“Blood is Thicker Than Water: Elite Kinship Networks and State Building in Imperial China”

A long tradition in social sciences scholarship has established that kinship-based institutions undermine state building. I argue that kinship networks, when geographically dispersed, cross-cut local cleavages and align the incentives of self-interested elites in favor of building a strong state, which generates scale economies in providing protection and justice throughout a large territory. I evaluate this argument by examining elite preferences related to a state-building reform in 11th century China. I map politicians’ kinship networks using their tomb epitaphs and collect data on their political allegiances from archival materials. Statistical analysis demonstrates that a politician’s support for state building increases with the geographic size of his kinship network, controlling for a number of individual, family, and regional characteristics. My findings highlight the importance of elite social structure in facilitating state development and help understand state building in China – a useful, yet understudied, counterpoint to the Euro-centric literature.

Read the whole thing (pdf).

Some Monday Links (extend, not pretend version)

The Strange Career of Paul Krugman (Tablet)

If anything, it warrants at least some praise for finally giving a date to an oft-cited, curiously undated essay by Krugman, Ricardo’s difficult idea.

Learning Sixteenth-Century Business Jargon (Lapham’s Quarterly)

Brainwashing has a grim history that we shouldn’t dismiss (Psyche)

Made in Japan – source

Another Case Against Science’s Objectivity Myth: Nepotism in Publishing (The Wire Science)

Who Controls the Narrative?: On David M. Higgins’s “Reverse Colonization: Science Fiction, Imperial Fantasy, and Alt-Victimhood” (LA Review of Books)

Hasui Kawase’s Beautiful Prints of Japanese Landscapes (Flashbak)

“Federations, coalitions, and risk diversification”

[…] while we recognize that issues of participation in a coalition involve complex factors, there has been little discussion in the literature from a risk-sharing perspective. It is well-known in financial economics that the pooling of resources and the spreading of risk allows investors to realize a rate of return that approaches the expected rate. We take this to be a natural motive for federation formation among a group of regions. Indeed, the existence of an ancient state in China (the example given in the next section) supports our intuition. It appears that floods, droughts and the ability of a centralized authority to diversify risk paved the way for the unification of China as early as 2000 years ago. Thus, our approach is not empirically irrelevant.

Click the “pdf” tab on the right-hand side, not the “buy PDF” tab.

Some Monday Links: The food issue

Communism Destroyed Russian Cooking (Reason)

How did pizza first appear in the Soviet Union? (Russia Beyond)

How Not To Feed the Hungry: A Symposium (Law & Liberty)

Vintage Thanksgiving Postcards Are Bizarre (Hypperallergic)

Some Monday Links: Mostly Economics

The New Economics (Foreign Affairs)

The author begs to explain “how the U.S. and its Allies are rewriting the rules on spending and trade”. Informative on recent developments, and the f-yeah! attitude is kind of welcome. Unsurprisingly, it attributes all maladies to the big bad “neoliberal” specter. And it loses its title’s thunder, if we remember that Walter Heller, the important Keynesian economist and presidential advisor, half a century ago noted:

Today’s talk of an ‘intellectual revolution’ and a ‘new economics’ arises not out of startling discoveries of new economic truths but out of the swift and progressive weaving of modern economics into the fabric of national thinking and policy

W. Heller, 1966 – Source

A good analysis of the old “New Economics”, which obviously drifted to activist macroeconomic management, can be found in Marc Levinson‘s An Extraordinary Time (NOL has referenced his work before).

Please Do Not Call Inflation ‘Transitory’ (Bloomberg)

A comment on the term “transitory” and its religious connotations.

The Secret Behind the Monopoly Board (WSHU)

The popular Monopoly game is actually older than its recent 85th anniversary indicates, and of Georgist descent.

edit: Fixed a link, added an omitted word – M.T.

Things (and few Links) Korea, in times before, and after, the light

No squids, or parasites. Butt-kicking for goodness, from an imaginary country.

The proverbial light being internet, and in the meantime, adulthood. Martial Arts gyms were a bit of a curiosity here in Greece, when I started training in Tae Kwon Do as a teen (c. 1995). Sparse, definitely not next to each and every school, with a wild array of possible outcomes, ranging from genuine fighting skills to pure edgelord bs. No accessible standard for the “average services consumer” (apart from 70s/ 80s movies and some illustrated paper magazines – which were mostly promotional). So I joined the gym, whose owner and chief instructor was my uncle’s friend. The man was well versed in TKD and a few other styles. He did his own thing, a TKD base, sprinkled with Kick Boxing/ Muay Thai and some elementary grappling. I fell for it.

Experience is one thing. Getting the full picture can be another. Back then I learned that TKD is indeed Korean (hard to miss the fact, as there was also a South Korean flag on the wall, to which we observed respect), maybe or maybe not its national sport, not much more. As I quit four years later, in order to prepare for the nationally held university admissions tests (a Greek, but also a Korean, thing, more on this later), I left my black tipped red belt, and my relationship with this sketchy distant land, there. Twenty years later, I enrolled to another gym, and revisited the “martial arts” section, this time also thru the power of the net and the wisdom of my years (yeah!). What I saw was…interesting. Note: The martial arts content is generally sub-par, in my view. Too little good writing, too much sectarianism.

The TKD we trained in was of the International TKD Federation (ITF) kind, one of the two main branches in an art that has also many smaller organizations. TKD is not ancient, it only got assembled and standardized in mid-20th century, as South Korea built its national identity away from Japanese influence. The predefined sets of moves (Katas in Karate), called tuls (ok that I already knew), have names I consistently misheard. And then there were the critiques. Oh my. Post after post slamming TKD, its usefulness, its application, its training methods. This cancellation is already dated, it started like in early 00s and closed its circle in early 10s, but obviously I had not gotten the memo, and it pinched me more than it should.

I agree with the first line of criticizing. The spread of gyms, next to each and every elementary school (a sound decision business-wise), brought some softening of the art (for reference, in our gym the floor was covered with that rough, gray, rippled mat that you usually see in an office lobby, perfect for skinning bare feet. We got colored soft mats two years later). The second line is also credible. The early 90s saw a revolution in martial arts, with the advent of Mixed Martial Arts (another sound business decision, btw). The rise of the so-called “pressure tested” styles brought salience and “weights-n-measures” to a world rich in claims, but often poor in evidence. Nothing really novel, though. The underlying force is, of course, competition, which should be familiar to anyone taking interest in social systems and relations. With the renewal also came the blanket thrashing of traditional styles, deserved or not.

Coming to assess my TKD training, I get to see the holes in it, notably the low amount of free sparring and the “choreography” of self-defense scenarios. However, the athleticism was real, as was the fixation to perfect form (either in performing a basic punch or a complicated tul). And the sweat. Also, I lucky stroke with the gym selection, since the master had, as I understand now, introduced the then new, mixed normal in martial arts training. Another positive sign was that the gym competed in kick boxing/ Muay Thai tournaments (the older students, not we teens). So, bruised and battered, but not cancelled in toto.

Understanding Korea’s Unique Situation: Routledge’s New Handbook of Contemporary South Korea (LA Review of Books, from the same guy Brandon complimented, back-handedly, here)

That university admission is the only way forward for young Koreans and Greeks alike surprised me, somewhat. But taking into account that both countries entered the post-war landscape relatively late (the Greek civil war ended in 1949, the Korean war lasted until 1953), ravaged, poor and reliant on external aid, the differences get ironed out. Lacking a large enough private sector to offer vocational training and career opportunities, a university degree seems appealing enough as an investment to future. South Korea did its homework more consistently, however, and its top universities are ranked in the tens or fist hundreds of the world’s finest, while the Greek ones are way lower. It also became an export powerhouse and a “middle power” in world politics, through authoritatively introduced liberal economics reforms:

From hermit kingdom to miracle on the Han (Peterson Institute for International Economics)

My second martial art, Hapkido, is Korean, too. It was also developed in mid to later 20th century and has a complex, fascinating history. It even played a – shady – role during Park‘s presidency. It is a solid art, but even more organizationally fractured than TKD or others. Unfortunately, I only trained for six months, as covid-19 (and life) blew me away. There is always some catch-up to do, it seems.

(A couple of) Monday Links and the trap that keeps on showing up

Meet skimpflation: A reason inflation is worse than the government says it is (NPR)

Hayekian behavioral economics (Behavioral Public Policy)

Short-ass rant: The Loop of The First and Only (title inspired from here)

  • Locate random piece in the net (usually thru a link, or a reference)
  • It turns out to be, you know, good stuff
  • If applicable, you probably subscribe to the relevant newsletter
  • And things only go downhill from there
  • Each subsequent piece drifts farther and farther from your interest
  • Like, you start contemplating why you bothered in the first place
  • Said newsletter slumps to the not-even-open-the-darn-incoming-mail plateau
  • Locate another random piece in the net (usually thru a link, or a reference)
  • It turns out to be, again, you know, good stuff
  • Wild cards: Going paid, changing frequency

The Loop applies mostly in narrowly focused, specialist newsletters. I guess that, in a way, it exposes those who skim and skip among subjects (the mere dilettantes, like yours truly), vis-à-vis the more dedicated crew. It adds to the Email Overload Curse and fits nicely with hoarding tendencies (so, no, no unsubscribe, no way).

Some Monday Links

Challenges to monetary policy: lessons from Medieval Europe (Bank Underground)

Explores some monetary issues I briefly touched here.

Sadly, appreciations all over:

Anthony Downs, RIP (Volokh Conspiracy)

János Kornai, 1928-2021 (VOXEU)

Fred Foldvary, a Joyous Friend (Econlib)

Downs: Economic Theory of Democracy and Kornai: Soft-Budget Constraint, both staples of liberal economic tradition. NOL tribute to Foldvary (shorter, but more timely), by Brandon, here.

Globalisation has ruined Hollywood (UnHerd)

I would add The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003), as a cause-and-effect-too element in the trend.

Some Monday Links

A Shackled Leviathan That Keeps Roaming and Growing (Regulation)

Do robots dream of paying taxes? (Bruegel)

The Janus of Debt (Project Syndicate)

Revisiting the Los Angeles of David Lynch’s ‘Mulholland Drive’ 20 Years Later (LA Magazine)

Some Monday Links

The Hidden Link Between “Genetic Nurture” and Educational Achievement (Nautilus)

South Korea: Picking Winners and Losers in the Information Age (The Diplomat)

When Interstates Paved the Way (FED Richmond)

For their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression (Nobel Prize)

Is Your Teenager Secretly A Libertarian? 9 Warning Signs To Look For (Babylon Bee)

Some Monday Links

Not creepy social experimentation, *the* feudalistic space opera, and guilds

The emergence of spontaneous order (Panarchy)

An excerpt:

Individuals, from infants to old people, resent or fail to show any interest in anything initially presented to them through discipline, regulation or instruction which is another aspect of authority…Even temptation, the gentlest form of compulsion, does not work because human beings, even children, recognize carrots for what they ultimately mean; we have at least progressed beyond the donkey!

No, not Hayek, a bunch of physicians – same era, though

This comes from a report (Biologists in search of material, 1938) that summarized the findings of a social investigation “designed to determine whether people as a whole would, given the opportunity, take a vested interest in their own health and fitness and expend effort to maintain it” (the Peckham Experiment). The report was even covered in the prestigious Nature magazine.

Duuune!

I am a fan of the novel (of the dabbler kind, not a balls-out groupie) and hinted at it some time ago (the title of this comes from a Dune character, smuggler Tuek. Since I feel I have to explain it, the reference was either brilliantly subtle, or just lame).

The CHOAM conglomerate flag: Libertarian socialism with a liberal background? (colors per Wikipedia) – source

It contains more than a few pop-culture icons (and the inspiration for others), like the Sandworms, the stillsuits, the CHOAM, the Sardaukar and so on. Plus, a Greek staple: House Atreides, supposedly tracing back to this family, the source of Oresteia.

Will Denis Villeneuve Capture the Greatness of Dune? (National Review)

Dune Foresaw—and Influenced—Half a Century of Global Conflict (Wired)

The author, Frank Herbert, had one thing or two to say about Big Government, but my favorite is an inscription at the Emperor’s Palace, in the city of Corrinth (which gets its name from the ruling House Corrino, but also vaguely reminds of another Greek word). I still ponder its meaning:

Law is the ultimate science

House Corrino motto

One of the pillars of Dune society is the Spacing Guild, basically a monopolist of faster-than-light interstellar travel. Speaking of close ops:

Guilds of Florence: Rent-seeking, but with style – source

Review of Sheilagh Ogilvie, The European Guilds: An Economic Analysis (AIER)

The guilds generally stifled competition and promoted rent-seeking. The system fizzled out as liberal institutions – democracy, free markets – took hold.

Some Monday Links, in feary tales

Two sleeping beauties (the one has probably awaken), Pinocchio, and France.

Economic transitions aren’t transitory (The Hill)

Adam Posen is hardly an inflation alarmist. UK, 10 years ago. A nascent recovery and an inflation surge had Bank of England split on the way forward. He alone, as a member of the institution’s monetary policy committee, argued for more stimulus, deeming – correctly, with the benefit of hindsight – the inflation overshoot as temporary. That was in a world still relatively new in lowflation, central bank QE programs and suppressed interest rates, mind you. Today, he thinks quite different for the US.

Property is not (just) private (Verfassungsblog)

A ghost in the shell of German constitution haunts Berlin – the ghost of socialization. Article 15, which enables it, “has survived the decades, preserved and untouched and peculiarly history-less: no cases, no judgments, hardly any academic, economic and political interest”. Until now.

Why the French are revolting (UnHerd)

On pissed off French and their fighting chops (indeed, the Hellenic Military Academy, seemingly one of the world’s finest, was founded on French standards back in 1828). The author somehow missed that the French national anthem, La Marseillaise, is a literal call-to-arms.

Is the Original Pinocchio Actually About Lying and Very Long Noses? (Literary Hub)

About the famous work of a not-so-famous, disillusioned liberal in the freshly unified Italy of latter 19th century. Sheds some light at the sinister backdrop of the era (poverty, child labor and the like).

Some Monday Links

It’s Not in Your Head: The World Really Is Getting Worse (The Walrus)

How China Avoided Soviet-Style Collapse (Noēma)

The Role of “We” Versus the Role of “I” (Econlib)

Party-crashing was a serious business in medieval Arabic tales (Psyche)

Monday Links and unders – NOLite te bastardes

Also, armchair public policy analysis. Caveat emptor: may contain BS

Not posting here could be due to good reasons, or nasty reasons. Fortunately, it was a very good reason that kept me from posting for few weeks (hint: it was expected, and involves diapers). The (invisible to the naked eye) gap was covered via a spontaneous, à la WWE tag team display by Brandon (who, btw, restarted nightcapping, yay! And then got tarpitted again, nay).

Has the U.S. Supreme Court Effectively Overruled Roe v. Wade? (Verfassungsblog)

A take on the recent abortions slugfest. A decisive overturn of the post – 70s judicial status will probably spell similar changes elsewhere. The shadows have been stirring, the battlefront is wide, the divisions remain deep. Only recently, a proxy “skirmish” took place in Greece: A so-called “1st Panhellenic Conference on Fertility” or something got cancelled, after its anachronistic/ derogatory undertones provoked a digital uproar:

Ovaries and Outrage: How Social Media Took Down Greece’s Fertility Conference (MDI)

This metal feminist slogan came to mind:

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum

The Handmaid’s Tale

I have not read the book (nor watched the series), but this mock-Latin line rings timely and has an interesting history itself.

Lynn Parramore at INET argues that modern libertarians tend to overlook the subject, while the likes of Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard were assertive in defending the right to abortion as part of the self-determination of one’s body/ life in general:

Why Aren’t Libertarians Protesting the Freedom-Busting Texas Abortion Law? (Institute for New Economic Thinking)

INET is not particularly fond of the liberty creed, but still, the picture is disheartening. What’s worse, it fits my own troubling perception (incomplete as it is, based on limited observations) that this kind of intrusion into individual freedom ranks lower than others. The whole issue seems mostly relegated to a “feminist” or “gender” only thing, bogged down by religion and politics, an underdog among individual rights (Scott Lemieux over at Lawyers, Guns & Money also notes something along this lines. LGM has been consistently slamming the Texas law and the SCOTUS response). And that’s why I did not exactly lament the conference cancellation, even if it borderline breached freedom of speech. It rhymed with an underway underhand undoing of that underdog.

A post in RCL (picked by Brandon here) makes an interesting case regarding the feasibility of free choice for both parts of the equation, doctor and patient. However, it also reminded me of this haunting story, and the possibility of a gap between elegant theory and brutal reality:

Italian doctors on trial for manslaughter after refusing abortion (Financial Times)

The FT article also showcases the heavy information asymmetries that plague healthcare services-at-large, which serve as a foundation for state intervention, be it regulation, public supply or whatnot. At least in the realm of textbook econ as I remember it.

Dismantling government policy – source

The other day, I used the same apparatus – old reliable econ – peppered with some basic public choice insights to smite a couple of state initiatives (in my head, that is).

(1) The Greek government recently ramped-up the vaccination push through mandates, prohibitions and fines. More heavy – handed intervention will beget more bottom-up webs that game the system, I decreed (right, late Mancur Olson documented this in his Power and Prosperity book, especially if the public’s trust is lacking, just pushing open an already unbarred door here). As it turns out:

Ten vaccination centers scrutinized over suspected fake Covid certificates (eKathimerini)

(2) A law enacted in early 2020 awards a one-off allowance of EUR 2,000 (that would be like four times the Greek minimum wage) for every childbirth (there are some conditions to be met, income level, residence etc, but they are quite lax). So, a generous gesture, meant to incentivize people to have children, and also to offer support with child-rearing costs, according to the relevant explanatory memorandum. The law is seated in the state’s duty to protect “family…motherhood and childhood”, somewhere in the underbelly of our Constitution’s list of individual and social rights.

At the face of all these, the free-market credo in my econ grasp whispered:

I will not fail in my strike, warrior. I will not fail in my strike.

The Last Mythal

I unfolded my offensive in two lines. First, the smell test: Nudging a life-changing decision with just a hand-out seems overstretched (a scheme of consistent financial aid is a different beast). And second, the econ-kick-in: This subsidy (you can actually feel my contempt here) will have the fate of other transfers that mess with the price mechanism. Will not the maternity services providers just jack-up prices to take a slice? Presto! (I left the actual cost – organizing/ funding – of implementing the policy plus the arbitrariness of the sum out, as too easy targets).

Well, the jury is still out about the first part, since it’s mostly an issue of empirical analysis. It surely made a nice PR exercise (that could also have a positive effect, and maybe this was the main point from the start). My price call went out of the window, though. The relevant costs have barely budged from the last time we needed maternity services, few years ago. First-hand observation is not statistics, but it did the trick. Nice, neat and clean inferences can still be BS, obviously.