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Category Archives: Technology

States start with violence and expropriation

I came across this passage in a collection entitled States and Development: Historical Antecedents of Stagnation and Advance (pdf): A realistic, even if stylized, account begins with the coalition building in which the elites of an emergent state are likely to engage, both with other power holders and with economically successful interests (p.11). It is in a similar […]

History and surplus: 10,000 years in one blog post

Human history has largely been driven by the creation and use of surplus production — that is, production beyond subsistence. (Subsistence meaning sufficient to sustain life and reproduction.) The change from prehistory to history is very much a matter of the generation and use of surplus production. There are essentially only three ways for such surplus […]

Open and closed state systems: the geography of regional unification

Recurring periods of unification were a notable feature of the history of China; notably the Qin-Han (221BC-220), Sui-Tang (589-907), and Yuan-Ming-Qing (1271-1912) periods of unification. (The Northern Song [959-1126] arguably do not count as a full unification, since they never controlled the northern regions, which was under the control of the Liao dynasty [907-1125].) Indeed, of all the major civilisation centres, China was unified more […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

Domain states, tax states and fiscal states

Have been reading a Ph.D dissertation by Wenkai He on the consolidation of a modern fiscal state in C18th England and late C19th Japan and the failure to do so in late Qing China. (The dissertation has since become a book.) The dissertation references history of public finance literature I was previously largely unaware of. The literature covers domain states and fiscal […]

Orientation and action

The case of Gordon College (via) in Massachusetts, which propounds a traditional Christian view of homosexuality with a rather less traditional coda of sympathy, puts into sharp relief the “orientation is not sinful, acts are” position. The policy of Gordon College is: The orientation/action distinction has two major problems with it. First, it sets up an utterly […]

The eternal now of conservatism (2)

Catholic writer James Livingstone (see previous post) is hardly the only conservative writer who sees inherited social arrangements as based in verities of human nature rather than contingent historical circumstances. Not counting as human This notion of social arrangements as being rooted in verities of human nature, not the contingencies of history, can have a very […]