Patrick and I talk about Enoch Powell

The latest Patrick Crozier/Brian Micklethwait recorded conversation is now up and listenable-to. We talk about Enoch Powell, of whom Patrick writes:

Enoch Powell was a prominent politician in the 1960s and 1970s. He is best known for his views on immigration although he was also friendly towards libertarian ideas especially on economics. While a large part of our chat is inevitably taken up with immigration we also discuss Margaret Thatcher, Steve Baker and the end of Empire.

I embarked upon this conversation fearing that I had not done enough homework. But during Powell’s career itself I was paying attention, and, stimulated by Patrick, I found myself remembering a lot more, of the sort that I had not, so to speak, remembered remembering beforehand.

Also, I wasn’t expecting to notice the Powell/Steve Baker parallels. Both took/take ideas more seriously than they took the mere achievement of office, and both consequently had/have a big Parliamentary impact. Baker also resembles Powell in being extremely clever and extremely industrious. (Baker also resembles Powell in not being a racist.)

This is the biography of Powell that Patrick had been reading.

Happy Easter!

I hope you are having one.

I definitely am, and I will tell you (a big part of) why. This, on YouTube, from Steve Baker MP, no less.

Just over two minutes long, so not a big chunk out of your life it you follow the above link and watch it all.

I’ll surely have more to say about this by way of thanks. But, busy day for me today, and I could hardly postpone at least noticing this here.

Ask, and you shall receive. This exploiting my impending death to achieve a dose of upward social mobility thing is really working out well.

Patrick and I talk about the current state of libertarianism

I’ve had a busy day doing other things, but last Tuesday, Patrick Crozier and I recorded a conversation about the current state of the libertarian movement, and I can at least today report that Patrick has now done the editing and introductory blogging and linkage, and you can listen to it by going here. It lasts, after Patrick had sliced out the pauses (which we discuss at the end), almost exactly an hour.

As the title of Patrick’s posting alludes to, we speak in particular about how libertarians happen to have been divided about recent Big Issues of the Day, like Brexit, Trump and Lockdown. In each of these arguments, libertarians have been on both sides. However, we both express guarded optimism that libertarians will be more united in the argument that will soon be raging about how best to recover from Lockdown. Our voice may not win, but it will at least be more like one voice.

For further clues about the kinds of things we discussed, see the categories list below. Notice that “Education” is not in this list. For some reason we failed to even mention this.

BMNB QotD: On the sunk cost fallacy

Ryan North:

I’ve learned far too much about the sunk cost fallacy to stop now.

And I might as well carry on blogging, given how long I’ve been at it.

Paperbacks

I only watch a few of the videos that the Quotulator likes to put up at his excellent blog, but I just watched this one and enjoyed it greatly:

What I find so entertaining about this chunk of history is how this new way of selling and consuming books oscillated wildly between Very Low Art (“Penny Dreadfuls”) and Very High Art (classic (hence out of copyright) novels, Shakespeare, etc.). Low Art created the format. High Art discovered that it could use the format.

My Dad collected Penguins before and after WW2, and probably also during. I still have some of those. None of them were Penny Dreadfuls.

Also interesting was the claim that paperbacks are now thriving, better than ebooks are. My suspicion about that one: give it time.

Patrick and I finally did our Industrial Revolution podcast

In this posting here just over a week ago, I showed you all a pile of books, and said that if all went well I’d be recording a conversation with Patrick Crozier in which I’d speak about these books (plus the writings of Anton Howes). I had in mind how each writer provided a piece in the puzzle of how the Industrial Revolution came about, and that I was going to fit all these pieces together. Mass literacy, ideology, revolution, both political and industrial.

Well, last week, Patrick and I finally did manage to record this discussion, which was mostly a monologue by me with occasional queries from Patrick, and now you can listen to it, and read Patrick’s commentary and notes with more links, by going here.

The recording was a definite success in one way, which is that my voice functioned really well, better than I thought, about one month ago, that it ever would again.

The heart of my claim is that the Industrial Revolution had a lot more in common with the “other” revolutions, in places like France, Russia and China than is now usually supposed, in the following sense: The Industrial Revolution was also an ideological event. It happened because starry-eyed ideologists had a glorious plan for the betterment of mankind. Very long story very short: The plan worked, magnificently. But this is not a story which intelligent and educated people nowadays can compute. Revolution equals blood, chaos and a world that is the opposite of what the starry-eyed ideologists said it would be. What most educated people now seem to believe is that the Industrial Revolution happened by mistake, when selfish go-getters pursuing only the narrowest idea of their own selfish interests happened to have a huge but unintended collective consequence. I say that industrial improvement, even if not exactly the “revolution” that happened, was deliberate.

Between them, the writers I assembled and talked about explained all this, although it takes me to fit the various pieces of the story together, to tell it in full. Said he modestly.

And so on and forth, for over an hour. When this unbalanced “conversation” ended, I was disappointed, because of what I hadn’t managed to say. Basically I outlined a theory, but the way I told it, it was severely lacking in illustrative detail, as Patrick’s questions forced me to acknowledge. But listening again this afternoon, I was comforted by the fact that although that criticism stands, I did at least say some interesting things. I didn’t illustrate them, still less go any way towards proving them. But at least I said them, as best I could. Which is to say, I tried to.

LATER: I can’t make the comments system at Croziervision work, so I will have to put my embarrassing apology for saying that John Lilburne was executed here instead. I’m embarrassed. Sorry.

My problem was that I read all the books in the pile quite a while ago, remembered the broad outlines that I concluded from them and forgot most of the illustrative details and backup evidence. In this respect the delay doing this was unhelpful. I hope to be writing out, for Samizdata, the thesis I merely presented in this podcast and will then at least try to allude to rather more evidence than I did in this. But I promise nothing.

A ball point pen for eight pence!

Here are two more photos photoed with my Samsung Galaxy Something mobile phone:

I came upon these pens while seeking something else, as you do. I then took these photos because what I was seeing reminded me of a conversation I recently had with Michael Jennings about why the cameras in things like my Samsung Galaxy Something mobile phone are so good. He said that when you are ordering up the cameras for a production run of mobile phones like mine, or for an iPhone or some such thing (Michael J has the latest iPhone (with which he now takes photos like these)) you’re talking about ordering a billion of the things, literally. When you are working on that sort of scale, then the economies of scale really start to kick in. A camera which would have cost five times what the mere phone costs now, if you sold it only to photographers, now costs only a dozen or two quid for my phone, or a couple of hundred for the latest iPhone. He’s not wrong.

Research and development for dedicated cameras has pretty much stopped about five years ago. All the effort now goes into making mobile phone cameras into miracle machines, and that’s really starting to be visible in the results.

I remember thinking, when digital cameras first arrived, that in the long run, cameras would have no reason to look like old school cameras, of the sort that had film in them. But at first they all did, because that was what people felt comfortable with. But now, that long run is starting to arrive. Cameras now consist only of a screen, and what is more a screen that can do a hundred other things besides photo photos.

And the above photos illustrate this same economies-of-scale which can fund mega-research-into-making-them-even-cheaper principle in action down at the bottom of the market, where they thrash out ball point pens by the billion. One pound for a dozen of them! Like I say in the title of this, that’s hardly more than eight pence a pen. And that’s after all the transport costs and retail mark-ups and goodness knows what else have also been paid. Amazing.

Shame they can’t make food and heating and rent that cheap. The one thing that never seems to get any cheaper nowadays is energy, aka the essentials of life. Are we due another human transformation, to go beside this one, when energy gets miraculously cheaper? Nuclear? Fusion? Bring it on.

That previous kink, I recently read in one of Anton Howes‘s pieces, was maybe made to seem more abrupt than it really was by the fact that there came a moment when they finally worked out how to extract and distribute energy on a serious scale, but energy remained quite expensive, hence the sudden kink upwards in the numbers. Actually, life had been getting better for some time, and didn’t suddenly get a hundred times better, merely about three or four times times every few decades.

Meanwhile, things like absurdly good cameras and absurdly cheap ball point pens don’t show up in graphs of how much mere money everyone is chucking around. Which causes people in a country like mine to underestimate the improvements of recent decades. These have not taken the form of us all having tons more money. No. What has been changing is the stuff we can now buy with the same money. Like my latest (mobile phone) camera, and like ball point pens. Provided you have some cash left over after you have fed and housed yourself and kept yourself warm (not everyone does), then life has got lots more fun, given how many and how much better are the toys and times you can now buy for the same money.

Life has not improved much for those who have fun only when the fun they get is too expensive for most others to be able to indulge in. But that’s a thought for a different posting.

Lomborg on climate catastrophe

It became clear from the very first paragraphs of False Alarm by Bjorn Lomborg that I was going to have to start revising my prejudices about its author. If, later in this book, Lomborg ever tries to downplay the centrality to the climate argument of the claim that our planet is heading for a climate catastrophe, as opposed merely for a dose of mere climate change, and to deny the centrality of climate science to the climate debate, instead banging only entirely about mere economics, he certainly doesn’t start his book by doing anything like that. Quite the opposite (pp. 3-4):

WE LIVE IN AN AGE OF FEAR – particularly a fear of climate change. One picture summarizes this age for me. It is of a girl holding a sign saying:

YOU’LL DIE OF OLD AGE
I’LL DIE OF CLIMATE CHANGE

This is the message that the media is drilling into our heads: climate change is destroying our planet and threatens to kill us all. The language is of apocalypse. News outlets refer to the “planet’s imminent incineration” and analysts suggest that global warming could make humanity extinct in a few decades. Recently, the media has informed us that humanity has just a decade left to rescue the planet, making 2030 the deadline to save civilization. And therefore we must radically transform every major economy to end fossil fuel use, reduce carbon emissions to zero and establish a totally renewable basis for all economic activity.

Children live in fear and line the streets in protest. Activists are cordoning off cities and airports to raise awareness that the entire population of the planet is facing “slaughter, death, and starvation”.

Influential books reinforce this understanding. In 2017, journalist David Wallace-Wells wrote a lengthy and terrifying description of global warming impacts for New York magazine. Although the article was generally panned by scientists as exaggerated and misleading, he went on to publish the same argument in book form in The Uninhabitable Earth, which became a bestseller. The book revels in unabashed alarmism: “It is worse, much worse, than you think.” Likewise, in his 2019 book, Falter, naturalist Bill McKibben warned that global warming is the greatest threat to human civilization, worse even than nuclear war. It could finish off humanity not with an explosion but “with the burble of a rising ocean.” A bookshelf would groan under the weight of recent books with deliberately terrifying titles and messages: Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change; Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity; The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable; and This Is the Way the World Ends: How Droughts and Die-offs, Heat Waves and Hurricanes Are Converging on America.

Media outlets reinforce the extreme language by giving ample space to environmental campaigners, and by engaging in their own activism. The New York Times warns that “across the globe climate change is happening faster than scientists predicted.” The cover of Time magazine tells us: “Be worried. Be very worried.” The British newspaper the Guardian has gone further, updating its style guidelines so reporters must now use the terms “climate emergency,” “climate crisis,” or “climate breakdown.” Global warming should be “global heating.” The newspaper’s editor believes “climate change” just isn’t scary enough, arguing that it “sounds rather passive and gentle when what scientists are talking about is a catastrophe for humanity.”

Unsurprisingly, the result is that most of us are very worried. A 2016 poll found that across countries as diverse as the United Arab Emirates and Denmark, a majority of people believe that the world is getting worse, not better. In the United Kingdom and the United States, two of the most prosperous countries on the planet, an astonishing 65 percent of people are pessimistic about the future. A 2019 poll found that almost half of the world’s population believes climate change likely will end the human race. In the United States, four of ten people believe global warming will lead to mankind’s extinction.”

You can read the first twenty five pages of this book, including the above quote, here.

I am now about to test my Bjorn Lomborg prejudices

I recently got lent a copy of this book by Bjorn Lomborg:

But before getting stuck into it, I wanted to describe my prejudice concerning Bjorn Lomborg, based on such things as reading short articles by him and pieces by others about him. But then, when looking for something else in my old blog, I came across this posting from 2012 that already described my Lomborg prejudices, which started life as a comment on a Samizdata posting:

My prejudice about Lomborg (which is why I have not studied his thoughts in much depth) is that he doesn’t understand the argument he says he is in.

In particular, he doesn’t grasp that the essence of the Climate argument concerns whether or not there is going to be a Climate Catastrophe. If there is, then all Lomborg’s chat about merely improving the lives of the poor is just fiddling while Rome awaits incineration.

But if the evidence for a forthcoming catastrophe is no better now than at any other time during human history, then Lomborg’s arguments make sense, as do all other arguments about merely improving things. Economics, business, capitalism, etc. all make sense, and there is no excuse for global collectivism, because it only makes things worse. The only excuse for global collectivism is in preventing a global catastrophe that is otherwise unpreventable.

The climate argument is about climate science, not economics. But Lomborg, being an economist, can’t make himself accept that. He’s the bloke with a hammer to whom every problem must involve banging in a nail. But the whole reason they fabricated the idea of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming was that they could then stop talking about economics, and switch to something else. They wanted to stop losing their argument to people like Lomborg, and instead to win it, in a field where, to start with, they had the advantage of being early adopters, and where their opponents literally did not know what they were talking about.

To be clear: these are just my prejudices, and they haven’t changed since 2012. But because of them I’ve basically ignored Lomborg, and that will now change. I hope now to discover if my prejudices have any solid basis or if they will have to be dumped.

Trumpism and the future of the world (and why I hope Trump wins)

Tucker Carlson is one of my favourite political orators just now. Go here, to see and hear him in typically fluent form. Carlson asks and answers the question: Why do Trump’s meetings attract Trump supporters in such vast numbers?

To put it another way: If – if – Trump wins re-election, how will that have happened?

Trump loves America, and all the actually existing Americans who also love American. (If he doesn’t love America, he does a hugely impressive job of pretending to.) Millions of Americans understandably agree with Trump’s American nationalism.

But there is more at stake than merely the future of America. There’s a whole world out here to be considering.

Since the late eighteenth century, the world has been progressing in a spectacular way, despite all the bad stuff we all know about. Around 1780, there was this kink in all the graphs measuring human creature comforts, and things started getting rapidly better, and this fine trend in human affairs has continued ever since, with many interruptions in such places as Russia and China, but nevertheless unmistakeably. Everyday life, for everyone, even and especially for the very poorest people in the world, continues to get better and better. But will that continue? Might this excellent trend even go into reverse?

The best book I have recently read that grapples with those sorts of questions is The Wealth Explosion by Stephen Davies. Davies argues that what kicked off this spectacular explosion was that, when and where it happened, in Europe in the late 1700s, Europe was not politically unified. That meant that when the materials that went into the explosion began to be assembled – progressive technology and all the thinking that went into it, basically – there was nobody in Europe willing and able to stop this. On the contrary, because the various rulers of Europe were all quarrelling with one another, they all had a powerful incentive to stay ahead of one another in this race. In the world’s other civilisations, that didn’t happen, and technological stagnation ruled.

But Davies’s book is not only about the past. In it, he also ruminates upon the future. The big question for him is: What is modernity? Because if we know what it is, we may know better how to keep it in being.

He identifies several processes that might bring modernity to a halt and turn the last two hundred and more years of technological progress into a mere passing phase, like an earlier progressive episode that had happened in China. That episode was ended by a combination of military disaster and a subsequent Chinese ruling class decision to end it. Technological progress was quite consciously and deliberately stopped in its tracks.

One threat to modernity might, Davies speculates, be nationalism, and its associated fixed sum economic fallacies. By reversing international economic cooperation, such nationalism might throw progress into reverse, in the same kind of way that it did when the Great Depression got started, only more so. Trade war, and then perhaps even consequent actual war. That kind of thing. For Davies, good libertarian globalist that he is, Trump and all he stands for looms like a menace to everything good in the world and in its future.

But another threat to progress that Davies mentions seems to me at least as plausible, which is that globalisation will intensify, and create a global ruling class that will then, in the manner of the rulers of Imperial China, all agree that progress, because it is unsettling for the world and in particular for them, is bad and must be stopped. This ruling class might, in contrast, continue to pay lip service to the idea of progress, but will end up stopping it by mistake, in their efforts merely to improve and domesticate it.

I regard the second of these scenarios as a far greater threat to the world than the first. After all, does not Davies himself tell us that it was European “nationalism” that allowed all of this progress to get started in such a big way, back in the 1780s? If the world were now to unify, might that not prevent progress from happening, just as it prevented it everywhere else in the world outside of Europe (with the exception of Japan (which instead became a sort of honorary European country)), at the time when Europe itself was bursting forth into modernity? Ask questions like that, and Trump ceases to be a menace and becomes instead a protector and provoker of continuing global economic dynamism. He is now keeping the world un-unified, by refusing to let America become an outpost of a globalism dominated by quite different impulses centred around places like China and Russia, impulses that could switch off modernity far more thoroughly than continuing national rivalry ever could.

Trump, it seems to me, is a force for continuing global economic dynamism.

Meanwhile I sure hope Trump wins his election. I have no idea what the result of this election will be. I wish I could tell you this beforehand, but I cannot. I can only tell you what I hope, which is that Trump wins it by a stonking majority, so stonking that all those idiot left wing rioters are reduced to a state of spified shock and immobilised immiseration, sitting in their parental homes gibbering with incomprehension, and not a few of them obliging us all by committing suicide, and so stonking that the more civilised Democrats, the sort who prefer indoor corruption to outdoor looting, all decide that they must become Trumpists themselves.

If Trump wins like this, he will also speed up Britain’s escape from Lockdown, because a stonking Trump victory will, among other things, be a victory for anti-Lockdownism.

Like I said, not a prediction, merely a hope.