October 17, 2012

Daron Acemoglu is kryptonite to clear thought

The ruins of the slums of Venice, a mere 417 years after La Serrata
Some celebrated thinkers are so dumb that even when they are more or less right in their politics, they drive the thinking man crazy with their amazing ability to come up with stupid examples for what ought to be easy positions to validate. MIT economist Daron Acemoglu is making himself the Malcolm Gladwell of the 2010s, with a nearly infallible nose for sniffing out the worst possible argument and then putting it forward triumphantly.

Here's the beginning of a recent article inspired by Acemoglu that was the most emailed NYT article last week:
The Self-Destruction of the 1 Percent

By CHRYSTIA FREELAND 
Published: October 13, 2012 
IN the early 14th century, Venice was one of the richest cities in Europe. At the heart of its economy was the colleganza, a basic form of joint-stock company created to finance a single trade expedition. The brilliance of the colleganza was that it opened the economy to new entrants, allowing risk-taking entrepreneurs to share in the financial upside with the established businessmen who financed their merchant voyages. 
Venice’s elites were the chief beneficiaries. Like all open economies, theirs was turbulent. Today, we think of social mobility as a good thing. But if you are on top, mobility also means competition. In 1315, when the Venetian city-state was at the height of its economic powers, the upper class acted to lock in its privileges, putting a formal stop to social mobility with the publication of the Libro d’Oro, or Book of Gold, an official register of the nobility. If you weren’t on it, you couldn’t join the ruling oligarchy. 
The political shift, which had begun nearly two decades earlier, was so striking a change that the Venetians gave it a name: La Serrata, or the closure. It wasn’t long before the political Serrata became an economic one, too. Under the control of the oligarchs, Venice gradually cut off commercial opportunities for new entrants. Eventually, the colleganza was banned. The reigning elites were acting in their immediate self-interest, but in the longer term, La Serrata was the beginning of the end for them, and for Venetian prosperity more generally. 
By 1500, Venice’s population was smaller than it had been in 1330. In the 17th and 18th centuries, as the rest of Europe grew, the city continued to shrink. 
The story of Venice’s rise and fall is told by the scholars Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, in their book “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty,” as an illustration of their thesis that what separates successful states from failed ones is whether their governing institutions are inclusive or extractive. Extractive states are controlled by ruling elites whose objective is to extract as much wealth as they can from the rest of society. 
Inclusive states give everyone access to economic opportunity; often, greater inclusiveness creates more prosperity, which creates an incentive for ever greater inclusiveness. 
The history of the United States can be read as one such virtuous circle. But as the story of Venice shows, virtuous circles can be broken.

This example offers a powerful historical lesson, especially if you are completely unaware that, even after 1315, Venice survived as a rich and independent state for another 482 years. (It took the military of Revolutionary France, under the direction of General N. Bonaparte, to finally overthrow Venice in 1797.) After all, who has ever heard of such post-1315 Venetians as Titian, Tiepolo, Tintoretto Veronese, Canaletto, Palladio, Aldus Manutius, Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Casanova, or Da Ponte?

In 1802, five years after Napoleon's coup, Wordsworth wrote:
On the Extinction of the Venetian Republic

ONCE did she hold the gorgeous East in fee;
  And was the safeguard of the West: the worth
  Of Venice did not fall below her birth,
Venice, the eldest Child of Liberty.
She was a maiden City, bright and free;
  No guile seduced, no force could violate;
  And, when she took unto herself a mate,
She must espouse the everlasting Sea.
And what if she had seen those glories fade,
  Those titles vanish, and that strength decay;
Yet shall some tribute of regret be paid
  When her long life hath reach'd its final day:
Men are we, and must grieve when even the Shade
  Of that which once was great is pass'd away.

77 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Black Death hit Europe in 1348, killing roughly one of three Europeans over the next few years. It took ~150 years for the entire continent's population to recover. Why anyone would look at population change from 1300 to 1500 and think to attribute it to something else is beyond me.

Mr. Anon said...

"By 1500, Venice’s population was smaller than it had been in 1330."

Gee, what could have possibly happened betweeen 1330 and 1500 that could reduce the population of a cosmopolitan port city like Venice? I'm stumped.

It's a good thing we have Harvard educated Rhodes Scholars like Chrystia Freeland to explain history to us.

San Franciscan non-monk said...

Paul Graham's take on that ridiculous article (he is 'pg'): http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4650709

Subsequent comments are responses to his.

Rob said...

A privileged class...entry not on merit...loss of competitiveness...decline of a republic - can't you see Acemoglu is trying to warn us against AA?

Halvorson said...

I think you might be overlooking the dumbest sentence in the whole piece.

"By 1500, Venice’s population was smaller than it had been in 1330."

This is much like saying "By 1970, the population of Poland was smaller than it had been on September 1, 1939" and going on to speculate about how economic inequality must have caused the mysterious decline in population. I suppose if you've never heard of World War II or the Black Death, these sort of arguments work.

Fun fact: France didn't recover its pre-plague population until just before 1700:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_France#Historical_population_of_metropolitan_France



Anonymous said...

It's even dumber than that. The only evidence for the decline of Venice is that the population is lower in 1500 than in 1330. Hmm. What happened to the population of the rest of the old world in that time?

I mean, there couldn't have been any catastrophic event in say, 1348 that killed one third to one half of Europe and Asia's population, could there? Like, I don't know, a "black plague" or something?

Anonymous said...

It seems that the US is an extractive state.

MJC said...

I thought a big part of Venice's decline was due to the discovery of the America and the large shift in trade that followed since the trade routes shifted to the west and didn't all go through the Middle East

Anonymous said...

Hi MJC!

The discovery of the route to the Indies around the Cape of Good Hope was a serious shock to the Ventian economy, but it soon recovered. The fact that there was an alternative route did not mean that Mediterranean trade disappeared completely.

Anonymous said...

The ideology of the global elite of 2012 says that this elite should not be constrained by any borders, any morality or any loyalties to the states in which it operates. Anyone should be able to buy or sell anything anywhere. "Open economies". Ass Mugly is attributing this ideology to the deeply Catholic Italian Middle Ages, in which every locality, from Venice to the tiniest village had its own ancient nationalism for which its citizens were ready to fight to the death. This was a time and place where everyone was (rightly, of course) obsessed with breeding and genealogy, where everyone feared God and interpreted everything through theology.

The people of medieval Italy exaggerated the extent to which the distant past was similar to their own time. They often put the architecture, clothing and facial types of medieval Italy into paintings of Biblical scenes. They described people like Virgil and Cicero as Christian or at least as having been compatible with Christianity.

Ass Mugly is doing the same thing - blindly imposing the reigning ideology of today on the past. The main difference is that the reigning ideology of today is worse.

stari_momak said...

Acemoglu is just sore about Lepanto.

Auntie Analogue said...

Venice may have become an "extractive state," but it was not also redistributive.

We, on the other hand, labor under a state that has become both extractive and redstributive, both domestically and globally, as it even allows (for a fee, such as a campaign contribution) its commercial-financial sector to redistribute jobs, valuable invention, and investment to foreign states, thus also further impoverishing and disenfranchising us by freezing us out of decent work and earnings (exacerbated still further by importing foreign labor for domestic employment), and also by impoverishing the state itself by deficit-spending its treasury into deep foreign debt. It was before ours became a central planning redistributive state that it had vaulted to its zenith.

Robert Holmgren said...

Wikipedia to the rescue.

"The Black Death devastated Venice in 1348 and once again between 1575 and 1577.[20] In three years the plague killed some 50,000 people.[21] In 1630, the plague killed a third of Venice's 150,000 citizens.[22] Venice began to lose its position as a center of international trade during the later part of the Renaissance as Portugal became Europe's principal intermediary in the trade with the East, striking at the very foundation of Venice's great wealth, while France and Spain fought for hegemony over Italy in the Italian Wars, marginalising its political influence. However, the Venetian empire was a major exporter of agricultural products and, until the mid-18th century, a significant manufacturing center."

Auntie Analogue said...

"The people of medieval Italy...often put the architecture, clothing and facial types of medieval Italy into paintings of Biblical scenes."

As if Charlton Heston, decked out in high Egyptian princely splendor never played Moses building Cedric Hardwicke's Pharaoh Sethi's memorial city, and never played Moses dressed in Hebrew cloth recoiling from the finger of God searing the Ten Commandments into the stone of Sinai? As if Jeffrey Hunter and Jim Cavaziel, clad in Judean getups and preaching in Judean sets, never portrayed Jesus? As if John Huston, swathed in biblical robes and hammering away at sets representing the Ark, never played Noah?

Shall we go on...?

Unfortunately, we have nowadays "artists" (cough-cough) such as one who immersed the most pivotal and revered of all biblical figures in Postmodern Post-Christian Post-American contemporary urine, and such as another who with feces smeared an image of the Virgin Mary. Now there's a couple of "exaggerated" notions the "people of medieval Italy" never had occur to them.

john marzan said...

i think countries are better off if they were former colonies of the British, than if they were colonies of Spain.

BrokenSymmetry said...

Of course, and who remembers that in 1571 the Venetians (in league with other European powers) inflicted a crushing naval defeat to the Ottomans in the battle of Lepanto. Perhaps the ethnically Turkish Acemoglu is still smarting.

Nanonymous said...

One would think that, as a Turk, Acemoglu would know about Ottoman Empire's many wars with Venice. So weak and demolished was Venice by 1500 that for another 200 years it somewhat successfully resisted attacks by the huge and powerful empire.

Anonymous said...

So what, the people plagued by the plague couldn't afford medicare because the 1 percenters refused to share the bill.


We have always been at war with 1 percenters!!

Bob Arctor said...

Although Daron Acemoglu is from Turkey he isn't an ethnic Turk; he's an ethnic Armenian.

Anonymous said...

"This was Venice's quarantine outpost during the 500 years of recurring plague - a haunted place where incoming crews and passengers were detained in the hope of checking the Black Death.

But no one knew then it was carried by fleas from black rats on the ships themselves.

"When the plague came, Venice slipped into desperation," says Dr Nelli-Elena Vanzan Marchini, a plague expert.

"The medical world of that period didn't know what to do. So the policy was to isolate victims, their relatives and all visitors. But eventually these small islands were overwhelmed by the sheer numbers." "

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/1526647.stm

how many 1 percenters died in plague? They didn't make the fair share of the dead!

Anonymous said...

This was a time and place where everyone was (rightly, of course) obsessed with breeding and genealogy, where everyone feared God and interpreted everything through theology.

Sounds like caste-ridden India........a shining role model of power and prosperity for the rest of the world. :)

Seems like a whole bunch of folks see theocratic and aristocratic pre-Enlightenment Europe as some sort of Golden Age. Completely forgetting that they as americans are descended not from the hereditary Norman aristocracy of England but from the anglo-saxon underclass.

bjdubbs said...

OT

Unbelievable.

http://www.cringely.com/2012/10/15/so-sue-us-why-big-companies-like-ibm-arent-afraid-of-h-1b-lawsuits/

Marlowe said...

Nietzsche observed how the appeal of some writers lay in the ease of refuting their arguments. It gave cheap pleasure.

Venice shall rise once more:

It may sound fanciful, and it will be fiercely resisted by Rome, but activists want to carve out a new country in north-eastern Italy which would comprise Venice, the surrounding region of Veneto and parts of Lombardy, Trentino and Friuli-Venezia Giulia.

The "Repubblica Veneta", as it would be known, would encompass about five million people.
-- Daily Telegraph, 5 Oct. 2012.

Conatus said...

According to Chris Hayes new book, Twilight of the Elites, our 1% will die of the disease of meritocracy. This people vacuum sucks up the hardest working right side of the bell curve. The vacuum's dirt-bag is the new 1% elite, full of winner-take-all conceited globalists who despise the vast ruck of non-meritocratic middle class fools. This 1% is sedulously status conscious and now has made it harder for anyone else to climb the ladder. They have worked too hard to make it easy to be them. The New elite is guarding its privilege using its money to grease the pole for its progeny. No more social mobility, it costs too much for the middle class. At the same time this New Elite protects itself, and its past hard work, if you make it to the Elite you are immune from criticism(CEO pay) but the humble hoi polloi is constantly criticized and fearful in their Darwinian 'at-will' lower level jobs.

Don't read the book, just read this Rolling Stone interview.

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/national-affairs/chris-hayes-on-the-twilight-of-the-elites-and-the-end-of-meritocracy-20120711

Col. Reb Sez said...

Perhaps the author has never tried to get from one end of Venice to another. If he had he might have noted another reason for its decline: it was built to be defended from barbarians, not to allow for easy ingress and egress, not to mention intra-city transportation.

Anonymous said...

It's also worth noting that right between Ace's starting and ending dates of analysis -- 1453 to be exact -- the Turks finally overran Constantinople and overthrew the last vestiges of the Byzantine Empire. That had a big effect on the economies of Mediterranean mercantile states like the Republic of Venice. The Turks stifled the traditional eastern Mediterranean trade in luxury goods like spices for a considerable period after that. This was also a major reason why in the late 15th century Portrugal and Spain began seeking alternate routes to the East Indies around Africa and across the Atlantic. We learned this stuff in seventh grade American history when I was a kid.

Maxmillian C. said...

"The Black Death hit Europe in 1348, killing roughly one of three Europeans over the next few years. It took ~150 years for the entire continent's population to recover. Why anyone would look at population change from 1300 to 1500 and think to attribute it to something else is beyond me."

- An interesting aside is how it is glossed over in History books that the Turkish Muslims intentionally infected the Genoese at the 1346 Siege of Caffa with the Black Plague which spread across Europe. Couldn't possibly be that non-whites and/or faithful followers of Islam could ever do such a thing- best to push it down the memory hole.

Frederico said...

" Auntie Analogue said...

'"The people of medieval Italy...often put the architecture, clothing and facial types of medieval Italy into paintings of Biblical scenes."'

As if Charlton Heston, decked out in high Egyptian princely splendor never played Moses building Cedric Hardwicke's Pharaoh Sethi's memorial city, and never played Moses dressed in Hebrew cloth recoiling from the finger of God searing the Ten Commandments into the stone of Sinai? As if Jeffrey Hunter and Jim Cavaziel, clad in Judean getups and preaching in Judean sets, never portrayed Jesus? As if John Huston, swathed in biblical robes and hammering away at sets representing the Ark, never played Noah?

Shall we go on...?

Unfortunately, we have nowadays "artists" (cough-cough) such as one who immersed the most pivotal and revered of all biblical figures in Postmodern Post-Christian Post-American contemporary urine, and such as another who with feces smeared an image of the Virgin Mary. Now there's a couple of "exaggerated" notions the "people of medieval Italy" never had occur to them."


What of it? Pointing out in modern times that it is done doesn't in any way disprove what he had said about the people of medieval Italy.

Soerto Chan said...

"One would think that, as a Turk, Acemoglu would know about Ottoman Empire's many wars with Venice. So weak and demolished was Venice by 1500 that for another 200 years it somewhat successfully resisted attacks by the huge and powerful empire. "


-I think that's the real reason for it. Ethnic-oriented re-telling of history.

Anonymous said...

others have mentioned it, but at Lepanto (and the siege of rhodes before it), Venice was an equal power to european catholicdom. Pretty much ALL of spain, France, Bavaria etc roughly equaled the force projection of venice alone. The venitian navy was THE ne plus ultra of it's day. Not only was it numericallyl large, but it had a deep resevoir of skilled sailer/marines. Andrea Doria was so dominant (the Achilles of his day, but real)his name graced battleships, until today (including the US Navy).
If we're going to create a narrative about how closing of opportunity kept talent from surfacing, we do so by omiting Doria et al

Anonymous said...

Ruh-roh, Pimp-Daddy Dinesh done been readin' just a little too much Heartiste:

I AM NOT HAVING AN AFFAIR!

Podsnap said...

A lot of commenters point out Acemoglu's amazing obliviousness to the Black Death.

More striking to me is his apparent unawareness of the Renaissance (Steve points this out in his post).

If you know these basic facts (and you should) -
a. that the Renaissance was a big deal
b. that Venice was a big part of the Renaissance
c. and that the High Renaissance (ie the main event) started in the late 1400s

then why would you hazard a guess that Venice declined after the early 1300s ?

Even if you had no idea what you were talking about and just had a bare minimum of historical knowledge (ie a,b, c above)why would you think that ?

Is there such a thing as criminal negligence in academia ?

Anonymous said...

Since this is iSteve, I guess that somebody needs to point out that the, ah, Merchant of Venice's nemesis was, in fact, a, ah, um, what do you call it? Scots-Irishman?


FWIW.

Anonymous said...

I guess you have your reasons for moderating the comments like you do, Steve.

But it's frustrating when I put in my crushing point and then later I see that five other guys thought of it before me. Rot them.

a very knowing American said...

Jeffrey Sachs has a pretty devastating takedown of Acemoglu and Robinson the latest Foreign Affairs. Hat tip to marginalrevolution.

http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/138016/jeffrey-d-sachs/government-geography-and-growth?page=show

FredR said...

Didn't Venetians just stop caring about the "Book of Gold" as it ceased to be representative of who actually held power?

Anonymous said...

"Perhaps the ethnically Turkish Acemoglu is still smarting."

He is a Christian of Armenian extraction.

Anonymous said...

Of course the Ottomans were very inclusive. Why, they gave the Christian communities under their control significant opportunities to contribute (their sons) to the empire.

Anonymous said...

OK, Acemoglu is a dilettante, and there are possible external causes for the decline of Venice. But he still raises an interesting question: Did Venice become a more stratified society, and did this affect its culture? They started as a collection of huts on some marshy islands and built the most glorious city in the world. But their most spectacular achievements were done by 1300. Acemoglu is not the first person to notice that the gloss came off about the time Venice began to expand its holdings into a proper empire (acquiring Northwest Italy and a chain of islands and coasts in the Eastern Mediterranean).

I could go on, but I'm as much a dilettante as Acemoglu or any of you. No one who's posted in this thread so far (including me) has any real knowledge of this subject, beyond what you'd find in a Wikipedia article. The pseudo-erudite sneering comes across as a bit ridiculous.

Cennbeorc

Anonymous said...

@ stari_momak

Daron Acemoglu is of Armenian descent.

-- JT

Anonymous said...

http://www.amren.com/news/2012/10/france-to-ban-homework-really/

Anonymous said...

The Venetian Arsenal (Italian: Arsenale di Venezia) was a complex of state-owned shipyards and armories clustered together in Venice in northern Italy. It was responsible for the bulk of Venice's naval power during the middle part of the second millennium AD. It was "one of the earliest large-scale industrial enterprises in history".

Construction of the Arsenal began around 1104, during Venice's republican era. It became the largest industrial complex in Europe prior to the Industrial Revolution, spanning an area of about 45 ha (110 acres), or about fifteen percent of Venice. Surrounded by a 2 mi (3.2 km) rampart, laborers and shipbuilders regularly worked within the Arsenal, building ships that sailed from the city's port. With high walls shielding the Arsenal from public view and guards protecting its perimeter, different areas of the Arsenal each produced a particular prefabricated ship part or other maritime implement, such as munitions, rope, and rigging.These parts could then be assembled into a ship in as little as one day. An exclusive forest owned by the Arsenal navy, in the Montello hills area of Veneto, provided the Arsenal's wood supply.
The Arsenal produced the majority of Venice's maritime trading vessels, which generated much of the city's economic wealth and power, lasting until the fall of the republic to Napoleon's conquest of the area in 1797. It is located in the Castello district of Venice, and it is now owned by the state.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venetian_Arsenal

Anyway, consider this stupid and ignorant faux fact by the casual and incurious pseudo intellectual:


By 1500, Venice’s population was smaller than it had been in 1330. In the 17th and 18th centuries, as the rest of Europe grew, the city continued to shrink.


Like gee, I wonder if the plagues had anything to do with a loss of population. And maybe if the Venetians hadn't quarantined the infected they could have infected more of Europe being traveling merchants and all. Just maybe. Or maybe the fact that there isn't much place to build more houses because Venice is built on a tiny sinking island. These people just figure everyone is so stupid they won't notice and so lazy they won't bother to look at any more info to see that what they are saying is so obviously nonsense. Any upwardly mobile person would want to leave the city of Venice for a better opportunity because it is too crowded. Duh. Of course all the elite positions in Venice were all taken. Hell, all of the places in Venice were already taken. As for the wider republic of Venice, it was also a bunch of islands.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Republik_Venedig.png

el supremo said...

How Acemoglu manages to get such basic history wrong over and over again is amazing.

In addition to missing of the Black Plague, Renaissance writers were conistently impressed by the lognevity and incorruptibility of the governing class of the Venetian Republic, which had strict laws to prevent its political elites from trying to make themselves too prominent or powerful - alone of the Italian states it never had a coup or revolution, which seems like a pretty durable sort of republic.

His discussion of how the Hapsburgs disliked technology is pretty flatly wrong as well - Vienna and Prague in the 19th century were hardly Kinshasa.

Anonymous said...

Fun fact.

Venice, Italy 44.4º north latitude

Minneapolis, MN 44.9º north latitude

A difference of about 35 miles.

Dutch Boy said...

Acemoglu would have done better to choose Florence as his example. Fifteenth century Florence became wealthy by the manufacture of wool cloth. The bigwigs then proceeded to devastate the industry by paying their workers off with adulterated silver currency and plundering them with usury. The working class population declined as they left for greener pastures and the wool industry wihered.

pat said...

It was just a few days ago when in support of Steve's criticism of another NYT article, I scolded another would be historical theorist for blithly ignoring the the many disasters of the fourteenth century - including the Black Death. Here we go again.

But I see that others have already made that point. Let me then go a little further. The point of these economists is that they seem to think that they can trace all sorts of dires consequences in European history to some cherry picked event. This would be more convincing if they demonstrated some knowledge and understanding of the era. Big events and phenomena were happening at the time but they focus on a smaller event. This stikes me as scholastic onanism.

Venice was nominally a Republic but it was also the locus of torture and oppression - rather like the Soviet gulags or Nazi concentration camps. Tua base i pozzi, tuo fastigio i piombi!

It had been founded by refugees from Attila and then prospered in a constant state of war readiness on the front line against the Muslims. It was a very tough city no matter how pretty.

Acemoglu seems to paint a Disney like portrait of Venice that fell from grace when they strayed from his economic prescriptions. Gee! History can be fun!

Albertosaurus

Anonymous said...

I don't know Steve, I think he may be on to something. I mean, look at Britain: with a restricted ruling class of a few hundred families. If it hadn't been for that, by 1760, they might have become a maritime superpower and gone on to create a great empire......oh wait.

Anonymous said...

Tiger Mom Amy Chua made the same stupid argument a few years ago in "Days of Empire" -- only the empires that encouraged diversity and tolerance (through mass immigration!) prospered and became great. Great Empires fall when they become intolerant.

snapperhead soup said...

Overlooking the black plague is a big booboo, but the basic argument of the NY Times piece isn't without merit. If anything, it's something we all know about. Elite power stagnates if locked in; it may not decay right away and indeed may last a long time(like Ancient Egypt or Tokugawa Japan), but it tends to slow down progress. Just compare Anglo-America vs Latin-America. In Anglo-America, notwithstanding the exclusion of non-whites, lots of citizens had freedom to think their ideas, make their fortunes, and make the climb. A Thomas Edison would have less likely in Latin America.

Rule of Law is also important. By ROL, we of course mean laws that apply fairly to everyone. Rule OVER Law, the system of the aristocracy, meant a system of laws applied differently to different classes/castes. But in America, rule of law meant most people were guaranteed the same basic rights and protections.

As Venice was an aristocratic society, it was bound to favor Rule Over Law to Rule of Law. And despite Sailer's list of great luminaries, Venice did gradually slide and lose power, just like Portugal and Spain. But then, one could argue that the relatively free and inclusive Netherlands also lost out to other powers, even to France during the age of kings.

Also, a civilization in trouble can still produce many cultural giants. Backward Russia in the 19th century produced some of the greater writers and music composers ever. Blacks had the short end of the stick in America, but they came to define much of American popular music, much more so than successful groups like Swedish-Americans and Greek-Americans.

Where the NY Times piece fails is overlooking the real reason for Venice's demise. With the rise of bigger consolidated kingdoms and nation-states, the city-state was becoming untenable as a dominant force.
But even the ancients knew this: the Greek city-states couldn't withstand the power of the united Macedonians under Alexander the Great.
No matter how rich and powerful Venice was in terms of quality, it couldn't win against sheer quantity, especially as the quantity was also gaining in quality. So, Venice was bound to be overshadowed by nations like France and UK. And in time, Italian power could only survive through national unification--as was true of the Germans.

And in time, even the major nations couldn't compete with the super-nation-states. UK was a superpower for awhile but, in the end, couldn't compete with US with more land, more population, more wealth, more might. UK compared to US was like Venice compared to France. Singapore may be successful , but it's nothing compared to China. Same with Hong Kong.

Anyway, Venetians may have locked in elite power not only out of 'greed' but in the need for concentrated power for survival. As prosperous as Venice was, it was vulnerable and surrounded by many enemies, both within and without Italian peninsula.
More freedom may pay greater dividends in the long run, but in the short run, it could undermine one's survival. UK and US could enjoy more freedom because UK was an island surrounded by seas and because US was far away from the violent politics of Europe. Also, American whites(at least those in the North) were the vast majority in the 19th and early 20th century. Latin American whites not only came from more authoritarian cultures but couldn't breathe easily because they were surrounded by so many non-whites. So, they had a war mentality and locked in their privileges, like the Southern gentry who feared the blacks(and even Scotch-Irish boozers).

Anyway, the article, though superficially appealing to liberals, may actually be undermining of their confidence and authority. After all, the unmentioned target of the piece could be construed as the new Jewish elites, especially those in Wall Street(who've gained power via Harvard, Yale, etc). If American elite power is getting locked in, then the implication is Jews are hogging it all for themselves.

snapperhead soup said...

Also, you'd think liberals would be full of praise for city-states since liberalism is so urban-centric. Generally, cities are the centers of liberalism and small towns and suburbs are the home of conservatives. By drawing comparisons with Venice, the piece seems to be saying that the urban elites of America are becoming locked in their own power and privilege, especially with gentrification and section 8 housing policies. In a way, David Brooks was saying the same thing when he wrote about the failing of today's elites. Of course, no one dares to mention the 'J' word, but it's there.

But not all exclusions are of the same order. There's socio-exclusion, ideo-exclusion, and bio-exclusion. While Jewish tribal networking is a reality, one of the problems is the reality of bio-exclusion, as smart rise to the top, middle IQ people get stuck in the middle, and dumb people get locked at the bottom.

There's also ideo-exclusion, i.e. people of certain creeds(like opposing 'gay marriage') are not allowed into elite positions. Such forms of ideo-exclusion used to be discreet in the past, but it's becoming more of an official policy, as evinced in the Chick-Fil-A case. No more Peter Brimelows or Pat Buchanans in the media, not even on Fox.

And one thing for sure, the current media and academia are filled so much ideologically inbred stupidity because of ideo-exclusion. Partly, progs really think they are 'scientifically' correct. But on the other hand, they want to hog all the power and don't want ideological or socio-moral competition. And so, someone like this silly creature wins accolades from Yale.

"Rich is the recipient of the 2006 Honorary Life Membership Award from the Society for Cinema and Media Studies; and she is the recipient of the 2007 Brudner Prize at Yale University."

http://currents.ucsc.edu/04-05/03-07/film.asp

Ewwwww.

When ideology rules art. Sweet Sweetback indeed. Orlando? She contends to be for the 'new', but her favorites and her outlook are a dime-a-dozen staple in her ideological milieu.

If Venice, in love with its economic and cultural superiority, separated itself from rest of Italy, something similar may be happening in America. American cities no longer look or feel like America. And their values centered around endless 'gay parades'--gay day is the may day for the Left--makes us wonder what is going on.
So, just as Venice never felt as part of Italy, will a similar break happen between cities and
outlying areas in America?

Anonymous said...

"Tiger Mom Amy Chua made the same stupid argument a few years ago in "Days of Empire" -- only the empires that encouraged diversity and tolerance (through mass immigration!) prospered and became great. Great Empires fall when they become intolerant."

She was talking about power, not morality. She used examples such as the Mongols. But she was endorsing Mongol power.

Anonymous said...

It looks to me not so much that Venice lost power but that other places developed and sort of caught up by finding their niche and becoming prosperous as well.

Consider Oxford university. It was far away and had some different priorities so the colonists founded Harvard. That did not happen because Oxford was debased or faltered, but more people who were far away wanted to have an institution for their own purposes, so they built one. And later and a little further away Cornell was founded and on it went with more places prospering and building their own stuff.

Get it. Other people can build new stuff and it can be good too. That doesn't mean that the others are now losers.

David said...

Like the word niggardly, the "Black" Death now may be unmentionable because of PC. It sounds racist, so it didn't happen.

Absurd? Don't put anything past these asshats.

David said...

The late Gore Vidal made a long and diverting documentary about the whole history of Venice, with pretty pictures, here. (Compare to today's standard History Channel fare. We have fallen far.) Yes, he has a segment on that plague thing.

Crawfurdmuir said...

One of the most remarkable points about Venice that SHOULD be made is that it survived for roughly a thousand years as a self-governing state with an elected government. The doges were elected monarchs with strictly limited powers - one, Marin Falier, was executed for attempting a coup by which he would have made himself dictator. Under the doge were numerous elective bodies.

The Venetian constitution did not permit the vast expansions in the electorate that modern Western parliamentary governments have done. The only inhabitants of Venice that were entitled to the franchise were those whose families were inscribed in the city's "golden book." They were, in the main, descendants of the founders of the city, to whom on rare occasions a distinguished resident of non-founding stock would be allowed admission.

The original constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia attempted such an hereditary restriction of the franchise. Freeholders, who might include anyone who could afford to buy land, did enjoy the franchise in Virginia, but to them, the state's constitution added those who had served in the Revolution, AND their descendants in perpetuity.

Imagine if the American franchise could today be restricted to freeholders and descendants of the soldiers of the Revolution. How much more soundly we would be governed by members of the Society of the Cincinnati, the Sons of the American Revolution, Daughters of the American Revolution, etc., than we are by the current crew!

John Jay, in Federalist No. 2, wrote that -

"...Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people -- a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsels, arms, and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established general liberty and independence.

"This country and this people seem to have been made for each other, and it appears as if it was the design of Providence, that an inheritance so proper and convenient for a band of brethren, united to each other by the strongest ties, should never be split into a number of unsocial, jealous, and alien sovereignties."

The failure to retain the original ethnic make-up of the American population was perhaps understandable in a country that had an open frontier, but its consequence has been to sunder those "strongest ties" of which Jay wrote. While the country has not yet been split into "alien sovereignties," is has certainly been divided into "unsocial and jealous" ethnic and racial subcultures, and the worst thing about this is that it was done by the deliberate design of our politicians.

Anonymous said...

who has ever heard of such post-1315 Venetians as Titian, Tiepolo, Tintoretto Veronese, Canaletto, Palladio, Aldus Manutius, Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Casanova, or Da Ponte?

Never heard of 'em. Buncha DWEMs.

And who has ever heard of Veniero, Doge of the Most Serene Republic of Venice, who was one of the commanders of the allied fleet that inconveniently shattered the Ottoman (i.e. Turkish) Navy at Lepanto, um, 256 years post-1315?

Obviously Acemoğlu hasn't heard of him. But that's okay. It's not as if intellectuals are expected to, you know, remember facts and stuff.

-Doge

Steiner said...

What else is a Turk going to say? Do you think he would admit that the overwhelming weight of technical, financial, scientific and above all military achievement in the last thousand years or so has arisen from the peoples whose tribal areas originally bordered on the North and Baltic Seas, and their colonial diaspora?

In a word: scoreboard!

Hunsdon said...

Anonydroid at 2:12 am said: Completely forgetting that they as americans are descended not from the hereditary Norman aristocracy of England but from the anglo-saxon underclass.

Hunsdon replied: Speak for thyself, peasant swine.

Anonymous said...

"Elite power stagnates if locked in; it may not decay right away and indeed may last a long time(like Ancient Egypt or Tokugawa Japan), but it tends to slow down progress."

Japanese and Asian history is my speciality and so my views are at least well-informed even if they are wrong.

I don't think you could argue that Tokugawa Japan was in any way stagnant. The Japan encountered by Perry and his black ships was a vastly larger and more complex society than the one known to Ieyasu. Individual domains had a huge amount of autonomy and many of them were able to overcome the financial harships of the eighteenth century and had balanced books. Merchants may theoretically have been the most despised class, but Tokugawa Japan boasted highly sophisticated banking techniques. The giant Mitsui corporation was founded early in the Tokugawa Period. Japan was largely at peace with he neighbours and herself, suffered little from infectious disease, and had high literacy rates through the teragoya. The worst disasters to befall the country were two catastrophic famines that affected the far north and depopulated much of modern Aomori. These were made worse by the fact that the Nambu was the worst run and most exploitative domain in the land. I wouldn't have wanted to work on a sugar plantation in the northern Ryukyus either. Still, compared to many other contemporary societies, Japan was dynamic and highly successful. It ws only the appearance of well-armed Westerners that spelt the end of the Shogunate.

In fact, Tokugawa Japan is a case study in the success of a non-globalised, isolated society. All they really needed to do was stay abreast of scientific developments outside Japan and there was a group called the rangakusha that attempted to do this. Keio University was founded by Fukuzawa Yukichi, greatest of the rangakusha.

Whiskey said...

Venice DID decline, but it declined through the lack of military prowess against the Ottoman Turks. Meanwhile the very, VERY closed Ottoman Sultanate grew and grew and grew between 1315 and the high point of 1688, at the SECOND Siege of Vienna.

Venice, as a trading/military power, required military domination to protect trade agreements with the Ottoman Sultanate. As the ability of Venice to project power in the Eastern Med declined, and trade with the Indies via the Horn of Africa, and the West Indies across the Atlantic, supplanted the old Silk Road through Turkey route, Venice declined on both accounts. Military power (lesson don't be militarily weak, you are toast if you become weak), and economic power both declined as both shifted West and North.

map said...

The urban/rural/suburban divide between blue and red is massive.

Republicans really should push a policy of mandatory organic food. This results in massive wealth transfer from urban to rural areas.

The left plays this game. Why should not the right?

Whiskey said...

The Tokugawa Shogunate, after using a mass peasant army with matchlocks to defeat the Samurai rivals, then outlawed guns and gunpowder, and consigned themselves to oblivion save for the happy consequence of European rivalry restraining colonization. Had America just decided to seize Japan in 1856, to pacify/forestall a war over Slavery, there was nothing the Japanese could do about it. They just got lucky, the Chinese not so much, the Indians not at all.

Anon re the Global Elite has it right, the elites want a soft mushy global enterprise with themselves locked in hereditary wise. BUT ... ordinary people won't die, sacrifice, and support this. Catalonia, lacking any real Spain, is preparing for Secession. The United Kingdom being masses of Pakistani Muslims, and Caribbean Blacks, as colonizers, guarantees Scottish Separatism. Yes the elites can have their way of mass Third World immigration and national dilution. But all that does increase separatism.

Anonymous said...

"By 1500, Venice’s population was smaller than it had been in 1330."

1434- Gil Eanes reached south of Morocco.
1492 - Columbus thought he reached India.
1499 - Vasco De Gama reached India.
1500-1550 A number of naval battles between Portugal and various Indian ocean alliances. The most interesting:
1509 - Battle of Diu between Portugal and an alliance that included Venice.

So the problem was sea going wind powered boats replacing camels and boats with oars. The Wikipedia article indicates the Venetians knew this and knew they could not do much about it other then negotiate lower tariffs from the Arabs and try to harass the Portuguese in the Indian ocean.

Anonymous said...



Republicans really should push a policy of mandatory organic food. This results in massive wealth transfer from urban to rural areas.


Great idea. The grassroot greens are ripe for poaching and lots of fundie Christians are into organic food.

Five Daarstens said...

In his book, "East and West" from 1963, C. Northcote Parkinson attributes that some of the decline of Venice was due to the Portuguese discovering new trade routes via the Cape, and then taking control of them. pg 187:

"From Goa the trade was deflected around the Cape to Lisbon. At other points it continued as before, but now in Portuguese ships or under Portuguese control. The native shipowners were ruined, many of them, and the Arabs largely left to India. But at what had been the western end of the trade route, it was the Veneteans who were ruined, and the Turks were driven to piracy. It is true that Venetian trade recovered somewhat from the mid-sixteenth century, but for the moment, the Venetians' trade was gone. Their wealth had dried up at the source. Except in a minor way, they were no longer in business."


Anonymous said...

"Like the word niggardly, the "Black" Death now may be unmentionable because of PC. It sounds racist, so it didn't happen."

Teen death.

Anonymous said...

"Like the word niggardly..."

Are you honking that tune again?

Anonymous said...

If hippies can steal country music from rednecks, I suppose gays can steal marriafe from conservatives.

ye olde don said...

I believe Miss Freeland took a 1st in Specious Preening at Oxbridgington

Mr. Anon said...

"Anonymous said...

"Like the word niggardly..."

Are you honking that tune again?"

Then you go and use it in a public forum in front of a bunch of black people. He was exactly right about the term "black death" - it will probably be proscribed within a few years.

Anonymous said...

"Like the word niggardly..."
Re Black Holes:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michele-langevine-leiby/political-correctness-run_b_612588.html

Anonymous said...

"African-American Death"
"African-American Holes"

Somehow I prefer the old terms, and I suspect that all but the most hardcore leftists would too.

Crawfurdmuir said...

Anonymous at 2:12 AM 10/18/2012 wrote:

"Seems like a whole bunch of folks see theocratic and aristocratic pre-Enlightenment Europe as some sort of Golden Age. Completely forgetting that they as americans are descended not from the hereditary Norman aristocracy of England but from the anglo-saxon underclass."

You must not know much about American genealogy. See Gary Boyd Roberts's "The Royal Descents of 600 Immigrants to the American Colonies or the United States" (Baltimore, 2004: Genealogical Publishing Co.).

New England, particularly, was settled by members of the English middle class. There was an active effort to discourage immigration by paupers and peasants into colonial New England. The principal settling stock was drawn from the merchant class and the lesser gentry. Most of these people had some Norman ancestry. A substantial number of people of English origins can be shown to be descended from Edward III or from one of the previous English monarchs.

Anonymous said...

We spent a weekend in Venice a couple of years ago, and before we left I looked around the shops for a souvenir.

I was looking for a small portrait of Alviso Mocenigo I, the Venetian ruler whose fleet of over 100 galleys formed the nucleus of the Christian forces which defeated the infidel at Lepanto, in the last great battle of oared vessels.

At last I spotted one in an art shop window - a print of Andrea Vicentino's "King Henri III (1551-89) of France visiting Venice in 1574, escorted by Alvise Mocenigo I"

As I entered the shop another customer came in, and reached the counter before me.

"Excuse me", he said, "how much is that doge in the window ?"

Dutch Boy said...

My wife's New England-descended ancestors have had their ancestry traced back to Edward I (in contrast to my lowly poor white Dutch trash ancestors).

Anonymous said...

Speaking as one who has visited Venice and er, read some of its history, I'd say Acemoglu is playing fast and loose with historical facts -- Venice still had pretty loose class barriers by the time of the Tudors in England (and frankly, doesn't a failure to compare how free Venice was to other European states concern you? Define free -- free in comparison to what?).
Other commentators have pointed to other problems, do I'll stop now.

Ray Lopez said...

Hi--I think historian W. Durant observed nations rise and fall in 200 years. History shows this rule of thumb to be correct. They Byzantine empire lasted 1000 years but their most productive period was about 10 generations total. So in this respect D. Acemoglu is correct. Thanks for reading! Ray Lopez