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    Isn’t it time for a siesta already?


    by Sunny on 7th July, 2006 at 4:25 pm    

    During the sweltering weather last week, I was finding it really difficult to work. I’m sure I was not the only one. Does heat make you lazy? Extend that over the entire country and you could ask - does having continually hot weather make the entire country less capable of economic success? This is the question Chris Dillow asks:

    The fact is that almost all cool countries are rich. And most poor countries are hot. This alone suggests a link between climate and wealth.

    For sure, there are exceptions - most obviously, some east Asian countries are hot and rich. But their economic development came after the introduction of air conditioning - which can’t be a coincidence.
    What’s more, even within countries there’s a link between climate and prosperity. In Italy and the US, the hotter south is generally poorer than the cooler north.

    Maybe, then, a hot climate contributes to poverty by reducing incentives to work. This is not the only way in which it can retard growth. Hot climates also cause machinery to break down, which deters investment. And disease thrives in hot climates, which deters investment in human capital (pdf).

    Now, the conventional view in economics downplays this. It prefers to emphasize institutions as the cause of wealth - things like good government and property rights.
    But are these really truly exogenous? Is it really a coincidence that hotter climates tend to have less secure property rights?

    There is another point too. Warm countries have more potential for surviving on agriculture because of favourable weather conditions. That could mean a slower transition to industrialisation and thus remaining poorer for longer. I’m sure there are exceptions but it’s worth thinking about. No?



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    6 Comments below   |  

    1. Don — on 7th July, 2006 at 6:07 pm  

      The original proposal doesn’t really work without Sunny’s last para. Until five hundred years ago at most, the dominant, wealthiest societies were warm. Can anyone think of a notable ancient civilisation that wasn’t?

      Large scale irrigation was surely one of the most important engines for the development of civilisations, and cold climates tend not to develop those. I suspect that cooler climates held on to hunter-gatherer cultures for longer too.
      Maybe that delayed the development of large scale communal labour and centralised control of resources.

      It certainly is an intriguing idea from Chris Dillow, but I think Sunny may have hit on the key; warm climates allowed for the evolution of societies that worked reasonably well and lacked the incentive to change that comes from being bloody freezing.

      After all, the industrial revolution was based on coal, a way of keeping warm.

    2. Leon — on 7th July, 2006 at 6:18 pm  

      “The fact is that almost all cool countries are rich. And most poor countries are hot. This alone suggests a link between climate and wealth.”

      Erm it does? Thank feck all scientist don’t use such shoddy thinking!

    3. Roger — on 7th July, 2006 at 9:38 pm  

      “Large scale irrigation was surely one of the most important engines for the development of civilisations”
      and the destruction of civilisations. Salinisation caused by irrigation was what made quite a bit of Mesaopotamia, China, Mexico and Egypt desert or semi-desert. Before that, all it too was a long-enough drought and the end of an irrigation-dependent civilisation. Australia, the USA and parts of Europe are using up ground water that built up over millions of years to irrigate crops. They have to go steadily deeper for water and the aquifers are being flooded by sea-water in places.
      Two books: Karl Wittfogel: Oriental Despotism and Marc Reisner: Cadillac Desert. Both have interesting- and much-criticised- discussions of the effects, historic or present, of civilisations that become over-dependent on hydraulic works.
      In fact, one of the biggest problems in Afghanistan and a reason why so many afghans are dependent on high-profit small output crops like opium is the destruction of irrigation channels built over of thousands of years in the afghan civil wars.

    4. El Cid — on 8th July, 2006 at 11:51 am  

      Fascinating!
      But as we all already suspect, the link between climate and economic prosperity is not so simple.
      After all, the richer we become, the less we need to work — that’s historical fact, no doubt helped along by technological advances.
      Working the land, more often than not, also means working for longer than if you were in an office. I’m sure of it.
      And the less fertile (i.e drier) the land, the harder and longer the work to maintain a decent crop yield.
      Take Spain, land of the legendary siesta.
      According to Proudfoot Consulting the average employed Spaniard works about 400 hours more per year than your average German, 350 hours more than your average Frenchie, and 150 hours more than your average Brit. Go figure!

    5. Paul Moloney — on 8th July, 2006 at 11:59 am  

      Interesting article - more thoughts in this vein can be found in the excellent book “Guns, Germs and Steel” by Jared Diamond (http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0099302780).

      P.

    6. hoovarted — on 9th July, 2006 at 2:35 pm  

      I have to agree with the late, great Sam Kinison.
      Any country that is truly concerned about hunger relief should stop sending huge amounts of relief money to Africa or the Sudan.
      Instead benevolent countries should be sending these people luggage.
      In the hot, arid African desert nothing grows and there is scarce little water supplies.
      Send luggage so the people can move to where the food is!

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