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michael_vassar3 comments on Cascades, Cycles, Insight... - Less Wrong

13 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 24 November 2008 09:33AM

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Comment author: michael_vassar3 25 November 2008 01:41:07AM 2 points [-]

Oddly, the comparitively tiny numbers of unspecialized nomads seem to have continued to make very significant contributions (iron, riding, high quality bows, specialized arrows, saddles and stirrups, firearms and cannon, imperialism/logistics/mercantilism, maybe monotheism, lots of elements of ethics aesthetics and music) to human culture. This doesn't casually fit with Eliezer's focus on specialization OR Robin's focus on numbers.

Also, as far as I can tell, the population numbers that Robin is using when he says that growth rates suddenly increased by two orders of magnitue with farming are basically worthless. We don't even have order of magnitude agreement on the population of the Americas in 1491, which is MUCH more recent than the origin of agriculture, and we DO have large disagreement between currently credible estimates and the estimates considered credible a few decades ago. Hell, we don't know the population of Afghanistan to within 40% (credible standard sources disagree) or the GDP of Cuba to within a factor of three (ditto). I would take his estimates at least a little more seriously, though only a little, if he could convince me that even economists setimates of GDP growth in the 20th century were credible, as I don't beleive them to be credible. One piece of information that would make me take these estimates more seriously would be a careful study of the ways in which Amish lifestyles have changed over the last century and data on what the per-capita Amish GDP and Amish birth rate were over the last century. Can anyone point me to some such studies? If the Amish were living very similarly 100 years ago and today but today they supposedly have a per-capita GDP of $20K, half the per-capita for the US and 100 years ago they had per capita GDP of $1K, equal to the par-capita of the US, this suggests that in at least one real and relevant sense US per-capita GDP has only doubled in a century (tripled possibly when one factors in some improvements in their standard of living).