Policy wonk digest: Incan edition

Normally our policy wonk digests focus on snippets of interesting policy in the countries we’re traveling through. This one focuses on the state we’d have been visiting had we arrived here 500 years ago: the Inca Empire.

  • Baby Incas had their skulls stretched in the hope their brains would grow bigger as a result. The more noble the Inca, the more the stretching. Combined with the prohibition on all but the nobility using coca, it all sounds a little Brave New World.
  • The Incan Empire expanded rapidly. The initial Incan approach was to persuade tribes to join voluntarily. Many did. The Incas were then even generous enough to incorporate the new tribe’s gods into their primary temples in Cusco. Tribes that didn’t join voluntarily were still beaten up by Incan armies, though.
  • When there were uprisings or troubles with tribes in the empire, Incas used forced migration to return things to a peaceful equilibrium. Groups that were loyal to the empire would be moved in alongside dissidents. Agitators might be brought closer to the centre of Incan power. There are, still today, tribes in Ecuador who came from Lake Titicaca in Bolivia and retain their original cultural practices. The Incan approach was not all that dissimilar to Indonesian Transmigration.
  • Incan nobility were preserved as mummies after their death. Their estates – land, property, servants – continued to function and served them. In this way the Incas were arguably early adopters of legal personality.
  • The Incan road system is legendary and still somewhat intact despite unforgiving terrain. The roads allowed for dissemination of supplies and quick mobilisation of armies. Rest and store houses every 20km were kept well stocked.
  • The roads were also the lifeblood of an elaborate communication system. There would be a camp of specially trained messengers about every 2km. They would run messages in a relay system. There can have been no Chinese whispers, for the Incas were isolated from all other civilisations.
  • The Incas devolved power in an ordered and hierachical way. The Inca (the emperor) rules all. Under him were rulers of about 100,000 people, then 10,000 and so on down to, in some cases, units of around ten.
  • We’ve written before about the peculiar Incan economy that was without markets or currency. It worked mostly because ordinary Incas were required to work for the state for most of the year – a kind of taxation – and were supplied with the necessities of life as a result.

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