- The strange relationship between virtue and violence Barbara King, Times Literary Supplement
- Nixon’s path to peace included bombing Cambodia Rick Brownell, Medium
- The suboptimality of the nation-state Branko Milanovic, globalinequality
- The threshold of land invasion Nick Nielsen, Grand Strategy Annex
That’s the topic of my latest over at RealClearHistory. An excerpt:
That is to say, there are theoretical lessons we can draw from the American annexation of Hawaii and apply them to today’s world. The old Anglo-Dutch playbook turned out to serve American imperial interests well, especially when contrasted with the disastrous Spanish-American War of 1898, when the United States seized the Philippines, Cuba, Guam, and Puerto Rico from Spain in an unwarranted act of aggression. Hawaii, now an American state, has one of the highest standards of living in the world (including for its indigenous and Japanese citizens), while the territories seized by the U.S. from Spain continue to wallow in relative poverty and autocratic governance.
Please, read the rest.
Nick Crafts can be viewed as the doyen of British economic history. His major publications date back to the 1970s – a favorite of mine is this piece from 1977 on the role played by chance in determining whether the Industrial Revolution would occur in England or France. He is also the joint author of the Crafts-Harley interpretation of the Industrial Revolution. But, perhaps because the majority of his research focuses on British economic history, he remains highly underrated outside of the UK. His new book Forging ahead, falling behind and fighting back: British economic growth from the industrial revolution to the financial crisis summarizes much of his research.
I’ve reviewed it for the Economic History Review. But given the whims of academic publishing, it may be a long time until my review appears in print so I’ve decided to post a preview of my draft below.
Why was Britain the first industrial nation and the workshop of the world? Why was it eventually caught up and overtaken? Why once it had fallen behind the United States, did it fall further behind its European rivals in the Post-War period? And how did it recover its relative position in the 1980s and 1990s? All these questions are addressed in Nicholas Crafts’s slim new book.
In Forging ahead, falling behind and fighting back, Crafts provides a macroeconomic perspective on the British economy from 1750 to today. The word macro is advisory. Crafts surveys the British economy from 1000 feet, through the lens of growth theory and growth accounting. The upside of this approach is that he delivers a lot of insight in a small number of pages. Readers looking for discussions of individual inventors, innovations, politicians, or discussion of specific policy decisions can look elsewhere.
The first part of the book provides an overview of the Crafts-Harley view of the British Industrial Revolution. This view emphasizes the limited scope of economic change in the early 19th century. On the eve of the Industrial Revolution, the British economy already had a comparatively modern structure, with many individuals working outside agriculture. Growth between 1770 and 1850 was highly reliant on a few key sectors and TFP growth was modest (0.4% a year). Most workers remained employed in traditional sectors of the economy. It took until the second half of the 19th century for the benefits of steam, the general purpose technology of the age, to fully diffuse through the economy. Nonetheless, from a long-run perspective, the achievements of this period, a small but sustained increases in per capita GDP despite rapid population growth, were indeed revolutionary.
An important theme of the book is institutional path dependency. Characteristics of Britain’s early position as an industrial leader continued to shape its political economy down to the end of the 20th century. Crafts mentions two interesting instances of this. First, Britain’s precocious reliance on food imports from the early 19th century onwards left a legacy that was favorable of free trade. Elsewhere in the world democratization in the late 19th century often led to protectionism, but in Britain, it solidified support for free trade because, after the expansion of the franchise, the median voter was an urban worker dependent on cheap imported bread. Second, industrial relationships were shaped the nature of the economy in the 19th century. Britain thus inherited a strong tradition of craft unions that would have consequences in conflicts between labor and capital in the 20th century.
The second part of the book considers the late Victorian, Edwardian, and inter-war periods. It was in the late 19th century that the United States overtook Britain. A venerable scholarship has identified this period as one of economic failure. Crafts, however, largely follows McCloskey in exonerating Edwardian Britain from the charge of economic failure. The presence of fierce competition limited managerial inefficiencies in most areas of the economy; though there were notable failures in sectors where competition was limited such as the railways. The main policies errors in this area were thus ones of omission rather than commission: more could have been done to invest in R&D and support basic science – an area where the US certainly invested in more than the UK.
The seeds of failure, for Crafts, were sown in the interwar period. Traditionally these years have been viewed relatively favorably by economic historians, as the 1930s saw a shift away from Industrial Revolution patterns of economic activity and investment in new sectors. However, in a comparative light, TFP growth in the interwar period was significantly slower than in the US. The new industries did not establish a strong export position. This period also saw the establishment of a managed economy, in which policymakers acceded to a marked decline in market competition. Protectionism and cartelization kept profits high but at a cost of long-run productivity growth that would only be fully revealed in the post-war period.
Most economic historians view the postwar period through the lens of Les Trente Glorieuses. But in Britain, it has long been recognized that this was an era of missed opportunities. Simple growth accounting suggests that Britain underperformed relative to its European peers. Thus though the British economy grew faster in these years than in any other period; it is in this period that Britain’s relative failure should be located.
Crafts examines this failure using insights from the literature on “varieties of capitalism” which contrasts coordinated market economies like West Germany with liberal market economies like the United States or Britain. In the favorable conditions of postwar recovery and growth, coordinated market economies saw labor cooperate with capital enabling both high investment and wage restraint. Britain, however, lacked the corporatist trade unions of France or West Germany. As a legacy of the Industrial Revolution, it inherited a diverse set of overlapping craft unions which could not internalize the benefits of wage restraint and often opposed new technologies or managerial techniques. Britain functioned as a dysfunctional liberal market economy, one that became increasingly sclerotic as the 1960s passed into the 1970s.
An important insight I got from this book is that government failure and market failure are not independent. Examples of government failure from the postwar period are plentiful. Industrial policy was meant to “pick winners.” But “it was losers like Ross Royce, British Leyland ad Alfred Herbert who picked Minsters” (p. 91). Market power became increasingly concentrated. Approximately 1/3 of the British economy in the 1950s was cartelized and 3/4 saw some level of price fixing. Britain’s exclusion from the EEC until the 1970s meant that protective barriers were high, enabling inefficient firms and managerial practices to survive. High marginal rates of taxation and weak corporate governance encouraged managers to take their salary in the form of in-kind benefits, and deterred innovation. Labor relations became increasingly hostile as the external economic environment worsened following the end of Bretton Woods.
Britain recovered its relative economic position after 1979 through radical economic reforms and a dramatic shift in policy objectives. Though of course, the Thatcher period saw numerous missteps and policy blunders, what Crafts argues was most important was that there was an increase in product market competition, a reduction in market distortions, and a reduction of trade union power, factors provided the space that enabled the British economy to benefit from the ICT revolution in the 1990s.
Rarely does one wish a book to be longer. But this is the case with Forging Ahead, Falling Behind, and Fighting Back. In particular, while a short and sharp overview of the Industrial Revolution is entirely appropriate, given the number of pages written on this topic in recent years, the last part of the book does need extra pages; the argument here is too brief and requires more evidence and substantive argumentation. One wishes, for instance, that the theme of institutional path dependency was developed in more detail. Despite this, Forging Ahead, Falling Behind, and Fighting Back is a notable achievement. It provides a masterly survey of British economy history tied together by insights from economic theory.
- Path-dependence of measuring real GDP?
- Technological creativity and the Great Enrichment (h/t Federico)
- The deadly serious accusation of being a “so-called judge”
- Why Congress isn’t reigning in Trump
- How did Germany and Austria’s elite musical institutions navigate the vicissitudes of early 20th-century European history? (review)
- Western nationalism and Eastern nationalism
What is the long-term legacy of political persecutions? Here I want to present the main findings of my recent research with Melanie Meng Xue (UCLA Anderson). Our research is an attempt to undercover how a legacy of political persecution can shape social capital and civil society by studying imperial China. The full version of the paper is available here.
We know from other research that particular institutions, policies, and events can have a detrimental and long-lasting impact on economic and political outcomes (e.g. Nunn 2011, Voigtländer and Voth, 2012). But it is hard to find a setting where we can study the long-run impact of autocratic institutions. A key feature of autocracy is the use of persecutions to intimidate potential opponents. In our paper, Melanie and I argue that the intensification of imperial autocracy that took place in the High Qing period (1680-1794) provides an ideal setting to study the impact of such persecutions.
The High Qing period was one of great political stability, imperial expansion, and internal peace. Economic historians like Bin Wong and Ken Pomeranz have shown that China possessed a flourishing market economy during this period; it experienced Smithian economic growth and a massive demographic expansion. Rulers such as the Kangxi (1661-1722) and Qianlong Emperors (1735-1794) are seen as among the most successful in Chinese history. Nevertheless, as ethnic Manchus, these rulers were extremely sensitive to possible opposition from the Han Chinese. And during this period Qing tightened control over the gentry and implemented a policy of the systematic persecution of dissent. (Figure 1 depicts the Manchu conquest of China.)
The Literary Inquisitions
The focus of our paper is on the impact of persecutions conducted by Qing China against individuals suspected of expressing disloyalty. We study the impact of these state-orchestrated persecutions on the social fabric of society. This allows us to speak to the kinds of concerns that authors like Hannah Arendt and George Orwell expressed about the long-run impact of totalitarianism in the 20th century.
These persecutions are referred to by historians as ‘literary inquisitions’. Existing scholarship suggests that the resulting fear of persecution elevated the risks facing writers and scholars, and created an atmosphere of oppression and a culture of distrust which deterred intellectuals from playing an active role in society. But these claims have never been systematically investigated. Putting together several unique datasets for historical and modern China, we explore the impact of literary inquisitions on social capital in Qing China and trace its long-run impact on modern China through its effect on cultural values.
To conduct our analysis, we use data on 88 inquisition cases. We match the victims of each case (there are often multiple victims per case) to their home prefecture. This data is depicted in Figure 1. Since prefectures varied greatly in their economic, social, and political characteristics we conduct our analysis on a matched sample. This ensures that the prefectures “treated” by a literary inquisition are similar in terms of their observables to those we code as “untreated”. As our data is a panel, we are able to exploit variation across time as well as variation in space.
While individuals could be persecuted for a host of reasons, these were all but impossible to anticipate ex ante. Cases were referred to the emperor himself. Frederic Wakeman called this “the institutionalization of Imperial subjectivity.” The standard punishment in such cases was death by Lingchi or (slow slicing) and the enslavement of all one’s immediate relatives. In some cases, however, the guilty party would be executed by beheading. These persecutions aimed to deter opposition to Qing rule by signaling the ability of the Emperor to hunt down all potential critics or opponents of the regime.
The Impact of Literary Inquisitions on Social Capital
We initially focus on the impact of persecution on the short and medium-run using our historical panel. We first examine the effects on the number of notable scholars. In our preferred specification we find that a literary inquisition reduced the number of notable scholars in a prefecture by 33 percent relative to the sample mean.
We go on to show the effect of persecutions on collective participation among the gentry in China. Our measure of collective participation in civil society is the number of charitable organizations. Charitable organizations played an important role in premodern China providing disaster relief and local public goods such as repairing local roads. They were non-governmental organizations and played an important role alongside the government provision of disaster relief. In our preferred empirical specification, we find that a persecution number of charitable organizations by 38 percent relative to the sample mean.
These results are in keeping with the argument that literary inquisition had a major psychological impact on Chinese society. They are consistent with the rise of “inoffensive” literary subjects during the Qing period that have documented by historians. To reduce the risk of persecution, intellectuals scrupulously avoided activities that could be interpreted as constituting an undermining of Qing rule. Instead they “immersed themselves in the non-subversive “sound learning” and engaged in textual criticism, bibliography, epigraphy, and other innocuous, purely scholarly pursuits” (Wiens, 1969, 16).
The Impact of Literary Inquisitions on 20th Century Outcomes
We go on to examine how the effects of these persecutions can be traced into the 20th century. In particular, we focus on the provision of basic education at the end of Qing dynasty. In late 19th and early 20th century China, there was no centralized governmental provision of primary schools. Basic education remained the responsibility of the local gentry who ran local schools.
Thus the provision of education at a local level was dependent on the ability of educated individuals to coordinate in the mobilization of resources; this required both cooperation and trust. We therefore hypothesize that if the persecution of intellectuals had a detrimental impact on social capital, it should also have negatively affected the provision of basic education.
We find that among individuals aged over 70 in the 1982 census – hence individuals who were born in the late Qing period – a legacy of a literary inquisition is associated with lower levels of literacy. This reflects the impact of literary inquisition on the voluntary schools provided by the gentry and is not associated with lower enrollment at middle school or high school. We show that result is robust to controlling for selective migration and for the number of death caused by the Cultural Revolution.
Finally, we show that literary inquisitions generated a cultural of political non-participation. Drawing on two datasets of political attitudes – the Chinese General Social Survey (CGSS) and the Chinese Political Compass (CPoC) – we show that individuals in areas in which individuals were targeted during literary inquisitions are both less trusting of government and less interested in political participation.
Finally, we find that individuals in prefectures with a legacy of literary inquisitions are less likely to agree that: “Western-style multi-party systems are not suitable for China” (Q 43.). This suggests that in areas affected by literary inquisitions individuals are also more skeptical of the claims of the Chinese government and more open to considering alternative political systems. Similarly, individuals in affected prefectures are more likely to disagree with the statement that: “Modern China needs to be guided by wisdom of Confucius/Confucian thinking.”
In summary, our analysis suggests that autocratic rule reduced social capital and helped to produce a culture of political quietism in pre-modern China. This has left a legacy that persisted into the 20th century. These findings have implications for China’s current political trajectory. Some scholars anticipate China undergoing a democratic transition as it’s economy develops (Acemoglu and Robinson, 2012). Others point to China as an example of “authoritarian resilience.” By showing that a long-history of autocratic rule and political persecutions can produce a culture of political apathy, our results shed light on a further and previously under-explored source of authoritarian resilience.
When I hear the phrase “I experimented with drugs/diet/habit/whatever [on myself],” I tend to call bullshit. (A good exception is the author at Gwern.net who does blind, randomized trials on himself sometimes.) Without a control group you aren’t doing an experiment.
But I heard some interesting phrasing that is making me reconsider. Scott Adams was talking about experimenting with changes to his diet by isolating one thing and seeing if he can observe a change after a week. It’s clear that he understands the limitations of this approach. And that clarity makes me think that he’s really properly experimenting. He’s not going so far as running a double-blind study, he’s just taking a serious look at imperfect evidence and being epistemically honest.
Like any good scientific thinker of our time, Adams knows that the outcomes he observes can be affected by any number of variables he’s failed to account for. He knows that his estimates need an error term. He almost certainly knows that time isn’t on his side and ever so slightly affects his results. He almost certainly also knows that path-dependency plays a role. But he corrects for all that in his interpretation. It’s this considered approach to the evidence that makes me view him as operating on a scientific basis. So even if his trials do not provide powerful evidence, his interpretation and application of the evidence is what makes it science.
I suppose this would mean that an experiment can’t be considered scientific until the data is interpreted.
And of course all of this is to say that he’s definitely right about Donald Trump.
For those of you, my conservative friends, who believe police brutality is just a collection of deliberate made up tales, there is a video on the major cable networks today I hope you see.
It shows a normal size adult in a blue or black uniform putting his knee in the back of a fourteen-year old girl in a bikini to force her down. The girl is crying out for her Mamma. The same cop then draws his gun on a couple of teenage boys in swim shorts who are trying to help the girl. There are other teenagers around, all in swimming attire where one couldn’t hide a weapon. Does the cop think they are going to gang up on him and beat him to death? It’s difficult to see how his life is threatened. In fact, it’s impossible.
A private person gave a pool party on a hot day. Although I understand it took place in a semi-public pool, it was by invitation only. Predictably, some teenagers tried to crash the party. Someone called the police. At that point no blows had been struck; there may have been no violence. I say “may” because, according to some reports but not all, some girls had been pulling one another’s hair. The horror! Cat fights used to be considered free entertainment. The cops who first arrived felt out of their depth and apparently lost their cool and quickly became the worst threat to citizens‘ safety anywhere around.
This is the point where the media and everyone should ask the obvious question:
Suppose the cop had retreated and done nothing? What would be the worst case scenario. Answer 1: Uninvited teenagers swimming in a public pool that had been reserved. Answer 2: Possibly some hair pulled off. (When was the last time a teenage girl did serious damage to another with her bare hands? The stereotype is right: Girls don’t know how to fight.)
Is there an alternative universe where avoiding these calamities is worth brutalizing a young girl and pulling a gun on boys in bathing suits?
Is it even likely that the use of pepper spray was justified? Yes, I am double-guessing the cops on the scene. It’s becoming easier thanks to amateur video. If the cop who pulled his gun is unable to restrain himself or if he does not have the good judgment to do it, he shouldn’t be in charge of protecting us. Yes, that simple!
Was what I saw on the video a racial incident? I don’t think so although the main cop was white and the teenagers black. Likewise, when I see a white man sell a used tool to a black man at the flea market, I don’t think of it as a “racial transaction.” The assertion that white cops kill black men because white cops (and society in general) are racist is a simplistic idea invented and sustained by the scum sliver fringe of the dying civil rights movement to prolong its unearned privileges (including not paying millions of dollars in owed taxes).
I won’t believe that racial animus presides over the shooting of black men or any other kind of brutalization of black people by police until I see appropriate comparative figures: How many whites shot by white cops, how many blacks killed by black cops, etc. This would have to take into account the superior propensity of black to commit crimes. The number exists; the study is not difficult to do; any sociologist, any statistician could do it. The fact that it has either not been done or not publicized speaks to me of massive censorship, or self-censorship, of paralyzing political correctness.
The cop who put his knee in the middle of the back of a fourteen-year old girl may not be a racist; as I said; I think he is probably not. He just should not be a police officer. Given that he is a veteran, it’s not his training that’s defective, it’s him. Perhaps he should not have ever been on any force to begin with. Perhaps he has been on the job too long. If it’s the latter, I am guessing union rules prevent his superiors from doing anything about it or even from noticing that something is awry with that guy. Whatever is the case, the man is not a protector, he is a public danger.
He does not belong on the street with a gun but working in a church basement at something innocuous. His working buddies could be, for example, young women who think a smile is sexual harassment and a tap on the shoulder, rape. They deserve one another.
And, I can already hear it from my conservative friends: Peace officers have a tough job, blah, blah! You have to understand, blah, blah! Not so; the market tells the truth. There is is no shortage of police recruits nationwide. People are flocking to the job. The California Highway Patrol is currently recruiting young interns. Candidates must have no drug conviction (which does not make much sense if you think about it). They must have at least a 2.00 GPA in high school. Let me think, with grade inflation that would be a D- or an F+?
In the meantime, the Santa Cruz Sheriff is offering $5,200 a month for trainees with an immediate raise following graduation from the police academy. High school diploma required, or an associate degree. (There are also tests but…) Good time to weed out the inept and the used up. Or, the selection standards could be changed: You might go easier on the brawn and become more demanding on self-control and on ordinary common sense.
And, by the way, I hate affirmative action but…. (I hate it because it gave us among other things, the current Fascist-leaning administration that is also inept.) Yet, I don’t have trouble imagining that female cops may possess a superior ability to defuse potentially explosive situations. I believe that, in daily police practice, there are many cases where small physical size and low testosterone are assets.
There is no – I repeat – no reason to tolerate police brutality. Conservatives are morally bound to distrust the government there too. It’s our constitutional tradition.
PS I have no animus against police officers. My father was one, a good one. In my whole life, I have only had two moving violations; one was for driving too slowly.
Creeping illiteracy in the media: I heard with my own auditory ears and saw with my own visualizing eyes an MSNBC commentator refer to a “canine dog.” It makes me hunker for a “feline dog,” or even for an “avian dog.” That would be cool. Fortunately, it was on MSNBC, not on Fox.
Awhile back Tyler Cowen linked to this paper (pdf) by Cihan Artunç on legal pluralism in the Ottoman Empire, and I found it to be really interesting. Here is the abstract, followed by some comments from yours truly:
Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, non-Muslim Ottomans paid large sums to acquire access to European law. These protégés came to dominate Ottoman trade and pushed Muslims and Europeans out of commerce. At the same time, the Ottoman ﬁrm remained primarily a small, family enterprise. The literature argues that Islamic law is the culprit. However, adopting European law failed to improve economic outcomes. This paper shows that the co-existence of multiple legal systems, “legal pluralism,” explains key questions in Ottoman economic history. I develop a bilateral trade model with multiple legal systems and ﬁrst show that legal pluralism leads to underinvestment by creating enforcement uncertainty. Second, there is an option value of additional legal systems, explaining why non-Muslim Ottomans sought to acquire access to European law. Third, in a competitive market where a subpopulation has access to additional legal systems, agents who have access to fewer jurisdictions exit the market. Thus, forum shopping explains protégés’ dominance in trade. Finally, the paper explains why the introduction of the French commercial code in 1850 failed to reverse these outcomes.
Got that? If not, you know where the ‘comments’ section is. What stood out to me the most in this paper is that the Ottoman Empire limited choice of law to a specific population within the realm:
“Muslims were restricted to Islamic law but non-Muslims could use any of the available legal systems, including European jurisdictions upon paying an entry fee. This subsection extends the model by allowing variation in the legal options agents have in order to capture this asymmetric jurisdictional access.” (11)
This looks, to me, a lot more like the Jim Crow South in the United States, or the present-day Maori in New Zealand, than a good case study for understanding legal pluralism. I guess the Jim Crow-esque laws in the Ottoman Empire can be described as “legal pluralism,” but I think this is a bit of a stretch on the part of Artunç. Perhaps not. Maybe there needs to be a distinction between “good” and “bad” legal pluralism? I was under the impression that legal pluralism meant difference court systems operating under an assumed set of rules rather than a different set of laws for different classes of people within a society.
Another interesting tidbit is that Artunç attributes the empire’s economic stagnation (“Such an expansion in asymmetry increases the buyer’s payoﬀ for moderate values of eﬀective enforcement, but will always decrease investment, partnership size, seller’s payoﬀ and total surplus.” ) to legal pluralism rather than the Jim Crow-esque legal system actually in place.
I’d say this paper does a good job explaining, in an off-hand way, how Ottoman Jim Crow created a path dependency of poverty for the states encompassing the territory of what used to be the Ottoman Empire. I’d say it does a much worse job explaining what legal pluralism is (Artunç defines legal pluralism as “a single economy where two or more legal systems coexist.”  That’s it! That’s his definition of legal pluralism!), and enhances that weakness with an analysis based upon a definition of legal pluralism that is, if I read the paper correctly, wrong, or at least sorely lacking in depth.
For the record I have my doubts about legal pluralism as it can sometimes be interpreted by anarcho-capitalists. Anarcho-capitalists argue that the “assumed set of rules” I identified above that are necessary for legal pluralism to work are largely, naturally understood by humanity and therefore provide Anarcho-Capitalistan with everything it needs for a fully functional legal system. I think that’s stretching it a bit. In fact, it’s close to ludicrous. I think legal pluralism does work in systems like the one found in the US (where circuit courts compete with each other, for example, or state and federal courts clash).
Regardless of my opinions on libertarian legal theory, I think it is clear that Artunç’s brilliant paper is brilliant because it tackles an important topic (Ottoman Empire and, more deftly, international trade) that can be used as a stepping stone for further research, but I cannot bring myself to buy his conclusion (legal pluralism is to blame for the path dependency of poverty in the post-Ottoman world rather than Timur Kuran’s “Islamic law” thesis) because he gets legal pluralism so wrong. (I don’t think Kuran’s thesis is right either, but that’s a story for another blog post and has nothing to do with the fact that he once taught at USC; briefly, Kuran argues that Islamic law was responsible for keeping the Ottoman and Persian empires poor while Europe grew rich, but this is as superficial – and important – as Artunç’s thesis; importantly, Kuran also confuses the Ottoman Jim Crow system with legal pluralism, which suggests Artunç’s critique of his work is less robust than initially thought.)
NEO, in response to my musings on the rule of law in Africa, writes:
Thanks, Brandon. Like I said, I don’t know very much at all about Africa, right now I’m looking a bit more at the British in Egypt/Sudan. But currently I know mostly what I read and I suspect you know what I see, so I’m not about to argue with you on it.
Given what you know, I see really good things ahead for them. And that is very good, both for them and us. Somebody once said that prosperous folks try to avoid wars because its hard on the china. I know, it’s simplistic but, its also true.
I get the impression, and I could easily be wrong here, that it might have been better for everyone if the Empires had lasted a few more decades, it looks to me like the people learned the lessons but not the mechanics of creating the institutions.
Excellent point NEO, especially about wars being bad for the china.
Now, the colonial empires were bad for just about everybody (the factions that were able to capture the rent generated by imperial policies were excepted, of course). While European imperialism did open up the markets in Africa and Asia to their mercantile spheres of influence, these policies did not open up the markets to genuine world trade. This has had several ramifications for individual liberty in the post-colonial world.
In order to open up the economies of Africa and Asia to their mercantile systems, the Europeans created a great legal code for the mercantile systems. These legal codes helped reduce transaction costs and protected the private property of European citizens abroad, which helped to foster more trade within the mercantile systems. Unfortunately, the legal codes of both the British and the Dutch (I can’t speak for the Latin states, but judging by the state of affairs that these regions are now in, I assume that such policies were just as bad, if not worse) created a two-tiered system of justice: Europeans and a small number of local elites were able to count on the legal system to protect their private property, but everybody else was relegated to a second-class citizenship. This two-tiered system was not good for the populations of Africa and Asia, nor were they good for European citizens.
It goes without saying that the colonial apparatuses did not have to do much work in regards to grafting the indigenous legal and political systems of the African and Asian polities onto the mercantile system. Most of the African and Asian polities that the Europeans subdued were already protectionist and despotic, so colonial policy became a careful matter of picking the right factions to ally with. It is important to note that the policies of the polities in Africa and Asia were responsible for their weakened state, not any sort of cultural attributes. Up until the Napoleonic Wars, Europe was still pretty much on par with the rest of the world as far as living standards went. With the advent of peace on the continent, and new legal codes that extended private property rights (including rights to freer trade in the world) to a larger segment of its citizens, Europe became far too powerful for everybody else.
We could argue, of course, that certain cultural attributes of Europeans at that time contributed to successful implementation of such policies (and we would be right), but culture is always changing. It is our task to ensure that we continue to contribute to a culture that values individual liberty above all else.
Again, this is not say that African and Asian peoples have never known liberty. Private property has been around for a long time. The arrival of European states (not merchants) into these regions of the world created a burgeoning market for all things war, and as hostilities increased, so too did the health of these states.
India’s total area, in square kilometers, is
The total area of France, Germany, the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, the Czech Republic and Slovakia (or “the West”), in square kilometers, is
Think of this comparison in terms of regions: one region is India, the other is the West. Both regions are densely populated. Both regions have a number of languages and an even greater number of regional dialects. Yet one region is wealthy, and the other is poor.
One way to look at this phenomenon would be to glance at the macro institutional structures in place in these two regions. India is one country. The West is composed of
6 17 countries. That’s six seventeen centers of power, as opposed to one, within territorial spaces that are roughly equivalent in size.
If we think about these macro institutions and incorporate them into other institutional arguments that focus on the micro institutions, then India actually has a lot of hope. The West saw numerous wars before it finally came to the arrangements it now has (
six seventeen independent centers of power and a free trade zone binding them together), so India has a great blueprint for improving its macro institutions.
On the downside, of course, is the fact that many factions won’t really care if India becomes freer and more prosperous, so long as they get theirs. Along with the standard public choice explanation, the path dependency argument also suggests that India has a tough road ahead.
Sometimes being a libertarian sucks.
Update: Dr Gibson was kind enough to point out that I had initially calculated India’s size in square miles rather than square kilometers. I have taken that into account and updated it accordingly. Conceptually, my argument actually grows in strength with the corrected size.
Let’s apply path dependency to the plight of the national Republican Party and see where it takes us:
Writing in Fortune in the run-up to the 1962 congressional elections, Max Ways asked, “Is Republicanism a Losing Cause?” Arguing at the height of JFK’s popularity that there was nothing wrong with the party’s two main convictions, namely that individual liberty is best served by a strong, yet limited, federal government, and that “market capitalism is a beneficent force in the world,” Ways insisted that Republicans would never “reinvigorate their party so long as they let the Democrats set the terms of battle.”
After a drubbing in the 1964 election, the party was able to set the terms of battle as America’s cities burned and the war in Vietnam headlined the evening news. In Ronald Reagan, the party’s reinvigoration was complete. His ability to communicate the party’s convictions and win elections suggested that Republican dominance of the White House might be sustained. It wasn’t. But even in the aftermath of defeat, in 1992, the party could take solace in Bill Clinton’s declaration that the era of Big Government was over. Perhaps the party had truly won the battle of ideas.
But now the Republican Party has come full circle, and is again in crisis, having suffered defeat in the popular vote in five of the past six presidential elections. As was the case in 1962, there is no end to prescriptions for saving the GOP. To the accumulating heap of advice, I add this to the pile: Consider path dependency before formulating policy, conducting politics, and making appeals to voters.
California’s Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger famously promised to “blow up” the boxes of a bloated government in Sacramento—and then not much happened. At the national level, Republicans have been promising to repeal, dissolve, and defund laws, agencies, and programs since the 1930s, with little overall success, notwithstanding the odd victory here and there. The yearning to begin anew may be alluring, but there ain’t no going back.
In rhetoric, Republican Party leaders still call for ratcheting back Leviathan, at least on the economic front. Yet, just as Governor Schwarzenegger did, they falter when it comes to actually blowing up the boxes of government. Republicans make poor revolutionaries. At the same time, they seem to have eschewed democratic politics as a means to their ends. Perhaps, in their view, playing politics would constitute an exercise in making “socialism” more efficient, in which they allegedly hold no interest. But by failing to reconcile ideas and ideals with path dependent history, the party is becoming ever more out of touch.
Gaining an appreciation for path dependency may help the party connect with voters: a prerequisite to articulating effectively a vision of a political economy based on individual liberty, limited government, and market capitalism. After all, if no one is listening, it doesn’t really matter what you might be saying.
Another problem: It’s rather difficult to figure out what the Republican Party stands for these days. Since the 1980s, its calls for racheting back Big Government have been long on promising a return to some ideal state and short on mapping a pragmatic path toward reining in the actually existing state. Interestingly, the rhetoric heats up when the party is out of power, casting doubt on the sincerity of those spouting it. When they have occupied the Oval Office, Republicans have had no less a penchant increasing the size and scope of government than the Democrats they accuse of being enthusiasts for socialism. The Bush administration used the crisis of 9/11 to increase government surveillance of private citizens and expand Washington’s interventions overseas. The crisis of the Great Recession served as occasion to bail out Wall Street. Indeed, in economic terms, Republicanism has come full circle, not from the free soil, free labor, and free men days of Lincoln, but from the Gilded Age. Where the rubber hits the road, that is, in terms of implementation, there is little evidence that the Republican Party holds individual liberty, limited government, and market capitalism as core convictions. But let’s stipulate, for the sake of this post, that Republicanism at its core remains grounded in the two main convictions identified by Mr. Ways.
So how might a consideration of path dependency help to right the listing Republican ship?
In a previous post, I applauded Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson for their effective deployment of path dependency in Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty. They showed that “critical junctures” that disrupt the existing political and economic balance in society launch nations down their respective dependent paths. And once embarked on a dependent path, the weight of history makes it extremely difficult for a nation to change course.
In America, as Robert Higgs has shown, two world wars, with a great depression sandwiched in between, constituted the critical junctures—or critical episodes, as he calls them—that resulted in an immense expansion in the scale and scope of the U.S. government. With the passage of time, the American people have accepted most aspects of Leviathan—especially when it comes to social insurance—as the norm. In Higg’s view, there is no going back because the federal government’s responses to successive crises engendered a sea shift in ideology among the people. Writing in 1987, Higgs doubted that the Reagan Revolution would live up to its billing. And he was spot on.
For an intraparty conversation on the appropriate scale and scope of government to be productive and persuasive, it ought to begin with coming to terms with the state as it “really is” and reflecting on how it came to be (including the many contributions of all postwar Republican administrations to expanding said state).
Take Social Security. Opposed on the Right, it was passed in a form that didn’t please the Left. But over the years, Social Security expanded in scope and size under Democratic and Republican administrations alike. It’s now been around for more than 75 years. Talk of entitlement reform as Baby Boomers age, at least in terms of assessing, funding, and perhaps adjusting future liabilities? Absolutely. But apocalyptic talk of Social Security’s impending bankruptcy as prelude to overhauling this mainstay of middle-class entitlements surely has lost more votes than it has gained. And to what end? Leaving aside the question of individual liberty, replacing mandated contributions to a government plan with mandated contributions to private ones introduces risk for which future retirees seemingly have no appetite. Path dependency does not mean that all doors to reform are shut for all time. But Republicans have little hope of blowing up this box.
So, what to do? First, acquire a deep appreciation for the path dependencies embedded in America’s laws, regulations, policies, and political institutions. Use the exercise to identify potentially winning issues that align with core convictions, as stipulated. Then embrace the democratic process as a platform from which to win hearts and minds and accomplish realistic goals.