Nor is gay marriage the only issue around which strict orthodoxies are calcifying. Climate change, multiculturalism and feminism are all issues on which there is only one correct view. To be sceptical of the impact of climate change, or to challenge the censoriousness of feminism, is to incur the wrath of the right-thinking. Not that critics of the new orthodoxies are challenged on their views. Rather, they are branded – as deniers, as misogynists, indeed, as bigots. By their labels, they shall be known – and shamed.
– Tim Black
So the idea this letter represents mainstream economics must be challenged. When Sky is reporting it without an alternative viewpoint, it can mislead the public. But this also shows something interesting about the political left. People across the political spectrum like to appeal to the authority of “experts” to improve credibility. But for the left, this is crucial. Unlike supporters of markets, left-wing interventionists believe experts can direct economic activity for us. Building up the idea that “experts” support these interventions and believe they work is therefore of critical importance to obtaining public acceptance.
– Ryan Bourne, Institute of Economic Affairs.
Trevor Dupuy was a US soldier and a military historian who took a statistical approach to evaluating combat performance. He paid particular attention to casualty statistics. Casualties – in case you did not know – include deaths but also include wounded, missing and captured. They answer the general’s question: how many men do I have who are able to fight?
Of course, statistics aren’t everything. For instance, the North Vietnamese took vastly more casualties in the Vietnam War than the Americans but they still won. But all things being equal, being able to kill more of your enemy than he can kill of you is a good thing to be able to do.
In A Genius for War Dupuy enquired into the nature of the German army. He found that the statistics told a remarkable story: the German army was very good and had been for a long time. From the Franco-Prussian War to the Second World War the Germans were consistently better at killing the enemy than the enemy were at killing them.
Now you may be thinking that such comparisons might be skewed due to the Russians and Dupuy found that that the Russians were indeed every bit as bad as you might think. But even when he removed the Russian numbers Dupuy found that the Germans still held a clear and consistent superiority over the French, British and Americans. This superiority existed regardless of whether the engagement was offensive or defensive.
Chauvinists might be surprised to learn that there seems to have been no great difference between the western allies. French and British performance was more or less equal in the First World War. British and American performance was more or less equal in the second. The Americans in the First World War and the French in the Second are special cases.
Having satisfied himself that the German army was indeed superior, Dupuy asked why this was. His key finding was that there seemed to be nothing inherent in being German. Dupuy found a number of historical examples where the Germans proved to be anything but good fighters. These included largely-German units in the American War of Independence and various battles between German mercenaries and the Swiss.
So, if being German didn’t make you a good soldier what did? Dupuy’s theory was that it was all due to the German General staff. So what was so good about the General Staff? Dupuy listed several criteria. These included selection by examination, historical study and objective analysis. In other words it was an institution that thought seriously about war.
The doctrine that all this thinking led to might be summed up as bold plans tempered with flexibility. Perhaps the best-known example of bold planning was the invasion of France in 1940. No one on the allied side thought a tank-led thrust through the Ardennes was possible. But it was and France collapsed soon afterwards.
As many of you will know far from being an official General Staff masterplan the invasion of France was in fact dreamt up by Erich von Manstein in opposition to his superiors. But Manstein was still every inch the General Staffer.
Flexibility was also important. Contrary to the stereotype the German army did not want blind obedience. Not only did it allow subordinate commanders to figure out how to achieve their objectives but if opportunities arose which were unforeseen they were not only allowed to take advantage of them but expected to do so. “His majesty made you a major because he believed that you would know when not to obey his orders.” as Prince Frederick Charles put it.
I would like to thank Perry de Havilland for pointing me in the direction of Dupuy and his works.
What swots can do
In my recent post on rent control, I quoted approvingly a comment from someone who said he had come round to our point of view on the harmfulness of rent control while still claiming to be a lefty. “You are not there yet, my friend,” I murmured. “But does not every journey begin with one step? Let us encourage this partial recantation, that it may be reproduced.” Perry de Havilland took a less tolerant view, while still encouraging reproduction. Niall Kilmartin took the middle road:
The naive young lefty, partly idealistic and partly enjoying the ego rush of being the good guy fighting the bad guys, gets successive hints from reality as they grow older. Over time, the accumulating hints force a choice: the idealism _or_ the ego rush; it can no longer be both. The more they shouted their hatred of the bad guys when they were young, the more dubious deeds they did “for the cause”, the harder it is for them to choose the idealism rather than the ego rush (as some college professors well know when they make activism part of the curriculum), but becoming “an apostate” is emotionally hard in any case. It can be a slow process. It can take years. From Robert Conquest to Thomas Sowell, some quite effective people were marxists when they were youngsters. So I’m sufficiently with Natalie to say that signs of doubt should not be discouraged (though I do understand why actual encouragement of those who are still fighting to retain their ego rush even as they admit doubt can sometimes stick in the throat).
If it sticks in the throat to welcome an incompletely-converted convert from an opinion we oppose, how much more so when the defector has joined and then abandoned a literal enemy.
Mother of five begs for rescue from Isis
THE British wife of an Isis fighter stranded in Syria with her five children is appealing for help to return home to Manchester.
In a video passed to The Sunday Times, Shukee Begum, who is of Bangladeshi origin, is heard repudiating Isis as “not Islamic” and telling how she had spent 10 months with her young children in the northern Syrian town of al-Bab, where she taught English to the children of foreign fighters.
She said the final straw was when the US-led coalition bombed the house where they were living, killing seven Isis commanders and members of their families.
While her husband, Muftah el-Deen, was away fighting, she escaped and was given shelter by members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a moderate group opposed to Isis.
Begum, filmed with her three girls and two boys on what appears to be a low-quality video phone, said she left Britain and was smuggled through Turkey into Syria late last year. She claimed her aim was to persuade Deen, who had joined Isis three months earlier, to come home.
This view is typical of the most popular comments to the story:
She ran off with five children to join her jihadi husband and now she says ISIS / Daesh are not Islamic? I might have a bit of sympathy if she said she completely rejected this cult of death, but she’s just saying that now she believes that sadistic slaughter, beheading and crucifixion is going a bit too far.
She wants to come back “home” and no doubt be quite Islamic, but eschew the mindless slaughter of unbelievers. Why should we believe a single word she says?
To which my reply would be that answering exactly that question is the job of the intelligence services to whom this lady will sing like a bird as a condition of being allowed to return. I hope and trust it does work that way and the local consular staff haven’t gone completely softheaded. We want defections and should make them easy but not cheap. It is painful to see crimes go unpunished – and I consider joining a group that boasts of its murders, enslavements and rapes to be a crime in itself – but renegades can help to stop the murders, enslavements and rapes, not to mention prevent the attacks here in the West that ISIS has promised. We have long allowed known criminals to turn Queen’s evidence / State’s evidence for very similar reasons. And her children are innocent.
It would be nice if the world as a whole was a less awful place. The average country is, after all, a democratically elected kleptocracy with a desperately poor population. (For evidence, see India or Haiti or Nigeria or Honduras.)
However, sustained progress worldwide, at least if we’re going to run legal systems based on popular votes instead of more rational methods, depends on most of the world understanding basic economics. The recent rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in U.S. polling demonstrates that even the bulk of people in the U.S. have no understanding of the barest rudiments of economics.
H. L. Mencken once said “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” However, the argument of most statists, on both the left and the right, is that we are our brother’s keepers, that the better off are obligated to run the lives of those who are not so well off, and this includes the more educated running the lives of the less educated.
If you don’t believe me, look around you: we are told that people cannot be trusted to figure out on their own if they should take intoxicating substances or if they should save for retirement or how they should educate their children — all those decisions must be made by the intellectual elite via the state. This is meant quite literally. Drugs must not be legalized because people can’t make their own judgements about taking them, or so we are told. People in the U.S. may not be allowed to privately manage the 14% of their income that goes to government “pensions” — savings would be an awful idea, since they’d just be duped out of their cash by investment firms, so the state must handle that money for them via Social Security. Voucher systems where children go to private schools selected by their parents are unacceptable, only a state run public education system run by the teaching elite is acceptable.
We could go down the list, everything from negotiating salaries to deciding if they want to eat raw milk cheeses. If people were allowed to run their own lives, they would make bad choices, and so it is not merely right but necessary that others, among the elite, should make their choices for them.
So, the smarter must, according to statism, run the lives of the less intelligent and educated, but at the same time it is obvious that even most of the educated in developed countries are incapable of even understanding comparative advantage or supply and demand curves. They are, when it comes to economic education, mere children, unable to help themselves.
The inevitable conclusion, therefore, is that statist morality is not compatible with democracy, but only with a dictatorship run by libertarians.
Note that this isn’t the conclusion I would come to myself, as I don’t share this moral belief system. I don’t personally want to be the dictator — I have no interest in running everyone’s life. However, it is the conclusion that believers in the state, and especially believers in programs like Social Security and public education, must logically come to — applying that morality, a reasonable outcome can only be expected if I and my colleagues are made absolute rulers. Indeed, according to those moral claims, this is not merely a superior solution but is actually morally required.
And yes, I’m trolling you, but at the same time I’m completely serious about what the statist belief system implies.
For centuries, people living in Western Civilization have been accumulating capital. They have not simply subsisted, and left the world the same as when they entered it. They have been creating more than they consume, passing on new wealth to their children. The Fed’s falling interest rate has slammed this process into reverse. It has put the entire economy into liquidation mode. It has forced people to consume their capital.
– Keith Weiner
An aircraft believed to be a World War II Hawker Hunter fighter jet crashed onto the A27, causing the road to be closed in both directions…
…Hawker Hunter first flight was 20 July 1951. I guess City A.M. does not allow their journalists access to the internet or the use of Google.
Even so, with eight months of the fiscal year still to go and often large revisions to early borrowing estimates, it is too soon to conclude that the Chancellor is meeting his fiscal plans with room to spare and could therefore reduce the scale of the austerity measures set to hit the economy.
– Samuel Tombs, economist at Capital Economics, quote here.
Listen up you ‘tard, it would be a very good thing indeed if even more ‘austerity’ measures were “set to hit the economy”. ‘Austerity’, as you Keynesian fuckwits like to call the state spending slightly less of other people’s confiscated money, means the money in question gets used in the economy under private economic direction, rather than malinvested by the damn state.
Between 1945 and about 1965, atom bombs and then hydrogen bombs were devised and demonstrated by the two biggest Great Powers, and then manufactured and attached to rockets in sufficient numbers to cause any all-out war between these two superpowers very probably to be a catastrophic defeat for both, to say nothing of being a similar catastrophe for all other humans, within a few hours. This new kind of destructive power also spread to a small club of lesser Great Powers.
This did not happen overnight. It didn’t all come about in 1945. But it happened pretty quickly, historically in the blink of an eye. It changed the world from a place in which Great Wars between Great Powers had to be prepared for, at all costs, to a place in which Great Gars between Great Powers had to be avoided, again, at all costs. That is a very big change.
I do not assert that all wars have ended. Clearly they have not, as one glance through a newspaper or news website will tell you. Small powers still have small wars, and Great Powers regularly join in, in small ways. Sometimes, Great Powers start small wars, like the one in the Ukraine now. But even these small wars have been getting less numerous and smaller in recent decades. Small wars can get big, so even small wars are now discouraged by Great Powers.
Nor do I assert that all preparations for war by Great Powers have ceased, or that they should. But more than ever, the purpose of such preparations is to enable mere confrontations to be emerged from victoriously or failing that satisfactorily, rather than for such preparations – such weapons – constantly to be “used”, in the sense of being fired, fought with, and so on. The purpose of weapons is to scare, as well as to win fights, and they are being “used” whenever anyone is scared by them. Great Powers will still spend lots of money on weaponry.
But what has not happened, for many decades now, and what still shows no sign of happening despite all kinds of diplomatic, ideological and financial turbulence, is an all-out fire-every-weapon-we-have war involving two or more Great – by which I of course mean nuclear – Powers. In this sense, countries like mine, and almost certainly yours too given that you are reading this, have become peaceful in a way that they have never experienced before in all of human history before 1945.
In case anyone mentions Iran, I don’t believe that Iran’s leaders want to use nuclear weapons, as in: detonate them. I think they want to scare their enemies while trying to win other, non-nuclear victories, just like any other nuclear power. I didn’t believe Chairman Mao when he played the nuclear madman either. He was just trying to scare people, and he succeeded also.
And if you want to say that like all historical trends, this one could end, because of this or that imaginable or unimaginable circumstance, then I of course agree with you. History keeps on happening. But for the time being, the trend is as I have described it. We now, still, live in an age of peace more profound than any of our ancestors have ever experienced.
There have already been many, many consequences of this historic turnaround, this Great Change, and there will surely be many more. Indeed, I would say that just about everything of importance, not just politically but in the wider culture, that has happened to the world, anywhere and everywhere, between 1945 and now, can only be understood properly if you factor in the invention of and the deployment of nuclear weapons.
Do I really mean that? Yes, I really do mean that. Indeed, I offer the world, and in particular the Samizdata commentariat, a challenge. Tell me about a change that has happened in the world in recent times, any change, to absolutely anything, and I will be able to show you, at about one or at the most two or three removes, how your particular change has been affected by this great thermonuclear transformation, this Great Change, that I have just described. Indeed, there is nothing in the entire world, I assert, that has not been affected, often very profoundly, by this Great Change. (I don’t promise actually to answer all such comment-challenges on the spot. I merely announce that if I had nothing else to do for the next week, I could. So, let’s make it a team effort. Let those of us who already understand the truth of what I am saying respond as a tag-team to those who are still unconvinced.)
Talking of team efforts, let me offer the example of sport, and in particular the inexorable rise in the importance and in the social and economic impact of professional sport, during the last clutch of decades.
→ Continue reading: From the Great Peace … to the ordeal of Adam Lyth at the Oval cricket ground
In the olden days, anyone got a letter from the Labour Party telling them their support was rejected and their vote wouldn’t count because “we have reason to believe you do not support the aims and values” would moan about it to a few friends and that would be that.
But it is not the olden days any more, so get your popcorn out!
Sometimes the Guardian surprises. This piece by David Crouch certainly came as an unwelcome surprise to some of the regular Guardian commentariat. Mr Crouch has written a very fair appraisal of the effects of rent control in Sweden: “Pitfalls of rent restraints: why Stockholm’s model has failed many.” He writes,
The result [of rent controls] is a thriving rental property black market, with bribes of as much as 100,000 kronor per room to obtain a direct contract, McCormac says. Many people sublet space in their rental apartments. When one tenant advertised a tiny closet last year for rent, there were many potential takers.
“It is almost impossible for immigrants and new arrivals to penetrate this market – it is all about who you know and how much money you have,” McCormac says. Students, young people and immigrants are consequently shut out, and ethnic and social segregation is increasing.
A commenter called “JohannesL” adds his own story:
When I moved to Helsinki in 1982, there was strict rent control in place and the tenant was well-protected, it was very difficult to get rid of even the tenant from hell. Because of this, there were no rental flats available at all, except the council flats, which were definitely not available for healthy non-addicted young men.
There were plenty of people living in tents and cardboard huts in the woods then. (I enrolled in the university just to get a room in a student dormitory).
In the early 90’s they got rid of the rent control which made renting a profitable business, with the result that suddenly there was an active and relatively abundant rental market, and has been ever since.
Sad but true. Rent control does not work. Also, it must be possible to get rid of your tenant in reasonable time. It breaks my bleeding lefty heart, but that’s just how it is.
Too good not to share. From the excellent Cafe Hayek blog.
Dear Mr. Trump:
You insist that we Americans are harmed whenever foreigners take actions that result in us getting more imports in exchange for our exports. I ask that you, with your own money, prove that you really believe the economic principle that lies at the root of your insistence.
If you’re correct that people are impoverished when they pay lower prices, and are enriched when they pay higher prices, then you can easily augment your personal fortune by demanding that the suppliers from whom you purchase the steel, cement, and other materials used to construct Trump buildings raise the prices they charge you for their merchandise. The higher they raise the prices they charge you to carry out your economic affairs, the wealthier you’ll become because you’ll be increasingly reluctant to purchase their offerings. In the limit they can charge you prices so high that you’ll buy nothing from them! How great would that be?! And the possibilities don’t end there! You can even further expand the Trump treasure by lowering the prices – even to $0 – that you charge your customers for hotel rooms and the other goods and services that you supply.
Just think of the additional wealth that will come your way by your being, as a buyer, dissuaded by high prices from purchasing goods and services from people not named ‘Donald Trump,’ and, as a seller, by the hordes of customers who will demand to consume almost limitless quantities of the wares that you make available at prices of $0.
Who knew that getting rich is so easy?!
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030