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.

A sign with history lessons and with a map

On the 29th of last month I journeyed to Maze Hill railway station, walked north towards the river, just as I had planned, and in due course got to this spot:

I’m looking at signs. And I’m looking past the signs in the direction I intend to go. I love these signs that London has everywhere. And presumably also every great city in the rich world.

Let’s take a close look at the sign on the right in the above photo:

As you can perhaps see, this sign contains chunks of written information about places nearby. Chunks of the sort that I do not like to spend time reading direct from their signs, but which I do like to photo and then read later. Chunks like this:

So, the Isle of Dogs got its name from Henry III’s dogs, did it? Well, maybe. This is a fun maybe-fact, I think. Henry III was the one who had to escape the clutches of, and then execute, Roger Mortimer, Mortimer being the one who toppled Henry III’s Dad, Henry II. Henry II did badly. Henry III, at any rate by the standards that his subjects cared about, did very well, at least at first. What this means is that Henry II fought against his own nobles, in England. Henry III fought against the French, in France. Given how much pillaging and plundering and sheer destruction was involved in medieval warfare, in order to deny supplies to the enemy, Henry III’s wars were greatly preferred by the English.

(MUCH LATER: The above paragraph is mostly bollocks. Henry III was indeed the one with the dogs. But, I was muddling Henry III and Henry II with Edward III and Edward II. It was Edward III who fought against the French and whose Dad Edward II was deposed by Mortimer. Sorry. Now, back to the original posting, which still makes some sense, even though it is nothing to do with what it says on the sign:)

I know what you’re thinking. Why not just not have any wars, anywhere? Ridiculous. What century are you living in? This one? There you go. No wonder you just don’t get it.

However the sign is now out of date on the subject of the tallest tower in Britain. That was indeed, once upon a time, One Canada Square. But the Shard has since, metaphorically speaking, toppled it. See here for details of that story. The soon-to-be-completed 22 Bishopsgate is already also a lot taller than One Canada Square.

However, I am puzzled about whether we are at Anchor Iron Wharf, as claimed by the sign on the left in the first photo in this posting, or on Ballast Quay. Many the former ends on the left with sign on the left, and the latter begins on the right with the sign on the right.

The right sign also contains a map, which is rather faded (what with it being a rather ancient sign), but this had the effect of throwing my intended journey into sharper relief:

This map even helpfully shows, with a thin dotted pink line, the very first part of my walk from Maze Hill station to the River. Having thus arrived at where it says YOU ARE HERE, my plan was to follow the thicker squiggly pink line north, beside the River, all the way around the north of the Dome, and then either go across the River on the Dangleway, or else just go home on the tube from North Greenwich.

And that’s what I did.

Police horses outside my front window

Quite a few times, during the last few days, I’ve been hearing the clip-clop of what I already knew to be police horses, outside my home. I knew they were police horses, because those are the only horses I ever see in my vicinity. After a couple of such soundings, I tried to photo them, but by the time I got my camera going, they’d gone.

Yesterday, however, they were back, and I got luckier:

Nice of them to turn right like that, so I could get a less unflattering view of them, wasn’t it?

I tried googling to find where such horses might be based, but am none the wiser. There’s a Facebook page, which keeps saying that there are stables to be found in the middle of Victoria Station, which can’t be right. I’m guessing the stables are just “somewhere in Victoria”, and that’s how they like to keep it. But, what do I know? Not even that, actually.

In this Guardian piece about the work of such horses and their riders, it says this:

The Metropolitan Police has 150 officers and 120 horses at eight stables across London who perform a variety of roles, from high visibility patrolling to appearing at ceremonial functions and carrying out public order duties such as …

Such as the football match the article describes, a friendly, between England and Sweden. And it would seem that what I observed must have been “high visibility patrolling”.

Concerning the football match, we later read this:

It is incredibly moving to watch a line of just six horses effortlessly holding back 35,000 fans. The relationship between the police and the British public may be troubled, but judging by this night at least, it seems the force’s equine members still draw a healthy respect.

Healthy respect? My guess is it’s more a case of everyone knowing that hurting human cops is okay, because all’s fair in love and rioting. But hurt a horse, and the whole world considers you scum. I remember the IRA hurting a horse, and the reaction from everyone was: right, that does it. I do not like the IRA any more. Bombing humans to death in places like Manchester and Ireland. That’s okay. But, a horse? Now they’ve crossed a line.

Stephen Davies is writing a horse book

Much as I would like to replace the late Findlay Dunachie, I don’t think I’m cut out to be a book reviewer. It takes too much focus. While you’re doing it, you can’t afford to get stuck into reading anything else. When it comes to book blogging, blog postings provoked by some particular thing in a book is probably the best way for me to go.

But, I am trying to review The Wealth Explosion (you can read bits from this book here – here and here) by Stephen Davies, and I am determined to get this done, Real Soon Now.

Part of my homework for writing this review was attending an event at the IEA last week, at which Davies spoke about this book.

Which was fun, of course. But for me the biggest and best surprise came afterwards, when I asked Steve about his next book (about the Devil), and then if he was doing any more books after that Devil book. Yes, he replied. Two more. I forget the second of these two, but the first is going to be about the history of the horse.

That being my excuse for mentioning this today, Fridays being my day for cats and/or other creatures.

Historically, I surmise that the contribution of the horse in quite recent times, like the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is a rather neglected subject. I remember reading how horses multiplied during the early decades of the railways, to get people and goods to and from railway stations. More recently, I read, I think in one of James Holland’s book’s (this one maybe?), how the Nazi war effort, for all its much touted mechanical virtuosity, was amazingly dependent upon literal horsepower.

I’m really looking forward to Steve Davies’s horse book. Given how much people love horses, now more than ever, it just might sell very well. Consider the success of this recent horse-based show.

(Something similar applies to how much people disapprove of – yet are fascinated by – the Devil.)

Selfie couple on the South Bank last Sunday

As already recounted, I photoed many photos, on my walk back home from seeing Michael Jennings last Sunday.

Here is a little clutch of photos I photoed of a couple who were doing a selfie session:

Just about discernible the background there is HMS Belfast, the WW2 battleship that is now permanently parked on the south bank of the Thames, just upstream from Tower Bridge.

I love how the lady does a variation of the selfie hair pat, only this time she was making minute adjustments not to her hair but to her hat.

This is when doing “gallery” of this little clutch of photos is especially helpful, or so I hope. You can click quickly through from one photo straight onto the next photo, and spend no more time on these photos than you choose to.

Ladybower Reservoir and its bridge

A lot of my postings here feature photos I photoed quite a while ago, which I decide that I at least want to remember a bit better than I otherwise might. Well, here’s another such, of a reservoir in the Peak District. This photo also features an excellent bridge, which carries the delightfully named Snake Road across the reservoir:

Alas, I didn’t photo that. 6k did, in September 2017. I got to see this photo by scrolling down at the 6k flickr collection, until I chanced upon it.

I then searched for “ladybower” at the 6k blog, and found my way to a posting from 2015, recounting how 6k had visited the same spot with his father, and linking to an earlier flickr directory, which contains other views of this same reservoir, this time including views of the dam which brought it into existence.

It looks like the sort of place where these guys would have practised, although actually, this reservoir was not on their list.

Stephen Davies on “the most rapid and sustained technological innovation anywhere in the world before the later eighteenth century”

I have recently been reading The Wealth Explosion by Stephen Davies. Its subtitle is “The Nature and Origins of Modernity”. I recommend it to anyone who wishes to think about why the “modernity” that the world now enjoys happened where it did and when it did.

In particular, Davies asks, why did modernity not happen sooner? As he reveals in his chapter entitled “Song China and the Ming Restoration”, modernity very nearly did happen, several centuries earlier, in China. He describes, in the section entitled “Was Song China Close to Being a ‘Modern Economy’?” (pp. 81-85), how very close indeed China got to leading the world out of Malthusian economic stagnation:

Faced with this kind of evidence, a number of historians have argued that Song China was in fact the world’s first ‘modern’ economy and society and that had it continued we would now be speaking of the transition to modernity in the fourteenth century rather than the nineteenth. Certainly, by a number of measures Song China was as developed as mid eighteenth century Europe. Not only that but it displayed several of the distinctive features of modernity outlined in the first chapter, and the direction of development seemed to be for these ‘modern’ features to become more marked rather than less. What though were the modern aspects of China under the Song that have so caught the imagination of subsequent authors?

In the first place, Song China had rapid, even ‘explosive’ population growth. World population as a whole grew throughout the medieval warm period but the growth in China was much more rapid than that found elsewhere. By 1190, China’s population had reached at least seventy three million: seventy years later it had arrived at the hundred million mark. China’s population more than doubled between 960 and 1100. (It had remained stable at roughly fifty million for the previous six hundred years.) As a contrast, world population grew from about two hundred and fifty million to three hundred and thirty million between 960 and the later thirteenth century, an increase of thirty-two per cent. As in the contemporary modern world this process of population growth, which took place throughout the Song dynasty, accelerated as time went on and the rate of increase seems to have been at its most rapid during the last years of the dynasty, in the thirteenth century.

Moreover, this rise in population was exceeded by the rise in output of both agriculture and manufacture, both of which showed again a rising rate of productivity increase as the years went by. So for example, the level of iron output in 1078 mentioned earlier represented a six-fold increase from 806, in the last years of the Tang. In Shanxi in the 1040s annual production of iron amounted to some sixty tonnes per annum but by the 1110s this had risen to three hundred and sixty tonnes per year. This means that what we have in Song China, from at least the eleventh century, is modern style intensive growth, in contrast to the pattern of broadly extensive growth found elsewhere.

This went along with a ‘commercial revolution’ every bit as dramatic as that of eighteenth and nineteenth century Europe. By 1200, all of the institutions of the kind of market economy found in Europe in 1800 were already present in China. These included large firms and partnerships with tradable stock and a whole range of sophisticated financial and banking institutions and instruments. The Song economy had a wide range of forms and varieties of business venture from large government monopolies to major private firms, often organised into confederations, and an enormous range of small private businesses engaged in all kinds of productive activity, including an expanding range of services for the urban population of the empire. Much of the production was decentralised and performed in households or small workshops with the goods being sold to professional middlemen or brokers who in turn sold the products to merchants who distributed and sold them using the dense internal trade network or exported them in exchange for foreign products.

Perhaps most significantly, the changes in agriculture made possible by the legal reforms of Song Taizu meant that there was a clear movement of population from the countryside to the cities and of labour from agriculture to manufacturing. Our best estimate is that by the later twelfth century, between six and seven and a half per cent of the population of Song China lived in cities with a population of over one hundred thousand with a similar proportion living in smaller urban centres, which would make it clearly the most urbanised society on the planet at that time. The capital before 1127, Kaifeng, had a population of over a million, as did Hangzhou, which became the capital after that year. What is really striking is the rate of urbanisation. Kaifeng grew from half a million in 1021 to over a million by 1100. Hangzhou went from four hundred thousand inhabitants in late twelfth century to over a million by 1270. Moreover, urbanisation on this scale was not just a feature of the capital. Guangzhou, Chinas major seaport at this time reached a population of half a million by 1120 and the inland city ofJiankang had a population of two hundred thousand at the same time.

In contrast to the cities of Tang China, which had been mainly centres of administration, these were primarily commercial centres, even if they also housed the imperial court. In contrast to the Tang period when there were a limited number of strictly regulated markets, Song cities had markets and retail establishments on all of their main streets as well as huge commercial markets, which were only lightly regulated. There were also large covered entertainment complexes known as pleasure grounds where games and entertainments would be available until the early hours of the morning. One prominent feature of urban life under the Song was clubs and associations of all kinds. Patricia Ebrey for example cites a document of 1235 that mentions the West Lake Poetry Club, the Buddhist Tea Society, the Physical Fitness Club, the Anglers’ Club, the Occult Club, the Plants and Fruits Club, the Antique Collectors’ Club, the Horse-Lovers’ Club, and the Refined Music Society – all of these in Hangzhou.

Song China also saw the most rapid and sustained technological innovation anywhere in the world before the later eighteenth century. As well as the innovations already mentioned in maritime technology the period saw the invention of the dry dock for repairing ships and of paddle powered vessels for use as tugs or in warfare. Block printing was invented in the eleventh century and movable type printing in the thirteenth – in this case borrowed from the Koreans. There were important refinements and inventions in the area of mechanical devices, particularly the use of belt drives and complex toothed gears. One important element of technological progress in China at this time, in marked contrast to other periods, was openness to and adoption of innovations made elsewhere. As well as the examples of movable type, and the superior varieties of rice imported from Annam, the most dramatic case was that of the windmill, invented in the Middle East and then adopted by the Chinese in the early thirteenth century. Notably, the Chinese did not simply take up the Middle Eastern technology but adapted and improved it.

Perhaps most striking was the increasing use of complex machinery in textile manufacturing. As early as the twelfth century devices were invented for the mechanical spinning of silk, which could be powered by men, animals or waterwheels. The text describing this machine stated that with its thirty-two spindles it could spin about sixty kilos of thread per day. It was very similar in design to the water frame of Richard Arkwright, which plays such a prominent part in most accounts of the Industrial Revolution. The missing ingredient was rollers to draw out the thread as it was being spun but this kind of device was known to the Chinese at the time in the form of the cotton gin, for removing seeds from raw cotton. So far as we know cotton spinning was never mechanised in this way, but its use as a fabric only became common at the end of the Song period.

Alongside technological innovation were intimations of scientific investigation. The key figures here were polymaths, similar to Renaissance figures such as Leonardo, who combined empirical experimentation and investigation with scientific speculation, typically in a wide range of fields and areas of knowledge. The most famous was Shen Kuo (1031-1095) who published much of his ideas and findings in a collection of essays known as the Dream Pool Jottings, covering topics as diverse as mathematics, geology, economics, medicine, and engineering. As this shows, Song China saw investigation and discovery in a range of areas of knowledge, the most notable being mathematics, astronomy, metallurgy, medicine (including forensic medicine), and optics (where there seems to have been borrowing from the Arabs).

This was linked to important developments in philosophy and abstract thought. The key here was the ideas of Neo-Confucian philosophers, above all Chu-Hsi (1130-1200). He argued that an essential part of the process of self-perfection (a key idea in Confucianism) was the investigation of ‘material things’, that is empirical enquiry. What we can see here are early intimations of the idea of scientific method, which were as well developed in thirteenth century China as they would be in seventeenth century Europe. As in Europe some four to five hundred years later, there was a mixture of philosophical speculation, magic, empirical investigation, and practical (often commercial) endeavour all mixed together into a single intellectual and physical exercise.

There were also distinctively ‘modern’ developments in the structure of government and in social structure and hierarchy. The change here was a very clear movement from a hereditary elite to a more meritocratic one. Reforms to the examination system by which government officials were recruited made the process much more open and Significantly increased the size of the pool of applicants. By the later years of the dynasty in the early thirteenth century, the number of candidates taking the exams was eleven times what it had been in the early eleventh century and the number who passed was five times what it had been under the Tang. However, the number of government posts hardly increased at all. The result was the appearance of a class of degree holders who formed the local elite, but Were not actual holders of government office. Their Confucian training led them to see themselves as moral leaders of society through the force of example as much as administration. The reforms to the system also meant that it was now rare for the status of being a degree holder to persist in the one family for more than three generations. Despite the way in which educated Confucians tended to look down on soldiers and merchants both commerce and the military also provided routes for upward social mobility. The result of all this was to make society much more socially mobile and to make status increasingly non-heritable, as well as increasing income (as opposed to status) inequality.

The government of Song China was, like that of earlier dynasties, organised on a departmental basis. The main innovation, already mentioned, was the creation of a council of ministers with a deliberative as well as an administrative role and a Prime Minister (the actual title was First Privy Councillor) who headed the administration. The most famous holder of this office was Wang An Shih (1021-1086) who began a major series of reforms between 1069 and 1074. These reforms proved very divisive and led to the appearance of two factions, one known as the New Policies Group that supported them and another, led by another scholar-politician Sima Guang (1019-1086) that opposed them. This division persisted throughout the remainder of the dynasty’s history and so a form of elite party politics came into being, based on this division between reformers and conservatives, which reflected intellectual debates within Confucianism. Song government had a distinctly modern flavour, as it was not household or clan based and operated through a professional bureaucracy. Among its particularly modern elements were several agencies to monitor and assess public opinion, each one using a different method of doing this.

Davies also speaks about his book in this video lecture.

An historic weather forecast

I have no idea what it was like storming a Normandy beach, on June 6th 1944. I also don’t really know how they do weather forecasting, but in recent years, because of being an amateur photoer, I have acquired a profound respect for those who do know, and who do this for a living.

So, my D-Day blog posting does not feature warriors. I instead focus on this man:

That’s Group Captain James Stagg, Allied Supreme Commander Eisenhower’s D-Day weather man. Stagg it was who advised Ike that the landings should be postponed by twenty four hours, to avoid filthy weather on June 5th 1944 and to take advantage of what Stagg believed would be an interlude of surprisingly good weather on June 6th 1944. Stagg’s advice was taken. To say that “the rest is history” would be to suggest that Stagg’s superbly accurate forecast was not itself history. It very much was.

Such is the internet and such are modern times that if you now do an internet search for “James Stagg”, you get more pictures of the actor and writer David Haig than you do of Stagg himself. This is because Haig recently wrote a play, called Pressure, about the above-described historic episode, and then himself played the part of Stagg in his own play.

James Stagg, and WW2 weather forecasting in general, deserved and deserve to be made much of, so I don’t blame either Google or David Haig for the odd result of this particular internet search. In particular, on the image front, it seems very likely that quite a few more photos were taken of Haig playing Stagg than were ever taken of Stagg himself.

Recently purchased books

Photoed just now:

Although, I should say that I didn’t actually purchase Kristian Niemietz’s book about
Socialism. I tried to buy it, at a recent IEA event, but they wouldn’t take my money and just gave me a copy. It’s very good.

Excerpt from We Now Know, here. Could have downloaded a pdf of the whole thing. But, don’t like pdfs. Prefer books.

There are more that I didn’t include. E.g. one by fake-antiques architect Quinlan Terry that is too wide. (Fake architectural antiques are a good thing. The world now needs more of this. Terry does them very well.)

Memo to self: A habit I must cultivate better is the ability to read a book, while seated in front of my computer, concentrating on the former and ignoring the latter. The internet is just too damn interesting. But books are extremely interesting also, and I love to read them. Or at least: I love to have read them.

I love Amazon. I miss remainder shops.

What have Patrick Crozier and I been doing right with our podcasts?

For quite some while now, ever since August (I think it must have been) 2017, when we talked about World War 1, Patrick Crozier and I have been doing a podcast every few weeks or so.

Here is where to find them all, that first one in the series about WW1 being
here.

But what has anyone besides us been making of these podcasts? That’s if anyone has actually been listening to them.

Anyone besides me. I find it very helpful to record interesting thoughts, and in particular big questions, in this “public” form. Questions like: Why did the rulers of Britain decide that Britain should plunge into World War 1, in the horribly destructive and self-destructive (as it turned out) way that they did? And why, having discovered how destructive the war was becoming, did all those engaged in it not put a stop to it? What the hell were they thinking? I want to remember such questions until I have something approximating to answers.

But that’s just me. I’m terrible at note-taking. Oh, I take notes, but later I can’t even read the damn things, let alone store them in a way that enables me to get back to them. On the other hand, I love to have places, in something resembling “public”, where I can shove notes, and where others can, at least in theory, help me improve on them and flesh them out, or correct them when they’re wrong. Instead of me just forgetting everything.

Once I know other people just might be noticing what I have said or written, I find I can pay attention to it also. Books, these are things I can remember that I own and keep worrying away at, not least because they have big words written on them which I can see on my walls. My own thoughts, scribbled on scraps of paper, forget about it. As in: I forget about it.

All of that being part of why I so like blogging, and also doing these podcasts with Patrick.

But that’s just me. That’s why I like listening to these podcasts. Why would anyone else want to listen to them? I don’t know, but I’d love if if someone else were to listen to some of these podcasts, like them, and then tell us why.

This was why I was so pleased when someone else recently did say they’d been listening to these podcasts, and say that he did like them.

In a comment thread attached to this First Official Posting here, and in among a lot of jibber-jabber about comment approval and RSS feeds and suchlike, “Rob” (and I know who that is) mentioned that if I and Michael Jennings (the man who set up and is still helping me with this new blog of mine) were ever to do any more podcasts, he, Rob, would listen to them. I replied that Patrick Crozier and I had been doing some podcasts. A bit of a while later, Rob said this:

I have listened to the croziervision podcasts and like them too.

Big moment. Our very first positive feedback. Someone who took no part in these conversations nevertheless liked listening to them.

My question to Rob, no disrespect at all intended, is: Why? What have we been doing right? I’d genuinely like to know. Because then we can tell other people why Rob liked listening to these podcasts, and a few further people might like the sound of them, and tune in also, and then like the actual sound of them. A comment on this from Rob might even accomplish this automatically.