Why has the west been so successful over time?

maasai 101

Village Elder

Because the West had a jerk of a neighbor about 500 years ago, which gave the impetus for the West to try somehow go around this neighbor. And in the process of doing so, it ran straight into a mountain of gold. This is pretty much a “once-in-a-life-time” good luck story.

So Generation One “eliminated” the natives and took the gold back home. Generation Two put the gold to somewhat good use, modernized, and in the process, whitewashed itself. Generation Three comes online to ask questions such as “why are we so great and so successful over time?” LOL!
I maybe a little bit facetious, but if you are familiar with the Maddison Project, there’s really no basis to argue that the West was in anyway outstandingly “successful” before the 1500 AD. But right around that time, things started to change.

Source: Over 2,000 Years of Economic History in One Chart
America and Oceania had not been discovered by the Europeans. Africa was only partially known. Asia, as the source of the all-important spices, was only tethered through the long and fragile Silk Road that run across the vast steppes of Central Asia and the Arabian desert. This important trade route was open when it was under the Persians in 200 BC, under the Romans in 500 AD, under the Byzantines in 1000 AD, and then boom! The Ottomans closed it in 1453! For no good reason! Total embargo of the black peppercorn! When the stuff was fetching 6000% mark-up in the Western Europe! 6000%!! Spice trade - Wikipedia

Now this was really exasperating! Black peppercorn was a vital ingredient in our daily dishes, and it was worth its weight in gold back then. And you know it was right over there! If you could somehow find your way to the East, load up a boat of the stuff and bring it back home, you’d be the George Soros of the day!

Two guys set out to do exactly this. One was the Portuguese Vasco da Gama, who actually did reach India, and loaded his boat full of spices back home. He proceeded to load up on black pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg, setting up a couple of pirate stations,until he was driven out by the Spanish, the Dutch, and the British, who did the serious work of massacring entire islands worth of the local people to claim exclusive ownership of the spice. Dutch conquest of the Banda Islands Nobody appeared to have thought about just buying a couple of seedlings and try to grow the plant themselves. It was some seriously messed way to get one’s hand on nutmeg, something that basically grows like weed in any tropical environment.

Source: Da Gama Discovers a Sea Route to India

The other guy who set out to look for spice was the Italian swindler-turned Spanish courtier Christopher Columbus. He didn’t find India. The American continent was in the way. But whatever he found, it must be “India”, because there was money riding on it. So he named the American locals “Indians” and he named the Mexican chili “peppers”, as if it was some kind of proto-black peppercorn. Typical conduct for a swindler, to be honest.
Now you have to get a sense of scale of these discoveries. In 1500, Spain had a population of around 8 million, and a territory of about 500,000 square kilometers. At that time, the Incas had 12 million people, the Aztecs had 8 million people, the Vijayanagara Empire in India had 18 million people, and the giant in the East, China, had 125 million people. The Americas had 16,500,000 square kilometers, that’s like 40 times the size of Spain. China had 20 times the size of Spain in territory, and almost 20 times the population as well. India and the south-east Asian countries (Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, etc.) were just as big and as populous. Then there was Africa, with 30,000,000 square kilometers, the size of Europe, China, India, all combined, 60 times that of Spain. So this was the scale of things in early 1500. List of countries by population in 1500 They essentially stumbled on a world 150 times bigger, filled with awesome treasures and rather mild-tempered locals, living off the land. So forget about the petty squabbles of those handful of self-important dudes and their lame myth-making, look at the numbers! The numbers! This is the whole story, right here!

Starting then was a process of massive wealth transfer and wealth concentration, from the rest of the globe to Europe. Spanish treasure fleet It was amazing. The Dutch got the Manhattan Island from the local Indians for $24 dollars. The European migrants got vast fertile farmlands for free. Gold, precious stones, spices, all made their way across the ocean to Europe. I mean, if you can have Manhattan for $24 bucks like the Dutch did, and get the state of Wisconsin for free like the Brits did, you’d be as rich as Rockefellers too. Mr. Trump just got a tiny portion of Manhattan from Daddy. Look where he is now.

It was indubitably ugly and bloody because the locals in the Americas, in Asia, and in Africa got destroyed. The ancient civilizations such as the Mayans and the Aztecs in the Americas, the multitude of kingdoms in India, the Khmer empire in south east Asia, the Malis in Africa, and countless others, all gone up in smoke, with only the ruined stones on the ground, and the gold plating peeled off and shipped to Europe. Triangular trade - Wikipedia The spice were traded for two millenniums before, with the traders just bought the stuff from the locals, and sold it somewhere else profitably. But the Europeans, they just had to go massacre the local growers for no good reason, just to get monopoly and exclusivity! This wealth extraction was highly inefficient, with the vast majority wasted on the Grandee’s polished whiskers and Madame’s puffy hairdos, plus a lot of the loot got burned up by the Europeans trying to kill each other off during this 500 years. But the concentration of wealth seeded the growth of middle class in Europe, which in turn permitted an army of young, bright minds to get an education and then engage in science and technology development, without the constant struggle for survival. Einstein, Madam Curie, Linus Pauling, … these were all educated by government-funded public colleges and universities, without which none of them would be anywhere. What, do you serious expect the Windsors or the Habsburgs to, eh, discover new laws of physics or chemistry? They are not that smart. Have NEVER been that smart. No. The backbone of scientific discovery is the army of middle-class kids. They formed the basis for the 400-year-long Scientific Revolution.

This is not as well-known and as exciting as things such as painting naked women beautifully in churches (Renaissance), which is a pity, because at the end of the day, those beautiful paintings did nothing for public education and public health. The middle-class nerds made those happen, over a much longer time period, because science is very much sequential - meaning you absolutely can’t get to Z until you first get to A, then work hard to get to B, then work hard to get to C,… all the way to Z. Painstaking, frustrating, boring, long and hard! But that’s where MODERNIZATION truly comes from.

But after 500 years, this once-in-a-life-time disturbance is receding, and the rest of the globe is catching up, re-balancing. With a LOT LESS BLOODSHED than when the wealth was concentrated 500 years ago. It turned out that the children of those slaughtered natives are just as intelligent and capable as the Europeans.

Source: globalinequality

From the look of it, there aren’t a lot of time left for Generation Three to be pounding out these kinds of questions on the keyboard. Better hurry then!

Robin Daverman