Sex & Violence

Sex and violence, the most-complained-of classic movie draws, also seem to draw the most complaints re my forager-farmer hypothesis, that many non-functional industry-era trends are due to a natural human tendency to return from farmer to forager ways with increasing wealth and comfort. So let me try again to clarify.

On violence, Bryan Caplan “suspect[s] forager societies had plenty of internal violence.” But I’ve talked mainly of farmers having more organized violence like war. (Quotes below.) Foragers may well have high murder rates, but those are individual acts of passion and retribution. It is farmers who taught themselves to be professional and organized killers, who could benefit from that, though yes with time farmers learned to have less war.

On sex, I responded to Roissy here, and Razib Khan complained:

Hoe vs. plough agriculturalists shows that a simple hunter-gatherer vs. farmer narrative does not suffice. In some ways the hoe agriculturalist remains more like the hunter-gatherer, and in some ways more like his or her fellow agriculturalist. The most polygynous societies for example are arguably those of hoe based agriculturalists, as well as nomads. In contrast, hunter-gatherers and ploughman tend to be more monogamous, at least in a genetic sense.

On sex, I’ve consistently talked of “promiscuity,” not monogamy vs polygamy. (Quotes below.) The issue is how long relationships lasted, and tolerance for mating outside official relationships. Compared to farmers, foragers had shorter relations, and tolerated more unofficial mating. Polygamy is a stable long-term relation, and by tolerating more inequality is actually more farmer-like.

Now for those promised quotes. Continue reading "On Sex & Violence" »

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