Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Simon Gibbs on Wedding photography (4): Preparations
6000 on Bookshops as Amazon showrooms
Darren on Bookshops as Amazon showrooms
Michael Jennings on Wedding photography (2): Signs
MarkR on Feynman Diagrams on the Feynman van
MNB Achari on Google Nexus 4 photos
MNB Achari on The ups and downs of English
Robert Hale on Feynman Diagrams on the Feynman van
Laurence Sheldon on Bookshops as Amazon showrooms
Bryn Braughton on Bookshops as Amazon showrooms
Most recent entries
- Wedding photography (4): Preparations
- Bookshops as Amazon showrooms
- Reflections on a strange coincidence involving an Android app and a malfunctioning bus stop sign
- Feynman Diagrams on the Feynman van
- Rothko Toast
- Wedding photography (3): Technology as sculpture
- And another posting from my smartphone
- Posted from my new smartphone
- Google Nexus 4 photos
- Wedding photography (2): Signs
- Wedding photography (1): The superbness of the weather
- A Fleet Street lunch
- So painters also used to “take” pictures
- Funniest run out ever?
- Shadow photography
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Category archive: Economics
Last night I attended a book launch, of two books, one by Madsen Pirie, and the other by J. P. Floru.
I took lots of photos, but literally just the one came out half decently. All the rest were too blurry.
So, what was special about this one? Seriously, see if you can work it out:
That’s J. P Floru, looking up for the cameras while signing a copy of his book. There’s a clue there.
I hope to be saying more about Floru’s book at Samizdata, Real Soon Now, but I promise nothing.
Ripple: me quoting Madsen Pirie, here.
Another ripple: the ASI quoting me, here.
The ASI seems happy, despite the delay.
LATER: Madsen Pirie quoting me, here.
Back to regular, occasional blogging, following my mad Thursday Odyssey (see the previous dozen or more postings below).
The marginal cost of digital photography is zero, which means that all sorts of people will find all sorts of further uses for their digital cameras, once they have them for some old fashioned reason like taking holiday photographs to bore their neighbours or blog readers with, or because they have a mobile phone which has a camera anyway.
Like photoing food. Or like photoing people who are photoing food.
These people photoing food are described as “hipsters”. But are they? They just look like people to me.
It’s something we will all be seeing rather a lot of, quite soon. Empty premises, very near to where I live. These premises may be full again soon, although whether profitably is another matter. In other such spaces the owners will have given up, which will be an equally common sight, and I fear, as the years go by, more common. No more bright lights and shiny floors. No more windows you can see through.
Meanwhile, nice reflections. Of the lights in the shiny floor and, in the window I was photo-ing through, of the buildings opposite. It’s the kind of photo that looks very different when small, because you cannot tell what on earth it is. It accordingly becomes an abstract.
Or perhaps you thought it was a swimming pool (maybe upside down?), with lights to mark the swimming lanes. Click to see what is actually happening.
LATER: Just noticed, top right, me.
... I have just posted a piece on how to attach Austrianist answers to un-Austrianist questions.
Whenever, of a Friday, I go looking for cat news, there is always plenty.
Pride of place today goes to the news that the New York shooter loved his two cats. But, it is now argued, by some different scientists to the scientists who argued the opposite, that he can’t have caught brain cancer from his cats, because that doesn’t happen. Good to know. But, you might be driven by your cats to commit suicide. How about murder?
On the other hand, Cats that pester for food could be suffering from psychological condition. Yes. They’re cats.
News of a cat that is making itself useful: Cat opens new excavator plant in Texas. That must have been something to see. What did the cat say? Did it just chuck a champagne bottle against the side of the excavator plant? Is there video of this?
Next up, the encouraging news that M12 Cat 6A connector system delivers signal integrity up to 10Gbps.
And, in Israel, new born and very rare (apparently) sand kittens, like this one:
I actually don’t think the one on the right is very good. The cat connection is imposed, not explained.
On the evening of August 3rd, i.e. in just over a week’s time, there will be a talk at my home, on the subject of Bitcoin, given by Frank Braun. Arrive any time after 7pm. Talk begins 8pm. Informal socialising from 9.30pm until late.
Frank Braun has provided the following biographical notes:
Frank Braun is a libertarian computer scientist who got interested in Bitcoin about two years ago due to its potential to increase personal liberty. He works as an IT security consultant and is sometimes getting paid in Bitcoin. He is a strong privacy proponent and cannot be found on Facebook.
Which might have something to do with why he preferred me not to include a picture of him in this posting.
Concerning his Bitcoin talk, Frank Braun writes this:
In this talk an introduction to Bitcoin will be given: how it works, its key innovations and limitations, and how it can enhance personal liberty right now and in the near future.
Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer (decentralized) digital currency which became public in 2009. It uses digital signatures and cryptographic proof so as to enable users to conduct irreversible, pseudonymous transactions without relying on trust.
It is mostly unregulated, not controlled by state agencies, and is heavily influenced by ideas from counter-economics and cryptoanarchy.
Currently there are 9.5 million Bitcoin in circulation (a Bitcoin is worth around 6 British Pounds) and an ecosystem of legitimate (exchangers, eBay like marketplaces, and many small merchants) and illegitimate (for example, the underground drug market place Silk Road) businesses has developed around it. It will be discussed what Bitcoin means practically for Libertarians and how it relates theoretically to the Austrian theory of money.
My home is not a big place, and it is possible that more people will want to attend than I can accommodate, so please email me (at Brian At BrianMicklethwait Dot Com) if you want to attend, good an early. My guess is that all who wish to attend will fit in, but that’s only a guess. I will then email back with my address, and further details of the evening.
I just attached this comment to a Samizdata posting about Bjorn Lomborg. I don’t want to forget about it, so it also goes here.
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.
Which is why the global catastrophe was fabricated. The whole point of the Catastrophic bit in Catastrophic AGW is to render economics, business, capitalism etc (Lomborgism you might say), pointless.
And Lomborg has spent his life ignoring that bit of the argument, that bit being the bit that matters by far the most.
As it happens, the Catastrophists are now losing (on the science), which is why they are switching back to gibbering on about “sustainability”, or even more ridiculously, shortages of this or that. In short, they are moving back to the territory where Lomborg and all the rest of us will defeat them with ease, again. But Lomborg himself has contributed nothing to this intellectual victory. He has merely confused things somewhat, by implying that this is all about regular economics. It is not. It is about whether regular economics now applies to the world, or not.
I would be interested to know if commenters who know Lomborg’s writings better than I do think that these are accurate prejudices.
One of many reasons to keep this blog going is if I find myself enthusing about someone or something rather too much to accommodate it all on Samizdata. Too many photos of one event. Too much cricket.
Well, now I find that I have too much enthusiasm for Steve Baker MP. Had I not already done two SBMP Samizdata postings last Friday and last Sunday, this at Baker’s own site would have had me doing another.
I recall being at the Evans home on the night of the last general election. The only thing Tim Evans cared about - the only thing - was whether Baker won or lost. Thank goodness he won. I had never heard of this man until that night.
On Saturday I went to St Paul’s Cathedral, front of, to hear Kevin Dowd and Gordon Kerr address the Occupy St Paul’s people. In the event I head very little of what they said, Kerr having been and gone before I even got there. But I was very impressed that they did it.
If my time at Occupy St Paul’s was anything to go by, it has all been thoroughly domesticated. Somebody is definitely in charge of this thing, and with a combination of threats and negotiation, a stand-off agreeable to all has been achieved. There is no sense of impending violence. Nobody yelled at me when I wondered about in among the tents, taking photos. Nobody yelled at Kevin or Gordon for spouting Austrian Economics.
Click at will for the big pictures.
My usual preoccupations are in evidence. There are many signs. There are, of course, digital photographers, because I was not the only one taking photos. Many were just photo-ing St Paul’s.
The bloke in the cap taking photos is Nigel Meek, the Editorial and Membership Director of the Libertarian Alliance, who apparently showed up as a result of that Samizdata posting (already linked to above) that I did flagging this up. Afterwards (he told me later) he went out drinking with Kevin and Gordon and had a great afternoon of it.
If this demo is anything to go by, the tent makers have done a good trade.
Incoming (click to get it slightly bigger) from Michael Jennings, taken during his recent expedition to China.
Which seems to have been very interesting. I have already urged him to write it up, or down if that is preferable, at greater length.
I love what James Tooley has been doing with his life, namely telling the world about how the world’s poor are now getting themselves educated. The world’s poor are not getting education from their governments. They are purchasing it from their fellow citizens.
This is Tooley’s description of how he got started learning about this global educational miracle, and triumph of the free market economy. It’s from his book The Beautiful Tree (Chapter 1, pp. 3-7):
After a stint teaching philosophy of education at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa, I returned to England to complete my doctorate and later became a professor of education. Thanks to my experiences in sub-Saharan Africa and my modest but respectable academic reputation, I was offered a commission by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation to study private schools in a dozen developing countries.
The lure of faraway places was too enticing to resist, but I was troubled by the project itself. Although I was to study private schools in developing countries, those schools were serving the middle classes and the elite. Despite my lifelong desire to help the poor, I’d somehow wound up researching bastions of privilege.
The first leg of the trip began in New York in January 2000. As if to reinforce my misgivings that the project would do little for the poor, I was flown first class to London in the inordinate luxury of the Concorde. Forty minutes into the flight, as we cruised at twice the speed of sound and two miles above conventional air traffic, caviar and champagne were served. The boxer Mike Tyson (sitting at the front with a towel over his head for much of the journey) and singer George Michael were on the same flight. I felt lost.
From London it was on to Delhi, Chennai, and Mumbai. By day, I evaluated five-star private schools and colleges that were very definitely for the privileged. By night, I was put up in unbelievably salubrious and attentive five-star hotels. But in the evenings, sitting and chatting with street children outside these very same hotels, I wondered what effect any of my work could have on the poor, whose desperate needs I saw all around me. I didn’t just want my work to be a defense of privilege. The middle-class Indians, I felt, were wealthy already. To me it all seemed a bit of a con: just because they were in a “poor” country, they were able to latch onto this international assistance even though they as individuals had no pressing need for it at all. I didn’t like it, but as I returned to my room and lay on the 500-thread-count Egyptian-cotton sheets, my discomfort with the program was forced to compete with a mounting sense of self-criticism.
Then one day, everything changed. Arriving in Hyderabad to evaluate brand-new private colleges at the forefront of India’s hi-tech revolution, I learned that January 26th was Republic Day, a national holiday. Left with some free time, I decided to take an autorickshaw - the three-wheeled taxis ubiquitous in India - from my posh hotel in Banjara Hills to the Charminar, the triumphal arch built at the center of Muhammad Quli Shah’s city in 1591. My Rough Guide to India described it as Hyderabad’s “must see” attraction, and also warned that it was situated in the teeming heart of the Old City slums. That appealed tome. I wanted to see the slums for myself.
As we traveled through the middle-class suburbs, I was struck by the ubiquity of private schools. Their signboards were on every street corner, some on fine specially constructed school buildings, but others grandly posted above shops and offices. Of course, it was nothing more than I’d been led to expect from my meetings in India already - senior government officials had impressed me with their candor when they told me it was common knowledge that even the middle classes were all sending their children to private schools. They all did themselves. But it was still surprising to see how many there were.
We crossed the bridge over the stinking ditch that is the once-proud River Musi. Here were autorickshaws in abundance, cattle-drawn carts meandering slowly with huge loads of hay, rickshaws agonizingly peddled by painfully thin men. Cars were few, but motorbikes and scooters ("two-wheelers") were everywhere - some carried whole families (the largest child standing in front; the father at the handlebars; his wife, sitting sidesaddle in her black burka or colorful sari, holding a baby, with another small child wedged in between). There were huge trucks brightly painted in lively colors. There were worn-out buses, cyclists, and everywhere pedestrians,
whose cavalier attitude toward the traffic unnerved me as they stepped in front of us seemingly without a care in the world. From every vehicle came the noise of horns blaring - the drivers seemed to ignore their mirrors, if they had them at all. Instead, it seemed to be the responsibility of the vehicle behind to indicate its presence to the vehicle in front. This observation was borne out by the legend on the back of the trucks, buses, and autorickshaws, “Please Horn!” The noise of these horns was overwhelming: big, booming, deafening horns of the buses and trucks, harsh squealing horns from the autorickshaws. It’s the noise that will always represent India for me.
All along the streets were little stores and workshops in makeshift buildings - from body shops to autorickshaw repair shops, women washing clothes next to paan (snack) shops, men building new structures next to the stalls of market vendors, tailors next to a drugstore, butchers and bakers, all in the same small hovel-like shops, dark and grimy, a nation of shopkeepers. Beyond them all rose the 400-year-old Charminar.
My driver let me out, and told me he’d wait for an hour, but then called me back in a bewildered tone as I headed not to the Charminar but into the back streets behind. No, no, I assured him, this is where I was going, into the slums of the Old City. For the stunning thing about the drive was that private schools had not thinned out as we went from one of the poshest parts of town to the poorest. Everywhere among the little stores and workshops were little private schools! I could see handwritten signs pointing to them even here on the edge of the slums. I was amazed, but also confused: why had no one I’d worked with in India told me about them?
I left my driver and turned down one of the narrow side streets, getting quizzical glances from passers-by as I stopped underneath a sign for Al Hasnath School for Girls. Some young men were serving at the bean-and-vegetable store adjacent to a little alleyway leading to the school. I asked them if anyone was at the school today, and of course the answer was no for it was the national holiday. They pointed me to an alleyway immediately opposite, where a hand-painted sign precariously supported on the first floor of a three-story building advertised “Students Circle High School & Institute: Registered by the Gov’t of AP.” “Someone might be there today,” they helpfully suggested.
I climbed the narrow, dark staircase at the back of the building and met a watchman, who told me in broken English to come back tomorrow. As I exited, the young men at the bean-and-vegetable counter hailed me and said there was definitely someone at the Royal Grammar School just nearby, and that it was a very good private school and I should visit. They gave me directions, and I bade farewell. But I became muddled by the multiplicity of possible right turns down alleyways followed by sharp lefts, and so asked the way of a couple of fat old men sitting alongside a butcher shop.
Their shop was the dirtiest thing I had ever seen, with entrails and various bits and pieces of meat spread out on a mucky table over which literally thousands of flies swarmed. The stench was terrible. No one else seemed the least bit bothered by it. They immediately understood where I wanted to go and summoned a young boy who was headed in the opposite direction to take me there. He agreed without demur, and we walked quickly, not talking at all as he spoke no English. In the next street, young boys played cricket with stones as wickets and a plastic ball. One of them called me
over, to shake my hand. Then we turned down another alleyway (with more boys playing cricket between makeshift houses outside of which men bathed and women did their laundry) and arrived at the Royal Grammar School, which proudly advertised, “English Medium, Recognised by the Gov’t of AP.” The owner, or “correspondent” as I soon came to realize he was called in Hyderabad, was in his tiny office. He enthusiastically welcomed me. Through that chance meeting, I was introduced to the warm, kind, and quietly charismatic Mr. Fazalur Rahman Khurrum and to a huge network of private schools in the slums and low-income areas of the Old City. The more time I spent with him, the more I realized that my expertise in private education might after all have something to say about my concern for the poor.
Khurrum was the president of an association specifically set up to cater to private schools serving the poor, the Federation of Private Schools’ Management, which boasted a membership of over 500 schools, all serving low-income families. Once word got around that a foreign visitor was interested in seeing private schools, Khurrum was inundated with requests for me to visit. I spent as much time as I could over the next 10 days or so with Khurrum traveling the length and breadth of the Old City, in between doing my work for the International Finance Corporation in the new city. We visited nearly 50 private schools in some of the poorest parts of town, driving endlessly down narrow streets to schools whose owners were apparently anxious to meet me. (Our rented car was a large white Ambassador - the Indian vehicle modeled on the old British Morris Minor, proudly used by government officials when an Indian flag on the hood signified the importance of its user - horn blaring constantly, as much to signify our own importance as to get children and animals out of the way.) There seemed to be a private school on almost every street corner, just as in the richer parts of the city. I visited so many, being greeted at narrow entrances by so many students, who marched me into tiny playgrounds, beating their drums, to a seat in front of the school, where I was welcomed in ceremonies officiated by senior students, while school managers garlanded me with flowers, heavy, prickly, and sticky around my neck in the hot sun, which I bore stoically as I did the rounds of the classrooms.
So many private schools, some had beautiful names, like Little Nightingale’s High School, named after Sarogini Naidu, a famous “freedom fighter” in the 1940s, known by Nehru as the “Little Nightingale” for her tender English songs. Or Firdaus Flowers Convent School, that is, “flowers of heaven.” The “convent” part of the name puzzled me at first, as did the many names such as St. Maria’s or St. John’s. It seemed odd, since these schools were clearly run by Muslims - indeed, for a while I fostered the illusion that these saints and nuns must be in the Islamic tradition too. But no, the names were chosen because of the connotations to parents - the old Catholic and Anglican schools were still viewed as great schools in the city, so their religious names were borrowed to signify quality to the parents. But did they really deliver a quality education? I needed to find out.
Says Anthony Watts:
If there’s one speech about the climate debate worth reading in your lifetime, this is it.
Arguments can be placed along a spectrum. At one end there are arguments which hinge on people understand just one simple chain of logic. Many other things, which seem to matter, don’t. It’s not complicated. Are you older than me or younger? If we know both our birthdays, there’s our answer. Which of us merely looks older, for whatever complicated reasons involving the look of our bodies or the sound of our voices or the colour of our hair, can be set aside, if we have the dates of birth to compare. Your birthday comes before mine, therefore you are older. Simple.
But other arguments are complicated. No one little bit of logic clinches things. The things being argued about are complicated, and the number of different considerations involved in the argument, all of them significant, are similarly complicated. Climate is complicated. The case for not getting excited about C(atastrophic) A(nthorpogenic) G(lobal) W(arming), and in particular not in the ways now being recommended to and inflicted upon the world, is complicated.
Ridley’s summary of the case for climate skepticism is the best I have yet read. As long as it has to be, but as short as it can be. Understandable to the intelligent layman, and especially to the non-climate scientist.
I believe that the argument against CAGW has long been won. But news of this victory has been slow to circulate amongst the wider public. This lecture could change that. And the number of comments accumulating at Bishop Hill and WUWT proves that I am not the only one who feels this way about it. Thank you Ridley, for speaking our minds so well.
Watching this video of Gary Johnson spelling out his policies more than ever convinces me that I’m going to be backing Gary Johnson for President of the USA absolutely until he stops being a candidate, and becomes either a private citizen or President of the USA.
Nor do I totally rule out him becoming President of the USA. You think I’m mad? So are the times we now live in. In normal times, no chance. No chance at all. Absolutely none whatsoever. But Johnson is the only one now talking about radical and immediate government spending cuts in the face of possible currency catastrophe, which he is not frightened to describe, very vividly. All the others are frightened of being too frightening. What if a lot of people suddenly decide that Johnson is right, or worse, suddenly discover that he’s right. He could be the only one left standing.
Herman Cain looks better than the rest of the rest, and if Johnson does fail to get the nomination, as all well-informed observers who read this may soon be telling me he definitely will (will fail, to get the nomination, that is), I may then switch to Cain. But only when I have to.
The intriguing thing, for me, about Cain is that he used to work at the Federal Reserve and then worked for a bank. He knows how the evil government/bank machine at the heart of all our woes actually ticks over, or presumably he does. That makes him far better placed to put a stop to it and set up a different and better system on the ruins of the old one. That’s if he wants to.
But, only Johnson is talking now about the possibility of such ruins, although maybe other candidates have said such things and I missed it.
I see that there are today a couple of postings up at Samizdata of particular relevance to things I have already written about here, both concerning the USA.
First, there are pictures taken by Dale Amon of the Freedom Tower, rising up in New York out of the ruins of the old Twin Towers. I showed a fake photo of that here. Dale’s photos are of the actual thing itself, and of its neighbour edifices.
Second, you may recall that I decided to choose which US Presidential candidate I liked best, and the last time I talked about this was when I said I still prefer Gary Johnson to the Other Perry (i.e. Candidate Perry as opposed to Samizdata Perry). Well, this posting links to Diana Hsieh saying much the same, mostly by quoting from this magazine article. So, I am encouraged to stick with Johnson. If you say, oh but he can’t win, I say that we now live in very interesting times in the worst possible sense of that phrase, and a Presidential candidate who one week looks all calm and presidential and oozing centre appeal might in a matter of only a few more weeks look like he has no idea what is happening or what to do about it. Johnson wants seriously to cut federal spending. This is, I think, going to happen. What if my opinion about just how interesting the times now are comes to be shared quite soon by many more?
In times like these, it makes sense to vote how you actually think, and how you wish everyone else thought. Don’t be clever, because, during seriously interesting times such as these times are, clever is liable to disappear up its own rear end. Keep it simple. Be wise.