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Life at № 42

Rulers, Religion and Riches by Jared Rubin – why the west got rich | Books | The Guardian

“Why are some parts of the world rich, and other parts poor? In the west many of us live in conditions almost unimaginably more comfortable than billions of people in regions where economic growth and development have been slower. Inequality defines our world. As the Nobel prize-winning economist Robert Lucas put it, once you start thinking about what causes these stark differences, it can become hard to think about anything else.

This “great divergence” is even more intriguing given how relatively recent it is: 500 years ago the west was no richer than the far east, while 1,000 years ago, the Islamic world was more developed than Christian Europe in everything from mathematics to philosophy, engineering to technology, agriculture to medicine; the medieval German nun and writer Hrotsvitha called Islamic Córdoba “the ornament of the world”.

By 1600, however, the Islamic world had fallen behind western Europe, and for centuries the Middle East has been beset by slow growth, persistent poverty and seemingly intractable social problems. North-western Europe, by contrast, became the richest corner of the world, the hub of industrialisation and globalisation. In this sweeping and provocative book, the economic historian Jared Rubin asks how such a dramatic reversal of fortunes came about.”

Source: Rulers, Religion and Riches by Jared Rubin – why the west got rich | Books | The Guardian

Really fantastic article in today’s Guardian. Rubin lays out a very well plotted map on how Western Europe and the Islamic world (our rulers, to be more precise) took different paths. And he even gets into the differences of economies in Protestant and Catholic regions. I plan on ordering the book.

The article doesn’t say anything about inequality within economic systems, but from what it does mention I presume there’ll be something in the book in that regard. What has always stuck in my mind with that, specifically concerning Northeastern Brazil, is the money pool. The fortunes made in the slavery era still exist today. The grand homes, plantations and diamonds. I suppose it applies to more than just Brazil. The grand homes of Europe and North America were built on exploitation as well. We have our own “pools”. I was thinking about that earlier in the week when we had a surprise visit from someone who grew up at number 42. She came in and it was like being with someone we’d known our whole lives. She looked and dressed and smelled like people we know. She had a sapphire and diamond ring on, which looked surprisingly like one my grandmother used to wear. I imagine her husband wears polo shirts in the summer, the kind with little polo players on horses embroidered onto them, or little alligators. When we bought her family’s house we traded within the pool. Our chips for their chips. And one day children from her family will grow up and probably marry people from families like ours – and again it will all remain in the same pool. Safe and separate.

It makes one wonder, is it truly better to say, leave a painting to a museum where many people will get to see it, or to leave property to individuals who have no access to the pool? What if you could give a dozen or two dozen people homes when you die? Would that be a better contribution to society? I know the straightforward mathematical answer would be the museum. It generates visits which generates jobs, which maintains a positive economic cycle in place. But that doesn’t address the pool matter.

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20 comments on “Rulers, Religion and Riches by Jared Rubin – why the west got rich | Books | The Guardian

  1. Arkenaten
    August 4, 2017

    The causes are manifold, I’m sure, and religion plays its part, even today.
    Simply consider the stance on poverty of Mother Theresa, and the Catholic Church in general. In fact, much of Christianity and other religions. However, Imagine how things might have turned out if Jesus had been more of a Tony Robbins like character?

    That said, we know that education does at least help with poverty relief and getting women placed on a completely equal footing helps to narrow the wealth divide.

    Donating stuff to a museum is probably the better option as we know they have the proper skills and a vested interest in looking after what ever it is and preserving it for posterity.

    As for property …
    Sell it and put the money in some sort of educational trust?
    All part of that give a man a fish or a rod thing.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The Pink Agendist
      August 4, 2017

      Interesting you mention education as that has indeed always been the formula we’ve believed led to success. And it works in many circumstances; but how about the situation in Spain and Portugal? They’ve got the highest levels of education in their entire history and unemployment rates that rival some of their worse economic periods of all time. So can we still count education as a sure bet? Or is that only for the people who already have some degree of access to “the pool”?

      Like

      • Arkenaten
        August 4, 2017

        Education is surely linked to supply and demand like everything else.
        My BIL is a continental Truck Driver and seems to be always on the road and hardly gets time off other than the mandatory legal requirements governing driving.
        We often link education to higher education – degreed professionals and white collar workers.
        What about trade skills?
        Just because we are ”All Internet” there is still need for a plumber! Are they being trained?

        It would be interesting to know if there are particular ”trends” in unemployment?
        Which professions are crying out for people and which have a glut?

        Liked by 1 person

      • The Pink Agendist
        August 4, 2017

        As Zande often says, there’s a whole lot of trouble coming in the labour market and very soon. They estimate that in the next 30 years up to 50% of jobs will be lost because of technology and automation.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Arkenaten
        August 4, 2017

        That’s when the eventually fully recycled body waste hits the technologically advanced and fully-automated high speed cooling system.

        Liked by 1 person

      • The Pink Agendist
        August 4, 2017

        😀

        Like

  2. makagutu
    August 4, 2017

    As Ark says causes are manifold.
    I haven’t the linked article so I may repeat what is covered already.
    Britian managed to be rich in the last century or so on the labour of and material resources of the colonies. Whatever was good for the settler, was good for the government. This means the government put every restriction in the path of the African that would allow them to be economically independent.
    Before they left, they insured we had debt to pay. And the churches made the people pliant. Revolt was suppressed.
    So yes, the church helped to impoverish most areas.

    Education has a role to play by helping in making opportunities available but it is not useful on its own where there is no job creation or when the market is not performing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Pink Agendist
      August 4, 2017

      The colonial process is still happening now, isn’t it? The difference is instead of official colonies there are economic “outposts” where people are exploited to ensure “better” people live the most comfortable lives possible. My wonderful fine green beans are from Kenya. How little does your minimum wage have to be for me to be able to buy them for 3€ a box?

      Like

      • makagutu
        August 5, 2017

        I found this
        http://www.mywage.org/kenya/home/salary/minimum-wage
        We only changed the complexion of who is at the top. Rules almost always remained the same

        Liked by 1 person

      • The Pink Agendist
        August 5, 2017

        Ah yes, but that was after the first batches of money were injected into European economies. After roads, hospitals and schools were built. After fortunes were made and dukedoms granted.
        Look up a BBC world documentary called Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners. In it you’ll lean the amusing fact that when slavery was abolished, it was the British owners who were compensated by government!

        Like

      • makagutu
        August 5, 2017

        The crimes the British committed in the colonies and then covered up can fill a library.
        Here the British government arranged to provide loans for purchasing farms they hard acquired forcefully and the loans were to be repaid by the African farmers, not settlers!

        Liked by 1 person

      • The Pink Agendist
        August 5, 2017

        That sounds like an excellent business idea! I might try that. How does one try that?

        Like

      • makagutu
        August 6, 2017

        You have to own a colony somewhere, the settlers should be threatened with dispossession and you want to look good. Then you could try it

        Liked by 1 person

      • The Pink Agendist
        August 6, 2017

        Kenya?

        Like

      • makagutu
        August 7, 2017

        Won’t work
        We are already screwed

        Liked by 1 person

    • The Pink Agendist
      August 4, 2017

      P.S. I just checked, a vegetable picker in Kenya makes the equivalent to 102€ per month. The equivalent to 34 little boxes of beans. So their wages are probably covered by four or five hours of their work, at most.

      Like

  3. Steve Ruis
    August 4, 2017

    Too often people think that history converges, that because the West is rich now, that that means something other than it is our turn. China was immensely rich at one time, as was Egypt, as was Persia, as was part of India as were the Mexicans, in part. Then they were not. Some become rich again, for a time.

    The history of this country shows great riches being created out of exploitation of the natural resources available here that had yet to be discovered … by exploiters. When the resources are gone … we be less rich.

    That the West is now rich is looked upon as a sign of our cultural superiority. It is not. While the Chinese decline can be linked to their insularity fueled by cultural arrogance, I suspect that the source of western decline will be fueled by an overpowering focus on accumulating wealth, at the expense of people and the physical environment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Pink Agendist
      August 4, 2017

      I wonder about a Western decline. Have Europeans and Americans not weaponized and rigged our way to a somewhat permanent system of aristocracy? Will the elites of the developing world not simply join into this process?
      A bit like when impoverished nobility married industrial fortunes.

      Like

  4. For couples without children where do we leave our fortune to is probably a question they ponder on deeply.

    Travel, you have traveled the world and especially when you are young you know how that changes your world view. Semester at Sea is an excellent program that changed my son and in many ways lead him into a career path that has shaped his life.

    Let me tell you a little bit about this program. Basically you circumnavigate the world. They get excellent professors from Ivy League schools, the professors take a semester off from their school and go teach on the boat. While you are on the water traveling between ports you have class, doesn’t matter Saturday or Sunday you have class. One of the stops was in Brazil, now there are two classes of students on the boat, the ones from very wealthy families and when they hit a new country they get off and party. So when they stopped in Brazil the rich snobby kids went and flew to Rio and partied on the beaches. The other, class of students (both rich and not rich) were interested in what the program really was for so for example when my son was in Brazil he went to some type of program and met the people there and they were serving street children. He did other things as well.

    The stop after Brazil was South Africa. What the program does is, they fly somebody in from your next port and then every morning that country expert lectures all the student every morning about the country you are about to visit. On my son’s trip the South Africa expert was Nelson Mandellas personal historian. My son and his clique were interested in AIDS in South Africa so they had learned from the lecturer to go to this one village and go to a church and ask the Pastor at the church as he was running an AIDS operation. So they did that, they found a bus and rode out to that village.

    The pastor was of course surprised when 6 white kids showed up at his church but he was very nice and sat with the students and talked about how awful it was and so little resources he had. The students asked if they could meet someone with AIDS, the Pastor hesitated, but then said, “Sure I’ll take you to meet Wendy” (prepare yourself for what is coming next).

    They took a short walk and waljed into Wendy’s house, really it was a hovel, the Pastor introduced everybody and then he left. Wendy was laying on the ground in the hovel completely emaciated, the students talked gently with her and they asked her if she lived alone. She said no her father and son lived with her but they were not home right now. The asked about if she was taking anti viral medication, and she said no. The students were in shock and asked her why not, she said, “Because you have to take them with food, that is where my father is, he is out looking for food.” The students really looked closely at her living quarters then and realized she was right there was no food. Wendy was crying, the students were very supportive but Wendy knew she was dying and her biggest fear was who would take care of her son as her father was quite elderly. It is at this point that ALL the students were crying both the young men and the young women, my son wrote, We all reached into out pants pockets and gave Wendy every cent we had on us, saving exactly enough for the bus far to get back to Johanesburg.” At the end of this entry my son wrote, when I graduate from college I am going to go back to Africa and work on AIDS. And actually that is exactly what he did. After his AIDS work (he did other health work also) in Africa he went on a very high trajectory career path which of course included a graduate degree and is a wonderful successful person who in his work has vastly improved the lives of many many people.

    Our son applied at his university and got a $7,000 scholarship towards the Semester At Sea program, we paid the rest. But there are many many students who do not have parents who can, “pay the rest.”

    They visited Cuba, by law no Americans were permitted to visit Cuba unless it was cultural or educational. Fidel Castro closed the University in Havana while the Semester At Sea ship was docked and all the Cuban students went down to the dock and introduced themselves to the American students. Then they went to a lecture hall where Fidel Castro lectured them for 4 hours (students fell asleep ha-ha) and then Castro invited the students and the new Cuban friends to a party at his Presidential Palace. The buffet spread was unbelievable! But… my son noticed that the Cuban students were surreptitiously slipping food into their pockets to take back with them.
    SemesterAtSea[dot]org

    Semester At Sea has a Foundation whereby Semester At Sea grants scholarships to the kids without rich parents.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Pink Agendist
      August 17, 2017

      I’ve visited the ship! The students were operating the restaurant for our visit. It was a great experience.

      Like

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This entry was posted on August 4, 2017 by in activism and tagged , , , , , .
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