A wide-ranging exploration of the origins of inequality.
Although economic disparity is a major source of debate in contemporary political discourse, philosophical investigations into its principal causes have gone on for centuries. Debut author Longaker examines the issue by starting with a focused question: why did some nations spectacularly capitalize on the economic opportunities generated by the Industrial Revolution, while others missed the boat? The author’s response heavily applies principles of Darwinian evolution. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, he says, the world’s rate of population growth was largely stagnant; later, economically affluent people reproduced at a more impressive rate than their poorer counterparts, more of their offspring survived, and the traits that supported their superior success proved heritable, Longaker asserts. But after a process that took approximately 1,000 years, the difference between the global rich and poor has solidified, he says, and the power of Darwinian evolution has waned: “Darwinian fitness, at least as we have used it, no longer operates nearly as intensely as before.” The author’s study is stunningly broad, traversing an extraordinary swath of intellectual territory, including ideas from economics, evolutionary biology, anthropology, and psychology, just to name a few. He shows a refreshing penchant for challenging regnant academic pieties; he presents powerful reasons to be suspicious of the doctrine of “psychic unity,” for example. Although the book doesn’t appear to have any discriminatory or prejudicial motivations, the author offers a thoughtful, lively response to potential accusations of racism, which he calls “wrongheaded.” Additionally, Longaker provides a searching analysis of the stubborn problem of poverty, astutely distinguishing between urban and rural manifestations. The book’s survey of the relevant literature is also instructive; the author helpfully contrasts his own work with Guns, Germs, and Steel author Jared Diamond’s geographical determinism, for instance. But although the prose is consistently accessible, this is still a long and sometimes-long-winded analysis that’s heavy on statistical minutiae, and some of the more data-laden sections may prove exhausting. However, the author’s meticulousness and spirited iconoclasm repays careful attention.
Engaging, multifaceted discussions of a perennial economic issue.