Anton Howes at the Rose and Crown

Anton Howes spoke earlier this evening to Libertarian Home, about what made the Industrial Revolution get started. I took this photo of Howes, as he relaxed afterwards:

Howes really is a class act, as I already knew from when he addressed my Brian’s Last Friday, in July. What he has to say about the Industrial Revolution is already fascinating, and full of fascinating detail. When he has done all his research, then this talk will turn into something very formidable.

Meanwhile, a way to understand where Howes is coming from, and what kind of thesis he is exploring the further biographical and other detail of, is to read a book called Bourgeois Dignity, by Deirdre McCloskey. Howes recommended this book at the talk he gave in July. I bought a copy and am reading it now.

McCloskey’s basic thesis is that the thing that made the difference was ideas. The Industrial Revolution was not merely a bunch of people responding to economic incentives. It was people doing something they had come to believe in, surrounded by other people who also got the point, enough to let them get on with it. The Industrial Revolution was an ideology, brought to life by a core community of industrial inventors and creators, and sufficiently bought into by the wider society for those creators not to be suppressed.

The Industrial Revolution had plenty of chances to happen far earlier, in such places as China and Imperial Rome. That it did not happen earlier in such places is because, although the material conditions seemed to be all present and correct, they just weren’t thinking the right way to make the breakthrough. So McCloskey says, anyway.

As to what Howes said, well, the good news is that, unlike the talk he gave at my place, tonight’s talk was recorded on video by Simon Gibbs, and will accordingly materialise at Libertarian Home, by and by.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Algernon Sidney sends for Micklethwait because Micklethwait is wise, learned, diligent, and faithful

Incoming (“A quote you may like”) from Richard Carey, who gave a great talk at my home last Friday, at my latest Last Friday, about The English Radicals at the time of the Civil War:

Here’s a quote from Algernon Sidney’s ‘Discourses on Government’, which lost him his head but gained him the admiration of Jefferson and others. Somewhere into the second paragraph, you will know why I have sent this!

The book is a riposte to one by a fellow named Filmer who wrote in support of the Divine Right of Kings, a notion Sidney found odious and false.

So, Richard having already supplied me with this excellent SQotD, penned by John Lilburne, we now have this:

Implicit Faith belongs to Fools, and Truth is comprehended by examining Principles

Whilst Filmer’s business is to overthrow liberty and truth, he, in his passage, modestly professeth not to meddle with mysteries of state, or arcana imperii. He renounces those inquiries through an implicit faith, which never enter’d into the head of any but fools, and such, as through a carelessness of the point in question, acted as if they were so. This is the foundation of the papal power, and it can stand no longer than those that compose the Roman church can be persuaded to submit their consciences to the word of the priests, and esteem themselves discharged from the necessity of searching the Scriptures in order to know whether the things that are told them are true or false. This may shew whether our author or those of Geneva do best agree with the Roman doctrine: But his instance is yet more sottish than his profession. An implicit faith, says he, is given to the meanest artificer. I wonder by whom! Who will wear a shoe that hurts him, because the shoe-maker tells him ’tis well made? or who will live in a house that yields no defence against the extremities of weather, because the mason or carpenter assures him ’tis a very good house? Such as have reason, understanding, or common sense, will, and ought to make use of it in those things that concern themselves and their posterity, and suspect the words of such as are interested in deceiving or persuading them not to see with their own eyes, that they may be more easily deceived. This rule obliges us so far to search into matters of state, as to examine the original principles of government in general, and of our own in particular. We cannot distinguish truth from falsehood, right from wrong, or know what obedience we owe to the magistrate, or what we may justly expect from him, unless we know what he is, why he is, and by whom he is made to be what he is. These perhaps may be called mysteries of state, and some would persuade us they are to be esteemed arcana; but whosoever confesses himself to be ignorant of them, must acknowledge that he is incapable of giving any judgment upon things relating to the superstructure, and in so doing evidently shews to others, that they ought not at all to hearken to what he says.

His argument to prove this is more admirable. If an implicit faith, says he, is given to the meanest artificer in his craft, much more to a prince in the profound secrets of government. But where is the consequence? If I trust to the judgment of an artificer, or one of a more ingenuous profession, ’tis not because he is of it, but because I am persuaded he does well understand it, and that he will be faithful to me in things relating to his art. I do not send for Lower or Micklethwait when I am sick, nor ask the advice of Mainard or Jones in a suit of law, because the first are physicians, and the other lawyers; but because I think them wise, learned, diligent, and faithful, there being a multitude of others who go under the same name, whose opinion I would never ask. Therefore if any conclusion can be drawn from thence in favour of princes, it must be of such as have all the qualities of ability and integrity, that should create this confidence in me; or it must be proved that all princes, in as much as they are princes, have such qualities. No general conclusion can be drawn from the first case, because it must depend upon the circumstances, which ought to be particularly proved: And if the other be asserted, I desire to know whether Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Vitellius, Domitian, Commodus, Heliogabalus, and others not unlike to them, had those admirable endowments, upon which an implicit faith ought to have been grounded; how they came by them; and whether we have any promise from God, that all princes should forever excel in those virtues, or whether we by experience find that they do so. If they are or have been wanting in any, the whole falls to the ground; for no man enjoys as a prince that which is not common to all princes: And if every prince have not wisdom to understand these profound secrets, integrity to direct him, according to what he knows to be good, and a sufficient measure of industry and valour to protect me, he is not the artificer, to whom the implicit faith is due. His eyes are as subject to dazzle as my own. But ’tis a shame to insist on such a point as this. We see princes of all sorts; they are born as other men: The vilest flatterer dares not deny that they are wise or foolish, good or bad, valiant or cowardly like other men: and the crown doth neither bestow extraordinary qualities, ripen such as are found in princes sooner than in the meanest, nor preserve them from the decays of age, sickness, or other accidents, to which all men are subject: And if the greatest king in the world fall into them, he is as incapable of that mysterious knowledge, and his judgment is as little to be relied on, as that of the poorest peasant.

My googling abilities are wayward, to put it politely, but based on a fleeting mention of a Micklethwait who was the grandson of “the physician”, the physician Micklethwait does appear to have been quite distinguished. And since he’s a Micklethwait, spelt Micklethwait (without, that is to say, any terminal e), that makes him a relative of mine, or so I have always assumed.

In the course of this googling for ancient Micklethwaits, I also came across this picture, which the National Portrait Gallery has in its collection, of my paternal grandfather, who was a lawyer. Hopefully the sort of lawyer whom Algernon Sidney would have been content to consult. Grandpa Micklethwait died when I was four and I think I must have met him, or at least been shown to him, but I have no recollection of this.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Rob Fisher on the 3D printing future

There was a comment this morning from Rob Fisher (and I do love it that we finally have Samizdata author archives), on a piece I threw up on (?) Samizdata yesterday comparing 3D printing to blogging. This comment has the feel of something that ought to be a bit more than a comment. So here it is, here:

Google the Ubuntu Edge smartphone. This is a device that many people wanted, but not quite enough to raise 35 million that the company behind it say was needed to make 40,000 phones.

A large part of what made the device desirable was its physical construction. I imagine a time when people can choose from a wide library of smartphone physical designs and customise them with a choice of materials, colours and shape modifications. Those with the skills will contribute new designs to the library.

Similarly, smartphone innards are increasingly boiling down to two or three interchangeable chips. Why not select the system-on-chip you prefer; add some RAM and flash storage; and pick the screen you want? Placement of these parts is then just physical design.

So we build a one–off smartphone. The chassis may be 3D printed or cut from a metal block with some sort of robotic machinist. The circuit boards and final assembly will be robotic.

Look at how Foxconn is replacing its “slave” human labourers with robots.

So what, really, is the difference between today, when a new design for a run of 40,000 gadgets costs $35m, and my world, where a single unique device can be assembled for $800?

It’s partly logistics, which 3D printing is part of the answer to. Some entrepreneurial soul will surely eventually build the factory to solve the rest of the logistical problems.

The rest of the answer is the dispersal of the required knowledge. In the same way that making new software is largely a matter of combining libraries written previously by domain experts with a smidgen of new ideas, so the physical design of gadgets will eventually become a matter of combining standard parts with a touch of customisation.

It’s largely a software problem, too. If you imagine a Web site that lets you design your own phone in the way I have described, a lot of the problem is systematising smartphone design and putting a usable user interface on that system.

So, to make my own analogy, if the world I have just imagined of making your own gadgets is blogging, 3D printing is the web. Small, automated factories that can cheaply produce one-off items using 3D printing and robots are the Internet. And some clever software to make it easier to enter one’s designs is WordPress.

Regular Samizdata commenter Alisa called that “brilliant”, which was what made me think it ought to be immortalised.

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

Blank-faced tower – crazy hairdo

This is a shot I regularly take, because it never fails to impress me. Here is the version of it that I took yesterday:

That’s the top of Millbank Tower, viewed from the point where Horseferry Road does its sharp right turn towards Victoria Street, or its sharp left turn towards the river, depending on which way you are going. (Me, I tend to go home, straight on along Regency Street.)

I tried cropping this picture even more, so that all there was was roof clutter, but this, I think, somewhat spoiled the effect. What I so much like about the top of Millbank Tower is the contrast between all that intricate techno-anarchy, and the architect-imposed blandness – the faceless face, so to speak – of the main building. Show only the techno-clutter, and you miss that contrast. Show it, and it makes the building look like the architectural equivalent of a blank-faced young man, with a crazy punk hairdo.

There is a similar contrast to be enjoyed in the last of these pictures, again of a big lump with a crazy roof garden of gadgetry. Roof garden is right, because all this stuff combines high-techness with the picturesque appeal of nature.

This is the picture I mean.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog


As regulars here will know, I am constantly fascinated by what goes on at the top of London’s buildings. I love the Big Tops that are built to impress, like the Shard, the Strata, the Gherkin. I love all the decorative stuff done in earlier centuries. I love chimney pots, which used to come in all shapes and sizes. And I love all the anarchic clutter that electronic communication of various sorts has placed at the top of otherwise utterly bland and forgettable blocks.

So here are some recent snaps, celebrating all that:

Those are shown in chronological order of me taking them.

1.1, 1.2 and 3.2 are are all quite near to me, taken in the vicinity of Warwick Way.

1.3 is the kind of thing you see when a big building site gets into gear, and then of course stop seeing when the work is done.

2.1 was taken in Lower Marsh, I think.

2.2 is Strata, also taken in Lower Marsh ish, peeping over a roof with a decorative knob on it.

2.3 is a bit indistinct, being roof clutter reflected off a big glass fronted building, but the clutter is there if you look.

3.1 is a bit of a cheat, because it is the umbrella that makes the picture, not the decorative roof (Parliament) behind it. But again, the roof is there.

3.2 includes the top of the big tower on the other side of the river from me, i.e. on the south side.
is a

3.3 is a big lump in Park Lane, as viewed from just inside Hyde Park, near Hyde Park Corner. I went with a friend to Hyde Park yesterday, hoping to view a statue of Colin Firth as Mr Darcy, emerging from the Serpentine. No luck. Gone. Or maybe just not where we looked.

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.


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 links

This is a short posting, just to make a note of some links that I have acquired, to things about Emmanuel Todd. Microsoft is in the habit of shutting down my computer without warning, and I don’t want to have to go hunting for them again.

Here is a review of a new book about America called America 3.0 (which I already have on order from Amazon), by James Bennett and Michael Lotus. This book includes some of Todd’s ideas about family structure by way of explaining why the America of the near future will be particularly well suited to the free-wheeling individualism of the next few years of economic history.

In this review, T Greer says:

I was delighted to find that much of this analysis rests of the work of the French anthropologist Emmanuel Todd. I came across Mr. Todd’s work a few months ago, and concluded immediately that he is the most under-rated “big idea” thinker in the field of world history.

Spot on.

Greer also makes use of this map, which first appeared in this New York Times article:

Slowly, very slowly, Emmanuel Todd is starting to be noticed in the English speaking world.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Wandering about afterwards

I’m still on about last Tuesday, and about what a fine day it was to be taking photographs, and about what sort of photographs I took.

First there were those brightly coloured buildings, then the Tottenham Court Road grubbings, and now … the rest.

I confirmed that the weather was going to be just as fabulous as the weather forecasters had been saying for the best part of a week that it would be, from the moment I stepped out of my front door. Because, what I then felt was that very particular early spring experience, namely: feeling warmer than I did indoors. It comes from the bricks in my home being a heat store, or in the case of winter a cold store. To be more exact, the sun outside is hot and it warms up the air outside a treat, but it will take way longer for it to warm up those bricks, still busy sucking the heat out of my indoors.

So, I was in a fine mood from the start, and duly ticked off my official objective (plus second semi-official objective close by), so that the other half of the fun might begin. For me, the point is to get out there, preferably to places I have not visited lately, on a fine day, and to make sure I set forth with appropriate resolve and soon enough for it still to be light, I need an official objective. Those coloured buildings served that purpose very well. But then, there followed the unofficial pleasure, so to speak, of just meandering about and noticing things.

If you only click on one photo of those below, click on the first one, top left. That scene was actually quite a long way away, but thanks to the brightness of the sunshine and the power of my zoom lens, it looks like I’m right next to it.

Otherwise, there are my usual preoccupations. There is scaffolding, the other scaffolding being on Blackfriars Bridge, middle middle, where they are still finishing the new station on the bridge, with its oddly fluctuating roof. There are cranes, the same cranes each time, I suspect, on the top of a new erection arising somewhere on the other side of the river, between Waterloo and Tate Modern. And there is a particularly choice reflection effect, this time (I am almost certain) Tower 42 (the NatWest Tower that was) torched by the evening sun and reflected in the glass at the top of Tate Modern. There are bridges, no less then three in the picture bottom left, and five different bridges if you also count the ghostly columns of the Blackfriars Bridge that never was, next to Actual Blackfriars Bridge. And seven if you could the three views of the Millenium Footbridge as three different bridges. There is the Wheel, twice. And photographers of course, thrice.

I sought out the river because, as the light began to fade, by the river there would still be a huge (completely cloudless) sky full of the stuff to sustain me, in contrast to the streets north of the river where the light struggles to reach ground level.

Crossrail grubbings

As soon as I had finished looking at those brightly coloured buildings designed by Renzo Piano, I also took at look at the bottom of Centre Point, where they are doing Crossrail.

“Grubbings” is a word I inherited from my late father, along with his fondness for the thing that grubbings describes. Grubbings are big building projects in their early, especially below ground level, stage, when they are … well: grubbing, rather than building upwards. My father loved grubbings, and so do I.

It’s often hard to photo grubbings, because they often put a high fence around them and there’s no convenient high-up spot nearby to look over. But at this site, you can climb up some steps (top left) to a Centre Point entrance on the first floor, and photo through the mesh that you see in most of the other pictures.

Even with the internet, it can be hard to know how these kind of things are going to end up. Okay, here are these computer fakes of how they had in mind two years ago for it to be, but who knows if that’s still what they’re thinking.

There is also the fact that there are often so many images of how, at various stages in the design, they envisaged things looking, that it’s hard for a more casual onlooker to keep up. Simpler to just wait and see.

It reminds me of how the Brits confused the Argies during that Brits versus Argies war. Instead of not telling the Argies their plan, the Brits did tell the Argies their plan, and all the other plans the Brits might just as likely be following. The British newspapers were full to the brim with every imaginable plan. And the Argies were baffled, trapped in the headlights of too much information, all of it suspect of course. That’s sometimes how I feel when trying (admittedly not very hard) to find out how some big grubbings in a big city like London are going to end up looking.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog