Discusion: economics and globalization.

We’re starting with a very short but challenging and interesting book, Prosperity and Violence by Robert Bates. Bates is a political scientist, but is known to draw as much on economics as on political science. This book tells an important story—how do we get prosperity? It’s very much the exception in human history: the vast majority of people who’ve ever lived have been extremely poor. Bates analysis suggests we can’t really understand where prosperity comes from without paying attention to economics AND politics. His economic focus is about the formation of something he calls capital. It’s an important concept for economists, best described, to my mind, as “productive wealth”. (If you merely consume wealth, it’s not capital. Capital is used to produce more wealth. Money you invest, land you farm, tools/factories you build stuff with, and so on.) But how does capital become secure? A factory is no good, if someone burns it down or steals it. That’s where politics comes in.
Bates’ book isn’t obviously about globalization. It doesn’t really come into the story until chapters 4 and 5; the first three chapters focus on the early days of “states” (what political scientists call “countries” as the dominant political form. Why start so early? For a variety of reasons, but importantly (at least in part) because Bates wants to compare how new states function now with how new, emergent states functioned way back then. The world is make up of states, across pretty much all the territory, but many of these states (in Europe, but also in parts of Asia) are many hundreds of years old. However, a majority of the world’s states are not—they formed after colonial rule, in many cases after WWII.

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