Until a few centuries ago economic growth rates were well below feasible population growth rates. This gave a “Malthusian” state, as in most animal species, where population was near its max sustainable level. To learn more about our distant future, which will probably be in such a state, let us learn more about our Malthusian past. In particular, consider two important clues:
Wei, long ago max population probably also gave max total product, but it seems it was not the best mix for conflicts with neighbors. Today, max total product is more nearly the best mix for conflicts with neighbors.
Looking more closely, I see that your explanation is a bit different, focusing on high capital being possibly useful for seduction, intimidation, and military power, instead of "wealth and power". I guess your point is that high capital might increase power at the cost of wealth?
In our modern world capital is rather effective in war, so there is little danger that a capital labor mix that is optimal in times of peace is very wrong for times of war. Among our Malthusian ancestors before industry, however, the max peace production mix may have been quite different from the mix that best defends against invasion.
On the slack clue, cultures that limited their fertility and work hours should have had more capital per person. In conflicts with neighboring cultures, perhaps low capital cultures were more often intimidated or seduced by folks from individually-richer high capital cultures. Or perhaps such capital was especially useful in warfare.
This looks a lot like what I wrote a few months ago:
Maximizing the wealth and power of a nation requires an optimal mix of human and non-human capital. Nations that fail to adopt population controls find their relative wealth and power fade over time as their mixes deviate from the optimum (i.e., they find themselves spending too much resources on raising humans, and not enough on building machines), and either move to correct this or are taken over by stronger powers.
But at that time, your response was "On your capital argument, I think you need to learn more econ growth theory." Have you changed your mind, or are you making a different point here that I'm misinterpreting to be the same as mine?
I suspect that the limiting factor in preindustrial societies is arable land, not available labor. Therefore, the societies may have been much closer to their limiting populations than your model suggests.
BTW, subsistence farmers may on average work light hours, but they work like crazy during planting and harvest. When the crops are growing, there's less to do.
Looking at those past posts, which I hadn't read, and this one, don't we see a slightly different outcome than what Robin predicts? The future will hold some planets which limit population and are very rich (even if per capita wealth tops out at 1,000,000 times today's average), and some populated to the Malthusian limit. The rich planets will definitely be able to repulse wealth grabs by the poor ones, and may even rule over the poor ones. (Isaac Asimov's "robot detective" novels involved a scenario sort of like this, as I recall.)
Not read Robin's arguments about that? Perhaps try:
Continuing on y81's thought...I agree that investing in "human" capital seems to be beneficial.
"Perhaps labor is just especially useful in stealing capital" ... interesting when you consider who steals the most today (I'm excluding white-collar crimes here for sake of argument!).
Robin, why would we "return to such a state"? If you believe that we are going to experience decreasing population growth, won't this ease the "max sustainable level" of population? For all of your talk about how things have improved over time and how much more room there is for improvement in general, why do you hold this contradictory and hopelessly pessimistic Malthusian view of the future? If I'm mistaken, please correct me.
Both are consistent with a shortage of capital relative to labor and a desire for more capital. The second argument seems weak. One only lends what one is unable to make better use of themselves. An interest rate equaling the population growth rate would mean an absence of lending since everyone could do better on their own, if not through investing then through consumption. The better use may have been social or political rather than economic but the former do not preclude the latter and may even be multipliers of the latter.
In short, specialization requires high human capital and far from near-death conditions. Under near-death conditions the people specialized for violent conflict will destroy the people specialized in production and then starve.
Malthus discussed resource limitation. We are mostly resource-limited today - except for a lucky few who would behave the same way after winning the lottery.
Resource limitation is ubiquitous in biological systems - basically for the reason Malthus gave - populations tend to increase exponentially, but resources rarely do. Anyway: Malthusian dynamics surely rule today.
Why do you think that a denser population is necessary an advantage in warfare? With sparser population one can get:* better equipment* less overhead* actually trained soldiers
Take 20 well-armed mercenaries with group cohesion against 50 peasants and the peasants don't have a chance.
Benquo, if capital is going to be stolen anyway in a violent theft, might as well do it peacefully instead.
Michael, hard to follow you, but seems you are suggesting both claims are true.
y81, that is plausible.
In many pre-industrial societies, the large amounts of time that the men don't spend working are spent in activities related to warfare, i.e., either actual warfare, or activities that teach military skills (e.g., hunting, archery, horsemanship), or violent sports (e.g. jousting, wrestling, football). A society that trains its young men in skilled violence will be able to repulse wealth grabs from neighboring societies with dense populations of peasants. (Indeed, small pastoral populations frequently overrun dense peasant populations.)
Capital dedicated to winning conflicts is stronger than labor is stronger than capital dedicated to creating wealth but capital dedicated to winning conflicts retards by its presence the creation of capital dedicated to creating wealth because it can be used to seize said capital.
I thought the Jubilee year was designed to prevent concentration of capital. Land was returned to hereditary landholders (except in cities, where I guess land was not regarded as a productive asset), debts were to be forgiven, and slaves/indentured servants were to be freed. This sounds like a periodic dissolution of capital accumulation.
I don't think it's much of a stretch to surmise that sovereigns were jealous of the power of private holders of capital, and aligned themselves w/ labor to keep citizens from becoming too rich and powerful. If this is true, we should expect to see restrictions on capital held by citizens (who would continue to accrue interest by lending out money, or buying/building productive assets), but no restrictions on capital directly held and controlled by the state (which I'd think would be the kind of capital useful in war-fighting, and less useful in peacetime productivity). While in the long term a capital-accumulation might maximize warfighting capacity, the short-term advantage of a powerful and rich sovereign could have outweighed the retarding effects on private capital accumulation, enough to prevent any thrifty-normed group from surviving long enough to dominate.