For the first time ever, labourers were able to purchase cheap goods for themselves. The first factories focused on mass production of cheap goods for the poor. Shoes, for example, were produced for the proletariat – the rich bought made-to-measure shoes. This was different from France, where the government’s mercantilist product standards, designed to uphold quality, ensured that nothing was produced for the poor at all. In France, mercantilism continued to be state policy for much longer than in England. This is the reason why industrialisation took fifty more years to arrive on France’s shores.
- This is a typical “I did not know that” moment from J. P. Floru‘s excellent new book Heavens on Earth: How To Create Mass Prosperity, from the chapter about the British industrial revolution.
Well, I myself did not know it. If you did know this particular thing about shoes, you will still probably find a hundred other such titbits in this book that you did not know. In an equal-but-opposite way, this made me think of how we can now buy excellent yet vastly-cheaper-than-before spectacles on the internet, that being a case of a made-to-measure product becoming available to all at a mass production price.
Besides the world-changing success story that was British industrialisation, Floru writes about: the USA and West Germany just after WW2, Hong Kong, China, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore. The miseries of despotism are not glossed over, but the inevitable failure of statist economic policies and the almost automatic benefits of free market policies, provided only that you can make them stick, are made unmistakably clear.
I hope, Real Soon Now, to be supplying a longer posting here about this fine book, along the lines of the five star reactions to it here. Short version: it is a fine book.
Last week I attended a book launch (picture of author J. P. Floru here), and after the formal proceedings had been concluded, I meandered into a conversation involving the ASI’s Sam Bowman, about something called “Soylent”. Until then, Soylent to me only meant that Charlton Heston movie about food made of people. Sam and his pals were talking about something rather different, but the subject changed to something else and that night I learned very little out what this twenty first century version of Soylent is, beyond the fact that Sam Bowman was excited about it. Later, however, Sam sent me an email about it that got me chasing the story a bit.
Soylent is food, sort of, but not made of people. Basically, what the Soylent guy, whose name is Rob Rhinehart, says he did was … well, let him explain it, in the piece he wrote a month into the experiment that he performed on himself:
I hypothesized that the body doesn’t need food itself, merely the chemicals and elements it contains. So, I resolved to embark on an experiment. What if I consumed only the raw ingredients the body uses for energy? Would I be healthier or do we need all the other stuff that’s in traditional food? If it does work, what would it feel like to have a perfectly balanced diet? I just want to be in good health and spend as little time and money on food as possible.
I haven’t eaten a bite of food in 30 days, and it’s changed my life.
So how did this make him feel?
I feel like the six million dollar man.
If Rob Rhinehart, or anybody else who thinks as Rob Rhinehart is now thinking, ever got a job in government that involved him or her telling other people what to consume, then I would join what I hope would be a loud chorus of hatred and derision. But given that Rhinehart is experimenting on (a) himself, and now also on (b) other consenting Californians, I am a tentatively enthusiastic admirer of what he says he is doing, only tentative because my enthusiasm is subject to all the obvious caveats and hesitations about it all later turning out to be fraudulent nonsense.
But assuming all this to be for real, a particular point that Rhinehart makes is that the human body is resilient, in the sense that it can survive without quite a few “essential nutrients”, which would thus seem to be not quite as essential as that word implies. Even if the Soylent that Rhinehart has so far arrived at misses out on some supposedly essential nutrients, it didn’t kill him, despite worries that others expressed:
Perhaps this does not constitute the ideal diet, but I am quite confident that it is healthier than any easy diet, and easier than any healthy diet. I’m touched so many people are concerned about my intake of possible unknown essential nutrients. No one seemed to worry about me when I lived on burritos and ramen and actually was deficient of many known essential nutrients. The body is pretty robust. If you can survive on what most Americans or Somalians eat, you can surely survive on Soylent. I’m no longer just surviving, though. I’m thriving.
It sounds like a really interesting operation, both from the scientific point of view and as a potential money spinner. Nutrition that is as cheap as truly nutritional nutrition is capable of being, and as unheavy and unvoluminous as nutrition can be, has obvious applications, both in reducing the money spent by poor people feeding themselves healthily, and reducing the payloads consumed in the process of feeding such people as astronauts or submariners. Obviously, to start with, it will only be rich Californians giving this stuff a go, but everything has to start somewhere.
This whole story, and in particular that word “Soylent”, still has me and I am sure many others thinking: internet hoax. When I started reading Rhinehart’s stuff, I did a quick check to see if we had yet reached April 1st. But if all this is a hoax, quite a few people seem to have fallen for it, at any rate as far as I have, by writing about it.
But, if it is not an internet hoax, this would appear to be a classic case of suck-it-and-see (in this case literally that) technology-stroke-science, of just the sort I was writing about in this earlier posting here about where science (and art) come from. It really is very striking how very much, in this enterprise, the advance of science and the potential making of a mega-mountain of money would appear – touch wood – to be advancing hand in hand. At the very least, Rob Rhinehart is going to learn about why food, as opposed merely to Soylent, is, after all, necessary for human flourishing. But, if it isn’t, and if Soylent 4.2 (or whatever) will actually suffice … Rhinehart could be on his way to making a hell of a lot more than six million dollars.
Another nice titbit of news about all this is that Rhinehart would appear, judging from his use of the word “regulation” in the second sentence of this, to be some kind of free marketeer, libertarian type, although maybe I am reading too much into one word there.
I think Rhinehart ought to change that name though. His “Soylent” is not made of people, only for them. Nor does it contain any Soya.
Details. Another way of saying all of the above is: if this really is only a hoax, it is an extraordinarily interesting and inventive one, and some other Californian should be persuaded to try this on himself for real.
I await developments.
The speaker at my next Last Friday of the Month meeting will be Richard Carey of Libertarian Home, and the title of his talk is: Austrian Economics: What It Is and How It Relates To Libertarianism.
And yes, Friday March 29th is not any old Friday. It is Good Friday, which may thin out the ranks of attenders somewhat. Not too much, I hope.
About what he will be saying, Richard Carey says this:
What I intend to look at is as follows: the Austrian School: what it is; what it was; its relationship to libertarianism and its relevance to today. I’d like to look at how it fits into the development of economic thought, its distinguishing features, the main protagonists, some of the most important works. If the task of answering such questions is beyond me, I should at least be able to provide a guide to where such answers can be found.
Here is some video of Richard Carey talking on another subject, about doing libertarian politics. And here is the list of his recent bloggings for Libertarian Home.
I have a very selfish motive in getting Richard Carey to talk about Austrian Economics, which is that I personally find it rather hard to get to grips with this subject, and with subjects like this. What I mean by “subjects like this” is subjects which consist of a lot of logically interconnecting concepts, each of which you have to understand, and the interconnections between which you likewise have to understand, in order to make sense of it all.
What makes me want to make sense of Austrian Economics is that I have become entirely convinced, as have millions of others in recent years and decades (years especially), that Austrian Economics doesn’t just supply the best explanation of what has been going on in the financial world lately (and for that matter for the last several decades and even several centuries); it supplies the only explanation. All else in the way of economics is statistically disguised, fumbling, blundering nonsense, enlivened with many amusing details and incidental truths, but nevertheless, underneath it all, when it comes to the most important questions of all, just plain wrong. I already feel about Austrianism (as I like to abbreviate it) in the way many self-declared Marxists felt about Marxism when the Great Crash and then the Great Depression were unfolding. They didn’t really understand Marxism, but they had heard enough to be utterly convinced that This Is It, as in: This is the place to keep looking to work out what the hell is happening, and what the hell to do about it. The difference being that whereas the Marxists were all deluded and stuck up an intellectual and political blind alley, the Austrianists, and I, are not.
My problem is that I find the great Austrian School writings very hard to actually read, and I typically find your average spoken exposition of Austrianism, by someone long steeped in the subject, very hard to follow.
Part of this is that I am a slow and easily distracted reader, slow partly because so easily distracted, but also just slow. And when listening to a talk, I likewise get easily distracted (for example with trying to get my head around the previous interconnected concept but one, even as the latest one is being expounded), and if the talk is the kind of talk with a logical thread to it (as it so often is when the subject is Austrian Economics), any distraction guarantees that I lose that thread.
But I have another problem, which is that a great deal of Austrian School writing consists of belabouring the obvious.
→ Continue reading: Why I am looking forward to Richard Carey’s talk this Friday about Austrian Economics
Mick Hartley, who has been watching North Korea closely for years, senses that things may be about to explode, sooner rather than later:
Under the departed Dear Leader, there was at least some measure of balance. The Songun military-first principle held sway then as now, of course, and the level of vitriolic rhetoric aimed at South Korea and the US and Japan was constant and unrelenting, but there was some sense of a cunning plan; of a canny political operator at work.
Now, though, with the new Fat Controller Kim Jong-Un, there’s a strong feeling that it’s all getting out of control. As a sign of his weakness and insecurity, and doubtless under all kinds of internal pressures, and in-fighting within the top brass which we don’t know about, he just keeps pressing the same buttons that worked for his father, but he has to press them harder and harder. Up with the militarisation; up with the vicious rhetoric; up with the provocations and the bluster. He doesn’t know what else to do. Now the whole country’s on a war footing, the economy – such as it was – is imploding, and maybe for the first time in the history of the DPRK there’s a sense that the suffering people may not be prepared to tolerate this increased hardship much longer.
The logic of his position, then, may force him into some reckless action. He’s backed himself into a corner. South Korea’s western islands are looking increasingly vulnerable. If he doesn’t do something he’s going to look weak, and all that hardship is going to look like it was all for nothing to the wretched populace. And, as the economy tanks, he has to do something sooner rather than later….
I recommend also reading Hartley’s earlier piece, linked back to there, which does indeed link in its turn to reports about the vulnerability of some South Korean islands, but which is itself a copy-and-paste posting about what China is preparing to do about all this. Preparing to invade North Korea, basically, and racing against time. As always, when states like China build railways (in fact when almost any state has ever built a railway), the thinking is not just economic; it is also military.
China was and remains content to sponsor a North Korea that is vicious and strong. But a North Korea that is vicious and weak, to the point of recklessness, is a serious threat to China’s interests.
It says everything about the state of life for regular people in North Korea that if and when the Chinese do invade, the Chinese may well be greeted as liberators rather than as another bunch of predators.
I have no idea if this (which I got to via Instapundit and then Walter Russell Mead) is for real, but it sure sounds good:
A defense contractor better known for building jet fighters and lethal missiles says it has found a way to slash the amount of energy needed to remove salt from seawater, potentially making it vastly cheaper to produce clean water at a time when scarcity has become a global security issue.
How does it work?
The process, officials and engineers at Lockheed Martin Corp say, would enable filter manufacturers to produce thin carbon membranes with regular holes about a nanometer in size that are large enough to allow water to pass through but small enough to block the molecules of salt in seawater. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter.
Because the sheets of pure carbon known as graphene are so thin – just one atom in thickness – it takes much less energy to push the seawater through the filter with the force required to separate the salt from the water, they said.
So, is this a genuine prospect, or is it, to use a phrase from an earlier techno comment thread here, geek porn? Mead is careful to say that whereas such inventiveness is, in general, good, this particular inventiveness may come to nothing.
At most sites these days there are either too few comments to be bothering with, or far too many comments to be bothering with. Mead has no commenters at all to tell him if it makes sense to be optimistic about this new technique or not, and Instapundit only has occasional emailed-in updates.
Here, on the other hand, we not only do have comments, but we get a middlingly useful number of comments on most of our postings, and what is more comments that are often well worth reading, especially on subjects like this one.
So, might these carbon membranes work their water purification magic, or is this just hype?
LATER: Tim Worstall explains it a bit more, and there are some interesting comments there also.
One many significant dividing lines between, on the one hand, enthusiasts for free economies and free societies, and on the other hand those who favour a large role for the state in directing and energising society, concerns where you think art and science come from.
Those looking for an excuse to expand the role of the state tend to assume that art and science come from the thoughts and actions of an educated and powerful elite, and then flow downwards, bestowing their blessings upon the worlds of technology and entertainment, and upon the world generally. Science gives rise to new technology. Art likewise leads the way in new forms of entertainment, communication, and so on.
While channel surfing a while back, I heard Dr Sheldon Cooper, the presiding monster of the hit US sitcom The Big Bang Theory, describe engineering as the “dull younger brother” (or some such dismissive phrase) of physics. The BBT gang were trying to improve their fighting robot, and in the absence of the one true engineer in their group (Howard Wolowitz), Sheldon tries to seize the initiative. “Watch and learn” says Sheldon. Sheldon’s attitude concerning the relationship between science and technology is the dominant one these days, because it explains why the government must pay for science on the scale that it now does. Either governments fund science, or science will stop. Luckily governments do now fund science, so science proceeds, and technology trundles along in its wake. Hence modern industrial civilisation.
If the above model of how science and art work was completely wrong, it would not be so widely believed in. There is some truth to it. Science does often give rise to new technology, especially nowadays. Some artists are indeed pioneers in more than art. But how do science and art arise in the first place?
Howard Wolowitz is the only one of The Big Bang Theory gang of four who does not have a “Dr” at the front of his name. But he is the one who goes into space. He builds space toilets. He was the one who actually built the fighting robot. Dr Sheldon Cooper, though very clever about physics, is wrong about technology, and it was good to see a bunch of comedy sitcom writers acknowledging this. After “Watch and learn”, Sheldon Cooper’s next words, greeted by much studio audience mirth, are “Does anyone know how to open this toolbox?”
→ Continue reading: Some thoughts about where science and art come from (and about why governments don’t need to pay for either of them)
If I let them compute those statistics, they’ll want to use them for planning.
- Sir John Cowperthwaite, Financial Secretary of Hong Kong from 1961 to 1971, quoted in a recent posting at the Cobden Centre blog by Sean Corrigan entitled Masterly inactivity.
According to this blog posting, these words were spoken by Cowperthwaite to, and recalled by, Milton Friedman (who had asked about the paucity of statistics), in 1963.
“We should recognize the issue of communism and Soviet espionage has become an antiquarian backwater. After all, the Cold War is over.” With these words, a typical leftish US historian, Ellen Schrecker, recommends that a whole sector of an historical era should be ignored and work on it effectively closed down. “It is time to move on,” remarks another academic, using the modern terminology that neither denies nor accepts responsibility, but leaves a mess behind for someone else to clear up. Now historians are, by definition, paddlers up backwaters, investigators of things that are “over” and move in, not move on when invited to examine data never before available. When World War Two ended historians started, not stopped, writing about it, just as an unending stream of books about Napoleon has continued in the nearly two centuries since he was bundled off to St Helena. The idea that, just as enormous quantities of material from Soviet and other archives are being released, work on them should be called off is so ludicrous that it could only have been suggested by those who feel the foundations of their beliefs and attitudes crumbling beneath their feet.
- Findlay Dunachie, reviewing a book called In Denial: Historians, Communism, and Espionage for Samizdata, in 2004. I came across that while trying to find something else, and was immediately hooked. Findlay Dunachie is sorely missed, now, still.
The good news is that, following the recent Samizdata makeover, we can now peruse the entire Samizdata Findlay Dunachie author archive.
From Michael Huemer’s brief summary (right near the end of “Analytical Contents” – p. xxv) of Chapter 13 (“From Democracy to Anarchy”) Part 4 (“The Influence of Ideas”), of his newly published book The Problem of Political Authority:
The eventual arrival of anarchy is plausible due to the long-run tendency of human knowledge to progress and to the influence of ideas on the structure of society.
I originally had that up as a Samizdata quote of the day, but there already is one. Apologies for the muddle. However, I didn’t want either to scrub this posting or just leave it hanging about, so instead I am elaborating a little.
I think the word “plausible” in the above quote is apt. We can’t assume this kind of thing. But that doesn’t mean there is no reason to hope for such a thing. Why else would we be bothering?
I now have my copy of this book, and a brief glance through it suggests that there is plenty more SQotD material in it. Indeed, it seems to be the kind of book where you could pretty much pick an SQotD out with a pin.
Why don’t I try that? Let me open the book at random, and pick a paragraph at random, and see if it works as a disembodied quote. There are 365 pages in the entire book. Here is a paragraph from page 234:
But war is, putting it mildly, expensive. If a pair of agencies go to war with one another, both agencies, including the one that ultimately emerges the victor, will most likely suffer enormous damage to their property and their employees. It is highly improbable that a dispute between two clients would be worth this kind of expense. If at the same time there are other agencies in the region that have not been involved in any wars, the latter agencies will have a powerful economic advantage. In a competitive marketplace, agencies that find peaceful methods of resolving disputes will outperform those that fight unnecessary battles. Because this is easily predictable, each agency should be willing to resolve any dispute peacefully, provided that the other party is likewise willing.
Not original, but not bad. And again, plausible.
I share Michael Huemer’s optimism about the influence of (good) ideas on society. If I did not, I would occupy far less than I actually do occupy of my life arriving at and stating my own ideas, and publicising the ideas of others, such as Michael Huemer.
Alert readers may have noticed that the default category, here at New Samizdata (it wasn’t like this at Old Samizdata) for all postings (i.e. if we forget to put in proper categories), is: Hippos. This is because our Dear Leader has a fondness for hippos. This means that I am constantly on the look-out for hippos in the shops of London.
It also means that I have been wanting to do a posting here that really is about hippos, ever since New Samizdata got into its stride. I didn’t just want to find some hippos. I wanted then to write here about them.
Easier said than done, because you might be surprised at how hard hippos are to come by in London. I would have thought that hippos would be as popular as dinosaurs, pigs, cows, horses, dogs, cats (small and big), and maybe even as popular as teddy bears. But no. Hippos seem not to figure in the manufacturing plans of most toy, model or miniature animal makers.
So, it was a happy moment when, while wandering about in South East London last month, I chanced upon a sort of ornaments/antiques/junk shop which was, in among much else, selling these:
How much is this hippo?, I asked, waving one at the lady at the desk. Fifty P, she replied. Then, perhaps mistaking my stunned amazement at how cheap the hippo was for a desire to haggle, she added: You can have three for a quid. Done, I said. Three. I should have bought all the hippos they had. Later, surprise surprise, I found the words “MADE IN CHINA” printed on the stick-on label next to those little hippo feat. The label also said: “FUNTIME GIFTS LTD.”, but I could find no mention of any hippos here.
They are very poorly done hippos, I have to admit. They are made of foam rubber, with a smooth skin that is then painted, with unfortunate results for the paint if you squeeze the hippo there. Already, one of them in particular has many small cracks in its paintwork. But no matter. Score.
Have you noticed how, with gift giving these days, the cheaper it is, the better? Any fool can get his friend a great hippo, if he is willing for his bank account to take a comparably great hit. But the gift you really want is one that is just what you want, but which the giver found, rather than merely threw money at. It’s the thought and the effort that counts, more than ever, as getting your hands on mere stuff gets easier and easier, what with it all being made in China now for next to nothing, and then brought to you by supertanker, ditto. But maybe that’s just me. Comments on that?
Yes, they are still in their cellophane wrappings. It is for Original Perry to unwrap them, not me.
LATER (with the cellophane gone):
The four of them seem very happy, wouldn’t you say?
Yesterday, I took this photograph in Holborn, London, advertising the (Australian influenced?) cuisine of this pub:
Click to enlarge, and then note the horse burger. It’s starting to look as if the main long-term effect of the Great Horse Meat Scandal upon Britain is that the British diet will be expanded. The politicians huff and puff. We get to discover how good horse can taste (that being a piece that was linked to by Instapundit yesterday).