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Double Helix Destiny

May 11, 2013

From The Wilson Quarterly:

mian1What gives rich societies their mojo? Scholars who look for the roots of economic development offer an array of answers: Culture, history, or geography push a country toward prosperity, they claim.

Quamrul Ashraf and Oded Galor, economists at Williams College and Brown University, respectively, propose an entirely different explanation: genetic diversity. They say the range of a given population’s genes—determined 70,000 to 90,000 years ago when humans first journeyed out of East Africa—played a decisive role in determining which lands would hit the economic jackpot.

In a process known as the serial founder effect, populations closer (via land migration routes) to modern-day Ethiopia, where the earliest evidence of Homo sapiens has been found, had higher levels of genetic diversity than groups that settled farther away. The nearer societies had more “founders”—or early settlers—and therefore more genetic variation. When smaller groups peeled off and ventured into Europe and Asia, they carried a smaller gene pool with them. It shrank further when humans trekked to the Americas.

This made all the difference. Societies flourish when their populations have just enough genetic diversity, but not too much. Genetically diverse societies are more likely to cook up new technologies; people with varying traits develop different specialties and work in complementary ways. [More]

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