Results for “james belich”
8 found

*Replenishing the Earth*, by James Belich

How is this for a real estate bubble?

At peak in 1888, over 80 per cent of Victorian private investment went into Melbourne buildings.  Expenditure on housing was even greater than that on rail, and many houses were built without people to live in them, or without jobs for those who did.

In the 1890s Melbourne was an impressive place.  With 500,000 people, it was eighty percent bigger than San Francisco and nine hundred percent bigger than Los Angeles.  Three hundred trains a day serviced the suburbs.  The city had three hundred buildings with elevators and Melbourne was reputed to have more large public buildings than any British city outside of London.  There were plans to build a replica of the Eiffel Tower.

That is all from James Belich's Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Anglo-World, 1783-1939.  I'll discuss this book more soon, but I'll tip my hand and say it is one of the very best non-fiction books of the year.  Imagine Jared Diamond or Greg Clark (albeit more measured, in each case) but applied to the settlement of the colonies rather than to Europe itself.  This book also has perhaps the best explanation as to why the Argentina growth miracle fell apart.

*The World the Plague Made*

The author is James Belich, and the subtitle is The Black Death and the Rise of Europe.  This is a fascinating but not entirely persuasive book.  In any case it is one of the books to read this year.  Here is a summary sentence:

This book has argued that plague’s dire crucible triggered the Fourth Divergence.

My main worry is simple, namely that the author does not demonstrate his main proposition that the Black Death significantly boosted living standards where it hit.  That might be true, and I would say I don’t have a view of my own view on the matter one way or the other.  (Here is a recent and very useful survey indicating the positive effects were mostly short-run.)  But I would need to see a more careful presentation of wage data, and the author too frequently invokes a) massive literature citations, and b) a pat “half the people, so twice the per capita wealth” argument.  Losing up to half the people is highly disruptive, including for the ability to exploit material resources.  And is it per capita wealth that matters, or income?  Matters for what and for which income classes?  I needed to see much more on this.

Anyway, if you buy into the main premise (or even if you don’t) what follows is interesting throughout.  Belich takes on exactly when and why various plagues stopped circulating, and whether insufficiency of rats was a major reason.  Here is one interesting passage:

The rise of rat resistance — and the decline of it — seems like to have played a major role in the decline of plague — and the exceptions to it — throughout West Eurasia.  But as we saw in the last chapter, plague history increasingly diverged regionally from 1500.  Epidemics ended in Western Europe by 1720 and Eastern Europe by 1780.  Major strikes continued to afflict the Muslim South until about 1840.  the end of plague is conventionally attributed to human agency, notably the growing power of states to run effective quarantine measures, public health regulations, and border controls.  Other factors include a shift from wood to brick and tile, which was less rat-friendly , and to cheaper arsenic in the 1720s, which was not rat-friendly at all.  The decline of wooden houses and thatched roofs, ideal black rat environments, and their replacement by brick and tile varied by class, which may account for the trend toward higher casualties among common folk after 1500.

Belich then sheds some doubt on the public health measures argument, noting that Italy had bad plague outcomes in the 17th century, even though it had the best public health measures at the time.  No simple answer, but plenty of interesting discussion.

Another of my favorite sections of the book covered the difficulties at the time in persuading women to emigrate, and how that shaped colonial policies.  You also get the author’s take on the Persianate nature of the Mughal invasions, a lengthy account of how the plague shaped the settlement of Siberia, an optimistic take on the capabilities of peak Ottoman empire, how the fiscal state was Britain’s main innovation, how Britain manned its sea fleets from the Nordic countries, and much more.  You might say this is all too much, but who am I to complain?  I did find every page of the book substantive and interesting, even if I often felt the author was biting off more than he could chew.

So definitely recommended, though with caveats on the side of some of the actual conclusions.

Here are my previous posts on the work of James Belich.  In general he is someone whose books I always will read.

The Argentine national identity

Yet, unlike the Italian, the Spanish settler transition was incomplete.  Indeed, counterintuitively, the Spanish "actually assimilated to the new land more slowly and more reluctantly than did the "alien" Italians", who were not quick.  The Spanish rate of return was lower than the Italian, but still high at 46 percent by 1930, and in-marriage and voluntary segregation was high in both groups.  Above all, both Spanish and Italian immigrants avoided Argentine citizenship like the plague.  Fewer than 4 per cent of Spanish took citizenship, and the Italian rate was below 2 per cent.  Immigrants received most legal rights without citizenship, with the important exception of voting in national elections.  Aliens were also not liable for military service.  There was therefore "no incentive to become a citizen", and a considerable disincentive.  Nativist fears among the lower classes, and the fear of political competition among the elite, led Argentines to accept this situation.  Immigrants dominated the Argentine lower middle classes…The incomplete settler transition therefore meant that booming Argentina's middle class was much less committed to it, much less politically powerful, and much more prone to send or take its money home, than in the Anglo newlands.  The power and novelty of Spanish settler transitions helps explain Argentina's relative success to the 1920s.  But the incomplete nature of the settler transition also helps explain Argentina's relative failure from the 1920s.

That is from James Belich's Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Anglo World, 1783-1939.

New Zealand regulations which no longer exist

1. Horses and cows could not mate within sight of public roads (this remained on the books until 1950)

2. Until the mid-1970s, you could not buy margarine without a doctor’s prescription.

3. Nabokov’s Lolita was banned.

4. School milk was free, but you had to drink it.

Those are from James Belich’s insightful Paradise Reforged: A History of the New Zealanders from the 1880s to the Year 2000.  Today, of course, New Zealand is one of the least heavily regulated OECD countries.

The quest for economies of scale

Is it disadvantageous to be a small country?  Singapore seems to have done just fine.  But if economies of scale matter for geographic (as opposed to legal) reasons, we might expect small countries to cluster their populations in one central location.

In the case of New Zealand, Auckland became the largest city in 1886.  Since then it has grown in size relative to Christchurch, Wellington, and Dunedin.  In 1951, Auckland was only 50 percent larger than Wellington.  By 1996, Auckland was three times as big as either Wellington or Christchurch.  The Auckland metropolitan area now accounts for about one third of the country, in either population or economic terms, and is likely to grow in relative terms.  It is considered New Zealand’s major city.

The above facts are from James Belich’s Paradise Reforged: A History of New Zealanders from the 1880s to the Year 2000.