Stephen Davies on Ruling Classes and Industrious Classes

Stephen Davies is my sort of libertarian historian in many ways, and in particular in not denying the historic importance of the predator class in times gone by. It is one thing to regret the enormous power held by predators, and the comparative powerlessness of producers – the power of the taxers and the impotence of the taxed – but it is quite another to assert that the powerful predators were not in fact the people who made the historically significant decisions and that the impotent producers were actually very powerful. Libertarianism is the claim that the predators should lose their power, not that they have already lost it, or worse, never, historically, had it.

At the heart of Davies’s book The Wealth Explosion is the claim that the wealth explosion only happened because of a rather anomalous glitch in the typical behaviour of the predator class, which took the form of a non-united Europe. Normal predator behaviour throughout the rest of Eurasia meant that the wealth explosion was only able to happen in Europe.

Here (pp. 11-12) is some of what Davies says about this distinction:

There was a basic social division found in all societies after the advent of agriculture. This was between those who produced wealth by production or exchange on the one hand and those who acquired it through the use of force or fraud on the other. The first category included peasant farmers (the great majority) as well as artisans, merchants, and traders of all kinds. The second category were those who controlled not the means of production but what we may call the means of predation – organised force or systematic mystification in other words. These were the ruling classes of society such as aristocrats and clergy. The second group often did come to control and own great wealth and much productive resources, such as land for example, but this was a consequence of their privileged position rather than the cause of it. That position derived in the first instance from their greater access to the means of violence. They were not however simply parasitical because, partly for their own advantage, they came to provide what economists call ‘public goods’ such as defence against other human predators (bandits, criminals, or members of other tribes and political communities), or a means of settling disputes peacefully (so a legal system).

These ruling groups were the primary subjects of historical accounts until very recently. There is a good reason for this, quite apart from the practical point that most of the surviving sources are concerned with them, which is that they were the primary active force in human history. It was rulers and elites who had the power to actually make things happen. They were the ones with agency in other words. In addition, as Peter Laslett famously argued, they were the only social class in society with true class-consciousness, a self-conscious awareness of their own group interest. (Laslett, 2015) This and their nature meant that their relation to innovation and activities that actually changed the world in a positive way was ambivalent. On the one hand, to the extent that innovation led to actual growth in productivity, that meant more resources for them to extract from the productive part of society. On the other hand if it went on for a long enough time it would tend to weaken their position and increase the capacity of other social groups for effective action. Another aspect of the ruling classes historical role was the way that successful groups tended to expand the area of the planet that they controlled and so create an empire. Empires produced internal peace and so although they were created using (often) savage violence, once established they brought social peace to a large part of the planet’s surface. However this also meant an even stronger incentive for the successful group to keep things the same.

And mostly, except in Europe, this is what happened.

Find your way to more bits from this book by going here.

One Kemble Street from the ME Hotel

As regulars here know, I am very fond of Richard Seifert‘s One Kemble Street (that link will now get you to this posting again but keep scrolling down). I am fond of One Kemble Street because of its repetitively yet I think elegantly sculpted outside walls but chaotic roof clutter topping. One of Seifert’s best. (His worst was concrete monstrosity at its most monstrous.)

Here’s another good photo of One Kemble Street that I found in the archives, photoed in September of 2016, from the top of the ME Hotel.

Three distinct bits of roof clutter there, on top of One Kemble Street, at a lower level between One Kemble Street and the ME Hotel, and in the foreground on top of the ME Hotel itself.

As you can also see from this photo of One Kemble Street and the ME Hotel taken from the upstairs balcony of the Royal Festival Hall, there’s a very good view of One Kemble Street from the ME Hotel, round the back.

Had Seifert designed the British Library, it would have looked very different.

Rock and roll is here to stay

But a lot of rock and rollers are about to leave the stage for ever.

Ed Driscoll:

Behold the killing fields that lie before us: Bob Dylan (78 years old); Paul McCartney (77); Paul Simon (77) and Art Garfunkel (77); Carole King (77); Brian Wilson (77); Mick Jagger (76) and Keith Richards (75); Joni Mitchell (75); Jimmy Page (75) and Robert Plant (71); Ray Davies (75); Roger Daltrey (75) and Pete Townshend (74); Roger Waters (75) and David Gilmour (73); Rod Stewart (74); Eric Clapton (74); Debbie Harry (74); Neil Young (73); Van Morrison (73); Bryan Ferry (73); Elton John (72); Don Henley (72); James Taylor (71); Jackson Browne (70); Billy Joel (70); and Bruce Springsteen (69, but turning 70 next month).

For me, the mere physical death of all these oldies will mean little. David Bowie died a bit ago, but I only noticed because there was a sign on the BT Tower saying this. I like photoing the BT Tower, so I photoed this sign. Then I photoed him on some stamps. But the Bowie that matters to me is the Bowie that was recorded. And that will live on more than long enough to suit me. On the rare occasions when I have attended live events at which a big name rocker and roller performed, I have been very disappointed. If I die and wake up at a pop festival, I will know that there is a God, and that He has consigned me to Hell.

Even the sight of Paul McCartney, all died hair and skin moistener, who ought to be on but is not on this list, can’t put me off his wonderful vocal contributions to the Beatles tracks he sang on.

But, one thing I was glad to learn from this list was that “The Molly-Ringwald-serenading lead singer of the Psychedelic Furs” (he sang “Pretty in Pink”) was someone called Richard Butler. He now looks like this lady.

Finally saying something about The Wealth Explosion

For far longer than I care to go back and calculate, I have been struggling to write a review of Stephen Davies’s new book, The Wealth Explosion. (Shortish excerpts from this book can be read here, here, and here.)

Well, some time over the weekend, I realised that the way to get this review written was to give up trying to write it all at once. Today, I posted the first of several postings about The Wealth Explosion that I hope will in due course be appearing at Samizdata. I have abandoned the attempt to say everything, and have instead made a start by saying something.

And yes, I now feel much better, thank you. (I also now have a rather nasty headache and consequently actually feel rather worse, but I still feel better.)

Tom Holland on the state of democracy in Britain now

This from Tom Holland:

Those who speak of the death of British democracy seem to me to have it exactly wrong. Everything that is happening is happening because we, as a country, are testing existential issues that many other countries have opted to suppress in a way so democratic as to be titanic.

I reckon he needs a comma after “suppress”, and maybe another after “issues”. The point being that it is the testing which is titanic, rather than the suppressing.

I remember, or think I remember, saying something along these lines in this. If not that one, then in one of those conversations with Patrick. Which, in my mind, are, I now realise, merging into one great big conversation, lasting about twenty five solid hours and counting.

Michael Jennings on China – as seen from Nepal and from Australia

I have one of my Last Friday of the Month talks at my home tomorrow evening. See the next posting for news about that. Meanwhile, here are some thoughts that Michael Jennings jotted down, concerning the talk he’ll be giving in the same series on October 25th. While writing this, he didn’t know he was writing a blog posting. That only happened when I asked him if I could stick it up here, and he said … okay, yes:

In April and May this year, I spent a month in Nepal. I spent a fair portion of this in very remote areas – places (such as the region of Upper Mustang) that were almost literally medieval kingdoms only 30 years ago. These places are no longer medieval and no longer kingdoms, but they are still very poor, agricultural communities. At least, the ones without roads connecting them to the outside world are very poor, agricultural communities. Communities with roads connecting them to the outside world are different. Still poor by international standards, but much richer. The roads are being built with Chinese money and expertise.

These places are also very close to the border with Tibet. These places have always been close to the border with Tibet, but of course, these days this means the border with China. As China has become economically more powerful in recent years, the Chinese influence on these places has become stronger. The locals have mixed feelings about that. The Chinese have resources and get things done, whereas governments of Nepal – and governments of their nearer and friendlier neighbour India – are not known for this. On the other hand, if you cross the border you had better not be carrying a picture of the Dalai Lama, and if a Chinese policeman tells you to do something, you had better do it. (Nepali policemen are fairly amiable, mildly corrupt, and not people to worry about that much). The Chinese are building roads and power stations, which is making people richer. This is generally considered to be good. The Chinese bring money and wealth, but they also bring an extremely authoritarian political model with it, and you can see this in one small, poor country of a very different culture to theirs

This is one relatively small, poor country case of the interactions that a rising China is having with much of Asia and much of the world. At the other end of this are things like the interactions of my native Australia with China. Australia was always rich, but is now very rich due principally to selling iron ore and coal to China for the last 20 years. Australia has a large Chinese community, that has arrived in the country mostly in the last 50 years. 30 years ago, Australia would have been unequivocal in its support for the present demonstrators in Hong Kong, if events such as that had been happening then. These days, the Australian government says nothing. Meanwhile, Chinese students in Australia are spied on by Chinese secret police, Chinese language newspapers in Australia – there are many – are intimidated into taking a pro-Beijing line, and other similar things. Do Australians like this – not much, although Australians do generally like Chinese people and Chinese immigrants individually. Australia is now in an uncomfortable position of gaining much of its prosperity from people with an extremely authoritarian political model that we don’t particularly like.

Two extreme examples, but a great many countries in Asia and Africa (and elsewhere) face the same questions, to varying degrees. I will be giving a talk in which I discuss what this means for the world and where this may all lead.

There’ll be another talk about China on the last Friday of November, which is November 28th, by Hong-Konger-now-based-in-London Katy Lau. No apologies whatever for the “duplication”. First, it won’t be. These will be two completely different takes on China. And second, could any subject in the world be more important just now, or more vast in its scope and significance?

The Temperate House

On August 24th 2018, exactly one year ago, GodDaughter2 and I visited Kew Gardens I of course photoed photos, of central London from the top of the Great Pagoda, of some inflated plastic dragons, and of the Great Pagoda and the dragons on the Great Pagoda.

Here are some more photos I photoed that day, of something called the Temperate House, so called because it contains plants from temperate climates:

But my favourite photo that I photoed that day of the Temperate House was this one that I photoed from the top of the Great Pagoda:

At the back there are some dreary concrete towers, which architects make a great fuss of, and of the sort that the rest of us mostly shrug our shoulders about and just put up with.

This was the photo that caught my attention when I looked again at my KewGardens Aug24-2018 directory today, and which got me doing this posting.

The Helter Skelter that never was

I don’t often often get close up with the Big Things of the City of London. Mostly I just admire the changing scene they have made for London over the last two decades, but from a distance.

But in November of 2012, I did get close to these Things, and in particular to the new Big Thing then under construction, known by its makers as “The Pinnacle”, and to the rest of us as the “Helter Skelter”.

Here is a smallish gallery from that expedition:

A sneaky selfie in the last one there.

The Helter Skelter turned into something else just as tall, but bulkier and duller, as recounted in this angry piece. Which means that my expedition captured a fascinating passing moment in London’s architectural history. The stump that was all it was then remained a stump, and then turned into the Biggest Thing in the top photo here.

I have mixed feelings about this story. On the one hand, the Helter Skelter would have been more elegant and recognisable. And it would also have been a great place to shoot a remake of King Kong, with KK sliding down it, carrying an English actress with him on his lap. On the other hand, the current architectural hulk that is catchily known as “22 Bishopsgate”, now nearing completion, being so very bulky and inelegant, will positively demand a much bigger Big Thing next to it, in the fullness of time. Rather in the way that Guy’s Hospital was, for its time, so big and ugly that it made the Shard happen.

One of Charlie Waite’s first ‘serious’ images

Yes, I follow Charlie Waite on Twitter, and he just said this:

I had been walking by the Serpentine in London. The deckchairs had been at rest when I arrived yet, within a few seconds, a thoughtful breeze turned them into a corps de ballet.

Click on the above link for the photo, which is in suitably 70s black and white, that being when the photo happened.

Like. Partly because it not that serious.

It’s great how ancient Real Photographers, the sort who used film, can now scan their best old stuff and show it to us.

Quota prophecy

Photoed by me last night, near Whitechapel tube station:

Well, it’s a point a view. And it makes a nice change from prophecies of climate doom.

Nevertheless, I am skeptical. I intend returning to this, once 2020 has come and gone. Prophets should be reminded about their prophecies, once their proclaimed deadlines have passed, and held to account in the court of public opinion.

And if this turns out to be right, then whoever said it should get the credit.