Mass Hysteria and the Great Economy-Killing: Lessons from 1856 South Africa

Xhosa 1

In 1856, a teenage Xhosa girl Nongqawuse (1841-1898) had a prophetic vision that spread like a fire among that nation that resided in South Africa. The prophecy came amid a lung virus infection that spread among some Xhosa stock; it was rumored that the sickness came from the imported European cattle.  In her vision, which the girl duly delivered to her people, two spirits of ancestors had visited her and ordered Xhosa people to destroy all their cattle, corn, tools and foods.  The spirits insisted that these had been all contaminated. In return, the ancestors would bring the dead back to life, drive away the hated British, and launch the paradise on the earth, which was to bring the limitless supply of food, stock, and household items.

The spirits also “ordered” people  not to do any work but to wait and see the fulfillment of the prophecy.  At first, some Xhosa skeptics laughed at this, but soon when her uncle, a powerful and charismatic witchdoctor Mhalakaza, vouched for her and validated the prophecy by his expert opinion, people took it seriously, especially after all powerful chiefs sided with the uncle.  In fact, by killing his own cattle, Mhalakaza set a personal example. The supreme chief Sarili added to this his own spin by insisting that, besides the cattle slaughter, all European clothing should be ditched because it was unclean.  He insisted that his people, indigenous in their “naked attire” and coated in red clay, were “clean” compared to the whites who wore clothes.   Moreover, the “doctor” set a deadline for the paradise to materialize. It was to happen at the end of 1856 on a day of a full moon.

Xhosa 2

Society became divided into “believers” and “non-believers” who were a minority.  The greater part of the Xhosa became agitated and followed the command of the superior forces by slaughtering over 400,000 cattle and destroying their food supplies along with other “contaminated” items.  They also decided to sow no crops for future.  When on the designated day of the full moon no miracle arrived, fearing for his life, Mhalakaza disappeared.  From his hideout he had a message sent to the people that the spirits were angry with the Xhosa who did not slaughter all their stock.  For this reason, the fine new cattle did not emerge from the ground and the dead did not resurrect.  Within twelve months, with about 100,000 people starving themselves to death, the Xhosa population dropped by 80%.  For more about the Xhosa stock “pandemic” craze, see Jeffrey Brian Peires, The Dead Will Arise: Nongqawuse and the Great Xhosa Cattle-Killing Movement of 1856-1857 (Johannesburg and Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989).

Xhoas 3

Nightcap

  1. The lowest bid universe Caleb Scharf, Life, Unbounded
  2. How to govern locally from the left Daniel Jadue, Jacobin
  3. Changing places with Europe Scott Sumner, EconLog
  4. South Africa heads to the polls Michael Onderco, War on the Rocks

Nightcap

  1. Don’t believe the myth that this is a nation of Little Englanders Alex Massie, CapX
  2. The American Greatness narrative: a look under the hood Samuel Goldman, Law & Liberty
  3. In South Africa, minorities are at risk (even though it’s Not Yet Genocide) Mpiyakhe Dhlamini, Rational Standard
  4. Military dictatorship in Brazil: was it worth it? Bruno Gonçalves Rosi, NOL

Nightcap

  1. Plot 6, Row C, Grave 15 (the First World War) Malcolm Gaskill, London Review of Books
  2. Toyi-toyi Melissa Twigg, BBC
  3. Administrative Law Is Bunk. We Need a Bundesverwaltungsgericht Michael Greve, Liberty Forum
  4. Beer, and economic determinism Chris Dillow, Stumbling & Mumbling

Around the Web

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  2. Xenophobia in South Africa: Historical Legacies of Exclusion and Violence
  3. Death in Venice: Eighteenth Century Critiques of Republicanism
  4. 2 Fantastic Exhibitions at the Asian Art Museum
  5. Not All Libertarian Rightists/Leftists Are “Thick”: A Reminder
  6. What We Can Learn from Confederate Foreign Policy

France Does not Export Wines, nor Mexico Guacamole, nor Does the US Import Cars, etc. “National Competitiveness” for the Intelligent Ignorant

It’s national election season again. As always happens in this season, in every developed country, the old battle horse of national competitiveness gets a new coat of shiny paint and is led out by its sparkle-strewn tether to support politicians misconceptions and mis-talks. There is a very widespread misconception that nourishes unreasonable thoughts and false notions on the economy.

Sorry but at this time, in this season, I feel a compulsion to resort to teaching, so, pay attention. There might be a quiz.

The misconception: Countries, (or “nation-states”) such as the US, Canada, Mexico, Belgium, or France don’t compete with each other like soccer teams, for example, compete against each other. In soccer, when one team wins a point, the other team loses a point. When the economy of one country picks up speed however, it is not (NOT) the case that the economy of another country (or of several countries) must slow down. The reverse is true. When the Mexican economy grows, some Mexicans are better able to buy American corn, or American video games, making some Americans richer than would be the case if the Mexican economy stagnated.

The confusion has three sources. The first source is simply ignoring that the producers of one country are also potential customers for the producers of all other countries. Those who compete with American workers, are often also buyers of American-made products. If they are not at the moment, the richer they become, the more likely they are to become buyers. One of the international functions of those who compete with American producers is thus to enrich American producers, perhaps different ones. The relationship may be more indirect. Foreign worker A competes with American worker B and he uses the money he gets from beating B to buy from American worker C. If I am C, my interests are not well lined up with those of my fellow American B. That’s a fact, no matter what politicians say in the language of football. However, if I am American worker C, in the long run, I am better off if fellow American worker B becomes richer than if he does not. For one thing, he will be able to support better equipments, such as schools, from which I will profit. Continue reading