Working paper

Property Rights, Warfare and the Neolithic Transition

Robert Rowthorn, and Paul Seabright


This paper explains the multiple adoption of agriculture around ten thousand years ago, in spite of the fact that the first farmers suffered worse health and nutrition than their hunter gatherer predecessors. If output is harder for farmers to defend, adoption may entail increased defense investments, and equilibrium consumption levels may decline as agricultural productivity increases over a significant range, before eventually increasing thereafter. Agricultural adoption may have been a prisoners’ dilemma in that adoption was individually attractive even though all groups would have been better off committing not to adopt while the initial productivity advantage of agriculture remained low.


agriculture; defense; property rights; contest functions; Neolithic transition;

JEL codes

  • D74: Conflict • Conflict Resolution • Alliances
  • N30: General, International, or Comparative
  • N40: General, International, or Comparative
  • O12: Microeconomic Analyses of Economic Development
  • O40: General
  • Q10: General


Robert Rowthorn, and Paul Seabright, Property Rights, Warfare and the Neolithic Transition, TSE Working Paper, n. 10-207, November 2010.

See also

Published in

TSE Working Paper, n. 10-207, November 2010