Parasites, Pathogens, and Progress

Parasites, Pathogens, and Progress: Diseases and Economic Development

Robert A. McGuire
Philip R. P. Coelho
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by:
Pages: 352
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    Parasites, Pathogens, and Progress
    Book Description:

    In Parasites, Pathogens, and Progress, Robert McGuire and Philip Coelho integrate biological and economic perspectives into an explanation of the historical development of humanity and the economy, paying particular attention to the American experience, its history and development. In their path-breaking examination of the impact of population growth and parasitic diseases, they contend that interpretations of history that minimize or ignore the physical environment are incomplete or wrong.The authors emphasize the paradoxical impact of population growth and density on progress. An increased population leads to increased market size, specialization, productivity, and living standards. Simultaneously, increased population density can provide an ecological niche for pathogens and parasites that prey upon humanity, increasing morbidity and mortality. The tension between diseases and progress continues, with progress dominant since the late 1800s.Integral to their story are the differential effects of diseases on different ethnic (racial) groups. McGuire and Coelho show that the Europeanization of the Americas, for example, was caused by Old World diseases unwittingly brought to the New World, not by superior technology and weaponry. The decimation of Native Americans by pathogens vastly exceeded that caused by war and human predation.The authors combine biological and economic analyses to explain the concentration of African slaves in the American South. African labor was more profitable in the South because Africans' evolutionary heritage enabled them to resist the diseases that became established there; conversely, Africans' ancestral heritage made them susceptible to northern "cold-weather" diseases. European disease resistance and susceptibilities were the opposite regionally. Differential regional disease ecologies thus led to a heritage of racial slavery and racism.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-29839-1
    Subjects: Economics, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Robert A. McGuire and Philip R. P. Coelho
  4. 1 Introduction: Biology, Diseases, and Migrations before the Twentieth Century
    (pp. 1-10)

    On November 29, 1847, in the Oregon Territory near present-day Walla Walla, Washington, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman were murdered. Marcus was attacked from behind by a Cayuse Indian who implanted a tomahawk deep into his skull. Later a group of Cayuse shot, beat, cut, mutilated, and, finally, decapitated and dismembered Narcissa. She died quickly; arguably her death may have been less painful than Marcus’s who lingered moaning for hours before succumbing. Eleven other people died in the attack, all the survivors were women and children; many of the women were raped, all were enslaved. Within months, representatives of the Hudson...

  5. 2 Biology, Diseases, and History: The Big Picture
    (pp. 11-36)

    History is and has been an abiding concern of humanity; we want to know our past, how our ancestors lived, and how the world we live in changed. Humanity’s curiosity about its past has generated an immense literature not only about the history of specific events but also about the historical evolution of humanity itself: The Big Picture. Our book tells a big picture story of history. We view the history of humanity as the product of interactions among humans, economic constraints, and the physical environment. Historians generally treat the biological environment and ecology as exogenous factors; this is incorrect...

  6. 3 Diseases and Long-Run Economic Growth
    (pp. 37-56)

    Evolution has provided humans with their senses, and we are bound by them. In the English language “inconsequential” is a synonym for “small”—the conflation of the minute with the insignificant is explicable by evolutionary selection. Things that are small are typically not immediate threats to life, so evolutionary selection has had our senses concentrate more on things that were larger and could immediately threaten existence. The invisible, by definition, would not be subject to physical (as distinct from cultural or genetic) evolution. Our senses delude us and provide a false feeling of security. These preconceptions hinder our understanding of...

  7. 4 The Colonists’ Choice of Agricultural Labor in Early America
    (pp. 57-76)

    Following the European Voyages of Discovery, the New World was ultimately populated with Old World peoples, pathogens, plants, and animals. The African and European peoples who settled in North America set in motion interchanges of organisms that critically altered its regional disease ecologies. The changes in disease ecologies were not uniform; climate and geography affected which diseases would predominate in the various regions of North America, and these changes affected the economic possibilities of settlers. Consequently, an explanation of the settlement of America requires the integration of economic motives, the ecological consequences of economic actions, and the feedback effects of...

  8. 5 The Initial Location of Africans and Europeans in Early America
    (pp. 77-114)

    The Voyages of Discovery and the interchange of biological organisms between the Old and New Worlds begin our in depth discussion of the roles that microbiology, evolutionary theory, and diseases have on our interpretation of the history and economic development of America.¹ We explain the initial use of Europeans in colonial British North American agriculture, the eventual use and predominance of Africans (blacks) in the tropics (the Caribbean) and subtropics (the southern mainland) of colonial America, and the continued use and predominance of Europeans (whites) in the more temperate regions (the northern mainland) of colonial America.

    The migration of Old...

  9. 6 Slavery and Diseases in the Antebellum American South
    (pp. 115-174)

    As an economic institution American slavery was certainly privately profitable.¹ Slavery easily passed the most rigorous evolutionary test: survival. American slavery existed and thrived for over two hundred years; it was only extinguished in 1865 after the bloodiest conflict fought in the Western Hemisphere. Prior to the Civil War, slavery had spread throughout the reaches of the American South. It was entrenched as far north as Kentucky and Missouri; in the West, it had spread across Texas and was a contentious issue in the debates over statehood for New Mexico. For over two centuries, slaveowners profited immensely from their ownership...

  10. 7 Evidence on the Spread of Diseases in Nineteenth-Century America
    (pp. 175-206)

    Chapter 3 provided the analytical framework that explained the interactions among the growth of population, economic growth, and the spread of diseases. Here we present historical and biomedical evidence that places the model in the context of nineteenth-century America. The available and pertinent data are on (1) the growth of population, (2) urbanization and population density, (3) transport developments associated with the demographic changes, and (4) the prevalence of infectious diseases across states and time. Some of the data are well known and widely accepted; however, including census mortality data, evidence on diseases is less reliable than that for population...

  11. 8 The Biology and Disease Lesson
    (pp. 207-224)

    The message of this book is that some of the most salient features of history can be explained by (1) differentials in the evolutionary heritage of various peoples, (2) climatic and geographic factors related to the spread of pathogens, and (3) the prevailing institutional background that frame the consequences of deliberate human choices. In this vein, an understanding of the American historical experience without a thorough examination of these elements is seriously flawed. A prominent example is the American Civil War; taking these factors and placing them in historical context, we can say that, in a sense, the American Civil...

  12. Appendix A: Earnings Required to Amortize Investments in Slaves and Servants, Tables A.1–A.5
    (pp. 227-228)
  13. Appendix B: Nineteenth-Century Transportation and Immigration Data, Tables B.1–B.5
    (pp. 229-234)
  14. Appendix C: US Census Mortality, 1850 to 1900, Tables C.1–C.16
    (pp. 235-274)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 275-286)
  16. References
    (pp. 287-314)
  17. Index
    (pp. 315-344)