December 2010


I’ve often referenced Steve Sailer’s dirt theory of warfare, because it’s simple to understand and sounds plausible to me. In short, wealth and state power used to be based on land which means war over territory. Now the returns, even at the top, go to labor (Sailer says its the buildings that are valuable, but it’s really the concentration of people & organizational capital). Part of the reason it seems plausible to me is that I’m a cultural product of the Anglo Settler revolution, and the idea that population will shortly outstrip the carrying capacity of land and have to move on seems only natural to me. History before the industrial revolution is correctly described by Malthus, and Darwin’s theory helped us see how the same logic shaped evolutionary history, easily demonstrated with the growth of bacterial cultures.

In Sailer’s linked post there is a parenthetical reference to slaves, but like me he may have underestimated their importance in the past. James Scott’s focus in his latest book (and some of his prior work) is on southeast asia, which had a population density considerably lower than Europe, China or India and many areas peasants could flee to and escape the state’s grasp. There rulers were not identified with and concerned with control over land but people, and even fertile cropland without people was considered worthless. Their wars were primarily struggles to obtain captives and with little focus on killing (but plenty of destruction in the process of intimidating targets and supplying armies). This made me recall hearing how different Aztec war was and how easily the Spanish (whose focus was on destroying rival armies rather than taking captives) defeated much larger numbers. In school the Aztecs were presented as a strange curiosity, but they not have been so even by the standards of European history. Scott notes that Athens & Sparta were majority slave societies who came into conflict over tribute rather than land. Those states do seem different in that the military forces were supposed to consist of citizens rather than slave conscripts, but it also makes what I considered normal to seem more of a special case.

Now for a complaint: Scott often reinterprets edicts by reading them “against the grain” to deduce that a ruler was unable to solve the festering problem being addressed. The same logic applied today would conclude that all our attention devoted to child molesters & terrorists must mean that they reached epidemic proportions in the 21st century U.S.

Not in those words, but close enough. He has yet to make any pronouncements in his capacity as mayor.

Everybody loves James Scott. I certainly enjoyed “Seeing Like a State”, perhaps having a predisposition towards its genre. Because of my predisposition toward that narrative, I look out for contrary ones. I’m currently also enjoying “The Art of Not Being Governed”. I saw on the back flap a blurb from Tom Palmer at Reason, which I was surprised not to have already read. As one might expect of blurb-sources, Palmer praises the book but he also takes note my titular critic. Samuel Popkin’s “The Rational Peasant” argued against Scott’s “The Moral Economy of the Peasant”, neither of which I’ve read. This was way back in the 70s when Vietnam was still fresh in our minds, but perhaps if I read Popkin now it would still help to correct excesses I’ve absorbed from the Scott of today. My first link above references Randal O’Toole’s complaints about Jane Jacobs relying on Herbert Gans’ ethnographies, which I should also check out some time. Gans also wrote “Deciding What’s News”, which should be interesting in its own right if also dated.

I previously discussed oppositional pairs of books here. The ones listed there I have read are Easterly vs Collier and Greg Clark + Mancur Olson vs North & Wallis & Weingast. The ones I haven’t are Marshall Sahlins vs Edward Said + Gananath Obeyesekere and Daniel Goldhagen vs Finkelstein & Birn. In Henry Farrell’s double-review of Scott’s latest he depicts the other reviewed anarchist sympathizing author (Benedict Anderson) as his own opposition for radically altering his earlier argument about the relationship between mass communication and nationalism. Incidentally, “The Art of Not Being Governed” trumpets the repeated refutation of the famous materialist evolution theory put forth by Karl Wittfogel of the “hydraulic-state”.

UPDATE: Thorfinn points me to a much better critique from Victor Lieberman, this time of “The Art of Not Being Governed”.

Raghuram Rajan has recently argued that American politics has made use of easy credit as a substitute for the welfare state. I haven’t read the actual paper to know if he is cited, but Monica Prasad evidently agrees with him in attempting to explain why America’s banking system is so heavily regulated but not robust to deregulation. The crash has created something of a populist moment on left & right, so it is interesting to hear a scholar point the finger back at us yahoos and (as I discuss in a comment) jibes with what I’ve read about the unusually fractured nature of our banking system.

On an unrelated note, a psychiatrist decades ago discovered a cure for the mental illness of hippiedom. On another unrelated note, Statsquatch has had some new posts after a period of inactivity.

I hadn’t heard of this before. I find it interesting because since reading Dawkins on the origin of “life” vs “replication” and clay crystals I implicitly minimized the distinction. Via Metamagenic in a comment at GNXP.

They only cause delay.

James Scott’s “Seeing Like a State” indicts the Bolsheviks as premier examples of “authoritarian high-modernism”. As an anarchist, I thought he might have cited as counter-examples Bakunin, Kropotkin or (more relevant for the time period) Emma Goldman. Instead he chose the Marxists Rosa Luxembourg* and Alexandra Kollontai as the Jane Jacobses of communism. The former has her minor celebrity, but I had never heard of the latter before and didn’t give it a second thought until Ilya Somin indirectly led me to wikipedia’s page on left-wing uprisings against the Bolsheviks. It is ironic that the “Workers Opposition” is included there as they not only did not participate in any uprising, but encouraged the crushing of infantile left-deviationist rebels and took official positions in the Soviet government. A rather round about way of getting to the title of this post. Kollontai is apparently the source for the famous quote “the satisfaction of one’s sexual desires should be as simple as getting a glass of water”, but what she actually said was “sexuality is a human instinct as natural as hunger or thirst”. The former is the sort of insane New Soviet Man ravings that righties are apt to swallow whole, the latter is sensible enough that even St. Augustine may have agreed. I’ll leave aside her other beliefs, but that is quite the misquote.
*Bryan Caplan thinks Rosa Luxembourg has an undeservedly high reputation among historians. I’m sure Keith Preston disagrees with his view of Gustav Landauer.

Both Ed Glaeser and Sister Y have books set to come out.

I’ve mentioned before how odd it is that so many mighty-whities are fond of Nazi Germany, the one power to count a non-white nation (Japan) among its major allies. More recently it occurred to me that the lineup in WW2 also matches up poorly with an “aryan” family of languages. I suppose that’s not what the Nazis were actually focused on since Yiddish is an Indo-European (Germanic even!) language, but I find it an interesting angle nonetheless. As far as I know, there are three current language families indigenous to Europe do not derive from Indo-European. These are the Basque linguistic isolate, the Finno-Ugric family (spoken in Finland, Hungary and Estonia) and the Caucasian family (the only member of which is a national language being Georgian). The Basques predominately reside in Spain. Spain under Franco was aligned with the axis but declined to actually participate in the war. During Spain’s civil war, the Basques fought against the nationalists for the independence/autonomy of their territory. I will chalk them up to neither side. Finland had fought a Winter War with the Soviet Union following the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Afterward they coordinated with Germany to attack the Soviet Union during the Continuation War and some of the allies declared war on them. Hungary was an initial beneficiary of the German dismantling of Czechoslovakia, and subsequently participated in the invasion of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union with a brief period under a fascist government. Unlike Finland, Estonia was successfully seized by the Soviets during the pact. Its people greeted the Germans as liberators and some went to serve in the Finnish army against the Soviets while others were conscripted by Germany. Georgia was the only nation to (briefly) be ruled by a Menshevik government, but was quickly incorporated into the USSR. German forces failed to reach Georgia and many Georgians served in the Red Army, but others enlisted in the Georgian Legion on behalf of Germany. Sub-national caucasian-speaking ethnic groups were viewed with suspicion by Stalin, so he had the Chechen and Ingush peoples exiled to Siberia (as well as the Turkic-speaking Karachay and Balkarian peoples) for collaboration with the Nazis. Just in writing this I learned that other co-belligerents included Iraq and Thailand. On the allied side, Turkey remained neutral (despite collaborating with the Soviets during its own war of independence) until 1945 when it symbolically entered on the side of the allies. China had been on good terms with the Nazi regime, but its pre-axis conflict with Japan put it on the side of the allies.
UPDATE: P. M. Lawrence in a comment below tarnishes my beautiful post with some ugly facts.

An angle I’m not sure I’ve heard before. Glad Jonathan Zasloff acknowledges he would actually be to the left rather than complaining about how awful Republicans are now compared to the good old days. For myself I’ll say that part of my childhood identification as a Republican (before I heard of libertarianism) owed in part to the image of a serious grown-up in a suit who understood how business worked.