If you haven’t already partaken of this bit of video, then you really should. It lasts just under twenty minutes.
Tim Harford is speaking, in 2011, at some gathering of the clever and the smug, but it’s better than that. The name H. R. McMaster comes up several times, and this is, among other things, a very good quick way to learn why McMaster’s appointment by President Trump as his National Security Adviser might turn out to be such a very good one. It certainly explains why this appointment is already so very popular. You don’t have to believe that the USA rearranging matters in faraway countries is always or even ever a wise policy to get the points that Harford is making.
Harford also mentions, in passing, Hayek. From this, you may guess that this is a talk about decentralised decision making, and how on the spot knowledge, again and again, trumps the wisdom of the Central Committee or the High Command. If that is your guess, you would not be wrong.
The story that Harford tells reminds me of another transformation of policy that happened in China, and gave rise to what is now called the Chinese economic miracle. This miracle is now starting to look rather less miraculous, but it was still a massive improvement over what preceded it. That change too is usually attributed to a change of top leadership and of its top-down policies, but that policy also, I seem to recall reading, began at the bottom of the chain of command and in spite of the chain of command.
I even seem to recall having linked to stuff about that from here. Yes, here is that posting, about teeth of all things, and here is the article at Planet Money that the posting linked to. It’s the same story as Harford tells in the above-linked-to video.
In a recent posting here, which I called How Brexit has unified the Conservative Party, and which I might have called (as I said in it (but never mind, I can use that title for this)) “Brexit has unified the Conservative Party and divided Labour”, I explained how Brexit had unified the Conservatives and had divided Labour.
Last night there was a vote in the House of Commons about whether Britain should proceed with what its voters had voted for.
Total number of Conservative MPs who voted against the bill, despite Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May commanding them to vote for it: 1.
Total number of Labour MPs who voted against the bill, despite Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn commanding them to vote for it: 47.
See what I mean.
The irony being that the demand that the House of Commons have its own vote on the matter has only served to highlight this Conservative Leave-inspired unanimity and Labour Remain-inspired division.
For how long will EUrope divide the political left in Britain? From where I sit, the longer the better.
Ever since digital photography became something I could afford, I have been wandering around London, digitally photographing it. I show a few of these photos here from time to time, and more frequently at my personal blog.
I have learned, as many photographers do, that the ephemeral is more likely to be significant than the fixed. Yet another picture of Big Ben to add to the billions of such pictures already taken is of zero interest. But something like this, on the other hand, becomes, I think, more interesting as time goes by:
That photo was taken in December 2003. Tony Blair, the man in the posters, was Prime Minister and still riding quite high, and Britain seemed doomed to EU-ness for ever.
The words on these posters help to confirm, for me, what a very wise decision we Brits made, narrowly yet decisively, to get out of this fatuous and delusional enterprise.
I say delusional, because the defining quality of the EU, for me, was the way that it encouraged all manner of people to say and to think things that were nonsensical.
BLAIR! GIVE US A VOTE ON EUROPE’S FUTURE
BLAIR! GIVE US A VOTE ON EUROPE’S FUTURE
Where to start? The “us” doing the voting would be British voters, and yet these British voters would be deciding – deciding “on” – the future of the whole of EUrope. Which these voters plainly could not determine. All that this British decision “on” EUrope could ever amount to would be either a mere protest vote (or more likely: a vote in the EU’s favour) in our Parliament, or else an official and very expensive public opinion poll.
Yet such was the pervasive unreality of all thoughts concerning the EU, and Britain’s membership of it, that this poster was considered worth printing and worth sticking up.
You may be saying to yourself that this is only some permanently delusional left-wing splinter group, consisting of a combination of dysfunctional permanent students of nothing, and trainee MI5 agents, and you would almost certainly be right. Yet numerous votes and numerous referenda of exactly this delusional sort did actually happen in the EU, and continue to happen. Most recently, I believe, there was just such a vote in Italy, although I could be wrong about that and I don’t care if I am because it really did not and does not matter. Time and again, individual EUro-nations choose or are invited, in one way or another, to pass their mere judgement on this or that aspect of the EU as a whole, and there then follows: nothing.
I think it was the sheer bloody confusion that I most hated about the EU, caused by the fact that the EU is in no way a real community, merely a gaggle of communities brought together and ruled by another community. No “decision” was ever what it seemed. Even those decisions that we Brits often thought we were making entirely for ourselves had at least two faces to them, the public face, which concerned what seemed to be the actual decision, and the less obvious face, which concerned whether and how this decision assisted the EU in becoming more EU-ish. In the end, no amount of voice was worth a damn. Only the threat, and in due course the reality, of exit counted.
Thank goodness that this ghastly episode is, for Britain, now coming to its end. Thank goodness we recently had a big old vote, a vote that actually decided something that we Brits were able to decide for ourselves, following something resembling a single mega-argument in which all who wished to could participate, and could hear all the micro-arguments, for or against, that they wanted to hear. And thank goodness we decided to get shot of this great big confusion machine. No matter how much of a mess us leaving the EU turns out to be, this process cannot in my eyes rival the relentless mess that remaining in the EU would have condemned us to. It’s the difference between a mess that will eventually end, and a mess that would have gone on until the entire EU itself finally fell to pieces.
For the rest of the EU, the delusions and confusions persist.
Instapundit just linked to something calling itself An open letter to Trump from the Press Corps. I clicked on the link, because I thought it might be a masterpiece of self-parody. It is.
No comments allowed on the open letter itself, but I clicked on the Instapundit comment thread, suspecting that there might be some entertaining and quite well crafted abuse to enjoy. Again, I was not disappointed.
An odd thing about this open letter is that it seems so lacking in the very knowledge which you might expect the “Editor in Chief and Publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review” to know quite a lot about, namely how the technological context of journalism has altered in recent years. He says to Trump: You need us to say nice things about you! You need us to get your messages across! But everything that Trump has said and done since he first got into his stride as a seemingly long-shot candidate has said, right back at them: “No, I don’t.”
It will be interesting to see if Trump’s current anti-social media heckling of his Obama-worshipping media opponents keeps happening. I suspect that he’ll start being more polite to them, but only if and when they start being more polite to him. But that could just be wishful thinking on my part.
More generally, one of the things I notice about effective people, including me at those times in my life when I have been effective, is that effective people often do things that they “can’t” do, but which actually, they can do, and which if they do do will serve their purposes very well. “You can’t do that” actually only means that until now you couldn’t do that. And it often also means: Now that you can do that and now that you are doing it, we want you to stop.
Until recently, no President of the USA could tweet back at his media critics, very quickly and cheaply and easily, without in any way having to beg from them any right to reply to their criticisms, and without irritating anyone else who isn’t interested. Now, the President can. The claim that he shouldn’t, because “proper Presidents don’t behave like that” needs him to be persuaded of this claim. But if ignoring this claim is a major reason for his effectiveness, why would he be persuaded?
If all the approved policies fail, but a disapproved policy looks like it might work, then the disapproved policy is what might very well end up being done. Discuss.
While you’re discussing that, allow me to throw in this titbit of news, from the Czech Republic, which I encountered in the Washington Post:
Now the country’s interior ministry is pushing a constitutional change that would let citizens use guns against terrorists. Proponents say this could save lives if an attack occurs and police are delayed or unable to make their way to the scene. To become law, Parliament must approve the proposal; they’ll vote in the coming months.
From the bit linked to in that paragraph, this:
… it is not always possible for the police to guarantee a fast and effective intervention and fast action from a member of the public could prevent the loss of many lives.
Spotting Muslim terrorists is hard because so many Muslims behave like about-to-be-terrorists that it’s hard to know which ones to pick on and stop. And when one of them does strike, it could be anywhere, and the government can’t be everywhere. Only people can.
One of the bigger long term impacts of Muslim immigration into Europe could prove to be an armed European citizenry. Discuss some more.
Yesterday, at my personal blog, I expressed extreme gratitude to Christian Michel for letting me talk last Friday, at his home, on a subject which, when I first floated it to him, must have seemed very vague and vacuous, although judging by what he said about my talk afterwards, he was almost as pleased by it as I was.
Tonight, I will be attending another meeting organised by Christian Michel, partly out of gratitude for last Friday’s meeting. There is a London tube strike happening today, and I am pretty sure that Christian is now feeling a bit nervous about attendance, so I will make a point of being there.
The title of tonight’s talk is “The Collision of Fintech and Traditional Banking”. The speaker will be Sasha Karim. (I’m guessing that this is the Sasha Karim mentioned here.)
I am hoping that what Sasha Karim will say is, among other things, that, by radically lowering transaction costs and thereby making the life of a “financier” (formerly only available to ultra-clever (but not necessarily ultra-wise) people who had access to or who were attached by ultra-rich (but again, not always ultra-wise) employers to expensive machines in expensive buildings) “fintech”, aka the new world of financial transactions on mobile phones, now available to all people who are above dirt poor, is creating a world in which the old dream dreamed by the likes of Friedrich Hayek of denationalised money, can become a reality and rescue us all from the great catastrophe that has been governmentalised fiat paper currencies, of the sort denounced by another friend of mine, Detlev Schlichter. We shall see. But maybe I am being too optimistic, both about the talk and about the world. Concerning the talk, I will report further.
Hayek’s crucial little book on denationalised money has long been available on the www as a free .pdf download, but I only just found out that Detlev Schlichter’s book is now available as a free-to-download .pdf file also. Blog and learn.
As I work away at a talk I am to give tomorrow evening at Christian Michel’s, I am also, of course, wandering about in the www. And during the latest wandering I was provoked into thinking about another talk, one that I will be hosting rather than giving, on the last Friday of February. Marc Sidwell will, that evening, be speaking about: “Twilight of the Wonks? Promoting freedom in a post-expert world”.
This rather witty cartoon, which I came across here, is very pertinent to Marc Sidwell’s talk, I think:
This cartoon is now to be seen all over the www, partly because, I surmise, both sides of the argument that it alludes to are drawing attention to it. The Clintonians are pointing at it and saying: there, look at those silly Trumpsters, all voting to crash and burn America. And the Trumpsters are pointing at it, and saying: look at those smug liberals assuming that they are better at flying the airplane of government, in the way that a pilot obviously is better than his mere passengers at flying an actual airplane. They just don’t get it, blah blah.
The point being: there is being an expert, where you actually do know essential stuff. And then there is being an “expert”, where what you say you know or think you know ain’t necessarily so.
Personally I favoured and favour Trump, partly because I put Hillary Clinton into the latter category, of being an “expert” with sneer quotes rather than without them. She has a long career of crashing whatever metaphorical airplanes she flies, her email fiasco being only one of the more recent of such crashes. Crashing rather than flying is what she is “expert” at. And her speeches over the airplane intercom only convince those already convinced. Many feel the exact same way about Trump, but my impression, reinforced both by his campaign and by how he has conducted himself since his campaign ended in victory, is that when it comes to being less un-expert, Trump wins compared to Clinton. We shall see.
I also prefer, with all the usual libertarian reservations, the ideological agenda that Trump, almost despite himself, is now dragging into greater prominence. The agenda (see this gigantic crash) that Clinton would have kept in great prominence is one I that detest.
I will now send the link to this posting to Marc Sidwell. If you would like to learn more about attending the meetings I host every month, and/or those that Christian Michel hosts, email me by clicking on where it says “Contact”, top left, here.
LATER: See also what Instapundit says.
Recently a friend who works for the BBC asked if I knew of any good general interest but topical stories coming up any time soon, and I said that when they finally finish London Gateway, the new container port now being constructed and even already slightly used, on the north bank of the Thames Estuary, that will be made a big fuss of.
She then told me about a series that the BBC World Service is doing about 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy. I said that the Container certainly should be one of these Things. She later determined that the Shipping Container does indeed feature in this series, and she sent me that link. Amazing what a difference an email with a link makes to your willingness to attend to something.
This piece about the Shipping Container lasted under ten minutes, and, although I had heard most of the story before, I liked it. So I then sampled a couple of the other Things, about which I knew less and nothing, namely: the Barcode, and the Haber-Bosch Process. The latter is for turning the nitrogen in the air into fertiliser.
The next Thing I listen to will be Concrete. I already know what concrete is, but I expect to learn a lot more, about it, and about what it did to and does for the world. Made life a lot easier for farmers, apparently. Which, to a townee like me, is one of those many things which is obvious, but only if someone makes me think about it.
Recommended. An economist and economic historian by the name of Tim Harford has done a number of these Thing broadcasts, including the ones about the Container and about the Barcode. He is already very well known, but not so well known to me. But, I can already tell you that he also is to be recommended, going only by how he talks about these Things.
LATER: See also this earlier posting here, about similar Things.
I am always on the lookout for elevated platforms, natural or artificial, to look out over London from, and to take photos from. And as luck would have it, one of my favourite such platforms is one that I live directly under. Yes, if I go up to the roof of my block of flats, I can see, and I can photo, things like this:
That thing being the MI6 Building, made famous by the Bond movies. In the Bond movie that they were showing on Brit TV earlier this very evening, this building suffered an explosion. Dame Judi Dench looked on, aghast.
Another entertaining thing to be seen from this spot is the new US Embassy, now nearing completion just up river, as luck would have it, from the MI6 Building. Those peculiar structures sticking out to the side, on both sides as we look in the photo below, intrigue me. Officially they are sunshades. So, nothing to do with stopping people from eavesdropping? Absolutely not. Never crossed their minds. Mind you, there won’t be any such structure on the windows facing us, so maybe this is true. But, I prefer to believe otherwise:
All around this new US Embassy there is a huge building boom in progress. That Special Relationship that people keep saying is about to end remains pretty special, I would say.
Whereas the cranes working away around the above building are there to build it, the crane in this next picture is there to dismantle the big block of a building that we see. This is “New” Scotland Yard. The Metropolitan Police have already moved out, to an even Newer Scotland Yard, nearer to the river.
Next up, the two familiar towers attached to the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and …, you know, … the other one. On the far side of the river but directly in line, The Wheel.
Finally, here are two snaps of how the same bit of the skyline was looking last night, just after midnight. I had guests with me last night, and after we had counted in the new year while watching these fireworks on the telly, I suddenly realised that we could see these same fireworks for real, if we just ran up a few staircases, and provided the fireworks kept on going for a bit. Which we did and they did:
Such is the quality of the cameras on mobile phones these days that several of my guests were also able to take photos.
In the above picture, The Wheel is totally blotted out, but in this final picture, you can clearly see it:
All of this was in aid of everyone wishing everyone else a Happy New Year, and I wish that to all my fellow Samizdatistas, and to everyone else who reads this.
I wanted to believe that Hillary Clinton would lose the recent US presidential election, so when I started reading Scott Adams saying that she was indeed going to lose, to Trump, I kept on reading him. Like so many others, I like to read within my bubble, as well as outside it. That means I also now read Scott Adams on every other subject he deals with in his blog. I am now digging back into his archives for more wise and witty verbiage. I am surely not the only one doing this now.
Scott Adams has a girlfriend called Kristina Basham, who, it would appear, is working and working at becoming one of those people who is famous for being famous. This is one of those labels that most people seem to assume is an insult. But being famous is a skill and a job, like any other skill and job. Your basic skill is that you know how to attract attention, and you basic job is that you sell this ability and live with the adverse consequences of it as well as the benefits. Scott Adams describes very well the sort of work that goes into becoming one of these F4BF people, as I will call them from now on. Kristina Basham is not, you see, outstandingly good at anything in particular. She is just pretty good at a whole “stack” of things, which, when you combine them, are making her into someone F4BF.
I say: good for her.
The claim that people who are F4BF contribute nothing to the world is the latest iteration of that very old and very bad idea that there is a “real” economy, consisting of work that people are used to doing and which their ancestors even did, like farming and then after that factory working; and then there is the “unreal” economy, consisting of silly things that add nothing to the “real” economy, but instead just leach off it, like financial services (which actually make farming and industry massively more productive by telling farmers what to farm and industrialists what to industrialise), and more recently jobs like being F4BF. (Even being a factory worker was once upon a time denounced as being unreal.)
Being a celeb, and in particular being nothing but a celeb, an F4BF, which is to say being good at attracting attention to oneself but for no single and obvious reason, but still being good at it, is a vital part of the modern economy. Celebs, including F4BFs, enable attention to be diverted away from major economic investments, while the work of creating or building them is being done and needs not to be disturbed, in the secure knowledge that when attention is finally demanded, and you need to attract a lot of business very quickly or else a lot of money will be lost while the word spreads by mere unassisted word of mouth. For that grand opening of whatever it is that you have been quietly working on for however long it has been, you hire a bunch of celebs. Including maybe some of that particular sort of celeb who are F4BF, pure and distilled celebs who are nothing but celebs.
Like all London-based libertarians of a certain vintage, I have fond and vivid memories of Tony Hollick, who died in October of this year. At the time when he was most active in the British libertarian movement, when that movement’s membership was numbered only in the dozens or less, people like Tony made a huge difference, attending and helping to organise meetings, writing and editing and, as is explained so well below, above all, arguing, which is what you are bound to do with ideas if you take ideas as seriously as Tony Hollick did. The moral and intellectual support that Tony supplied, in particular, to the late Chris R. Tame, was especially important and valuable. And see also this obituary of Tony Hollick, by Tim Evans.
Last week, on Wednesday December 7th, Tony Hollick’s funeral took place at Beckenham Crematorium, London. Below is the eulogy that his much loved godson, Gerald Hartup Jnr, wrote and read out on that sad occasion:
Tony was my godfather and I loved him dearly. He was one of my father’s oldest and closest friends and was much loved by all in the Hartup family.
He was a spectacular teacher, kind, generous with his time and very patient. As I was growing up reading philosophy, economics, politics and following current affairs I would always discuss these matters in depth with him. He was a superb sounding-board and I was very lucky to have spent so much time speaking with him. I learned a vast amount from Tony and am eternally grateful to him for that.
Tony did not like authority (huge understatement!). He particularly disliked authority when combined with a sense of injustice. He was a man with an extremely strong view on what is right or wrong and had an unbendable set of guiding moral principles. He was stubborn, passionate and had fire in his belly which would be shown in glorious style when he encountered something he considered wrong or unfair. This was a trait he displayed early on when as a boy he was expelled from two of the finest schools in the world – Dulwich College and Geelong Grammar School. A common theme behind both of those expulsions was a steadfast refusal to accept or yield to what he felt were unfair treatments and practices. He had a powerful sense of righteousness and this was always evident in the social or political causes he championed.
Tony is one of the most erudite people I have known. Not attending university did not hinder his accumulation of knowledge as he devoured swathes of books. His studies were broad, varied and extensive. His favourite fields were political philosophy and physics both in which he developed an awesome depth of knowledge. He was very thoughtful, intellectually curious and he carried himself with a scholarly disposition.
Politics was a big part of Tonys life. He had a unique take on matters and he would have described himself as a left leaning libertarian. In terms of political activity he was a founding member of the Libertarian Alliance, he worked at the alternative bookshop (a focal point of the Libertarian movement at the time), The National Association for Freedom (later the Freedom Association) and FOREST (Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco). He certainly practised what he preached. He was a self-styled defender of freedom political activist and he put his health and his body on the line for the cause. It is important that this is remembered.
He was always entertaining to debate with and wow, he loved to argue. As a child I would always hear my father on the phone with Tony arguing passionately about some political topic. As I got older and smarter the baton was passed to me and I too would spend considerable time on the phone with him arguing and debating whatever matter was at hand. It really could be anything – political, philosophical, religious, historical, moral, cultural, you name it – he would have a view on it and would argue it. I think he just really loved the sport of it. Verbal sparring must have been one of his favourite things to do and with my father and I, he had some tenacious and willing sparring partners. He could have made a very imposing barrister. I do pity the many hapless victims who would have stumbled into a debate with him unknowing or unprepared for his assault! Debating him was great fun, challenging and at times exasperating – it certainly sharpened up my and my father’s oratory skills.
He was an intriguing character with some fun interests. He was a tech savvy early embracer of computers and the internet. He loved science fiction, film and literature. The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and The Matrix were sources he would often use for analogies or making comparisons from. Working on designing and producing electrically powered roller-skates was a hobby of his. He was a horologist and truly loved the beauty of watches. His prized possession was an Omega Speedmaster pre moon landing watch which he took immaculate care of for 50+ years, it gave him immense joy and he never tired of talking about it. He adored cars and motorbikes and over the years he owned some really cool vehicles. He was a cat person, long after his dear cat Beeper passed away he would affectionately recall stories about how brilliant, intelligent and lovable a creature Beeper was.
“Athens or Sparta?” was a question Tony considered crucial to ask when trying to get an understanding of a person. Of course, with Tony, it was never a simple question but the start of a long, playful and philosophical dialogue. It is very difficult to sum up a character as colourful and complex as Tony but to do so in one word I would choose “Athens”. He was unquestionably “Athens” and I think he would be happy with that.
This explains a lot:
The European Union is moving into a new headquarters in Brussels, which features a huge glass atrium enclosing a bulging, lantern-like structure.
See an earlier posting here from way back about Parkinson’s Other Law.
LATER: Parkinson explains.