Saturday, June 14, 2003

Steven Landsburg, who appears to be some kind of covert mole in the economics profession, conspiring to make it look unbelievably stupid, is at it again--this time with a just-so story about why Jews don't farm. Landsburg cites a team of "economic historians" who argue that the relative historical paucity of Jewish farmers is an economic consequence of their religious requirement of literacy, which gave them a comparative advantage in other vocations such as commerce and medicine.

Now, if one were actually serious about this theory--not just blithely tossing around silly speculations, mind you, but genuinely proposing an intellectually defensible hypothesis--one would obviously want to look for other test cases to which it might apply. And it would be hard to do so without immediately stumbling upon yet another European ethnic group with a relatively small proportion of farmers: the Roma (colloquially known as "Gypsies"). And--wouldn't you know it--the Roma have a long historical tradition of illiteracy. So much for that theory....

(On the other hand, if one were really a covert mole, trying one's best to discredit the field of economics.... )

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