Sexual selection and economic growth

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I’m not sure how much drive-by traffic gnxp is continuing to receive, but figured it worthwhile to post a note about my latest working paper, which explores whether male signalling may have a role in driving economic progress. The abstract:

Sexual Selection, Conspicuous Consumption and Economic Growth

The evolution by sexual selection of the male propensity to engage in conspicuous consumption contributed to the emergence of modern rates of economic growth. We develop a model in which males engage in conspicuous consumption to send an honest signal of their quality to females. Males who engage in conspicuous consumption have higher reproductive success than those who do not, as females respond to the costly and honest signal, increasing the prevalence of signalling males in the population over time. As males fund conspicuous consumption through participation in the labour force, the increase in the prevalence of signalling males who engage in conspicuous consumption gives rise to an increase in economic activity that leads to economic growth.

I’ve posted some background to the paper over at Evolving Economics. I’ve also received some interesting feedback, including this post on The Conversation by Rob Brooks.

Finally, I have posted on SSRN an update to my paper examining the Galor-Moav model in which economic growth is triggered by the interplay between technological progress and an inherited preference for quality or quantity of children. I posted about it on gnxp mid-last year. The revision carries the same story as the original paper, but is tighter and cuts out some of the flotsam.

7 Comments

  1. What implications do you think this model has for the future?

  2. I don’t know. I intended the model to be descriptive of a driver of economic progress (which is explicitly noted to be one of the likely many) rather than predictive. It lacks some modern features, such as changing survival rates and capital accumulation, that are required to explore the important future issues. It is my intention to explore them at some point – probably post-PhD. Another interesting related question would be the selection pressure for conspicuous consumption today – although I am always hesitate to draw conclusions about modern selection pressure.

    I am willing, however, to draw some policy implications. If economic growth is at least partially driven by conspicuous consumption – be that through the innovation involved in producing goods for consumption or in earning the income to obtain them – then policies intended to curtail conspicuous consumption may have negative side effects. I believe that, on net, a consumption tax would be preferable to an income tax. However, the analysis of whether a consumption tax is implemented should include the trade-offs suggested by the model.

    One area that I am willing to make predictions is concerning the Galor-Moav paper I referenced above. If Galor and Moav’s proposal that a genetically mediated preference between quality and quantity drove the Industrial Revolution is true, then the modern growth state is vulnerable to strongly quantity preferring types who put all of their effort into reproduction. My paper explores that possibility.

  3. Good luck with the working hypothesis. How the higher consumption of females relative to men and boys figures into it puzzles me. Females account for 80 to 85% of consumer goods consumption – from necessities to luxuries – reports study after study and many different methodologies confirm the result over and over.

  4. Status is competed for in many dimensions – and women have reasons to seek it.

    Conspicuous consumption by a male includes making resources available for their wife or partner to waste.

  5. Micha Elyi is on the right track. The wealthiest societies are ones where men transmit a lot of wealth to women to engage in feminine conspicuous consumption. In neighborhoods where a sizable fraction of money is transmitted from women to men (e.g, from prostitutes to pimps so they can dress up) are not known for impressive wealth creation.

  6. “If economic growth is at least partially driven by conspicuous consumption – be that through the innovation involved in producing goods for consumption or in earning the income to obtain them – then policies intended to curtail conspicuous consumption may have negative side effects.”

    Weirdly enough, Ed Conard makes the same point in his recent book “Unintended Consequences.”

  7. This is off topic, but I am interested in exploring models of intelligence more …

    I figure a simple model is something like the following:

    150 genes, each with two alleles. The homozygous state provides 1 IQ point, the heterozygous state provides 0 IQ points. We thus have a binomial distribution which approximates a normal distribution.

    However, if you posit that for some populations, 50 are fixed in the homozygous state, then you get an average IQ of 100, while for others, if some are fixed in the lower producing state … you get an average IQ that is lower, and selection can operate according to the environment.

    However, it is very simplistic, so I am looking for pointers on more realistic stuff.

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