I remember my parents telling me that when we travelled in South Africa (in the 1960s), they had to make sure that the [native black] driver could stay with us, at friends or in the hotel or in some other safe place, as otherwise he was likely to get severely harmed or even killed by members of other tribes. This post may provide an explanation why my parents had to take such precautions.
Also, I hope it will give pause to those who think that it follows immediately from the many defects of the state that the remedy lies in a romantic conception of anarchy, where the state has disappeared and peace services are exclusively provided by individuals and the market. In the sequel to this two-part-post "Prosperity and Violence", I am going to endeavour to show that
in the process of development, the nature of coercion alters. Rather than being privately provided, it instead becomes publicly provisioned. And rather than providing a means for engaging in costly acts of retribution, it becomes a means for promoting the creation of wealth. (p.50)
Below I try to reconstruct from excerpts some of the narrative - especially on the role of violence in societal development - contained in a great book of only 144 pages: "Prosperity and Violence" by Robert T. Bates. It offers an amazingly incisive and insightful comparison of the paths of development of rich Western societies, on one hand, and countries of the Third World, on the other.
Karl Polanyi refers to the transition from village to city, and from agriculture to industry as "the great transformation [...] (p.20)
As I shall show, kin relations provide insufficient assurance [...] to motivate the formation of the kinds of capital necessary for an industrial society. The assurance kinship provides, moreover, comes at a high cost. Analysis of these costs helps us to understand why it is not societies governed by kinship, but rather societies governed by states, that secure the great transformation. (p.22)
Bates goes on to analyse two vital aspects of development:
[...] the decision to form capital and the formation of institutions that render it rational to do so. (p.22)
In agrarian societies, families organize production, consumption, and the accumulation of wealth [...] They also manage power. Not only daily life but also affairs of state flow through the networks spun by birth, marriage, and descent.(p.30)
However, people in pre-industrial societies
[...] cannot shed risk by transacting in markets. Instead, they must directly bear the costs of uncertainty; they must self-insure. Two of the most obvious ways in which they do so is by making "conservative" decisions and by failing to specialize. (p.38)
[T]hey grow crops that while offering a smaller harvest, nonetheless offer one that is more certain [... They] remain subsistence producers. They are reluctant to plant pure stands of maize or wheat or to specialize in cash crops. [...] The costs in terms of the diminution of income yield, however, the benefit of increased security. It secures the peace of mind that comes from decreased risk in the face of a hostile nature. [...] That property rights inhere in families, rather than in individuals, renders families a means of insurance. [...] [M]embers [of the highly extended and geographically diversified family] can exercise the right to a share of the property of other relatives to ensure themselves against risk. [...] The dispersed location of the family estate yields a diversified portfolio of income-generating assets, thus reducing the level of risk. (p.41)
By the same token:
Just as families and kin groups self-insure against the risks of nature, so too do they self-insure against risks arising from the conduct of other human beings. Further constraining the economic performance of kinship societies is the nature of their political institutions. While offering a means for protecting property, the private provision of security by family and kin [...] also limits the accumulation of wealth. (p.42)
For deterrence to work, the threat of revenge must be credible. This system of governance requires, then, that men are warriors, capable of inflicting harm; it also requires that they be willing to retaliate, and be known to be willing to do so. (p.45)
There is a number of cultural practices that reinforce a sufficiently violent attitude:
In societies where families arm themselves and provide their own protection, military prowess lies embebbed in codes of honor, from which it derives credibility as a deterrent. (p.46)
Absent a reputation for being willing to fight, a person becomes vulnerable. Not only might his enemies view him as prey, but also his family and friends will scorn him, since their safety depends upon the support than can be expected from others. The incentives to fight thus run deep and once concord is lost, cycles of retaliation ensue. (p.47)
To be sure:
Private violence can work; it can produce peace. But the peace it produces is fragile. Once triggered, the system inflicts costs that mount over time: families span generations, and the wrongs of one generation cast a curse on the lives of those who succeed them.
To avoid the costs of private violence, people seek ways of insuring that retaliation will not be triggered. In so doing, they expose another defect of the private provision of security: in the face of the costs of the system, people may seek to increase their welfare by choosing to live in poverty.
Students of village societies emphasize the fear of envy. Others describe how those who become wealthy are subject to accusations of witchcraft and sorcery. In such societies, egalitarianism becomes a strategy in which persons forgo consumption for the sake of peaceful relations with neighbours. To forestall predation, they may simply choose to live without goods worth stealing. In such a setting poverty becomes the price of peace. (p.47)
As kinship societies expand, families inhabit diverse terrains; they trade and, better insured against the risks of nature, they secure economic gains. But the nature of their political institutions imposes important limitations upon their well-being.
The security they supply to the producers and accumulators of wealth is fragile. It lies imbedded [sic] in a culture of provocation. And should threats that support the peace have to be acted upon, then the system produces desolation and grief.
The political institutions of kinship societies impose a cruel trade-off; peace on the one hand and prosperity on the other. (p. 47/48)
Continued in Prosperity and Violence (2/3).