Some Remarks on Premodern GDP

I have seen these misinterpretations more times than I can possibly count:

1. Confusion of premodern real GDP per capita with living standards. No such thing as a necessary lower bound on GDP to prevent widespread destitution exists. If everyone is a subsistence farmer with high labor productivity, but nobody sells or buys anything from anyone else, that’s a society with a GDP of $0, but with fairly high living standards historically. If the share of output which is not for sale is highly variable and is only weakly correlated with real GDP per capita between societies, real GDP per capita will often severely underestimate actual output per capita and generally be a poor measure of living standards. And if the statistical agencies did count household production in GDP, the world would be a lot different.

2. Confusion of premodern inequality with real GDP per capita. More luxury goods and services may simply be a result of a higher rate of exploitation by the elites of the commoners, rather than a higher real GDP per capita.

3. Confusion of premodern economic complexity with real GDP per capita. Living standards and real GDP per capita are absolutely not measures of economic complexity. High productivity due to gifts of nature is no substitute for high productivity due to the gifts of the human mind. Korea was at least as poor as Ghana back when Ghana became independent. That absolutely does not mean Korea’s economic complexity was even remotely comparable to that of Ghana (see also previous link). Likewise, in a Malthusian environment, increased population may result in simultaneously falling real GDP per capita as a result of falling per capita agricultural output, but rising economic complexity as a result of growing division of labor and easier ability to create goods and services with high fixed costs. Economic complexity is in many cases much more useful to analyze than real GDP per capita. Much easier to analyze, as well. You and I admire the extent of division of labor in the Empire of Rome much more than its per capita agricultural output.


The Ramesses III Sea Peoples Reliefs

Whenever you search Ramesses III Sea Peoples you ALWAYS get a depiction of the relief showing the Battle of the Delta. You never see a depiction of the relief showing the Battle of Djahay. I have sought here to remedy this.
The depiction of the Battle of Djahy:

The depiction of the Battle of the Delta:

From here.
Translations here.


See previous post, by the points of which I fully stand.

the available proxy evidence does not reveal what conditions were like in different parts of northern Iraq, or for that matter, in northern Iraq as a whole.

It is possible that increased regional aridity, as indicated by the paleoclimatic proxy records discussed earlier, may also have been a factor in rising grain prices, though this question must remain unresolved pending further research.

In 616 BC, a former Assyrian subject named Nabopolassar declared himself king of Babylon, and took to the offensive against the moribund Assyrian state.

-Of course, this took place in 626 BC.

We also strongly suspect that any economic damage inflicted upon the Assyrian Empire by drought would have served as a key stimulus for the increasing unrest which was to characterize its final decades, although this notion cannot be conclusively demonstrated from the available evidence, and for the present must remain in the realm of conjecture. While there is no direct evidence from which a causal relationship can be inferred between drought and political dissatisfaction with Assurbanipal’s regime, the fact that insurrections apparently broke out not only in Babylonia but within the Assyrian heartland itself in 652 and 651 BC, respectively (Fig. 2), is suggestive that political unrest may have been partly influenced by economic hardship that resulted from drought earlier in the decade.

It would be misleading, however, to suggest that episodes of drought caused by a change in climate were the only—or even the primary – causal factor for the decline of the Assyrian Empire. We must assume that there were many other important known and unknown contingent factors that also influenced the historical trajectory of the Assyrian state during its final century.

In short, the climatological record relating to the 7th century BC Middle Eastern interior is too scanty, of too low “temporal resolution”, too self-contradictory, and too far away to be of any relevance to the fall of the 7th century BC Assyrian Empire. Whee.

So, why was this paper accepted, again?

At a more global level, the fate of the Assyrian Empire also teaches modern societies about the consequences of prioritizing policies intended to maximize short-term economic and political benefit over those which favor long-term economic security and risk mitigation. Of course, the Assyrians can be “excused” to some extent for focusing on short-term economic or political goals which increased their risk of being negatively impacted by climate change, given their technological capacity and their level of scientific understanding about how the natural world works. We, however, have no such excuses, and we also possess the additional Climatic Change benefit of hindsight, which allows us to piece together from the past what can go wrong if we choose not to enact policies that promote longer-term sustainability.

-So, this paper is little more than a platform to spread baseless climate alarmism with fictional evidence. Got it. Not impressed.

The 100 Person per Acre Rule – How Accurate Is It?

Manhattan, according to Wikipedia, contains 59.5 square kilometers of land area, or 14,700 acres. By the 100 person per acre rule, this should hold about 1.47 million people. The population of Manhattan is 1.626 million.

The City of Detroit, according to Wikipedia, contains 359.36 square kilometers of land area, or 88,800 acres. By the 100 person per acre rule, this should hold about 8.88 million people. The population of Detroit is a suburban-like 681,000 -less than a tenth of what it could be by the rule.

The City of Los Angeles, according to Wikipedia, contains 1214 square kilometers of land area, or about 300,000 acres. By the 100 person per acre rule, this should hold about 30 million people. The population of Los Angeles is 3.884 million.

The most densely inhabited incorporated place in the U.S. has only just under 92 persons per acre. A typical U.S. school building has a daytime population density of very close to 500 students per acre. The most densely populated modern capital city in the world, the City of Manila, where over 1.6 million people are packed into some 38.55 square kilometers of land area, or 9526 acres, has a population density of roughly 173 persons per acre. The Old City of Jerusalem, with 216.41 acres, has nearly thirty-seven thousand people crammed into its walls, giving a population density of nearly 171 persons per acre, or around 203 persons per acre when only the Temple Mount is excluded. The Old City, by the way, used to follow the 100 person-per-acre rule in the 19th century, then having a population of 21 or 22 thousand people. The Old City is clearly more population-dense today than it was a century ago:

Jerusalem, 1910
Modern Old Jerusalem
Chesa Street, Tondo, Manila, Philippines. This section of the city has some 300 inhabitants per acre.

According to Wikipedia, the 20th century population of the Old City of Constantinople (Fatih) peaked at 627012 persons in 1975. As its area (eastern citadel included) is about 3810 acres, that city’s peak population density was about 165 persons per acre. It is important to realize, however, that Fatih is surrounded by water on three sides, leaving little room for extensive light-density urban development. The situation is not comparable with that of such ancient cities as Rome and Cordoba, for which premodern populations and population densities are often wildly exaggerated.

Thus, we should consider the premodern urban maximum population density to be somewhere a little above 200 persons per acre. Premodern urban population densities were likely closer to this maximum when cities’ suburbs were already overcrowded and when cities were surrounded by geographic barriers to expansion, such as bodies of water, mountains, and valleys.

On the subject of the previous post, the maximum population of Rome was likely around 400,000 or half a million (the number of slaves in the city is the largest unknown variable relating to this figure) either sometime in the reign of Nero (before the Great Fire of Rome) or during the middle of the period of the Five Good Emperors. The first city in the world to reach one million inhabitants was not Rome or Constantinople, but probably Tang Dynasty Chang’an, or, less likely, Sui Dynasty Daxing (same location as Chang’an, but slightly earlier). Hypothetically, the city could hold nearly three million by the 100 person-per-acre rule.

The Congressional Hearing on the Rise of ISIS

Only a couple hours after I left D.C.’s White House North Lawn to drive home, a Congressional hearing on the rise of the ISIS began less than three kilometers away from where I was. It is only fair to comment on it here.

1. James Franklin Jeffrey of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy recognizes the threat of ISIS (which I also do), supports the White House’s decision to attempt the overthrow of Maliki (which I oppose), opposes Kurdish independence (which I support), supports greater oil revenue distribution with the Iraqi Arab Sunnis (which I also support), and supports a serious activist anti-ISIS policy (which I support, but Obama doesn’t). He fails to see that it is Turkey that is the Middle East’s rouge state, not Iran, which, aside from its occasional support for Hezbollah’s attacks on Israel and U.S. citizens, is harmless to the U.S.. Money quotes:

Importantly, our allies in the common struggle for stability—Turkey, Israel, and the Sunni Arab states— see Iran as at least an equal threat to their survival as Al Qaeda, and we must respect that to gain their essential cooperation.

As we’ve experienced, from Al Qaeda before 9/11 to Iraq since 2011, problems in the region absent decisive, heads up engagement by the US will keep getting worse to the point when, very late, and at great cost, the US will be compelled to act at far greater cost and risk than if acting earlier.

2. The retired General Jack Keane of the neocon (and very informative) Institute for the Study of War gives an occasionally flawed, but generally correct, informative, and commendable testimony. His is the testimony at this hearing closest to my own views. It is the only one of the four testimonies to not throw Maliki under the bus. Unfortunately, this testimony contains blatant falsehoods: Syrian military-ISIS conflict is not uncommon (though it is true that the Assad regime has helped Syrian militant Islamist fundamentalists) and the FSA was definitely not “the only force in Syria that fought ISIL” (Kurds? Nusra? Syrian Army?). Keane also, sadly, fails to mention the crucial role of Turkey. Money quotes:

U.S. intelligence agencies have been quite aware of this threat, this is the failure of policy makers who ignored it.

AQI was defeated in Iraq by 2009, an admission they made repeatedly in message traffic, calling off the flow of the foreign fighters.

Key policy decisions in 2009 to disengage from Iraq politically and to no longer help shape Iraq’s political future was disastrous. Particularly in light of previous success in other post conflicts; Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Bosnia Herzegovina.

Russia desires to be a key player in the Middle East and influence other actions as they are doing successfully in Syria and Iran desires Iraq to be a client state similar to Syria. Maliki has brought them in as significant international supporters to assist with operations against ISIL which only enhances Maliki’s political position due to the lack of tangible support by the US.

3. Doug Bandow of the Friedman/Koch libertarian Cato Institute makes an unconvincing case for abstinence. He comes closest to my views while the U.S. occupation of Iraq, which I then saw as stupidity on a massive scale and today accept as necessary to clean up the mess the U.S. left behind after its reckless toppling of Saddam, was still going on. He correctly points out that the ISIS has plenty of problems, is more committed to expanding in the Fertile Crescent than striking the U.S., and cannot conquer most of Iraq’s population. However, the ISIS can easily triumph over its Baathist allies if they rebel, as it already has done in Syria. Bandow also points out that U.S. intervention is a band-aid over a much larger Iraqi credibility problem. However, if the Iraqi government is unable to become credible, there’s always the well-funded Kurdish Regional Government the U.S. can rely on to defeat the ISIS in northern Iraq. Bandow’s statement that “Today ISIL is too big to simply decapitate.” raises the prospect of a civil war in the Islamic State, which, while terrible to contemplate, is quite plausible. Unfortunately, Bandow wrongly throws Maliki under the bus. He fails to understand the consequences of his two statements: “In Syria the ISIL radicals face simultaneous military challenges from the government, moderate opposition forces, and even slightly less extreme jihadists, as well as the political task of establishing a functioning government in areas under its control.” and “Turkey is a Muslim nation with significant military capabilities which borders both Iraq and Syria.”. It is Erdogan, not Maliki, who is the Middle Eastern leader most responsible for the rise of ISIS. Fortunately, Bandow makes up for his mistake by pointing out the dubious prospects for a replacement for Maliki. He also correctly points out that the Middle East is in flux and that partition should not be off the table. Bandow is only partly correct in his objection to funding Syria’s rebels: the risk is that weapons may fall into the hands of Nusra, but supporting more secular humanist forces in Syria decreases Nusra’s advantage. Likewise, weapons falling into the hands of the enemy is an inevitable risk in any violent conflict. Bandow’s statement regarding Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon “However, Washington should be burning the diplomatic wires to encourage them to take action according to their interests and abilities. The U.S. has enough challenges in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world to jump into another conflict.” is 180 degrees from the truth. It would be foolish for these states to fight the ISIS, as all of them are smaller in territory than the ISIS and have no access to the Turkish border. The U.S., however, has enough pressure to force Turkey to allow the U.S. to conduct coercive operations against the ISIS from Turkish territory. If anything, Bandow is too supportive of Iran, though he does correctly state that “the Obama administration should quietly ensure that any U.S. military involvement does not clash with actions taken by Tehran”. Though Bandow does state that “ISIL has grown most obviously out of past U.S. policy mistakes”, he fails to state that it had shrunk during and after the late 2007 surge out of past U.S. policy successes. Money quotes:

To the extent that the organization establishes effective control over a territory, which remains problematic, it will have less incentive to strike the U.S., since doing so would, as with the Taliban in Afghanistan, risk its geopolitical gains. The group continues to pose a serious challenge, and one which could morph into something different and more menacing over time. But today Washington has an opportunity for a considered, restrained, and measured response.

Iraq’s most serious problem today is that the state lacks credibility and will, and the military lacks leadership and commitment. These America cannot provide.

Moreover, appearing to reflexively back Baghdad risks foreclosing potential solutions, including some form of federalism or even partition. The Iraqi Humpty Dumpty has fallen off of the wall. The Kurds are moving toward a vote over independence. The willingness of mainstream Sunnis to back ISIL demonstrates the depth of their alienation from Baghdad. The collapse of the Iraqi military suggests that the national government is unlikely to quickly reassert its authority. The U.S. and other interested parties, including Jordan, Israel, Turkey, and Iran should be talking informally and quietly about options to defuse the potential sectarian explosion. While Washington could help advance such an approach, no plan will succeed without support of regional states and local peoples. All options should be in play.

Washington’s reluctance to countenance Tehran’s involvement in Iraq is understandable but irrelevant. Hussein’s loss always was going to be Iran’s gain, the Bush administration’s intentions notwithstanding. There is nothing Washington can do to change that today. The more America is willing to tie itself to the Maliki government the less the latter might need to rely on Iran, but the impact likely would be marginal. The overwhelming religious, cultural, personal, economic, and geopolitical ties would remain. The U.S. always will be a distant and alien power.

America’s role should remain advisory, at most, but it would be best to ensure no inadvertent complications. The crisis in Iraq has placed a greater premium on improving relations with Iran—and especially resolving the nuclear issue, if possible.

4. Michael Eisenstadt of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy comes closest to Obama’s views, but refuses to mention the crucial role of Turkey (if ISIS is equivalent to Viet Minh, Turkey is equivalent to North Vietnam and the U.S. is equivalent to the U.S.S.R.). He points out that direct U.S. intervention in Iraq would simply lead to more ISIS recruitment, but I say that this is a good thing! The more ISIS jihadis killed this time, the fewer the Iraqi government has to kill later. His testimony is mostly perceptive and quite frank. He does understand that “The road to liberating Iraq passes through Syria.”. He supports Obama’s half-billion dollar package to aid Syrian rebels, which I dismiss as duplicitous, and way too much and too late. Money quotes:

Thus, the U.S. should allow Prime Minister Maliki to twist in the wind as long as he is not willing to work to achieve a cross-sectarian coalition government, while quietly pushing for an alternative to him who would be willing to work on that basis. It should, however, hold out the prospect of expedited weapons deliveries, and even U.S. drone and air strikes against IS positions in Sunni-only areas in the north as an incentive.

And thanks to its rapid success, IS was transformed overnight from perhaps the richest terrorist group in the world, to one of the poorest (de facto) states in the world.

IS’s defeat of the ISF was also a major setback for Iran. And IS’s rise threatens the so-called ‘axis of resistance,’ from the Levant to Iran, as IS is active in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and its recent victories might inspire violent Salafists already active in Iran.11 This is yet another reason, barring any major change in policy by Baghdad, not to move too quickly to lavish military support on the Iraqi government, as it is worth letting Tehran consider how its own policies have contributed to the current state of affairs there.

In conclusion: Michael Eisenstadt has spoken. The ISIS is staying. Thousands of antiquities in its territory are doomed to be either sold or destroyed.

The Population of Nineveh and Areas of Some Other Ancient Cities

Judging from Google Earth (by copy-and-pasting Google Earth polygons into this website), the total built-up area of Nineveh in the late 8th century BC was just over 1800 acres-larger than that of than any other Near Eastern city at the time. George Rawlinson seemed to have been correct in his estimates of Nineveh’s size and population (at just under 100 persons per acre, roughly 175,000 persons; roughly a tenth of the population of modern Mosul). The population of the walled city of Nineveh in the 8th century BC was nearly 150% that of the entire Kingdom of Judah during its best days (the period 720-701 BC). The 120,000 mentioned in Jonah (100% of the population of the Kingdom of Judah during its best days) also seems a reasonable slight under-estimate for the population of Nineveh in the Late Iron Age. Even the great city of Kerkenes in Anatolia seems to have been only 613 acres in area. Jerusalem in the Late Iron Age was 162 acres. The city of Calah was 917 acres. Khorsabad was 760 acres. Babylon was 1030 acres.

The only pre-20th century cities of Mesopotamia I know of that exceeded the size of Nineveh were Samarra and Baghdad, the latter coming in at nearly 3000 acres inside its city walls.

Israel Finkelstein Paper on Late Bronze Collapse Four Times as Good as I Thought

Paper here.

Firstly, Finkelstein, Litt, and Langgut’s findings from the Sea of Galilee show that there was an intense dry period in Canaan between c. 1250 BC (when Hazor fell) and c. 1100 BC or just before (when Canaan experienced a baby boom). Secondly, the authors show that these findings can also be connected with the peak of the so-called “Minoan Warming” in this graph. Thirdly, the authors show that all the textual evidence supports their hypothesis that the 14th century BC was a wet period with no known major droughts while the 13th-12th centuries BC were a dry period with many known major droughts. The authors, however, show no real evidence of “economic and demographic decline” in Canaan in the Late Bronze IIB-III, which they claim occurred. Though Hazor, Bethel, and Shechem did lose their city-state status in the 13th century BC (Bethel later than the other two), I find the claim that either the population or economy of Canaan declined during the 13th century BC to be dubious.

Paradoxically, Finkelstein flip-flops again on the date of the beginning of Israelite settlement, placing it in the midst of the drought instead of, as he did in 2006, after the end of it. If cities like Megiddo, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Lachish, and Azekah could prosper in the Late Bronze IIB, so they could trade imported Egyptian grain with the nomads Finkelstein claims settled down during this era. It is doubtful that Israelite settlements in the Late Bronze IIB-III could survive the coercive power of Egyptian soldiers and taxmen. Like Todd Bolen and Israel Finkelstein in 2006, I see no evidence Israelite settlement predates the collapse of Egyptian rule in Canaan. In any case, it is impossible that “demographic decline” (which probably didn’t happen) could somehow spur a settlement boom in the highlands of Canaan.