View Full Version : Why Nations/People Succeed?

11-13-2015, 07:00 PM
Here’s a question that I would like to address. --- Why are some countries poor / others successful? Why have some ethnic groups survived and thrived? And yet many have disappeared or have lost their empires? Why do some groups and languages expand, and yet some have lost their importance? Why do some countries have a strong national identity and yet some are so fragmented and tribal? Why hasn't European Union worked more effectively? Why such disparity between North and South Europe? Why has United States become a global power? Why some countries have eliminated poverty and yet some have never been able to do it? Why some countries have one language and some have many? Why some ethnicity have never had a country? and etc.

I will purposefully dismiss two possible explanations: 1) Race and 2) Religion, because I believe neither Race nor Religion can explain this disparity nor can they explain the above questions.

In my view, a nation’s wealth depends on trade, in goods or services. The ease by which the people of a nation can trade the more successful that nation would become. Trade depends on infrastructure, and infrastructure in turn depends on investment. This is the essence of development. The more ‘developed’ a country is, the more money it is capable of making. So in talking about poor countries, we are talking about Less Economically Developed Countries. In asking ourselves why some countries/groups are poor, what we need to work out is why they are not developing.

I believe there are two more pertinent reasons why this disparity can exist, in essence the answers to all the above questions can be explained by two main causes and they are: 1) Geography, and 2) the Available Technology. Technology has the power to break the chains of geographic constraints.

That a nation/people become successful when there is a convergence of its Geography along with the available technology.

My Assertion is that in order to understand a people/nation/ethnicity/group you must first understand their Geography ( their place in the world) and then you begin to understand their history, culture, religion, situation and circumstances.

I like to illustrate my point here by giving an example. I recently read an excellent article about how England, an island nation on the edge of the European continent, became a Global power by Ian Morris who is an English historian and archaeologist.

An Island at the Edge of the World

Since about 6000 B.C., when melting glaciers finally raised sea levels high enough to create the English Channel, two fundamental facts have dominated Britain's strategic position. First, it is an island at the edge of the European landmass; and second, it projects into the northern Atlantic Ocean.

But insularity has rarely equaled isolation. Both archaeology and DNA show that by 5000 B.C., people, goods and ideas were already moving up and down the "Atlantic facade," stretching from modern-day Spain to Scotland. Southern England was still tightly linked to northern France through ties of ethnicity, economics and culture when Julius Caesar invaded in 55 B.C. However, Britain was still very much the edge of the known world in antiquity and remained so until the 15th century A.D. While the English Channel and North Sea were narrow enough to function as trading highways, the Atlantic Ocean was simply too big for ancient and medieval ships to master. Its vastness formed a barrier that cut the islands off from the real centers of civilization, which stretched from the Mediterranean to China.

This band of civilization had formed the world's demographic, economic and military core since farming began around 9500 B.C., and for millennia Britain served as a subordinate satellite at the band's western end. In the last few centuries B.C., northern France heavily influenced southern England, but in the first few centuries A.D. Rome ruled the whole of England and Wales. Then in the mid-to-late first millennium A.D., Germans and Scandinavians settled and plundered much of Britain, before Norway and Normandy invaded England in 1066. By the start of the second millennium, English monarchs (of partly French descent) began pushing back, and for a few short years after 1422 the infant King Henry VI nominally ruled both France and England. By 1475, though, English King Edward IV had formally renounced all claims to France in exchange for cash.

Technology and, above all, the invention of ocean-going ships eventually transformed Britain's strategic situation. By the 12th century A.D., Chinese shipwrights were building vessels capable of traveling thousands of miles. Arab skippers in the Indian Ocean picked up some of their key ideas and brought them to the Mediterranean. And by the 15th century A.D., Portuguese caravels were nosing their way down the western coast of Africa and across the Atlantic Ocean. In the 1490s, bigger, faster Iberian galleons reached the Americas and passed the Cape of Good Hope to enter the Indian Ocean. The new ships converted the Atlantic Ocean from a barrier around Western Europe to a highway linking it to lands of untold wealth.

Becoming the Center of Global Trade

At first, it seemed as if the new technologies had done little to change Britain's strategic position. Spain and Portugal, which both combined easy access to the Atlantic with strongly centralized monarchies, were better placed than any other country to exploit the maritime highways. The English, along with the French and Dutch, found themselves shut out of the rich pickings in India, South America and the Caribbean and reduced to trading with the parts of North America that the Spaniards did not want. If anything, Britain seemed more vulnerable than ever to domination from the Continent in the 16th century, particularly when Spain tried to invade it in 1588.

In reality, though, the Atlantic economy that ocean-going ships had created had already begun to improve Britain's fortunes. The North Atlantic had become the Goldilocks ideal: big enough that very different kinds of societies and ecological zones flourished around its shores, but small enough that European ships could move quite easily around it, trading at a profit at every turn. In this brave new world, the relatively weak governments of England and Holland became an advantage, because they were less able than the powerful Spanish monarchs to expropriate traders' profits.

Throughout the 16th century, Spanish kings treated the New World and their merchant subjects as a kind of ATM that provided the cash needed to fund wars and dominate Western Europe. But by 1600, they were overextended and bankrupt. English kings, by comparison, struggled to plunder their North American colonists and their traders. Generations of conflict ended in 1688 with a compromise, known as the "Glorious Revolution," that installed a Dutch king and business-friendly institutions in England. Holland, which did not even have kings, went even further in this direction, and the three great wars fought between the English and Dutch from the 1640s to the 1670s had everything to do with intercontinental trade and nothing to do with European empires.

Meanwhile, Britain's insularity continued to dominate its strategic thinking, but the fact that it projected into the North Atlantic was increasingly coming to be more important than its location near the Continent. Understanding this, a handful of 18th-century Britons undertook one of the most profound strategic reorientations in history. Rather than seeing Britain as the western end of Europe and using overseas trade to fund wars that could improve the country's position relative to the Continental powers, they began to see Britain as the hub of an intercontinental trade network. From this perspective, the only reason to fight a war in Europe was to prevent any single power from dominating the Continent, since a dominant land power might then be able to challenge Britain at sea.

The story of how they achieved their goals is too well known to need retelling, but by 1815 Britain had managed to establish a balance of power in Europe and an overseas empire on which the sun never set. Bringing together huge concentrations of capital, precocious industrialization, a vast merchant marine, unrivaled financial expertise, a fleet bigger than any other three navies combined, and an Indian army that could act as a strategic military reserve made Britain the first genuinely global power in history. Unlike any previous empire, Britain derived most of its wealth not from plunder or tax but from its dominant position in global trade, and it used its military and economic muscle to protect free trade and open markets. Long before the "golden time" in Sino-British ties dawned, Britain's relations with China were entirely a product of this muscle. China's emperor rejected a British trade delegation in 1793, but 50 years later his descendant was unable to resist any longer after British ships sank his fleet, seized Hong Kong and moved to blockade the Grand Canal, threatening Beijing with famine. The "unequal treaties" that followed, giving Britain a monopoly over trading rights along much of China's coast, remained in force until the 1940s, and China did not recover Hong Kong until 1997.

The story of how Britain's 19th-century system broke down is even better known. Free trade allowed some of Britain's commercial partners — most important, the United States and Germany — to industrialize their own economies. On the one hand, their growing wealth allowed them to buy more British goods and to raise British revenues even further, but on the other it made them rivals in international markets and rich enough to challenge Britain militarily.

After about 1870, Britain's financial and military lead over its rivals steadily shrank, and with it, the country's ability to police the international order and to deter other great powers from trying to unite Europe. In 1914, Germany's leaders decided that their own strategic position was so parlous that they had no choice but to risk war with the world's policeman. Even if they did not initially aim to master Europe, their war goals rapidly evolved in that direction. Britain and its allies defeated this challenge, but only at a ruinous cost, and a second German offensive (much more explicitly aimed at Continental mastery) could only be overcome with the power of the Soviet Union and the United States.

11-13-2015, 08:05 PM
Here I want to discuss the United States , that is I want to illustrate that much of the American power lies with in its Geography. That is the Americans are not important because of who they are, but because of where they live. What has made United States and Americans exceptional is a convergence of An Amazing Geography and the current available technology.

The American Geography is indeed an impressive one:

The Greater Mississippi Basin together with the Intracoastal Waterway has more kilometers of navigable internal waterways than the rest of the world combined.
The American Midwest is both overlaid by this waterway, and is the world’s largest contiguous piece of farmland.
The U.S. Atlantic Coast possesses more major ports than the rest of the Western Hemisphere combined.
Two vast oceans insulated the United States from Asian and European powers, deserts separate the United States from Mexico to the south, while lakes and forests separate the population centers in Canada from those in the United States.
The United States has capital, food surpluses and physical insulation in excess of every other country in the world by an exceedingly large margin.

I will add to the list above later in the week. And discuss United States more extensively.

Please add comments to my assertions, let me know if you agree or disagree with me. I will also try to give more examples. We can also discuss which countries and groups can become successful going forward and why some countries will struggle to succeed.

11-19-2015, 12:18 AM
Hi NK19191

If you haven't already, you might want to check out:
1) Guns, Germs & Steel by Jared Diamond of UCLA
2) The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich And Some So Poor by David Landes of Harvard

I read these years ago, and it's a good start for your questions.

11-19-2015, 02:40 AM
sounds like you are quoting George Friedman's work. He wrote a book (as well as many articles) about this.

EDIT: this is in response to your second post more so

11-20-2015, 07:39 PM
^^^ Yes. I am fan of George Friedman, and yes I subscribe to Stratfor.

11-20-2015, 07:40 PM
@Mamluk I have read the first book, but I have't had a chance to read the 2nd one.

12-30-2015, 06:46 PM
The combination of available technology and geography does sound like a very plausible explanation. Geography is more lenient in a sense that you don't need to have it as good as America, just don't end up surrounded by hostile (by certain definition) powers and have access to technology and you are gucci. This would explain the rapid post WWII development of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan compared to communist East Asia. It is easier to follow a ready path but I think the graph combined to a basic knowledge of history everyone here surely has is illuminating.


The alternatives explanations of religion and race will possibly never fade from discussions even if falsified, but at least some of the racial explanations (religion is IMO more comparable to political systems in this regard) I can see going out of fashion given time. Take the argument that East Asians lack geniuses due to a "narrow bell curve" and can not stay at the cutting edge of developent, this one is relatively popular among the SF types but pops up even in academia. This is supposed to be proven by things such as Japan having a low amount of nobel prizes per capita due to a racial element rather than a lower level of development during early 1900's and lack of integration into the mainly Western scientific community. Yet it has to be considered that 16 out of 21 Japanese science laureates got the prize in the 21th century. If we consider post-1999 prizes per capita, Japan compares favourably to major European nations France and Germany, and easily beats Russia (3 post-1999 science laureates, all Jewish), Denmark (no post-1999 laureates but relatively high historical per capita number) and Italy (two post 1999 laureates). This heavily points towards the non-racial explanation I gave above.