Monthly Archives: September 2013

Honor and the U.S. South

FrzDuellImBoisDeBoulogneDurand1874 The U.S. South has long been viewed as a place of leisure, charm and romance.  Its populace has been credited warmth, gentility and a love of sport, cuisine…and violence.  For several hundred years the south has been regarded as more violent than it’s Northern counterpart and three reasons are often offered as reasons for the southerners tendency towards violent acts; temperature, slavery, and poverty. Later I will argue that an honor culture established by a herding culture exists today and is the main reason for violence in southern states.

Temperature, which is much higher south the Mason Dixon, has been suggested to account for the violence in the South.  While it is possible to correlate the temperature with higher crime rates, this analysis falls apart in other hot climates. If it were true that higher temperatures resulted in more crime than this would be true everywhere, it is not.  Also, rates of homicide in the South are highest in the mountainous region which are typically cooler.

Slavery is offered as a culprit. Even Tocqueville believed the institution of slavery and its “contagion” from the treatment of slaves has resulted in a society more prone to violence and military style acts.  This seems logical in the slave-owning states and the Confederacy itself however it does little to explain violent crime rates in 2013. Furthermore, studies have shown that homicide rates tend to be lower in areas where slavery was common.

The third explanation of poverty holds some possibilities.  The South has always been poorer than any other region, this extends to every population unit, and has a higher homicide rate than other part.  It is also true that the most violent societies are those with high numbers of unemployed male youth. However, experiments done by Richard Nisbett and Dov Cohen reveal that college students from the North and the South show differences in the uses of violence regardless of income level.

What these explanations ignore is that the South’s origin and economic upbringing differs from the North which has had profound cultural impacts. Namely, the establishment of an honor code.   Cultures of honor exist all over the world and all have one thing in common: The individual is prepared to protect his/her reputation by resorting to violence.  These cultures are likely to exist where the individual is at risk from his fellow citizens and the state is weak and cannot control theft, or property damage.  These two aspects when combined with the herding economy of the early Southern states lays fertile ground for an honor culture.

The herding of animals is an economic system associated worldwide with honor and the use of violence when confronted with insults or threat to lively hood.  Herdsmen constantly face threats to their wealth through loss of their herds, thus, a aggressive stance is taken.  Furthermore, they adopt a stance of vigilance toward any action that might imply that they cannot defend themselves or their property.

Anthropologist Robert Edgerton studied two tribes in Africa one a farm community and the other comprised of herders.  Edgerton stated that the herders exhibited something akin to machismo, where the farmers stressed that they needed to get along with each other. In North America the Navajo and Zuni inhabit similar ecological areas, but the Navajo are herders while the Zuni are farmers. The Navajo are reported to be great warriors and even served with distinction in WWII. The Zuni have never been noted as warriors in their history.

What does the culture of the Navajo and herders in Africa have to do with the South? A great deal.  While the Northern states were established by the Puritans, Quakers, Germans and Dutch–all farmers who emphasized cooperation.  The Southern states were settled by the Scots-Irish who had always been herders.

The geography and low population of  density probably served to reinforce honor culture as the law was weak and in the absence of the state or any order the citizens develop a system of retributive justice or lex talionis.  This may explain the North Carolina proverb ” Every man should be the sheriff of his own hearth.”

With the focus on the individual and use of violence in honor cultures both as a deterrent and as societal regulator it can be concluded that arguments for less government regulation and increased states rights have deep cultural roots.  If statecraft is soulcraft then our governments and institutions are a reflection of ourselves and culture.  If the honor culture sees protection of one’s property and loved ones as the end goal then that person may see government intervention as an interloper and thus a threat to honor. Perhaps the arguments facing the U.S. today are less about political games and more about differences in how people should co-exist in a modern developed society.

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Western Academics vs Democratic Idealists: Egypt’s Process

After the military’s intervention on July 3rd that removed elected the Islamic Government from power clashes between pro-Morsi forces and military units have shown no signs of abating.  This appears to be caused in part by the  misguided rush to elections without accounting for the institutions that are necessary for a transition of power.  In short, a democracy is defined more by the peaceful transition of power and not elections.  Robert Gates writes:

A major reason for the relatively democratic outcomes in Southern Africa is that the new regimes left the former oppressors in possession of a political hostage; the private economy… Should the retreating tyrant and his followers own industries or banks, should they control capital, physical or financial, should they, in short, possess economic power, then those seeking their political surrender should respect their rights. 

By focusing on Namibia and South Africa’s successful democratization Bates crafts the argument that a meaningful transition cannot simply replace one ruling group or individual with another.  With this in mind, Bates goes on to say that democracies are never born out of true revolutions as a nation must incorporate some elements of the old regime into the new system of governance.  Take the American Revolution for example, while the states did remove their former colonial masters one of the first things the founding fathers did was to establish British Common law as a legal framework.  Furthermore, they kept the British as a valuable trading partner so  it cannot be called a pure revolution there was  an underlying alliance of old regime and new.

Adam Przeworski writes in his book Democratization and Markets  that succesful democratic transitions are born out of agreements between reformers, the old regime and moderates within the opposition.  This does require that the moderates can neutralize or control  the radicals and hardliners within their own group.

In Egypt this didn’t happen.  Underpinning the old regime were the commercial interests and military, an alliance that was broken on July 3rd when the military overthrew the commercial elite and sided with the opposition.  Przeworski would argue that this left Egypt with little to build on and the transition would fall apart. Not sure I agree with the former but he’s dead on with the latter.

The writings of Bates and Przeworski segue nicely to Sam Huntington and Robert Dahl both of whom argue that institutions of government must precede elections and the expanse of participation.  By gradually expanding participation, newcomers to the system cannot destabilize the system due to their small number and thus democracy begins its modernizing affect.

The rush to electoral politics has been felt in Egypt, Libya and in Tunisia as well.  Egypt’s military is better suited to handle the transition to power due to its identity and respect of the people but in order for those to be maintained it must stop the attacks on pro-Morsi demonstrators.  Furthermore the ban on religions that is currently being considered will most likely fail although a mandated separation of religion and politics a la Turkey may be a better alternative.

While Bates, Huntington, Dahl and Przeworski all make solid arguments they seem to ignore that the countries of the Arab Spring face a unique challenge in the age of Youtube and internet news.  When the whole world is watching how can a society slow the race of democracy and individual rights?

Orcs, Trade & Slaves : The Economics of Mordor

url  You would be hard pressed to complain about the imagination and creativity that went into making Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings trilogy which includes languages, deep and intricate histories and even detailed maps.  However Tolkien was undeniably better at history than economics which brings us to this week’s question….where did the orcs get their food?

As the map above illustrates, Mordor is a farmers nightmare.  Depicted as an ashen wasteland where nothing grows, no rivers run through it and the ground is littered with rocky fissures with little to no rain fall, we can safely assume that Mordor is not an agricultural power house.  With that in mind the Dark Lord must have been trading with an outside power.

url-1                                                                                           In order for the balance of trade to work, Mordor must have something of value to trade as its hard to threaten with an army that someone else feeds.  It’s hard to imagine that the orcs were highly skilled labor, but they could have been exporting swords.  Sauron had mines, and forges so the mass production of swords could easily function as an export good.  Keep in mind that Mordor’s political system is that of a dictatorship, so there’s no need to pay the orcs just keep them fed.  This frees up any capital you might gain from exports to be spent on food supplies, after all even the Dark Lord’s army marches on its stomach.   Trade seems likely for Mordor, orcs farming is odd if not impossible, but it comes with its own difficulties.

Mordor is landlocked and surrounded on three sides by suspiciously straight lines of mountains.  While these natural boundaries are ideal for fending off attackers, it does make trade precarious and expensive.  In the North-West there is the active volcano of Gorgoroth, from which no rivers run,  to the South East lies the undrinkable bitter Sea of Nurmen, thus,  all trade must travel by land which is 14 times more expensive than by sea.  Mordor is beginning to look more and more like a closed economy  typically plagued with underdevelopment.

For the sake of argument let us assume that the balance for trade was struck between one neighboring nation and Mordor. In order for Modor’s economy to work they would need to have constant wars to keep up the demand for swords.  If Sauron were to not start a war surely morale would drop, followed by an economic meltdown and starvation.

Slaves are certainly a possible answer and the effiiceny of slave agriculture sparks heated debate.  In a slave system can there be any specialization of labor? Studies have shown that individuals work better with rest and I doubt that many slaves get time off from work. Furthermore farming is extremely difficult…wouldn’t the slaves do as little as possible just to avoid punishment?   Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman contest these ideas in their book Time on the Cross which discusses the economy of the U.S. south on the eve of the Civil War. Time on the Cross argues that the plantation system was more complicated and that it was extremely efficient and that the southern states economy was on rise as the Civil War approached.  Engerman and Fogel’s findings have been debated and some have been discredited by historians Herbert Gutman and Peter Kolchin who write that Time on the Cross focuses on one plantation and ignores the human abuses that occurred in that time period.

While Mordor would have no concern for it’s slaves  it does raise the question of the slave trade. There doesn’t appear to be any slaves in the rest of Middle Earth so where are they coming from? Are they captured men and women? Who regulates them? It’s doubtful that the orcs could regulate a team of farmers forced or not to work so even with forced agricultural labor Mordor won’t be productive.

With this economic model in mind its hard to imagine what the orcs get out of serving Sauron.  The fiery eye upon the mountain and ring wraiths may not care if the lands are covered with sulfur and ash but the orcs must eat.  What on Middle-Earth are they thinking serving a Lord who rules over a bankrupt nation with no imports? Even in the conquest of Gondor the lands will be turned into a similar wasteland so there’s no prospect for future riches.

In the real world economy Mordor would be riddled with debt.  Orcs would become refugees streaming westward in hopes of employment in Gondor.  Rather than closing its gates to invading armies Minas Tirith would be coping with huge numbers of immigrants.  Orcs would hire themselves out as labor for a square meal and a days pay while the mounted bands of Rohirrim would patrol the borders and turn back those looking for a better life.  Dark Lord or not Sauron would have to borrow heavily to keep Mordor from emptying of its populace. One ring or not, the real power is in the purse strings.