Sunday, May 22, 2005

I greatly enjoy reading Pundita and highly recommend her blog for anyone looking to discuss root causes of foreign policy problems, particularly from a geoeconomic analytical perspective. Today was no exception as she expounded on the problem of global criminality in government by drawing on the example of the great Mongol conqueror Temujin, who became known to history as Ghengis Khan -correctly pointing out that he was ultimately a preserver of civilization rather than a destroyer like Attila or Alaric.

Usually I simply let Pundita's posts speak for themselves and link but today I have a number of comments to make. Pundita responds to a question on foreign relations with corrupt governments:

"That is a fair question. The answer is that you don't make policy for crooks or law-abiding governments; you make policy for the era and consistently apply the policy. "

Here we see the difference between thinking strategically, which only a few leaders in American history have managed to do, and muddling through by reacting ad hoc to unfolding events as if all misfortunes or opportunities are simply coincidental. The latter is the preferred stance of the State Department which sees itself as the guardian of the status quo. It is also the preferred stance for the USG of all those who look with alarm at the prospect of the decline of statism abroad and the rise of globalized, free market, exchange. They like a lumbering, blind, stupid and passive United States better than active and clear-eyed one.

"The age of globalization came and intersected with megapopulations and the scramble by poor governments to make oil payments and build up their arsenals. And nobody--no major government--was ready for the upshot, which was crime on a scale we haven't seen since the days of Genghis Khan's youth.

The Khan hadn't imagined how many crooks there were in the world but as his conquests proceeded he found out. The same key factors were in play at that time as now. There was a boom in global trade--the globe at that time. The boom was fed by the demands of the walled cities, which fed a population boom. The upshot was that a caravan couldn't travel two miles without being set upon by brigands or marauding tribes, which meant payoffs, which bumped all the way up to highest government levels. "

The Khan's initial reaction, it must be told, was chillingly utilitarian. He obliterated the cities that resisted with the thoroughness of the Romans at Carthage so that the urban civilization of the neighboring peoples would be replaced with the pastoral one of the Mongols. Fortunately for the world, Ghengis Khan proved to be an empiricist and he changed his policy when he was presented with new data.

"This was accompanied by price gouging, usury, and every type of dirty business and corruption you can think of. All that led to cities living under constant threat of attack.

All that was accompanied and fed by a level of hypocrisy that would be right at home in today's world. The Khan saw it all. He saw the Chinese mandarins and the emperor worship they promoted. He saw the Calculator Christians, who totted up conversion rates while stepping over starving Christians. The Turks lectured him about Islam. He looked at their showy mosques and how they treated women and the poor. He told them to their faces they were phonies. "

Ghengis Khan was unusual in his day that as a ruler his policy was freedom of conscience. The Khan was most partial to the Nestorian Christians, who were the weakest of his subjects, being significant mainly in the Buddhist-Hellenic kingdoms North of the Amu Darya and West of Tibet. He was " Qaan monghka tangri-yin kuchun-dur" the universal emperor by the will of Eternal Heaven and did not feel the need to force diverse peoples into the Mongol worship of Tangri. The Mongols were most adversarial toward Islam, until the later conversion of some Mongol tribes ( the Golden Horde) because of Islam's aggressive attitude of superiority and intolerance which Mongol generals regarded with utter contempt ( " What have you to teach us, we who have the Yasaq of Ghengis Khan ?").

"In short, it was chaos. All the gains civilization had made during the preceding few centuries were in danger of being wiped out. With the help of a brilliant Chinese bureaucrat, the Khan saved the day. He did this in many ways, some of them horribly ruthless. Yet the single greatest reason for his success at ruling over so many peoples was a fair code of laws that he enforced with consistency; consistency meaning no exceptions, not even for the Yakka Mongols--his own tribe.

The upshot was that, "A naked virgin carrying a sack of gold could walk unmolested from one end of Genghis Khan's empire to the other."

The bureaucrat was actually a Khitan, an ethnic group related to the Mongols that had been Sinicized culturally, a prince named Ye-liu Ch'u ts'ai who was a highly educated administrator and statesman. He became one of the Khan's closest advisors and helped make Ghengis Khan's austere moral code - the Yasaq ( " Regulations") - a functional governing system as well as a moral one. It was he who convinced the Great Khan of the advantage of sparing cities by showing him their annual economic productivity - essentially their GDP - in taels of silver and how they could be taxed. Before Ye-liu, the Mongol leadership was contemplating the extermination of the entire Chinese race - about 10,000,000 people at the time - and the conversion of China's agricultural lands to grazing territory.

"The key concepts are fairness and consistency of application. There is not a single factor to explain the rise and scope of globalized crime, just as there is not a single factor to explain criminality. There can be different reasons why governments come to rely on crime. However, there is only one reason governments in the modern era consistently get away with crime: that's if other governments employ a double standard in their relations with criminal governments--a standard that shifts with the expediency of the moment."

Agreed. A ruler who takes bribes is operatring on a range of the moment time horizon. Such actions do not remain secret. They are noticed and imitated by underlings and by foreigners who will then offer yet more bribes. The cycle of corruption then accelerates and spreads like an infection to connected systems. Unless the infection is ruthlessly cut out.

Ghengis Khan made a signal example of one governor of a neigboring province to his growing empire who had looted a caravan that Ghengis Khan had sent to the Emperor of the short-lived empire of Khwarizm. The corrupt governor was captured alive by the Mongols and executed by the pouring of molten silver into his eyes and mouth. The lesson was not lost on anyone.

"People can adjust to a double standard if it's consistently applied; what they can't adjust to is a high level of uncertainty. If you have the means to force people to live according to your shifting political whims, you breed the sense among them that nothing can be relied on, that integrity is a penalty, that truth has no meaning. So then you should not wonder why, when criminal behavior becomes rampant."

Uncertainy in the rule of law is destructive to economic productivity because it prevents rational planning on an individual basis and drives people in a society to become risk-averse and secretive - to fly below the radar of rapacious authorities and predatory gangs.

"Policy begins not with your expectations of others but with how you conduct yourself. It begins with the rules you lay down for your company or government's conduct. If the rules are inconsistently applied, "foreign" policy is a joke. As with any joke, it won't be taken seriously"

Actions speak louder than words. As much as the Left excoriates and mocks George W. Bush for his policies in the GWOT, there are a number of unsavory regimes that are now thinking twice and three times before acting. Some are reacting by advancing with haste into confrontation, others have run-up the white flag and still others are paralyzed with fear and doubt. Regardless, all of the rogue states have been knocked off of their timetables and their game plan by George Bush. Something for which he deserves credit.

"One General Temujin--Genghis Khan--was quite enough for world history. We now have much experience to guide us, so humanity should be able to avoid the need for another supercop of the magnitude represented by the Khan. The ball, however, is in our court."

It should have been enough but too many of the other potential " cops" are morally wavering, sitting on the fence in regards to the criminal regimes and the Rule-sets we will collectively enforce against them. When the leader of a major American ally has a vacation home that his own countrymen have mocked as " Chateau Iraq" then the global police force is in need of, if not a Super-cop, then at least a Serpico.
If it's not an old Chinese saying, it should be: He (or she) who is admired by a historian is lucky indeed. Thank you for the many incisive comments on the post and for the history lessons, which illuminate and give depth to my quick comments about the Khan.

I read the Khan's history so long ago that I did not remember (or never knew)that the amazing Ye-liu Ch'u ts'ai was not actually Chinese. But he is one of my favorite historical characters; surely he is one of history's bravest and most patient bureaucrats.

One story never left the top of my memory: When the Khan's son, Ogotai, inherited the throne, he also inherited the sage. Ogotai, who hated city life and all things that went with "modern" civilization, threw Yeliu Chutsai in prison when the sage insisted that Mongol children learn to read and write.

Thinking better of it, Ogotai quickly reversed his order and apologized. The old sage refused to leave his cell at first, and used the apology as an opportunity to lecture on the benefits of literacy and a good education, and their inimiate connection to good governing decisions.
Hmmm... Temujin's Regulations sounds like Han Fei-Tzu's Legalism. Both were attempts to replace an evolutionary-adapted, flexible internalized rule set ("Imperial Confucism," or whatever) to an arbitrary, inflexible explicit one.

Genghis went for vertical-strong-explicit controls.

Basically, Khan waged a never-ending war against horizontal controls. As the rich naked virgin example shows, Temujin was more interested in creating a perfect order through force (vertical shocks) than a just-good order through consent (horizontal flow).

I don't think the example of the evil governor fits with a war on corruption. The governor wasn't just corrupt -- he was in rebellion. Bribery is a horizontal flow, but caravan attacks are clearly vertical shocks.
Hey Dan,

The governor was the satrap of the ruler of Khwarizm, a Seljuk named Mohammed who ruled over a polyglot Iranian-Turkic-Greek/ Islamic-Buddhist-Christian population of transoxiana to the Caspian. Ghengis Khan was incensed that this mere governor had interfered with his diplomatic mission to Mohammed, who backed his governor and was ousted for his troubles.

The Legalist school was eerily totalitarian in its recognition of the need to destroy and erase competing ideologies. The Khan's Yasaq was extremely tolerant of other beliefs, individual Mongols could even aopt foreign religions and many did become Nestorians, Muslims and ultimately, Yellow Church Buddhists.

Ironically, neither the Legalist school nor the Yasaq had the staying power of the beliefs they tried to destroy or accomodate. They represent Rule-Sets that failed to weather competition despite using opposite strategies.

And no, I have not forgotten your review ! ;o) I was sidetracked this week by the Kaplan furor and Critt's request.

Hey P.

Glad you liked it !

The Mongols proved to be great pragmatists, adopting Chinese administration, Uighur script and he like.

It is interesting that Ghengis had a line that produced many effective rulers yet never a coherent system that could stabilize into a true universal Mongol state. It failed not unlike Charlemagne's effort to unify the West failed four hundred years earlier.
Just curious Mark, when are we going to be surfing to zenpundit.com? Odd to see such a heavyweight still on blogger! Just curious!
Hi Chirol,

Yeah, I had discussed that with YH a while back and had hoped to make getting a new site a Spring project.

Unfortunately, work took a brutally time-consuming turn and in addition to the usual administrivia, I was giving two major educational presentations ( some of that material was part of the Cognition series posts)that required a lot of prep time on my part. Merely posting anything was hard to squeeze in for a while and spending my limited free time on the computer was aggravating my newly minted Mrs. Zenpundit.

The good news is in a couple weeks I'll be off for the summer and have some large chunks of uninterrupted time to get busy on an upgrade and learn some new skill-sets to boot.

I forsee a time coming within ten years when the " good" bloggers - those in the influential top 5000 in the world - will be required to be more than mere clever writers - they will have to be artists in terms of presentation. Coming Anarchy is already moving down that road, you guys have a site that is as aesthetically pleasng as it is interesting to read. It's a good model for others.

One of the pieces of hardware I'm going to pick up toward that end will be a sophisticated computer drawing tablet so I can mix caricature work with photos and graphics. I haven't done the market research yet except to decide that the off-the shelf version at Best Buy ain't going to cut it for my purposes. I'll find the right one within a month or so.

So, medium term at least, there will be a stand alone, non-Blogger Zenpundit coming.

" Hoo-HAH !"
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