Malthus, innovation’s friend?

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Since the previous post was about the tendency toward radical skepticism and subjectivism within cultural anthropology, I thought I would point to this piece in The Economist which highlights positive insights from various anthropological fields. The article emphasizes the possible role that population pressure and the quest for food might have had in spurring human innovation, from the atlatl to agriculture. An interesting point to note is the implicit suggestion that high rates of hunter-gatherer warfare might have constrained population pressure and possibly lead to relatively higher standards of living; something familiar from Greg Clark’s model. From a population genetic angle, I am curious as to whether the endemic warfare of cultures which were pre-state resulted in higher or lower Nm*?

* N = population, m = migration rate. Nm > 1 results in equilibration of allele frequencies across demes, while Nm < 1 tends to lead to divergence.



  1. Can you take me through this one? I think I know why it might be lower, but why would Nm be higher?

  2. Warfare leads to genetic mixture through mate capture. And sometimes to settlement in conquered territories. Etc.

  3. Can you take me through this one? I think I know why it might be lower, but why would Nm be higher? 
    in Consanguinity, Inbreeding, and Genetic Drift in Italy the Nm shot up in the 19th century across much of central and southern italy. this is because of better roads, which connected mountain villages which were previously separated by arduous treks.

  4. My wife’s great-grandfather in the Apennines was considered quite the romantic because he wooed a girl from the town 1500 feet below his mountain village.