Twitter cuts (#63)

Certain reactosphere tendencies could find a valuable corrective in this. (First tweet is throat clearing, second is context without a link.)


XS take-away: Huge problem with the institution of slavery was the weakness of exit-options on the side of the slave-owners.

May 6, 2016admin 35 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Political economy

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35 Responses to this entry

  • Ahote Says:

    Enlightenment historians were big on idealization and mischaracterization of Greeks and Romans… Greeks were very superstitious and believed in all kinds of magicks and soothsaying, Romans were hyper-religious. Dark Ages Western Europe and the Old West American Frontier are probably the best-known examples of anarcho-capitalism in practice, and hence of immense interest for study.

    [Reply]

    Chris P Michael Reply:

    I can already hear the AnCap cries of “but the NAP!”

    [Reply]

    Ahote Reply:

    I don’t know, they tend to sort of like the Wild West and the Dark Ages both, but, I suppose it depends on an AnCap in question.

    [Reply]

    Posted on May 6th, 2016 at 5:28 pm Reply | Quote
  • frank Says:

    Robustness is just temporal transfer of fragility. Subject your system to chaos now or be damned later.

    [Reply]

    Posted on May 6th, 2016 at 5:39 pm Reply | Quote
  • Dutch_Nepal Says:

    “Europe wasn’t recovering from the COLLAPSE of Rome. They were recovering FROM Rome.”

    That’s Spengler’s case in a nutshell.

    [Reply]

    Posted on May 6th, 2016 at 5:46 pm Reply | Quote
  • Brett Stevens Says:

    Rome was not a single thing. It, like the United States, changed greatly over time, at some point contributing to its demise.

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    Posted on May 6th, 2016 at 6:15 pm Reply | Quote
  • Bettega Says:

    Those historians are the kind of people who look at Romania since the fall of communism and say it has declined, because they can’t build something like the Palace of the Parliament again.

    [Reply]

    Posted on May 6th, 2016 at 7:09 pm Reply | Quote
  • Anon. Says:

    Ptolemaic Egypt suffered from a similar problem. And quite probably the American South as well. Slavery creates a set of incentives for capital owners that hurts industrialization/capital accumulation, and therefore long-term productivity growth.

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    Posted on May 6th, 2016 at 7:53 pm Reply | Quote
  • Drunkvidiualist Says:

    Clueless. Serfdom a step back for normal coloni and same place for adscripticii

    [Reply]

    Posted on May 6th, 2016 at 8:36 pm Reply | Quote
  • Zimriel Says:

    Emmet Scott and Henri Pirenne before him agree: they say that it wasn’t the fall of Rome that did for the West, but the fall of Alexandria. First to Khusro II and then, more permanently, to the Arabs.

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    Posted on May 6th, 2016 at 11:43 pm Reply | Quote
  • SVErshov Says:

    in Caribean slaves some times run away into jungles by whole clans and nobody went hunting them down like in movies. so, there was some Exit which lead to extinction. in opposite clans who decided to stay survives.

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    Posted on May 7th, 2016 at 4:30 am Reply | Quote
  • wu-wei Says:

    Does this say something about the exit-options of our diversocrat civil services economy?

    [Reply]

    Posted on May 7th, 2016 at 10:54 am Reply | Quote
  • Rogue Planet Says:

    Exit options seem to be inching dangerously (worryingly?) close to the status of transcendental foundations. Surely that would be quite the tangle for a view that asserts itself as firmly *outside* of the political? (Even one at home with contradiction)

    [Reply]

    Posted on May 8th, 2016 at 10:09 am Reply | Quote
  • AnomalyUK Says:

    “Huge problem with the institution of slavery was the weakness of exit-options on the side of the slave-owners.”

    I don’t quite follow this: do you mean the slave-owners couldn’t leave the empire (because there was nothing much beyond it), or that they couldn’t exit the slave system?

    There were fairly peaceful semi-autonomous “client states” around the edges of the empire; would it not have been possible for innovative Romans to pursue these allegedly superior strategies in that kind of environment?

    A machine-based society has only arisen independently once, so there is little we can say about what can produce one. I am not convinced that a handful of clever ideas are sufficient to make it possible. There are development cycles of production, failure and refinement that have to be gone through before you get something more efficient than a slave system.

    If you need the coincidence of relative internal stability (to allow capital accumulation) and relatively independent commoners (to provide a population capable of upskilling to technical work), that’s a narrow path between anarchy and slavery to be threaded. @hbdchick’s work on manorialism comes to mind. (https://hbdchick.wordpress.com/2014/11/19/medieval-manorialisms-selection-pressures/ )

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    I mean that chattel slavery is a sticky, paternalistic social bond, setting a limit upon neglect. There’s a reactionary attachment to it on precisely these grounds. Tech-comms tend to be colder.

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    Ahote Reply:

    >chattel slavery is a sticky, paternalistic social bond…

    …that causes the untold problems later on. England had luck, not only did it abolish serfdom early, but it also had an enclosure movement that ended the subsistence farming. Russia not only adopted serfdom very, very late (when it made no sense to do so), but lacked enclosure movement after abolition of serfdom (and this Distributist utopia in Russia didn’t end very well as we’re all aware). Too bad that Russian classical liberals like Boris Chicherin (his program of Russian Liberalism was great, shame that it wasn’t implemented) failed to exert more influence and enact the reforms in time.

    [Reply]

    Posted on May 8th, 2016 at 3:05 pm Reply | Quote
  • Oliver Cromwell Says:

    I just love this magical lump of labour tech-makes-everyone-unemployed bullshit.

    If the technology level of the fucking Roman Empire was enough to terk everyone’s jerb, how do you think anyone was employed in 1850 let alone 1975?

    Serfdom was introduced by Domitian and imposed on free citizens, not slaves. It was a form of War Communism and had the same purpose: supply the army in the absence of a functioning monetary economy at the expense of everything else. Although Domitian didn’t fuck up Rome’s monetary economy, or at least wasn’t the first to do so, he did formalise its destruction, rather than try to recover it.

    Under Domitian’s feudalism you could not leave your profession, your children had to follow you into your profession, you had to pay your taxes in kind, and the amount of goods and services you had to render the state didn’t change according to their scarcity. Feudalism/War Communism was strictly *inferior* to slavery where Roman slave owners could and did change slaves’ jobs at will, trade their produce in a monetarised market, send slaves to work in distant cities, and even free and continue to employ their slaves as salaried workers.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Technology substitutes for, and at least compels the redeployment of, labor — that doesn’t require anything like a ‘lump of labor’ theory.

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    Oliver Cromwell Reply:

    Yes, technology substitutes for labour, resulting in rising *wages*, not rising *unemployment*.

    In a slave system rising wages may be more internalised by owners than workers, although the extent to which this is true may be debated. That is the only difference.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Not sure who you think is arguing for the case you’re attacking. I don’t see it in the original tweet storm (and I’m certainly not introducing it). Tech throws labor markets into turbulence. The argument that chattel slavery reduces labor flexibility, and thus the opportunity to adapt, doesn’t seem implausible (does it?). In any case, it’s entirely compatible with the points you’re insisting upon.

    Oliver Cromwell Reply:

    Perhaps we interpreted it differently, but:

    “grinding metal edges, fulling cloth, hammering metal and drawing wire, and making paper. But why would they? … The slaves would be standing around whining about how there was nothing to do – danger!”

    I interpret as saying Rome deliberately declined an industrial revolution because they were worried that the slaves would rebel when the machines terk their jerbs.

    The imagery of even slaves loving their jerbs rather than their income (such as it was) is kind of amusing, though he probably meant something more like, “The devil finds work for idle thumbs.”.

    I do not see why you cannot have an industrial economy in which machines multiply the labour of slaves rather than free persons. In any case, we know that you can maintain full employment with tech development far above Roman levels, because we do it.

    admin Reply:

    The last sentence, in particular, is the point I don’t think anybody is contesting. (Predictable Luddite protest and labor dislocation =/= permanent unemployment.)

    Oliver Cromwell Reply:

    We actually know why the Romans instituted feudalism (Diocletian specifically) and it was not for that reason. It was to extract supplies for the imperial army by taxation in kind after the emperors wrecked the currency.

    Oliver Cromwell Reply:

    [For maximum clarity – “lump of labour” is a necessary assumption for substitution of labour to result in unemployment rather than rising wages. Even then, it’s not obvious why it would not simply result in reduced working hours.

    The fact that we robustly observe rising wages coinciding with tech development and do not and have never observed rising wages coinciding with tech development should have buried this discussion a few centuries ago.]

    [Reply]

    Oliver Cromwell Reply:

    *…do not and have never observed rising unemployment coinciding with tech development…

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    Ahote Reply:

    How do you interpret the opposition by “nativists” to the free trade (not that we have anything even remotely resembling the free trade)? Cheap imports are like free stuff falling from the sky! And yet, people shake their hand angrily and yell at the sky.

    [Reply]

    wu-wei Reply:

    How do you interpret the opposition by “nativists” to the free trade (not that we have anything even remotely resembling the free trade)? Cheap imports are like free stuff falling from the sky! And yet, people shake their hand angrily and yell at the sky.

    It’s a public choice problem. The benefits of free-trade are opaque distributed; the negative effects are transparent and visceral. Societies increased purchasing power is of benefit to everyone, but getting laid off because your job “moved” to China is obvious and deeply unsettling.

    wu-wei Reply:

    That was meant to be more in response to Cromwell.

    Yes, we have seen average real incomes rise in Western countries over the last 300~ years, though this has not been an entirely predictable nor linear process. Why should we expect that trend to necessarily continue, inexorably, into the future?

    Ahote Reply:

    @wu-wei

    I still don’t see how anyone sane can claim it’s bad that free stuff falling from the sky. I suppose that if it started raining doughnuts it would hurt the local doughnut industry, but still… I see no other reason for complaining than simple selfishness. It’s like saying “To hell with everyone, subsidize me for existing!”

    Grotesque Body Reply:

    @Ahote

    When you get used to free stuff you forget how to make it yourself. If you get used to cheap imports you become dependent on the trade partner, and you either become their bitch in the long run or you rectify the situation with force (as the English did when they could see themselves becoming dependent on Chinese tea).

    wu-wei Reply:

    @Ahote

    That’s pretty much how people like Bryan Caplan or Scott Sumner see it as well. If you happen to be an egalitarian universalist like they are, then the conclusion is obvious: there is no moral reason to exclude free-trade, for the sake of relatively well-off Americans, to the very real detriment of much poorer Chinese. I’m personally somewhat sympathetic to this view, and don’t really have an answer which I find entirely satisfying.

    If I understand Land’s view correctly, “we” (whatever you take that to mean) should organize “society” in a way which maximizes the production toward the technological singularity; whether or not policies of that application happen to coincide toward the benefit of some abstraction of “humanity” (whether universal or of some particularism) is ultimately irrelevant. If “free-trade” is a policy which matches this goal, great; if not, away with it.

    If, on the other hand, we consider it solely from the view of the current-account deficit polity, there are other possible answers. Grotesque Body’s answer for example is a good one. I think there really is no reason to necessarily consider principled free trade an inevitable “good” from the particularist perspective, although it does of course depend on how exactly you define “good”.

    Ahote Reply:

    @wu-wei

    I’m not egalitarian, I just don’t like welfare in any way, shape, or form – it’s always degenerate. Grotesque Body’s answer is OK as far as defense is concerned, it would indeed be foolish to rely on others for your military hardware… but, who cares if broom handles and plastic junk are manufactured in China (especially when you are the one who produces all the technology and the capital goods)?

    [Reply]

    Posted on May 9th, 2016 at 5:39 am Reply | Quote
  • TheDividualist Says:

    >Serfdom was a gigantic step forward over the slave-based economy of the empire

    Wrong, Romans invented serfdom, colonus esp. colonus adscripticius = serf. OTOH slavery lived on up to the *High* Middle Ages: look up Malcolm Canmore’s slaving raids. At best one can say the ratios changed, but the colonus/servus ratio was already low in later Roman times because they did not have enough successful expansive wars in order to capture a lot of slaves. Anyway, about coloni:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonus_%28person%29

    “A colonus was a tenant farmer from the late Roman Empire and Early Middle Ages. Known plurally as coloni or colonate, these farmers were sharecroppers, who paid back landowners with a portion of their crops, in exchange for use of their farmlands. The coloni’s tenant-landlord relationship eventually degraded into one of debt and dependence. As a result, the colonus became a new type of land tenancy, in which the occupants were placed in a state between freedom and slavery.”

    “Justinian modified law based upon taxation, distribution of land, and types of coloni. When describing the agricolae censiti, or coloni whom had been given the census, Justinian explicitly mentions a type of coloni, known as coloni adscripticii, which were considered non-free and are comparable to slaves.

    An estate owner could claim a laborer as a colonus adscripticius with the intention that this person would provide him services. The landowner would also need to show proof through two documents, such as a conductio instrumentum (a labor contract), or a copy of the publici census adscription (a receipt of his enrollment into the public tax register). These documents would prevent people from being unknowingly drawn into the adscripticii, as such contracts were often not able to be annulled. By signing into a contract, a man would sign his family, children, and self into the adscripticii. The birth status, or origo, of this family and descendants would thus be adscripticii. According to the rules of international private law, one’s origo determined their hometown, public and private law system, and the public tasks they must perform (punera and honores). In the cases of the colonus adscripticius, their hometown was substituted or replaced with the estate of the landowner. Therefore, the land owner could summon one of his colonus farmers to perform duties, such as the way a town could summon its citizen to perform public duties. The landowner of the estate could sell his property, and the coloni adscripticii tied to the estate would be forced to work for the new owner. Thus, they were forced to do the bidding of the landowner, attached to a specific plot of land, and bound to the contract indefinitely. The only difference between the coloni and slaves, was that the coloni were attached to a specific piece of land and could not be sold or separated from it.”

    [Reply]

    Oliver Cromwell Reply:

    As stated:

    “Originally, a colonus was a mutual relationship in which a landowner allowed a tenant use of their land, in return for a portion of the farmed crops. However, under the rule of Emperor Diocletian, there was a reform in the taxation system, to which many historians attribute as the cause of the shift in the tenant-landowner relationship. During his time in power, during the fourth century, there were several constitutional laws created for the purpose of tying coloni to the land in order to increase land taxes and poll taxes.”

    Diocletian created feudalism and arguably destroyed the antique world, although given his situation his actions are at least understandable.

    The distinguishing mark of feudalism was not exploitation of tenants by land owners (which was as old as the hills), but maximum labour market rigidity. Even non-serfs were subjected to this via the guild system.

    Diocletian destroyed the free market economy in Rome and this directly led to the depopulation of the cities, collapse of the division of labour, and a thousand year dark age.

    [I incorrectly stated Domitian in my previous post – should also be Diocletian.]

    [Reply]

    Posted on May 9th, 2016 at 7:31 am Reply | Quote

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