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December 03, 2017


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Make matters worse, with no native americans, you have a wildly different ecology.

Say hi to Mr Sabretooth and Mammoth.

For that matter, you might have had Norse settlements trading mammoth and mastodon tusks.

English and what have you might have been a half century late and the Norse might be up and down the eastern seaboard.

The Norse were stymied by the locals after all. No locals, lots of land, plenty of stuff to hunt. Greenland looks way, way less appealing than Vinland then.

It's possible about the Norse, but we really don't know what stopped their settlement. It might have been the locals, but the climate up there is terrible and there's not a whole lot to trade. I'm not saying that the vision of British explorers finding Norse settlements is impossible! I'm just saying that AFAIK we don't have enough information to judge its plausibility.

But the different ecology ... great point. I think it reinforces the idea that initial settlement would be slower. I'm not sure if it would have a giant effect on the speed of expansion once the initial colonies were in place, though. Thoughts?

The below comment can also be found at: https://pseudoerasmus.com/2014/04/13/anonimo/comment-page-1/#comment-50228

Noel: “Neither seemed to doubt that the resulting society would be more oppressive and less democratic than what really emerged in the northern United States and Canada.”

It’s perfectly reasonable to say that European settlers in North America (and elsewhere) wanted a democracy only for themselves; and if they had been a demographic minority at the beginning, they would not have extended democratic rights to non-Europeans. That’s the logic of apartheid South Africa. I believe this would have been true in any other Anglo society. And I believe this would have been true for Israel at its founding — if Jews had been a minority in 1948, the State of Israel might not have extended democratic and citizenship rights to the Arabs who remained within the pre-1967 borders. (I don’t want to get into whether the Arabs became a minority through ‘exodus’ or ‘expulsion’.)

Noel: “The latter two arguments unambiguously strengthen Suresh’s overall point, which is that there was nothing inherent in English culture that insured that its settler colonies would become rich and democratic places.”

But Suresh’s last paragraph ignores the implications of his own reasoning that settler living standards would still be very high even with a larger indigenous population. Remember what he did with his exercise. He gave white Americans the same income level as now, but increased the indigenous percentage of the US population, and gave the Native Americans their current income ($18,000). So the average income gets lowered. US GDP per capita is lowered only because, for what ever reason, the indigenous population does not have the same income level as white Americans. You could say exactly the same thing about African-Americans in the opposite direction: if their income were as high as white Americans’, US GDP per capita would be higher than its actual level today.

So the exercise Suresh performs is not an indictment of Anglo institutions as they pertain to Anglos. It may be an indictment of Anglo institutions for being only partially inclusive.

But what if African-Americans or Native-Americans were like Puerto Rico within the USA?

Puerto Rico (a) is today richer than if it had not been acquired by the USA in 1898; but (b) Puerto Rico fails to converge further with the USA due to conditions from the pre-1898 period.

Can we not apply the same reasoning? AA income is lower than the national average because of semi-inclusive institutions, but exactly the same institutions raise the AA income higher than any other institutional arrangements in which African populations live. Likewise, Native Americans’ $18,000 income is higher than anything enjoyed by indigenous people anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere outside North America. You could probably say the same thing about South Africa. European institutions clearly give white South Africans a developed country income. Black South Africans have a much lower income, but still higher than most elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa.

I don’t think you can conclude, as Suresh does, that “Nothing about European culture [read as institutions] granted contemporary Americans the relative economic comfort they’re celebrating today” — it clearly does for white Americans, but it also does even for minorities.

But of course I am not speaking of equity, fairness, or justice. I am only speaking about the nature of institutions and their economic effects.

I agree that Suresh didn’t follow his own argument to its logical conclusion! And I also agree that the problem with English institutions in the settler context is that they have been exclusive. And I believe that we’re all in agreement that alt-North America would have been far less de

But I don’t believe in the counterfactual in which the exclusive institutions needed for the Naidu scenario produce as much prosperity for the European population, let alone the native Americans. Consider the American south. The institutions there were not conducive for economic growth, and if Maya Sen is to be believed, they had a serious long-term negative impact on the entire population.

South Africa is another (weaker) example. In 2011, using the private consumption PPP exchange rate from the World Bank, the average white household income was US$72,000 against US$81,000 in the United States. I would argue that South Africa is a worse example, since the white population there is more skewed towards the skilled and wealthy than it would be in Naidu-counterfactual North America, but the point still holds.

And finally, a minor quibble. I agree with you entirely about Puerto Rico, but the institutions imposed by the U.S. weren’t extractive. They were quite a lot more inclusive than the ones the European settlers would impose on the native populations in the Naidu scenario!

South African census: http://www.statssa.gov.za/publications/P03014/P030142011.pdf
PPP rates: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/PA.NUS.PRVT.PP?locations=ZA
US average income: https://www.cbo.gov/publication/49440

While I am convinced that the speed of settlement would have been slower and less widespread, I think you are underestimating the thirst for precious metals. Silver would have been harder to get but what about gold?

Impact on old world would be huge. The civilization built by native Americans had a global impact starting about 1599.

For example: No potato in Ireland leads to greater share of planter / Protestants. No Chile pepper in India, no sweet potato on Papua New Guinea, no silver inflation in Ming China or Mughal India -- you can't jump ahead to 1776 before sorting out 1500 to 1600.

Naidu seems to be very eurocentric and us -centric in his analysis.

Both twitter and blogs are inferior to Usenet for this type of discussion. "The net we lost...."

I respectfully but strongly disagree that you need to sort out 1600 before discussing what would happen in North America. The effects of derailing the Price Revolution and Columbia Exchange are unpredictable ... but they won't include the end of English colonization in North America. Nor would they include the development of other European imperial threats to the English holdings.

Given that, it's a safe bet that the grounds for a colonial revolt in the late eighteenth century won't be there. Ireland and Asia may look dramatically different, but that won't systematically change the conclusion about North America.

See? You can do this on blog posts! Keep SHWI alive.

With regards to the Norse, the emergent consensus is that the Greenlanders were aware of northeasternmost North America, to the point of regularly making trips to Vinland and Markland for resource gathering over centuries, but were simply uninterested in settling. These areas were much too far away from the Norse's own interests, as the furthest-flung constituents of Norse civilization and as Christian, for settlement to be appealing. A lack of an indigenous population would have changed nothing.

hrm. And the Newfoundland settlement, Randy?

The sagas apparently talk about getting into fights with the locals and it ending badly. And I thought I read somewhere the Norse also were trading walrus tusk ivory but when that collapsed due to reopening of the markets, that's one of the large reasons they left Greenland.

However, if there are mammoths and mastodons for ivory...

We might also see some Basque settlements for fishing.

A pre-English Nordobasque east coast would be...odd.

The forests would be nothing like we've seen historically, Noel. Other than fire and hurricane, these forests would be really, really old growth. As in potentially 10k years. Fathoming that is...odd.

Now, would it stymie the expansion of anyone? Possibly. There are is, as pointed out above, no corn, tomato, potato, etc for the food exchange. No local help. The forests are dense and full of Pleistocene fauna, something more akin to Africa, but weirder...

Too bad sloths turned out to be herbivores. Had they been carnivorous as an iconoclastic proposed, they'd make for awesome additions to the Norse sagas!

If North America is less hospitable that could change the character of settlements. Many sectarian attempts at colonization occurred but most were swamped by other settlers once they were established.

If religious settlements could develop deep in the wilderness without being swamped by other settlers you might end up with more areas like Utah where highly distinctive sects dominate.

Noel: If there is no influx of mineral wealth from Mexico and Peru to fuel a speculative bubble, how will Spain evolve? Who knows? Maybe Spain will become a successful mercantile thassolocracy.

With a POD that, from the perspective of Europe, is in the 1490s, I would be reluctant to bet on England necessarily ending up a disproportionately major exporter of migrants. I also would not be willing to bet against France in this timeline.

Will: My understanding is that there is a suspicion that there were multiple Norse outposts, even on Newfoundland, and that these were visited over centuries. That there was not a permanent settlement, then, would seem to have less to do with a bad first contact and more to do with Greenlandic disinterest. Granted that unique ivory resources might well get them to pay more attention to northeasternmost North America.

Dave: Much depends on the sequence of events, IMHO.

Dave: widely spaced settlements surrounded by wilderness, each with it's own particular kooky customs? Sound like some versions of the (Sf) asteroid belt.

Randy: IIRC the Greenland colony was small and resource-poor enough that it may simply have lacked the spare resources for colonization. Having a sizable part of their work force permanently departing probably wasn't something the local leadership would be happy about, especially if they took boats with them (wood, after all, was in somewhat short supply in Greenland).

Pretty much, Bruce. Way back in the days of SHWI, my own scenario imagining a Greenlander Norse settlement of Vinland involved Greenlanders opting to abandon their colony for a more hospitable mainland. At the time, I had not quite understood the extent to which settled Iceland would have been a more natural alternative.

I suppose you might need to see some sort of ideological motivation for a settlement to be risked. Pagan Norse seeking a homeland free from Christians?

On the other hand, one reason for _not_ going settling on the mainland would be lacking in an "empty America" scenario: the Church in Greenland seems to have been very hostile to the notion of any mixing with the "heathens" (apparently a major reason why the Norse seemed to have learned diddly about local survival from the Thule/Inuit).

No, you really do need to sort out 1600. Corn was the major source of carbohydrate calories for most of the American colonies from very early on, and the foundation crop for North American slavery. Europe without cheap silver and the Great Inflation will be completely unrecognizable. Hell, no syphilis means we may still have Valoises and Stuarts running around.

Doug M.

I'm not seeing that changing English population pressure or their lead in colonizing North America. Tell me more.

Chiming in late as usual, is it possible to estimate how much inflation there'd still be without the American gold and silver? I know some people (including Carlos Yu) have said that new silver mines in Germany would have still triggered mass inflation...not as much of course, but still enough to make everything crazy.

For Spain, I think a Spain without the Americas would still have the military mindset and distaste for business. They'd already destroyed most of the old plantation empires in Andalusia/Valencia, and their banking system was almost entirely run by foreigners. The big difference is that without the Americas, Castille becomes the poor cousin to the Aragonese, who dominate the country and its obsession with Italy and the war against the Turks. Unless Spain manages to gobble up Portgual (royal families will be so changed it's impossible to say).

About the English still taking the lead, an empty-America scenario means the French government has no reason to discourage emigration that might interfere with the fur trade. Another main reason the French emigrated so little (too busy killing each other in a religious civil war) may be butterflied out. Are there other reasons the French won't go?

So possibly more of Italy under Spanish (Aragonese) control? I wonder how that would effect the development of the southern Italian languages?

If the New World had been unpopulated, there is one counterfactual to consider that follows this line of reasoning:

1) No gold influx into Spain, no money to fight the French for most the 16th century
2) The French empire enters the race for colonies less financially exhausted than it did when it entered in 1608.
3) A financially richer France that is not bothered with fighting the Spanish constitutes a menace to Britain.

I don't know what is the next step, but an "empty" New World reads to me as the entry script for an epic struggle between the French and the British in the New World (at least, on a wider scale than what was seen).

Another comment: the reasoning about learning from Indians in the US is interesting. Settlers learn from existing Indians how to adapt and they also trade with them for some key staples. As such, the Indians likely reduced the mortality of settlers which discouraged the adoption of extractive institutions. Has anyone considered this point in details? In short, has anyone considered that initial relations with natives determines the decision to extract or not?

With New France, I'm not sure that the issue is that so few French emigrated as that so many English emigrated. French Canada does not strike me as uniquely underpopulated compared to the Viceroyalty of La Plata.

Why was England uniquely productive of vast waves of emigration from the early 17th century on? Was it a matter of England already having developed colonial practices in Ireland, complete with a history of settling subjugated territories?

In response to Randy, I'm not sure what colony we should be comparing to what. What makes it hard to compare is that Spain was the only colonizer in America to capture large sedentary native populations that were used to working for an empire. Spain might have developed La Plata or any of its other backwaters more if they didn't have such tempting magnets in Mexico and Peru. English emigration doesn't look so odd when you compare it to Spanish.

Spanish immigration to the New World was hugely important, but my impression is that it was directed particularly to colonies like Mexico and Peru with dense populations. It's quite plausible that, had other countries conquered these territories, there would be similar waves of migration.

There were no comparable civilizations that likewise fell under English sway: the English essentially repopulated their territories. England stands out for the intensity with which it populated its American colonial territories mostly with English immigrants. IMHO.

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