Random thoughts on critiques of Allen’s theory of the Industrial Revolution

{ This post is mostly stringing together scattered tweets of my mine over the past couple of weeks. I’ve had numerous discussions on this subject with Vincent Geloso, Judy Stephenson, Ben Schneider, Benjamin Guilbert, Anton Howes, and Mark Koyama. But yesterday Geloso sent me the paper he’s working on for Alsatian wages and that kick-started further thoughts I shared with Geloso privately, and then with the others on Twitter. You can follow the most recent discussion below this tweet, although it’s very difficult to keep track of the many different threads. I’m generally a sceptic of Allen’s theory, but in this post it seems I ended up critiqueing the critiques as much as Allen himself. } Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Sven Beckert’s Empire of Cotton: A Reductionist Summary

Historian Sven Beckert’s widely acclaimed book, Empire of Cotton: A New History of Global Capitalism, is a good agrarian, business, and labour history of a single commodity. But as economic history it’s not so good. Continue reading

Posted in cotton, Empire of Cotton, global history, historians of capitalism, Sven Beckert | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

Inequality & the First Globalisation

A follow-up to my previous post, “Did inequality cause WW1? Contra Hobson-Lenin-Milanovic“, elaborating on the inequality=>capital exports link in Branko Milanovic’s overall inequality=>ww1 claim.

In the earlier post, two commenters took issue with my treatment of the inequality=>capital exports linkage. Of course I did acknowledge that high domestic inequality did probably contribute to Europe’s capital exports, in the sense that lower inequality implies higher aggregate consumption and therefore less capital exported. But I also argued that other structural factors (demographics and diminishing returns to capital) should not be underrated.

Yet even IF inequality had been the most important cause of capital exports, then what it helped achieve indirectly was the rapid development of the world’s settler regions and the consolidation of social democracy in Europe.

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Posted in Income distribution, Industrial Revolution, Inequality, the First Globalization, The First World War | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Did inequality cause the First World War? Contra Hobson-Lenin-Milanovic

The “Hobson-Lenin Thesis”: inequality, ‘underconsumption’, capital exports, imperialism, and the Great War

In a small section in his new book, Branko Milanovic argues that the First World War was ultimately caused by income & wealth inequality within the belligerent countries, resurrecting ideas from John A. Hobson, Rosa Luxemburg, and Lenin. The basic argument: high domestic inequality => ‘underconsumption’ by the masses & ‘surplus’ savings by the elites => capital exports, i.e., search for overseas outlets for investment => the ‘scramble for colonies’ & imperialism => (a major cause of the) WAR.

I examine each element in this chain of logic and reject the “endogenous World War I” view.

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Posted in Branko Milanovic, Foreign Investment, Inequality, the First Globalization, The First World War | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

The Baptist Question Redux: Emancipation & Cotton Productivity

Edward Baptist, the author of The Half Has Never Been Told, has been claiming since the publication of his book that a putative post-Emancipation drop in overall agricultural productivity in the American South is proof that it was torture, not new cotton cultivars and frontier soils, which had been largely responsible for the US cotton boom of 1800-60. But there are severe limitations to what the cliometric literature on slavery can reveal about post-Emancipation productivity specifically in cotton-picking.
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Posted in cotton, Edward Baptist, historians of capitalism, Slavery, The Half has never been told | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Where do pro-social institutions come from?

AKA “Cooperation, cultural evolution & economic development”. Where do ‘good’ or pro-social institutions come from ? Why does the capacity for collective action and cooperative behaviour vary so much across the world today ? How do some populations transcend tribalism to form a civil society ? How have some societies gone beyond personal relations and customary rules to impersonal exchange and anonymous institutions? In short, how do you “get to Denmark” ? I first take a look at what the “cultural evolution” literature has to say about it. I then turn to the intersection of economics and differential psychology.

[Warning: long and kind of abstract, though not technical. Edit 21 Oct 2015: ‘Denmark’ is a metaphor taken from Fukuyama. This post has absolutely nothing what ever to do with Denmark.]

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Posted in Behavioural economics, Cooperation, Cultural Evolution, Institutions, Political Economy, Social & Civic Capital, Social Evolution | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 40 Comments

¿De donde vienen las instituciones prosociales?

[19 October 2015] Jesús Alfaro of the Autonomous University of Madrid has translated my previous post into Spanish: ¿De dónde vienen las instituciones prosociales?

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“Experimenting with Social Norms” in Small-Scale Societies

Social norms, institutions, and economic development. (A companion post to “Where do pro-social institutions come from?”)

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Posted in Cultural Evolution, Economic Anthropology, Economic Development, Institutions, Social Evolution | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Educational Romanticism & Economic Development

An elaboration on Ricardo Hausmann’s article “The Education Myth” arguing that education is an overrated tool of economic development. This post also responds to a criticism of Hausmann’s views which appeared at the Spanish group blog Politikon; and also discusses whether developing countries really can raise scores on achievement tests.

[Edit: This blogpost has now been translated into Spanish as “El romanticismo educativo y el desarrollo económico“.]

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Posted in economic growth, Education | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

Markets & Famine: Amartya Sen is not the last word !

Whether markets help cause or exacerbate famines is one of the great questions of political economy. Cormac Ó Gráda’s recent book Eating People is Wrong, and Other Essays on Famine, its Past, and its Future, along with his earlier volume, Famine: A Short Historyquietly, calmly, and unostentatiously undermines many of the key empirical observations about markets and famines made by Amartya Sen. Yet few seem to have noticed his disagreements with the Nobel laureate who transformed the thinking on the subject. This post includes remarks on the Bengal famine of 1943, the Great Irish Potato Famine, and some of the ‘Victorian’ famines of British India in the late 19th century.

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Posted in Economic History, Famines | Tagged , , , , | 13 Comments

Anachronism & Relevance in History: a comment on Steve Pincus

Anachronism and relevance are in tension. Historians (often) rail against the former and (often) pine for the latter. They can easily manage a bit of relevance by intervening in today’s political and economic debates and offering ‘lessons’ from the past — but at high risk of anachronism. That’s certainly how I view Yale historian Steve Pincus’s intervention in The New York Review of Books, “1776: The Revolt against Austerity“. (Edit: Steve Pincus has replied in the comments section!)

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Posted in Economic History | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Did the “Invisible Blockade” against Allende’s Chile work?

Did an ‘invisible blockade’ by the United States fatally undermine the Chilean economy under the presidency of Salvador Allende (1970-73) ? Did it actually work ? Short answer: No.

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Posted in Chile, Political Economy | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments

Nazi political economy

My previous post about the political orientation of fascists got a response from Jonah Goldberg, the author of Liberal Fascism. This is my brief response to his.

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Posted in Economic History, Political Economy | Tagged , | 56 Comments

Fascism was not left-wing !!!

John Holbo at Crooked Timber reprises a debate which raged 7 years ago when a book called Liberal Fascism was published. His take focuses on Germany but mine puts more weight on Italy. I think the issue is kind of obvious, but it’s always good to have an excuse to pontificate on matters historical.

[Edit 5/5/15: This blogpost is NOT a comment on or a critique of Jonah Goldberg’s book, which I have not read, but he has responded to me. Edit: 6 May 2015: My follow-up and response to Goldberg, “Nazi Political Economy“.]

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Posted in History, Political Economy | Tagged | 48 Comments

McCloskey: Cotton wasn’t crucial to the Industrial Revolution

I (mostly) copy-and-paste Deirdre McCloskey’s argument that cotton was not crucial to the Industrial Revolution in Britain. I also have a very brief rant about historians’ erasure of Robert Fogel from historiographic memory. Continue reading

Posted in cotton, great divergence, historians of capitalism, Industrial Revolution, Slavery | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

Chile’s First Globalisation: Inequality, Frontier Expansion, and Immigration

This is a translation-reblog of the post by historian Javier Rodríguez Weber, “Globalisation and Inequality, for a ‘sophisticated’ version of the neoclassical intepretation” (original: “Globalización y Desigualdad. Por una versión ‘sofisticada’ de la interpretación neoclásica”). It shows how Chile’s income distribution in the period 1880-1903 was affected by the combination of international trade, the opening of frontier lands, and (the relative lack of) immigration. There are also interesting comparisons with Australia and New Zealand.

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Posted in Chile, Economic History, Inequality | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Errata dentata: The History Manifesto Revisited

This post, a follow-up to my earlier posts “La longue purée” and “Jo Guldi’s Curiouser & Curiouser Footnotes“, examines the recent revisions made to The History Manifesto. Warning: the post may be tedious. For die-hards only.

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Posted in Environmental Economics, History Manifesto | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Ian Morris’s calculations about the ancient Greek economy

Addenda to the previous blogpost “Economic growth in ancient Greece“. I argue that certain estimates made by Ian Morris under-compute the implied growth rates in the “per capita income” of the ancient Greeks. With a proper computation Morris’s estimates simply become unbelievable. This post does a kind of reductio ad absurdum using Morris’s own assumptions. Continue reading

Posted in ancient economic history, Ancient Greece, Economic History | Tagged , , | 18 Comments

Economic Growth in Ancient Greece

Was there “intensive growth” in Classical Greece and was there something special about its causes ? Was it due to “inclusive institutions” ? This post examines some claims of the “New Ancient History”. Continue reading

Posted in ancient economic history, Ancient Greece, Economic History | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Toponyms & Ethnonyms: a brief ramble

Rambling about toponyms and ethnonyms in various languages. Continue reading

Posted in Languages | 9 Comments

Greece from Postwar Orthodoxy to “Democratic Peronism”

The roots of the present Greek crisis lie in the political transformation of the country during the 1980s. (Disclaimer: Although this post is about Greek fiscal behaviour, I am not taking Germany’s side. Lenders to the profligate are just as culpable as the borrowers.) Continue reading

Posted in Financial Crises, Greece, Political Economy | 21 Comments

Economic History Link Dump 15-01-2015

A haphazard mass, a chaotic carnival, a Bikini Atoll, of links relating to economic history, political economy, and allied matters. I also have brief comments on some of the links. Continue reading

Posted in Economic History, Links | 11 Comments

State Capacity & the Sino-Japanese Divergence

Why China did not industrialise before Western Europe may be a tantalising and irresistible subject, but frankly it’s a parlour game. What remains underexplored, however, is the more tractable issue of why Japan managed, but China failed, to initiate an early transition to modern growth and convergence with the West. A recent paper argues that the gap in state capacity between Qing China and Tokugawa Japan was responsible for the divergence. [Edit: Please note, this blogpost disputes that argument.] Continue reading

Posted in China, East Asia, Economic History, Japan | Tagged , , , , | 17 Comments

Jo Guldi’s Curiouser & Curiouser Footnotes

In The History Manifesto, historians Jo Guldi, the Hans Rothfels Assistant Professor of History at Brown, and David Armitage, the Lloyd C. Blankfein Professor of History and Chair of the History Department at Harvard, repeatedly misunderstand or misrepresent the research they disparagingly cite in their references — especially the research of economists and economic historians. In fact, the footnotes (technically endnotes) in the book often bear no relation to the authors’ contentions and, in a few cases, state the exact opposite of what G & A claim their sources say. One begins to wonder, have they actually read any of the references they cite ? The critique touches on many issues along the way, including Victorian inequality, the environment & economics, etc.

This post is an adjunct to La longue purée, my general comment on their book. [Edit 13/04/15: I also have a follow-up, Errata dentata, examining the revisions in The History Manifesto.]

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Posted in Economic History, History Manifesto, Industrial Revolution, Inequality | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

La longue purée

historymanifestoIn The History Manifesto, two historians, Jo Guldi of Brown and David Armitage of Harvard, urge their peers to turn away from microhistory and go back to doing Big History in the longue durée tradition of Fernand Braudel. The book also doubles as a rant against the public influence of the natural and social sciences, particularly economics, arguing that historians can do “causal analysis” better. But the contents of the book cast doubt on the authors’ understanding of complex social and scientific issues.  Continue reading

Posted in Economic History, Environmental Economics, History, History Manifesto, Social Science | Tagged , , , , , | 11 Comments

Was slavery necessary for the Industrial Revolution ?

Did western industrialisation require American slave cotton ? What coal and sugar might tell us. (Short answer: It’s reasonable and plausible to argue slavery accelerated the industrial revolution, but not enabled it. It’s profoundly unreasonable to say the IR could not have happened without slave cotton.) Continue reading

Posted in cotton, global history, historians of capitalism, Industrial Revolution, Slavery | Tagged , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Edward Said on Bernard Lewis

Just quoting my favourite unintentionally hilarious passage from Said’s Orientalism. Continue reading

Posted in History, Middle East & Islam | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments

A horse ! A horse ! My serfdom for a horse !

Part 2, England, of my critique of Nick Szabo’s view of industrialisation. This is continued from Part 1, “Chinese workers were cheaper than English horses“. Continue reading

Posted in Economic History, great divergence, Industrial Revolution | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Conscientiousness & Technology

From the plastics industry, a very concrete, real-life example of how conscientiousness matters in the use of a medium-level technology and how high(er)-technology might help. Continue reading

Posted in productivity, Technology | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Piketty & Slave Wealth

A quick note on Piketty, slave-wealth, and US capitalism. Continue reading

Posted in Slavery | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Ye Olde Inæqualitee Shoppe

A quick note : Income inequality in pre-industrial societies was, in general, lower than in modern industrial societies, but traditional agrarian economies tended to be closer to their “maximum feasible inequality” than modern ones. Continue reading

Posted in Branko Milanovic, Economic History, Income distribution, Inequality | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Global Income Distribution in 20 Charts

The global distribution of income in 1970-2006 in 20 charts. Not much text. Posting the charts because I thought they were neat… Continue reading

Posted in Income distribution, Inequality | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Baptism by Blood Cotton

The underlying claim in Edward Baptist’s “oral economic history” of slavery, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, is that slave owners, through the scientific “calibration” of torture, intensified the work of slaves in order to increase labour productivity by 400% on southern cotton plantations between 1800 and 1860. I argue the intensification claim is poorly supported, exaggerated, and misleading. This is a follow-up to my previous blogpost, “Plant breeding, not working slaves harder, drove cotton efficiency gains in the antebellum US South“. Warning : I’ve tried to make this post as readable as possible, but it goes into considerable detail, so it is dense and dreadfully dull ! Continue reading

Posted in cotton, Edward Baptist, historians of capitalism, Slavery, The Half has never been told | Tagged , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Plant breeding, not working slaves harder, drove cotton productivity gains in the US South

Summary : New cultivars of cotton led to an unprecedented rise in the productivity of US southern cotton in the 60 years before the American Civil War. The Economist magazine may have said some stupid things about the subject in its review of Edward Baptist’s book on slavery, but it was fundamentally right to question the claim that antebellum efficiency gains were due to slaves being worked ever harder by their masters. (Note : I have a follow-up post, “Baptism by Blood Cotton“, which critiques in detail the central claims of Baptist’s book. There is also a brief note on slaves-as-wealth in Piketty & Slave-Wealth.) Continue reading

Posted in cotton, Edward Baptist, historians of capitalism, Slavery, The Half has never been told | Tagged , , , , , , | 18 Comments

“The Great War and Modern Memory”

An excerpt from Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory.
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Posted in History, Literary Criticism | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

ελαδιοξιδιολατολαχανοκαρυκευμα

A very brief history of Greek diglossia. Continue reading

Posted in Ancient Greek, Languages | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Azar Gat’s Nations

I saw Razib Khan‘s review of Azar Gat’s Nations : The Long History and Deep Roots of Political Ethnicity and Nationalism. Without intending to make it that long I posted a 1000-word comment there. Then I realised I could have posted it here. Continue reading

Posted in Ethnicity, History, Political Development | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Links 18 July 2014

I’m not intending to do “weekly links” or anything, but I wanted to highlight a blogpost by Victor Mair : what the Dungan language sounds like from snippets of the movie “Jesus” dubbed in Dungan. This is the language of Chinese Muslims who fled to Russian Central Asia and is considered a divergent dialect of Mandarin. You can hear what it sounds from Mair’s links. The comments section, as usual, is excellent. Plus, the movie “Jesus” dubbed in over 1000 languages ! Continue reading

Posted in Links | 6 Comments

שׂבולת שׂמית

Stream-of-consciousness thoughts about why we say “Semitic” even though the root is “Shem”. And, yes, I know the Hebrew letters in the title say “semitic sibboleth” and not “shemitic shibboleth”. Continue reading

Posted in Ancient Greek, Biblical Hebrew, Languages | Tagged , , , , , , | 14 Comments

大東亞共現代性圏

I just noticed Tyler Cowen had blogged a Boston Globe article about the number of loanwords in various languages (is there something from the press Cowen will not blog ?), and his own take was to ask, which major language has the lowest percentage of foreign loanwords ? He seems to think Chinese could be one, but many people in the comments section (correctly) reject the suggestion. Here I talk about “Japanese-made Chinese words”. Continue reading

Posted in East Asia, Food, Languages | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

The Political Economy of US Foreign Policy

Summary : (Part 1 of 4) I critique commenter Matt’s argument that, at the deepest level, American foreign policy has sought a “favourable investment climate” for itself in the Third World. Continue reading

Posted in Cold War, Foreign Investment, International Relations, U.S. foreign policy | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

A Very Brief History of Foreign Investment

Summary : (Part 2 of 4) As the prelude to a critique of commenter Matt’s view of American foreign policy presented in Part 1, I sketch a brief history of foreign investment as context. Fear not the drear of evil, for the post is mostly pictures (charts) ! ( Cf. parts 1, 3, 4 ) Continue reading

Posted in Cold War, Economic History, Foreign Investment, International Relations, U.S. foreign policy | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The Balance Sheet of US Foreign Policy 1940-2013

(Part 3 of 4) I argue that commenter Matt’s view of US foreign policy, as presented in Part 1, makes no sense because the “returns” from that investment climate are laughably low. I present a balance sheet of American internationalism since 1940. ( Cf. parts 1, 2, 4 ) Note the balance sheet below is actually ridiculous, but it’s done according to Matt’s criteria. Continue reading

Posted in Cold War, Foreign Investment, International Relations, U.S. foreign policy | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The Mystery of US Behaviour in the World

(Part 4 of 4) I argue that American behaviour on the world stage defies any rational explanation. I also question whether the United States has derived much economic benefit from its activist and interventionist approach in the world. Continue reading

Posted in Cold War, History, International Relations, U.S. foreign policy | Tagged , , , | 48 Comments

Argentina’s Exclusion from the Marshall Plan 1948-50

In the comments section of an unrelated blogpost, the commenter Matt doggedly argues that the Truman administration deliberately prohibited the European beneficiaries of the Marshall Plan from using American funds to purchase Argentinian wheat in 1948-50. This discrimination, Matt contends, was an attempt to punish Argentina for its nationalist economic policies under Juan Perón. I disputed that a deliberate discrimination occurred at all. But Matt has now cited what I think is conclusive evidence that at least the Economic Cooperation Administration (the administrator of the Marshall Plan funds) did deliberately exclude Argentina, probably under Congressional pressure. The issue is small, a mere footnote on the marginalia of US-Latin American relations very early in the Cold War, but there is a lot of information and argument in there and it’s worth reading the exchange.

Posted in Cold War, International Relations, Latin America | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Ideology & Human Development

How real are Cuba’s accomplishments in health and education since the revolution? How do they compare with the situation prior to the revolution? Was the Soviet Union’s subsidy to Cuba crucial to its human development? Did the US hostility to the Cuban Revolution have an impact?

{ Edit-Addendum 26 Nov. 2016: This blogpost was written 2.5 years ago as a rejoinder to with commenter Matt in a debate about human development in Cuba as well as Kerala, China, South Korea, West Bengal, etc. So it may make references not immediately obvious from the context. See Debate with Matt. }

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Posted in Health & Economics, Human Development, Social Development, Sociometrics | Tagged , , , | 84 Comments

Debate with Matt on India, China, Cuba, Korea, etc.

Below I quote the lengthy exchange I had with Matt on India, China, Cuba, South Korea, etc. in the comments section of another blog. Since our debate was off-topic, Matt and I have agreed to move it here. My latest reply to Matt is contained in the separate blogpost, “Ideology & Human Development“. Note : Matt had already been arguing with others about something else, so below I merely extract that part of the debate relevant to ours. Continue reading

Posted in Human Development, Sociometrics | Tagged , , , ,

Samples of Greek & Latin, Restored Pronunciation

Some MP3 samples of the “restored” pronunciation of classical Greek and Latin. Continue reading

Posted in Ancient Greek, Classics, Latin | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments