This posting is in response to “Postcards From Hell: Images fom the world’s most failed states” and commentary on The Agitator.

Why are so many equatorial nations ‘Failed States’? “All happy families are the same. All unhappy families are different.” Which means that a lot of things go into making a successful state, and there are a number of reasons why successful advanced cultures develop. And if any one of them goes wrong, a state can fail. Although it will most likely be conquered once it has failed.

And there is one particular reason why most of the failed states are currently failing: the legacy of colonialism.

But let’s look at the reasons why cultures progress differently:

1) disease gradients are higher (safer) in the cold and lower in the warm.

2) physical effort is difficult in hot weather, which hampers the creation of built capital. (Core body temp also affects IQ during exertion)

3) Agrarian cycles in the north encourage cottage industry in winter, farming in spring and fall and war in summer. This creates certain social orders that foster human, built and technical capital accumulation. Compare to the brutal survival farming of the Chinese and their rice.

4) Rivers and sea: rivers in particular provide safe, easy and low cost product transport. The opposite is true: some areas are simply geographically resistant to trade. Europe is gifted with east-west rivers.

5) Unequal distribution of terrain, water, useful plants and animals favors certain regions in agrarian productivity. Mineral deposits favor certain technologies (europe, coal, wood and iron.)

6) Access to trade means access to knowledge, and greater availability of resources and technology. This increases the probability of innovation, and the development of ‘virtues’ as we understand our commercial and moral code.

7) The abstract thing we refer to as social order, that is embodied in accumulated traditions and habits, are the most important and expensive forms of human capital. These habits facilitate the unspoken normative goals of all social and economic cooperation and coordination. We pay for social institutions by forgoing opportunity: the set of things that we don’t do: the opportunities we do not seize. We pay for infrastructure and governance with the results of trade made possible by those forgone opportunities. These institutions include our different definitions of public and private property, manners, ethics, morals and rituals. Manners, ethics and morals are economic codes just as are written laws, most of which, in all of human history, proscribed punishments for violations of manners, ethics and morals. (A vast oversimplification, but an informative one.)

8) The availability of general technical knowledge (how to craft things) and general systemic knowledge (how the natural world operates). We often confuse education with practical knowledge and scientific knowledge. ( The Muslim world is full of Islamic studies which do nothing except perpetuate ignorance. Some of the sub Saharan world is still in the embrace of magical thinking.) Commercial apprenticeship and on the job learning, not education, (imitation of practice) is the primary means of knowledge transfer. Most knowledge (in the USA as well) is political or secular-theocratic rather than useful knowledge. This is the reason the comparative ignorance of our working classes compared to that of europeans.

9) Concordant technologies. Civilizations need to accumulate a greatdeal of human capital by adopting certain technologies before they can adopt others, else these technologies are not disruptive, and do not increase the division of knowledge and labor. Otherwise tyrants simply use it to institutionalize corruption and profiteering. This isn’t any different from children but on a larger scale. If people do not forgo the opportunity to misuse a technology, they will never be able to gain its productive benefits. You don’t give a child a gun.

10) social orders. The west was built by fraternal orders of city/market joint stockholders, partly because of the high cost of equipment and training. This is the source of our republican sentiments, as well as our tools of argument,reason and science. Other societies have not been so lucky. East asia is largely historically oriented. The northern-west is largely future oriented, the greek, greco (southern) italian and eastern block Mediterranean is largely present oriented, and the near east and Indian continent are magically (‘spiritually’) oriented. Social classes have different time preferences, with the highest classes most future oriented, and the lowest classes most present oriented.

11) Political Institutions: what we call ‘rule of law’ is probably the most important for a market economy – because it permits creative disruption and speculation. But more importantly, it requires the ability to concentrate enough power that the political elite can suppress violence in a geography well enough that people can accumulate capital and trade can develop. If trade can develop productivity can increase, and eventually enough extra production can develop that there is something to redistribute to people, first for the purpose of increasing their productivity, and second for increasing the quality of their lives. We avoid discussing the reality of violence, but without the ability to project violence there is no ‘state’. Because that’s what a state is: a territorial monopoly on violence that forces people to use either the market (good) or to become the victims of exploitative totalitarianism (bad).

Now we get to how westerners condemned some cultures:

1) Creating political boundaries and political systems across tribes destroys their ability to create human capital because this uncertainty over-stimulates the need for group persistence and impedes the development of market friendly habits. Thievery and tribal banditry is much easier and cheaper than creating trade and infrastructure. Even today, there is no small sentiment among males that suggests civilization has limited their potential access to mates, and their potential joy, by suppressing their desire for tribal banditry. In certain areas of the globe (in which the USA is fighting) tribal banditry is the primary means of status achievement. And the alternative is the grinding poverty of subsistence farming in an arid landscape. Progress is not always as desirable as it may seem.

2) Colonialism under England was effective in creating stability. In fact the hallmark of the Anglo model is stability. In the entire anglo civilization. In the anglo colonies as well. Stability fosters the accumulation of all forms of capital. If you were colonized by someone else, then you will suffer for it. If you were colonized by the french in particular you will have suffered for it. Anglo social technology is as important as the development of Greek science and reason. That technology, unbenknownst to most of us, is the development of abstract principles that allow calculation and coordination. (Even law is a form of mathematics or calculation. This is a very complex topic for this forum so I’ll leave it at that.). French colonies are a disaster. In fact, the unspoken question is, why were some cultures able to be colonized? It was possible to do terrible things to China via trade, but not to colonize it. And while even the Japanese conquered china, they could not hold or colonize it.

3) Economic interference, and in particular interference by way of charity. This is a hotly debated problem. But individual and local assistance by devoted people seems to make a difference, while insertion of capital is extremely harmful to developing economies that must transform from tribal to market economies. Why we understand that socialism is devastating to economies yet we interfere with primitive and less flexible economies with much less capital, is a mystery of western behavior.

Unpleasant realities :

1) Mystical Religion: Unfortunately, there are also ways to manufacture ignorance. Some religions are regressive. In fact it could be reasonably argued that many are simply dangerous. Some have argued that they all are dangerous. The reason one is out gunned out germed and out steeled, so to speak, is a function of a culture’s willingness to adapt disruptive technologies. Luddites perish. Most of the scriptural religions are Luddite systems of thought.

2) The Problem Of IQ: Despite the objections of the inequality-deniers, the one factual reality that the vast body of people will fail to accept in the face of overwhelming objective scientific evidence: that IQ’s are unequally distributed in different races — and in clases within those races.

3) The Problem of Status and Racism: All people are racist in that they prefer acting within and with their race. And this will never change simply because of man’s need to learn, his learning by imitation, and his desire to learn from those he most easily can imitate, and his need to identify WHO to imitate. And the consequential need for visible evidence of status in order to choose who to imitate. Status is a necessary epistemological property of human existence. We cannot exist without it.

4) Mate Selection: The hard reality is that women are hypergamic (marry up). This reality is made more complex because men have a wider IQ variance than women, who are more centered around the mean. This situations presents men with the need to compete for mate selection, while women are increasingly selective about their mates, until they reach a point of either opportunity or resignation. (ie: more women are forced to ‘settle’ than are men.) Furthermore, this status economy requires a diverse range of status symbols within each race and class that inform the eternal search for demonstrable differences in status. Furthermore, this means that within races and within classes, except at the margins, greater status is available WITHIN race than without, and therefore people are incentivized to prefer to act and associate within their races.

Racism is as permanent as is classism. The dirty secret of the human genome project is that class is genetically determinant. While economic classes are semi randomly plastic, social classes (which are readily evidenced in the postings on this and other blogs) are decidedly inelastic. (spoken as a member of the upper middle class).

Furthermore IQs are different in consequence between groups. A white, Jew or east Asian with a 60 IQ is perceptibly broken. A sub saharan African is not – he or she just has a higher barrier to the learning of abstractions. But otherwise is perceptibly healthy.

And IQ distributions affect what can be invented, what can be produced, and what can be maintained in a society. In general, To maintain machines requires an IQ of at least 105. To get a liberal education requires an IQ of 110. To design machines requires an IQ of at least 122 . To design abstractions requires an IQ above 130. To innovate upon a system of thought requires, it appears, an IQ above 140. Everyone else simply uses the tools created by others. It is demonstrably true that the top quintile has more influence on productivity of the society than all the rest combined. And it is the number of people with these IQ’s in the population who are educated enough to employ them, in a society with sufficient capital and division of knowledge and labor to make use of their talents. (For this reason, a capitalist china should rule the world in productivity simply because they have so many people above the mechanical threshold, and so much of the population can participate in complex production.)

Since all societies are run by minority elites (even ours) the composition of elites in government, speculative intelligence and innovation in the middle classes, and capable mechanics in the proletariat determine the competitive rates of innovation and change in a society.

Despite Racial, national, and class differences in IQ distribution, it does not take a genius to run a market economy. As our pliticians demonstrate daily. What is important is that in any sufficiently large body of people exist sufficient numbers to adopt the rule of law, the institutions of trade, and some form of capital production. The problem is one of numbers: getting the barbarians and potential corrupt bureaucrats to forgo opportunities for personal gain in order to fund the development of their human capital. The problem of coordinating production in a division of knowledge and labor requires a great deal of sacrifice.

It is the is a sufficient set of principles govern the progress and adaptability of cultures.

As other readers have commented, colonialism is perhaps the greatest determinant today of the relative state of failed nations.

I hope this was helpful in providing food for thought.


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