Some Interesting Recent Papers

by on June 16, 2012 at 1:38 pm in Economics | Permalink

  1. Why did the first states emerge? This paper argues that the traditional view that the ability to store an agricultural surplus allowed the rise of the state is incorrect for Malthusian reasons.  Instead, they argue that the state first emerged when an increase in the transparency of agricultural production made it possible for a military elite to violently extract resources from farmers.
  2. Can game theory give us insights into online markets for stolen credit cards? Andrew Mell argues that trade between data thieves and data monetizers relies on a multilateral reputation-based enforcement mechanism. He goes on to suggest how policymakers could take actions that would cause this mechanism to unravel. 
  3. Is veiling a rational strategy? This paper by Jean-Paul Carvalho develops an interesting theory that may shed light on the revival of veiling amongst certain Muslim communities in the past thirty years. 

1 david June 16, 2012 at 2:37 pm

Surely the ability to store an agricultural surplus goes hand-in-hand with the ability to violently extract a share of said surplus?

2 TGGP June 16, 2012 at 3:14 pm

James Scott has written about how certain crops like potatoes & practices like swiddening make it more difficult to expropriate. He favors the term “legibility” over “transparency” though.

3 Garrett Petersen June 16, 2012 at 4:34 pm

These are all great papers. I didn’t even know that veiling was on the rise.

4 Willitts June 16, 2012 at 5:11 pm

Yeah, until the farmers hire seven samurai to protect them.

5 KTWO June 16, 2012 at 6:13 pm

I would say it was to control limited natural resources. Life was brutal in ancient times and most areas. Power is control, control is power. That’s all we know and all we need to know.

Controlling the water supply and denying it to others increased your strength. As did controlling the best farmlands, straits at sea and routes through mountain passes. Along the coasts natural harbors were the prize. Abundant metal ore is not found just anywhere.

6 Mrs. Davis June 16, 2012 at 6:53 pm

Guess the authors of #1 never heard of Gellner. Shocking that they could have overlooked him while they found Polanyi. Maybe something to do with a field ploughed?

7 Alan Walker June 16, 2012 at 7:14 pm

1 Introduction

The emergence of the state is commonly associated with the increase
in productivity that accompanied the Neolithic Revolution. The standard
argument is that the transition from foraging to agriculture created food
surplus, and the availability of surplus facilitated through various channels
the advance of an elite that did not engage in food production, leading
ultimately to the emergent state. We argue that this explanation is deeply
flawed. The protracted rise in productivity during the Neolithic period by
itself could not have generated any surplus, since population size would
have adjusted endogenously to prevent its creation (1) Rather, it was the
forerunners of the early state that generated surplus through expropriation,
thus, in part, curtailing the increase in population.

If the assertion of endogenous prevention is not true (that assertion
is supported by a single cite), then the thesis of this paper falls.

Neolithic farming was very labor intensive. I do not think that it can be
doubted that economies of energy were a driving force towards organ-
ization with that organization leading to an increase in productivity.

A slightly better than replacement level of fertility and mortality, coupled
with slightly increasing productivity would, in time, yeald populations
sufficently large to require significant divisions of labor, with that reasonably
leading to ‘elite’ classes.

Interestingly, although not conclusive, from wikipedia:

Çatalhöyük had no apparent social classes, as no houses with
distinctive features (belonging to royalty or religious hierarchy,
for example) have been found so far. The most recent investi-
gations also reveal little social distinction based on gender, with
men and women receiving equivalent nutrition and seeming to
have equal social status…Çatalhöyük

8 Ray Lopez June 16, 2012 at 11:17 pm

Good critique. Indeed the rise of the Hydraulic or Axial empires is problematic if you posit surplus alone since Çatalhöyük was a Garden of Eden (and another place in the Fertile Crescent moreso) and further hunter/gatherers were healthier than farmers. I think perhaps the populations near the Nile and Tiger/Euphrates were “captured” by farming, grew “fat and lazy”, and the division of labor may have made them, as you state and as the paper suggests, amenable to being enslaved by a military elite.

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