Economics: Reality is an exogenous variable
Commentary by Kathleen Tyson - July 21, 2023
I've worked with macroeconomists all my career. I correspond with economists daily. I respect them, but they have their blindspots and fads like any other humans.
One blindspot is thinking the world works on Adam Smith's principle of barter. It never has.
In no society or empire throughout history has the dominant method of exchange and development been equitable barter. The method of globalisation throughout history, since the first violent sea army mastered bronze and shipbuilding on the coast of the Black Sea, was conquest, subjugation of local elites, exploitation of resources and peoples, control of ports, monetary monopoly, and exaction of tribute in resources, labour, and money to the seat of empire.
The reason the Fall of Troy stands above all other stories in iterative narration in the West is because it displays the mechanism of empire, conquest, subjugation, tribute in full scope. Every medieval king recognised by the early Roman Church wrote a history tracing his lineage to a veteran of Troy. According to Matthew Parris, Britain is named for Brutus of Troy, the first king to divide the realm into Scotland, Cumbria and Wales, and Britannia.
Sumerians, Hellenes, Romans, Greeks, Thracians, Dacians, Caliphates, Holy Roman Empire, Germanic tribes, Frankish tribes, Nordic tribes, the Spanish, Portuguese, British, French, Dutch, Belgian, German, Japanese empires, the Bretton Woods-US imperium of the 20th century were all the same. Military dominance, subjugation and coopting of ruling elites, exploitation of resources and labour, control of ports and sea lanes, monetary monopoly, and exaction of money tribute are common throughout Western history. Barter never stood a chance.
This is why economics always fails to accurately project what's coming. It misses the key workings of empire: war, imperium, trade, monetary policy, and tribute.
I quit studying Economics in university in an International Trade Theory course. On the first day, the professor said confidently, 'Terms of trade do not work against developing countries'. I raised my hand, and pointed out that according to data from the World Bank, terms of trade had deteriorated for developing countries consistently for decades since World War II. The professor responded waspishly with a wave and a hiss, "That is entirely due to exogenous variables!' In the margin of my notes that morning I wrote, "Reality is an exogenous variable."
A decade ago I took a career detour to translate the earliest account of the Norman Conquest, then a Masters degree at Kings' College London to get it professionally edited by a Latin professor and get the MA(Honours) required for academic recognition. In compiling the book I kept going further back in history to distil the pattern of empire.
The Normans were heirs to a very long history of maritime conquest, control, exploitation, and tribute. For more than 4000 years little Britannia was conquered by sea armies who enslaved, exploited, and profited from this island. Its importance came from resources not common elsewhere: surface tin, iron, and salt. Without tin, bronze was impossible. Without iron, steel weapons and shipping tackle were impossible. Without salt salt-fish, grains, and other preservable foodstuffs have no marketable value.
British male indigenous DNA disappeared sometime during the Sumerian-Hellenic imperium. All indigenous males were exterminated by imperial conquerors. That style of war continued until the 11th century. King Harold, as regent to Edward the Confessor, raided into Wales and slaughtered every male in surprise night attacks by sea and estuaries, killing every man, boy and male infant, Gerald of Wales says Harold, "left not one who could pisseth against a wall". The raids ended when the Welsh (literally means 'outsiders') killed their own king, sent his head to Harold, and married the king's ethnically Danish widowed queen to Harold in truce and subjugation.
Britain's principal vulnerability then as now, was tribal divisions. It is ever so easy to get Britons to fight each other, allying with an imperial outsider. That a divided Britain pays much more tribute abroad than it creates in wealth through development at home is a recurring feature in British medieval and modern history. The Dane Geld paid to Danish invaders for truce and protection in the 10th and 11th centuries gradually hollowed out the wealth of English elites who would otherwise protect the kingdom (forfeit of title, lands, and slavery were the cost of a Geld levy default). Explicit and implicit tribute to the US for protection during and after World War II left Britain prone to recurring crisis, currency instability, credit vulnerability, and tribal politics.
In the post-War 20th century, elites globally were encouraged to send their children to Western schools and universities, where they were coopted to Western empire. In government, these groomed elites exploited resources and peoples at home to profit corporations and elites abroad.
In the 21st century, the tools for inflaming tribal divisions have moved to new media, the methods enhanced by AI optimisation algorithms, but the results are observably the same. Co-opted leaders subordinate domestic wealth and welfare to pay tribute to imperial masters abroad.
Britain is still a victim of its internal divisions. Britain's wealth creation does not keep pace with imperial wealth abstraction. The tens of billions paid in dividends to owners of English water companies while they dump raw sewage into rivers and seas, and still pump fresh water to homes through lead pipes, is a compelling proof that the methods of empire haven't changed.
If I am to take economists seriously, they will have to start modelling the reality of the way economic and monetary imperium actually work in the world. Until then, reality remains an exogenous variable.
The Pylos Combat Agate, pictured above, dates from about 1450BC. It changed the perception of technology and warfare in the 2nd millennium BC. It is just 3.6cm in length, and the artistry and detail are breathtaking. It shows a warrior avenging a fallen comrade by sword against an opponent with inferior wooden spear and leather shield - just how empires like their vassals.