Friday, March 17, 2017

Following Up Follow Ups About Following Up: Exports, Fashion and the Warfare State




The mysterious Pseudoerasmus asks:



"Why are they wrong? Because their paradigm is the postwar neo-liberal (or whatever we're calling it now) world order, in which democracies and semi-democracies trade with each other in pursuit of shared prosperity, in which the only unsightly slopes on the otherwise level playing field of comparative advantage are tariffs, subsidies and gaming the exchange rate. The only way in which the state is supposed to intervene is by producing (and equitably disbursing) unlimited quantities of education/research spending; and by fine-tuning tax policy."


This is quite untrue. Allen's model (as well are critiques of Allen's model) are perfectly compatible with a world in which external trade is driven by mercantilism and imperialism. In fact, in his book Allen explicitly stresses the importance of imperialism in enlarging the domestic market, and market size is an important element of his model."

This is a blog about hillside pastures, fodder crops and the things (like cavalry warfare) that flow from them;
 And, oh, yes. The endogeneity of technological change.  I hope that it is also a place where I can be unembarrassed about offering an obsequious welcome and preemptive apology to such a distinguished visitor without being embarrassed. Watching the debut of Iron Fist instead of replying at greater length? About that I'm embarrassed. 


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Missing the Point: On The Economic Advantages of Eighteenth Century England

You will notice a "Blog Comment Follow-Up" tag this week.

And how! Anyway, this is Brad Delong quoting "the mysterious Pseudoerasmus" commenting on Robert Allen. 


I love the work of Robert Allen... steel... the Soviet Union... English agriculture. And his little book on global economic history—is there a greater marvel of illuminating concision than that?... . . . Yet I always find myself in the peculiar position of loving his work like a fan-girl and disagreeing with so much of it. In particular, I’m sceptical of his theory of the Industrial Revolution.

Allen has been advocating... [that] England’s high wages relative to its cheap energy and low capital costs biased technical innovation in favour of labour-saving equipment, and that is why it was cost-effective to industrialise in England first, before the rest of Europe (let alone Asia).... Allen’s is not a monocausal theory... but his distinctive contribution is the high-wage economy.... The theory is appealing, in part, because the technological innovations of the early Industrial Revolution were not exactly rocket science (a phrase used by Allen himself), so one wonders why they weren’t invented earlier and elsewhere. (Mokyr paraphrasing Cardwell said something like nothing invented in the early IR period would have puzzled Archimedes.) But... as Mokyr has tirelessly argued, inventions were too widespread across British society to be a matter of just the right incentives and expanding markets—and this is a point now being massively amplified by Anton Howes....

These are skillful economic historians, well-grounded in the data, and it would be the height of folly for me to say that they are wrong.

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Fall of Rome, IX: Transhumance and Local Elites

Transhumant pastoral agriculture is the movement of herds of livestock from one pasture, for fairly obvious reasons. 

That being said, there is "transhumant" agriculture, and "transhumant agriculture." On at least two occasions in the last millennium, herding peoples have moved between the Dzungarian Basin north of Urumchi in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and the Volga steppes north of the Caspian Sea in Russia; in the 1870s, sheep were routinely herded from the Midwest around Chicago to ranges in Nevada, Idaho, Oregon, and back. This is long distance transhumance, and clearly a very different thing than having a farm at the bottom of a mountain/on the bench above a drowning river valley, and taking the sheep to the fodder in season.

The argument here is that the fall of the Roman Empire (and by that I mean the crisis of the Third Century) is linked too, but not caused by, the breakdown of long-distance transhumant pastoral agriculture. It's not a new argument, in general, but the particular sequence of events I am pushing is perhaps somewhat novel. More importantly, the evidence to support the argument is accumulating. Which is why this post --apart from my needing a break from more ambitious projects. 



Night crew rotation! (Semi-autobiographical comment on the persistent labour shortage-that's-somehow-not-a-shortage.)

First of all, obviously long-distance transhumant agriculture is primordial. Take the "agriculture" out, and we humans have been doing it for a very long time, because it's just another way of saying that they're following the herds, which organise themselves for "transhumance" perfectly well without human intervention.

(This is where I link to the "Buffalo Trace" that became America's first interstate, and invited everyone to wonder at the depths and mysteries of the founding of the United States, at the first glimmers of the written record.)

Here's a picture of the sheep moving out of a paddock on a big Australian "station," as they call them, because  Australians speak English funny.


The condition of the top cover in the foreground demonstrates why you would want to transhumant. Ah ha, you may say! Isn't transhumant herding between high, mountain pastures, and low ones. Aren't we all romantic about it. Didn't the Silencers have an inadvertent hit when they recorded a rock version of the classic Scottish folk air, Wild Mountain Thyme? Why, yes, they did, and yes, it sometimes is. 

Come, and trip it as you go 
      On the light fantastic toe; 
      And in thy right hand lead with thee  35
      The mountain-nymph, sweet Liberty; 
      

That Milton. Wild and crazy guy. So, if Australians should decide to focus on producing sheep, nature has put a pretty big obstacle in their way, in that their country is pretty darn flat, with an average elevation of 330 m. I wrote that first sentence, editing not included, before I actually looked up my facts. It is a lot higher than I expected, and for a moment I was wondering if the intuition that guided my comment above was wrong. Fortunately, 330m turns out to be the lowest for any continent, Wikipedia says).



Sunday, March 5, 2017

Postblogging Technology, January 1947, II: Sparrows Fall.



Mrs. B. T.,
79 Av de Harmonia,
Macao,


Dear Jenny:

I know that as a proper English girl you don't really let your hair down for the Lunar New Year, and in my state it's hard for me to be any wilder; but, nevertheless, happy Year of the Pig! You will have received Arcadia's traditional New Year's gift, and a little something more in memory of last summer. 

Also this! Which you may or may not think is anything like a gift. If you detect a subtle thread running through this letter, it is that people are just about fed up with air crashes this winter, and this "Instrument Landing System" thing might be just the ticket. Westinghouse seems to have the inside track, but Uncle George is not talking about anything so reasonable as increasing the family investment in that old New York Stock Exchange reliable.  Nor Bell or General Electric, either. Rather, he wants to make a major investment in a Boston-area company which has already come to our attention, but which still seems like an outside chance --Uncle George's favourite. 

So, if you do read this, you're supposed to end up thinking, "Why, you know what might stop all these air crashes? A big investment in Raytheon!"  I'm not sure how you're to come to that conclusion, so I'm spoiling it a little. 

I would say more about family matters,but I am pressed for time, and you have my recent post, anyway. 


Again, best in the new year, Your Loving Cousin,
"GRACE."



Sunday, February 26, 2017

Postblogging Technology, January 1947, I: If This Goes On




Mrs. B. T.,
79 Av de Harmonia,
Macao,


Dear Jenny:

Since you are about to receive the Earl, Uncle George, and my Father for the New Years holiday, (best wishes for the Year of the Pig, if my next slips behind schedule!) you are also the lucky recipient of this newsletter. The important material is at the back, as usual. Ther endless bit at the head is just comment on the news, which is usually done in aid of defending Uncle George's very speculative stock investment strategy.

This time, you will see that rather more is at stake. You will find the Earl very frightening, tallking of socialist revolution by the summer. The news does not seem quite so alarmist, but I cannot believe that The Economist, usually so skeptical of the Labour Government, has not seen the handwriting on the wall. It is perfectly capable of doing the arithmetic, and seeing how much worse a bad winter would make things. My sense is that it is not saying anything, so as not to frighten anyone. There is also the little difficulty that the only possible route through the thickets runs through the new Republican Congress in Washington. If things go as badly as the Earl fears, it will be very difficult politics for them!  

I keep returning to the Earl's news instead of my own, and now I find that I have run quite out of time. It is a good thing that I wrote you last week, after so many delays, or you would think that nothing ever happens here in Santa Clara!  



"GRACE."

P.S. Thank you for your Christmas gifts, especially the gown for Victoria, which is beautiful, and extravagant. You are perfectly correct in thinking that the rest of Arcadia can get very cold when the air conditioning is working hard enough to keep the nursery cool! A case of marmalade, and something a little more Californian, is on its way to you by return!

Return with us to the thrilling days of yesteryear, when the people who stayed at the Mayflower did, sometimes, also stay at auio courts in Nebraska.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Recapping the Fall of Rome: Game of Thrones

Lots of caption here, because credit where credit is due. This is Abdelratif Reda's fresh goat cheese, served with apricot jam on a bagel in the medina of Rabat, Morocco.. The photograph is by Eloise Schieferdecker (imputed c. 2015), and appears in an article by Zoë Hu, running in the online lifestyles magazine Zester Daily 


Did Rome have a crisis? The basic outline of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire is Decadent First Century-Golden Second Century-Third Century Crisis-Fourth Century Dominate-Fifth Century Fall-Sixth Century-

Cliche, but good point. Let's just stay the heck away from the Byzantine Empire or whatever it is. 

The confusing thing here is that the crisis comes in the middle. There's an elaborate theory of politics in which governments pass through cycles of development. Domitian's government is a "Dominate," replacing an earlier "Principate." Yes, the restored empire is a different, and lesser thing, rather like the old Chinese Western and Eastern dynasties, but it is restored.

In this analysis, it is all about politics. A number of specific factors make the Empire politically infeasible: the government is badly structured; The location of the Roman capital is bad; it is overspending to buy army support; changing elites mean that new groups will have to seize control of the imperial office, whatever the short term cost of political stability. Etc. Not a single mention of cream cheese for breakfast!

Since I am on record as arguing that the collapse of the Roman Empire in the west is due to a breakdown in long-distance trade causing a shortage of money and local deflation in the far west, it might be time to go through the long, long list of emperors and usurpers and highlight the factors that, I think, make a purely political explanation inadequate.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Postblogging Technology, December 1946, II: Never Stop Grifting

I thought that the Burnelli "lifting body airplane" scam gave up the ghost during World War II, but, it turns out that Chuck Yeager's predecessor was still flogging it in the 1950s. 

R_.C._
Governor Hotel,
Portland, Oregon.

Dear Father:

First, thank you for your presents, which, per your instructions, have gone under the tree pending your revival, with the exception of the new(!) "king-sized" iron lung. It is not a very sentimental present, but it is something I very much wanted. I dare not ask how much it cost.

It's not just that Grace is trying to find a face-saving excuse
If, by some chance, you are wondering why you've received this at your hotel, it is because I have sent it in company with Wong Lee, who will be meeting you at the expected place. Sign, counter-sign, you know the drill. (I will explain the reason for all the fuss when you arrive.)

For discretion's sake, I suggest that you extend your reservation at the hotel over Christmas, and leave your car. If you choose to let Wong Lee drive you, now you have reading material.

If not, while a "deuce-and-a-half" Dodge is not your usual ride, Dr. Rivers has had it fitted up for skiing excursions in grand style. It has all-wheel-drive, tyre chains, and many other things that your daughter-in-law would never think of. Wong Lee has driven it many times, in worse conditions than you will meet on Mount Shasta (probably) on your way to us at Christmas. 



You will be glad to know that your wife is here, having flown in from Vancouver on the 21st. Somewhat surprisingly, we have word that we are receiving the Earl on the 28th. He will be arriving by air, on the pretext of paying a visit to Mr. McCreery. I am not sure what the occasion might be, but I am too cynical to think that he has suddenly discovered a desire to see golden California. It is more likely to be a matter of money. I am hoping that the matter of Fontana remains off the table. If the other issue comes up, Bill, David and James are confident that our Russian friend. will make his new deadline, as long as we extend him the credit he has asked for, something that I hope you will press upon His Grace with your usual insider's technical flair.

I doubt that that it is a matter of magnetic recording machines, though. In fact, I am beside myself with nerves about what awful news might have inspired this flying visit. It does put a bit of a damper on the holidays.

"GRACE."