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In our earlier post, we suggest that the economic organization of Greek Bronze Age civilizations had many elements similar with what we today identify as central planning — centralized control of the economy for extraction and redistribution of resources. William Parkinson and Gary Feinman from the The Field Museum in Chicago have sent this comment pointing to some recent, more nuanced interpretations. The study of ancient economies is evolving, bolstered by years of painstaking data collection by archaeologists and their collaborators. In the case of the Aegean Late Bronze Age, for example, Mycenaean palaces were initially characterized as redistributive centers because the Linear B tablets originally translated by Michael Ventris and John Chadwick in the 1950s documented goods that were moving into and out of the palatial centers. Over the last decade the roles and relationships of Mycenaean palaces have been redefined significantly. Models of ancient Near Eastern temple economies, which previously also were described as centralized, redistributive, centers, have undergone similar modifications. The recent survey by John Bennett in the authoritative Cambridge Economic History of the Greco-Roman World edited by Walter Scheidel, Ian Morris and Richard Saller reiterates the view of Greek Bronze Age economy organized along central planning lines, partly based on classic work by T.J. So though the literature is evolving and though the control of the elite was certainly not absolute, the economic organization of Bronze Age Greek civilizations still appears to have many many parallels with central planning. In a previous post we examined how the Greek Bronze Age was associated with the rise of city states and nascent urbanization. In the last two posts (here and here) we have discussed examples of societies which practiced central planning but without any of the ideological trappings that supposedly created Soviet central panning. To see what this problem might be, let’s return to the creation of central planning in the Soviet Union in the 1920s. Essentially central planning is not about the efficient allocation of economic resources, it is about control. Central planning maximizes the extent of control that the state, and the people running the state, exercise. In our last blog post we explained how the great societies of the Greek Bronze Age used central planning to organize their economies. These societies were not alone in world history, and central planning was independently invented many times over, for example by the Incas (actually the Incas was the name of the ruling class of the empire of Tawantinsuyu – meaning the four regions) as they built their huge empire in modern Andean South America.
In the Inca Empire, all the land was the Inca’s and large parts were allocated to the Temple of the Sun and other religious cults, others to the army, and yet others to the Crown.
There seems to have been little or no market exchange but instead the state moved people into different areas where different crops could be grown, the so-called archipelago economy, and then distributed the goods by fiat. It seems that like farming or democracy, central planning was independently invented many times over in world history. The idea that the central planning of the economy in the Soviet Union was driven by ideology seems compelling and obviously true.
For one thing, it turns out that centrally planning the economy was not something rare or anomalous in history. To see what might have driven central planning as a way to organize the economy, let’s consider some famous historical examples of central planning. The state seems to have taxed agricultural output, though we do not know to what extent they directly owned land. Since there was no money, the state basically moved around all of the goods itself by fiat. One of the key ideas that ended up in Why Nations Fail emerged out of a theory of why the Congo had so few roads.
The original impulse for the idea was a critique that Congolese (then Zairean) president Mobutu had made of President Juvenal Habyarimana of Rwanda. In the Rwandan example, building roads helped the RPF to invade the country and facilitated their attempt to overthrow the Habyarimana regime.
Mobutu was cleverer (more cynical?) than Habyarimana, he had not built any roads and this made his grip on power more secure. We did not use this example in the book but rather others from modern Sierra Leone and 19th century Austria-Hungary and Russia but Jim’s recent research trip to Kasai allows us to make a report on the state of the Congolese roads.
As the pictures below taken on route to Mushenge show, the state of the roads in Kasai is pretty much the same as when Mobutu left power. Paula Moreno, director of Manos Visibles, who we mentioned in our previous post, used to be the Colombian Minister of Culture so she knows about a lot more than just the economy. This didn’t only include Why Nations Fail but also a lecture by Adolfo Meisel of the Central Bank on regional inequality in Colombia. Why lease warehouse space, when you can rent a self storage unit and get the space you need for less? If you had a large garage to store your business materials in, how much easier would things be for you? We offer great discounts when you take care of your rent for 6 months or 12 months up front. Only economic institutions that guarantee some degree of property rights, so that people know that they will be able to reap the benefits of their investments and efforts, will generate prosperity. Lack of property rights and arbitrary allocation of land, without regards to who will be more productive in using it, are not the only extractive institutions in rural Sierra Leone.
So what comes out from decades of repression and lack of economic opportunities at the local level, and blatant thievery at the national level? Democratization in Bolivia briefly after 1952 and more persistently after 1982 did not create inclusive political institutions.
One might be skeptical about whether or not some of these measures will lead to more inclusive institutions and to good economic outcomes, and we are indeed very skeptical (as our discussion of industrial policy here and our discussion of Argentine nationalization here illustrate). Yet the possibility that the MAS constitutes a broad coalition of the type we analyzed in Why Nations Fail suggests the possibility that there may at last be a real institutional transition from extractive towards inclusive institutions in Bolivia.
More importantly, because he relies on this broad coalition, Morales cannot do whatever he likes — and perhaps as a result, the political equilibrium is shifting and the distribution of political power is becoming much more equal. Though we are very much at the beginning of the process and things can change quickly, there are now some signs that the type of broad coalition that led to institutional change elsewhere in the world may have started forming in Bolivia. The concept of consensually strong states discussed in our last post suggests one possible answer. In the last two posts, here and here, we have argued that neither the classic Hobbesian line of the benefits of a Leviathan nor James Scott’s perspective of disadvantaged groups always fleeing the authority of the state are fully satisfactory. We are not aware of any comprehensive approach that models or successfully integrates these different ideas. The observation this paper makes is that if we were trying to interpret the cross-country variation in the political and economic strength of the state, taxes and spending using such a dichotomy between weak and strong states, much of the OECD and certainly Scandinavia would just appear as massive outliers.
Putting it formally, what the paper describes is a subgame perfect equilibrium of a repeated game, in which citizens are willing to allow high taxes because they have the punishment strategy of kicking the incumbent politician out of power if he or she uses the resulting tax revenues for rents or projects that they do not value.
So according to this model, the problem of the Hobbesian state is not just that it is strong, but that it is a Leviathan emboldened by his own might, rather than empowered by the consent of society at large. In our last few blog posts on the state, we have argued that Scott’s whole vision of state centralization is deficient. There is written on the Turrets of the city of Luca in great characters at this day, the word LIBERTAS; yet no man can thence inferred, that a particular man has more Libertie or Immunitie from the service of the Commonwealth there, than in Constantinople.
To anyone with some knowledge of the great tragedies of the 20th century, the claim that states formation can reduce human welfare can hardly be a controversial observation. The fact that the governance of the state is critical can be seen from our example taken from David Nugent’s Modernity at the Edge of Empire. In our last post, we discussed how Afro-Colombian communities managed to get collective title to their lands.
Interestingly in this case the displaced people used Law 70 as a tool to try to get their land back from the paramilitaries and the land grab (as the report Elusive Justice shows many elites were heavily invested in this as well). By 1991, Sierra Leone was a failed nation, mired in poverty, with an economy almost continuously shrinking for almost three decades.
On March 23 a group of armed men under the leadership of Foday Sankoh crossed the border from Liberia into Sierra Leone and attacked the southern frontier town of Kailahun. Though Sankoh and other RUF leaders may have started with political grievances, and the grievances of the people suffering under the APC’s extractive institutions may have encouraged them to join the movement early on, the situation quickly changed and spun out of control. In 1997 the RUF enjoyed a brief spell as part of the national government after a faction of the military, led by Major Johnny Paul Koroma overthrew the government. Most people have good intentions when making New Year’s resolutions, but fall short of actual accomplishment. I believe there is a key element missing in our New Year’s resolutions – accountability! I’ll admit, I was one of those people who started the year off good and then started to slack come March.

A couple of weekends ago, I spent Saturday afternoon running lights and power outlets throughout the crawlspace beneath my house.
Expropriation A Model of the Alternative Perspective The Nature of Stateless Societies Towards an Alternative Perspective: Against Hobbes The Benefits of Collective Titles The Lands of the Afro-Colombians The Rise and Decline of General Laws of Capitalism The Coatsworth Thesis Do People Really Dislike the State So Much? Archaeology yields key perspectives, providing kinds of information often unmentioned in textual sources.
As a result, for almost a generation after the decipherment of Linear B, Mycenaean palaces were characterized as powerful redistributive centers whose primary role was to extract labor and materials from the hinterland, and to support production and distribution of those specialized craft products.
Rather than being portrayed as centralized rulers that controlled nearly every aspect of the political economy, the Mycenaean palatial elite now are understood to have been very savvy statesmen who managed to gain some limited political benefits by directing very specific aspects of the palatial economy. Across the ocean, later prehispanic Mesoamerican economies are now seen as having been characterized by active market systems with flexible economic valuations, and broadly accepted currencies, albeit not coinage. The more nuanced picture they suggest is likely a better summary of recent developments in the literature. Central planning involves the suppression of markets and price systems for the governing institutions and elites to better extract resources and politically and economically control society.
The presence of large-scale storage facilities for staples and craft products, together with spaces for rituals, evidence of bureaucratic control, and the Minoan palaces’s sheer size suggest strongly that they could extract what they wished and manage economic activity over quite large areas.
Though some parts of Africa, like Benin, are now famous for their bronze work, in general Sub-Saharan Africa jumped right into the Iron Age without ever passing through this intermediate stage. So the jump to Iron Age technology may have impeded the development of states in Africa by making it more difficult for elite to concentrate and monopolize power. But if central planning was not something just created by Marxist ideology, where does the idea come from? A significant part of this was the decision to collectivize agriculture and move all peasants into a system of state controlled collective farms. The desire to control others is a constant in history and is part and parcel of the construction of states. This is not to deny that Marxist ideology supported and legitimized central planning in several 20th-century societies.
The rest which the state did not claim was granted to local communities for their subsistence production.
For example, Inca administrators who supervised the farming of crown lands would arrange for some of the goods to be moved to Cuzco or other regional capitals, while another part would be stored locally in warehouses. Though this terminology refers to the use of bronze (an alloy of copper and tin) which replaced stone for tools and weapons, there was a whole series of correlated technological, social and political changes. They seem to have controlled nearly all industrial production, for instance of textiles, ceramics, tools and weapons. After 1990, Habyarimana suffered an invasion of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in the north of the country.
But ironically it was Laurant Kabile with RPF troops that eventually walked right across the Congo to overthrow Mobutu in 1997. According to Google driving between Kananga and Mweka takes 2 hours and 57 minutes which is almost correct, give or take 9 hours! Part of her agenda is to promote the amazingly rich cultural and artistic life of the Chocó (not just raise GDP per capita). Local Colombian, Chocoano rapero (rapper) Alexis Play was invited to attend the first day and conclude the sessions by improvising a rap based on the themes of the discussions. Plumbers, restaurant owners, roofers, carpet layers and more store their materials at I-44 Mini-Storage instead of leasing warehouse space.
Most people in Sierra Leone still live in villages, and their lives are governed byA chiefs. But there are no property rights to land in rural Sierra Leone a€” at least not in the sense that we understand it in the United States. For instance the 1955 Educational Reform code passed by the MNR was not designed to empower indigenous people but to assimilate and control them. Perhaps President Morales is adopting these policies to satisfy the many constituencies that are part of this coalition (and of course to hold onto power). More evidence for this is that though some criticize Morales for wanting to emulate Hugo Chavez, presidential term limits have not been dismantled in Bolivia as they have in Venezuela.
For example, popular protests emerged over the new system introduced by the constitution for the appointment of top justices in 2011.
Instead, it appears that though the state is often an instrument of repression and extraction in the hands of economic or political elites, there are at times important benefits from state centralization (as we have also argued in Why Nations Fail), and the state can even be a useful instrument for the disadvantaged in their struggles against the local elites.
It is meant to stand apart from strong states that are useful because they can provide socially useful public goods and from weak states cannot or will not provide such public goods. The interpretation that the paper offers is based on the concept of consensually strong states.
Crucially, it is the ability of citizens to easily kick out the politicians that makes this subgame perfect equilibrium possible. Though it is true that one can find harmonious stateless societies, the comparative ethnographic evidence also suggests two robust facts. Scott is right that in some cases the state is a great threat to welfare and he has been a vigorous and effective critic of the Hobbesian perspective on the state, so central to much thinking in social science. Whether a Commonwealth be Monarchicall, or Popular, the Freedome is still the same (Leviathan, Chapter 21, p. It was the strong states created and controlled by the Bolshevik Party in Russia, the Communist Party in China, the Nazi Party in Germany and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia that succeeded in wiping out vast numbers of people on a scale of killing never seen before in human history. The powerful state that England built after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 did not systematically harass or murder its citizens and neither did the central state that was constructed in the United States after the ratification of the Constitution.
Peasants in rural Perú, rather than rejecting the state, actively tried to induce it to intervene to protect them from local elites and to deliver the services and benefits that the Peruvian constitution promised. We proposed one hypothesis for why they demanded these titles in collective form, namely that it was a response to the incapacity of the Colombian state to deliver anything else. They managed to get the land that had been stolen declared to be their communal land and this has helped them get the state to intervene to restore some if not all of it. Sankoh, formerly a corporal in the Sierra Leonean army, had been imprisoned after taking part in an abortive coup against Siaka Stevens’s government in 1971 and had ended up in a training camp for African revolutionaries ran by the Libyan dictator Colonel Qaddafi.
When a country has the type of extractive institutions that Sierra Leone inherited from the British and then intensified by its post-colonial leaders, fights over power, over who gets to benefit from the extraction, are common. If you’ve ever been to a gym during the month of January and February, you’ll realize there are WAY more people there than usual.
If everyone was held accountable for the resolutions they make, there wouldn’t be so many who fall short of the mark. Every morning I go running with my dog Sprinkles (okay, okay…girly dog and girly name…don’t judge me). Now that there’s sufficient lighting and power down there, I will begin moving the contents of the pink bedroom to the crawlspace, bringing me one step closer to reclaiming the bedroom and getting rid of the awful pink color. We still love to explore new restaurants every now and again, but we are cutting back on how often we do this. We agree that more-or-less centralized economic and political systems certainly existed in the past, many early states, which in the past were described as centralized, redistributive, economies, now are understood based on new empirical underpinnings to have been much more dynamic systems with characteristics of decentralized economies and even vibrant markets. This revisionist perspective depicts Mycenaean palaces not as omnipotent, highly centralized, redistributive centers, but as cogs in more delicate, networked, sociopolitical systems that were dependent on economic activities that they could not completely control. Earlier theoretical perspectives that reflexively applied the centralized and command economy model to this region have largely been rejected as increasing bodies of evidence have revealed that most productive activities for exchange were implemented in domestic contexts and so would have been near impossible to control centrally.
Archaeologists have suggested a theory linking the use of bronze to political centralization.
Africa never experienced the nascent period of political centralization that Europe did during the Bronze Age, perhaps also with a path dependent legacy. The fact that it appeared independently during many different time periods and in quite different societies suggests that central planning is a solution to a well-defined economic or political problem . Though this might be interpreted as an ideological decision, another way of seeing it is that Stalin did this in order to more effectively tax and control the peasantry — that is, more effectively for Stalin and the elite controlling the Soviet state, but of course disastrously for the peasants themselves.
If the state can grab all the land and resources and control who and on what terms people get access to them, then this maximizes control, even if it sacrifices economic efficiency. But it is to emphasize that the emergence and persistence of central planning is often a solution to the central economic and political problem of many elites: to control and extract resources from society. They built around 25,000 miles of roads, had a system of runners for sending messages and collecting information. The state lands, distributed throughout the empire, were then worked for free by the local people using various forms of corvée labor.

In particular the Bronze Age was associated with increased political centralization and the formation of states throughout the Mediterranean basin. They monopolized trade, and Killen characterizes trade as a type of reciprocal gift-exchange.
Chiefs raise taxes, hire the local police, dispense justice and control the most important resource in rural Sierra Leone today a€“ land. Nobody has a written title, though some dynasties and families do have traditional user rights to use certain pieces of land. Chiefs also use their power to coerce youths to work for them on their plantations and in building roads and other local public goods. A former coca farmer and union leader, Morales’s party MAS (Movement Towards Socialism in English) formed initially as a movement outside of the existing political system. As well as former guerrillas and left-wing groups, the MAS includes intellectuals and parts of the middle class.
Though the justices were to be chosen by a popular vote, the MAS controlled the nomination of the potential justices in the national congress (previously the judges were simply chosen by congress so the new system is an improvement on the old). But strong states are also difficult to control for the citizens, so they will often turn their strength against the citizens, for example, expropriating them.
Moreover, this economic strength is not imposed on the citizens against their will, but largely demanded by the citizens. If the state were politically too strong (say like an absolutist monarch), such subgame perfect equilibrium arrangement would not be possible.
First, historical human societies, including stateless ones and those which lacked a modern state, were far more, not less, violent than modern societies. If anything, Hobbes, having been the tutor to the young exiled Charles II, favored monarchical government.
Second, he’d never accept that building a state actually solved what problems there might have existed in a stateless society.
This example vividly shows how once a state governed by law, even if mostly in the breech, can radically change the calculus of citizens. Thus another hypothesis about the demand for communal land rights is that this form of property rights, which cannot be sold, may be a better tool for defending the communities against expropriation and elite predation. Come March however, things are back to normal and the attendees are back down to the levels you know. For this reason I come to you today, to report on my progress thus far, so as to be held accountable for the resolutions I’ve made. Even though it’s only 15 minutes from my house, driving roundtrip still takes a half hour out of my day. Our pink bedroom (it was painted that color before we moved in, so back off) is still piled high with bins and boxes and is serving as our “storage unit”. We’ve enjoyed exploring new recipes and cooking different kinds of meats and veggies on the grill!
Copper and tin are both scarce and need to be traded, their supplies can be monopolized, and so can trade.
The peasants produced a lot less in a collectivized farm, but the Soviet state got a bigger share of the smaller pie and a larger amount in absolute.
They also recorded vast amounts of information of knotted strings called quipus, most of which cannot be read today. Fascinatingly, these tablets have only survived from the period right before these states were destroyed in conflicts (think Troy…).
This was useful probably because Knossos, for example, one of the best studied of the bronze age states, had neither copper nor tin locally and thus had to import them from outside via this type of exchange. The chiefs are the a€?custodians of the landa€? which in effect means that they decide who gets what. Most out of luck are a€?strangersa€? meaning anyone not born in a particular chiefdom (like say the two of us in Cambridge, Massachusetts).
They forged a road to power by effectively harnessing people’s resentment against the traditional political system and using mass collective action to force the system to change. In consequence, their policy platform has included not just the promotion of the disempowered, but also nationalization, particularly of foreign owned natural resources, and also attempts to develop an industrial policy. Despite some grumbling, most citizens of Western democracies (with the notable exception of Tea Party supporters in the United States) are happy with marginal tax rates around 50% or sometimes above, but few businessmen in sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia can be found to sing the praises of similar rates of expropriation or corruption.
Hobbes was actually right when he said that the state of nature was nasty, brutish and short. Only a state could remove the clash of interests and notions of justice and eradicate the uncertainly, arbitrariness and domination which a stateless society was prone to. As we have shown, his arguments in fact are that states typically reduce social welfare and that is why people fly from them and try to escape their power.
Scott recognizes in Seeing Like a State that the governance of the state, who controls it and in whose interests, is critical in the sense that authoritarianism is necessary to create a really big disaster, but this receives scant attention in The Art of Not Being Governed.
The people were replaced by tropical palm, and by 2005 the palm plantations reached 35,000 hectares. When Taylor invaded Liberia on Christmas Eve 1989, Sankoh was with him, and it was with a group of Taylor’s men that Sankoh invaded Sierra Leone. I must’ve looked pretty cool when the life guard was yelling at me, “Keep off the ropes!” as I was gasping for air in the middle of the pool while hanging on for dear life. This seems to have created both the incentive and the opportunity to concentrate power and develop urban centers, for example in Knossos in Crete which was the core of Minoan Greece.
The palaces were burned down, we don’t really know by who (the Sea People?), and the fire baked and preserved the clay. A stranger has to a€?bega€? (the word the Sierra Leoneans use) for land and even if he or she gets it they cannot plant any perennial crops, like bananas, cocoa, coffee or oil palm because this would be tantamount to trying to establish de facto property rights on the land.
The next photo, taken in November 2011, shows some of the graffiti which suddenly appeared everywhere in La Paz.
This is evident from contemporary nations, such as those in Somalia or South Sudan, which were built on-top of historically stateless societies.
Afro-Colombians communities were able to use the state to get control over their land and Law 70 of 1993 turned out in the past 20 years to be a key tool to fight against local elites trying to expropriate lands.
The Inter-Ecclesial Commission of Peace and Justice reported that by 2005, 106 people in the area had been assassinated or were missing, 40,000 people were displaced from their homes; there had been 19 raids and burning of hamlets, and 15 cases of torture. They called themselves the RUF, the Revolutionary United Front, and they announced that they were there to overthrow the corrupt and tyrannical government of the APC. While the Greek Bronze Age cities were destroyed around 1200 BCE and some, like Mycenae, never re-emerged, many, such as Athens re-emerged on the same spot so the early centralization of the Bronze Age may have left a path dependent legacy. Jim once asked a chief in Kono district what would happen if a stranger tried to grow coffee or oil palm. In the referendum over 60% of ballots cast were spoiled or blank, signaling how Morales has started to function in an environment in which he is more constrained than previous Bolivian presidents. Because of this weakness, citizens know that they can easily kick out the current crop of politicians, thus making it incentive compatible for them to use the huge resources they control for the benefits of the citizens, for example for public good provision and control of monopoly, rather than for their own or their cronies’ benefits. The modern state in Somalia collapsed 20 years ago and has never been re-constructed, and perhaps was never really constructed in the first place and the country has degenerated into continual violence. Mustapha Ngebeb IV (from a€?Portriats of Paramount Chiefs of Sierra Leonea€?, by Vera Viditz-Ward and Roslyn A Walker, Smithsonian, 1990). Though one hopes otherwise, it is quite likely that South Sudan is now headed in the same direction.
During the same visit as the chief was showing off his plantations of cocoa, Jim asked (rather naively in retrospect) a€?for example, how did you get the right to use this land?a€? a€?That man used to farm it and he gave it to mea€? said the chief, pointing out a man on the other side of the road. One should not conclude from this that the stateless society of the Sudan clans or the Nuer and Dinka in the South Sudan was peaceful until the British and Italians turned up and tried to create arbitrary nation states. In Why Nations Fail we illustrated in Chapter 8 how the stateless societies of historical Somalia were unable to generate order let alone economic development. Garraty (in 2010 Annual Review of Anthropology) review the importance of ancient markets and their under-emphasis in traditional theoretical approaches.

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