July 31, 2011

Another book to add to the “to be read” pile

Filed under: Books, Economics, History, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 18:00

From the current issue of Reason, a review of a pair of new books on the concept of “empire”:

The Rule of Empires, by the Washington University historian Timothy Parsons, explores the fundamental contradictions of imperial rule, making the case that empires have become increasingly difficult to maintain as potential subjects’ identities have become less fluid and more nationalistic. In Merchant Kings: When Companies Ruled the World, 1600–1900, the independent historian Stephen Bown takes a less systematic approach to the study of imperial power, but his book supplements Parsons’ by filling in the biographical details of the men who built Europe’s modern commercial empires. Both books demonstrate that while empire may seem a quick route to power and wealth, in the long run the idea is a military and financial loser.

[. . .]

Empires throughout history have claimed “to rule for the good of their subjects,” Parsons maintains, but this “was and always will be a cynical and hypocritical canard. Empire has never been more than naked self-interest masquerading as virtue.” To keep resources flowing from subjects to rulers, empires must walk a tightrope between subjugation and assimilation. If the state imposes draconian laws and taxes, it will face rebellion, so the rulers must seek out collaborators among their subjects who will assist in the domination of their fellow citizens. In return, collaborators are frequently brought into the imperial fold and given a portion of the spoils. But this leaves the empire vulnerable to conquering from the inside out, with many masters and few servants.

[. . .]

Empire building typically falls under the purview of governments, but in the 17th through 19th centuries, European states outsourced imperial conquest to quasi-private joint-stock companies. Governments granted these companies monopoly trading rights in distant regions and frequently offered their military might to ward off potential rivals. States rarely intended for the companies to become independent imperial powers, but the potential spoils of conquest proved hard for company officials to resist. After all, they had been freed from the discipline of competition, they were thousands of miles from political oversight, and their military risks were socialized by their state sponsors. As Bown points out in Merchant Kings, the EIC and similar corporations “were less the product of free-market capitalism than the commercial extension of European national wars and struggles for cultural and economic supremacy. They occupied the muddy grey zone that exists between government and enterprise.”

I’ve been looking for a good (recent) history of the East India Company for the last several months, so Merchant Kings sounds like it’d be of interest.

Is it time to update this to “16 (trillion) tons”?

Filed under: History, Media, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 17:44

H/T to Gerard Vanderleun.

Upgrades in slow motion

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 16:55

I bought a new laptop yesterday, as my old laptop is starting to creak when I load up a full suite of work tools (Adobe FrameMaker, Open Office Writer or Microsoft Word, a couple of web browsers plus a virtual machine or two under VMWare). Elizabeth will be taking over my old laptop and retiring her Acer with its constant beeping and lock-ups when I’ve finished installing all the software and moving over all my files to the new laptop.

I’m currently trying to transfer files and settings from my old laptop to the new machine. The Windows Easy Transfer tool makes it look pretty straightforward . . . but it’s slow, slow, slow. I started a transfer last night after dinner, anticipating it’d be done this morning, but the WiFi router glitched not long after I started the process, so it didn’t happen. Plus, we had some lively thunderstorms roll through early this morning, which meant I had to jump out of bed and shut everything down anyway.

Second attempt this afternoon, once the weather cleared up, and it’s now telling me to expect the transfer to take “1 day 15 hours”. And, of course, you can’t use either machine for anything else while the files are being transferred.

Posting will be sporadic this week

Filed under: Administrivia — Tags: — Nicholas @ 16:35

I’m on vacation, which means I’m much less likely to be near a computer. I’ll probably post a few items, but expect it to be fairly quiet here for the coming week.

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