Friday, October 14, 2011
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
I have read many books on Islam. I read them to understand why Islam conquered so much so quickly, and why it failed both politically and economically over the last 500 years. The relative economic decline is of interest because around 1000 CE, the Muslim world was as wealthy as Europe. This is the first book that provided understanding that I could use. Not on conquest directly, but on the economics.
In "The Long Divergence", the author emphasizes two themes around Muslim law of inheritance. Islamic law mandated distribution of wealth after death amongst multiple heirs. This had two results. First, it forced partnerships to be short lived: Death followed by demands for their part of the inheritance by heirs required liquidation of a partnership. Knowing that any death would end the partnership, Muslims tended to favor two person partnerships of short duration. In contrast, after 1000 CE Europeans developed forms of partnership and corporations that could survive the death of a single participant. Partly this was adoption of primogeniture, under which a single descendant could inherit the whole on one person's assets in a property, business or partnership. At the same time Europeans were becoming innovative about the types of business arrangements used to accumulate wealth. Something like modern corporations developed to manage guilds, monasteries, and even cities. European rulers, desperate for money, and often only weakly in power, were willing to allow independent groups take local power, in exchange for stability and the right to tax revenues or profits. These independent institutions were allowed to change their internal rules and general goals as circumstances changes.