Category Archives: History

Louisa Lim on elite turnover 68 years after the Chinese revolution

Louisa Lim

Research by the University of Sydney’s David Goodman has found that around 84% of today’s elite are direct descendants of the elite from pre-1949. This suggests that six decades of Communism may not have a dramatic impact upon the elites, who have the advantage of decades of capital accumulation — including economic, cultural and social capital — which have apparently continued to benefit them under the party-state system…

Matt Ridley on socialism  

Matt Ridley

Remember that we have run two very careful randomised controlled trials to see if full-blown socialism or half-hearted free enterprise works better. One in the Korean peninsula, the other in Germany. And the results were unambiguous. Socialism was a humanitarian catastrophe.

Communism was not really a new or radical idea, even in 1917. It was simply a clever repackaging of the old, old story that the king knows best. That the state should decide how to plan and run society. It matters not whether his name is Rameses or Augustus or Suleiman or Henry or Napoleon or Adolf or Vladimir or Josef or Mao or Fidel or Kim or Hugo. It’s the same recipe…

Is it not bizarre, after the 20th century, that people are so forgiving of the state and so mistrustful of the market?…

Recalling when the NYT hinted that inventor Thomas Edison should be hanged

From a 1878 New York Times editorial:

Something ought to be done to Mr. EDISON, and there is a growing conviction that it had better be done with a hemp rope. Mr. EDISON has invented too many things, and almost without exception they are things of the most deleterious character. He has been addicted to electricity for many years, and it is not very long ago that he became notorious for having… invented the phone- graph, a machine that catches the lightest whisper of conversation and stores it up, so that at any future time it can be brought out…

Thanks to Mr. Edison’s perverted ingenuity, this has not only become a literal truth, but every shelf, closet, or floor may now have its concealed phonographic ears…

 The phonograph was, at the time of its invention, the most terrible example of depraved ingenuity which the world had seen; but Mr. EDISON has since reached a still more conspicuous peak of scientific infamy by inventing the aerophone–an instrument far more devastating in its effects and fraught with the destruction of human society…

 From morning till midnight our ears will be tortured with the uproar of aerophonic talk, and deaf men will be looked upon as the favored few to whom nature has made life tolerable…

 The result will be the complete disorganization of society. Men and women will flee from civilization and seek in the silence of the forest relief from the roar of count- less aerophones. Business, marriage, and all social amusements will be thrown aside, except by totally deaf men, and America will retrogade to the Stone Age with frightful rapidity... Far better is it to starve in solitude than to possess all the luxuries of civilization at the price of hearing every remark that is made within a radius of four miles…

Joel Mokyr on why Europe grew more than China

Joel Mokyr:

The lower middle class in Western and Asian industrialized societies today has a higher living standard than the pope and the emperors of a few centuries back, in every dimension. That is the result of one thing: Our ability to understand the forces of nature and harness them for our economic needs.

If we understood how that happened, we would understand human history…

It isn’t just that China doesn’t have an Industrial Revolution, it doesn’t have a Galileo or a Newton or a Descartes, people who announced that everything people did before them was wrong. That’s hard to do in any society, but it was easier to do in Europe than China. The reason precisely is because Europe was fragmented, and so when somebody says something very novel and radical, if the government decides they are a heretic and threatens to prosecute them, they pack their suitcase and go across the border…

China was extremely innovative in its heyday… And yet, in the end, they did not turn that innovation into sustained economic growth.

I believe the fundamental reason is China’s position as a single empire, and also its bureaucracy, which is a unique and peculiar animal. On the one hand, it is very progressive, because it is a meritocracy. In Europe, the people who were in power were the sons and nephews of other people in power. But in China there’s an examination, and the people who did the best rose in the Mandarin civil service. So you’d think, “Wow, that’s very progressive.” Except if you look at what they were studying for these exams, they were simply regurgitating the classics. It was the perfect tool to keep reproducing from the same mold generation after generation…

In Europe, something different happens. People study classical knowledge, Ptolemy and Hippocrates and Archimedes, and they begin to say, “Most of this stuff is wrong.” You couldn’t do that in China. If you said “This stuff is wrong,” you failed your exam. But in Europe, the ability to challenge received wisdom is irrepressible…

There’s a French philosopher in the late 16th century, Pierre de La Ramée, who writes a book with the title “Everything Aristotle Has Said Is Wrong.” That’s chutzpah. A century earlier, he would have been strung up…

Daniel Willingham on the importance of tribal learning

Daniel Willingham:

If behavior is mostly a matter of smart individuals adapting to the local ecology, then tribes inhabiting similar terrain should behave similarly. But if learning is mostly social, then tribes that are physically and/or culturally close should be more likely to behave similarly.

The results showed that cultural history and ecology both affect everything…but cultural history generally has the stronger effect. Within cultural history, phylogeny mattered more than spatial distance…