History

Paleo Diet People Alert: Grains Blamed for the Rise of the State

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Interesting new academic theorizing on the foundation of the state that adds a new wrinkle to my sociological observation that the paleo diet is sweeping the libertarian movement. 

In a paper called "Transparency, Appropriability and the Early State" (an earlier version of which was published by the Centre for Economic and Policy Research last year), Joram Mayshar, Omar Moev, and Zvika Neeman argue that:

The emergence of the state is commonly associated with the increase in productivity that accompanied the Neolithic Revolution. The standard argument is that the transition from foraging to agriculture created food surplus, and the availability of surplus facilitated through various channels the advance of an elite that did not engage in food production, leading ultimately to the emergent state. We argue that this explanation is deeply ?awed. The protracted rise in productivity during the Neolithic period by itself could not have generated any surplus, since population size would have adjusted endogenously to prevent its creation. 

Rather, it was the forerunners of the early state that generated surplus through expropriation, thus, in part, curtailing the increase in population. More speci?cally, we argue that the transition to agriculture made expropriation more rewarding and thus induced banditry and a demand for protection. From our perspective it does not matter whether that demand was met by roving bandits who turned stationary (as argued by Olson 1993) or by leaders from within (as is more commonly assumed). Yet, due to the public-good nature of protection, it is unlikely that the farmers who sought protection eagerly gave up their produce to ?nance it. Thus, we contend that the same innovation in the appropriating technology that invited robbery to begin with also enabled the emergence of the state.

The more speci?c proposal is that the feature of the Neolithic revolution that made expropriation more rewarding was the cultivation of cereals and the ensuing requirement to store grains. Such storage is fully consistent with a Malthusian subsistence regime and with the lack of any long-run excess of food.

Yet it was this appended feature of the new production technology that induced a fundamental change in the 'tax technology,' facilitating the regular appropriation of food-stu? by bandits and by the emergent state.

Grains: bad for your health, both physical and political. (Maybe.)

The Institute for Justice fights for the right to write about the paleo diet.

(Hat tip: The Marginal Revolution blog)