Hirshleifer on Regression to Savagery
By David Henderson
In researching my latest Defining Ideas article due tomorrow, I came across this paragraph from UCLA economics professor Jack Hirshleifer. One thing to know about Jack was how incredibly careful a scholar he was.
Substantively, the historical review here suggests an extraordinary resiliency of human populations and social structures. It is of course impossible to prove that social breakdown will never occur in the aftermath of disaster, especially when we contemplate the unprecedented catastrophe of nuclear war. But the lurid picture of post-disaster regression to savagery, that staple of fiction and of popular thought, can draw no support from the historical record.
This is from Jack Hirshleifer, Economic Behavior in Adversity, University of Chicago Press, 1987, p. 6.
Notice the word “no.” That’s why I emphasized how careful a scholar he was. He did not use the word “no” lightly.
I had Jack cover the highlights of his book for The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. His article is titled “Disaster and Recovery.”
My one quibble is his use of the word “extraordinary.” If it happens virtually every time there’s a disaster, it, fortunately, is not extraordinary.