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Stagnation and innovation before agriculture


  • Dow, Gregory K.
  • Reed, Clyde G.


During the roughly 190,000 years between the emergence of anatomically modern humans and the transition to agriculture, sustained economic progress was rare. Although there were important innovations in the Upper Paleolithic, evidence from paleodemography indicates that population densities were driven more by climatic conditions than by technological innovations in food acquisition. We develop a model in which technological knowledge is subject to mutation and selection across generations. In a static environment, long run stagnation is the norm. However, climate shocks can induce experimentation with latent resources. This generates punctuated equilibria with greater technical capabilities and higher population densities at successive plateaus. The model is consistent with archaeological data on climate, population, diet, and technology from the Upper Paleolithic through the early Neolithic.

Suggested Citation

  • Dow, Gregory K. & Reed, Clyde G., 2011. "Stagnation and innovation before agriculture," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 77(3), pages 339-350, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jeborg:v:77:y:2011:i:3:p:339-350

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Jones Charles I., 2001. "Was an Industrial Revolution Inevitable? Economic Growth Over the Very Long Run," The B.E. Journal of Macroeconomics, De Gruyter, vol. 1(2), pages 1-45, August.
    2. Ashraf, Quamrul & Michalopoulos, Stelios, 2010. "The Climatic Origins of the Neolithic Revolution: Theory and Evidence," MPRA Paper 23137, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    3. Shekhar Aiyar & Carl-Johan Dalgaard & Omer Moav, 2008. "Technological progress and regress in pre-industrial times," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 13(2), pages 125-144, June.
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    5. Galor, Oded, 2005. "From Stagnation to Growth: Unified Growth Theory," Handbook of Economic Growth,in: Philippe Aghion & Steven Durlauf (ed.), Handbook of Economic Growth, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 4, pages 171-293 Elsevier.
    6. Locay, Luis, 1997. "Population equilibrium in primitive societies," The Quarterly Review of Economics and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 37(4), pages 747-767.
    7. Arthur Robson & Hillard Kaplan, 2006. "Viewpoint: The economics of hunter-gatherer societies and the evolution of human characteristics," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 39(2), pages 375-398, May.
    8. Olsson, Ola & Hibbs, Douglas Jr., 2005. "Biogeography and long-run economic development," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 49(4), pages 909-938, May.
    9. David N. Weil & Oded Galor, 2000. "Population, Technology, and Growth: From Malthusian Stagnation to the Demographic Transition and Beyond," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(4), pages 806-828, September.
    10. Michael Kremer, 1993. "Population Growth and Technological Change: One Million B.C. to 1990," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 108(3), pages 681-716.
    11. Gregory Dow & Clyde Reed & Nancy Olewiler, 2009. "Climate reversals and the transition to agriculture," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 14(1), pages 27-53, March.
    12. Arifovic, Jasmina & Bullard, James & Duffy, John, 1997. "The Transition from Stagnation to Growth: An Adaptive Learning Approach," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 2(2), pages 185-209, July.
    13. Matthew Baker, 2008. "A structural model of the transition to agriculture," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 13(4), pages 257-292, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Gregory K. Dow & Clyde G. Reed, 2013. "The Origins of Inequality: Insiders, Outsiders, Elites, and Commoners," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 121(3), pages 609-641.
    2. Gregory K. Dow & Clyde G. Reed & Simon Woodcock, 2016. "The Economics Of Exogamous Marriage In Small-Scale Societies," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 54(4), pages 1805-1823, October.
    3. Dow, Gregory K. & Reed, Clyde G., 2015. "The origins of sedentism: Climate, population, and technology," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 119(C), pages 56-71.


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