On Tuesday April 11, ISET hosted Warwick University Professor Omer Moav. Professor Moav delivered a profoundly interesting lecture to the ISET Community about the work that he and his colleagues have worked on together, specifically a revolutionary hypothesis about the emergence of social and political hierarchies in early agrarian societies. Contrary to some of the established theories (e.g. by Karl Marx and Jared Diamond), Moav and his colleagues argue that hierarchies (and state structures) emerged not as a result of increased productivity per se (the traditional Marxian thesis is that the ruling classes emerged whenever and wherever agriculture became sufficiently productive in order generate surpluses). Instead, they argue that social and political hierarchies are causally linked to the cultivation of cereals (e.g. wheat, rice, and maize). Furthermore, storage itself is correlated with hierarchy, and cereals are a good storable staple.

In the paper by Joram Mayshar, Omer Moav, Zvika Neeman, Luigi Pascali, the authors propose that the development of social hierarchy following the Neolithic Revolution was an outcome of the ability of the emergent elite to appropriate cereal crops from farmers and not a result of land productivity, as argued by conventional theory. The authors argue that cereals are easier to appropriate than roots and tubers, and that regional differences in the suitability of land for different crops explain therefore differences in the formation of hierarchy and states. A simple model illustrates authors’ main theoretical argument. The authors’ empirical investigation shows that land suitability for cereals relative to suitability for tubers explains the formation of hierarchical institutions and states, whereas land productivity does not.

ISET would like to thank Prof. Moav for finding time in his extremely busy schedule and providing a very interesting presentation and Q&A session to the ISET community.

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