Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Jared Diamond and the Rwandan Malthusian crisis Books: Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

I heard Jared Diamond speak once. I was disappointed. He's fairly full of himself, and he seemed prone to claimin other's ideas as his own.

That said, I have give him points for noting that Rwanda's genocide fit the predictions of Dr. Malthus quite well. I thinks he's right; I noted the same thing in my 9/11 essay from 2001. When I was a Watson Fellow in 1981, I read quite a bit about demographics and population density. In the 1970s and 1980s Rwanda was often mentioned as the country closest to a Malthusian crisis. The population was very large, and the environment was being rapidly degraded.

Some people probably imagine than when a Malthusian crisis occurs, people go home and quietly starve. Malthus was not that dim. He predicted the crisis would play out in the form of war, murder, strife and mayhem.

So, kudos to Diamond for mentioning something that thousands must have known was probably true, but none were both prominent and willing to reveal that the horrors of Rwanda had been long anticipated.

Which beggars the interesting question -- who's next? In 1981 I'd have said Bangladesh, but they've quietly been edging away from the precipice for 20 years. Next up would have been other parts of Africa, but disease and war are lowering populations. So, at this time, I'm not sure any largeish nation is likely to repeat the Rwandan experience of a full-fledged Malthusian crisis.

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