The Legacy of the Welfare State

Liberals have wreaked more havoc on blacks than the supposed ‘legacy of slavery’ they talk about.

The 100th Anniversary of the U.S. Invasion of Haiti

History has not been kind to Haiti. As the world’s first black republic, and the only nation founded by a successful slave revolt, it was regarded with contempt by world powers from the very beginning. From France’s onerous debts, to the U.S.’ repeated interference in domestic affairs, this poor yet proud nation has endured countless threats to sovereignty and prosperity — and little recognition…

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Receipt for a Dead Sheep

This Ur III administrative text records in Sumerian cuneiform a receipt for a dead sheep. In as well documented a period as the Third Dynasty of Ur, it is no surprise that everything had to be recorded! The tablet also bears the impression of a cylinder seal, which would have conferred legitimacy on the clay document, much like a signature would today. (Source)

Umma (?), Ur III, c. 2041 BCE.

Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“In the early 1600s, the King of Sweden declared that copper, along with silver, would serve as money.  He did this because he owned lots of copper mines and thought that this policy would increase the public’s demand for copper—and also its price, making him much wealthier.  Because silver was about 100 times as valuable as copper, massive copper coins had to be minted, including one that weighed 43 pounds. This rendered large-scale transactions in Sweden virtually impossible without a cart and horse.  It also explains why Sweden was the first European country to use paper money.”

Professor of Economics at Wesleyan University and author of WRONG: Nine Economic Policy Disasters and What We Can Learn from Them, Richard S. Grossman is sharing seven little-known facts about economic disasters all this week on Tumblr.

Image credit: King Charles IX of Sweden painted by unknown artist. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

“After the Great Depression and the postwar period, capitalism was in its seductive phase. Capitalism knew there were rival suitors and it came with flowers and chocolates like health care programmes and unemployment insurance, minimum wages, and all kinds of goodies precisely because it was part of this seductive dance to keep people from sliding into the hands of the socialists or, God forbid, the communists. Neoliberalism is really just capitalism in its boorish phase, capitalism on the couch in an undershirt saying, ‘what are you going to do, leave me?’”

- Naomi Klein

Shell Inlay of a Woman from Sumer

This shell inlay from the Early Dynastic period depicts a woman playing the flute. Interestingly, she also wears a cylinder seal around her neck. Cylinder seals, which would have been rolled onto clay tablets to function like signatures, often have a narrow whole through the center where a string could have been laced through to tie the item around one’s neck. Throughout Mesopotamian history, both men and women used seals. (Source)

Early Dynastic, c. 2600-2500 BCE.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The history of money and its “devine” metamorphosis in the 20th century

Professor Jack Weatherford, a renowned cultural anthropologist:

“In the 20th century, we saw money turn rapidly from paper into plastic and then into mere electronic blips generated in computers, transferred over telephone lines and through computer terminals, and without any corporal existence outside of the electronic domain. Throughout its history, money has become steadily more abstract. By moving at the speed of light, electronic money has become the most powerful financial, political and social force in the world. Money has become even more like God: totally abstract and without corporeal body.”

Weatherford, Jack. 1997. The History of Money. New York: Crown Publishers. (p. 248)

In this book Weatherford identifies three great mutations in the story of money. The first began with the invention of coins in the Anatolian kingdom of Lydia 3000 years ago, sparking a monetary revolution that underpinned classical Greek and Roman civilizations. Next, family-owned, credit-giving banks of Renaissance Italy ushered in the modern world capitalist system, which swept away feudalism and abetted the expansion of European hegemony to the Americas. In the third major transition, predicts Weatherford, the current age of paper money will give way to an era of cybermoney, or electronic cash, in which transactions are conducted via the Internet and by other forms of electronic transfer. Along the way, the book traces the rise of banking systems and other financial institutions and shows how national governments are playing a dominant role in managing the money supply.

I don’t trust imperialism. They have been cheating us since we first became a republic in 1902. They have taken all the riches from our country. We aren’t going to let ourselves get cheated again by imperialism.

Cuban citizen Ernesto Gonzalez, 84, one of the rebels who attacked the barracks in 1953 

Cuban leaders pledged to keep socialism alive, but toned down the anti-US rhetoric at Cuba’s first national holiday since re-establishing diplomatic relations with the United States | Read article

Modern Impression of Ancient Babylonian Seal

The seal used to make this modern impression on clay comes from the Kassite period in Babylonia, during which many major works of literature and scholarship in Akkadian were canonised. Written in Akkadian cuneiform, the inscription records a prayer to the goddess Ninsun and names the owner of the seal as “Uballissu, son of Warad-Ea, treasurer, servant of Kurigalzu,” which probably refers to the Kassite king Kurigalzu II (r. 1332-1308 BC). On the right side of the impression is a vertical row of insects. (Source)

Kassite, c. 1330-1310 BC.

British Museum

Day 10: Paper Currency

History Meme: Day 1: a Movement, Day 2: a Leader, Day 3: a Dynasty, Day 4: a Religious Movement, Day 5: a Conflict, Day 6: a Civilization, Day 7: an Individual, Day 8: an Artistic Movement, Day 9: a Death, Day 10: an Innovation, Day 11: a Mystery or Story, Day 12: a Small Human Moment

This is the story of how Song Dynasty China invented paper currency while Western Europe was still trying to figure out how perspective worked.

A first edition of Song paper currency. Image courtesy of PBS; original source unknown.

Song Dynasty China (960-1279 CE) saw the population reach 100 million people. This population tended towards urban and dense settlement patterns. Their relative proximity to one another created a situation in which farmers were able to produce primarily for the market, rather than for subsistence. They used their profits to buy products such as tea, oil and wine. This burgeoning market economy gave rise to vibrant inland and coastal shipping industries.

As trade intensified, merchants became increasingly specialized and organized. They set up partnerships and joint stock companies with shareholders. In large cities merchants organized into guilds. With this increasingly complex economy came major technological breakthroughs. Papermaking flourished to complement the Song’s moveable type printing industry, engineers began to make use of gun powder, and the iron industry’s output grew by 600% between 800 and 1078.

Of course, all economies (at least, those which have moved beyond the barter setup), no matter how great or small, require some manner of currency. Tang China (618-907) briefly flirted with the idea of easily transportable currency in the form of bolts of silk, but quickly abandoned that system. The principle form of currency in the early Song period was copper coins—by 1085, Song China was producing 6 billion coins per year (up tenfold since the Tang period).

However, this coinage system was extremely cumbersome for those making large purchases. To alleviate the load, merchants, beginning in the Late Tang period, began to trade receipts from deposit shops where they left money or goods in lieu of exchanging copper coins. Seeing that these receipts were backed up by real currency and goods with real value, the Song authorities issued a small set of these shops a monopoly on the issuance of these certificates of deposit. In the 1120s, the government took over the system, producing the world’s first government issued paper money.

Song paper currency. Image courtesy of wikipedia; original source unknown.

The achievements of Song China range far beyond the creation of paper currency, from the comparatively high literacy rate, to the idea that there should be some sort of level playing field when it came to the exam system, to the feats of engineering which baffle modern engineers. Song China’s achievements were such that many historians will argue that it was the most advanced society in the world in its time (although I’m sure historians of the Song Dynasty and historians of the Golden Age of Islam have fights about this).

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There is no better image to demonstrate the complete destruction of the German economy post-WWI than this image.  These children are not playing with blocks, but huge stacks of money.  The vindictive nature of the Treaty or Versailles and France’s constant instance for reparations created an impossible situation for the young Weimar Republic.  In an attempt to pay off its war debt, more money was printed, leading to unprecedented inflation.  Anyone who had their funds in cash instead of physical property was ruined.  The money that these children are playing with was virtually worthless, although it probably constituted a family’s life savings.  The harsh economic realities and bitterness that this created directly contributed to the rise of fascism in Germany.


The nineteenth century was a period of towering accomplishment for humanity. The belief that human beings could improve their circumstances through rational action was proven actionable on a mass scale. The arts, sciences and industry all flourished as a result, creating rich, cosmopolitan lives for large populations. Leaving backwardness and superstition on the farms they left behind, the concentrated populations of large cities and the wealth they generated created a new cosmopolitan appetite for culture. This added even more momentum to western art’s steady movement away from the religious and toward the secular, as artists became completely free of patrons, with some becoming celebrities and quite wealthy in the process.

In addition to continuing the progress made during the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment, the nineteenth century produced its own historic movement, this time away from the rigidity of classical forms and expectations. Artists began to question and often dispense with tradition, producing wildly expressive art, and setting the groundwork for modernism.

Maurice Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major (1903) stands at an inflection point in the history of music. Unlike some of Ravel’s later chamber works, the instrumentation of the piece - a string quartet - is unmistakably traditional, as is its rhythm. The sound of the piece is however clearly on the precipice of something new. Full of rich, four part harmonies and moments of wild dissonance, this piece would probably sound completely alien to a seventeenth century audience. Apparently it wasn’t a hit with twentieth century audiences either - the piece was considered a flop by both critics and Ravel’s teacher, composer Gabriel Fauré. Despite a cold initial reception, the piece is now widely celebrated and loved. In fact, the second movement accompanies the introduction of the cast of characters in Wes Anderson’s “The Royal Tenenbaums”.

Old Assyrian Seal in Quartzite

This seal impression from this Old Assyrian cylinder seal depicts a goddess leading a worshipper to another deity who is seated. The seal comes from a trading colony in the region of Anatolia. The Old Assyrian period is best known for such colonies, established primarily for the purpose of exchanging textiles, tin, gold, and silver. (Source 1, 2)

Old Assyrian, c. 2000-1700 BCE.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Recovered Economic History – “Everyone But an Idiot Knows That The Lower Classes Must Be Kept Poor, or They Will Never Be Industrious” | Yasha Levine

[Despite] what you might have learned, the transition to a capitalistic society did not happen naturally or smoothly. See, English peasants didn’t want to give up their rural communal lifestyle, leave their land and go work for below-subsistence wages in shitty, dangerous factories being set up by a new, rich class of landowning capitalists. And for good reason, too. Using Adam Smith’s own estimates of factory wages being paid at the time in Scotland, a factory-peasant would have to toil for more than three days to buy a pair of commercially produced shoes. Or they could make their own traditional brogues using their own leather in a matter of hours, and spend the rest of the time getting wasted on ale. It’s really not much of a choice, is it?

But in order for capitalism to work, capitalists needed a pool of cheap, surplus labor. So what to do? Call in the National Guard!

Faced with a peasantry that didn’t feel like playing the role of slave, philosophers, economists, politicians, moralists and leading business figures began advocating for government action. Over time, they enacted a series of laws and measures designed to push peasants out of the old and into the new by destroying their traditional means of self-support.

“The brutal acts associated with the process of stripping the majority of the people of the means of producing for themselves might seem far removed from the laissez-faire reputation of classical political economy,” writes [economic historian, Michael] Perelman [in his book, The Invention of Capitalism]. “In reality, the dispossession of the majority of small-scale producers and the construction of laissez-faire are closely connected, so much so that Marx, or at least his translators, labeled this expropriation of the masses as ‘primitive accumulation.’“

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(h/t azspot)