Sunday, January 20, 2008

Review of "A Farewell to Alms" by Gregory Clark

Greg Clark's book could easily be called "In Inquiry into the Nature, Causes, and Effects of the Industrial Revolution." But that's a boring title, unfit for the world-altering subject matter. So instead the book's titled A Farewell to Alms, which sounds like the title of an adventure story -- which of course, it is.

A Brief Economic History of the World

A Farewell to Alms focuses on three questions: What caused the Industrial Revolution? What were the Industrial Revolution's positive outcomes? And what were the bad effects of the Industrial Revolution? Answers to these questions follow below.

1. What caused the Industrial Revolution

Clark's analysis is generally limited to the past 800 years, though on occasion he reaches back as far as the roman Empire. Thus, causes that preceded the Christian era are not addressed. Books such as Before the Dawn or potentially Guns, Germs, and Steel better serve to lay the deep-foundations for why some places have more advanced civilization than others.

Thus, A Farewell to Alms focuses on comparing Europe, China, and Japan. In the centuries preceding the Industrial Revolution both the European states and the Chinese empire experienced territorial growth, through the use of navies to settle distant colonies or the settling of agricultural lands by Han under the late Ming and the Qing. Technologies improvements allowed Japan to outpace Europe during this time, in spite of being confined to a few islands.

ca. 13005.9 million6 million72 million
ca. 17506.2 million31 million270 million

Table 13.1, pg 267

Clark argues that by about the time of the American Revolution, an Industrial Revolution was inevitable in all three cultures. Europe, China, and Japan were all undergoing population growth limited by starvation. This meant that there was constant downward selection, meaning that even if here was no variation in thrift, prudence, and other virtuous traits at the beginning, these traits would be selected over time. (Clark does not go into the genetics, but these traits are highly heritable).

Read more ...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Why the Industrial Revolution? Why not an Industrial Counter-Revolution?

My friend Lexington Green of Chicago Boyz emailed me "King Kong and Cold Fusion: Counterfactual Analysis and the History of Technology," by Joel Mokry. The piece was originally Chapter 10 in Unmaking the West. The piece is very deep, and should definitely be read on paper.

The article focuses on the question of why there was an Industrial Revolution in the west at the time there was. That is not just where there was this or that invention, but why all of a sudden there this rush of economically productive innovations that's still going on.

The Industrial Revolution ended the Starving Years (the Malthusian Era) that began some 12,000 years ago. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, technological growth was slow enough in non-violent societies that population growth always kept up, leading to just enough resources to keep the population alive at its standard of living. (East Asians, being more hygienic, required less calories to keep alive, and so suffered worse living conditions. Western Europeans, being filthy, suffered higher losses from disease, and thus more nutritious diets.)

The Industrial Revolution is around 200 years old, but note that's includes the years of growth that preceeded the return to Malthusian normalcy. It took until about 150 years ago that the average Englishman's living standards were as high as there were when Columbus discovered America.

From A Farewell to Alms, page 195

The article that Lexington sent makes a big deal of evolutionary analysis, and it's right to do that. As both the article and Enterra CEO Stephen DeAngelis note, evolution is a process of random change and non-random selection. Two ideas flow from this:

  1. Any change that actually takes hold was preceded by many identical changes that did not take hold

  2. Selection can be unfriendly

For the first, consider that while Europeans can drink milk because of one specific mutation, the ability to drink milk may have evolved 25 times in our species' history.

For the second, consider the history of technological relapse. In a matter of years, the Chinese lost their ability to navigate the oceans, and would be defeated by an island nation that may not have been worth the bother of conquering in Admiral Zheng He's time. The Mokyr articles notes some other examples of relapse:

The religious strictures that prevented Islam from adopting the printing press for centuries and the politics of insulation and the ban on firearms practiced in Tokugawa Japan...

Thus, we have two questions. "Why was there potential for an Industrial Revolution in Europe at al" and why "Why did the Industrial Revolution happen in Europe" and "why didn't an industrial counter-revolution occur there, as well?" Why did Europeans have the ability to innovate? And why didn't Europeans revolt against the machines in the way that the Chinese, the Japanese, the Muslims -- and for that matter, the Tasmanians -- did?

The first question is quite possibly the result of climate resulting in and interacting with culture and genetics.

To answer the second question: the Europeans did try to overthrow the machines, of course. William Blake, writing in 1804:

And was Jerusalem builded here

among these dark Satanic Mills?

Less obliquely, the Luddites just killed people. There was an Industrial Counter-Revolution, and this was a real war.

However, the European states set themselves to fighting this counter-revolutionary movement. This is strange, because the landed classes should have been united in their fear of industry. The Luddites, the breakers, all those criminals and terrorists, were fighting for King and Country, to defend the Predatory State and extend the Starving Years. The counter-revolutionaries were fighting to keep their chains.

I think the answer is cooperative competition, that existed in Europe but did not exist to the same extent in China or Japan. While primitive by modern standards, Europe in 1800 constained a system of nation-states. England fought the breakers because the English were more afraid of the Dutch than they were of the Revolutionaries.

Fortunately for us, the distracted Europeans focused on fighting each other, allowing the Revolution to overtake them all.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Moslems capture West China cities

The Opposite End of China has the New York Times article (about 74 years late). Hat-tip to Coming Anarchy.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Spooky Vampires!

Catholicgauze has a great, Halloween-themed post on vampires. Not Dracula, but Jewish lore, anti-Catholicism, and charges of real ones in Massachusetts in the 1890s.

Read CG's "A Short Geography of Vampires", and then check out "The Shunned House," the finest American vampire story ever written (by HP Lovecraft).

07:53 Posted in History | Permalink | Comments (0) | Tags: vampires

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

In search of a darwinian ratchet: the ANC, the PLO, and the RAF

Evolution is the change in frequency of variations over time. The evolution of species by means of natural selection was first described by Charles Darwin.

With this in mind, Fabius Maximus's tak of a "Darwinian ratchet" makes no sense:

the success of Israel’s counter-insurgency strikes against Hamas and Hezbollah have resulted in a “Darwinian ratchet”.

Israel’s security services cull the ranks of the insurgency. This eliminates the slow and stupid, clearing space for the “best” to rise in authority. “Best” in the sense of those most able to survive, recruit, and train new ranks of insurgents. The more severe Israel’s efforts at exterminating the insurrection, the more ruthless the survivors.

Back to evolution. In terms of nature, evolution has no purpose, goal, or direction. Pace to the Nazis and the Stalinists, to the Social Darwinists and the Creationists, evolution is not directed toward rewarding the strong, the social, the smart, or the sinful. Evolution is merely the change in the frequency of variations of some aspect of things.

Evolution happens in the context of an environment. If the environment rewards those with high general intelligence with more offspring than those less gifted, one might see general intelligence vary upward in the next generation (perhaps at the cost of something else, such as short term memory). If the environment rewards those who are cautious and nervous, then presumably frequencies of neuroticisms might change.

Fabius appears to have a different notion of evolution. A "ratchet," of course, is a tool that turns only one way. A "Darwinian ratchet" implies that evolution is determined to maximize some quality or trait, so that each new generation possesses more of it than the one preceding. One assumes that Fabius is looking to evolution to maximize, again and again, effective violence against Western societies..

But of course, evolution does not work this way, because the environment is not static. Even if the outside world remains the same, the population subjected to evolutionary forces will change, and as the population is part of the evolutionary landscape, the environment thus changes.

Fabius is concerned that Western violence against enemies of the West will ratchet up the fitness of our enemies, giving us more and more effective enemies. But of course, all that happens is that our activities alter their fitness landscape, leading to different proportions of different types of them. Take three examples of anti-Western forces subjected to continuous Western assault

  • The African National Congress

    The ANC began as a cookie-cutter Communist terrorist organization located in South Africa, aiming to bring down an economically productive yet antidemocratic ruling class. The South African government fought back, imprisoning the ANCs leaders, turning natural ANC allies against it, and generally engaging in Systems Administration duties. Fabius's "Darwinian ratchet" would lead us to expect that the ANC became more and more virulent, but what actually happened was that the removal of ANC members capable of conducting guerrilla campaigns morphed the ANC into a peaceful democratic movement. The fall of Apartheid and the ANC victory brought something completely unlike what the ANC founders envisioned, and ushered in a new South African regime roughly as compatible with Western goals as the Afrikaner state that preceded it.

  • The Palestine Liberation Organization

  • "At first, we were refugees. Harmless. Now, we become fighters. Freedom fighters." So Yasser Arafat rallied his troops, aiming to liberate the Palestinian people from Jewish and Hashemite occupation in Israel and Jordan. Once again, the West responded, offering hostility and partnership to the PLO in a bewildering series of deadly assaults. Again, the concept of a "darwinian ratchet" would lead us to believe that the PLO is now on the verge of achieving its objectives. But by the late 1990s the PLO had evolved into a corrupt rentier syndicate, completely unable to wage war on either of its historic enemies. When it tried in the Second Intifada it lost what freedom of maneuvered it had. The PLO is now protected by its old enemies from a reform movement (Hamas), in a divide-and-conquer strategy that makes true Palestinian statehood farther away than ever.

  • The Red Army Faction (Japan)

    But what if an enemy population adjusts to an increasingly hostile fitness landscape not by becoming soft and effective (the ANC), or soft and impotent (the PLO), but harsh and deadly? What if those reformists and crooks can be kept out, and the true believers are able to maintain power? Surely a "darwinian ratchet" will kick in then.

The radical wing of the RAF tried such a strategy, killing off the less radical half in a blood bath designed to weed out the disloyal. How it ends is predictable.

This is not to say that our enemies can't win. Of course they can. But pseudo-scientific talk of darwinian ratchets and other mechanisms that guarantee us ten-foot-tall enemies do not help matters. They do not clarify the strategic environment or accurately capture reality. They are tools for myopic, conceited schools of analysis which imagines that we are so important that our enemies very thought and desire is for our harm (rather than their benefit).

Also in the blogsophere: A.E. defends his take, while Sean ponders a law of evolution.

10:00 Posted in History | Permalink | Comments (8) | Tags: evolution, anc, plo, raf, Fabius Maximus

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Christopher Columbus

While some communities prefer to celebrate this week with racist themes (whether Dia de la Raza or Native American Day), it properly is held in memory of Christophy Columbus, the Admiral of the Seas and the greatest explorer of all time. (Though a good argument can be made that it should be Ferdinand & Isabella Day, in commemoration of the granting agency.)

Isabelle, the Catholic Queen of Castille, Aragon, the Isles, and the Land of the Ocean

The success of Columbus is the success of markets and globalization. As the Mamaluke and Ottoman Sultans accelerated the decline of Islam by blockading the Silk Road connecting the Occident to the Orient, the Iberian monarchies attempted to find a new, oceanic route to the largest economies of the world. (Venice's failed strategy of negotiating via arms with the Turks to reopen the silk road ultimately becoming moot.) Christopher Columbus, granted three ships (the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria) eventually discovered the new world, though the hoped for landings in Calcutta, Nanjing, or Kyoto were not to be.

Others had crossed the oceans before. Those ex-Siberians we now call "American Indians" first of all, of course, and later Polynesians who brought chickens and endtrail readings too. The Vikings landed, fought, and died, the Basque were cathcing a lot of cod from somewhere, and there are the theories about Admiral Zheng He...

But Columbus, uniquely,ended the civilizational apartheid which had separated the Americas from the Old World since the end of the stone age migrations. Because of Columbus, and of course Ferdinand and Isabelle, the world changed. The barbarous empire of the Aztecs would soon fall, and even more importantly the English would follow in time, exporting the common law to the United States and Canada.

Thank you, Christopher Columbus.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Who was Shakespeare?

For literally buffs, fl of Primrose Road has finished the series "Doubts" on the real identity of William Shakespeare

  1. Doubt about reasoning?

  2. Shakespeare Goes To College?

  3. Whitman's 'Feudalist' Shakespeare

  4. Summing up

Check it out!

06:07 Posted in History | Permalink | Comments (0) | Tags: history, primrose road, fl

Friday, September 07, 2007

Pre-Modern Wars, and theocratic Peaces

Dehghanpishesh, B. & Kaplow, L. (2007). Baghdad's new owners: Shiites now dominate the once mixed capital, and there is little chance of reversing the process. Newsweek. September 10, 2007. Available online: (from Thomas P.M. Barnett :: Weblog).

Faluda, S. (2007). America's guardian myths. The New York Times. September 7, 2007. Available online:

Two good articles on pre-modern wars, which may be called "0GW." In the New York Times a reminder of genocide-scale violence against English settlers:

The assault on Lancaster came several months into King Philip’s War (or Metacom’s Rebellion, for those who prefer the actual name of the Wampanoag chief). That fearsome and formative confrontation between white settlers and the New England tribes remains, per capita, America’s deadliest war. In one year, one of every 10 white men of military age in Massachusetts Bay was killed, and one of every 16 in the Northeastern colonies. Two-thirds of New England towns were attacked and more than half the settlements were left in ruins. Settlers were forced to retreat nearly to the coast, and the Colonial economy was devastated.

And, in Newsweek, the violent ethnic cleansing of Baghdad:

Thousands of other Sunnis like Kamal have been cleared out of the western half of Baghdad, which they once dominated, in recent months. The surge of U.S. troops—meant in part to halt the sectarian cleansing of the Iraqi capital—has hardly stemmed the problem. The number of Iraqi civilians killed in July was slightly higher than in February, when the surge began. According to the Iraqi Red Crescent, the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) has more than doubled to 1.1 million since the beginning of the year, nearly 200,000 of those in Baghdad governorate alone. Rafiq Tschannen, chief of the Iraq mission for the International Organization for Migration, says that the fighting that accompanied the influx of U.S. troops actually "has increased the IDPs to some extent."

Both the Massachusettes Bay Colony of Prince William's War and the contemporary Baghdad Governorate are fake states, lines on that could only be enforced by violence. Like Massachusettes Bay before her, Baghdad has one choice if she wishes to become a real political region: become a cultural region, as well.

In colonial New England, the "trigger pullers" of the colonial militia was backed up by a restrictive but pro-market ruleset, the religious puritanism of the area's new inhabitans. In the same way, contemporary Baghdad is only born by the violence of the Shia militias: a restrictive but pro-market ruleset, probably Sharia, is needed to raise her up.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

What is the best biography of Deng Xiaoping?

At the very least I would want something that covers 1949 till his death, but a full biography might make more sense.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Review of "Mao's Last Revolution" by Roderick MacFarquhar and Michael Schoenhals

This book by Roderick MacFarquhar and Michael Schnoenhals a history of the insane Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. I saw "insane" purposefully. Such actions as the Holocaust and even Cambodia's "Year Zero" in a way make sense, as they were purposeful applications of an ideology designed to achieve a defined end. Mao's war against the Communist Party, however, Hitler was more-or-less in charge of the destruction of the Jews, as Pol Pot more-or-less oversaw the destruction of the Cambodians. Mao opted for a less conventional approach. Rival "Red Guard" organizations tested dirty bombs in a series of escalations and even attacked arms shipments intended for the Vietnam War. Mao's Last Revolution is the story of this madness.

Mao's Legacy

The Cultural Revolution took place in the context of Soviet "revisionism," where first Khrushchev and then Brezhnev reformed the soviet system away from a cult of personality to the nondescript party oligarchy it eventually became. Mao feared a similar transformation of the People's Republic, and identified "Khrushchevs" around him. Immediate threats were the pragmatic Secretary-General of the Communist Party Deng Xiaoping and Mao's designated successor, Liu Shaoqi. Mao recognized the broader threat as the Chinese Communist Party itself, however, and proceeded to destroy it.

Smash the Liu-Deng Line!

Mao first purged the Mayor of Beijing and the Chief of Staff of the People's Liberation Army to severe the Party's links to supporting organizations. Then he proceeded to destroy it. Red Guards were incited to tear down the Party organization, and the Army was then unleashed to tear down the Red Guards. (The self-described Red Terror is told in enough detail that one positively roots for the Army as it mows down "student demonstrators." The context of Tiananmen has never been more clear.)

Red Guards (Useful Idiots)

Throughout the book specific incidents and anecdotes are elaborated on. The cities of Beijing (radicalized by the presence of Peking and Tsinghua Universities, not to mention the sometimes presence of Mao himself), Shanghai (where the Red Guards were subsumed by the organization of factoryworker-cum-intellectual Wang Hongwen, later one of the Gang of Four), and Wuhan (where Mao might have been deposed). Wuhan is especially notable as the beginning of the misfortunes of Wang Li, a high-ranking but not especially powerful member of the Central Cultural Revolutionary Group. Wang is attacked and tortured by enraged followers of a PLA General that Wang completed peace talks with, later is imprisoned by his fellow Culturally Revolutions, and only released by the Deng government in 1982.

The People's Liberation Army

Mao, whose Lou Gherig's disease worsens as the history continues on, is a master politician who is able to place one group against the other. His Red Guards destroy the Party, the People's Liberation Army (headed by toady Lin Biao) destroys the Red Guards, and the purging of Lin and other top generals in the PLA returns the government to "civilian" rule. Mao's 5GW is in a brilliant position on his death, with his wife and the rest of the Gang of Four in power behind a hapless toady, Hua Guofeng. Only a rump and discredited band of "survivors," those kept alive and with nominal party membership by Mao Zedong, remain.

Happily for the fate of the world, Madame Mao is an idiot many times over and provokes a defensive coup by Hua Guofeng which results in Deng Xiaoping's final, and successful, rise to power. In an epilogue, the authors note that Mao is the last of the "traditional" Chinese rulers (anti-market) and Deng the first of the radicals (pro-market). Deng has now been succeeded by Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, who now "re-envision" Mao's legacy in what must be a nightmare to the Chairman's Ghost.

Mao's Last Revolution is one of the best histories I have ever read, and easily the most readable. Strongly recommended.

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