“He achieved the impossible during the election race . . . .

” . . . he may be doing it again.” So says a headline in my morning paper today. Nonsense! He may have been lucky with a fickle electorate. Trump will not be so lucky with his political advisors — no matter how extremist some of them are, or even more so, some of his specialist civil servants. He’ll not be allowed to be anywhere near as dangerous as some fear he might be.

If they decide to impeach him, as they were going to do in Nixon’s case, how will be react? There’s lots of fascinating events almost immediately ahead of us.

The why of social hierarchy

A recent essay discusses the reason why the pecking order is so interesting in our own and others’ lives.

The main point of social hierarchy in humans is why it should have ever evolved in the first place.  It is the social context in which the instinct of the female can operate when she wants a child.  She will always generally choose upwards towards the best males available for partnership with best abilities, intelligence and genetic fitness.  She will ignore the unfit and inept males, so that they will be unable to pass inferior genes onwards to children.

It is our quality control mechanism. Without our DNA would increasingly flounder in a morass of average abilities in in which a steadily growing number of harmful recessive genes and obfuscate the necessary genes for species survival.

The most permanent attribute of all

With his wild tongue, Trump has now gone far too far when describing judges as ‘so-called’ judges.   Judges don’t have to be the most honest people in the land nor the brightest nor the most knowledgeable about the law.  They happen to be the individuals given the responsibility of protecting the most precious attribute of any civilized culture — the permanency of a sense of justice.  When that is gone nothing remains.

Man’s prolific inventiveness

In the advanced countries we spend by far the most of our surplus income on ‘status’ goods (and services).  We gather these around us in order to show our friends, work colleagues, local neighbours and sometimes — if we are very rich — the public more generally, just where we think our social rank-order is, or ought to be.

As a simple check-list of what constitutes a status good rather than a necessity or a tool, does it satisfy the following criteria?

1. Originally, it was an exceedingly expensive hand-made unique item made only for the very rich;
2. It was later capable of being made in successive stages of automation until mass-producible and relatively cheap;
3. It is highly desired by individuals in all social ranks as a guide to show others during social interchange;
4. It has to be readily perceptible by others — visually, audibly and tactilily, particularly on first meeting.

We have run out of new status goods, but man’s prolific curiosity and inventiveness will no doubt continue  whenever it’s a case of “necessity is the mother of invention”.  Instances of these include environmental catastrophe, man-made mess, more energy-efficient infrastructure, and search for a better scientific hypothesis than the one in current use.

The unavoidable scenario

It is a deeply unfortunate fact of life that the medical knowledge gained in the last 250 years has also been the cause of the world population growing from about 1 billion people to about 8 billion as now — with a further 3 billion to come in the next 35 years as middle-aged poor people around the world proceed into old age.  Only then — around 2050 — is there likely to be a tailing off.

Already, half the population of the world is unable to eat an adequately nutritious diet.  This will become immensely more serious in the next 35 years as the middle-aged hump mentioned above grows older but also as 0.5 billion Chinese people and perhaps as many Indian proceed to a better proteinaceous diet.  This will require something like 10 times as much grain to be fed to farm animals and fish as now, so the total result will be a diminution of the present barely adequate diet of 0.5 billion people.

Ir will take at least 200 to 250 years for the world population and adequate food supply to get into pre-1750 balance again.  Not a single growth economist has yet produced a model to show how this scenario can be avoided.

Incalculable investing in the new era

About 30 years ago it suddenly became politically incorrect to use First, Second and Third World without somehow demeaning all those countries who were not Firsters.  Instead, we had “developed” and “developing”.  I’m sure others besides myself become confused sometimes.  Perhaps they ought to be typeset as “developed” and “developing“.

As a reminder, First World countries are the Seven which first set the industrial revolution going in the early decades of the 19th century — Britain, France, Belgium,  The Netherlands, Denmark, Germany and the United States.  Between them they presently monopolize fundamental research across every scientific faculty that has yet been set up.

The Seven were joined in later decades by another seven — Japan, Switzerland, Singapore, Israel, Sweden and Russia — which rapidly caught up by copying Western technology.  Between them all fourteen produce, and trade, high value goods and services almost exclusively with one another and have reached the highest levels of cultural pursuits.

Two World countries are those which might, in due course, break through into the fourteen above.  They are Brazil, China, India, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and about twelve former communist countries of eastern Europe.  These have yet to show that they are capable of developing scientific research of the relevant depth and width to be able to innovate the new goods and services of tomorrow’s economy and thus get to share the First World’s standard of living.

This still leaves about 170 countries which have registered as nations with the United Nations Organization.  These can only be regarded as Third World countries because they have little to offer besides food and other low value resources for exports to mainly First World countries .  They have no education system worth speaking of — never mind scientific research.  They have little by way of adequate government and most will be suffering one way or another under dictators.

There will be some, though, with superb ecologies that make them attractive to both scientists and holiday makers. Taking care in developing these for sophisticated tourism and saving their wild life  at the same time will probably become highly profitable to some countries and their people in decades to some. But their one and only master strategy is, of course, to get their populations down — to approaching the sizes they were about 250 years ago.

This is a totally different scenario from the one that most orthodox economists were assuming — if not promoting — in the years before the 2008 Crisis.  This is that the world economy could keep on growing for centuries to come.  But this will be impossible because it would need a parallel growth in the use of high intensive energy.  The world economy has to stabilize at some stage, and it may be that we are not far off that now.

And we are also entering a world of advanced service occupations in which heavy investments — in education and training — will have to be made.  The rub is that, unlike now, when reasonable calculations can be made of what the returns might be, this will not be possible in tomorrow’s world.

How virtuous are you?

What makes you what you are — and our success in life?

Let’s assume that the basic bedrock of success is intelligence.  If we ask psychologists what makes for intelligence there is general agreement that it’s 50% genetic and 50% environment.  We could now speculate a little by suggesting that 50% of the environment is due to the culture you absorbed from your parents, and 50% due to the external environment experienced after puberty.

Further, the latter could be due to physical circumstances — and contingent shocks — but also the friends we make and the socialization skills we acquire in the work and social groups we are comfortable with as we approach full adulthood at around the age of 30.

For most individuals with normal levels of testosterone their future lot is largely settled at around the age of 30 years.  For the more ambitious it depends on whether they have sufficient intelligence and ability to practise a myriad of new social skills in order to insinuate themselves into a higher social level.  More gratifyingly, members at a higher social level like what they see and offer a way into joining their group.

If we add up all the percentages for average individuals we have something like — 50% +25% +12.5% + 6.25% + 6.25%.  There’s not a lot of room there for individual decision-making is there?  If we do the same for an individual too ambitious to stay for long in any one adult group before moving upwards, we have — 50% +25% +12.5% + 6.25% + x% + y%, ‘x’ being environmental circumstances, ‘y’ being individual personality change and genuine free will when it comes to taking decisions. How virtuous are you?

When will they be sending for the men in white coats?

The American Constitution was the wisest political document of its time.  Having got rid of the British government in the 18th century, America rightly decided that the biggest problem of its time was that others would rush in to obtain absolute power.

It therefore decided that future potential power holders — the president, other elected politicians, sivil service, lawyers, military, business, church, trade unions, must be expunged permanently from the possibility of power or modifiable.  The three seen to be the safest to govern were the President, Congress and the Supreme Court.

Presidential decisions — except for declaration of war — can be modifiable by his immediate advisors, such as the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense, Congress before being instituted, or, after the event, by Congress as a cricket back-stop. Or it can also be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court as a boundary back-stop or by the shouts of the people in the streets outside the ground as an ultimate back-stop after a disastrous decision has been made.

Also, as an important point which I now haven’t the time to develop further but must be mentioned is that the highest grades of American graduates that are actively recruited by the potential power-holders and mentioned above should also, these days, include media journalism.  In condemning the media, as he has done, Trump confuses the gutter press with the quality press. In recent years, it has only been the quality press that has exposed high level corruption.

At least a dozen decisions by President Trump in his first week have greatly disturbed half of the more thoughtful Americans, as being against the whole style of American culture.    While Trump is intelligent and an expert is property transactions, he is a case of ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’.  He is already being talked about as “mad” by individuals who’ve been high in government.

The Republican Party, which must now take responsibility for allowing Trump to take their name while he was campaigning, will probably have to impeach Trump for incompetence before too long and sending for the white van.  At least a quarter, perhaps a half, of those who normally vote Democratic will support such a decision.  It seems to me that it’s just a question of when.

Solar cell plus direct electricity

Arthur Cordell writes as a Comment to my recent blog about driverless cars and all-electric ones:  “Goodbye fossil fuels, hello electric cars. Where will the electricity come from? From nuclear of course.”

Only France derives a substantial proportion of its non-transport energy needs from nuclear power, but now that the first generation of stations is experiencing an increasing number of problems, the government cannot be  confident about the reliabilitly of the next generation.

Meanwhile, world over-population, following present trends, is almost certain to start decreasing steeply in 100 to 150 years’ time. The bulk of electricity demand will be more than taken up by shale gas power stations — with half the production of CO2 from conventional fossil fuels.

Meanwhile also, the further development of solar cells, production of electricity in desert regions plus the use of direct current transmission lines — that is, not alternating current —  into the major cities will bring down the costs of energy use enormously.

Perhaps Yes to the Wall

It is sometimes said that walls are ineffective when preventing the entry of large numbers of desperate economic migrants. This isn’t so. The energy mustered by the home population when protecting their territory is more than fully equal to the task. In many species of animals and birds, opportunistic males, however powerful or desperate, seldom manage to evict a resident male from his own territory.

The EU wall, or fence, starting in the northernmost tip of Finland — to keep out migrants coming through Russia — and zig-zagging southwards through the Balkans until it reaches the Mediterranean, is a good example. Over the course of a year it is probably successful within a dozen or two individuals. The only weak spot in the EU border is the sea-borne route between Libya and Sicily used by young Africans. What are now modest numbers of them are now accumulating in Italy — and still being refused jobs in a country which is on the verge of a declining population!

The Mexico-Texas wall was partially built in President Bush’s time, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be finished off relatively quickly. Perhaps it ought to be now in order to assuage half the American electorate but mainly to allow Trump to save face and greatly modify many other of his hastily signed Executive Orders, many if which are abhorrent to any modern advanced civilization.

Hudson’s Theory of Economics in less than 300 words

The industrial revolution was a unique event taking place between about 1780 and 1980. The first five decades were driven by a new class of middle class entrepreneurs aspiring to become aristocrats, and subsequently by working class people aspiring to become the new middle class. By then also, traditional mechanical principles were giving way to new scientific discoveries that had proceeded since the times of Galileo (around 1600).

By 1980, the repertoire of status goods was exhausted and the world financial sector had become deeply complicated by the need to somehow keep high consumer demand growing at previous levels — around 3.5% per annum. It didn’t succeed and the monetary system blew up during 2007/8.

By 1980, the same seven countries that had initiated the industrial revolution — Britain, France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Germany and America — still dominated world trading in high value goods because they had a monopoly of what was by then many centres of fundamental scientific research. They still do so today, keeping one another supplied with the very latest improved version of each of the status goods in the standard repertoire.

The remaining countries of the world will industrialise as best they can, but will never be able to break into the high-value trading ring of the seven advanced countries. They will become trapped at standards of living only a little more advanced than where they are now unless massive injections of high-intensity energy can be added into the world economy. This is unlikely to say the least. Otherwise, the world economy, being a physical system, will accord to the basic laws of thermodynamics, including “the law of least effort”. Thus they’ll stay approximately at a level of where they are now. Most of the countries of the world can only aspire to a decent standard of living by reducing their populations.

The fate of two innovations

Two major innovations for future consumers have been much mentioned in the last few years. They are driverless automobiles and all-electric automobiles. However, the former has hardly been mentioned in the media in the more recent months. This is a surprise, considering that Google (Alphabet) are developing it, and I can only conclude that the original motivation behind it is declining now.

The all-electric automobile is entirely another matter. We read and see mention of this every day of the week, not merely as desirable but of the highest priority if we want to live in healthy cities and avoid breathing toxic fumes and particles. Several major manufacturers are already planning to make electric vehicles.

They’ll be expensive to start with, and batteries that are quick-chargeable — and reliable! — need a great deal more development yet, but the final days of petrol and diesel engines are already numbered, at least among the social elite in the cities they espouse for work and leisure.

A space very much to be watched

Netanyahu is nothing if not quick off the mark. No sooner had President Trump started to sign off some executive actions on Monday, overruling previous vetoes of Obama, then Israel decided to activate a plan strongly opposed by Obama — to build 566 houses in the West Bank on land sold to them by their Palestinian owners.

Yesterday, even more astonishingly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced yet more plans to build 2,500 settlements in west Jerusalem. Otherwise, without the triumphant ascent of Trump in America, these plans might not have seen the light of day for another ten or twenty years.

The Middle East is a powder keg. Could not these Israeli announcements be provocative? Start a war perhaps? It could be. The ramifications are well nigh unimaginable. A space very much to be watched from now onwards.

More transparency is required

The controversy over the failure of a Trident missile test last June is greater than might be imagined.  Did the government know the reason for the failure before the House of Commons decided a few days later on renewing funding for the system?

That’s serious enough, but there’s something far more problematical involved.  All computer systems and all electronic components are vulnerable to being degraded due to cosmic radiation from outer space or from radioactive bedrock underground.  Could this have affected the Trident system? It could well have been the case.

Everything we presently rely on by way of banking and financial systems will break down sooner or later due to radiation damage.  Indeed, it has been calculated that none of our computers will be operational well within 100 years.  Some fail-safe tandem systems will have to be developed before too long.

This is potentially going to require a great deal more transparency from government than this Trident incident.

The most puzzling US President — ever

Before today expires within half-an-hour or so I had better make mention of today’s inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of America.

I haven’t commented on him so far because it is impossible to assess just what changes he is going to be able to make — or try to. He has obviously not thought through any policy changes himself. We also have little idea about his background, personality and mental make-up. He’s contradicted almost every one of his most controversial statements within a day or two.

As far as I’m concerned, he’s the most puzzling US President — ever.

Mankind’s declining intelligence?

A recent article in ScienceAlert, “Natural selection is causing a decline in human ‘education genes’, say scientists”.

Their case is dubious on several grounds, the main one being that of the half-dozen genes that make the largest contribution to intelligence, each one of them only influence about 1% to the individual’s total IQ test score. Other gene variations [mutations] which have some small effects — positive or negative — on inherited intelligence are scattered around our DNA in their hundreds.

At present, we very likely are a little less intelligent than our neolithic forebears of 10,000 years ago because an accumulating backlog of harmful recessive genes has built up and has caused a slight dilution of intelligence-related genes.

The only way this will be reversed is when couples intending to have children will have their fertilised eggs examined as a matter of course as they do now in IVF clinics. Any fertilised eggs that that contain a duplicate example of a harmful recessive gene — one from each parent — can be removed from the possibility of re-implantation in the mother.

Another way of dealing with this is by the recently developed technique of gene editing. In this case a potentially harmful recessive gene can be removed entirely and a ‘standard gene’ substituted before re-implantation of the egg in the mother.

Both of the above solutions will be a long-haul solution to the problem in the population as a whole — but then it was long-haul aggregation of harmful recessive genes that caused it in the first place.

Let’s wait awhile

It is quite obvious to any objective observer that the global warming of the last 150 years or so has not had anywhere near the dire effects that have been forecasted by the IPCC.  For example, in the last 30 years, the melting of the Arctic sea ice during the summer has been confidently forecasted three times — and has not happened.

Yet we’ve also had several naturally warm periods during the 10,000 years since the retreat of the last Ice Age.  In the last, known as the Medieval Warm Period, at around 1300 there were Viking farms along the east cost of Greenland and development of agriculture in this country. In the previous warm period, when the Romans were here, we grew prodigious quantities of grapes.  Another previous one was in the Bronze Ages.

Global warming causes a great amount of stress, it’s true.  Species die out — but then new species arise, and some food species are giving us 15%% better crops. The signature areas of species move north — but then those of other species move south. Sea levels may rise by a metre or two — previously, mankind has had to deal with rises of 150 metres or so.

Euthanasia in tomorrow’s culture

The culture of populations in advanced countries is steadily proceeding in three stages towards euthanasia, the last stage being widely practised — if not universally — when we were hunter-gatherers.  As observed by anthropologists, the last stage — usually thoughtfully or kindly — inevitably taking place in a tribe when it could no longer afford continuing support of one of its old folk, either economically or emotionally.

In reverse, the third stage took place even with the consent of the candidate when he or she knew that, otherwise, there would be insufficient food to feed the latest baby.  If present-day knowledge of medical science proceeds as now and food is increasingly appropriated by the higher social levels then the middle and lower levels will begin practising full-scale euthanasia.  If indeed it has not already started quietly.

The preceding stage would have taken place in advanced society without the consent of the candidate, but whose personality had long since departed and totally unable to fend for himself or herself.  A great deal of this already goes on quietly in hospices and hospitals.  It was indeed formalised as the Liverpool Care Pathway. Although premature publicity has caused this to be withdrawn, it will return more widely in another form before too long.

The first stage — where we are now — is when the candidate, not others, initiates the process.  Some find willing helpers among the family or the local doctor and they set about it quietly, though some are more ostentatious by travelling to the Dignitas organisation Switzerland.

It is unfortunate that the Assisted Dying Act was thrown out of Parliament some weeks ago when it was known beforehand that there was a good majority of MPs in favour of it — as there is also in the electorate.  But its time will come in a few years’ — or even months’ — and the national culture will start changing quite rapidly.  Meanwhile, stages two and three will also be proceeding.  The prosperity of the last 80 years or so is now coming to an end, and it is the economics of the situation — the survivability of the population — that will determine the outcome.

Long live the Revolution!

Since the 2008 Crisis, and, in the seven years following it, the almost complete economic passivity of the dozen advanced countries of the world, several authors have come out with theories why and how this has happened.  My own hypothesis is that the industrial revolution in England was actually a unique occasion and has largely played put by the 1980s.  Nothing remotely like it was ever to be repeated.

But leaving my own view on one side, some think that the present lassitude is due to a drying up of creativity as a whole. In a recent op-ed,”Progress is bunk . . . “, the writer opines that nothing new is being created in modern times.  I dispute this.  The dearth of innovations since the 1980s is a falling off only of new status goods, not of everything else.

By “status goods” I mean the goods we buy at the highest price we can afford at the time in order to show our social status — homes, cars, furnishings, clothes, personal ornamentation, entertainment, etc — to our friends, colleagues, neighbous and anybody else we wish to impress.  All of us have a great need to show pretty well exactly where we are — or where we think we are! — in the pecking order.

As for all other innovations, creativity continues.  We can instance mental and physical labour-saving tools, more efficient infrastructure — particularly of energy — more pleasant environment, editing harmful genes, carbon compound equivalents to metal-based items, health care, breeding of exotic species, space travel.  All this follows from a continuing explosion of scientific research.

The Revolution is dead.  Long live the Revolution.

Finding a way forward

One of the consequences of the highly complex nation-states of the First World is the rise in the number of professional interest groups that are at once protective and equally desirous of advancing their influence at governmental level. At the same time, the number of political views is rising pari passu among the electorate.

Thus in the UK — keeping to the myth that we are a ‘united’ country — we have at least 10 distinctly different political groups already. The Tory party has two different types, the Labour party also — even more definitively — England has four — LibDems plus Ukip plus London and the provinces — Scotland three, Wales two, Northern Ireland three.

If we had proportional representation at election times we’ d have anything between 15 and 20 political parties after our votes. In Holland, a country very similar to us economically and culturally, there are 15 political parties at elections because they have proportional representation.

There are those who say that multi-party governments make for too much complexity. That/’s not a cogent argument — it is the normal exigensies of modern life which produces such a wide varietys of viewpoints in the population and indecisiveness at governmental level.

What we actually need are 10 to 20 — or more — governments, each dealing with one important area of policy-making and legislation. Like any multinational corporation, each of them can be layered into no more than four or five layers of expertise — and not well over 20 as in the present civil service.

The democratic nature of this set-up can be guaranteed for every member of the public by having the right to join at least one of the most basicgovernment groups, membership being maintained by a high standard of attendance. Periodically, each group can then elect a smaller number of their own to proceed to the next higher level where they may be joined by invited members of the civil service and by expert witnesses.

Two or three further elections and conjunctions of more and higher experts would take each government committee to the top for final legislation. Of course, in many cases, if not all of them, the findings of one government might have be merged into those of another. Thus a great deal of cross-governmental polities would have to be negotiated.

Difficult maybe, but not impossible. I commend this idea for your consideration.

David in Putinland

The latest “evidence” concerning Trump, which turns out to be stories rather than hard fact reminds me of a retired senior MI6 who spoke fleetingly on Newsnight some years ago who said: “By far the most of the guidance that the secret services present to prime ministers has been distilled from reading their [foreign country’s] press.”

Once again, I don’t want to sound as though I’m a Trump supporter — which I am not — but, as he said recently, the American CIA has completely overlooked the building up of so many serious events, that one has to be sceptical of whatever it produces, particularly when there’s a political agenda involved.

2016 — the start of the Biological Revolution

One day, some humans may have wings and fly in the air and other have gills and swim in the sea. This will be by means of gene-editing, a technque that has only been developed in the last ten years.  By this method a gene in your DNA might be identified and neatly extracted, or modified.  Perhaps also, a gene new to your DNA can be added.  When will flying or swimming humans be possible?  Who knows?   At present it certainly seems like hundreds of years away.

In the meantime, gene-editing will be used to delete or modify harmful recessive genes that gives you or your children an illness — or a propensity to it.  Thousands of such genetic diseases have already been identified with varying frequencies in the form of single copies in  individuals ranging from 1 in 20 to 1 in 100,000.  Such single copies are carried but don’t physically express themselves, only when they match up with an identical one in the other set of DNA contributed by the mother or father of the individual.

How accessible will gene-editing become?  Its benefits are so great that it will become rationed just as — if not very much more so — is already happening with present-day medical treatments. Just as aspiration for personal status incentivised the industrial revolution so will aspiration for personal good healtth incentivise the biological revolution.

A Tory prime minister introduces a Sharing Society

After being stabbed in the back in this week’s Economist for not having a strategy, Theresa May came out fighting today. In an article in the Daily Telegraph to be followed by a speech tomorrow in which she’ll go into details, May lays out a wide reform strategy aimed principally at the lives of the poor, and also those who are only just managing today. Overall, she calls it the Shared Society.

One must be forgiven for being a tad sceptical about a politician’s utterances, but she sound forceful enough and she repeats herself freqnently enough so as to leave no doubt about her sincerity.  We will await her speech with interest — and, of course, the follow-through.

Immediate retraction!

I need to retract my previous blog within hours of writing it.  I have just been listening on BBC Newsnight to the  retired head of the American CIA and also a professor ar one of the London universities who studies hacking.

The hacking emanates from a Russian Army unit containing not just hundreds, but thousands, of  specialists. It has been hacking into foreign political and diplomatic — inter alia — emails for 20 years with implicit permission from Putin — in this case explicitly so no doubt.

On Trump’s side for the moment

One doesn’t have to be a Trump supporter to believe him rather than CIA officials in suggesting that Russian hacking operations into Democratic Party emails, sanctioned by Putin,  swung the presidential election away from Hillary Clinton and towards Donald Trump.

Where’s the evidence?  Yes, there’s evidence that it was Russian hackers who breached the emails of senior Democratic campaigners.  Yes, it has had a controversial effect among US politicians and officials — albeit most of it after the election , not before it.  Yes, it has made the refined operations of the Democratic campaigners look sloppy.

But No, not one voter’s personal testimony has been produced to say that knowledge of the hack beforehand caused him or her to change his vote from the Democrat contender to the Republican.  No, no connection has been shown between the hackers and permission from Putin.

The incident would not have rated as controversial were it not for the increasingly degenerative state of the American political system — closely followed by that of the UK.

The real political power of the civil service

The resignation of Sir Ivan Rogers, the senior civil servant as the head of the Brexit negotiators, following his long email which said that our team doesn’t have a plan ready for March’s negotiations with the EU.

There’s no need to have one right now, with most of January and the whole of February remaining in which to look at all the information and putative arguments in the round.  Sir Ivan has actually let the British team down and given encouragement to the EU negotiators.

The incident has actually exposed two myths about the civil service.  One is that First Division civil servants are supposed to remain politically neutral.  Sir Ivan obviously wasn’t.  The other is that the civil service is supposed to remain in the background and let government ministers take the ‘credit’ for public discussion.  This incident shows that the (unelected) senior civil servant actually has more influence than any minister below prime minister.

The dual effect of pre-1914 Vienna

Atanu Dey has reprimanded me for not mentioning Vienna in my recent blog about the importance of the surrounding culture in fostering innovation (“How to be creative” 26 December).  Indeed !   As the imperial capital of the Habsburg Empire, it is not surprising that Vienna was a highly cosmopolitan city in which the native Austrians were joined with quite large contingents of Italians, Slovaks, Chechs, Hungarians, Moravians, Germans and Jews.  In the period from 1880 to the outbreak of World war One in 1914, Vienna turned out to be what was arguably the most creative city that has ever existed.

All of the different groups had arrived in Vienna at specific times for specific political or economic reasons and were not inclined to be pleasant to one another.  Their relationships were much as those of hunter-gatherer tribes towards their neighbours — extreme wariness at the best of times and downright venomous at their worst.

Only two things held the city in one piece.  One was the liberal-minded Emperor Franz Joseph and the other were the friendships of the intelligentsia of all the national groups as they met at afternoon tea parties, salons, university faculties, symposia and concerts.

With a few additions of my own, the list below has been taken from Democracy, the God that Failed (2001) by Hans-Herman Hoppe. There are at least half-a-dozen geniuses below and a goodly crop of Nobel prize winners.

Among philosophers:
Otto Neurath, Ludwig Boltzmann, Franz Brentano, Rudolph Camap, Edmund Husserl, Ernst Mach, Alexius Meinong, Karl Popper, Moritz Schlick, and Ludwig Wittgenstein;

Among mathematicians:
Kurt Godel, Hans Hahn, Karl Menger, and Richard von Mises ;

Among economists:
Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk, Gottfried von Haberler, Friedrich A. von Hayek, Carl Menger, Fritz Machlup, Ludwig von Mises, Oskar Morgenstern, Joseph Schumpeter, and Friedrich von Wieser ;

Among psychologists:
Sharlotte Buehler, Richard Krafft-Ebbing, Rudolph von Jhering, Hans Kelsen, Anton Menger, and Lorenz von Stein, Alfred Adler, Carl Jung, Joseph Breuer, Karl Buhler, and Sigmund Freud;

Among lawyers and legal theorists:
Max Adler, Otto Bauer, Egon Friedell, Heinrich Friedjung,

Among historians and sociologists;
Paul Lazarsfeld, Gustav Ratzenhofer, and Alfred Schutz;

Among writers and literary critics:
Hermann Broch, Franz Grillparzer, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Karl Kraus, Fritz Mauthner, Robert Musil, Arthur Schnitzler, Georg Trakl, Otto Weininger, and Stefan Zweig;

Among artists and architects:
Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, Adolf Loos, and Egon Schiele, and Alban Berg;

Among composers:
Johannes Brahms, Anton Bruckner, Franz Lehar, Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schonberg, Johann Strauss, Anton Webern, and Hugo Wolf

For the sake of historical balance it must be mentioned that, in the same period as the fecundity above, Vienna also gave birth to a right-wing anti-Semitic political party led by Georg Schoenerer.  This became a major influence in the minds of many, including a recent out-of-work immigrant to Vienna, Adolf Hitler.  In later years, anti Semitism became one of the basic creeds of the National Socialist (Nazi) Party which Hitler founded.  Most of those in the above list were Jews and escaped to live abroad, usually England and America, before certain death awaited them.

A redundant hypothesis

If global warming is due to the production of CO2 at power stations from the burning of coal and oil, it doesn’t really matter whether we continue with vain attempts to control it or not.

In 20 years’ time, once the Chinese have got their remaining 300 millions interior rural poor into factory jobs, world production of CO2 is highly likely to be heading downwards.

This will be hugely assisted by world-wide development of fracked shale gas.  The burning of shale gas produces only half the CO2 as coal or oil.  Contemporary with this is that world population will be starting to dip within the following 20 years.

A bad 2017 for humans

The bad news for humans is that fighting and warfare will not cease during 2017 — nor, probably, for decades afterwards.  The reason is that we are killers between cultures as much as we are peacemakers within them. The territorial imperative — the million year-olds instinct to protect a food getting region, and now jobs — is as string as ever.

Our recently developed gene-editing techniques cannot remove the ‘violent’ gene involved because it will be shared among many scores, perhaps hundreds, of other genes.  It’s a case of “be careful what you wish for” because it would introduce unknown complexities into behaviour of normal assertiveness.  The only way that fighting and warfare can be reduced is when politicians learn about human instincts from anthropologists and evolutionary biologists and start to re-organize the shape and size of our organisations.

Human nature can never be manipulated by genetic engineering but organisation can be by attending to their constitutions.  That, unfortunately, is still more than two or three generations away yet.

A good 2017 for elephants

The good news for 2017 is that the Chinese government is stopping the buying and selling of new ivory.  This will kill the poaching of African elephants for the sake of their tusks stone dead.  Otherwise, with the present and rising scale of shooting the species would have gone extinct within the next 10 to 15 years.

True, some would have survived in zoos and conservation areas in Europe but they would never have been able to go wild again in Africa.  This would have required knowing the few remaining sources of water during severe drought in regions of hundreds of square miles.  This was only known to grandmothers of herds and imparted to others only over lifetimes of experience.

A pragmatic currency

The practicality of a gold (or silver, or platinum) standard currency can be shown by a simple chain of reasoning.

When you receive a banknote in your hand from the bank that issued it you can’t be certain of its authenticity.  It may look or feel correct, but it still might be a well-made counterfeit.  The only reason why you don’t worry about it is that you know that the bank will have checked sufficiently through its banknotes already, looking for those with identical identification numbers from those originally printed.

Howwver, when your bank account receives an elecronic version of the banknote you cannot be certain of the background of the money because there is no identification number on each unit.  A fake digital pound or dollar wouldn’t show up by any sort of duplication test.  Once a fictive unit has been introduced as money into into any financial institution then it can live as normal life as any genuine digital ccurrency from then on.

Of the two types of currencies above, the banknote one is, let us say, 99% trustworthy while the digital one is somewhere between 0% and 99% trustworthy depending on the nature of the various owners before it gets to you .  What about a digital currency that’s guaranteed to be 100% trustworthy?  This claim is made by bitcoin — and several others of a similar type — until recently quite fashionable among some.

Bitcoin and other similar digital currencies not only contains an identification number but also its past history — called a blockchain — no matter how many transactions it’s been through since its formation.  This enables it to be used between individuals without any financial intermediaries such as banks  Thus, if he wants to, the user of a bitcoin could trace its use back to when and where it was originally created and thus its validity.

The problem with blockchains is that, in ime. each bitcoin accumulates a long back history.  Thus, it isnt scalable.  The more it’s used the more that electrical power is required in users’ computers or smartphones.  This make bitcoinage potentially more expensive than ‘normal’ digital money that we use now.  It also means that transactions become very slow.  Bitcoins turn out to have a high price for the gain in assurance against conterfeiting.

Another claimant for 100% trustworthyness is digital-gold.  Imagine an ingot of gold sitting in a bank vault.  Because it’s of precise weight then it represents a precise and equal number of digital currency units — in this case each with its own identification number — in the real world.  While the gold units remains static, each of its digital ones in partnership are buzzing about as they move from the ownership of one person to another.

Also, if a person wanted to know what surplus cash he had the bank could print a list for him of all his unts, and their identifcation numbers.  If he was a ‘doubting Thomas’ abut their validity he could also go the bank and ask to see all the ingots containing his wealth in the form of gold.  To be helpful, the bank could easily relocate all his identification numbers scattered about in different ingots into one ingot.  The owner could, in fact, take the ingot home with him if he wanted. There couldn’t be anything more secure and practical than that.

How to be creative

Looking at the evidence from history it is clear that intensely creative episodes have occurred in different countries all round the globe. What’s also clear is that once an episode is over — after two or three generations at the most — it never returns to that country again.

A fascinating feature of ideas that become immediately successful is that, although they can only occur in the mind of one person, he or she needs the support of a friendly group of supporters or investors in order that they see the light of day and are able to be radiated further into science and public consciousness.

Quite often a new idea arises in the mind of someone whom we will call a genius, with friends around whom we will call near-geniuses.  As a result of the intensity of discusssion around an original idea, it often happens that the near-geniuses develop ideas of their own in their particular spheres and acquire reputations of genius rank.  The original innovator is more of a ‘super-genius’.  Such individuals, such as Richard Feynman in the last cnetury, may cause several new groups to arise in the course of their lifetime and thus bring even more ideas into existence.

But why should creative episodes be such ephemeral events?  Why should they seem to occur only once in the lifetime of a civilization or ethnicity? We have a clue when we realize that almost all creative people come from middle-class or upper-class families.  They all have plenty of leisure time in order to incubate the mental ‘itch’ which later becomes the fully developed idea.  The families in which they were raised need to have already been well imbued with a relaxed way of life, liberal ideas  and open-mindedness.

It is this sort of culture that seems necessary.  In any regime since 8,000BC, such relaxed periods have been very infrequent for most of the populations of the world.  And until recently — up until about 1800 in England — their middle-classes and upper classes together would amount to nowhere near 1% at any one time.

However, when all is said and done about the creative hotspots of Europe, such as those surrounding Galileo, Copernicus, Bacon, etc in their early days, it doesn’t explain how these began to join together as a much more integrated movement in northern Europe among dozens of experimenters in several explicitly scientific new institutions, such as the Royal Socicty (1660).  The two ‘super-geniuses’ at work at that time were Leibnitz in Germany and Newton in England.

Furthermore, although hotspots may not have lasted more than a generation or so within any particular university or research institution, the whole movement, rather remarkably, has now retained momentum for about 12 generations. But — and this is the fascinating “but” — most of the serious scientific work is done in a relatively small path of countries along a coastal strip of northern Europe — Germany, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, France and England — and not anywhere else in Europe.  So there’s something to be said, again, for the importance of a liberal culture.

The restoration of common law

Five hundred years ago, when the world’s economy first began to become global, there existed a 15,000 kilometre unbroken chain of law courts in many seaports situated on the the north-eastern coast of China down through south-east Asia, westwards through India and the Mediterranean, and north-westwards along the coastline of western Europe finally ending when it reached the Baltic.

These were the mercenary courts — the ones that applied justice between merchants — and were little noticed by the public or the powers-that-be in the uniquely different cultures — each with its own statutory laws — along the route.  They only chose to prosecute merchants and adjudicate between them on the evidence of bad debts or broken transactions, etc.

The judges — fellow merchants — had no powers of punishment such as goal, nor did they want them because they have a maintenance cost.  Any merchant found guilty would simply be ‘sent to Coventry’ — ignored — from then onwards.  They would be unable to operate as merchants from then onwards.  Ports and courts along the same stretch of coastline would hear the verdict first, but more distant ones in different cultures would also get to hear sooner or later by the usual grapevine.

The mercantile courts had no powers of arrest.  A plaintiff merchant would have to wait until he managed to catch an offending merchant in port and then apply to the local court for punishment or restitution in some form.  Thus a Swedish merchant could process a claim on a Chinese merchant — and show the evidence — in an Egyptian court.  If the offending merchant were found guilty then the news would spread along the chain in the same way as if the court had been held in either China or Sweden (probably in half the time, actually!).

The reason why the location of the court doesn’t matter much is that verdicts were arrived at on the basis of evidence and common sense, not the statutory law which governments use to control the general public.  For ‘common sense’ read common law or case law or equity law.  There are only two ports these days where common law is still practised.  These are London and New York.  There’s evidence that the use of common law is now growing again to its former importance.

Waiting for sense to dawn about racism

“The Church is institutionally racist” says thee Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin, a black, born and lived in Jamaica until she was 21.  “I do not believe that the Church recognises that we are there, she adds.  “With my hand on my heart, I do not believe that the Church recognises and embraces its minority ethnic membership.”

She ought to know — she’s priest vicar at Westminster Abbey and chaplain to the Queen, but also Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons. She was speaking on BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme.  It’s understandable.  The racism label, if you want to use it, applies equally well to many large organisations, public or private and in many towns, cities and regions.

It’s because we all, visibly or not, live and work in tribes. protecting ourselves from any significant incursion from outsiders, whether of physical habits or cognitive beliefs. There is one exception to this in all cultures.  There are also much smaller groups to which we belong.

Some of these groups  — whether we’re consciously of them or not — contain no more than about a dozen mature adults who are comfortable with one another’s role.  Some of these groups are active during the working day and others in leisure time.  Any attempts of outsiders in any number to gain entrance will be rebuffed, either aggressively or deviously.  This is what modern liberals call racism, but it’s actually instinctive, or automatic, and applies in all cultures.

Individuals who wish to gain entrance as individuals to a group — usually to one higher in the social order — can do so by modelling themselves meticulously in the idiosyncracies and qualifications of the target group.  He then has a chance of being accepted with little pain, or even being offered an invitation. One such entrant per group in a given length of time would be plenty.

All this and a great deal more that’s relevant in thinking about racism is being revealed by evolutionary biology.  Most of the major breakthroughs have come since the Human Genome Project in 2000.  Another two or three decades to pass will be necessary before the lessons being learned will be filtering into the minds of governments and senior civil servants.

Keeping up your intelligence in old age . . . !

After a study of 122 older adults between the ages of 65 and 75 a research tems at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Summary, the consumption of a pigment found in leafy greens is linked to the preservation of ‘crystallized intelligence,’ the ability to use the skills and knowledge one has acquired over a lifetime.

The key molecule is a protein called Lutein and seemingly protects the grey matter (the neurons) in the processing or thinking part of the brain — the crinkly outer layer of our cortex.  It is found in green vegetables, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, and also in egg yolks.

For those who want to know more the details appear as a paper in the current Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

Let’s grow our civil service!

One of the consequences of writing a daily blog — at least those of the reflective sort — is that the viewpoint of the writer on a particular subject can change over the years.  One of those in my own scheme of things is that bureaucracies — whether of any large business or government — are undesirable because they become too much of a financial drain on the whole organisation.

In times of financial distress, bureaucracies must therefore be reduced.  In business, with shareholders keeping a close eye on profits — which can change immensely from one year to the next — this is more easily achieved.  It’s either that or bankruptcy.

Governmental bureaucracies are quite another story, or used to be.  In more recent years, particularly since the 2008 crisis, governments can, and do, slim down more readily than when I first began to write on the subject.

My view now is that, as the number of scientific specialisations — and thus commercial development — grows, then the number of experts within the civil service  — to regulate excesses or to cope wth emergencies — must grow correspondingly.  And the more advanced  nation becomes the larger with its civil service have to grow commensurately.

Silos of potential power

“Middle class” as a category came into existence in the 19th century when the industrial revolution was accelerating.  The 10% or so who were called middle class were correctly labelled, being halfway between the two main classes — the miniscule land-owning aristocracy and the vast working class.

Today, middle class has lost most of its meaning because — in this country and America particularly — the term has been has also been captured by sizeable quantities of the working class who have left their oil cans and overalls behind them and are now buying houses and cars — and often wearing ties on clean shirts every day —  just like the real middle class of, say, 50 to 100 years ago.

Instead, we have an entirely different social structure.  It’s impossible to describe accurately because the post-industrial era is still very early in its formation.  It’s still a hierarchical, pecking order type of society but with many more specialisations than ever before.  “Social elite” is probably the best term to use for the time being, making up about 25% of the population.

The social elite is comprised of the very rich plus all their back-up teams of supportive professional and technical specialisations. Each of them constitutes its own silo of political power, each of them with a pecking order of its own and each of them aspiring to spend time with the most influential politicians in the government in order to gain more privileges for itself.  That’s as far as this writer can take it for now.

Not ‘designer babies’ but more than a millimetre towards them

No matter how much opprobrium is thrown at the idea of ‘three parent babies’ (TPBs) by purists, the method is surely here to stay.  The first TPB procedure was carried out in Mexico earlier this year — where there are no laws against it — and at least one is planned in this country in 2017 — where the practice was legalised last year.

The first TPBs will be that of mitochondrial replacement in cases where females have inherited faulty mitochondria which can lead to serious diseases in later life.  Mitochondria lie outside the DNA nucleus in our body cells, have their own much smaller packet of genes and are inherited only through the female line.  A faulty line can only be extinguished if a mother has only boys.

The bulk of a person’s DNA is totally unaffected by TPB but the time is closely coming when another procedure called CrispR, or gene-editing, will be used to extract faulty genes and replace them with good ones. As with TPB in advanced countries, gene-editing will probably first take place in countries where their governments have been slow to legislate or are ideologically opposed to it.

Curiosity and challenge will be impossible to resist in the case of some of the leading exponents.  Due to the complexity of genetic permutations, we’ll never have ‘designer babies’ as popularly understood but geneticists will be more than a millimetre or two towards them in the next few hundred years.

In reply to James

In reply to my “Resuming progress — but with more intelligence” (14 December), James Knight writes: “I personally think there is reason to be optimistic that economic growth will continue broadly despite increased inequality, quite simply because the economy is not a fixed pie, and because there are countless future goods and services that are currently not goods and services.”

If by “fixed” you meant in composition, I fully agree with you. Three hundred years ago 90% of the economy was agricultural, today it’s barely 10%. If by “fixed” you meant in size I agree with you, but only partially. The world economy is still growing at present mainly to industrialise sufficiently to bring the remaining Chinese rural poor — about 300 million — into the newly built cities.

Otherwise the world economy is definitely a fixed-size pie. It can only be as large as the energy that can be injected into it. To raise the present population of the world to the same standard of living as the middle-classes of the advanced countries would require several times more additional energy. This is plainly not achievable.

Finally, yes, there will certainly be “countless future goods and services that are currently not goods and services.” But the bulk of consumers’ money that drives economic growth is spent on status goods and services — and there are no more of these. What with houses, car, furnishings, fashion clothes, expensive personal ornaments we — and on which we frequently spent up to the hilt — have emptied the pot that royalty and the aristocracy used to enjoy exclusively.

David Trump as a useful marker

The financiering sector of the world economy — mainly that of the United States and its ever obedient satrapy, the United Kingdom, and at least several times the size of what it needs to be — is in a dither like no other ever since it started to expand beyond all reason and, indeed, understanding, by central bankers and suchlike experts, in the 1980s.

Why then?  Because it was being realised about then that there was no other uniquely new consumer product that the masses needed to buy in order that each income-earning individual could put on display to work-mates, friends, family relations and people who lived nearby just how much social status he’d already attained or was still aspiring for.  In fact, to repeat the sort of politics that used to go on between aristocrats.

For the first time — although politicians don’t appreciate the irony — people in America and Europe, with all the political upsets now going on, are now practising real democracy [that is, people power] to replace the pseudo sort that they were palmed off with prior to the 2008 Crash.

As we move from a mainly profit-based manufacturing world economy —  at least in the advanced countries — to that of an increasnigly fees-based inter-personal services era, it won’t be David Trump and his eager cohort of pals who will get us there because they’ll be trying too hard to rejig 30 years of past history, but their attempts from next month onwards could be useful markers of what not to try.

Resuming progress — but with more intelligence

Because man has done pretty well, food-wise, since turning from hunter-gathering to agriculture 10,000 years ago, we have so far postponed the catastrophe that is to follow — as it has affected every other species that has gone along the same route — vast world over-population.  A steep decline in population in all countries is the least of it.

Most of the 180 non-advanced countries haven’t  a chance of avoiding catastrophe because they’ll be unable to reduce their populations fast enough to match their declining incomes — from trade, from advanced country hand-outs, remittances from emigrants — or the brutal exclusion their brightest and the most enterprising of their young people will receive when trying to enter the advanced countries for jobs or state welfare.

The only populations that will do well in the next 500 years are the social elite of the advanced countries — those in government, business and scientific discovery and development — roughly about 20% of their populations.  Not only do these elites mostly own and take economic decisions on existing manufacturing but they are also at the forefront in applying new automated techniques to almost every other job that still requires human muscular effort.  The social elites will be able to trade for products that no-one else can.

Back of an envelope calculations suggests that the total social elite population of the world will then — AD 2500? — be between half and a billion and a billion.  This is pretty well the same as the total world population was when we were hunter-gatherers before being inveigled up the agricultural path.

This time it won’t be a matter of starting all over again.  We will also have had the benefit of 700 years of evolutionary selection for intelligence — something that started in earnest at the beginning of the industrial revolution at around 1800.

Appropriate education

More and more economists are now beginning to doubt that the annual growth in the standard of living — even of the social elite of advanced countries — will ever reach anything more than 1%.  This agrees with my own theory which says that this is unsurprising.  When different versions of all possible status goods become available to rich and poor alike, all individuals, save the perennially ambitious, can show their social rank by the quality and price of the goods they walk around in or raise their children in during their leisure time.

Just as the old watchword was “There is no such thing as a free lunch”, the new one will be “There is no such thing as a fascinating culture if based on passive education”.

The rise and rise of Boris Johnson

Prime Minister Theresa May is rumoured — no doubt correctly – to hit the roof when her Foreign Secretary,  Boris Johnson described the war in Yemen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.  Why should she have become so agitated?  After all, she appointed him in the first place.  He’s only repeated what everyone else believes.  Why should it have remained sotto voce — within the Foreign Office?

The answer is, of course, that because the UK is a major supplier of weaponry to Saudi Arabia — including, recently, the very same laser-directed bombs that have killed so many civilians in Yemen — Johnson is really only exposing the fact that were we to stop trading with Saudi Arabia, many hundreds of engineering workers in this country would lose their jobs.

Johnson found his true slot in life years ago — the writer of humorous essays.  After another gaffe or two — perhaps only one if Theresa May has any sense — he’ll be back to it.

The small usefulness of PISA tests

The triennial Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test results are out again and, as usual, many in the West European countries — parents, employers, governments — are worried that East Asian 15 year-olds occupy pretty well all the top spots in maths, science and reading comprehension whereas Western schoolchildren find themselves scattered almost everywhere in the middle ranges.  They really ought not to be worried, because it is not comparing like with like.

East Asian results — sometimes quite spectacular — are gained from rote learning many hours a day under authoritarian teachers, plus in many, if not most, cases extra cramming.  In comparison, teaching and learning in Western secondary schools, private and state, is laid back, almost casual, in style.  However, some schools in both sectors — albeit only a handful — manage to produce results which are as good as the best Asian schools.

So are PISA tests a good method of judging the merits of either system?  Hardly!  About 300 European-born scientists have won Nobel prizes in science in the last century whereas only about a dozen Asian researchers have done so.  Also, every year, 200,000 Asian parents send their children to be educated in England and America.  None go in the other direction except for a few who  want to become perfect Mandarin speakers.

The data gathered from PISA tests will be useful to future economic historians no doubt, but little more can be claimed for them at the present time.

Betting on the environment

Largely unnoticed 50 years ago when environmental concerns first began to be aired beyond an exceptionally small minority — regarded as eccentrics — the young were, in fact, quietly taking it all on board.  Today, many of the more intelligent of those young are now in positions of political influence where decisions are actually taken — in education, scientific research, the civil service, business and even governmental politicians themselves.

All is definitely not lost as we continue to inflict swathes of damage on the natural environment.  This is particularly so among the social elite — 20% of the populations of the half-dozen leading advanced countries that still dominate in the manufacture and trading in high-value consumer and producer products.

Not only that, but serious concern is now spreading among the higher social levels of the non-elite — witness the popularity of environmental themes in the media and the mass memberships of many environmentally related pasttimes.

Environmental concern is probably now reaching the strength that has been yearned for by its adherents. There’s probably a lot more to come as scientific research intensifies. Without being complacent, that’s where I’d put my money.

The better part of valour in the Supreme Court

In deliberating whether the Brexit referendum vote should go back to the House of Commons for final approval, the UK Supreme Court is mounting a personal challenge to Theresa May, the Prime Minister. In taking up the job she had declared that there should be no ambiguity about the electorate’s vote — that we have decided to leave the EU with no reservations.

Not only is it a challenge to May but also to those who voted for Brexit. They are liable to be a great deal more angry.

In short, in trying to become a major power player in the country so soon after being instituted — only six months ago — the 11 judges of the Supreme Court are in danger of being humiliated. In order to avoid this, it is probable that the judges have already quietly decided between themselves that they’ll ultimately find in May’s favour even though the legal arguments in court will go on for days yet

The multi-governments of the future

To answer the question posed by the previous blog, what is the “strong clue” of what form it might take? Reflection tells us that we and our predecessors had already evolved a form of government that was remarkably similar everywhere on earth whatever the environment.

This was especially true in the most recent two million years when mile-high cliffs of ice would periodically sweep down and cover large parts of northern Europe, America and Asia and change man’s immediate environments completely.

Become hunter-gatherers again living in separate governances of no more than about 120 to 150 people in each before dividing into two? This happens whenever a committee of more than a dozen mature adults try to agree on long term strategy — and a single leader — and fall out with one another as a result.

Most people would scorn such a proposal. Quite rightly, too — as they are now conceived. But hold on! Modern ‘Focus Groups’ on which advanced governments now rely are much the same size — in terms of the dozen or so mature adults — as hunter-gatherer groups.

Under the guidance of an expert, such focus groups can reveal feelings and information of ordinary people that any amount of political elections and referendums would be unable to portray.

In the last ten years or so, all advanced governments are now holding hundreds of focus groups every year, quietly considering new strategies that politicians would normally be too frightened of mentioning in public.

Also, all focus groups need not remain ad hoc — as they are now. Some of them, probably an increasing proportion of them in due course, can be sitting groups devoted to specific policies and specialisations as they develop.

Furthermore, all citizens would have the right to attend at least the lowest level of any permanent specialist group, but not to be selected by a higher group unless he’d seriously studied the subject and could make a rational case for his point of view.

The subject obviously needs a huge amount of debate but if focus groups continue to develop as they have been doing then there seems to be no reason why they shouldn’t graduate into governments in their own right.

Our next type of governance?

The reason why the present type of nation-state top-down governance will have to give way to a more lateralised one is that there are now too many specialisations.  Their data jam up long before they can get the attention of the decision makers at the top, priorities chosen and decisions taken.  The result is that modern government in the advanced countries is being increasingly characterised as broken.

“Broken” is a cruel word. Nevertheless, when a shibboleth like that develops over time, then it is usually an accurate description of what is happening.  If governance is broken then what about its close associate, democracy?  Or the way it is usually described in glowing colours by our politicians?   For most of the electorate, democracy is simply going to the ballot box once every few years.

There’s one recent development in the advanced countries which, if reflected on further, might give more than a strong clue as to the next form of governance that might evolve.  See next blog.

Digging into a new era

Whatever the total results of a David Trump Presidency will be from January onwards — however badly the overall exerience may turn out to be — one policy that’s more likely than most to have a positive effect over the longer term will be the result of the appointment of Betsy DeVos as his Education Secretary.

A non-Party philanthropist DeVos’s view — as that of Allisstatus — is to widen parent choice for their children using vouchers and a freeing of regulations to allow many more Free Schools and Charter Schools.  This will be strongly opposed by the teaching unions under the (misguided) notion that protective practices — from working class through to the highest professional institutions — can resist change  forever.

However,  there’s no reason why the Trump-DeVos initiative shoud not get support from both sides of Congress, as did George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act and Barack Obama’s Every Student Succeeds Act.  There’s an insufficiency of evidence yet that Free Schools — tending to be situated in the poorer parts of the cities — provide a clearly superior level of education than state secondary schools, but there certainly is plenty of evidence that the standard of state education improves enormously whenever a new Free School is set up nearby.

Parents generally in the advanced coountries with their multiplicity of new specialisaions will always be nearer the current jobs scheme than senior civil servants in government departments.  Now that the half-dozen high-value trading nations are in a near-moribund economic condition they now have an opportunity to slowly dig their way into a much more sophisticated services era via a much enhanced educational system.

Leaving a pecking-order behind us . . .

An orthodox economist might readily suppose that, once the flame of the industrial revolution (IR) had been ignited in the Manchester cotton mills in 1780, it would have immediately leaped from one country to another all over the world — or at least into many dozens of them.  It didn’t work out like that.  Yes, the IR leaped out of Manchester all right, but only into a handful of other nearby countries — France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark and Germany — together with a distant US.

Another even more distant country, Japan, also took to the IR at around 1880 and did so voraciously, not so much by word of mouth or great familiarity wth our culture but by slavishly copying everything we were making — and exporting so profitably — and the methods we used to do so.  China also started out about then but only in a desultory way and didn’t really get down to dealing with it seriously until the 1980s.

What makes this greatly uneven take-up even more astonishing today is that in terms of the quality of goods traded between countries there is a steep decline in value between the advanced countries mentioned above and the 180 remaining nations.  In terms of quality and sophistication of goods, the pattern of world trading is as similar today as it was 200 years ago.  In other words, there is a pecking order in the trading of goods as in so many other human situations.  Just like social relationships, countries only really want to trade with those slightly above or equal to them in standard of living and thus the quality of goods their inhabitants enjoy.

Furthermore, as we proceed in modern times from a predominantly manufacturing world economy into one of sophisticated personal services requiring altogether higher levels of scientific research and development, the pecking order pattern is being retained.  The handful of advanced countries — now accompanied by Japan and (almost) China — will still dominate the higher value bands of trade.  Most of the countries of the world, as now, will be left trailing behind for a very long time to come.