A decade of photos – one from each year

I originally got together these photos, one for each year of the decade now ending, with Samizdata in mind. But then I did a posting looking back at Christmas Day for there, with lots of photos, and another posting there with lots of photos felt a bit superfluous. So, here they are here.

Left below: February 2010 – Piccadilly Circus.
Right below:January 2011 – Beyond the Thames Barrier.

Left below: July 2012 – A South African gets ready to bowl against England at the Oval.
Right below: September 2013 – London Gateway takes shape.

Left below: March 2014 – Detlev Schlichter speaks about Austrian Economics.
Right below: July 2015 – Sunshine bounces off the Broadgate Tower and lands outside Tate Modern.

Left below: August 2016 – The Oval Pavilion (see above) as seen from the top of the Tate Modern Extension.
Right below: Also at the top of Tate Modern, a photoer photos the Shard through a ball.

Left below: April 2018 – The statue of Sir Keith Park outside the Athaeneum.
Right below: September 2019 – A model of Old London Bridge.

I didn’t spend a huge amount of time picking these photos out from the archives. Aside from trying to pick out photos that I hadn’t blogged before, I just had a rootle around until I found a nice one for each year. But a different day doing the rootling, and there’d have been ten entirely different photos. But I like these ones, and I hope you do too.

Another podcast I just listened to that was good

Here.

It’s Bryan Caplan (the guy who gave this lecture that I recently attended), talking to Darren Grimes of the IEA. Caplan disagrees with most voters, but in an ingratiating way. As he himself says towards the end of the conversation, if you have disagreeable things to say, say them agreeably and people will be more likely to listen.

LATER: Now, I’m listening to another interview. Scott Adams autobiographising. Terrific.

Bryan Caplan – Hayek Memorial Lecture – photos and an instant summary

Earlier this evening, I (and a great many other people) attended the 19th Hayek Memorial Lecture:

Photo 1: I got there very early, hence all the empty seats.

The Official Photographer was Jean-Luc Picard. Not really, but photo 3 makes him look a bit like the noted space voyager.

Photo 4: The (large) room fills up.

Photo 5: Celeb sighting. Dominic Frisby. And is that his dad Terence he’s talking with? I think it just might be.

Photo 6: Syed Kamall, a recent IEA appointment. He gave someone a prize.

Photo 7: IEA boss Mark Littlewood does the intro.

Photos 8 and 9: Professor Bryan Caplan gives the lecture.

Photo 10: The first questioner was Vera Kichanova, one of the very few people in the audience whom I recognised.

Photo 11: Someone else photoing from the audience.

So, what did Caplan say? Briefly: poor country governments are often to blame for their bad economic policies, rich countries are often to blame for their bad immigration policies, and poor people, especially poor people in rich countries, are often to blame because they make bad decisions, especially bad decisions which hurt their children. That last one is the one you aren’t allowed to say, but most people still think this. When questioned about this, Caplan pointed out that refusing ever to blame poor people for their poverty is often a cause of bad policies. Instead of doing nothing (because it should be up to many poor people to help themselves), governments often do bad things. To “help”.

Another interesting thing about this lecture was that big multi-national enterprises came out of the story very well, basically for doing very well in poor countries, thereby proving that lots of people in poor and otherwise badly governed and badly managed countries could be doing far better, if they got the chance. That being why restrictive immigration policies do so much harm. They are keeping people who could do far better out of well governed countries.

There was also a guy videoing everything, so you won’t have to rely for ever on me to learn what Caplan said.

Because-Now-We-Can! architecture

You can seldom tell where an item of modern architecture is in the world just by looking at a photo or fake-photo of it. But, if you know your modern architecture, you can usually date it. This is because what look-at-me architecture looks like depends on what can, at any particular moment in architectural history, be done. When a new technique is devised, this new technique is used to make a kind of architecture that has not been seen before, and which hence attracts maximum attention.

Zaha Hadid is the firm that most perfectly exemplifies this latest phase of architectural modernity, because they are the people who have taken the latest new-thing-we-can-now-do to its most extreme limits:

Picture (hard to tell if it’s fake or real – guess: bit of both) found in this dezeen report on a new mega-airport in China.

What-we-can-now-do is keep track of lots of different bits and bobs in a building, so different that almost all these bits and bobs are unique in shape, with … computers. Time was when, if the Big Boss said: I want it to look like … this (draws weird shape on back of restaurant menu) there then followed a long to-and-fro argument between Big Boss and the Underlings (speaking on behalf of what is doable as opposed to merely dreamable), until the slightly weird but usually deeply disappointing and mis-shapen object finally appeared. Occasionally, something truly weird, like the Sydney Opera House, did emerge, looking remarkably like the back-of-the-restaurant-menu original. But, mostly the fantasy-versus-actually-doable back-and-forth took all the juice out of the original. It would have been simpler to scrap it and do something a bit more creative than usual with easily drawable and trackable rectangles.

Now? Big Boss can draw the weird shape, and then the massed slaves can duly construct the Big Thing, so that it really does look like the cover of a science fiction story.

Computers can now draw, and – crucially – redraw, anything. When a curve needs to change a bit, to fit in – I don’t know – some more luggage handlers or passport inspectors or a bigger private lair for airport surveillance creeps – the computer can redraw the new design, as re-ordained by the Big Boss on the back of another restaurant menu, in seconds. That kind of rejigging used to take months and frankly, couldn’t be done without costs crashing through the weirdly but in the end rather disappointingly shaped roof.

Give it a few years, and this Because-Now-We-Can! style will look horribly passé. For many, I’m guessing it already does. But for now, we now build buildings like this … because now we can!

Stephen Davies on the eflorescences that were stopped and on the eflorescence that was not stopped

I continue to struggle to find ways of communicating my enthusiasm for Stephen Davies’s new book, The Wealth Explosion: The Nature and Origins of Modernity. But I now think I know one of the reasons why I am struggling.

When you want to enthuse about a book on an historical subject, you probably want also to be summarising it, so that those who read of your enthusiasm but who won’t actually be reading the book itself (what with there being so much else to read (thanks to Modernity)), at least get an idea of what the book is about and why the guy who wrote it is so worthy of praise. I have come to realise that part of the reason for my difficulty in saying how much I liked and continue to like reading The Wealth Explosion is that this book is not only itself about Modernity, but is also a heroically succinct summary, of a big clutch of debates among historians generally about Modernity. What Modernity has been and is, what made it happen when it did and where it did, whether it’s a good thing (Davies thinks it very much is a good thing (as do I)), and whether Modernity will continue. That sort of thing. Almost every paragraph of this book is quotable, because it says so much, and alludes to so much, about so much, with so few words.

Here is a fascinatingly typical example of what I mean, which is to be found under the heading “Why the Later Eighteenth Century” (pp, 53-55):

… [T]here are two big questions that any explanatory account of modernity has to address and try to answer. The first is chronology. Why did the elements of modernity start to occur in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth century and not before? One obvious argument is that the critical factor. whatever it might be. appeared just before the takeoff and so led to it directly – this might be the cultural and intellectual changes posited by Mokyr and McCloskey for example. There are however other candidates for that role. Many authors however reject this and argue that the breakthrough after 1750 had deeper roots. going back into previous history.

This is a challenging argument to make at first sight, given that what we have to explain is not a change produced by a continuous process but rather one where there is a sudden change of gear or state that took place in a relatively short pace of time by historical standards. One way is to argue that what we have is a slow, cumulative process that at a particular point in time reached a tipping point where there was a sudden shift to a different level and kind of change. An analogy would be a pot of water on a stove. The temperature of the water will rise slowly but the change from water to water to steam will happen in a matter of minutes once boiling point arrives.

An even closer analogy is that of a primitive atomic pile: as more and more blocks of fuel are added to the pile nothing much happens at first apart from a gradual rise in heat until suddenly there is a critical mass of fuel, i.e. enough material in sufficiently close proximity to sustain a continuous chain reaction. This means that the breakthrough to modernity could not happen anywhere until the various preconditions were in place (either locally or globally) and that this came about as the result of a gradual build-up. Therefore, for example, Julian Simon argues that the key factor was simply the number of people and that the population levels needed for all of the other changes were not reached
until the later eighteenth century and could not have been sustained earlier because of the inability to mechanise agriculture in any significant way.

The other approach is to argue that the breakthrough to modernity could have happened earlier and may even have started to happen, but was stopped. Eric Jones for example argues strongly for this approach. He points out that the central phenomena of intensive growth and innovation are, or should be, the natural result of economic exchange. Moreover we do indeed see them arising at various points in history before the eighteenth century. The biggest example (for which see the next chapter) was China under the Song dynasty and indeed at some other points in its history but there are other instances, such as the central Middle East under the early Abbasids in the eighth and ninth centuries, or the classical Mediterranean civilisation during both the second century AD and the Hellenic era after the death of Alexander. In addition there are also episodes throughout history of what we may call ‘ages of reason’, which see the development and articulation of materialist and sceptical thought – these can be found in the history of China, the Islamic world, India, and classical civilisation. (Their extent is often underestimated because frequently little has survived of their written work because of later reactions).

The point here is that we have earlier episodes of many of the central features of the modern revolution, such as intensive growth, technological innovation, and the ideas of critical rationalism but that these ‘eflorescences’ (as Jack Goldstone calls them) were not sustained. Instead, something choked them off. This is of course compatible with the first approach – the fact that these episodes were not sustained would on that view show that there was, by analogy, not enough fuel in the reactor to keep the chain reaction going. The alternative is, to continue the analogy, that there was already enough ‘fuel’ in the ‘reactor’ long before the reaction finally sustained itself in the later eighteenth century but that before then there was a control mechanism (analogous to the absorbent control rods in an actual reactor) that suppressed the process and stopped it from continuing when it could have.

This explanation in turn can take two different forms. One is that the ‘controls’ that prevented such earlier episodes from sustaining themselves were features of the social, political, and economic order of traditional societies that could have been changed but were not, for various reasons. The strongest candidate is the set of institutions described in the previous chapter, which arose as a response to the Malthusian constraints facing traditional agricultural societies, along with the need to have between eighty and ninety per cent of the population engaged in agriculture. These social practices and institutions seem to have proved very resilient and they had the effect, above all, of preventing sustained innovation. The other way of explaining the termination of ‘eflorescences’ is to emphasise, in addition to wider social obstacles, deliberate policy by rulers or rather the way that the interests of certain social groups and above all ruling classes led them to follow a course that had the effect of terminating such episodes and making them less likely to start in the first place. This is the view of a number of scholars such as Goldstone himself, Eric Jones, and Mark Elvin. The key historical episode for those who take this view is that of China under the Song and it is the failure of that particular ‘efflorescence’ to sustain itself that has attracted the most attention.

The above is one of a number of passages in The Wealth Explosion where Davies is (to me) irritatingly coy about the ways these eflorescences ran out of puff. Let me give the game away. Europe, at the moment when it mattered, was politically divided, while all those other places, and China in particular, was not. China’s rulers could and did end their eflorescence. Europe’s rulers couldn’t, and because they continued competing with one they instead encouraged their eflorescence to continue. Hence the wealth explosion of the tile of this book.

I supplied another slightly longer summary, complete with the punch line that Davies keeps omitting, in this posting at Samizdata.

On the above matter, I wish that Davies had been less succinct. Consider the bit where he says – in brackets, like it’s just a throwaway thought – this:

(Their extent is often underestimated because frequently little has survived of their written work because of later reactions).

These eflorescences, in other words, were a bigger deal than most people think, even quite educated people, because the memory of them was deliberately expunged. I would have liked a whole chapter about the various eflorescences he’s talking about, together with much more in the way of argument to effect that they were indeed big deals, and that lots of evidence of their bigness was indeed expunged. As it is, we have to make do with the one fascinating chapter about just one of these eflorescences, the one that efloresced in Song China. But the scale and significance of each of these eflorescences is central to what this book is all about. Modernity did not get created only in Europe. Modernity was created all over the place. Europe is merely where Modernity was not suppressed.

Read more bits from this terrific book here, here, and here.

Three more DI Meg Dalton books to come (following on from the first three)

Until around yesterday, fans of Roz Watkins’s DI Meg Dalton (who include me (Roz being my niece)) had to be content with knowing that there were, or would be, for sure, in all, just three Meg Daltons to be read. There was the first, The Devil’s Dice. There is Dead Man’s Daughter. And in 2020 there will be Cut To The Bone. So, if you liked the first Meg Dalton, you could only be sure of two more books spent in her grumpy but appealing company.

But yesterday, with the announcement of a further three-book deal between Roz and her publisher, that three has now turned into six.

What this means is that if, before yesterday, you were wondering whether to make a start with this series, your best case would be that you liked your first Meg Dalton and would have two more to enjoy, one straight away, and another one quite soon. But now, if you like the first Meg Dalton you read, there will be five more.

Accordingly, the economics, if that’s the word, of reading about DI Meg Dalton’s adventures and ordeals have radically altered. Worst case, you won’t like the first Meg Dalton you read, and that will be that. That hasn’t changed. But if you like that first one, then the eventual reward that will follow just got massively bigger.

All of which means that there will now be an increased demand for the two early Meg Daltons, the two that have actually already been published.

Now is also a good time to be buying the very first one, The Devil’s Dice, for another reason, which is that Amazon is now selling the paperback of this for just £2. And actually you now can get it for under a quid from other sellers. Well worth that sort of money, I’d say.

All of which I learned from following Roz on Twitter.

Here is something of what I thought, of the second Meg Dalton, Dead Man’s Daughter.

Rich people look after exotic animals better than poor people do

Because they can.

Human Progress Dot Org:

Why are wolves increasing all around the world, lions decreasing and tigers now holding steady? Basically, because wolves are in rich countries, lions in poor countries and tigers in middle income countries. Prosperity is the solution not the problem.

Flagging up this piece by Matt Ridley.

Stephen Davies on how the New World gave the Old World food and money

For a while now, in among doing other stuff, I’ve been reading The Wealth Explosion by Stephen Davies. It’s very good. And, I just got emailed about an event at which Davies will be spaking about this book, at the IEA this coming Thursday. After I’ve been there and done that, I intend to do a posting about the book for Samizdata.

Meanwhile, and following on from this fascinating chunk about China, here’s another bit from this book, concerning food, and silver (pp. 133-134):

[T]he relative unimportance of trade with the New World for most of the Old World does not mean that the opening up of the Americas and of the long distance sea routes had no impact on the greater part of Eurasia. In two ways it had a great, though indirect effect. The first was through what is often called the ‘Colombian exchange’ in which all kinds of products and plants were brought from the New World and distributed around the Old, mainly by the Portuguese and the Dutch. As well as tobacco, we may also mention the potato, the sweet potato, the chilli pepper and the tomato – to give just four examples. These obviously had a major impact on diet and cuisine – it is now hard to imagine Italian cooking without the tomato or Indian without the chilli pepper (or indeed the tomato and the potato). Even more significant though was the way new food crops such as maize and the potato and sweet potato made it possible to support households on much smaller areas of land, so leading to both population growth and important changes in agricultural organisation in many parts of the world, from Ireland to Russia and Poland, to China.

The other principal impact was via the one product from the New World that the Old World had an inexhaustible demand for. This was silver. Before the sixteenth century the world’s major source of silver was Japan (which remained a significant source for a long time thereafter). In the sixteenth century, the Spanish discovered two enormous silver lodes, at Potosi in Bolivia in 1545 and at Zacatecas in Mexico in 1547. The result was a great flood of silver into the world trade system after 1550. This made it possible for the great Asian empires to create a uniform silver-based currency for their territories, particularly in the cases of the Ming and Mughal empires. The flow of silver around the world also lubricated trade and made whole economies much more liquid than had been the case before. One reason was that now trade was possible between parties where previously it had been difficult because one had nothing that the other wanted, except at a prohibitive rate of exchange. Everyone though would take silver, so now those parts of the world that ran a ‘deficit’ in primary products or manufactured goods with another part could make up the difference with silver.

This was less significant however than the basic fact of liquidity and the creation of a worldwide medium of exchange. Because silver was the monetary metal of China and India and the rest of the world wanted Chinese and Indian products, everyone would take silver. This meant that silver effectively became the world’s money and the basis for the first truly global monetary system, even if it only applied initially to long distance trade. The effect of money is of course to make trade much easier by removing the need for barter and working out through a complex exchange process the rate at which any two products will exchange (grain for porcelain for example). Instead, when the relative value of all products is expressed in terms of the rate at which they exchange for one single commodity (money), it becomes easy to exchange and trade goods by using the intermediate commodity of money. The costs of trade itself in terms of things such as the time taken to work out and make the trade (transaction costs) are hugely reduced, so again many trades become profitable when they were not before. This also generates money prices that send signals to alert entrepreneurs as to where there are shortages or mismatches of supply and demand.

So the principal impact that the European conquest of the Americas had on the rest of the world came about through the way it led to the appearance from the later sixteenth century onwards of a monetary system based on silver that made possible a much more integrated world trade system than had existed even under the Mongols. The date at which we can say that there was finally a truly global circuit of goods and money was 1571, the year when the first of the silver bearing Manila galleons sailed across the Pacific from Acapulco to the Philippines, so connecting the New World to the Asian markets and the products of China and East Asia.

I sort of knew about this already. But, because Davies explains things so clearly, now I know it better.

That bit is preceded by another bit about what the Old World gave to the New World. A lot of diseases, basically. That I definitely knew about.

A tax infographic about and a meeting at my home about Hong Kong

Dominic Frisby:

Frisby says that Dan Neidle will like this. I don’t know anything about Dan Neidle, other than this. But I like it. As much for the colours and its hand-done nature as for its content.

Concerning Hong Kong, last night I semi- (as in: still to be solidified and date still to be settled) signed up a Hong Kong lady to speak at one of my Last-Friday-of-the-Month meetings, about how Hong Honk is demonstrating back, so to speak, against the Chinese Government’s plans to subjugate it.

I warned her that my meetings are not large, and not as a rule attended by The World’s Movers and Shakers (although such personages do sometimes show up). But that didn’t bother her, or didn’t seem to. She seems to understand instinctively that big things can come out of small gatherings, if only in the form of one suggested contact or one item of information.

Alas, Hong Kong’s era of low and simple taxes is now under severe threat, along with many other more important things.