Alphabet and Writing

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 27th, 2013

Technology 101

(Originally published November 23rd, 2011)

The Necessary Information to Survive in Prehistory was Minimal and did not Require a Written Language

Hunters and gatherers had little need for language.  For they did little in life but hunt, gather, eat, sleep and propagate the species.  Much like wildlife today.  Such as feral cats.  Abandoned house cats.  Who mate and produce more feral cats.  And these animals are survivors.  They hunt.  Gather food from human garbage.  Eat.  Sleep.  And reproduce.  If you ever had any in your neighborhood you know that they can be very loud, too.  Making a variety of sounds.  Meows, cries, growls and hisses.  Not an advanced language.  But sufficient to survive.  And enough to keep you from trying to pick one up.

Early man was similar to feral cats.  They had a limited language.  That allowed them to survive.  And make modest advances.  They made tools out of stone.  Used fire.  Made clothes from animal hides.  Even left art on the walls of caves.  Far more than any wild animal ever did.  But they didn’t do much more.  If they did it was probably nothing to write about.  Because they didn’t.  Write about it.  Either because they had no written language.  Or because they were a modest people.

History starts with written language.  Before that we have only archaeology.  And best guesses.  But based on the archaeology they weren’t doing much.  Other than surviving.  And in these prehistory times life was pretty simple.  See above.  The necessary information to survive was minimal.  Eat.  And don’t die.  It wasn’t necessary to write that down.  So they didn’t.  Memory was more than sufficient.  And it was like that for millions of years.

The Phoenician Alphabet was the Basis for the Greek and Latin Alphabets

But then the simple became complex.  There were food surpluses that allowed a division of labor that led to trade.  And a burgeoning economy.  Which required a more sophisticated way of communicating.  And a system of maintaining records of economic exchanges.  For memory and talking just wasn’t good enough anymore.

In the 4th millennium BC, in Mesopotamia, this began with clay tokens to represent an economic commodity.  And the first system of accounting was simply counting and storing these tokens.  But as the division of labor produced an ever more complex economy, the number of tokens used became too great.  So they represented the economic commodity with a symbol scratched in a clay tablet.  Instead of counting tokens they read these tablets.  We call this writing cuneiform.   Which was later used to write down the spoken Sumerian language.

Over time we developed alphabets.  We represented the sounds of the words we spoke with letters.  The Phoenician alphabet being one of the first alphabets.  Used by one of the greatest traders and merchants of all time.  The Phoenicians.  Which spread this language around.  Giving rise to Canaanite and Aramaic.  Aramaic giving rise to Arabic and Hebrew.  Incidentally, all languages without vowels.  But the granddaddy of all alphabets was Greek.  Which added vowels.  And formed the basis for Latin.  As well as all other western languages.

We Know about the Glory of Greece and the Grandeur of Rome because they Wrote about It

Athens was the cradle of modern civilization.  The Athenian empire grew because it was based on a complex trade economy.  Ditto for the Roman Empire.  At the height of their power the civilized world spoke their languages.  Conducted their trade in Latin or Greek.  Wrote their laws in Latin or Greek.  Conducted their diplomacy in Latin or Greek.  Why?  Because they could.  Their alphabets and their written language allowed them to manage the complex.

And they wrote.  A lot.  We know so much about Greece and Rome because we can read what they wrote.  And we can build on the glory that was Greece.  And the grandeur that was Rome.  Because we, too, have complex trade economies.  Giving us comforts in life that not even the Greeks or Romans could have dreamt about.

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The Ruins of Past Greek Overspending join the Ruins of their Glorious Past

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 22nd, 2012

Week in Review

Greece is at the heart of the Eurozone crisis.  Or, as some would say, the cause of the Eurozone crisis.  Their deficit spending threatens to bring an end to the Euro itself.  For the only way to save the Euro appears for other Eurozone members to assume Greece’s debt.  And make their taxpayers pay for it.  Something their taxpayers understandably don’t want to do.  But the Keynesians urge such a plan.  Along with some debt forgiveness.  So the Greeks can start spending some more.  To stimulate their economy to recovery.  As if their overspending ways of the past had never happened (see Greek athletes strive for London as Athens legacy fades by Mark Lowen posted 7/22/2012 on BBC News Europe).

Outside lie many of the venues from the Athens games, others dotted around the city. Most are idle, locked up and empty, simply rusting under a baking summer sun.

They mirror the decay now felt across the country – but also stand as monuments to Greece’s mistakes: the massive overspend of the past, without any plan for later use.

They’re seen as representative of the short-term vision that got Greece into its financial mess in the first place. The hoped-for privatisation of many of the sites has been thwarted by a mix of bureaucracy and mismanagement…

They came at the height of Greece’s borrowing boom: three years after the country joined the Euro, Athens was investing in grand infrastructure projects that it simply couldn’t afford: among them, the Olympics.

What the Keynesians fail to explain (at least with a straight face) is how more such spending will not saddle Greece with more debt that they will also not be able to service.  Putting them back exactly where they are now.  Or even in a worse financial position.

During the 20th century the European countries became social democracies.  Promising a cradle to the grave welfare state.  And large public sectors.  With large public spending.  All paid for by large tax rates on the taxpayers.  Only one problem.  All of Europe’s population is aging.  People are having fewer children.  Meaning there are fewer people entering the workforce to become new taxpayers.  While a greater number of people are leaving the workforce to go into retirement.  While enjoying their pensions and health care.  Paid for by a shrinking workforce.  Add that to grand infrastructure spending and you get unsustainable government spending obligations.  Ever more government borrowing.  And a Eurozone debt crisis.  Or in other words, Greece.

The Greek government did a great disservice to their people.  They spent so much that cutting back will be incredibly painful for their people.  But it’s the spending that’s the problem.  They have to cut it.  And if they don’t do it now it will only become more painful in the future.

Greece.  Home of Athens.  The cradle of Western Civilization.  Once the greatest place in the civilized world.  The nation that pushed back the mighty Persian Empire.  Now adds new ruins to their landscape among those of their glorious past.  But they can once again restore their glory.  If they just abandon Keynesian economics.

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Classical Greece, Persian Empire, Hellenistic Period, Roman Empire, Italian Renaissance, Venice, Florence and Government Bonds

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 17th, 2012

History 101

The High Cost of Mercenary Soldiers and a Bloated Bureaucracy brought down the Western Roman Empire

Classical Greece dates back to the 5th century BC.  Lasted about 200 years.  And was the seed for Western Civilization.  Classical Greece was a collection of Greek city-states.  There was no Greek nation-state like the nation of Greece today.  The city-states were independent.  And often waged war against each other.  Especially Sparta and Athens.  Athens is where we see the beginnings of Western Civilization.  Sparta was a city-state of warriors.  While Athens kicked off science, math and democracy, Sparta bred warriors.  And boys trained from an early age.  Or were abandoned to die in the wilderness.

Adjacent to Classical Greece was the great Achaemenid Empire.  The First Persian Empire.  The empire of Cyrus the Great.  Which extended from the eastern Mediterranean all the way to India.  Some of those Greek city-states were on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean.  Did not like Persian rule.  And the Ionians revolted.  Supported by Athens.  The Ionian Revolt (499 BC) was the first in a series of Greco-Persian Wars.  Persia’s Darius the Great was tiring of the Greek’s insolence.  And set out to conquer the Greek mainland.  Only to get turned back at the Battle of Marathon.  His son Xerxes returned to Greece to complete the work his dad started.  King Leonidas of Sparta delayed him at the Battle of Thermopylae for three days.  But he defeated the vastly outnumbered Spartans and marched on to Athens.  Where he sacked the abandoned city.  But he would lose the subsequent Battle of Salamis naval engagement.  Losing his navy.  Forcing Xerxes to retreat.

The Greek city-states united to fight their common enemy.  And won.  With the common enemy defeated, Sparta and Athens returned to fighting each other.  In the Peloponnesian War.  Where Sparta emerged the dominant power.  But the constant fighting weakened and impoverished the region.  Making it ripe for conquest.  And that’s exactly what Phillip of Macedon did.  He conquered the great Greek city-states.  And Phillip’s son, Alexander the Great, succeeded his father and went on to conquer the Persian Empire.  Creating the great Hellenistic Period.  Where the known world became Greek.  Then Alexander died.  And his empire broke up.  Then the Romans rose and pretty much conquered everyone.  And the known world became Romanized.  Built upon a Greek foundation.  Until the western part of that empire fell in 476 AD.  Due in large part to the high cost of mercenary soldiers.  And a bloated bureaucracy.  That was so costly the Romans began to debase their silver coin with lead.  To inflate their currency to help them pay their staggering bills.

In Exchange for these Forced Loans the City-States Promised to Pay Interest

The history of the world is a history of its wars.  People fought to conquer new territory so they could bring riches back to their capital.  Or to defend against someone trying to conquer their territory.  And take their riches.  Taking riches through conquest proved to be a reliable system of public finance.  For the spoils of war financed many a growing empire.  It financed the Roman Empire.  And when they stopped pushing out their borders they lost a huge source of revenue.  Which is when they turned to other means of financing.  Higher taxes.  And inflation.  Which didn’t end well for them.

With the collapse of the Western Roman Empire the world took a step backwards.  And Europe went through the Dark Ages.  To subsistence farming on small manors.  The age of feudalism.  Serfs.  Wealthy landowners.  And, of course, war.  As the Dark Ages drew to a close something happened in Italy.  At the end of the 13th century.  The Italian Renaissance.  And the rise of independent Italian city-states.  Florence.  Siena.  Venice.  Genoa.  Pisa.  Much like the Greek city-states, these Italian city-states were in a state of near constant war with each other.  Expensive wars.  That they farmed out to mercenaries.  To expand their territory.  And, of course, to collect the resulting spoils of war.  These constant wars cost a pretty penny, though.  And built mountains of debt.  Which they turned to an ingenious way of financing.

These Italian city-states could not pay for these wars with taxes alone.  For the cost of these wars was greater than their tax revenue.  Leading to some very large deficits.  Which they financed in a new way.  They forced wealthy people to loan them money.  In exchange for these loans these city-states promised to pay interest.

Renaissance Italy gave us Government Bonds and a new way for a State to Live Beyond its Means

The vehicle they used for these forced loans was the government bond.  Used first by the Italian city-states of Venice and Florence.  Which were very similar to today’s government bonds.  Other than the being forced to buy them part.  The bond had a face value.  An interest payment.  And the bondholders could then buy and sell them on a secondary market.   The market set interest rates then as they do now.  The market determined the likelihood of the city-state being able to pay the interest.  And whether they would be able to redeem their bonds.

When there was excessive outstanding debt and/or war threatening a city-state’s ability to service their debt interest rates rose.  And the face value of existing bonds fell.  Because if the state fell these bonds would become worthless.  When state coffers were full and peace rang out interest rates fell.  And bond prices rose.  Because with a stable state their existing bonds would still be good.  Just like today.  So if you’re into government bonds you can thank Renaissance Italy.  And their wars.  Which gave birth to a whole new way for a state to live beyond its means.

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Alphabet and Writing

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 23rd, 2011

Technology 101

The Necessary Information to Survive in Prehistory was Minimal and did not Require a Written Language

Hunters and gatherers had little need for language.  For they did little in life but hunt, gather, eat, sleep and propagate the species.  Much like wildlife today.  Such as feral cats.  Abandoned house cats.  Who mate and produce more feral cats.  And these animals are survivors.  They hunt.  Gather food from human garbage.  Eat.  Sleep.  And reproduce.  If you ever had any in your neighborhood you know that they can be very loud, too.  Making a variety of sounds.  Meows, cries, growls and hisses.  Not an advanced language.  But sufficient to survive.  And enough to keep you from trying to pick one up.

Early man was similar to feral cats.  They had a limited language.  That allowed them to survive.  And make modest advances.  They made tools out of stone.  Used fire.  Made clothes from animal hides.  Even left art on the walls of caves.  Far more than any wild animal ever did.  But they didn’t do much more.  If they did it was probably nothing to write about.  Because they didn’t.  Write about it.  Either because they had no written language.  Or because they were a modest people.

History starts with written language.  Before that we have only archaeology.  And best guesses.  But based on the archaeology they weren’t doing much.  Other than surviving.  And in these prehistory times life was pretty simple.  See above.  The necessary information to survive was minimal.  Eat.  And don’t die.  It wasn’t necessary to write that down.  So they didn’t.  Memory was more than sufficient.  And it was like that for millions of years.

The Phoenician Alphabet was the Basis for the Greek and Latin Alphabets

But then the simple became complex.  There were food surpluses that allowed a division of labor that led to trade.  And a burgeoning economy.  Which required a more sophisticated way of communicating.  And a system of maintaining records of economic exchanges.  For memory and talking just wasn’t good enough anymore.

In the 4th millennium BC, in Mesopotamia, this began with clay tokens to represent an economic commodity.  And the first system of accounting was simply counting and storing these tokens.  But as the division of labor produced an ever more complex economy, the number of tokens used became too great.  So they represented the economic commodity with a symbol scratched in a clay tablet.  Instead of counting tokens they read these tablets.  We call this writing cuneiform.   Which was later used to write down the spoken Sumerian language.

Over time we developed alphabets.  We represented the sounds of the words we spoke with letters.  The Phoenician alphabet being one of the first alphabets.  Used by one of the greatest traders and merchants of all time.  The Phoenicians.  Which spread this language around.  Giving rise to Canaanite and Aramaic.  Aramaic giving rise to Arabic and Hebrew.  Incidentally, all languages without vowels.  But the granddaddy of all alphabets was Greek.  Which added vowels.  And formed the basis for Latin.  As well as all other western languages.

We Know about the Glory of Greece and the Grandeur of Rome because they Wrote about It

Athens was the cradle of modern civilization.  The Athenian empire grew because it was based on a complex trade economy.  Ditto for the Roman Empire.  At the height of their power the civilized world spoke their languages.  Conducted their trade in Latin or Greek.  Wrote their laws in Latin or Greek.  Conducted their diplomacy in Latin or Greek.  Why?  Because they could.  Their alphabets and their written language allowed them to manage the complex.

And they wrote.  A lot.  We know so much about Greece and Rome because we can read what they wrote.  And we can build on the glory that was Greece.  And the grandeur that was Rome.  Because we, too, have complex trade economies.  Giving us comforts in life that not even the Greeks or Romans could have dreamt about.

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Debt Limit Talks just Theatre, Obama Determined to Emulate Greek Spending and Debt

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 18th, 2011

The Debt Limit hasn’t Stopped the Debt from Growing

The bond ratings agencies are getting nervous.  About the inevitable default of Greece.  And the possibility that the U.S. won’t be able to accumulate the unsustainable debt like the Greeks have (see Moody’s suggests U.S. eliminate debt ceiling by Walter Brandimarte posted 7/18/2011 on Reuters).

Ratings agency Moody’s on Monday suggested the United States should eliminate its statutory limit on government debt to reduce uncertainty among bond holders…

“We would reduce our assessment of event risk if the government changed its framework for managing government debt to lessen or eliminate that uncertainty,” Moody’s analyst Steven Hess wrote in the report…

In the United States, Moody’s said the debt limit had not effectively curbed the rise in government debt because lawmakers regularly raise it and because that limit is not related to the level of expenditures approved by Congress.

They have a point.  The Economist noted (see Down to the wire posted 7/18/2011 on The Economist) “Congress has acted a total of 91 times since June 1940 to either raise, extend or alter the definition of the debt limit…”  So it would seem that the debt limit is a limit in name only.  It hasn’t stopped the debt from growing.  As their little chart shows.  So why have it?

A Debt Default will be Bad, so will continued Out of Control Spending

Because, apart from World War II, the public debt hasn’t exceeded 100% of the GDP (see The Economist chart referenced above).  George W. Bush took it close to World War II heights to pay for two costly wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) and an expensive Medicare drug plan.  Obama has taken it beyond World War II levels.  At about 140% of GDP.  And Obama wants to borrow more, taking it to 150% of GDP.  Or beyond.  The European Central Bank is forecasting Greek debt to peak at 161% of GDP.  So you can see why having a debt limit is a little more important now.  Which makes the Moody’s recommendation a bit puzzling considering their concerns over Greece (see Senate Throws Obama a Debt Lifeline by Chris Stirewalt posted 7/18/2011 on FOX NEWS).

The bond-rating agencies have spelled out the two scenarios that would result in a downgrading of U.S. creditworthiness: either an unconditional increase to federal borrowing that shows Washington sprinting toward the fiscal abyss or an unbreakable stalemate on the debt ceiling.

A debt default will be bad.  But so will be continued out of control spending.  So it makes little sense solving one problem by making another problem bigger.  Besides, the U.S. has the money to service its debt.  The only question is will Obama service it?

But, here again, Obama is the one in charge of deciding who gets paid in the event of a shortfall. While his administration might send scare letters to senior citizens as a bargaining tactic with Republicans, it’s unlikely that the president would tell pensioners that they can’t have the money they paid into the system during their working lives.

Imagine the president keeping open national parks or green energy stimulus projects while telling America’s oldsters that they aren’t getting checks. Not going to happen.

Yes, if Social Security checks don’t go out to seniors, it will be because Obama chose not to send them.  And speaking of Social Security, this brings up another point.  That it’s a Ponzi scheme. 

The money we paid into the Social Security isn’t sitting in some lockbox collecting interest.  Like those Social Security statements we get imply.  The government spends that money, our money, as soon as they get it.  Which is why they viciously attack any plans to privatize Social Security.  They want your money now.  While you’re living.  And after you die.  For if we privatize Social Security, our heirs would get our unspent retirement money.  Not the government.  As the system is now designed.

This is just another good reason not to give the government more money.  They’re just going to blow irresponsibly.  Like using our retirement money deducted from our paychecks to pay for national parks.  Or green energy.

Obama and the Democrats don’t want Deficit Reduction

Washington can’t curb it’s appetite to spend.  Doesn’t want to.  And they don’t try to hide this fact (see Obama officially threatens to veto ‘Cut, Cap and Balance’ by Sam Youngman posted 7/18/2011 on THE HILL).

The White House on Monday warned President Obama will veto GOP legislation to “Cut, Cap and Balance” spending and the budget…

The administration lambasted the “Cut, Cap and Balance” proposal as setting out “a false and unacceptable choice between the federal government defaulting on its obligations now or, alternatively, passing a Balanced Budget Amendment that, in the years ahead, will likely leave the nation unable to meet its core commitment of ensuring dignity in retirement.”

The White House also blasted some of the cuts Republicans have suggested, saying the proposal would “undercut the federal government’s ability to meet its core commitments to seniors, middle-class families and the most vulnerable, while reducing our ability to invest in our future.

“[The bill] would set unrealistic spending caps that could result in significant cuts to education, research and development and other programs critical to growing our economy and winning the future,” the SAP said. “It could also lead to severe cuts in Medicare and Social Security, which are growing to accommodate the retirement of the baby boomers, and put at risk the retirement security for tens of millions of Americans.”

Business as usual.  Scare the old people.  So they can spend more.  This is an admission that there will be no deficit reduction.  Obama and the Democrats don’t want it.  It’s all just theatre.  To amuse the public.  And buy time.  For they plan to spend, spend and spend.  On programs that are ‘critical’ to winning the future.  Despite the fortune we’ve spent already on these programs that have won jack squat so far.

The American Taxpayer paying for Irresponsible Governments Here and Abroad

So it’s on to Athens.  Push that debt up to 160% of GDP.  I mean, what really can happen that’s so bad (see Gloomy Forecast for Europe’s Banks by Jack Willoughby published 7/16/2011 on BARRON’S)?

Sean Egan, co-founder and president [Egan-Jones Ratings], has a stunning prediction for Barron’s readers: Forget about things getting better in Europe, he says; they will actually get worse. And who might be one of the patsies in all this? The American taxpayer, who could feasibly be stung as the Federal Reserve aids an ailing European Central Bank already depleted by too many bailouts. The big question: Will Europe, worn down by bailout after bailout, finally be forced to bail out the bailer—the ECB?

Oh.  As bad as things are in Europe they’re going to get worse?  And the American taxpayer may ultimately pay for these bailouts?  Lovely.  Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse.  Not only will the American taxpayer pay for their own irresponsible government.  But Europe’s as well.

Atlas can’t Shoulder the Weight of the World Anymore

That debt limit seems more important than ever.  This out of control spending has to stop.  Before it’s too late.  Because we can’t afford our debt and Europe’s debt.   America can’t be Atlas and shoulder the weight of the world on its shoulders.  At least, not anymore.  Not with the Obama administration running things.

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