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THE REALITY CLUB
How to Get Rich
A Talk With Jared Diamond


Paul Davies, Philip W. Anderson, and Joseph Traub on How to Get Rich by Jared Diamond


From: Paul Davies
Date: 6-9-99

Another interesting case study in the fate of isolated communities concerns Kangaroo Island, not far from Adelaide where I live. This too was cut off from the mainland by rising sea waters, but continued to support a few hundred Aboriginals for some thousands of years. However, in this case there were no survivors by the time of European discovery. The demise of this stranded group deserves further study.


From: Philip W. Anderson
Date: 6-16-99

I enjoyed Jared's book immensely, so it was rather a shock to find the addendum so shallow and, particularly, so depressingly pessimistic. He manages in one brief article to scotch any possibility of arms control, and to argue convincingly in favor of "the race to the bottom". For examples of the latter he could hardly have picked two more convincing cases than the American beer and food-processing industries. The purveyors of tasteless instant-grown chickens, antibiotic-saturated beef, elastic tomatoes, and paper-mache Washington State apples, not to mention massive groundwater pollution in the coastal states, are apparently to carry all before them. Fortunately, there are other countries than Japan with whom the comparison could be made, and many of them produce tasty foods efficiently. Even Diamond seems to recognise that American beer has carried the virtues of mass production beyond reasonable bounds, as a glance at the shelves of the local supermarket with its array of multiethnic and microbrewery products would confirm.

My wife picked up immediately on the problem of "weapons of mass destruction" — to use the euphemistic cliche. Are we to sit back and accept that the regulation of such things is inevitably going to fail, and that we are somehow wickedly misguided to try, putting ourselves in the anachronistic position of the Japanese samurai class, vis a vis guns, or the Chinese emperors and navies? Or can we accept that really novel dangers have to be met with really novel approaches?

I feel that circumstances really do alter cases. At this point in history Microsoft looks spectacularly successful, and Big Blue and ATT less so. We should remember that ATT lasted a century, however, in spite of many mistakes. (And even now, it is possible for a Lucent scientist to claim , — "they couldn't kill us".) We are as always at a unique point of growth of a particular type of economic entity, and what is successful now has more to do with when we are than with any universal laws. I accept that Diamond's hypotheses in his book explained the past; but prediction is hard, especially of the future.


From: Joseph Traub
Date: 6-19-99

As always, Jared Diamond writes with insight and elegance. However, I believe that his discussion of the German and American beer industries misses the mark.

He extols the productivity of the American beer industry. There's an old joke: How is American beer like making love in a canoe? Because its xxxxing close to water.

We've lived in Munich several times. The first thing we order in a restaurant are our beers. We never order beer in the States. Since Diamond writes that he returns to the States with a suitcase of German beers he's well aware of the quality issue so i find his example all the more surprising.

A smaller point — He claims that the Germans breweries are inefficient because there are so many of them. But in the Munich beergardens there are only a handful of beers available, such as Spaten, Franziskaner, Loewenbrau. To make his case Diamond would have to look at the percent of the market of the largest breweries.


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