The solution, regardless of the cause

My friend Eddie (of Hidden Unities) sent me “The Long-Term Effects of Africa’s Slave Trades,” a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, by Nathan Nunn (pdf download). In the paper Nunn finds a correlation between a region’s loss of slaves in the Atlantic Ocean, Sahara Desert, Red Sea, and Indian Ocean slave trades and present levels of misery.

Certainly one explanation is that Africa’s misery is the result of the slave trade. Indeed, that conclusion is the title of Nunn’s paper. Another is that regions that are so capital-starved and economically-screwy that they export a substantial fraction of their work force probably will remain capital-starved and economically-screwy.

Whatever the course — slavery, anti-state guerrillaism, or just low general intelligence, the moral of the story is the hard part of shrinking the Gap is ahead of us. Building up a Military-Industrial-Complex and waiting seems to have been enough to globalize eastern Europe and eastern Asia,

However, when it comes to the hard part of globalization — hookin up the Muslim world and especailly Africa — are record is not so good. The world lost the highest-functioning indigienous Systems Administration forces it had in those areas — French Algeria and South Africa — while the Empires of Japan, France, and Britain – which did so much good for so many — were disolved in the wake of World War II.

This is why building a Sysadmin Industrial Complex, as we are currently doing in the United States, is so vital. It’s not fair that merely leaving the deepest parts of the Gap alone will actually help end misery. We need to do more. A Sysadmin Industrial Complex of the military, Congress, and private contractors — resting on and supported by the people — is the only institutional way to move shrinking the gap beyond politics and to results.

3 thoughts on “The solution, regardless of the cause”

  1. “Another is that regions that are so capital-starved and economically-screwy that they export a substantial fraction of their work force probably will remain capital-starved and economically-screwy.”

    It's my understanding that usually coastal African trading communities weren't exporting THEIR work force, they were exporting their rival tribe/village/clan's workforce. When the level of analysis you're operating at is your own tribe/village/clan, that is a smart decision. The problem comes when (like Nunn writes in his article) the level of analysis has to move up, and these rivalries, exacerbated by the slave trade, inhibit the formation of broader ethnic identities.

    From the article: “An important consequence of the slave trades was that they tended to weaken ties between villages, thus discouraging the formation of larger communities and broader ethnic identities.”

    Around 1900, Sicily exported about 25% of its population. Familial ties, mafia ties and business ties kept the emigrant community in touch with Sicily, and many of the emigres returned after making money overseas. With slavery that is obviously not an option.

    Perhaps the slave trade is an example of the dollar auction, where individually rational decisions add up to irrational decisions.

  2. Adrian,

    Certainly the African regions that suffered the greatest losses due to slavery also had the greatest lack of public security. The reason that Arabs and Europeans weren't raiding China, say, is that the Empire would have dealt harshly with those “pirates.”

    Ultimately, the article has state failure on both sides of the equation: centuries ago no state was strong enough to protect its labor supply (against slavery, disease, and violent death) and now no state is strong enough to protect its labor supply (against disease and violent death).

    While the world is certainly richer for the correlation that Nunn found, it would be more interesting to see what causes continuous state failure in Africa, rather than focus on just one symptom.

  3. Any informed discussion on the state of Africa has to include the impact of colonialism on the continent. Sure and stable governance was not a hallmark of the United States 40 years post independence and we shouldn't be surprised that there are issues in Africa as well.

    Nunn takes an interesting position but it seems myopic.

  4. Todd,

    The impact of colonialism on Africa was overwhelming positive (at least as far as it involved British or French oversight). 40 years after independence America hadn't suffered declining living standards, a plague, dictatorship after dictatorship, etc.


    Good catch on Ireland. Eire was lucky to be under London as long as she was.

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