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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Category archive: Business

Friday February 12 2016

I like white vans.  And since this is Friday, I at least want recently to have encountered, virtually or for real, something feline, but with a bit of a difference from the usual internet felinities.

So, I was pleased to notice this vehicle, outside the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre, across the road from Westminster Abbey, yesterday afternoon:

image

More about the enterprise in question here.

It is surprising, to me, given how much attention cats now get in the popular culture, how few enterprises use cattery to advertise themselves in this kind of way.

Wednesday February 10 2016

I still fondly remember a posting I did on Samizdata, over a decade ago now, about a banged-up police car that was claiming to be Working for a safer London.  Well, the white van below, photoed back on December 29th of last year, isn’t as big a PR clanger as that was, but it is a bit bad:

image

I know, I know.  You can’t really make data insecure by damaging the van on which it says “secure data management”.  This is the enterprise in question.  Look at where the green lines cross the phone numbers, and you will see that, in the picture there, it is not the same van.  So, they have more than one van.  And by the look of it, what these vans do is transport documents.  Nevertheless, this blemish suggests a certain sloppiness, or maybe I mean a certain willingness to seem sloppy, that does not sit well with handling data securely.  If I was them, I’d want it sorted soonest.

On the same day, on the same photo-expedition, I also photoed this van:

image

Not nearly as white as the secure data van, but more to the point: not a scratch and squeaky clean.  Which is appropriate, because this is also a business which needs to look like it is taking care when it is doing its business:

With paramount importance placed on quality and support, all equipment is thoroughly cleaned, tested and checked by our experienced engineers ...

Here’s another van, also snapped on that same expedition, that is both white and clean:

image

White vans often get rather dirty, but not this one:

Calabash are the No.1 commercial cleaning and washroom services company in London. Since 1992 we’ve been ensuring our clients maintain their premises to the highest standards ...

This, in other words, is a van that also needs to be maintained to the highest standards, and by the look of it, it is.

Tuesday January 05 2016

3D printing is not the replacement of factories by homes.  It is manufacturing in factories only more so.  Making stuff is not, as of now, getting less skilled.  It is getting more skilled ...:

Most ceramic 3D printing uses complex techniques to deposit layers of the material on top of each other, and as a result have to use materials with relatively low melting points. The techniques can also only be used to create fairly simple shapes.

But a team from HRL Laboratories in Malibu, California, has developed what they call a pre-ceramic resin, which they can 3D print much like regular polymers into complex shapes. The process, known as stereolithography, fuses a powder of silicon carbide ceramics using UV light. Once the basic shape is printed, it can be heat-treated at 1,800°F to turn the pre-ceramic resin into a regular ceramic object. In fact, this is the first time silicon carbide ceramics have ever been 3D printed.

… which is very good news for the rich world economies.

Says a commenter:

So 2016 opens with YAAI3DP (Yet Another Advance In 3D Printing.) and some point all these breakthroughs are going to add up and utterly transform manufacturing.

The way he then goes on to say that it will transform manufacturing is that we may eventually get stuff made whenever and wherever we want it made.  In homes and shopping malls, in other words.  Maybe eventually.  In the meantime, cleverer stuff is getting made in the same old places, and then transported to where it is needed.

When I transport blogged, one of the constant themes I found myself noticing was how people regularly thought that transport would be done away with, but it never was.  The main notion was that people would communicate so well that they’d never want to meet face-to-face.  Now, it is being speculated that stuff will be made so cleverly that it will be makable anywhere.  Maybe so, but that isn’t now the smart way to do it, and it probably never will be.

Friday January 01 2016

Here is what the vans of Wicked Campers (which presumably started up in Australia) look like, photoed by me over the last few months, in Lower Marsh, where they often congregate.

I claim no artistic expression points for these pictures.  They merely show what these entertaining vehicles look like.  All the artistic expression points go to whoever decorated the vans:

image image imageimage image imageimage image imageimage image imageimage image imageimage image image

So far so excellent.  More Wicked Campers van décor to be found here, many of them equally excellent if not more excellent, and equally tasteless and un-PC if not more tasteless and more un-PC.

The Guardian is not amused

So then, I decided to search out the British HQ of Wicked Campers, which wasn’t hard because it is not far from Lower Marsh at all, in very nearby Carlisle Street.

And it looks as if the Guardian’s complaints, and the complaints the Guardian reports and seeks to amplify, may be having an effect.  Wicked Campers HQ was a severe disappointment, at any rate the day I visited, last week.  I found only two more vans, and both were appallingly tasteful, compared to the Wicked Campers norm.  The big clutch of vans above look like there were decorated by expat Aussies who don’t give a shit.  These two vans look like they were done by a British art student who probably reads the damn Guardian, every day.

Picture one here is just a pattern, with no in-your-face verbiage at all.  Pictures two and three are of the same van, opposite sides:

image image image

Ugh!

I really hope I’m wrong, and that Wicked Campers continue to prosper in their classic, tasteless, un-PC form.

Friday December 25 2015

Happy Christmas, as and when you get around to reading this.

The weather this Christmas has been terrible.  Warm, yes, but relentlessly cloudy and rainy.  It seems like it’s been raining in London ever since I said here early last month that in London rain is quite rare.  Wednesday was a brief respite, which the weather forecasters duly noted beforehand, but yesterday and today it’s back to mostly cloudy and rainy.  So here is some Christmas photo-cheer from just before Christmas last year, when the weather was mostly what it should be around this time, suitably cold and frequently bright and sunny.

I mentioned earlier my intention to focus of a Friday on non-deline as well as feline members of the animal kingdom.  This fine beast was to be seen last Christmas outside the old Covent Garden Market, where they used to sell fruit and veg - all that having moved to this place - and where they now sell stuff.

image

And here are two more photos, of the beast’s head, with a dose of that proper Christmas weather behind it, and of the sign at the beast’s feet, about how you mustn’t molest it in any way:

imageimage

BrianMicklethwaitDotCom would not be BrianMicklethwaitDotCom if I hadn’t photoed photoers and stuck some of the resulting photos up here, so here are some of the many other photoers who photoed this reindeer.  The first two have the reindeer on their screens:

imageimage

And my favourite one didn’t have anything on her screen that I could see, but did have reindeers on her excellent woolly top.

image

Relevant website.  Like I said, stuff.

Monday December 21 2015

I did a posting at Samizdata in 2012, about a trip I made to One New Change, but I don’t believe I ever displayed this photo, which I took soon after visiting the top of that excellent venue:

image

It is quite clear that this is a drycleaners.  Its name, alas, is not, in my photo, quite so clear.

Photo of this enterprise taken without my deliberate and rather malicious mistake here.

I have just got back from a party at Mchael J’s, having failed to do anything here before departing to it, and this was all I could manage.

But, I can add this.  During that party Michael said, while travel-talking about the Middle East:

The thing you have to remember about that part of the world is that Hezbollah are the good guys.

I think he was talking about Syria, but I could be wrong.  It was a good party.

Perry de Havilland also said something else very funny, but I have forgotten what it was.  It was a good party.

Good night.  Sleep well.  I will.

Saturday December 19 2015

The plan was that this week, I would be catching up with myself on the blogging front.  Instead I have found myself going out and doing things, and I have got even further behind.

So it is again this evening.  After another busy day doing things, I have time and energy left now only to show you a snap I took of a shop window display somewhere in Oxford Street:

image

Yes, it’s a Star Wars stormtrooper facing a communications crisis, and improvising, with some obsolete and inconveniently large equipment.

I love shop window displays, especially at Christmas Time of course, when they erupt into Vesuvii of invention.  Again, these are not things that you would want to buy, even the bits of them that are for sale.  But I do enjoy photoing them.  Not least because they are usually very well lit.

Star Wars, latest manifestation of, erupted in London on Thursday, to the sound of box office records being broken.

Sunday December 13 2015

Indeed:

image

I’ve been keeping an eye and a camera lens open for White Vans, and they regularly un-disappoint, if you get my drift.

But, does this White Van look like its own website?  Yes, clearly the work of the same designer or designers.  Either that or the White Van decorators were simply told to copy the website.

So, could a White Van actually be a website?  With some kind of touchscreen on it?  Probably not a good idea.

Thursday December 10 2015

From Rob Fisher, who knows my interest in 3D printing, incoming email entitled:

Scientists 3D print ‘live’ blood vessels

Quote:

It’s no longer a rare feat to 3D print blood vessels. Printing vessels that act like the real deal, however, has been tricky… until now. Lawrence Livermore researchers have successfully 3D printed blood vessels that deliver nutrients and self-assemble like they would in a human body. The key is to print an initial structure out of cells and other organic material, and then to augment it with bio ink and other body-friendly materials. With enough time, everything joins up and behaves naturally.

Right now, the actual structures don’t bear much resemblance to what you’d find in a person - you get a “spaghetti bowl” of vessels. Scientists hope to organize these vessels the way they exist in nature, though. If that happens, you could one day see artificial tissue samples and even transplants that are about as realistic as you can get.

A while back, I worked out that 3D printing was going to be just as huge as everyone is saying, but that it was not going to get “domestic”, in the manner of like black-and-white laser printers for instance, in the foreseeable future (with the possible exception of certain kinds of food preparation).  3D printing is a vast range of specialist manufacturing techniques, and it will, for that foreseeable future, be used by people who already make specialist stuff by other and clumsier means, or who would like to make particular specialist stuff for the first time, of the sort that only 3D printing can do.  See the quoted verbiage above.

This is why I receive emails from Google about failing 3D printing companies along with other emails about successful 3D printing activities, mostly by already existing companies.  3D printing is best done by people who already know a hell of a lot about something else, which they can then get 3D printed.  Like: blood vessels.

The principle economic consequence of 3D printing will be to provide an abundance of jobs for people everywhere, but especially among the workers of the rich world, who, during the last few decades, have been famously deprived of many of their jobs by the workers of the poor world.

Prediction/guess.  Because of things like 3D printing, schools in the rich world will soon become (are already becoming?) a bit more successful, back towards what they were like in the 1950s.  This is because, as in the 1950s, there will again be an economic future for everyone in the rich countries, the way there has not been for the last few decades.  For the last few decades, in the rich countries, only the geeks (in computers) and the alpha-male super-jocks (in such things as financial services (and in a tiny few cases in sports)) and posh kids (whose parents motivate them to work hard no matter what (this is a circular definition (posh kids are the ones motivated by their parents))) have had proper futures to look forward to.  (These three categories overlap.) Accordingly, they have been the only ones paying proper attention in school.  The rest have not been able to see enough point to it.

My spell of education blogging taught me, among many things, that when it comes to schools being successful, teacher quality is absolutely not the only variable.  Good teachers can get bad results, if the kids just can’t doing with it.  Bad teachers can preside over good results, if parents and helpers-out, paid or unpaid, after regular school supply good supplementary teaching, or if the kids were highly motivated and determined to learn despite their crappy teachers.

The one exception to the rule about 3D printers not becoming meaningfully domestic is that they have a big future as educational toys, training kids to go into the bouncing-back manufacturing sector.

Tuesday December 08 2015

Fascinating point made in this piece at Libertarian Home by Simon Gibbs, about how and how not to educate computer programmers:

I am skeptical of whether formal education teaches programming, or whether programming is an innate aptitude. My computer science education is certainly a part of what made me a good programmer and I have met very good people who have retrained from other industries and become successful programmers. I have also met people who have had years of training and still lack the fundamental skill of breaking a process down into steps, despite passing various exams and tests. I graduated with such people and not with dramatically higher grades either. Formal education seems ill suited to capture, transmit, and assess the nuances of this particular skill. The ease with which code is plagiarised is one factor, as is the process of mugging up for exams, but the real problem is that the skill itself is a form of implicit knowledge which you cannot simply write down.

Further, learning to program is not an easy process. It is damned hard and no single resource or bootcamp or whatever will help you navigate a route by which you can deliver value. You have to get there on your own and that is, by definition, not something that anyone else can easily help with.

I can remember that, when I education-blogged, the above rumination was the kind of thing I would seize upon.

What Gibbs says sounds like the point that I have recently been making, generally and in particular in connection with this book (about PR (by another friend of mine (Alex Singleton))), that learning how to do something like play the violin (or do PR (or computer programming)) is fundamentally different from merely reading a book about how to play the violin (or reading a book like this one about how to do PR).  Most people will never be able to play the violin well (or do PR well), no matter how much else they are able to learn about playing the violin (or doing PR).  By writing a mere book about how to do PR, Singleton has not given away his personal-professional crown jewels by teaching thousands of others how to replace him.  On the contrary, his crown jewels are his “innate aptitude” (honed by much practising) for combining and deploying all the PR techniques he knows of and knows how to do, when solving a PR problem.  He has turned himself into a PR industry go-to media guru (which means he gets to advertise himself free) and made himself even more employable, in a kind of PR positive feedback loop.  After all, the better Singleton is at doing his own PR the better he’ll probably be at doing yours.

Gibbs also makes it very clear that he reckons himself to be a good programmer, in a way that many rivals, clever in all sorts of other ways, will never be.  He too does some good PR for himself, even though it’s incidental to the main point of his piece.  To learn which, read it in full, by clicking on the link at the top of this posting.

Monday December 07 2015

imageLast night I gave a talk about London’s Big Things and their historical and theoretical backstory, at Christian Michel’s place.  The talk felt very disorganised from where I was sitting, on account of me trying to say too much, but it seemed to be quite well received.  Aiden Gregg was kind enough to compare my talk to London itself: crazy, but lots of interesting things vying for attention.

Last July, I featured a computer fake-up picture of the next London Big Thing, and there on the right is the same picture, again, smaller.  The new building, under construction now, is the one in the middle, and the tallest.

But now, just a day after giving my Big Thing talk, I learn of the next but one London Big Thing, which will, if all proceeds according to the current plan, look like this:

image

I like it.  On its own it’s nothing very fantastic, but presumably, this being the City of London, the detailing will be stylish.  And it will lift the City Big Thing cluster to new heights.  I think the combined effect will be excellent, and I rather think that the consequence may be that after it goes up we may talk of the City Cluster, rather than of its individual Big Thing bits.  I also think I detect the influence of the Broadgate Tower, with those big Xs all of it.

A pattern seems to be emerging with these Big Things, aside from the patterns on the outside of them I mean, which is that they stick an eatery-and-drinkery and a viewing gallery at the top, to get at least some of the public (definitely me) behind the Big Thing.

The architects are really selling this latest Big Thing as something that may help to stir up the weekend in the City, weekends in the City at the moment being about as lively as the inside of a coffin.  Not only are they throwing in a bar/restaurant and a viewing gallery at the top, open free of charge to all comers, but they are also clearing out some space at the bottom of the Big Thing for us punters to wander about in, and presumably buy yet more stuff.  We’ll have to ask nicely on the internet the night before to go to the top of this Big Thing, if the rules for the similarly welcoming Walkie-Talkie top are anything to go by.  But the big space at the bottom will - presumably again – be a place you can just show up in and enjoy.  Photoing upwards from that space should really be something, as well as outwards and downwards from the top.

I don’t really know how this sort of thing works, but what seems to be happening is that they are trying to make this Big Thing as popular as possible out here in punter-land, to maximise its chances of getting a smooth ride on the planning permission front.  I’m guessing that in a deal like this, there is just nothing better than getting your Big Thing built really big (and it really is big), as planned and on schedule, with no grief from the politicians.  That’s all well worth a public space and whatever places up top that Joe Public (aka: me) and his digital camera may desire.

LATER: The Guardian - 1 Undershaft, the tallest skyscraper in the City of London, revealed - goes into much more detail, very informatively, if a bit sniffily in the way you’d expect from the Guardian talking about trade.  Ends by saying what I say about how the City Big Thing cluster will “congeal” into one lump.

Will this Big Thing just be called “The Undershaft”?.

Saturday December 05 2015

Blatant quota photo, in the form of an interestingly informative vehicle snapped by me earlier this evening:

image

Shame about the superfluous piece of punctuation.

Earlier, my host and his guests were chuckling at a big flag host had in his living room, which said: DONT TREAD ON ME.  For DONT read DON’T.

Shame the apostrophe cannot somehow be transferred from the car to the flag, thereby bringING (see comment) the grammar universe into alignment.

Back to the car: COMERCIAL is missing an M.

None of which should be brought up if he is rescuing you and your vehicle from a predicament.

And, I bet this posting contains a grammar or spelling mistake, because this is one of the subsections of Sod’s Law.  Whenever you sneer at someone else’s grammar or spelling, yours goes wrong.

Monday November 23 2015

I have been reading Peter Foster’s book, Why We Bite the Invisible Hand: The Psychology of Anti-Capitalism.  And very good it is.  Here are some of the things Foster says about Robert Owen (pp. 86-69, pp 92-95:

After he built Cromford, Arkwright became involved in the development of another even more spectacular water-driven venture, at New Lanark in Scotland. The fast-flowing river below the beautiful Falls of Clyde made the site ideal.  Arkwright’s partner there was David Dale, a respected Glasgow merchant. The notoriously prickly Arkwright fell out with Dale, reportedly over a triviality, and withdrew. Dale took control and continued to expand, but the reason New Lanark is so well preserved today is not that it is seen as a monument to capitalism.  Quite the contrary. Dale’s son-in-law, Robert Owen, turned New Lanark into the promotional centre for a Utopian dream, where he nurtured anti-capitalist sentiment. A fair amount of anti-capitalist sentiment still seems to pervade the site today.

Owen’s New Lanark was very far from being an experiment in socialism understood as collective ownership and control.  Workers had neither shares in the mill nor much - if any - say in how it was run.  Nor was Owen a political revolutionary.  What he did share in common with more radical socialists was opposition to religion; belief that human nature was an indeterminate clay ("blank slate"), there to be moulded by men such as himself; distaste for the “individual selfish” competitive system and private property (even though they enabled him to promote his muddled ideas); demonization of money; and a generally woolly notion of how economies - as opposed to individual businesses - work.  Owen rejected Adam Smith’s idea of gradual improvement under a system of “natural liberty.” For him, cotton masters, the men who owned and ran the mills, were (except for himself) greedy and selfish, while workers were oppressed sheep to be led, with himself as the Good Shepherd.

Adam Smith had shrewdly noted that people by nature give far more deference to the ideas of the wealthy than they deserve.  Of few people was this more true than Robert Owen.

Owen was born on May 14, 1771, in Newtown in Wales, five years before the publication of The Wealth of Nations. He received only a rudimentary education before being shipped off by his parents to work in the drapery business. He proved an assiduous employee and developed a keen interest in the then-booming textile industry. He started his own business but soon returned to employment as a mill manager in Manchester.  Close to his 20th birthday, he was reportedly managing 500 workers, at the then substantial salary of £300 a year.  Owen soon found investors to help him start his own mill.  He also became interested in education and social reform (which was the rule rather than the exception for industrialists of the time).  However, when he visited New Lanark he saw a place where he might indulge a nascent vision of industrial harmony, a New Jerusalem in which he would be the secular Messiah.

Owen courted David Dale’s daughter, Anne Caroline, married her on September 30, 1799, and took over New Lanark early in 1800 on what seemed generous terms, essentially promising to pay Dale out of the mill’s future profits.  New Lanark was the basis for the fortune and reputation that enabled Robert Owen to indulge his ideas. The scale of New Lanark seems extraordinary even today, but to visitors from the present, if they could travel back to Owen’s time, the most arresting feature of the place would be that most of its employees were children, supplied by orphanages in Glasgow and Edinburgh.  Child labour has become one of the great fixed images of the Industrial Revolution, but it is inappropriate to take our modern sensitivities back to earlier times. Child labour was common - as it still is in many poor countries - because it was, and is, necessary for the survival of both the children and their families.  It was most necessary for orphans.  Indeed, orphanages paid cotton manufacturers to take their charges off their hands.  David Dale reportedly treated his young employees well.  By 1796 he was employing 16 teachers at the site.

Owen’s desire to prevent children under 10 from working appears wholly admirable, until we remember that this might have led them to starve. His desire to educate children and provide an early equivalent of daycare was worthy but ultimately self-interested in business terms, since these measures increased the skills and contentment - and thus productivity - of the workforce, as did his organization of medical insurance, savings opportunities, food and other provisions. There was no conflict between good business and morality. Indeed, Owen himself constantly, at least in the early days, stressed the importance of these measures for increasing profitability.

The village shop that Owen set up at New Lanark was reportedly an inspiration for the modern cooperative movement, which was founded in the town of Rochdale in Lancashire.  According to a potted history at the New Lanark site, when Owen arrived, there were lots of small traders in the village, “selling poor quality goods at high prices.” He was able to buy in bulk, lower the prices and still make a profit.  But of course this is exactly what supermarkets and big-box stores do today, even as they are castigated for putting the “little guy” … out of business.

Robert Owen put the little guy out of business too. He also made sure that no other traders could survive in the village, by paying his workers with “tickets for wages,” which they could spend only at his village shop.  Elsewhere such enforced commitment to the company store would be cited as evidence of corporate villainy, but Owen declared that his own motives weren’t “selfish.” The important thing was not what was good for him, but what was good for mankind, although he clearly expected a little kudos for showing mankind the way.

At New Lanark, Owen in fact displayed more of the enlightened capitalist than of the Utopian dreamer.  One might not doubt his good intentions when it came to spreading education and advocating factory reform, but he seemed eager to bury the fact that many other cottom masters, and businessmen of the time more generally, were enlightened and reform-minded.

As the Napoleonic Wars drew to a close, both mill owners and authorities were disturbed by Luddite riots that resulted in the breaking of new machinery, which was seen as destroying jobs. Robert Owen claimed that what had brought about these awful, and worsening, conditions was economic liberalism and the competitive system, which, he declared, was based on “deception.” He came forward with a series of bold proposals for “villages of unity and co-operation,” which struck many as workhouses by a more glorified name.

Although the great and the good expressed polite interest in Owen’s solutions to what were, after all, pressing problems, many were profoundly skeptical.  John Quincy Adams, then U.S. ambassador to Britain, described Owen in his memoirs as “crafty crazy ... a speculative, scheming, mischievous man.”

Owen managed to draw the ire of both radical reformers, the political economist heirs of Adam Smith, groups that rarely saw eye to eye. The radicals saw Owen’s communities as oppressive, while the economists viewed them as impractical and counterproductive. The reformer William Cobbett described them as “parallelograms of paupers.” The political economist Robert Torrens said it ws difficult to decide whether Owen was a “knave” or an enthusiast “in whose brain a copulation between vanity and benevolence has engendered madness.”

Owen welcomed a steady stream of “philanthropic tourists” at New Lanark. Their number included Grand Duke Nicholas, future czar of Russia.  Some - although presumably not the grand duke - found disquieting authoritarian overtones to Owen’s operation. After watching Owen’s child labourers drill like little soldiers at the mill’s Institution for the Formation of Character (which has been lovingly restored with taxpayers’ money from the European Union), the poet Robert Southey compared the place to a slave plantation.

Parliament ultimately rejected Owen’s scheme. One member suggested that “this visionary plan, if adopted, would destroy the very roots of society.” Owen responded to criticism by making his schemes more grandiose.  Undaunted, he set off to proselytize in the New World, and not merely to lecture but at last to put into effect his grand plan.  He bought an existing cooperative community in Indiana, which he renamed New Harmony.

Owen attracted a large number of settlers, described by one of Owen’s sons, Robert Dale Owen, as a “heterogenous collection of radicals, enthusiastic devotees to principle ... and lazy theorists, with a sprinkling of unprincipled sharpers thrown in.” Owen Sr. soon went back to Britain to spread the word of his success.  Another son, William, confided dolefully to his diary, “The enjoyment of a reformer, I would say, is much more in contemplation, than in reality.”

New Harmony soon started to fall apart.  Skilled labour did not feel inclined to have its income, under Owen’s plan, “equalized” with the unskilled or, worse, with those who did not wish to work at all.  A collectivist scheme such as Owen’s could in effect work only if powered by either religious conviction or forced labour, a lesson that would not be lost on Owen’s more revolutionary successors.

The abolition of money led to a bureaucratic nightmare.  When even lettuce had to pass through the company store, it inevitably wilted before it reached the plate.  (Moscow McDonald’s would encounter analogous problems in trying to get supplies through the collapsing Soviet system almost 200 years later.)

After an absence of two months, Owen returned to New Harmony, arriving by river with intellectual reinforcements dubbed the “boatload of knowledge.” He forced the community through numerous reorganizations, all the while churning out portentous exhortations such as the “Declaration of Mental Independence:’ which promised to free man from the “slavery” of private property, religion and marriage.

One visitor, the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, wrote, “He looks forward to nothing else than to remodel the world entirely; to root out all crime; to abolish punishment; to create similar views and similar wants, and in this manner to abolish all dissension and warfare ... He was too unalterably convinced of the result to admit the slightest room for doubt!’ Every other member of the community to whom the duke spoke acknowledged that Owen was “deceived in his expectations!’ The final blow to the community was a falling-out between Owen and William Maclure, a wealthy emigre Scotsman, which led to the two men suing each other over property, the concept New Harmony was meant to transcend.

The one undoubted benefit Owen did bestow upon the former colonies was his children, who turned out to be a good deal more level-headed than their father and who would become prominent in American affairs. Owen then set off on an even more quixotic scheme: to persuade the government of Mexico to grant him a huge swath of land on which to test his theories.  He required Mexico first to abandon Catholicism.  Mexico demurred.  Owen returned to London and embarked upon expansive new ventures.  He became the first president of the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union, an organization that lasted a year.  Seeking to trump both the pecuniary root of all evil and “unnecessary” middlemen, he set up “labour exchanges,” whereby merchandise was exchanged for “labour notes,” whose value was meant to be calculated according to the hours of sweat embodied in each product.  The administrators found that they could not possibly calculate values this way and were forced to copy market prices.  The labour exchanges collapsed too.

Owen staunchly opposed the “superstition” of religion, and yet his own views were at root profoundly religious, based on a “New Moral World” set up in opposition to a demonic set of greedy capitalists. He founded the Rational Society, complete with Halls of Science instead of churches, and “social hymns.” Sample verse:

Outcasts in your native soil,
Doom’d to poverty and toil,
Strangers in your native land;
Come, and join the social band.

Owen’s acolytes founded another Utopian community, at an estate called Queenwood in Hampshire, whose collapse Owen hastened by spending it into the ground.  One of his more clear-sighted disciples noted that “Mr. Owen was no financier, and had no idea of money.” Queenwood, like New Harmony, imploded amid lawsuits, yet again over property.

Robert Owen represented a psychological type that would persist throughout the business world.  Although such businessmen have a good grasp of their own business, they fail to understand the nature of markets more generally and believe themselves to be morally exceptional in a world marked by short-sighted greed.

Saturday November 07 2015

They’re playing an Old-Timers T20 in New York today.  Here are the two squads, “Sachin’s Blasters” and “Warne’s Warriors”:

SR Tendulkar (Captain), CEL Ambrose, SC Ganguly, CL Hooper, DPMD Jayawardene, L Klusener, BC Lara, VVS Laxman, GD McGrath, Moin Khan†, M Muralitharan, SM Pollock, V Sehwag, Shoaib Akhtar, GP Swann.

SK Warne (Captain), AB Agarkar, AA Donald, ML Hayden, JH Kallis, RT Ponting, JN Rhodes, KC Sangakkara†, Saqlain Mushtaq, A Symonds, MP Vaughan, DL Vettori, CA Walsh, Wasim Akram.

It makes me think of these guys.

Find out what happened here, that also being where I found out about this remarkable enterprise.

Monday November 02 2015

I think my fascination with the Union Jack really got into gear with the Scottish Referendum.  Why then?  Because then, we might have had to abandon it.  It might have become a relic.

Then, during the recently concluded Rugby World Cup, the Brits all got knocked out by the time the semi-finals came around.  But, the two nations whose national flags involve the Union Jack (for the time being anyway), Australia and New Zealand (England’s flag is the red and white flag of St George), were the two finalists.  So, the Union Jack triumphed, even if the nation that originated it did not.

So, I am now always on the lookout for Union Jacks, especially when the colours are being played with.  The shape is wonderful, I think, but the colours can get repetitious and they come alive when altered somewhat.

And today, I found just such a Union Jack, in a shop, in Tottenham court Road.  I went in and photoed it, several times.  Nobody objected, or tried to sell me furniture.  Or even to sell me the Union Jack that I was photoing.  I just did my photos, and also a few others of cat cushions, and then made my exit.

image imageimage image

If you look at a mirror, you tend to see yourself.  If you photograph a mirror, you tend to photo yourself taking a photo, unless you are a Real Photographer.  I am not, even if one of the above photos does exclude me.

£149 is what this mirror would cost you.

As I type this, Simon Schama is concluding his TV series about The Face of Britain, the final episode being entitled “The Face in the Mirror”.  He is doing selfies, or “self-portraits” as they have mostly been known, until now.  I expect that we will be shown regular folks posing with their selfie sticks, right at the end.

No.  No selfie sticks.  Instead: Gormleys.  I photoed Gormleys, way back, in London.  Schama had them photoed at the seaside.