Postcards From Hell: The Reason For Failed States

Postcards from Hell

A terrifying photo essay from Foreign Policy on the world’s failed states. Note that with just a few exceptions, the 60 or so states the magazine had determined to be “failed” are located in tropical climates.

Someone recently sent me this fascinating video related to the new book by sociologist Philip Zimbardo (of the Stanford prison experiments fame–or infamy, I guess). The theme of Zimbardo’s new book is the way time is perceived among different cultures. Of relevance to the Foreign Policy essay is the idea that populations and cultures in northern climes have adopted a future-oriented timeframe, likely because it’s necessary for their survival. You have to stock food, fortify shelter, and so on to prepare for the winter months or you’re going to starve. Or freeze. Tropical populations have a more present-oriented concept of time. Food is available year round. There’s no winter for which they need to prepare. I’ve read some interesting commentary on how these differing concepts of time might explain why warmer countries have been slower to develop than cooler ones.

The reasons for the under-development of Tropical States are as as follows:

1) Disease gradients are lower (safer) in the cold and higher (harsher) in the warm.

2) Physical effort is difficult in hot weather, which hampers the creation of built capital. (core body temp also affects iq during exertion)

3) Agrarian cycles in the north encourage cottage industry in winter, farming in spring and fall and war in summer. This creates certain social orders that foster human, built and technical capital accumulation. Compare to the brutal survival farming of the Chinese and their 360 day-a-year discipline of rice farming.

4) Rivers or seas, but rivers in particular provide safe, easy and low cost product transport. The opposite is true: some areas are simply geographically resistant to trade.

5) Unequal distribution of useful plants and animals favors certain regions. As well as agrarian productivity.

6) Access to trade means access to knowledge, and greater availability of resources and technology. This increases the probability of innovation, and the development of ‘virtues’ as we understand our commercial and moral code.

[callout] The abstract thing we refer to as society, that ‘thing’ that is embodied in the accumulated habits that we call ‘social order’, are the most important and expensive forms of human capital. [/callout]

7) The abstract thing we refer to as society, that is embodied in the accumulated habits that we call social order, are the most important and expensive forms of human capital. These habits define the unspoken normative goals that define cooperation and coordination. (The set of things that we don’t do: the opportunities we do not sieze. We pay for social institutions by forgoing opportunity, we pay for infrastructure and governance with the results of trade.) These institutions include our different definitions of public and private property, manners, ethics, morals and rituals. These require political institutions that perpetuate them one adopted.

8) General technical knowledge. (how to craft things) General systemic knowledge (how the natural world operates). We often confuse education with practical knowledge and scientific knowledge. ( the Muslim world is full of Islamic studies which do nothing except persist in resisting ignorance. the sub Saharan world is still in the embrace of magical thinking. ). Commerce not education (imitation of practice) is the primary means of knowledge transfer.

9) Concordant technologies. Civilizations need to accumulate a greatdeal of human capital in order to adopt certain technologies before they can adopt others, else these technologies are not disruptive, and do not increase the division of knowledge and labor. Otherwise tyrants simply use it to institutionalize corruption and profiteering. This isn’t any different from children but on a larger scale. If people do not forgo the opportunity to misuse a technology, they will never be able to gain its productive benefits. You don’t give a child a gun.

10) Social orders. The west was built by fraternal orders of city/market joint stockholders, partly because of the high cost of equipment and training. This is the source of our republican sentiments, as well as our tools of argument,reason and science. Other societies have not been so lucky.

Now we get to how westerners hurt some cultures:

1) Creating political boundaries across tribes destroys their ability to create human capital because it over stimulates the need for group persistence and impedes the development of common market habits. Thievery and tribal banditry is much easier and cheaper than creating trade and infrastructure. Even today, there is no small sentiment among males that suggests civilization has limited their potential access to mates.

2) Colonialism under England was effective in creating stability. In fact the hallmark of the Anglo model is stability and stability fosters the accumulation of all forms of capital. If you were colonized by someone else, then you will suffer for it. Anglo social technology is as important as the development of Greek science and reason. That technology, unbenknownst to most of us, is the development of abstract principles that allow calculation and coordination. ( this is a very complex topic.). French colonies are a disaster.

3) Economic interference, and in particular the crime of Charity. Ths is a hotly debated problem. But individual and locals assistance by devoted people seems to make a difference, while insertion of capital is extremely harmful to developing economies that must transform from tribal to market economies.

Unpleasant realities :

[callout]IQs are unequally distributed in different races, and in clases within those races. And that all people are racist in that they prefer acting within and in cooperation with people of their race. And this will never change, ever … [/callout]

And the one factual reality that the vast body of people will fail to accept in the face of universal, overwhelming and scientifically evidence: that iqs are unequally distributed in different races, and in clases within those races. And that all people are racist in that they prefer acting within and in cooperation with people of their race. And this will never change, ever, simply because of the imitative nature of man, his need to learn, and his desire to learn from those he most easily can imitate. And the consequential need for, conceptions of status in order to choose who to imitate.

[callout]While economic classes are semi randomly plastic, social classes are decidedly inelastic.[/callout]

When the hard reality is that women are hypergamic (marry up), while men have a wider iq variance than women, it presents men with the need to compete for mate selection. And this system requires a diverse economy of status symbols within each race and class that guarantee the eternal search for demonstrable differences in status in order to pursue both mates and opportunities for alliances.. Racism is permanent as is classism. The dirty secret of the human genome project is that class is genetically determinant. While economic classes are semi randomly plastic, social classes (which are readily evidenced in the postings on this and other blogs) are decidedly inelastic. (spoken as a member of the upper middle class).

Furthermore IQs are different in consequence between groups. A white, Jew or east Asian with a sixty iq is perceptibly broken. A sub saharan African is not – he or she just has a higher barrier to the learning of abstractions.

In general, To maintain machines requires a 105 IQ. To get a liberal education requires an IQ of 110. To design machines requires an IQ of 122 . To design abstractions requires an IQ above 130. To innovate upon a system of thought requires, it appears, above 140. Everyone else simply uses the tools created by others. It is demonstrably true that the top quintile has more influence on productivity of the society than all the rest combined.

Since all societies are run by minority elites (even ours) the composition of elites in government, intelligence in the middle classes, and capable mechanics in the proletariat determine the competitive rates of innovation and change in a society.

There are also ways to manufacture ignorance. Some religions are regressive. In fact it could be reasonably argued that many are simply dangerous. The reason one is out gunned out germed and out steeled, so to speak, is a function of a culture’s willingness to adapt disruptive technologies. Luddites perish. Most of the scriptural religions are Luddite systems of thought.

[callout]… it does not take a genius to run a market economy. As our politicians demonstrate daily.[/callout]

Despite these iq distribution differences, it does not take a genius to run a market economy. As our pliticians demonstrate daily. What is important is that in any sufficiently large body of people exist sufficient numbers to adopt the rule of law, the intitutions of trade, and some form of capital production. The problem is one of numbers: getting the barbarians and potential corrupt bureaucrats to forgo opportunities for personal gain in order to fund the development of their human capital. The problem of coordinating production in a division of knowledge and labor requires a great deal of sacrifice.

It is the is a sufficient set of principles govern the progress and adaptability of cultures.

As other readers have commented, colonialism is perhaps the greatest determinant today of the relative state of failed nations.

I hope this was helpful in providing food for thought.

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