Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Read an Unusual Source Before Reading Ronald Findlay and Kevin H. O'Rourkes' Power and Plenty

Having finished the manuscript for The Book I am now turning my attention to other matters, including the reading of ‘Power and Plenty: trade, war, and the world economy in the second millennium’ by Ronald Findlay and Kevin H. O’Rourke (Princeton University Press: 2008).

I have completed reading Chapter 1: Introduction: geographical and historical background (pages 1 to 42); Chapter 2: The World Economy at the Turn of the First Millennium (pages 43 to 86; and Chapter 3: World Trade 1000-1500: the economic consequences of Genghis Khan (pages 87 to 142).

As an economist with an interest in economic history and the history of economic theory, largely educated in the Western neoclassical tradition (lately re-educated by Smithian political economy), I found the mass of historical detail hard going because it covered a global perspective, not confined to our world of Europe, with vague probing into the Near East. It is amazing how little I knew about what was happening beyond Europe’s borders before the 18th century.

The bewildering names and lcoations of regimes I knew little or nothing about, some of which lasted centuries, but all of which came and went with repetitive certainty that belied the notion that civilization was a finished phenomenon, raising mankind to higher purposes, etc.

Jewish, Christian and Islamic religions, serving as they see it God’s mysterious purpose on Earth, fared no better in the humanitarian stakes than did outright pagan cruelties sanctified by numerous gods (invisible too). Nor were they any more stable; they were given to fracture into bloody squabbles among the descendants, as the warring Jewish, Christian and Islamic elites redrew their boundaries with monotonous regularity.

Reaching Chapter 3 there is a welcome relief with the appearance of tables about trade, though, to be fair, there is plenty about trade in the fist two chapters, surprisingly varied in its component parts and extent.

I shall come back to the contents of these chapters, but for those whose reading is confined to the Euro-USA centric version of world history I recommend that you read Ronald Findlay and Kevin H. O’Rourke’s Power and Plenty (Princeton University Press).

To help you into the historical sweep I came across by accident a strange source for an account of human history from the speciation of the hominids from the primate ancestor, through to Homo sapiens sapiens, and beyond. The source is a market maker in energy stocks, ‘Get The Top Stock’ (here)

I was interested in the evolution of humans aspect and found it a decent summary. I had read quite a bit in this subject as background to my (unpublished) manuscript on The Prehistory of Bargaining (1998-2001), which I intend to return to soon.

However, the Get The Top Stock post I opened went far beyond the prehistory of Homo sapiens – it goes through history in detail for 30,000 words, all the way to the Kyoto accords!

Now I am not suggesting that you read that far, but I am suggesting that you read it to at least the 18th century, or failing that until at least to the first millennium. I wished I had read it before starting ‘Power and Plenty’. It would have put our Western History into a general perspective. It would also have put Adam Smith’s four ages into a clearer sequence and much richer for its relevance too.

Extract from the Get The Top Stock post:

"Prehistory: Our Ancestors Emerge"

Evidence of the origins of Homo sapiens sapiens, the species to which all humans belong, comes from a small, but increasing, number of fossils, from genetic and anatomical studies, and from interpretation of the geological record. The latest evidence suggests that humans evolved from apelike primate ancestors that lived in central Africa 6-7 mil years ago (MYA). Although all humans living today are members of a single subspecies, the fossil record confirms that our ancestors coexisted with a number of similar species throughout evolution. Current theories trace the first hominid (upright walking, humanlike primate) to Africa, where several distinct species appeared 5-7 mil years ago. These species lived in a variety of environments throughout the continent, including swampy forests, woodlands, and open savannas. In addition to Australopithecus—best known from "Lucy," a 3.2-MYA-Ethiopian specimen found in 1974—these early hominid species include such recent discoveries as Sahelanthropus, Ardipithecus, Kenyanthropus, and Orrorin.

Our own human ancestry arose 2-3 MYA, when hominid species began to produce elaborate stone tools. The oldest tools are dated to 2.5-2.6 MYA from Ethiopia, and were made by systematically removing sharp flakes from a core. This produced tools for scraping meat and sinew, as well as a sharp chopping implement useful for obtaining marrow from long bones. Although we cannot determine whether these early hominids had the ability to speak, they were social animals, lived in semi-permanent camps, and had a food-gathering economy. A closer ancestor, Homo erectus, appeared in Africa 1.9 MYA and was the first to leave the continent, spreading into Asia by 1.3 MYA, and Europe shortly thereafter. These individuals had skeletal structures similar to modern humans, hunted, learned to control fire, and may have had primitive language skills.

Europe has provided a particularly rich set of fossil evidence. Human-like in many important respects, Neanderthal appeared c. 200,000 BP (years before the present), had sophisticated tools and a developed social culture, and was well adapted to the harsh climate of Ice Age Europe. Recent genetic evidence supports the theory that Neanderthal was a distinct species that in some places coexisted with, but did not interbreed with, early modern humans (also called Cro-Magnons). A similar situation may have occurred in Asia, where more primitive species of Homo coexisted with early modern humans 100,000-150,000 BP. Further study of Homo antecessor, a new species identified in Spain, may clarify the relationship between anatomically modern Homo sapiens and Neanderthals in Europe.

The 1st Homo sapiens sapiens originated in E Africa 100,000-200,000 BP. The oldest modern human fossils are dated to 195,000 BP, and were found at the Ethiopian site of Omo. Our species quickly spread. Humans were living in Israel by 100,000 BP, and in Romania by 35,000 BP. Migration from Asia to Australia via the Timor Straits took place as early as 100,000 BP. First confirmation for the crossing from Asia to the Americas by land bridge dates to the end of the last Ice Age, at 14,000 BP; however, genetic data suggest that small, isolated groups of people arrived in the Americas 18,000 to 14,000 years ago, settling in both continents.

A variety of cultural modes—in toolmaking, diet, shelter, social arrangements, and spiritual expression—arose as humans adapted to different geographic and climatic zones and the knowledge base grew. Sites from all over the world show seasonal migration patterns and efficient exploitation of a wide range of plant and animal foods.

Fire-making probably began 1 MYA in Africa and spread to Asia and Europe. Hearths were used in N Israel by c. 750,000 BP, and by 465,000 BP in W France. Fire-hardened wooden spears, weighted and set with small stone blades, were fashioned by big-game hunters 400,000 BP in Germany. Scraping tools, dated 30,000-200,000 BP in Europe, N Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia, suggest the treatment of skins for clothing. Impressions in clay artifacts from the Czech Republic document the ability to weave cloth baskets and nets by 28,000 BP. By the time Australia was settled, human ancestors had learned to navigate in boats over open water. The earliest bone tools found so far were developed 80,000 BP in the Congo basin by fishermen, who created sophisticated fishing tackle to catch giant catfish.

About 60,000 BP the earliest immigrants to Australia carved and painted designs on rocks. Painting and decoration flourished, along with stone and ivory sculpture, from 35,000 BP in Europe, where more than 200 caves show remarkable examples of naturalistic wall painting. A variety of musical instruments, including bone flutes with precisely bored holes, have been found in sites dated to 40,000-80,000 BP. Around 30,000 BP, the number of people surviving long enough to become grandparents dramatically increased. There were now 2 adults over 30 for every adult under 30. With more adults available to provide child care, humans began to develop more complex social systems.

Shortly after 10,000 BC, among widely separated communities, a series of dramatic technological and social changes occurred, marking the Neolithic, or New Stone, Age. As the world climate became drier and warmer, humans learned to cultivate plants and domesticate animals. This encouraged growth of permanent settlements. Manufacture of pottery and cloth began at this time. These techniques precipitated a dramatic increase in world population and social complexity.

Sites in the Americas, SE Europe, and the Middle East show roughly contemporaneous (8000-10,000 BC) evidence of Neolithic traits. Dates near 5000-8000 BC have been given for E and S Asian, W European, and sub-Saharan African Neolithic remains. Farming spread rapidly throughout the Mediterranean, perhaps in 100-200 years. The variety of crops—field grains, rice, maize, squash, and roots—and a mix of other characteristics suggest that this adaptation occurred independently in each region. Evidence for fermented beverages likewise coincides with the early Neolithic settled farming lifestyle. Northern Chinese farmers concocted a wine-like drink from rice, honey, and fruit between 6000 and 7000 BC; in the Middle East, Iranian vintners were fermenting grapes by 5400 BC.

History Begins: 4000-1000 BC

[I shall end here and leave you to visit the source (I have no views or interests whatsoever on stock tips!) read the rest for yourselves, here]


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