26 April, 2013

Striking It Rich in Ancient Times: An Example From the Song Dynasty

In "Notes on the Dynamics of Human Civilization: the Growth Revolution" and "A Flawed Comparison: Inequality, Ancient and Modern" I contended that the process through which premodern societies and individuals acquired their riches is fundamentally different from the way fortunes are created and acquired today. An interesting example is provided by the Song Dynasty and their competitors on the Eurasian steppe.

The Song Dynasty is not famed for its military victories or the extent of its domain; for much of its existence the dynasty controlled only half of China, pushed south of the Huai River by Manchurian armies. What the Song lacked in conquests they made up for in culture, refinement, and economic prosperity. The Song Dynasty benefited from what has been termed the "Commercial Revolution" or the "Medieval Economic Revolution" of premodern China, which started during the Tang Dynasty and reached its apogee when the Song Dynasty was forced into the Mongol world empire. During this time banking and credit institutions first emerge as major part of China's economy, Chinese sailors master the techniques of seafaring and become the dominant traders across the South China Sea and Indian Ocean, thousands of new irrigation projects boosted agricultural production to unprecedented heights, the trading networks of the Silk Road reach all the way to Europe, and the world's first paper currency is issued in Southern China. No other Chinese empire can claim an economy as open to outside influence or as important to global economic production. 

If any premodern society could claim that its wealth was the product of commerce, it would be the Song and the neighbors with whom they traded. These neighbors varied from time to time. In the dynasty's early days (known as the Northern Song) their chief rivals and trading partners were the Liao Dynasty, founded by nomadic Khitan invaders but thoroughly sinicized by the time of the Song, and the Xi Xia of northwestern China,  whose Tangut language and ethnic identity are related to modern Tibetan. Travelers on the Silk Road would pass through one of these kingdoms on their way to Song China.

The Northern Song, Xi Xia, and Liao Empires c. 1000 AD

Image Source: Asia Topics for Educators. "Song Engagement With the Outside World." ©2008.

Economic interactions between the three empires were of two types: trade and tribute. The trade was a natural by product of the Silk Road network; the tribute was paid by the Song Dynasty to stop their Northern rivals from cutting the trade off. The scope of these interactions is captured by Shiba Yoshinobu in his essay for China Among Equals: The Middle Kingdom and Its Neighbors, 10th-14th Centuries:
The Song had agreed to send 100,000 taels of silver along with 200,000 bolts of silk to the Liao as annual tribute. The amounts were later raised to 200,000 and 300,000 respectively. But this did not result in an increase in Liao's bullion holdings. Song exports normally exceeded imports by a great margin. On the average, Song's foreign trade with the Liao showed an annual favorable trade balance of 800,000 strings of cash, of which the government's share through official trade accounted for about 400,000 to 500,000 strings. This excess of exports over imports enabled the Song to regain all of the silver sent to the Liao as tribute. [1]
Through trade and commerce Song society regained everything that it sent in tribute and still managed to turn a profit. Trade relations with the Xi Xia were a bit more equal (with one of their horses equal to 20 bolts of silk, the 20,000 horses sold to the Song dynasty every year managed to balance the accounts) but they still ended up trading all of their treaty silver back to the Song. [2]

Alas, Song's fortunate position did not last. Afraid of Liao's military power, the Song dynasts lent support to a Jurchen tribal confederation in Manchuria. The Jurchen military machine was spectacularly successful; by 1125 the Jurchens had destroyed the Liao Dynasty in its entirety. They did not stop there. Turning on their benefactors, they invaded Song lands and settled down to form their own dynasty, the Jin

 Jurchen conquests in Northern China.

Image Source: GeoNova. "Song and Jin Dynasties." mapshop.com. Accessed 29 April 2013. 

Professor Yoshinobu describes the riches the Jurchens claimed through their conquest:
The Jurchens, who founded the Jin dynasty, were enriched after the surrender of the Northern Song capital. They acquired an enourmous amount of Song silver reserve, valued at 40 million taels, along with 3 million ting of gold, 8 million ting of silver, 54 million bolts of silk, and 15 million bolts of silk brocade.  (emphasis added) [3]
After the Jurchen conquest trade began again. In time Song's economic relations with the Jin mirrored its earlier dealings with Liao. The Jin made great profit from the Silk Road - but the goods they traded over the years never matched the treasure seized in a single year's conquest. This is a consistent pattern seen across pre-modern society. Before the growth revolution, sacking a prosperous city promised profits that only decades of plenty and peace could provide. 

[1] Shiba Yoshinobu. ""Sung Foreign Trade: Its Scope and Organization." China Among Equals: The Middle Kingdom and Its Neighbors, 10th-14th Centuries. (Berkeley: University of California Press). 1984. p. 98

[2] Shiba Yoshinobu. ibid. p. 100-101.

[3] Shiba Yoshinobu. ibid. p. 102

23 April, 2013

Global Temperature, 0-2000 AD

This week a 78-man team of international researchers organized as the PAGES (Past Global Changes) 2k Network published a report for Nature Geoscience reconstructing Earth's climate for the past 2,000 years. The report is the most comprehensive of its type yet published, and its focus on detailing regional (vs. hemispheric or global) temperatures is unique. Each region is examined in 30 year increments, allowing us to spot regional variations usually lost in the global climate reconstructions.
Temperature changes for six continents, 0-2000 AD.  The graph is divided into bars representing 30 year periods; color represents the extent of warming or cooling.

Image Source: Adapted from Figure 2: Continental Scale Temperature Reconstructions in PAGES 2k Consortium. "Continental-scale temperature variability during the last two millennia." Nature Geoscience. 22 April 2013. 

The PAGES 2k Network's "frequently asked question" page provides a concise summary of the results:

What are the primary conclusions of the study?

(1) The most coherent feature in nearly all of the regional temperature reconstructions is a long-term cooling trend, which ended late in the 19th century.
  • The regional rate of cooling varied between about 0.1 and 0.3°C per 1000 years.
  • A preliminary analysis using a climate model indicates that the overall cooling was caused by a combination of decreased solar irradiance and increased volcanic activity, as well as changes in land cover and slow changes in the Earth’s orbit. The simulations show that the relative importance of each factor differs between regions.
(2) Temperatures did not fluctuate uniformly among all regions at multi-decadal to centennial scales. For example, there were no globally synchronous multi-decadal warm or cold intervals that define a worldwide Medieval Warm Period or Little Ice Age.
  •  The period from around 830 to 1100 CE generally encompassed a sustained warm interval in all four Northern Hemisphere regions. In contrast, in South America and Australasia, a sustained warm period occurred later, from around 1160 to 1370 CE.
  • The transition to colder regional climates between 1200 and 1500 CE is evident earlier in the Arctic, Europe and Asia than in North America or the Southern Hemisphere.
  •  By around 1580 CE all regions except Antarctica entered a protracted, multi-centennial cold period, which prevailed until late in the 19th century.
  • Cooler 30-year periods between the years 830 and 1910 CE were particularly pronounced during times of weak solar activity and strong tropical volcanic eruptions. Both phenomena often occurred simultaneously. This demonstrates how temperature changes over large regions are related to changes in climate-forcing mechanisms. Future climate can be expected to respond to such forcings in similar ways. 
(3) The 20th century ranked as the warmest or nearly the warmest century in all regions except Antarctica. During the last 30-year period in the reconstructions (1971-2000 CE), the average reconstructed temperature among all of the regions was likely higher than anytime in nearly 1400 years. However, some regions experienced 30-year intervals that were warmer than 1971-2000. In Europe, for example, the average temperature between 21 and 80 CE was warmer than during 1971-2000. [1]

I imagine a lot of the commentary on this study will focus on point #3, for it is the conclusion most relevant to current policy debates. As my interest in understanding the the dynamics of human civilization is just as strong as my interest in contemporary politics, my comments will focus on the first two conclusions, which have the potential to shed light on several larger historical questions.

The novelty of this report lies in its highly detailed breakdown of the last 2,000 years along regional lines. From this regional breakdown it is apparent that many famous climatic events, such as the Little Ice Age and Medieval Warm Optimum, were not global events, but regional ones. Even events of a hemispheric scale differed in intensity from region to region. The Medieval Warm Period, for example, sees warming across the Northern Hemisphere, but it is in Eastern North America and Europe (two regions whose temperature is influenced by the Gulf Stream) that warming is most dramatic. Other events rarely mentioned by historians also become apparent - more dramatic than the Medieval Warm Optimum are the temperatures recorded eight centuries before. Europe's climate in this "Roman Warm Optimum" (my term) was hotter than its climate during the more famous warm period period of the middle ages, and is comparable to Europe's climate during the 20th century. Another warm period, rarely mentioned in the historical literature, can be seen in Oceania and South America during the high middle ages.

Why does all of this matter?

In recent years numerous historians have tied the events they chronicle to the broader climatic conditions of the times. The implications of some of these assertions are far reaching. A good example is Mark Elvin's observation that the Chinese dynasties who managed to expand their influence into Manchuria, Korea, and the Northern steppe all rose to power during periods of warmth:

Table 1 from Mark Elvin. The Retreat of the Elephants: An Environmental History of China.
(New Haven: Yale University Press). 2006.  p. 5. 
Professor Elvin bases many of his arguments about China's pre-modern environment and climate on literary evidence. Temperature reconstructions offer us the opportunity to test these type of claims against the data.

An exhaustive review of the relationship between Chinese history and East Asian ecology deserves its own post; for the moment I am content to point out the research routes studies like this one open up to historians. However, these studies do have some serious limitations.

The most important of these is highlighted by existence of the study itself. The PAGES 2k Network built continental reconstructions instead of a single global reconstruction because they felt that previous reconstructions of Earth's temperature masked dramatic regional variation. Their suspicions were proven correct. 

This same concern can be applied to to continental reconstructions just as easily as it is to global ones. Do continental reconstructions mask regional variation within continents?

Looking at the geographic distribution of the sites used by the 2k Network to create the study can help us answer this question. One of the largest sets of data was gathered for the Asia continental region.  The data was taken from tree ring samples across the continent.

Location of tree rings used to create temperature estimates for Asia.

Image Source: Figure S.9 from "Supplementary Information" to PAGES 2k Consortium. "Continental-scale temperature variability during the last two millennia." Nature Geoscience. 22 April 2013. p. 42.

A quick glance at the map shows that the sites are not evenly distributed. The majority are found in the sparsely populated Altai, Qilian, and Himalayan mountain ranges or the island of Hokkaido. The Deccan Plateau and Yangtze River Basin have one site each, South East Asia claims less than three, and the Manchurian plain and Yellow River Basin have none at all. The reason for this seems fairly obvious: Asia's major population centers will have few century old trees to reconstruct temperatures from. Unfortunately for historians, these areas are also home to the region's oldest civilizations and were the center of the continent's greatest sedentary empires. Thus our question becomes: to what extent does the climatic history in Mongolia, Tibet, or Hokkaido reflect temperatures in Nanjing or Hyderabad?

Measurements of climate change during the last century provides a partial answer. As the study notes, the 20th century was marked by warming on a global scale. The figure at the top of this post breaks this warming down on a continent-by-continent basis. Because the data available for the 20th century far outstrips that of past centuries, this data can be analyzed with greater finesse. Consider the following representation of global temperature and precipitation change from 1950 to 2000:

Changes in average temperature and precipitation, 1950-2011.

Image Source: adapted from Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, Francisco Doblas-Reyes, Sybren Drijfhout and Ed Hawkins."Verifying Regional Model Trends." RealClimate. 15 April 2013.

Continental variation is easy to see. More interesting is regional variation within continents. Again taking Asia as the example, the degree of warming differed quite drastically from one region to another. Bangladesh, Sichuan, the Yellow River Plain, and the Russian steppe vary widely in the pace of warming seen during these 50 years. At least 2 degrees Celsius mark the difference between areas adjacent to the Bay of Bengal and those within the Eurasian steppe! PAGES 2k Network's decision to base their regions on continents (instead of biomes or another less arbitrary unit) limits the study's usefulness. [2]

With this limitation recognized, the study is still worth using and referring to. Many other studies of this type limit their claims to century long averages. The PAGES 2k team was able to report average temperatures on a thirty year basis, and promises that in the future it will be able to create annual averages for the entire time period studied. This means that for the areas like Western Mongolia, New Zealand, or Hokkaido where multiple sites exist, scientists can deduce the average temperature of any given year of the last 1,000. That is a truly remarkable achievement.


[1] PAGES 2k Consortium."2k Network FAQ." www.pages-igbp.org. accessed 22 April 2013.

The citation for the original study is:

PAGES 2k Consortium. "Continental-scale temperature variability during the last two millennia." Nature Geoscience. Published online 22 April 2013. doi:10.1038/ngeo1797

[2] This is true for the other continents studied as well. The majority of temperature reconstructions for the Australian continent, for example, were from New Zealand, while the few sites on the Australian continent itself were about equal to the sites on Pacific islands or atolls. The continent's interior had no sites at all. North America is another intriguing case. Here the data is divided between two sets: pollen counts, whose sites were centered on the Eastern United States, and tree rings, whose sites were centered on the Rocky Mountains. The variation between the two data sets probably reflects the different geographic distribution of each. 

19 April, 2013

Mourning For Boston

Boston will always have a special place in my heart.

In October of 2010 I was called to serve as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I was asked to serve in the Boston-Massachusetts Mission. I accepted the call and for the next two years New England was my home. Approximately half of my time was spent in the Boston Metro. There was not a city between Lexington and Lynn whose streets I did not travel. I know those neighborhoods better than any of the dozen other places I called home before I came to Boston. Those streets will always be with me.

Most missionaries have a special relationship with the places they go to serve. They drop all that they have done or might do for two years and devote their entire lives to serving and helping others. Missionaries are plunged into a world that they do not know and then asked to give everything to it. They spend all of their time, devote all of their efforts, focus all of their thoughts, and give all that they are to teaching, serving and strengthening the people around them. In the end they do not just help the people around them. They come to love them. Even when those people are stubborn, ornery, chilly New Englanders.

Last year I celebrated Patriot's Day with the rest of Boston. The year before I watched the Boston Marathon, cheering the runners on the same street where the bombs went off. On Patriot's Day the entire city is a party. I have only seen two days to which I could compare it: The Fourth of July and the night the Bruins won the Stanley Cup. And unlike the other two holidays, Patriot's Day manages to pull the party off with far less drunkedness.

This attack cuts deep. It cuts me deep.

However I am not just sorrowed by the attack. I am saddened by America's response to it. I now plead to my countrymen: keep this tragedy in its proper perspective.

When I returned from work today the news was full of reports on the metro's lock down and my Facebook feed full of friends who were ordered to stay indoors. Schools were shut down, universities did not open, the T did not run, and the Sox game was postponed. Half the metro was placed on lockdown. Empty streets were filled with SWAT officers and police men - some 9,000 were mobilized before the day was over, rolling down the streets of Boston in humvees and full military attire. [1]

Mario Tanza/ Getty Images, Watertown, 19 April 2013. Source

If this is the way America reacts to a terrorist attack then we have drifted terribly and horribly awry.

Eugene Kontorovich explains why this is so disturbing:
Two Chechen Islamist terrorists have succeeded in turning Boston, America’s cradle of liberty, into a prison. Just when we had gotten used to obscene lines and searches at airports as the price we pay for safety, the lockdown of Boston illustrates the extent to which civil liberties are at stake in the war on terror. Since 9/11, there has been an ongoing debate about the protection of the rights of suspected terrorists. But today’s events show that its is not just the civil liberties of terrorists at stake, but also those of millions of innocent civilians. 
If Boston is “closed” for just six hours, that is 175,000 man days of functional house arrest; roughly as many as would be required to keep everyone in Guantanamo confined for a year or two. [2]
Boston was turned into a prison to catch a 19 year old who killed three people. Lets put this in perspective: every year an average of 115 people are murdered in the Boston Metro. [3] That is roughly one murder every three days. Living in Boston's lower income "ghettos" I was acutely aware of this fact. I befriended many people whose friends and family members were the victims of gang warfare. Their deaths brought no manhunts.

Photo by Feyza Burak Ali, Watertown, 19 April 2013. Source.
Acts of terrorism are different from normal homicides, and they should not be treated as such. Justice must be mete out.  But the fearful and extreme response of the American government and her people are disgraceful, fit for a nation of sheep, not citizens. Again, I implore my fellow countrymen to  see things in proper perspective. India and Great Britain have shown how great power democracies can weather protracted terrorist campaigns without curtailing civil liberties or searching homes with heavily armed troops. Between 1970 and 1999 the Provisional Irish Republican Army detonated over forty bombs in the city of London alone. Since 2000 Islamic terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and the Indian Mujahadeen have staged more than 30 different attacks in India since the 1990s. The most recent, a motorcycle bombing in Bangalore, happened two days ago. Great Britain survived the IRA. India thrives despite her home-grown Jihadists. Neither nation resorted to urban lock downs or paramilitary man hunts to do so.  

The bitter irony of the counter-terror operations we witnessed today is that they produce exactly what they are trying to combat: terror. This is a constant theme of interviews with laymen in Watertown and surrounding areas. A couple examples suffice. The first is an interview published by NPR:  

Meantime, residents such as Emi Larsen were just trying to get through the day. She's a nurse at Boston's Floating Hospital for Children and was a volunteer at the Boston Marathon's medical tent on Monday. Larsen said her goal was to keep her kids entertained while they're trapped inside the house.

"My husband and I are trying not to be emotional, trying to keep them distracted," she said. "Everything is so heightened, then you have to try to paint with your kids so they're not stir-crazy in the house." 
Larsen lives in Belmont, right next to Watertown. "Overnight, we heard a lot of sirens," she said during a phone interview. "Just a second ago, there were all these helicopters." 
Monday's blasts had left her "feeling overwhelmed and emotional," but she said she found it calming to attend Thursday's interfaith memorial service and to shake President Obama's hand. 
"It was really an emotional day, and it felt very healing," Larsen said. 
But Friday's manhunt changed all that. 
"Today, it's so much scarier," she said." [4]
The other is an account e-mailed to Time Magazine:
"At 1:45 this afternoon, there was a pounding on our door. I was shaking and asked, “Who is it?” They said it was the police, but I was still scared to open the door. I sent my 6-year-old daughter to the third floor. I didn’t want her to see any of this. She knows there were explosions at the marathon on Monday and that people were hurt. She knows that the police think they know who did it, and lots of people are looking for them and keeping us safe. Still, when the police banged on the door, I hustled her out. I don’t want her to see her neighborhood swarming with guns.

When I opened the door, there were three police officers in fatigues standing there with huge guns, pointing into our house and at me. I know these people are here to protect me, but I have never stared into the barrel of a gun before, and I hope I never have to again." [5]
Photo by Michael Danubio, Watertown, 19 April 2013. Source.
Had someone told me two weeks ago that a terrorist attack on a major U.S. city would wreak such devastation that its citizens would be unable to walk outside and convoys of military vehicles would be rolling down its streets I would have dismissed the story without second thought. Only a truly catastrophic attack could possibly produce such ruin and terror. 

We suffered no attack of this sort. Our terror is entirely of our own making. 


[1] The statistic comes from Nikhil Kumar. "'We got him': 19-year-old Boston bomb suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev alive and in custody after stand-off in Watertown" The Independent. 19 April 2013.

[2] Eugene Kontorovich. "American Athens Becomes Prison City." Volokh Conspiracy. 19 April 2013. Hat tip to John Kranz.

[3] "America's Best and Worst Cities for Crime: Metropolitan Area List" Sperlings. 2013. Based on the FBI's 2012 UCR Report.

[4] Alan Greenblatt. "Boston on Lockdown: Today is So Much Scarier." NPR. 19 April 2013. 

[5] Jenifer Sartori. "A Town Under Siege: Watertown Residents Describe Life Under Lockdown." Time. 19 April 2013. 

14 April, 2013

Notes From All Over (14/4/2013) - Digital Feudalism, Macrohistory, and Energy

A collection of articles, essays, and blog post of merit.

This collection is a large one. 


Our Internet Surveillance State
Bruce Schneier. Schneier on Security. 25 March 2013.
The Internet is a surveillance state. Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, and whether we like it or not, we're being tracked all the time. Google tracks us, both on its pages and on other pages it has access to. Facebook does the same; it even tracks non-Facebook users. Apple tracks us on our iPhones and iPads. One reporter used a tool called Collusion to track who was tracking him; 105 companies tracked his Internet use during one 36-hour period.....

This is ubiquitous surveillance: All of us being watched, all the time, and that data being stored forever. This is what a surveillance state looks like, and it's efficient beyond the wildest dreams of George Orwell.

Sure, we can take measures to prevent this. We can limit what we search on Google from our iPhones, and instead use computer web browsers that allow us to delete cookies. We can use an alias on Facebook. We can turn our cell phones off and spend cash. But increasingly, none of it matters.
See also: Feudal Security
Bruce Schneier. Schneier on Security. 3 December 2012.


Some Macrohistorical Context About Mynamar
Razib Khan. Gene Expression. 7 April 2013.

Posts like this are the reason Razib Khan should be on your blog roll.

Domain as State: Sengoku Daiymo Seen Through International Relations Theory
Nate Ledbetter. Sengoku Field Manual. 14 March 2013. 

In  "Whence Springs a Strategic Canon?" I suggested that the Sengoku period of Japanese history might boast its own "international state system" and "military revolution" comparable to that of Early Modern Europe and Warring States China, but admitted that my knowledge of the period is not strong enough to back up this claim. Mr. Ledbetter's knowledge of the period is strong to evaluate the claim and he devotes the first part of this paper to doing so. 

How Social Darwinism Made Modern China 
Ron Unz. The American Conservative. 11 March 2013

The Evolution of Japan's Turn Away From Confucianism
Mark Hoffman. Japan Times10 February 2013. 


Lets Do Monetary Theory and Lets Do MT - Deferred Promissory Trades
"MaxedOutMama." Maxed-Out-Mama. 25 March 2013/26 March 2013.

A series devoted to building monetary theory from the ground up - and she really means it, starting with the gift exchanges of Chimpanzees and moving on from there. Fascinating analysis; I look forward to the series completion. 

Superior Mayan Engineering
Noah Smith. Noahpinion. 3 April 2013.

Noah Smith looks at Mexico's growing economy and pulls a few historical lessons from it:
That blueprint is called, for lack of a better term, "manufacturing-export capitalism". We don't really know what countries can do to get rich, but the really successful ones all seem to do something that looks like "manufacturing-export capitalism". And it's basically what Mexico is doing right now.... But in that theory, there's a catch - not all countries can industrialize at once. There's only a certain amount of manufacturing exports that the rich countries can absorb. So countries have to wait and develop one by one, which is unfortunate, and which is frustrating. Actually you can almost see this happening in East Asia - first Japan got rich, then Korea and Taiwan, now China, tomorrow maybe Vietnam.


Don't Mess With Dr. Zhang
Dave Cohen. Decline of the Empire. 8 April 2013.

Hydrogen fuel (extracted from plants) may be the next big thing in reneweable energy - Virginia Tech's Dr. Y. H. Percival Zhang has made remarkable breakthroughs in making this a reality.    

Why Abundant Oil Has Not Cut Gasoline Prices
Asjylyn Loder, Mario Parker, and Matthew Philips. Businessweek. 28 March 2013.

Six Reasons Fracking Has Flopped Overseas
Jeff McMahon. Forbes. 7 April 2013.


The Mesh of Civilizations and International Email Flows 
Bogdan State, Patrick Park, Ingmar Weber, Yelena Mejova, Michael Macy. Technology Reviewver. 2.1. March 2013.

Samuel Huntington is famous for the thesis that the world is divided among cultural and religious lines, which he labels "civilizations." This study analyzed global e-mail correspondence to find out if the world is connected along Huntington's "civilizational" lines. The result: it is. Page 7 has the info-graphic ("Figure 3") that explains it all. 

Hat tip to Breviosity

Analysis: In bitter irony for China, North Korea furthers U.S. strategic goals
Paul Eckert. Reuters. 10 April 2013.

A Day in the Life of a Beijing 'Black Guard"
Lan Feng and Ren Zhongyuan. Caixin Online. 2 April 2013.


Aligning FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency with reality
Stephen Melton. Small Wars Journal9 April 2013.

Earlier this week I wrote that "counterinsurgency operations are dead. Dead as a doornail."   More specifically, the operations authorized by the Obama administration are in direct contradiction with the principles set forth in FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency. Stephen Melton outlines what might replace them. 

Hat tip to Zenpundit.

The Western Strategic Tradition
Lynn Rees. Committee of Public Safety. 14 April 2013.

A informative survey on different sources of the Western strategic tradition, written in response to my earlier post, "Whence Springs a Strategic Canon?

Of  E.O. Wilson, IR, and Strategy
Adam Elkus. Logics of Transformation. 8 April 2013.


Abnormal is the New Normal: Why Will Half the U.S. Will Have A Diagnosable Mental Disorder? 
Robin Rosenberg. Slate. 12 April 2013.

Could This Be China's Youth Movement? and Are You A 'Diaosi' or 'Chinsumer?
David Cohen. The Diplomat: China Power. 30 March 2013 and Want China Times. 9 March 2013.


The Making of the Obesity Epidemic: How Food Activism Led Public Health Away
Helen Lee. Breakthrough Institute Journal. Spring 2013.

Moving Beyond the Crisis of Political Science 
Adam Elkus. Logics of Ttransformation. 9 April 2013.

Mega-Volcanoes Tied to Pre-Dinosaur Mass Extinction 
Kevin Krajick. The Earth Institute: Columbia University. 21 March 2013.

13 April, 2013

"Winning Hearts and Minds" Is Dead

"The primary objective of any COIN operation is to foster development of effective governance by a legitimate government. Counterinsurgents achieve this objective by the balanced application of both military and nonmilitary means.... Governments described as “legitimate” rule primarily with the consent of the governed; those described as “illegitimate” tend to rely mainly or entirely on coercion. Citizens of the latter obey the state for fear of the consequences of doing otherwise, rather than because they voluntarily accept its rule."- United States Army Field Manual No. 3-24, section 1-113. [1]

(Photo: Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt / US Air Force via The New York Times)
Counterinsurgency operations are dead. Dead as a door nail. Almost all observers in security circles have recognized that the Obama administration has replaced counterinsurgency (COIN) campaigns with a different type of warfare, sometimes called "counter-terror (CT)" or "limited war operations." Only recently did I realize how antithetical the two approaches are.

The hundreds of drone strikes authorized by the President since he first took office are a telling example. The headline tells this story better than I can:

U.S. Drone Strikes In Afghanistan Cause Villagers To Flee

KHALIS FAMILY VILLAGE, Afghanistan -- Barely able to walk even with a cane, Ghulam Rasool says he padlocked his front door, handed over the keys and his three cows to a neighbor and fled his mountain home in the middle of the night to escape relentless airstrikes from U.S. drones targeting militants in this remote corner of Afghanistan.

Rasool and other Afghan villagers have their own name for Predator drones. They call them benghai, which in the Pashto language means the "buzzing of flies." When they explain the noise, they scrunch their faces and try to make a sound that resembles an army of flies.

"They are evil things that fly so high you don't see them but all the time you hear them," said Rasool, whose body is stooped and shrunken with age and his voice barely louder than a whisper. "Night and day we hear this sound and then the bombardment starts."


The Associated Press – in a rare on-the-ground look unaccompanied by military or security – visited two Afghan villages in Nangarhar province near the border with Pakistan to talk to residents who reported that they had been affected by drone strikes.

In one village, Afghans disputed NATO's contention that five men killed in a particular drone strike were militants. In the other, a school that was leveled in a nighttime airstrike targeting Taliban fighters hiding inside has yet to be rebuilt.

"These foreigners started the problem," Rasool said of international troops. "They have their own country. They should leave."

From the U.S. perspective, the overall drone program has been a success. [2]
I suppose only a few Americans have thought about what it is like to try and work, commute, or play beneath the drones. They have never had to explain to a young child what makes the terrible buzzing sound. For us it is a disconcerting thought. Those living under the shadow of the drones know it as a terrifying reality. From the 2012 report Living Under Drones:
One of the few accounts of living under drones ever published in the US came from a former New York Times journalist who was kidnapped by the Taliban for months in FATA. In his account, David Rohde described both the fear the drones inspired among his captors, as well as among ordinary civilians: “The drones were terrifying. From the ground, it is impossible to determine who or what they are tracking as they circle overhead. The buzz of a distant propeller is a constant reminder of imminent death.” Describing the experience of living under drones as ‘hell on earth’, Rohde explained that even in the areas where strikes were less frequent, the people living there still feared for their lives.

Community members, mental health professionals, and journalists interviewed for this report described how the constant presence of US drones overhead leads to substantial levels of fear and stress in the civilian communities below. One man described the reaction to the sound of the drones as “a wave of terror” coming over the community. “Children, grown-up people, women, they are terrified. . . . They scream in terror.” Interviewees described the experience of living under constant surveillance as harrowing. In the words of one interviewee: “God knows whether they’ll strike us again or not. But they’re always surveying us, they’re always over us, and you never know when they’re going to strike and attack.” Another interviewee who lost both his legs in a drone attack said that “[e]veryone is scared all the time. When we’re sitting together to have a meeting, we’re scared there might be a strike. When you can hear the drone circling in the sky, you think it might strike you. We’re always scared. We always have this fear in our head.”


Interviewees indicated that their own powerlessness to minimize their exposure to strikes compounded their emotional and psychological stress. “We are scared. We are worried. The worst thing is that we cannot find a way to do anything about it. We feel helpless.” Ahmed Jan summarized the impact: “Before the drone attacks, it was as if everyone was young. After the drone attacks, it is as if everyone is ill. Every person is afraid of the drones.” One mother who spoke with us stated that, although she had herself never seen a strike, when she heard a drone fly overhead, she became terrified. “Because of the terror, we shut our eyes, hide under our scarves, put our hands over our ears.” When asked why, she said, “Why would we not be scared? 
A humanitarian worker who had worked in areas affected by drones stated that although far safer than others in Waziristan, even he felt constant fear: "Do you remember 9/11? Do you remember what it felt like right after? I was in New York on 9/11. I remember people crying in the streets. People were afraid about what might happen next. People didn’t know if there would be another attack. There was tension in the air. This is what it is like. It is a continuous tension, a feeling of continuous uneasiness. We are scared. You wake up with a start to every noise."


Interviewees described emotional breakdowns, running indoors or hiding when drones appear above, fainting, nightmares and other intrusive thoughts, hyper startled reactions to loud noises, outbursts of anger or irritability, and loss of appetite and other physical symptoms. Interviewees also reported suffering from insomnia and other sleep disturbances, which medical health professionals in Pakistan stated were prevalent. A father of three said, “drones are always on my mind. It makes it difficult to sleep. They are like a mosquito. Even when you don’t see them, you can hear them, you know they are there.” According to a strike survivor, “When the drone is moving, people cannot sleep properly or can’t rest properly. They are always scared of the drones.” Saeed Yayha, a day laborer who was injured from flying shrapnel in the March 17, 2011 jirga attack and must now rely on charity to survive, said: "I can’t sleep at night because when the drones are there . . . I hear them making that sound, that noise. The drones are all over my brain, I can’t sleep. When I hear the drones making that drone sound, I just turn on the light and sit there looking at the light. Whenever the drones are hovering over us, it just makes me so scared."
The small number of trained mental health professionals and lack of health infrastructure in North Waziristan exacerbates the symptoms and illnesses described here. Several interviewees provided a troubling glimpse of the methods some communities turn to in order to deal with mental illness in the absence of adequate alternatives. One man said that “some people have been tied in their houses because of their mental state.” A Waziri from Datta Khel—which has been hit by drone strikes over three dozen times in the last three years alone—said that a number of individuals “have lost their mental balance . . . are just locked in a room. Just like you lock people in prison, they are locked in a room.” [3] (bolded emphasis added)
There is a horrible sort of irony in these operations. To fight a global war on terror the United States regularly plunges entire populations into a state of unremitting terror.

The contrast between these operations and the guidance given in U.S. Army Field Manual 3-24: Counterinsurgency (the manual created by the military to teach officers how to wage counterinsurgent campaigns) is striking. Consider a few statements culled from its first chapter:

  • "The cornerstone of any COIN effort is establishing security for the civilian populace." 
  • "It is easier to separate an insurgency from its resources and let it die than to kill every insurgent. Clearly, killing or capturing insurgents will be necessary... However, killing every insurgent is normally impossible. Attempting to do so can also be counterproductive in some cases; it risks generating popular resentment, creating martyrs that motivate new recruits, and producing cycles of revenge." 
  • "U.S. forces committed to a COIN effort are there to assist a Host Nation government."  
  •  "Counterinsurgents often achieve the most meaningful success in garnering public support and legitimacy for the Host Nation government with activities that do not involve killing insurgents (though, again, killing clearly will often be necessary). Arguably, the decisive battle is for the people’s minds."  [4]

The use of drone strikes and other CT operations do not just diverge from the strategic principles proposed in FM 3-24. They are irreconcilably opposed to them. Counterinsurgency is dead. The idea of victory through winning minds has been replaced with the tactic of fighting terror with terror. 


[1] David H Petraeus and James F. Amos. FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5 Counterinsurgency (Washington: U.S. Army). 2006. 1-113 (Link).

[2] Kathy Cannon."U.S. Drone Strikes In Afghanistan Cause Villagers to Flee." Huffington Post. 28 March 2013.

[3] International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic (Stanford Law School) and Global Justice Clinic (NYU School of Law). Living Under Drones: Death, Injury, and Trauma to Civilians From U.S. Drone Practices in Pakistan. September 2012. p 80-88.

Every United States citizen should read pages 56-73 and 80-88 of this publication. And then imagine themselves explaining to a child what the buzzing means. If the policy is worth these costs, then so be it, but Americans need to know what is being done in their name.

[4] David H Petraeus et. al. FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5 Counterinsurgency. 1-131, 1-128, 1-147, 1-153.

10 April, 2013

Far Right and Far Left - Two Peas in a Pod?

Infographic from Ty Morteson. Image Source.
One might add "Governments consistently bails out corporate interests with tax-payer money" to the center of the diagram.

Several months ago I published a post that describes how the extreme partisanship emanating from Washington is a really just a surface veneer that covers a plutocratic consensus lying beneath. [1] Ashwin Parameswaran, blogging at Macroeconomic Resilience, concurs. He has written a wonderful post on the topic that dissects the nature of the establishment consensus and suggests an alternative political program. Here is his description of the problem: 
Pragmatic Centrism Is Crony Capitalism 
Neoliberal crony capitalism is driven by a grand coalition between the pragmatic centre-left and the pragmatic centre-right. Crony capitalist policies are always justified as the pragmatic solution. The range of policy options is narrowed down to a pragmatic compromise that maximises the rent that can be extracted by special interests. Instead of the government providing essential services such as healthcare and law and order, we get oligopolistic private healthcare and privatised prisons. Instead of a vibrant and competitive private sector with free entry and exit of firms we get heavily regulated and licensed industries, too-big-to-fail banks and corporate bailouts. 
There’s no better example of this dynamic than the replacement of the public option in Obamacare by a ‘private option’. As Glenn Greenwald argues, “whatever one’s views on Obamacare were and are: the bill’s mandate that everyone purchase the products of the private health insurance industry, unaccompanied by any public alternative, was a huge gift to that industry.” Public support is garnered by presenting the private option as the pragmatic choice, the compromise option, the only option. To middle class families who fear losing their healthcare protection due to unemployment, the choice is framed as either the private option or nothing..... 
Nothing illustrates the irrelevance of democratic politics in the neo-liberal era more than the sight of a supposedly free-market right-wing government attempting to reinvent Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac in Britain. On the other side of the pond, we have a supposedly left-wing government which funnels increasing amounts of taxpayer money to crony capitalists in the name of public-private partnerships. Politics today is just internecine warfare between the various segments of the rentier class. 
The Core Strategy of Pragmatic Crony Capitalism: Increase The Scope and Reduce the Scale of Government 
Most critics of neoliberalism on the left point to the dramatic reduction in the scale of government activities since the 80s – the privatisation of state-run enterprises, the increased dependence upon private contractors for delivering public services etc. Most right-wing critics lament the increasing regulatory burden faced by businesses and individuals and the preferential treatment and bailouts doled out to the politically well-connected. Neither the left nor the right is wrong. But both of them only see one side of what is the core strategy of neoliberal crony capitalism – increase the scope and reduce the scale of government intervention. Where the government was the sole operator, such as prisons and healthcare, “pragmatic” privatisation leaves us with a mix of heavily regulated oligopolies and risk-free private contracting relationships. On the other hand, where the private sector was allowed to operate without much oversight the “pragmatic” reform involves the subordination of free enterprise to a “sensible” regulatory regime and public-private partnerships to direct capital to social causes. In other words, expand the scope of government to permeate as many economic activities as possible and contract the scale of government within its core activities. 
Some of the worst manifestations of crony capitalism can be traced to this perverse pragmatism. The increased scope and reduced scale are the main reasons for the cosy revolving door between incumbent crony capitalists and the government. The left predictably blames it all on the market, the right blames government corruption, while the revolving door of “pragmatic” politicians and crony capitalists rob us blind.
There are two groups who consistently oppose this plutocratic "pragmatic" consensus: the far left and the far right. These two groups, seemingly divided, are united by their "radical" opposition to many otherwise unquestioned aspects of America's standing political regime. To name but a few:

  • The belief that the United States federal government should play a strong role in holding up the U.S. economy - particularly sectors deemed "Too Big To Fail." 
  • Strong support for subsidies or other forms of 'corporate welfare' for influential or strategic industries ("The Farm Lobby," "Big Pharma," and the energy sector - both the "Big Oil" and green energy varieties - are prominent examples).
  • commitment to America's global hegemony and globalization writ large. The chosen instruments for this are transnational economic agreements, financial interventions (as pioneered by the IMF), or offers of substantial military assistance. 
  • The use of drone strikes, special forces and other 'limited war' operations as the most effective response to international terrorist movements.
  • A disdain for the rule of law and governmental transparency. 
  • Prioritizing national security over privacy and individual rights.
  • Eclipse of the legislative branch in favor of an increasingly large, complex, and powerful executive. Outsourcing legislative policy making to congressional, think tank, or industry wonks.  

Tea-party and Occupy members are opposed to most, if not all, of these things. However, identfying the real problem does not ensure the two sides will agree on solutions. What party program could unify the two sides? Mr. Parameswaran outlines one possible solution. He labels it "radical centrism:"
Radical Centrism: Increase The Scale and Reduce The Scope of Government 
The essence of a radical centrist approach is government provision of essential goods and services and a minimal-intervention, free enterprise environment for everything else. In most countries, this requires both a dramatic increase in the scale of government activities within its core domain as well as a dramatic reduction in the scope of government activities outside it. In criticising the shambolic privatisation of National Rail in the United Kingdom, Christian Wolmar argued that: “once you have government involvement, you might as well have government ownership”. This is an understatement. The essence of radical centrism is: ‘once you have government involvement, you must have government ownership’. Moving from publicly run systems “towards” free-enterprise systems or vice versa is never a good idea. The road between the public sector and the private sector is the zone of crony capitalist public-private partnerships. We need a narrowly defined ‘pure public option’ rather than the pragmatic crony capitalist ‘private option.’

Barbell Approach: Conservative Core, Aggressive Periphery
Radical centrism follows what Nassim Taleb has called the ‘barbell approach’. Taleb also provides us with an excellent example of such a policy in his book ‘Antifragile’, “hedge funds need to be unregulated and banks nationalized.” The idea here is that you bring the essential utility-like component of banking into the public domain and leave the rest alone. It is critical that the common man must not be compelled to use oligopolistic rent-fuelled services for his essential needs. In the modern world, the ability to hold money and transact is an essential service. It is also critical that there is only a public option, not a public imperative. The private sector must be allowed to compete against the public option.
The idea of radical centrism is not just driven by vague ideas of social justice or increased competition. It is driven by ideas and concepts that lie at the heart of complex system resilience. All complex adaptive systems that successfully balance the need to maintain robustness while at the same time generating novelty and innovation utilise a similar approach.... [2] (Emphasis in original)
I advise my readers to read the whole thing

This is exactly the kind of conversations we need to have - many have picked holes in the current mess. Fewer have presented potential solutions. Allow me to add a few of my thoughts to the discussion. 

I approach this topic from an unabashedly insular, American perspective.  Mr. Parameswaran's vision is broader, but I will not to attempt to tidy another's house until my own is clean. 

Writing in the March 2013 issue of American Interest, Morris Fiorina presents evidence that the Republican and Democratic parties poorly reflect the actual opinions of self identified Republicans and Democrats. After reviewing recent pulling data Barry Rihotlz concluded that almost 90% of Americans favor breaking up Wall Street's twelve largest banks. [3] Americans are ripe for change and the "radical right" and "radical left" are the most probable agents of change the American political system offers. However, invoking "complex system resilience" (however persuasive it may be to intellectuals like me) will never have an appeal broad enough to found a viable political movement, much less one that must unite the radical left and radical right. The American Republic was founded in pursuit of an ideal. Her people are still idealistic; they demand that their politicians at least give lip service to "vague ideas" and values. If Radical Centrism is to succeed it be seen as and truly be a fight over more than systems theory.

The late Christopher Lasch's  essay, "Populism or Communitarianism?," might be a good starting point. [3] Mr. Lasch wrote his essay two decades ago. His ringing condemnations of both the market and the state proved prescient. The Third Way championed by Lasch is 'Populism," its goal the empowerment of the common man. This is not defined as equal access to the globe-spanning meritocracy of the ruling class, but the destruction of privileged meritocracy  altogether. Economic and political independence are the central measures of individual empowerment; the enemy is not the government or the market, but concentrated power. Pulling down power and distributing it across the populace is the goal. Equality, independence, and opportunity are the ideals worth fighting for. 

Any political program that seeks to empower America's apathetic citizenry must start with decentralization. This would not be easy. For the last century America's political institutions have become increasingly centralized. Townships have been eclipsed by states, states by the central government. Population growth and urbanization has further increased the distance between power brokers and the average citizen. Even the ratio of citizen to school board members has decreased significantly. [5]

Ending this state of affairs is about more than increasing individual political power. It is a central piece in any resilient "Radical Center" policy program. Parameswaran suggests that a radical centrist should increase the scale of the government while reducing its scope, i.e. reducing government involvement in the economy across the board, but fully nationalizing the industries in which the government remains. I am willing to accept this sort nationalization scheme if it means the destruction of crony capitalism. However, I suspect that few members of the radical right will be willing to accept this solution if the typical problems with government services are not accounted for: the inefficiency and lack of innovation that marks so many government organizations. 

Government employees are not intrinsically less motivated, efficient, or innovative.   There is no magic aura that makes organizations incompitent or unimaginative the minute their pay roll is placed on the public budget. The real problem is not that government monopolies have no incentives to innovate or provide first rate services, but that there are no consequences for failing to do so. In truly competitive systems (like markets) organizations that do not provide useful services have a limited shelf life. People use, contribute, or pay the organizations that meet their needs. When organizations fail to meet these needs they lose this support. [6]

The sin of crony capitalism (and the pragmatic politics that support it) is that it allows institutions that meet no one's needs to survive without fear of destruction - and make a killing while doing so. Simply getting rid of profit only partially solves the problem. If state run enterprises and organizations do not face competition they will produce little value.  

But how do we ensure that government institutions operate in an environment of competition? This is where decentralization has an important role to play. Decentralization allows multiple political structures to do the same thing and to try different methods at the same time. Such a diffuse political economy would not just give every day citizens a larger voice in determining affairs - it would allow them to "vote with their feet" and leave behind institutions that were not meeting their needs. Moreover, a decentralized political system is more difficult for a few vested interests to capture and turn to their own ends. It should be a goal of any radical centrist's political program.   


[1] T. Greer. "Ominous Parallels: What Antebellum America Can Teach Us About Our Modern Political Regime." The Scholar's Stage. 26 February 2013.

The post includes links to many other essays devoted to the same topic.

[2] Ashwin Parameswaran. "Radical Centrism: Uniting the Radical Right and the Radical Left." Macroeconomic Resilience. 8 April 2013.

[3] Morris Fiorina. "America's Missing Moderates" American Interest. March/April 2013; Barry Rihotlz. "Only a Tiny Percentage of Americans Opposed to Breaking Up The Big Banks." The Big Picture. 5 April 2013. 

[4] Christopher Lasch. "Populism or Communitarianism? The Ethic of Compassion and the Ethic of Respect" in Revolt of the Elites. (New York: Norton Publishing). 1995. p. 92-117.

[5] Kathryn Rooney and John Augenblick. An Exploration of District Consolidation. (Denver: Augenblick, Palaich, and Associates). 2009. p. 4-5

[6] For a fuller explanation of this point, see "Institutions, Instruments, and the Innovator's Dilemma." The Scholar's Stage. 1 March 2013