"Sexual Selection, Conspicuous Consumption and Economic Growth"
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A new paper:

Sexual Selection, Conspicuous Consumption and Economic Growth

Jason Collins 

University of Western Australia - UWA Business School

Boris Baer 

University of Western Australia - Plant Energy Biology

Ernst Juerg Weber 

University of Western Australia - UWA Business School

July 13, 2012


The evolution by sexual selection of the male propensity to engage in conspicuous consumption contributed to the emergence of modern rates of economic growth. We develop a model in which males engage in conspicuous consumption to send an honest signal of their quality to females. Males who engage in conspicuous consumption have higher reproductive success than those who do not, as females respond to the costly and honest signal, increasing the prevalence of signalling males in the population over time. As males fund conspicuous consumption through participation in the labour force, the increase in the prevalence of signalling males who engage in conspicuous consumption gives rise to an increase in economic activity that leads to economic growth.

Maybe, except it seems like the wealthiest countries are ones where the men tend toward the drab. Wearing finery gets in the way of working hard, and the richest countries are the ones where the men work hard. In contrast, in countries where the women are out all day hoeing the yam fields while the men sit around dreaming up sexy new ways to display their sexiness, you wind up with a yam-based economy.

Or within a country, which occupation sees the most extreme male conspicuous consumption for purposes of sexual display? Right: pimpin'. But that doesn't seem like a real wealth-creator of an industry.

I think it works more the other way around: cultures where the women engage the most in conspicuous consumption relative to the men tend to be the richest. Conversely, I have this theory that the collapse of the Soviet economy had to do with the lack of opportunities for female conspicuous consumption, which left men with little to work for.

By the way, Jason Collins has an "Evolving Economics" blog.

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