In the 1790s, the road system in the US was so poor that farmers in western Pennsylvania could not afford to ship their grain to the east coast. To make a living they had to distill their grain into whiskey so they could afford the shipping costs. A new thing I learned is how to describe that situation: value-to-weight ratio.
Ancient Financeswill explore finances and money during the Viking age and Roman Empire. Lots of posts on other blogs addressing those topics have been cross-posted to the new blog. This includes lots of discussion of the loot Alexander the Great lifted during his rampaging world tour.
I’ve been having loads of fun reading about the Viking age and am intrigued by finances and money during the Roman Empire.
There seems to be a vague consensus in our society that ancient peoples were peaceful and contented in their gathering and hunting. Only in recent times have humans become greedy, war-like, and violent.
Some recent articles have challenged that assumption. That these reports are noteworthy demonstrates the bias that exists claiming only in relatively recent times have we humans become mean and hateful.
The time for transit from New York to Washington and back home is described. For comparison, I’ll repeat the timing for a trip by William Sherman described in another book, which I mentioned a while back.
Here are the transit times:
43 days – New York to San Francisco via Isthmus of Panama – 1852
51 days – San Francisco to New York via Panama – 1854
198 days – New York to Monterey, California sailing around Cape Horn – 1847
Lieutenant Grant’s unit was transferred from Michigan to the Washington territory.
At the time, there were three options for the trip. First was overland via the Oregon Trail. Second, sailing around Cape Horn at the tip of South America. Third, portage across the Isthmus of Panama.
Telling the tale of the collapse of the Roman Empire is a challenge even in a full length book. Presenting one slice of the story in an easily read and understood infographic is even more of a challenge.
The Money Project is a blog run by Visual Capitalist which focuses on illustrating complex ideas. Their infographic Currency and the Collapse of the Roman Empire does a great job of describing how debasement of the currency and the resulting inflation made trade more difficult which in turn contributed to the collapse.
Oh, used with permission of Visual Capitalist.
A great story with many lessons to be learned for anyone willing to think for a while:
In 58 B.C. (yes, I know that was shortly before the move from a republic to an empire), the Roman government started giving wheat to citizens of Rome for free. As expected, this resulted in masters letting their slaves go free so the government was responsible for their subsistence. In 45 B.C. Julius Caesar figured out that one-third of Roman citizens were getting their food from the government.
Farmers fled to the city to get food for free instead of breaking their back all year long in order to barely have enough to eat. Slave owners turned their slaves free so the central government could feed them instead.
Move forward a few hundred years to see the destruction from debasing the currency along with price controls.
Ponder the remarkable contrast. We see phenomenal breakthroughs in space exploration almost weekly. On the other hand, the production line for the 747, the plane that opened up world travel to the masses, is slowing down and could be shuttered in a couple of years.
7/26 – Satellite Today – Sky and Space Global Details Vision for 200 Satellite LEO Network – The company, Sky and Space Global, plans to put 200 nanosatellites, or cubesats, into a low Earth orbit to provide a worldwide communications network. It is categorized as narrowband, providing only voice and messaging along with data forwarding.
Company estimates the cost for constellation of 200 satellites will be somewhere in the range of $120M up to $160M.
In my reading and thinking over the years, I have learned anytime Malthusian ideas surface in a discussion those ideas will inevitably be wrong. More often than not, they are immoral as well.
After considering Matt Ridley’s discussion of The Long Shadow of Malthus, I now realize that Malthusian ideas are often evil as well.
This post is a review of Prof. Ridley’s published article. If you want a longer version that shows in more detail the suffering, misery, and needless deaths caused by followers of Malthus, check out chapter 11 of his book, The Evolution of Everything.
The core of this school of thought holds that the planet will not be able to sustain whatever growth in population is taking place at the moment. As a result, it is mandatory that us bright people (that’s you and me) limit the increasing population of those people. As the professor says:
It centres on the question of how to control human population growth and it answers that question by saying we must be cruel to be kind, that ends justify means. It is still around today; and it could not be more wrong.
The consequences of his ideas were extended until they
…inadvertently gave birth to a series of heartless policies — the poor laws, the British government’s approach to famine in Ireland and India, social Darwinism, eugenics, the Holocaust, India’s forced sterilisations and China’s one-child policy.
I suggest you are in fact richer today than John Rockefeller was 100 years ago. If it were possible for Prof. Don Boudreaux to switch places with John Rockefeller’s life and even if he could have a billion dollars after he arrived back in 1916, he would not make the switch. He would rather live as a comfortable professor today than be a billionaire 100 years ago.
Here are three posts to explain this strange idea: first, what life was like 100 years ago, why Prof Boudreaux would not make the switch, and then why Coyote Blog wouldn’t either.
(Cross-post from Attestation Update. This post supports my conversation on ancient finances at that blog and also fits the discussion of how much life has improved over the last 200 years here.)
I will update a few of the stats in the Atlantic article where the author took a shortcut. When I browsed through the BLS report, I noticed some sentences which were repeated nearly verbatim in the article, which is okay since the report is a public document.
A few highlights:
Workers in factories averaged 55 hours a week. The fatality rate across the economy was 61 deaths per 100,000 compared to about 3.3 per 100,000 today.
A view of economic progress. Ponder the productivity improvement and resulting increase in wealth to go from this:
The overall standard of living has increased by a factor of somewhere between 30 and 100 in the last 200 years.
The little side trip in this post and the next will lead me back to my discussion of ancient finances in general and Alexander’s haul from his military campaigns in particular.
(This is a cross-post from my other blog, Attestation Update. It is part of a series of posts discussing ancient finances, with a focus on the loot taken by Alexander the Great during his military campaign. This particular post is pertinent to this blog, so I will bring it here. The remaining conversation on Alexander’s haul will remain at the other blog, since that is where I talk about finance. You can find the discussion here.)
..in the two centuries after 1800 the trade-tested goods and services available to the average person in Sweden or Taiwan rose by a factor of 30 or 100. Not 100 percent, understand— a mere doubling— but in its highest estimate a factor of 100, nearly 10,000 percent, and at least a factor of 30, or 2,900 percent. The Great Enrichment of the past two centuries has dwarfed any of the previous and temporary enrichments.
Let me phrase that another way. The value of what is enjoyed today by an average person is roughly equal to what 30 or 100 people had two centuries ago. That means the constant dollar value of what is consumed and enjoyed has grown by a factor of somewhere between 30 and 100.
My friend John Bredehoft provides a different perspective on technology change. On 1/22 at his blog tymshft, he asked Do the essentials change?
He discusses a podcast comparing life today to about 35 years ago. For perspective, that puts us in 1981, or the range of the first year of the Reagan administration.
One of many points I draw from the discussion is related to Jon’s last comment:
But the speed of the processing chip in my smartphone is relatively meaningless.
Phrased differently, the smart phone in your hand may have an operating speed that is thousands or millions of times faster than 30 years ago but that increase doesn’t have an impact on your life in proportion to the increase in speed. Increased operating speed in the last decade probably hasn’t affected your life much at all.
The cause of extending the Great Depression, according to the economists, was the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) which protected industries from antitrust prosecution in return for adopting collective bargaining agreements. The result was unions drove up wages beyond where the market would have set them, companies were intentionally not prosecuted for collusion, thus companies cooperated in setting prices, which in turn drove up prices to consumers. As a result consumers had much more difficulty affording stuff and therefore actually bought less stuff, which further contracted the economy.