November 12, 2011

Does capitalism reduce fitness?

I was much surprised to find this blog post on my feed today:

nielsen lab, occupy, and berkeley protests

I don't have much to say about the Occupy movement itself. People can differ in their opinions about the causes of the current economic malaise, and to argue about them. But, I will comment on a point:

We’ve thus been taking part in multiple ‘Occupy’ activities, starting the first meeting of Occupy Oakland in mid-October, marches in SF, and the Nov 2 Oakland general strike. This was a great moment – young and old, blue and white collar workers walked and rejoiced together the whole day. Our sign said ‘rEvolutionary Biologists say: Capitalism Reduces Fitness!’

Well, it’s the objective truth. An flyer distributed in the demonstration was pointing out that an African-American boy born in West Oakland has 15 shorter life expectancy than someone born up in the hills. If that’s not reduction in fitness, what is?

A reduction of life expectancy by 15 years is not evidence of reduction of fitness. Fitness is measured in offspring, it is not measured in years lived. African countries, for example, have very high population growth rates, and very low life expectancies. That is fitness. Fitness is not a comfortable long life, but having lots of babies and living long enough to ensure their survival as independent entities.

It is strange that evolutionary biologists from a top institution would make such a simple mistake. Perhaps public spending is not the best way to advance science and education?

20 comments:

Maju said...

They were probably talking about simple physical fitness of the individual, not about long-run adaptive fitness of a lineage/population (though they are in any case related, even if it's not the only factor).

Dienekes said...

No.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fitness_(biology)

Onur said...

I totally agree with Dienekes.

This is a classic example of leftists distorting science in favor of political correctness. The fact that African countries have the highest population growth rates in the world demolishes the assertions that poverty (whether caused by capitalism or not) reduces fitness.

Pascvaks said...

"Does Capitalism reduce fitness?"

(SarcOn)Yes and No. It depends on what the meaning of "is" is. Language is such a pathetic means of expressing oneself, but writing is even worse. Remember the objective of anarchy is total confusion. Language is a weapon to be used to confuse the ordered mind and achieve chaos. Speak with action, all else is meaningless. Etc. Etc.(SarcOff)

Meaning has as much to do with context as definition.

Fanty said...

As another example you can add Germany.

Germany has the highest average IQ in Europe and is the economical most powerfull country of Europe aswell.

While at the same time, its the least fittest country of the planet, in biological meaning.

The Germans are endangered in their existance, because of their increadable low birthrates.

Fixed Carbon said...

Nahh. None of these have really high fitness. Ya gotta be a polygamist to have really high fitness. Consider the jack Mormon polygamists, http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2010/02/polygamists/anderson-text

Achaean said...

QUOTE
Germany has the highest average IQ in Europe and is the economical most powerfull country of Europe aswell.
UNQUOTE

Nonsense.

BTW, you spell 'powerful' with one 'l'.

QUOTE
The Germans are endangered in their existance, because of their increadable low birthrates.
UNQUOTE

I believe that's a good thing esp. in view of the fact that German population explosion led to the development of Nazism, Fascism, Lebensraum dogma, Drang Nach Osten dogma, Rassenskampf dogma, two world wars and tens of millions of Europeans dead, including but not limited to, 20 million in Russia alone and 6 million Jews.

Your message strongly reminds me of Neo-nazi hysterics with respect to the 'heroische Deutsche volke' going extinct and so forth. Ofc, I for one could not care less.

apostateimpressions said...

We have to distinguish short-term and long-term fitness. The Germans may have a low birth rate right now but their higher IQ will surely favour them in the long run. Also, the social environment is liable to change. Thus we can cannot estimate biological fitness just by current birth rates.

We also have to distinguish reproductive fitness (quantity) and genetic quality. A species way down the evolutionary path like a fly may breed "like flies" compared to humans.

An economic system may be judged by how far it maintains the *quality* as well as the quantity of the nation. The classic anthropological objection to industrial capitalism is that it is dysgenic because it breeds a massive urban lower class that tends to be relatively low IQ and anti-social. The welfare state then compounds the problem by reducing the elimination of the less fit. Sir Francis Galton argued that the state needs to intervene to maintain the stock. Sir Winston Churchill tried to introduce a eugenics bill into parliament.

So what these protestors were trying to say is probably true in so far as industrial capitalism does lower the quality of the populace. At least that is what the Tories used to argue.

-- "Old Tory slogans appear at Occupy demo" lol

Brandon said...

You are right. They incorrectly used the biological definition of "fitness." As members of the academic community they have the responsibility not to misinform the public with the erroneous usage of these terms, especially in a highly normative and ideologically slanted "movement."

Although there is some misrepresentation, the protesters are referring to a real empirical observation of minorities being less physically healthy due to social and cultural influences. These observations are not correlated to reproductive success (i.e. "fitness").

truth said...

The highest IQ in Europe is Italy.

harpersnotes said...

(Apologies for lack of brevity.) (Coarse-level baby-counting of course fails in the case of selfish genetic elements.) Fitness, as the fit between environment and trait, is in the original use of the term by Darwin indicative of a theoretically optimal representation where selection acts upon traits (i.e. not directly on genes). Baby-counting is just an easy and practical way of measuring that for research purposes. So a generous way of interpreting the sign at the rally would be that capitalism, through creating harsh environments interfering with the development of traits, is reducing the fit between traits and the environment. (Apologies if all this is trivial or has been discussed before.)

Dean said...

I was at a few Occupy marches, and there was a lot of standing around, for a long time. That is good for fitness. Sitting for long periods of time is very bad.

I don't think fitness has anything to do with political affiliation. In my youth, we played sports outdoors all day long and ran around a lot. Nowadays, kids seem to be into staying at home and playing video games. All of this happened in the same economic system.

Andrew Lancaster said...

Dienekes you spotted a mistake very well.

On the other hand, it is possible that a political or economic system can be bad for fitness in senses other than biological sense of course (worse health etc).

It sounds like the authors were trying to sound like they were qualified say something outside their field of study, by mixing up word meanings.

Onur said...

I believe that's a good thing esp. in view of the fact that German population explosion led to the development of Nazism, Fascism, Lebensraum dogma, Drang Nach Osten dogma, Rassenskampf dogma, two world wars and tens of millions of Europeans dead, including but not limited to, 20 million in Russia alone and 6 million Jews.

Your message strongly reminds me of Neo-nazi hysterics with respect to the 'heroische Deutsche volke' going extinct and so forth. Ofc, I for one could not care less.


Nationalism and religion/denomination always divide otherwise similar human groups. Your Greek nationalism is no better than Nazism in that it, just like like Nazism, divides Europeans, and Caucasoids in general, and does harm to them over the long term. It does harm because the world is quickly globalizing and transportation is much easier and cheaper than in previous centuries and non-Caucasoids are replacing Caucasoids through population growth and migration to Caucasoid lands. The Han Chinese ethnic group alone has a population of more than 1.3 billion people constituting about 20% of the world human population. Europeans, and Caucasoids in general, have no such unity; the European Union today looks much more like a temporary alliance for the individual profit of its member states than a union and its long-term existence is in question. Lacking unity makes them vulnerable.

matteo said...

Someone wrote in this discussion: "Meaning has as much to do with context as definition."
Indeed, our sign simply means that current economical system doesn't provide to all the people the means of leading a fulfilling life.
We are well aware of the Darwinian meaning of fitness. This was a figurative way to express our opinion.

Fanty said...

Well, thats typical for you poor lot.
You demand Germany to save Europe and at the same time, you claim them to be crap. ;-)

Fanty said...

@Archean:

I have seen 3 independant studies about average IQ in Europe and the one thing they all agree on is that Germany is number 1.

They also all agree on that the next ranking countries are close to Germany but they differ in what order. Usualy they rank countries like Netherland, Sweden, Poland and Italy and second or third behind Germany.

As least intelligent they also all agree on, this beeing countries on the egdes of Europe. Namely: Ireland, Portugal, Balkanpeninsular+Greece and Russia.

Britain is usualy exactly average.
France is rated slightly below average in some and quiet some far below average in others.

msomel said...

For those asking whether the 15 year shorter expected lifespan of black West Oakland babies has anything to do with evolutionary fitness – well, yes, this is more a metaphor than strict population genetics analysis, but a well-founded one in that!

The classical definition of absolute fitness in evolutionary biology, used to model the spread of alleles in a population, is the number of offspring individuals carrying a certain genotype contribute to the next generation [Maynard-Smith 1998 'Evolutionary Genetics']. It thus reflects probabilities of survival and reproduction in a particular environment (note that everything else being equal, reduced chances of survival mean reduced individual fitness).

What is meant by capitalism reducing fitness, in turn, is social inequality and deprivation weakening the survival ability of *human societies* [e.g. Diamond 2005 'Collapse'].

Meanwhile, human evolution itself provides nice evidence for why survival of societies is not a simple function of reproductive rates. Among life-history characteristics distinguishing humans from chimpanzees, three conspicuous traits are delayed reproduction, menopause, and longevity. These traits were likely advantageous in human evolution, and thus selected for. However, selection for these traits did not necessarily involve a direct increase in the reproductive rates of particular individuals. Instead, they likely involved selection through inclusive fitness (e.g. the increased survival of grandchildren), and the expansion of human abilities for cultural accumulation and transmission [Kaplan et al 2000]. Collaborative behavior and altruism may have been similarly been selected for in human evolution [Hamann et al 2011]. It was these cultural traits, not just increased fertility, which rendered modern humans such successful species, and might even have allowed our ancestors to out-compete their cousins like Neanderthals.

Coming back: Some populations or social sectors in today’s world show faster growth in numbers than others. But populations in poverty, without education, healthcare, technology development, long-term planning, or organized resource sharing, will eventually pay a cost. They will be less likely to sustain themselves and they will be particularly vulnerable to crises. This is repeatedly seen in historical [Diamond 2005 'Collapse'], as well as recent examples, such as the halving of incomes in US Latinos and African-Americans post-2008.

The social message is clear and if you don’t like it, better say directly, don’t hind behind forced arguments.

Dienekes said...

For those asking whether the 15 year shorter expected lifespan of black West Oakland babies has anything to do with evolutionary fitness – well, yes, this is more a metaphor than strict population genetics analysis, but a well-founded one in that!

Evolutionary biology is based on empirical evidence, not metaphors. If you have empirical evidence that populations with lower life expectancy have reduced fitness, provide it, and spare us your metaphors.


What is meant by capitalism reducing fitness, in turn, is social inequality and deprivation weakening the survival ability of *human societies* [e.g. Diamond 2005 'Collapse'].

Evidence, please, not hand-waiving. Capitalism is about two centuries-old and going strong. The competing system that barred free enterprise imploded on itself in less than a century. The empirical evidence does NOT support your thesis.

Also, there is no concept of "fitness" as the survival ability of human societies" in evolutionary biology. The survival ability of human societies may be a topic for political or social science, but NOT for evolutionary biology.

Collaborative behavior and altruism may have been similarly been selected for in human evolution [Hamann et al 2011]. It was these cultural traits, not just increased fertility, which rendered modern humans such successful species, and might even have allowed our ancestors to out-compete their cousins like Neanderthals.

There is no evidence that capitalism hinders collaborative behavior. Capitalism, after all, is based on free trade, i.e., giving value for value, and free association, e.g., in the formation of companies.

We've already had about a century of an experiment with two societies, one based largely on free enterprise and another based on forced collaboration. The latter imploded, the former has not. Moreover, during the existence of the latter, there was a constant movement of defection of able individuals toward the former.


The social message is clear and if you don’t like it, better say directly, don’t hind behind forced arguments.

There is no clear social message that can be derived from evolutionary biology against capitalism. Saying so is bad science, verging on scientific misconduct.

pconroy said...

@Fanty,

A few points:
1. Germany does not have the highest average IQ in Europe - actually far from it.
Read:
http://www.v-weiss.de/calibration.html
By German Volkmar Weiss for a calculation of IQ based on PISA scores, which are far more representative then the BS produced by Lynn and Vanhanen.
Germany's IQ is estimated at 97.

2. Germany's economy is the "most powerful" in Europe due to 2 factors, Germany has by far the largest population of any EU nation, and Germany is the EU's China, in that it is a huge manufacturing economy, and benefits more than any other nation from the EU

3. Germany should bail out some countries. Take for instance Ireland, it had a huge property bubble and prices of houses increased rapidly over a decade or so. This property bubble was precipitated by a few factors, first being that the EU Central Bank set a very low interest rate, to satisfy the very slow/almost stagnant growth of the German economy chiefly - this made borrowing money very cheap in a very fast growing economy like Ireland's. Secondly German pension funds were one of the biggest investors in property in Ireland - this was because the return on investment was so much better than the moribund German economy. So in effect, Ireland is accepting austerity measures to bail out German pensioners - when in actuality Germans should be bailing bailing out their own pensioners.

For more info on IQ and national output and smart fractions, see my comments here:
http://www.gnxp.com/wp/2010/08/22/israel/#comment-1634