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Easter Island's collapse: a tale of a population race

  • DE LA CROIX, David
  • DOTTORI, Davide

The Easter Island tragedy has become an allegory for ecological catastrophe and a warning for the future. In the economic literature the collapse is usually attributed to irrational or myopic behaviors in the context of a fragile ecosystem. In this paper we propose an alternative story involving non-cooperative bargaining between clans to share the crop. Each clan’s bargaining power depends on its threat level when fighting a war. The biggest group has the highest probability of winning. A clan’s fertility is determined ex ante by each group. In the quest for greater bargaining power, each clan’s optimal size depends on that of the other clan, and a population race follows. This race may exhaust the natural resources and lead to the ultimate collapse of the society. In addition to well-known natural factors, the likelihood of a collapse turns out to be greater when the cost of war is low, the probability of succeeding in war is highly responsive to the number of fighters, and the marginal return to labor is not too low. We analyze whether these factors can account for the difference between Easter and Tikopia Islands. The paper also makes a methodological contribution in that it is the first fertility model to include strategic complementarities between groups’ fertility decisions

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File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10887-007-9025-z
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Paper provided by Université catholique de Louvain, Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE) in its series CORE Discussion Papers RP with number -2062.

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Handle: RePEc:cor:louvrp:-2062
Note: In : Journal of Economic Growth, 13, 27-55, 2008
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  1. Hirshleifer, Jack, 1995. "Anarchy and Its Breakdown," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 103(1), pages 26-52, February.
  2. Brander, James A & Taylor, M Scott, 1998. "The Simple Economics of Easter Island: A Ricardo-Malthus Model of Renewable Resource Use," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(1), pages 119-38, March.
  3. Ehrlich, Isaac & Lui, Francis T, 1991. "Intergenerational Trade, Longevity, and Economic Growth," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 99(5), pages 1029-59, October.
  4. R. Morris Coats & Thomas R. Dalton, 2000. "Could institutional reform have saved Easter Island?," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, vol. 10(5), pages 489-505.
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  13. D'Alessandro, Simone, 2007. "Non-linear dynamics of population and natural resources: The emergence of different patterns of development," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 62(3-4), pages 473-481, May.
  14. Maxwell, John W. & Reuveny, Rafael, 2005. "Continuing conflict," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 58(1), pages 30-52, September.
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  15. Grossman, Herschel I & Kim, Minseong, 1995. "Swords or Plowshares? A Theory of the Security of Claims to Property," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 103(6), pages 1275-88, December.
  16. Anderies, John M., 2000. "On modeling human behavior and institutions in simple ecological economic systems," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 35(3), pages 393-412, December.
  17. Reuveny, Rafael & Decker, Christopher S., 2000. "Easter Island: historical anecdote or warning for the future?," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 35(2), pages 271-287, November.
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