Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
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6000 Miles from Civilisation
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Category archive: Brian Micklethwait podcasts
Crikey. Given how silly this has already become, so quickly, I have become filled with extreme pessimism about the survival of the Libertarian Alliance, in anything resembling the state it has been in for the last few decades. I shall continue downloading Libertarian Alliance .pdf files.
As for Paul Marks, now might be a good moment for me to say a bit in his favour. Sean Gabb is right that Paul Marks has a somewhat suicide-note-ish manner of writing. But Paul Marks is neither mad nor stupid. He is, however, because of his writing style, easily underestimated.
I underestimated him when I did an interview with him some months ago, very badly, as in I did it very badly. Paul was fine, or would have been had I done my bit. Basically, I assumed from his written style that he would also be a somewhat unsatisfactory talker, of the sort who would need jollying along. Sound editing on the fly, so to speak. Alas, what I thought was jollying along was experienced by most of those those listening as me relentlessly interrupting. What I should have done was shut up and let Paul talk, as several Samizdata commenters pointed out. Despite having known Paul for years, I simply had not realised how well and how persuasively he would talk. With intelligent editing, Paul Marks is also a pretty good writer, if a somewhat eccentric one. His judgements are respected by a lot of people.
A basic criticism of internet “radio” and “television” performers on the internet (i.e. people who record sound files and video files and shove them up on the www) is that they (we) go on too long compared to how significant they (we) are.
Do you really want to listen to these guys talking for over an hour? Well, you almost certainly don’t. (That it went on so long is why it took me so long to make myself put it up.) But if about one dozen people, worldwide, do listen, then something is accomplished. Maybe one of them will get a point he otherwise might not have, and then write about it or talk about it, not at offputting length, or in a longer thing that people actually want to listen to or read in decent numbers.
Don’t compare it only with Newsnight. Compare it with a conversation in a pub. Slightly more people get to hear it than that. It’s slightly more coherent than that. It’s recorded slightly better than that, what with it being recorded. The internet is improved pub conversation, not just “worse BBC” so to speak. And in many ways, of course, if the BBC is biased, the internet is “improved BBC”, even if it does go on rather.
All of which was provoked by this bit of YouTubery (which I found a link to here). It’s Hitchens telling (some of) a television audience that they are unthinking morons. My point being not so much the splendour of Hitchens’s little put-down of his putdownees; it is that clicking and watching and listening will only take you somewhat more than one minute. Here is a man many would want to watch and listen to at length, yet this is but a tasty little snippet of him.
Going back to how the internet is improved pub conversation, rather than just bad broadcasting: Public smoking is already illegal. Any decade now, public drinking will probably follow. So therefore pubs are now in the process of being made illegal. Lucky the internet came along, just in time, wasn’t it?
Or, was it merely lucky? Maybe, now there’s the internet, the people who might have fought the illegalisation of pubs to the death now don’t feel the need. The internet caused smoking and drinking bans, by diverting the opposition to them. Discuss. But not in a pub.
When I was rootling around at the website of the Cobden Centre, prior to writing this, I came across the words “Brian” and “Micklethwait”, clicked, and found my way to Cobden Centre Radio. It turns out that they have used the first interview I did with Toby Baxendale for their second show, and then the second interview I did with Toby Baxendale for their third show. They had of course asked me about doing this, and I, equally of course, said an immediate yes. But with things like this you never know for sure until it happens. How about that? I’m not sure it’s literally correct to categorise Cobden Centre Radio as “radio”, but I have done this anyway.
Maybe I can get Cobden Centre supremo Andy Duncan to tell me how to use my recording gadgets without getting totally confused. At present the only one I am any good at using is the hateful Sony confusaphone, hateful because it obliges you to go half way around the techno-world turning Sony files into a human (.mp3) files. I bought another machine which doesn’t have this problem, but it has another problem. It’s totally effing incomprehensible.
Earlier this year Toby Baxendale talked into my recording machine, with only occasional interruptions from me, about the banking crisis and what to do about it.
This happened before the recent general election, so apologies for the delay in sticking this up, but nothing important has changed. The delay was because the thing was rather long, and I hesitated about how to present it. In the end, I just sliced out some stuff, mostly at the beginning, and shoved it up. I’m guessing that the audience for this, some of it at least, will be willing to spend a bit of time on it. So, I left it at just over an hour, rather than cutting it any further. The crude timing of this two part conversation is that the “what do we do?” question is put just after the 38 minute mark.
Some of what I omitted was by way of biographical introduction about Toby. If you would like to know more about him, read this, or listen to the the first conversation that I recorded with him in November of last year.
Last Friday, i.e. on April 9th, I recorded a conversation with Tim Evans, friend of many years, libertarian (in fact President of the Libertarian Alliance) and free market think tanker of growing renown, about what David Cameron has been up to and what he thinks he is doing. It lasts a little over half an hour.
I introduced Tim’s words-to-be as in being opposition to those who say that Cameron is a waste of space and heading for disaster, of one kind or another, electoral or Prime Ministerial. He is a lightweight in a world that has become heavyweight. He is the answer to a question that is not being asked any more. That kind of thing. But actually, although what Tim said was a most convincing explanation of what Cameron reckons he is doing, it was not any sort of proof that the critics of Cameron are necessarily wrong about him, as I somewhat found myself arguing. Britain’s voters seem to be rather unimpressed by Cameron just now. Tim’s picture of what Cameron is doing is very convincing as a description of his state of mind and party political tactics, but that doesn’t necessarily make Cameron’s state of mind either admirable or guaranteed to result in electoral success.
Yes, Cameron’s various Conservative predecessors did not get what they were up against. But Cameron’s strategy (if what now follows is indeed what it is) of waiting until the last possible moment before offering alternative policies to Labour policies, having spent years giving Labour’s - and particularly Brown’s - statist inclinations a deliberate free ride, to sucker them and him into being more statist, struck me on Friday and strikes me now not only as morally dubious, but also, because so morally dubious, also electorally hazardous. What if the voters decide that Cameron is not the nation’s solution, but a mere aspect of the nation’s problem? At one point, Tim said that Cameron will now be reckoning that his current nine point lead in the polls is evidence that he is on the right track. I blurted out at that point that he should be thirty points ahead.
However, the last thing I want to do is suggest that the conversation was other than extremely interesting. It certainly interested me. The central point is that Tim was concerning himself with how Cameron thinks, with how things are. Not with how he or I might like them to be.
What Tim says may also illuminate the rest of the campaign. Tim says that Cameron has just executed a major tactical switch. When in mere opposition, Cameron refused to propose good alternative policies for our disastrous government, because the government would have stolen them. But now, in the heat of the campaign, such policy theft won’t work so well. Too undignified, too fresh in voter memory, making too much of a nonsense of the Labour manifesto of only a few days before. So, Cameron is now, finally, proposing a few anti tax and spend policies, and if Tim is right, can be expected to propose quite a few more in the days and weeks to come. We shall see.
I was not feeling a hundred per cent last Friday, so my performance in particular needed quite a bit of editing, hence the delay in posting this (what with me still not feeling a hundred per cent between then and now), but it should all sound okay now.
Wait two months for a Brian Micklethwait Dot Com recorded conversation, and then two come along on the same day, although actually these two were recorded over a month apart.
This one with Antoine, recorded on Tuesday of this week, describes the electoral earthquake that was the victory of Republican Scott Brown over Democrat Martha Coakley in the “special election” they had there, and how the Republicans have now caught up with the Democrats when it comes to applying blogging, Twitter, Facebook, etc., to the winning of such elections.
How does this affect US politics in the months and years to come? And what can we in Britain, in particular we libertarians, learn from all this?
We managed to keep it down to below half an hour this time. Enjoy.
Early last month (on Dec 8), I had a chat down the phone with Bishop Hill, aka Andrew Montford, about his new and now available-to-buy book, The Hockey Stick Illusion: Climategate and the Corruption of Science, and related topics. Listening to this conversation is a seriously insufficient substitute for reading the book itself. But as a way of learning what sort of a guy Andrew Montford is and what sort of mind he has, what got him thinking the way he does and blogging the way he does, it’s a good and useful listen, or so I hope.
It would have been an even better listen had it not been disfigured, right at the beginning, by mysterious clicking noises, caused by I don’t know what. Luckily, after about a minute and a half, this ceases. I have decided, rightly or wrongly, to just ask my listeners to hear past this annoyance. The rest of the conversation, which lasts just under 35 minutes, is okay.
So, with deep apologies for that early glitch, enjoy.
I will of course be writing more about the book itself, here and there. During the above conversation, pessimism about the book’s prospects was expressed, what with how long it was taking to emerge. “Missing the boat”, etc. But as of now, all the signs and early reactions I have encountered look good, and it is going to sell very well.
Jack Charlton, the former England soccer player (and brother of the stellar Bobby), in due course became a soccer manager and a rather good one (unlike Bobby). When Jack Charlton started out as a manager, someone asked him how he was doing. He replied that he was “groping”. Him being a Geordie, it came out as more like “gr-oo-er-ping”.
Well, I have been doing recorded interviews for quite some time now, and I too am grooerping. And given my advancing years, the grooerping may never end in the promised land of speedy expertise.
On Tuesday I recorded a Skype (at our end) and telephone (at his end) interview with Bishop Hill aka Andrew Montford, at the home of Patrick Crozier. Two things went wrong, one trivial and correctable, the other not so trivial and more laborious to correct.
The trivial thing that went wrong was that the first minute or so was afflicted with a mysterious clicking noise. At first the main suspect was me, clicking a biro. The horror. But in truth it was probably some electrical appliance in the vicinity. Mercifully it soon stopped, and the spoilt intro can easily be replaced.
The second error was that I failed to finish asking the basic science climate questions, pressing on too soon to the politics of it all. The Bishop didn’t finish his exposition of the Hockey Stick curve itself, which, given that the book we were talking around is called The Hockey Stick Illusion, was no trivial omission. We didn’t, so to speak, cover the entire length of the hockey stick. And second, I should also have got him to talk briefly about CO2.
So, we will convene again next Thursday and correct all this. It will certainly all keep that long. This argument is not going to go away any time soon. Even so, it’s quite an irritation to all concerned and I now feeling distinctly apologetic.
Despite the groping, I think I might be onto something with these interviews of lots of different people, rather than just with the same few friends, however fluent and knowledgeable. But, it’s actually a lot harder, because when facing a new person, I find myself making new and unforeseen mistakes.
Does anybody have any further thoughts on who else I might interview? My first requirement is that they be, more or less definitely, libertarians. I am not interested in helping other and more statist political tendencies to celebrate their rising stars.
Second, they have to have accomplished something of significance, like (in the case of Bishop Hill) having written a superb libertarian blog for a while, and now what promises to be superb book.
But third, I am interested in people who have not yet done much in the way of talking in front of mikes or cameras. That way, the people watching, or in my case listening, will learn about someone whose writing they may know, but whose voice and manner and attitude and background they may know a lot less about. To summarise, I am interested libertarians who have already started to do well, but of whom it is at least reasonable to hope that the best may yet be to come. Any more suggestions?
One thought I’ve already had, what with it having proved okay to do it by phone, is to interview the rising stars of libertarianism in continental Europe.
The day before yesterday I posted a big piece about ClimateGate at Samizdata, or whatever we’re calling it all today, my second Samizdata effort on this topic, hence my relative inactivity here during the last week or so. All about why I think this story is huge (so far so obvious), and how I think it will stick around for quite a while because of the peculiar nature of the climate argument (that being the vaguely original bit), and because of the sheer number of individual, guilty persons who are now ready for and in need of skewering, because they fell for this fraud and decided to bugger up the world in accordance with it.
The first draft of this even made the claim that we are now be living through is the second great History Date of the twenty first century, the first being Sept 11th 2001. Sadly, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, however much I might wish it to be. To be an authentic History Date an event has to be agreed by everybody in all parts of the political solar system to be a Big Thing, even as everyone simultaneously slags each other off about what it all means and what to do about it. The trouble with ClimateGate - and, as I’ve already hinted above, one of the problems is that we aren’t even agreeing what to call it - is that a huge slab of dupes and frauds would like nothing better than for the whole ghastly business to be totally forgotten. For ClimateGate, or whatever, to win out and find its place next to Hastings, Magna Carta, the Great Fire of London, the Glorious Revolution, Trafalgar, Waterloo and the rest of them, then my team in this ruckus would have to win the battle of the history books. Which we yet might, but this is not certain, to put it mildly.
This piece (one of the many on this topic linked to by the ever-invaluable Instapundit – never forget what a difference he has made and still makes to the world) confirms everything I said in my Samizdata pieces, about how the internet has totally changed the rules for arguments like this. Love the 2001 A Space Odyssey pastiche. Apparently, in the USA, whenever and wherever a big, pompous, biased, dead-tree organ now ventures onto the www with a piece about Global Warming, Copenhagen, etc., but without mentioning the shenanigans at UEA, CRUgate, ClimateGate, GlobalWarmingGate, ... commenters are piling in in their derisive dozens and even hundreds to remind them.
Fox News is all over it, in the person of Glenn Beck. (I loved his mispronunciation of “East Anglia” - something like “Angleela"- the other day, on an earlier video, I think, than that one.) My friend Adriana Lukas recently told me that she told a good mate of hers at Fox News about this story when it first broke, and it was the first he’d heard of it. Kudos Adriana. Although they would have heard about it from someone soon enough. It’s a different world, like my piece says.
And what do you know, only seconds, literally, after I had put up my big bit, Johnathan Pearce posted another bit on the same topic, just as foreseen/feared here. I hope JP and others commenting on that earlier piece are right that this kind of duplication doesn’t matter, helps even. Certainly this story is big enough to merit constant multiple Samizdata postings, every day.
A commenter on that Johnathan Pearce Samizdata piece said this:
At least now we can all agree, on both sides of the Climate Change debate, that Global Warming was caused by Mann.
Hah! Wonder why I never thought of stroke came across that gag before.
And this may just be my favourite SQotD ever.
I recently emailed Bishop Hill (one of ClimateGate’s global blogstars) asking if he’d be willing to do an interview with me, along the lines of this one, in connection with his wit and wisdom generally, but in particular in connection with his forthcoming book. And guess what, he has just emailed back saying yes. But he is mind-bogglingly busy just now, so don’t hold your breath. That won’t be happening any day soon, but in a few weeks, probably. I’m looking forward to that a lot.
Michael Jennings has now just put up another excellent ClimateGate piece, also at Samizdata.
Regular readers of this blog will know that many a day of torpor here has been rescued by an incoming Michael J email, often (as there) with follow up comment from him of far greater sophistication, interest and intelligence than all but my very best postings here.
Michael Jennings is one of those people who likes - needs even - to know that people are interested in what he has to say before he says it, as is not quite the case with everyone, is it? Hence some of his best bits of writing often take the form of comments, in answer to direct questions to which he happens to have a very good answer which someone has just asked and clearly would really like to know about. But with this ClimateGate thing, I imagine he feels confident that people all over the place will be extremely interested in anything even semi-coherent that he has to say about that, and of course what he does say is far better than that.
Next, a couple of quotes from others about how this is all rather Bolshevik.
An incoming email to Instapundit recently went thus:
I now have a sense of what it was like living under Communism in Eastern Europe. The state-owned (in our case, establishment) press won’t report on reality so people had to turn to Samizdat to learn what’s actually happening in their world. It’s rather amazing. Also, having an Army of Davids go through these emails will pay dividends for years.
Indeed, and another Army of Davids asking those who swallowed this nonsense whole what they were thinking of, and what they are still doing, and why, and meanwhile what their expenses claims are looking like, should also now be assembling. Count me, in. (And see below.)
And see also this, from one of the comments on Michael J’s piece:
I had a sudden thought last night with regards to the “mainstream” response, particularly the self-serving response from UEA itself. It is rather like claiming that Lysenko was just a rogue element within Soviet biology, and in any case his findings are supported by the overwhelming majority of Soviet biologists working in many places around the Soviet union and its satellite states, so the Lamarckian consensus within Soviet science remains intact.
I am now working on a piece provisionally called something like: Now is the time to subject the government of the world to Guidoisation - i.e., basically, to start blogging about it in a big (i.e.much bigger and more mainstream A-list blogger way), and to make it personal. Who are the people doing it, where (Copenhagen will be a good place to accelerate the rolling of this ball), when, how, at what cost both in terms of public policy and in terms of the hotel and salary bills for their fatcat selves, what did these people do in the past (i.e.what mere countries have they already screwed with), and what have they said in the past (before they’d even got to the screwing their own country stage), what crackpot bolshevik groups were they in when even younger, who are they now arrived to, and why won’t the regular damn media report on all this (because they are part of the damn problem is why – let me tell you about what the owner of the Daily Deadtree was doing with whom last weekend), blah blah, blah blah. I believe I may have some rather original and fruitful insights to offer about this.
Who the hell, exactly, and just for starters, is this Michael Mann creature? (I’ve not read that Wikipedia entry and would not trust it as far as I could spit it. When the left fascists have an axe to grind about anyone or anything, then Wikipedia is just leftist agitprop, with all critical but true additions edited out pronto. And did I recently hear something about Wikipedia collapsing, or did I merely imagine it?) Last night at a book signing I attended, somebody told me that Michael Mann is a total bastard, far worse than any kind of regular scientist gone wrong, more like a cross between Lysenko and Beria. So, as Arthur Seldon of the IEA used to ask of anyone interesting in a bad way: who he? What he making from all this? Who he married to? Where he based? Who he conned? How many years he deserve in jail?
But, I promise nothing.
I wonder, might “Cruleak” be a good name for all this? Just a thought, and probably not a very good one. But I do agree with another of the commenters on Michael J’s piece that all these thingy-gates are becoming very tedious.
A week ago today, I journeyed to White Van Land (aka South East London), to record an interview with Toby Baxendale - businessman, Austrian economics devotee, social activist, boss of Direct Seafoods, and founder of the Cobden Centre, among other things. We - mostly he - spoke for just on fifty minutes, which is a longish time for a thing like this, but worth anyone’s time (I hope those who give it a go will agree), because he is an impressive individual. You don’t get from seventy grand in debt at the age of twenty one to running a company that turns over a hundred million quid a year before you are even properly middle aged without having something about you.
Listen to it by clicking here.
The thing I find particularly intriguing about Toby is how his thinking in the academic sense and his business and social thinking are so deeply intertwined, which is sadly not true of far too many businessmen. His early acquaintance with the economic facts of life, due to his parents divorcing early and him being raised by his single mother, meant that he came to the study of economics with a well developed sense of how the economy worked and how wealth gets created, and regular economics didn’t add up. Too abstract. Simply: not right. He paid for much of this education by himself working, first by part-owning and running a night club, then by buying food for a restaurant that he part-owned, the latter activity being the basis of his later business success. An early burst of anti-left politics in his teens got him in touch with the legal and social thinking of Friedrich Hayek, and he made a note to chase up Austrian School economics later, once he had got his business life motoring. Which it did, not least because of his willingness to use the dispersed-knowledge dispersed-profit model of business organisation and business cooperation, rather than just putting all his underlings on a fixed salary and telling them what to do. He didn’t want the do-as-you’re-told life for himself, and figured they wouldn’t either. Plus, profit-sharing is more profitable.
His ideological advocacy and social activism now takes several forms. He is a magistrate. He is active in a microfinance organisation, for the kind of people for whom any kind of finance is liable to be something of a battle. He talked eloquently about the example set by such persons as the Quakers - before going to the London School of Economics, he attended a Quaker school for a few years - and by the Manchester liberals, such as Cobden. And, with his Cobden Centre hat on, he compares the privilege-breaking Repeal of the Corn Laws that the Manchester liberals accomplished with a similar job that needs to be done with the world’s current politically privileged banking system. What these persons now do, he is at pains to admit, is all perfectly legal. But, like the Corn Laws, it ought not to be.
So, recommended. And even if nearly an hour listening to one and half people just talking does not appeal, at least remember the name: Toby Baxendale. He will surely be making waves in the next few years.
The older I get, the more convinced I become that a lot of getting on and getting ahead in the world is a matter of sheer physical energy, of getting things done, first time, fast, lots of them every day. I, on the other hand, was not at my physical best when recording this conversation and got quite a lot more ill soon after it, hence the delay in sticking it up here. Luckily nothing of importance is lost because of this delay, but still, my apologies to Toby for any irritation this delay may have caused. Toby Baxendale, I sense, doesn’t do ill. Did I mention that he is an Ironman Triathlete? No I did not and nor did he. I only found out about this afterwards.
My thanks to Antoine Clarke for suggesting this recorded conversation, and to Tim Evans for putting Toby Baxendale and me in touch.
About one hour ago, I did a recorded conversation with Paul Marks, and there it is, which for me is pretty quick. Paul Marks is one of the Samizdata writers.
Our two main topics were: the financial chaos we’re all now enduring, and the evil (as in Marxist) nastiness of President Barack Obama, and the fact that with varying degrees of I-told-you-so-ness, he told us so. But as I said at the beginning, the real aim of the thing is to tell all those to whom “Paul Marks” is but a name, but who would like to know more, more. All such persons will now be able to hear the voice behind that name. And on the right there is a picture, which I took just minutes ago. An odd thing I’d never noticed before. Were thePaul’s face to be a little bit elongated vertically, I think you would then have: the film actor Bill Murray.
It went well, I think. Nor did it go on too long, by which I mean for more than half an hour. After all, it doesn’t take long to get how someone talks and how to think about things. Also, Paul proved to be fluent enough, I judged, to require no editing whatsoever, which makes things a hell of a lot easier.
Technically, it may be a bit loud. If that is the case, sorry. I am still not on top of the podcasting process, despite having done quite a lot now. Further technical advice from my various techie friends is still, alas, needed.
Last Tuesday Michael Jennings and I recorded another of our little chats, about cricket. In general this time, mostly. Twenty20 versus 50 overs versus test cricket - club versus country - India and Indian money - how the Australians speeded up test cricket. That kind of thing. Only at the beginning did we talk about the final Ashes test, then about to begin, now nearing its end.
Sadly, I got into a microphone muddle, which meant I had to spend far more time editing the thing than we took creating it in the first place. Which defeats the entire purpose of such chats, for the original reason for doing them is that they are, if done with technical adequacy, so much less laborious than writing. Things get said that might never get written. Thoughts get provoked that might otherwise never be put out there. Anyway, I have done as much editing and cleaning up as I could bear to do, and I hope the result is at least audible. I plan to use a different microphone next time, either the small ones I already have, that fit on your lapel, or a new a better one obtained early next week in Tottenham Court Road. Meanwhile, apologies for the frequent sound oddities, such as background variations when I had to beef up the sound, and strange clickings.
The final and deciding test match is proving quite surprising, and could yet spring further surprises. As mentioned in our chat, Michael has lent me his Sky Sports internet connection for the duration of the game, while he is in Scandinavia. (I didn’t ask him why he was going to Scandinavia, in case he said: yes, why am I going to Scandinavia?) It is fun being able to watch everything live, just like in the far off days when the BBC used to show test cricket live, and without buying overpriced fizzy drinks or fruit juices in pubs. However, the effort of receiving this signal seems to put my computer on the permanent edge of crashing, or to put it another way, make it unable to do anything else with any reliability other than show Sky Sports. (Which is all part of why that editing took so long to do.)
Michael was confident that Australia, having crushed England so very crushingly at Leeds, would likewise be too good for England at the Oval. Both he and I reckoned without Stuart Broad. Like many England fans, I had, until yesterday, wondered what Broad was doing in the England side, good-batsman-considering-he’s-a-bowler-but-not-much-of-a-bowler being, in the eyes of me and of many others, an insufficient qualification for inclusion. But yesterday Broad bowled very well. Instead it is Harmison, Flintoff and Anderson who now appear tired, old and innocuous by comparison. Michael reckoned the England batting to be too feeble, but yesterday it was the Australian batters who crumpled, to Broad.
England’s other deadly weapon yesterday was the hyphenated spinner-stroke-umpire Swann-Rauf, who chipped in with two wickets, one of them being North, with Swann also picking up a further brace of wickets all on his own.
England’s trump card today was Trott, who got only the second England century of the series, and who I did foresee doing well (purely on the strength of his South African background – see also: Kevin Pietersen), and in particular better than the sacked Bopara. Trott is one of those big men with small legs, with an identical hairdo (the will be bald soon look) to Andrew Strauss. (By the way, Bopara yesterday completed a double century for Essex against Surrey, while Ramprakash of Surrey did less well, which meant that Surrey today lost heavily. Could Bopara be the next Ramprakash? Brilliant, that is to say, in county cricket, but never making it as an international.)
In many ways, England’s position today was rather like their position on the final day at the Oval in 2005. Now as then, the only way England could lose this (i.e. not win this) was for them to be bowled out for a very small second innings score, and at 39-3 yesterday evening, that seemed all too liable to happen, just as it had around lunchtime on the final day in 2005. Some dogged batting was needed, and some inspired slogging. In 2005 Collingwood and Giles provided the doggedness and Pietersen the inspired slogging. This time around, debutante Trott held down one end, while England’s bowlers-who-can-bat – Flintoff, Broad and Swann - slogged away merrily, especially Swann, and England nerves were likewise calmed.
Or were they? When, earlier this evening, Australia started their second innings needing the small matter of 546 runs to win, on a pitch which yesterday looked about to collapse into a cloud of dust, their cause seemed hopeless. But they have now made 80 without loss or fuss, and suddenly England supporters are pondering the possibility that, what with England having made nearly 400 in their second innings, the pitch might actually be getting better. Actually, what I think is happening is that conditions today were better. It was sunnier, which meant that there was less swing. The forecast is good for the rest of the match, which means that Australia still have an outside chance of springing a major surprise. Put it this way. I had been assuming that, win or lose (but not draw), all would be concluded some time around tomorrow afternoon. Which would have been annoying for me because I am busy tomorrow afternoon and will be unable to stay home and watch, despite now having the technology. But now I think that there may be plenty left of this game to amuse me on Monday. And if there isn’t, that’ll be because England will have won tomorrow, which will be good too, even if I have to make do with the recorded Channel 5 highlights, as per the previous four games.
If you already know what’s happening with Microsoft, Google, iPhones, regular mobile phones, netbbooks, laptops, desktops, Macintoshes, tablets, Steve Jobs having pancreatic cancer, etc. etc., blah blah, you probably won’t learn much from what Michael said when I picked his brains last Friday about such stuff. But if you are like me, ignorant but interested, and keen to make the best use of all these toys, then you might learn quite a bit. I did. And you’ll want to, if you agree with me that the rise and rise of all this gadgetry is one of the key events of our lives. When I was a kid, fascinating technology was stuff that richer people did, with bigger toys, on television if you were lucky. They let off bombs, they sent rockets to the moon, they made super-fast trains and big shiny aeroplanes, which only the elite ever got to go on. Now, we are buying the latest super-inventions ourselves, and the cheaper they are the more they matter, because the more of us have them.
And to answer your original question, no I am not dead, I have just been resting.
Following on from this talk with Tom Burroughes (mp3 here) and this talk with Antoine Clarke and Michael Jennings (mp3 here), comes this conversation, recorded last Thursday evening, between me and Michael J.
What Michael thinks is now being done wrong and what Michael thinks should now be done instead didn’t take that long for him to say, or for me to agree about. Basically, dump the bad old economy and build a good new one, by cutting taxes and slashing public spending and public impediments to wealth creation. The particular point I added is that such a policy would create hope about the future, and hope is an economic fact now.
So we went on to talk about the politics of current crisis. The usual libertarian regret is that bad - statist, anti-market - policies are very popular with the few who benefit from them, while being a matter of relative indifference to the multitudes who must pay for them, while good policies are very unpopular with those same people, who are denied any “help”, but again, are not supported by the multitudes who will benefit from the right policies. And indeed we speculated that Mr Cameron might be intending to do the right things, while saying nothing about that beforehand. But we found ourselves thinking that maybe this is a crisis where the multitudes are now very fearful that they will be severe losers from current policies. Which makes the politics of the current mess a lot more interesting. Maybe here is a case where honesty would not just be right, but also more effective politics.
The conclusion that Antoine and Michael arrived at in this conversation was that there should be no more inflation, but that there should be public spending cuts, but that whatever was done there would be huge grief in the short run. The only question was how soon the grief could be got out of the way, and something like normal service resumed.
Thinking about this some more, I think we libertarians are in a position to be a bit more upbeat about all this, because we have the only real answer to this mess. Serious public spending cuts and serious tax cuts are how you get an economy to go from mediocre to good. We know this. And this is also how you get an economy to go from disastrous to non-disastrous. Politically, getting people to want better than mediocre is hard. But getting people to prefer non-disastrous to disastrous is automatic. You only have to say it. It’s the difference between most people having an okay life and you threatening to poke them with the stick of economic dynamism, and most people having a seriously depressing life and you promising to wave the magic wand of economic dynamism. Similar policies, but opposite politics.
That’s one reason to be optimistic about the immediate prospects for libertarian-ish ideas, certainly in Britain. Another is that as soon as measures like these are even talked about, the prospect of economic improvement, which would definitely be perceived by “the markets” if not immediately by the general public, becomes an economic fact in its own right, now. Announcing measures like these is the only feasible way for the government to effect any improvement in the economy, now, and it would indeed achieve benefts now. The politicians are all running around bleating that they must somehow, anyhow, restore “confidence”. This is the way to do it. Even shouting from the touchline that this is the way to do it will improve things a bit. So, we should shout as loud as we can.
In terms of such things actually being done any time soon, everything hinges on the difference between what people who matter would like to be true, and what they actually think is true, the latter being the important thing, as George Stigler (I think it was) explained long ago in a particular good essay (link anyone?). Many people, including some very powerful people, would like nationalisation to work. They would like to be able to command the economy to become more dynamic, in fact they would love it. They would love to believe that they possess the power to micromanage the world into being a better place. But far fewer such people any longer believe that such things are actually possible. The evidence is now in that if you want to get an economy to motor some more, or in this case to motor at all, you have to cut public spending and cut tax rates. Whether you like these policies does not matter. Reality does not care what you think of it.
Some now fear a depression, basically because, then as now, the answer to the problems caused by inflation was widely believed to be more inflation, at least in the short term. Which is what has just happened. But there are, thank goodness, differences between now and circa 1930, one huge difference in particular. Then, the option existed greatly to expand government spending, government regulation and government interference in markets local, national and international, and there were an appallingly large number of people who thought that such interference would improve matters. But we now live in a world in which such illusions are far harder to sustain. We’ve tried all that nonsense, and look what happened. Those delusions were what created the Great Depression, and the great war which followed. The Crash only caused the Depression in the sense that it provoked idiots into doing these idiotic things. I think think that policy makers are now still rather foolish, but not this foolish.
The bad news is that this open goal for libertarian measures only exists because things have become seriously worse than adequate, not because there is any widespread hunger for things to be seriously better than adequate. The public would still be content for us to jog along at the top of the Laffer Curve. All that has happened is that we have now, very suddenly, been revealed to be sliding down the far side, the right hand side, of the Laffer Curve, the bit where tax rates are seriously more than the economy can survive, and the public demands whatever corrective action will work. But correcting the mere mediocrity of life at the top of the Laffer Curve, by demanding a slide down the left hand side of it, to tax rates and tax yields that are seriously lower than the economy could manage, resulting in life that would in most ways be seriously better, is something that electorates don’t yet seem to be ready to accept.