Bloody shovel

Don't call it a spade

Trade and Peace

People used to ask me if there’s any libertarian movement in East Asia. And there really isn’t. Nothing. The very concept is very foreign to them. It hardly registers at all. Try to explain it to a random native and odds are they won’t even get what you’re trying to say.

The whole concept is so bizarre that I promptly forgot about the whole thing after living her for some time. I used to be a Mises.org reading teenager, and I have to thank my Asian hosts for making it so hard to parse the ideology that I also lost interest myself.

Now I guess there’s many theories about why is that the case; besides the obvious one that libertarianism is retarded, and the burden of proof is in Westerners to explain why they came up with that strange idea that the people would be free without the state. Whatever that means. I guess I’ll put up my own theory: Asians are not into theology. They’re into history. These are exceptions of course (the weird shenanigans of Neoconfucianism), but in general the study of history has been much more prestigious and pervasive than arcane discussions about social metaphysics.

And of course history is but a compendium of anecdotes about why libertarianism makes no sense. So let me show a very short and illustrative one.

Gengis Khan founded the Mongol Empire, and its Chinese branch, what became the Yuan Dynasty, left a lot of historical records about the great Mongol enterprise. These dynastic histories, especially when they concern the story of a newly risen tribe, tend to start by detailing the foundation myth of the tribe.

Tribal foundation myths often have a common theme, about the tribe having a single common ancestor, or sometimes a couple, this ancestor being some supernatural being who just came down the sky. The Mongols, claimed that Gengis’ 10th degree ancestor, Bodonchar Munkhag, was their great founder.

The story of this Bodonchar guy is very interesting. Let’s start by the name, which Wikipedia translates as “misbegotten simpleton”. Or in other words “stupid bastard”. This stupid bastard was born of Dobun Mergen and Alan Gua. Dobun Mergen was a fine lad, second of two sons, and was fooling around with his elder brother. His elder brother being blind of one eye, compensated by having eagle-vision with his one eye, and he saw a carriage of people on the distance. Among them was a very fine girl, who appeared single. So big brother said to Dobun Mergen, his dear brother, “hey this girl is single, I’ll go ask them to give her to you”.

And so the half-blind older brother with game, got this beautiful girl for his healthy yet gameless young brother, and they were married. Dobun Mergen and Alan Gua had two healthy sons, Belgunudei and Bugunudei. Years passed and their father Dobun Mergen died, leaving Alan Gua alone with her two sons, and one bondservant they had acquired some time ago.

As time passed Alan Gua had three more sons. Her two elder sons by his husband obviously started to suspect. ”Hey Mom hasn’t remarried and she’s bore three sons. The only guy around is this slave dude, they must be his”. So they wen’t to confront their mother, who completely denied the facts and said that some yellow light in the form of a man came to visit her at night, touched her belly, and that’s how she got pregnant. My young sons are sons of Heaven, you see, so don’t be bigots and be nice to them.

Eventually Alan Gua died, and her 5 sons had to decide what to do with the inheritance. They decided to divide the property in 4, and give a part to each of the elder sons. The youngest son, that is Bodonchar Munkhag, was given a flint stone, some rope, and a horse, and that’s it. On his protests of unequal treatment he was told that he was stupid so no inheritance for him. That’s the moment where I guess he got his name. Stupid bastard, go take a hike.

And a hike he took; he got his horse and left his tribe, finding a good hunting place and building a grass tent to live by himself. He then saw a hawk hunting small game, and seeing that he could use some of that, caught the hawk and domesticated it. This led him to became a pretty proficient hunter. Eventually he cought more game than he could eat, and found a nearby tribe living around, the Uriankhai. So he went by, and exchanged some game for mare milk, which he dearly missed. They never asked him where he was from nor treated him badly; he came every day, traded game for milk, and went back to wherever he lived.

Awesome, right? That’s individual grit and the free market working its magic. Lonely teenager must fend for himself, so he learns useful skills; then uses the product of his labor to trade for things he can’t make for himself with his neighbors. And nobody bothered to ask who he was, what he was doing living there by himself. This was a commercial transaction were both sides profited. Beautiful story. This stupid bastard should be made the patron saint of the economics profession.

But the story goes on. After some time one of his older brothers (also a son of the light, not of her mother’s husband, of course)felt sorry about his little brother and went looking for him. He then stumbled upon the milk-providing tribe, who told him they knew of his brother. He’s out there hunting with a black hawk; if you see a black hawk in the sky, your brother can’t be far.

So the brothers met, they hugged, cried, “sorry bro for sending you away”, “it’s ok man so glad to see you”, you get the picture. Big bro tells little bro to come back home, and so they pack up their stuff and get moving. But on the way little brother Bodonchar was kinda restless. After a while he told his brother:

“You know, this tribe I got the milk from. They have no leader, no man above all of them. They would be very easy to conquer, we could grab their stuff and have an easy life”.

Big brother approved of the suggestion, and just on getting back home, he recruited a bunch of able bodied men, put Bodonchar on command of them, and rode forward to conquer the tribe of the Uriankhai. They stole their livestock and their women, killed the men and enslaved the children to work for them. Bodonchar was a great hero, he had tens of sons born from the concubines he captured, who went on to found the various tribes of the Mongol people, among them the great Gengis Khan, who looked up on his ancestor Bodonchar, the great hero who destroyed the tribe that had been giving him milk when he was needy. He admired him so much he was especially written on the first page of all dynastic histories!

So that’s what free trade does to you. If the Uriankhai had grabbed this Bodonchar kid, cut his head off and got his hawk for themselves, they’d still be alive, and would have a game-hunting hawk as well. Because they didn’t, and let a stranger into their midst, they were all killed, their women raped, and their children enslaved for eternity.

Trade is mutually beneficial. But some things are much more beneficial.

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31 responses to “Trade and Peace

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  3. Max July 27, 2015 at 14:35

    “the burden of proof is in Westerners to explain…”

    on*

  4. Chris B July 27, 2015 at 17:12

    Superb piece. Had (many) discussions in this area with Land on twitter a while back. MM’s whole adaption of Confucian government as a protector of sponaneous order struck me as important. The influence of Confucianism on western liberalism appear significant-https://mises.org/library/physiocracy-and-free-trade-18th-century-france
    it’s as if liberalism is just an incomplete version of confucianism.

  5. Handle July 27, 2015 at 18:51

    One can play a kind of ‘Rashomon’ with the moral of that story.

    There’s always Sailer’s version of the ‘East-Eurasian Continental Ethos’, “Get Big And Crush, or else, eventually, someone else will and you will Get Crushed.” Either by some other major civilization, or some Horsemen Raiders from the Steppe or a homogenous militant clan from the non-arable Frontier with close blood relations giving them a lot more spontaneous and organic social glue and asabbiyah. That’s because the lack of it would have spelt certain doom in the harsh and brutally Hobbesian non-agrarian conditions of their homeland, which also inspires values on unsentimental and savage ruthlessness regarding those outside the circle of loyalty.

    That ‘argues’ in favor of centralized despotism with the ability to marshal the manpower for fighting and economic productivity of a vast unified empire, with a lot of extra effort to synthetically create the kind of cohesion and uniformity that one’s subjects don’t naturally have, to make them perform as if they were a team with stronger bonds and aligned interests.

    Meanwhile, for your ordinary peasant or small landlord or minor official, there is a long, grisly and tragic track-record of things going very, very badly if your particular central government is not strong and powerful enough to protect you from these predations.

    Which is not a very ‘Doctrinaire Libertarian’ moral at all.

    On the other hand, maybe if they had something like an English Channel to supplement their security, the poor Uriankhai could have come to a more ‘Nationalist Minarchist’ / ‘Libertarianism In One Country’ conclusion that, sure, they needed a strong night-watchman state, but apart from that, life was pretty good, pleasant, and prosperous, and if the their traditional volunteerist ways don’t have to be entirely wiped out in order to keep the horde at bay, then it shouldn’t be.

    • spandrell July 27, 2015 at 19:12

      How was the historical UK “minarchist” at all? Europe didn’t have Gengis Khan, but it had Napoleon, and England only survived because it had a great navy. And great navies don’t come cheap, you need a pretty strong state to build and supply them.

      China was Big and Crushed a lot; but it had 1/4 of England’s tax revenue by 1840, which explained how it got crushed in the opium wars.

      Of course there’s the colonies which distort the picture.

      • Eternal Apparatchik August 1, 2015 at 09:08

        How was it not a de facto night-watchman state until late into the 18th century when Parliament began its attempts at regulating the internal economy? Very weak governments were the norm in virtually every European polity from the Danube delta to the Atlantic, the most relevant here being the tiny little Dutch Republics which managed, by essentially private means, to build and supply a ridiculously strong navy — probably because what’s necessary for building and maintaining anything is above all knowhow and wherewithal, not a strong government.

        You don’t need to be a libertarian to realise that.

        And what in the world does Napoleon’s one decade long escapade in western Europe have to do with Genghis conquering two thirds of Asia? The British Isles had been under a constant threat of invasion for centuries before Napoleon.

        So, I’ll be blunt: you should read more proper history. Unlike in China, here we don’t much care for anecdotes and myths.

        • spandrell August 1, 2015 at 16:43

          The tiny little Dutch Navy was eventually completely crushed by the big massive British navy, soon after the UK took care of its royal house and started to centralize government. And this Royal, not private Navy dominated the world for centuries.

          Which is how Britain dealt with Napoleon, which was a massive powerhouse of the level of Gengis Khan, and certainly like nothing that Europe had faced in ages. The threat of invasion that Britain had faced before was a joke.

          What’s with the punchline? You want me to look at the superstructure or what?

          • Eternal Apparatchik August 1, 2015 at 18:40

            You’re relying on an anachronism: of course the Dutch didn’t rule the seas indefinitely. See, when you look at things through the proper perspective, you notice how due to Richelieu the French already had at the time a (relatively) strong centralised government, and a damn good navy too, and yet the Dutch did not merely hold their own against them for the better part of a century, they pretty much dominated them… et cetera —

            let’s go straight to the punchline: it’s easier to observe or come up with a rule of thumb than to apply it, and conceptual shorthand doesn’t scale nor translate too well. I want you to look at the details, because you’re painting in strokes too broad to be meaningful.

        • Bill August 2, 2015 at 06:14

          England didn’t have a libertarian or free trade economic policy. It had mercantilist policies and sought to acquire colonies and territory. The Navigation Acts were passed under Cromwell in 1650 and they formed the basis of British trade policy for the following 200 years. The Navigation Acts restricted the use of foreign ships and prohibited the colonies from trading directly with other countries and their colonies. Their original purpose was to keep the Dutch out, as they were dominating trade at the time.

          England’s merchants, shipping industry, and Royal Navy developed significantly afterwards. The rest, as they say, is history, and England went on to become a superpower.

          • Eternal Apparatchik August 2, 2015 at 18:32

            Yes, you are correct.

            But neither I nor Handle (as I read his post) were making the claim that England/the UK were “libertarian” polities, but that, compared to polities in other parts of the world, or compared to our contemporary levels of government involvement, for most of its history, it didn’t much intrude in the business of its subjects beyond being an arbiter in property disputes, and that such a state of affairs steered the development of Britain in the direction and manner that it did, which in turn serves as a hint that the situation our host glosses over is not as straightforward to generalise as he seems to imply, and it would be more prudent to look at it as something more akin to a two-way game of rock-paper-scissors, with trade on one side and war on the other.

  6. Chuck July 28, 2015 at 09:54

    Nukes may allow the (partial) libertarian dream to come true.

  7. Baker July 29, 2015 at 11:13

    The moral of the story is that any organization / organism needs strong defence to survive. China didn’t avoid being plundered and raped when it refused to trade with foreigners.

    • Baker July 29, 2015 at 11:23

      A weakness of the thoughts of many libertarians is their underestimation of the scope of defence needed. They just envision a society where private property and the non-aggressive principle is respected, without much idea of how to actually enforce such ways and avoid corruption from external and internal forces.

      Though I’d say it is a problem with the thoughts of individuals rather than libertarianism in principle.

    • spandrell July 29, 2015 at 12:04

      Qing China wasn’t refusing to trade with foreigners. Trade was very tightly regulated but it was pretty big all the same. China was selling them shitloads of tea and porcelain in exchange of silver; once the flow of silver dried out globally, the British had nothing to buy the tea with, so opium it was. And hence war.

      And btw there’s good evidence that the whole reason Nurhaci could unify the Manchus is that increasing trade in the northern frontier send loads of silver over to the Northeast, which created the basis of Jurchen unification. If you had starved the bastards they wouldn’t have been able to create an army.

  8. Jai July 31, 2015 at 22:06

    Pretty sure Lao Tze and Chuan Tze wrote about the people being free without the state long before “Westerners came up with the idea”…

    • spandrell August 1, 2015 at 01:56

      No they didn’t.

      And anyway, what happened with Daoism? Oh the imperial court didn’t find it useful so it decayed into a convoluted peasant cult.

      • Erebus August 10, 2015 at 00:37

        I’m not quite sure what “being free without the state” means, but Lao Tzu did recommend that governments adopt a certain… wu wei approach.

        “The more display there is of legislation, the more thieves and robbers there are.

        Therefore a sage [ruler] has said: ‘I will do nothing (of purpose), and the people will be transformed of themselves; I will be fond of keeping still, and the people will of themselves become correct. I will take no trouble about it, and the people will of themselves become rich; I will manifest no ambition, and the people will of themselves attain to the primitive simplicity.'”
        (From chapter 57 here: http://www.sacred-texts.com/tao/taote.htm)

        It’s fairly obvious as to why the Imperial court would not find such thought useful.
        (…What is non-obvious is how it so completely degraded into a sort of folk-mysticism: Part spirit-worship, part tall-tale and legend.)

        • spandrell August 10, 2015 at 06:22

          The Han Dynasty did promote Daoism at the very beginning, until the 4th emperor Wu Di.

          I guess the displaced Daoist priests had to find something to do to make a living, so they went preaching on their own. Next thing you know they’ve developed an hereditary caste of folk-mysticism preachers in the countryside.

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  13. dividadmin13 October 30, 2015 at 12:07

    I think libertarianism is not a thing in itself, but a combination of British individualism, American frontier life, Lockean philosophy of Classical Liberalism all mixed together for one specific purpose, to defeat socialism, especially the early 20th century kind where some folks really admired the Soviets. It still has some utility, in fighting some aspects of leftism, like too much regulation or bureaucracy, its utility is that it uses leftist language so it has some amount of effect on leftists.

    I think it is no a proper ideology, it is more of a tactical weapon, an antidote mean for specific situations. It is formulated precisely so that it should affect the Western social democrat, not anyone who approves of any government anywhere.

    • spandrell October 30, 2015 at 12:17

      Libertarians are the most strident advocates for Open Borders.

      • dividadmin13 October 30, 2015 at 12:21

        The Caplan types yes, the Hoppe types not: https://mises.org/library/case-free-trade-and-restricted-immigration-0

        I think it comes from the fact that the whole movement outlived its usefulness. It was made to fight the Soviet stuff. Won. It was made to fight the most insane type of pre-1980’s social democracy. Won. No 70-80% top tax rates anymore.

        While there would be still enough fat to cut out form modern states, libertarianism in that form outlived its usefuless precisely because it was not a full ideology, just an antidote.

        I think Caplan et al going for this Open Borders thing is about simply inventing a new use for L. to stay in business. They lost the goal, and they are desperately seeking any goal to keep the movement somehow alive and popular.

  14. lalit February 20, 2016 at 09:12

    Trading is something two entities engaged in when it is less beneficial for them to go to war. If one side is too weak, then no trade. Just a master-slave relationship. This is also the story of India and the British East India Company

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  16. Dave January 31, 2017 at 06:57

    Although the horse-milking tribe was dissolved, it has a disproportionately vast genetic legacy today, just as the ravished Sabine women contributed half the genome of the Romans who went on to conquer most of the known world. Women fantasize about being captured and raped because, as a means of gene propagation, it sometimes works out very well for them!

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