Sunday, January 05, 2020

However, Interesting Thoughts That Went By

In the discussions of State Capacity Libertarianism a few quotes went by which I copied and pasted for later use.  I don't think I'll wait. 
US economic performance is not so dissimilar to the other Anglosphere countries, in fact arguably worse than Australia given the lower potential of that continent and the further it is from major markets. Pretty much all the Anglosphere countries are top of the development list, just like they were 100 years ago. Anglos seem bred for capitalism, they have high trust, good work ethic, are intelligent enough, and have a strong moral sense. Individually these traits are probably disadvantageous, collectively they are very positive for the group. (Italics mine)
One should add that the idea of export seems inadequate in this context. American manufacturers of rail stock were 'exporting' their products westwards as part of the ongoing expansion of the U.S. - and in return, that 'exported' rail stock carried back goods from 'external' territories.
Regarding the first, it is interesting to think in Game Theory terms about group versus individual strategies - especially when you are living in the middle of it, so it's not just all theory. We are like fish who don't know they are in water.

As to the second, it is related to the discussion of the 1619 Project and the claim that cotton dominated American exports and thus income. While I think that would still be insufficient to show that slavery was the primary driver of American wealth, the recognition that the West and the rest of the American continent could just as easily be regarded as an import-export situation weakens the premise of the 1619 Project even further.  Maybe it is a common idea among those who discuss the economic history of the US, but I had never heard it before and it makes sense.


JMSmith said...

This is a very good point about the exaggeration of the economic importance of cotton owing to to the accident of it crossing an international boundary on its way to market. By this measure a Georgia cotton plantation would have become economically negligible when it began to send its cotton to Manchester, New Hampshire rather than Manchester, England (and I suppose even more negligible when the textile mills moved south).

Another error of the 1619 logic is to suppose that the attraction of slave labor was that slavery kept the cost of labor very low. Slaves were, in fact, paid in kind and not in cash, and therefore cost their owners about as much as wage labor. The 1619 logic is fixated on the Marxist notion that capitalists extract surplus value, and so it misses the basic problem capitalists faced in the South. Where the population density is low, gardens can produce nearly year-round, and the requirements for fuel and shelter are small, an unambitious man can simply withdraw his labor and live off the land. This is exactly what many poor Southern Whites did, and this is exactly what many poor Southern Blacks did after emancipation.

Thoreau gave us a philosophic defense of "becoming rich by making our wants few," but his Walden strategy was really much harder up north, where the forced inactivity of winter forced a corresponding hyperactivity in summer. This natural fact was reinforced by a Puritan culture that looked down on what we today call "slackers," but the fact remains that it was much easier to live the life of a no-account slacker where the season of frost is very short.

I realize I've wandered off topic, but to return your post, it is wrong to suppose that no economic activity has occurred when I cut a cord of wood and put it in my shed, but that some economic activity has occurred when I cut a cord of wood and put it in yours.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Olmsted saw some of that in The Cotton Kingdom , which I wrote about earlier