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Extreme Frugal Living and Farming vs. Hunting-Gathering

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More accurately, it’s extreme poverty. That is the best way to describe living on one dollar a day in a pre-industrialized (farming) community. Now imagine this family, earning one dollar a day, has six children to support.

Forget about television (much less cable) and internet. Forget about cell phones (or any phone, for that matter). Forget about clean clothing and a good education. This story puts everything into perspective. While we’re all concerned with our own well-being and wealth, it’s difficult to contemplate what life is like on the other side of the world — or even elsewhere in this country — for those existing in poverty.

So why would this family, or any other extremely low income household, have so many children if there’s not enough to support them? Having more children means there are more hands to help in the field, and somehow the numbers show that an additional child helping when he or she is old enough will pay for that child’s expenses.

Perhaps the world’s biggest mistake was agriculture. When humans began adopting farming and leaving hunting-gathering behind, this is how they were rewarded:

* The average height of both men and women lessened by five or six inches.
* Life expectancy dropped.
* Increased cases of infectuous diseases and iron-deficiency anemia.

These are all signs of malnourishment in the skeletons of those early farmers. While many of these and other similar issues have been overcome by the modernized world (except for disease), not all humans have “progressed” that far yet.

If farming was so much better than hunting-gathering as progressives claim, why were people getting sick more often? Settling down and adopting agriculture allowed the already increasing population to continue increasing, but the quality nutrition provided by hunting and gathering gave way to higher quantity of less nutritious foods.

This point of view is quite anti-progressive and obviously more than a little controversial, but interesting.

Updated February 6, 2012 and originally published July 8, 2005.

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Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

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avatar 1 Anonymous

Interesting thoughts.

I must point out that as communities grew they started consuming the resources available — no more fruits to gather or animals to hunt. To support larger communities, farming and animal domestication (cattle) was necessary.

Regarding needing/having more kids, you are right. More kids help on a farm. However, since the death rate was quite high, you needed a lot more people to replace em. Plus… since contraception was not an option, lots of childs where frequent.

avatar 2 Anonymous

thanks for posting this. it is very interesting.

avatar 3 Anonymous

Agriculture was/is necessary for the production of Beer and Wine!!

avatar 4 Anonymous

One could also argue that as living became easier (i.e., you didn’t have to hunt in order to eat), natural selection did not work as well as it perhaps should have, thereby allowing the weaker members of society to last longer and bringing down the average for height, life expentancy, etc.

avatar 5 Anonymous

According to the Jared Diamond article that you linked, life expectancy decreased from 26 to 19 years following the ag transition. It has, however, increased dramatically since then, even in developing countries. And this change wasn’t driven a shift away from ag-based living.

And Darren… No, it wasn’t relaxed selection that caused this — the change was far too quick for that. It was a change in the environment (hunting/gathering to agriculture) that caused this, just as the dramatic increase in average height over the past 100 years is due to improved nutrition, medical care, etc.

avatar 6 Anonymous

One thing that Diamond also pointed out is that in order for governments to take off the personnel structure needed food that was stored in order to perform their government duties. This food was grown by others in the community, where in a hunter/gatherer society everyone had to pull their own weight to survive, thus no time to run a government.