Saturday, 13 August 2011

“Sumer did ok without capitalism.”

In my many random rants and battles with the world at large I have managed to have a retort from one Nancy Weston who argued that “Sumer did ok without capitalism.”

She has argued further that:
Wealth is made by draining and using those Third world countries to the benefit of Capitalist countries, if we didnt have China making our consumer goods do you really believe Australia could afford to produce it at the same cost whilst paying our award wages?”

To this topic of course I posted on the lack of trade with Africa. It remains that the issue with Africa (and for that matter any third world country) is a lack of trade. The US has an economy of $14.772 trillion (2011) based on GDP. This is $47,275 (2010) per capita or man, woman and child.

Trade to Africa accounts for just 0.607% of the US economy. Even trade with China only accounts for 2.27% of the US economy. All up, adding all of the impoverished nations that trade with the US, the total trade just accounts for 3.25% of the US economy.

This is, 96.75% of the US economy is derived from countries other than the third world. I have to ask, How can ““Wealth be made by draining and using those Third world countries to the benefit of Capitalist countries”?

Basically, the lack of trade and the lack of capitalistic markets is the issue. Capitalism is not draining resources from the poor, the poor are not engaged with trade. The are poor as the do not trade.

Sumer…
To the topic of this discourse.

The Sumerian civilization was founded upon the flood plain of the lower reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers about 4,000 B.C.E. Some argue earlier and to 5,000 B.C.E. but these were basically small tribal societies and did not in themself form what we would call Sumerian civilisations.

The economy of the Sumerian city-states were based on agriculture and trade. Basically, they started as a merchant economy. A form of proto-capitalism. Writing was “invented” as a means to account for the states taxation system and as a means of controlling debt and contractual obligations.

As the society grew, they became more and more specialised and started to industrialise creating manufactured goods in large factories. The Sumerian city state was also a slave culture and there was a heavy reliance on the capture and enslavement of the surrounding peoples and tribal groups.

These city states imported the goods needed for a bronze age society. Copper was imported from as far away as what is now the UK. Tin was found throughout Europe and Asia minor. Timber was sourced from the coastal regions of the Mediterranean including Lebanon (as it is now called) and Northern Africa. These imported goods were exchanged for dried fish, wool, wheat, and and finished metal goods.

The machine of the time, the engine was the slave, but this was a distinctly different slave culture to that most people would think of when comparing the South of the USA today.

Basically, Sumerian society thrived (ignoring the slavery) for the reason of trade and what was an economy derived on proto-capitalism.

At about 3,000 B.C.E. the invention of the wheel was used to enhance trade speeding movement inland and making it profitable to trade with those further from the coastal regions.

At the start, slavery was a minor part of Sumerian society. As the city states fortified and the priest and warrior cast started to be subsumed by the rise of the Kings, slaves became more important in the economy right to the point where the Sumerians disappeared from history around 2,000 B.C.E. This was a result of the military domination by various Semitic peoples that surrounded the region. Most importantly, at the period around 2,000 B.C.E. Sargon established an empire in Mesopotamia and this consumed Sumer. That stated, Semitic peoples had been encroaching into Sumer long before Sargon's conquest.

Basically, as trade was controlled more and more and more capital was consumed by the state for a military Kingship, the nation moved from prosperity to collapse.

Many supporters of communism have proposed some new progressive structure of society that is really the same agrarian society of the middle Sumerian city states. This system was created with a priesthood controlling the society and parallels that called for by those wanting to see a Marxist form of welfare state. In this case, the Party replaces the priest, but for all intents and purposes it remains the same.
Over 90% of the Sumerian people were involved in agriculture. In any standards, they were poor and disenfranchised.

Basically, any early agrarian was poor and undernourished. The people who made the city work were the merchant class and these became the first middle class society.

To learn far more, I highly recommend the following book:
The Invention of Enterprise: Entrepreneurship from Ancient Mesopotamia to Modern Times (Kauffman Foundation Series on Innovation and Entrepreneurship) by David S. Landes, Joel Mokyr and William J. Baumol (Jan 11, 2010)
 
Money in the early Sumerian city state was in the form of small silver disks. The record systems and accounting used in these city states has led to Sumer being referred to as “the birthplace of economics”.
Basically, we have a society that started through trade. As trade (and an early form or proto-capitalism) made wealth, a type of political parasite took off. This was the Kings.

The Kings made more war, they needed more slaves and they drained more from the society.
So, Sumer started with what was an early form of capitalism and collapsed as a top heavy government took more and more and gave back less and less.

I have to end by asking, did Sumer really do ok without capitalism?

References:

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