My Conversation with Noel Johnson and Mark Koyama

Lots of economic history in this one, with the underlying themes of persecution and tolerance, here is the audio and video.

We talk about the evolution of anti-Semitism, how the Black Death influenced Europe, the economics and politics of volcanic eruptions, how much prejudice will come back, amateur astronomy,  Jared Diamond, cousin marriage and the origins of the West, why England was a coherent nation-state so early, the origins of the Industrial Revolution, Schindler’s List, and more.  I split the time between the two, here is one excerpt:

JOHNSON: Mark and I have done a lot of work on building datasets of Jewish persecution and Jewish expulsions at the city level and the country level in Europe over a very long period of time. And a question that I, for one, don’t fully understand is, you don’t need to actually kill all the Jews or expel them in order to extract resources from them. In fact, in some way, this is off the equilibrium path. You’re no longer in some optimal equilibrium for both the ruler and for the Jewish community.

Oftentimes, these Jewish communities would be expelled from a city, they would be invited to come back, and they would come back — in 5, 10, 15 years, sometimes even shorter. But that’s a little bit easier to understand.

In the case I gave you in England in 1290s, I think I understand a little bit about why it might have happened that way. I think it was signaling credibility in some political compact between the king and the nobles, but I’m not sure. But that’s an example of top down.

Other times, clearly, people are . . . You have, say, guilds moving against these Jewish communities. An example of this would be in 1614, when the most well-known Jewish persecution was in Frankfurt am Main. It was called the Fettmilch Massacre. Fettmilch was a baker. He was in guild, and he was upset about the terms of the political deal between the city rulers — the city council — and what the guilds were getting. One of the things that the guilds wanted were the Jews to be expelled. This was competition in some sense.

There was this bit from me:

COWEN: If the Black Death raised wages, does that mean that immigration today lowers wages?


COWEN: Large volcanic eruptions earlier in history. From an economic point of view, what’s the single most interesting thing we know about them?

JOHNSON: I think what’s very interesting about the volcanic eruptions is that we are discovering more and more that they may have played a large role in political change that occurred. Joe Manning at Yale, and I believe his graduate student (Bruce M.S. Campbell) have been doing work on . . . They looked at a series of volcanic eruptions that led to the end of the pharaonic empire. That ended around 30 or 60 BC, I forget. Right around that time.

That was an empire that lasted for 300 years, but they experienced all these crop failures. And then once you look at it, you see that in Indonesia, all these major volcanic eruptions were happening in perfect timing with these crop failures that were taking place. Actually, they can tell from looking at the Nile and how much it’s flooding and things.

COWEN: Politics becomes nastier when the volcano goes off?

And from Mark Koyama:

COWEN: Why was China, as a nation or territory, so large so early in world history?

KOYAMA: Yeah, that’s a great question. There are several potential explanations, one of which is geographic. Another one would be an argument from the writing system. But I think the geography story is quite important. Jared Diamond, building on people like Eric Jones, argued that China’s geography . . .

Essentially there are two core geographic regions in China around the Yellow and Yangtze river deltas, which produced a huge amount of grain or rice. If you control those core regions, you can raise large armies. You can have a large population and dominate the subsequent regions.

Whereas, the argument is for Europe that these core regions are, perhaps, arguably more separated by geographical boundaries. The limitation of that argument on its own is that geography is static, so it doesn’t really tell you anything about the timing.

The interesting thing about China, in my view, is not just that it was once unified, or unified early. But it’s persistently unified. It reunifies. Interestingly enough, the periods of de-unification get consistently smaller. So there are always periods where it’s fragmented, like the warlord period in the early 20th century, but over time may become smaller.

Europe doesn’t seem to have that centrifugal force, so a lot of Europe is unified by the Romans, but it’s not able to come back together along those lines later.

And the argument that I put forward in an article with Tuan-Hwee Sng and Chiu Yu Ko of National University of Singapore is that it’s not just the core geographical reason. That’s part of it. But actually, the periodic threat from a nomadic steppe is another key factor.

This is geographic because China has a very sharp slope from really productive agricultural land to land which is only fit for horses, for Eurasian steppe. China could be invaded very easily from the north by these steppe nomads, whereas Europe — it was much less vulnerable to this. And that helps to explain why the Chinese state is often a northern state.

So if I can add, if you think about China today, or even China in the past, the really productive land — a lot of it’s in the quite far south, in Shanghai, Yangtze delta. But the political center of China is near Beijing, or it’s in the north. And that’s due to this political economy threat from the steppe. And it’s these periodic steppe invasions which we argue are responsible for the centralization, an almost militarized character of the Chinese state through history.


COWEN: Max Weber. Overrated or underrated?

KOYAMA: Underrated.


KOYAMA: Because most people just know the Protestant theory, and they misreport it. Whereas, actually, his most interesting stuff is on Chinese religion and ancient Judaism. And the role of —

COWEN: The history of music, right?

There is much more at the link.  I am very happy to recommend their forthcoming book Persecution and Tolerance: The Long Road to Religious Freedom.


And the role of —

COWEN: The history of music, right?

Let them talk.

I realize that Tyler does allow for longer answers in this example, but if he wants to improve at these, he needs to learn to keep his mouth shut even more.


Yeah, stop manterrupting, Tyler!

This isn’t a memory, it’s a series of seconds and minutes, collected like rainwater in a bucket, from a childhood that happened too far away but in the distance of light.

"of volcanic eruptions that led to the end of the pharaonic empire. That ended around 30 or 60 BC, I forget." What priceless drivel. Alexander the Great expunged from history at a stroke.

Agree in part...

That statement entirely glosses over Egyptian Politics at that time and the rise of Rome. Egypt was the bread-basket of the Mediterranean at that time, their politics was inbred (quite literally), they had hitched themselves politically to Rome, and Rome was always in expansion mode.

On a somewhat related note the Chinese have always had this idea of the "Mandate of Heaven". You hear about this all through Chinese history that dynastic change, the loss of "the mandate" is preceded by strange portents and natural disasters. Earthquakes. Volcanism. Birds flying upside down. Birth defects. Fish kills.

My point to all of this is we still don't understand the cause/effect psychology (even today) between political instability, its perception, natural disasters, and what people perceive to be the true causer of all their troubles and woes.

Natural disasters are constantly occurring. During good times people don't account for those disasters in anything but a natural context. But if it's paired with political instability, then the natural tendency of mankind (especially pre-modern man) seeking answers assigns it to natural or super-natural phenomena.

In other words, I think both then and now, claims of natural disasters being responsible for "dynastic shift" or political instability are over-blown.

Egypt had the constant Nile as a breadbasket, which was less susceptible to change (since the headwaters are in equatorial Africa, which gets a very constant rainfall), but China was clearly susceptible to natural cataclysmic events, the data shows.

Bonus trivia: a meteor wiped out the Clovis culture in North America, and the megafauna there. Mastodons in Ecuador! Has TC gone to Quito yet?

"... meteor wiped out ... North America ... megafauna ..."

Wrong! The descendants of immigrants from Siberia hunted the North American megafauna to extinction.

Some sjws don't like this fact, "native Americans" in particular, but the truth is indifferent to prejudice.

@EdR: It's a complex question, see here for the pros and cons:

SJWs like Eisenhower and Churchill hunted fascists to extinction. I don't think they are opposed to wiping the world of filth as you might think.

Read Genesis. We find that in times of drought/famine, Egypt was the go-to destination for Abraham and his the descendants.

We mustn't permit facts to impede the progress of the post-modern agenda.

We Are All Going To Die Department, Part Deux: Massive volcanic eruptions could exacerbate it. Seen elsewhere: “The recent weather is a stark reminder that a colder world is a much greater threat than a warmer one. While governments plan for warming, all the indications are that the world is cooling. And, contrary to the proclamations of climate activists, every single year more people die from the cold than from the heat.”

Interglacial. Solar Output.

"Read Genesis." Why would reading fiction add anything?

"Oftentimes, these Jewish communities would be expelled from a city, they would be invited to come back, and they would come back — in 5, 10, 15 years, sometimes even shorter. But that’s a little bit easier to understand." - as happened in England...Jews expelled then brought back.

“Let my people go ... (back)!”

Black Death, immigration, and wages: Black Death did not distinguish between skilled labor and unskilled labor, whereas immigration can favor skilled labor (and often does).

During the Greco-Roman period, economic expansion and trade focused East not West. The rise of Europe was the combination of capitalist development, a common religion (Christianity), and Atlantic (as opposed to the East) trade (facilitated in part by the trust created by a common religion).

I will view this podcast in part because I believe more focus on history could improve economics. Sure, a focus on history can confuse causation and correlation, but at least it can identify correlations while theory mostly confirms beliefs. Economics like all scientific inquiries should focus on what one knows not what one believes.

But the Church land, they take. And there’s a tremendous amount of land owned by the Church in France. I think it approaches up to 70 percent or so of the land that’s there. Then they issued this paper money initially backed on this. Then — this is the initial thing they do, and then they have an auction to distribute this land.

That argument's not a hard sell, if true. Intuitively, it certainly seems like having 70% of land owned by the state church would be unlikely to maximize productivity.

Christians were forced to believe in some bizarre world of ghosts and goblins that made them shake their head and go a bit insane. Jews were under no such compulsion. So Jews, liberated from the tyranny, always performed better

It is not that simple. Zionists resorted to terrorist acts such as the infamous King David hotel bombing. They are hypocrites.

Quick but serious question to Tyler/the authors - wasn't it the case that Poland was actually spared the Black Death? How does the book address this issue?

And a question that I, for one, don’t fully understand is, you don’t need to actually kill all the Jews or expel them in order to extract resources from them. In fact, in some way, this is off the equilibrium path. You’re no longer in some optimal equilibrium for both the ruler and for the Jewish community.

Evolutionary medicine and horizontal vs. vertical transmission provide the best theoretical lens here. The equilibrium you imagine here requires vertical transmission. Horizontal transmission via repeated migrations departs from this equilibrium.

The following horizontal transmission cycle is a possible theoretical starting point:

1. Centralization of net assets (communist, capitalist, monarchy—doesn’t matter)
2. Social breakdown as middle class (yeomen) are unable to afford subsistence.
3. Grab and convert wealth in easily transported forms (gold historically, diamonds more recently, etc.)
4. Anti-Semitism breaks out.
5. Emigrate, leaving behind less “savvy” Jews to take the heat. (Pogroms tend to persecute those with fewer assets and mobility, thereby having an unintended effect of selecting for more mobile and wealthier Jews.
6. Cry out for help to elites at destination nations while offering concentrated wealth to enter new cycle (see step 1).

In England, 1349, the rising wages due to the Black Death brought about wage and price controls since the nobles were the purchasers of labor and the influencers on the laws. The evolution is expected, first fix wage rates, then have to fix prices of food and supplies, then restrict labor movement, etc. Of course, you'll need laws against the able-bodied beggar and refusal to work.

The Statute of Laborers remained law for 500 years, although the recovery of the population in the 16th century rendered the law moot as increasing population and the shift away from agrarian economy, with its dislocation of once restricted laborers, kept wages down.

When you read of these laws it is quite easy to see how we are still living in this medieval environment even today, although references, etc, are declining in utility.

(1350) The next year the statute [of Laborers] is made more elaborate, and specifies, for common laborers, one penny a day; for mowers, carpenters, masons, tilers, and thatchers, three pence, and so on. It is curious that the relative scale is much the same as to-day: masons a little more than tilers, tilers a little more than carpenters; though unskilled labor was paid less in proportion. The same statute attempts to protect the laborer by providing that victuals shall be sold only at reasonable prices, which were apparently fixed by the mayor.

"Here, therefore, we have the much-discussed Standard Wage fixed by law, but in the interest of the employer; not a "living wage" fixed in the interest of the employee, as modem thought requires. The same statute makes it unlawful to give to able-bodied beggars, which is of a piece with the compulsory labor of the able-bodied. Now this first Statute of Laborers, which led to centuries of English law unjust to the laborers, it is interesting to note, was possibly never a valid law, for it was never agreed to by the House of Commons. However that may be, the confirming statute of 1364 was duly enacted by Parliament, and this was not in terms repealed until the year 1869, although labor leaders claim it to have been repealed by general words in the 5th Elizabeth.

"Thorold Rogers tells us that those, after all, were the happy days of the laborer when masons got four pence a day, and the Black Prince, the head of the army, only got twenty shillings sixty times as much.

"(1388) The Statute of Richard II restricts laborers to their hundred and makes it compulsory for them to follow the same trade as their father after the age of twelve. The wages of both industrial and agricultural laborers are again fixed — shepherds, ten shillings a year; ploughmen, seven; women laborers, six shillings, and so on. Servants are permitted to carry bows and arrows, but not swords, and they may not play tennis or foot-ball. And here is the historical origin of the important custom of exacting recommendations: servants leaving employment are required to carry a testimonial, and none are to receive servants without such letter — the original of the blacklist.

Pg 81
"In the same year first appeared the celebrated Act for the punishment of beggars and vagabonds and forbidding beggary, and requiring them to labor or be whipped. Herbert Spencer states in his "Descriptive Sociology" that it punishes with loss of an ear the third conviction for joining a trades-union, which, if true, would justify much of the bitterness of modem labor unions against the common law. The provision evidently referred to (22 Henry VIII, chapter 12, section 4) applies, however, not to guilds, but to "Scolers of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge that go about begging not being authorized under the seal of the said Universities" as well as to other beggars or vagabonds playing "subtile, crafty and unlawful games such as physnomye or palmestrye." "

--Popular Law-making: A Study of the Origin, History, and Present Tendencies of Law-making by Statute
by Frederic Jesup Stimson (1910)

Stimson also offers an interesting assessment of anti-semitism in England. The Jewish community was not unlike the monasteries of the 8th or 9th centuries that were seized by the kings, such as Offa, then resold back to the church. It was wealth confiscation.

Interestingly, today's similar wealth concentration is in the elite private universities endowments and they appear ripe for the picking. Perhaps the professors align so tightly with the Progressive Left as they are the most likely to seize the wealth? Eventually.

I should perhaps add another reason why interest was so disliked in early England: There was very little money in early England; and it mostly belonged to the Jews. It was a good deal as it is in Russia to-day; the Jews were persecuted in Russia as in early England, because, in the country districts of Russia, the Jews have all the money, and money-lenders are always unpopular. So in early England. The great barons had their land and their cattle and crops, but they had little money. When they wanted money they got the value of it out of their tenants. Nobody carried large sums of money around with him then, any more than a woman does to-day —she relies on her husband or father; they went to the nearest Jew. When the king wanted cash, he also extorted it from the Jews. One of the early Henrys said seriously, that he regarded the Jews as a very convenient sponge. That is, they sucked all the money in the kingdom and got it into a place whence he could easily get it out. But it made the Jews very unpopular with the masses of the people and with the Parliament; hence, their great dislike of usury. I doubt very much if they would have cared much about usury if one gentleman had been in the habit of loaning money to another; but all the money came from the Jews, who were very unpopular; and the statutes against usury were really made against them, and that is why it was so easy to pass them — they based it, doubtless, on the references to usury in the Bible. Thus they got the notion that it was wrong to charge interest, or at least extortionate interest; more than a certain definite per cent; and this is the origin of all our interest and usury statutes to-day. Although most economists will tell you that it is ridiculous to have any limit on the rate of interest, that the loan of money may well be worth only four per cent, to one man and twenty-five to another, and that the best way for everybody would be to leave it alone; nevertheless, nearly all our States have usury laws. We shall discuss that later; but here is the first statute on the subject, and it really arose because of the feeling against the Jews. To show how strong that prejudice was, there was another statute passed in the interest of liberality to protect the Jews — a statute which provided liberally that you must not take from a Jew "more than one-half his substance." And a very early commentator tells us of a Jew who fell into a privy on a Friday, but refused to be helped out on Saturday because it was his Sunday; and on Sunday he besought the Earl of Gloucester to pull him out, but the Earl of Gloucester refused because it was his Sunday; so the Jew remained there until Monday morning, when he was found dead. There is no prejudice against Hebrews to-day anywhere in Europe stronger than existed even in England for the first three or four centuries after the Norman Conquest; and had it not been for the protection given them by the crown, probably they would have been exterminated or starved out, and in 1289 they were all banished to the number of 16,160, and their movables seized. "

--Popular Law-making: A Study of the Origin, History, and Present Tendencies of Law-making by Statute, Frederic Jesup Stimson (1910)

COWEN: Why is Switzerland so wealthy and successful relative to the rest of Europe?... But it’s much higher GDP per capita than most of the rest of Western Europe, maybe Luxembourg aside.

JOHNSON: That’s a good question.
GDP per capita:

Norway $71,000
Switzerland $61,000
Netherlands $54,000
Sweden $52,000
Germany $51,000
Denmark $50,000

The Swiss, Swedes and Danes work 20% more hours than the Germans. per year.

JOHNSON: They [Japanese] pay a huge cost, by the way. The main motivation for sealing off the borders of Japan is to stop Christianity seeping through.

I don't see what the huge cost was. Japan still let information through via the Dutch, so the borders weren't completely sealed off and international trade wasn't that important in the 1600s. Their GDP per capita was about the same as England's was then.

I have no idea why the taxpayers of Virginia are forced to pay these folks salaries. Nothing of import was discussed that could be helpful to any of their lives.

Decent chat. Mostly a "best of" their academic work rather than actually telling me much new, but I suppose that is understandable.

The Industrial Revolution not only was not centered on London, but it was also a result of intolerance creating intellectuals uncontrolled by the technophobic Ox-bridge universities.

"Newcomen's religion had consequences greater than absence from a local census.  Dissenters, including Baptists, Presbyterians, and others, were as a class, excluded from universities after 1660, and either apprenticed, or learned their science from dissenting academies."

"At the same time that he chartered the world's first scientific society, Charles II had created an entire generation of dissenting intellectuals uncontrolled by his kingdom's ever more technophobic universities."

p29, Rosen, Willam, 'The Most Powerful Idea in the World'

The intellectual center of the Industrial Revolution was in Scotland and driven by the Scottish Enlightenment.

Good news, universities have taken up intolerance and quietly dissenting intellectuals uncontrolled by them are creating. Bonus is that the useful knowledge is free and no longer locked up in isolated libraries leaving the universities with indoctrination as the "value".

Pretty interesting. I'd love to see interviews with KSR, Naomi Klein, Paul Hawken, Jared Diamond, Knausgaard, Nordhaus, Murakami, Stewart Brand, Bill Gates, David Reich.

Weber is mentioned by the end. I note that MR has recently made some kind remarks about sociology. When I search Listopia, I don't really find anything that seems so up to date. I'm happy to read older works but would especially like to see recent publications. Tyler, would you mind putting together a reading list?

Or let's imagine that there isn't really a reading list. Is this their replication crisis? (I use replication in the that the prohibition movement did not effectively "replicate" themselves.)

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