Byzantine Empire, Bosporus, Silk Road, Dutch East India Company, English East India Company, Tea Act and Opium Wars

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 11th, 2014

History 101

(Originally published May 15th, 2012)

To encourage Risk Takers to Travel Halfway around the World Mercantile States granted Monopoly Charters

The modern world began because Europeans had a penchant for silk and spices.  Something they enjoyed during Roman times.  When the Romans ruled the world.  And the Mediterranean Sea was nothing more than a Roman lake.  But when the empire stopped conquering new lands and sending the spoils of war home they had to turn to other means to pay for the cost of empire.  Taxes.  To pay for the Roman government and their public spending.  And the Roman legions.  This excessive government spending led to the fall of the western half of the empire.  But the eastern half lived on for another 1,000 years or so.  Why?  Because the capital of the Byzantine Empire was Constantinople.  On the Bosporus.  Trade crossroads of the world.

This city was so rich everybody wanted to conquer it.  So they could have all those riches.  For everything that came along the Silk Road from China crossed into Europe at the Bosporus.  Soon Muslims fought Christians in the Holy lands.  Then more Christians came.  The Crusaders.  Those who didn’t die went back to Europe with some of those Chinese luxuries.  Spices.  Silk.  Porcelain.  Etc.  Sparking a renewed interest in these finer things in Europe.  Especially the spices.  For European cooking was horribly bland at the time.  The Ottoman Turks eventually took Constantinople.  Renamed it Istanbul.  And controlled that lucrative trade.  Making those much sought after Asian goods rather expensive in Europe.  Which they had no choice but to pay.  Because if you wanted those luxuries you had to go through Istanbul.  Until the Portuguese sailed around Africa and found a direct route to those cherished goods, that is.

It was the Commercial Revolution.  A new age of international trade.  A trade even more profitable than what the Ottoman Turks controlled.  Because big ocean-going vessels can carry more cargo than anything coming over land on the Silk Road.  And these new European maritime powers wanted that wealth.  And the power it would provide.  To encourage risk takers to get into those wooden ships and travel halfway around the world they granted monopoly charters.  The Dutch East India Company (VOC) was one of the largest.  And one of the wealthiest.  But this was not your typical company.  The VOC established overseas colonies.  It waged war.  Established treaties.  Even coined its own money.  Because of this thousands of VOC ships stuffed full of valuable cargoes sailed to Antwerp and Amsterdam, making the Dutch very wealthy.  And powerful.

The Tea Act allowed the Company to Ship their Tea Directly to America and exempted them from any Duties

Of course the Dutch weren’t the only ones doing this.  They had competition.  Portugal.  Spain.  France.  And England.  Who would bump into each other numerous times fighting for control of this trade.  And those colonies.  The English and the Dutch would fight 4 wars.  Which is how Dutch-founded Manhattan became part of the British Empire and, subsequently, one of America’s greatest cities.  The English East India Company gave the VOC a run for its money.  Parliament even passed legislation to give the English a monopoly on all trade with their American colonies.  The Navigation Acts.  Which stated that all trade to and from America had to be on English ships.  And all trade had to go through an English port.  Where the ships were unloaded and the cargoes inspected.  And taxed.  Then they could reload their cargoes and continue on their journey.  All tenets of mercantilism.  This kept the lower-priced Dutch goods out of America.  And prevented the Americans from selling to the Dutch directly for higher prices.  So it shut down the Dutch from all American trade (except for a prosperous black market). And brought in some lucrative tax revenue for England.  While extending shipping times and increasing prices for the Americans.  Which they were not happy about in the least.

The English East India Company (the Company) was similar in structure to the VOC.  And soon made the Indian subcontinent a wholly owned subsidiary of the Company.  But it wasn’t cheap.  Waging war was costly.  As was managing those conquered territories (something the Romans had also learned).  Then a famine in Bengal in 1770 claimed about one-third of the local population.  Making laborers more scarce.  And more expensive.  All at a time when the sales of their imported goods were falling in Europe.  There were warehouses full of unsold Chinese tea that they couldn’t sell.  Making for a bad time for the Company.

Higher costs and lower sales spelled trouble.  And that’s what the Company had a lot of.  Trouble.  So the Company turned to Parliament for help.  And Parliament helped.  By allowing the Company to ship their tea directly to America without having to unload it in a British port.  Or pay a duty on that tea.  Which would greatly reduce their costs.  And allow them to sell it in America cheaper than they did before.  So Parliament passed the Tea Act in 1773.  Making life better for all involved.  But the Tea Act left in place another tax in the previous Townshend Acts.  Which was a bigger problem than getting cheaper tea (which they could get on the black market from the Dutch).  These taxes on the British subjects in America were unconstitutional.  Because there were no Americans sitting in Parliament.  This was taxation without representation.  A much bigger issue than cheap tea.  So they threw that first ‘cheap’ tea into Boston Harbor.  The Boston Tea Party being a major step towards war with the mother country.  And American independence.

Britain became the Lone Superpower after Abandoning their Protectionist Mercantile Policies and Adopting Free Trade

The American Revolutionary War was not the only headache the British got from their mercantile policies.  Part of those policies required maintaining a positive balance of trade.  So there was always a net inflow of bullion into the mother country.  That’s why raw materials shipped into Britain from America.  And finished goods shipped out to America.  Finished goods are more valuable than raw materials.  So the Americans had to make up for this balance of trade in bullion.  Resulting in a net inflow of bullion into the mother country.  Very simple.  As long as you can manufacture higher valued goods that other people want to buy.

And this is the problem they ran into with the Chinese.  For though the British wanted those Chinese spices, silk and porcelain the Chinese didn’t want anything the British manufactured.  Which meant Britain had to pay for those luxuries with bullion.  Including all that Chinese tea they craved.  Which resulted in a net outflow of bullion to the Chinese.  The British fixed this problem by finding the one thing that the Chinese people wanted.  Indian opium.  Grown in Bengal.  Of course, this turned a lot of Chinese into opium addicts.  The addiction problem was so bad that the Chinese banned opium.  But the British were able to smuggle it in.  They sold so much of it that they used the proceeds to buy their tea.  Thus reversing the bullion flow.

Not the finest hour in the British Empire.  The Chinese and the British would go on to fight a couple of wars over this opium trade.  The Opium Wars.  Which the British did all right in.  Even gaining Hong Kong in the bargain.  They didn’t build any long-lasting love with the Chinese people.  But Hong Kong turned out pretty nice under the British.  Especially after they abandoned their protectionist mercantile policies and adopted free trade.  Which made the British the lone superpower for about a century as they modernized the world by leading the way in the Industrial Revolution.  And the Chinese in Hong Kong were very happy indeed to be there when the communists took over the mainland.  And caused a famine or two.  For they lived comfortably.  In a state founded on mercantilism.  That achieved its greatest prosperity during the free trade of capitalism that followed Britain’s mercantile ways.

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Hong Kong’s Free Market Capitalism makes Safer Baby Formula than China’s State Capitalism

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 11th, 2013

Week in Review

Kids coming out of American schools learn that capitalism is unfair.  And that greedy businesses will put their customers at great risk to make a buck.  For capitalism puts profits before people.  Which is why we need a government with expanding regulatory powers.  For government puts people before profits.  Like they do in China.  A favorite of those on the left who urge more government intervention into the private sector economy.  Like they do in China.  Where they have a booming economy thanks to wise government bureaucrats.  And safe and happy people because the government prevents those nasty profit-seeking businesses from ever harming a soul (see China’s Parents Crave Illegally Imported Baby Formula by Liza Lin and Julie Cruz posted 5/2/2013 on Bloomberg Businessweek).

For Hong Kong customs agents, baby formula is the new heroin. On March 1 a law went into effect limiting the amount of powdered milk travelers can carry out of Hong Kong to two 2-pound cans each. Since then, more people have been arrested for smuggling baby formula than were caught all of last year with heroin and cocaine…

Many Chinese parents are desperate to get their hands on foreign-made baby formula after numerous food safety scandals in recent years. In 2008 at least 22 Chinese companies were found to have sold dairy products containing melamine, a toxic chemical that can make diluted milk appear to have a higher protein content. Six babies died as a result. In 2011, China’s largest milk producer, China Mengniu Dairy, said in a statement that moldy cattle feed led to excessive toxin levels in its milk. Last year another large milk producer, Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group, recalled formula tainted with mercury. “Chinese consumers are so frightened and so sensitive to safety issues with milk powder that they are willing to pay a higher premium than consumers anywhere else,” says James Roy, a Shanghai-based senior analyst at China Market Research Group.

That willingness to pay has led to baby formula shortages in Hong Kong, where food safety standards are higher. The surge in Chinese demand has even hit foreign markets, where baby formula is often cheaper than in China. Over the past year, stores in Germany, the U.K., and New Zealand have put limits on all bulk purchases of formula, such as Danone’s (BN) Aptamil and Mead Johnson Nutrition’s (MJN) Enfamil.

Hong Kong favors free market capitalism.  While China prefers state capitalism.  Where the state regulates the private sector economy with the heavy hand of the government.  So, in Hong Kong you have the economic system that American schools teach students is bad.  Because they put profits before people.  While China has the economic system that the American schools teach is good.  Because they put people before profits.  And which one is better?  Well, food safety standards are higher in High Kong than in China.  Despite putting profits before people.

Or you could say that food safety standards are higher in High Kong BECAUSE they put profits before people.  Because if babies start dying after drinking a company’s baby formula people will exercise their free choice and buy another company’s baby formula.  A very strong incentive NOT to kill babies.  Because it would be bad for business.  And bad for profits.

Whereas in the ‘people before profits’ state capitalism of China if a company kills babies with its baby formula it’s no big deal.  For the state will just force their people to buy the tainted baby formula by putting import restrictions on safe baby formula.  So there is no incentive NOT to kill babies in China.

So which system is better?  If you base it on which protects their people better you have to go with Hong Kong.  For they’re not killing babies with their baby formula.  While the Chinese are.  Which is a lesson the American schools should be teaching.  Instead of the anti-capitalistic curriculum written by those Sixties’ radicals who actually preferred China the way it was under Chairman Mao.  Before state capitalism.  A time of true communist collectivism.  Where tainted baby formula was the least of their problems.  As they were busy setting famine records with their agricultural policies of forced collectivism.  Where they really put people before profits.  For there were no profits.  So things are better in China today.  For they do allow some profits.  But things aren’t as good as they are in Hong Kong.  Where they allow all the profit you can make.  And by putting profits before people the people come out ahead.  As do their babies.

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Singapore going ‘Solyndra’ to find the next Mark Zuckerberg?

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 26th, 2013

Week in Review

While public education teaches kids the fear of global warming, the evils of capitalism and the goodness of government Singapore is having their schools teach business and entrepreneurial skills.  The U.S. is suffering through the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression.  While Singapore is doing quite well.  And should continue to do well because they don’t teach kids the evils of capitalism in school (see Singapore Hunts for New Zuckerberg With Stanford-Style Dorm by Sharon Chen posted 1/25/13 on Bloomberg).

Singapore became Southeast Asia’s only advanced economy by moving up the technology ladder, turning a trading port into the region’s biggest banking center and a manufacturer of electronics, petrochemicals and pharmaceuticals. Now, the nation is looking to gain a bigger share of a software industry that raised $28 billion in initial share sales last year.

N-House, which opened in August 2011, is one strand of a five-year plan by the government that includes offering new technology companies grants of as much as S$500,000, supporting venture capital funds, and encouraging high schools to teach business and entrepreneurial skills, in an effort to groom the next Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook Inc…

The island of 5 million people, ranked the easiest place to do business for seven straight years by the World Bank, is the second-easiest place in Asia after Hong Kong for entrepreneurs to gain access to capital, according to a study by the Milken Institute published in 2010.

Singapore is a success story because it’s an easy place to do business in.  Businesses like that.  So businesses do business in Singapore.  This is a lesson the United States could learn.  Making it easy for businesses to do business.  Detroit, the Motor City, birthplace of the automated assembly line, is a horrible place to do business.  Being the home of the Big Three (General Motors, Ford and Chrysler) you’d think they’d have an edge on manufacturing automobiles.  Yet not one new auto manufacturer has chosen Detroit.  Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Mercedes, BMW, Volkswagen, Hyundai, and Kia all built assembly plants in the United States.  But not one of them picked Detroit.  Because Detroit, the Motor City, is not an easy city to make automobiles in.

So Singapore knows a thing or two about how to do business.  Which, for the most part, is just leaving business the hell alone.  For a business is a lot like a dog having puppies.  They can do it without any help.  In fact, trying to help can actually do more harm to a business than good.  For when the government steps in and provides money the private sector won’t supply you can pretty much guarantee that the government is backing a bad investment.  Think Solyndra in the U.S.  And all those jobs of the future we were supposed to get with all those investments into green energy.  President Obama begins his second term with the worst recovery since the Great Depression.  Despite all that spending to invest into the jobs of the future.  Here’s a lesson Singapore can learn from the U.S.  Creating a business-friendly environment is good.  But trying to influence things in that environment, well, that rarely ends well.  Again, think Solyndra.

“Singapore has done the best job of any government to spawn an entrepreneurial ecosystem,” said Ressi, who travels to the city about three times a year to meet with government officials. “However, I think they’ve gone a little bit too far in making it easy. If they can’t actually raise money from people privately, they probably aren’t worthy of being in existence.”

There are venture capitalists out there with money burning holes in their pocket.  They want to invest it.  They want to groom the next Mark Zuckerberg.  And if these greedy bastards are NOT willing to bet their money on someone there’s a reason for it.  These people are in the business of finding entrepreneurs to back and groom.  And if they don’t invest in an entrepreneur they must have determined that the entrepreneur just doesn’t have what it takes.  So they keep looking for one who does have what it takes.  And if that person is out there the free market will find that entrepreneur.  While governments pour millions into other Solyndras.

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New Zealand, Denmark, Hong Kong, Singapore and Canada are the top 5 Countries for Business

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 17th, 2012

Week in Review

Once upon a time the United States was the place to be if you wanted to go into business.  It was once so business-friendly in the United States that they overtook one of the world’s greatest empires.  The British Empire.  And caused great concern and consternation in Europe with their growing economic prowess.  As American became the world’s greatest economic power.

But those days are gone now.  When George W. Bush was president the US was still the best place in the world to run a business.  But in President Obama’s first year in office we slipped to the number two spot.  In 2010 we fell to number 10.  And in 2012 we slid even further to number 12.  And with President Obama winning a second term things aren’t likely to improve.  For President Obama is clearly not as good as George W. Bush.  Who kept America the number one place to do business in the world (see New Zealand Tops Our List Of The Best Countries For Business by Kurt Badenhausen posted 11/14/2012 on Forbes).

The U.S. continues to lose ground against other nations in Forbes’ annual look at the Best Countries for Business. The U.S. placed second in 2009, but it has been in a steady decline since. This year it ranks 12th, down from No. 10 last year. The U.S. trails fellow G-8 countries Canada (No. 5), United Kingdom (No. 10) and Australia (No. 11).

Corporate taxes continue to put a damper on American businesses…

It is not just the rate that hinders the U.S., but also the complexity of the tax code. The typical small or medium-size business requires 175 hours a year to comply with U.S. tax laws, according to the World Bank. Overall the U.S. ranks 55th out of the 141 countries we examined in terms of its tax regime. The world’s biggest economy at $15.1 trillion, it also scores poorly when it comes to trade freedom and monetary freedom.

New Zealand ranks first on our list of the Best Countries for Business, up from No. 2 last year, thanks to a transparent and stable business climate that encourages entrepreneurship. New Zealand is the smallest economy in our top 10 at $162 billion, but it ranks first in four of the 11 metrics we examined, including personal freedom and investor protection, as well as a lack of red tape and corruption…

We determined the Best Countries for Business by grading 141 nations on 11 different factors: property rights, innovation, taxes, technology, corruption, freedom (personal, trade and monetary), red tape, investor protection and stock market performance…

Ranking second on our list is Denmark, on the strength of its technology, trade freedom and property rights…

Hong Kong ranks third. Its economy, highly dependent on international trade and finance, remains one of the most vibrant in the world. Credit one of the world’s lowest tax burdens and a high level of monetary freedom…

Singapore comes in at No. 4, ranking in the top 20 in all but one of the 11 metrics we measured…

Canada slid from the top of the rankings in 2011 to No. 5 this year, losing ground on innovation and technology… However Canada remains among the best countries in the world when it comes to trade freedom, investor protection and the ease of starting a new business.

Congratulations New Zealand, Denmark, Hong Kong, Singapore and Canada.  You are the 5 best in the world.  Perhaps one day the US can emulate the great things you are doing.  For we have lost our way.  Let’s hope that you don’t, too.

If there was any further proof that we need to reform our tax code this is it.  Tax compliance costs are sucking capital out of our businesses.  And hindering economic growth.  As evidenced by one of the worst economic recoveries of all time.  There’s a reason for this.  It’s the tax code.  And costly regulatory compliance costs.  Which does not encourage entrepreneurship.  But kills it.  For with today’s red tape you need an army of tax accountants and tax lawyers to start up a business.  Which doesn’t exactly encourage someone with a great idea to spend their life’s savings to go into business.

With another 4 years of pushing America down the list expect one of the worst economic recoveries of all time become even worse.  For this is not a climate to create jobs.  Expect continued high levels of unemployment.  And a worsening of the economy.  For we ain’t seen anything yet.  As President Obama told Russian president Medvedev, “This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.”  Which means he’ll be able to do what he really wants to do in the next four yours.  Which means the first four years were as good as it’s going to get.  And it probably won’t get that good again.

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Hong Kong Protests their New Unelected Beijing-Approved Leader

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 1st, 2012

Week in Review

The British returned Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997.  After more than a glorious century of British colonial rule.  And even though the people in Hong Kong were a colony of a distant power it turns out they were on the winning side of that deal.  For Hong Kong prospered while China got Chairman Mao.  Today the people of Hong Kong are proud of their British colonial past.  And much prefer it to the present Chinese communist rule (see Hong Kong holds big protest as new leader sworn in by the Associated Press posted 7/1/2012 on the Los Angeles Times).

The outpouring of discontent underscored rising tensions between the Communist mainland and the vibrant city of 7 million that was returned to China in 1997 after more than a century of British colonial rule. While much of the discontent revolves around growing economic inequality and stunted democratic development, Hong Kongers are also upset over what they see as arrogant Chinese behavior – wealthy mainlanders taking over retail outlets during flashy Hong Kong shopping trips, for example, or even the choice of language during Sunday’s swearing-in ceremony, Beijing-accented Mandarin instead of the Cantonese dialect spoken locally…

Leung was chosen as chief executive in March, winning 689 votes from a 1,200-seat committee of business elites who mostly voted according to Beijing’s wishes. Hong Kong’s 3.4 million registered voters, who can vote for neighborhood councilors and half of all lawmakers, had no say.

In mid-afternoon, tens of thousands of protesters began marching toward the newly built government headquarters complex on Hong Kong Island in sweltering heat, beating drums and waving British colonial flags in a gesture of nostalgia for an era during which democratic rights were limited but the rule of law was firmly in place…

In his speech, Hu said Hong Kong residents now have more democratic rights and freedoms than ever before – a reminder that China has largely kept the promise it made when it regained the territory from Britain to keep Hong Kong’s relatively open political system in place for 50 years.

But that did little to assuage the feelings of the protesters, who see China’sCommunist Party rule as strongly at odds with the values that many inherited from a British-influenced education, and the continuing spread of democracy to Asian neighbors like South Korea and Chinese-speaking Taiwan.

Yes, it was the British Empire that made Hong Kong the jewel it is.  Not the Chinese communists.  It was the British institutions of democracy, rule of law, free market capitalism and free trade that made Hong Kong the destination for the wealthy Chinese mainlanders when they really want to enjoy life.  And even though the Chinese suffered under British colonial rule today the best part of China would appear to be Hong Kong.  And in Hong Kong people wave British colonial flags in protest of Chinese rule.  Imagine that.

China has a long history.  Most of it remarkable.  But it reached a nadir under Chairman Mao and his People’s Republic of China.  And the spread of the deadliest contagion known to mankind.  Communism.  For as an ideology nothing killed more people.  And while China was suffering the great famines of the Great Leap Forward there was Hong Kong across the water.  Prosperous as ever.  An embarrassment to the communist rulers.  China is a lot better today.  As they let capitalism flourish.  Albeit under the heavy hand of the state.  But it’s one of the BRICS economies.  And may soon be the number one economy in the world.  But it’s still not quite Hong Kong.

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China pours Billions into African Infrastructure in Exchange for Lucrative Trade Agreements

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 1st, 2012

Week in Review

China is pouring billions into Africa.  Apparently out of the goodness of their heart (see Track record by Andrew Moody and Zhong Nan posted 6/29/2012 on China Daily).

The relationship between China and Africa will come under the spotlight once again when leaders of up to 50 African nations will descend on Beijing in July for the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation…

China’s stock of overseas direct investment on the continent has increased eight-fold from $1.6 billion (1.3 billion euros) in 2005 to $13.04 billion at the end of 2010, the last year for which figures are available, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics.

Trade has also seen a similar large increase with exports to Africa rising from $10.18 billion in 2003 to $59.95 billion in 2010.

In Africa itself the relationship is viewed as central. John Dramani Mahama, vice-president of Ghana, says dealing with China helps avoid the red tape linked to alternative sources of funding from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund or various international aid agencies…

Meles says far from exploiting Africa, China was in the process of rescuing Africa from the so-called Washington Consensus of the past 30 years that dictated that the private sector was the best engine for development in Africa…

Only one dominant view of the China-Africa relationship seems to exist in the West – that it is an exploitative and neo-colonial one…

The retired diplomat also feels China offers a great role model for Africa in terms of showing what can be achieved with a commitment to develop.

“I can remember when Sanlitun (now the bustling entertainment district in Beijing) was just bush and Shenzhen was a small fishing port and now it is like Hong Kong. There is a feeling if they can do it, we can do it too,” he says…

[Samuel B.] Nagbe [assistant minister in the Ministry of Public Works in the capital Monrovia], however, says this also has drawbacks since there is a lack of competition when large infrastructure projects are offered for tender…

The overall relationship between China and Africa will remain a subject of debate. Philip Nyinguro, associate professor of political science and international relations at the University of Nairobi, argues the weak state of some African countries makes them vulnerable when they are cutting deals with any country, whether it is China or a Western power.

This doesn’t sound much different than the spread of the British Empire.  And British colonialism.  Only the colonies may not do as well under the Chinese than they did under the British.  For let us not forget that it was the British Empire that made Hong Kong the jewel it became.  Not the Chinese.

And that attack on the private sector?  The wealth that China is creating that allows them to invest in Africa came from the private sector.  Granted it’s not what the West would call the private sector.  It’s more state-capitalism.  However, it was the transition from communism to capitalism (at least towards capitalism) in the cities that ignited their economic ascent.  So, yes, even China must agree that the best engine for economic development must come from the private sector.  Because it’s what they used.  For the communists sure couldn’t make it happen.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch.  Clearly the Chinese want those African resources.  Just like the early mercantilist empires wanted colonies in foreign lands to feed raw materials to their economies.  The Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, French and the British.  They’re just doing it a little differently.  By ‘crowding out’ all other foreign investment.  Who don’t ask any questions or place any conditions on their aid beyond the economics of their trade deals.  Giving them a presence in these African nations.  Who will expect favorable treatment in return for their generosity.  If not they can just pull it away.  And without a developing private sector these countries could return to where they were before the Chinese investments.  Or accept an expanding Chinese influence in their nations.  Just like a colony power.

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FT120: “Give a man a fish and he can eat for a day; give him a job and he can have an obesity problem.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 1st, 2012

Fundamental Truth

In Warfare Starvation and Famine are the most Potent of Weapons

Starvation and famine has plagued mankind since the dawn of time.  It was the driving force in evolution.  Those who took control of their food supply lived.  Those who didn’t disappeared from the evolutionary path.  Like Neanderthal.  And those who came before him.  Our earliest civilizations massed their populations to farm.  And the masses lived in cities.  Setting down roots and saying goodbye to their hunting and gathering ways.  In the Wei River valley.  In the Indus River valley.  The valleys of the Euphrates and Tigris.  In the Nile River valley.  Where modern life took root.  Produced our first food surpluses.  And gave birth to urban life.  And the middle class.

The rise of the middle class allowed civilization to flourish.  For every person that didn’t have to produce food could do something else.  Build better tools.  Create a better government.  Create art.  In general, think about other things.  Those other things that made humans different.  By giving us a more interesting life.  And more sophisticated ways to express ourselves.

But this growth was a double-edged sword.  For large urban populations that made life more enjoyable was also a great threat to the food supply.  A cool and wet summer could destroy crops.  Poor food storage could spoil the food surplus.  A war could see an enemy purposely destroy your crops and your food surplus.  Causing famine.  Where half or your city population could easily die before the next harvest.  Or more.  Especially if the famine resulted from an act of war.   As an act of genocide.  To clear people off land that others want to use for their own food needs.  Which was Hitler’s plan in Russia.  To take the food from the Ukraine.  Kill the indigenous population.  And replace them with Nazis.  Thus creating more living space for the Third Reich.  Or Lebensraum.    Because in warfare starvation and famine are the most potent of weapons.

History has shown that the most Food-Abundant Countries are the most Capitalistic

England led the way in agricultural advances.  Increasing crop yields such that small tracts of land could support greater populations.  As well as produce such huge food surpluses that they had food to export.  As the British Empire spread across the globe so did their advanced agricultural ways.  During the 19th century starvation and famine were becoming rarer in the technologically advanced West.  The 19th century Irish Potato Famine reduced Ireland’s population by up to 25%.  A tragedy of epic proportions.  But it was an exception to the rule.  For food was growing so abundant in the advanced Western World that rarely did people go hungry.  Or feared famine.  And when mechanization and chemistry hit the farm our crop yields exploded.

During the Twentieth Century the Western World produced so much food that food prices plummeted.  Causing the Great Depression.  There was so much food available that farmers couldn’t sell their food at a high enough price to service the debt that they incurred mechanizing their farms.  But not everyone was producing bumper crops in the Twentieth Century.  Both the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China set records for death by famine.  As they shunned the ways of the West.  And the state took over their agricultural sectors.  States that were so inept at good farming practices and things economic that crop yields plummeted.  North Korea to this day can’t even grow enough food for her own people.  And has recurring famines.  Because they hold on to the communist ways of Stalin and Mao.  While the Russians and the Chinese have long abandoned them. 

History has shown that the most food-abundant countries are the most capitalistic.  Countries whose agricultural sectors use the latest in technology.  And/or have a rich and vibrant economy that can buy all the food they need if they can’t produce their own.  Like Hong Kong.  Basically a rock off the Chinese mainland.  It has little arable land.  Few natural resources.  But what it does have is low taxation and free trade.  And laissez-faire capitalism.  The Chinese lost Hong Kong to the British Empire (who have since given it back).  And the British used laissez-faire capitalism to make Hong Kong the gem it is today.  Where people are free and in want of little.  And in this island nation that can’t grow enough food to feed their population famine is unheard of.  Why?  Because they have the wealth to trade for all the food they desire.  In fact, while Mao gave the people in the People’s Republic of China famine Hong Kong were doing just fine.  Because they were wealthy and could trade for what they needed.  And they had the Royal Navy protecting her.

In America our Food Supplies are so Abundant and so Cheap that Poor People are becoming Obese

Poverty is the biggest killer.  Famine is prevalent in poor countries.  Like Haiti.  North Korea.  And sub-Saharan Africa.  People suffer in these countries unlike they do in the West.  Despite the amount of aid the West pours into them.  And it’s not because Western nations were blessed with natural resources.  Hong Kong doesn’t have anything other than laissez-faire capitalism.  Protected by the Rule of Law and minimal government interference into the private sector economy.  The very things that are missing from Haiti, North Korea and sub-Saharan Africa.  Where corruption rules supreme.  There is little regard for human rights.  Or property rights.  And no one can protect their people from the abuses of government.  Or from warring neighbors.  Like the Royal Navy protected Hong Kong.  And pretty much the rest of the world during the 19th century.  Just like America’s military might made the world safe for capitalism in the Twentieth Century.

Third world nations are not a victim of first world nations.  They are a victim of themselves.  Where corrupt rulers collect Western aid and live well while their people suffer.  Especially the nations that eschew capitalism.  And embrace socialism.  Like the Soviet Union did.  Like the People’s Republic of China did (the current Chinese regime is enjoying economic growth by allowing some capitalism into their still communist country).  And like North Korea still does.  These socialist utopias were a living hell for their people.  Where they live in fear of their government.  And of famine.

Meanwhile in the Western capitalist nations what do they suffer from?  Especially the poor people in America?  Obesity.  In New York they’re passing laws restricting the size of sugary beverages because they are dangerous to your health.  While they pass out free condoms and birth control as sex is far less risky behavior than a delicious carbonated beverage.  Apparently.  Yes, in America our food supplies are so abundant and so cheap that poor people are becoming obese.  Because capitalism has made those food supplies abundant and cheap.  And capitalism gave people jobs where they could afford to buy so much food that they can give themselves an obesity problem.  A problem they just don’t have in Haiti, North Korea or sub-Saharan Africa.  Because they can’t grow enough food.  Or earn enough money to buy enough food.  For they don’t have an environment conducive to creating jobs.  Which is why these nations are still impoverished and/or suffering famine despite all the aid the West gives them.  Food aid will run out.  And then they’ll just be starving once again.  If they have jobs, though, they’ll be able to buy food whenever they’re hungry.  Because it’s like that old saying.  Give a man a fish and he can eat for a day; give him a job and he can have an obesity problem.

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Flat-Bottomed Boat, Keel, Standing Rigging, Chinese Junk, Daggerboard, Balanced Rudder, Compartment and Junk Rig

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 16th, 2012

Technology 101

Typical River Transport has a Flat Bottom and a Shallow Draft with Little Freeboard

What do most of the oldest and greatest cities in the world have in common?  Madrid.  Lisbon.  Paris.  London.  Amsterdam.  Belgrade.  Vienna.  Rome.  Cairo.  Kiev.  Moscow.  Baghdad.  New Delhi.  Shanghai.  Ho Chi Minh City.  Bangkok.  Hong Kong.  São Paul.  Buenos Aires.  Santiago.  Quebec City.  Montreal.  Detroit.  Boston.  New York.  Philadelphia.  Pittsburgh.  What do these cities have in common?  Rivers.  Coastal water.  Or safe harbors on the oceans.

Why is this?  Is it because their founders liked a good view?  That’s why people today pay a premium to live on the water’s edge.  But back then it was more necessity than view.  These were times before railroads.  Even before roads connected these new cities.  Back then there was only one way to transport things.  On the water.  And rivers were the early highways that connected the cities.  Which is why we built our cities on these rivers.  To transport the food or raw materials a city produced.  And to transport to these cities the things they needed to survive and grow.  And some of the earliest river transports were flat-bottomed boats.  Like the scow.  Punt.  Sampan.  And the barge.

Rivers are calm compared to the oceans.  Which allows a different boat design.  River transport doesn’t have to be sturdy to withstand rolling waves and high winds.  Which allows the design to focus on the main purpose of a boat.  Hauling freight.  Typical river transport has a flat bottom.  A shallow draft with little freeboard (i.e., sitting very low in the water with the top deck very close to the surface of the water).  And a square bow.  This allows these boats to operate in shallow waters.  Allowing them to run up right onto a river landing or beach.  Where they can be easily loaded with their cargoes.  Or unloaded.  And their flat, rectangular shapes maximize the cargo they can carry.  Propulsion is simple.  A man can push a small boat along with a pole.  Animal power can pull larger barges.  Or, later, motors were able to power them.  Or a tugboat could pull or push them.

The Chinese Junk had a Flat Bottom with no Keel allowing them to Carry a Lot of Cargo

These flat-bottomed boats are great for hauling freight.  But they are not very seaworthy.  Because the ocean’s waves will toss around any boat with a shallow draft and little freeboard.  Breaking it up and sending it and its cargo to the bottom of the ocean.  Which has confined these to the calm of rivers, bays and coastal waterways.  Cargoes that have to travel further than these allow are loaded onto an ocean-going vessel with a deeper draft.  And a higher freeboard.  With a keel.  That can withstand the leeward force of the wind.  So instead of being pushed sideways (or simply rolling over) the keel allows those sideway winds to fill a sail and propel a ship forward.  By sticking deeper into the water.  So as the wind tries to push the boat sideways the large amount of water in contact with the keel pushes back against that leeward force.  Allowing it to sail across the wind.

But there is a tradeoff.  The curved sections of the hull that form the keel reduces the amount of cargo a ship can carry in its hull.  Also, these ocean-going vessels have a lot of sail.  And a lot of rigging to hold it in place.  Standing rigging.  While the sails required running rigging.  To raise and lower sails depending on the wind conditions.  Which takes up space that can’t be used for cargo.  And requires a lot of sailors.  In fact, much of the upper deck is full of rigging and sailors instead of cargo.  But this was the tradeoff to sail into the rougher waters of the ocean.  You had to sacrifice revenue-earning cargo.  But there was one ship design that brought together the benefits of the flat-bottomed river scow and the ocean-going fully rigged sailing ship.  The Chinese junk.

The Chinese junk dates as far back as the 3rd century BC.  And began crossing oceans as early as the second century AD.  Long before the Europeans ventured out in their Age of Discovery.  The junk has a flat bottom with no keel.  But a high freeboard.  Which lets it carry a lot of cargo.  And operate in shallower waters than a fully rigged sailing ship.  But it could also sail in the rougher seas of the ocean.  When it did it lowered a daggerboard.  A centerboard that can lower from a watertight trunk within the hull into the water to act like a keel.  To resist those leeward forces.  Often installed forward in the hull so as not to take up valuable cargo space in the center of the ship.  Because they mount this forward the leeward forces could cause the back end of the ship to torque around the daggerboard. To counteract this force they use an oversized rudder on the stern.  To balance the resistance to those leeward forces.  Because the rudder was so large and had to deflect a lot of water it was difficult to turn.  Taking a team of men to operate it.   To help turn such a large rudder they developed ‘powered’ steering.  With a balanced rudder.  The axis the rudder turned on was just behind the leading edge of the rudder.  So when they turned the rudder the water hitting the part in front of the turning axis helped turn the rudder in the direction the crew was trying to turn it.  So the large rudder area past the turning axis could deflect the large volume of water necessary to turn the ship.

The Chinese gave us Papermaking, Printing, the Compass and Gunpowder but the Europeans Conquered the World

So the junk could travel in the shallow waters of harbors and rivers.  And the deep water of the ocean.  It was the first ship to compartmentalize the hull.  Making it very seaworthy.  Especially if it struck bottom and punched a hole in the hull.  Because of the compartments the flooding was contained to the one compartment.  Allowing the ship to remain afloat.  A design all ships use today.  The junk also used a different sailing rig.  The junk rig.  It’s low tech.  Was inexpensive.  And required smaller crews.

A three-mast junk has three masts.  And three sails.  One sail per mast.  And the masts are free standing.  They don’t need any standing rigging to hold them in place.  Because they don’t carry heavy loads of running rigging and sailors.  The sail is stretched between a yard and a boom.  The yard is at the top.  The boom is along the bottom.  Between the yard and the boom battens give the sail strength and attach it to the mast.  Think of a batten as that stick in the bottom of a window shade.  Grabbing this batten allows you to apply an even force on that window shade when pulling it down.  If this stick wasn’t there and you pulled down on the window shade the uneven forces across the shade would tear it.  Same principle on a junk rig.  Which allows them to use less expensive sail material.  To raise this sail up the mast you pulled up the yard via a block and tackle at the top of the mast.  From the deck.  With fewer crew members.  The sail is attached to the mast near one edge.  It’s pivoted to catch and redirect wind to the stern.  Propelling the ship forward.  And the battens will bend in strong enough winds to curve the sail.  Creating lift on the other side of the sail to pull the ship forward.

The Chinese gave us papermaking, printing, the compass and gunpowder.  But it was the Europeans that used these inventions to conquer the world.  For the Chinese had no interest in civilizations outside of China.  For when you had the best, they thought, what was the point?  So the Europeans came to them.  Even took Hong Kong from them.  When it was the Chinese that could have had the technologically advanced civilization.  An army fielding muskets and cannon.  And a navy of junk warships that could have gone anywhere the Europeans could have gone.  And farther.  Into the shallow waters and up the rivers where the European warships could not go.  They could have sailed up the Thames to London.  Up the Seine to Paris.  Even into Amsterdam.  Home of the Dutch East India Company.  That took such a great interest in all those Asian goods in the first place.   That brought the British to China to compete against the Dutch.  Leading to the Opium Wars.  And the loss of Hong Kong.  Imagine how different the world would be had China embraced their technology.  Like they are today.  Perhaps we will soon see the answer to that great ‘what if’ question.

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Byzantine Empire, Bosporus, Silk Road, Dutch East India Company, English East India Company, Tea Act and Opium Wars

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 15th, 2012

History 101

To encourage Risk Takers to Travel Halfway around the World Mercantile States granted Monopoly Charters

The modern world began because Europeans had a penchant for silk and spices.  Something they enjoyed during Roman times.  When the Romans ruled the world.  And the Mediterranean Sea was nothing more than a Roman lake.  But when the empire stopped conquering new lands and sending the spoils of war home they had to turn to other means to pay for the cost of empire.  Taxes.  To pay for the Roman government and their public spending.  And the Roman legions.  This excessive government spending led to the fall of the western half of the empire.  But the eastern half lived on for another 1,000 years or so.  Why?  Because the capital of the Byzantine Empire was Constantinople.  On the Bosporus.  Trade crossroads of the world.

This city was so rich everybody wanted to conquer it.  So they could have all those riches.  For everything that came along the Silk Road from China crossed into Europe at the Bosporus.  Soon Muslims fought Christians in the Holy lands.  Then more Christians came.  The Crusaders.  Those who didn’t die went back to Europe with some of those Chinese luxuries.  Spices.  Silk.  Porcelain.  Etc.  Sparking a renewed interest in these finer things in Europe.  Especially the spices.  For European cooking was horribly bland at the time.  The Ottoman Turks eventually took Constantinople.  Renamed it Istanbul.  And controlled that lucrative trade.  Making those much sought after Asian goods rather expensive in Europe.  Which they had no choice but to pay.  Because if you wanted those luxuries you had to go through Istanbul.  Until the Portuguese sailed around Africa and found a direct route to those cherished goods, that is.

It was the Commercial Revolution.  A new age of international trade.  A trade even more profitable than what the Ottoman Turks controlled.  Because big ocean-going vessels can carry more cargo than anything coming over land on the Silk Road.  And these new European maritime powers wanted that wealth.  And the power it would provide.  To encourage risk takers to get into those wooden ships and travel halfway around the world they granted monopoly charters.  The Dutch East India Company (VOC) was one of the largest.  And one of the wealthiest.  But this was not your typical company.  The VOC established overseas colonies.  It waged war.  Established treaties.  Even coined its own money.  Because of this thousands of VOC ships stuffed full of valuable cargoes sailed to Antwerp and Amsterdam, making the Dutch very wealthy.  And powerful.

The Tea Act allowed the Company to Ship their Tea Directly to America and exempted them from any Duties

Of course the Dutch weren’t the only ones doing this.  They had competition.  Portugal.  Spain.  France.  And England.  Who would bump into each other numerous times fighting for control of this trade.  And those colonies.  The English and the Dutch would fight 4 wars.  Which is how Dutch-founded Manhattan became part of the British Empire and, subsequently, one of America’s greatest cities.  The English East India Company gave the VOC a run for its money.  Parliament even passed legislation to give the English a monopoly on all trade with their American colonies.  The Navigation Acts.  Which stated that all trade to and from America had to be on English ships.  And all trade had to go through an English port.  Where the ships were unloaded and the cargoes inspected.  And taxed.  Then they could reload their cargoes and continue on their journey.  All tenets of mercantilism.  This kept the lower-priced Dutch goods out of America.  And prevented the Americans from selling to the Dutch directly for higher prices.  So it shut down the Dutch from all American trade (except for a prosperous black market). And brought in some lucrative tax revenue for England.  While extending shipping times and increasing prices for the Americans.  Which they were not happy about in the least.

The English East India Company (the Company) was similar in structure to the VOC.  And soon made the Indian subcontinent a wholly owned subsidiary of the Company.  But it wasn’t cheap.  Waging war was costly.  As was managing those conquered territories (something the Romans had also learned).  Then a famine in Bengal in 1770 claimed about one-third of the local population.  Making laborers more scarce.  And more expensive.  All at a time when the sales of their imported goods were falling in Europe.  There were warehouses full of unsold Chinese tea that they couldn’t sell.  Making for a bad time for the Company.

Higher costs and lower sales spelled trouble.  And that’s what the Company had a lot of.  Trouble.  So the Company turned to Parliament for help.  And Parliament helped.  By allowing the Company to ship their tea directly to America without having to unload it in a British port.  Or pay a duty on that tea.  Which would greatly reduce their costs.  And allow them to sell it in America cheaper than they did before.  So Parliament passed the Tea Act in 1773.  Making life better for all involved.  But the Tea Act left in place another tax in the previous Townshend Acts.  Which was a bigger problem than getting cheaper tea (which they could get on the black market from the Dutch).  These taxes on the British subjects in America were unconstitutional.  Because there were no Americans sitting in Parliament.  This was taxation without representation.  A much bigger issue than cheap tea.  So they threw that first ‘cheap’ tea into Boston Harbor.  The Boston Tea Party being a major step towards war with the mother country.  And American independence.

Britain became the Lone Superpower after Abandoning their Protectionist Mercantile Policies and Adopting Free Trade

The American Revolutionary War was not the only headache the British got from their mercantile policies.  Part of those policies required maintaining a positive balance of trade.  So there was always a net inflow of bullion into the mother country.  That’s why raw materials shipped into Britain from America.  And finished goods shipped out to America.  Finished goods are more valuable than raw materials.  So the Americans had to make up for this balance of trade in bullion.  Resulting in a net inflow of bullion into the mother country.  Very simple.  As long as you can manufacture higher valued goods that other people want to buy.

And this is the problem they ran into with the Chinese.  For though the British wanted those Chinese spices, silk and porcelain the Chinese didn’t want anything the British manufactured.  Which meant Britain had to pay for those luxuries with bullion.  Including all that Chinese tea they craved.  Which resulted in a net outflow of bullion to the Chinese.  The British fixed this problem by finding the one thing that the Chinese people wanted.  Indian opium.  Grown in Bengal.  Of course, this turned a lot of Chinese into opium addicts.  The addiction problem was so bad that the Chinese banned opium.  But the British were able to smuggle it in.  They sold so much of it that they used the proceeds to buy their tea.  Thus reversing the bullion flow.

Not the finest hour in the British Empire.  The Chinese and the British would go on to fight a couple of wars over this opium trade.  The Opium Wars.  Which the British did all right in.  Even gaining Hong Kong in the bargain.  They didn’t build any long-lasting love with the Chinese people.  But Hong Kong turned out pretty nice under the British.  Especially after they abandoned their protectionist mercantile policies and adopted free trade.  Which made the British the lone superpower for about a century as they modernized the world by leading the way in the Industrial Revolution.  And the Chinese in Hong Kong were very happy indeed to be there when the communists took over the mainland.  And caused a famine or two.  For they lived comfortably.  In a state founded on mercantilism.  That achieved its greatest prosperity during the free trade of capitalism that followed Britain’s mercantile ways.

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