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Category Archives: History

The three ages of trade and the distorting retro-perspective of the modern

The history of long distance trade can be broadly divided into three periods: the globalisation or mass trade period (from the 1820s onwards), a transition period (in an integrating Atlantic economy, from the C16th onwards) and the pre-globalisation or network trade period (prior to the 1820s outside the Atlantic economy). What drives the transition from one period to another is communication and transport costs. Prior […]

Ethos and welfare

The OECD Secretariat released recently (November 2014) a revealing summary (pdf) of public social expenditure by OECD countries. The database the study is based on is available online. (Private social expenditure–i.e. private charity–is not covered by this post.) Social expenditure being defined as: Social expenditure comprises cash benefits, direct in-kind provision of goods and services, and tax breaks with social purposes. … To […]

The Rotten Heart of Europe

Bernard Connolly‘s The Rotten Heart of Europe: Dirty War for Money is a jeremiad against European monetary union first published in 1995. Its publication led to the author’s sacking from the European Commission, where he had been senior monetary and foreign exchange economist. This is not, as Connolly a matter of saying the “Emperor has no clothes” but […]

When the three languages of US politics get in the way

Economist Arnold Kling, who blogs here, has provided a useful framing of American political debate as divided into three languages of politics. He discusses his framing with economist Russ Roberts here, and his analysis is usefully discussed here. The three languages are: the conservative barbarism-civilisation axis, the progressive oppressors-oppressed axis, and the libertarian freedom-coercion axis. None of them provide a useful way of thinking about […]

The poisonous legacy of slavery and the US race tangle

In his book War, Peace, War: The Life Cycle of Imperial Nations, historical demographer Peter Turchin argues that the mass slavery of the Roman Empire–which was at is most intense in Sicily and Southern Italy–is still depressing the social capital of the area centuries later; that the socially disintegrative effects of mass slavery can persist long after the […]

Thinking about states

While writing a paper on state dynamics in Latin Christendom, it was useful to try and think (think out aloud indeed) coherently about states as historical entities. State understood as an institutionalised structure of expropriation and coercion dominant in a particular territory. The notion that a state has to have, or even aspire to, a monopoly of coercion does not make […]

American homicide

Using US Census data and FBI homicide statistics to look at US homicide rates by race is problematic, because the race of offender (and of victim) statistics apparently do not cover non-negligent manslaughter. One is forced to multiply such statistics by the ratio of the total homicides counted on that basis to the total including non-negligent manslaughter to get figures that are internationally […]

Cause and context

In the postwar period, the Democratic candidate for President has received a majority of votes cast in precisely four elections: Johnson 1964 (53.4%), Carter 1976 (50.1%), Obama 2008 (52.9%), Obama 2012 (51.1%). Which makes the first African-American President the only Democratic candidate to get a majority of the votes cast twice in the postwar period. (It is […]

Lies, damned lies and statistics on “racism”

African-Americans are about 13% of the US population. African-Americans commit roughly half the homicides in the US. That means African-Americans commit unlawful homicide at a much higher rate than other Americans (5.8 times higher than whites in 2013). Which means that we can expect African-Americans to be arrested and convicted for homicide at a much higher rate than other Americans. So, […]

Fancy maths and data series are no reason to ignore supply and demand

Came across a 2014 NBER paper Betting The House (pdf) by Òscar Jordà, Moritz H.P. Schularick & Alan M. Taylor. I was wildly unimpressed. I am not quite sure whether I am willing to use the tag line of “numbers make smart people stupid”–as per this wonderful post on the adoption of farming, criticising an attempted cliometric study of said transition […]