Category Archives: history

Contra Alexander of Pharae

But when Pelopidas advised the complaining Pheraeans to be comforted, as if the tyrant was now certain in a short time to smart for his injuries, and sent to tell him, “That it was absurd daily to torment and murder his wretched innocent subjects, and yet spare him, who, he well knew, if ever he got his liberty, would be bitterly revenged;” the tyrant, wondering at his boldness and freedom of speech, replied, “And why is Pelopidas in haste to die?” He, hearing of it, rejoined, “That you may be the sooner ruined, being then more hated by the gods than now.”

-Plutarch, Life of Pelopidas

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Great stories in federalism, Lawrence Tribe edition

There is a great story about how Lawrence Tribe’s son used to be a college policy debater back in the 80’s. He made a practice of running affirmatives that were vulnerable to federalism criticisms, and opponents would often indeed respond with federalism arguments citing Tribe’s latest federalism scholarship, to which Tribe’s son would respond with a list of author indicts (mostly in the vein of “my dad’s frickin’ crazy”).

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Papers that need to be written: the property rights frameworks of origin myths

Quick thought: A culture’s origin mythology is usually the basis for much of its legal architecture. As LLSV (1997) note, there are some legal architectures that are vastly superior to others (and they discuss a lot of comparative data on civil vs. common law regimes). Common law regimes are generally superior to civil law regimes in terms of economic and human welfare outcomes. Part of the argument is that common law regimes tend to be principle-based, with legislatures making laws and courts deciding dynamically how the legal principles, the law, and the specific case interact; this allows common law regimes to efficiently catalyze economic development through the efficient evolution of things like tort law. Common law regimes also tend to conceptualize property rights in far more generous terms than civil law regimes. Civil law regimes delegate a lot more importance and foundation to legislative law; you can think of the legislative law as creating lines on a court and judges as referees who are limited to far more technical calls. Civil law regimes tend to be inflexible and less efficient, though there are many unanswered questions. You can think of America or Britain as modern bastions of common law, and French law as a good example of a regime based on civil laws.

So here’s the challenge. Origin myths are foundational “oral constitutions” that provide direction for the legal architecture of a culture. We can analyze some basic ways in which they differ through their conceptualization of property rights, and then look at outcomes. There should be some very interesting comparative work to be done in all directions there, I’m sure, and there is a lot of data in human history, so there should be a lot of interesting natural experiments that can be surveyed.

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Against the King of Great Britain

Please leave a comment.

From the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776:

The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

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Faulkner on Khrushchev on the police state

Mr. Khrushchev says that Communism, the police state, will bury the free ones. He is a smart gentleman, he knows that this is nonsense since freedom, man’s dim concept of and belief in the human spirit is the cause of all his troubles in his own country. But if he means that Communism will bury capitalism, he is correct. That funeral will occur about ten minutes after the police bury gambling. Because simple man, the human race, will bury both of them. That will be when we have expended the last grain, dram, and iota of our natural resources. But man himself will not be in that grave. The last sound on the worthless earth will be two human beings trying to launch a homemade spaceship and already quarreling about where they are going next.

-William Faulkner in a speech to the UNESCO Commission, as quoted in The New York Times (3 October 1959)

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The worst president?

Over at the MoneyIllusion:

I had known for quite some time that Wilson’s economic policies were perhaps the worst in American history.  He presided over the creation of the Fed and the income tax, which went from 0% to something like 70% while he was president.  In the long run the Fed may have been a good thing, but there can be no doubt that 1913 was premature, we didn’t know anywhere near enough about monetary policy to warrant a central bank meddling in the gold standard.  He presided over a period of very high inflation after WWI, when we actually needed somewhat lower prices.  Then we had a severe depression in his last year of office.  Industrial production had fallen by 32.5% by March 1921 when Harding took office (and you think things are bad now!)


The audacity of belief

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. “And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.” I still believe that We Shall overcome!

-Martin Luther King, Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, 1964

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Question of the Day, North Korea World Cup edition

How many North Koreans who have been permitted to attend the World Cup will attempt to defect? Alternatively, how difficult is it for the North Korean government to maintain tangible leverage on those attending?

For some historical parallels, consider defectors from the Soviet Union, many of whom were athletes or competitors in international competitions of some kind.

Here is one estimate of the number of North Koreans in attendance (~40).

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Sentences that are rarely used

Romer’s prescription is not merely neo-medieval, in other words. It is also neo-colonial.

That’s from a great article in the Atlantic about Paul Romer and charter cities. H/T Greg Young.

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On not representing the status quo

…Voters may yet see Obama, in the years ahead, as disappointing or transformative or neither. But the one thing he will never really embody is the status quo.

From an excellent article in today’s NYT, here.

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Charles Dickens on globalization and pineapples

From Charles Dickens in his tome “On Travel“, p51-2:

When Don Diego de–I forget his name–the inventor of the last new flying machines, price so many francs for ladies, so many more for gentlemen–when Don Diego, by permission of Deputy Chaff Wax and his noble band, shal have taken out a patent for the Queen’s dominions, and shall have opened a commodious warehouse in  an airy situation; and when all persons of any gentility will keep at least a pair of wings, and be seen skimming about in every direction; I shall take a flight to Paris (as I soar round the world) in a cheap and independent manner. At present, my reliance is on the South Eastern Railway Company, in whose xpress train here I sit, at eight of the clock on a very hot morning, under the very hot roof of the terminus at London Bridge, in danger of being ‘forced’ like a cucumber or a melon, or a pineapple–and talking of pineapples, I suppose there were never so many pineapples in a train as there appear to be in this train.

Whew! The hothouse air is faint with pineapples. Every French citizen or citizeness is carrying pineapples home. The compact little enchantress in the corner of my carriage (French actress, to whom I yielded up my heart under the auspices of that brave child ‘Meat-chell’, at the St. James’s Theatre of the night befor last) has a pineapple in her lap. Compact Enchantress’s friend, confidante, mother, mystery, Heaven knows what, has two pineapples in her lap, and a bundle of them under the seat. Tobacco-smoky Frenchmen in Algerine wrapper, with peaked hood forward, who might be Abd-el-Kader dyed rifle-green, and who seems to be dressed entirely in dirt and braid, carries pineapples in a covered basket. Tall, grave, melancholy Frenchman, with black Vandyke beard, and hair close-cropped with expansive chest to waistcoat, and compressive waist to coat, saturnine as to his pantaloons, calm as to his feminine boots, precious as to his jewellery, smooth and white as to his linen, dark-eyed, high-foreheaded, hawk-nosed–got up, one thinks, like Lucifer or Mephistopheles, of Zamiel, transformed into a highly genteel Parisian, has the green end of a pineapple sticking out of his neat valise.

Pineapples, by the way, are originally from south Brazil/Paraguay, and were first brought back to Europe by Christopher Columbus.

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“White Negros” and hipsters

From Ulrich Adelt’s Blues Music in the Sixties: A Story in Black and White:

The complex identification of white people with black sounds has a longstanding tradition, as many scholars have traced. A key text to understanding white appropriations of blackness is Norman Mailer’s glowing description of the “White Negro”: a term that Paul Verlaine had introduced to characterize fellow poet Arthur Rimbaud. In his 1958 essay, Mailer equated the appropriation of black culture (in particular jazz spontaneity) with being a hipster, a view also apparent in many writings of the 1950s Beat Generation, like those of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. A few years earlier, Franz Fanon had vividly described what he saw as the alienation of black men in the face of white oppression. In an astonishing role reversal, Mailer envisioned black men as something real to aspire to in the face of white alienation. The White Negro drew mixed reactions after its publication. While James Baldwin criticized what he saw as Mailers sexual insecurity and romanticism, Eldridge Cleaver aligned Mailer’s hedonistic fantasies of primitivized masculinity with his own and connected the White Negro to student protests at the University of California at Berkeley.

Here is the wiki on The White Negro.

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Forgotten history: early 20th century black intellectual challenges to hereditarians

From Dismantling Contemporary Deficit Thinking: Educational Thought and Practice, by Richard Valencia (2010):

Another example of heterodoxy from the genetic pathology epoch was the work of a small cadre of African American scholars in the 1920s who confronted the hereditarian assertion that Blacks were intellectually inferior to Whites (see Thomas, 1982; Valencia 1997d). The mainstream journals were frequently controlled by editors and editorial boards who were hereditarians (for example, Lewis Terman’s editorial control over the Journal of Education Psychology and the Journal of Applied Psychology). As a result, many of these 1920s Black scholars were forced to publish their research in other outlets, such as Crisis and Opportunity, periodicals of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Urban League, respectively. These Black intellectuals’ scholarly assault on the 1920s mental testing falls into three categories (Thomas, 1982). First, some researchers focus on an environmental critique, for example, differences in educational opportunity between Whites and Blacks best account for racial differences in intellectual performance (e.g., Bond, 1924). Second, some of these scholars focus on methodological flaws or instrumentation problems. For example, Howard H. Long (1925)–who earned his doctorate in experimental psychology from Clark University–presents a technical criticism of IQ tests, contending that they contained numerous measurement problems, such as the inadequacy of using mental age scores for comparing IQ scores across races. Long notes that the procedure is flawed because it does not account for the correlation of mental age raw scores with chronological age. Third, some of the Black researchers conducted their own original research and generated their own data, thus providing alternative explanations to hereditarian-based conclusions drawn by White scholars. For example, Herman G. Canady (1928) in his master’s thesis was one of the first scholars to investigate examiner effects on intelligence testing with white and black children (also, see Canady, 1936).

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Is the US military spying on Americans?

This is scary. From the ABA Journal:

A 22-year-old activist from the Evergreen State College in Washington will get $169,000 and his lawyers are expected to get twice as much in settlement of a political spying case that reportedly may have been sparked by a tip-off from the U.S. military that local authorities should keep an eye on Philip Chinn.

Arrested on suspicion of drunken driving in May 2007 while he was en route to an anti-war protest over the use of civilian ports for military purposes, Chinn won the dismissal of the case after tests showed he had no drugs or alcohol in his system, reports the Seattle Times. He subsequently sued for false arrest and violation of his constitutional rights.

The state patrol is funding $109,000 of the settlement to Chinn and local government agencies are picking up the rest of the tab. They have also agreed to pay his legal fees, which the American Civil Liberties Union estimates at $375,000, an ACLU spokesman says.

The ACLU pursued Chinn’s case because it believes the facts suggest U.S. military involvement in spying on activists by local law enforcement, both concerning Chinn and others, is “far more pervasive than we had thought,” spokesman Doug Honig tells the newspaper.

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Great moments in political economy, China salt edition

From Salt and State: An Annotated Translation of the Songshi Salt Monopoly Treatise, by Cecila Lee-fang Chien, p. 3-4:

The Guanzi, one of the first great works on political economy in China, provided an ideological basis for monopoly that persisted for two thousand years, from the Han dynasty to the end of the Qing. This treatise, probably collated by adherents of GuanZhong (?-645 BC) a major figure inthe establishment of Qi as the first hegemon among the Chinese states, asserted that because everyone needed salt, increasing its price even incrementally would reap huge returns.

If you were to announce a head tax on all adults and children, everyone would certainly complain and oppose it. But if you implement a salt tax policy, one hundred times the profits will accrue to you, the ruler, while the people will be unable to escape it. This is what is meant by managing finances.

According to the Guanzi’s logic, thecost of salt to consumers would effectively include a tax, yet spare them a separate payment. By controlling both the production and distribution of salt, the state could prevent disparities between rich and poor, as well as increase state revenues.

While statesmen before the Qin unification (221-206 BC) recognized the fiscal value of sale, the nature of China’s monopoly came to be premeditated on a united empire. In contrast to other powers across Asia and Europe at other periods, where governments had to content themselves with charging transit tolls (France) or merely regulating the sale or some other stage of the industry (Venice), China’s centralized bureaucracy could tightly monitor the sources of salt as well as the stages of production and distribution.

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