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20200216 – More from Less

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to present a bit of reality to people brainwashed by constant flow of negativism about economy, human industrial activities and their consequences. This reality is that over the last hundred years with technology development humans produce a lot more goods and services with a lot less of raw materials and external pollution of environment. It is also demonstration of futility of CRIB ideas that come down to using less of goods and services to save the world. In addition to some reasonable ideas author moves supports panic of global warming and demands resource allocation by very big government and behavior changes from people to prevent it.

DETAILS:

Introduction: Readme

Here author previews the book, explicitly stating his argument: Unlike what people believe, in reality the world and especially USA constantly produce “more with less” raw materials.  It was achieved via computerization, by “substituting bits for atoms”. Author believes that this caused by combination of 4 factors: tech progress, capitalism, public awareness, and responsive government. Author also proudly declares that everybody will find something not to like in this book: environmentalist – his claim that industries are not evil, socialists – his support for capitalism, capitalists – his support for big government and taxes. So author calls for open mind and claims position of neutral observer.

Chapter 1: All the Malthusian Millennia

Here author reviews Malthus and Hobbes ideas and even provides quite convincing prove that it did worked like that until recent time: graph with relation of population to salaries:

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Here author moves to the bad staff of early modern age: slavery, children labor, colonialism, pollution, and destruction of wild animals such as buffaloes and whales.

Chapter 4: Earth Day and Its Debates

Here author discusses the Earth Day: April 22, 1970 when America celebrated the first Earth Day. Author considers it turning point of Environmental movement. He refers to previous disasters such as explosion on Union Oil rig in California, Cuyahoga rover fire and so on. He also writes about Paul Ehrlich and other doomsayers who predicted unrealistic scaring scenarios, which nevertheless captured imagination of population, especially miseducated youth. Then author moves to proposed remedies that he does not believe in:

  • Consume Less
  • Recycle
  • Impose Limits
  • Return to land

Somewhat interestingly author also present ideas of Julian Simon that there is no scaring emergency and the Ultimate Resource are humans, who will eventually find solution to any development problems. Author also discusses bet between Ehrlich and Simon on future availability of raw materials that Simon won hands down. Obviously it did not stop promoters of gloom from continuing promoting gloom and make money in process.

Chapter 5: The Dematerialization Surprise

Here author reviews books and essays that documented dematerialization of American economy, meaning decrease of use of raw materials to produce consumable goods and services. Here are a couple of graphs demonstrating this trend:

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Chapter 6: CRIB Notes

In this chapter author revisits of CRIB implementation: Consume less – Recycle – Impose limits – Back to land ideas, reviews how they worked over the last decades, and concludes that they had at best marginal influence on the process of dematerialization. Then he suggests that the causes are presented in the next 3 chapters.

Chapter 7: What Causes Dematerialization? Markets and Marvels

Here author states his believe that four main forces are responsible for dematerialization, and that it’s helpful to think of them as two pairs, with the first reviewed in this chapter being Capitalism and technological progress. Then he proceeds to review a few examples:

  • Increase in agriculture that dramatically decreased use of land, fertilizers, and pesticides
  • IPhone that substituted a half dozen of different devices from telephone to photo camera, to TV.
  • Decrease of use of coal, pushed out by gas
  • Computerization of transportation that dramatically decreased need for rolling stock

The key feature here is that people need benefits of final products and services, while raw materials are costs; therefore technology that reduces such costs is implemented enthusiastically.

Chapter 8: Adam Smith Said That: A Few Words about Capitalism

Here author provides kind of critic of critic of capitalism, albeit it is half hearted. He starts it with what he considers valid criticism:

  • Capitalism is selfish
  • Capitalism is immoral
  • Capitalism is unequal

The he presents his critic of what he believes invalid criticism of Capitalism:

  • Capitalism is cronyism
  • Capitalism is anarchy
  • Capitalism is oppression

Author then moves to discussing socialism. He mentions Hayek’s theoretical prove that socialism could not possibly work and then proceeds to discuss real live catastrophic consequences of implementation of socialism, concentrating on relatively benign case of Venezuela. Author even completes this chapter stating that the problem with Capitalism is that there isn’t enough of it.

Chapter 9: What Else Is Needed? People and Policies

Here author goes to critic of capitalism: externalities, such as pollution and stresses his opinion that capitalism needs supervision in form of “responsive government”. He combines it all in image of “Four horsemen of the Optimist: call technological progress, capitalism, responsive government, and public awareness.”

Chapter 10: The Global Gallop of the Four Horsemen

This chapter is quite optimistic presentation of recent developments: outreach of technology to even poorest people, demise of global Socialist system and switch of its key countries USSR and China to market, Global movement for good government, and so on.

Chapter 11: Getting So Much Better

This is discussion of the world’s getting better thanks to some extent to feeling worse. He complains about humans leading other species to extinction, compulsory global warming, and so on, but then presents a bunch of graphs demonstrating that everything is actually getting better like this one:Screen Shot 2020-02-07 at 1.15.43 PM

Chapter 12: Powers of Concentration

Here author moves to discuss urbanization and globalization that connects world into one with mix of positive and negative consequences. He provide 3 scenarios of change:

  1. There’s strong economic growth. The rich get much richer, but middle class and poor households also do better. Because wealth and income gains are fastest at the top—because the rich get richer faster than the rest do—inequality increases, but all segments of society see growing incomes and wealth. Tech progress exists but is not highly disruptive; people continue to do the same kinds of jobs for the same kinds of companies in the same communities year after year. Important institutions such as the educational system and the courts remain stable and inclusive.
  2. The elites capture the economy and the political system and turn inclusive institutions into extractive ones. They change the laws, pack the courts, demand bribes, assume control of the largest companies (publicly or behind the scenes), hire security services for themselves and let law and order decay for everyone else, and so on. The economy slows down because it’s so badly managed, and all tech progress has to be imported. The elite get fantastically rich while everyone else suffers and becomes poorer. Wealth and income inequality skyrocket.
  3. Economic growth is healthy and institutions remain inclusive, but tech progress is extraordinarily powerful—so much so that it disrupts industry after industry. This progress fuels many types of concentration; it allows more crops to be grown on less land, more consumption from fewer natural resources, more output from fewer factories, and more sales and profits from a smaller number of companies. The people at the top of these superstar companies see huge wealth and income gains. Gains for those in the middle, however, slow down considerably. And some segments of the labor force face particularly tough challenges; the factories and farms that used to employ them close, and new ones don’t open. Job opportunities concentrate in cities and in service industries. Wealth and income inequality rise a great deal. 

Chapter 13 Stressed Be the Tie That Binds: Disconnection

Here author moves to discuss disconnect that developed between Americans of different persuasions. He starts with James Mattis stating that it is his biggest worry, by far bigger than Iran or North Korea. It follows by discussion of decrease in social capital due to multiple challenges such as deindustrialization and loss of good jobs, opioids, inequality, and widely existing knowledge of staff that is not so. All this creates disconnect between members of society and consequently undermines its stability.

Chapter 14: Looking Ahead: The World Cleanses Itself This Way

After giving way to challenges in previous chapters, author states here his overall optimist based on believe that:

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Chapter 15: Interventions: How to Be Good

This is author recommendation to what should be done to reconnect country back. So he goes through main points starting with “statecraft” required to save the world from global warming with taxes. Then he takes on corporations that should drop whatever they are doing and direct resources to saving planet. Finally he does the same for non-profits and citizenry, at the end issuing the list of strong recommendations:

  1. Reducing pollution. Pollution is not a necessary cost of doing business; it’s a negative externality that causes great harm to people and the environment. However, efforts are now underway in America and other countries to roll back restrictions on pollution to reduce businesses’ costs. The better health is much more important than higher profits.
  2. Reducing greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases deserve to be called out separately from other forms of pollution because of the long-term harm they can cause across the planet, and because they’re not yet being controlled with regulations, taxes, and the many other tools used for dealing with externalities.
  3. Promoting nuclear energy. We currently have only one power source that doesn’t emit greenhouse gases and is scalable, safe, reliable, and widely available. We should be working to drive down the cost of nuclear power, and to overcome barriers to adopting it.
  4. Preserving species and habitats. Even though capitalism is now shrinking its geographic footprint in many countries, it still has a great thirst for attractive pieces of real estate, and for many animals. Conserving land, limiting hunting, and banning trade in products made from threatened species are highly effective interventions.
  5. Promoting genetically modified organisms. GMOs have been extensively studied and found to be safe. They also have the potential to greatly improve crop yields, reduce pesticide use, and improve nutrition. Yet they are strenuously resisted in many parts of the world. This needs to change.
  6. Funding basic research. Private businesses spend money on research and development, but they tend not to invest much in areas and ideas that won’t become products anytime soon. This means that governments have an important role to play in supporting more fundamental scientific and technical research as well as research into social phenomena such as disconnection.
  7. Promoting markets, competition, and work. Capitalism is widely unpopular at present, and socialist ideas are making a comeback. Yet markets, competition, and innovation have brought us previously unimaginable prosperity. As we’ve seen, they’ve also finally enabled us to take less from the earth. So we should not turn away from them now. Instead, we need to focus on finding meaningful opportunities for people at risk of disconnecting from society.

Conclusion: Our Next Planet

In conclusion author laments what humans did to the planet by living and multiplying and expresses hope that his “4 horsemen of optimism” will save whatever has left of it.

MY TAKE ON IT:

From my point of view this book is filled with duality. On one hand author looks at the past with optimism and recognizes that doomsayers where absolutely wrong and technological growth and increase of knowledge led to vast expansion of production combined with decrease in use of raw materials and pollution. This part is convincing, filled with data, and very reasonable. On the other hand author jumps to the same panic mode about global warming that he just criticized about previous fear of resource exhaustion and environment annihilation. This part is not supported by any serious data, filled with the same unjustified fear, and the same demands for government to interfere and save the world. I think that there is no real difference between people who made good living by scaring everybody about population bomb, resource exhaustion, and pollution in process falsifying data and attacking everybody who did not agree, and people who currently doing the same under the flag of global warming. Actually they are either the same people that did it in 1960s and 70s, if they are older, or just the next generation of crooks who look to make good living and obtain power over others by scaring them out of their wits.

 

 

20200209 – The Meritocracy Trap

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MAIN IDEA:

Author presents main points of this book in introduction as such:

  • Meritocracy promises to open way up for lower and middle classes and this promise become false
  • Meritocracy oppresses middle class and exploits elite
  • Meritocracy divides society into haves and have notes
  • It is paradoxical because on one hand it divides society into elite and non-elite, but on other hand it makes both of them miserable creating resentment in non-elite and anxiety in elite.
  • There is the way to escape this trap and author see it in political actions:” To escape the meritocracy trap, politics must overcome all the vulnerabilities and bad incentives that meritocracy enshrines in public life. Both the rich and the rest must learn to see through the anxieties—from populist and nativist resentment through small-minded competitiveness and arrogant condescension—that currently divide them. Both classes must recognize that their distresses, and even their antagonisms, share in meritocracy a single source. And both classes must join in a coalition in which each eases its own afflictions by empathizing with, and even shouldering, the meritocratic burdens that now afflict the other.

DETAILS:

Part One: Meritocracy and Its Discontents

ONE. THE MERITOCRATIC REVOLUTION

This chapter describes history of meritocracy raise beginning in early XX century when leisured rich started to be pushed out by up and coming meritocrats trained in elite schools. These meritocrats without great wealth worked hard to obtain it via complex intellectual work in law, management, science, and arts. Author discusses in some details the nature of such works.

TWO. THE HARMS OF MERITOCRACY

Here author uses a town of St. Clair Shores, which used to be prosperous manufacturing town with middle class and elite living side by side. Now it is not that awful yet, but it is not any more prosperous town, which elite left behind and where the next generation of middle class cannot repeat success of previous decades. The author looks at what happened to elite and finds it not less awful: practically unlimited long hours, constant work stress, and even difficulty to enjoy significant wealth produced via these efforts. In short, elite highly exploited.

THREE. THE COMING CLASS WAR

Here author looks at one of the most elite places in USA – Palo Alto where rich people are miserable due to stress and poor find it hard to satisfy elementary needs like housing. Then author moves to discuss formation of new class of meritocrats via marriages and raising children in highly competitive environment, which requires lots of money to keep up with others. The next part of discussion is growing political division between meritocrats who use money, connections and skills to control government and use it for their benefits at the expense of middle and lower classes. In response these classes move to nativism and populism and use their numbers and democratic process to bring to political power their own champions. This political struggle scares author and makes him believe that country is moving to revolution.

Part Two: How Meritocracy Works

FOUR. THE WORKING RICH

This is somewhat repetitive description of how working rich pushed out from center stage old leisured rich, how much money top meritocrats make, how stressed they are and how they are different from majority of middle class that could not catch up with development of technology and knowledge based economy, seeing their own earning power stagnating or even going down. The result is the growth of inequality and corresponding stress on society.

FIVE. THE MERITOCRATIC INHERITANCE

This is about how difficult and expensive it is now to raise a meritocratic child, how much investment it involves from paying for upscale kindergarten to hiring multiple tutors, trainers, and consultants to get into top college without which it is not possible to achieve high level position anywhere. Author applies here monetary calculations for all fees and other payments required, eventually concluding that successful raising of contemporary meritocratic individual costs around $10 million. Author considers it as non-taxable inheritance.

SIX. GLOOMY AND GLOSSY JOBS

Here author compares meritocratic and regular jobs in various areas from restaurant to hedge funds management demonstrating the huge gap between them in both: efforts and returns.

Part Three: A New Aristocracy

SEVEN. A COMPREHENSIVE DIVIDE

The chapter starts with Clinton and Bush who had similar childhood even if one was son of salesman and another son and grandson of high-level bureaucrat and politician. It is not the case any more – the lives of their children is very different than the same generation middle class kids. Then author goes to review various aspects of these differences: Work, Family, Culture, Consumption, and Place of living,

EIGHT. SNOWBALL INEQUALITY

Here author reviews history of how this divide happened starting with increased role of education, changes in business management, and overall change in economics that values knowledge and skills much more than just plain hard work.

NINE. THE MYTH OF MERIT

In this final chapter author discusses where the notion of meritocracy came from and what is the nature of merit now in real live. He finds that it relates mostly to obtaining credentials, successfully playing some kind of bureaucratic games, and/or conducting complex activities in areas of information processing such as law, high level management, and such.

CONCLUSION: What Should We Do?

In conclusion author provides currently obligatory logically inconsistent invective of Trump and complains that “progressives” fail to answer effectively because they are under “meritocracy’s thumb”. Author points out that their move to identity politics and demands for equalization would inflict damage on meritocrats and middle class so it is not viable solution. He believes that solution is comprehensive restructuring of society:” To escape the meritocracy trap, politics must overcome all the vulnerabilities and bad incentives that meritocracy enshrines in public life. Both the rich and the rest must learn to see through the anxieties—from populist and nativist resentment through small-minded competitiveness and arrogant condescension—that currently divide them. Both classes must recognize that their distresses, and even their antagonisms, share in meritocracy a single source. And both classes must join in a coalition in which each eases its own afflictions by empathizing with, and even shouldering, the meritocratic burdens that now afflict the other.

In order to achieve this author suggests two paths to reform: ” First, education—now concentrated in the extravagantly trained children of rich parents—must become open and inclusive. Admissions must become less competitive, and training less all consuming, even at the best schools and universities. Second, work—now divided into gloomy and glossy jobs—must return mid-skilled labor to the center of economic production. Industry that is now concentrated in a superordinate working class must be dispersed widely across a broad middle class.”

Author also suggest to close meritocrats’ ability to transfer wealth to children via expensive elite education. Author considers it unfair tax shelter so he wants tax such expenses. On the other path: gloomy vs. glossy work author is looking for massive government intervention to define how what kind of jobs exists and how they paid.

MY TAKE ON IT:

Author is university professor and it shows. While his analysis is generally correct, it suffers from relatively poor connection to reality. For example the idea that law firm that charges 500 billable hours a week for work done by 5 lawyers has 5 people working non-stop 100 hours per week is very touching, but not at all realistic. Much more important however is author’s missing the most important part of the idea of meritocracy: who defines what merit is. Traditionally merit in American republic was defined by market place. Person who did something that other people voluntary pay for would earn more merit, expressed in more wealth. Because human beings generally are not that different in their capabilities, it led to society of nearly equals. Certainly a few people, who get in the very right place at the very right time and are capable to come up with some great idea that they are capable to implement, benefit hugely. These people like Rockefeller or Ford or Gates becomes million times richer than average not because they are million times smarter and hard working, but because being somewhat smarter they won lottery of time and place. This lottery winner as all other lottery winners are lucky exception to general rules of live and therefore have little impact on society’s structure. The current meritocracy comes not from ability to do something that people need. It comes from government power to take from people resources by force and redistribute these resources between hierarchical structures of government supported multitude of educational, legal, environmental, non-profit, and other bureaucracies, which do something that nobody would voluntary paid for. Correspondingly good places in these bureaucracies come from connections, elite education, based not on real knowledge and skills acquisition, but rather credentialism, racist preferences, donations, and other forms of corruption.   Idea that it could be remediated by more government intervention strikes me as something slightly funny and completely unrealistic.

In my opinion, the real remedy would be dramatic decrease in government intervention in economy and all other areas of human live, removal of massive redistribution apparatus that mainly redistribute wealth not from rich to poor, but rather from middle class to bureaucrats, making these bureaucrats rich. Actually it looks like American people already start applying this remedy by electing and supporting Trump’s administration that author and majority of his peers so sincerely despise.

 

20200202 Morland, Paul – The Human Tide

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that the demographic is very important part of any society’s survivability and prosperity. This feature to significant extent defines society’s economic and military power and place in the world among other societies. The secondary idea is that there is quite consistent path of development that occurred over the last few centuries:

Step 1: scientific, economic, and cultural progress lead to decrease in childhood deaths, while level of births remains the same causing population explosion

Step 2: increase in survivability, new opportunities for improvement of quality of life, decrease in dependency on children in old age, and reproductive control technologies lead to decrease in births, which lead to stabilization or even decrease in population

Because different countries go through this process at different time and at different tempo, the end result is that countries that got there first, specifically Anglo-sphere and then Europe end up with materially smaller populations than countries that got there later eventually changing balance of power between different populations of the world.

DETAILS:

Part One: Population and History

  1. Introduction

It starts with the story from 1754 in London when life was nasty, brutish, and short, killing lots of children who died very young, living population numbers very stable despite high number of births per woman. Then author briefly retells the story of the last 250 years when improved hygiene and medical services dramatically decreased number of deaths, while social welfare, emancipation, education, and growing opportunities greatly decreased number of births. Finally author defines the objective of the book: discuss role of population in history. Author cautious to stress out that demographic is not the destiny, but it is material part of it.

  1. The Weight of Numbers

Here author defines time scope of this book as starting from 1800 and Malthus and ending in the future. He then presents demographic history of British royals, which he shows to be quite representative to overall trends. Author then expands this discussion to overall population of the world and its dramatic increase. He also introduces idea that because process started with developed nations the cycle: improvement of living conditions – decrease of infant deaths with corresponding dramatic population growth – further improvement in living conditions leading to decrease of births and pursuit of happiness leading to decrease of births below replacement level – probable stabilization of population. This process seems to be common for all nations, religious, and other groups with the once that delayed process had stabilized at higher levels of population, sometimes much higher. Finally he discusses the difference that demographic makes in military balance of power and economic clout and applies this logic not only to balances between countries, but also to balance between various groups within countries, specifically referring to USA. Finally he provides a nice graph demonstrating current status:

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At the end of chapter author identifies his own point of view on demographic issues:

First, human life is an inherently good thing, and the saving and extension of it is a worthy pursuit. If it is good to save the life of a single child then all the more is it good to save the lives of millions of children, which is what happens when infant mortality is brought down. Healthy, civilized and long lives are better than nasty, brutish and short ones. Violent and catastrophic mass deaths are an inherently bad thing; if we regret the loss of a single life then the regret at the loss of multiple lives should be proportionately greater. What we do not wish for our families and friends we should not wish for other human beings, whether this is in the name of equality or environmentalism or any other potentially worthy but abstract goal.

 Second, when women have control over their own fertility, they collectively make wise decisions, with or without input from their male partners. When women are educated and have access to contraception, they will not choose to have more children than they can support and, just as the hidden hand of the market works in economics, so the hidden hand of demography will work if allowed to do so. Enforced limitations on childbearing are not only wrong; they are unnecessary. In matters of demography as in so many others, the decisions of ordinary people, given the educational and technical tools to take them, will turn out to be best for their societies and for the planet as a whole.”

Part Two: The Gathering Tide: Among the Europeans

  1. The Triumph of the Anglo-Saxons

This chapter is about Britain being the first country that successfully broke through Malthusian trap by using scientific approach and industrial revolution. Author discusses here also other countries of Anglo-Saxon sphere, especially USA, claiming that its dominance of the world was derived from the rapid growth of population that resulted from being the first in this change.

  1. The German and Russian Challenges

This chapter is about similar processes in European countries that picked up steam in late XIX / early XX century. Author specifically discusses how it changed balance of European power making France fearing Germans who ran ahead in population growth, then Germans fearing Russian who did the same.

  1. The Passing of the ‘Great Race; 6. The West since 1945 From Baby-Boom to Mass Immigration; 7. Russia and the Eastern Bloc from 1945

Here author moves to the overall picture when Europe started falling behind in population growth because its advancement in technology, including medical, public services, economy, and overall prosperity that makes families smaller, promoting quality over quantity. Author also discusses here Europe self-inflicted tragedy of World Wars, massive epidemics that still occurred, and immigration with racial issues related to it. Finally author discusses European dictatorships of the first half of XX century and their demographic impact. At the end author poses the question “Is the Europeans in Retreat?” and pretty much replies that they are based on decrease in European population as percentage of the world.

Part Three: The Tide Goes Global: Beyond the Europeans

  1. Japan, China and East Asia The Ageing of Giants; 9. The Middle East and North Africa 10. Nothing New Under the Sun? Final Frontiers and Future Vistas

In chapters of this part author applies the same logic to all other countries of the world where he finds the same processes under way: Improvement in quality of life, leading to decrease in early death, which initially results in dramatic growth of population, but later on it leads to decrease in family sizes and stabilization or even decrease in population. Author ends very reasonably refusing to make any predictions on future demographics either of the worlds or specific countries. He only stresses his believe that whatever will happens demographics will be intertwined with destiny as it had always been before.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I completely agree with author’s presentation of demographic trends and history as it developed over the last couple centuries. However I do not think that division of people of the world in different populations makes a lot of sense presently and would make any sense in near future. Whatever is racial and cultural breakdown of the world population we find up at the moment in next 50 years, when population growth stops, it will become less and less relevant due to continuing mix of all populations both genetically via interracial births and culturally via expansion of popular culture in which input of population of western developed countries is completely dominant. I believe that in relatively short period of time, a hundred years at most, an average person would have as hard time answering question about his/her genetic roots, as average American with all 8 great-grandparents being non-immigrant with various roots: English, Scottish, German, Italian, or whatever else went into the mix. The only question in my mind is not about genetic demographics, but rather cultural dominance: which of European traditions become dominant in future genetically intermixed world: hierarchical, even totalitarian big state with suppression of individual freedoms and control from the top down, or flexible free association society based on individual freedom with minimalistic state restricted to prevention of wars and maintenance of law and order. The future answer to this question will define whether people of the world will live in misery or relative happiness.

20200126 William – Money Changes Everything

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MAIN IDEA:

The man idea of this book is to review development of financial technology from the earliest known records and artifacts all the way to contemporary complex and highly mathematized financial tools and demonstrate how it impacted functioning of various complex societies. It is also aims to demonstrate importance of careful and sophisticated approach to financial technology necessary not just for society’s effective functioning, but for its very existence.

DETAILS:

Introduction

Here author presents the view that finance is the main method of resource allocation that lays in foundation of great many important human activities.

Finance has four key elements:

  1. It reallocates economic value through time;
  2. It reallocates risk;
  3. It reallocates capital; and
  4. It expands the access to, and the complexity of, these reallocations.

Author briefly discusses each of these functions and then looks at finance’s impact on culture, development of civilization, knowledge acquisition, and finally hardware and software that it is based on. Author also presents various perspectives that he uses to look at finance in this book:

  • Investor perspective
  • Researcher perspective
  • Empirical perspective
  • Cultural perspective

PART I FROM CUNEIFORM TO CLASSICAL CIVILIZATION

  1. Finance and Writing

Author starts with earliest historical artifacts of writing found in Mesopotamia and demonstrates that they closely related to financial transaction records, contracts, and accounts maintenance.

  1. Finance and Urbanism

Here author uses one of such artifacts: the Warka Vase to discuss link between religious and economic sides of worshipping and culture. He then looks at Babylonian samples of writing, demonstrating the use of compound interests, financial planning, borrowing and lending, and other financial activities.

  1. Financial Architecture

Here author looks at archeological evidence demonstrating spatial impact on cities where financial activities led to development of special districts where such activities were concentrated. Author uses specific documents to review activities of individuals in areas of debt and risk, trade financing, and joint ventures. Author also discusses government interference into financial activities, specifically periodic forced debt forgiveness and other methods of robbery that made finance high-risk enterprise.

  1. Mesopotamian Twilight

Here is author summarizes the first part of this book: The primary goal of Chapters 1–4 is to document the early development of the hardware and software of finance. This includes the first appearance of financial contracts, as well as the development of financial mathematics and financial thought. A secondary goal was to show the integral role these played in Mesopotamian society. Finance developed out of the need for intertemporal contracting, which was the economic foundation of the first cities. It also made possible the organization and intensification of long-distance trade. While such trade existed in societies with less financial architecture, the toolkit in the ancient Near East included a silver-based monetary system, equity-like partnerships, and a legal system of enforcement that was evidently robust and flexible enough to allow even small, combative city-states to access prestige goods and metals from afar.

  1. Athenian Finance

Here author looks at Western financial tradition starting at the beginning: “The classical civilizations of Greece and Rome developed sophisticated financial economies based on money and markets. The Greeks invented banking, coinage, and commercial courts. The Romans built on these innovations and added business corporations, limited liability investments, and a form of central banking. Unlike the ancient cities of Mesopotamia, which were primarily organized around the redistribution of local produce and secondarily around long-distance”. Author mainly discusses finance as it was used in support of trade, especially high-risk long distance overseas trade, but also land privatization and mining rights. He assigns high importance to the fact that trade disputes were resolved by jury trials with hundreds of jurors, which required very high levels of financial literacy.  

  1. Monetary Revolution

This chapter is about invention of money coinage and specifics of Athens that differentiated it from other ancient societies: unique form of governance unlike temple based forms of Sumerian city-states and high dependence on trade even for food supplies that made it necessary to establish distributed financial system resulting in independent decision making and democratic form of government.

  1. Roman Finance

This is somewhat continuation of Greek traditions, only much more dependent on local slavery based agriculture and heavy use of debt. Author discusses here archeological discoveries that allowed much better understanding of Rome business model that by then included shareholders and limited liability. The Roman form for this was publican societies based on private property that was dominant form of resources control. Finally author discuses link between wealth and political power, which in Rome was quite direct: senator who lost wealth would lose his place in senate.

PART II THE FINANCIAL LEGACY OF CHINA

  1. China’s First Financial World

This chapter is very brief description of financial history of China, demonstrating that China developed pretty much the same financial technology as the West, but its use was concentrated not in the hands of private citizens, but in the hands of sophisticated bureaucracy, with the state controlling just about everything. Author also stresses importance of paper money invention that occurred in China long before recreated elsewhere.  Author also discusses in some detail philosophical foundation of Chinese attitude: potentially attributable to the Jixia Academy collection of essays called the Guanzi.

  1. Unity and Bureaucracy

Here author moves to Confucius and his teachings, especially in regard to finance and “principal-agent” problems, which could be resolved by indoctrination of agent in such way that would assure internal drive to do right thing by principal. It includes also sophisticated method of bureaucrats’ selection and severe punishment for failure or corruption. Author looks in details at use of money in their various forms in Chinese society and also at western point of view on Chinese financial innovations.

  1. Financial Divergence

This is a look at the diversions between Chinese and Western development not only in finance, but also in key industries of early industrial age that made industrial revolution reality in the West, but absent in China. The main point: big organization bureaucratic system makes individuals dependent on superiors, consequently limiting innovation to their judgment, while private business that relies on market would be open to any innovation that owner wants to try.

PART III THE EVROPEAN CRUCIBLE

Here is how author defines key points of this part: ”I argue that the fragmentation of European states was the stimulus for a variety of creative, somewhat independent financial experiments. The fragmented political economy of Europe fostered the development of investment markets; the reinvention of the corporation; extra-governmental banking institutions; complex insurance contracts on lives, property, and trading ventures; and a sophisticated tradition of financial mathematics, reasoning, and analysis. These innovations, in turn, changed human behavior. I argue that they altered attitudes toward risk and chance, leading on the one hand to probabilistic thought and calculation and on the other hand to unbridled speculation that fueled the world’s first stock market bubbles. Europeans ultimately turned themselves and the rest of the world into investors. The key stages in Europe’s development are first, the emergence of financial institutions; second, the development of securities markets; third, the emergence of companies; fourth, the sudden explosion of stock markets; fifth, the quantification of risk; and finally, the spillover of this system to the rest of the world.

  1. The Temple and Finance

In this chapter author traces development of European banking system, starting with Templars who provided financial support for pilgrimage and crusades to Jerusalem.

  1. Venice

Here author reviews commercial empire of Venice: “The creation of a market for financial securities in Venice in the twelfth century represents a watershed in European history. It began the practice of deficit spending by the state, financed by the issuance of liquid debt. Finance became one of Venice’s key instruments of power in its rise as a mercantile empire. Its financial architecture was every bit as important as its bricks and mortar.

  1. Fibonacci and Finance

This is about the next development of finance – its quantification with development of double entry bookkeeping, notion of net resent value, and business education that allow massive expansion of trade.

  1. Immortal Bonds

This chapter is about finance development that led to expansion of business transactions timeframe beyond limits of individual human life.

  1. The Discovery of Chance

This chapter discusses emerging understanding of probabilities that led to development of such financial tools as insurance, annuities, and other forms of risk management. Author also discusses probabilities in China where no mathematics of chance was developed.

  1. Efficient Markets

This is about development of efficient market ideas in late XIX century that led to such developments as options market and in late XX century application of complex mathematical models like Black-Scholes formula. Author discusses in some detail mathematization of finance.

  1. Europe, Inc.

Here author moves a bit from discussing specifically financial area to forms of business organization – specifically European forms of limited liability corporations. He specifically looks at the oldest existing corporation: Honor del Bazacle formed in 1372 in Toulouse.

  1. Corporations and Exploration

This chapter is about a chain of event that transformed the world: use of corporate form to explore world in order to discover new lands, gold and other goods, and markets. Private business corporations of Europe, only slightly supported by governments, conducted the world exploration. These corporations, while privately financed, nevertheless had their own armies and navies, which colonized nearly all the planet.

  1. A Projecting Age

This is detailed description of one of such enterprises linked to famous English writer Defoe. It included raising money via subscription to deferred payment plans, investment in some type of usually monopolistic operation that would become ongoing concern with liquid participation via external trade of shares. Here is author’s note about this:” Broken down by industry, these new British firms included companies for mining, salvage, fishing, forestry, agriculture, textile and mechanical manufacturing, overseas trade, infrastructure, real estate, leasing, and finance. Ever since 1623, when England enacted the Statute of Monopolies, an inventor had the exclusive right to profit from a novel invention. The new financial market after 1688 married capital with creativity and intellectual property rights. Perhaps because they were engines of innovation, joint-stock companies grew dramatically in importance relative to the rest of the economy. The historian William Robinson Scott estimated that in 1695, they represented 1.3% of the national wealth of Great Britain, but by the end of 1720, this had grown to 13%.

Author also reviews here the bubble phenomenon and attempts to rule it in by regulations such as British “Bubble Act” of 1720.

  1. A Bubble in France

This chapter looks at one specific and very large instance of bubble that developed in France by John Law in early XVIII century and then burst. However author states that not all bubbles were created equal and compares two of them:” What was missing from the Mississippi Bubble, in contrast to the South Sea Bubble, was the wellspring of innovation. France had its projectors, with plans for public works and trading companies, but there seems to be no evidence that any other shares were seriously traded in the Rue Quincampoix. Law apparently had no successful competitors for the public appetite for share investing. The creation of a share market appears to have been a means to an end—a method for building the Mississippi Company out of investor cash, rather than an institution used to channel resources to innovation.”

  1. According to Hoyle

This is about Insurance Corporation in Rotterdam created in response to British “Bubble law” that prevented limited liability for British companies. It started boom of public companies in Netherlands, some of which become prominent in financing Atlantic trade. Author discusses this trade and its impact on bubble formation in some details including regulation that it prompted. At the end of chapter author points out that financial technology developed during this period was widely used later in XIX and XX centuries to finance massive infrastructure projects.

  1. Securitization and Debt

This is about the next step in development of finance – securitization. It starts with discussion of Dutch mutual funds, then moves to American land banks and notes how much American founding fathers and their families were linked to land speculation, which somewhat explains readiness of Dutch and French investors finance American revolution, at least partially. Author also discusses financial implications of French revolution and ends the chapter by reflecting on European financial innovations that made countries of his continent very distinct from others like China.

PART IV THE EMERGENCE OF GLOBAL MARKETS

Here is how author defines his objectives in this part: “In Part IV we will see the reassertion of earlier amoral characterizations of finance and a seductive argument against the fundamental principles that support financial technology, including private property and entrepreneurial freedom. This reinvigorated dialectic over the role of finance in society comes to a crescendo in the early twentieth century and literally breaks the world in two.”

Author also discusses here globalization, worldwide access to equity financing and global debt.

  1. Marx and Markets

Here author briefly discusses Marx, his failed theory of labor-based value and huge influence Marx’s ideas have despite their complete failure to explain reality and predict future developments. Author then discusses Hobson’s “Imperialism”, and Suez Canal as example of early stages of globalization and violent reaction of Egypt’s population to it.

  1. China’s Financiers

Here author moves to similar event of imperialistic intervention in China with Opium wars, revolution, railroad construction, and China’s initial moves to be part of global capitalist system, using example of Shanghai stock exchange in 1920s as an example.

  1. The Russian Bear

The “Russian” chapter discusses capitalism development in Russia and its disruption by first WWI and then by revolution. Author kind of links to it Ayn Rand and her objectivism, even if she left Russia as young woman and her ideological development mainly occurred in America despite very strong hate for communism typical for any thinking person with real live experience with consequences of this ideology.

  1. Keynes to the Rescue

This chapter is another very brief description of ideology, this time dominant on the West.

  1. The New Financial World

This chapter looks at financial world of XX and early XXI centuries, discussing financial instruments like bonds and stocks, funds, and financing of construction and infrastructure in America. The chapter ends with discussion of great depression and its legacy.

  1. Re-Engineering the Future

Here author moves to massive government intervention in resource allocation and distribution in form of Social security and multitude of other programs.

  1. Post-War Theory

The final chapter is about mathematization of finance with computers and various technical approaches to investment and financial management including optimal investment portfolio, indexation, sovereign funds, institutional investment, and public/government business ownership.

Conclusion

Here author restates his objective to review historical development of financial technology and its interaction with development of complex societies. Here is how author completes this book:” History is interesting in its own right, but it is also important as a measure of the present and a guide for the future. As the world moves toward a collective global civilization with a greater proportion of its population participating in complex society, financial tools need to keep up. The lessons from our collective financial past take on more relevance. History has shown us financial mechanisms for risk sharing and intertemporal transfers and how variations in these tools can be adapted to different kinds of societies. We are free to repurpose past successes and learn from past failures about what to avoid. The experience of five millennia of financial innovation, however, suggests that finance and civilization will forever be intertwined.“

MY TAKE ON IT:

I generally agree that finance or, more precisely, resource allocation across time and space with corresponding risk management, is foundation of human civilization. The history of financial technology is interesting, but much more significant is that its role in the near future will probably be even more important than it was in the past. It is because the future most probably will contain automated production of goods and services, making it impossible for anybody to be self-sufficient and survive outside of financial networks. This means that much more complex financial systems will be developed based on much more complex models aiming at continuing evolutionary optimization of resources allocation via process of individual competitive decision making at various levels and localities. Then, as it is now, the top down all-knowing modeling of socialist type would not be possible due to infinite level of complexity, albeit in primitive suboptimal form that could exist only if supported by massive state intervention. It remains to be seen whether ideological and moral development of humanity will move in the direction of integrated market resource allocation with minimal restriction or in direction of socialistic type of top down resource allocation with its inherent inefficiencies.

20200119 – Against the Grain

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that the latest discoveries in archeology and anthropology demonstrate link between type of agriculture and development of the state. Specifically, only grain based agriculture led to development of sedentary way of life with consequent development of hierarchies and state because the grain output is easy to control and tax. Correspondingly literacy and numeracy were developed to support information processing linked to taxes and population control. Other forms of agriculture, not grain related, used by barbarians, provided for higher quality lifestyle and, until very recently were more than competitive military.

DETAILS:

Preface

Here author explains how he came to this book by preparing for a lecture. It made author to look at early states, conventionally divided into:

  • Ubaid (6,500–3,800 BCE)
  • Uruk (4,000–3,100)
  • Jemdet Nasr (3,100–2,900)
  • Early Dynastic (2,900–2,335)
  • Akkadian (2,334–2,193)
  • Ur III (2,112–2,004)
  • Old Babylonian (2,004–1,595 BCE) 

The core of author’s finding relates to links between not only agriculture but its specific part – grain production to formation of early states.

INTRODUCTION. A Narrative in Tatters: What I Didn’t Know

Author continues here with presentation of time line of human development that does not comply with traditional sequence, which directly links agriculture and state creation. He points out that there is huge gap between archeological and ecological evidence of agriculture and formation of states. Here is how this time line looks based on the latest research

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The key paradox author formulates is this:” Homo sapiens appeared as a subspecies about 200,000 years ago and is found outside of Africa and the Levant no more than 60,000 years ago. The first evidence of cultivated plants and of sedentary communities appears roughly 12,000 years ago. Until then—that is to say for ninety-five percent of the human experience on earth—we lived in small, mobile, dispersed, relatively egalitarian, hunting-and-gathering bands. Still more remarkable, for those interested in the state form, is the fact that the very first small, stratified, tax-collecting, walled states pop up in the Tigris and Euphrates Valley only around 3,100 BCE, more than four millennia after the first crop domestications and sedentism. This massive lag is a problem for those theorists who would naturalize the state form and assume that once crops and sedentism, the technological and demographic requirements, respectively, for state formation were established, states/empires would immediately arise as the logical and most efficient units of political order.

It is also directly connected to relatively recently discovered fact that:” Contrary to earlier assumptions, hunters and gatherers—even today in the marginal refugia they inhabit—are nothing like the famished, one-day-away-from-starvation desperados of folklore. Hunters and gathers have, in fact, never looked so good—in terms of their diet, their health, and their leisure. Agriculturalists, on the contrary, have never looked so bad—in terms of their diet, their health, and their leisure.”

In short it seems that state based agriculture allowed dramatic increase of quantity of people, while similarly dramatically decreasing quality of individual lives.

One. The Domestication of Fire, Plants, Animals, and…US

The theme of the first chapter turns on the domestication of fire, plants, and animals and the concentration of food and population such domestication makes possible. Before we could be made the object of state making, it was necessary that we gather—or be gathered—in substantial numbers with a reasonable expectation.

Author discusses here environmental conditions required for switch to sedentism: wetlands and such – areas that provided sufficient food to stay around. Author also poses the question why people started plant grains. He rejects usual explanation that it is because the product could be saved for long period, providing insurance against bad year. He also rejects idea that it provided better returns from cooperation. Author’s explanation is that the reason is much higher productivity from flooding area that then made raising crops much easier.

Two. Landscaping the World: The Domus Complex

Here author explore meaning of domestication as it relates to plants, animals, and also humans. He discusses notion of Domus as a module of evolution that allowed coevolution of semi closed local ecosystem. The impact was not only on plants and animals, but also on humans. Author discusses how use of agriculture could be easily identified by human remnants that have indelible traces of agricultural work. Author also analyses changes in tempo of life, which for hunter-gatherer defined by external cycles of availability of various food types that required huge knowledge base about environment. For agriculturalists it was pretty standard year around cycle requiring a lot less knowledge and a lot more routine manual work.

Three. Zoonoses: A Perfect Epidemiological Storm

In this chapter author discusses specific features of agro-pastoralism, which come to dominate first Mesopotamia and then the world. The first part of discussion is drudgery that was direct consequence of the switch. It caused material deterioration of quality of life and there is plenty of archeological evidence confirming this. Then he moves to epidemiology discussing how increased concentration of people combined with closeness to animals produced periodic epidemics killing significant shares of population, but creating immunities for survivors. At the end author discusses fertility and population growth brought in by switch to sedentism.

Four. Agro-ecology of the Early State

Here author discusses material or more precisely agricultural foundation of early states, concluding that it necessarily had to be based on a grain for a number of reasons: “The key to the nexus between grains and states lies, I believe, in the fact that only the cereal grains can serve as a basis for taxation: visible, divisible, assessable, storable, transportable, and “rationable.” Other crops—legumes, tubers, and starch plants—have some of these desirable state-adapted qualities, but none has all of these advantages. To appreciate the unique advantages of the cereal grains, it helps to place yourself in the sandals of an ancient tax-collection official interested, above all, in the ease and efficiency of appropriation.

Author also discusses evidence that agriculture was often based on state violence and taxation. Another important point he makes is that one of consequences was development of literacy and numeracy – absolutely necessary tools for top down control and systematic robbery, which of no real use for hunter-gatherers.

Five. Population Control: Bondage and War

This chapter is about the role of coercion in formation and maintenance of the states. Its main form initially and all the way until now were slavery and bondage. Initially slavery was product of war, when captives were enslaved. Overtime it was expanded so parts of population were slaves from the beginning of life, with people breaded and controlled the same way as domesticated animals. Actually it would not be possible to maintain effective society at low levels of productivity with lots of manual works required without such institution as slavery or something close to it.

Six. Fragility of the Early State: Collapse as Disassembly

The historical and archeological data show that early states were extremely fragile popping up and going down within historically short periods of time, sometime materially less than length of a human life. In this chapter author discusses reasons for this fragility such as:

  • Hypersedentism and lack of movement
  • Ecocide: Deforestation and Salinization
  • Politicide: Wars and Exploitation of the Core

At the end author actually praises state “collapse” as a necessary part of evolutionary process.

Seven. The Golden Age of the Barbarians

In the last chapter author looks outside of the sate borders at people who habituated there – barbarians and how they interacted with “civilized” peoples of the states, in actuality living in dichotomy of these two method, often moving between them at will. Author provides somewhat unusual, but quite convincing explanation why barbarians underappreciated:

  • The history of the peasants is written by the townsmen
  • The history of the nomads is written by the settled
  • The history of the hunter-gatherers is written by the farmers
  • The history of the nonstate peoples is written by the court scribes
  • All may be found in the archives catalogued under “Barbarian Histories”

Author discusses relationships between “civilized” and barbarians in details and quite convincingly demonstrates that mainly it was balance of either equal power or even with military advantages going to barbarians. He also discusses trade, military alliances, mercenaries, and other interactions between these two parallel flows of human development and existence. The point is that it lasted forever and arrived to complete dominance by the states only very recently.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is a very interesting approach to understanding human development, which makes a lot of sense to me. From my point of view the idea of parallel development of highly organized grain based hierarchical society and non-grain based barbarian societies, either pastoralist or hunter-gatherers, explains quite a bit of known history. This history was narrated by literate society that is grain-based states, so barbarians were diminished and poorly understood. The puzzle was how come, that barbarians overrun such highly developed societies as Rome? The answer provided here is that barbarians were as highly developed, only in different way. They did not need literacy and numeracy because the cultural tradition could be well maintained via oral tradition, while without taxation need in numeracy was quite limited. As to military, much looser structure of barbarian military, often based on cavalry and therefore much more mobile, with more space for individual initiative was generally superior to massive, but slow moving and rigid infantry of grain-based states. The aristocracy, as more mobile and more military effective specialized part of society developed by these states, sometimes compensated for difference, but overall for some 10,000 years neither grain-based agriculture and slave-based hierarchical “civilized” states nor non-grain agriculture and loose organization of barbarian entities had decisive advantage. Only with advance of scientific method of thinking and consequent technological and industrial development, literacy and numeracy became convertible into military power, leading to triumph of “civilization”.

20200112 – Sword and Scimitar

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is not that much to present military history of the most important battles between Islamic and Christian armies, as to demonstrate that despite illusion of peace caused by contemporary overwhelming power of the West, Islamic ideology of conquest and proselytizing by force did not go away. It is also warning that if West continues its historical amnesia and ideological appeasement, the bloody fight could start again and cost dearly.

DETAILS:

Preface

Here author characterizes this book as work of military history reviewing 8 key battles between Islamic and Christian forces. These battles, while different by time, place and participants, represent key points in 14 centuries long struggle between followers of two religions one of which generally being on offensive from 636 to 1683, while another generally losing territory and adherents during the same time. Here is the map demonstrating this point:

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Introduction

The initial part of the book is discussion of the nature of Islam, its creation by Muhammad as a tool to overcome tribalism and create religion-based unity open for everybody to join. It was also an effective tool of using force to expand. Author discusses notion of jihad defined as religious duty of conquest with huge rewards either in this or the other world for participants. Author also discusses West, Christendom, and their nations, which were converging into more or less loose alliances coming to life under threat of annihilation and dissipating when this threat diminished. Author also discusses very limited tolerance in Islam of Jews and Christians as “people of the book”, stressing temporary character of this tolerance.

Chapter 1 Islam Takes Christendom by Storm: The Battle of Yarmuk, 636

Here author discusses the first major victory of Islam when relatively small force of Muslims destroyed numerically superior forces of Byzantine Empire. Author stresses religious fervor of Muslims and their ability to fight in the dark, which eventually brought their victory. After the battle author reviews consequent conquests that followed: successful siege of Jerusalem, conquest of Egypt and North Africa. Author especially stresses that unlike other conquests of the period this one had very strong religious component of proselytizing by the sword and atrocities. The end result was complete change of population’s religion and permanent conversion of these territories into Islamic lands. Here is how author characterizes consequences of this battle: “two-thirds (or 66 percent) of Christendom’s original territory†—including three of the five most important centers of Christianity—Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria‡—were permanently swallowed up by Islam and thoroughly Arabized. For unlike the Germanic barbarians who invaded and conquered Europe in the preceding centuries—only to assimilate into Christian culture, civilization, and language (Latin and Greek)—the Arabs imposed their creed and language onto the conquered peoples so that, whereas the “Arabs” once only thrived in the Arabian Peninsula, today the “Arab world” consists of some twenty-two nations spread over the Middle East and North Africa.”
Author then briefly discusses events after Yarmuk when Muslim powers consolidated their gains and continuing warfare against Byzantine.

Chapter 2 The Jihad Reaches an Eastern Wall of Stone: The Siege of Constantinople, 717

This chapter describes temporary slowdown of Muslim conquest when they failed in the first siege of Constantinople in 674-678. Then author reviews follow up struggles and stresses the role of slaves’ acquisition, especially women, as significant driving force of Muslim raids, strongly supported by religions duty of jihad.  Practically it meant psychologically win-win situation when strive to obtain earthly pleasures was combined with definite promise to supply high quality of such pleasures in afterlife for fallen jihadists. Author also describes growing understanding among Christians of ideological, religious character of the struggle and impossibility of permanent accommodation. At the end of chapter Author describes the second 717-718 siege of Constantinople, which also ended in Muslim defeat.

Chapter 3 The Jihad Reaches a Western Wall of Ice: The Battle of Tours, 732

This chapter moves just a dozen years later, but to different part of Europe. First author discusses Muslim conquest of Spain and initially Mediterranean coastline that was completed by 730. As usual author stresses multiple atrocities committed during this process and massive forcible conversions of previously mainly Christian population. Then he reviews history of Charles Charlemagne who defeated Islamic force in battle of Tour in 732, stopping cold their movement farther into Europe. At the end of chapter author however mentions that it did not prevent follow up attempts such as Muslim landing in Italy in 846 that ended with occupation of Sicily, many Mediterranean islands, and new long-term feature of life in these areas – Muslim piracy. Author somewhat asserts that Charlemagne victory at Tours was overstated because it did not really prevented Mediterranean from becoming “Muslim Lake”. Author even completes the chapter by stating that Muslims often not even were looking for complete conquest, but rather for raiding, looting, and acquiring slaves so actual Muslim chronicles not even mention Tours as something significant.

Chapter 4 Islam’s New Champions: The Battle of Manzikert, 1071

Here author moves to another part of Islam, the one related to Abbasid Caliphate, based on Shia branch situated in Persia with center in Baghdad. In 838 Caliph Mutasim destroyed important Byzantium city Amorium, which led to Christian counterattack when for the next two hundred years fight was continued until Turks formed Seljuk Empire and first devastated Armenia in 1019, then destroyed Byzantium forces at Manzikert and captured Roman emperor. Author characterizes this as Turkish Yarmuk, meaning that it was similarly to Arabs opened road for conquest for Turks.

Chapter 5 Christendom Strikes Back: The Battle of Hattin, 1187

The next point of this long struggle was the first Crusade when continuing deprivation against Christian by Muslims in what used to be Christian territories containing multiple religious sites. Author describes it as the holy war initiated in response and retaliation against Muslims’ jihad. Author starts this part of history in 1095 with Christian mobilization, initial victories resulted not in small part because of general indifference of Muslim population. Muslims were much more busy fighting each other in Shia vs. Sunni struggle to pay attention to such insignificant things as Jerusalem and area around. However they noticed that something is not exactly right and produced Saladin, who manage mobilize Muslims, win battle of Hattin and expel Crusaders.

Chapter 6 The Crusade Victorious: The Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, 1212

This chapter starts with discussion of incomplete conquest of Spain in 8th century by Muslins when small Christian enclaves in mountainous Astoria managed to survive and repulse many consequent attacks for centuries. Author also discusses what he believes erroneous narrative for Muslim tolerance and scientific prosperity of Islamic Spain. Author discusses an interesting dynamics created by massive use of slavery, especially enslaved women of European background that, combined with acceptance of children produced by these women as legitimate issue of their Muslim fathers. Author describes details of this long continuing war, which eventually ended by complete expulsion of Muslims from Spain in 1492.

Chapter 7 Muhammad’s Dream: The Siege of Constantinople, 1453

Here author reviews the late part of Byzantine decline and raise of Ottomans with their peculiar institution of kidnapped in childhood slaves-soldiers that eventually become key component of Ottoman state. At the end author discusses final destruction of Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine) and fall of Constantinople due to numeric and technological superiority of Ottomans.

Chapter 8 The Rise and Fall of Islam: The Siege of Vienna, 1683

This chapter is about pick Islam when Ottomans sieged Vienna, but where defeated by alliance of European Christian armies. Author looks at previous events in Eastern Europe when Mongols conquered Russia in 1240 and then become Islamized by 1300. It was not an easy process and author describes it in some detail. By 1380 Russians achieved some success in repulsing Tatars, but the fight was periodically continuing until in 1478 Russia stopped paying tribute. The Islamic raids with plunder and abduction continued for another century, but complete dominance over Russia ended. Author reviewing similar evens all over the Europe and Middle East when Islam was stopped and after a few centuries of relative equilibrium with raids and mutual retaliations until very religious Ottoman Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa decided renew Islamic conquest and moved against center of European Holy Roman Empire – Vienna. Despite usual betrayals of some Christian nations and leaders, enough forces arrived to protect Vienna with key role played by Jan Sobieski’s Polish army to achieve victory, forcing Ottomans to retreat. After another 15 major battles from 1683 to 1697 the treaty of Karlowitz was signed practically ending 1000 years Islamic military offensive against Christianity.

Author briefly describes the following centuries when Islamic forces were limited to raids with no ability to launch massive military attack any more. The response was various from Russian conquest of Crimea to American punitive naval expedition against barbarian pirates.  Author ends in 1924 when the last great Islamic power – Ottoman Empire was dissolved and West European countries divided Islamic lands between themselves as mandates or colonies.

Postscript Muslim Continuity vs. Western Confusion

Author’s postscript kind of laments current situation that he believes characterized by Western loss of memory about 1500 years war and came up with politically correct interpretation of Islam as religion of peace, that no truly religious Muslim really accept. Consequently the Islamic jihad renewed in form of terrorism. It is clearly supported by restoration of Islamic states such as Iran or ISIS. These Islamic states are way too weak to be serious threat for now, but are quite inspirational for Muslims in their ability to stand up against non-Islamic powers and dogged pursuit of nuclear weapons. Author makes the point that current overwhelming military power of West is combined with ideological weakness and loss of history and understanding of enemy, making situation quite dangerous with potential to be be costly in the future: “In short, if Islam is terrorizing the West today, that is not because it can, but because the West allows it to. For no matter how diminished, a still swinging Scimitar will always overcome a strong but sheathed Sword.“

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think that author is quite correct in his estimate of dangers of Islamic ideology. However I do not think that Islam is as strong as it was 1000 years ago mainly because humans are moving away from strong religious believes. It is fully applied to Muslims all over the world and a pretty good example of this had been provided during 1950s and 60s when people in these countries moved to quasi-scientific secular ideology of socialism. It ended in disaster and misery and partial return to militant Islam is reaction to this disaster. However the terrorism against West and application of Sharia laws is even more disastrous for Muslims. The problem is they see no alternative since West at this point does not inspire following despite overwhelming technological and economic superiority. The resolution of these problems will actually come from the West’s accommodating to tremendous technological and political changes it is undergoing right now. Such western renewal would once again provide example for emulation and people in Islamic world eventually leave this militant religious ideology of 7th century in dustbin of history where it belong.

 

20200105 – Polarization

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to review recent sociological research on American political conditions and present massive prove that it is now in the state of deep polarization between traditional parties of Democrats and Republicans. Author provides statistics on polarization between various part of society: elite, including media, partisans of both parties, and general population. Author aims to convince that at least part of the cause for this is regional realignment between North, South, and West, but also wealthy ideological donors, a bit of gerrymandering, and a lot of Divergence and Sorting of population.

DETAILS:

  1. Introduction

Here author briefly characterizes what is current polarization of American politics and discusses what he intends to presents in each chapter of this book.

  1. What Is Political Polarization?

What is the difference between partisanship and polarization? What Is the difference between mass and elite polarization? What is partisan sorting and is it different from polarization? What is belief constraint and ideological consistency; Who is polarized—the public or the politicians? Why is polarization bad? What have we learned?

In this chapter author defines polarization “as the increasing support for extreme political views relative to the support for centrist or moderate views. He contrasts it with partisanship which “is reflected as a strong bias in favor of one’s party and strong dislike or prejudice against other parties” and argues that this distinction in “how we understand and evaluate the performance of our political system.”
Author provides very clear graphic representation of polarized vs. centrist situation:

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  1. Are Partisan Elites Polarized?

How do we measure elite polarization! Why do you assume legislative voting occurs only on the liberal-conservative Are there other sources of data for measuring congressional polarization? Do roll-call ideal points really reflect congressional ideology! What issues divide Congress the most? Are both parties responsible for polarizations; Are state legislatures polarized? Are the courts polarized? And the media? What have we learned?

Here author discusses polarization of elites and how it could be measured. Mainly the measurement is based on votes and how many of them went in synch or out of synch with one’s party. Here is the graph demonstrating that we moved into highest polarized period since the New Deal:

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  1. Is the Public Polarized?

How is it even plausible that the public is not polarized? Is the public moderate? What is the evidence in favor of increased voter sorting? Why does it matter whether voters are sorted but not polarized? Is sorting a good thing or a bad thing? What issues are the public is sorted on? Is it the economy, stupid? Does polarization reflect a “culture war? What is affective polarization? What have we learned?

In this chapter author moves from elite to regular people:” Here we will see that the evidence is more mixed. It is true that there is much more disagreement on policy issues between voters who identify with the Democratic Party and those who identify with the Republican Party. But how to interpret that fact is open to considerable disagreement. Many scholars argue that it is indeed evidence that voters have polarized in the sense of adopting more extreme views. But other scholars are equally insistent that it reflects the fact that voters are simply better sorted into parties so that most conservative voters are now Republican and most liberal voters are now Democratic—something that was far from true in earlier eras.”

Here author offers some conclusions:

  • The first is that the partisan polarization or sorting of voters occurred considerably later than the polarization of the political elites and activists. This suggests that the polarization we observe from the elites is probably not a simple reaction to changes among the electorate. Indeed it is more plausible that the positions and partisanship of the voters are a reaction to the polarization of elected officials and other elite actors.
  • Second, despite the widely held belief that voters are polarized along a set of hot button social issues, such as abortion and gay rights, political scientists have routinely found that positions on economic and social welfare issues better predict the partisanship of voters. There are sharp disagreements, however, to the extent to which preferences on social welfare issues are in turn derived from differences in racial attitudes.

At the end of chapter author discusses how political views become part of people’s identity and what he calls “affective polarization”

  • Finally, I discuss the related concept of affective polarization that focuses on the increased salience of partisanship as a social identity. As a consequence of heightened party identification, citizens now show considerably more animus to supporters of the other party. I discuss the roles of ideological and policy polarization as well as the partisan sorting on other social identities in the rise of affective polarization.
  1. What Are the Causes of Polarization?

Why was polarization so low from the 1930s to the 1960s? Senate? Can the polarization of the late nineteenth century be compared to what we see today? What is the Southern Realignment and why did it happen! Why did southern whites move to the GOP? Why is congressional voting on racial issues no longer distinctive? Does economic inequality cause polarization? Do party leaders engineer polarization? Is the rising competition for congressional majorities to blame? Why don’t more moderates run for Congress? Is the media responsible for polarization! What about the emergence of the Internet and social media? Is the United States unique? What have we learned?

Here author moves to causes of polarization. He point out regional realignment when Democrats lost their Southern base. Author also “consider large-scale economic and social change as explanations as well as important developments in the media environment, including cable television, the Internet, and social media.”  Author also links it to the growth of inequality:

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The final point he makes here is that leadership of both parties push for polarization to enhance their position inside the party, while media actively promotes it because without polarization there is no story to tell. 

  1. How Does Electoral Law Affect Legislative Polarization?

How much does polarization reflect geographic sorting? Does gerrymandering cause polarization? Isn’t it possible that the effects of gerrymandering on the House carried over to the Senate? But isn’t gerrymandering responsible for a decline in electoral competitiveness? Are there other ways in which redistricting can impact polarization? Do partisan primaries cause polarization? Hasn’t California’s “Top-Two” system reduced polarization there? What role does campaign finance play in polarization? Would stronger parties reduce polarization? Would a different electoral system reduce polarization? What have we learned?

Here author analyses and then rejects the idea of institutional prompting of polarization despite changes in some features such as partisan primaries and gerrymandering. He suggests that it is rather wealthy ideological donors who push polarization up. He rather blames polarization on sorting and divergence – the situation presented in the graph below:

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  1. What Are the Consequences of Polarization for Public Policy and Governance?

Why does polarization impact congressional policymaking capacity? How do legislative parties turn polarization into gridlock? What about the filibuster and the presidential veto? Does polarization make Congress less productive? How has polarization affected the executive branch and the bureaucracy? Has the American judiciary and legal system changed as a result of polarization? How has polarization affected the balance of power between the national and state governments? Has polarization affected policymaking in the states? Has polarization increased the political power of the wealthy relative to others? Does polarization have a conservative bias? What have we learned?

Here author discusses “the impact of polarization on policy outcomes and governance. The focus is on how polarization has affected the level and quality of policymaking in the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. “ Author believes that the problem is in Congress’ failure to legislate due to polarization which prevents its members from creating effective majorities. Author expresses hope that courts and presidents could pick up the slack, but he is afraid that it could benefit conservatives.

  1. Is the Trump Presidency a New Normal or More of the Same?

As any other person of seemingly liberal persuasion, author cannot avoid the Donald. Author notes that while Trump ran as populist, probably closer to traditional democratic politics than to GOP, he rules as pretty orthodox conservative. Author discusses Trump’s achievements in populating Supreme Court with 2 constitutionalists in mold of Federalist Society, which author seems to be unhappy about. While giving Trump some credit for legislative and judicial achievements, author expresses fear that Trumps popularity could lead to authoritarian change of type implemented by Hugo Chavez and Erdogan. He also concerned that Trump strong support of working class would be somehow detrimental to non-white people. As it is usual for currently popular among western elites racist / leftist stereotype of dividing people by race and inability to see that Trump success in creating jobs and improving economy is beneficial to all working class with non-whites probably benefiting even more than whites. At the end author expresses hope that “ The press, the civil service, the states, and the judiciary continue to place formidable checks on the president’s power. While the president’s co-partisans in Congress should have challenged him more publicly and investigated his administration more thoroughly, they declined to move on some of his legislative priorities, opened independent investigations into his campaign, and refused to provide him cover should he have decided to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Yet cloth can tatter only so long before it rips. The preservation of liberal democracy in the United States will eventually require overcoming our deep divisions in order to rekindle our faith in the virtues of compromise.“

MY TAKE ON IT:

This book is fine as a source of political statistics packed in a bunch of nice diagrams. However it does not look deeply into ideological causes of polarization, which in my opinion strongly linked to change not that much in ethnic mix of population as change in types and availability of jobs and correspondingly decent quality of life. This quality, while improving technologically and materially, greatly deteriorated psychologically due to elite moving manufacturing jobs out of country to China and other places where labor is cheap and environmental and other American regulations are non-existent. Combined with massive immigration of low skill illegal immigrants and, as well educated and much cheaper than Americans, legal immigrants from developing world, it squeezed middle and working class. The elite prospered, while many others suffered. It’s no wonder that these others start looking for a champion who would be fully on their side. After failing to find it either with Bushes or Clintons / Obamas, they practically dropped both parties and found the champion in Donald Trump, who with their help defeated elite of both parties, eventually remaking GOP to fit his vision. I think that idea that this Jeannie once out of bottle could be put back in is completely insensible and could lead to Jeannie being very upset and even violent against elite. It would be much better to negotiate way to restoration of psychological well-being of Americans of lower classes by all means necessary even if it includes limitation of immigration, regulatory enthusiasm, racist politics, and other things dear to American elite.