Gaia is the word for "unity-of-life-processes". The experiment here is to unify the various threads of voice and sense of self together into an undivided unity. Spirituality, economics, politics, science and ordinary life interleaved.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Historical Source of Capitalism, Part One

This is the first of several posts on the sources of capitalism in late Babylonian civilisation. I encourage disinterested readers to skip past these posts for more personal matters.

For interested readers, on the other hand (!), I will try to trace the source of Babylonian land laws to inter-Aryan conflicts. My intuition is that Argan vigor coming down from the icy North may be the common factor for Mediterranean innovations for the millenium before the Common Era. In terms of Learyan neurogeography the interactions between the cold North and warm South is a dynamic common to many innovations from Europe. By contrast, China's metaphor was cultural interaction between the Centre and the Provinces, with cosmopolitan clusters around the three river, one that well fits the modern situation with the Centralised West and the Provincial Developing World, but bodes ill for innovation between the two. In China the Mongols were the closest to the role of the Aryan Barbarians, and it will be interesting to compare the rule of the Ming Chinese innovation to the Ayran conquest of Assyria.

Anyway, Mongol and Aryan barbarians aside, here is the basis of modern Capitalism in Babylonian land rights:

"Ancient Mesopotamia and the Emergence of Private Property.
Economists have long tended to take private property as an elemental and original institution in human experience. Man is indeed a territorial animal. While some species have evolved a deafening howl, or special glands to mark territory modern man uses Trespass Laws, Rights of Way and Immigration Controls, backed by armed force, prisons and refugee camps. In the beginning however, most land was held communally as tribal territory or allocated to citizens as subsistence lands for their self-support. Archaeological evidence also shows that while the agricultural revolution began more than ten thousand years ago private property is a more recent innovation.
'Private' property (ie; alienable property, subject to market sale without being subject to repurchase rights by the sellers, their relatives or neighbours) first emerged in Bronze Age Mesopotamia between the 3rd and 4th millennium BC. Archaeologists translating cuneiform records (i.e.; clay tablets) from that period have found that private property first emerged in the palace sector before proliferating through the public bureaucracy and the 'damgar' or merchants of Babylon. As Mesopotamia's towns grew with their high walls and irrigated fields a landlord class had begun to emerge. But land transactions still retained non-commercial characteristics the evidence suggests, until the 1st millennium BC, when the first real estate market emerged. The abundant records of the Egebi family who lived in Babylon in the sixth century BC show that they derived their income from land rent and the attachment of interest bearing debt claims to their land/property portfolio.
Privatisation of land led to absentee ownership and monopolisation according to Dr. Michael Hudson of New York University and these in turn led to fiscal (budget) crises as wealthy landholders avoided taxes by shifting them unto the rest of the population. This economic and social polarisation (and the likelihood of a revolt) was staved off by the tradition of royal 'Clean Slates'. This latter tradition, which extended back thousands of years according to Prof. Baruch Levine, was the basis of the Biblical Jubilee Year (Leviticus25 etc). Widely acknowledged as the centrepiece of Judaic religion, the Jubilee restored the status quo ante by wiping out the overgrowth of agrarian debt, freeing the debt slaves and restoring to the landless their rightful inheritance in land. The Jubilee may thus be seen as a key to social, political and economic harmony and sustainability. The fundamental point of Jubilee Law is that the Earth is the Lord's, to be fairly shared and stewarded by all. This reassertion of the land rights of the poor and displaced, the Promised Land and Kingdom of God on earth were likewise a crucial if not central to Christ's mission.
Having strayed far from it's core truths by turning the radical social justice of Biblical law on debt and land tenure into a utopian and other-worldly ideal, the Catholic Church today may well have undermined it's own relevance and potential. Acquiescing to a conservative orthodoxy the Christian churches and their faithful have neglected the Jubilee imperatives of land redistribution and debt-relief, now so appropriate at both the national and global levels. Thus they themselves may lend weight to the view that their church lacks social and moral courage. Piety, rituals and ceremonies are a weak substitute for the social, economic and environmental justice. The Jubilee remains a key so to the social and economic reinvigoration both Ireland and the world now need.


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