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  • Economic Policy Advice From 1377 AD

    Posted by David Foster on September 30th, 2012 (All posts by )

    Ibn Khaldun, the great Muslim historian, in his Introduction to History:

    Taxation and the reason for low and high tax revenues

    It should be known that at the beginning of a dynasty, taxation yields a large revenue from small assessments. At the end of the dynasty, taxation yields a small revenue from large assessments.

    The same reason for this is that when the dynasty follows the way of Islam, it imposes only such taxes as are stipulated by the religious law, such as charity taxes, the land tax, and the poll tax. Theses have fixed limits that cannot be exceeded.

    When the dynasty follows the ways of group feeling and (political) superiority, it necessary has at first a desert attitude, as has been mentioned before. The desert attitude requires kindness, reverence, humility, respect for the property of other people, and disinclination to appropriate it, except in rare instances. Therefore, the individual, the individual imposts and assessments, which together constitute the tax revenue, are low. When tax assessment and imposts upon the subjects are low, the latter have the energy and desire to do things. Cultural enterprises grow and increase, because the low taxes bring satisfaction. When cultural enterprises grow, the number of individual imposts and assessments mounts. In consequence, the tax revenue, which is in sum total of (the individual assessment), increase.

    When the dynasty continues in power and their rulers follow each other in succession, they become sophisticated. The Bedouin attitude and simplicity lose their significance, and the Bedouin qualities of moderation and restraint disappear. Royal authority with its tyranny and sedentary culture that stimulates sophistication, make their appearance. The people of the dynasty then acquire qualities of character related to cleverness. Their customs and needs become more varied because of the prosperity and luxury in which they are immersed. As a result, the individual imposts and assessments upon the subjects, agricultural labourers, farmers and all the other tax payers, increase. Every individual impost and assessment is greatly increased, in order to obtain a higher tax revenue. Customs duties are placed upon articles of commerce and (levied) at the city gates. Then, gradual increases in the amount of the assessments succeed each other regularly, in correspondence with the gradual increase in the luxury customs and many needs of the dynasty and the spending required in connection with them. Eventually, the taxes will weigh heavily upon the subjects and overburden them. Heavy taxes become an obligation and tradition, because the increase took place gradually, and no one knows specifically who increase them or levied them. They lie upon the subjects like an obligation and tradition.

    The assessments increase beyond the limits of equity. The result is that the interest of the subjects in cultural enterprise disappears, since they compare expenditure and taxes with their income and gain and see little profit they make, they loose all hope. Therefore, many of them refrain from all cultural activity. The result is that the total tax revenue goes down, as individual assessment go down. Often when decrease is noticed, the amounts of individual imposts are increased. This is considered a means of compensating for the decrease. Finally, individual imposts and assessments reach their limit. It would be of no avail to increase them further. The costs of all cultural enterprise are now too high, the taxes are too heavy, and the profits anticipated fail to materialize. Finally, civilization is destroyed, because the incentive for cultural activity is gone. It is the dynasty that suffers from the situation, because its profits from cultural activity.

    If one understands this, he will realize that the strongest incentive for cultural activity is to lower as much as possible the amounts of individual imposts levied upon persons capable of undertaking cultural enterprises. In this manner, such persons will be psychologically disposed to undertake them, because they can be confident of making a profit from them.


    In the later years of dynasties customs duties are levied

    It should be known that at the beginning, dynasties maintain the Bedouin attitude, as we have stated. Therefore, they have few needs, since luxury and the habits that go with it do not (yet) exist. Expenses and expenditures are small. At that time, revenue from taxes pays for much more than the necessary expenditures, and there is a large surplus.

    The dynasty, then, soon starts to adopt the luxury and luxury customs of sedentary culture, and follows the course that had been taken by previous dynasties. The result is that the expenses of the people of the dynasty grow. Especially do the expenses of the ruler mount excessively, on account of his expenditures for his entourage and the great number of allowances he has to grant. The (available) revenue from taxes cannot pay for all that. Therefore, the dynasty must increase its revenues, because the militia needs (ever) larger allowances and the ruler needs (ever) more money to meet his expenditures. At first, the amounts of individual imposts and assessments are increased, as we have stated. Then, as expenses and needs increase under the influence of the gradual growth of luxury customs and additional allowances for the militia, the dynasty is affected by senility. Its people are too weak to collect the taxes from the provinces and remote areas. Thus, the revenue from taxes decreases, while the habits (requiring money) increase. As they increase, salaries and allowances to the soldiers also increase. Therefore, the ruler must invent new kinds of taxes. He levies them on commerce. He imposes taxes of a certain amount on prices realized in the markets and on the various (imported) goods at the city gates. (The ruler) is, after all, forced to this because people have become spoiled by generous allowances, and because of the growing numbers of soldiers and militiamen. In the later (years) of the dynasty, (taxation) may become excessive. Business falls off, because all hopes (of profit) are destroyed, permitting the dissolution of civilization and reflecting upon (the status of) the dynasty. This (situation) becomes more and more aggravated, until (the dynasty) disintegrates.

    Commercial activity on the part of the ruler is harmful to his subjects and ruinous to the tax revenue

    Sometimes, the ruler himself may engage in commerce and agriculture, from desire to increase (his) revenues. He sees that merchants and farmers make (great) profits and have plenty of property. (He sees) that their gains correspond to the capital they invest. Therefore, he starts to acquire livestock and fields in order to cultivate them for profit, purchase goods, and (enter business and) expose himself to fluctuations of the market. He thinks that this will improve (his) revenues and increase (his) profits.

    However, this is a great error. It causes harm to the subjects in many ways. First, farmers and merchants will find it difficult to buy livestock and merchandise and to procure cheaply the things that belong to (farming and commerce). The subjects have (all) the same or approximately the same amount of wealth. Competition between them already exhausts, or comes close to exhausting, their financial resources. Now, when the ruler, who has so much more money than they, competes with them, scarcely a single one of them will (any longer) be able-to obtain the things he wants, and everybody will become worried and unhappy.

    Furthermore, the ruler can appropriate much of (the agricultural products and the available merchandise), if it occurs to him. (He can do it) by force, or by buying things up at the cheapest possible price. Further, there may be no one who would dare to bid against him. Thus, he will be able to force the seller to lower his price. Further, when agricultural products such as corn, silk, honey, sugar, and other kinds of agricultural products, or goods of any kind, become available, the ruler cannot wait for a (favorable) market and a boom, because he has to take care of government (needs). Therefore, he forces the merchants or farmers who deal in these particular products to buy from him. He will be satisfied only with the highest prices and more. (The merchants and farmers, on the other hand), will exhaust their liquid capital in such transactions. The merchandise they thus acquire will remain useless on their hands. They themselves will no longer be able to trade, which is what enables them to earn something and make their living. Often, they need money. Then, they have to sell the goods (that they were forced to buy from the ruler), at the lowest prices, during a slump in the market. Often, the merchant or farmer has to do the same thing over again. He thus exhausts his capital and has to go out of business.658
    This becomes an often repeated process. The trouble and financial difficulties and the loss of profit which it causes the subjects, takes away from them all incentives to effort, thus ruining the fiscal (structure). Most of the revenue from taxes comes from farmers and merchants, especially once customs duties have been introduced and the tax revenue has been augmented by means of them. Thus, when the farmer gives up agriculture and the merchant goes out of business, the revenue from taxes vanishes altogether or becomes dangerously low.

    and

    Furthermore, (the trading of the ruler) may cause the destruction of civilization and, through the destruction and decrease of (civilization), the disintegration of the dynasty. When the subjects can no longer make their capital larger through agriculture and commerce, it will decrease and disappear as the result of expenditures. This will ruin their situation. This should be understood.

    and

    Amirs and other men in power in a country who engage in commerce and agriculture, reach a point where they undertake to buy agricultural products and goods from their owners who come to them, at prices fixed by themselves as they see fit. Then, they resell these things to the subjects under their control, at the proper times, at prices fixed by themselves. This is even more dangerous, harmful, and ruinous for the subjects than the afore-mentioned (procedure). The ruler is often influenced to choose such a (course) by that sort of people – I mean, merchants and farmers – who bring him into contact with the profession in which they have been reared. They influence the ruler to choose this (course). They work with him, but for their own profit, to garner quickly as much money as they may wish, especially through profits reaped from doing business without having to pay taxes and customs duties. Exemption from taxes and customs duties is more likely than anything else to cause one’s capital to grow, and it brings quick profits. These people do not understand how much damage is caused the ruler by each decrease in the revenue from taxes. The ruler, therefore, must guard against such persons, and not pay any attention to suggestions that are harmful to his revenues and his rule.

     

    24 Responses to “Economic Policy Advice From 1377 AD”

    1. Pouncer Says:

      Ibn Khaldun? Wasn’t it he who appeared in a series of b&w TV spots back in the 1950′s, sponsored by General Electric, that explained all this? Tall fella, Hollywood handsome, dark wavy hair…?

    2. Joe Citizen Says:

      Medieval Islamic Economics.

      Remind me never to hire David as my marketing adviser…
      :)

    3. David Foster Says:

      Doubt if you could afford me, Joe…

    4. Shannon Love Says:

      This is a highly modern translation of the work. Phrases and concepts like “liquid capital” didn’t really exist at the time although he probably did use something in arabic that was close to the modern concept.

      You have to be careful when reading old works, even in the original because words change meanings over time. E.g. the word “original” originally (heh) meant the exact opposite it does now. It meant, “from the beginning” because pre enlightenment culture lacked the concept of progress and thought all modern abilities degenerated from a golden past. When someone praised an art work as “original” they meant it was a copy of some great art of the past, possibly the first (and therefor best) instance of such art. As art shifted from ideal forms to the genertion of novelty, the word “original” continued to be a form of praise but it’s meaning inverted to mean a work vastly different from those of the past.

      Few know it today but for 500 years from the 800-1300, the Islamic world was probably the most free and economically dynamic civilization on earth. They got a great break in commerce because Mohammad came from a mercantile family and merchants acquired a higher status in the Muslim world than anywhere else. Their position linking Europe and Africa to Asia helped as well. The Muslim world was broken up into multiple polities but had a shared language of Arabic (like the Europeans had Latin and Greek) plus a fairly uniform body of laws and a system of justice based on the Koran. In short, the Islamic world looked like a medieval version of 19th century America i.e. (all relative to surrounding cultures) a vast free trade zone with high tolerance for differences and high status for economic creatives. The Islamic world was rich, relatively free and intellectually dynamic.

      All modern science traces its roots back through this dynamic Islamic period. Physics, chemistry, astronomy, optics, mathmatics etc all have obvious roots there. Chemistry comes from Alchemy which is a corruption of “Al-Kem” meaning “from Cario.” Algebra is a corruption of “Al -Gaber” (sp?) meaning “from Damascus.”

      Sadly, the Islamic world fell to the curse of Empire when the Ottomans conquered everywhere. Like all Empires, they were more concerned with security and internal stability than the wealth, freedom and progress of their subjects. They taxed trade or shut it down. Harassed and imprisoned thinkers and denigrated the economic creatives. It was increased Ottoman taxation that drove Westerners to find routes around Africa to the east thus virtually destroying the economic value of the mercantile class to the empire. In the early 1600s, the Ottomans outlawed the printing press and the Islamic world froze solid, never progressing again until forced to in the 20th century.

      It’s not just dynasties that become entitled, arrogant and lazy. It happens to entire civilizations. It is happening to us as well.

    5. David Foster Says:

      Shannon…”Few know it today but for 500 years from the 800-1300, the Islamic world was probably the most free and economically dynamic civilization on earth.”

      The libertarian writer Rose Wilder Lane made that argument in some of her works, specifically in The Discovery of Freedom. Googling around, I see that a book called Islam and the Discovery of Freedom excerpts that part of her book and adds commentary:

      http://www.amazon.com/Islam-Discovery-Freedom-Rose-Wilder/dp/0915957736

      She may go a little bit overboard on her enthusastic portrayal of the Islamic contributions…for example, as I noted in my review of her works:

      http://chicagoboyz.net/archives/27828.html

      …it is probably not correct that Muslims invented the magnetic compass, although they did serve as intermediaries in its diffusion.

    6. David Foster Says:

      Also, Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s unfinished novel of ideas “Citadelle” (published in English under the most unfortunate title “Wisdom of the Sands”) clearly draws heavily on Ibn Khaldun’s ideas.

    7. Bill Brandt Says:

      David – there was – I think – a PBS series on Islam – one of the few times I have watched PBS and I think – that society you described – was centered around Damascus – and in reading The Looming Tower, those adhering to radical Islam maintain that somehow it is the fault of the West for destroying this Muslim society. But I think it was the nature of Islam itself.

      Or more specifically, how it is practiced.

      I’ll have to reread this post tonight as it gives a lot to digest.

      There is a Muslim woman in Canada, Irshad Manji I believe, who argues that Islam is in need of a reformation – she is under a constant death threat

    8. Joe Citizen Says:

      “Few know it today but for 500 years from the 800-1300, the Islamic world was probably the most free and economically dynamic civilization on earth.”

      Was it not a slave society? Would that not affect the “freedom score”? Do you have a sense of how large a role slavery played in the economy?

    9. Mike K Says:

      “Sadly, the Islamic world fell to the curse of Empire when the Ottomans conquered everywhere. Like all Empires, they were more concerned with security and internal stability than the wealth, freedom and progress of their subjects. ”

      Remember, the Ottomans were Turks who began as slaves and soldiers and took over from the Arabs who had been the people of Mohammed. The Janissaries were children of Christians in Serbia who were kidnapped and kept as slave soldiers by the Turkish Ottoman rulers. Eventually the Janissaries took over and became Viziers. The translations of the Age of Translation under Harun al-Rashid were mostly done by Christian Greeks who had “converted” to Islam and learned Arabic. The concept of zero and the decimal point came from The Hindus and paper from China. Much of Arabic science was borrowed but at least they did preserve and expand it. The end of the Arab golden age came with the Mongol invasion. That is the reason why Americans were referred to as Mongols by Osama bin Laden. The Crusades may also have contributed to the collapse and the Turks took over, especially as Byzantium declined. The Turks moved the capital north to Constantinople away from Baghdad.

      The Turks eventually corrupted the economic system and, by the 15th century, the business of the empire was mostly conducted by Greeks. The Ottomans spent their time in war and luxury. Those rulers were little interested in science or economics and it showed. An advanced observatory was built about the same time as that of Tycho Brahe but the astronomer, had his observatory destroyed by Janissaries after he predicted a victory by the sultan after which the sultan lost the battle.

      The common language of commerce and learning was as you pointed out, a great advantage. Latin served the same purpose until quite recently, probably the 18th century when French became common among the educated. Greek and Latin were still dominant in science until the late 19th century/

    10. Shannon Love Says:

      Joe Citizen,

      Was it not a slave society?

      Of course it was because prior to the early 1800s, all human societies were slave societies except for Hunter-Gatherers and Pastoral nomads. The later only because they had little to no specialization of labor and thus couldn’t gain from having two specialized classes. When Christofer Columbus set foot in the New World in 1492, at least 80% of humanity were slaves or serfs and subject to the ownership and/or arbitrary power of others.

      Muslims were the greatest slave traders of history with their central position in the old world they could move slaves from Europe and Africa into the Mediterranean, the Middle-East and point east. Slaves were the primary trade commodity of all pre-industrial civilizations.

      It was not until a bunch of white, male, christian, capitalist in the early 1800s decided to force an end to slavery that it disappeared from most of the world, The major resistance to colonization in Africa came from Africans refusing to give up their slaves, usually estimated to have been 1/3 or more of the population. Slavery would be brought back to the Western world first by socialist, first theCommunist and then the the Fascist. It might have persisted and has definitely reoccurred in isolated parts of the Muslim world that escaped colonization.

      So, asking of historical society, “was it not a slave society” is pretty much akin to asking, “did they breath oxygen.” Unless its 18th century white male, christian capitalist you are talking about, the answer is always “yes.”

      Would that not affect the “freedom score”?

      That presumes that there is objective universal measure of freedom that could apply across all historical periods. No such measure exist. To benefit from freedom, democracy egalitarianism etc, a society doesn’t have t be some utopia, it merely has to possess those qualities in greater amount than the other societies they immediate compete against.

      You might be interested in my thoughts on the subject in Egalitarian Empires

      Oh wait, were you doing that annoying reflexive self-righteous Leftist bit were nobody in the past is worthy of the praise of such a glorious being such as yourself and every society always falls short of what it could have been if people like you had been charge?

      Cause, if you are, we could all save a lot of time if you just say so.

    11. Joe Citizen Says:

      “Oh wait, were you doing that annoying reflexive self-righteous Leftist bit were nobody in the past is worthy of the praise…”

      “, we could all save a lot of time if you just say so.”

      Actually, we could REALLY save a lot of time if you respond to me based on what I actually say rather than responding to some caricature that you dredged up from who-knows-where.

      Or maybe y’all are just dying to take on the caricatures, so it might not even matter so much precisely what I say. Is that what is going on?

    12. PenGun Says:

      You will find a lot of straw construction in this area but really this is an interesting post and thread.

      I mostly leave em’ alone except when the irony is too much for me..

    13. Mike K Says:

      Feeding trolls is usually disappointing, Shannon, but you know that.

      Slavery is still rather common in the Muslim world. One of the guys who used to sail with me had a girlfriend who was a TWA stewardess who flew to Egypt and North African destinations. She told us that TWA warned them all to avoid bazaars and shopping markets unless in groups. She herself knew several stews who disappeared there. Clavell’s novel, “Whirlwind” has a scene in an Iranian warlord’s fortress where a TWA stewardess is in his harem.

      Less glamorous slavery is still quite common in northeast Africa, such as Sudan.

    14. Joe Citizen Says:

      Shannon,

      As you can tell, my last comment was directed specifically at your rather unfortunate, and bizarre last paragraph.

      I do want you to know that I appreciate the time you took to answer at length my specific question. I have just a few observations on what you write.

      I find your explanation to be quite the oversimplification of the array of social relations existing in the premodern world. No doubt some large majority of people were subject to one form of indenture or another, but I don’t believe it is useful to lump them all together as “slaves”. I think the distinctions were real. I think there were some societies at least where full-blown slavery did not exist, and others where it was phased out long before the nineteenth century.

      But all that is somewhat besides the point. To the specific question of the Arabic situation, my understanding is pretty much in line with your characterization. That is in fact what compelled my original comment. You had earlier stated that Islamic civilization was perhaps the most free and prosperous in the world, and my impression was that they were up their eyeballs in the slave trade. I did not see, nor do I now, how those two ideas fit together. There may have been indenture in most, though not all, other places, but the Arab world seemed to specialize in it. I know that such a fact would certainly temper any praise that I could ever muster for their overall economic philosophy, and I was wondering why it did not seem to do so for you, nor even rate a mention.

      Finally, I must admit to being thoroughly puzzled by your comments about white male christian capitalists. I am not sure what the relevance of that is with regard to medieval Islam. You seem quite defensive, as if you felt the need to defend such people. Did anyone here attack them, or even mention them? I am quite aware of the fact that the slavery practiced by white male christian capitalists was also ended by white male christians. I am not sure if actual capitalists were at the fore, but whatever. I don’t see the relevance to medieval islam. And I really do wonder where that last paragraph came from. Is there some right wing comic book that informs your views of “leftists”?

    15. ErisGuy Says:

      “Slavery is still rather common in the Muslim world.”

      And slavery was common in Europe within my lifetime. And supported by many Europeans and by many American academics. I don’t think I’ll label a society as “non-slave” until the 100 years after the last slaver has died. Until then I can’t be certain slavery won’t return.

    16. Mike K Says:

      “And slavery was common in Europe within my lifetime.”

      Are you referring to the USSR ?

      Maybe you are just 250 years old.

    17. Shannon Love Says:

      Joe Citizen,

      As you can tell, my last comment was directed specifically at your rather unfortunate, and bizarre last paragraph.

      It’s not really bizzare and it ties altogether but I understand that you can’t see it. It’s not because your stupid or anything, it’s because the intellectual subculture you belong to a Leftists blinds you the answer. I know this because you answered exactly as I thought you would.

      Let us begin:

      I find your explanation to be quite the oversimplification of the array of social relations existing in the premodern world.

      It’s a comment on blog post. Of course its oversimplified. That doesn’t make it basically true however.

      No doubt some large majority of people were subject to one form of indenture or another, but I don’t believe it is useful to lump them all together as “slaves”.

      The primary defining condition of slavery is that the culture/society regarded the individual as chattel that could be bought, sold or inherited. The modern term is usually used to designated people removed from their land of birth but is neither historical nor sufficient. For example, it would mean that people enslaved in Nazi Germany or the Communist block weren’t actually slaves and it would also mean that individuals descended from generations of African-Americans in pre-civil war America were not slaves because they were in the native lands.

      In 1492 90% of humanity lived in meso-America, the Mediterranean basin, the middle-east, Indian, Southeast Asia (Khmer Empire), China or Japan. In all these regions at least the bottom 1/3 of the population in all those regions were either slaves (people moved in space) or serfs (people left in place but under the arbitrary power of other private actors.) Serfdom is more common for the simple reason that it’s easier to move a small group of warrior aristocrats than it is to move 10-20 times that number of farmers.

      Serfdom could be every bit as bad as more conventional slavery. Serfs could not leave decide not to be farmers anymore or even travel. Outside of the Christian, Islamic and China (at times.) most serfs could be legally murdered by aristocrats. In pre-Meji Japan, for example, any Samurai had the legal right to kill any commoner at any time on the Samurai’s sole discretion. All they had to do was to fill out some paperwork. By contrast, in the American south of the exact same period. Killing a slave was considered murder and white people could be and were convicted of murdering slaves.

      Except as noted above, slavery is a human universal. As soon as a society developed a specialized warrior caste and agriculture, bang, you get slavery immediately. Aztecs had slavery as did all the other known settled pre-columbian peoples of the new world. The Tlingit and Haida of the pacific northwest are particularly interesting because they had slaves and baroquely hierarchal culture otherwise but did not have settled agriculture (Fishing and whaling seems to have functioned the same.)

      You don’t know any of this because your education was laser focused on making the Western world look bad. You think that “Slavery” is something somehow unique or at least uniquely bad to the Western world. Well, it wasn’t.

      You had earlier stated that Islamic civilization was perhaps the most free and prosperous in the world, and my impression was that they were up their eyeballs in the slave trade. I did not see, nor do I now, how those two ideas fit together.

      Well, see know this was exactly the presupposition that I was snarkily critiquing in my last paragraph. Your statement makes no since unless you presume that there is some objective, platonic utopia to compare all past and present human societies to. Most Leftwing critiques of the past, are implicitly based on the premise that such a utopia did, does or can exist and that therefore all real societies always fall short. (I pretty sure the Marxist belief in the historical inevitability of the communist utopia created this expectation because Marxist thought the utopia not only possible but preordained by the laws of nature. )

      I just decided to cut to the chase in my last paragraph and fire a shot across your bow telling you I wasn’t going to entertain such nonsense but you didn’t get the hint and did it anyway.

      Since there is no objective and universal definition of “free” or any other social or political trait we can only measure such traits relative to other cultures. Further, it usually only makes sense to compare a culture/society against its contemporaries. By the relative standard of the time under question, the world of Islam was more free in most respects. True, they had slave but so did everyone else. True they were history’s greatest slave traders but then they were histories greatest traders prior to emergence of Northern Europe. On the other hand, Muslims of the time lived under more diffuse and more restricted political power did than did the majority of Europe of the day and the rest of the world wasn’t even close.

      I am particularly miffed because I explicitly stated that it was a relative measurement.

      There may have been indenture in most, though not all, other places, but the Arab world seemed to specialize in it.

      Nope, treating other people like chattel or other property is the norm and not the exception. It’s just part of the human experience that the modern Left aggressively downplays and trys to sweep under the rug. Look all you want, you won’t find a civilization (at least one permanent settlement of over 1,000 and some form of written communications) that did not have slavery. If you would like to provides some counter-examples, I will examine them but I have looked and found none.

      I know that such a fact would certainly temper any praise that I could ever muster for their overall economic philosophy, …

      Because you are a Leftists and believe in the perfectibility of men and usually your own implied perfection. You can’t reconcile a society of the past as being both relatively free and having slavery because you always have this unspoken assumption that (1) any people or any time in the past could have just chosen to create a near perfect society (just like you believe you could do so now) and (2) you imagine that if you were somehow back in time you would have heroically and superhumanly exceeded the limitations of the human knowledge of the day not to mention the local culture, society, and politics.

      All Leftism is based on that kind of elitist hubris. You simply cannot view anything in the world, past or present except as it relates to you personally. That is why you can’t see the classical Islamic world as being free. They just don’t measure up to your self-aggrandizing vision of what choices they could have made.

      ….and I was wondering why it did not seem to do so for you, nor even rate a mention.

      Oooooooooh! Maybe it’s because I secretly like slavery! Yeah, that must be it!

      OR

      As noted above, slavery in the classical Islamic world was wholly unexceptional for any civilization prior to, well, Pennsylvanian in 1750.

      It is also because unlike you, I view human perfection as not only impossible but actually a fallacious concept that leads to mass murder.

      Instead of viewing morality as absolute and obvious, I view it the result of the process of natural selection in which humans learn over time to cooperate with larger and larger populations and by doing so expand the definition of “real human being.” (Fun fact: In almost all hunter-gatherer languages, the concept for humans other than the people themselves is semantically grouped with animals i.e.. people outside the group aren’t conceptually human. That’s were we started as a species. The classical Islamic world represents an improvement over that.)

      Being neither superhuman myself nor expecting people of the past to have the morals, I do anymore than I would expect them to have the same technology, I have no problem in saying that classical Islamic world was arguably the freest of its day and that we can study it to find the root causes of freedom and prosperity such as limited government, diffuse government power, freedom of thought and perhaps the precursor to all those, free trade and free economics.

      Understand?

      Finally, I must admit to being thoroughly puzzled by your comments about white male christian capitalists. I am not sure what the relevance of that is with regard to medieval Islam.

      Because prior to white, male, christian capitalist, slavery was not even a moral question much less something to fight over. Again, it reinforces the idea that slavery was so common in the time of classical Islam that it deserves no special mention or attention anymore than capital punishment would have.

      You seem quite defensive, as if you felt the need to defend such people.

      Interesting that you saw that as a defense. Why would you assume that the sole group of people in whole of human history to find slavery morally repulsive and, further, who did something about at great cost in treasure and blood, would need defending at all. What, do you think I need to defend my grandfather for his Nazi punching in Belgium?

      I wasn’t defending them. I was glorifying them. Everything good in the modern world started with people whom the Left today classifies as white, male, christian capitalist.

      Did anyone here attack them, or even mention them?

      Leftists do nothing but attack them. In the Leftists eyes, they are the cause of woe in the world. That is why you assumed I was defending them instead of praising them. You assume they were bad people because that is what you were told all your life.

      I am quite aware of the fact that the slavery practiced by white male christian capitalists….

      Apparently not.

      Slavery was brought back to the Western world big time by the aristocrats who saw in slavery and plantations a more socially acceptable way of making money than grubby demeaning commerce or worse, manufacturing. The plantation culture of the American south was consciously modeled on aristocrats of Europe and they were openly scornful of capitalism and trade. The economic writings of the fathers of the confederacy sound like modern Leftwing rants against big banks, railroads, shipping etc. Robert E. Lee once derided the north as a “race of mechanics” i.e. low people who got their hands dirty fixing machines and lacking the nobility and valor necessary to win wars.

      …was also ended by white male christians.

      They didn’t just end it in the west, the ended it EVERYWHERE their power reached. Colonization also swept away slavery. The insistence by Europeans that Africans free their slaves was the major cause of resistance to European power. African were as used as all peoples to repeated waves of conquest or forced tribute but in the past, not even the Muslims had tried to disrupt the existing societies to the degree that ending slavery and the slave trade did. The history of the wars of colonization in Africa looked more like the American civil war than anything else. Many of the ethnic problems in Africa today, such as the ones that led to the Rwanda genocide, trace back to anger over the forced end of slavery.

      If it weren’t for white, male, christian, capitalist, slavery would still be wide spread. Where ever their power touched lightly, never touched or was overthrown, slavery came back. They are and remain, the only reliable anti-slavery force in the world.

      I am not sure if actual capitalists were at the fore,..

      Not only at the fore but basically the entire crowd. The first abolitionist were the “Barkers” radical puritans in the 1600 who were considered “barking mad” because they opposed things like slavery and animal cruelity. They were almost entirely urban commercial people. The actual anti-slavery movement in Britain was carried out by the upper middle-class early industrialist. These were the noncomformist religious people who were forced off their land and into business because they refused to join the C of E. They would begin the industrial revolution and also the anti-slavery movement. In America, all the major Abolitions came from great commercial families.

      The rise of capitalism and anti-slavery are directly and powerfully linked. Capitalism requires widespread trade, cooperation and law, all of which force an ever broader definition of “legal and morally protected human.”

      I don’t see the relevance to medieval islam

      See above. The White, Male, Christian Capitialist are the only exception to rule of universal slavery. As such the classical Islamic world doesn’t draw any special regard. If only you have a population of 100 and 99 do one thing and only 1 person does not. You single out the 1 person who does not instead of the 42th person who did.

      And I really do wonder where that last paragraph came from. Is there some right wing comic book that informs your views of “leftists”?

      I have used to be a leftists and have studied Leftists intellectual history extensively. The real problem here is that you don’t know your own intellectual history nor have you examined any of the presumption underlying why you think the way you do. Leftists are continously rewriting their own mythology. The fact that you don’t seem to know much about the role of capitalist in the anti-slavery movement says as much.

      Remember, doublethink wasn’t something that Orwell invented, it was something he observed in the far Left of his day. It is those Leftists who would become the intellectual grandparents of the current generation. They have sought to create a grand fictional narrative in which they have and always will be the sole heroes. Anything that doesn’t fit the narrative goes down the memory hole.

      E.g. The history of eugenics has been rewritten to make it seem like a rightwing, religious phenomena when in reality it was the early-20th century equivalent of global warming and supported by the same political demographic of secular, urban anti-traditionalist, mostly on the Left. For the last 15 years, Leftist have savagely mocked anyone who says that being gay isn’t somehow innate or biological in origin yet when I was in college in the early-80s leftist believed the EXACT OPPOSITE and I was called a literal Nazi for saying being gay was innate. Nothing change in early 90s scientifically, the Left just found it easier to market homosexuality as being akin to race so they did a full 180 and then promptly forgot they ever thought any differently.

      The history of slavery is so instructive in that regard. You don’t know anything about the real history of slavery and the anti-slavery movement because it shatters the Leftist’s narrative of commercial people always being greedy, self-centered and amoral. The idea that they originated, led and funded what is arguably the greatest moral crusade in history is simply impossible for the vast majority of self-absorbed Leftists to imagine much less admit.

      Don’t you find it odd that you, personally know so very little about the extent of slavery in ALL human history? Don’t you find it odd that you, personally know so little about how it came to end? Shouldn’t that be one of the great moral lessons of history?

      It would be if Leftists could find a way to make it a narrative about them but they can so they gloss over it. A story about how a bunch of business people wiped out a great evil often at a great cost doesn’t create a parable for why people should vote Democrat today.

      That’s why you, personally, Citizen Joe, don’t know the story. The people who shaped your world view since childhood don’t see it as important.

    18. Dan from Madison Says:

      OK can’t wait for Joe’s reply on that one.
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=angi1vwUkQc

    19. Joe Citizen Says:

      “It’s a comment on blog post. Of course its oversimplified. That doesn’t make it basically true however.”

      I think you mean “basically false” here, right? The brevity imposed by the medium does not preclude an acknowledgement of the complexity. Its not like you have to lay out an explanation of the complexity – you merely need to make an allusion to it – or even minimally, to not assertively claim that it is simple.

      “The modern term is usually used to designated people removed from their land of birth but is neither historical nor sufficient.”

      Gotcha. That seems to me to be another way of saying – I find the current sense of the terms to be unsatisfactory, so I am going to use the terms according to my own private definition.

      This certainly could be the spark of an extended and interesting discussion, but I don’t think it fair for you to find fault with me for using terms as they are commonly understood by contemporary speakers of the English language.

      Your extended historical discussion is fascinating, and I will read it over several times carefully. I do note that you begin by asserting that although 90% of people in Columbian times were indentured in one way or another, only about 1/3 were actual slaves. That seems in line with what I was thinking, so I am glad you agree.

      “You don’t know any of this because your education was laser focused on making the Western world look bad.”

      Now we get to what I can never understand at all about people like you. Clearly you are a learned and educated person, and yet you come up with such mindlessly stupid statements as this. Seriously, where do you get this stuff from? How can this coexist in the same brain as the spirit that went through all the hard work to learn all the things you have learned? Are you some cryptic, closet liberal who is on a mission to discredit the right-wing intelligentsia? For the record, I have never in my life been taught by anti-Western propagandists, or whatever you are imagining. I consider myself, and have always considered myself, to be quite the champion of Western values. Especially Enlightenment values. My big issue with classical liberals is that they seem to think that human intellectual progress had a golden age in the 18th century, and that everything since then has been a decline. I am a champion of living, breathing Western culture, not Western ancestor worship (although I do honor and respect those who blazed the trail for us).

      Seriously Shannon, your mind could be of use to the modern world. Get out of your bizzarro world bubble, lose this hostility to the contemporary world, and get in the game.

      “You think that “Slavery” is something somehow unique or at least uniquely bad to the Western world.”

      Point me to one thing that I said (that _I_ said) that could possibly, in any conceivable way, lead a rational person to conclude this.

      I said:
      “You had earlier stated that Islamic civilization was perhaps the most free and prosperous in the world, and my impression was that they were up their eyeballs in the slave trade. I did not see, nor do I now, how those two ideas fit together.”

      You responded (excerpted):
      “…Your statement makes no since unless you presume that there is some objective, platonic utopia to compare all past and present human societies to.”

      That makes no sense whatsoever. How can you possibly reach such an absurd conclusion? All I said was that Arab societies, who we seem to agree were the largest, and most central players in the slave trade, were most likely much less free than other societies existing at the time, societies that did not have such a deep connection to the slave trade.
      Where do you get this nonsense about the need for Platonic ideals, or grand transcendent comparisons of human societies. Do I need to simplify this for you? Here goes – the Arabs were the most egregious slavers of their time. If slavery is a negative factor in how free we deem a society, then the Arabs were undoubtedly less free than many, if not most societies existing at that time. Contrary to your assertion.
      Capece?

      “Most Leftwing critiques of the past, are implicitly based on the premise that such a utopia did, does or can exist and that therefore all real societies always fall short”

      How nice. May I suggest that when you meet someone who makes such an argument, that you take them on, with both barrels blazing. In the meantime, please have that minimal level of respect necessary to good conversation and address what the person in front of you actually says, rather than the phantom voices you hear in your head.

      “By the relative standard of the time under question, the world of Islam was more free in most respects.”

      MOST respects? Ah, so finally we get some pull back.

      “True they were history’s greatest slave traders”

      So maybe our dispute comes down to the rather smaller point of how much weight to give this factor in our personal calculations of how “free” overall, the society was.
      I somehow suspect this could point could have been excavated with far less blather and disrespect on your part.

      “.. but then they were histories greatest traders prior to emergence of Northern Europe.”

      And this one. For the record, I think that being history’s greatest slavers has a very heavy weight on my assessment of how free a society they were, and the fact that they were history’s greatest traders, at that time, doesn’t lighten the burden.

      I write: “I know that such a fact would certainly temper any praise that I could ever muster for their overall economic philosophy,” …

      You respond: “Because you are a Leftists and believe in the perfectibility of men”

      Actually no. Its because I think that being the world’s greatest slavers means that they were responsible for probably the worlds greatest amount of tyranny over individuals, at that time.

      I do not have, nor have I ever had, any notion of “perfectibility” of man. If anything, I have spent decades in revolt against claims of optima in most fields I have delved into.

      With all due respect (and I do mean that sincerely – I really love people who study things with the energy you do), your mind suffers from a real pathology – a defensive, lashing out, inability to see what is in front of you, obsession with going to war with caricatures of real people. Calm down buddy. The world is really far more interesting than your ideology tells you it is.

      I am actually running out of time to respond here, so I will pick out a few points from the rest of your post.

      “Anything that doesn’t fit the narrative goes down the memory hole.”

      There is some truth to that. To the extent that this is a human frailty, I would agree. If you think this is exclusive to “the left” that is crazy delusional. Ask the intellectual descendants of those who actually owned all the slaves about slavery. Heck, just to bring things into the present, ask any modern conservative Republican about where their heroes, like Reagan or Buckley, stood on civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights. Its barely been a generation and its all down the memory hole. Has their ever been a historical whitewashing quite like what is being done to Ronald Reagan? OK, maybe JFK, but that supports my point about its ubiquity.

      “They have sought to create a grand fictional narrative in which they have and always will be the sole heroes.”

      I see you have taken up this very campaign, for the opposite team. You do see that, don’t you?

      ” You don’t know anything about the real history of slavery and the anti-slavery movement because it shatters the Leftist’s narrative of commercial people always being greedy, self-centered and amoral.”

      Actually, no. I know a fair amount about the history of slavery, but not as much as you – not because of the playing out of grand historical themes, but because I have spent most of my limited time studying other matters. You have filled in a lot of details in your own narrative, and I very much appreciate you sharing that with me. I must admit that your tone, and your perspective raises to a very high level the natural skepticism I have on anything I read, but I will consider all your points. In general, to summarize my sense of your story, I think you greatly overemphasize the role of capitalists. My sense is that the driving force of the abolitionists was their religious beliefs, not their commercial values. I know all about Mr. Wilberforce, for example, and I never had the sense that he was an active capitalist. His story, at least as how I understand it, was all about his religious conversion.

      Capitalism _is_ about self-centeredness, greed, and amorality. That does not mean that actual capitalists are necessarily self-centered, greedy and amoral in all aspects of their life. Its just that the compassion, magnanimity and morality that they may exhibit comes to them from other sources than their economic philosophy.

      “The real problem here is that you don’t know your own intellectual history”

      No, the problem here is that you don’t know me, and have no real interest in engaging me. You want to fight your own battles against your own demonic enemies – perhaps fighting your own more youthful self – and you use me as an excuse. Maybe it is a good thing that you wrote such a long treatise here – perhaps you have gotten it all out of your system, and you can actually start to settle down and talk to real people. I have my doubts. This is usually a very long term process.

      “or have you examined any of the presumption underlying why you think the way you do.”

      Plus you are, to some extent, an arrogant prick. I have spent my life, in my own feeble way, trying to do just this.

      As someone who has tended to write somewhat long comments, this might seem odd, but in the future I would appreciate it if you broke up your comments into more digestible bits. I do have a life that needs attending…..On that point, I will be away for a few days, perhaps a week to tend to an ailing parent, so please don’t feel disrespected if you choose to respond, and I do not. I will be back in the near future.

    20. Mike K Says:

      Joe, I think you should get on with that life that needs you so badly.

      “your mind suffers from a real pathology – a defensive, lashing out, inability to see what is in front of you, obsession with going to war with caricatures of real people. Calm down buddy. The world is really far more interesting than your ideology tells you it is.”

      Another trollism.

      Nice discussion Shannon. However, pearls before swine, etc. No doubt the troll is contemptuous of the classical Greeks because slavery was a universal practice.

    21. John in KC Says:

      Thanks for putting it out there, Shannon.

      “Plus you are, to some extent, an arrogant prick”

      Yet another trollism from a troll who just lost.

    22. ErisGuy Says:

      “Are you referring to the USSR ?”

      Yes, of course. In May 1941, the laws which established slave camps ran from the Pyrenees to Vladivostok when almost all of Europe fell under the control of the national or international socialists. Socialism not only permits slavery, it requires it.

      Slavery did not end in western Europe until 1945, and in eastern Europe until 1991.

    23. Shannon Love Says:

      Joe Citizen,

      I think you mean “basically false” here, right? The brevity imposed by the medium does not preclude an acknowledgement of the complexity. Its not like you have to lay out an explanation of the complexity – you merely need to make an allusion to it – or even minimally, to not assertively claim that it is simple.

      As someone who has tended to write somewhat long comments, this might seem odd, but in the future I would appreciate it if you broke up your comments into more digestible bits.

      Make up your mind. Do you want you want to qualify ever single nuance I can think of or do you want me to write something pithy? I can’t do both. If you want me to shorten things, you’ll have to make a good faith effort to fill in the blanks in my favor and not play dorm-room-debate-gotcha with every simplification or missing nuance.

    24. Nicholas Says:

      My maternal grandparents are both still alive (in their 90s) and both were slaves of the USSR for about seven years from (I think) 1940 to 1947. They were civilian Jews who fled east from Hitler, were captured by the soviets and were held on a farm in Kazakhstan and forced to grow food for the Red Army. It wasn’t until they heard that the war was over (about two years after the fact) and staged a hunger strike that they were finally released.

      It is my understanding that the Soviets had millions of slaves at least into the 50s.