The Long Divergence

I just finished The Long Divergence, by Timur Kuran, which tries to explain the Middle East’s economic backwardness. It’s a path-dependence argument: mistakes were made, and one thing led to another.

His thesis is that particular features of local culture and Islamic law inhibited modernization. He argues that these factors inhibited the development of complex sub-state organizations, in particular the modern business corporation. He blames factors that tended to disperse wealth: the egalitarian Islamic inheritance system and polygyny. Today they wouldn’t matter to a corporation, but in the past they interfered with concentration of assets that would have been useful in establishing larger-scale concerns. He thinks that the Quranic ban on interest was mostly an irritant, routinely evaded, but it didn’t help.

He talks about the mysterious trend in which non-Muslim minorities became ever wealthier and more influential over the past couple of centuries, even though they were supposed to be second-class citizens. Trade was dominated by religious minorities (Greeks, Armenians, and sometimes Jews), as well as new sectors of the economy like insurance and finance. Also in new industries: “In major cities, water,gas, electricity, telephone, tram, and subway services were founded mostly through foreign capital, and the managerial staff was overwhelmingly non-Muslim.”

Around the same time commercial treaties with Western nations were becoming more and more disadvantageous to Moslem countries. Relatively so: Westernization itself had many benefits, and the Moslem world in this period certainly didn’t show any sign of internally generated progress. Any more than it does today.

To recap, Kuran thinks that features of Islamic culture led to organizational stagnation, while Europe was developing advanced economic institutions. On the other hand, even Saudi Arabia has banks nowadays, but the Saudis don’t show any particular entrepreneurial flair, to put it mildly. The institutions and customs Kuran blames have been superseded (mostly), but backwardness persists. Kuran wonders: ” Might this book have overlooked certain deeper causes of backwardness?” Good question.

Do I find his thesis convincing? No. The Middle East fell behind in everything, not just organizational complexity. I don’t think it’s all because they failed to create their own Fuggers or East India Company. Look at this timeline of science and engineering in the Islamic world: everything stops several hundred years ago.

Kuran’s book does a decent job of describing Islamic stagnation – part of it, anyhow – but it doesn’t explain it.

I guess it’s up to me. One more to add to the list.

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121 Responses to The Long Divergence

  1. georgioxblog says:

    If you start to review every book, which fails to make the “nature” argument, you will have long work days (I`m thinking of Bernard Lewis here). Instead you should write a blog post on what went really wrong in the Arab world

  2. dearieme says:

    There used to be an Iranian chap on the internet who explained that insofar as there ever was a moslem Golden Age it was mainly the work of religious minorities and of Persians (who at the time were only lightly attached to Islam, he said). I remember his summary as being that Arabs – or maybe he said moslem Arabs – were good at nothing but destruction.

  3. harpersnotes says:

    The fall of Constantinople 1453. Hundreds of thousands slaughtered. Those that were not enslaved mostly moved elsewhere (a major contribution to the Renaissance.) What had been a nominally theocratic multi-cultural feudalistic trading empire was replaced by a mostly very stable and extractive militaristic absolutist theocracy.

    • Chris B says:

      Constantinople didn’t have hundreds of thousands in 1453, maybe 30,000 camping out in the ruins. Most were killed or enslaved, but some scholars fled to Italy with a few satchels of manuscripts, which, as you say, contributed to the Renaissance.

    • dearieme says:

      Over the years the Byzantine Empire had ups and downs – hard times followed by at least partial recovery. It was the damage done to it by Latin crusaders that seemed to leave it so permanently weakened that it was bound eventually to fall to the moslems.

      A decent, if perhaps not conclusive, case can be made for that argument.

  4. Michel Rouzic says:

    Could the dysgenic effects of 1400 years of welfare be partly to blame? It’s not a very long time, but not so short either. Watching the Saudi TV show Omar about the rise of Islam it’s quite striking how much emphasis they put on egalitarianism (they even bought Abyssinian slaves who had embraced Islam just to free them) and trying to make sure no one goes hungry, even giving subsidies to mothers for each child they had. Surely after 50 generations with some constant pressure (the question being how strong are those pressures) we’d start seeing some slight overall differences? Could a penchant for “backwardness” also have been consistently rewarded for all that time? It’s tempting to think that crime being met with different punishment could be a pressure as well, for instance raping women being harshly punished in most of the world but rewarded in Islam (as in Saudi Arabia today) with the marriage between the rapist and his victim, making the rapist genetically highly successful. Or maybe they were like this from the beginning, but we’re talking about a pretty ethnically diverse and vast group of people, although they might not all be equally backwards either.

    • teageegeepea says:

      Doesn’t the Old Testament also include marriage as a “penalty” for rape?

      • Michel Rouzic says:

        You might be right, after a quick search it seems that marriage as penalty might be a pretty ancient practice. As for what was actually usually happened I’m having trouble finding anything not written by gender studies majors with a phobia of the distant past (the Vice article on the subject starts by condemning “white privilege” and concludes “The past pretty much sucked”), so I can’t tell if rape in Medieval Europe was punished by killing or mutilating the rapist or by marriage.

        • Chris B says:

          The marriage penalty feature in traditional ballads: “If he be a married man, hangèd he shall be, / And if he be a single man, he shall marry thee.” But the social world depicted in ballads didn’t necessarily reflect real social practice at any time in the past, just what was thought to have been social practice.

      • Jars says:

        Depends which translation you’re reading.
        For instance Deuteronomy 22:8-29 in the Contemporary English Version:
        28 Suppose a woman isn’t engaged to be married, and a man talks her into sleeping with him. If they are caught, 29 they will be forced to get married. He must give her father fifty pieces of silver as a bride-price and can never divorce her.

        But in the King James Version:
        28 “If a man find a damsel who is a virgin who is not betrothed, and lay hold on her and lie with her, and they be found, 29 then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.

        Most scholars argue that the original Hebrew text is talking about not a rape case, but rather a man attempting to escape paying dowry.

        Contemporary writers however like to interpret the 17th century English phrasing in the King James version “lay hold on her and lie with her” as referring to rape with marriage as the penalty. Using this interpretation Wil Gafney, in Huff Po, says that “rape is normative in the Jewish and Christian scriptures”.

      • johnb3 says:

        A woman is a tremendous economic burden on a man, so it would make sense to punish him with marriage. To be saddled with such a dependent is probably the most effective penalty that there is.

    • reinertor says:

      Was it not the case that they didn’t really distinguish rape and consensual premarital sex, and that for the marriage to happen, the father (or the girl herself? or both?) had to consent? Because then it makes sense, and it did exist in European culture (at least surely in Hungary) a hundred years ago: “You made my daughter pregnant, now you must marry her, or else..!”

      • DataExplorer says:

        In traditional Islamic Law that is certainly true. There is no distinction between consensual and non consensual sex. Sex can either be Halal (lawful) meaning between a man and one of his wives or slaves, or Haram (forbidden) meaning outside of marriage or the property of the man.

      • Chris B says:

        The issue was that loss of virginity, however caused, destroyed a young woman’s marriageability, and marriage, even to a rapist, was partial restitution. Again, this reflected people’s thinking, not necessarily practice at all times and places.

    • DataExplorer says:

      “Watching the Saudi TV show Omar about the rise of Islam it’s quite striking how much emphasis they put on egalitarianism…..”

      Early Islamic history is just hagiography. All of the sources are 200 years or more late. We can’t really say for certain whether Umar even existed, let alone what he actually did during his reign. Then add to the mix the propaganda aspect that the Saudis hope to achieve with this program (Umar is a great hero for Sunnis but a great villain for Shias).

      • Pierre says:

        I’m not aware of reputable scholarly works that doubt the existence of any of the 4 caliphs (Abubakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali). Any sources?

        • DataExplorer says:

          https://www.amazon.com/Hidden-Origins-Islam-Research-History/dp/1591026342

          From my recollection, the first chapter by Volker Popp: “The early history of Islam, following inscriptional and numismatic testimony” is the most doubtful of their existence. But some of the other contributors in the later chapters also support this view.

        • DataExplorer says:

          The earliest Arab ruler for which there is contemporary written sources affirming his existence is Muawiyah I, whose reign began in 661 AD. Though in an earlier period there was an Arab ruler in the Levant minting his own coins and going by the name of “Umar of Tiberius”, so perhaps the legendary Rashidun Caliph Umar was based on that guy.

    • The Z Blog says:

      The better path here is to consider the anti-intellectualism that evolved early on in Islam. Initially, the Arabs considered Islam a strictly Arab religion. They tolerated, but ignored the other religions of the region. This allowed Islam to eventually embrace occasionalism and reject any outside influences as un-Islamic.

      I’m not sure that’s a fruitful path, though.

      • Garr says:

        Calvin thought that all events are directly, deliberately triggered by God, so smart Europeans can think that too. Calvin was pretty smart. So were a lot of Calvinists.

        • Garr says:

          And Descartes thought that God recreates the world moment-by-moment (that’s in the 3rd Meditation), which clearly implies that God directly produces every event. And he was pretty smart too, and European.

    • ghazisiz says:

      “raping women being harshly punished in most of the world but rewarded in Islam (as in Saudi Arabia today) with the marriage between the rapist and his victim, making the rapist genetically highly successful.”

      A friend, while living in Saudi, enjoyed attending the executions. He told me about the execution of a rapist. The father of the victim was handed a rifle, while the perp was tied to a stake. The father shot, hit the right shoulder, shot again, hit the left shoulder, shot again, hit the left knee, and with the next shot hit the right knee–at this point, the officiating military officer stopped him, realizing the father’s intentions, and walked out to the stake and finished off the perp with a pistol.

      The point is, Sharia is all about protecting families and communities, and no one wants a rapist son-in-law. The marriage would only be sought by families in those cases where the “rape” was actually consensual pre-marital sex. It would be something like what they called a “shotgun marriage” back in my youth.

    • Marriage? How many times a rapist could do such a thing?

  5. dearieme says:

    “… they even bought Abyssinian slaves who had embraced Islam just to free them) and trying to make sure no one goes hungry, even giving subsidies to mothers for each child they had”: I don’t incline to believe everything I see on the telly.

    • Michel Rouzic says:

      Well that’s from the Qur’an, for instance Abu Bakr bought Bilal ibn Rabah who was being tortured by his master for refusing to renounce Islam. Apparently early Islam found some of its initial popularity among slaves. As for welfare, it’s a pretty central concept, and the zakat doesn’t exist for nothing either. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_and_humanity#Social_welfare_in_Islam

      Also you should reply my comments directly so I can be notified of it and have the discussion properly threaded.

  6. GAY_WEED_DAD_69 says:

    I found this saved in my documents folder, copypasted from somewhere a few years ago and I can’t remember the source. Hopefully the author won’t object to me repeating it here:

    One thing that has always irked me about people praising Islamic society or cultural accomplishments is most of their accomplishments were just cargo cultish imitations of the Byzantines and Persians. The Middle East had been a cultural and economic center for millennia at the time of the Islamic conquests, producing many of Christendom’s best theologians, and it’s a little disingenuous to give Muslims credit for the region’s accomplishments when they’re the ones who took thousands of years of success and drove it into the ground; turning richest, oldest, and most strategically valuable region in the world into a worthless backwater. There is absolutely nothing of value produced by Muslims that was not already produced, or could not have been produced in the future, by a Christian or Zoroastrian population of the middle east and north Africa

    The consistent pattern with muslims was that they conquered culturally superior peoples and used the first generation of talented slaves and converts to produce architecture and poetry and whatnot. After that the stultifying effects of their religion and government set in and the region they had conquered sank into permanent intellectual and cultural stagnation. To compensate for this they drew talented people from edges of their empire to the capital, where they could enrich it and mask the cultural rot that always set in outside the capital. Arabs had become so inert by the end of the Abbasid era that the crusaders found a region dominated and defended not by its own people but by the parasitic Seljuk Turks, who ruled over passive and demoralized Arab, Greek, and Persian subjects and leeched their wealth like equestrian vampires. In fact, from about the mid Tenth century onwards the Arabs would never again be free of foreign, usually Turkic, regimes. They were a spent and fallen culture, doomed to be buffeted about endlessly by various steppe nomads, Europeans, and uppity slaves like the Mamlukes and Janissaries. The nomads themselves always succumbed to the same cultural rot as the rest of the Islamic world after enough time, and had to be replaced or revitalized by the next invading steppe horde. The Moors as well went through the same pattern of rot followed by nomad takeover, losing more ground to the Spanish each time the cycle reset.

    “But”, you’ll say, “Islam was rich and powerful for centuries before the decline set in. Surely they weren’t that bad if they could sustain a great civilization for so long”. The original Caliphate lasted about three hundred years(the Islamic Golden Age), during which time it was able to exploit the fact that most of its population was not actually Muslim yet and still had enough cultural continuity left over from the pre-Islamic era to stave off the sort of stagnation and rot that would become characteristic of Islamic societies from the 10th century onwards. Islam squatted in the middle of the world’s most vital trade routes and was able to siphon off a huge chunk of the world’s wealth to sustain itself. It also profited from a massive and now largely forgotten slave trade. Finally, Islamic regimes enriched themselves by constantly conquering new areas and either sending the loot and new talent back to the capital or moving the capital to the new area to enjoy a generation of cultural revival before the rot set in again. Ultimately, Islam is a tapeworm that latched on to a very rich and strategically valuable region and became convinced it was responsible for all the shit flowing past it. The world stopped trading with Muslims as soon as trade routes allowing them to be avoided were discovered, and with their choke hold on the world’s trade broken, the impoverishing effects of their religion became apparent as they immediately sank into irrelevance on the world stage and stayed there until the discovery of oil. Ever since then they’ve been pawns of other worlds powers.

  7. pyrrhus says:

    Has any hot area of the world ever developed a lot of intelligent people? Not as far as I am aware…Has any non-Christian area of the world ever become seriously innovative? Same answer.

  8. The Z Blog says:

    Well, when the Druids were finishing up Stonehenge, the Egyptians were building the pyramids. Some process between then and roughly 1500 AD flipped the relationship between people in European and people in Mesopotamia.

    I suppose the answer could be that the human capital of the Middle East was always enough to build a Bronze Age empire, as long as there was not a lot of competition from the north. They did manage to give the Romans a tough time of it, but other factors were in play. Still, it does appear that the rise of Islam corresponds with the decline of the human capital of the Middle East.

    • Alex Nicholson says:

      I suspect Islam exerts unhelpful selective pressures if you’re going for social complexity, social capital. When Muslims and non Muslims share neighboring territory, it’s almost always the Muslims who are the lower ability, lower class group: Bosnia, Lebanon, Egypt, Caucasus, India, Burma.

      • The Z Blog says:

        This is something Lebanese notice, but don’t often discuss. The Christians and Druze dominated society, while the Muslims were at the bottom, despite having numbers. The Druze are sort of like a mountain Amish, it seems. You have to be born into the faith, but they do boil off those unwilling to live the life.

        As far as Islam, the occasionalism is something that I suspect has a big role. If you believe the rules of nature are the product of an unknowable and fickle god, all the pressure is on religious devotion, rather than curiosity about the natural world.

        On the other hand, enough generations of cousin marriage and maybe the result is a people willing to embrace the anti-intellectualism of Islam.

    • Jason says:

      The Druids had nothing to do with Stonehenge, and it had fallen into disuse 1000 years before the arrival of Celtic religious practices in Britain around 700 BC. It was built by neolithic farmers, and was adopted by the successive Bell Beaker culture.
      Stuart Piggott, one of the foremost archaeologists of Britain, writes “it should be stressed that there is no evidence for Celtic religious observances having been associated with Stonehenge, nor with any similar monument of the second millennium B. C”.

  9. DataExplorer says:

    The Arabs were originally Nomadic type peoples from the deserts of Arabia. The Arab nation with the lowest IQ is Qatar, which happens by the luck of oil to be the richest Arab nation. But Qatar may have best preserved the original Bedouin genetics seeing as Saudi Arabia became the spiritual center of the religion so may have received immigration. The desert lifestyle of the Bedouins does not seem to have been cognitively demanding, though the lack of Arable land probably did make them very territorial and warlike. When they expanded out and conquered the civilized parts of the Middle East, they became the overlords, so you had a situation where the least intelligent group was ruling over the more intelligent groups. The Arab ruling class took both wives and concubines from the conquered groups (this is well attested). The Christians in the region would have practiced monogamy and had fewer children, the Persian Zoroastrians, I have no idea.

    The more intelligent Persians, Jews, Semitic Christians, etc. had opportunities to contribute to learning because of their intelligence, but they were having less children and some of their women would be marrying the Bedouin Arabs at each generation. Thus the Bedouin Arab admixture would be gradually increasing in each generation.

    This is all just a hypothesis, but it would explain why the “Golden Age” of intellectualism peaked so early in Islamic civilization and then eventually dwindled to nothing.

    The Arab practice of cousin marriage may also have led to dysgenics. It is worth pointing out that although all Arab nations are majority Muslim, it is the nations from the Arab homeland with direct ancestry to the Arab Bedouins that practice it more strictly and conform most to what we could call “Islamic culture”, so cousin marriage and polygamy is practiced at much higher rates in the Arab peninsula than in North Africa or the Near East. It is as if some residual strain within either the genetics or the culture of those conquered regions is still lightly resisting full Islamization.

  10. crew says:

    I am glad you read these books so I don’t have to!

    • teageegeepea says:

      It’s actually a pretty good book. I’d recommend reading it along with Harold Berman’s Law & Revolution and Wallace, North & Weingast’s Violence and Social Orders to learn how our economic system (and the corporate form in particular) evolved (or didn’t, in the case of the Ottoman empire as Kuran points out).

  11. Eff says:

    How much of this could be due to inbreeding (incest, conanguinity)?

    It is well known that inbreeding lowers cognitive function of the child (e.g. [1][2]). It is also well known that the rate of consanguinity is high in the Arab world. I don’t know much of history, though, so I don’t know for how long that has been going on.

    [1]: Joshi, et al (2015): Directional dominance on stature and cognition in diverse human populations.
    [2]: M. Fareed, M. Afzal (2014): Estimating the Inbreeding Depression on Cognitive Behavior: A Population Based Study of Child Cohort

  12. sam57l0 says:

    Could it be that the Arabs are too family and tribal-oriented, and simply do not get along well with those not family and not of their tribe?

  13. ohwilleke says:

    ” Kuran thinks that features of Islamic culture led to organizational stagnation” I don’t quite follow your logic as to why this isn’t an adequate explanation. Indeed, one of the hallmarks of recent economic development literature if that culture is a more powerful influence in economic development than formal institutions. He may not have precisely the right elements of the Islamic culture, but overall, this explanation makes lots of sense right up to the present.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Well, what do you think the state of Chinese corporate law was in 1966?

      • Pincher Martin says:

        Or even 1996.

        • gcochran9 says:

          Has anyone pushing the ‘institutions’ line bothered to try and explain China?

          • GreatDivergence says:

            You well know there have been economists who have used institutional paths to try and explain the Great Divergence between Western Europe and China, why Imperial China was unable to modernize in the late 19th century unlike Japan, and then why under both the institutions of the Republic and then its Communist institutions it remained poor until recently.

            Really only HBDers who have a marked preference for the assumption that Communist institutions have delayed economic convergence (‘cuz they affect Eastern European Whites and Chinese, who ought to be richer!), while other institutions don’t matter (because the various peoples of Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and South America are no better than they ought to be from their low IQ). Who else thinks that you can have innovation without market incentives, science without literacy and publishing, etc.? If you took a stance that institutions were inhibited by IQ, as well as a bunch of other factors, then at least people could take that seriously.

      • The G man says:

        The institutions line is valid for explaining why one civilization was the first to get to modernity, instead of others with similar fundamental mental equipment. There must be a reason why Europe overtook China despite being, as far as we know, slightly dumber. Differences in terms of institutions might explain that

        However, it can’t explain why a given civilization is still unable to achieve sustainable capitalist development today. Once once part of the world has developed the technology and infrastructure to achieve take off, all the other countries need to do is copy. If they fail to do so, it’s probably because they can’t.

        So, if a given country lagged then caught up quickly, perhaps it was institutions wot dun it, if it is still lagging behind then probably not. It’s not impossible, though, that there are still a few countries who have the capacity to catch up but have been inhibited in some way.

        • Those Russians... says:

          Does Russia even sustainable capitalist development by this standard? Do they lack the mental hardware for it?

  14. Zero Effect? says:

    Considering this post, my thoughts are:

    probably tenable to suggest that if the Islamic world had better institutions, that wouldn’t really have ultimately done that much for scientific productivity or innovation… (tenable, not certain)
    but it doesn’t seem as reasonable to me that the paths he has identified have absolutely no large effect on the stability of Islamic states, or their economic productivity. that if you changed the cultural path, we’d just end up with exactly the same level of economic productivity and same general level of cultural repression because the Muslim Middle East is too dumb or something.

    In an alternate world where Kuran’s mechanisms were somehow avoided, and all things were as equal as they could possibly be, I could believe that scientific productivity would still center where it does… but it doesn’t seem likely that the “Islamic World” (or whatever it would be in that universe) wouldn’t be freer, richer and more generally economically productive (and that there should be at least some ambient greater level of Maryam Mirzakhani types and Steve Jobs types about in that region just from that alone).

    You’d see a few more of them push above the $12,235/cap PPP middle income threshold, enter into the world where GDP/cap has much less influence on welfare and life expectancy.

  15. MawBTS says:

    Frankly, I don’t trust anybody called Timur to do right by the Middle East.

  16. dave chamberlin says:

    Let’s just say I bought the argument of “The Great Divergence” hook, line, and sinker. Now I am going to make a quick google search of the IQ of Nations. ttps://iq-research.info/en/page/average-iq-by-country

    Well there they are all the nations of the Middle East starting with the bright boy of the bunch Iraq at a dull normal 87 and going down to Qatar who belongs on the short bus at 78. Now I bought the long winded argument of why all those nations in the Middle East are backward now i have to find new reasons why all those other nations that have an IQ between 87 and 78 are also backward. They are scattered all over the place so it looks like I am going to need a lot more long winded books to explain to me why they too are a victim of circumstance, as Curly of the Three Stooges used to say.

  17. Warren Notes says:

    I get and accept the IQ argument, but psychologically the Islamic culture seems to have an external locus of control that encourages a passive “Allah wills it” attitude with theocratic governments who don’t evolve in response to technological and social change. No fun, no profit, no optimism about the material realm. Not much of an encouragement there to get your ass in gear.

    • Sinij says:

      I too get the IQ argument, but concerned that we are oversimplifying the situation. Could you use only IQ to explain what was happening in China from late 1800s to 1980s? Sure, they are doing much better now, but what if we had this very discussion 50 years ago?

      • engleberg says:

        ‘. ..in China, millions of quick brains, stifled in trumpery crafts’ John Buchan Memory Hold The Door, about 77 years ago.

      • Janet says:

        I would note that the 1950s and 1960s, effective de-worming campaigns were carried out in China, South Korea, and Japan. Prior to that, the parasite load in rice-growing areas was simply astonishing, due to the fact that they used raw sewage on the fields as fertilizer, then spent many hours a day walking in, and handling, the contaminated water. These have a strong negative effect on adult intelligence, among other things. The effective IQ of China would have been strongly affected by these public health measures.

        I don’t think it’s a surprise that the economies of these countries began a sustained surge 20-30 years after these de-worming campaigns… much as the US Southeast began a sustained economic surge 20-30 years after our own de-worming campaigns of the 1910s-1920s (although the US population was never as heavily affected as the Asian countries, peaking at only about 40% infected).

    • ohwilleke says:

      When the initial Islamic empire expanded, the conventional wisdom of historians is that exactly the opposite was true. Islam organized and mobilized the community to get things done and be productive, while the Christians and pagans they supplanted were overcome by inertia, incapable of bringing about collective action, and indifferent to injustice and corruption and as a result collapsed almost immediately in the face of the expanding Islamic realm.

  18. Halvorson says:

    I’m inclined to think that the cultural state of Albania is a pretty good clue that Islam really does stunt all kinds of social progress. Have you heard the story about the SOE agent and the jeep?

    • MawBTS says:

      I haven’t heard of that. More?

      Here’s The War Nerd (tangentally) on Albanian Mushrooms.

      Here in Europe’s poorest country, a supposedly crazy Stalinist ruling clique built more than 700,000 concrete bunkers—one for every four people in the country. You see them everywhere, half-submerged in ponds, popping up in farm fields. The Albanians call them “mushrooms,” but to me they look like Paris urinals that got pushed into the ground. Like the F-35, they were supposedly necessary for national defense. But the first thing you realize when you see them is that they would have been totally useless in combat. Albanians do well in mobile warfare, and have a long tradition of using mountain ambushes against invaders. The very worst thing they could do against bigger, better-armed invaders would be to hole up in death traps like these bunkers, with their little domes announcing, “Here I am! Come and kill me!”

      I’d heard about these things, but you know—you get so much Western propaganda against Commie states that I half-expected to be impressed, to find that the bunkers were actually feats of military engineering. Nope. They’re shockingly useless. They shout their uselessness at you. In fact, that’s the point.

      People tried to tell the Albanian ruling clique that “bunkerization” was bankrupting the country, using scarce capital, concrete and steel, that could’ve been used to make decent housing. But that was like telling the DoD that the F-35 is a bad design. They know it perfectly well; it’s not relevant, from their perspective.

      […]

      In Albania, more than your career was at stake if you tried to oppose the bunkers. In 1974, Gen. Beqir Balluku, head of the Albanian Armed Forces, supposedly made a speech criticizing the bunkers as militarily worthless, calling for a smaller, more mobile and professional army. He got himself a new nickname, “The Arch-Traitor Balluku,” and the traditional “nine grams in the back of the head.”

      The article is about the F-35, which I think is a more complicated and nuanced case than he presents.

      • dearieme says:

        “the F-35 … a more complicated and nuanced case …”

        Football (soccer) supporters used to sing “You’re crap and you know you are.” They might as well have had the F-35 in mind.

      • bombexpert says:

        The performance of aircraft is dictated by the missile seekers, their NOZ, performance of its main radar, IR systems, decoys and EW jammers

        none of the above are publicly available information

        I’d expect better from this comment section.

      • Ursiform says:

        The F-35 is a very capable plane. Unfortunately, it’s also a very, very expensive plane. Given actual defense needs, we could have gotten more value from a mix of less expensive planes. But the F-35 is what we got.

        • MawBTS says:

          The US air force employs a “high-low” doctrine, pairing an expensive but dominant fighter with a cheaper but less powerful complement (in this case, the F-22). Yeah, it costs a lot of money…but it’s the big ticket item! You can’t compare it to a budget plane.

          His assertion that the F-35C costs $337 million per unit is wrong, and getting wronger. The JPO expects a $96 million sell point by next year for the F-35C. The costs go down over time. Why doesn’t he acknowledge that?

          And there’s value in consolidation. The F-35 is a multi-role fighter, designed to supersede the F-16, F/A-18, AV-8 and A-10. It’s misleading to compare the F-35’s cost to a Warthog, he should compare it to all four pipelines, with all their attendant costs (training, maintenance, supply lines for parts).

          Yeah, the F-35 project had cost overruns. Guess what: nobody can do a damned thing about that now. Gary Brecher should put his insight in an envelope and mail it to the year 1992 when someone might have given a shit.

          Brecher’s a good writer and I like reading him. But he has the mentality of a DemocraticUnderground commenter circa 2004, where he believes war is a racket and it’s all Dick Cheney’s plan to enrich his golf buddies. There isn’t zero truth to that idea, but it’s also lazy thinking, akin to Ford saying “history is bunk.” It’s what you say when you don’t want to learn history.

          • Ursiform says:

            Too bad that $96M doesn’t include the engine and some other stuff needed to actually use the plane.

            Yes, it’s intended to replace the Warthog; but it’s not designed to do what the Warthog actually does.

          • reiner Tor says:

            I don’t really like what the American Empire with its vassal states in Europe and elsewhere stands for (“anti-racism”, multiculturalism, LGBTQETC rights, Holocaustianity, to name just a few), so I’m actually glad they pushed this F-35 thing (along with transgender and female soldiers) instead of developing something cheaper and better (I tend to think it would be possible for the US to satisfy both requirements), but it’s quite misleading now to call it “a fighter”. It’s actually three fighters, which share roughly 20% of components, and all three are based on the F-35 ur-design.

    • ohwilleke says:

      Albania was a totalitarian North Korean style cult of personality utterly shut off from the outside world. This will stunt all kinds of social progress whether you are atheist communists, Chinese Confucianists, Muslims, or any other flavor of believer you care to mention. They were driving horse carts because their lack of international trade denied them cars and gasoline. They starved when winters were harsh because they didn’t hedge the risk with international trade in foodstuffs. Even the ethnically and religiously similar Kosovars less than a hundred miles away or so in still not exactly free Yugoslavia thrived by comparison.

    • Caradoc says:

      Shiptars are half Christians, with minimal cultural difference between the Moslems & the Christians. In upland pastoral areas, everyone is clannish and transhumant by nature.

  19. Halvorson says:

    The SOE agent drives his Jeep up into the hills to meet with some resistance leaders. He leaves the meeting and sees some villagers crowding around his jeep, flipped upside down. “We were trying to see if it was male or female!”.

  20. ghazisiz says:

    The key thing seems clear to me: Europe was a place with competition among nations, beginning around the time of the 100 years war. Anything promising to make a nation stronger (gunpowder, cannons, gold) was sought after. On the other hand, the Ottomans were a hegemonic state, with competitors far distant (Persia, Russia, Austria). Though they did occasionally latch unto an innovation, such as the Hungarian cannon used in the conquest of Constantinople, mostly they felt little urge to innovate.

    What process other than intense natural selection among nations is likely to lead to dominance over other nations?

    • DataExplorer says:

      But they had to stay competitive with their European neighbors as well. They were constantly fighting with Venice and Genoa for the control of the East Med.

      • ghazisiz says:

        Genoa? Venice, OK, but Venice got its ass kicked by the Ottomans. Not until the Spanish hooked up with Venice did things turn, but that didn’t last. The big threat always came from Russia, and the Austrians and Persians were impenetrable hedgehogs.

    • GAY_WEED_DAD_69 says:

      On the other hand, the Ottomans were a hegemonic state, with competitors far distant (Persia, Russia, Austria).

      “Far distant” is an interesting way of saying “right on the border”. The Turks fought twelve wars with the Russians, and the Russians kicked their asses in all but 3 of them. The Ottoman Empire was called the “sick man of Europe” during the 19th century; you’d think this would spur them to innovaiton.

      What process other than intense natural selection among nations is likely to lead to dominance over other nations?

      You have a pretty confused idea of what “natural selection” means; it doesn’t apply to countries competing with each other.

  21. Wency says:

    Agree with some points, but two factors I’m not seeing anyone bring up:

    Sub-Saharan admixture increased in the Mid East during this period.
    (Speculative) The Islamic world was more urban and encouraged elites to migrate to cities, which are population sinks. This is dysgenic.

    The second point was probably true in a lot of times and places. China also. But in the West, it’s notable that a lot of the first places to urbanize are now the most backward.

    • DataExplorer says:

      Actually that makes a lot of sense because in that era cities would have been huge population sinks with all the plagues that went around.

    • anon says:

      Sub-Saharan admixture increased in the Mid East during this period.
      (Speculative)

      I recall a study showing that Yemeni Arabs showed significant sub-Saharan introgression, but that Yemeni Jews had none. Apparently the Jews either didn’t hold slaves, or, didn’t assimilate them.

    • ghazisiz says:

      Urban sinks are dysgenic. Yes. But the higher mortality in cities was also a phenomenon in Europe. The high mortality of London continued until the mid-19th century, at least (John Snow’s identification of the source of the cholera outbreak in 1854 was probably the turning point in reducing urban mortality). Not likely that any of the Islamic regions were more urbanized than Britain at that point.

    • Gerald says:

      I don’t agree that cities at the time were necessarily dysgenic. Yes, cities tended to attract elites. But those elites also had strategies to mitigate increased mortality, such as withdrawing to the country house during plagues (and in summer time).

      More importantly, the great mass of the people were probably not drawn from country elites, but disproportionately from the country lumpenproletariat: the landless, the unemployable, the outcasts, the disgraced, the criminal, etc.

      Hence, these factors could easily cancel each other, or the latter one could dominate, making cities eugenic.

  22. dearieme says:

    How did such dimwits manage to navigate and survive in the desert?

    How did the not-awfully-intellectually-gifted Polynesians become such magnificent navigators?

    How did the rather thick Amerindians start several impressive civilisations?

    How did the terribly clever Northern Europeans contribute bugger all to civilisation for so long?

    I don’t dismiss IQ – on the contrary. But there are still mysteries a-plenty, it seems to me. What would be wonderful would be if the investigators of ancient DNA were ever to find themselves in a position to say “we have sixty sets of human remains from Somewhereland in the 5th century BC, and we estimate their average IQ to have been … whatever.

    • Jim says:

      Determining directions and latitude in the tropical Pacific night is trivial unless the sky is totally overcast which is rare. Because of the general calmness of the waters discerning wave patterns is also easy. Navigating in the grey stormy North Atlantic is totally different from navigating in the tropical Pacific.

    • Jim says:

      Polynesians are probably not much below the world average in IQ.

    • dave chamberlin says:

      To understand why nationwide IQ average is so important for economic development one must look not at the average IQ but at the enormous difference in percentages of very high IQ people when the whole bell shaped curve of a nation is shifted up or down. Take a nation with an average IQ of 100, let’s say England, and compare it with a nation with an average IQ of 85, let’s say Yemen, for the percentage of the population with an IQ above 130. England has 2.4% of it’s population with an IQ above 130, Yemen has 0.1% of it’s population with an IQ above 130.

      You can’t have a prosperous modern nation when only 1 out of a thousand people are bright enough to hold a very mentally challenge job. But when you increase that percentage of the population that has an IQ above 130 TWENTY FOUR times than sure you can.

    • Ursiform says:

      Presumably it’s easier to learn to navigate in the desert than to do tensor calculus.

      • Jim says:

        I’ve never been much in deserts but I would assume there are few clouds and very dark skies at night so navigating is probably trivial.

    • Sean Fielding says:

      Bugger all? Northern Europeans have been building civilizations via southerly invasion for 4,000 years.

    • Caradoc says:

      Probably a lot of great human achievements, like navigation, don’t require as much smarts as people like to think. The selection for IQ would be where it brought reproductive success ie. smarts for making money once urban life kicked in. Conversely people in harsh environments, such as C Australia or the Kalahari, might be under a process of selection for less costly brain mass. This is touched upon much less than the increases of IQ among Jews, Germanics or Chinese, but it follows from their ecology.

  23. For this type of discussion, it is Europe which is the outlier, not all the others. Kuran might have seen more – hell, we all might see more – if he had eliminated the northern peoples from his field of comparison, at least temporarily. The Middle East did fall behind many other peoples, but not hugely. There were impressive spots in the New World, but the mass of tribes weren’t more sophisticated than Bedouins. China likewise had great feats of central organisation and improving (albeit slowly) technology around Beijing and a few other spots, but were likewise no great shakes otherwise. It is worth asking why the Muslim communities did even worse. Gayweeddad69’s quote suggests a Piranha Brothers strategy that needs only a low floor of intelligence to accomplish. Eventually, you run out of other people’s culture and accomplishments.

    IQ is measurable, and so lends itself to comparisons. There may be other traits useful for the building up of a society that are gradually coming under measurement that can become part of the discussion going forward.

    Yet the real question is how did some few peoples escape this worldwide mess? Inside the Hajnal Line, things were different – but that line must be the result of differences built over generations before it was noticed.

  24. Cpluskx says:

    1) IQ decline in MENA (as a result of high pop. growth of newly converted lower class Middle Easterners) from minority smart non-Muslim levels to current level.

    2) Stable IQ in MENA but European and minority smart non-Muslim IQ increase resulting in European and minority non-Muslim dominance.

  25. anonymous says:

    “One cannot but ponder the question: What if the Arabs had been Christians? To me it seems certain that the fatalistic teachings of Mohammed and the utter degradation of women is the outstanding cause for the arrested development of the Arab. He is exactly as he was around the year 700, while we have kept on developing. Here, I think, is some text for an eloquent sermon on the virtues of Christianity.”

    — War As I Knew It, General George S. Patton, Jr.

    • Rosenmops says:

      The Coptic Christians in Egypt don’t seem to have done much. But they have been repressed by the Muslim majority.

      The historically Protestant countries were most successful, followed by the Catholic countries. Most of the Eastern Orthodox countries fell to communism. Muslim countries are pretty much the most corrupt and dysfunctional in the world, apart from places populated by sub-saharan Africans. Somalia is both Muslim and sub-saharan African. It is one of the worst countries in the world. Where ever Somalis immigrate to they cause trouble.

  26. manwhoisthursday says:

    I guess the question is why the Middle East is now so utterly lacking in achievements, seeing as the Middle East in the past did have non-trivial intellectual achievements. Which is different than explaining why a place has always been low in achievement.

  27. I see the smart ones getting out. I work in a large hospital, and a huge percentage of the docs are from the Muslim countries and India, with a fair number of Eastern Europeans and the occasional East Asian and sub-Saharan African. Plus a smattering from all over. US-born docs are mostly older white men and now in the minority. Regardless of what you think of immigration, the US is skimming the cream from a lot of low-income countries. I can’t imagine we are much different from most other second-tier hospitals around. If these countries have as little talent as the stats suggest, it’s only getting worse with every new doc we hire.
    Even with regression to the mean, their kids will tend pretty smart too.

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