Addendum on Crony Capitalism as Macro-Parasitism
17 May 2011
Thinking further on the theme of crony capitalism as macro-parasitism, which I introduced in my post Crony Capitalism: Macro-Parasitism under Industrialization, I came to realize that we can extrapolate this (regrettable) development of advanced industrialized economies backward and apply the same insight into previous economic revolutions, mutatis mutandis. More specifically, we can look for a similar pattern in the transition from the hunter-gatherer paradigm to the agricultural paradigm of the Neolithic Agricultural Revolution. Indeed, in so making the comparison I find it quite illuminating, and it perhaps allows us to exercise our faculty of historical a priori imagination (paying homage to Collingwood in the process) in reconstructing some of the structural adjustments that accompanied the long term transition from nomadism to settled urbanism.
In my previous post I mentioned that the familiar macro-parasites of human history — a rapacious nobility, greedy landlords, and unscrupulous merchants — all date from the socio-economic structure of the agricultural paradigm. These particular socio-economic institutions have either changed or been extirpated from history with the industrial revolution; kings and popes rarely oppress us today, though there is no shortage of those who would today conspire to oppress us.
Under the socio-economic institutions of nomadism, during the hunter-gatherer paradigm of social organization, the institutions of oppression having their foundation in agricultural society did not yet exist. These institutions were brought into being gradually over a period of thousands of years. The institutions of macro-parasitism under the agricultural paradigm were created (i.e., they are not intrinsic to the human condition), just as certainly as the institutions of macro-parasitism under industrialization are in the process of formation today.
I imagine that in the earliest stages of the Neolithic Agricultural Revolution there were agricultural “entrepreneurs” who were among the first to see the possibilities of agriculture and to exploit it. They would have settled down, kept the “secret” in the family, their settlement would have become a village, and the village would in time become a city. As the success of agriculture proved itself able to produce food surpluses, the technique spread throughout the lowlands, progressively marginalizing those who continued to follow the “old ways” of nomadism. Eventually, the holdouts and traditionalists retreated into mountainous regions unsuited to agriculture, and the agriculturalists had the fertile lowlands to themselves.
The dead-enders eking out a marginal living in the mountains looked down on the rich cities of the plain, and determined that they should take from the city dwellers whatever they pleased to take from them, because the excess food and the extended families and the sedentary way of life in the cities had made the people soft, whereas the people in the mountains knew hardship and deprivation. And so they raided the cities, and the city dwellers learned to build walls and to conscript armies. By this time, civilization as we know it was in full swing, and the nomads were already squeezed to the margin and were becoming more marginal with every agricultural innovation.
Civilization is like a Ponzi scheme, an enormous pyramid in which those who were the first in make out like bandits, while the latecomers are lucky to break even. The organizers of the Ponzi scheme are the entrepreneurs of history, the first to seize on new developments that will, in the fullness of time, transform the entire life of man. This happened with the Neolithic Agricultural Revolution, and it happened again with the Industrial Revolution. Each of these transitions of metaphysical history brought with it new opportunities. The first to seize upon these opportunities literally made themselves central to all further developments. I say “literally” because in the case of the agricultural revolution, the villages and cities grew up around the first successful sedentary agricultural settlements. In the case of the industrial revolution, industrial cities grew up around the first successful industrial production centers.
In the first phase of the development of a paradigm of metaphysical history — the phase of expansion — macro-parasitic institutions are created and remain in a semi-fluid formative stage. In the second stage of the development of a paradigm of metaphysical history — the phase of consolidation — the expansion of the first stage has reached the limits of land that can be turned to agriculture, or land that can be put to industrial uses, and here the macro-parasitic institutions truly come into their own as the civilization turns back on itself and consolidates the socio-economic structures that have been developing during the period of expansion. (This is what the contemporary left calls “self-colonization.”)
Much of this ground was covered by Rousseau in his Discourse on the Origins of Inequality. I need to study this work carefully in order to formulate an informed critique of macro-parasitical institutions and to give an account of their development in the context of metaphysical history.
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