Cultures of Depredation

“Taking the State wherever found, striking into its history at any point, one sees no way to differentiate the activities of its founders, administrators and beneficiaries from those of a professional-criminal class.” – Albert Jay Nock in Our Enemy, The State, 1935 edition p. 50.

Recently I picked up the English translation of a 1991 classic, Diario de un Mojado. It’s a strange piece, contrasting the superficiality of US life on the one hand with a recognition of the desirability opportunities it presents immigrants for the accumulation of capital. Extrapolating from the numbers of mojados (= “wetbacks”) who came to the United States over the past 70 years, we can fairly sure that this is no mere anecdote. On the contrary, the motivation seems to have been strong and persistent.
And yet, if we consult our trusty Heritage Foundation table, we find Mexico at position #38, and the United States at position #123. So what is making the United States so attractive, or vice-versa, what is making Mexico so unattractive?
First of all, obviously neither the prevalence of a culture of dependence, nor the existence of high rates of crime, nor an abstract concept of economic freedom, necessarily correlate with attractiveness.
Nor do they necessarily correlate with the existence or lack of opportunities to accumulate capital.
What intrigues me here is a different question: What made Mexico so clearly unattractive for all of those emigrants? Given my current state of knowledge I can hardly provide a definitive answer. Yet judging from the nine slim pages in which the author Ramón Pérez relates his return to Mexico, I suspect that one answer might be something we could call a “Culture of Depredation”.
Put more crudely, basically I am talking about an environment in which repeated devastating extractions are the norm. This corresponds to the most primitive form of the State in Franz Oppenheimer’s 6-stage model (see page 28 of this English translation of The State, or page 25 of the German original text here). This is the stage in which extraction is complete, leaving nothing behind. As Eduardo Galeano so devastatingly documented in his immortal classic Las Venas Abiertas de América Latina (“Open Veins of Latin America“), the Spanish Conquista was replete with examples of this approach to extraction. Nor has Latin American history since then failed to provide regular repetitions of the same.
So perhaps it is important to keep in mind that the more sophisticated forms of extraction prevalent in today’s industrialized world – i.e. those which ultimately have evolved into those perverse cultures of dependence – at least from an economic perspective are still infinitely more productive than their more honest predecessors.
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