Friday, August 15, 2008

Some Thoughts on Georgia - European Georgia 

King has posted on the Georgian situation here and here. While there is much hand-wringing, far too many so-called and wannabe "leaders" are spouting pabulum. Putin believed he could get away with this attack because he's been watching the cowardly press in the west. The bully Russia is back and the outcry is grossly underwhelming.

What can be done? This article by Charles Krauthammer actually lays out actions that can be taken. We do have leverage without sending in our military. As with most bullies, they need to be taught a lesson. If they are not properly taught, they bully again. As I've said before, "Appeasement doesn't work."

However, there is another angle that has not been discussed much - that of tribe. Many Americans have difficulty comprehending tribal cultures, that is, tribal in the ethnic sense. For all the complaining about race, culture, belief, etc. in the USA, we have more people from more nations with more spoken tongues than most anywhere else on earth. We have also learned over time to get along.

Most American immigrants to the USA came because they were of the wrong tribe, religion or social class in their home country. Even the original African slaves were either tricked or kidnapped by other African tribes and sold the the highest bidder - first the Arabs, then the Europeans. Today many Christian Africans come to the USA so as to practice their faith without fear of being hurt. Other immigrants come for jobs, others to get away from civil war (war within cultures in a given location). Previous immigrants also made it a point to take advantage of our education system, learned English, and cherished the opportunity to succeed.

In many parts of the world, these freedoms are not available. Ethnic and tribal groups harbor hatreds, some that go back over 1000 years. They are caught up in a "I'm perfect, better than ________, will get even, etc." mindset.

The situation in Georgia is reminiscent of these historical conflicts. Ethnic groups in this region still cling to old patterns to attack and in Russia's case, destroy a free state. We have a choice: take action, as outlined by Mr. Krauthammer, or revert to letting tribes destroy themselves.

KING ADDS: Janet's writing reminded me of Douglass North, the Nobel Prize winner in Economics in 1993. From his Nobel lecture:
There is no guarantee that the beliefs and institutions that evolve through time will produce economic growth. Let me pose the issue that time presents us by a brief institutional/cognitive story of long-run economic/political change.

As tribes evolved in different physical environments they developed different languages and, with different experiences, different mental models to explain the world around them. The languages and mental models formed the informal constraints that defined the institutional framework of the tribe and were passed down intergenerationally as customs, taboos, and myths that provided cultural continuity.

With growing specialization and division of labor the tribes evolved into polities and economies; the diversity of experience and learning produced increasingly different societies and civilizations with different degrees of success in solving the fundamental economic problem of scarcity. The reason is that as the complexity of the environment increased as human beings became increasingly interdependent, more complex institutional structures were necessary to capture the potential gains from trade. Such evolution requires that the society develop institutions that will permit anonymous, impersonal exchange across time and space.

...Not only has the pace varied over the ages; the change has not been unidirectional. That is not simply a consequence of the decline of individual civilizations; there have been periods of apparent secular stagnation - the most recent being the long hiatus between the end of the Roman Empire in the west and the revival of Western Europe approximately five hundred years later.
But at the end of this lecture, in which North discusses the rise and decline of the USSR and world communism, he includes this point:
It is adaptive rather than allocative efficiency which is the key to long run growth. Successful political/economic systems have evolved flexible institutional structures that can survive the shocks and changes that are a part of successful evolution. But these systems have been a product of long gestation. We do not know how to create adaptive efficiency in the short run.
Krauthammer thinks we can impose that from outside, but we really cannot, at least in the short run. Russia and Georgia are still very young in their existence, and the institutional structures have not developed yet. As North, Wallis and Weingast (2005) noted:
For much of the world, the relevant alternative to the natural state is not an open access order like the United States or France, but a descent into the hell of disorder.
I admit to the pessimism of that quote in regards to Georgia this week.

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