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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Division of Labor

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 4th, 2013

Economics 101

(Originally published October 24th, 2011)

The Division of Labor gives us our Houses, Food, Cars, Televisions, Smartphones, Laptops and the Internet

We can’t do everything ourselves.  It’s not efficient.  And most times not even possible.  We don’t build our own houses.  Grow our own food.  Build our own cars.  Manufacture our own high-definition televisions.  Smartphones.  Laptops.  And we don’t build our own Internet.  No.  Instead, people everywhere across the economy specialize in one thing (i.e., work for a living).  And together these specialists fit into the big economic picture.  Which gives us our houses, food, cars, televisions, smartphones, laptops and the Internet.

It started with the most basic division of labor.  Prehistoric women raised their young.  While prehistoric man hunted.  Which was necessary for the propagation of the species.  And us.  For if they all hunted and no one nursed the young the young would have died.  And with them the species of man.  For there was no formula back then.

The next great leap forward on the civilization timeline was the indispensible plough.  The prime mover of civilization.  With the food problem managed, famines were more the exception than the rule.  And with fewer people needed to produce a food surplus, people could do other things.  And they did.

The Division of Labor let us Create Surpluses in Food, Ploughs, Shoes, Tools, Harnesses, Etc.

The division of labor gave rise to artisans.  The first skilled trades.  Made possible by a food surplus.  As other people grew the food the artisans made the tools and crafts the farmers used.  They specialized in plough making and designed and built better and better ploughs.  Lots of them.  Shoemakers made shoes.  Lots of them.  Metal workers made tools.  Lots of them.  Leatherworkers made harnesses.  Lots of them.  See the pattern?

The food surplus gave us surpluses in ploughs, shoes, tools, harnesses, etc.  The division of labor let us create these surpluses.  Specialists made continual improvements in their areas of specialization.  Producing better things.  And more of them.  Which led to another key to the advanced civilization.  Trade.

The shoemaker didn’t have to grow food.  He could trade shoes for food.  Ditto for the plough maker.  The metal worker.  The leatherworker.  And the farmers didn’t have to make any of these things because they could trade food for them.  So we became traders.  We created the market.  And traders took their goods and/or services to these markets to trade for other goods and/or services.  First by foot.  Then by animal.  Then by boat.  Then by train.  Then by truck.  Then by airplane.  Artisans (i.e., workers) traded their specialization for the product and/or services of another’s specialization.  Then.  And now.

The Division of Labor made the Complex Simple and our Lives Rather Comfortable and Fun

The division of labor gave rise to the artisan.  The skilled trade worker.  The middle class.  People who can specialize in one thing.  And trade that one thing for the other things he or she wants.  Whether it be a skilled blacksmith hammering out farming tools.  A tool and die maker working in a factory.  An accountant.  Or a software engineer.  We have a skill.  Our human capital.  And we trade that skill to get the other things we’re not skilled in.  The end result is a modern, bustling, free market economy.  An advanced civilization.  And a high standard of living.

All thanks to the division of labor.  Which made the complex simple.  And our lives rather comfortable.  And fun.  Unlike prehistoric man.  Who knew of no such things as iPhones.  Indoor flush toilets.  Movie theaters.  Or restaurants.  No, he didn’t do much other than survive.  Which was no easy thing.  But he did.  And for that we are grateful.

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Comparative Advantage and Free Trade

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 21st, 2012

Economics 101

Mercantilism benefited only Protected Industries which Profited Handsomely from Higher Consumer Prices  

The Age of Discovery ushered in the era of mercantilism.  An era of trade.  But protected trade.  Tariffs, quotas, protectionism, restrictions, subsidies, etc.  You name it they used it.  To favor their trade position and their domestic industries.  And to restrict that of everyone else.  For mercantilism was a zero-sum game.  You only did well if others did not.  A thought that still has traction today.  Especially in older, inefficient industries.  That cannot compete with international competition that provides better quality at lower prices.  Such as textiles.  Steel.  Automobiles.  The Americans protected these industries in the face of better foreign competition.  Which only hastened their decline.

A protected industry has no incentive to improve.  When protective tariffs raise prices of lower-priced and higher-quality imports consumers buy the inferior domestic goods.  Because the tariffs make the better goods more costly.  So when a business has a captive audience their only focus is in maintaining that protectionism giving them that advantage.  Not improving their quality.  Or improving their productivity to lower their prices.  Why?  Because they don’t have to.  So prices continue to rise to pay for inefficient labor and management.  And quality continues to decline due to the lack of real competition forcing them to continually provide a better product.  By improving designs.  Production methods.  And making capital investments in new machinery and equipment.

This is the cost of protectionism.  Poorer quality and higher prices.  Because of the misguided belief in the zero-sum game of mercantilism.  There was a reason why mercantilism was abandoned for free trade.  Because free trade was better.  For consumers.  Giving them lower prices and higher quality.  Whereas mercantilism benefited only those protected industries which profited handsomely from those higher consumer prices.  And the government officials who granted those favorable protectionist policies.

The Consumer gets Lower Prices AND Higher Quality thanks to the Division of Labor, Specialization and Comparative Advantage

As civilization advanced so did the division of labor.  People began to specialize.  Instead of growing our own food, making our own tools, spinning our own pottery, etc., we did only one thing.  And did it well.  Then we traded the things we made for the things we didn’t make.  This division of labor created a middle class.  And this middle class would take their goods to market to trade with other middle class artisans.  At first bartering with each other.  Trading good for good.  Then they introduced a temporary storage of value into the economy.  Money.  Making those trades easier by reducing search times.  Trading your goods for money.  And your money for goods.  Making life a lot simpler at the market.

Let’s take a closer look at the division of labor.  Let’s consider two artisans.  A toolmaker.   And a potter.  Both are skilled craftspeople.  And can make an assortment of goods.  But each excels at one particular skill.  The toolmaker can make 10 plows a day.  But if he makes 2 pottery bowls he can only make 4 plows in that same day.  The potter can make 12 pottery bowls in a day.  But if he makes 3 plows he can only make 5 pottery bowls in that same day.  Each can make more of their specialty.  But when they try to make other things in addition to their specialty they can’t make as much of their specialty as before.  So there is a cost to the toolmaker to make pottery.  To make 2 bowls cost the toolmaker 6 plows.  And there is a cost to the potter to make tools.  To make 3 plows cost the potter 7 bowls.  So the economy as a whole is better off when the toolmaker and the potter focus all of their energies in their own specialty.  When they do we get 10 plows and 12 bowls in one day.  When they don’t we only get 7 plows and 7 bowls.

We call this economic principle comparative advantage.  Where we look at economic output.  Which is what matters.  The more we bring to market the better it is for consumers.  Because greater quantities mean lower prices.  And when these skilled craftspeople focus on their specialty they improve the overall quality of the goods they bring to market.  So the consumer gets lower prices AND higher quality.  Thanks to the division of labor.  Specialization.  And comparative advantage.

We will always Have Jobs regardless the Size of our Imports for Having a Job is the Only Way to Buy those Imported Goods

If you multiply this over and over again to represent all the individual economic exchanges throughout the world you see why free trade is better than the protectionist policies of mercantilism.  Because it provides consumers with greater economic output at lower prices and higher quality.  This is why nations practicing free trade have the highest standards of living.  Because their people can walk into large department stores and fill their carts with inexpensive, high quality goods on a moderate paycheck.  Which could never happen if the mercantilists had their way.

The old inefficient industries want tariffs to increase the costs of those goods we fill our shopping carts with.  Including the food we eat.  And the cars we drive.  They use lofty arguments about protecting American jobs.  But those protectionist policies destroy jobs by increasing costs for businesses throughout the supply chain.  Raising consumer prices everywhere.  Reducing the amount of things we can buy.  Meaning businesses can’t grow and create new jobs.  Or they have to cut back production and eliminate existing jobs.

There’s also a lot of talk about the balance of payments.  Which actually meant something during the days of the gold standard.  For any trade deficits had to be paid for with gold.  But we don’t have the gold standard anymore.  Governments everywhere abandoned it in favor of irresponsible government spending.  So we don’t have to pay for trade deficits with gold.  Most money today is just electronic entries in a computer.  International capital flows have never been greater.  There are currency markets where people actively trade the world’s currencies.  So trade deficits don’t mean the same thing they once did in the mercantile world.  Then there’s the argument that if all our manufacturing jobs go overseas there will be no jobs for Americans.  If we import everything and export nothing there will be jobs everywhere but here.  Sounds like a problem.  But can that happen?  Not unless we get those imports for free.  So we will always have jobs regardless the size of our imports.  For having a job is the only way to buy the imported goods in those department stores.

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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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Money

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 7th, 2011

Economics 101

The High Search Costs of the Barter System Hindered Trade

Agriculture advances gave us food surpluses.  Food surpluses gave us a division of labor.  The division of labor gave us trade.  And trade gave us an advanced civilization.  By allowing more specialists to live together in crowded urban settings.  Creating a rich surplus of goods for trade.  That people traded.  With other people.  Near.  And far.

As trade grew civilizations got better.  The division of labor grew larger.  And more complex.  Producing more things.  Soon there was a rich variety of goods to trade with for other goods.  From civilizations in distant lands.  Which made life more interesting.  And enjoyable.  During that brief time when you weren’t working.  Or trading.  Which was taking more and more time.  To find someone to trade with.  That had something you wanted.  And who wanted something you had.

This is the barter system.  Trading goods for goods.  Producers took their goods to other producers.  And asked, “What will you take in trade for that?”  Often the response was, “Nothing that you have.”  To which the trader replied, “Very well.  I shall keep looking.”  And sometimes would spend days, weeks and even months looking.  And that was time spent not making anything new.  This was the high search cost of the barter system.  And it hindered trade.  We needed something better.

Money made Trade more Efficient and Unleashed the Human Capital of the Middle Class

For civilization to advance further we had to make trade more efficient.  We had to reduce these search costs.  What we needed was a temporary storage of value.  Something we could trade our valuable goods for.  And then trade the value of our goods, held temporarily in this temporary storage of value, for something else of value later.  And we call this temporary storage of value money.

Money greatly simplified things.  Allowed a more complex economy.  A greater division of labor.  And it allowed wages.  Allowing more people to work on more narrow specialties.  These producers could then take their wages to market.  And buy what they needed.  Instead of spending days, weeks or even months traveling to find people to barter with.

Money made trade more efficient.  It allowed cities to grow in size.  And become even more advanced.  It unleashed the human capital of the middle class.  For they could spend more time creating and building new and better things to trade.  And this economic activity allowed more people to live together peacefully.  As producers produced.  And traded with other producers.  All made easier by money.  A temporary storage of value.

Money doesn’t Create or Produce, it just Temporarily Stores the Value of what we Create and Produce

Please note what came first here.  First there was trade.  Then there was money to make that trade more efficient.

At the heart of all economic activity is our human capital.  What we use to create and produce.  Money doesn’t create or produce.  It just stores the value of what we create and produce.  Which is why Keynesian economic stimulus doesn’t work.  Making money to give to people to spend simply does not create new economic activity.

Our skills create economic activity.  That ability to create things other people value.  And wish to trade for.  Because we are traders.  Not spenders.  We trade things of value.  And to trade things of value someone has to create them first.  If you just take things of value without offering something of value in trade it is not trade.  It’s plunder.  And little different from the uncivilized barbarians on the frontier of the civilized world.

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Trade

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 31st, 2011

Economics 101

People Traded the Things they Made to have Things they couldn’t Make

Agricultural advances gave us food surpluses.  Food surpluses gave us the division of labor.  And spare time.  For the first time everyone didn’t have to hunt or gather food.  They could do other things.  Think.  Experiment.  Innovate.  Create.  And they did.  Becoming specialists.  A middle class.  Artisans.  People who became very good at doing one thing.  So they kept doing that one thing.  Finding ways to improve that one thing.  And created surpluses of their own.  Potters made excess pottery.  Shoemakers made excess shoes.  Tanners made excess leather goods.  Metalworkers made excess metal goods.

Cities grew in the center of the sprawling farmland.  And it was in the cities where these artisans lived.  Where they honed their specialties.  And met.  With other specialists.  And with farmers.  To trade.  The potter would trade pottery for shoes.  The farmer would trade food for shoes and metal goods.  The tanner would trade leather goods for pottery, shoes and food.  And so on.  People traded the things they made.  To have things they couldn’t make.  Everyone was able to have more things.  Thanks to this trade.

This unleashed the vast human capital of the people.  Their cities.  And their civilization.  Cities on the coast fished.  Cities closer to the forest harvested wood.  Cities closer to the hills mined silver, gold and copper.  And coal.  And the cities traded their surpluses with other cities.  Metal workers and potters traded their goods for fuel for their forges and kilns.  Miners traded their ore and coal for grain and fish.  Either directly.  Or indirectly.  When other people traded their large surpluses with other people in other cities.  With the miners getting a portion of these large-scale trades for all their efforts to make those trades possible.

As Civilizations became more Complex they became more Dependent on Trade

All of this trading made cities grow.  And as a result the civilization they belonged to grew.  And became more advanced.  People ventured further.  Looking for other resources.  And met people from other civilizations.  Who had raw materials that were different and interesting.  As well as finished goods that were different and interesting.  And these civilizations traded with each other.

Civilizations established trade routes with each other.  Which connected civilizations with others in the unknown world.  Beyond the civilizations they knew.  Markets appeared on these trade routes.  Bringing the exotic from the furthest corners of the world to everyone.  As well as new ideas.  And innovation.  The civilized world grew more advanced.  More interdependent.  More peaceful.  And better.  There was more food.  More technology.  More goods and services.  And more leisure.  Giving rise to the arts.  And entertainment.

But it was not all good.  As cities grew they grew attractive to the uncivilized barbarians beyond the frontier.  Roving bands of hunters and gatherers.  Who were more partial to plunder than trade.  So a portion of their surpluses had to be set aside for city defenses.  The building of city walls.  Implements of wars.  And standing armies.  To defend their cities.  Their civilizations.  And their trade routes.  For as civilizations became more complex they became more dependent on trade.

Trade Improved the Quality of Life which is the Hallmark of an Advanced Civilization

Trade unleashed our human capital.  Because it drove innovation.  There was a big world out there.  Creating a lot of fascinating stuff.  And the only way to get it was to trade your fascinating stuff for it.  And when we did everyone won.  Life got better.  We learned new and interesting things.  That we used as building blocks for further innovation.  And further advancement.  Which led to a better quality of life.  The hallmark of an advanced civilization.

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Pottery Stored Food Surpluses and Created Advanced Civilizations

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 26th, 2011

Technology 101

An Advanced Civilization requires a Food Surplus and Something to Store it In

Take a look around your kitchen.  Your pantry.  What do you see?  Storage jars.  Canisters.  And, of course, cups and plates.  They’re so prevalent in your life you don’t even notice them.  You just use them.  You drink from them.  Eat off of them.  Shake salt and pepper from them.  Store flour in them.  Sugar.  Coffee.  And tea.

It would be hard to live your life without the things in these containers.  It would be harder still if you had no containers to store these things in.

And it’s been this way since the dawn of civilization.  In fact, there would be no advanced civilization without one invention.  Pottery.  Because to form an advanced civilization requires a food surplus.  An excess of grain.  That they had to store.  Where animals and bugs could not get at it.  Or moisture.  Today we use storage jars and canisters in our pantry.  Back then they used pottery.  In their homes.  Even in their granaries.

Pottery allowed the Farmer and Artisan to Eat at the Harvest and Long After the Harvest

Pottery and agriculture were attached at the hip.  They both needed each other.  The mass farming of these early civilizations, before the plough simplified farming, required a lot of labor.  Which produced highly populated cities.  With a lot of mouths to fed.  And they did produce a lot of food.  So much that they had a food surplus.  To feed the farmers.  And the non-farmers.  The artisans.  At the harvest.  And long after the harvest.

They could grow a food surplus.  And did.  But a surplus without the ability to store it was useless.  So following the great agricultural developments came the all important granary.  And pottery storage vessels.

The development of pottery required a dedicated work force.  A division of labor.  The potters couldn’t farm.  They needed to spend all their time mass-producing pottery to meet the demands of their civilization.  Plates.  Bowls.  Cups.  And storage vessels.  To store that food surplus.  So both the farmer and artisan could eat.  At the harvest.  And long after the harvest.

The Division of Labor gave us Agriculture, Pottery and an Advanced Civilization

The hunter and gatherer life was simple.  You followed the food.  And hunted.  Which pretty much consumed all of your time.  And kept you on the move.  That changed after some key advances.  Agriculture.  And pottery.  To name only two.  The rise of these specialties allowed people to settle down.  To stop following food.  And, instead, to grow it.  And store it.

None of this would have been possible without the division of labor.  Which allowed the rise of artisans.  Specialists.  A middle class.  To make the things that made a civilization advanced.  And a food surplus.  Which allowed an advanced civilization to survive.

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The Division of Labor Produced the First Great Civilization: Sumer

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 25th, 2011

History 101

The Sumerians’ Large-Scale Farming Produced the First Reliable Food Surpluses in History

The first civilization was in Mesopotamia.  The Cradle of Civilization.  In the Fertile Crescent.  That land between the Euphrates and Tigris.  Roughly modern day Iraq.  Where things started happening around 5,000 BC.  And lasted a long time.  A few thousand years.  And some.  During this time we see the first city-states.  Like Babylon in the north.  And Ur in the south.  Home of Abraham.  Yes, that Abraham.  The biblical one.  Who was part of the great Sumerian civilization.

Why here?  Because of the fertile soil along the river banks.  And the source of fresh water.  For drinking.  And farming.  For the Sumerians harnessed this water to irrigate their fields.  In Sumer they farmed for the first time on a grand scale.  Marshalling and organizing a great labor force.  Made possible by language.  That they could read and write.  They became specialists in food production.  And with these specialists we see the development of the division of labor.

They domesticated animals.  For food.  And for work.  This advance into large-scale farming produced the first reliable food surpluses in history.  Which allowed a lot of people to live in crowded cities.  Many of who had a lot of spare time.  And they used it.  To create other things.  Becoming specialists themselves.  Civilization became more complex.  And better.  Thanks to the division of labor.  That created all of these new specialists.

Sumer had the Surpluses to make Trade Possible and their Location put them in the Center of a Civilizing World

In Sumer they created the potter’s wheel.  Pottery.  And a kiln to bake it in.  Others did, too.  But they most likely did it first. Some thought about the potter’s wheel led to the wheel and axel.  Heavy transportation.  And the war chariot.  Pulled by their domesticated animals.  With the harnesses they made.

They also had boats.  For the two great rivers (Euphrates and the Tigris), their tributaries and the canals they made.  And, yes, they were builders.  Made easier by their creation of arithmetic, geometry, and algebra.  And they were astronomers.  Among the first to map the stars and planets.  Which formed the basis for much of the work the Greeks did.  Leading the way to open-water seafaring.  Navigation by the stars.  And long-distance trade.

A priest-king probably ruled each Sumerian city-state.  And each city-state worshipped in their own way.  As theocracies.  Everything belonged to the priest-king.  What the people produced went to the temple.  And the priest-king distributed the proceeds of their labors.  So there were no markets.  But there was trade.  For they have found items in Sumerian digs that are not native to Sumer (such as cedar from Lebanon).  But the details of that trade are sketchy.  But what is certain is that they had the surpluses to make trade possible.  And their location put them in the center of a civilizing world.

Fertile Soil, Irrigation, Large-Scale Farming and the Division of Labor Produced the Great Civilizations

Sumer was the first great civilization.  Egypt was right behind them.  With their kingdoms on the Nile.  Civilization soon followed on the banks of the Indus in Indian.  And on the banks of the Hwang-Ho in China.  These were isolated areas that began without outside influence from other advanced civilizations.  They were the first of the firsts.  And they all shared some things in common.  Fertile soil in their river valleys.  Irrigation.  Large-scale farming.  And a division of labor that produced the other great things of their civilizations.

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Division of Labor

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 24th, 2011

Economics 101

The Division of Labor gives us our Houses, Food, Cars, Televisions, Smartphones, Laptops and the Internet

We can’t do everything ourselves.  It’s not efficient.  And most times not even possible.  We don’t build our own houses.  Grow our own food.  Build our own cars.  Manufacture our own high-definition televisions.  Smartphones.  Laptops.  And we don’t build our own Internet.  No.  Instead, people everywhere across the economy specialize in one thing (i.e., work for a living).  And together these specialists fit into the big economic picture.  Which gives us our houses, food, cars, televisions, smartphones, laptops and the Internet.

It started with the most basic division of labor.  Prehistoric women raised their young.  While prehistoric man hunted.  Which was necessary for the propagation of the species.  And us.  For if they all hunted and no one nursed the young the young would have died.  And with them the species of man.  For there was no formula back then.

The next great leap forward on the civilization timeline was the indispensible plough.  The prime mover of civilization.  With the food problem managed, famines were more the exception than the rule.  And with fewer people needed to produce a food surplus, people could do other things.  And they did.

The Division of Labor let us Create Surpluses in Food, Ploughs, Shoes, Tools, Harnesses, Etc.

The division of labor gave rise to artisans.  The first skilled trades.  Made possible by a food surplus.  As other people grew the food the artisans made the tools and crafts the farmers used.  They specialized in plough making and designed and built better and better ploughs.  Lots of them.  Shoemakers made shoes.  Lots of them.  Metal workers made tools.  Lots of them.  Leatherworkers made harnesses.  Lots of them.  See the pattern?

The food surplus gave us surpluses in ploughs, shoes, tools, harnesses, etc.  The division of labor let us create these surpluses.  Specialists made continual improvements in their areas of specialization.  Producing better things.  And more of them.  Which led to another key to the advanced civilization.  Trade.

The shoemaker didn’t have to grow food.  He could trade shoes for food.  Ditto for the plough maker.  The metal worker.  The leatherworker.  And the farmers didn’t have to make any of these things because they could trade food for them.  So we became traders.  We created the market.  And traders took their goods and/or services to these markets to trade for other goods and/or services.  First by foot.  Then by animal.  Then by boat.  Then by train.  Then by truck.  Then by airplane.  Artisans (i.e., workers) traded their specialization for the product and/or services of another’s specialization.  Then.  And now.

The Division of Labor made the Complex Simple and our Lives Rather Comfortable and Fun

The division of labor gave rise to the artisan.  The skilled trade worker.  The middle class.  People who can specialize in one thing.  And trade that one thing for the other things he or she wants.  Whether it be a skilled blacksmith hammering out farming tools.  A tool and die maker working in a factory.  An accountant.  Or a software engineer.  We have a skill.  Our human capital.  And we trade that skill to get the other things we’re not skilled in.  The end result is a modern, bustling, free market economy.  An advanced civilization.  And a high standard of living.

All thanks to the division of labor.  Which made the complex simple.  And our lives rather comfortable.  And fun.  Unlike prehistoric man.  Who knew of no such things as iPhones.  Indoor flush toilets.  Movie theaters.  Or restaurants.  No, he didn’t do much other than survive.  Which was no easy thing.  But he did.  And for that we are grateful.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #6: “No one bitched about global warming when it ended the ice ages.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 23rd, 2010

ICE AGES AND glacial movement are complicated.  We know that glaciers exist.  And that they move.  They do so today. 

Scientific study has determined that we have had at least 5 major ice ages.  During these periods the glaciers moved out from the north and south poles.  During the last ice age, they covered many of today’s populated areas.  Most of Canada, Seattle, Chicago, New York, most of Great Britain, northern Europe and Moscow were all under ice at one time.  The ice moved closer to the equator during previous ice ages.  Ice may have covered the entire earth at one time.  Or come close to it.

During the cooling and warming of the earth, glaciers traveled great distances.  Close to 2,000 miles in North America during the last ice age.  And this great movement is cyclical.  It’s happened 5 times already.  And it will most probably happen again.

In front of the glaciers is permafrost (permanently frozen soil).   As the glaciers and permafrost moved forward, life moved away from the cold.  Species died out (the woolly mammoth, the saber-toothed tiger and Neanderthal man, for example).  The advancing ice pushed life towards each other and into conflict as they fought for the increasingly limited food supply.  When the cold receded, life followed, the newly warmed lands able to support life again.

There are various theories about what caused the ice ages and glacial movement.  One thing for certain, though, cold kills.  Warmth, on the other hand, allows life.  Warmth is good.

THE KEY TO civilization is the food supply.  Only when there was a surplus of food did civilization begin.  The surplus of food allowed the division of labor.  Farmers farmed.  Tool makers made tools.  Leaders led.  And soldiers protected the civilization.  None of this happens without a surplus of food.  If you didn’t have to grow food, you could do something else.  And people did.  And they created modern civilization as we know it.

Farming was the quantum leap forward in producing a food surplus.  The first civilizations grew grain and cereal crops in the fertile soil of river valleys.  An arc from the Nile valley up through the eastern Mediterranean, through Lebanon, Syria, and down the fertile river valleys of the Euphrates and Tigris valleys forms the ‘fertile crescent’.   Anchoring the crescent at each end are history’s first civilizations.  Sumer (#1) and Egypt (#2).

Fertile soil and a warm growing season allowed this.  Again, warmth is good.

THE EARTH HAS cooled and warmed.  There are many theories why.  No one can be certain.  But what we can be certain of is that warmth is good.  Cold is bad.  Ice ages are cyclical.  And the glaciers receded further in periods when there was not a single man-made greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

We’re probably 50,000 years or so before the glaciers come back and cover civilizations everywhere.  If man-made greenhouse gases warm the world greater than the natural cooling mechanisms advance the ice, perhaps life will continue.  None of us alive today, though, will have to worry about that.  When the ice comes again, future generations will face that horror.  Until then, let there be warmth.  And life.

CHICKEN LITTLE SAID the sky was falling and there was panic.  And so it is with global warming.  Well, the sky wasn’t falling on Chicken Little.  And it is unlikely that man is causing global warming.  Global warming existed before man created greenhouse gases.  The ‘scientists’ who say the world as we know it will end unless action is taken are more politician than scientist.  Ever wonder why the solution to global warming is the growth of government?  To me, that sounds something like what a politician would say, not a scientist.

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