Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The End of Empire

I am reading The End of Empire: Attila the Hun & the Fall of Rome by Christopher Kelly.

The Roman Empire came into being around the beginning of the Common Era with Julius and Augustus Caesar. The book focuses on Attila and the incursions of his forces into Roman territory in the fifth century, and continues to the fall of the western Roman empire towards the end of that century. Of course the Byzantine Empire in the east continued to regard itself as the Roman Empire for another millennium. (See the timeline.)

I have been trying to understand the forces involved in the fall of the empire rather than the specific leaders and events described in this book. In doing so, it occurs to me that the emphasis on the empire is associated with a concern for political institutions and benchmarks in the life and death of those institutions. That is rather an odd frame.

Think of the 20th century. Most of us (at least of a certain age) can trace our families over the course of the century. The family may have stayed in place or moved from country to city, from city to city or from country to country. It may have lived under one or several governments. Yet the view is the continuity from parents to children, from generation to generation. We think of the family members in 1900 as pretty much like those of 2000, although they may be more or less educated, or indeed speak different languages and be citizens of different countries. The family history perspective is one of continuity. This is in spite of the fact that there were two world wars, that the Nazi and Soviet empires came and went. (Indeed, I was surprised to think of the United States military expeditions into Europe in the two world wars as a parallel to the entry of the Huns into the Roman empire in the fifth century; in both cases the military expeditions were critical to the history of the continent even though they were not intended to conquer territory in order to hold it as part of an expanded empire.)

Roman Empire at its maximum extension

Archaeologists apparently have shown that the towns and cities in the area controlled by the Roman Empire declined in size in the latter years of empire and at the same time increased the size of their walls and fortifications. The implication is that the population density of southern Europe and North Africa was going down.

There seem to be several reasons that the population was going down.
  • There seems to have been a climate change that made the weather colder during the half millennium of the Western Roman Empire's life.
  • Familiar to readers of Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, the peoples of the time may have depleted their environment progressively over time until a climate change occurred which could not be survived at their peak population density.
  • Familiar to readers of William McNeill's Plagues and Peoples, the improved transportation and mobility developed by the Romans, combined with the increased urbanization, probably unleashed epidemics with unprecedented mortality within the empire. If people were seeking shelter from colder weather, that too may have increased the transmission of communicable diseases.
  • In the later days of empire, bringing food from where it was available to where it was needed became much more difficult.
The Romans were able to finance government during the expansion of Roman power by the loot and slaves acquired by conquest. Those sources failed when the Romans stabilized their frontiers, and in the latter times of the empire as its size decreased, the area under taxation decreased. Government expenditures grew with government income but did not decrease when government income went down. One of the responses to these trends was to debase currency, which had deleterious effects on trade. Of course, other impacts may have been to decrease government expenditures on transportation infrastructure. Reportedly, while the government increasingly had to recruit its military from outside of Latinized areas by increasing pay for the troops, it was also having to reduce the quality of weapons and armor due to lack of funding.

The Western and Eastern Roman Empires circa 476

The latter times of empire were also a time in which Vandals, Goths, Huns and other peoples were moving. One can assume that the climate that favored the Romans during the Republic may have helped increase the populations of the non-Roman tribal peoples, and that cooler climates may have encouraged their migration, and as some tribes moved they could force the movement of others that they were replacing. The peoples who were on the edges of the Roman Empire may not have been as much affected by the factors mentioned above as were the Romans. On the other hand, they may have had to develop military technology to withstand the Roman incursions and attempts at conquest. The invention of the stirrup in Northern Europe has been cited as contributing to the success of barbarian cavalry.

Thus the increasing military power of the barbarian tribes and the increasing vulnerability of the Romans led to contraction of empire, with still less imperial ability to resist the barbarian incursions and conquests, and eventually to the fall of the Roman government of the Western Empire. It seems quite reasonable to me that there would be many causes interrelated in complex ways.

It also seems quite reasonable that there would have been a lot of continuity. As English is a lot more common in continental Europe in 2000 than it was in 1900 (even though England and the United States hold no territory in continental Europe in 2000), so too Latin was more common in the area once held by the Western European Roman Empire after its fall. The people remained, and their culture combined elements from the Romans with those of the barbarian conquerors (and no doubt elements predating both, and new elements invented over time).

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thinking Again About What Caused the Civil War

If you asked someone at random from South Carolina in 1866 whether leading the South into secession had been a good idea, and if they liked the results of firing on Fort Sumter, it seems that the likely answer would be no. In the interim something like 620,000 people had died in the Civil War, the slaves had been emancipated without any payment to their former owners, and Sherman's troops had marched through the center of the state killing, confiscating and burning.

Virginia, one of the last states to try to secede from the Union saw armies fight around Washington, up and down the Shenandoah Valley, down the roads from Washington to Richmond, and up the Peninsula to Richmond. It young men had been killed and wounded, its slaves emancipated, its property ruined, and West Virginia had seceded from the State. This in spite of the fact that many in the state had wanted to end slavery, and many were devoted to the Union.

Lincoln had made it clear that he wanted to keep the Union whole, that he was bound as President by the Constitution, and clearly hated the misery and killing during years of war.

From our modern perspective it seems clear that slavery was on its way out globally, and that it would not survive the 19th century. We know that military technology was making warfare more terrible. We can see that a solution in which the Union was preserved, slavery was not extended into new territories and states, slaves were eventually emancipated with compensation to the slave holders, and peace was maintained should have been possible and should have been better for the country and its people. Indeed, some people in the South and some in the North could see this before the Civil War.

If countries made decisions as people do, one could put the war down to a failure of imagination, the inability of the decision maker to see clearly the implications of the option that was chosen for the country, nor to recognize possible alternatives and their costs and benefits. Indeed, far too many of the leading politicians in the North and in the South suffered from such a failure of imagination.

But countries are not individual decision makers. While very imperfect, the United States was a democracy and I suppose the case must be made that it was the decision making within its imperfect political institutions that led to war.

The South Carolina political system was dominated by people of wealth based on slave holding, people who believed myths of American military superiority that came out of the Revolutionary War, the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812, and the Mexican American War. Southerners believed rumors that Lincoln was a radical abolitionist and that the Republican party would act rashly.

Northerners too had their own myths and rumors. Certainly it took years of war for those in the North to understand the kind of warfare that would be required to win, the financial and human sacrifices that the northern states would be called upon to make pursuing the war.

The political institutions empowered people who made bad decisions for their states and for the nation. Fortunately, they also empowered Lincoln and his Team of Rivals who were able to prosecute the war to preserve the Union, and incidentally to plan for the transcontinental railway, to create the Land Grant Colleges, to create means of financing the war including an income tax and paper money, and to create the National Academy of Sciences laying the foundations for the economic boom after the Civil War and modern America. But one must consider that other institutions might have avoided war entirely and found an even better solution for the country and its future.

Indeed, one might go further and suggest that a better educated citizenry might both have more widely appreciated the dangers of the path that the nation was taken, more actively promoted alternative paths including much better paths, and indeed to have reformed American political institutions to avoid the failures that led to the Civil War. Perhaps it was the educational system of the United States that was at fault.

As I write this it seems quite possible that the Europeans will fail to find a solution to Europe's economic problems, that the Americans will continue in deadlock on economic policy and that the world will descend into an economic depression. The Occupy movement and the Tea Party movement seem to agree at least on the proposition that something is very wrong with the way our political and economic institutions are working right now. Our people do not seem able to fully understand the implications of the policies that are being advocated, nor to throw up new and better alternatives in such a way that they are likely to be accepted.

You know the story from the old west of the cowboy who rode up to a cactus patch, stripped off his clothes and jumped in. When asked why he did so, he said "it seemed like a good idea at the time".

Now we may start telling the story of that cowboy's descendant who drives his Hummer up to a biodigester, get out of the car wearing only his bathing suit. and jumps in. Will he too, when asked why, say "it seemed like a good idea at the time"?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Is this eating the seed corn?

Source of the Graph: Global Higher Ed blog

Decreasing the public funding for higher education seems a very bad idea for the long term future of our country. In the increasingly global economy, countries either compete by being smart of by being cheap. I would prefer the United States competes by being smart, and that implies a highly educated workforce.

In dealing with our nation's increasingly complex problems, we need a smart and educated electorate. That means college educated people.

I also believe that if our country is to regain the promise of opportunity for all, we need to be more rather than less equal. That means more rather than fewer college educated people. It especially does not mean that kids who come from poor families not being able to attend college for lack of resources.

That does not mean that we should use tax payer funds to support kids who are not prepared for college, who will not work hard in college, or who are going to study subjects unrelated to our economic, political or social needs.  But the trend is not reasuring!

A thought about Israeli policy towards the Palestinians

AFP reports that Israel will cut off transfers of the Palestinian funds it has collected to the Palestinian Authority and will cut off water and electricity to Gaza if Hamas comes to an agreement with the Fatah officials of the Palestinian Authority.
A unity government deal "would transform the Palestinian Authority into a terrorist authority and would put an end to any hope for a peace agreement" with Israel, said Ayalon, who is also a Knesset deputy from the nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party.
The United States and the United Nations are in favor of a two state solution, and I don/t see how there can be a two state solution unless Gaza and the West Bank are united into a single state.

The Israeli government might be better advised to see what a unified Palestinian political body might do, rather than take steps that would guarantee an end to the peace process, not to mention more misery for so many Palestinian people.

The American people have a permanent link with the people of Israel. We also have great sympathy for the Arab peoples, and feel for the Palestinian people. Our empathy for these peoples does not mean that the U.S. Government will always approve of nor support every action of their governments. At what point with the U.S. Government stop supporting the Netanyahu administration in Israel? When will we join so many of the European governments in opposing Netanyahu's actions? I don't know the answer, but building more Israeli sites in the West Bank, withholding funds from the Palestinian Authority, and cutting off water and electricity from Gaza makes that moment a lot more likely in the near future.

What do Catch 22 and Shakespear's later plays have in common

People at different times find the works' meanings are important to them, but report that the meanings are different. Perhaps the great works have the power to affect our emotions and trigger our willingness to identify with their characters, but an ambiguity that allows us to infer different meanings according to our own needs.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A thought about a historical parallel to today's reform movements

I have been reading The Age of Reform by Richard Hofstadter.  The book first published in 1955, won a Pulitzer Prize. The early part of the book deals with Populism around the 1890s. That was a time in which the United States was changing rapidly. Notably, it was an age of industrialization, large scale immigration, and urban growth. It was an age in which some were accumulating great wealth, an age of conspicuous consumption by those wealthy families.

It was also a time in which there was an agricultural depression, especially problematic in the west and south. The United States was on a gold standard, implying tight money, causing more problems for farmers. It was widely recognized that coining silver money would increase the money supply  and increase the availability of credit; adding silver money would also be inflationary, making it easier to pay off existing debts. Not incidentally, it would be very good for the economies of the mountain states with silver mines.

Thus there were real problems and opportunities. Hofstadter points out that the response was also conditioned by myths, such as the myth of the American yeoman farmer (where American farmers were by that time commercial and organized politically), and folklore, such as the purported evil of Wall Street and London financiers. The Populist movement is described as arising out of legitimate concerns mixed with the this ideology based significantly on ideas which are based on myths and folklore rather than facts. Hofstadter points out that the malaise caused by real problems resulted in countervailing political positions in people who started from different myths and folklore.

I wonder if we are seeing a comparable situation as the Occupy and Tea Party movements respond to similar concerns but different myths and folklore about society.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The United States Should Ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child

It is 22 years since the Convention on the Rights of the Child was signed, and it has been ratified by 194 nations, all of the nations of the United Nations except the United States of America and Somalia. Apparently the reason for U.S. reluctance to join the rest of the world in protecting children everywhere is that our military insists that they have to be able to enlist children under the age of 18, and the Convention bars military service for children. It is long past time for our ratification of the Convention.

“Equal rights for all, special privileges for none”

Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Apparently this phrase was used as a slogan by the supporters of Andrew Jackson in 1836, and by the Populist movement in the 1890s. Not a bad rule for today!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Is Technology the Culprit?

I quote from The Economist magazine:
THE rich world’s crisis of unemployment would be painful enough on its own, but it comes on the heels of a generation of labour-market stagnation. Growth in inflation-adjusted incomes in the rich world slowed sharply as early as the 1970s. In America, median household income has actually fallen since 1999. Economic growth continues, but not all see the rewards. By some estimates, the top 1% of American earners captured 58% of the country’s economic growth between 1976 and 2007. 
Scapegoats, from crony capitalists to foreign-currency manipulators, are in no short supply, but technology is increasingly fingered as a culprit. Some economists reckon the problem with technology is that there is too little of it.
Guns don't kill people, people do (all too often with guns). So too, technology doesn't screw up the economy and deprive the middle class of the ability to appropriate some of the benefits of growth to themselves, it is the policies that we allow our politicians to impose upon us.  The example is Japan's decision to give up the gun early after the introduction of firearms in that country.

A couple of interesting results from the 2011 American Values Survey

I quote from the survey:

I am reminded that it matters quite a bit how questions are asked in a survey like this. The ideal of America is that "all men are created equal", endowed by their creator with rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Clearly, we have not reached that ideal, and clearly the lack of equal opportunity is a problem; people may not feel it is as important a problem as creating more jobs, or they may feel that it is a longer term problem than job creation and thus not as important at this moment. Others problems are also important and urgently in need of solutions such as avoiding a global depression, reducing the deficit, and making Washington politics less dysfunctional.

If the question had been raised as the lack of upward mobility for most young Americans rather than equality of opportunity I would have given a different answer. If 99 percent of our children don't find American a land of opportunity, and the indicators are that they don't, that is a major problem.

Similarly, I don't think the issue of some differences in income -- say between the three middle quintiles -- are a huge problem. What is a huge problem is that the top one percent of the population has too much of the nation's income and wealth, and they have appropriated the lions share of increases in wealth for themselves for decades. If the question had been asked about the salaries and bonuses for Wall Street executives, the statistics might look a lot different.

Trends in Patent Applications

Source: The Economist
It is perhaps interesting to look at this history of patenting. The obvious feature of the chart is that the total patenting activity in these places has expanded greatly in the six decades covered.

In 1950, the United States was dominant. Since that time, while the United has greatly increased its patenting, other countries have also increased rapidly. In fact there was a period of three decades in which Japan out-patented the United States.

The European Patent Office opened in 1978. Before that time individual European nations must have been patenting, but the decimated economies left from World War II would have limited the frequency of inventions in Europe in the period prior to the founding of the European Patent Office.

In the more recent decades one can see the rapid increase of patenting in China, South Korea and more recently India. Even though the rate of patenting in Japan has dropped in recent years, it appears that East Asia is innovating more rapidly than North America of Europe. That may be partly due to the emphasis on manufacturing in East Asian economies as compared to the emphasis on services in North America and Europe.

Are the Inmates Running the Asylum?

I have been thinking a lot about the decision by the UNESCO General Conference to admit Palestine to membership, the campaign leading to that vote, and the aftermath. The whole scene makes me wonder if the inmates are running the asylum.

One argument made by the United States delegation against admitting Palestine to full membership in UNESCO was that so doing would be detrimental to the Israel-Palestine peace process.
  • The idea that Palestine becoming a member of an organization whose very purpose is the promotion of peace would be detrimental to the peace process seems unintuitive.
  • This is especially true since Palestine already has observer status with UNESCO, so that its representatives are present in UNESCO's deliberations and hallways, may speak, and have all the rights of a member except voting rights. As a member, Palestine will now have one among 196 votes in the General Conference. That doesn't seem much of a threat.
  • UNESCO has a budget which is less than a quarter of that of my local school board for a global program seeking to advance peace through promotion of education, science, culture and communications. How much harm could be done by Palestinian membership in such a small organization?
  • The one way that this would certainly become detrimental to the peace process would be to make a big deal of the admission. The United States delegation promptly made a big deal of the admission in the Executive Council, in the General Conference and in the aftermath of the vote.
Are the inmates running the asylum?

Another argument that the U.S. delegation used is that the decision about Palestinian membership in the United Nations family of organizations should be made in the venue of the United Nations itself. The U.S. position was that UNESCO was acting prematurely as Palestine had not been admitted to UN membership.
  • The Constitution of UNESCO is supposed to have been written in the U.S. State Department and when UNESCO was created the United States had enormous influence on its form and functions. That Constitution specifies that "states not members of the United Nations Organization may be admitted to membership of the (UNESCO) Organization, upon recommendation of the Executive Board, by a two-thirds majority vote of the General Conference." Many other specialized agencies of the United Nations family allow membership of countries that are not members of the United Nations.
  • The United States delegation to the United Nations was simultaneously vigorously seeking that the United Nations should not consider the application of Palestine for membership; it had announced that it would veto consideration of the application if it came to the UN Security Council.

Are the inmates running the asylum?

The United States, immediately following the vote announced that it would withhold all funding from UNESCO. Since the United States provides 22 percent of the assessed contributions to UNESCO in addition to making voluntary contributions to fund specific projects, this has caused a financial crisis for the UNESCO secretariat. The basis for this action is a law which "prohibits U.S. contributions to any affiliated organization of the United Nations or to the United Nations if they grant full membership as a state to a group that does not have internationally recognized attributes of statehood." Thus, the government is in the position of holding that Palestine is not a state.
  • The United States, with bipartisan agreement, supports a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; is that not in conflict with the idea that Palestine is not a state?
  • Most of the countries in the world recognize Palestine as a state. More than two thirds of the member states voting in the UNESCO General Conference voted to admit Palestine as a member state.
  • The Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, which the United States has ratified and cited in supporting the application by Israel for United Nations membership,  states that "The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: a ) a permanent population; b ) a defined territory; c ) government; and d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states." It apparently has been argued simultaneously that Palestine is not a state because its boundaries with Israel are not agreed upon, and that Israel is a state in spite of the fact that its boundaries with Palestine have not been agreed upon.
  • If boundary disputes are sufficient to deny statehood, how about the disputes among China, India and Pakistan over Kashmir? Does anyone think that they are not states? Should the United States withhold contributions to any UN organization that admits one or more states having boundary disputes?
Are the inmates running the asylum?

When the decision was announced that Palestine would be accepted as a member state:
  • The Palestinian authorities, who have still not ratified their accession document and assumed the membership that they fought for, announced that they would go on to seek membership in 16 more UN agencies, then announced that they would not do so, and then announced that they might do so.
  • The Obama administration sought membership on the UNESCO Executive Council in spite of the statement that the U.S. would withhold its contributions to UNESCO, and was elected to a four year term.
  • The Israeli government announced that it would sanction Palestine by withholding the transfer of the Palestinian taxes from the Palestinian authority; it then reversed the decision when the Israeli Defense Forces said that that transfer was necessary to Israeli security.
  • The Obama administration argued that it strongly supported UNESCO, that UNESCO programs were important to U.S. foreign policy, that cutting off voluntary contributions to UNESCO would damage U.S. interests in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that it would withhold both assessed and voluntary contributions from the organization.
Are the inmates running the asylum?

While the Arab League condemned the government of Syria for human rights abuses, UNESCO retains Syria on its Executive Board. It is the Executive Board that first accepted funds from Equatorial Guinea to establish a prize in the name of President Obiang, then reversed itself on the basis of Obiang's human rights record; the prize controversy won't go away. Now UNESCO is accepting a $2 million voluntary contribution from the Government of Gabon; according to Amnesty International, "Titularly a republic, Gabon's government is a centralized, autocratic presidential bureaucracy where power is distributed largely through patronage."

Are the inmates running the asylum?

The inmates from King of Hearts
p.s. King of Hearts was a very memorable film!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A thought about the Internet of Things

I was watching a steaming video of a panel discussion from the ITU Telecom 2011 meeting on The Internet of Things. The discussion was based on predictions that there might be as many as 50 billion things connected to the Internet by 2020. That comes to more than six things per person in the world, or more than 24 things for per family assuming the average family size is four persons. And of course the assumption is that the number of things connected to the Internet will continue to climb.

Patrice Lyon in the discussion mentioned that her company is working on the idea of packages of information about things. If your refrigerator is "connected to the Internet" what it means is that there is a portion of the refrigerator that contains (in some subsystem) information (obtained in some way) that can be transmitted via the Internet, and that (some subsystem) can also obtain information (to be used in  some way) from the Internet. If I understood her correctly, the packages of information need not come from the thing itself. Thus the information about your refrigerator might come not only from the refrigerator's connection to the Internet, but also from the stores at which you buy things to be refrigerated, from the dealer from which you bought the refrigerator. Of course one would need giant computing capacity to access the information about a specific thing from all the possible sources of information connected to the Internet, to analyze that data, and to draw conclusions. But there is a lot of computer power in the world today and there should be much more in the future.

I recall that centuries ago someone suggested that eventually there would be one motor in every household. At the time, at the birth of the steam engine, the prediction seemed incredible. So how many motors do you have in your home? How many electric clocks, each with its own motor? How many of your appliances have motors? Are you remembering to count the cooling fans in your computers? There may indeed be many things in your house soon connected to the Internet. More importantly, if you can not easily answer now how many fans you have, how easy will it be to answer how many things you have in your house connected to the Internet? Will they fade into the background of your consciousness? How about in your office?

The participants in the panel discussed "users" of Internet connected devices. I started to wonder who would be the users. In the case of my refrigerator, one might assume that my family and I would be the users, but how about the store from which we will buy the food to replenish the refrigerator? How about the electric company that may wish to reduce the energy use by the refrigerator under certain conditions, say by recognizing that no one was home and reducing the use of heating or air conditioning for the house as a whole, adjusting the energy consumption of the refrigerator according to current outside temperatures and predicted future energy requirements and costs? How about my health care provider, checking to see that my eating habits are healthy?

Now how many of use really understand the electronics in our lives, or the information being transmitted via the Internet? Would you really know if the government called for sensors to be incorporated in all household appliances to monitor people in their vicinity and what they were saying and doing, in order to send the information to the government via the Internet (as the appliances were also sending more legitimate information to other users for other legitimate purposes)? Would you know if sensors were already so incorporated in some of the devices you use?

Now that I have tried to trigger your paranoia, lets worry a little bit about the "users" of the Internet of things.

And remember, you too are a thing. We are already inserting radio frequency identification devices in animals. I can easily imagine our medical systems evolving to a point where every patient would be implanted with devices to monitor health indicators and communicate via the Internet with the doctors, nurses and pharmacist, where everyone would be always identified as a patient.

Orwell was a piker when he thought about big brother watching us!


Friday, November 18, 2011

Cultural Relativism: Is there a way out?

I have been reading about the Roman Empire and I recently saw a television program comparing the Mongol, Mali and Inca Empires. Of course, by the standards of those Empires the United States is also an empire with more than 300 million people spread over 50 states.

Mongol Empire circa 1300
The program comparing the three empires of course dealt with the ways in which a central tribe was able to rule a large area (ability to communicate over distance, rapid military movements, ability to support military forces in the field). It did not focus on the huge differences among those three empires. The Mongols lived on the steppes of Central Asia while the Incas lived in the Andes. The Mongols were a horse culture while the Incas had no large beasts of burden. The Mongols were pastoralists while the Incas were farmers. The Mongols were literate while the Incas depended on the Quipu for communicating information.
Mali Empire circa 1200

I think we may tend to compare empires, and indeed to spend a lot of time studying empires, because we attach positive value to the simple fact that they are political entities that include large numbers of people disbursed over large geographical areas. That may well be an implicit value of our culture, absorbed rather than learned, but non the less influential in our attitudes and conduct.

Inca Empire circa 1500

I wonder, however, whether groups without imperial pretensions might often be more worthy of our attention and respect. Think of the heroism of some of the American Indians over the past few centuries as they sought ways to live and survive the onslaught of Yankee expansion. There is much to admire in their independence, in the ways of living with nature, in their communalism. Think of Sequoia inventing his own system of writing and the intellectual achievements of his Cherokee tribe.

How do we avoid ethnocentrism, avoid assuming that the values we share within our own culture are the most admirable values to be sought in all cultures? Are there things we can agree among cultures that are important values?

I suppose people agree that it is better to be healthy than sick, better to be well nourished than badly nourished, better to be fit and strong than unfit and weak, better to be bright and alert than to be dull and lethargic. Clearly cultures blessed by richer environments and better technology find it easier for their members to achieve the desired states; however, there are clearly cultural values that contribute to success in these ways.

It seems that there has been a global decrease in the rate of violent deaths from crime and conflict over time. The decrease seems to be related to the changes in culture that accompany the social and economic development complex -- longer and healthier lives, greater economic affluence, more education, greater political participation, etc. While there still seem to be many who would easily go to war or become criminals, perhaps the majority of mankind who prefer peace and security can impose those values still more widely.

Surely for the foreseeable future there will be cultural values that will divide cultures, but at least in some areas there may be cultural values that encourage development in the sense of helping people in a culture to achieve lives less burdened by sickness, malnutrition and other conditions that all would agree are undesired.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Herman Cain on Libya

This is an odd response. I would have assumed that Cain would have thought about foreign policy before choosing to run for president, and that he and his staff would have realized that he would be asked questions about Libya and Arab Spring, so I would have expected him to come loaded to respond. Clearly Cain did not want to say that Obama had done the right thing, yet clearly the Libya policy was a great success of the Obama administration. The United States was able to support the EU and the Arab League in opposing a dictator. The U.S. military support was critical to the overthrow of the Gaddafi government, and was accomplished with no loss of American lives, almost certainly saving many Libyan lives. Cain seems to have been saying that he didn't know how much information Obama had about the Gaddafi opposition in making decisions with respect to Libya, that he could not say what information would be critical in making those decisions, but that Obama might not have gotten enough information when he was making the decisions. One is left suspecting that Cain would have waited too long seeking information that simply did not exist anywhere, and would have missed a major opportunity. The fundamental point is that perhaps the key job of the president is keeping the nation safe in a dangerous would and keeping the nation prosperous in an increasingly globalized world. Foreign policy knowledge and skill should be a key concern in choosing a presidential candidate. The Republican candidates that are thought to have a chance for the nomination don't seem to know much about foreign policy, and the candidates that do know something about foreign policy don't seem to have a chance with to get the nomination.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Tech capacity in 1500 determines development today

Was the wealth of nations determined in 1000 BC?
This is an interesting graph from a paper by Comin, Easterly and Gong. I suppose the anomalous points for the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are explained by the change from indigenous populations in 1500 to populations primarily composed of European immigrants and their descendants in 2002. Argentina, Uruguay and Mexico, while not as successful as the countries with institutions derived from Great Britain, are also more successful than the technology capacity of their inhabitants in 1500 might have predicted. The British Isles and Scandinavian nations in the upper right hand cluster are also more successful than the regression line might suggest, implying something about culture perhaps.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The most violent countries

Global Burden of Armed Violence 2011

Who would have thought that our Latin American neighbors had higher violent death rates than  the Central African Republic, Sudan and the Congo! While the war in Iraq must bear the responsibility for the high rate there, one wonders whether the U.S. demand for drugs has some of the responsibility for the high rates in Latin American countries.

The Atlas of Economic Complexity: Mapping Paths to Prosperity

The Atlas is a product of people from the Center for Global Development and MIT, and well worth your review. It makes a strong case that it is the evolution of technological capacity in a society, and especially the development of the capacity to produce a wide variety of products and to produce products that are complex themselves that is most predictive of GDP and economic growth. Check out these graphs from the report:

Ghana and Thailand have both invested in education over the last four decades, and according to the top graph, Ghana has actually produced more education than Thailand in that period. Thailand has succeeded in developing much wider productive capacity than Ghana, which has seen advances followed by declines. And Thailand has greatly increased its GDP per capita while Ghana remained rather static.

A couple of quotes from the report:
The amount of knowledge embedded in a society, however, does not depend mainly on how much knowledge each individual holds. It depends, instead, on the diversity of knowledge across individuals and on their ability to combine this knowledge, and make use of it, through complex webs of interaction.
Ultimately, the complexity of an economy is related to the multiplicity of useful knowledge embedded in it. For a complex society to exist, and to sustain itself, people who know about design, marketing, finance, technology, human resource management, operations and trade law must be able to interact and combine their knowledge to make products. These same products cannot be made in societies that are missing parts of this capability set. Economic complexity, therefore, is expressed in the composition of a country’s productive output and reflects the structures that emerge to hold and combine knowledge.
Clearly, more complex economies have better institutions, more educated workers and more competitive environments, so these approaches are not completely at odds with each other or with ours. In fact, institutions, education, competitiveness and economic complexity emphasize different aspects of the same intricate reality. It is not clear, however, that these different approaches have the same ability to capture factors that are verifiably important for growth and development.
A key concept of the analysis is that nations learn to produce new products where they already produce similar products and have the necessary productive capacity to expand to the specific new product. The authors have developed a network model of the product space utilizing extensive information from the international patterns of production, as shown below:

science Journalism in the age of denial

Science journalists expressing their concerns about the mistrust that people have towards science.

Sometimes it is best to admit lack of certainty, collective wisdom is often better than that of the individual

Barack Obama, Christina Romer and Lawrence Summers
 during a news conference in Chicago, November 24, 2008.
I recently heard Ron Suskind talking about President Obama's advice from his economic policy team in 2009. He described Obama as using his considerable skills unsuccessfully in an attempt to obtain a consensus from the very capable economists. If economists of that quality could not agree on the details of a policy that would be both feasible and useful, what do you think is the likelihood that any of the lawyer-politicians now running for office has the right answers for the economy based on thorough understanding of economic theory, historical data and professional modelling and analysis? Right! Probability vanishingly small!

What then are the Republican candidates doing? They are pretending to know more than they do, and they are playing to the prejudices of the factions of their parties that they need to secure the party nomination. This probably tells us more about the failings of our popular democracy than about the politicians themselves.
Image Source: Frugal Cafe
Clearly we need to get people back to work, increase the rate of growth of the economy, reduce the federal debt, improve the balance of international trade and payments, and deal with the aftermath of the housing bubble and with the personal debt crisis. Clearly it is going to take time to get out of this mess.

Clearly the international context counts. The European politicians seem far to likely to screw up the economy of the Euro zone and lead the world into another depression. The Chinese, Indians, Brazilians, Russians and other nations are seeking to increase their economic productivity and are likely to succeed and in doing so to change the balance of the global economy.

The last thing we need is for a repeat of the debacle of the Congressional debate on the debt limit increase of last summer. I think it is time for the politicians to admit that they might not individually have the right answers to the world's economic crisis and begin to negotiate in good faith to find some kind of balanced approach. It is probably more important to act than to find the best solution. The ideal is the enemy of the good. It is certainly important for our political leaders to show that they are cooperating to find a good path through the economic thickets, and thereby to build public confidence in the economic future. Lack of confidence can be self-fulfilling.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Problem with the Perry Performance

Rick Perry had a momentary lapse of memory in the Republican debate this week. All sorts of people have momentary lapses of that kind. Supposedly they are more likely if one is anxious, and in spite of his relaxed appearance he may well have been anxious debating before an audience of millions, assured that any stumble would become a sound bite to be repeated interminably on television. He had back surgery this summer and had been standing for almost an hour, and may well have been quite uncomfortable if not in pain. I don't think the gaff itself is the problem.

Of course, one would expect that a candidate for president would have thought long and hard before suggesting that a major government reorganization be made. If one were to abolish three cabinet departments, which of the agencies that they include would be abolished and which would be transferred to other departments?

  • If one were to abolish the Department of Commerce, one would not want to abolish the Patent and Trademark Office,; the Census is required by the Constitution and the Census Bureau would have to be somewhere; the Bureau of Economic Analysis would seem rather important in our current economic crisis; would one want to abolish the International Trade Administration when we need so badly to promote American exports?; one would not wish to abolish the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
  • If one were to abolish the Department of Energy would one want to abolish the nuclear security program? Would the government stop the energy research program that is developing the science that will underlie new energy saving technologies we need to cut oil imports or new energy technologies that our industry can commercialize to create jobs and exports?
  • If one were to abolish the Department of Education where would one put the administration of financial student aid, or would one simply write off all the student loans? How about the programs seeking to improve the use of technology in the schools or improve the scientific basis for teaching?
The real problem with Perry's proposal is that it would be a very bad idea to abolish three cabinet departments and undertake a government wide reorganization now. And indeed, it is extremely unlikely that the Congress would ever go along with such a proposal even if Perry were elected.

  • Texas is #49 in verbal SAT scores in the nation (493) and #46 in average math SAT scores (502).
  • Texas is #36 in the nation in high school graduation rates (68%).
  • Texas is #33 in the nation in teacher salaries. Teacher salaries in Texas are not keeping pace with the national average. The gains realized from the last state-funded across-the-board pay raise authorized in 1999, which moved the ranking from 33 to as high as 26th in the nation, have disappeared over the last five years.
  • Texas was the only state in the nation to cut average per pupil expenditures in fiscal year 2005, resulting in a ranking of #40 nationally; down from #25 in fiscal year 1999.
If you believe the future of the United States depends on giving our kids world class educations, then it would be a worry to have a former Governor of Texas as a president. It would be even more worrisome that Governor Perry is making abolition of the Department of Education a keystone of his campaign (when he can remember to).

UNESCO Seeks Donations Now!

The Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova today launched an online site allowing Member States, public institutions, foundations and citizens to donate to UNESCO.

This new site is one of the emergency measures announced today to fill the immediate $65m shortfall in UNESCO’s budget arising from the US decision to with-hold dues owed to the Organization.

Donations can be made online at:

The U.S. Government has chosen to withhold $60 million owed to UNESCO. With over 300 million people in the United States, that amounts to 20 cents per person. If one percent of Americans make voluntary donations to UNESCO, we can make up the shortfall with an average of $20 per person. I have done my bit and a little more.

Thinking still again about slavery in America

I have recently posted on American Slavery: 1619-1877 by Peter Kolchin, but I thought some more about slavery in the United States, especially in the antebellum period.

Life in that period was a lot harder than it is today. A lot of kids died due to communicable diseases that have been largely eliminated today, women died in childbirth much more often than today. People did more physical work, lacking the labor saving devices of today, were much poorer on the average, had fewer alternatives to inform and entertain themselves, and led a more circumscribed life. But the lives of slaves in the American South were probably not that much worse than those of other people. Kolchin points out that on average slave men were an inch taller than recruits to the British marines, implying that they were better nourished as children.

I assume that people in the American South, white and black, went through their days taking things one at a time, in routines, enjoying what they could and suffering what they must, without too much reflection on the other ways that society might better be organized or the ethics of accepting the current social and economic institutions rather than "to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them".
"normalizing the unthinkable": "doing terrible things in an organized and systematic way rests on 'normalization.' This is the process whereby ugly, degrading, murderous, and unspeakable acts become routine and are accepted as 'the way things are done.'
Edward S. Herman, quoted in Wikipedia
Southern slave holders did in fact seek to create an extensive justification of the institution of slavery, such as:

  • The ancient Hebrews had slaves yet slavery was not condemned in the bible, therefore it might be a divinely ordained system.
  • Africans were the descendants of Ham and thus condemned to eternal slavery by God.
  • Slavery was a means of Christianizing the slaves and thus saving their immortal souls.
  • Blacks would only work enough to support the economy and the nation under the discipline of slavery.
  • Slave holders were smarter and more civilized than their slaves and through their protection of their slaves improved the conditions of the slaves lives.
  • Black slaves in the South were better off than the white "wage slaves" in the North.
This last might be more convincing had not the desperate Irish immigrants to the South often been given jobs that were too dangerous for the slaves, since the economic loss would be less to the employer were the Irish immigrant to die or be crippled than would be the case were it to happen to an economically valuable slave.

Digging through the banality of everyday life and the pseudo-religious or pseudo-philosophical subterfuge and self-delusion there was of course a core of real evil. I am not speaking only of the evil recognized by most southerners of the day of the sadistic slave owner or slave driver, but the evil of the majority living within a system that denied the human dignity of people, that exploited a minority for the profit of a very few, that enabled the sadist and the predator to exercise their will on people made defenseless, and that denied freedom to so many. The evil of course was not restricted to the South; think of the New Yorkers who sought that the city secede from the Union in order better to profit from the war.

There was of course also virtue displayed by Southerners. Think of the heroism of those who ran the underground railroad helping slaves escape to the North, or of the nearly 200,000 blacks who fought for the Union and the emancipation of all slaves. Indeed think of the white unionists from the South who enlisted in the Union forces to fight against the slave-holding Confederacy, in a war harder and more terrible for its soldiers than most wars today. Indeed, think of the people who led their slave holding states to remain in the Union, or the people who led in the secession of their counties or regions from their former states when those states joined the Confederacy. 

Bill Gates: Why Is Foreign Aid Important?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Think about how bad slavery really was!

My book club last night met to discuss American Slavery: 1619-1877 by Peter Kolchin. I recently posted on the book, but last night I got to thinking about what is so ugly about slavery; I don't think the book really brought the reader to appreciate how bad is was to be a slave.

As a slave one could be in the power of a sadist, beaten, broken or even killed without protection of law or man. As a slave, one could have been in the power of a sexual predator without any refuge or protection. I assume that there were not that many sadists and even a limit to the number of sexual predators, so that many slaves were owned by better people. Indeed, slaves were valuable property of their owners, not to be lightly damaged; in the antebellum period Kolchin tells us there were books and articles advising the slave holder to be responsible for the health and welfare of his slaves. However, even the slave fortunate enough to be owned by a kind and responsible person could not be sure that he/she would not be sold to someone much, much worse, or that his/her spouse or child would be abused by an owner.

Kolchin informs us that most slaves in America were in small farms with few slaves. In the latter days of slavery, slave women had large numbers of children. Thus we can assume that most slave men and women lived in a community with an owner and his family, one or two other adult slaves and several slave children. The adult slaves would be worked long and hard, the children given no opportunity for schooling. Every aspect of the slaves life would be controlled by the owner -- when he/she got up, when he/she ate and what he/she ate, when he/she worked, and when he/she went to bed. The clothing would be poor, and would be chosen by the owner and given at a time and occasion of the owner's choice.

Much more painful would be the lack of ability to choose one's spouse or to protect one's family. Marriages had to be approved by one's owner and often one's spouse was determined by one's owner. If the marriage didn't work out, one was not free to divorce and might be beaten for good measure. If one was deeply attached to one's spouse, that spouse could be sold and shipped away never to be seen again. A enslaved man could not protect his wife against the sexual attention of owners or even passing whites. Enslaved parents could not protect their children against mistreatment, could not be sure that the children would not be sold away.

Slaves in Cumberland Maryland in 1862

Moreover, there was total despair. The indentured servant knew that after a specified time of servitude, he/she would be free. The slave knew that he/she would never be free,  nor would his/her children nor grandchildren. There was no hope.

For the American slave, there was not even the significant possibility of escape nor revolt. The American slaves were the minority in their communities, identifiable by race, and the white communities in which they lived monopolized weapons, police powers and the militia. Systems were institutionalized to capture escaped slaves, and indeed a black freedman  could be kidnapped and sold back into slavery and often they were.

In the early days of slavery, most slaves were men, since most of the slave trade was in men. Think of a man captured in Africa, subjected to imprisonment there and a horrific voyage in a slave ship, to be sold into a community in which he did not even understand the language, seeking to understand how to live and survive as a slave. Think of the children of men who survived and procreated, living themselves in despair.

Thus the condition of slavery could be horrific and at best was one of powerlessness, danger, discomfort, pain, and hopelessness that continued from the earliest childhood to one's death.

Think about the lack of empathy of the white population of the antebellum south who lived contentedly in a society that imposed such a condition on others by the million. Think about what it would do to white children to be brought up to believe that slavery was right, that the property rights of the slave owner's trumped the human rights of the slaves, and that the child would have the responsibility to drive slaves and fight for the institution of slavery! Ughh!

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

A thought about the history of farming on the prairies

Richard Hofstadter in his book The Age of Reform points out that American agriculture (at least in what was then the northwest) made the transformation from that of the yeoman farmer in cleared forests to commercial farming in the prairies in the period from 1820 to 1860. That transformation may have been as important in American history as the industrial revolution in manufacturing.

The improved transportation infrastructure (canals, turnpikes and even railroads) added to the river and lake transport system made it possible to market agricultural products to the growing urban areas. The introduction of horse drawn agricultural machinery made it possible to increase productivity of the farmer and his land, but involved the farmer in the purchase of those implements and in financial markets to obtain the loans needed for those purchases. While there must have been a labor shortage that limited the labor markets in the frontier, there grew to be services such as reaper crews that could be hired to harvest a grain crop. Larger, more mechanized farms increased the farmer productivity; each farmer could feed not only himself and his family, but also produce a surplus freeing others to produce other goods and services.

Farm land was sold by the government to settlers, helping to finance the development of governance institutions. There then grew markets for land around settlements, and the market for farmland grew; farmers learned to profit by settling new land, selling it and moving on to settle newer land.

There are still today societies in which the large majority of people live in rural areas. It is recognized that a key motor for development in such societies is the increase in productivity of agriculture. That increase not only is needed to free population to work in manufacturing and services, it generates savings that can be used for investment, and the farmers use their income to form markets for goods and services. This virtuous circle must have occurred in the Northwest Territories. The virtuous circles also included the opening of new lands for agriculture and the immigration of new farm families.

Hofsadter discusses the myth of the self sufficient yeoman farmer and the family farm, which was promoted in the Revolutionary period by the most affluent including plantation owners -- those who could read the Latin authors who were steeped in that myth, a myth that applied to a degree to the frontier farmers who did in fact produce almost everything they consumed making the frontier farm a self sufficient and independent unit. The myth was accepted by the farmers of Ohio and Indiana even as they became integrated into market systems that made them both more productive but also more dependent on the rest of the society.

Of course the process of commercialization of agriculture must have continued after the Civil War and the associated myths must have expanded with the frontier. Hofstadter links those myths with the birth of the populist movement around the turn of the 20th century. There were a lot of people then suffering from what in retrospect we can see as the trauma of the socio-economic transitions of the time and outraged by the conspicuous consumption of the robber barons who were raking the lions' share of the wealth being generated. The promise offered by the myth was clearly not being realized and people got mad and organized.

I would guess that we are going through another socio-economic transition based on both a major technological revolution and massively changing market structures, while the richest one percent (one-tenth of one percent) rake off the fruits of the changes. A lot of people are suffering, especially in the Great Recession and a lot of people are mad.

Are there modern myths comparable to those that fueled the discontent by their obvious falsehood at the turn of the 20th century? Perhaps the idea that American factory workers and clerical workers were the core of the middle class, that the children of the people in these groups could expect better lives than their parents, and that the middle class was the power center of the American democracy are such myths.

Scientific Article Citation Rates by Country

Source: Science magazine
I would guess that as the number of scientific journal articles increases, so too the number of times each article is cited should also increase (even if the number of other articles cited per article remains the same). The United States remains high on citations, as compared with other countries, but has been decreasing over time -- not a good sign for American science.

About Corruption and Bribery

Source: The Economist
Bribe Payers Index: Based on questions to 3,000 businessmen, this ranks 28 countries (accounting for 80% of global trade and investment) by the perceived likelihood of their companies paying bribes.

The Corruption Perception Index measures the perceived corruption level at the national level.

The graph indicates a high degree of correlation between the two among developed nations. The worse the level of corruption the worse the perceived likelihood of corporate bribery.

Where did all the opportunity go? To the Rich, to the rich

Source: The Economist
Research from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office showed that between 1979 and 2007 after-tax income grew by 62% for all households in the United States, but by 275% for the top 1% of earners. The top 1% accrued more than 20% of total national income in 2007, double their share in 1979. The study comes amid a debate raging in Congress about taxation and the deficit. See article

Monday, November 07, 2011

Bill Gates: Asia has come off the need for aid

Innovation with Impact: Financing 21st Century Development
November 03, 2011 | A report by Bill Gates to G20 leaders

American Slavery: 1619-1877

American Slavery: 1619-1877 by Peter Kolchin is a book I would recommend to all Americans. It deals with centuries of suffering by large numbers of people in a surprisingly dispassionate, almost clinical manner. One of the shameful aspects of American history, slavery deserves our attention both to correct an overly rosy view of American exceptionalism and to add insights to our understanding of the modern world.

This short book was first published in 1993, and I read the 2003 edition which includes an Afterword. I am neither a historian nor especially interested in slavery. I found the main text relatively easy to read. For those with deeper interests, the book contains many references and a detailed bibliographic essay (which I skipped).

The nature of American slavery had a geographical gradient, generally with  more slaves, working under harsher conditions, in a longer lasting system the further south one went.

The book emphasizes that several agricultural systems agriculture were crucial to the development of slavery and its organization -- tobacco in the mid Atlantic, indigo and rice in the coastal south, and cotton in the deep south. These systems were export oriented, albeit some of the exports from southern colonies/states to northern colonies/states. Tobacco culture declined in the middle states as the lands became exhausted (and presumably as other sources of tobacco took European market share). Cotton culture increased and the cotton plantation system moved west from its southern roots as the American frontier moved west.

I tend to look at technology as it influences history. Thus the improvement in ship technology must have undergirded the Atlantic trade that brought slaves to the Americas and American crops to Europe. So too, the industrial revolution included the spinning and weaving technology that led to the British demand for cotton, and the complementary development of the cotton gin made the production of short staple cotton more efficient; together they made "king cotton" an export that was more valuable than all other U.S. exports by the 1850s.

For those of us interested in modern development theory, the fate of the economies that depend on export of a single, primary product such as cotton, tobacco or indigo seems familiar. It is not surprising that the plantation culture benefited the plantation owners and not the plantation workers. Kolchin makes the important point that the plantation owners faced output markets but did not face a labor market, other than the cost of purchasing slaves (a cost that went up in the 19th century after the transatlantic slave trade was halted and the value of cotton went up).

In the antebellum period, the northern states made the transition towards industrialization, with accompanying social transformations. Slavery in the North had gone out with the Independence movement, and now the North was urbanizing, creating institutions including public education. The southern states became more dominated economically by the relatively wealthy plantation owners, and there they came also to dominate state governments.

One is left wondering whether the conservatism of the South, based on the power of the haves and the powerlessness of the have-nots might be a warning to us today in the United States. Will our increasingly unequal society continue become too conservative to adapt to the technological revolution that is occurring now?

The book is good in dealing with the way in which slaves lived. It points out that early in American history bondsmen were typically European indentured servants, but that source of bonded labor was replaced by African immigrants. In the early days of African-American slavery, most of the slaves were men and both the new slaves and the new slave owners were feeling their way towards ways of dealing with each other. By the antebellum period, most African-American slaves were American born, the sex ratio had normalized, and something like family life had become more possible for the slaves.

The book has some very informative data on slave populations. It shows, for example, that in contrast to Caribbean slavery in which slaves tended to be found in large plantations with many slaves, most slaves in the United States were found in smaller holdings, often with only a few slaves. With high fertility and relatively short life expectancy, the numbers of adult slaves must have been very small in most holdings. Only in the far south did one find absentee owners of large plantations leaving their slaves in the hands of hired managers and drivers; much more often slaves were found on smaller farms in which owners not only managed the work of the slaves personally, but worked with them; slave children when young enough were allowed freedom to play and on the smaller holdings often played with the white children of their owners.

The book reflects the increasing understanding that slaves took part in the Civil War, fighting with the Union by the hundreds of thousands, working for the Union, and perhaps even more important, deserting their slave work in the Confederacy in huge numbers, thereby undermining the Confederate economy.

In the aftermath of the Civil War the South was in terrible economic shape. Now that we realize that the fall of Communism required building of new economic institutions that has taken decades and led to the rise of new powerful classes such as the Russian kleptocracy, we should not be surprised the the destruction of the Southern economic system led to a long period of economic reconstruction and saw the rise of new power centers (such as the Ku Klux Klan). The economic recovery was unfortunately complicated by a long lasting agriculture depression.

The hopes of the former slaves for a better life were only partially realized in the decades after emancipation, while the white power structure was able to re-exert economic, social and political power over the blacks. As Stephen Budiansky shows in The Bloody Shirt: Terror After Appomattox, in the deep south involuntary servitude was continued through perversion of the legal system. Not surprisingly, the latter part of the 19th century was marked by extreme disappointment with the outcome of the Civil War by the former slaves, the southern whites and the people of the north.

Perhaps the hardest thing for historians to reconstruct is the flavor of life in the past. People being people, I suppose slaves worried a lot about personal relations, their love lives, and their kids. They may have, like my Irish ancestors, taken some pleasure in the foolishness of those in power and indeed to contribute to that foolishness. There must have been huge variation among the millions of people in their multifold relationships. I, for example, suspect that Sally Hemings may have been in love with Thomas Jefferson, a very handsome man of great intelligence and ability, the most powerful man in her experience and indeed in the country, who had been widowed by her half-sister. We know that there is a lot of European ancestry in the DNA of the average black in the United States, and we must suspect that there was a lot of sex between powerful white masters and subservient black slaves, which ranged from outright rape to sexual exploitation that was tolerated because it had to be tolerated.

I would point out that there was more Indian slavery than American Slavery reports (see Violence over the Land: Indians and Empires in the Early American West by Ned Blackhawk). Indeed, there continue to be cases of involuntary servitude in the United States.

Author Kolchin provides considerable historiographical information. The way in which the history of slavery was written changed over time. The early histories were written from the European American perspective, while Kolchin was writing in part to summarize information that had been developed in the latter part of the 20th century with a more nuanced view of slavery, including a view that stressed the role of slaves in asserting their own interests. The Afterword is largely a discussion of the trends in the writing of the history of slavery from 1993 to 2004.

American Slavery is a reminder of how much we today owe to people who worked to build America in the past, but who did not appear in the history as studied in the schools of my youth. The African American slaves were among that number, but so were the Chinese laborers brought to build the transcontinental railway, and the poor European immigrants who provided much of the labor in the North. I recall reading that Irish immigrants were used in especially dangerous jobs in the South since slaves were too expensive to risk. Native Americans contributed to our wealth because they were dispossessed of the land and its resources without compensation.

American Slavery might well have a place on your bookshelves together with other books on American history helping to complete an overall picture of the complex social, cultural, economic and political past of the country.