A few weekends ago, I attended a colloquium in San Diego at which we discussed readings in economic institutions and economic growth. We discussed a lot of chapters from Daren Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, Why Nations Fail, which I reviewed here, plus other readings, including a chapter from Gregory Clark’s A Farewell to Alms. We were under the Chatham House Rule, but I obtained permission from various participants to quote them.

Here are some highlights.

Don Boudreaux (after a discussion in which it was clear that Acemoglu and Robinson got much of their history incomplete and even wrong):
“They don’t really know history; they know things about history.”

Isaac Morehouse (during a discussion of a chapter from Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel in which Diamond pointed out that geographic causes, such as deserts, make economic growth difficult):
“Given Diamond’s views on geographic causes, he should be very pro-immigration. Don’t bother figuring out how to make the desert bloom; instead, let people out of the frigging desert.”

Don Boudreaux (recounting out a discussion he had with a young woman, while they were standing in Las Vegas in which she claimed that it was impossible to have growth in desert regions):
“We’re in Las Vegas.”

Don Boudreaux (my notes don’t say which article we were discussing):
“I don’t like people trying to explain economics without using economics.”

Lynne Kiesling (discussing whether Acemoglu is a Smithian [Acemoglu discusses Smith here]):
“This is a Hobbesian book. You can’t be a Hobbesian [that is, someone who thinks rules emerge from the sovereign] and a Smithian. They’re mutually exclusive.”

Me on a line from Gregory Clark’s A Farewell to Alms:
“On page 205, Clark writes, ‘When two variables are so closely correlated one must cause the other.’ We spend time in class telling the students that correlation does not imply causation. Then they see this.”*

*He does have a footnote for this sentence: “Or there could be a single independent cause for both.” That’s still a problem: they might be completely unrelated.

UPDATE: Check out this correlation and ask yourself what Gregory Clark would say: