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Your Problem: Selling your wares sight-unseen in a foreign land with limited rule of law through unaffiliated intermediaries.

His Problem: Buying your wares of uncertain durability during an annual fair from some wandering merchant.

Your Solution: Belong to guild that enforces medieval ISO Standards, work rules, creates distinctive products requiring unique raw materials and capital goods.

In Brand Names Before the Industrial Revolution ($5), Gary Richardson argues that the "conspicuous characteristics" of durable goods produced by the end of the Middle Ages in Europe were used by their manufacturers as they would use brand-names today.

He starts with adverse selection (suppliers knowing more than consumers about the true quality of the goods), and moves to counterfeiting (highly prevalent in the middle ages and today -- tons of people in developing nations actually buy knock-off durables and pirated data instead of the "real" thing).

Enter Guilds, which were local manufacturing associations that controlled quality, and required unique production techniques that created distinctive, standardized, readily discernible outputs for consumers.

The heart of the analysis is sown from wonderfully diverse sources:

Cowrie Shells used to exported from the Maldives which were a form of money used in the ancient world.

More on primitive forms of money;

Porcelain-like shells from mollusks found mainly in the Indochina-Pacific region were the first kind of money to circulate freely in trade in the ancient world.

Ibn Battuta in the Maldives

From The Travels of Ibn Battuta - A Virtual Tour with the 14th Century Traveler;

The Maldive Islands were important in medieval times for their exports: coconut fiber used to make ropes and cowrie shells which were used as currency (money) in Malaysia and in parts of Africa. About the middle of the twelfth century the people of Maldives converted from Buddhism to Islam when a pious Muslim from north Africa rid the land of a terrible demon. (The demon had demanded a young virgin each month - and the Muslim hero offered to take the place of the girl. Before the sacrifice, he recited the Koran throughout the night, and the demon could do nothing out of fear of the Sacred Word.) These islands rise only a few feet above the surface of the sea and stretch for about 475 miles like a white pearl necklace.

Ibn Battuta had not planned to spend much time here as he arrived at the capital, Male. But the rulers happened to be looking for a chief judge, someone who knew Arabic and the laws of the Koran. The rulers were delighted to find a visitor that fit their requirements. They sent Ibn Battuta slave girls, pearls, and gold jewelry to convince him to stay. They even made it impossible for him to arrange to leave by ship - so like it or not, he stayed. He agreed to remain there with some conditions, however: he would not go about Male on foot, but be carried in a litter or ride on horseback, just like the king or queen! He even took another wife after staying there less than two months, a noblewoman related to the queen. It seems as though Ibn Battuta was playing politics. He was now part of the royal family and the most important judge.

He set about his duties as a judge with enthusiasm and tried with all his might to establish the rule of strict Muslim law and change local customs. He ordered that any man who failed to attend Friday prayer was to be whipped and publicly disgraced. Thieves had their right hands cut off, and he ordered women who went "topless" to cover up. "I strove to put an end to this practice and commanded the women to wear clothes; but I could not get it done."

He took three more wives who also had powerful social connections, and seems to brag: "After I had become connected by marriage ... the [governor] and the people feared me, for they felt themselves to be weak."

And so he began to make enemies, especially the governor. After nasty arguments and political plots, Ibn Battuta decided to leave after almost nine months in the islands. He quit his job as qadi, but he really would have been fired. He took three of his wives with him, but he divorced them all after a short time. One of them was pregnant. He stayed on another island, and there he married two more women, and divorced them, too. He tells us about marriage and divorce in the Maldives at the time:

"It is easy to marry in these islands because of the smallness of the dowries and the pleasures of society which the women offer... When the ships put in, the crew marry; when they intend to leave they divorce their wives. This is a kind of temporary marriage. The women of these islands never leave their country."

Later, he even thought about going back to the Maldive Islands and taking over under the support of an army commander in southern India. But that was not to be.

Podcast of the Day- Lecture 3 Reform and Deregulation

The Boyer lectures by Ian Macfarlene, former governor of Reserve Bank of Australia, continuos;
By the 1970s the world's developed economies were stuck in the worst position they had been in since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Australia shared this experience but, propelled by a program of reform and deregulation, it slowly became competitive again and began to register strong rates of growth. In this environment the corporate sector embarked on an era of heightened activity, driven by massive borrowings, takeovers and mergers. It is now apparent that the implications of sudden financial deregulation were not fully understood, and the dawn of the 1990s would bring with it new challenges for those charged with navigating the twin hazards of boom and bust.

Listen to the podcast. Some excerpts below;

“Let me digress for a moment to discuss another epithet routinely applied by those opposed to economic reasoning, which is to refer to economics as the dismal science. Whenever I hear this term, I wonder how many people who use it know its origin. It was coined by Thomas Carlyle, in 1849, in an essay called, Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question, in which he argued for the reintroduction of slavery into the West Indies. He viewed the former slaves as 'indolent, two-legged cattle, who should be subject to the beneficent whip'. It is extraordinary that the author of these views which were reactionary and racist even by the standards of 1849, should have had the temerity to refer to his opponents, the most prominent of whom was John Stuart Mill, as representing the dismal science, when all they were doing was arguing that freed slaves should have the same rights as other free people. Mill wrote a reply to Carlyle expressing views that would be widely held today, but unfortunately it is Carlyle's throwaway line that has endured, not Mills' sensible reply….


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