The Calendar and Irrigation

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 4th, 2013

Technology 101

(Originally published November 16th, 2011)

The Nile is a Sliver of Life-Sustaining Black Earth Carved through the Lifeless Red Earth of the Desert

The early Egyptians were a religious people.  They still are today.  Egypt is a special land.  A unique land.  Because the Nile River flows through it on its way to the Mediterranean Sea.

The Nile is the source of life.  For it was the Nile that allowed farming.  Because of fresh water.  And fertile soil.  Black earth.  The rich silt that the Nile washed down from on high.  Beyond the First Cataract.  All the way to its headwaters.  Where monsoons in the Ethiopian Plateau, around Lake Victoria and in the Ruwenzori mountains flowed into the Blue Nile and the White Nile.  That joined into the Nile and flowed down to the Mediterranean Sea.  Bringing with it the rich silt that flooded over the riverbanks.  And left behind some of the richest soil ever farmed.

The life from the Nile was a miracle.  A blessing for the Egyptians.  This sliver of life-sustaining black earth carved through the lifeless red earth of the desert.  So they prayed.  And they worshipped.  To placate the gods.  To keep the miracle of black earth returning harvest after harvest.  For when the gods favored them the flooding came.  On time.  And at just the right height.  But when the gods did not there was famine.

By Tracking a Regular Cycle of Natural Events they Knew When to Worship and What to Do in the Farming Cycle

If the gods favored them the flooding was predictable.  If Khnum favored them the First Cataract would bring on the floodwaters at the right time and in the right amount.  Thoth would foretell this in the form of white ibises returning from their southern migration.  A favorable omen of a good harvest.  Which began with the sowing.  The grain representing Osiris’ body.  A god killed by another god.  Seth.  Who embodied the lifeless red earth.  The new growth was the resurrection of Osiris.  At the harvest they praised Isis.  For the resurrection.  That was the harvest.

The Egyptians were a religious people.  Religious ceremonies and rituals occurred throughout the farming cycle.  It’s no surprise, then, that the Egyptians created one of the first calendars.  Which marked important religious ceremonies and rituals.  And the cycle of farming.

By being able to track this regular cycle of natural events they knew when to worship.  What to do in the farming cycle.  When to do it.  And they knew when something was wrong.  For one day the floods did not come.  The climate had changed.  And the water didn’t come to them from the river.  So they had to go to the water in the river.

When the Nile didn’t Flood when the Calendar said it Should we Created Irrigation

As agriculture developed so did our understanding of our environment.  And we developed a lot of this with our religious beliefs.  For our environment was the blessing of the gods.  And at times their curse.  But our observations grew.  As did our understanding.  We developed the calendar.  And when the Nile didn’t flood when the calendar said it should we created irrigation.  Expanding the lands under cultivation.  And grew even more food.  For even though the Nile didn’t flood the water and silt were still there.

Our initial religious beliefs may not have properly explained the flooding of the Nile.  But it was a first step in our critical thinking.  Trying to explain that which we didn’t understand.  We may have been wrong about the cause.  But we got a pretty good understanding of the seasons.  By studying our environment.  And learning how to change it to suit our needs.  And it’s this critical thinking that led the way to irrigation.  And, eventually, to the modern civilization.

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Family Farms, Big City Factories, Fertility Rates and Federal Debt

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 9th, 2013

History 101

The Mechanization of the Farm began a Migration from the Country to the Cities

Before the Industrial Revolution (1760-1830ish) if you worked you most probably farmed.  For most everyone from the dawn of civilization on the Nile, the Euphrates & Tigris, the Indus and the Yangtze farmed.  To produce food for the civilization for the good times.  And food surpluses for the bad times.  For having enough to eat was never a sure thing.  And surviving the winter was a challenge.

What early civilizations needed were a lot of people to work the land.  For large-scale farming could produce large harvests.  Enough to feed everyone during the good times.  During the winters.  And even the occasional drought.  But it could be a risky game to play.  Because a lot of people to work the land also meant a lot of mouths to feed.  Which meant everyone worked the fields.  Men.  Women.  And children.  Anyone who ate worked.  As they did on the family farm.  Which is why they had large families.  For the more children they had the more land they could work.  Allowing them to eat during the good times.  During the winters.  The occasional drought.  While having large food surpluses to sell.  Allowing them to build wealth.  Just like the landowners in the Old World.  The aristocracy.  Only instead of peasants working the land it was family.

But with the Industrial Revolution came change.  The steam engine mechanized farming.  Allowing fewer people to produce more.  Also, steam power allowed factories away from rivers.  As they no longer needed moving water to turn a waterwheel.  So factories filled our cities.  Creating a lot of jobs.  This and the mechanization of the farm requiring fewer hands to work the land began a migration.  Of people from the country.  To the cities.

The Migration from the Family Farm to the Big City got People used to Bigger Government and Taxes

The world modernized in the 1800s.  Food was never more plentiful.  Allowing more people to leave the farm.  And think about other things.  Like electrical engineering.  Nikola Tesla gave us AC electric power.  And the AC electric motor.  Changing manufacturing forever.  Those little spinning machines filled our factories.  And operated the machines in those factories.  Everything we ever made we made better and more efficiently thanks to the electric motor.  Allowing us to manufacture more than ever.  And manufacture more complex things.  Factories grew.  With many levels of manufacturing contained within.  Packing more people than ever in these factories.

The common perception of this industrial world is of sweatshops.  Child labor.  Soot and smoke casting a pall over overcrowded cities.  Where people packed into overcrowded housing.  Thanks to that migration from the family farm to the big city factories.  Which changed things.  Instead of people raising a large family on a large farm where there was plenty of room and plenty of food to eat these families were living in cramped apartments in the crowded city.  And they had to pay for the food they ate.  And the more mouths they had to feed the more money it took.  This was a big change.  Whereas on the farm a large family meant more food.  And more wealth.  In the city, though, more children meant less food for everyone else to eat.  And more poverty.

The growth of cities also caused another change.  When people lived on scattered farms they didn’t need any government services.  But in the crowded cities they did.  Homes had utilities.  And sanitation.  Cities also had streets.  Which the city needed to maintain.  Eventually there was street lighting.  And traffic signals.  Police departments.  Fire departments.  Schools.  And teachers.  All of these things cost money.  And we paid for them with taxes.  Getting people used to bigger government.  And bigger taxes.  Then the progressives entered government at the federal level.  Who wanted government to do at the federal level what it did at the local level.  Be mother to the people.  Instead of just doing those things the Constitution said it should do.

A Falling Fertility Rate forced the Government to go into ‘World War’ Debt just to pay for Social Security and Medicare

The fertility rate (the number of children a woman has during her child-bearing days) fell all during the 1800s.  As large families went from being wealth producers on the farm to poverty inducers in the cities.  While federal debt from the American Revolutionary War fell during the early 1800s.  The debt fell because there wasn’t a lot of federal spending.  So it wasn’t hard to retire that debt.  But that federal restraint didn’t last.  There was a spike in federal debt (as a percent of GDP) following American Civil War (1861-1865) as they had to borrow heavily to pay for that war.  But after the war the debt level did not fall back to pre-war levels.  A trend that would continue.  As we can see here.

Fertilty Rate versus Debt as Percent of GDP

There was another spike in federal debt following World War I (1917-1918).  But the debt level never fell back to pre-war levels.  Then the Great Depression and the New Deal (1930s) began another spike in Federal debt.  That World War II took to record highs.  And once again after the war the federal debt did not fall back to pre-war levels.  Then came President Reagan.  Who had the guts to call communism what it was.  A failed economic system that oppressed its people and was the greatest killer of the 20th century.  To push the Soviet Union into the ‘ash heap of history’ Reagan forced them to spend more than they could afford.  By ramping up defense spending to a level the Soviets couldn’t match.  Which ultimately won the Cold War (1947-1991, with Reagan delivering the knockout blow during his presidency (1981-1989) ).  But federal debt levels, once again, did not fall back to pre-war levels.  In fact, despite the peace dividend President Clinton inherited he still raised federal spending.  Just at a reduced rate than it was during the Cold War.  President Bush gave us Medicare Part D (drugs for seniors).  Then came 9/11.  And the War on Terror.  Then President Obama.  Who despite ending the Iraq War had the greatest budget deficits of any president.  As he spent more than any other president.  As he tried to transform the country into a European social democracy.  Sending out debt soaring to new heights.

FDR gave us Social Security in 1935.  At the tail-end of a long decline in the fertility rate.  Promising great benefits to future retirees.  Which LBJ added to during the Sixties with his Great Society.  During the post-war baby boom.  Perhaps assuming that increasing fertility rate would provide a lot of new taxpayers in the future when the weight of all these new government programs (FDR’s and LBJ’s) would be felt.  But then two things happened that they didn’t quite plan on.  The birth control pill and abortion created a baby bust following the baby boom.  Worse, thanks to modern medicine people were living longer into retirement.  Consuming more Social Security and Medicare benefits than anyone had ever imagined.  And just when the full force of those baby boomers was going to hit there were going to be fewer taxpayers around to pay for it.  Thanks to that baby bust.  More retirees paid for by fewer taxpayers.  A recipe for disaster.  Which is why debt soared towards World War II highs following the Cold War.  Even though there was no world war.  Because the cost of all those government benefits far exceeded the tax revenue.  Forcing the government to go into ‘world war’ debt just to pay for Social Security.  Medicare.  And everything else the federal government was providing so they could play mother to the American people.

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Famine, Crop Yields, Food Surpluses, Irrigation, Plow, Crop Rotation, Cultivars, Fertilizers, Pesticides, Tractor, Railroad and Ships

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 5th, 2013

Technology 101

(Originally published May 23rd, 2012)

Because of Advances in Farming Fewer People could Grow more Food

Cold weather kills people.  A lot of people throughout history have died during winters as they exhausted their food supplies.  That’s why preparing for the winter was serious business.  You had to store enough food to carry you through the winter.  And if the fall harvests were poor it spelled big trouble.  And famine.  It’s hard to imagine what this was like.  A long winter ahead of you with an insufficient food supply.  It was scary.  For it meant some people would die before the spring came.  Hard to fathom this in a day where you can actually drive your car through a blizzard to your favorite greasy diner or fast food restaurant for a delicious hot meal to take off the chill of the coldest winter day.  It wasn’t always like this.

And it wasn’t only long winters that killed people.  Sometimes the long summers did.  Where there were insufficient rains.  And drought.  That destroyed crops and drastically reduced fall harvests.  You don’t hear much about famine these days in the U.S, Canada, Britain, France, Germany or other advanced nations.  But underdeveloped and impoverished nations suffer famine to this day.  Why?  Two primary reasons.  Improved crop yields.  And improved transportation.  The advanced nations have them.  The impoverished nations don’t.

Improved crop yields create food surpluses.  Key to civilization itself.  Food surpluses allowed a middle class to arise because everyone did not have to grow food.  Because of advances in farming fewer people could grow more food. Those who didn’t have to grow food could think about other things.  Including ways to further improve crop yields.  By creating better tools.  Better techniques.  Better food storage.  And when you do all of these things you not only have enough food for yourself and for your surplus you have enough to export.  To those who do not have enough food.  Even allowing people to live in areas that cannot produce food.  For they can trade for food.  Thanks to these surpluses available for export.

Food is so Plentiful and Inexpensive Today that the Problem in America is not Famine but Obesity

Early farms relied on the fertile soil of river banks.  The spring flooding of the rivers raised river levels.  When the water retreated it left behind fertile soil.  Eventually we learned how to take control of our water resources.  And used it to make fertile land away from river banks.  Using irrigation.  Bringing the water to the land.  Probably the next great development was the plow.  Which let us take control of the land.  We tilled the soil to aerate it.  To control weeds.  To mix in organic material.  Such as manure.  To prepare it for planting.  And we used irrigation to bring those crops to harvest.

We then developed crop rotation to replenish nitrogen in the soil.  And to control pests.  Certain pests attack certain crops.  By rotating crops pest infestation couldn’t spread and return year after year.  Families of crops need certain nutrients.  Rotation prevents the depletion of any single nutrient.  Then we took control of the plants we grew.  By creating new plants.  Cultivars.  Using selective breeding to increase grain size, the number of grains per plant, improve disease resistance, etc.

Then we turned to chemistry.  Creating fertilizers.  And pesticides.  These two advancements alone exploded crop yields.  Never before did so few grow so much with so little.  We maximized the agricultural potential of land year after year.  And then we mechanized the farm.  Introducing the tractor.  Allowing the same number of farmers to cultivate more land.  So not only did their existing lands yield more they added more high-yield lands to explode yields.  Creating huge food surpluses available for export.  And slashing the price of food across the board.  From the bread we make from wheat.  To corn-fed beef.  Food is so plentiful and inexpensive today that the problem in America is not famine but obesity.  Obesity is bad but it takes a lot longer to die from obesity than it does from famine.  And we enjoy all of those delicious things that are making us so fat.  While there’s nothing to enjoy when starving to death.

We were able to Raise Crop Yields to such High Levels we have Food Available for Everyone in this World

As crop yields increased more food entered the market.  Good for people.  But bad for farmers.  Because they depressed crop prices.  Large farms that cultivated more land could still make a profit.  But the small farmer who didn’t cultivate more land just saw his revenue fall.  Until his revenue fell below his costs.  Leaving him unable to service the debt he incurred to mechanize his farm.  Causing bankruptcy.  Which happened a lot in the Thirties.  Causing all those bank runs during the Great Depression.

To fight this free fall in crop prices countries enacted tariffs and import restrictions.  The British Corn Laws kept out the less expensive foreign food so the landowning aristocracy could maximize their profits.  And when the British repealed the Corn Laws and adopted free trade everything the landowning aristocracy feared happen.  Food became inexpensive and plentiful.  In large part because of the United States.  Who was maximizing their crop yields.  And then using the railroad to ship their surpluses to the great rivers.  The Ohio.  The Missouri.  The Mississippi.  Where they loaded these surpluses onto steamships.  Where it traveled down the Mississippi to the Port of New Orleans.  Where they transferred it to ocean-going sail ships and steamers.  Bound for Europe.  And Britain.  Where this food fed hungry people.  And cut into the profits of the wealthy landowners.

But it wasn’t only in the United States.  Soon other great agricultural countries produced food surpluses that they shipped all over the world.  Winters still happen.  Droughts still happen.  But they don’t happen everywhere at the same time.  And because we were able to raise crop yields to such high levels we have food available for everyone in the world.  And truck, rail and ships can move that food anywhere it is needed.  Which is why we can drive to our favorite greasy diner or fast food restaurant during a blizzard on the coldest day of winter and enjoy a fresh glass of orange juice, coffee, eggs, hash browns and sausage.  No matter where you live.  As long as you live in a country that supports free trade.

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Farming, Food Surplus, Artisans, Trade, Barter, Search Costs, Money, Precious Metals, Pound, Dollar and Gold Standard

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 9th, 2012

History 101

Food Surpluses allowed Everything that followed in the Modern Age

Humans were hunters and gatherers first.  When the environment ruled supreme.  Then something happened.  Humans began to think more.  And started to push back against their environment.  First with tools.  Then with fire.  Bringing people closer together.  Eventually settling down in civilizations.  When the human race embarked on a new path.  A path that would eventually usher in the modern age we enjoy today.  We stopped hunting and gathering.  And began farming.

Throughout history life has been precarious.  Due to the uncertainty of the food supply.  Especially when the environment ruled our lives.  That changed with farming.  When we started taking control of our environment.  We domesticated animals.  And learned how to grow food.  Which lead to perhaps the most important human advancement.  The one thing that allowed everything that followed in the modern age.   Food surpluses.  Which made life less precarious.  And a whole lot more enjoyable.

Producing more food than we needed allowed us to store food to get us through long winters and seasons with poor harvests.  But more importantly it freed people.  Not everyone had to farm.  Some could do other things.  Think about other things.  And build other things.  Artisans arose.  They built things to make our lives easier.  More enjoyable.  And when these talented artisans and farmers met other talented artisans and farmers they traded the products of all their labors.  In markets.  That became cities.  Enriching each other’s lives.  By allowing them to trade for food.  For things that made life easier.  And for things that made life more enjoyable.

We settled on using Precious Metals (Gold and Silver) for Money for they were Everything Money Should Be

As civilizations advanced artisans made a wider variety of things.  Putting a lot of goods into the market place.  Unfortunately, it made trading more difficult.  Because while you saw what you wanted the person who had it may not want what you had to offer in trade.  So what do you do?  You look for someone else that has that same thing.  And will trade for what you have.  And when the second person doesn’t want to trade for what you have you look for a third person.  Then a fourth.  Then a fifth.  Until you find someone who wants to trade for what you have.

This is the barter system.  Trading goods for goods.  And as you can see it has high search costs to find someone to trade with.  Time that people could better spend making more things to trade.  What they needed was a temporary storage of value.  Something people could trade their things for.  And those people could then use that temporary storage they received in trade to later trade for something they wanted.   We call this ‘something’ money.

We have used many things for money.  Some things better than others.  In time we learned that the best things to use for money had to have a few characteristics.  It had to be scarce.  A rock didn’t make good money because why would anyone trade for it when you could just pick one up from the ground?  It had to be indestructible and hold its value.  A slab of bacon had value because bacon is delicious.  But if you held on to it too long it could grow rancid, losing all the value it once held.  Or you could eat it.  Which would also remove its value.  It had to be divisible.  A live pig removed the problem of bacon growing rancid.  However, it was hard making change with live pigs.  Which is why we settled on using precious metals (gold and silver) for money.  For they were everything money should be.

The Key to Economic Activity is People with Creative Talent to make Things to Trade

Money came first.  Then government monetary systems.  Traders were using gold and silver long before nations established their own money.  And when they did they based them on weights of these precious metals.  The British pound sterling represented one Saxon pound of silver.  The U.S. dollar came from the Spanish dollar.  Which traces back to 16th century Bohemia.  To the St. Joachim Valley.  Where they minted private silver coins.  The Joachimsthaler.  Where the ‘thaler’ (which translated to valley) in Joachimsthaler became dollar.  The German mark and the French franc came into being as weights of precious metals.  People either traded silver or gold coins.  Or paper notes that represented silver or gold.

We used silver first as the basis for national currencies.  Then with new gold discoveries in the United States, Australia and South Africa gold became the precious metal of choice.  Using precious metals simplified trade by providing sound money.  And it also made foreign exchange easy.  For when the British made their pound represent 1/4 of an ounce of gold and the Americans made their dollar represent 1/20 of an ounce of gold the exchange rate was easy to calculate.  The British pound had 5 times as much gold in it than the U.S. dollar.  So the exchange rate was simply 5 U.S. dollars for every British pound.  Which made international trade easy.  And fair.  Because everything was priced in weights of gold.

The pure gold standard, then, was part of the natural evolution of money.  The state did not create it.  It does not require an act of legislation.  Or political decree.  The pure gold standard existed before the state.  And states based their currencies on the monetary system that already existed.  Using weights of precious metals as money.  That is, a pure gold standard.  Central banks and fiat money are only recent inventions of the state.  And bad ones at that.  For the thousands of years that preceded the last hundred years or so there were only traders mutually agreeing to trade their goods for precious metals.  Using these precious metals as a temporary storage of wealth.  To temporarily hold the value of the things they made.  So the key to economic activity is people with creative talent to make things to trade.  And a sound money like gold and silver to facilitate that trade.  Not a central bank.  Or monetary policy.

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The Federal Reserve, Roaring Twenties, Stock Market Crash, Banking Crises, Great Depression and John Maynard Keynes

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 25th, 2012

History 101

The Federal Reserve increased the Money Supply to Lower Interest Rates during the Roaring Twenties

Benjamin Franklin said, “Industry, perseverance, & frugality, make fortune yield.”  He said that because he believed that.  And he proved the validity of his maxim with a personal example.  His life.  He worked hard.  He never gave up.  And he was what some would say cheap.  He saved his money and spent it sparingly.  Because of these personally held beliefs Franklin was a successful businessman.  So successful that he became wealthy enough to retire and start a second life.  Renowned scientist.  Who gave us things like the Franklin stove and the lightning rod.  Then he entered his third life.  Statesman.  And America’s greatest diplomat.  He was the only Founder who signed the Declaration of Independence, Treaty of Amity and Commerce with France (bringing the French in on the American side during the Revolutionary War), Treaty of Paris (ending the Revolutionary War very favorably to the U.S.) and the U.S. Constitution.  Making the United States not only a possibility but a reality.  Three extraordinary lives lived by one extraordinary man.

Franklin was such a great success because of industry, perseverance and frugality.  A philosophy the Founding Fathers all shared.  A philosophy that had guided the United States for about 150 years until the Great Depression.  When FDR changed America.  By building on the work of Woodrow Wilson.  Men who expanded the role of the federal government.  Prior to this change America was well on its way to becoming the world’s number one economy.   By following Franklin-like policies.  Such as the virtue of thrift.  Favoring long-term savings over short-term consumption.  Free trade.  Balanced budgets.  Laissez-faire capitalism.  And the gold standard.  Which provided sound money.  And an international system of trade.  Until the Federal Reserve came along.

The Federal Reserve (the Fed) is America’s central bank.  In response to some financial crises Congress passed the Federal Reserve Act (1913) to make financial crises a thing of the past.  The Fed would end bank panics, bank runs and bank failures.  By being the lender of last resort.  While also tweaking monetary policy to maintain full employment and stable prices.  By increasing and decreasing the money supply.  Which, in turn, lowers and raises interest rates.  But most of the time the Fed increased the money supply to lower interest rates to encourage people and businesses to borrow money.  To buy things.  And to expand businesses and hire people.  Maintaining that full employment.  Which they did during the Roaring Twenties.  For awhile.

The Roaring Twenties would have gone on if Herbert Hoover had continued the Harding/Mellon/Coolidge Policies

The Great Depression started with the Stock Market Crash of 1929.  And to this date people still argue over the causes of the Great Depression.  Some blame capitalism.  These people are, of course, wrong.  Others blamed the expansionary policies of the Fed.  They are partially correct.  For artificially low interest rates during the Twenties would eventually have to be corrected with a recession.  But the recession did not have to turn into a depression.  The Great Depression and the banking crises are all the fault of the government.  Bad monetary and fiscal policies followed by bad governmental actions threw an economy in recession into depression.

A lot of people talk about stock market speculation in the Twenties running up stock prices.  Normally something that happens with cheap credit as people borrow and invest in speculative ventures.  Like the dot-com companies in the Nineties.  Where people poured money into these companies that never produced a product or a dime of revenue.  And when that investment capital ran out these companies went belly up causing the severe recession in the early 2000s.  That’s speculation on a grand scale.  This is not what happened during the Twenties.  When the world was changing.  And electrifying.  The United States was modernizing.  Electric utilities, electric motors, electric appliances, telephones, airplanes, radio, movies, etc.  So, yes, there were inflationary monetary policies in place.  But their effects were mitigated by this real economic activity.  And something else.

President Warren Harding nominated Andrew Mellon to be his treasury secretary.  Probably the second smartest person to ever hold that post.  The first being our first.  Alexander Hamilton.  Harding and Mellon were laissez-faire capitalists.  They cut tax rates and regulations.  Their administration was a government-hands-off administration.  And the economy responded with some of the greatest economic growth ever.  This is why they called the 1920s the Roaring Twenties.  Yes, there were inflationary monetary policies.  But the economic growth was so great that when you subtracted the inflationary damage from it there was still great economic growth.  The Roaring Twenties could have gone on indefinitely if Herbert Hoover had continued the Harding and Mellon policies (continued by Calvin Coolidge after Harding’s death).  There was even a rural electrification program under FDR’s New Deal.  But Herbert Hoover was a progressive.  Having far more in common with the Democrat Woodrow Wilson than Harding or Coolidge.  Even though Harding, Coolidge and Hoover were all Republicans.

Activist Intervention into Market Forces turned a Recession into the Great Depression

One of the things that happened in the Twenties was a huge jump in farming mechanization.  The tractor allowed fewer people to farm more land.  Producing a boom in agriculture.  Good for the people.  Because it brought the price of food down.  But bad for the farmers.  Especially those heavily in debt from mechanizing their farms.  And it was the farmers that Hoover wanted to help.  With an especially bad policy of introducing parity between farm goods and industrial goods.  And introduced policies to raise the cost of farm goods.  Which didn’t help.  Many farmers were unable to service their loans with the fall in prices.  When farmers began to default en masse banks in farming communities failed.  And the contagion spread to the city banks.  Setting the stage for a nation-wide banking crisis.  And the Great Depression.

One of the leading economists of the time was John Maynard Keynes.  He even came to the White House during the Great Depression to advise FDR.  Keynes rejected the Franklin/Harding/Mellon/Coolidge policies.  And the policies favored by the Austrian school of economics (the only people, by the way, who actually predicted the Great Depression).  Which were similar to the Franklin/Harding/Mellon/Coolidge policies.  The Austrians also said to let prices and wages fall.  To undo all of that inflationary damage.  Which would help cause a return to full employment.  Keynes disagreed.  For he didn’t believe in the virtue of thrift.  He wanted to abandon the gold standard completely and replace it with fiat money.  That they could expand more freely.  And he believed in demand-side solutions.  Meaning to end the Great Depression you needed higher wages not lower wages so workers had more money to spend.  And to have higher wages you needed higher prices.  So the employers could pay their workers these higher wages.  And he also encouraged continued deficit spending.  No matter the long-term costs.

Well, the Keynesians got their way.  And it was they who gave us the Great Depression.  For they influenced government policy.  The stock market crashed in part due to the Smoot Hawley Tariff then in committee.  But investors saw the tariffs coming and knew what that would mean.  An end to the economic boom.  So they sold their stocks before it became law.  Causing the Stock Market Crash of 1929.  Then those tariffs hit (an increase of some 50%).  Then they doubled income tax rates.  And Hoover even demanded that business leaders NOT cut wages.  All of this activist intervention into market forces just sucked the wind out of the economy.  Turning a recession into the Great Depression.

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Famine, Crop Yields, Food Surpluses, Irrigation, Plow, Crop Rotation, Cultivars, Fertilizers, Pesticides, Tractor, Railroad and Ships

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 23rd, 2012

Technology 101

Because of Advances in Farming Fewer People could Grow more Food

Cold weather kills people.  A lot of people throughout history have died during winters as they exhausted their food supplies.  That’s why preparing for the winter was serious business.  You had to store enough food to carry you through the winter.  And if the fall harvests were poor it spelled big trouble.  And famine.  It’s hard to imagine what this was like.  A long winter ahead of you with an insufficient food supply.  It was scary.  For it meant some people would die before the spring came.  Hard to fathom this in a day where you can actually drive your car through a blizzard to your favorite greasy diner or fast food restaurant for a delicious hot meal to take off the chill of the coldest winter day.  It wasn’t always like this.

And it wasn’t only long winters that killed people.  Sometimes the long summers did.  Where there were insufficient rains.  And drought.  That destroyed crops and drastically reduced fall harvests.  You don’t hear much about famine these days in the U.S, Canada, Britain, France, Germany or other advanced nations.  But underdeveloped and impoverished nations suffer famine to this day.  Why?  Two primary reasons.  Improved crop yields.  And improved transportation.  The advanced nations have them.  The impoverished nations don’t.

Improved crop yields create food surpluses.  Key to civilization itself.  Food surpluses allowed a middle class to arise because everyone did not have to grow food.  Because of advances in farming fewer people could grow more food. Those who didn’t have to grow food could think about other things.  Including ways to further improve crop yields.  By creating better tools.  Better techniques.  Better food storage.  And when you do all of these things you not only have enough food for yourself and for your surplus you have enough to export.  To those who do not have enough food.  Even allowing people to live in areas that cannot produce food.  For they can trade for food.  Thanks to these surpluses available for export.

Food is so Plentiful and Inexpensive Today that the Problem in America is not Famine but Obesity

Early farms relied on the fertile soil of river banks.  The spring flooding of the rivers raised river levels.  When the water retreated it left behind fertile soil.  Eventually we learned how to take control of our water resources.  And used it to make fertile land away from river banks.  Using irrigation.  Bringing the water to the land.  Probably the next great development was the plow.  Which let us take control of the land.  We tilled the soil to aerate it.  To control weeds.  To mix in organic material.  Such as manure.  To prepare it for planting.  And we used irrigation to bring those crops to harvest. 

We then developed crop rotation to replenish nitrogen in the soil.  And to control pests.  Certain pests attack certain crops.  By rotating crops pest infestation couldn’t spread and return year after year.  Families of crops need certain nutrients.  Rotation prevents the depletion of any single nutrient.  Then we took control of the plants we grew.  By creating new plants.  Cultivars.  Using selective breeding to increase grain size, the number of grains per plant, improve disease resistance, etc. 

Then we turned to chemistry.  Creating fertilizers.  And pesticides.  These two advancements alone exploded crop yields.  Never before did so few grow so much with so little.  We maximized the agricultural potential of land year after year.  And then we mechanized the farm.  Introducing the tractor.  Allowing the same number of farmers to cultivate more land.  So not only did their existing lands yield more they added more high-yield lands to explode yields.  Creating huge food surpluses available for export.  And slashing the price of food across the board.  From the bread we make from wheat.  To corn-fed beef.  Food is so plentiful and inexpensive today that the problem in America is not famine but obesity.  Obesity is bad but it takes a lot longer to die from obesity than it does from famine.  And we enjoy all of those delicious things that are making us so fat.  While there’s nothing to enjoy when starving to death. 

We were able to Raise Crop Yields to such High Levels we have Food Available for Everyone in this World

As crop yields increased more food entered the market.  Good for people.  But bad for farmers.  Because they depressed crop prices.  Large farms that cultivated more land could still make a profit.  But the small farmer who didn’t cultivate more land just saw his revenue fall.  Until his revenue fell below his costs.  Leaving him unable to service the debt he incurred to mechanize his farm.  Causing bankruptcy.  Which happened a lot in the Thirties.  Causing all those bank runs during the Great Depression.

To fight this free fall in crop prices countries enacted tariffs and import restrictions.  The British Corn Laws kept out the less expensive foreign food so the landowning aristocracy could maximize their profits.  And when the British repealed the Corn Laws and adopted free trade everything the landowning aristocracy feared happen.  Food became inexpensive and plentiful.  In large part because of the United States.  Who was maximizing their crop yields.  And then using the railroad to ship their surpluses to the great rivers.  The Ohio.  The Missouri.  The Mississippi.  Where they loaded these surpluses onto steamships.  Where it traveled down the Mississippi to the Port of New Orleans.  Where they transferred it to ocean-going sail ships and steamers.  Bound for Europe.  And Britain.  Where this food fed hungry people.  And cut into the profits of the wealthy landowners.

But it wasn’t only in the United States.  Soon other great agricultural countries produced food surpluses that they shipped all over the world.  Winters still happen.  Droughts still happen.  But they don’t happen everywhere at the same time.  And because we were able to raise crop yields to such high levels we have food available for everyone in the world.  And truck, rail and ships can move that food anywhere it is needed.  Which is why we can drive to our favorite greasy diner or fast food restaurant during a blizzard on the coldest day of winter and enjoy a fresh glass of orange juice, coffee, eggs, hash browns and sausage.  No matter where you live.  As long as you live in a country that supports free trade.

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The Calendar and Irrigation

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 16th, 2011

Technology 101

The Nile is a Sliver of Life-Sustaining Black Earth Carved through the Lifeless Red Earth of the Desert

The early Egyptians were a religious people.  They still are today.  Egypt is a special land.  A unique land.  Because the Nile River flows through it on its way to the Mediterranean Sea.

The Nile is the source of life.  For it was the Nile that allowed farming.  Because of fresh water.  And fertile soil.  Black earth.  The rich silt that the Nile washed down from on high.  Beyond the First Cataract.  All the way to its headwaters.  Where monsoons in the Ethiopian Plateau, around Lake Victoria and in the Ruwenzori mountains flowed into the Blue Nile and the White Nile.  That joined into the Nile and flowed down to the Mediterranean Sea.  Bringing with it the rich silt that flooded over the riverbanks.  And left behind some of the richest soil ever farmed.

The life from the Nile was a miracle.  A blessing for the Egyptians.  This sliver of life-sustaining black earth carved through the lifeless red earth of the desert.  So they prayed.  And they worshipped.  To placate the gods.  To keep the miracle of black earth returning harvest after harvest.  For when the gods favored them the flooding came.  On time.  And at just the right height.  But when the gods did not there was famine.

By Tracking a Regular Cycle of Natural Events they Knew When to Worship and What to Do in the Farming Cycle

If the gods favored them the flooding was predictable.  If Khnum favored them the First Cataract would bring on the floodwaters at the right time and in the right amount.  Thoth would foretell this in the form of white ibises returning from their southern migration.  A favorable omen of a good harvest.  Which began with the sowing.  The grain representing Osiris’ body.  A god killed by another god.  Seth.  Who embodied the lifeless red earth.  The new growth was the resurrection of Osiris.  At the harvest they praised Isis.  For the resurrection.  That was the harvest.

The Egyptians were a religious people.  Religious ceremonies and rituals occurred throughout the farming cycle.  It’s no surprise, then, that the Egyptians created one of the first calendars.  Which marked important religious ceremonies and rituals.  And the cycle of farming.

By being able to track this regular cycle of natural events they knew when to worship.  What to do in the farming cycle.  When to do it.  And they knew when something was wrong.  For one day the floods did not come.  The climate had changed.  And the water didn’t come to them from the river.  So they had to go to the water in the river.

When the Nile didn’t Flood when the Calendar said it Should we Created Irrigation

As agriculture developed so did our understanding of our environment.  And we developed a lot of this with our religious beliefs.  For our environment was the blessing of the gods.  And at times their curse.  But our observations grew.  As did our understanding.  We developed the calendar.  And when the Nile didn’t flood when the calendar said it should we created irrigation.  Expanding the lands under cultivation.  And grew even more food.  For even though the Nile didn’t flood the water and silt were still there.

Our initial religious beliefs may not have properly explained the flooding of the Nile.  But it was a first step in our critical thinking.  Trying to explain that which we didn’t understand.  We may have been wrong about the cause.  But we got a pretty good understanding of the seasons.  By studying our environment.  And learning how to change it to suit our needs.  And it’s this critical thinking that led the way to irrigation.  And, eventually, to the modern civilization.

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Religion allowed Sumer, Egypt and Europe to be Great

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 15th, 2011

History 101

Religion Allowed Sumerians and Egyptians to Work Together and Live in Crowded Urban Cities

The world’s first civilization was Sumer.  Which included a series of city-states in Mesopotamia.  That land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.  Modern day Iraq.  And at the center of each city was a temple.  A ziggurat.  A multilevel structure that was broad at the base.  Narrow at the top.  Kind of like a pyramid.  But it wasn’t for entombing the dead.  Its height made it a ‘bridge’ to their gods.  It was at the top of these ziggurats where the priests performed their sacred rituals.  Ruled over the people.  Organized their large-scale farming.  Irrigation.  And their civilization.  Their food surpluses, the key to an advanced civilization, were stored at or near the ziggurat.  And the priest-king distributed the food to the people.

The world’s second civilization was Egypt.  Home of the pyramids.  That entombed their dead in elaborate rituals.  To help them enter the afterlife.  During the Old Kingdom one man ruled all of Egypt.  The pharaoh.  But he wasn’t just a king.  He was a god.  The people worshipped the pharaoh.  And worked at his direction.  The pharaoh directed the massive irrigation works.  The farming.  Managed the food surpluses.  And the people served their gods.  Possibly built the pyramids for them.  Out of love.  For some evidence suggests that slaves may not have built the pyramids as once thought.  But that they willingly joined together to build these tombs out of love and/or respect for their beloved pharaohs.

The first two great civilizations were theocracies.  Religion was the basis of their governments.  And the religious authority ruled.  Whether it be a priest-king.  Or a pharaoh.  A god to the people.  They organized and directed the people to do the things that made these civilizations great.  And the people did great things.  For their cities.  And their god(s).  For their religion was the great unifying factor that allowed a great number of people to live in crowded urban settings.  And work towards a common goal.

During the Dark Ages Charlemagne used Christianity to Unite Europe

Civilization advanced from these humble but great beginnings.  Religious thinking led to other thinking.  And everything great that followed.  Math.  Science.  History.  Physics.  And metaphysics.  We were thinking about our present.  And remembering our past.  The Greeks took thinking to great heights.  Figured out much of what we know today.  Alexander the Great took the glory that was Greece and spread it to the known world.  Then the Romans spread it to the parts of the world Alexander did not conquer.  The grandeur that was Rome was, in fact, Greek.

But the greatness peaked during the Roman Empire.  And then the Germanic tribes to the north sacked Rome.  And plunged Europe into the Dark Ages.  A world devoid of glory.  Where the hands of time were turned back a millennium or two.  Or three.  But all was not lost for Europe.  Because there was Christianity.  For the Roman Empire was a Christian empire.  And that’s something the people of Europe did not lose.  Their religion.  Which was the unifying force of the kingdoms that followed.  Including the great Charlemagne.  The unifier of Europe during the Dark Ages.  For Charlemagne was a devout Christian.  And even ascended to the throne as Holy Roman Emperor.

The rise of Islam in the holy Christian lands led to the Christian Crusades.  While in the ancient cities around the Mediterranean the Christians found a lot of lost Greek texts.  Brought them back to Europe.  To Christian monasteries.  And started that thinking all over again.  Leading to the Renaissance.  And the Enlightenment.  Picking up basically where the Greeks and Romans left off.  Making Europe the dominant region for centuries to come.

A lack of Religion and Spiritual Understanding Empowered Dictators to Kill their own People

Throughout history religion has made life better.  From its earliest days that simply allowed people to live and work together.  To developing a love for our fellow man.  Which restrained our most base instincts.  And calmed the savage breast.  Don’t believe this?  Just look at the worst genocides.

In sheer numbers it’s a tossup who killed more of their own people.  Joseph Stalin (the Soviet Union).  Or Mao Tse-Tung (the Peoples Republic of China).  In terms of a percentage of their population it’s no contest.  Pol Pot (Cambodia) wins that honor.  He killed some 20% of his own people.  And what do these three have in common?  They were all communists.  And their official religion?  None.  They were atheists.

Which is probably what let these dictators commit these cruel acts of barbarism against their own people.  Because they had no spiritual understanding of this life.  Or the afterlife.  So they had little to lose in their eyes.  Nothing to give them pause in unleashing all that repressed cruelty that advanced civilizations worked so hard to suppress.

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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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