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Many hands make hard work, or why agriculture is not a puzzle

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  • Guzmán, Ricardo Andrés

Abstract

The shift from hunting and gathering to agriculture, some 10,000 years ago, triggered the first demographic explosion in history. Along with population, working time increased, while food consumption remained at the subsistence level. For that reason, most anthropologists regard the adoption of agriculture as an economical puzzle. I show, using a neoclassical economic model, that there is nothing puzzling about the adoption of agriculture. Agriculture brings four technological changes: an increase in total factor productivity, a stabilization of total factor productivity, less interference of children on production, and the possibility of food storage. In my model, each of those changes induces free, rational and self-interested hunter-gatherers to adopt agriculture. As a result, working time increases while consumption remains at the subsistence level, and population begins to grow until diminishing returns to labor bring it to a halt. Welfare, which depends on consumption, leisure, and fertility, rises at first; but after a few generations it falls below its initial level. Still, the adoption of agriculture is irreversible. The latter generations choose to remain farmers because, at their current levels of population, reverting to hunting and gathering would reduce their welfare.

Suggested Citation

  • Guzmán, Ricardo Andrés, 2007. "Many hands make hard work, or why agriculture is not a puzzle," MPRA Paper 4148, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 08 Aug 2007.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:4148
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Blundell, Richard & Macurdy, Thomas, 1999. "Labor supply: A review of alternative approaches," Handbook of Labor Economics,in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 27, pages 1559-1695 Elsevier.
    2. Eckstein, Zvi & Stern, Steven & Wolpin, Kenneth I, 1988. "Fertility Choice, Land, and the Malthusian Hypothesis," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 29(2), pages 353-361, May.
    3. Becker, Gary S, 1992. "Fertility and the Economy," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 5(3), pages 185-201, August.
    4. Nicolas Marceau & Gordon Myers, 2006. "On the Early Holocene: Foraging to Early Agriculture," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 116(513), pages 751-772, July.
    5. Razin, Assaf & Ben-Zion, Uri, 1975. "An Intergenerational Model of Population Growth," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 65(5), pages 923-933, December.
    6. Michele Boldrin & Larry E. Jones, 2002. "Mortality, Fertility, and Saving in a Malthusian Economy," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 5(4), pages 775-814, October.
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    Cited by:

    1. Seabright, Paul, 2008. "Warfare and the Multiple Adoption of Agriculture After the Last Ice Age," IDEI Working Papers 522, Institut d'Économie Industrielle (IDEI), Toulouse.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Paleoeconomics; economic anthropology; Neolithic Revolution; hunter-gatherers; agriculture; original affluent society;

    JEL classification:

    • D6 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics
    • A14 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Sociology of Economics
    • Z1 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics
    • D71 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Social Choice; Clubs; Committees; Associations
    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being
    • D1 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior
    • J22 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Time Allocation and Labor Supply
    • A12 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Relation of Economics to Other Disciplines
    • J13 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Fertility; Family Planning; Child Care; Children; Youth
    • O13 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Agriculture; Natural Resources; Environment; Other Primary Products

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