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Working Paper on Jared Diamond

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06/17/2005

On Societal Ascendance and Collapse An Austrian Challange to Jared Diamonds Explications

by John Brätland (US Department of the Interior)

In his 1997 book, Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond seeks to explain the ascendancy and triumphs of certain societies -- certain European societies, as examples. For Diamond, geographical and environmental differences are a principal determinant of societal destiny. In his 2005 book, Collapse, Diamond attributes the demise of societies such as Easter Island principally to environmental degradation and destruction. Diamond uses Easter Island as a metaphor in warning of global collapse.

For Diamond, societies are entities that act independent of the actions of individuals. He sees societal ascent or collapse as being contingent upon the extent to which societies embrace a centralized structure and management. But in so doing, he ignores institutions critical to peaceful, prosperous social interaction and the formation of society: (1) private property rights and (2) human action leading to division of labor and emergence of cooperative monetary exchange. With these institutions, individuals are able to avoid conflict and rationally reckon both scarcity and capital. Without these institutions, societies such as the Soviet Union and Easter Island are seen to have a common fate in that scarcity implies conflict, chaos, 'waste' and eventual collapse.

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