Re: Final Thoughts on GGS?
Yali's question is "Why is that you white people developed much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?" (Diamond, p. 3)
As Diamond says, this basic question is the theme of the whole book, and pondering the answer to it helps to explain the geographical factors of development. The scope of this question is almost infinite in terms of the explanation for human history.
I don't agree that Yali's question does actually articulate a viewpoint. It is an open question. And you cannot really separate the Melanesian concept of cargo (goods) from the cultural issues around technology transfer and adoption. In Melanesia, things of stone and wood were fine until whites arrived with paper and metal and electricity and money. The isolation of Melanesian communities meant there was little pressure for innovation. The victory of the colonial powers did not mean that Melanesians were stupid, but it did show that the competitive pressures that had spewed the conquerors out of the western end of Eurasia were immensely powerful and world changing.
The question of land tenure is very interesting. Dr Helen Hughes of the Center for Independent Studies in Australia has argued that absence of individual property ownership with legal title is a binding constraint for development in Melanesia. Hernando de Soto of the Institute for Liberty and Development in Peru argued in his book The Mystery of Capital that unlocking the value of land by enabling borrowing with collateral through a shift from informal to formal legal systems is the key to economic growth and poverty reduction.
By and large Melanesians have rejected land reform, but it is happening anyway through corruption, with large scale theft of property rights especially with forestry and mining concessions, and also with coastal development in Vanuatu. Land has a religious significance, and customary tenure is seen as a basis of security and identity. In fact, the security of Melanesia is provided by the military alliance between Australia and the USA which prevents Asians from invading. The local traditions are really very fragile. Huntington's map that puts PNG in the West shows the real security umbrella.
Hughes and De Soto have a point in their focus on tradeable property rights, in that the western economy was basically stagnant until the cadaster
enabled fiat creation of money through fractional reserve banking. We are now in a situation where we do not know if this invented electronic money we use is real or imaginary as a store of value. But compared to the primitive barter system of traditional cultures, money has enabled an almost unimaginable increase in wealth. We have shifted from a de facto gold standard to a land standard. The gold standard was always slightly magical anyway.
A friend said to me when he visited a village in PNG that he had never seen people who were so happy. There is much to lose in terms of belonging to a community through the loneliness and selfishness of modern life.