Economic Neanderthals

What is wrong with this headline?

Did Use of Free Trade Cause Neanderthal Extinction?

See release at the U of Wyoming and a shorter version at Newswise and in Dutch, with pictures. Richard Horan, Erwin Bulte, Jason Shogren: “How trade saved humanity from biological exclusion: an economic theory of biological exclusion” in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization is apparently not online yet, though you’ll eventually be able to buy an outrageously priced copy here.

The claim is that Homo neanderthalensis were economic numbskulls, failing to trade or use division of labor, i.e., failure to cooperate. Homo sapiens traded, specialized, and out-competed Neanderthals in their hunting grounds, end of story for the Neanderthals. Sounds interesting and plausible.

So what is wrong with the headline above? The word free. That modifier only makes sense in contradistinction to protectionism and mercantilism. The humans just traded while the Neanderthals were presumably too stupid to trade. I doubt there was a Neanderthal Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan, or Dick Gephardt clamoring that to save jobs Neanderthal camps ought not trade with each other.

The best thing to come from this are two new epithets:

  • Anti-trade economics is Neanderthal Economics.
  • Anyone who advocates restriction on trade is an Economic Neanderthal.

Update 20050331: Arnold Kling points to an online copy of the paper:

The paper has a high ratio of superfluous math to convincing evidence.

7 Responses

  1. Interesting post. I tried to trackback with my related post, fwiw.

  2. Thanks. Trackback only works about half the time for me, sending and receiving. I suppose I should upgrade to a non-alpha and non-ancient version of WordPress and hope that solves the problem.

  3. When I allow trackbacks (in WordPress), I get only spam.

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