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In Praise Of Hegemony

Some thoughts from Arnold Kling.

Someone has to be the hegemon. The goal should be to ensure that it is one that maximizes individual freedom and productivity.


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Karl Hallowell wrote:

I'm puzzled by this appendix:

Karl Polanyi took a different view. He held that the market economy was a relatively recent phenomenon. I lean toward Polanyi's view. I do not believe that historically there were enough people with the intelligence, discipline, and capacity for trust to create a market economy.

The archaelogists can find markets in the ruins of great empires. But that does not mean that people routinely operated in a market economy. Those markets may have existed to allow imperialists to exchange goods plundered during conquests.

In a modern economy, people produce with the intent of selling into a market. Most of what you consume are goods and services that you could never make for yourself.

In older economies, people produced mostly within the household, growing their own food, making their own clothing, etc. They also exchanged and shared some goods and services within small villages. However, I am skeptical that there were many people regularly producing goods and services for trade as we do today.

If I am correct, then the markets in ancient Rome were filled whenever the legions came home with loads of plunder. Otherwise, the markets would have been relatively empty.

What I suspect is that over the past several hundred years, the production/plunder ratio has increased dramatically. That is, in a typical ancient market, most of the goods for sale were plundered by the imperial armies. Only a few goods for sale were produced voluntarily by citizens. In a modern economy, the ratio of production to plunder is far higher.

Why would he think a plunder driven system would work for the many centuries of the Roman Republic and Empire? The problem with plunder is that first, people get good at hiding it and second, no matter how good you get at finding plunder, eventually your victims run out. Third, you are limited in what an army can carry. And there is evidence of goods like wine and olives, slaves, and large wild animals for the circuses that one simply doesn't get from plunder. Fourth, plunder is no where near as profitable as tribute and taxes.

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This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on February 5, 2008 7:17 AM.

Humans, Chimps... was the previous entry in this blog.

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