Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Category archive: Economics

Tuesday March 28 2017

I just got back from an ASI event, where Mark Pennington was talking about Equality, “acceptable” and “unacceptable”.  It turns out, surprise surprise, that ASI type neo-liberalism does it best!  How about that!

Seriously though, it was a good talk, very well attended and very well received:

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What interested me, as much as what Mark Pennington said, was how he looked:

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And how he looked was like a cross between Ralf Fiennes and Jonny Depp.  To be exact, Ralf Fiennes‘s facial features, and shortened version of Jonny Depp’s famous Cry-Baby hairstyle.  With a touch of Morrissey thrown in.

Now you may say, what does it matter how a libertarian professor merely looks?  My answer: it matters, if he happens to look quite good.

Thursday February 02 2017

I love signs.  So tedious to copy in writing.  So easy to photo.  And I was photoing signs yesterday, at Victoria Station.

Here are two of those signs that go well together:

imageimage

I was just about to stick these up late last night, but discovered that BMdotcom was malfunctioning.

This is not the kind of sign I love to see, when trying to add stuff to this blog, or for that matter just to look at this blog:

MySQL ERROR:

Error Number: 1194

Description: Table ‘exp_throttle’ is marked as crashed and should be repaired

Query: SELECT hits, locked_out, last_activity FROM exp_throttle WHERE ip_address= ‘91.84.14.3’

But, as you can see, it’s now sorted.  Unless you can’t see and it isn’t.

And until the next time something like this happens.  Partly because of such cock-ups, I am, thinking of doing what all other bloggers who still exist did long ago, and switching to Wordpress, which The Guru also suggested.  Comments on the wisdom of that from other gurus would be very welcome.

Meanwhile, while waiting for sanity to be reasserted here, I did a Samizdata posting, entitled Brexit has unified the Conservative Party and divided Labour.  It has.

Tuesday January 31 2017

Africa is big, and Africa’s rivers don’t help in cutting these huge distances down to size.

More from Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography (p. 119):

Most of the continent’s rivers also pose a problem, as they begin in high land and descend in abrupt drops which thwart navigation. For example, the mighty Zambezi may be Africa’s fourth-longest river, running for 1,600 miles, and may be a stunning tourist attraction with its white-water rapids and the Victoria Falls, but as a trade route it is of little use. It flows through six countries, dropping from 4,900 feet to sea level when it reaches the Indian Ocean in Mozambique. Parts of it are navigable by shallow boats, but these parts do not interconnect, thus limiting the transportation of cargo.

Unlike in Europe, which has the Danube and the Rhine, this drawback has hindered contact and trade between regions - which in turn affected economic development, and hindered the formation of large trading regions. The continent’s great rivers, the Niger, the Congo, the Zambezi, the Nile and others, don’t connect and this disconnection has a human factor.  Whereas huge areas of Russia, China and the USA speak a unifying language which helps trade, in Africa thousands of languages exist and no one culture emerged to dominate areas of similar size. Europe, on the other hand, was small enough to have a ‘lingua franca’ through which to communicate, and a landscape that encouraged interaction.

I’m guessing that Africa’s famed natural resources (although not of the mineral sort – those natural resources just suck in thieving foreigners) also helped to split the population up into lots of little enclaves, by making it possible for quite small communities to be economically self-sufficient.  Not very self-sufficient, as in rich, but sufficiently self-sufficient not to die out but instead to keep ticking over.

Saturday January 28 2017

I am always banging on about my collection of photos, but my collection of books is also, in some cases, becoming a bit interesting.  Here, for instance, is a bit from a book that was published in 1980, by Peter Laurie, called The Micro Revolution. (pp.202-204)

Industrial predictions

At the time of writing (early 1979) the microprocessor was much discussed and many people were asking what it would do to industry and employment. My own ideas, for what they are worth, are presented here and there through this book; at this point it might be worth summarizing a study by the American management consultancy firm of Arthur D. Little Inc, which was carried out between 1976 and 1978, cost $2 million to perform and whose detailed results are available for $35,000 a copy.

The survey looked at the USA, Britain, France and Germany. It predicted that by 1987 - that is, in seven years time - the annual market for products incorporating microprocessors will be worth $30 thousand million. If computers are added. ‘It appears that by the end of the next decade every citizen of a developed country will spend an average of £100 a year on microprocessors.’

In more detail, the prediction was that American cars would be forced by strict legislation on pollution standards to install micros to control ignition and carburettion. In Europe, where people are less fussy, this development would lag. But in all countries, micros would be widely used for information and entertainment in the car.

It is predicted that the home market will be the largest, with something like 400 million intelligent units a year worth $50 each being sold in 1987.  Micros will be used in many different products - we have already talked about the entertainment-communications-computer unit which will look like a TV set with a computer added. There will also be all sorts of intelligent toys, kitchen gadgets, security systems, gardening devices.

In the office there will be a large sale for text processing, facsimile and copying machines, electronic telephones, dictating systems and communication processors. If the Post Offices provide data highways to match, this will result in the ‘virtual city’ described in chapter 9.

Industrial systems will be slower to incorporate micros (a) because they differ one from another and it is not easy to mass produce equipment for this market; and (b) because what is used has to be extremely reliable - and only time can prove that.

Arthur D. Little predicts that micros will generate 400,000 extra jobs in Europe in firms making, installing and servicing equipment incorporating them. It is inescapable that if microprocessors are widely used they will increase material wealth. However, they will also put a lot of people out of work, and there is no guarantee that these people will be easily, or indeed ever, retrained for new jobs. In fact the whole thing looks like producing considerable industrial dislocation; because along with the people who will not be needed there will go a tremendous shortage of people who are needed.  As early as 1979, my eighteen-year-old son, with only school computing and three months of work on microdevelopment behind him, was offered £300 a week to work in Holland. GEC said recently that they alone could employ every British electronics graduate. There is no doubt that over the next ten years anyone who can pass himself off as understanding the micro will be in great demand, and will be able to make large amounts of money in exploiting his talents.

For this decade at least there are going to be wonderful opportunities for intelligent and independent people. The classical example is young Wozniak who, in 1976, at the age of 21, with his friend Steve, set to work in his parents’ California garage to build a microcomputer. ‘I sold my calculator and Steve sold his van and we used the money to hire a printed circuit artist to layout the boards.’ In 1979 Wozniak, now 23, and the employer of 200 people was planning to ship $75 million worth of his APPLE computers.

Wednesday January 25 2017

At the end of the latest round of English Premier League football games (everyone has now played 22 games (out of 38, yes?)), the top six in the Premier League are, as of now, in order from the top: Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs, Liverpool, Man City, Man U.

When was the last time the top three Premier League spots were all London?  And when were both the Manchester clubs last outside the top four?  Well, maybe one or both of those things happened quite a few times very recently, but my point is, either very recently (as part of the same thing as is happening right now) or: never.  I’m guessing.  Corrective comments welcome.

Arsenal have recently built themselves a brand new stadium, and now Spurs and Chelsea are both doing the same.  Once all the confusions associated with the custom-built headquarters syndrome have calmed down, these erections will surely cement London’s Premier League supremacy.  Although it has to be said that Arsenal have perhaps punched below their new economic weight in recent seasons.

London is also, if you are a highly paid footballer, an ever more amusing and better connected place to live in, provided you can handle all the drama and excitement and combine that with continuing to be a good footballer.  Maybe Arsenal’s problem has been that their players haven’t coped with these pressures very well.  So. and contrary to my title and my earlier thoughts, will Chelsea and Spurs actually do less well once their new places are in place?

Wednesday December 07 2016

It always surprises me when people don’t take pictures of events that they themselves organise.  Me included by the way.  I have a friend who kindly takes photos at my events whenever he attends them, because I mostly forget to, and I’m guessing others do too.  This being the kind of obvious but small error that people make when they are stressed.

Which is maybe why this IEA guy, who saw me taking photos at this IEA centenary event in honour of Arthur Seldon, last night, asked me if I could send him a few of my photos.

Here are the seven photos I will be sending him.

The first one sets the scene, but also highlights a problem, which is that these days, at speaker meetings, there is usually a bright screen, while the speaker is - or (as in this case) the speakers are - in something more like darkness:

image

On the left there, Martin Anderson.  On the right, Patrick Minford.  Take my word for it.

But I did get a few half decent shots of speakers speaking, or listening to other speakers speaking:

imageimageimage
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Top left: Peter Seldon, Arthur’s on.  Top right: Richard Wellings.  Bottom left: Linda Whetstone, speaking from the floor.  Bottom right: Patrick Minford, again.

Finally, my two favourite photos of the night, both of Martin Anderson.  And of his magnificent giant shirt:

imageimageimage

I did attempt some crowd shots, but they didn’t come out at all well.  Shame, because there was quite a crowd.

I also tried photoing the video camera and its operator.  That also failed to come out right, but at least there was a video camera present, so presumably those who did not attend will be able eventually to listen in on what was actually quite an upbeat event.

You know you are getting old when instead of just attending funerals of people whom you knew, you attend celebrations of people who were born one hundred years ago, whom you also knew.

More about Seldon and his colossal impact here.  There is also a photo of him there.  Shame there wasn’t a photo of him on that big screen.

Saturday November 26 2016

From the BBC updates on the Scotland v Georgia rugby game at Murrayfield this afternoon:

Scotland have really struggled against the Georgian scum in the second-half.

Hastily corrected to “scrum”.  Should have done a screen capture.  As it is, you just have to take my word for it.

Actually Georgia is a great place.  It recently came sixth in the world in one of those economic freedom charts, as I mentioned in passing in this posting

LATER: Oh dear.  Not Murrayfield.  Kilmarnock.  Whenever you moan about someone else’s error, you make an error.  It’s inevitable.

Thursday November 03 2016

I have just done a rather belated posting at Samzidata about a talk given there a week ago, at which I was present and at which I attempted photos.  At Samizdata, I grumbled about the light for photoing the speaker, but showed one of my less bad efforts.  I rejoiced that there was also present an internally lit screen, and showed one of those photos.  Here is another such:

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Smith wins, of course.  Marx’s prophecies were clearly wrong, even while he was still alive and pretending otherwise.

Sunday September 04 2016

Indeed:

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Nowadays, footbridges tend only to spring to life and to try to be entertaining to walk across, rather than just functional, when water is involved.  But as the world’s economy slows and big new bridge projects become scarcer, I believe we can expect many more smaller and hitherto more mundane bridges to be similarly “designed” rather than just built.  Like this one in Beersheba, which is over some railway tracks.

Friday June 24 2016

LATER: I was, see below, tired and tipsy when I did this posting.  By the above title what I meant was it was a brilliant talk, not that the talk was given by “Brilliant Brian”, aka me.  So, to continue ...

And here is the guy who gave it:

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I usually forget to take photos at my Last Friday of the Month meetings, but this evening I remembered, and took that photo of my speaker, during the socialising afterwards.  I am too tired and too tipsy to say much about the talk, but it was indeed brilliant, and Anthony J. Evans is a real rising star.  I’ve heard him talk before, but this was something else again.  Basic message: Yes, national crises do create opportunities to insert “neo-liberalism” into countries, and a good thing too.  Persuading a political tyranny to liberalise on the economic front often leads on to political liberalisation.  Example: Chile.  “Neo-liberalism” has good outcomes.  Unlike the policies favoured by the people (Naomi Klein, George Monbiot) who complain about neo-liberalism, which only unleash disaster.

Wednesday June 01 2016

Libertarian Home needs an intro for Mark Littlewood, for a publication they’re doing.  Here is a quick profile of Littlewood by me, which I hope may be of some use to LH.

imageMark Littlewood is the Director of the Institute of Economic Affairs.  There was a time, not so long ago, when the IEA seemed doomed to obscurity or worse.  But Littlewood has put in place and now leads a strong team of free market activists, strong on both the academic and media fronts, thus raising the profile of free market ideas both now and in the longer term future.

That may suffice, but here is more, if needed, of a slightly more personal sort.

Of particular note is Littlewood’s appointment of Stephen Davies and Christiana Hambro, in the area of student and young academic outreach. (Stephen Davies addressed Libertarian Home not long after his IEA appointment.)

When Littlewood was first appointed, I was not optimistic about the IEA, but then I heard him speak about his new job, and I became much more hopeful about the IEA’s future.  That optimism has not abated.

Hope that helps and is not too late.

Monday May 16 2016

Today I attended Deirdre McCloskey’s talk for the Adam Smith Institute.  I know what you’re thinking.  Okay, okay, photos, as per usual.  But: What did she say? Fine.  Go here, and you can find out.  What I can find no link to is any information about the event – when, where, and so on.  It’s all now gone.  Maybe it was never there in the first place.

But the Man from the Adam Smith Institute told me to send in some of my snaps, and these are the ones I sent them:

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McCloskey’s basic point was what is rapidly becoming the libertarian orthodoxy, to the effect that (a) the world started getting humungously rich in or around 1780 (Yaron Brook‘s preferred date for this is 1776 (to coincide with America starting and Smith’s Wealth of Nation’s getting published)), and (b) we did this.  Our enemies tried to stop us and they failed.  We know how to make poor people rich, and we’ve been doing it ever since.  Our enemies only know how to make rich people less rich and poor people more poor.  Bastards.

My recent favourite example of enrichment is a very tiny one offered at today’s talk by McCloskey, which is that you can now use your smartphone as a mirror.  Better yet, McCloskey said, before the talk she was giving, she spotted Steve Baker MP doing this exact thing with his smartphone, while perfecting his appearance prior to doing his MP socialising bit.

The reason I particularly like this is that I just recently learned about this trick myself, when I saw someone doing it, and took a photo of it:

If you photo someone looking in a mirror, they can see their face, but you can’t.  (Unless it’s a crap movie, in which case the audience sees the face and the person with the face doesn’t.  I know.  Ridiculous.  But this is truly what often happens.) But, if you photo someone using their smartphone as a mirror, both you and they can see their face.

Thus:

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McCloskey’s point was that enrichment doesn’t only come in the form of more money, but also in the form of the ever more amazing things that you can buy with your money.  Like a phone that is also a NASA circa 1968 supercomputer.  And a face mirror.

Finally, here are a couple more photography-related photos.  On the left is the official photographer for the McCloskey talk:

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And on the right there is a photo which I also took at the venue for the McCloskey talk, which I will not name, because the people in charge of this place might then learn of this blog posting and see this picture and then who the hell knows what might happen?  Are you wondering what I am talking about?  Click on the picture and work it out.  I only realised what I had photoed after I had got home.

Saturday May 14 2016

Today I attended the Libertarian Home Benevolent Laissez-Faire Conference.  Here is the text of the opening speech by conference organiser Simon Gibbs.  And here is a selection of the photos I took, of the event and of the speakers:

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Conference programme here.

1.1: An attender.  1.2: The venue, very good, with a big side window looking out to a small basement level garden.  1.3: Syed Kamall.  1.4 and 2.1: Janina Lowisz and one of her slides.  2.2, 2.3 and 2.4: Julio Alejandro.  3.1: Simon Gibbs and Yaron Brook.  3.2: Brook.  3.3: Kyril and Rob helping with the books.  3.4: LH info, lit up by the afternoon sun through the window.  4.1: Anton Howes.  4.2: Howes and Brook.  4.3 and 4.4: Gibbs, Alejandro, Howes, Brook.

Thursday April 14 2016

Pyjama bottoms have a way of disintegrating.  And just lately I have been having other problems (I will say no more than that) with pyjama bottoms.  The night before last I had to wear short pants in bed, like an American sitcom actor just after having had sex, and last night I cranked up the hot water bottle.  It’s amazing what a difference just swapping proper length pyjama bottoms for the same thing but with no legs.

So the question was: laundrette, or Primark.  Wash the two remaining pyjama bottoms, one of which had gone missing, or: buy some more pyjamas at Primark.  I couldn’t face laundretting, so Primark it was.  Earlier this evening, I staggered forth to Oxford Street.

In the tube on the way, I grumbled to myself about how I would be obliged to purchase yet more pyjama tops, to add to the already absurd number of such garments that I already possess.

Instead I encountered this:

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A pair of pyjama bottoms, as in two pyjama bottoms, and no pyjama tops.  I bought two large (L) and two extra large (XL).  The XL ones fit fine and I am wearing one of them now.  Extra large my arse!  Well, apparently so.

I feared that the merely large ones would be far too tight, but they’re okay.  I’m now wearing one of them.  A bit tight but okay, and the good news is that elastic expands when you wash it.

And all this for just twenty quid.  And no, I don’t feel bad about the terrible wages paid to the people who make such garments.  I remember winning this stupid argument way back in the seventies, when I was accused of keeping Hong Kongians poor by buying their cheap stuff.  What I was actually doing, as I knew at the time, was making them rich (which they now are), by bidding up the price of their labour.  And now I’m doing it again.

I tried to find these garments on the internet, but failed.  So I just did a photo.

Modern life is good in so many ways, but I really did not see this particular item of goodness coming.

I’ll add that the new Primark at the Centre Point end of Oxford Street, which I was sampling for the first time, was agreeably uncrowded, and generally less of a mad down-market scrimmage than the one near Marble Arch, at least whenever I’ve been there.

The above link gets you to a place that says it isn’t open yet, but it was open enough when I visited.  Maybe the fact that it was open but not yet Open explains why it was so quiet.  Maybe when these places officially Open, pandemonium rules from then on.

Thursday March 17 2016

Getting properly out and about again after my winter hibernation, as I did earlier this week to Victoria Park (it’s easier to scroll down past yesterday’s Gulf Stream posting than to follow those links), reminded me that there are other major viewing spots in London I have yet to check out.

Such as, for instance, this Big Thing:

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I have photoed this Thing many times, but have yet to actually visit the Thing.

Yes it’s Anish Kapoor’s Big Olympic Thing.  Now that all the Olympic fuss has died down, and most of the people who fancied visiting this Thing have visited it, and they’ve finally finished making it as good a Thing as they can, getting into this Thing and up this Thing and to the top of this Thing may finally be a buyer’s market, rather than a hell of queueing and crowding and barging.  I tried the website, to see if I could buy a ticket remotely.  But as so often with me, I couldn’t make it work.  So, I will go there this afternoon, and see if I can buy some kind of ticket, from a person.  If that doesn’t work, then I think I recall seeing a phone number I could ring.  I also seem to recall the webiste mentioning an Old Git season ticket for an entire year that costs hardly more than a single visit.  That would be great.  I do love to go back to places, after I have looked at the first lot of photos and worked out what I was actually photoing.

Whether they will sell me a ticket face-to-face or not, I will still get to check out the fascist expanses of the Olympic Park, or whatever it is they call the big pointless spaces outside the Olympic Stadium.

Part of the top of which is visible in the above photo, which I took from the footbridge at Hackney Wick Overground Station, on my recent trip.