Guns, Germs, and Steel is a great series to watch, if a bit long, but well worth the time. Jared Diamond has a great theory that just “clicks” with me the more I watch it. He starts simple, and then extrapolates. Why are Europeans so often the conqueror? Farming, and domesticated animals that can help with the farming. Farming means settlements, large-scale farming leads to people that can spent time pursuing a non-subsistence lifestyle. These people have time to work on other problems and ideas, eventually leading to metal working, and steel. This advanced farming again, and the society grows in size and complexity. Meanwhile the living in close quarters with a variety of animals spreads disease, but this is a good thing (for the Europeans). With the spread of plagues comes increased resistance. Now when they move out in the world, they bring death in their hands, and hidden in their very bodies.
Contrast to everywhere else: fourteen animals have EVER been domesticated, only ONE outside of Eurasia: the llama. Llamas are great, but they don’t pull a plow. Everywhere else is still busy just trying to stay alive, and if they got past that stage, they are still well behind European tech. It is not until they run into the tropics in Africa and Malaria knocking them down like bowling pins that they slow down at all!
The reading, Polanyi, from The Great Transformation was, shall I say, less exciting. Written in 1944, and was worded in such a way as to just make my head hurt. All I really gleaned from it was that markets are not needed to form an economy. In the past, before free markets, we had redistribution. Give your gains to Pharaoh and he shall spread it among you as is seen fit. It works, demonstrably at scale, but is hard to image in today’s world. Polanyi does point out that market are for when trade is over long distances, and not centrally controlled. Perhaps fittingly (or maybe this is the reason we have to read it) this is exactly what we keep seeing as a root problem: Far flung entity is extracting wealth, moving money and power over a long distance and hording it far from its point of creation.
Closing thoughts: I’ll be honest, its Finals Week, and I’m swamped. It is also my final Finals, and so long as I do not totally mess things up, I graduate next weekend. End result: too little sleep, and keeping focus is HARD. Import replacement is great, but I am having trouble imagining local production of things like microchips (think of computer processors). It is tremendously specialized work, and requires a ton of resources in people-hours, training and education, and raw materials. The level of technology we are presently at makes it hard to decentralize that type of activity. However, if we can get around to creating nano-scale 3D printers (read Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer for a world in which they can, and how things ARE decentralized as a result) that can all change.