China, Florence, India: Social mobility and stalled history

I’ve just come across another reference to the recent study on social mobility in Florence since the Middle Ages:

The top earners among the current taxpayers were already at the top of the socioeconomic ladder six centuries ago – they were lawyers or members of the wool, silk, and shoemaker guilds; their earnings and wealth were always above the median. In contrast, the poorest surnames had less prestigious occupations, and their earnings and wealth were below the median in most cases.

Which contrasts very interestingly with articles I read yesterday by the always excellent Steve Sailer which (among other things) covered the comparatively incredible levels, and longevity, of social mobility or ‘social darwinism’ within Imperial China:

Feudalism had ended in China a thousand years before the French Revolution, and nearly all Chinese stood equal before the law.[14] The “gentry”—those who had passed an official examination and received an academic degree—possessed certain privileges and the “mean people”—prostitutes, entertainers, slaves, and various other degraded social elements—suffered under legal discrimination. But both these strata were minute in size, with each usually amounting to less than 1 percent of the general population, while “the common people”—everyone else, including the peasantry—enjoyed complete legal equality…

…The vast majority of Chinese might be impoverished peasants, but for those with ability and luck, the possibilities of upward mobility were quite remarkable in what was an essentially classless society. The richer strata of each village possessed the wealth to give their most able children a classical education in hopes of preparing them for the series of official examinations. If the son of a rich peasant or petty landlord were sufficiently diligent and intellectually able, he might pass such an examination and obtain an official degree, opening enormous opportunities for political power and wealth….

…However, the flip-side of possible peasant upward mobility was the far greater likelihood of downward mobility, which was enormous and probably represented the single most significant factor shaping the modern Chinese people. Each generation, a few who were lucky or able might rise, but a vast multitude always fell, and those families near the bottom simply disappeared from the world. Traditional rural China was a society faced with the reality of an enormous and inexorable downward mobility: for centuries, nearly all Chinese ended their lives much poorer than had their parents…

…Furthermore, the forces of downward mobility in rural Chinese society were greatly accentuated by fenjia, the traditional system of inheritance, which required equal division of property among all sons, in sharp contrast to the practice of primogeniture commonly found in European countries.

And also Anatoly Karlin, who discusses why he thinks projections of India matching and potentially surpassing China are hugely overblown – with reference to the damage done by the caste system and it’s millenia long enforcement of separate, non intermarrying, ethnic groups as opposed to the comparative social mobility and homogeneity of China – and covers what he thinks is the likelier route for both giganations as they attempt to industrialise and develop.

Instead of buying into their own rhetoric of a “India shining”, Indians would be better served by focusing on the nitty gritty of bringing childhood malnutritionDOWN to Sub-Saharan African levels, achieving the life expectancy of late Maoist China, and moving up at least to the level of a Mexico or Moldova in numeracy and science skills. Because as long as India’s human capital remains at the bottom of the global league tables so will the prosperity of its citizens.

The Puzzle of India: A Nation of Gypsies and Jews

What I conclude from this is that in terms that would be familiar to Westerners:India is a nation of Gypsies and Jews.

Over the centuries, Brahmins have been selected for intelligence. They were expected to master requisite texts and those who couldn’t handle it dropped away. These selective pressures did not apply to the lower castes who made up the vast majority of the population.

The reason for why India split along caste lines was because of Hinduism and its origins as a religion/ideology to hold society together under the boots of the conquering light-skinned Aryans who brought down the original Harappan civilization (indeed 4 millennia on Bollywood still glamorizes lighter-skinned actors and this is not very controversial within Indian society). These invaders became the Kshatriya military caste, and the Brahmins became their spiritual apologists and enablers. (The Kshatriya were also the one major caste that was allowed to eat meat to build up muscles. Quite logical). The darker skinned aborigines had to continue tilling the soil for their new masters.

I’ll give a final shoutout to the research that uncovered, a few years ago, that Britons with Norman surnames continue to be richer on average than those with traditionally Anglo-Saxon surnames – and I would expect to see similar results with regards to Celtic vs Germanic/Norman surnames in Scotland, Ireland and Wales:

Surnames which indicated nobility and wealth in medieval times are still richer even today, research has suggested.

‘Moneyed’ surnames, such as Darcy, Percy, Baskerville and Mandeville continue to have more cash than those with ‘poor’ names, such as Smith, Mason and Cooper.

The research, which uses university admissions, probate records and official information going as far back as the Domesday Book, tracked what happened to those whose surnames suggest their forebears were either aristocratic or ‘artisans’ from the working class.

Author: Malcolm MacCallum

Have fairly varied interests, though pretty shallow education. College dropout. Speak >1 language. Worked an eclectic mix of jobs. Expect I'll post fairly randomly on topics upon which I'm completely unqualified to comment.