In the book Medina in Birmingham, Najaf in Brent: Inside British Islam, the author – a BBC radio producer (boo, hiss) – attempts to provide an overview of the various strands of Islam in the UK. Her aim is not to tell us what to think but simply to provide the facts – what are they called? how many of them are there? where so they come from? what do they believe? etc. It is up to us, the readers, to draw conclusions.
Along the way there are a number of surprises. One of them is how different Islam is from Christianity. You would expect them to be rather similar given that they are both book-based, mono-theistic religions that revere both Abraham and Christ. Not a bit of it.
For example, in Christianity there is usually a close relationship between denomination and building. In Islam (at least in the UK) it is far more vague. A sect might be said to be “in control” of a mosque, the implication being that that control is temporary and could be lost. Many influential Muslim organisations such as Tablighi Jamaat and Jamaat-e-Islami have no mosques at all or very few.
Another is that the largest two sects in the UK are the Deobandis and Barelwis. No, I’d never heard of them either. For the record they are both Sunni (one definitely Sufi the other arguably so) and both originated in British India. It is worth pointing out that for the most part Bowen focuses on Sunni Islam but that is hardly surprising given that Sunnis vastly outnumber Shi’ites both globally and in the UK.
Another is that interest in Islam seems to be a second-generation thing. The first generation brought their Islam with them but seem to have regarded it as something they did rather than thought about. The second generation are much more inclined to read the Koran, take it seriously and ask questions. Even so, the most influential Islamic thinkers still tend to be based abroad.
I said earlier that it is left up to the reader to draw his own conclusions. So what does this reader conclude? Well, my biggest takeaway was that despite there being many strands of Islam and many weird and wonderful doctrinal disputes within Islam, there is no “good” Islam. The best you get is “less awful” Islam.
We are all well aware of the religion’s major dos and don’ts: praying, fasting (which includes liquids in case you didn’t already know), pork, alcohol, Halal etc. But there are others. The Deobandis, for instance, deprecate watching TV and listening to music. Almost all sects oppose celebrating the birthday of Muhammed which I assume gets extended to birthdays in general. There isn’t even the avenue of creativity in the service of the religion. Christianity has inspired great art, great songs and great buildings. But Islam has nothing to show for itself – at least not recently. The fact is that to be Muslim is to be miserable.
Of course, people are free to be miserable in private. What we really want to know about is whether they are going to blow us up or not. The news is not good. Islamic thought – of whatever strand – has little time for infidels and their institutions. Almost all sects are inward looking and wish to isolate themselves from the surrounding society. In this, they are helped by the welfare state and an ideology of political correctness. There seems to be no inquiry as to why it is that the followers of the one true God have ended up so poor while the non-believers and wrong believers are so rich. At best infidels are to be tolerated. At worst, to be eliminated. As such, Islamic terrorism is a bit like a genetic disease. Millions of Muslims by their faith can carry the disease without ever showing the symptoms but every so often it becomes virulent and people die. Islam and violence are inseparable.
This even has an impact on language. In the West words like “scholar” and “pious” tend to have positive connotations. But when they are applied to Islam – as Bowen does from time to time – they imply something altogether more sinister.
The only real challenge to Islam and violence comes from Ismaili doctrine which allows women to go around unveiled and for alcohol to be drunk in moderation and whose adherents do not appear to have got mixed up in terrorism. Ismailis have never had political power (at least not recently) and have a long tradition of trading. It is a general rule that the more trading that goes on in an Islamic community the less likely it is to produce terrorists. Even so the very small amount of tolerance that the (Nazari) Ismailis permit is largely – if not entirely – due to the influence of the Aga Khan. A different Aga Khan could easily change things.
I did not know this:
Dawkins began writing the book in 1973, and resumed it in 1975 while on sabbatical. At the suggestion of Desmond Morris, the zoologist and author of The Naked Ape (Jonathan Cape, 1967), Dawkins showed some draft chapters to Tom Maschler of Jonathan Cape, who strongly urged that the title be changed to ‘The Immortal Gene’. Today, Dawkins regrets not taking the advice. It might have short-circuited the endless arguments, so beloved of his critics and so redolent of the intentional stance (in which we tend to impute mental abilities to unconscious things, from thunderstorms to plants), about whether selfishness need be conscious. …
That is Matt Ridley writing In retrospect about Dawkins and The Selfish Gene.
“Immortal” would certainly have been accurate in a way that “selfish” was not. But perhaps having what was arguably a mistake in the title caused heat as well as light in the responses to The Selfish Gene, and thereby enabled this great book, in the end, to spread more light than it might have done if more precisely titled.
… It might even have avoided the common misconception that Dawkins was advocating individual selfishness.
Indeed. Actually, Dawkins has rather orthodox leftist views about such things as individual selfishness (unlike Matt Ridley). But by incurring the ignorant wrath of PC-ers, Dawkins has, I think, been driven away from unthinking leftism, towards more thinking non-leftism, of the sort that Matt Ridley espouses. He is certainly not a member of the PC tribe.
This is a common story. Oafish PC virtue signalling has caused many a good leftist to find himself on the wrong end of his own opinions, and thus to learn at least some of the errors of his ways.
Had he called The Selfish Gene instead The Immortal Gene, might Dawkins have remained, or been allowed to remain, a more orthodox leftist? And if he had, would he, for instance, have been so ready to denounce Islam as strongly as he has, alongside his denunciations of Christianity? Would he now be so ready to mock feminism, and thereby incur yet more PC wrath? (“We believe strongly in freedom of speech … However …”) Dawkins probably would have got involved in such scraps anyway, but he might have had more to lose.
Matt Ridley’s central point is that, whether correctly titled or not, The Selfish Gene combined being original science with successful scientific popularisation in a way that is very rare.
Vox Day is a game designer, science fiction and fantasy writer, blogger, and a prominent figure in the #GamerGate and Sad Puppies movements. His book SJWs Always Lie: Taking Down the Thought Police describes social justice warriors and is a strategy guide for dealing with them and for winning the larger culture war.
SJWs are the people whose hobby it is to get offended.
They have also invented the useful concept of the “microaggression”. This is an inadvertent offense committed by an offender who violates the Narrative without even realizing he has done so. It is the most insidious violation because it means that the hate is buried so deeply inside the offender that he doesn’t even realize it is there. Needless to say, SJWs have a highly developed ability to observe these microaggressions being unwittingly committed.
They would be nothing more than a minor annoyance if they did not currently seem to have the ability to cause the sort of controversy that can lose people like Brendan Eich or Tim Hunt their jobs for having the wrong kind of opinion or making the wrong kind of joke.
It contains the sort of advice that should be passed onto one’s children:
The reason SJWs demand apologies is in order to establish that the act they have deemed an offense is publicly recognized as an offense by the offender. The demand for an apology has nothing whatsoever to do with the offender. It is focused on the SJW’s need to prove that the violation of the Narrative involved is publicly accepted as a real and legitimate offense for which punishment is merited. […] it is absolutely and utterly futile for the target of an SJW attack to apologize for whatever offense he is said to have caused
This is indeed what happened to Eich and Hunt. Once they apologised, the media attacks only increased.
There is also advice for the sort of people who feel the need to post articles like this as Samizdata Illuminatus:
It’s much easier to put pressure on someone who works for a university or a large corporation because the attacking SJW knows that he can count on the support of fellow SJWs in the faculty or the Human Resources department. […] The action itself only matters insofar as it indicates that the individual is a Bad Person, and since there is NO PLACE for such Bad Persons in the university, the corporation, the club, the group, or the organization, the only possible solution is for the target to be promptly expelled.
There is a chapter that describes the various stages of an SJW attack, from the moment you wake up to a Twitter storm demanding your scalp to the demands for an apology to your final ejection from polite society. Then there is a follow-up chapter explaining how to deal with each of these stages and maybe even put your attackers on the back foot by not playing along how they expect.
The first thing to do when attacked by SJWs is to recognize that you are under SJW attack, remain calm, and realize that no one else cares. […] A refusal to play along with their game quickly strips the mask of sanity from their faces and reveals the angry, shrieking madness underneath.
→ Continue reading: Vox Day on Social Justice Warriors
Dominic Frisby’s book Bitcoin: The Future of Money? is now available.
The first chapter describes what Bitcoin is and how it works. The achievement of this chapter is that Dominic has described Bitcoin in plain English without missing any important details and without simplifying to the point of error. Too often when I read writing intended for the general audience about something I know about, I notice how wrong it is and how ill informed the general audience must be about all things. Not here.
Technical description out of the way, the rest of the book deals with the culture of Bitcoin’s early adopters, the various scandals we may have heard about and what they mean, what Bitcoin means for the state and for you, and what the future might hold for Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies in general.
The longest chapter is about the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto, who wrote the original paper and developed the first versions of the software, and who has successfully remained anonymous. It is not particularly relevant to understanding Bitcoin, but it is very intriguing, and I think there is a good chance Dominic has reached the right conclusion about Satoshi’s identity.
There is discussion of the problems of inflationary fiat currency: the author has read his Detlev Schlichter. There is discussion of how the decentralised nature of Bitcoin sidelines governments and opens up new markets with people who are otherwise difficult to trade with. And there is discussion of the problems, too: the volatility, the technical challenges, and the dangers of being defrauded in a new marketplace where we are still learning what are the best business practices and how to decide who to trust. Finally, there is some advice about where to buy Bitcoins. It is not out of date yet!
The book is concise, complete, correct, entertaining, and a very good introduction to what Bitcoin is all about.
“Saving is mostly just delayed consumption, as generations of economists have taught, and the only way for capital to grow exactly at the interest rate is for nobody to consume it. Every bit of consumption pushes down the growth rate of capital.”
Garrett Jones, who has written a gently devastating review of a much-heralded book, Capital in the 21st Century, by someone called Thomas Piketty. The reason it is worth drawing attention to it is that this is the sort of book that you just know is going to get bandied about in the usual quarters as a source of supposed wisdom, when in fact its central contention is based on sand. In some ways, the claim that the rich get so proportionately rich that they gobble up the rest of us, so to speak, is hardly a new assertion. Piketty has repackaged it and added in new supposed facts to make the case.
Over to Jones:
There’s an extra reason to think that capital isn’t going to permanently grow at a faster rate than the overall economy: Piketty says it won’t. He places great weight on the mainstream economic idea that in the long run the natural tendency of market economies is for capital and the economy to both grow at the same rate, whatever that rate turns out to be. That “twin growth rate” might be high if population and technology are advancing quickly, or it might be low if both are in the doldrums, but there’s no inherent tendency for capital to outpace the economy forever, even when Piketty’s “central contradiction” of high interest rates holds.
The reason is simple. If the first machine is more productive than the second (i.e., diminishing returns), and if machines wear out and fall apart at a fairly predictable rate—a depreciation rate, in accounting-speak—then it’s a safe bet that in the long run capital and the economy will grow at about the same rate. Double the machines mean double the machines wearing out, so at some point you have so many machines (and houses and outdated software and office buildings) wearing out each year that a nation spends an enormous economic effort just replacing them. And of course if interest rates are high, business owners look for alternatives to capital (such as workers); private demand for capital thus shrinks. So growing replacement costs and the quest for cheaper alternatives both make it hard to imagine capital growing as far as the eye can see. I’ll spare you the math, but it’s getting harder all the time to see a central contradiction.
And then there is this paragraph, containing a nice little nugget:
But while Piketty’s contradiction is less an iron law and more a chalkboard speculation, there’s still plenty of room for class warfare in our future. A final way to see if capitalists are going to exercise unprecedented influence in the economy is to see whether their share of the economy is at unprecedented levels. Here, Piketty’s arduous historical research pays off. For the two countries for which he has data going back more than a century—Britain and France—the answer is clear: Capitalists are claiming a substantially smaller share of the economic pie today than they did in the mid-19th century. Back then capital income was a bit more than 40 percent of total national income. Now it’s a bit under 30 percent. So if capitalists—savers, landowners, entrepreneurs, and all the rest—are going to become a bigger deal in the future, they’ve got a long way to go before they’re at 19th-century levels. (Emphasis added to original.)
The author is fair in pointing out that there are useful insights in the book, although given that its central contention appears to be a crock, that is not a lot of praise.
President of the Adam Smith Institute Madsen Pirie is recruiting them even younger than Brian suggests in his previous post — in a way. He has written children’s books. I recently read Children of the Night.
My older son is only three, but I am keen to fill the house with books that he might like to discover when he feels like it. Whenever I read novels I worry about how the author’s worldview infects the fictitious world he has created. With Madsen Pirie I can relax, confident that his fictional universe will have sensible laws of economics and will not subconsciously implant socialism into my children’s heads.
Not only that, it is a very good adventure story. In genre it is a kind of steampunk — it has an outward appearance of fantasy but is really science fiction, which is the best kind of fantasy because it leads to an internally consistent and believable world. This leads to consistent and believable politics, which are never spelled out in exposition but form the backdrop to the action. And it is nearly all action, as makes sense for a children’s book, but there are many lessons.
On the origins of political power:
Shocking though the violence was, he was used to it. That was the way the world seemed to work. Those on high bullied and terrorised those below them.
On class and ambition:
“I do know this,” Quicksilver thought back, “that a wagoner’s son is destined to become a wagoner, and a nobleman’s son is destined to become a nobleman. But those with special talents can break free of this destiny and achieve things their parents could not dream of. Extraordinary things.”
In fact the protagonists are a poor orphan, a nobleman’s daughter who would rather be a pilot than a nobleman’s daughter, and an engineer dwarf, who all end up friends because of their differences.
On the intersection of economics and politics:
“It’s partly the cost,” Calvin replied. “There aren’t many places where people need to go up a mountain, and it would cost too much to lay miles of track and cable across open country.” He shrugged before adding, “And of course the Church limits the number of dwarf machines allowed into the Realm. They don’t want anything to upset the social order. That’s fine by us. We make the machines, not the decisions.”
“This stuff isn’t for sale anyway. It’s the share we have to pay to their high mightiness.” There was a real bitterness to his voice as he said it. “Who’s that?” inquired Mark, puzzled. “A far-off fat bishop who never set foot out of his abbey, and a far-off lazy lord who never did a day’s work in his life.” “You mean tithes,” said Mark, “a tenth for the church.” “A tenth?” Anderson laughed bitterly. “Round here it’s a sixth. And another sixth in taxes for using the land and sea which some noble calls his own.” Gene uttered a low whistle. “That’s a third gone before you start! Do they take a third of everything?” “Everything.” The word was spat out in bitterness.
On changing the meta-context:
We spread stories and provoke people to see the injustice of their rule, and to resent it.
There is also a problem with a fuel source that is mined by slaves. Many an author might have his characters fight against the slavery, and Madsen does, but he also has them realise the importance of the fuel, the suffering that its increase in cost would cause, and the possibility of a technological solution. This is a world in which technology offers hope and improvement despite its problems, rather than simply causing problems.
And there are murder mysteries, exotic flying machines, chase scenes, narrow escapes and double-crossings aplenty. It is all good, wholesome fun.
The Golden Age ; The Phoenix Exultant ; The Golden Transcendence by John C. Wright.
Politics, which is the recourse to the use of force to organize interpersonal relationships, was unknown to the majority of the citizens of the Golden Oecumene.
I am always looking for science fiction that is not lessened by the author’s flawed worldview. In the Golden Age trilogy I found that and then some.
There are three volumes but this is one long novel. I found it to be money and time well spent.
This is a far future tale set in what is almost a post-scarcity economy: humans have immortality thanks to mind recording; vast energy and computational resources; can tailor their sensory experiences however they wish; and can choose between living in their own invented universes, the real world, or anything in between. But the laws of economics still apply: the author realises that there is still scarcity of human effort and attention. Phaethon, the protagonist, is attempting to achieve “deeds of renown, without peer”, and it is a struggle. Says the author in an interview he gave:
There would still be rich and poor, even if the poorest of the poor were absurdly well off by our standards. No advancements can eliminate differences in the abilities of men, or the differences in how men value the abilities of their fellow man (which is what causes inequality of prices and hence of incomes).
There is artificial intelligence, the most advanced of which are self-aware computers called Sophotechs who have intelligence vastly superior to humans, and it is possible to argue that the existence of these would make humans redundant. However, from the novel:
“It is true that the Sophotechs can perform any of these operations more swiftly and more efficiently than can we. But it is also true that they cannot do everything at once, at every place at once, as cheaply as everyone wishes. There is always someone somewhere who wants some further things done, some further work accomplished. There is always someone willing to pay much less for work moderately less well done.”
The setting is the Golden Oecumene, a solar-system spanning civilisation. In the interview the author describes the depicted society as a libertarian utopia with no public property. This state of affairs has persisted for so long that characters find violence unthinkable. If there were to be violence it would be dealt with swiftly by robotic constables. There is a parliament which does very little, and a rarely used court system. Most contractual disputes are worked out by Sophotech arbitrators. Finally, there is the College of Hortators. → Continue reading: The Golden Age
First I read Leo McKinstry’s Boycott book, and loved it. Then I read his Spitfire book, and liked that a lot also. But while reading Spitfire, I thought to myself that what I would also like to read – would really like to read – would be a book by Leo McKinstry about the Avro Lancaster, the big four-engined bomber that inflicted most of the British bomber damage on the cities of Germany during the latter half of World War 2. The Lancaster was one of my favourites during my Airfix years. Seeing a real live Lancaster flying at Farnborough in the summer of 2010 made me even more curious about this famous airplane. The more I thought about it, the more I realised how ignorant of the Lancaster’s history I was. So when McKinstry obliged with Lancaster, I did not hesitate. I bought it, and devoured it.
Ever since doing that, I have been meaning to write about this book here, but I never got around to finishing what I started. So instead of trying to say everything I might want to say about this excellent book, I will instead now focus mostly on the most interesting thing among many interesting things that I learned from reading Lancaster. I will focus on what a very strange birth the Avro Lancaster had.
In the late 1930s, believing that bombers would always get through and that they therefore had to have lots of bombers or lose the war, British Air Officialdom had two ideas about how to build a bomber. They accordingly announced two specifications, which different potential bomber-makers were invited to meet with their designs. They wanted a two engined bomber, like those that the Germans bombed Britain with in 1940 but better, or like the Wellington but better. And they wanted a much bigger four engined bomber, such as the Germans never got around to building, and like … well, like the Avro Lancaster.
So, the Lancaster was Avro’s answer to the second requirement? Actually, no. Or, not at first. Britain ended up with three four-engine heavy bombers, the Short Stirling, the Handley Page Halifax, and the Lancaster. But strangely, by far the worst of these three, the Short Stirling, was the only one of the three that was all along intended to be a four-engine bomber. Both the Halifax and the Lancaster started out as answers to the two-engine specification rather than the four-engine one.
This strangeness was caused by Rolls Royce then being engaged in producing two engines, the Merlin and the Vulture. The Merlin was proving itself to be very good (arguably it became the greatest single piece of mechanical kit of the entire war), but the Vulture was only revealing itself to be terrible. The idea was that the Vulture would power the two-engined bombers. But, with the Vulture already looking so bad, Handley Page quickly got permission to change their Vulture-powered two-engine bomber into a Merlin powered four-engine bomber. They switched specifications, in other words.
Avro persisted with their two-engine design, the Manchester, and Air Officialdom, in addition to ordering lots of Halifaxes, also ordered two hundred Manchesters to be made, long before they could be sure that it was a good airplane. Soon, they upped the order to over a thousand. Despite the Manchester being, to put it mildly, unproven, Avro started manufacturing them.
But the Manchester was a clunker. It was slow. It couldn’t carry many bombs. It handled abominably. It was a death trap. The pilots hated it. Avro did everything they could to make the Manchester work, but it never did, not least because Rolls Royce were never able to make much of their Vulture. As the Merlin began to prove itself to be the Merlin, Rolls Royce understandably concentrated on that.
At which point, in 1940, Avro proposed the Halifax solution to the Manchester problem. Turn the Manchester from a Vulture-driven two-engine bomber into a Merlin-driven four-engine bomber. Avro dramatically illustrated this idea when they showed a model of a Manchester to a visiting party of Air Officialdom. Right in front of their little audience of grandees, they took off the Manchester’s wings and shoved on different and bigger wings with two more engines attached to them. That, said Avro, is what we should be building.
→ Continue reading: The strange birth of the Avro Lancaster
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.
“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.
It is by no means necessary for my enjoyment of art that the artist has vaguely sensible political views, but it helps. Looking for a science fiction novel to read, discovering that the latest Alastair Reynolds was something to do with global warming, I instead took Amazon up on one of its recommendations and tried Neal Asher, who has a blog, and at the time had recently written this:
So, Cameron is a nannying statist who wants to stick a minimum price on alcohol per unit. What on Earth is he thinking? Does he think that this will result in fewer pavement pizzas and fat slags crying in the gutter on a Saturday night? Does he think there’ll be less violence on the streets after chucking out time on a Friday and less chaos in A & E over the weekend? If he does think that then he’s an idiot because the people responsible for that drink in bars where the price is already way above his damned 45p a unit.
He has also written favourably about fracking.
The novel I chose was The Departure, the first of the Owner trilogy. If anything it had too much action for my taste. If Alastair Reynolds writes film noir, Neal Asher writes Bruce Willis and explosions. The science is sensible enough: there are no exotic physics and the technologies discussed are robots, giant space stations and brain-computer interfaces. The politics is very interesting. Asher seems to have perceived a slippery slope and extrapolated in the extreme. Something like the EU has, thanks to a complacent populace, taken over the whole planet. This is the Committee and it has long since stopped pretending to be democratic and gone outwardly Orwellian. Cigarettes are illegal; armed robots are used to control rioting crowds; selfish, individualistic dissidents are taken away for readjustment by pain inducer; and clever scientists are allowed to do research useful to the state but are considered a risk and kept under scrutiny or even lock and key. The protagonist is one such scientist who sets out to get revenge.
The action includes novel ways of killing people, fantastic feats of computer hacking to fool officials who trust their computers rather too much, zero-gee small arms combat and lots of expensive things getting destroyed. Interspersed is plenty of discussion of the political situation that has lead to all this.
Statism gets a good kicking. Government is described as the biggest killer on the planet. A Committee member is scorned for her belief in “knowledge-based societal planning”. Fiat currency is scorned when the protagonist uses gold to make a purchase. There is a subtle reference to the purpose of practical politics as described by H L Mencken. In a history of NASA, the agency is described as “moribund under its stifling level of bureaucracy”. One chapter opens with a description of how people obtain things forbidden by the state:
The greater the power and extent of the state, the more room there is for corruption. The more inept state services and industries become, the more pies it takes its huge cut from and the more regulation it imposes, the greater the call for black markets.
Politicians are described as using global crises as an excuse to extend their power globally. The slippery slope is described:
Make the process slow enough to sit below immediate perception and they will grow accustomed to their enslavement; they even might not realize they are wearing any chains at all.
My biggest criticism is that the theme of overpopulation runs strongly through the book. There are food, housing and other resource shortages, and while it is acknowledged that the Committee members are doing very well for themselves, this is very much in a zero sum sense. At one point the protagonist wonders about “the mindless, ever-breeding swarm” governed by the Committee. In a discussion of how government waste prevented development of technology, he claims that the only technology needed was birth control.
The author understands that technology and people can overcome resource shortages. In a sub-plot on Mars, the colony has hydroponics which are somehow not applied on Earth, though robotic farming is. The colony has problems as a result of events back on Earth and the administrators plan to cull the population but the author understands that people create wealth:
Yes, they had problems over food, air and water production and usage and, yes, by killing off many personnel these could be eked out, but they would still eventually run out and those few remaining here would die. Better by far to apply all those useful minds to their present problems, since brainpower was all that could save them.
It is obvious that centralisation and misallocation of resources is enough to cause all of the economic problems described in the book. But none of the characters seem to connect these dots and I am not sure why. I am worried the author has not either. Perhaps the rest of the trilogy will make things clear.
Successful people are often born into a world that is not, so to speak, theirs. The world in which they get dealt their first cards is what it is and where it is, but their real world, the world they were meant for, is something and somewhere else. They are born the son of a coal miner or of a provincial shopkeeper, yet their natural place in the world is to be a classical musician or a weather forecaster in a big city or a diplomat or a music hall comedian or a technology billionaire. The mega-successes are those who know, early, not so much what they want or want to do, as where they need to be – where, for them, the action is – and who shift heaven and earth to get to that sweet spot in the world just as soon as possible, often taking truly hair-raising risks to get there. They identify where they want to be, calculate the price of getting there, and pay that price. And then, having got to where they need to be, they are happy! The inconveniences and disappointments – even the humiliations – that they then encounter do not depress them, because everything that happens, however bad, is evidence that they are exactly where they want to be and where they should be.
In the early pages of Think Tank, subtitled “The Story of the Adam Smith Institute”, we are told exactly such a story, of a group of young pro-free-market guns knowing where they need to be, and doing whatever they have to do to get to that exact place, namely within ten minutes walk of the House of Commons, in the centre of London. They juggle finances, scrounge furniture off aunts in faraway places, put money down on a London office lease well before they know how they are going to meet the payments, buy and sell cottages in Scotland, earn extra money by teaching, and generally bet their farms on their new farm being just what they want. (By the way if you want a shorter review of this book than this posting is, try the three short reviews at the other end of the above link. All three are very positive, but also very informative.)
To help me think about this posting, I asked a respected friend what he thought of the Adam Smith Institute. I expected some sort of rumination on what they had achieved and what they might yet achieve, on what they have got right and what wrong. Instead my friend simply said that he liked Madsen Pirie. This is a significant fact about the ASI, I think. Simply, they are nice people, fun and interesting to be with. Following Madsen Pirie’s lead, they exude a gleeful camaraderie that my friend and I, and surely many others of a like mind, find very appealing. Madsen Pirie’s Think Tank radiates a similarly good humoured and companionable atmosphere. When reading it, I kept hearing that Madsen Pirie voice, with its big grin and its self-mockingly over-precise diction.
Cards on the table. I liked and admired this book a lot, just as I have long liked and admired its author. I was given a free copy of it by its author, who had very good reason to hope that I would say nice things about it, and I will. I recommend this book as an entertaining and informative way to acquaint yourself with the Adam Smith Institute and with those who founded and still lead it.
→ Continue reading: What the Adam Smith Institute did