As to climate, the theory changes with the times. When Egypt, Greece and Rome were the world's leading powers, intellectuals presumed that cold weather was ill-suited to civilization. Then, when the locus of progress moved north, so did the theory. Today, the idea is common among people from cold climates: heat makes people lazy.
Heat may have influenced output in the days before the days of air conditioning. The US Congress used to take the entire summer off - in order to escape the heat of the Potomac. But we grew up without air-conditioning 40 miles from the Capital Building; we don't recall it slowing us down too much. We worked through the hot summer months, doing hard heavy work in the tobacco fields.
And today, Miami and Singapore, both hot cities, flourish while Detroit goes bust and Vladivostok is wretched. Generally, Russia is a cold place. But it is hardly a rich place. By contrast, Australia is quite warm...and relatively wealthy.
One obvious cause of economic retardation is government. The more ambitious and aggressive it is, the more output will be depressed. The Chinese, immediately after WWII, were one of the world's poorest people. You could have blamed it on their race or their culture. But it was neither. Millions of these people fled to Hong Kong, which was little more than a barren rock, seeking the protection of the British government from Mao Tse-tung's government. They brought their culture with them. John Cowperthwaite was the British administrator assigned to watch over Hong Kong from 1961 to 1971. He made it a point not to interfere. He didn't even allow the collection of statistics on unemployment or income. He didn't want to provide the meddlers with any fodder for 'improving' things. On the mainland, no sparrow could fall without being registered by the communist bureaucracy and there was a program to solve every problem. There were Great Leaps Forward, Cultural Revolutions and Five Year Plans aplenty. The mainland Chinese became poorer and poorer, while the Chinese in Hong Kong got rich. By 1996, people in Hong Kong had a GDP per capita that was 137% of their English protectors.
Government reaches the point of declining marginal utility very quickly. A little - protecting property rights, enforcing contracts, and keeping people safe from violence - seems to pay off well. A lot is usually disastrous. Indians have a lot of government - a relic of the Stalinization of the country under Indira Gandhi. After WWII, Indians sent their elite youth - including Ms. Gandhi - to study in England. There, they learned the ideas and policies that retarded UK growth for almost a whole generation. Returning to India, they carried Keynes and Marx in their luggage.
Ms. Gandhi took over the top job from her father, Jawaharlal Nehru. She then came up with 6 sequential Five-Year Plans. One Five-Year Plan is usually enough to kill an economy. The Indian economy took all six treatments and somehow survived.
Traces of the quack medicine remain today. You will experience a bit of it even before you get to India. You must apply for a visa. Doing so requires paperwork. Paperwork takes time. And Indian bureaucrats are very serious about their paperwork. Our application for a visa was rejected when our signature strayed out of the box. We had to reapply!
Bill Bonner is the President & Founder of Agora Inc, an international publisher of financial and special interest books and newsletters.