Camels vs Roads

A reoccurring theme in many fields of study (such as economics, genetics, memetics, and others) is that no one will ever have enough information to centrally plan things. The book “The 10,000 Year Explosion” provides another example of this….

Somewhere back in late classical times, the use of the camel was perfected — a better saddle was developed, for example, one that allowed camels to carry heavy leads efficiently. Throughout most of the Middle East and North Africa, camels were (after those developments) a superior means of land transportation: They were cheaper than ox-drawn wagons and not dependent upon roads. Over a few centuries, people in areas where camels were available abandoned wheeled vehicles and roads almost entirely. You can still see the effects in the oldest sections of some cities in the Arab world, where the alleys are far too narrow to have ever passed a cart of wagon. Europeans, not having camels, had to stick with wheeled vehicles, which were clearly more expensive, given the infrastructure they required. But as it turned out, wheeled vehicles — in fact, the whole road/wheeled vehicle system — could be improved. Back then, when the camels seemed so much better, who knew that someday there would be horse collars and nailed horseshoes, then improved bridge construction, suspensions that reduced road shock, macadamized roads, stream power, internal combustion engines, and ultimately the nuclear Delorean. The motto here is that sometimes the apparently interior choice has a better upgrade path [...]

Or put another way, the “invisible hand” tends to perform better than any form of central planning.

UPDATE: This passage was sourced from the book: “The Camel and the Wheel”, by Richard W. Bulliet.

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