Arnold Kling  

Peasants vs. Nomads

Stepping on Will's Toes... A Basic Economic Lesson...

I review Philip Carl Salzman's Culture and Conflict in the Middle East. I write,

Salzman sees differences between growing crops and raising livestock. Growing crops fosters a society rooted in the soil, with strict hierarchy and strong, predatory central government. In contrast, raising livestock fosters a society that is more nomadic, less governable, and less stratified. The tribal Arab culture on which he is focused was shaped by raising livestock.

...Closer to home, Salzman's harsh political economy leads one to meditate on the concept of an exploited peasantry. Do we in the United States have the drive for freedom and independence that gave us strong checks and balances against central government power? Or have we become sheep, with a government that protects us from various threats--typically more imaginary than real--and then subjects us to routine fleecing?

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (13 to date)
Matt writes:

has a scholarly article by the author.

1300 years of tribalism and religious fanaticism. Sounds like a failed evolutionary experiment. What happened?

BGC writes:

I think cultural history will probably turn-out to be a very important determinant of modern politics - most likely by its genetic effects.

Each distinctive long-term culture, provides a different selection-pressure. Operating over dozens of generations, this must differentially affect physical and behavioural characteristics - including average intelligence and personality types - and these population characteristics will make a big difference to social, economic and political life.

(This is, of course, the argument of Gregory Clark's A Farewell to Arms - and the idea is likely to be much more generalizable than just England in the industrial revolution)

When we understand and have measured the genetics of these cultural differences in personality and intelligence (which might be just a few years away), it could potentially enable better governance.

Les writes:

Grand generalizations about huge numbers of people often lead to grand fallacies. This proposal about crop-growers versus livestock-herders is a perfect example.

It can neither be verified nor refuted. So why even bother to consider it?

Matt writes:

"Each distinctive long-term culture, provides a different selection-pressure. "

BGC, that is a perfect statement of the Founder's Gene co0ncept. But, beware, we haven't yet proved its effect in culture, it is a proposed theory for culture, an exact theory for genes.

If Founders Effect is causing long lasting state structures, then we are quantum mechanical economists.

But the Founder's concept is going to have exceptions (like after markets). These exceptions will follow the Founder's pattern by accumulative learning, but the "after markets" should be less dominate and they tend to rebalance the tree.

Still, the founders theory cannot be generally accepted because we only proposed it a few days ago on this blog.

Matt writes:

The discussion brings us back to Brian's critique of the Austrians, they don't do calculus. But, at least, they do directed graphs; and here we are.

The Austrians would have to measure "ranking per time period times ranking hierarchy" as their unit of wealth. The more aggregate rankers who work for me, the wealthier I am.

Their economy is a hierarchy of rankers.

Under any definition of growth, a stable population can only grow in complexity, where complexity is a directed graph of rankings. There is a math for this, one of my old professors.

But, their math is the theory of graphs, and their math is ideally suited if we know the quantized limits of ranking a person can tolerate, and if we have a graph "kernel". That is, we can selectively rule out certain graph structures, and possibly predict new, future complexity structures based on quantitative growth numbers, not qualitative growth numbers.

Bob Knaus writes:

Egypt is the most populous Arab country, and has traditionally been central to Islamic culture and thought. Much of Al-Queda's ideology orginates with an Egyptian radical group, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Egypt has been a peasant agricultural society for millenia, with a history of strong central governments.

Salzman's analysis may apply to Afghanistan and Iraq, but it does not generalize to Arab society as a whole.

dearieme writes:

I recall reading that all America's wars have been wars of American aggression, except for WWII. Does that imply that you are more cowboys than ploughmen?

Matt writes:

So, what does the Periodic Chart and unbalanced founders tree have in common?

You gotta love the web.

It tells me that "Laws" first took hydrogen and combined off with helium to start a tree, and hydrogen continued a branch to create after markets. The table is balanced, over all, but shows the characteristic Hamiltonion Energy distribution, peaking on the left with hydrogen and peaking on the right with helium. One side represents potential energy, the other kinetic.

It makes the astro physicist in us to wonder if some universes sometimes emphasize helium and other times hydrogen, and we are the balance?

Anyway, I am expecting to see the same pattern in biochemistry, I am expecting to see the same pattern (in those quantum moments of a global aggregate state) for world economy.

I am thinking that in some moments we can be a global system, and at some moments be a collection of nations. I only know, probably, how often, say, we get a new Brent Woods monetary formation. But, I know that on those Brent Woods moments the world structure where have an weird resemblance to the typical nation state founders tree (with unbalanced after markets).

Tim Fowler writes:

dearieme - All of American wars except WWII wars of aggression? That isn't so. To give just a few examples from the 20th century, WWI, Korea, Vietnam, and "The Gulf War" where not about American aggression.

TGGP writes:

The farmer and the cowman should be friends,
Oh, the farmer and the cowman should be friends.
One man likes to push a plough, the other likes to chase a cow,
But that's no reason why they cain't be friends.

Were they all wars of aggression? Well, I wouldn't say they were in self-defense (except in the case of Afghanistan).

George writes:

TGGP: Well, say England and France had fought Hitler over the annexation of the Sudetenland. On the one hand, most people wouldn't term it "self-defense".

On the other hand, it sure would have made it easier for them to defend themselves.

As for the "wars of aggression" part: how can WW I, WW II, and Korea possibly be wars of American aggression? Those wars broke out before American troops ever got there.

I think legal standards like "self-defense" and "aggression" are fine when you're dealing with individual citizens in a state. But the international situation looks nothing like that (or else some nice UN patrolmen would have already had a talk with China about its domestic abuse problems with Tibet, who'd be spending the night at Australia's house).

There's no reason to assume an interpersonal framework is an effective way to think about international affairs, any more than it would be an effective way to think about chemistry.

TGGP writes:

On the other hand, it sure would have made it easier for them to defend themselves.
On the contrary, many at the time thought their militaries were not fully prepared to fight Germany. That was one reason for the prolonged "phony war" that took place even after the invasion of Poland.

WW2 was explicitly ruled out by Tim Fowler and we were attacked by Japan. In WW1 and Korea we were not. By your standard Vietnam would not be an example of American aggression either. I don't particularly care if the fighting started before America got there, just what our reason is for being there.

Peter St. Onge writes:

... of course, many developed societies were tribal until quite recently, such as Germany, Ireland, Scotland, Scandanavia, Japan.

I guess an interesting question is how societies have broken free of the 'tribalism trap'.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top