Formerly, all people on earth were hunter-gatheres. Why did any of them adopt food production at all? ... From our modern perspective, all these questions at first seem silly, because the drawbacks of being a hunter-gatherer appear so obvious. ... In reality ... most peasant farmers and herders ... aren't necessarily better off than hunter-gatherers ... they may spend more rather than few hours per day at work ... less well nourished, suffered from more serious disease, and died on the average at a younger age than the hunter-gatherers they replaced. (pp.104-5).
But why did the switch take place, nevertheless? Here is my favourite part of the book:
... food production and hunting-gathering [are] alternative strategies competing with each other. ... Hence, we must ask: what were the factors that tipped the competitive advantage away from the former and toward the latter? (p.109).
According to Diamond, there are some possible factors (pp110-11):
- Declining availability of wild foods, making hunter-gatherers lifetyle less rewarding.
- Conversely, domesticable wild plants were getting more available (due to both accidental discovery and genetic mutation), making steps leading to plant domestication more rewarding.
- Cumulative development of technologies for collecting, processing, and storing wild food, on which food production would eventually depend.
- The two-way causal link between human population density and food production, creating greater needs for food production.
Well, before there were philosophers, politicians, lawyers or priests, apparently our ancestors were... economists!
If you'd like to discuss more about the book, please do tell Rara!