Nightcap

  1. So you want my opinion (as an economist)? Scott Sumner, EconLog
  2. Don’t Let Doubts About Blockchains Close Your Mind Tyler Cowen, Bloomberg View
  3. Hayek, Radner, and Rational-Expectations Equilibrium David Glasner, Uneasy Money
  4. Beautiful art from the Armenian diaspora Avedis Hadjian, Le Monde Diplomatique

Nightcap

  1. Xi Jinping Looking More and More Like Mao Doug Bandow, National Interest
  2. Fear, Loathing, and Zulm in Iran Mehrad Vaezinejad, History Today
  3. India, Pakistan, and Balochistan: A History of Trouble Ahsan Butt, the Diplomat
  4. A History of Craft Beer in America Derek Thompson, the Atlantic

Minorities and Economic Growth: Evidence from Jewish Communities in Premodern Europe

Urban theorist Richard Florida is celebrated for arguing that cities today succeed by attracting members of the “creative class.”  In a similar spirit I have a recent paper with Noel D. Johnson where we investigated whether or not cities in medieval and early modern Europe grew faster if they possessed a Jewish community.

Scholars have long noted the role of minority groups in economic development. This is particularly true for the the premodern period. The great scholar of long-run historical development in Europe, Fernand Braudel, observed that “successful merchants who controlled trade circuits and networks often belonged to foreign minorities.” These minorities could be other nationalities or religious minorities, for example, “the Jews, the Armenians, the Banyans, the Parsees, the Raskolniki (Old Believers) in Russia or the Christian Copts in Muslim Egypt” (Braudel, 1979, 1982, 165).

Hornung (2014) studies the impact of the Huguenot migration to Prussia. Since the nineteenth century, scholars like Friedrich List linked the presence of Huguenots with the transmission of human capital, skills, and innovation. Hornung (2014) is able to test this hypothesis using Prussian immigration lists from 1700 that document the location of Huguenot settlements and firm-level data on input and output for all 750 textile manufactories in Prussia in the year 1802. Approximately 16,000 to 20,000 Huguenots fled France to Prussia at the end of the seventeenth century.  Hornung finds that the presence of Huguenots significantly increased firm productivity. Specifically, a 1 percentage point increase in the share of Huguenots was associated with 1.5 percentage points higher productivity in 1802.

Jewish Communities and City Growth

In our paper we take a broad sweep of European history from 1400 to 1850.  We have a total of 1,792 cities in our panel data from the Bairoch (1988) dataset and 1,069 Jewish communities that appear in the Encyclopedia Judaica. The figure below shows both the cities in the Bairoch dataset and the Jewish communities mentioned in the Encyclopedia Judaica.

 

bairochandjewishcitiesgreyscale

To understand the relationship between the presence of a Jewish community and subsequent city growth we conduct a difference-in-differences style regression analysis.

The fact that we have data on city populations every century means we can hold constant the identity of a city using city fixed effects and see whether or not it grew faster in the centuries when it had a Jewish community in comparison to those centuries when it did not. We can also control for the possibility that overall city growth was faster in some centuries in comparison to others using century fixed effects.

We are also able to hold constant other factors that could plausibly have affected city growth. We control for local geography including cereal suitability, proximity to rivers, and proximity to coast, as these factors likely affected city growth in different ways over time. We also control for local infrastructure including presence of university and distance to a medieval trade route.

Our  analysis suggests that, indeed, cities with Jewish communities grew faster on average between 1400 and 1850. The effect we find suggests that cities with Jewish communities grew about one third faster than those that did not have Jewish communities. This analysis remains a correlation, however. We do not know if the presence of a Jewish community brought with it economic benefits or if Jews merely choose to settle in faster growing cities.

Instrumenting the Presence of a Jewish Community

We model the network of Jewish communities as one way to see whether the effect of Jews on city growth was indeed casual. By examining how Jewish communities expanded we hope to isolate a source of exogenous variation in the presence of a Jewish community.

We assume that a Jewish community is more likely to be established close to another Jewish community because of trade networks, financial relationships, or cultural linkages. We then calculate the closest travel path between Jewish communities using our information about the location of roads and river networks and estimates of premodern transport costs. The important assumption we make is that if cities with Jewish communities share certain “unobservable” characteristics that might make them more likely to grow rapidly, these characteristics become less correlated with distance.

We then divide Europe into 5km x 5km grids and assign the lowest travel cost to each grid. We apply Djikstra’s algorithm to determine the lowest cost of travel between all 3,211,264 city pairs (van Etten, 2012). This allows us to create a measure of ‘Jewish network access’ for each city.

Jewish network access itself is, of course, correlated with the unobservable characteristics of the city for which it is calculated. To overcome this we adopt two strategies to create valid instruments out of the network access measures. First, we calculate Jewish network access for cities that are only more than a certain distance away from each other. Second, we use information on expulsions to weight our measure of Jewish network access. The intuition behind this is that Jewish expulsions consist of an exogenous “push” factor leading to Jews settling in new cities close to the existing network of Jewish communities. Using these two strategies we obtain similar (though larger in magnitude) effects from the presence of a Jewish community on city growth. This provides further suggestive evidence that the correlation we found in our baseline analysis was indeed causal.

The Relationship Between Urban Growth and the Presence of a Jewish Community Over time

Across specifications, we find that cities with Jewish communities experienced no growth advantage in the 15th and 16th centuries. After 1600, however, they began to grow significantly faster.

motivationlpoly

The relationship we observe in the Figure does not appear to be inline with a pure human capital story. Jews had higher human capital than Christians throughout the medieval and early modern period. But the growth advantage of cities that had Jewish communities only became evident after 1600. This raises the possibility that something else changed around  17th century that made the human capital and skills of Jews more complementary to economic growth.

Two Mechanisms: Jewish Emancipation and Market Access

The two factors that stand out in explaining the emergence of a growth advantage for cities with Jewish communities after 1600 but not before are: (1) Jewish Emancipation after 1750; and (2) a complementarity between the presence of a Jewish community and market access.

The process of Jewish emancipation began in continental Europe after 1780. It was a major institutional break that signified a major change in the economic, social, and political status of the Jews in Europe. In work with Jean-Paul Carvalho, I’ve shown that Jewish emancipation lead to a religious schism and the emergence of both Reform and Ultra-Orthodox Judaism.

In the period before Jewish emancipation, legal barriers limited the ability of Jews to put their labor to its highest value use. Jewish businesses were prevented from hiring non-Jewish workers. Jews could not attend universities. Moreover, Jews and Christians were culturally isolated. This changed with emancipation, and we expect to see it reflected in the contribution of Jewish communities to city growth in the post-1750 period.

The second factor we study is the complementarity between the presence of a Jewish community and the development of markets. The historical literature points to the importance of Jewish trading and financial networks. But, while economic historians have conducted numerous studies of market integration during the early modern period, with a few exceptions these have focused on the grain trade with little systematic study of other markets due to data limitations. Jewish merchants in medieval and early modern Europe, however, did not play a prominent role in the grain trade but, rather, were involved in the transport of diamonds, sugar, silks, tobacco, and other luxury products in addition to playing a large role in banking and finance. Therefore, rather than looking at grain markets, we explore a more general measure of market integration based on market access.

Market access depends on the population size of nearby cities weighted by the cost associated with the least cost travel path. We show that market access was increasing for all cities after 1700. We find evidence that cities with Jewish communities were better able to take advantage of this increase in market access. As we detail in the paper, our findings are consistent with the argument made by numerous historians that Jewish trading and finance networks help to knit together the European economy, particularly in the period 1650 to 1800 (Israel, 1985).

 

Our analysis provides support for the accounts of historians who have emphasized the important role played by Jewish traders in 17th and 18th century Europe (such as Fortune, 1984; Israel, 1985; Trivellato, 2009). Furthermore, our story is in line with institutional arguments such as those developed by Douglass North, John Wallis and Barry Weingast, and Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson.  In the Middle Ages, the presence of Jewish communities was part of an institutional arrangement that extracted rents from society and distributed them among members of the ruling elite. The eradication of these rent-seeking arrangements and the liberalization of Jewish economic activity, first in the Netherlands and England and then in the rest of Europe following Jewish Emancipation, was of critical importance as it is in those cities that possessed emancipated Jewish communities that we observe the strongest relationship between the presence of Jews and economic growth.

Does the EU promote liberalization?

This is in response to Brandon’s earlier post asking for literature on the EU’s effect on promoting liberalization. The short reply is the EU promotes liberalization – sometimes. Below are two pieces of the literature on the issue.

On a quick aside, I have mixed feelings towards the recent Dutch referendum on the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement. I don’t think that the EU should extend a hand to Ukraine. Namely because I think the Russians are much more willing to use force over the issue than West Europeans. Secondly, because I think it gives peripheral countries the idea that they don’t need to join/remain in the EU to receive its protection. Moral hazard if you will.

However I disagree with co-blogger Evgeniy Grigorjev that Ukraine, and other peripheral nations, should be denied EU affiliation until they reach certain benchmarks. I’m sure that Ukrainian politicians would consider EU association a victory and feel less compelled to act. However the long term effect of EU membership would be greater trade in goods, people, and ideas. With any luck liberal ideas. I would welcome the EU expanding into North Africa and parts of the Near East if it meant the expansion of liberal ideas to those regions.


The Effect of Labor Migration on the Diffusion of Democracy: Evidence from a Former Soviet Republic {LINK}

This empirical paper looks at the effect of return migration on political attitudes in Moldova. The basic idea is that return migrants bring with them new political ideas from abroad.

In the late 1990s Moldova experienced financial trouble that encouraged many of its laborers to migrate temporarily to Russia and the west (largely Italy) in search of work. Regions with more return migrants from Italy were found to have the least support for the Communist Party in future Parliamentary elections. Regions where migrants went to Russia had increased (albeit sometimes small and/or statistically insignificant) support for the Communist Party.

There are two take aways here:

(1) Trade in ideas matter.
(2) The type of ideas you trade matter.

The EU, and the Schengen area, can promote idea trading but what makes the EU important is that it is a liberal institution. An institution that needs reform, but one worth keeping.

Anchoring Democracy from Above? The European Union and Democratic Backsliding in Hungary and Romania after Accession {LINK}

This paper looks at the different responses the EU took towards Hungary and Romania when the national governments of both respectively introduced illiberal measures. Discusses some of the weak points in the EU and how it can be reformed to improve its ability to react to similar future events. As Evgeniy points out, the EU has a weakened ability to punish illiberal policies once EU membership has been granted. Intra-EU coordination is also difficult to achieve to use those tools it does have. The EU is not however impotent and reforms could be introduced to rectify this.

When Europe Rejected Morocco

Did you know that in 1987 the government of Morocco formally submitted an application to become a member of the European Union?

Brussels flatly rejected the application, arguing publicly that Morocco was not a European country and also that Morocco had a poor human rights record. This rejection marks one of the biggest mistakes that Brussels has ever made in its short-but-brilliant history (along with instituting a central bank).

Does anyone know of any scholarly literature showing that the admittance of authoritarian states to the EU or other federal-esque institutions will have the effect of liberalizing the political regimes of such states, as long as the republics admit these states one or two at a time? I did a blog post on it awhile back, but a blog post is not a peer-reviewed journal article.

The best counter-example of federalism-as-a-path-to-liberty that I can think of is the pre-Civil War US. The US federal system was made up, in part, of a number of authoritarian states that promoted and enforced chattel slavery. This example does not address the EU model, however, where Brussels admits neighboring poor states and a gradual liberalizing effect takes place.

In the US example, factions within the slave states benefited economically from the use of slaves, and this economic prosperity was tied up directly to the political institutions of the US. So, the US Senate had a number of pro-slavery representatives that not only made sure slavery could not be attacked politically, but also that the interests of slaveholders were advanced at the expense of the non-slaving states (and, of course, the slaves themselves). In other words, a powerful minority with interests very different from the general intent of the classical liberal framework of Madison’s constitution.

Once the number of free states became great enough to overcome the number of slave states in the Senate, a war became much more likely. It became more likely because the interests of the (illiberal) slaveholders were directly challenged by the numerical superiority of free state representatives in both houses.

In short, the pre-Civil War US was made up of two factions – one liberal and one illiberal – that were almost equal in power. The EU does not have to worry about this, though. It should be much bolder in admitting despotic, neighboring states into its apparatus. (The same goes for the US.) Imagine if Morocco had been admitted into the EU in 1987. There would likely be representatives in Brussels bitching about austerity instead of representatives of the King torturing and imprisoning Moroccan citizens for reasons unknown.

Of Uber, cab drivers and compensation

What a title for a blog post right? Where am I going with this? A few days ago, I debated a few of my academic colleagues who tend towards libertarianism in the predominantly left-leaning province of Quebec. The topic? How the rise of Uber is killing the taxi cartel? I authored a paper on ride-sharing a year ago and I cannot be more enthusiastic towards such technologies that are allowing consumers much more choices at lower prices than with the taxi cartel. Thus, we were all in agreement. The point of contention appeared when the topic of compensation was raised. I favor partial compensation of the owners of taxi licences. Instantly, I was cast in the minority position and branded as a statist. A debate ensued and I made the case that it was not acceptable to right a wrong by committing another wrong (how Christian of me).

First, let me lay out some facts first and some assumptions

  1. A taxi licence restricting competition is a subsidy. But it is a strange type of subsidy that occurs through a redistribution of property rights (limiting the right to use one’s own car to carry individuals in exchange for payment to those who buy the transferable right to do so). Unlike cash subsidies, quotas, trade barriers and tax credits, it is the only form of income transfer that exists that is a property. You can abolish any cash subsidy, tariff, quota, tax, tax credits or legal monopoly without having to compensate since no one has property of such things. That is the source of the odd nature of the taxi licence – a subsidy with a property deed.
  2. The two benefits from these licences occur through limiting competition and thus allowing higher prices/quality ratios and through higher asset value (the permit’s value). The extent of those benefits depends on the extent of the curtailment of the liberties of other to compete. The more restrictive the policy, the greater the redistribution from consumers to producers in the long-run.
  3. However, new drivers have to pay a high price and they must have some time to recoup the acquisition of the asset. Their recovery will take some time as they also hike prices and lower quality.

So, if you want to abolish a taxi licensing scheme, is it acceptable not to compensate? According to my colleagues, yes it is. Since the benefits of higher prices were so considerable to those drivers (at the expense of consumers), compensation is not necessary.

Yet, the drivers do own property don’t they? The licence is worth many thousands of dollars, basically the value of a small house. Many drivers rely on this asset for their retirement. Now, let me make another presumption which is crucial to this discussion: the change is caused by legal changes, not technological changes.

I believe that, in the presence of the technological change, there is no case for compensation. Nobody would compensate telecoms companies for the rise of Skype since it is a process of entrepreneurship. However, the case is different if a government decides to abolish the licences. So here, my entire reasoning for compensation is contingent to a case where the state abolishes the licences, not a situation where technologies render the licences worthless like the car killed the street horses.

Clearly, it was unjust for consumers to deal with a cartel that gouged them and which was legally sanctioned to do so. But can you right an injustice by committing another injustice (the de facto dispossession of an asset)? Normatively speaking, I simply believe that using the monopoly of violence of the state to right the abuses caused by past uses of the monopoly of violence of the state is not that productive. Why? Because I have this assumption lodged firmly in my head as a result of my training in public choice theory: rent-seeking matters.

Rent-seekers will always exist. They are the social-science equivalent of gravity in physics. You just have to deal with their existence. Rent-seekers are basically political entrepreneurs who have very concentrated benefits from applying policies whose costs are not that obvious or that important for a large population. These political entrepreneurs are very alert to opportunities and they will seize them. Sometimes, they discover that their preferred course of action leads to resistance. They will automatically shift gear and find another way to obtain an unearned reward thanks to the complicity of those they bargain with (politicians and bureaucrats). Their rhetoric will change, their narratives will change, their arguments will evolve, but at the core, they will continue to rent-seek. True, you can conceive constitutional rules that limit rent-seeking (I am a big fan of that). However, one way or another, it will remain and some will find ways to connive with politicians and bureaucrats to obtain undue rewards. And even if there was such a utopia free of rent-seekers (I just won’t buy that for a dollar) where a constitution would ban their activities or even a stateless utopia (again, I am not buying it), is it acceptable to justify all means possible to reach such a destination?

What if associations of cab drivers lobby for special tax discounts on gasoline since they provide a public service? What if they lobby for stricter security checks on drivers (needless security checks) which end up having the same effects? What if they convinced regulators that only certain types of vehicles (less than 5 years old for example) should be allowed to operate? What if they mandated association with a dispatcher to better avoid traffic jams? How could a politician oppose special tax treatment for drivers, better security for consumers or all these other bogus motives? In the end, they will find a way to rent-seek. However, by dispossessing them of an asset worth many hundred of thousands of dollars, you are basically creating the certainty that they will aggressively rent-seek to recuperate their losses. Thus, you don’t end up breaking a vicious policy cycle, you end up encouraging its continuation in stranger, hidden and subtle manners whose perniciousness continues equally.

Hence my case that you can’t right a wrong by committing a wrong. Respect the rule of law, liberalize the market and compensate and attempt to rewrite constitutions to prevent arbitrary redistribution of property rights.

From the Comments: The Suprastate and the Substate

My post on American Senator Rand Paul’s recent remarks on Kurdistan elicited the following response from fellow Notewriter Michelangelo:

If a neo-Ottoman federation arises I suspect it will begin as a political alliance between Turkey and Israel. Perhaps such a federation will arise from the Mediterranean Union, who can know really. The two countries are already relatively close in interests and are, alongside a few of the Gulf States, the closest things the region has to secular liberal powers. The Turks at this time would not favor an independent Kurdistan though and I fear they might withdraw support for a federation if that was part of the package.

I think it would be easier to first form an Ottoman federation and afterward grant Kurds their independence within the federation.

It is hard for me to imagine the Arabs joining said federation either way. The Egyptian-Syrian Arab republic went nowhere. Part of me (an infinitely small part!) kind of hopes ISIS manages to defeat the Iraqi and Syrian forces and creates the core of a Pan-Arab nation.

I’ll let him have the last word here (be sure to scroll though the entire dialogue), but I just want to take this opportunity to stress the importance of thinking about the world in terms we might not be used to. The standard unit of measurement – for lack of a better term – for thinking about international affairs is the nation-state, but this way of thinking about the world has, like all devices humans use to make sense of their world, weaknesses as well as strengths. To my mind, as the world becomes increasingly interconnected thanks to liberalization, the nation-state becomes less and less useful as a tool for understanding human action.

What Michelangelo is doing here is thinking ahead of the curve; he is applying the notions of suprastate and substate to international affairs. A suprastate is an organization or union that is composed of various nation-states, such as the ones Michelangelo uses in his argument (i.e. “Mediterranean Union”). A substate is a region within a nation-state, such as Kurdistan or Scotland or Somaliland.

Often, especially in debates here at NOL, the notions of suprastate and substate are used in conjunction with the developing, or post-colonial, regions of the world. This doesn’t mean these notions can’t be applied to places like the United States or Argentina. Indeed, the US itself was created as a supranational union in order to combat the strategies of the British, French, Spanish, and various Native nations. If you can entertain the notions of suprastate and substate when you think about human action, you will be that much closer to advocating clearly for the free and open society (see this piece on the informal economy by Dr Gibson, for example).

Against Imperial Nostalgia: Or why Empires are Kaka

I write in response to Fred Folvary’s post on this site, “Restore the Turkish Empire!” Living as I do in the largest city of the Republic of Turkey, Istanbul, which is its commercial and cultural centre, with a formidable concentration of universities (explaining my presence here), it made an impact, but of the most irritating kind I have to say. I find it bracing, to say the least, to find the foundation of the state where I live rejected, since I believe the foundation of that republic was a positive event in the twentieth century, which in its vices has been no worse than the Ottoman Empire and in its virtues considerably superior, even if much needs to be done by way of securing liberty here.

I will expand on the Ottoman Empire to Republic of Turkey transition and then move onto the other object of Fred’s nostalgia (the Habsburg Empire), and an explanation of the Kaka (not a typo for Kafka, but a literary allusion) reference in the title. A belief that the Ottoman state (the Turkish word for ’empire’; ‘Imparatorluk’ is imported, evidently coming from the Latin word for military chief which became associated with the rulers of Rome after Caesar) was better for liberty than the Republic has been expressed by a few scholars over here, most notably Mustafa Akyol, author of Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty.

Akyol’s credibility on these matters was increasingly compromised though by his loyalty to the AKP government of Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan, now President of Turkey after 12 years as Prime Minister. The AKP  had some support from secular, and mildly religious, liberty advocates (not including me though) when it came to power in 2002 in the belief that a religious-based political party would correct the authoritarian aspects of secularism in Turkey. By the time the Gezi Park protests started in 2013, that kind of support was largely eroded by the evident determination of the AKP to concentrate economic and political power in the hands of a new religious conservative elite, which was no less authoritarian than its secular predecessors (which anyway often flirted with religious conservatism) and had built up more power than any government since the end of the one party system in the late 1940s.

Akyol was a hold out, providing apparently liberal intellectual credibility for the AKP’s international audience, as he writes in English and sometimes speaks at international pro-liberty events. Akyol, a neo-Ottoman liberal, initially condemned the Gezi activists for peaceful resistance, which undermined his credibility by showing he did not understand the place of non-violent civil disobedience in the liberty tradition, and certainly suggested, to me, that his view of ‘liberty’ was excessively tied to deference to traditional authority. He did, however, come to see that something was wrong with the AKP government, announcing that the problems would be resolved in a forum for AKP intellectuals. He was to learn the hard way that the AKP cared nothing for its remnant liberal intellectuals and did finally recognise that the AKP is a corrupt authoritarian nightmare.

That’s the story of one individual, but it illustrates the dangers of any kind of liberty thought defined with reference to traditional sources of authority, and indeed nostalgia for lost authority. Such dangers are why I do not support, at all, the most conservative aspects of liberty advocacy; that is, the tendency to think that past aristocratic and religious sources of authority can somehow provide a model for contesting the expansion and intrusion of the administrative state in the modern world.

Returning to the Ottoman case, the Akyol-style preference for Ottomanism over republicanism is linked to objections over the centralising nationalist-statist tendencies of the early Republican governments under Kemal Atatürk and then İsmet İnönü.

The process starts with the revolt of Turkish nationalists and various local interests against the occupation and proposed partition of the Ottoman Empire after World War One. An Ottoman general with republican and nationalist leanings, Mustafa Kemal (later adopting the surname Atatürk, which was his only surname since he received that name as a part of a law establishing surnames for Muslims for the first time in 1934) was able to leave occupied Istanbul, where the residual Ottoman government was collaborating with the occupying powers, for eastern Anatolia, becoming the political and military leader of the forces of the National Pact and first National Assembly, against the occupying powers and a Greek invasion of Anatolia.

The Ottoman government simply had no meaningful power base independent of Britain and the other occupying powers (who had ambitions to turn the Ottoman Empire into some mere central Anatolian sultanate), and was swept away from existence by Mustafa Kemal’s forces, which defeated those countries that the Sultan was unwilling or unable to resist.

The victory of the National forces was a very bloody matter, with ethnic violence deeply rooted in the long breakup of the Ottoman Empire on all sides. Anyway, it was the first major victory against the Imperial powers of the time, who had steadily eroded Ottoman territories and Ottoman sovereignty over what remained. The Turkish national movement received support from Muslims in southern Asia, living under British rule, and its success was noted by the Hindu population as well. It was part of the process behind the independence of India at the end of 1947, which was the beginning of the end for the injustice of European colonialism.

In power the nationalist-republicans under Mustafa Kemal abolished the sultanate and then the caliphate (the residual and never fully effective claim of the Ottoman dynasty to provide leadership to world Islam). Public segregation of the sexes was ended, women received the vote, religion was removed from political life, education became secular, legal codes were imported from the west, the official language was reformed to make it closer to colloquial Turkish and less of an elite literary-bureaucratic language, the economic policies were statist, but not socialist and private capital and a new Muslim entrepreneurial class did develop. The politics and methods were authoritarian and considerable state violence was directed against those not adapting to the state program.

However, much of what was achieved was what one would look for from a liberty standpoint (if not for the methods), and the worst aspects of what happened had already taken place under the Ottoman state, particularly Sultan Abdul Hamid II (ruling from 1876 to 1909) who destroyed an Ottoman constitution, began the intense persecution of Armenians, and constructed a more centralised, bureaucratised form of government. So we cannot say that the Ottoman system in the period for which we can make meaningful comparisons with republican national governments was any better from a pro-liberty point of view than the early Turkish republic.

Abdul Hamid II lost power in 1909 to a movement that was constitutional and pluralist at first, but turned into the domination of the Committee of Union and Progress under a three-man collective dictatorship. The trio and various CUP thinkers were influenced by republican and nationalist thought, but also by Ottomanist and Islamist identity, so really it mixed everything until it could become clear what the fate of the Empire was to be.

Persecution of the Armenians continued and increasingly there was persecution of Arabs, particularly in the province of Syria, so that any idea of an Ottoman Empire that could contain either substantial Christian or Arab populations was eroding though not as part of a preconceived plan, but because the ways that Ottoman power operated and reacted to opposing forces were already pushing in the direction of a centralised state dominated by the Turks of Anatolia. This all culminated in the 1915 deportations and massacres of Armenians, in which 1 500 000 Armenian subjects of the Sultan lost their lives, accompanied by high levels of state violence against an Arab population ready to listen to what turned out to be dishonest promises from the colonial European powers.

I hope that the above shows that the idea of rescuing to the Ottoman Empire, even as a confederation on liberal grounds, was a complete irrelevance at the end of World War One, and any attempt to have imposed such a thing would have ended in a mixture of political farce and mass killing as unwilling millions found themselves herded into a state system no one had wanted. The Ottoman Empire would have had to start liberalising and democratising in the eighteenth century before modern nationalism became a force for it to have had any hope at all of surviving as a multi-national confederation into our time.

1919 was far, far too late to hope that ethnic nationalism would be replaced by cooperation through liberal democracy and that the remaining Ottoman Empire could emulate Switzerland, which emerged as a confederation of self-governing cantons in the middle ages. Whatever else might be said about Atatürk, and certainly there are criticisms to be made, his leadership and the memory of it, founded and stabilised an independent state of laws with a modernising ideology, which used authoritarian means, but was willing to democratise.

Atatürk’s friend and successor İsmet İnönü accepted a multi-party system and his own ejection from power in a process during the late 1940s, which culminated in the elections of 1950. Turkey then emerged as the main democratic, moderate Muslim power in the world and became an important ally of the western democracies against Soviet totalitarianism.

Whatever can be said about Atarürk’s statism, including violence, it simply was not that extreme when compared with a Europe increasingly full of dictators who ran nationalist, corporatist, fascist, national socialist, and Bolshevik regimes, and neither was the violence extreme compared with that exercised by the leading liberal European powers of the time, France and Britain, in their colonies (including mandates directed at neighbouring Turkey).

I’ll have less detail to offer on the Habsburg Empire, but as with the Ottoman Empire, reform came far too late and far too cautiously for it to become a larger version of Switzerland. I doubt there was any chance at all given the survival of the Habsburg Empire, as the Austrian Empire, after Napoleon destroyed the Holy Roman Empire (the de facto German confederation loosely under the leadership of the Habsburgs who had their real power in hereditary territories of central Europe), since the old power structures remained with no question of federalisation, confederalisation, or cantonisation, or any movement for any such thing from anyone. The last vestiges of a chance were certainly destroyed in 1848 when Austria acted as the central force in the destruction of constitutional and national movements in the Spring Time of the Peoples in that year. Bright spring turned into a terrible winter as the Habsburg forces destroyed new constitutions in Italy, crushed resistance to its own rule in Italy, and crushed Hungarian revolutionaries, along with Austrian liberals.

In 1867, the Habsbugs did see the necessity for compromise with Hungary, by which time it had already lost territory in Italy and used particularly appalling violence in what is now Ukraine against a reformist and insurgent aristocracy. The Habsburg state became a dual monarchy (building on the dynasty’s titles which included King of Hungary as well as Emperor of Austria), so Hungary received its own assembly, and was at least formally an equal partner in the old state with Austria. Croatia also had autonomy and the title ‘King of Bohemia’ was newly emphasised to satisfy Czech sensibilities, but it was all too little too late. Since Vienna believed Budapest wished to secede and could not be trusted with its own strong army, there was very weak Habsburg army in Hungary by the time of World War One. So the Habsburg state could not even allow half the country to have a meaningful army.

So World War One? How did that start? Well first a Bosnian Serb believer in south Slav unity assassinated the heir to the dual monarchy, then the Emperor-King’s government decided to make demands that would destroy Serbian independence. It is true that Pirincep’s group the Black Hand was manipulated by the chief of military intelligence in Belgrade who ran a secret deep state in parallel with, but outside the control of, the legal government. That legal government did accede to just about all the Habsburg demands, asking for delay on just one question. In fact the government and general staff in Vienna wanted to invade Serbia anyway, did so, sparking a predictable reaction from Russia, sparking a further predictable reaction from Germany, which activated plans to invade France and Belgium with well-known results.

Now the Habsburgs were not solely responsible for the four-year catastrophe, but we could not have done it over here in Europe without the blundering irresponsible aggression of a government which, while afraid to allow a decent army to exist in half of its own land, still invited war with Russia! Austria-Hungary was a state bursting at the seams with nationalist demands, almost impossible to reconcile, and which the state had no means to deal with except to play one group off against another in the hope of better times. The assassinated heir, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, did have a plan for some form of federalisation, but even had he lived to implement it, the state would have broken up as violent, secessionist nationalities fought against what they believed was a Habsburg prison-house of nations (and against each other).

Of course the claim that the Habsburg Empire was breaking up violently one way or the other, whatever the Emperor-King’s government did is a hypothetical. I suggest that at any rate it is a far more plausible and modest hypothetical than Fred’s belief that the victorious powers of World War One should have patched up the Empire and helped it along.

How?

The state was disintregrating in 1918 as Italian forces invaded Habsburg lands. It is not a hypothetical to say that the nationalities under the Habsburgs would no longer fight for the old Empire, it is what happened.

And how were Britain, France, Italy, and America to hold together an empire in central Europe which started the war with mobilisation against Serbia, which was an ally of Britain and France?

Were Serbia and Italy going to add to considerable preceding sacrifices by going to war to protect the Habsburgs from rebellious nations?

Were France and Britain going to add to a desperate four years of mass bloodshed by launching a war to protect an enemy power from people who wished to break away from it?

These are all preposterous ideas, and there is no remotely plausible idea for preserving the Habsburg Empire in 1918-1919. Those with a taste for comforting counterfactual history would do better to dream of a Habsburg confederation developing centuries before. That Empire was ready to collapse like a rotten old house in 1914 under any major impact with large force, never mind 1919.

And Kaka? That is the source of the name bestowed on the Dual Monarchy by one of the great Viennese writers, one of the great twentieth century writers, Robert Musil, who died in 1942 as the author of the unfinished masterpiece The Man Without Qualities, one of the major literary achievements of the last century. He refers to the dying Habsburg Empire’s designation of ‘Kaiserlich und Königlich’, that is to say Imperial and Kingly, frequently shortened to K.K., which when spoken sounds like ‘Kaka’, a childish word for faeces, something like poo poo in English. Inevitably this led to references to the Empire as ‘Kakanien’, Kakania, something like Crap Land. This bit of politically charged silliness became known to readers of modernist classics of literature, because Musil plays on it.

So the Ottoman and Habsburg empires, both Kakania, both rotten old state structures ready to collapse as they had proved unable to adapt to nationalist and centrifugal movements in a timely and effective manner for over a century. That a confederation under a residual  monarch would have been better than violent nationalist disintegration is beyond doubt; however, there is no possible way in which those empires were going to exist beyond a core national territory (Turkey and Austria respectively) after World War One, and the collapse of legitimacy in that core territory was anyway finally due to military defeat, so that we cannot even begin to discuss in any way that is at all realistic how they could have survived as the unifying factor in large complex confederations of many nationalities, languages, and religions. They were just both Kakania.

From the Comments: Has the deontological puzzle been solved?

Dr Fred Foldvary (yes, THE Fred Foldvary, the one who predicted the 2008 crash in 1998writes:

It is not clear what the policy consequences are regarding those who lose out due to competition. If we are free to choose our friends, there will be losers who lose someone’s friendship. Should we be forced to stay friends with those we no longer like? If not, then such a loss has no policy implication. Such incidental injuries have less damaging consequences than a law that prohibits ending a friendship. Thus the deontological and consequential effects are complements: Likewise, the consequences of prohibiting economic competition are worse than the losses due to competition. And entrepreneurs should know that the system is a profit and loss system, and anyone in business is vulnerable to losses. The losses due to competition are not torts and they are not coercive harms. They are injuries not deliberately inflicted but incidental to individuals and firms pursuing their happiness.

This is in response to my short post on the ethical divide within libertarianism between deontologists and consequentialists. I don’t think there is too much that we disagree on here; Indeed, it seems as if we are complimenting each other quite nicely (if I do say so myself!).

My one quibble is more of a question than a quibble: Although we cannot predict who will lose out to competition in markets, shouldn’t we be able to make some solid inferences? For example, if the US and Europe were to abolish subsidies to farmers and open up their markets to foreign competition, it stands safe to reason that Western farmers will lose out, at least in the short-run.

The logic behind Dr Foldvary’s comment is relatively clear: abolish protectionist subsidies (which are aggressive legislative acts perpetrated against Western consumers and foreign farmers) and this paves the way for non-aggression. Not only is this logic clear, it is irrefutable. It also shows how deontology and consequentialism are complimentary. However, logic and facts are not very useful when it comes to persuading the public. Philosophically this argument makes perfect sense, and politically and rhetorically Dr Foldvary makes it work, but in the general public sphere (especially the internet) the appeal to deontology has earmarked liberalization for disaster.

I suppose, if we follow Jacob Huebert’s line of reasoning, that the politics and the rhetoric of our ideas should not matter, but on the other hand we live in a world where even in the West libertarians have become a minority. The world will continue to liberalize as long as libertarians continue to be as lucid as Dr Foldvary, but I fear that men of his caliber are in very short supply today.

What’s up with decentralization (“Administrative Unit Proliferation”) in Uganda these days?

I just came across a fascinating new article on decentralization by two political scientists. Here is the abstract:

Numerous developing countries have substantially increased their number of sub-national administrative units in recent years. The literature on this phenomenon is, nonetheless, small and suffers from several theoretical and methodological shortcomings; in particular, a unit of analysis problem that causes past studies to mistakenly de-emphasize the importance of local actors. We posit that administrative unit proliferation occurs where and when there is a confluence of interests between the national executive and local citizens and elites from areas that are politically, economically and ethnically marginalized. We argue further that although the proliferation of administrative units often accompanies or follows far-reaching decentralization reforms, it likely results in a recentralization of power; the proliferation of new local governments fragments existing units into smaller ones with lower relative intergovernmental bargaining power and administrative capacity. We find support for these arguments using original data from Uganda.

The article is by Guy Grossman & Janet Lewis and it’s fascinating. Read the whole thing. I found one especially interesting argument that I’d like to mull over (the piece also produced a couple of off-topic questions in my mind). Grossman and Lewis argue that the process of decentralization first undertaken by rebels-turned-politicians has actually led to a recentralization of power in Uganda. From page 33:

Turning to political dependence, in recent years local government officials are increasingly appointed by the center, rather then [sic] being elected. Most dramatically, a 2008 amendment to the Local Government Act stripped from the directly elected District Chairperson the power to appoint the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) and other senior level administrators. Instead the central government’s Public Service Commission was granted the power to appoint senior level administrators, who are assigned to districts by the Ministry of Local Government. The 2008 amendment has, in effect, put the entire technocratic arm of the district under the purview of the central government rather than the district’s elected political leadership.

So what is happening in Uganda (and, according to authors, elsewhere in the developing world) is that more and more administrative units (think counties or states in a US context) are being produced, but that this is actually making the executive branch stronger rather than weaker. Does this make sense? If not, you know where the comments section is.

I find this process of decentralization fascinating, largely because I think it is more conducive to freedom (in the broadest possible sense) and as a result produces more economic prosperity (see my pieces on secession within the US, EU). What I had not accounted for was the fact that decentralization could actually make it easier for a tyrant to control a swath of territory. So naturally I had to ask why this recentralization has come about.

The answer, I think, is on page 35 of the same article:

Since the late 1980s, key players in the international development community—such as the World Bank and USAID—have encouraged developing countries to implement far reaching decentralization reforms.

So foreign aid is probably the cause of loss of local power, but also the catalyst for such decentralization in the first place (by bribing post-colonial governments to decentralize; but what about ideology? From what I can tell, the rebels who set up Uganda’s new government were committed to decentralization in order to maintain peace between tribes and limit power of the center, rather than to get money from Western lending institutions).

Let me try again. Decentralization became all the buzz in development circles after the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Western lending institutions began paying governments when they decentralized. However, there may have been an indigenous drive for devolution that is overlooked here, and this drive may have been overpowered by the bribes given to governments by Western aid donors. This clash – between Western donors and indigenous attempts to assert sovereignty while integrating into the world economy – is what I think would be worth exploring further.

There is also the issue of economic prosperity. While decentralization may have led to a recentralization of power in the post-colonial world (I am not convinced that decentralization is to blame; I think foreign aid is largely responsible for the inability of developing states to fully decentralize), I am inclined to argue that decentralization has also led to a dramatic decline in poverty levels.

I mentioned the halving of global poverty a couple of days ago, and this decline, coupled with the increase in decentralization, suggests that the libertarian impulse to decentralize power structures does lead to wealthier, healthier societies. So with the dramatic increase of world prosperity in mind, I have to ask if the recentralization efforts of governments are given too much weight in the Grossman & Lewis paper.

I am sure that decentralization has not been perfect. I am sure that decentralization has left many people who supported it deeply unsatisfied. What I am less sure about is that supporting the status quo (that is to say, prohibiting decentralization by any means necessary) would have been a better option than the one post-colonial states have been pursuing for the last twenty years. It seems to me like the process of decentralization has been a good one, all things considered.

So, now that I have made it known that I think foreign aid is to blame for the (perceived) recentralization of power in Uganda, and now that I have made it known that I think decentralization has been more good than bad for people, what do I think needs to be done to address the problem of recentralization that Grossman & Lewis argue is occurring?

My quick, lazy answers are 1) create a Senate, and 2) keep liberalizing the economy.

There are other, supplemental prescriptions (such as ensuring property rights protections are strong; this is probably best handled by integrating indigenous property laws with generally agreed upon rules governing world trade; in this respect, African states that were a part of the British Empire generally do a great job, and the failures of these states can largely be attributed to protectionist policies after decolonization), but I think my lazy answers are more straightforward, and would get better results (at least in the context former British colonies). (h/t Joshua Keating)

Keynesianism, the Global Economy, and Responsibility

Economist Joseph Stiglitz has an op-ed out in Project Syndicate lamenting bad policies for the current economic stagnation of the West. This response comes from economist Peter Boettke, and I think it is an important and woefully neglected one:

Since 2008, and before, [Stiglitz] has been constantly complaining about neo-liberal policy and how its lack of attention to the appropriate regulatory framework and disregard for fundamental policy priorities has produced the mess we are in.  In fact, he made the argument very simply even while he was in positions of tremendous political power in the Clinton administration and at the World Bank — if only the world would listen to me, and engage in the appropriate interventions then the mess would be avoided.  But who were the so-called neo-liberals that weren’t listening to him?  What neo-liberal thinker had the same powerful positions that he held?  Did F. A. Hayek or Milton Friedman actually come back from the grave to serve as head of the CEA or as Chief Economist at the World Bank?  Or did all this disruptive inequality and global imbalance happen on the watch of other thinkers.

I think Boettke is right, but I also think both economists are wrong in a sense, too. First of all, global poverty over the past twenty years or so has been halved thanks to the very neoliberal policies that both economists are disagreeing about, and that both economists have more or less endorsed. With this important, praiseworthy accomplishment in mind, why would these guys want to spend so much time pointing fingers at each other?

I know why they are pointing fingers (because of the terrible shape that Western economies are in), but I am a little baffled at the audacity of Stiglitz and other Keynesians who have held the levers of power for sixty years to point the finger at something other than themselves.

Really quickly: Some of might ask why Boettke and Stiglitz agree on neoliberalism abroad and disagree on policy at home. My short answer would be because the West already has the institutions (property rights, other individual rights, etc.) that economists have identified as necessary for a market order, so their debates about policy occur within the same theoretical framework. Post-colonial states (“developing states”) have virtually none of the institutions that the West, and so it easy for economists with different theoretical paradigms to agree on generalities concerning these developing countries (“they need to open up to world trade and focus on property rights before they do much else”). Does this make sense?

Around the Web: Highly Recommended Reading Edition

  1. Fantastic post about Uganda’s role (and a Ugandan’s perspective) in the ongoing South Sudan conflict.
  2. Sexual mores: Love in a cold climate. I live in California, but my ancestors come from the frozen wastelands of Scandinavia and northern Germany. Rawr!
  3. The unacknowledged success of neoliberalism.
  4. One of my favorite bloggers (Scott Sumner) is joining one of my favorite group blogs (EconLog). I’m a huuuuge fan of group blogs (they’re pretty much the only type of blog I read), so I hope he decides to stay on as a permanent contributor.
  5. Inglorious Revolutions. Why the West is kinda, sorta hypocritical when it comes to the Arab Spring.

From the Comments: Liberalization is about much more than just the economy

Andrew is skeptical of NAFTA’s achievements:

NAFTA isn’t the only major factor at play, although you’re right that it has provided Mexico with some huge economic benefits. This is especially true in the factory towns along the US border, which are able to absorb a much larger absolute amount of surplus labor from poorer, less developed parts of the country today than they could a generation ago. That said, I’m still ambivalent about NAFTA on account of the severe short-term economic and social dislocation it caused, e.g. to US factory workers who were undercut by Mexican competitors and to small Mexican farmers who were undercut by major US agribusinesses. It strikes me as a hastily and abruptly implemented policy change that caused a lot of needless collateral damage in the short term. Whether this damage was worthwhile in the long term depends a lot on one’s role in the North American economy at the time. On the whole, I’d say NAFTA has been a mixed bag.

This, I think, is in response to the 2003 academic paper (published by three economists) that I cited in defense of NAFTA’s success. It is a paper that only focuses on economic indicators (such as per capita income or total factor productivity). Here is what it found: NAFTA has not had a discernible effect on the US or Mexican economies. The displacement of US factory workers and Mexican farmers that Andrew mentions had been going on long before the implementation of NAFTA. Basically, NAFTA merely reduced the amount of paperwork associated with the changes in both economies. It has not hastened the changes.

Similarly, it appears that the growth of Mexican and American purchasing power parity are simply part of a hemisphere-wide trend that has also been going on for decades. In short, economists have found the economic effects of NAFTA to be negligible. So why do they continue to overwhelmingly support it?

My answer to this question can be found, I think, in Andrew’s keen perception of the changes in Mexican society:

Over the same time that NAFTA has been in place, Mexico has also become much more Protestant and nondenominational in religious affiliation, better educated, and, as I understand it, somewhat better governed and administered. Maybe I’m mistaken, but I have no reason to suspect that the religious shift had anything in particular to do with Mexico’s improving economy or trade liberalization. “Church-planting” missionaries of the sort that have evangelized Latin America don’t look for a particular economic or policy profile in a country before imposing themselves on it, although they do generally appreciate a certain amount of poverty and dysfunction, as long as they’re reasonably reasonably safe in country, since people in economically healthy, well-governed countries are less receptive to their pitches. This is a very cynical analysis, but the cravenness in “mission field” circles can be mindblowing.

What’s happened in much of Latin America in the last decade or so is that these evangelism programs have hit critical mass. They’re now self-sustaining operations being run mainly by Latin American evangelists pestering their own countrymen, or sometimes people in nearby countries. Gringo missionaries are still working in Latin America, but they’re no longer critical to the growth of evangelical churches there. (Besides, there’s much more street cred to be had in evangelizing a recently restive Muslim village in Northern Ghana, or, as my relatives and everybody at their church called it, Africa. I bless the rains….)

Liberalization is about much, much more than economic growth. The decline of Catholicism in Mexico, for example, is an incredibly good trend. This is not because Catholics suck, but because Mexican society is becoming more diverse. Liberalization means opening a state’s political, economic and social institutions to the world.

Undertaking liberalization thus exposes a society to changes. Sometimes societies may have a tough time with changes, especially if there are deeply entrenched political structures in place. Most often, though, these changes tend towards more political liberty (see “1994 Mexican Elections: Manifestation of a Divided Society?” and “Institutionalizing Mexico’s New Democracy,” both by Joseph Klesner, and be sure to read between the lines), more social diversity and, yes, more economic growth.

Of course, with new and overall positive changes come new challenges. The differences between the old challenges and the new, however, are cavernous. Politically, gridlock supplants revolution. Socially, vice replaces desperation. And economically, policy replaces cronyism.

Now, this is a broad view, but I think it is a concrete one nonetheless. There are two major objections to liberalization that I would like to briefly discuss.

The first is my assumption that diversity is, in and of itself, a good thing. Some people simply cannot stand diversity, whether it be of the ethnic and linguistic variety or of the intellectual variety. The former form of intolerance is often to be found among conservatives; the latter in Leftist circles. However, the fact that people I don’t like disapprove of diversity is not a good excuse for being a proponent of diversity.

So what follows is my concise defense of diversity. Diversity opens individuals up to higher degrees of tolerance. It gives individuals more choices. Its very nature makes people smarter by exposing them to more points of view. Added together, these benefits are a recipe for wealth and stability and peace.

There is a tendency, however, for diverse organizations (including societies) to have more conflict. It is this conflict that conservatives and Leftists alike point to as proof that diversity is an undesirable plague. Yet, under the right framework, conflict from diversity produces immeasurable amounts of wealth (see also this paper by economists Quamrul Ashraf and Oded Galor). This framework revolves largely around well-protected property rights and the protection of a handful of other rights (free speech, free press, etc.).

It is this framework that, conveniently enough, allows me to segue into the next most common objection to liberalization: that it doesn’t work and often makes things worse for a society. The data in this regard is not much clearer than the data on NAFTA’s effects on Mexico. That is to say, there is not enough evidence to prove conclusively that trade liberalization leads to economic growth. However, data over the past 30 years or so does suggest that states which undergo liberalization efforts tend to have economies that grow steadier, polities that oppress less and societies that adapt to cultural change more easily. If you can find evidence that you think may refute my argument (“that the rough overall trend of liberalization is beneficial to mankind”), you know where the ‘comments’ section is.

Towards World Peace: Free Trade Edition

Evgeniy’s most recent piece ends with a question that I think goes unasked way too often. He writes:

Мне вот интересно, как борются с предрассудками среди населения в других странах?

[I’ve been wondering how to fight prejudice in the population in other countries?]

My own answer is probably a little predictable, but the surest way to combat foreign prejudices is through free trade. Nothing will ever eliminate social prejudices, at least not in our lifetimes, and this is especially true in regards to all things foreign.

If humanity were to ever adopt the central tenants of libertarianism, namely that the individual is the most important social unit, then I think prejudices of the kinds that cause our societies strife (racial, ethnic, religious, etc.) would cease to exist. In fact, I am so sure of libertarianism’s ability to eliminate the bad -isms of the world that I have decided to devote a portion of my otherwise exciting, prosperous and non-conformist life to this blog in order to further the case for liberty.

The best way for me to argue free trade’s case for combating prejudice in foreign affairs is by bringing up the European Union. After World War 2, the US and Great Britain had to find a way to make the French and the Germans play nice so that yet another major war could be averted. They found their answer in free trade: French and German statecraft began to focus on how to operate within a bound-together framework, rather than on how to outmaneuver the other. The French and German people, as we all know, have known nothing but peace since free trade between them has been implemented.

Free trade doesn’t have to be this abstract idea, either. Every time a Russian citizen watches a Pixar film, he is becoming less prejudiced against Americans. Every time an American citizen takes a shot of vodka from the motherland (giving toasts as he does so), he is becoming less prejudiced against Russians. Without free trade, these two consumer goods – movies and vodka – would have a hard time reaching foreign customers who desire them.

“European Project Trips China Builder”

That is the headline of this piece in the Wall Street Journal. An excerpt:

Chinese companies have wowed the world with superhighways, high-speed trains and snazzy airports, all built seemingly overnight. Yet a modest highway through Polish potato fields proved to be too much for one of China’s biggest builders […]

It remains unfinished nearly three years after contracts were awarded to Chinese builders. The Polish government is warning there will be detours around the highway’s “Chinese sections” when the soccer championships begin […]

The project raises questions about Beijing’s strategy of pitching state-directed construction firms as the low-cost solution to the world’s infrastructure needs […]

Covec [the state-run construction company responsible for the failures] was thin on management expertise, lacked financial skills and didn’t understand the importance of regulations and record-keeping in public works projects in the West, according to numerous people involved in the project […]

Organizing actual construction proved harder. To manage the project, Covec brought in Fu Tengxuan, a 49-year-old railway engineer, who spoke only Chinese and appeared to have little authority, telling colleagues that headquarters in Beijing needed to approve even the purchase of an office copier […]

Although the funding of Chinese projects in other areas such as Africa and Asia is often murky, analysts say that Beijing regularly foots the bill […] Continue reading