Tom Burroughes

Earlier this evening I went to the Two Chairmen to hear my friend Tom Burroughes speak, to Libertarian Home, about the idea of a Universal Basic Income.

I took this photo of Tom in action:

It troubles me how much Photoshop(clone)ping I had to do to make this photo look good, taken as it was with my new camera. But I think it now does look okay. I particularly like how I used a nearby beer glass to smudge out most of the head of the man in the foreground.

At Samizdata, Tom goes by the name of Johnathan Pearce. Here is a recent piece he did there, about the very subject he was speaking about this evening. And Tom will give this subject another airing at my home, on September 29th. It’s an important subject, I think.

A quota photo of the Shard with foliage and two ridiculous problems solved

On the same day that I took these photos of a spiral shopping trolley sculpture, I also took this photo:

One of many other nice photos I took that day. I chose this one partly because the Shard is the big Big Thing here, just now.

The reason for a quota photo is that I have spent most of my discretionary time today solving ridiculous problems. But I did actually solve both of them, so I am now ridiculously happy.

Problem one was that my bedside radio had suddenly taken to breaking off its playing of mp2 files on the 2GB SD card I had inserted into it, after about twenty minutes, every time. Was this the 2GB SD card? Or (the horror) the radio? Turned out it was the 2GB SD card. My guess: the 2GB SD card, obtained because very ancient and hence ancient enough to fit into my ancient radio and be used both to make and to play recordings, was nevertheless insufficiently ancient. It had the word “Integral” on it. This suggests excessive speed to me. At the very least, an air of impatience. Anyway, my radio couldn’t be doing with it. So, I tried a different and more ancient-looking 2GB SD card, and that worked. Hurrah.

Problem two was that my debit card had stopped working, and I had a vague – but only vague – recollection of having received a letter from my bank with a new debit card in it. But where was it? There followed two hours of searching, but in a manner which made things more tidy rather than less tidy, which is not always the way when you are searching for something. Key fact: I was not in too much of a hurry. It is searching for something in a hurry that really makes chaos. Anyway, I eventually found the new debit card, in the last place I looked. Hurrah times two, making three hurrahs in all.

A good day. And, I hope you agree, a good quota photo.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Bill Bryson on the miracle of crop rotation

I’ve been reading Bryson’s At Home: A Short History of Private Life, and very entertaining and informative it is too. Strangely, one of the best things about it for me was that he explained, briefly and persuasively, both the rise to global stardom and the fall from global stardom of British agriculture. The rise was a lot to do with the idea of crop rotation. I remember vaguely being told about this in a prep school history class, but although I did remember the phrase “crop rotation”, I didn’t care about it or about what it made possible.

Here is Bryson’s description of this key discovery:

The discovery was merely this: land didn’t have to be rested regularly to retain its fertility. It was not the most scinitillatingof insights, but it changed the world.

Traditionally, most English farmland was divided into long strips called furlongs and each furlong was left fallow for one season in every three – sometimes one season in two – to recover its ability to produce healthy crops. This meant that in any year at least one-third of farmland stood idle. In consequence, there wasn’t sufficient feed to keep large numbers of animals alive through the winter, so landowners had no choice but to slaughter most of their stock each autumn and face a long, lean period till spring.

Then English farmers discovered something that Dutch farmers had known for a long time: if turnips, clover or one or two other suitable crops were sown on the idle fields, they miraculously refreshed the soil and produced a bounty of winter fodder into the bargain. It was the infusion of nitrogen that did it, though no one would understand that for nearly two hundred years. What was understood, and very much appreciated, was that it transformed agricultural fortunes dramatically. Moreover, because more animals lived through the winter, they produced heaps of additional manure, and these glorious, gratis ploppings enriched the soil even further.

It is hard to exaggerate what a miracle all this seemed. Before the eighteenth century, agriculture in Britain lurched from crisis to crisis. An academic named W. G. Hoskins calculated (in 1964) that between 1480 and 1700, one harvest in four was bad, and almost one in five was catastrophically bad. Now, thanks to the simple expedient of crop rotation, agriculture was able to settle into a continuous, more or less reliable prosperity. It was this long golden age that gave so much of the countryside the air of prosperous comeliness it enjoys still today, …

The fall of British agriculture was all mixed up with refrigeration, which enabled the wide open spaces of the late nineteenth century world to make masses of food and to transport it to hungry urban mouths everywhere before it went bad. Prices fell below what the farmers of Britain (where there were no wide open spaces by global standards) could match.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Views from Kings College

For reasons that I may or may not explain some other time (it involved this), I found myself, exactly one week ago today, at the toppish layer of Kings College, London.

There was some hanging about waiting for events to start and for lifts to arrive, and at such times I took (grabbed) photos, mostly through windows, out at London in its various manifestations, near and far:

Just as there is much aesthetically anarchic clutter at the tops of buildings, so too is there similar clutter around the backs of buildings, the bits where you are looking at the stage scenery, so to speak, from the other side.

As for the more orthodox view, of various Big London Things (bottom right), you may think, not much of a photo, technically speaking, and you would be right, but I like it nevertheless, in the sense that it is a technically rather average realisation of a very good shot, like so many of my photos. Also, I had only a few seconds to take/grab it, and only one go at it, because a lift was even then opening up and demanding my presence. I was with someone else, which always complicates the taking of photos, I find.

Note in particular the exact alignment of The Wheel with the New Tower (most recently featured here in one of these snaps (3.2)) that they are now finishing off, at Vauxhall, the one where there was all that crane drama. See also Big Ben and that other Parliament Tower (St Stephen’s), Battersea Power Station, Westminster Abbey, and even the tower with the crazy hairdo in the previous posting. What the green dome with the Union Jack flying on it is, I do not know.

Plus, who knew that there was a Menzies Centre for Australian Studies at Kings U? Well, probably Menzies, and the people who study Australia in it. But who else?

Shame it’s not Austrian, and economics.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Craig Willy on Emmanuel Todd

Incoming from Craig Willy, of whom I did not know until now:

Hello Brian,

I see you’ve written a great deal on Emmanuel Todd. I have just written a summary of his big history book, L’invention de l’Europe. I thought you might find it interesting.

I also see you have the impression he mainly criticizes the U.S. for being a “hollowed out,” financialized “fake” economy. In fact he is incredibly critical of the eurozone, for that very reason, which he argues is responsible for the hollowing out, dysfunction and financialism of the French and peripheral European economies.

All the best, and feel free to share if you write anything new on Todd. My Twitter.

Craig

In response to my email thanking him for the above email, and asking if he has written anything else about Todd, Willy writes:

I discuss him a fair bit on my Twitter feed as he offends many with his criticism of Germany and euroskepticism. Otherwise I just wrote this short piece on Todd and the euro from a while back.

This I have now read. Very interesting, and I think very right. Interesting parallel between the Euro and the Algerian War.

Things appear to be really motoring on the Todd-stuff-in-English front. At last.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Emmanuel Todd quoted and Instalanched

A few months back I discovered that there were other Emmanuel Todd fans out there besides me, notably Lexington Green of Chicago Boyz, and James C. Bennett. Emails were exchanged, and I met up with Bennett in London. Very helpful.

Here is a big moment in what I hope may prove to be the long overdue rise and rise of Emmanuel Todd in the English speaking world. Todd is quoted here by Lexington Green, and then linked to from here. Yes indeed, Instapundit. Okay, this is because what Todd is quoted saying happens to chime in with what Instapundit wants to be saying, but … whatever. That’s how Instalaunches work.

The Todd quote:

A double movement will assure the advancement of human history. The developing world is heading toward democracy — pushed by the movement toward full literacy that tends to create culturally more homogeneous societies. As for the industrialized world, it is being encroached on to varying degrees by a tendency toward oligarchy — a phenomenon that has emerged with the development of educational stratification that has divided societies into layers of “higher,” “lower,” and various kinds of “middle” classes.

However, we must not exaggerate the antidemocratic effects of this unegalitarian educational stratification. Developed countries, even if they become more oligarchical, remain literate countries and will have to deal with the contradictions and conflicts that could arise between a democratically leaning literate mass and university-driven stratification that favors oligarchical elites.

Says LG:

Todd’s book, despite its flaws, is full of good insights. This passage was prescient. The Tea Party (“a democratically leaning literate mass”) and it’s opponents, the “Ruling Class” described by Angelo Codevilla, (“oligarchical elites”) are well-delineated by Todd, several years before other people were focused on this phenomenon.

This may cause a little flurry of Toddery in my part of the www. Not all of it will be favourable, to put it mildly, because the book quoted is fiercely anti-American, and totally wrong-headed about economics. Todd is one of those people who insists on dividing economic activity into “real” and “unreal” categories, solid and speculative, honest and delusional. Todd’s problem is that he imagines that the making of things that hurt your foot when you drop them is inherently less risky than, say, operating as a financial advisor or a hedge fund manager. But both are risky. It is possible to make too many things. Similar illusions were entertained in the past about how agriculture was real, while mere thing-making was unreal.

Todd believes that the US economy is being “hollowed out”, with delusional activity crowding out “real” activity.

The problem is that Todd is not completely wrong. Economic dodginess was indeed stalking the USA in 2002. But the explanation for the processes that actually did occur and are occurring, which are easily confused with what Todd said back in 2002 was happening, and which will hence make him all the more certain that his wrongness is right, is not that manufacturing is real and financial services unreal, but that for Austrian economics reasons (Todd appears to have no idea whatever about Austrian economics), all dodgy and speculative activities, most emphatically including dodgy manufacturing ventures, have been encouraged by bad financial policies. Todd also seems to imagine that only the USA has been guilty of such follies. If only.

Such are some of the flaws in this book that LG refers to.

But none of that impinges on Todd’s fundamental achievements as a social scientist, which I have long thought ought to resonate in my part of the www. This should help.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Emmanuel Todd (4): From ideology to economic progress

This is, as stated above, my fourth Emmanuel Todd blog posting here, the previous three being here, here and here, or get all my Emmanuel Todd postings by choosing the Emmanuel Todd category here, bottom left.

L’Enfance du Monde: Structure Familiale et Développement by Emmanuel Todd was first published in 1984, and first published in English in 1987, as The Causes of Progress: Culture, Authority and Change. Here is the Foreword (pp. xiii-xiv of my hardback edition of the English translation by Richard Boulind):

The present book is one step on the way towards a new interpretation of historical change. It emphasizes the influence of stable anthropological factors within the modernization process itself. Although self-contained, it is none the less the logical sequel to The Explanation of Ideology: Family Structures and Social Systems (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1985).

The anthropological analysis of social systems singles out family structure as the decisive explanatory variable – that is to say, the elementary relationships of parents with children, brothers with sisters, husbands with wives. But anthropology is here no more than a tool. It makes it possible to settle some basic problems, for which the social sciences of the present day are finding it hard to offer any solutions at all. The question posed in The Explanation of Ideology concerned the spread of modern ideologies across the globe. I set out to explain why communism has come to dominate certain regions, liberalism others, and social democracy yet others; likewise to explain the predominance, elsewhere, of the Catholic Right, or of ideologies that from the European point of view are unclassifiable, such as Muslim fundamentalism, Buddhist socialism or the Indian caste system. In The Explanation of Ideology the analysis of relationships between parents and their children – authoritarian or liberal – and of relationships between brothers – egalitarian or inegalitarian – led to a typology of family types which geographically coincided fairly closely with the mapped distribution of adherence to the great ideologies. The purpose of this second book is to analyse development, here not considered as a purely economic, short-term phenomenon, but as a very long-term cultural and anthropological movement stretching over centuries rather than decades. Its most important aspect is not so much industrial growth as the rise in literacy, the increase in the proportion of people able to read and write from 0 to 99 per cent.

Here, as in the realm of political science, no explanation has so far proved acceptable. One can readily describe – with a wealth of statistical detail – the development of certain countries, first cultural then economic: endogenous development so far as north-western Europe is concerned, exogenous development first in the case of southern Europe, then in part of the Third World. But no reasonable hypothesis has been proposed and tested that can explain such differences – apart from those magnificent tautologies that pronounce that growth results from rates of investment having risen above a certain percentage of the gross national product. Of course that is true. But why have they done so there and not somewhere else? Or at that particular date, rather than at some other?

The method adopted here is simple; as in any scientific undertaking, the objective is to explain the maximum number of facts by the minimum number of hypotheses. The complexity of observed phenomena should be reduced to the simplicity of a few underlying laws. In the case of relations between family structures and ideologies, an extreme degree of simplification proved to be attainable, since the political typology fitted strictly within an anthropological one, each existing ideology being produced by a different family type. In the case of development, each family system may be considered as having a specific potential – cultural rather than political, this time – ranking either as ‘very high’, ‘high’, ‘medium’ or ‘low’. But the geographical diffusion of culture puts shading into the model, and sets up areas of development that extend beyond the limits of certain anthropological areas dominated by specific family types.

Though complementary with one another, the typologies put forward in The Causes of Progress and in The Explanation of Ideology are none the less distinct: within the family system the elements responsible for ideological alignment, on the one hand, and cultural development, on the other, differ somewhat. One element the two typologies do have in common is the style of authority typical of the parent-child relationship, which simultaneously affects both realms: ideology and culture. Other elements are different, though linked by structural relationships. The concept of the equality or inequality of brothers is fundamental to the analysis of ideologies. But the husband-wife relationship, exhibiting as it does a greater or a lesser degree of feminism, is essential to the analysis of development. A synoptic table given in the conclusion (p. 180) indicates the exact matching of the categories employed in the two books.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog