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The greatest mystery of the Inca Empire was its strange economy (2012) (io9.com)
219 points by dboles99 1513 days ago | hide | past | web | 147 comments | favorite



A comment from a Peruvian friend of mine, who I passed the article onto:

"This is incredibly misleading. There was no market because that culture was run by theocratic totalitarian blood thirsty central planners. The vast majority of people were a form of slave and trapped in basically a completely rigorous caste system. They were a mix of India and NK, ruled by a Mao "god" Inca who had total control of everything. The article gets right that people had to pay tax as labor but in some cases also as a percentage of the food they gathered, and a non-trivial percentage was stored in "tambos" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tambo_(Incan_structure)) to support the military and state-controlled trading routes.

OTOH the Spanish monarchy was totally evil, purposefully wiping out millions of people and creating basically what amounts of royal satraps in the new world from which to extract cheap/free labor and tons of gold and other wealth.

That said, the Incas were also primitive--no real written language and barely a minimum system for tracking amounts and numbers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quipu).

I took 12 years of Peruvian history and it wasn't until recently that I realized how utterly terrible the Incas were. They were proto Marxists."


You mean feudalists.

It's been a long time since I've read any pre-Columbian history, but I seem to remember that in addition to infectious disease, a lot of the South American empires were easy to conquer because the subjects generally hated their rulers, and the Spanish had no trouble finding indigenous allies.


The Inca were easy to conquer because they had no steel and no horses. The Spanish were so unimaginably horrible that I can't imagine their presence having anything other than a uniting effect.

The book "The Last Days Of The Inca" describe a scene were ~20 armored conquistadors are in a town that's surrounded by mountains on all sides. The Incas managed to call in enough people that the hillsides were all completely covered with tens of thousands of people waiting to attack. When they did, the entire population was slaughtered by the 20 conquistadors on horseback (there were so many dead bodies that new waves of attackers had to struggle to climb over them), and the Incas managed to kill only a single conquistador.

If you want to finally abuse yourself of the fairy tale notion that somehow justice will always prevail in the world, I recommend reading "The Last Days Of The Incas."


That doesn't pass the sniff test. Slaughtering a few thousand stunned pigs would be exhausting. Killing that many people who are trying to kill you? Not gonna happen.


It was a siege of a well-fortified town, and the Spanish had non-negligible support from non-Incan people unsatisfied with the Incan rule. That said, a Spaniard on a thousand pound horse, wrapped in steel, on an open, unobstructed field, against people wearing mostly cloth armor, with stone or copper weapons, was effectively unstoppable. Again that said, many of the non-Spanish troops supporting Pizarro and Co. died.

Most of the defeats the Spanish suffered were when some of the more clever Incan generals used the brutal terrain against them: triggering landslides, creating obstructions to disrupt a cavalry charge, etc. While that works in mountain passes, places like Lima (established by Pizarro mid-1500s), were on flat terrain known by the Spanish, so those sorts of tactics did not help during those sieges. The siege of Cuzco (or Cusco, whichever) was in a similar situation to that of Lima.

Something that I felt was missing from the Last Days of the Inca was an emphasis on the number of Spaniards, and ignoring the number of shock troops that Pizarro & Co. had recruited by that time. Remember, by the time Manco Inca had decided to "rebel", the Spaniards had been in Cuzco and some neighboring cities for several years.


> That said, a Spaniard on a thousand pound horse, wrapped in steel, on an open, unobstructed field, against people wearing mostly cloth armor, with stone or copper weapons, was effectively unstoppable

This is ridiculous. The problem was that the Incans didn't have access to (or had developed) the polearm (ie, spear axes), guerilla warfare or basic combat engineering (read: trenches/moats). 10 decently trained pole-armsmen could easily best an armored horse, and well-laid traps or ambushes could easily have netted them closer to 1:1 numbers. An occasional ditch or two could easily have prevented any charges, nullifying the mobility advantage.

More likely, the Incan slave/poor populace was split and easily co-opted by the Spaniards.


> More likely, the Incan slave/poor populace was split and easily co-opted by the Spaniards.

Why is this either/or? The above statement is undoubtedly true, but that doesn't mean what I said is false.

The problem, is, as you say, that the Incans only had access to cloth armor, copper axes, and stone clubs, as I said in my comment. They eventually developed guerilla tactics, but such tactics are not effective when you are sieging your capital, trying to take it back from invaders. Also, I cordially invite you to try and organize the digging of ditches when 50 to 90 percent of your population has been killed, most of the rest are in rebellion because your rule was, frankly, never terribly popular, and the remaining percentage are currently facing down a thousand pound warhorse. I would also like to point out that decently training a pole-armsmen is no easy feat when you have never done it before, and your empire is in disarray.

Also, the Spanish had plenty of experience in the European style of warfare based on cavalry supported by foot, since the European cultures had access to horses for many centuries at this point, whereas the Incans and other cultures and empires that arose in the Andes had access to the llama. Llamas are not, shall we say, renowned for their martial prowess. It takes time to develop new ideas and technologies in the face of change in the best of time. Saying "oh come on, just dig ditches and train spearmen" is a tad unrealistic.


> Llamas are not, shall we say, renowned for their martial prowess.

The idea of someone riding a llama and going out to battle gives me laughs.

Obligatory llama pictures:

* Llama face: https://si0.twimg.com/profile_images/269279233/llama270977_s...

* Llama standing on steppe: http://images.nationalgeographic.com/wpf/media-live/photos/0...


Especially given the types of firearms available to conquistadors of the age. They weren't crew-served weapons, or machine guns, or even breech-loaded rifles. If you were lucky it was a flintlock, and even with that you're not going to be firing very frequently or accurately.


They were basically the knights of legend, in plate mail from head to foot with swords and lances.


> covered with tens of thousands of people waiting to attack. When they did, the entire population was slaughtered by the 20 conquistadors on horseback

That's completely and utterly ridiculous. What were the conquistadors? Supermen?


How do you propose to defeat a band of 20 knights on warhorses, in plate armor from head to foot, bearing pole-arms and swords, using an army of bewildered lackeys armed with stone age technology?


Quipu are hardly primitive and it is still debated as to whether they encoded natural language.

Here are a couple of good books that go in to detail on exactly how complex these devices were.

Signs of the Inka Khipu by Gary Urton http://utpress.utexas.edu/index.php/books/urtsig

Signs of the Inka Khipu goes into detail describing the binary coding mechanisms used in quipu which included not just a dimension of relative placement of knots. Color coding, left or right twisting, sub threads and top or bottom position relative to the central cord were a number of other mechanisms used to communicate binary information. I think that if x86 or MIPS are primitive, so are the quipu.

Mathematics of the Incas: Code of the Quipu by Marcia and Robert Ascher http://www.amazon.com/Mathematics-Incas-Code-Quipu/dp/048629...

This is a demonstration and exercise book demonstrating some of the mathematical expressiveness of quipus. Again, it is hardly primitive.

These devises were used for accounting, recording keeping and other ceremonial uses for an empire stretching most of the length of the South American continent at a time when the major communication mechanism was relay runners. These were likely detail documents, whether more like a spreadsheet or a database or also involving prose is debatable. The complexity and flexibility of the system could have supported both. Like a Turing machine, if there were an infinitely long quipu, there is nothing it could not calculate.


Lost me at "Marxists". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marxism

edit: this came out kinda snarky, sorry.. I found all of that very interesting and insightful, just not the very end of the ending.


It definitely didn't share Marx's original concepts of decentralized states and communal distribution. But almost every implementation of Marxism in recent history involved totalitarianism and ignored the part about decentralization of power post-revolution. So it's a fair statement, if taken as the commonly held meaning.


Well, I think the commonly held meaning is nonsense, and that it's commonly held doesn't really change that.

"almost every implementation of Marxism in recent history involved totalitarianism and ignored the part about decentralization of power post-revolution"

Then how are any of these an actual implementation of Marxism? There have been implementations of totalitarianism claiming the label of Marxism, sure. You might also said it got co-opted real quick, and that that still reaches into today, when people equate, say, Stalinism with Marxism. I wouldn't even want to guess the ratio of people having a negative opinion about Marx' ideas, and the people who read Marx.


> Then how are any of these an actual implementation of Marxism?

They may not necessarily be an 'actual implementation' of what Marx intended, but even early on, those outcomes were predicted as a logical conclusion of Marxism by other philosophers.

reposting from a branched sub-thread:

"First, then, State Socialism, which may be described as the doctrine that all the affairs of men should be managed by the government, regardless of individual choice. Marx, its founder, concluded that the only way to abolish the class monopolies was to centralize and consolidate all industrial and commercial interests, all productive and distributive agencies, in one vast monopoly in the hands of the State. The government must become banker, manufacturer, farmer, carrier, and merchant, and in these capacities must suffer no competition. Land, tools, and all instruments of production must be wrested from individual hands, and made the property of the collectivity. To the individual can belong only the products to be consumed, not the means of producing them. A man may own his clothes and his food, but not the sewing-machine which makes his shirts or the spade which digs his potatoes. Product and capital are essentially different things; the former belongs to individuals, the latter to society. Society must seize the capital which belongs to it, by the ballot if it can, by revolution if it must. Once in possession of it, it must administer it on the majority principle, though its organ, the State, utilize it in production and distribution, fix all prices by the amount of labor involved, and employ the whole people in its workshops, farms, stores, etc. The nation must be transformed into a vast bureaucracy, and every individual into a State official. Everything must be done on the cost principle, the people having no motive to make a profit out of themselves. Individuals not being allowed to own capital, no one can employ another, or even himself. Every man will be a wage-receiver, and the State the only wage-payer. He who will not work for the State must starve, or, more likely, go to prison. All freedom of trade must disappear. Competition must be utterly wiped out. All industrial and commercial activity must be centered in one vast, enormous, all-inclusive monopoly. The remedy for monopolies is monopoly. Such is the economic programme of State Socialism as adopted from Karl Marx."

Benjamin Tucker, State Socialism and Anarchism: How Far They Agree, and Wherin They Differ (1888)


I don't think that there were any real/complete implementation of Marx's theories. Bits and pieces were collected together and bound by authoritarian/totalitarian states.

Lenin actually advocated a blended socialist/market approach, including private enterprises and private property, but that quickly disappeared when Stalin took real power even before Lenin's death.


Well, some people view those sorts of totalitarian states as the inevitable outcome of trying to build a nation on Marx's ideas.


You could say the same about the Sermon on the Mount, and many other things as well. IMHO there is a difference between "totalitarian" and "all-encompassing".


But almost every implementation of Marxism in recent history involved totalitarianism and ignored the part about decentralization of power post-revolution.

I recently came across a very interesting thought, which is that this observation (which I also believed until coming across that thought) is induced by a kind of selection bias. The original article in which I encountered this thought is here: http://www.pieria.co.uk/articles/men_make_their_own_history_...

The synopsis is this: Communism tended to develop in poorer (and therefore militarily weaker) countries, and communism was vehemently opposed by the ruling elite in capitalist countries. The worldwide interference of the CIA is probably the clearest evidence of this. So from the start, communist countries had to defend themselves against powerful adversaries.

Given that communist movements were attacked quite violently by foreign interests, it stands to reason that those countries which implemented a "softer" approach to communism did not survive. Foreign propaganda, wars, and coup d'etats sponsored by capitalist nations killed communism in many place where it had been democratically legitimized and could in principle be sustained with the consent of the people.

But, to put it bluntly, the consent of the people may not be enough when what really counts is a handful of oligarchs in the US.

So the examples of communism that survived are those that were able to defend themselves ruthlessly against equally or even more ruthless aggressors. This defense then grew abominations like secret police and what have you.

The secret police was thus not a function of communism, but of the paranoia caused by foreign aggressors. Look at what secret state organizations in western capitalist countries are doing these days, and the idea that the development of secret police is related to economics starts looking a bit far-fetched.

I am not certain that this is the ultimate answer in this debate. However, it is a plausible enough story which has a lot of historical facts on its side.


"Explaining why communism always fail without faulting communism even slightly" is a very rich genre. It is also disingenuous in failing to consider the single most likely (by way of Occam's razor) cause of communism's failure, which is the ideology itself.

But to apply some historical facts to the theory:

From its founding, the Cheka was an important military and security arm of the Bolshevik communist government. In 1921 the Troops for the Internal Defense of the Republic (a branch of the Cheka) numbered 200,000. These troops policed labor camps; ran the Gulag system; conducted requisitions of food; subjected political opponents to torture and summary execution; and put down rebellions and riots by workers or peasants, and mutinies in the desertion-plagued Red Army.

The Cheka existed from 1917 to 1922. Even if the US was scared of communism, nothing like the CIA existed to undermine the revolution in Soviet Russia. And yet, violently putting down riots by workers and peasants was necessary. It takes a special kind of ideological arrogance to blame the USA for that.


"Explaining why communism always fail without faulting communism even slightly" is a very rich genre.

Please be clear on what you mean by "failure".

For Russia itself, communism was actually very successful economically speaking: Their economy grew more quickly than the average for other, non-communist countries that were at Russia's level of development.

With this aside, and going back to what we were talking about (i.e. state violence and repression), your point is a rather weak one. During and in the aftermath of revolutionary phases, there tends to be violence. You yourself conceded that these measures were eliminated and/or scaled down in Russia without outside intervention once things had settled down.

This kind of thing has nothing to do with economic organization and can be found in capitalism as well. Just look at what's been going on in the Middle East and Egypt in particular. Those are far from being communists, and yet the cleaning-up after a coup d'etat was quite brutal.


Communism fails when it needs to imprison its own citizens on a massive scale for dissent. It fails when it needs to build walls to keep people in.

> You yourself conceded that these measures were eliminated and/or scaled down in Russia without outside intervention once things had settled down.

Oh, I conceded no such thing. The Cheka existed until 1922, but it didn't disappear, it was reorganised into the NKVD which later became the KGB. Both changes represented a step up, not down, in ruthlessness and brutality.

> During and in the aftermath of revolutionary phases, there tends to be violence.

You have to break some eggs to make an omelette. This is not something you shrug off as a regrettable but necessary fact of life, it's a huge and important argument against revolutions.

> This kind of thing has nothing to do with economic organization

Yes, it has everything to do with economic organisation, because the evidence strongly suggests that you need to violently force people to live under such organisation.



I was thinking in terms of subversive behind-the-lines campaigning that it might make sense to counter by policing what people read and talk about - but this was a "proper" military intervention with soldiers in uniform. It doesn't justify running a Gulag system.

Also, the internal oppression didn't exactly peter out after the intervention was over in 1920. The OSS (predecessor to the CIA) wasn't formed until WWII.


Also instructive is the history of the French Revolution itself (including the "Reign of Terror"), where you can see the idea of "the government is the people" writ large, but with only the political side beginning to be fleshed out, not the economic side.


For that to fit occam's razor I think you need to demonstrate that communist societies actually suffer a higher rate of failure than any other -ism. Most nation states fail. You might even be right to say that most of them fail in short order. The French alone have been through 5 republics in the last couple of centuries.

The simplest explanation, imo, is that power accretes in all civilizations, perhaps moreso in ones that face internal strife or hardship, and that power structures eventually collapse. Regardless of economic or political system.

And from another angle, if a capitalist society fails, is the most likely explanation also the ideology itself? And if both ideologies are to blame for their failure, what's left?


In France, the third republic began with the fall of Napoleon and ended with WWII. The fourth republic was ended by a perfectly peaceful and democratic constitutional reform and that brings us to the fifth. If that's your benchmark for a failing capitalist state, then yes, those fail all the time.


What is labelled as communism doesn't always fail, see China, Venezuela, Cuba.


Does anyone see them as really being communist? Some are a smidge closer than others I suppose. By the same measure, those that are labeled democracy have failed fairly often as well. And those that succeed are often just as far off the label as China is off its. How many democracies have a large turn out with anything even approaching 50% of the population voting for the winning group?


The opposite of communist is capitalist, just because it hasn't happened doesn't mean you can't have a democracy that is communist. But your point still rings true, how many capitalist societies have private police/fire dept/sewer/ health care ect ect.


Great point. Here in New Zealand we are moving towards private water/sewer and healthcare. But there is a long way to go before police and fire departments are privatized. Has anywhere privatized fire departments and police?


You can see an extremely sharp bend in pretty much all economic indicators in China when they reformed away from marxism and adopted capitalist policies under Deng Xiaoping.

To claim that Cuba isn't a failure is just silly, and Venezuela (which isn't labelled communist, by the way) is failing very fast.


How on earth is Cuba a failure in any metric except GDP and nice cars? Seriously. People are well educated, they have more doctors per capita than any country on earth. It's certainly doing a lot better than the Capitalist haven of Haiti. Venezuela, okay, not communist, socialist, still the bogeyman in the US.


Great way to make your point there, by down voting.


You can't downvote replies to your own comments. But great way to act adult there.


Although the historiography of selection bias may seem compelling, it's worth mentioning, that even when Marxism was in its early stages of philosophical development, Benjamin Tucker correctly prognosticated the fate of Marxism as a logical conclusion of its philosophy:

"First, then, State Socialism, which may be described as the doctrine that all the affairs of men should be managed by the government, regardless of individual choice. Marx, its founder, concluded that the only way to abolish the class monopolies was to centralize and consolidate all industrial and commercial interests, all productive and distributive agencies, in one vast monopoly in the hands of the State. The government must become banker, manufacturer, farmer, carrier, and merchant, and in these capacities must suffer no competition. Land, tools, and all instruments of production must be wrested from individual hands, and made the property of the collectivity. To the individual can belong only the products to be consumed, not the means of producing them. A man may own his clothes and his food, but not the sewing-machine which makes his shirts or the spade which digs his potatoes. Product and capital are essentially different things; the former belongs to individuals, the latter to society. Society must seize the capital which belongs to it, by the ballot if it can, by revolution if it must. Once in possession of it, it must administer it on the majority principle, though its organ, the State, utilize it in production and distribution, fix all prices by the amount of labor involved, and employ the whole people in its workshops, farms, stores, etc. The nation must be transformed into a vast bureaucracy, and every individual into a State official. Everything must be done on the cost principle, the people having no motive to make a profit out of themselves. Individuals not being allowed to own capital, no one can employ another, or even himself. Every man will be a wage-receiver, and the State the only wage-payer. He who will not work for the State must starve, or, more likely, go to prison. All freedom of trade must disappear. Competition must be utterly wiped out. All industrial and commercial activity must be centered in one vast, enormous, all-inclusive monopoly. The remedy for monopolies is monopoly. Such is the economic programme of State Socialism as adopted from Karl Marx."

Benjamin Tucker, State Socialism and Anarchism: How Far They Agree, and Wherin They Differ (1888)

Tucker is not exactly the most popular american philosopher of all time, especially not among the political classes, so it would seem unlikely that the american political system would conspire to see to it that his predictions would come true.


> OTOH the Spanish monarchy was totally evil, purposefully wiping out millions of people

As far as I know viruses imported from Europe to America wiped millions of people, not the Spanish themselves. It's well known that Pisaro's forces were minimal in the New World and the fights usually just involved a few hundred or thousands men. Viruses, OTOH, did wipe millions of people, and this was widely reported and observed in many tales of the New World.


Sounds like feudalism to me. Your friend seems to have a tenuous grasp on what Marxism is, but still uses it as a pejorative; which is unfortunate.

>There was no market because that culture was run by theocratic totalitarian blood thirsty central planners

This implies that markets would have arisen in Incan society but were suppressed. Is there evidence of markets organically manifesting in Incan society?


"Incan society" is a bit of a misnomer. "Inca" refers to either the ethnic group, or the ruler of the empire (so "Manco Inca" is roughly "King Inca"). About 100 years before contact with the Spanish, the Inca defeated the groups of people surrounding them (including the Chimu and Chanca), establishing the Incan empire. The last Inca to rule over a unified empire, Huayna Capac, was consolidating the rule in what is now northern Ecuador at the time of his death (probably from smallpox). His grandfather, Pachacuti, was the Inca who initially defeated the Chanca to establish the empire (or Tahuantinsuyu, as they called it).

Anyway, the point is, some of the people the Inca conquered, like the Chimu, may have had the beginnings of markets. However, the conquest of the Incas (who tended to claim that anyone they conquered were uncivilized and barbaric), and then the Spanish (who also waged an informational war), and compounded with the smallpox (which may have killed 90% of the large urban populations of South America), meant that most oral history was lost, and the method of reading the written history (if there is any, there's some debate there) was seriously crippled.

ANYWAY, getting to the point, there's some evidence but we don't really know.


The extent to which the Incas did it is remarkable, but historically civil engineering had little to do with markets. The ancient Sumerians, Egyptians, Persians etc. pretty much built their infrastructure and monumental buildings with drafted, unpaid labor. The French monarchy, one of the most advanced states in the world, relied on the corvée to build roads up until 1789 [1]. The decisive turn in the situation took place in Holland around the 16th century, when Dutch cities discovered they could build canals and recoup costs by charging moderate usage fees. This system of financing civil engineering, adapted to e.g. turnpikes and later railroads, increasingly became widespread, and displaced earlier arrangements in Western countries during the 18th and 19th centuries. So what would be truly surprising is if the Incas had done it with money.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corvee#France


Actually I remember a documentary were it stated that the Persians paid men and women for their skills working on projects. I can't remember the name of the documentary (probably from the discovery channel).

A quick google search - http://hsc.csu.edu.au/ancient_history/societies/near_east/pe...

And - "Men, women and children worked in ancient Persia to support a diverse economy. Workers were paid in wine and grain, with skilled laborers paid more than unskilled, and supervisors paid more than workers. Men were paid slightly more than women, but female supervisors were paid more than the men working under them. Young women received maternity leave and were paid money for each child they had."

http://www.ehow.com/about_5414474_jobs-did-ancient-persians-...


>Workers were paid in wine and grain

That's not pay, it's logistics. Even on the worst forced labor projects they're still usually feeding the prisoners.


Maybe just a little OT, but my grand-parens lived in an mountain valley somewhere in Eastern Europe and even though I was still a kid I remember that when they were bringing people in to help them with agricultural work (collecting hay etc) often times said people were not paid with money but instead with "days-worked".

More exactly, once person A had worked for you for two days you had to pay back by working two days at her place, let's say helping her collecting potatoes or whatever, "number of days worked" was a sort of currency. And providing food to the hired workers was also part of the deal.

Obviously things have changed now, as even then (25 years ago) this practice was beginning to fade off.


What you describe sounds a lot like the labor-day (trudoden) accounting system for collective farms in the Soviet Union. They actually did pay wages to the workers according to the number of labor-days worked. (Note: It wasn't literally one day -- harder tasks could earn more than one labor-day per day.)

If one farm needed some temporary labor, it would've been easier to trade labor-days with another farm than to settle in cash.

I don't know about other Soviet bloc countries, but I would not be surprised if they used a similar system. 25 years ago would've been towards the end of the Communist era, which would also explain why it was fading.


Eh, you simply changed the meaning of the word; it clearly states "paid" and not "feed".

You are fully aware that you can offer work in exchange for things rather than gold or fiat money?

From the other link we'll find

>Free workers were even recruited from neighbouring satrapies at harvest time (Dandemaev and Lukonin, 1989: 157). Paid free-born labourers worked on the Babylonian canals, and free non-citizen farmers worked the land of the state, temples and the rich (Dandamaev and Lukonin, 1989: 152), and provided the corvee labour at such sites as Susa and Persepolis (Kent 1953DSf 22-58). They could not be sold, and so were not actually slaves, and could be considered non-citizen workers.

(my emphasis)

The discussion is more complicated than quoting a couple of random non-related articles on the Internet. But simply changing the meaning of a given statement and dismissing the entire counter argument is dishonest.


I apologize if my previous reply came across as too curt. But I think a sharp distinction needs to be drawn between two work systems that are quite different:

A. Market based, in which a certain reward is provided for performing a certain amount of work. Workers are generally free to come and leave, and respond accordingly to variations in wages.

B. Command based, into which workers are essentially corralled by threats of force (explicit or implicit), and often provided with nourishment so they can keep laboring until their obligation is fulfilled.

It's possible to talk of "payment" under scenario B [1], but it cheapens the term and it definitely doesn't indicate market-based relations. Transfers of food and drink (which make for poor currency, especially in places that are already minting coins [2]) are on the contrary a good indication of the corvée system at work.

[1] See e.g. this Wikipedia entry: "Corvée [...] was unpaid labour imposed [...] by the state [...] The corvée was the earliest and most widespread form of taxation [... The] Medieval agricultural corvée was not entirely unpaid: by custom the workers could expect small payments, often in the form of food and drink consumed on the spot." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corvee

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persian_daric


That is a good distinction.

Although if I may digress and make a small comment. The market economy could be argued somewhat "command based" too. The difference being that you are given money to buy the food and shelter you need (rather than being given them directly). And then you have the entire "debt economy" when it comes to "laboring until their obligation is fulfilled".

While I now understand your argument, I saw the issue more as the state at least acknowledged an exchange, and a right for the worker to receive some compensation. Perhaps not the most valuable. But something, in a time were you could easily have slave labor; "payment" in its simplest form without any connotation to specific economic models.

Speaking of slave labor however. There was a part about slaves (in one of the articles I quoted). It stated that more skilled labor (doctors, nurses and teachers) were kept as slaves. Now, in a market economy those kinds of skills would (should) be especially rewarding in the model A you are talking about.

When I think about it, I can't say that lower skill work really would seem to differ in the two models you mentioned. In today’s world you could find lower skill work that pays more than simply keeping a person alive (e.g. in many European countries), but generally speaking this is not true in all (most?) places.

But I digress. Again.


Ya: free to go but free to starve isn't much of a choice. Outright slavery isn't necessary.


How is paying me money any different if my only option if I quit was live on the streets and starve?


Monopoly on means of survival is effective slavery. People in early agricultural societies didn't exactly have many choices.


This is the argument behind the movements for a living wage. However this is now, no early agricultural society, just first world shining light capitalism. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Living_wage


There are huge limits to capitalism in terms of automation. We are going to hit those limits in our lifetime and society is going to need some drastic adaptations.


> skilled laborers paid more than unskilled, and supervisors paid more than workers. Men were paid slightly more than women, but female supervisors were paid more than the men working under them. Young women received maternity leave and were paid money for each child they had."

It makes sense, people were paid for their ability to add to society. Men paid more possibly due to their greater strength; carry more, build more faster and women for having children.


I think the key point is that they didn't have money at all.


There were a lot of ancient societies that didn't have money but still engaged in commerce. The ancient Egyptians payed taxes in food for example. What the article stresses is that we don't have a record of the Incas' merchant class. This doesn't mean they didn't have one; they had no writing system either so it's possible that Inca trade was simply never recorded.

One thing to remember about the Inca's though is that though they had no written language, they did have a record keeping system involving knots in string. Only a very few Incas knew how this system worked so it's possible that here was no efficient reckoning system available to the masses so large scale trade would have been impossible in a lot of ways.

Another thing to think of, is that when talking about the 'Incas' we should avoid conflating the Incas themselves, who were relatively few in number, and the vast number of peoples that they ruled over. The bulk of the Incas themselves were soldiers in the military and were provided for directly by the government, while the conquered peoples were reputedly pressed into labor and made to wear uniforms corresponding to their social statuses. It's possible that the various tribes traded amongst themselves before they were conquered by the Incas and had their societies radically transformed.


The article has two main points:

1. The Inca state had no internal trade system whatsoever. This is, if accurate, indeed unusual for a society of its size.

2. Despite this, they still managed to acquire great "wealth", which the article defines as infrastructure and public works. This is not surprising at all, since historically even societies that had markets did not usually rely on them for civil engineering projects.


The story of Atahualpa’s Ransom (http://latinamericanhistory.about.com/od/theconquestofperu/p...) -- the king offered a ransom of gold -- seems to cast doubt on the claim the Incans didn't have money.


Why's that? It's clear they recognized various things as valuable. And that the Spanish told them they wanted gold.

But money is special: it's a unit by which all economic value is measured, and it's universally swappable for any other kind of value.


It's possible, in principle, that this "transaction" was the first of its kind in Inca civilization and only happened to involve gold because that's what the Spanish wanted. But since gold is the quintessential commodity currency and has much of its value tied to others' valuing it [1], I think the burden of proof is on the claim they didn't have money. (And that's even before considering this famous anecdote -- one of only a few available, about any aspect of Inca culture.) They don't even address it though.

[1] Unlike bartered goods or services, gold (like other good currencies) is readily divisible and transportable, transfers without any skill, and stores indefinitely. Unlike many commodities, gold is not valued primarily for its functional value (food can be eaten, cloth provides warmth, etc.)


I guess you're entitled to use whatever standard of proof you want. But "random guy on the internet doesn't like it" is not the kind of thing you should expect to persuade others. For me it certainly doesn't outweigh the opinion of professional scholars.

The reason we know Romans had money is that we still have some of their money. If they did have money and you're asserting it was gold, then it should be up to you to come up with some of their golden money. There are certainly plenty of other artifacts from the era.


I get the feeling from this and your previous post that you're associating something having value with it being traded or used as money? Value and currency. Am I wrong? I know that the majority of my possessions have very little monetary value (maybe even zero) but a lot of value none the less. Judging by the small understanding of the Imca I have, they placed a lot of value in a lot of non material things and also in material things that weren't readily tradable. A lot about the Inca isn't understood - their record keeping/message system for example, quipu. And these were made of string. A lot of their artifacts have been preserved in deserts and glaciers, allowing very fragile things to be recovered. Quite apart from first hand accounts, I would think that unless something major has been overlooked that is right in front of everyone, money didn't exist.


First, it depends on whether the gold was considered a currency. If it was just another good, then it's really just a bartering -- life for some good, which in this case happens to be gold.

Second, that story is post-conquistador. It is in fact the Spanish who are demanding the gold and silver, which is of course what the Spanish used for currency. So it's really an observation on the Spanish, not the Incans.


It may be that the Inca never used gold as currency, but it would be hard to substantiate that claim, I would think. The reason the Spanish valued it as currency is not because of some quirk of the Spanish, however -- it's univerally a good currency (though not the best). Unlike bartered goods or services, gold is readily divisible and transportable, transfers without any skill, and stores indefinitely.


The Spanish had grown up knowing that gold could be swapped into land and wine and women. Get a lot of it, go home, live the good life. I doubt it was more sophisticated than that. The evidence suggests that the Spanish didn't have an academic understanding of currency, because the influex of silver caused huge inflation in Spain and damaged their economy.

    > it's univerally a good currency 
It's not. Metals don't function as currency even in the world we live in. You can't go into a shop and buy a computer with a piece of gold - nobody is set up for it. It functions less as a currency even than something like bitcoin, which you can occasionally find something quoted in. With gold - you won't find someone quoting food, land, or shares with it, or set up to accept it as payment.

There's a concept called 'store of value'. Gold is regarded by many to function as a strong store of value. In fact, recently it hasn't - it's gone up significantly for several years and then down this year.

But that's a different thing to currency. And it's not unique to metals - land and cocaine tend to have those properties also.

    > It may be that the Inca never used gold as
    > currency, but it would be hard to substantiate
    > that claim, I would think
You've set down a default assumption that is incorrect - that gold is a universal currency. Then you've followed on to say that - therefore - it should be assumed that the Incas used gold as a currency. This is invalid.

The article says there's an absence of evidence of markets from the Incas, and painted a picture of how life worked. If you think that gold was valued as a currency, show some evidence.


The Spanish had grown up knowing that gold could be swapped into land and wine and women. Get a lot of it, go home, live the good life. I doubt it was more sophisticated than that.

Actually it really was. Spanish, Europeans, Asians, and perhaps other nations elsewhere, tried different methods of exchanging goods. In the beginning they would have exchanged good directly (salt for sheep), but they found this would be very hard because you could not readily divide certain goods and you had to buy significantly more or less of what you needed. Other forms of payments were introduced in different parts of the continents including salt, silk, and even nails in some regision, etc... Then came metal. It wasn't easy to divide, but soon enough they introduced small equally sized weighted metal. But as you can imagine the crooks would mixed different metals, which in the long run lead to coined money to certify authenticity. However Kings started to reduce the quantity of gold to repay debts they owed because it was not so much based on weight, but more so on "coin." There is more, but you would want to read the Origins of Wealth of Nations by A. Smith for more on the subject.

Gold seem to have been a good "currency," (but then again what do you mean by currency) and could have remain such, but the problem has always been the value it was based on and what you could have afforded with it. There layed the problem.

The above is what I understood from Adam's Smith Wealth of Nations, Book I, but I must admit I am still at my first read and perhaps by read 3 I will have a better understanding.


To be clear, I think gold is inferior as a currency compared to modern (fiat) money. I was comparing it to other goods-of-value (livestock, clothes, food, etc.)

I know very little about the Inca, and make no claim about them. I'm merely skeptical of the article's claims (which may very well be right).


Incidentally, so is salt.


Not unrelated, Salinas de Maras. If you're going to Cusco, make the side trip. It's fascinating. http://breakoutofbushwick.org/a-visit-to-the-salinas-de-mara...


It's a stretch to call it a universal currency. You don't see people in the high street quoted in units of salt.


Take a look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_salt

It looks like a fairly universal currency: Roman soldiers were paid in it (at least, "salary" comes from the word for salt), as were soldiers in the American War of 1812. In Timbuktu they traded salt for slaves. It created cities and the Polish kingdom. It was taxed for hundreds of years in Europe.

These days salt is practically free, but when the only way to get it was from mining or by evaporating ocean water (neither very readily accessible in many parts), and unlike gold, you tended to consume it in preserving food, it was worth a bit more.


The other major benefit is that it had no other use except as a medium of exchange (unlike grain, salt, and other commodities) and was easy to carry in decorative form (ie jewelry).


Agreed, there is nothing strange about the Incan system. It is one of the oldest forms of taxes.


However I shared the paper's central question which was the complete lack of existence of a trading class. In other cultures there were always traders and markets and points of exchange. Perhaps as a mono-culture the Incans never had to develop such systems (or the need was small enough, as pointed out in the paper, that they did so on a case by case basis).


Other than the lack of a trading class the economy is very much like the early Egyptian economy, based around the production of food and with taxes extracted in the form of labor and food. My guess for the lack of a trading class is due to too few neighbors to trade with.


And actually one of the fairest. We all are equally rich in time so requiring labor in equal amount makes sense.

Then you can give everyone equal money for their labour and let them trade the surplus goods and services on the free market.


I've watched one documentary which claimed the Egyptians were paid, in beer.


"This io9 flashback previously ran in January 2012."

This note on the submitted article prompted me to look for earlier discussion of the Inca empire through the HN Search tool. This article appears not to have been submitted before, but we have had other discussions here about the Inca empire and its conquest by the Spanish.

The submitted article correctly notes that the history of the Inca empire is fragmentary because of a severe lack of written sources. Archeology is a poor substitute for history (relying on actual written records from the time studied) because it is hard to figure out what people were thinking. The rather rapid conquest of the Inca empire by a badly outnumbered group of Spanish explorers surely relied most on the epidemic diseases that the Spaniards inadvertently brought with them, but it appears to have relied as well on dissatisfaction with Inca rule on the part of many Inca subjects. People don't fight hard against invaders if their "home" rulers are dictators--World War II provides other examples of that principle. Maybe the greatest mystery of the Inca empire is that it lasted any length of time at all. The empire collapsed rapidly once a new, tiny group of potential rulers arrived. South America's Andean territories soon became viceroyalties of Spain, far away.


> Maybe the greatest mystery of the Inca empire is that it lasted any length of time at all. The empire collapsed rapidly once a new, tiny group of potential rulers arrived.

Any society would collapse like a house of cards if it wasn't in its prime, but was instead just a bunch of bewildered, shell-shocked survivors of a 90% die-off event triggered by new microbes. Pizarro was dealing with people who were basically living in a post-apocalyptic universe. The gods were angry and all that stuff.


> Basically the Russians weren't fighting to keep the Nazis from invading, but were focused on a counter-invasion.

The thesis of Icebreaker [1], a controversial history book by an ex-GRU officer, is that Stalin was planning an invasion of Germany right when Operation Barbarossa happened. However, his interpretation is disputed by most historians.

What is certain is that the Red Army was caught with its pants down and got a sound beating at the beginning. However, they did fight with tremendous tenacity (eg, at Stalingrad) later on, and eventually pushed back the Germans.

You'll also note that Germans and Japanese troops fought with particular determination even when it became clear that defeat was the only possible outcome. Contrast this with the dismal performance of French and British troops during the Battle of France.


> Contrast this with the dismal performance of French and British troops during the Battle of France.

Contrast this with the millions of people who died in Germany and Japan because of that determination (or should I say their rulers' determination!), without avoiding the final outcome at all. The French government understood very fast they were completely behind and were going to lose and they did the right thing to avoid a massacre which would have prevented nothing.

And besides, in Germany and Japan people were forced into fighting until the end (even teenagers in Germany), it's not like it was the "nation in arms" or something. Nobody wants to lose their life on purpose.


> Contrast this with the millions of people who died in Germany and Japan because of that determination (or should I say their rulers' determination!), without avoiding the final outcome at all. The French government understood very fast they were completely behind and were going to lose and they did the right thing to avoid a massacre which would have prevented nothing.

I was more thinking in terms of low troop morale and lack of aggressivity of (in particular) French high command.

A contrario, German troops, although outclassed both on the Western and Eastern fronts by the end of the war, managed a fighting retreat in mostly good order, even mounting a daring counter-offensive in the Ardennes in 1944 which caught Allied troops flat-footed.

> And besides, in Germany and Japan people were forced into fighting until the end (even teenagers in Germany), it's not like it was the "nation in arms" or something. Nobody wants to lose their life on purpose.

You are thinking of the Volkssturm, which had a relatively minor impact on the war, and only existed for a few months. On the other hand, regular German units did not collapse and disintegrate under pressure, when they could simply have surrendered to the Allies (at least on the Western front). As for Japanese units, just read about the battle of Iwo Jima. I'm not aware that Japanese units on the island were more "forced to fight" than any other body of troops, but still fought almost to the last man, in spite of their poor physical condition.


> I'm not aware that Japanese units on the island were more "forced to fight" than any other body of troops, but still fought almost to the last man, in spite of their poor physical condition.

They fought out of despair since they were told they would be tortured if they ever get caught (and most of them killed themselves instead of surrendering in the end). And it's not like they had anywhere to go at Iwo Jima. They were on an island.


> You'll also note that Germans and Japanese troops fought with particular determination even when it became clear that defeat was the only possible outcome.

I actually recall reading regarding Germans that there was a very peculiar distortion of perception there when even during late 1944 and early 1945, with Soviet armies literally at the door, a lot of people genuinely still believed that a victory (at that point defined as peace on non-debilitating terms) was highly likely - based on letters and other personal correspondence from that period, journals etc.


I'm not so sure about that. When cities like Dresden were bombed day and night and destroyed to the ground, it'd be very hard to believe Victory or Peace is at hand. Maybe people living in Berlin had that perception, but I would be very surprised if that was a general sentiment in Germany.


Actually, Pizarro took advantage that at the time of his arrival at Peru, the Inca's were in a somewhat state of civil war due to the two heirs (Huascar and Atahualpa) of the recently deceased Inca (Huayna Capac) fighting each other.


>People don't fight hard against invaders if their "home" rulers are dictators--World War II provides other examples of that principle.

You don't think the Russians fought hard?


I assume I have a limited knowledge of WWII history on that front, but from what I was taught in history class, the biggest deterrent of the Nazi invasion of the USSR was the weather. What we learned was that the Russians were invading Germany more than the Germans could invade Russia. Basically the Russians weren't fighting to keep the Nazis from invading, but were focused on a counter-invasion.

I could very well be wrong, as I took WWII history in the US (which tends not to focus on European involvement in WWII).


Weather helped somewhat to slow blitzkrieg down in 1941 (though it applies to both sides equally; Soviets were just better prepared), but it doesn't win wars. If you look at casualty figures, 2/3 of all Axis casualties in WW2 (this includes Japanese!) happened on the Eastern Front in Europe; and most of those weren't frostbite.

Soviets paid two for one in terms of casualties, though. But they could keep doing that for longer, and their industry could keep up as well (war production figures for Reich vs USSR are rather telling).


That sounds more like Napoleon's Russian excursion, than the Nazi one.


Well when I took WWII history in the U.S. it had no such inaccuracies, though it did tend to gloss over the Eastern Front in general.

Of course the schools I've been to have also stayed away from trying to teach creationism as biology so maybe it's different elsewhere in the U.S.


I had Ukraine in mind as one outstanding example. For some parts of the territory Japan invaded, too, the local people thought at first that maybe the invaders would be better rulers than their previous rulers.


Ukraine had very recently suffered an artificial famine caused by Stalin so it had less to do with form of government and more to do with that genocide does not breed loyalty.


Ukraine had just suffered a forced famine (Holodomor) that killed millions.


Just wondering about this: "World War II provides other examples of that principle" care to elaborate on that?


Why do you call them "dictators" instead of "royalty?"


What examples from WW2 do you have? I can see no pattern between countries ruled by dictators and not.


I think this was a reference to the fact that Soviet Union had extremely high (compared to average) rates of collaboration with the enemy among both civilian population on occupied territories, as well as and POWs.

Some keywords to look up: Hiwi, Russian Liberation Army, Lokot Republic, Ostlegionen.


The book _1491_ is a great read to learn more about what the Americas were like before the European arrival. Recent archaeology is finding that the societies in the Americas were way more complex and interconnected than most of us understand. http://www.amazon.com/1491-Revelations-Americas-Before-Colum...


Saw a documentary about Gauls where they reshaped the view on what was said to be a simple civilisation (~hunters) where in fact they had a non trivial economy based on manufacture of goods (amphoras) backed by recent discovery of burried factory remains.


Sounds good... link please!


You're lucky someone put it online http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8S4BbWhayk

Some additional info from the tv channel who broadcasted it http://www.arte.tv/guide/fr/047580-000/les-gaulois-au-dela-d...


The secret of the Inca's great wealth may have been their unusual tax system. Instead of paying taxes in money, every Incan was required to provide labor to the state. In exchange for this labor, they were given the necessities of life.

Of course, not everybody had to pay labor tax. Nobles and their courts were exempt, as were other prominent members of Incan society.

Isn't this just a variant of feudalism?


It is called Corveé:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corvee

While a part of feudal practice, it is far more ancient and widespread, having been part of Sumerian culture.


It also sounds a lot like communism.


Not at all. Incan society had a caste system, nobles, royalty, etc. Nobles owned estates and laborers. Workers did not own the means of production.


Well, theoretically, workers own the means of production in communism, but that's now how it happened in practice. In practice, the Party owned everything, and its high ranking members were effectively nobility. Workers in communism were nothing more than indentured servants.


> In practice, the Party owned everything, and its high ranking members were effectively nobility.

The concept of nobility implies hereditary transfer of privileges, which was not the case in Soviet system. It was certainly easier for children of Party bureaucrats to get their own spot, but it was not guaranteed to them, they could lose it at any time, and "commoners" could get into the ranks (and it was not something exceptional).

So Party was the ruling elite class, but it was not an estate/caste, as nobility was in feudalism.


I'll agree they were not hereditary, but that was not the point. The point is that there was a privileged upper class minority ruling over the commoners, which completely goes against a basic communist principle, the classless society. They violated one of their fundamental principles.


That seems a best a very bad caricature of what happened in the Soviet Union. What's happening in Communist China now?


After thinking about it, I feel like the comparison to China deserves a discussion. China moved away from pure communism a long time ago, and basically implemented a form of capitalism-on-communism. They're now arguably the most dog-eat-dog capitalist country in the world, very far from a worker's paradise that communism is supposed to be.

A more fair comparison would be to North Korea. They're still old-school communist, and really not doing well.


And the US isn't purely capitalistic either; public police/fire dept/sewer, has semi public health care in medicare.


What makes you say it's a "very bad caricature"? All the stories I've read and heard (from my relatives and friends in Romania) paint a very bleak picture of what life was like then. I was 4 years old in '89, but I heard a lot form my parents. Essentially they were prisoners in their own country, and the higher layers of the party practically owned all of it.


Life may have been bleak, but that's not what you were saying. You're taking anecdotes from one part of the Soviet Union and applying it to the whole thing. Would you say that Russians are immeasurably better off now than during Communism?


Can't speak about Russia, but other countries are much better off. Poland and Estonia come to mind right now. Also, I haven't heard any contradicting anecdotes from other parts of the Communist bloc. Life seems to have been mostly the same everywhere.


Reading this, it doesn't sound all that different from Serfdom in Europe. Essentially, people were tied to the land, and in return the noble provided protection.

The main difference seems to be the centrality of supply distribution. With serfdom, the serfs were basically required to work for the lord/noble and then had to also do their own food growing/production to survive. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serfdom)

Having a central authority ensuring no-one starves and everyone had all the essentials allowed for much better specialization and efficiency. Other cultures evolved into similar specialization via trade and offered distributed societies. The Inca-style state would have similar limitations to Soviet Union, where all goods that were not produced within its boundaries were virtually unattainable by the common people.

This also stifled innovation in areas that the state was not focusing on. Just look at the Soviet consumer car manufacturing sector - an automatic transmission was virtually unheard of until 90s imports started pouring in.


Another hypothesis, which is probably mostly wrong but still extremely interesting, is that put forth by Julian Jaynes: that the Incas, and most other early peoples, were not conscious (by Jaynes' very specific definition of "conscious"), but instead were unconscious agents guided by hallucinations, and that attempts to reason about them with modern models of volition and awareness are doomed.

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicameralism_(psychology)


Hey, savage, wanna try some Snow Crash?

(see one of the plot elements from the book)


Yeah, apparently several of Stephenson's earlier books drew from Jaynes' work, although Snow Crash is the only one of them I've read.


I am not familiar enough with the Incan economy specifically to say whether this lack of internal markets claim is accurate. I do know that the Inca would not have to "invent" markets because there were preexisting markets in the Andean region. In "Native Lords of Quito in the Age of the Incas: The Political Economy of North Andean Chiefdoms" Frank Salomon describes pre-Incan trade in the region surrounding Quito. http://www.amazon.com/Native-Lords-Quito-Age-Incas/dp/052104...

They would also have been familiar with the primitive currency used by the groups they conquered. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axe-monies

Granted, this was in the most recently conquered area of Incan expansion. The blood had hardly dried before the Spanish came but the subjects of the Inca would have been familiar with these concepts.

I also think that it wrong to talk about the descendants of these people as though they don't exist any more. Indigenous culture is quite strong and in the Andes. There was a change in power but it wasn't like turning out a light switch. Even the Inca, themselves, (who were really just a noble class) were able to self identify and organize a rebellion in the late 1700's, 200 years after the initial conquest.


Mita (taxation by labor) is not that weird really. Think of the most basic form of exchange in a barter society. You show up to a market with potatoes you've grown and leave with bread, pots, etc.. Well, what if you don't have potatoes and want bread? You could offer to chop wood for the baker. Work can be bartered just as easily as goods, and credit can be accrued. We do this all the time, even today. Say your sister helps you move. When she next moves, you're going to feel like a scumbag if you're not there to help her! Some campesino villages in Peru still barter labor this way on a rather large scale. Mita in such communities is a bit like a socially enforced volunteer spirit. People are socially obliged to do things for their community. The Inca empire just took that to a completely different scale!

The unusual thing about the Inca is that they preferred to tax labor even from those who produced goods. Potato farmers wouldn't tithe potatoes. They'd spend some of their time working government lands that grew potatoes. The fact that farmers were feeding themselves and the state out of different fields probably had some rather interesting effects.


"Instead of paying taxes in money, every Incan was required to provide labor to the state. In exchange for this labor, they were given the necessities of life. Of course, not everybody had to pay labor tax. Nobles and their courts were exempt, as were other prominent members of Incan society."

I find it fascinating that this article compares the labor system more to socialism than to slavery.


It certainly wasn't socialism, but it wasn't exactly slavery either. The "labor tax" was 2 years of labour (out of your entire life).


More like national service as per Israel, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland then?


The labor system is not at all comparable to socialism. Try feudalism.


Seems like a centralized economy does not have to be inefficient after all.


The article doesn't make many comments about efficiency. Achieving an empire through forced labor is different than doing it efficiently.


The hard to cultivate terrain where the Inca prospered already tells enough about efficiency.

Ayway, it's easier to organize efficiently an economy based on a dozen of stable products with well known necessities than it is to organize one on our times.

Also, an ecomomy being efficient does not make it a good one to live under.


Could you say labor is forced if you have a choice between starvation and labor? If such is the case, I wish I wasn't forced to work for money in this society and then exchange it for goods and seek out the most favorable deal.


There's a big difference between being compelled by the laws of nature and being forced by the bidding of another man.


The situation with the Incas was that, without the force coordination necessary to conduct agriculture in the mountains, everyone would die. Where does that fall on the nature versus man spectrum?


The Inca used forced labor to build temples and roads and provide food and other goods to the military. Cooperative farming can certainly become more efficient with additional infrastructure like irrigation and food storage, but I find it hard to believe that the tradeoff here is starvation vs massive cleptocratic absolute monarchy. It went way beyond the need to grow food cooperatively. And in fact, the only way that you would end up with all of this labor available for armies and temples and so on is by generating large food surpluses, so it's clear they weren't on the boundary of starvation. How did I work, I wonder, before there was an emperor?

That said, we currently use money to build roads and provide food and other goods to the military, which we fund through taxes. Taxes are just a more nuanced, easier-to-administer form of "provide x% of your labor to the central authority". The evil part here is the absolute monarchy that makes self-interested decisions about what to do with that labor, but the Inca were hardly alone in that respect.


Oh, no argument against that really. It still falls under the compelled by another man side of the spectrum, but I've long held the belief that collectivist forms of society were necessary in more primitive times.

Only with technological progress are we capable of stronger individualism.

I only mean to answer the question, "Could you say labor is forced if you have a choice between starvation and labor?"


When using slaves, anything is possible.


Can you provide evidence that a centralized economy is inefficient?


Bureaucrats and the growth of bureaucracy.


Counterpoint: capitalists and the growth of inequality. I find it hard to believe that a group of people who act in complete self interest can or should efficiently and effectively distribute vital resources. See: oil, diamonds, and commodities in general.


"I find it hard to believe that a group of people who act in complete self interest can or should efficiently and effectively distribute vital resources."

1775 called, it wants its understanding of economics back. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wealth_of_Nations


Centralized states that pretend to be egalitarian need terror so that the peons don't forget to shore the line. Maybe that's why the Inca's had the habit of human sacrifices; (interesting, this seems to have been a common 'feature' of both Aztec and Inca culture)

Also without the terror component the Soviet state became stagnant.


Perhaps not so strange if religion is taken into account, which the article completely neglects. People will do a great deal if they believe it is for a higher cause - and especially if sacrifice is an ingrained social imperative. Between the society living very close to the edge of survival (no matter how prosperous, they were one season from possible pervasive disaster so everyone's contribution counts), and service to their gods going so far as human sacrifice (societal maintenance deemed so important people are ritualistically killed, instilling devotion to the system), people become quite content living in an abundant theocracy.


Not sure why, but this reminds me of youth work actions http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Youth_work_actions


Guns, Germs & Steel discusses the Spanish invasion of the Inca Empire in some detail. Well worth a read.

More surprising to me than the lack of money is the fact that they did not have the wheel.


I believe the point is the "missing" markets. In the old world markets arise all over the place, using some form of currency, for example cigarettes in prisons, laundry detergent-driven drug market in the US etc.

Probably no Incan had gotten around to inventing the concept of token economies yet. I don't actually believe this lack of markets benefited them. It must have been an awkward way to run a society with a couple of thousands of members.


It is not clear to me from the article and from the brief googling I did, how they came to the conclusion that there was no trading class? What evidence did they use to prove this absence? It seems to me the ruling class of any society works by trading with each other, in promises if not in currency. I don't see how it could work any other way?


Perhaps they were rich in sanity. Unlike the 20th century. (Stalins, Hitlers, nuclear brinkmanship, massive pollution, tens of millions killed in war ...)

Sanity alone explains their remarkable success. From each according to his ability, to each according to his need. Money is a symptom.

That and (towards the end) a couple of kings who had absolute power. Like ... Stalin.


Just like the Federation




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