Farming And Africa


Recently there have been a flurry of articles about farming and “returning to the land” in various Western magazines and newspapers. This headline in the most recent Monocle is typical of the trend – a few city-dwelling Japanese are considering a return to farming given recent economic events and also the fact that farming seems more eco-friendly and popular nowadays.

While returning to organic farming in the West on a modest scale or hobby farm is more of a “personal growth” type activity, the farms in the West are of course extremely productive, using intensive agriculture, fertilizer and optimized seeds, as well as mechanization. The small organic farmer movement is more for media show than a viable long term strategy for feeding Earth’s billions, although certainly it has its place as long as people want to pay the requisite higher prices it entails.


In Africa, the population is exploding – from what I have been able to gather it is north of 880 million and probably closing in on a billion soon – and most of Africa is importing critical foodstuffs. African “governments”, which are mostly a collection of individuals who achieve power and utilize it to enrich themselves and their cronies, do not focus on agricultural needs since most of the population has migrated to vast cities and shanty-towns and their power base moved with them (they DO focus on mineral rights and oil, of course).

This article from the Economist called “Outsourcing’s Third Wave” is eye-opening – it describes how foreign governments are negotiating with African leaders to buy / rent / run large tracts of land for the purpose of growing food in Africa for importation back to THEIR home countries. From the article:

The Saudi programme is an example of a powerful but contentious trend sweeping the poor world: countries that export capital but import food are outsourcing farm production to countries that need capital but have land to spare. Instead of buying food on world markets, governments and politically influential companies buy or lease farmland abroad, grow the crops there and ship them back.

Not only are foreign countries obtaining rights to the land itself, they are bringing on laborers to work the land. I can’t seem to find solid statistics on the web, but the economist article says that there are “1 million” Chinese laborers in Africa and this article says that it was estimated that there were 750,000 in 2008.

The Chinese are getting around the traditional difficulties of development in Africa in a novel way – by not involving Africans. They bring in their own labor, build their own compounds, and run the projects themselves. The scale of this effort is not well known because it isn’t in the interest of the African governments nor China’s interests to publicize this information, and neither of them gives a hoot about free journalism in any case.

It isn’t only the Chinese – the Koreans were involved in a recent deal to be able to farm on a significant portion of Madagascar’s available land – and this contributed to a political revolution which put these plans at least on temporary hold.


The Middle Eastern (Saudi Arabia) and Asian (Chinese, Korean) companies involved in these sorts of deals are subject to different types of ethical constraints than Western companies, in say, Europe or the USA. It is frankly unimaginable that a US company would be able to get the rights to a giant tract of farmland in this day and age and use it to farm foodstuffs to ship out of an African nation while locals are dirt-poor and either starving or importing food at the same time.

The Chinese have an additional advantage – a huge pool of untapped labor. They can send their citizens abroad and they know that they will work hard and not engage in systematic unrest or organize into unions. The numbers of overseas Chinese laborers is very large, if these numbers can be trusted or verified.

It is also a terrible, sad failure that the African countries can’t manage this sort of farming themselves. Africa has been freed of the colonist influence for generations, and they have not focused on their key competitive advantages, which are 1) cheap and abundant labor 2) land and climate for farming. Their other advantages of mineral wealth and oil are able to be exploited by Western companies (mostly) with little indigenous assistance; the only real issue with those resources is overall security and whom to pay off with the locals’ share of the money. After the colonists left in the 1950’s and 1960’s some African countries experimented with heavy industry but for a lot of (obvious) reasons that failed but agriculture is an extremely logical area for them to emphasize.

The fact that foreign nations are 1) gaining huge leases or rights to farm African soil 2) using non-local labor in many circumstances is just a terrible problem for a continent that needs to develop local skills and capacities in order to start to develop some sort of solid economic framework.

Compounded with the fact that African countries are generally undergoing a population explosion (unlike the West and even much of Asia) and their citizens are packed into miserably crowded and infrastructure-poor cities, and even importing food, this is a catastrophe.

I praise the Economist and other journalists for bringing this issue up but it has received a minuscule level of overall coverage, given its large potential repercussions. Essentially:

– desperately poor countries whose only assets are cheap labor and land suitable for farming
– are so “broken” that they lack the infrastructure to run a farm economy and bring foodstuffs to market
– so that they are giving out long term leases to third countries
– to bring in third party labor to run these farms and export the food
– with the local government leaders the only beneficiaries
– while the local populace shares none of the benefits (money from labor, rent from land)

When I read about newspapers and magazines talking about how once their business model fails, there will be no more tough investigative journalism, I ask myself – where is this investigative journalism today? Who is sending journalists on the ground to see what is happening, as starving countries give away their land for a pittance to China? Why isn’t this a story that is being put on the front page? Why, when I look this up, do I find more links to Madagascar the movie for children than Madagascar, the country that just had a revolution to topple the government that was going to lease out a huge portion of their arable land to a South Korean conglomerate?


Don’t forget the last related item – that while the African farm economy fails and is being sold to third parties, their population is exploding. For example, in Madagascar, the site of the revolution, here are some population statistics:

– population in 1995 – 13 million
– population in 2005 – 18 million (growth of 5 million in 10 years)
– population in 2015 – 24 million (growth of 6 million in 10 years)
– growth rate is 3%

When compared with the United States

– population in 1995 – 266 million
– population in 2005 – 295 million
– population in 2015 – 325 million
– growth rate is 1%

Likely there is too much here for a single post, and I need an editor. Hopefully this causes you to think about this and do your own research, and come to your own conclusions. I personally thought that these items were rather far-reaching in their effects and was surprised by the muted coverage of these deals.

Cross posted at LITGM

7 thoughts on “Farming And Africa”

  1. It looks like the Chinese can negotiate this sort of deal in Africa but the natives can’t because the Chinese can negotiate a guarantee that their project managers will have rights from the local governments there, but the local Africans can’t.

  2. Socialism is central problem with food production in African. This socialism has both intellectual and traditional roots. The ideas that (1) farmers own title to their land independent of any government and (2) have the right to sell the food they grow at a market price are completely alien. Also, African governments have long engaged in price fixing to keep quick to riot urban populations docile. This has made it difficult for farmers to survive and impossible for them to afford improvements.

    Except for land use problems, foreigners growing food for export doesn’t impact an African nation’s internal political and economic dynamics. Most importantly, it doesn’t require the governments to abandon their lucrative socialist policies.

  3. The problems with Africa are legion and they extend deeper than just the veneer of institutional or political practices in that the origins likely trace down to human capital and cultural practices.

    The first problem is that the measured mean IQ of most African populations ranges from 70 to 80. The implication of this is that the “smart fraction”, let’s say the lower bound of this demographic is set at an IQ of 115, is too small a portion of the entire population. Of a population with a mean IQ of 75, those with an IQ greater than 115 will comprise only 4/10 of 1% of the population compared to 15.9% of a population with a mean IQ of 100. Administering complex and large societies is an intellectually demanding task and so too are the welfare enhancing activities of individuals operating in their own self interest.

    The second problem is culture. Cultural preferences have positive and negative consequences. The first example:

    There are two reasons 11-year-old Chikumbutso Zuze never sees his three sisters, why he seldom has a full belly, why he sleeps packed sardinelike with six cousins on the dirt floor of his aunt’s thatched mud hut.

    One is AIDS, which claimed his father in 2000 and his mother in 2001. The other is his father’s nephew, a tall, light-complexioned man whom Chikumbutso knows only as Mr. Sululu.

    It was Mr. Sululu who came to his village five years ago, after his father died, and commandeered all of the family’s belongings — mattresses, chairs and, most important, the family’s green Toyota pickup, an almost unimaginable luxury in this, one of the poorest nations on earth. And it was Mr. Sululu who rejected the pleas of the boy’s mother, herself dying of AIDS, to leave the truck so that her children would have an inheritance to sustain them after her death.

    Instead, Chikumbutso said, he left behind a battery-powered transistor radio.

    “I feel very bitter about it,” he said, plopped on a wooden bench in 12-by-12-foot hut rented by his maternal aunt and uncle on the outskirts of this town in the lush hills of southern Malawi. “We don’t really know why they did all this. We couldn’t understand.”

    Actually, the answer is simple: custom. Throughout sub-Saharan Africa the death of a father automatically entitles his side of the family to claim most, if not all, of the property he leaves behind, even if it leaves his survivors destitute.

    Custom, and the law that develops from custom, arise from choices that are made and then instiutionalized. In the case above, the cultural practice of parallel sexual relationships, results in uncertainty of paternity for children born into marriage. A man can always be sure that the children born to his sister are related to him, but when he and his wife have customary sexual relationships outside of marriage, the man has far less certainty of paternity than would another man living in a culture where custom frowns on simultaneous sexual relationships. In the latter case the law evolves to presume paternity on the part of the father and the children are natural heirs. In the former case, the law evolves to favor the children with the highest certainty of being blood related, those born to the sister of the deceased, rather than those born to his wife.

    My point is that from the seed of culture we find cascading effects, and in much of Africa we find lower levels of parental investment in children and this manifests in many different forms, not just inheritance practices. So leaving the issue of genetics aside, we see environmental factors reducing human capital development.

    Another aspect of cultural factors at work is the Big Man Syndrome. There is a lot of jockeying around to enhance one’s welfare by targeting the Big Man for protection, welfare, or being taken on team. Think of the rent seeking behavior we see in Washington. Rent seeking can certainly enhance an individual’s welfare, but doesn’t do much for increasing the welfare of a nation. What do you imagine happens to a society when rent-seeking, rather than wealth creation, becomes the preferred method of increasing one’s welfare?

    The third problem that torments Africa is Western do-goodism. Here is Kevin Myers writing in Ireland’s The Independent:

    No. It will not do. Even as we see African states refusing to take action to restore something resembling civilisation in Zimbabwe, the begging bowl for Ethiopia is being passed around to us, yet again. It is nearly 25 years since Ethiopia’s (and Bob Geldof’s) famous Feed The World campaign, and in that time Ethiopia’s population has grown from 33.5 million to 78 million today.

    So why on earth should I do anything to encourage further catastrophic demographic growth in that country? Where is the logic? There is none. To be sure, there are two things saying that logic doesn’t count.

    One is my conscience, and the other is the picture, yet again, of another wide-eyed child, yet again, gazing, yet again, at the camera, which yet again, captures the tragedy of . . .

    Sorry. My conscience has toured this territory on foot and financially. Unlike most of you, I have been to Ethiopia; like most of you, I have stumped up the loot to charities to stop starvation there. The wide-eyed boy-child we saved, 20 years or so ago, is now a priapic, Kalashnikov-bearing hearty, siring children whenever the whim takes him. . . . .

    But, please, please, you self-righteously wrathful, spare me mention of our own Famine, with this or that lazy analogy. There is no comparison. Within 20 years of the Famine, the Irish population was down by 30pc. Over the equivalent period, thanks to western food, the Mercedes 10-wheel truck and the Lockheed Hercules, Ethiopia’s has more than doubled. . . . . .

    Meanwhile, Africa’s peoples are outstripping their resources, and causing catastrophic ecological degradation. By 2050, the population of Ethiopia will be 177 million: The equivalent of France, Germany and Benelux today, but located on the parched and increasingly protein-free wastelands of the Great Rift Valley.

    So, how much sense does it make for us actively to increase the adult population of what is already a vastly over-populated, environmentally devastated and economically dependent country?

    So, before we tackle the malignancy of socialism we need to address the issues that form the societal substrate, namely the people and their culture. The political ideas are the icing on the cake, and quite frankly, I believe that they have a far smaller effect than is generally attributed to them.

  4. Wow, that is a big comment. Almost as big as my post.

    I am not an expert on Africa and am learning more about the topic.

    I think that the population explosion in Africa, in the face of mounting dysfunction in their agricultural economy, is a critical story and one that will have a major impact.

  5. Tango Man,

    The first problem is that the measured mean IQ of most African populations ranges from 70 to 80.

    I doubt this is significant. IQ test are culturally dependent and heavily influenced by education. The test do not measure any kind of raw intellectual horsepower. As Jared Diamond as pointed out, the average individual in a primitive hunter-gatherer culture has to be smarter and more capable than an average person in a civilized culture. Civilized cultures let people specialize. If a person is lacking in one cognitive skill they can specialize in area that plays to their strengths. In hunter-gatherer cultures, there is little specialization and each individual must master all the roles that humans play. Each person must be a warrior, a hunter, a politician, an artisan, a priest etc just to survive. This difference can be seen most starkly in the fate of the mentally handicapped. Such individuals can survive and reproduce in civilized cultures but in hunter-gatherer cultures, most do not survive childhood.

    This means that as a general rule, the less technologically advanced a culture, the more genetically fit its people. Africans have had a mishmash of hunter-gather, horticultural and pastoral cultures so they are probably on the whole more genetically fit than Europeans or other civilized cultures. Africans born in America or who immigrate here show the same economic mobility as immigrants from other parts of the world. This suggest that the cultural and political environment of Africa is the problem and not any biological innate factor.

    The point about culture is valid but there are dozens of distinct African cultures not all of which conflict with managing a modern society. The Ibo of Nigeria, for example have a culture which prizes individualism, consent of the governed, rule of law and entrepreneurism. Historically, they have done better than surrounding cultures and they do very well when the emigrate to America.

    The basic problem with Africa is that they have cultures that evolved to manage the interactions of a few thousand people at most. Even within each culture, significant differences exist between subgroups. This makes it very difficult for Africans to organize millions of people.

  6. Re: population explosion

    The best way to slow population growth has been shown to be education of women and access to family planning resources. That’s why I support those types of charities rather than just the “feed the starving” ones.

  7. Shannon,

    With respect, much of your response seems to rely on talking points favored by Gould and they’ve long since refuted.

    I doubt this is significant.

    We can approach the question of significance from a number of different avenues. For instance, sheer quantity of correlations. Take the work of Garret Jones, now at George Mason, and his colleague W. Joel Schneider:

    Human capital plays an important role in the theory of economic growth, but it has been difficult to measure this abstract concept. We survey the psychological literature on cross-cultural IQ tests and conclude that modern intelligence tests provide one useful measure of human capital. Using a new database of national average IQ along with a methodology derived from Sala-i-Martin [1997a], we show that in growth regressions that include only robust control variables, IQ is statistically significant in 99.7% of these 1330 regressions. A 1 point increase in a nation’s average IQ is associated with a persistent 0.16% annual increase in GDP per capita…

    We also evaluate the explanatory power of IQ in growth regressions that include Sala-i-Martin’s education measures. Among these 56 education-related regressions, IQ was statistically significant in every one, thus passing not only Sala-i-Martin’s robustness test, but also Leamer’s [1983, 1985] extreme bounds test. While one might expect that at least some linear combination of primary, secondary, and higher education measures could eliminate the statistical significance of IQ, we did not find this to be the case

    Finally, for an overall assessment of how IQ compares to other common growth variables, consider Sala-i-Martin’s original results, which used combinations of 62 growth variables in over two million regressions. Among his top 21 regressors–the ones which he considered robust–the median regressor was statistically significant in 76.4% of cases, with a range from 100% (for fraction Confucian) to 2.81% (for revolutions and coups). Fraction Confucian was the only regressor that passed an extreme bounds test. Only eight of his top 21 had coefficients over three standard errors from zero, while in our full-sample results using his top 21 growth variables, IQ’s coefficient is over five standard errors away from zero. For his overall best performing variable, equipment investment, the coefficient estimate was 5.32 standard errors away from zero. IQ would thus appear to fit comfortably in the top half of Sala-i-Martin’s top 21 growth variables

    Granted, that research is simply pure number crunching. How about some field data. Let’s look at Army data:

    The evidence is overwhelming. Take tank gunners. You wouldn’t think intelligence would have much effect on the ability to shoot straight, but apparently it does. Replacing a gunner who’d scored Category IV on the aptitude test (ranking in the 10-30 percentile) with one who’d scored Category IIIA (50-64 percentile) improved the chances of hitting targets by 34 percent.

    In another study cited by the RAND report, 84 three-man teams from the Army’s active-duty signal battalions were given the task of making a communications system operational. Teams consisting of Category IIIA personnel had a 67 percent chance of succeeding. Those consisting of Category IIIB (who’d ranked in the 31-49 percentile on the aptitude test) had a 47 percent chance. Those with Category IV personnel had only a 29 percent chance.

    The same study of signal battalions took soldiers who had just taken advanced individual training courses and asked them to troubleshoot a faulty piece of communications gear. They passed if they were able to identify at least two technical problems. Smarts trumped training. Among those who had scored Category I on the aptitude test (in the 93-99 percentile), 97 percent passed. Among those who’d scored Category II (in the 65-92 percentile), 78 percent passed. Category IIIA: 60 percent passed. Category IIIB: 43 percent passed. Category IV: a mere 25 percent passed.

    The pattern is clear: The higher the score on the aptitude test, the better the performance in the field. This is true for individual soldiers and for units. Moreover, the study showed that adding one high-scoring soldier to a three-man signals team boosted its chance of success by 8 percent (meaning that adding one low-scoring soldier boosts its chance of failure by a similar margin).

    Smarter also turns out to be cheaper. One study examined how many Patriot missiles various Army air-defense units had to fire in order to destroy 10 targets. Units with Category I personnel had to fire 20 missiles. Those with Category II had to fire 21 missiles. Category IIIA: 22. Category IIIB: 23. Category IV: 24 missiles. In other words, to perform the same task, Category IV units chewed up 20 percent more hardware than Category I units. For this particular task, since each Patriot missile costs about $2 million, they also chewed up $8 million more of the Army’s procurement budget.

    IQ test are culturally dependent

    This criticism has long been remedied. It’s very hard to argue that a reaction response (a light blinks and you click a button and the time is measured) or reverse digit span tests (recalling a series of numbers in reverse order eg. 1, 8, 42, 3, 147, 21 results in this answer – 21, 147, 3, 42, 8, 1) have anything to do with whether someone raised in the inner city or in the backwoods or on the plains of Serengeti, has every come across the concepts of “Yacht” or “Polo.” Even informed critics now readily concede that IQ tests are culturally neutral.

    and heavily influenced by education.

    This is mostly an issue of assuming reversed causality. Education doesn’t raise IQ, rather those with higher IQ are more likely to pursue longer courses of education. Look, the correlation between IQ measured at age 6 (start of education) and age 18 (completion of high school) is extraordinarily high and considering the wide variance we see in educational journeys it becomes nearly impossible to reconcile the notion that IQ is “heavily influenced by education.” See here:

    In order to answer this question it is pertinent to consider the following evidence (Jensen, 1980, 1981, 1998; Jones and Bayley, 1941; Moffitt, Caspi, Harkness and Silva, 1993; Neisser et al., 1996): a) the internal consistency of an IQ test tends to be situated between .90 and .95. The correlation between the length of the right arm and the left arm measured in a representative sample of the population tends to be .95. The reliability coefficients of measures such as blood pressure or cholesterol level are usually around .5; b) the correlation between a person’s IQ assessed on two occasions with a week in between is .95.The correlation between an average person’s weight measured twice on the same scales with a week’s interval is 0.97; IQ measures at age 6 correlate at a value of .96 with IQ measures of the same subjects at age 12. IQ measures at age 6 correlate at a value of .86 with those of the same subjects at 18. The correlation between the height of a group of children at age 2 and at age 4 is .83; between height at age 2 and height at age 18 it is .60. Thus, psychological measures of intelligence are as precise as any other type of measure.

    The test do not measure any kind of raw intellectual horsepower.

    On the contrary, they measure intelligence as well as being predictors of other life outcomes. From the last link:

    Studies carried out in the US on the level of prediction of intelligence tests indicate that they are valuable instruments: “psychometric tests are the best predictors of success in school and in the world of work. And what’s more, they are no mean predictors of failure in everyday life, such as falling into poverty or dependence on the state (…). To say that other things are important, apart from intelligence, is not really a challenge until you say precisely what those other things are.” According to the APA, standardised measures of intelligence correlate at levels of .50 with school performance, .55 with years of schooling, .54 with work performance, and –.19 with juvenile delinquency. No other psychological variable is capable of producing these correlations.

    Take health as another example:

    O’Toole and Stankov used IQ at induction into the military, along with 56 other psychological, behavioral, health, and demographic variables, to predict noncombat deaths by age 40 among 2,309 Australian veterans. When all other variables were statistically controlled, each additional IQ point predicted a 1% decrease in risk of death. Also, IQ was the best predictor of the major cause of death, motor vehicle accidents. Vehicular death rates doubled and then tripled at successively lower IQ ranges. . .

    IQ at age 11 had a significant association with survival to about age 76. On average, individuals who were at a 1-standard-deviation (15-point) disadvantage in IQ relative to other participants were only 79% as likely to live to age 76. . .

    For each standard deviation increase in IQ, there was a 33% increased rate of quitting smoking. Adjusting for social class reduced this rate only mildly, to 25%. Thus, childhood IQ was not associated with starting smoking (mostly in the 1930s, when the public were not aware of health risks), but was associated with giving up smoking as health risks became evident. . .

    Among diabetics, intelligence at time of diagnosis correlates significantly (.36) with diabetes knowledge measured 1 year later. Like hypertension and many other chronic illnesses, diabetes requires self-monitoring and frequent judgments to keep physiological processes within safe limits. In general, low functional health literacy is linked to more illnesses, greater severity of illnesses, worse self-rated health, far higher medical costs, and (prospectively) more frequent hospitalization.

    As Jared Diamond as pointed out, the average individual in a primitive hunter-gatherer culture has to be smarter and more capable than an average person in a civilized culture.

    1.) This is no more than an appeal to authority.
    2.) Before Diamond discovered the glamor of concocting a PC favored hypothesis he was completely comfortable with publishing studies on the ethnic differences in testis size in human populations.
    3.) The criticism doesn’t pass a test of internal validity, in that we measure success in life, pretty much across the world, as how one functions in modern societies, so IQ tests are very good predictors of this process. If success in modern life was determined by how many ants one could find in a rotting stump out on the savannah then Diamond might have a point, however, we know that there is little correlation between being born into and surviving in harsh environments and being successful at the skills one needs to survive in the modern world.

    Africans born in America or who immigrate here show the same economic mobility as immigrants from other parts of the world. This suggest that the cultural and political environment of Africa is the problem and not any biological innate factor.

    Yet we know from the Transracial Adoption Studies that this hypothesis is not valid. Why would a Black child adopted by white parents perform more closely to the standards of his birth family, or his racial group, than to his siblings? Why would a Korean child adopted at birth by American parents perform more closely to peers raised by Korean American parents than to her siblings, with whom she was raised for her entire life?

    As for Africans who voluntarily immigrate here, this is a sample that suffers from selection bias. We’re not looking at a whole cross section of society from any particular region of Africa.

    The point about culture is valid but there are dozens of distinct African cultures not all of which conflict with managing a modern society. The Ibo of Nigeria, for example have a culture which prizes individualism, consent of the governed, rule of law and entrepreneurism. Historically, they have done better than surrounding cultures and they do very well when the emigrate to America.

    I never argued that “African culture” was incompatible with managing a modern society, rather I argued that a modern society depends on having a sizable “smart fraction” and that the lower the proportion of this “smart fraction” within society, the more difficult it becomes to develop, and sustain, that society to modern standards.

    My point is that when we look at these types of questions we cannot a.) assume a creationist perspective and b.) ignore the foundational issues of societies, which are the people and their culture. Jumping to the veneer of society, its political institutions and its ideological outlook will result in constant misdiagnosis of the issue. Or to put it another way, in order to develop a solution we must first understand the problem so that we avoid the trap of advancing solutions to misdiagnosed problems.

    The basic problem with Africa is that they have cultures that evolved to manage the interactions of a few thousand people at most.

    The roots of most every culture developed in environments characterized by small populations. The various tribes of Gaul were not each populated by millions of tribe members. The Puritans didn’t arrive on a flotilla with a million settlers. This explanation doesn’t really explain anything. So, I still stand by my original comment – human capital and the cultural practices of a group have dramatic effects on the development of society, its laws, and the behaviors and expectations of individuals long before we factor in the influence of political ideology. To expand on this point, trace the influence of paternal certainty on male behavior and capital formation within the family and efforts to raise the human capital of the children.

    Here is a common picture:

    Twenty-five years ago in Kenya, I saw the male-female divide on public display. Beside a rural road, a woman struggled uphill, bent under a towering load of firewood. Just behind, her husband marched tall and proud, carrying only his walking stick. . . .

    Edith is married, with seven children. She acquired a loan in 1992, for two in-calf heifers and for the construction of a small cowshed. She planted napier grass to feed the cows. Edith started off very well, but problems started when her husband instructed her to go back to his workshop. She could no longer take care of the cows, and eventually she lost one of them. She had discussions with her husband on this, but he insisted that she should remain in the workshop. Edith was eventually chased away from her home by her husband. She had to find shelter for herself and her seven children. The husband claimed the cows as his so she was not allowed to take them.

    After some months, with the help of in-laws, Edith’s husband called her back. But he had already sold the roofing sheets and construction materials of the cowshed, and all grass was gone. She got pregnant again, and now the husband has decided to live with another wife. Edith’s project is in a shambles.

    What is wrong with men? Several things, actually. Many cultural traditions teach that women are negligible servants of men, to be used at their pleasure. Many traditions grant men power that has nothing to do with responsibility—a right and duty to domination that comes with an extra chromosome.

    Looking strictly at environmental factors, what do you imagine is happening to the human development potential of the children, generation after generation? Multiple wives, destituting the children born to your wife, selling the “assets” of the wife’s business, etc is not the optimum method for increasing intergenerational wealth, nor of developing the human capital of children. Whether the political veneer this family operates under is socialism, crony capitalism, dynamic democracy, etc really has less bearing on the man than do the cultural expectations that guide much of his social interactions. One path could lead to working in order to benefit his wife and his children, sacrificing for the betterment of the children, leaving some form of estate to his children so that they don’t start at the bottom of the asset ladder while another path could lead to less sacrifice and work because one isn’t inclined to sacrifice for the benefit of children who were sired by another man. This cultural milieu has powerful cascading effects, and that’s my point.

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