The material over the ideological

I come not to praise or bury Max Weber. Rather, I come to commend where warranted, and dismiss where necessary.

The problem as I see it is that though a meticulous scholar, Max Weber is the father of erudite sophistry which passes as punditry. Though he was arguably a fox, his genealogy has given rise to many hedgehogs.

Weber is famous for his work on relating the Protestant ethic and capitalism (more precisely, Calvinism). In general I think Weber is less right than he is wrong on this issue. But the bigger problem is that Weber’s style of interpretative historical analysis also has spawned many inferior and positively muddled imitators, whether consciously or not.

To my mind the problems with Weber’s sweeping generalizations, interpretations, and inferences, are clearest on the topic of China. His assertions on the nature of the Chinese mind informed by Confucianism, and how it would relate to (and hinder) modern economic development are very hit or miss.

By the end of the 20th century things had changed in terms of the perception of how Confucianism might relate to capitalism. In the 1990s Paul Krugman famously argued that the East Asian economic miracle did not have to do with a particular model or cultural genius, but simply increases in capital investment and labor force participation (factor inputs). This was too stylized a fact. Though growth has slowed, I think it is undeniable that East Asian economic modernity is here to stay.

And some of that may be attributable to Confucianism in a distant causal sense, because the cultural sensibility does encourage the development of broad-based literacy through self-cultivation. In Strange Parallels Victor Lieberman notes the contrast between Vietnam, with its more Sinic cultural orientation, and the rest of Southeast Asia, with their Indic Theravada Buddhist cultures.

The Vietnamese elites’ orientation toward Confucianism meant that there was stratification in society, as there were constant upward and downward movements across class. The chasm between the Confucian literati and the peasantry was large. In contrast in Cambodia popular religion was relatively unifying due to its accessibility. But it is notable to me that Vietnam in particular is often perceived by those who travel in Southeast Asia to be an industrious and striving nation.

So yes, culture may matter. But simple economic forces, and material conditions, are incredibly important, and our understanding of their origins are more mysterious than we’d like to think.

This is on my mind because of the recent evidence of the power of the slave trade in the Islamic world. Islam gets a bad rap in relation to slavery. This is justified, as Muslim nations have been, and are, the most prominent perpetuators of institutional chattel slavery* in the modern and near-modern world. But it is also correct that in many ways de jure Islamic law gave slaves a degree of dignity and human rights which would not have been called for in Classical antiquity. Though the reality is slaves were often part of the Roman familia in many cases, ultimately they were still human tools, to be abused and disposed as one would domestic animals.

But the genetic data seem clear that African slavery increased greatly during the Islamic period, resulting in a much more human agony, as so many of the slaves died en route (males who were to be eunuchs had a high mortality rate as they had to be castrated before entering Muslim lands). This had nothing to do with the cruelty of Islam per se, but the overall development and advancement of the Eurasian oikoumene, and the role of African slave labor in its post 1000 A.D. economy.

In fact one might argue that the unity of the Islamic world, and its relatively uniform legal and cultural superstructure after the collapse of its political unity, was a factor in fostering the rise of the global slave trade. That is, Islam generated asabiya, social solidarity, within the group, but this ultimately was to the detriment of those who were outside of the group.

A similar story can be told about the New World slave trade. It flourished in the wake of the Reformation and the Renaissance, and just as European society was undergoing a cultural revolution which would usher in modernity. If one looked at the nature of European society in the 17th century, and its increasing moralism, and focus on personal piety, probity, and humanity, would we predict the expansion and scaling up of the European slave trade? No.

That dynamic was driven by economics (in the American case, the triangle trade).

Similarly, the mortality rates of slaves varied greatly by locale and the what they cultivated. The sugar islands were death traps. The rice farmers of coastal South Carolina lived relatively stable lives, even comparable to serfs. Those who grew tobacco were somewhere in the middle. All were under English jurisdiction. The mortality of Brazilian slaves was high, but nominally Roman Catholic jurisdictions were subject to more humanitarian codes. But the primary determinants of mortality, of humanity, were economic. Material, even if ideological variables had an impact on the margin (Rodney Stark has argued that the French legal system was more humanitarian in Louisiana, and one can see this in various vital statistics).

Obviously ideological and material forces interact and influence each other. My point here is to observe that too often public commentary gets caught up on the idea of the great idea driving history. But once we have some distance it is often obvious that on the proximate scale many of the patterns we see are constrained, driven, and conditioned, on material forces and parameters.

And yet ultimately those material forces through gains in productivity relax tight the pressures which constrain ideologically driven change and revolution. Slavery for example was long considered an institution that would always be with us in some form, but over the past few thousand years most societies have frowned upon it. Slave societies, whether ancient Roman or in the antebellum South, develop an unhealthy paranoia. With modern technologically driven economic growth the possibility of a post-slave economy seemed plausible, and opened the window for a practical abolition.

And here we are!

* I said “institutional chattel slavery” specifically to head off annoying nit-picking comments. Please don’t.

44 thoughts on “The material over the ideological

  1. How did economic growth enable abolition? Am I thinking too narrowly in trying to apply this idea to New World sugar\cotton\rice production?

  2. Islam, unlike Christian Europe, maintained ready access to pagan slaves by accident of geography. Chistendom’s Africa was pre-christian Eastern Europe. I wonder what would have happened if that were not the case. When objections to African enslavement started to emerge in the early 18th century the idea of a slaveless society was already familiar to Europeans and did not take any sort of mental leap. Some of the first generation of Abolitionists were Quakers who seem to have been shocked by their encounter with slavery after immigrating to America as adults.

  3. How did economic growth enable abolition? Am I thinking too narrowly in trying to apply this idea to New World sugar\cotton\rice production?

    the idea began that slavery would naturally disappear, for various reasons. once labor saving innovation (e.g., the steam engine) shows up, the idea of replacing animal and human power starts to begin to be feasible. there are economic debates about whether slavery was on its way to disappearing or not. but what i’m trying to get at is that around the time of the industrial revolution the european mindset began to imagine a leisured future where productivity substituted for labor inputs.

    in other words, one could have affluent leisure without having to steal free labor for lots of people. or at last imagine the idea of it. once that happened then the moral weight of slavery, which was on the margins for many thinkers for a long time came to the fore.

    here’s an analogy: once meat substitutes and lab meat are common i think ‘factory farms’ will go into decline. that’s because a lot of people have moral qualms about eating animals.

  4. My view is that Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism wasn’t so much as wrong as too narrow: it wasn’t Calvinism or even Protestantism, but rather the reported words of Jesus as found in the New Testament, which of course the Protestants translated into the vernacular. Jesus taught by precept and example an ethic of self-sacrifice and non-resistance to evil for the sake of the future. And in the parable of the talents he also taught the virtue of earning a return on investment, complete with the law of capital markets as it actually operates on Wall St. (to them that have more shall be given and from them who have not shall be taken the little they have).

    I don’t think it is a coincidence that these teachings led to an accumulation of capital in the Protestant West — capital being, by definition, the accumulated crime and sacrifice of centuries, plus interest — and that it paved the way to the Industrial Revolution. Of course it didn’t have to turn out this way, but it did.

  5. Luke, the above the exact sort of stuff that i think weber spawned.

    you don’t know enough about non-western cultures to judge. but that’s not a great sin. most people lack sufficient breadth.

  6. My view is that Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism wasn’t so much as wrong as too narrow: it wasn’t Calvinism or even Protestantism, but rather the reported words of Jesus as found in the New Testament, which of course the Protestants translated into the vernacular. Jesus taught by precept and example an ethic of self-sacrifice and non-resistance to evil for the sake of the future. And in the parable of the talents he also taught the virtue of earning a return on investment, complete with the law of capital markets as it actually operates on Wall St. (to them that have more shall be given and from them who have not shall be taken the little they have).

    I don’t think it is a coincidence that these teachings led to an accumulation of capital in the Protestant West — capital being, by definition, the accumulated crime and sacrifice of centuries, plus interest — or that they paved the way to the Industrial Revolution. Of course it didn’t have to turn out this way, but it did.

    [grammar corrected version]

  7. “the idea began that slavery would naturally disappear, for various reasons. once labor saving innovation (e.g., the steam engine) shows up, the idea of replacing animal and human power starts to begin to be feasible.”

    I’ve always found it interesting that Aristotle had an inkling as to the social ramifications of machines performing human labor:

    “Property is a part of the household, and the art of acquiring property is a part of the art of managing the household; for no man can live well, or indeed live at all, unless he be provided with necessaries. And as in the arts which have a definite sphere the workers must have their own proper instruments for the accomplishment of their work, so it is in the management of a household. Now instruments are of various sorts; some are living, others lifeless; in the rudder, the pilot of a ship has a lifeless, in the look-out man, a living instrument; for in the arts the servant is a kind of instrument. Thus, too, a possession is an instrument for maintaining life. And so, in the arrangement of the family, a slave is a living possession, and property a number of such instruments; and the servant is himself an instrument which takes precedence of all other instruments. For if every instrument could accomplish its own work, obeying or anticipating the will of others, like the statues of Daedalus, or the tripods of Hephaestus, which, says the poet,

    “of their own accord entered the assembly of the Gods; ”

    if, in like manner, the shuttle would weave and the plectrum touch the lyre without a hand to guide them, chief workmen would not want servants, nor masters slaves.”

    POLITICS, 1.4

  8. RK: i thought my marxist tendencies were always obvious?

    Your materialist tendencies, sure, but I don’t believe that Marx/Marxists can claim that as uniquely theirs. And I don’t recall seeing anything in your writing (on the various inscriptations* of gnxp) that proclaims itself as dialectical materialism, so in response to the question, “No, not to me.”

    *”inscriptation” is my neologism, intended to be an analogue to “incarnation”.

  9. here’s an analogy: once meat substitutes and lab meat are common i think ‘factory farms’ will go into decline. that’s because a lot of people have moral qualms about eating animals.

    Is this really true? Perhaps I have a very narrow social network and the attendant selection bias, but I do not know anyone – other than a few Buddhists and Hindu Brahmins – who has “moral qualms about eating animals.” Of course, I’ve heard of such people, but they seem to be on TV and on the internet mostly. Is veganism really a big thing in the United States in real life?

    A couple of tenuously related points: one, maybe it’s just me, but I find meat/game that *I* killed tastier than that killed by another or was purchased (and much that is delicious, e.g. quail, is not readily available at grocery stores and butcher shops); two, I don’t think it’s just protein or fat that is so delicious about meat. There seems to be some atavistic pleasure we humans get by tearing into juicy morsels of flesh and blood. I am not sure that can be replicated so easily by “meat substitutes.” I am as big a fan of foodstuff such as tempeh, tofu, and the like, but none of that ever tastes like Carolina-style BBQ or Korean grilled fatty brisket.

  10. My view is that Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism wasn’t so much as wrong as too narrow: it wasn’t Calvinism or even Protestantism, but rather the reported words of Jesus as found in the New Testament…

    I agree that it wasn’t specifically Protestantism/Calvinism that led to the European mercantile dominance since evidence seems to point its origin, not in northwestern Europe, but in Italy and the Habsburg Central Europe (which was where the vaunted “revolution in military affairs” – that gave rise to the European global ascendancy – also began). The English seemed to have benefitted greatly as late entrants, the way some countries today have better high speed internet/mobile phone networks by having leapfrogged more wire-dependent established countries.

    On the other hand, Christianity was likely a necessary, but not a sufficient condition, since this kind of mercantilism was dormant during much of medieval Europe.

    As a rule of thumb, I am skeptical of explanations that rely on a single causal variable. It seems to me that the rise of European global dominance from the 16th Century and on was a multi-faceted, highly interdependent and complex phenomenon of religious, social, economic, political, and military trends… the sum of which is better described and understood narratively than explained reductively, and also not prescriptively.

  11. the sum of which is better described and understood narratively than explained reductively

    avoiding reduction is the key to preventing my eyes from rolling 😉

  12. Is this really true? Perhaps I have a very narrow social network and the attendant selection bias, but I do not know anyone – other than a few Buddhists and Hindu Brahmins – who has “moral qualms about eating animals.” Of course, I’ve heard of such people, but they seem to be on TV and on the internet mostly. Is veganism really a big thing in the United States in real life?

    there have been some market research on this. there are cultural differences. east asians for example have less concern with animal welfare. though mores can change fast.

    also, i should have probably stated moral qualms about eating specific types of animals. many people have issues with eating pigs and cephalopods (i do). few probably have issues with shrimp, or even fish.

  13. A couple of tenuously related points: one, maybe it’s just me, but I find meat/game that *I* killed tastier than that killed by another or was purchased (and much that is delicious, e.g. quail, is not readily available at grocery stores and butcher shops); two, I don’t think it’s just protein or fat that is so delicious about meat. There seems to be some atavistic pleasure we humans get by tearing into juicy morsels of flesh and blood. I am not sure that can be replicated so easily by “meat substitutes.” I am as big a fan of foodstuff such as tempeh, tofu, and the like, but none of that ever tastes like Carolina-style BBQ or Korean grilled fatty brisket.

    i think you are correct that pleasure is heightened by the manner of acquisition/production. but this is a premium good.

    as far as the quality of meat. lab grown meat is probably going to replace processed meat and burgers first. the reality is that for many americans a lot of their meat consumption is burger meat and processed/cured meats. or a relatively bland meat like chicken.

    there will probably be a market for a while for marbled red meat. but this will probably be a premium taste that people will pay for. additionally, i think some of the artificial meats are going to be able to come closer and closer to the texture of ‘mouth feel’ of this meat. also, i believe that eventually they’ll be cheaper per pound than ‘real meat’, so that’s going to be a major driver of change (though that’s irrelevant to our particular discussion here).

  14. there will probably be a market for a while for marbled red meat. but this will probably be a premium taste that people will pay for. additionally, i think some of the artificial meats are going to be able to come closer and closer to the texture of ‘mouth feel’ of this meat.

    In other words, as with many other consumer goods (e.g. furniture), there is going to be increasing polarization of meat into “premium” or “artisanal” type on one hand and mass-manufactured “Soylent Green” on the other. That’s sad.

    I am glad I hunt and have a massive freezer in the basement.

  15. Throughout almost all of history slavery was widespread in all ( or almost all ) societies, it is condoned in the Hebrew Bible (with some humanitarian caveats ). The glory of democratic Athens was only extended to the free men, a minority of the population. While their philosophers were philosophizing slaves did the work needed to run the city. Some worked under unbelievably gruesome conditions. Those in the mines could never stand up and typically lasted a year.

    Abolition of slavery did not become widespread until the 18th century, by coincidence just as the fossil energy boom started. Now there is very little “official” slavery even as it is still practiced under the table.

    If you go to a construction site, you will see one diesel fueled backhoe doing the work of 50 men. Perhaps this is what made the abolition of slavery possible. All this leads to a question. When fossil fuels and other resources dry up will slavery come back?

  16. We will see if the current administration is able to proceed with the plan to allow the unrestricted sale of wild horses.

    Anti-hunting measures and ideology are common and increasing.

    The shift in the attitude toward the use of animals for human consumption is one-way.

  17. Throughout almost all of history slavery was widespread in all ( or almost all ) societies, it is condoned in the Hebrew Bible (with some humanitarian caveats ).

    this is not true. historically slavery was a much more normal feature of ancient roman society (20% slave is a number i i see) than it ever was part of imperial chinese society (for example). it was more common in islamic society than in indian society. though the difference may be more a matter of legal definition….

    (i don’t think it changes your point)

  18. Marvin Harris (author of the great Rise of Anthropological Theory) considered himself inspired by Marx, and in a sort of homage, named his own theory cultural materialism. What was great about Marx, Harris said, was the thoroughgoing materialism. Anthropology, he said, should be the same way, looking for the material origins of cultural practices, specifically how they contribute to “production and reproduction.”

    Of course, he said, Marx was wrong about a number of things. Dialectical materialism is gooblytegook and should be jettisoned. As should the obviously erroneous prediction that proletarian revolution was imminent.

    I always thought that if he added the idea that there were conflicts within classes, he could turn Marx into Gary Becker, the Chicago economist who applied free market reasoning to the family, crime and punishment, racial discrimination, “human capital”, and more.

  19. In other words, as with many other consumer goods (e.g. furniture), there is going to be increasing polarization of meat into “premium” or “artisanal” type on one hand and mass-manufactured “Soylent Green” on the other. That’s sad.

    That’s not sad. That’s great. Those who don’t care can get nutritious food and useful furniture without paying a lot. Those who do care can pay for what they consider quality.

    Lower income folk like me don’t have to pay for stuff we don’t care about. By my lights, I can live as well as someone making considerably more than I do.

  20. @ Interguru: I don’t think abolition had anything to do with fossil fuels. Slaves labored in agriculture and as household servants, not in areas disrupted by early industrialization. If anything the development of the mechanized cotton gin and textile factories increased the demand for slavery.

    18th century abolition was either ideologically motivated or a consequence of military action. The ideological motivations emerged from political conflicts of the Enlightenment: An English Court found slavery to be alien to English law based upon a radical Whig interpretation of English history developed during the Glorious Revolution. Vermont and other Northern States abolished slavery as their interpretation of the meaning of the American Revolution. France abolishes slavery during its Revolution. These ideological conflicts were not about slavery, but they asserted first principles adapted to the cause of abolition.

    I see material constraints, the success of slave economies in the South, as restraining the ideological current and ultimately contributing to a competing ideological framework that claimed slavery was not simply a necessary evil, but a valuable system for inferior people, even according to George Fitzhugh, good for some white people.

  21. The ideological motivations emerged from political conflicts of the Enlightenment

    i think the enlightenment can’t really flourish and persist in a classical agricultural society. the english abolition of slavery occurred in a stage-wise fashion, as the trajectory of the metropole was clearly toward a different time of economy and society.

    IOW, the ideological currents are there. but the reason that they developed a steam of their own is not i think because of historical contingency or the uniqueness of enlightenment ideas. i think one has to consider the economic context. i do know that the economic incentive for slavery possibly increased in the 19th century in the USA. but i think the ultimate cause of the increased incentives also made ideological appeals against slavery more appealing (the expansion of an affluent middle-class-to-gentry* which served as a broader constituency for liberal individualism than the small landed aristocrats of the past).

  22. Does anyone know a good source on the *early* history of the movement against African enslavement? I find it surprisingly hard to research. My impression is that it began in an organized way somewhere between 1690-1730 among Pennsylvania Quakers. Why them? Did people oppose it in isolated cases prior to this? I know Bartholomew Las Casas is said to have turned against it at some point in his life in the 16th century.

  23. “The Enlightenment” may not have been the best term for me to use because the ideological currents I’m referencing also predate it, particularly with respect to England. There, slavery had died out under the early Normans, so there was no need for England to abolish slavery. Prior to the 17th century, slavery was what the political and religious enemies of the free people of England wanted to impose, whether it was the Spanish Armada, Papists, or the Stuarts.

    There is some irony here. When the Dutch, the French, the Portuguese and the Spanish decided slaves would be useful for colonization, they already had a comprehensive system adopted from Roman Law. The English, ideologically the most hostile to slavery at least in its own propaganda, had no legal framework and no self-respecting jurists was going to attempt one. So each English colony slowly settled on a worst-of-all slave laws derived from multiple sources sure to achieve the greatest profits. Score one for materialism, but also institutions matter.

    Justice Taney described the Negro as having “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect,” which resembles how American Revolutionaries in Boston saw themselves being treated by the Intolerable Acts. The slavery metaphor was frequently used to justify violence, and I don’t think its at all happenstance that the first state in the New World to abolish slavery was the Republic of Vermont, and before the U.S. Constitution was enacted, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island had abolished slavery and the Continental Congress did so for the Northwest territories. This was a uniquely radical time period, the window of the possible was enlarged. We were one vote short of abolishing slavery in the Southwest territory, which is a tragedy.

  24. “The Enlightenment” may not have been the best term for me to use because the ideological currents I’m referencing also predate it, particularly with respect to England. There, slavery had died out under the early Normans, so there was no need for England to abolish slavery. Prior to the 17th century, slavery was what the political and religious enemies of the free people of England wanted to impose, whether it was the Spanish Armada, Papists, or the Stuarts.

    the saxons were notable among western european christians for having relatively widespread slavery from what i have read. so the norman suppression was just aligning to french norms. the description of the enemies of the english was scurrilous though.

    There is some irony here. When the Dutch, the French, the Portuguese and the Spanish decided slaves would be useful for colonization, they already had a comprehensive system adopted from Roman Law. The English, ideologically the most hostile to slavery at least in its own propaganda, had no legal framework and no self-respecting jurists was going to attempt one. So each English colony slowly settled on a worst-of-all slave laws derived from multiple sources sure to achieve the greatest profits. Score one for materialism, but also institutions matter.

    i alluded to this in the post. the worst and best treatment of slaves was probably in the english colonies depending on the mode of production/what they were producing.

    This was a uniquely radical time period,

    this seems correct. the early USA was a radical nation in many ways. from the perspective of moderns there was some ‘regression’ in much of the nation in the 19th century.

  25. @swampr: Sorry I can’t help you, but yes the Quakers constituted the first organized abolitionist movement. They held a number of anti-establishment views, stemming from the principle that there is no authority but God’s. Slaves have no earthly masters. It seems everybody hated them, so I question their influence.

    I have a 17th century ancestor who was forced to leave Massachusetts for Anabaptist beliefs and traveled to New Netherlands (curiously bypassing Rhode Island) where _she_ ended up being banned for leading Quaker meetings. My interpretation of this evidence is that she was always a Quaker, confessed to an objectionable, but less incendiary, baptist belief system to avoid being hanged, and was ultimately exiled to a remote part of New Jersey by Dutch Reformists. A lot of the things Quakers believe seem pretty hip these days, but were they really part of the dialogue at any given time? If you are interested in the first phase of American abolition, I would start with studying the Republic of Vermont.

  26. “A lot of the things Quakers believe seem pretty hip these days, but were they really part of the dialogue at any given time?”

    They certainly were in Pennsylvania once Charles II granted William Penn vast tracks of land in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Many, but not all, Quakers were involved in the abolitionist movement including the Underground Railroad although opposition to them in this role was instrumental in Quakers moving west to Oregon where they were influential in bringing Oregon into the Union as Free State in 1859.

  27. That’s not sad. That’s great. Those who don’t care can get nutritious food and useful furniture without paying a lot. Those who do care can pay for what they consider quality.

    Lower income folk like me don’t have to pay for stuff we don’t care about. By my lights, I can live as well as someone making considerably more than I do.

    Alas, the world isn’t and shouldn’t be made up only of the rich and the poor. There is this “middle class,” the existence and enlargement of which should be of some import. And the people in this category should be able to afford furniture that is in quality somewhere between hand-made exotic wood and particle board from Ikea.

    Death of “mid-tech” and extreme/disposable commoditization of most consumer products – to me, in any case – signals the destruction of the middle class and an unhealthy imbalance of quality/quantity of life equation.

  28. east asians for example have less concern with animal welfare. though mores can change fast.

    Yup. As an easy example, dog-eating was much more common in East Asia in the past, but more Westernized (pet-loving) cultural norms and affluence (less expensive pork and meats) are changing that quickly.

  29. Anti-hunting measures and ideology are common and increasing.

    In some places, maybe (e.g. England). In the U.S. it seems to me that more and more women are getting into hunting, which doesn’t bode well for anti-hunting measures. See: http://business.realtree.com/business-blog/strong-growth-female-hunting-and-shooting-numbers

    •From 2006 to 2014, the total number of shooters in the U.S. has grown by 13%, to more than 31 million today. Female participation during that time has grown by 52%, with more than 8 million women, or 25%, now comprising the shooting population.

    •From 2001 to 2014, female participation in hunting has grown from 10.2% to 18.4%. This means that some 3.3 million hunters in 2014 were female. That number represents a remarkable 83.4% growth in female participation.

    •Breaking down the above point, the number of females hunting with a firearm has increased from 1.6 million in 2001 to nearly 3.1 million in 2014, an 87% increase.

    •Bowhunting participation shows even more incredible growth on a percentage basis: In 2001 there were 395,000 female bowhunters, and they made up 8.4% of all bowhunters; by 2014 that number grew 167% to 1,056,000. So, of the estimated 5.5 million bowhunters, females now make up 18% of the population.

    Those are some dramatic increases, I would say. And I can confirm this with personal experience.

    The shift in the attitude toward the use of animals for human consumption is one-way.

    That is rather too confident a boast. I’d like to see some numbers.

  30. Alas, the world isn’t and shouldn’t be made up only of the rich and the poor. There is this “middle class,” the existence and enlargement of which should be of some import. And the people in this category should be able to afford furniture that is in quality somewhere between hand-made exotic wood and particle board from Ikea.

    Ikea doesn’t fall apart after five years. It’s perfectly fine furniture. The fact that it is inexpensive allows relatively poor people to lead middle class lives.

    Historically, cheap but good lifts people from poverty.

    I drive a $15,000 Toyota Corolla and (in a side gig) a $60,000 Mercedes. When I get back in the Corolla, I don’t miss the leather upholstery, sunroof, power seats, intelligent windshield wipers, etc. Nor do I wish I were driving a $30,000 Buick because otherwise I am not truly middle class.

  31. “That is rather too confident a boast. I’d like to see some numbers.”

    Hide in the bushes and watch.

    Now, that is a confident boast.

  32. Ikea doesn’t fall apart after five years.

    I am guessing you don’t have children. My wife and I bought Ikea furniture for our babies in the beginning when we only had a couple of children. A large Catholic brood later, none of that furniture is intact.

    It’s perfectly fine furniture.

    This tells me you know nothing about furniture beyond “styling.” If you think that glued particle boards held together by a coupe of screws, in any way, remotely, approaches the tensile strength achieved by using dovetail joinery of, say, walnut, you’ve never had anyone stand inside your drawer. Your children will never inherit the former (most likely they will break them before they become teenagers); your grandchildren will be fighting over the latter. One is disposable. It becomes trash eventually. The other is “estate” or heirloom, especially if made with sufficient artistry (or choice woods). It becomes an asset.

    The fact that it is inexpensive allows relatively poor people to lead middle class lives.

    Semblance or appearance of middle class lives are NOT necessarily actual middle class lives.

    Historically, cheap but good lifts people from poverty.

    In fact, that’s exactly my point. Cheap goods, poorly made, and painted to look stylish from afar or in a catalog is, not, in fact, “good” at any price.

    If you knew anything about furniture-making and compared, say, mid-priced sofas that were produced in North Carolina 30 years ago and Ikea sofas today, you would be near tears. And even if you didn’t know anything about furniture, you would feel the stark difference in 5 years if you had the two next to each other and used them identically over that time. One will sag. The other won’t.

    Furthermore, accumulation of disposable goods does not uplift people from poverty. Education, good jobs, enduring marriages, stable families, prudence, and thrift, as well as social harmony and capital lift people out of poverty.

    I drive a $15,000 Toyota Corolla and (in a side gig) a $60,000 Mercedes. When I get back in the Corolla, I don’t miss the leather upholstery, sunroof, power seats, intelligent windshield wipers, etc. Nor do I wish I were driving a $30,000 Buick because otherwise I am not truly middle class.

    1. Those are all mid-tech. There are some industries where the polarization has not occurred. The auto industry is one. The firearms industry is another.

    2. This is not about your particular preferences.

  33. “No numbers, then?”

    Numbers will not affect your opinion. You gave an example yourself. If eating dog meat or horse meat catches on in the US, I’ll get back to you.

    From Wiki:

    Gavage-based foie gras production is controversial, due mainly to the animal welfare concerns about force-feeding, intensive housing and husbandry, and enlarging the liver to 10 times its usual volume. A number of countries and jurisdictions have laws against force-feeding, and the production, import or sale of foie gras; even where it is legal, a number of retailers decline to stock it.

    What is the trend in acceptance of foie gras and veal?

    What is the trend in the poultry industry? Will we see a demand for cage production of eggs and an end to “free range” fryers as opposed to agri-business chicken houses producing thousands at a time?

    Will clothing made of fur be sweeping the market soon?

    When can we expect to see a hunting season for cougars in California?

    “Flat Head Beacon
    I-177 Driven by Anti-Hunting Groups
    By Mike Shepard // Oct 14, 2016 // Letter, Opinion

    November 8 is a very crucial voting date. Not only do we choose a new president, governor and local government folks, but we also have a very emotional vote regarding trapping on our state lands.

    Today’s anti-trapping groups use emotion only in their screaming about the inhumaneness as it relates to the trapped animals and their loose roaming dogs that get only infrequently caught. Most of these claims are hard to document, but if you have ever seen an outbreak of distemper, you would allow that trapping is an effective tool.

    In my opinion, this I-177 on the ballot is being driven by the anti-hunting and trapping groups regarding wolves. They do not want them hunted, trapped or culled when needed, and would push for their total domination at the expense of all of our game animals.”

    “Texas Makes Hunting and Fishing a Constitutional Right
    Voters made Texas the 19th state to add legal protections for hunting and fishing, which are now also the preferred methods for controlling wildlife.”

    I wonder why so many states have put protections into the respective state constitutions?

    The numbers and trend are there if you want to see them.

  34. Twinkie, I completely agree “that glued particle boards held together by a coupe of screws [does not], in any way, remotely, approache[s] the tensile strength achieved by using dovetail joinery of, say, walnut.”

    Ikea furniture will not last as long as something “produced in North Carolina 30 years ago.” But I’m okay with that, and lots of people are okay with that. My preference, and theirs, DOES matter.

    I think we are partly talking past each other. I’m not talking about truly crappy stuff, where you pay half as much but it only lasts a quarter as long, and gives you trouble soon after you bring it home. I am thinking more of “good but cheap,” like our Corolla.

    I also agree that “Education, good jobs, enduring marriages, stable families, prudence, and thrift, as well as social harmony and capital lift people out of poverty.” But if all you can buy is high price/high quality, you need more money to have a non-poverty standard of living.

    Historically, the great ascent is linked to mass production. There is a terrible part in Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) where he complains about mass produced cheap spoons. Why, they all look exactly the same! No artistry! How awful! No, how wonderful.

    My brother-in-law had an English professor who thought “sheetrock” (4 foot by 8 foot sheets of pressed gypsum between paper that are nailed to framing to make a wall) was an abomination. To him, the only real way to make a wall was to nail on lathing and then spread wet plaster over the lathing. Much more expensive. Much more time consuming. If he had had his druthers, sheetrock would be illegal. And housing would be more expensive. Which would hit poor people the worst. So I tend to over-react to arguments that remind me of him.

  35. I am getting this error:

    403 Forbidden

    A potentially unsafe operation has been detected in your request to this site.

  36. iffen,

    Numbers will not affect your opinion.

    See: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/this-chart-proves-americans-love-their-meat-2016-08-15

    Just 3% of Americans say they follow a strict vegetarian or vegan diet, according to data out Thursday from the Pew Research Center. The rest of us, indulge in meat — a lot of it: Last year, per capita meat consumption in the U.S. increased at the fastest rate in four decades, climbing 5% compared with a year prior, according to data from research and advisory firm Rabobank. The average American now eats roughly 193 pounds of beef, pork and/or chicken a year (or more than 3.7 pounds a week), up from roughly 184 pounds in 2012…

    What’s more, Rabobank projects that by 2018 meat consumption will be at record levels of more than 200 pounds a year per capita.

    Indeed, as the first chart in the linked article makes clear, the direction of meat consumption in the U.S. is one-way, but not the way you indicated. It’s going up, not down. And since the 1960’s this has been the case historically with only a very few minor blips down once in a while.

  37. I wonder why so many states have put protections into the respective state constitutions?

    For the same reason that concealed carry permit systems for handguns have been enacted in the vast majority of states in the last 25 years – the electoral and political rise and dominance of the pro-hunting and pro-gun elected officials at the state and local levels in the past 25 years. While the Republicans have done poorly at the national level during the Obama years, they have crushed their opposition at the state and local level: http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/barbara-hollingsworth/

    Republicans added to their historic 2014 gains in the nation’s state legislatures with the addition of five state House chambers and two state Senate chambers in last week’s election, while Democratic control was reduced to levels not seen since the Civil War.

    Republicans are now [Nov. 2016] in control of a record 67 (68 percent) of the 98 partisan state legislative chambers in the nation, more than twice the number (31) in which Democrats have a majority, according to the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

    “That’s more than at any other time in the history of the Republican Party,” according to NCSL. “They also hold more total seats, well over 4,100 of the 7,383, than they have since 1920.”

    Next year [2017], the GOP will control both legislative chambers in 32 states – an all-time high, according to NCSL – while Democrats will have total control of just 13 state legislatures.

    In 24 of the 32 states with Republican-controlled legislatures, voters have also elected Republican governors. In contrast, Democrats have a “political trifecta” in just six states.

    This overwhelming dominance at the local level has allowed the GOP to make significant pro-hunting and pro-gun causes at the state level across much of the country.

    The numbers and trend are there if you want to see them.

    I think some earnest self-examination is in order for you on this score.

  38. just accessing the front page?

    No, when I tried to comment. When I wrote one long piece, I got the error. So I tried taking out block quote or links. The same error. When I cut the comment in two (above), the error went away.

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