Is intelligence dividing us?

In view of the fact that the brain more than doubled in the last two million years before Homo Sapiens appeared and that intelligence is at a premium since we left hunter-gathering then it is probably still our fastest-changing faculty and being selected for.

We know that, in the last 10,000 years,  there have been evolutionary changes in our dentition and also in mutations which allows us to digest milk and have resistance to certain diseases.  What we don’t know for certain, because we have no possible standard IQ test that could have been applied all the way through the last 10,000  years, is whether our intelligence has been increasing.

The fact that we have become increasingly specialised in our skills since 10,000 years ago is highly suggestive that our intelligence has been growing. It is highly unfeasible that the number of specialisations could have grown while general intelligence was declining. Mind you, IQ tests can only measure a few mental parameters.  Because scores are generally correlated with general intelligence then IQ tests are useful when selecting people for averagely skilled jobs or below.  They are increasingly useless when selecting for highly-skilled jobs.

While a person of higher intelligence can fairly accurately assess the intelligence of a lower-skilled person — that is, in terms of an IQ score — after conversing for a few minutes, he or she would require many conversations to make a shrewd estimate of the intelligence of someone with an IQ score close to their own and impossible if talking to a person of much higher intelligence apart from recognizing its presence.  For example, it is rumoured that, some years ago, when Goldman Sachs was much smaller, job candidates were interviewed 10 times by 10 separate partners in the firm.  Even then it was many years before that had a chance of being made partners.

While size and brute force — abundant health — is the desired quality for the pecking order of the group — and the ultimate leadership — in the lower social mammals, the more that intelligence would have become necessary in the primates that evolved to us during the 2.5 million years on the African savannah when it was wracked by repeated changes in temperature and tree cover as the 20 or so Ice Ages swung back and forth and we experienced precarious living conditions.  Intelligence had to emerge as a principal quality that needed to be selected.

We can assume, then, that the increasing specialisations of the leading advanced countries — that is, those with significant numbers of scientific research labs able to throw up innovations and yet more specialisations — leads to elites of higher intelligence than average.  A BBC television/internet survey of IQ scores in England some 30 years ago — and too politically dangerous ever to have been repeated — showed a 10-point divide between people in the north versus the south. This is understandable because almost all the highly talented or ambitious young people have been migrating to London from the north (and Scotland) for amany years.

There’s another strong factor operating here.  Sociologists call it ‘assortative mating’ –ike tends to marry like. In other words the English elite of higher intellgence in London and the south will tend to marry other members of the elite.  A high proportion of marriages in the present London elite met while undergraduates at Oxford and Cambridge.

Evolutionary biologists have a more specific term for ‘assortative mating’ — ‘sympatric separation’.  This not only includes the separation aspect but also that females choose males from as high up the social scale as they can, usually within their class but, quite often, into a higher class.  Beautiful females can do so very effectively.  As beauty is genetically correlated with intelligence and heath, the London elite is not only rending to keep high intelligence there by inter-marriage but also with the bonus of intelligent females entering from below.

I’ve often written about sympatric separation and each time wondered whether I was over-egging it.  The one thing that could defuse a build-up of high intelligence in London is more Free Schools which would compensate for the selective grammar schools which a Labour government scrapped.  However, more recent information shows that about six out of seven new Free Schools are being established in London so, if anything , the separation effect will be even more concentrated.

Whether sympatric separation will proceed even further until we have what are two virtual sub-species — alpha-man and beta-man — I don’t know.  Probably, egalitarians will become very agitated about this but as it’s a voluntary trend I don’t see how it can be prevented.  Suffice it to say that this happens in a lot of species and it’s happened in man’s past, too.  On the basis of fossil evidence so far, it looks as though there could have at least a dozen such separations, or brachiations, into two branches, and then one died out. So the question remains:  Are we being divided?

Malthus is right after all

Thomas Malthus, the theologian who also became this country’s first professional economist in the 19th century — for the East India Company — wrote in 1798 that the human capacity to multiply exceeded the natural growth of food supply. Many people would therefore starve to death. Since then, Malthus has been scorned by those economists who believe in virtually unlimited economic growth  and, this morning, by Allister Heath, the deputy editor of the Daily Telegraph.

Malthus only had vague data for this country at the time.  If he’d had accurate data from this country and also from all round the world, he would have realised that although he was wrong about England at the time — and briefly — he was right in principle over the whole world.

By the time he wrote An Essay on the Principle of Population. the world had just reached a stable population of less than a billion. This had been  reached by means of man manually cultivating every square yard of the world’s surface that could grow food my manual methods — even in terraces up the steep sides of mountains. But the stable population also meant that a great many mothers would die in childbirth, a high death rate of young children and a high death rate of people who were worn out with labour by what we would call middle-age today.

Because of medical discoveries and better health care, we now have 7 billion people — which will inevitably grow to about 11 billion before (probably) stabilising — which already includes 5 billion without a sufficiently nutritious diet, of which 2  billion who don’t eat enough calories to do a full day’s work, of which at least 0.5 billion at any one time are close to starvation. In principle, Malthus was right — much more right than he was aware of at the time.

Will Trump be banned from Britain?

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, in charge of immigration, has said that she “may exclude people who are not conducive to the public good”.  These are the usual weasel words of a politician currying favour with 56o,000 people who signed a petition wishing to ban Donald Trump from our shores for his statements about excluding Muslims from entering the US.

Of course, she won’t ban Trump.  That would be playing into his hands. However, to save her further embarrassment, she’s probably already got word to Trump through diplomatic channels that it would be unhelpful — to her — if he came.

Getting the banks into order

Advanced governments could easily get their high street banks in order, make them as honest as most other businesses, and to cease being a potential source of widespread economic instability if they didn’t treat them like kid gloves. They do this at present in two main ways: (a) guarantee depositor’s money up to a modest amount — enough to reassure most people; (b) more often than not, to use their central banks to rescue banks getting into difficulties — whether on a day by day cash basis or when likely to be heading for bankruptcy.

Governments can’t carry out (a) because there’d be outrage from most of the electorate. But what they could do, however, is to do so in conjunction with a requirement that banks publish regularly what their reserves/asset percentage — or fractional reserve — is.  In other words, how much credit a bank can safely create for its customers. At the time of the 2008 Crash most high street banks were effectively down to 0% to 1% reserves — so low, in fact, that, at around 15 September 2008, they didn’t lend money overnight to one another for fear of the other not surviving.

Today, the various high street banks in this country are at around 12% reserves and governments feel this is safe. It isn’t, of course,  It hasn’t reached what the best banks carried in the late 19th century — about 20% reserves — or what American banks had earlier in the century — 50% reserves.

Such is the widespread fear abut tomorrow’s economy — among the public as well as economists and bankers — that if banks were forced to publicise their reserves then they would gradually compete for depositors over the years until they all reached well nigh 100%.  Much more careful managements would also tend to break up the over-large banks we have today, and encourage more smaller banks to come into existence

As for (b), the 2008 Crash has meant that central banks are possibly being counted out.  By instituting a rate of 0.25% — how pathetic! — the Fed is now attempting to find out whether it has any relevance at all in tomorrow’s world. There is no structural, or economic, reason why central banks should exist.  But high street banks remain necessary if man is to remain innovative and wants to realise practical fulfilments of his ideas.

War in Europe all over again

 

A lot rides on whether Britain will leave or stay in the European Union in the next couple of years.  A least that’s what many EU politicians think.  Or at least that’s what a lot of politicians say.  For example, Carl Bildt, a former Foreign Minister and Prime Minister of Sweden who persuaded Sweden to join the EU, says the following:

“Whatever happens, one thing is certain: a year or two from now, the EU will look very different. It might be a fractured union, so preoccupied with arresting its breakdown, spurred by the UK’s withdrawal, that it stumbles on virtually every other issue it faces. Or it could be a vigorous union that includes the UK and has gotten its act together on refugee, border, and asylum issues . . .”

What a contrast!  Nothing in between?  The fact is that, whether Britain says in the EU or not, countries are only scaled-up versions of the hunter-gatherer tribe and retain their separate language, cultural identity and territorial imperative just as strongly as empires and nation-states have in between.

Just as the xenophobic political parties — of the left and the right — of several EU countries are already reversing their governments’ immigration policies, so will the countries of the EU will be at war in one way or another — not necessarily militarily — with one or two other EU countries.

Two Englands in the making

In the next 20 to 30 years, England will decide whether to remain two separate countries and drift further apart, or proceed –as it just might be starting to do now — to one nation.  What might achieve this in due course is the success of the new Free Schools and Academics — that is, the total replacement of state controlled secondary education — when students will be taught more relevant subjects than those taught for 60 years past.

Just what would one nation look like? It would be a hierarchical society just like now.  The pecking order is instinctive and will never change. What would be different, however, is that the hierarchy would be smoother and without the yawning gap that presently exists between a largely privately-educated elite and the state-educated majority.

The privately educated elite are not only given a better quality of education, but also taught a more relevant set of subjects — including much more science — but also the knowledge and the practice of already being socially well above the majority of the public. No wonder that the elite, when adult, is able to prevent the best-paid and most interesting jobs from being diluted with outsiders too much.

The present Conservative government in England is hardly any less elite than Disraeli’s Conservative government of 150 years ago.  He warned against the two-nation syndrome. Unfortunately, if I had to bet on the outcome in 150 years’ time, what with the decline of most ordinary jobs to automation in the meantime, it would be on a much greater gap thn now.

How to treat the Middle East

One of the biggest differences between the preponderantly Islamic countries and the Western nations is that the latter are practising their sense of justice — and, to a large extent, doing so publicly — while the former do not. And, because fairness has now been shown to be innate — or instinctive — we may say that some intensely religious countries are a step backwards, rather than a step forwards, from hunter-gathering.

Iran, for example, a Shia Muslim country, still publicly stones women for alleged adultery while Saudi Arabia, a Wahhabi — or extreme Sunni — country carries out punishment for the same ‘crime’ more expeditiously — by cutting off their heads, also publicly.  For modern secular countries with a high standard of living — which the majority in Iran and Saudi Arabia would dearly like to experience — these Middle East countries, among several others, can only be described as not just undeveloped, but backward.

There are highly placed modernist, reformist voices in Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates to be sure but at, present, not influential enough against the religious clerisy to take their countries further yet.  They must have been surprised in hearing that Israel’s Supreme Court has confirmed the findings of a lower court by maintaining the prison sentence of a former Prime Minister of Israel for bribery. Furthermore, they must have had a feeling of wonderment when they learn that one of the five Supreme Court judges is an Arab-Israeli

One wonders, therefore, whether, at present, these Middle East countries can ever be amenable to political solutions to their problems either between themselves — the Sunnis versus the Shias — or between themselves and us. The hatred and distaste their religious leaders have for our way of life makes it dubious. I still think we should largely isolate those countries and trade with them or help them as their cultures voluntarily approach us.

A new balance sheet for successful countries

The environmentalist argument against those who believe in constant economic growth — at least, for many decades to come — has been going strong for about 60 years now. Neither side has given way to the other.  They both remain about equally contemptuous of the other.

On the one hand, even though many regions are becoming ecologically threadbare, there have been no massive ecological catastrophes so far and, on the other hand, there’s more than enough energy available to power the world economy for a very long time to come.

Both disputants knew that, on a finite earth, economic growth has to come to an end one day but neither has ever essayed when that might be.  However, given that Japan, the most advanced country in the world 25 years ago, has been economically paralysed since then, that America and Europe are building up many economic problems, including employment — and are probably lose to paralysis — and that China, after exuberant growth in exports for the last 25 years, is finding that the demand for consumer goods is around the world slowing down significantly.

Most countries to which China formerly exported goods can no longer afford to import so many.  Unless some of these can develop leading edge scientific research –  from which would flow high value innovations that could be traded with China or wi advanced countries — then the prospects for future economic growth are dubious at best.

Because the advanced countries are now replete with all the goods and utility services that the average customer has the time and motivation for, then consumer demand is now being deflected towards more sophisticated personal services, particularly in education and medical care, not so much for status this time as for economic survival — either of their children or themselves.

In this new era a new energy balance sheet will have to be drawn up by economists in future years.  Will the energy being saved by the increasing use of automation in the production of physical goods be enough for the energy that is going to be required for the more intensive and extensive training years required for the new educational and health care professionals?

If the energy is enough then the whole populations of advanced countries will be able to raise their standard of living.  If the energy is not enough then either the standard of living of an elite class — such as what we can already discern in the advanced countries — will benefit while that of the majority of their populations will decline. As the bulk of populations in the advanced countries are already not replenishing themselves with enough children maybe they will die out in due course and no permanent harm will be done.

How is it that Britain is a Muslim-Christian country?

There appears to be a row between our High Courts and the Government. The High Courts are saying that humanism and atheism have been unlawfully excluded from the state schools’ curriculum and should be taught in schools alongside religious studies. Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education, says that schools do not have to teach non-religious world views and should let students know Britain is “in the main Christian”.

Despite the fact that over  60% of the country say they are secular and that 90% of the population would like children to be told of non-faith perspectives, the Government would not want to be even slightly associated with promoting atheism — smacking of Soviet Russia until 1990.  Prioritising Christianity in most schools will remain with Islam and Judaism taught in others will be the case for some considerable time to come, whatever the political complexion of the Government.

Atheists, humanists and their various interest groups are naive if they think they can change things by rational argument.  Rational statements about the details of a religion are usually left to the full-time professionals who are involved with the religious organisation involved and can be used to control the ordinary follower.  Religious faith is very much an emotional matter of feelings and behaviour towards fellow men and women and, of course, God.  Cultural adjustments take generations to change

In terms strictly of attendance at mosques for worship, almost 4 million Muslim immigrants this country makes this now a Muslim country.  But culturally, even with fast declining Church of England and Roman Catholic congregations we are still Christian. Wrinkles of it are too frequently embedded in our national customs and practices, particularly those of the elite, that Christianity can’t be dispensed with.

There’s a difference between morals and fairness

Many become confused when considering right and wrong and a sense of fairness. One eminent economist thinks that they stem from the same source — he calls it our herd instinct — and has said so in a book I’m currently reading. It has never occurred to him that countries can be at war — despising each other’s morals — and yet still be trading — treating each other fairly.

Morals and fairness are quite different. The first is the cause of so much of the belligerence that we often inflict on other cultures or they upon us. Our set of moral values can be quite different from those of another group, or region, or culture, or country. Sometimes, if we fall out with another culture we call it ‘evil’ or ‘savage’ or ‘criminal’ even though we may have acted similarly in times past in other situations.

Almost all of our sense of right and wrong has been taught to us, or absorbed by us, when children in the culture which we were raise in.  Even when considering other cultures we are reasonably friendly with — such as the French and us — we often find small differences to laugh about or characterise as ridiculous.

What is excluded from our culturally-derived set of morals is a deeper sense of fairness.  We know it is deeper because carefully designed experiments have shown that a few other ‘higher’ species besides ourselves also have a notion of fairness.  Fairness doesn’t have to be taught to us when children. It reveals itself from the age of about three years onwards.

A sense of fairness is the basis of all our relationships and transactions with other people — that is, with other people one at a time — whether a married partner or a business colleague or a retailer we buy products from.  European sea merchants of the 16th century could never have done deals with the different cultures of a myriad Asian island tribes they’d never met before unless a sense of fairness operated in the minds of both parties each time.

Will the present economic doldrums last?

A reader has written to me that the Principle of Least Effort may very well be true — as being the kingpin of my theory (see yesterday’s posting) — but governments can easily take decisions to increase economic growth.

My reply is that decisions are not part of the physical system of the world economy.  It’s what actually happens that counts. The world economy has certainly grown since the Second World War but, more recently, even China has found that its annual growth in exports has been declining. Economists call this a recession or a depression as though this is to be expected every now and again.

Real economic depressions only occurred in the agricultural era when local or regional droughts occurred.  In industrial times, recessions occurred — such as the Great Depression in England from 1873 to 1896 — only when banks had been giving out too much credit and activity was stimulated prematurely for too long.

Much the same has happened world-wide in the last two years for the same reason.  The Third World can’t be stimulated into economic growth unless its component countries can innovate new high-value products of their own based on basic scientific research.  Otherwise, they can’t break into the dominant ring of high-value world trade in the last 50 years by a dozen or so advanced and developing countries.

World trade is so complicated that that no-one can possibly say whether the present recession will continue — or whether it might recede or grow.  Newly upon us, it needs few more years yet before we will know.

HUDSON THEORY OF ECONOMICS — Revision 3

[For those readers interested in this, I’ll mention that this revision, apart from the Abstract, is only slightly revised down to the addition of “The motivation for consumer goods” and so on.  What has been written today is hastily done for completion so it will be extensively revised later no doubt. But I will be taking a rest from this for a few weeks and continue with normal blogging.]

Abstract
The world economic system is only capable of running efficiently at one activity level depending on the size of energy inputs no matter what political leaders want or their economic advisors suggest. Whether the ultimate world economic activity will be significantly lower or higher than today’s level is impossible to say. In a way, this is a return to the classical economists’ idea of a self-correcting economy.  Unfortunately, what is proposed is will not self=correct for full employment — there is too much automation yet to come — but for thermodynamic reasons.

Introduction
The world-wide economic system depends on man’s chief proclivity beyond eating, sexual activity and the need to have an acceptable role within a group. This is his novelty-seeking brain which can vary between passively entertained minds and the much rarer cases of those who are constantly theorising or trying out new physical and mechanical skills. Man is not different in this instinct from thousands of other animals species, only that we have creative minds to an extreme degree.  Whereas other animals’ creative activities don’t usually cause environmental destruction, many of ours do and sometimes on an epic scale.

Our economic system probably hasn’t caused too much ecological damage so far.  It’s probably repairable sooner or later either by ourselves or by evolution.  Although, strictly speaking, it must be regarded as part of the total world environment and depends upon it, our economic system can be regarded as a separate system apart from energy inputs from the sun.  Solar radiation sustains all the environment, whereas, particularly since the industrial revolution, it is necessary for only part the modern economy — agriculture.

Our economic system, being a physical system, is subject to all the known laws of physics in that, at any given level of energy inputs to keep the system going, it seeks to shed as much energy as possible.  In thermodynamics this is known as maximising Entropy, or the Principle of Least Effort to keep the system going.  Excess energy, or waste heat, is shed to outer space on cloudless nights. The Principle of Least Effort means that, at any given level of energy inputs to keep it going, the world economic system always tends to one activity level no matter what policies or strategies may be applied

The accident of the Industrial Revolution
No economic historian can give an adequate answer to how the industrial Revolution (IR) actually got started with cotton spinning in Manchester at around 1780 and grew explosively in England in the early 19th century.  By imitation, this was followed almost as explosively by France, Belgium and Germany in northern Europe in the mid-19th century, shortly followed by America.

The reason why IR began in Manchester and nowhere else where they were importing raw cotton (for example, Bristol, London and other ports in Europe) and exactly when it did is difficult to describe because there was a temporary confluence of many different factors which need to be given their relative balance.  All the following seem to be crucially important — but there are probably more I’ve left out.  :

1. A surging population of redundant people in the countryside in the latter half of the 18th century able to fill as many factories as could be built in Manchester and nearby; 2. the availability of a domestic middle-class market for cotton clothes (the woollen, silk and linen interests having persuaded the government to put a high tariff on the import of coloured cotton cloth from India in 1700);

3. the suitability for growing cotton in plantations in southern America and the West Indies  and the availability of millions of slaves from Africa to do the work; 4. the availability of many water mills (to drive factory belts) in northern England (to be followed quickly by early steam engines, already being developed in the coal mines);

5. the availability of  many country banks (not available in other northern European countries due to war-torn history) and the proximity of Scottish banks who advised English bankers to widen their depositor-base; 6. a veritable stream of Scottish inventors (trained scientifically in four Scottish universities) coming south to a more prosperous England.  (At the time, England only had two universities, Oxford and Cambridge, and they were hardly more than theological seminaries teaching little science;

7. the availability of a large and powerful navy (the largest in the world already after recently fighting the French) used to protect foreign markets from other countries’ exports; 8. the availability of large numbers of village-based weavers in the region able to take up increasing quantities of cotton thread from the northern factories (before weaving factories started to be built in the 1830 and ’40s);

The above will do. Accidents continued to be useful in making sure that the IR explosion could be continued — examples included  access to coal and iron ore from which the railways could be launched and steel ships built later in the century.  Railways meant that the coal industry could be vastly extended for export sales. By mid-19th century science became intimately involved with the development of chemicals, electricity and the telephone and a vast array of consumer goods.

England was undoubtedly ready for industrialisation in the late 18th century but it didn’t have in the exponential way that it actually happened. There were already sufficient numbers of blacksmiths, engineers and carpenters in all the towns and the larger villages of England at the tail end of the 18th century to have got the ball rolling — albeit at a much slower pace. The SR might have kicked a little later but y we’d probably have developed all the consumer goods that we have now — or not far off anyway. And so would several other countries which, today, are economically advanced.  A larger and more even industrial dispersion might well have meant that, financially, the City of London wouldn’t have attained the almost complete monopoly over international finance that it did by the late 19th century.

The motivation for consumer goods
For the first three decades what drove the industrial revolution initially ever faster were (a) the available open markets at home nd abroad and (b) hundreds of thousands of displaced people from the countryside with no other livelihood except the factories.  But cotton spinning was mainly for women and children and they could be exploited for six days a week labour for 12 to 15 hours a day. Yes, they had relatively modern brick-built and slated houses, heating was cheap and they could afford minimum food and clothes but the main motivation was simply survival.

By the 1830s. moves were afoot by Liberal-minded aristocrats and land-owners in the House of Commons and fears of Conservative-minded MPs that they might be smothered in their beds by rioting crowds and a revolutionary situation developing here — as were occurring all over Europe — plus the colossal profits being made by cotton spinning — life began to ease slightly all round. Workers had a little more money to spend. A second set of clothing for Sunday best, and a few pennies every week for the new Monitor Schools (also known as Victorian Schools) could be afforded plus the odd trinket that served as housewives’ first status good, such as a Wedgewood pot.

Status goods and services could only be affordable by the aristocrats and rich.  As far as goods were concerned they could, one by one, be substituted by mass produced equivalents, successively becoming cheaper and reaching lower social levels as production runs became larger. By the mid-19th century, the new middle-class could start to afford domestic servants.  All this meant that most people could aspire to go upwards socially and did so.  This would have been absolutely impossible in the previous agricultural era.

The modern status goods in advanced countries are pretty well fully comprised by a house, car, home furnishings, utility services, entertainment, personal ornaments, hobby activities and travel.  These are all public manifestations of what a person considers his social status to be. There don’t seem to be any more goods or utility services that aristocrats and the rich typically possess — albeit of higher-priced brands — that the average wage- or salary-earner doesn’t possess. Furthermore, the typical aristocrat and the very rich have as busy a working week as the average person.

What puts the tin hat on it, however, is that the large consumer goods manufacturers have no more consumer goods on their drawing boards.  There’s a lot of talk of domestic robots but then there has been for 50 years past/ It would be very surprising if they’ll  yet be found in the home or tending the garden in 50 years’ time.

What will drive the consumer in future years and take up an increasing amount of his income is medical and educational services — existential rather than status. Demand is such already that their price is rising steeply.  As industrial automation continues to make consumer goods and utility services more cheaply,  post-industrial services will become more expensive for two reasons.  The first is that increasingly high-level training for professional providers is necessary. The second is that higher-level services increasingly tend towards one-to-one situations for best results in both training and in delivery to customers.

Although the daily energy required by an advanced  professional doesn’t compare with that of a machine-tool making goods, the many years of training necessarily means that matters of invesment are problematical.  Parents will pay as much as possible for the education and health of their children and themselves.  But who will pay for basic scientific research?  Industries can’t afford to do so — only relatively trivial product development — and, with declining profit margins due to increasingly fierce global competition. the cost of funding research can only be left to governments, which already carry out a great deal in the advanced countries.

Conclusion
Advanced governments will therefore have to become increasingly efficient in order to afford funding for basic scientific research, the sine qua non of tomorrow’s world. This will mean shedding many functions that they now carry out == which will become all the more intentional as the Principle of Least Effort finally starts seeping into the consciousness of government politicians (hopefully more scientifically educated in future years). Apart from territorial security and basic scientific research, advanced governments will be wanting to leave alone anything that impinges on the economy and leave it to business.

What is also implied with this is that government that don’t fund scientific research are not going to do well at whatever optimal level the world economy settles towards in due course. The relationship between the dozen or so advanced nation-state and the 190 undeveloped countries will remain much the same as they have been since about the 1930s.  Their standard of living will remain relatively low until they reduced their populations enormously unless a few of them can discover a niche in which advanced scientific research is not yet carried out and high-value innovations traded with advanced countries.

This is not to say that all those countries that presently call themselves advanced will necessarily remain so.  It’s up to each of them as how much it can dispense with non-governmental activities and devote more taxation towards scientific funding.  Whether  world economic activity, when Least Effort, will be significantly lower or higher than today’s level is impossible to say.

Stop-and-search ought to be restored

Since the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, US, last year the police have thinned out patrols in an endeavour to reduce such incidents. This year the violent crime rate has gone upwards after 23 years of decline.

In London since last year. the Metropolitan Police have reduced stop-and-search. On Monday this week a 17-year-old boy was found stabbed in the street — the 18th teenager to be murdered in London this year.  In the whole of last year 11 teenagers murdered in the capital.

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, the best possible person to know crime rates in detail, ;particularly London’s, has said that violent crime has gone up since the reduced stop-and search after vocal activist successfully challenging police. They said it had been disproportionately used against black people.  Stop and search had been very successful at tackling knife-crime, because it targeted street gangs in poor, crime-ridden London neighbourhoods, which happen to have high percentage of the population living there being black.   As a result of activists’ media campaigns against stop-and-search, knife crime in London has gone up.

Hudson Theory of Economics — Revision 2

Abstract
The world economic system is only capable of running efficiently at one activity level depending on the size of energy inputs no matter what political leaders want or their economic advisors suggest.
More to be added later.

Introduction
The world-wide economic system depends on man’s chief proclivity beyond eating, sexual activity and the need to be a member of a group. This is his novelty-seeking brain which can vary between passively entertained minds and the much rarer cases of those who are constantly theorising or trying out new physical and mechanical skills. Man is not different in this instinct from thousands of other animals species, only that we have creative minds to an extreme degree.  Whereas other animals’ creative activities don’t usually cause environmental destruction, many of ours do and sometimes on an epic scale.

Our economic system probably hasn’t caused too much ecological damage so far.  It’s probably repairable sooner or later either by ourselves or by evolution. Although, strictly speaking, it must be regarded as part of the total world environment and depends upon it, our economic system can be regarded as a separate system apart from energy inputs from the sun.  Solar radiation sustains all the environment, whereas, particularly since the industrial revolution, it is necessary for only part the modern economy — agriculture.

Our economic system, being a physical system, is subject to all the known laws of physics in that, at any given level of energy inputs to keep the system going, it seeks to shed as much energy as possible.  In thermodynamics this is known as maximising Entropy, or the Principle of Least Effort to keep the system going.  Excess energy, or waste heat, is shed to outer space on cloudless nights. Another consequence of the Principle of Least Effort is that, at any given level of energy inputs to keep it going, the world economic system always tends to one activity level no matter what policies or strategies may be applied

The accident of the Industrial Revolution
No economic historian can give an adequate answer to how the industrial Revolution (IR) actually got started with cotton spinning in Manchester at around 1780 and grew explosively in England in the early 19th century.  By imitation, this was followed almost as explosively by France, Belgium and Germany in northern Europe in the mid-19th century, shortly followed by America.

The reason why its beginning was in Manchester and exactly when it did is difficult to describe is that there had to be a temporary confluence of many different factors, some of which may be mentioned here: 1. the availability of a middle-class market for cotton clothes (the woollen, silk and linen interests persuaded the government to put a high tariff on the import of coloured cotton cloth from India in 1700); 2. the suitability for growing cotton in plantations in southern America and the West Indies  and the availability of millions of slaves from Africa; 3. the availability of many water mills (to drive factory belts) in northern England (to be followed quickly by early steam engines); 4. the availability of  many country banks (not available in other northern European countries) and the proximity of Scottish banks who advised English bankers to widen their depositor-base; 5. a veritable stream of Scottish inventors, trained scientifically in Scottish universities) and moving south to a more prosperous England; 6. the availability of a large and powerful navy (the largest in the world already after recently fighting the French) used to protect foreign markets from other countries’ exports; 7. the availability of large numbers of village-based weavers able to take up increasing quantities of cotton thread from the northern factories. Those will do. There were other lucky accidents by mid-19th century which enable the revolution to be sustained by means of iron and steel-making chemistry and electricity, etc.

Underneath the IR was the Scientific Revolution (SR) which was developing since the 17th and 18th centuries. It wasn’t needed at the beginning of the IR but came into its own within a couple of decades.

England was ready for industrialisation in the late 18th century but not necessarily in the exponential way it actually happened. There were sufficient numbers of blacksmiths, engineers and carpenters in all the towns and the larger villages of England to have got the ball rolling — albeit at a much slower pace. But once the SR kicked in during the latter half of the 19th century we’d probably have developed all the consumer goods that we have now. And so would several other countries also. It might well have meant that financially, the City of London didn’t get the stranglehold over international finance that it did. But that is speculation.

The motivation for consumer goods
To be added later
Conclusion
Integration of the above and he present circumstances of the Third World countries to be added later
Economic Theory,

Man is becoming a Genetically Modified species

A recent study of Danish young people by Gustaf Bruze, a researcher at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, showed that about half of the expected financial gain of attending university derived not from better job prospects but from the chance to meet and marry a higher-earning spouse.

What actually goes on is almost 100% discrimination, not 50%. Women tend to partner socially upwards and they’re the prime movers.  Social gradations are correlated with better genes — that is, a lower incidence of deleterious genetic variations. And women usually have veto control over sex and potential parentage (or their parents do in some societies). Men tend to partner beauty. But as beauty is also correlated with better genes, it amounts to the same thing. Friendships are assortative — marriages aren’t.

It is a percentage game of exceptionally fine margins carried out over thousands of years which ensures quality control of the species.  In every generation, inept males tend to be unchosen by females and are thus childless.  Their defective genes die with them. Because universities these days have students from all over the country, and indeed from all over the world, then this has unbeneficial genetic effects over the long term.

The reason is that single defective recessive gene variations accumulate harmlessly in ‘carriers’ in the human gene pool unless they’re matched  x with identical variations in other carriers.  In this case, the doubled variations will produce an occasional handicapped child (which hunter-gatherer would cull) and this tends to be out-bred fairly quickly by fairly close geographical partnerships — such as we had in hunter-gatherer times. Well over 4,000 genetic diseases have already been identified, and many more will accrue. The more international our partnerships the more likely they will match up, subsequently revealing themselves as stillbirths and handicapped children.

About 100 of the more frequent genetic diseases of putative parents are culled at the fertilized egg stage in good IVF clinics. The accumulation effect for the rest of us is not serious yet but it will be in due course. Our economic success and consequent internationalism have made us a GM species and an increasingly toxic one, too.

Paris Climate Summit failed before it started

The basic impossibility of the Paris Climate Summit of a week ago is that politicians want to have their cake and eat it, too. They want to continue with world economic growth while, at the same time, decreasing the intended pace of energy inputs into some developing countries with large populations such as India, China, Brazil and Indonesia endeavouring to approximate to the living standards of the Western elites..

Not only is this politically improbable but it is physically impossible. The fundamental thermodynamic principle of Least Effort means that increasing economic growth cannot be maintained without increasing use of energy. Moreover, it needs to be disproportionate, too.  The higher that economic activity rises, the more that waste energy is dissipated, and thus the more energy has to be injected in the first place.

The not very rational Swiss these days

Yesterday the Swiss government said it had received enough public signatures requiring it to hold a referendum on monetary reform. (In this respect — the public specification of referendums — Switzerland remains more rational and democratic than most advanced countries.) But the Campaign for Monetary Reform or Full Money Initiative or with its call for “Vollgeld” or full value money is not very rational.

It wants to stop banks apparently conjuring up money out of thin air by granting credit to a customer’s account when making a loan. It wants to leave money creation to the central bank alone. The intention here is to ban fractional reserve banking and force them to have 100% reserves whenever they grant credits. But who is to say that the governor of the central bank is going to be more sensible than bank managers in creating money?

Instead of forbidding banks to create money, the government can achieve the same result by scrappng the central bank and telling other banks that they’re now on their own. They are no longer to be rescued when in difficulty by the central bank — because it doesn’t exist!. Banks should be allowed to go bankrupt like every other business.

What would happen then is that banks would compete with one another not only by making more skilful loans ro customers but also by publicising their fractional reserve in order to attract depositors.  Gradually, the banks would work up their reserves until they reached 100% voluntarily. The London and Westminster Bank and one or two more publicised their reserves (about 20%) at the tail end of the 19th century. Unfortunately the government didn’t insist that they all did it. But that would never do!  Some of them might then have started to compete for size with the Bank of England.  The Bank had received so many privileges over the previous 200 years that, if anything, it was more influential than the government’s own Treasury department.  Today, the Treasury has regained political superiority.

But if the Swiss government were to do the job properly of protecting its money, the banks would not only proceed towards 100% reserves but also a great many other entrants would come into the banking system.  Switzerland would then have a mixture of small, medium and large banks specialising in, and catering to, the small, medium and large businesses wanting loans.

Half a century ago, Switzeland was the doyen of the banking world, its many banks of all sizes having a reputation for trustworthiness, just as the Quaker-led banks of England had a century before then. Banks generally have a shoddy reputation these days but they won’t be changed by detailed government regulation. That has failed time and again. The only way forward in Switzerland and elsewhere is for banks to have the right internal incentive to improve.

Unhappy Christmas Day

Jesus was not born into poverty as one archbishop said yesterday.  His father was a carpenter — a well-paid job in his time.  As a boy, Jesus argued with priests in the Temple in Jerusalem. That’s not what a poor boy, without the articulation and social skills of a middle-class child, would be doing.  Jesus belonged to the 95% of middle-class or even aristocratic reformists in history, not the 5% born into poverty.

Jesus didn’t create Christianity — that was an inadvertent by-product of his rabbinical-type dicta which were remembered long enough to be written down a generation or more later.  Christianity would probably have died a death with him had it not been for Paul of Tarsus who spread his own brand of Christianity vigorously among diaspora Jews around the Mediterrenean.  Even then, as a schism all of its own, distinct from Jewry, but heavily persecuted, and driven underground by the Romans, Christianity would probably have died again had not Emperor Constantine in AD 313 taken up the Cross as his battle logo — and won.  It was only then that the few bishops who remained were granted privileges within the Roman Empire — such as what was left of it! — and allowed to accrue wealth and evangelize from Europe to China.

Like any power organisation, encouraging the personal propulsion of ambitious individuals rather than piety, Christianity itself divided into schisms. And, since they develop increasingly distinct cultures of their own, schisms become increasingly antagonistic towards one another. Despite the fact that Christianity is now fighting a common enemy — secularism and scientism — which ought to unite them, schisms are still as far away from one another as they’ve been for many centuries, though their relationships are not so savage as they once were. Secular governments won’t allow them to be.

In the notionally Christian countries of the advanced world, Christmas Day is a day of rest and an eating orgy for many.  In this country, 900,000 (out of a population of over 63 million) will be necessary to keep the wheels turning.  One in nine, apparently, particularly old people, will spend the day alone.  As I write this, the BBC are televising the service going on in Bath Abbey, about 10 miles from where I sit.

The rector is saying that Christmas Day is a happy day.  M’mm . . .well, it may be for perhaps a billion in the world.  Of the other six billion, despite the ubiquity of the mobile phone, half of them will be unaware that it’s Christmas Day and will be poor — relatively poor, that is — but certainly unhappy because they don’t have the consumer goods that we have in the advanced countries.  In turn, half of them will be absolutely poor — that is, not eating enough food enabling them to have a normal active life.

So, what can I say?  Happy Christmas to all those readers who’ve stayed with me since I revived this blog-site last April.

Redundant central banks

Ken Moelis is an investment banker and gave the Ayn Rand Lecture this year.  The following is my refutation of his main case:.

Ken Moelis is right but for the wrong reason. It is not because “thanks to capitalism, things are getting better and cheaper” but because central banks are becoming redundant. Because consumers are now steadily spending more on medical and educational services, the simple use of interest rates as guides to future productivity and associated risks doesn’t apply at central bank level.  Central banks and their interest rates were tied directly into the consumerist economy for most of their existence.  Increasingly, this is no longer so. Central banks are perturbers of the economy, not a constructive part of it.

What Moelis is obviously unaware of is that there are no more uniquely new status goods in the pipeline of the manufacturing majors.  Also, he doesn’t realise that the world economy. being a physical system, is subject to the same laws of physics as all other physical systems are.  For thermodynamic reasons, at any one level of energy inputs, it automatically winds down towards maximum energy dispersion — or entropy. This can be arrested, or even reversed, by significantly increasing energy inputs — such as occurred between 1780 and 1980. There seems to be no inclination for this to be continuing in the last seven years or so, so we may. in fact, be getting close to the inevitable point of stabilisation.  I would be very surprised if Janet Yellen doesn’t have bring the Fed rate down to zero within six months for all the additional havoc it will have been making.

Kim Jong-il and Donald Trump to live again?

When will humans start cloning themselves?  The most famous animal ever cloned was Dolly the sheep in 1996 but she was only one of 277 previous failures.  Dr Wilmut, who led thee research team at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, thought this the reason why humans would never be cloned.  Since then, the technique has improved enormously with many animals having been successfully cloned,

One South Korean firm, Sooam, led by Dr Woo Suk Hwang, having cloned 700 dogs experimentally, must have been pretty certain of 100% success because, last year, it published a competition to clone a pet. (Perhaps it has found the South Korean market to be too small to be exploited commercially?)  The winner, Rebecca Smith, from west London, won the competition and her elderly daschund was successfully cloned at no cost.

Hearing of this, Laura Jacques and her partner, Richard Remde, devastated by the death of their favourite dog, Dylan, asked whether he could be cloned from some of Dylan’s dead cells.  After some difficulties this was achieved.  They were charged a fee of £67,000 ($100,000) fr two cloned puppies.

We can take it that humans can now be successfully cloned either while the donor is still alive (as with Rebecca Smith’s pet) or after death (as with Laura Jacques’ pet).  Despite voluminous protests already and possible legislation before too long outlawing human cloning on ‘ethical’ grounds by most advanced governments — that is governments amenable to public pressure —  I think we can take it that someone is going to try.  Someone like Kim Jong il or Donald Trump might be tempted so that they can somehow be rejuvenated in a follow-on life or perhaps some secretive billionaire.

Someone might want to clone dozens, or hundreds of copies of himself and herself.  Unlikely, but possible. In due course, some experienced scientists might be willing to do this.  Although the clones would have identical genes to the original donor, they wouldn’t have the same personalities or abilities, because these are as much shaped by the experiences of childhood as by genes. The clones couldn’t possibly be brought up in exactly the same way as the donor. No doubt the donor would be so advised — but still want to go ahead for some reason or other, anyway.

I see no ethical problems about human cloning.  Now that we have gained the right to commit suicide if we want, I don’t see why its opposite — seemingly to repeat one’s life all over again (so long as you can afford carers for at least 20 years!) — should be prohibited. I don’t think legislation would be necessary either — too few people will be able to afford it and most of those would not be unhinged enough to want to try it.

The un-swaddling revolution

Anybody who is acquainted with the finding of neurophysiology knows that vast changes start taking place in a normal full-term baby’s brain when born.  What happens almost from the start is a steady culling of thousands of neurons from among the millions of excess neurons the baby was born with. The excess is necessary to ensure that every possible perception from an enormous range of environmental sights, sounds, tastes, smells and makes a mark somewhere in the brain and will, if continued to be stimulated, start to form networks.

From the moment of birth, the culling continues at a steadily decreasing rate until puberty. By then, neurons that have never been stimulated will have died and those that remain encompass all the main skills that the individual will then have for the rest of his life.  If mathematics or the sounds or speaking of a foreign language have not been taught by then, they can only be learned with the greatest difficulty from then onwards — and then very imperfectly.

I was thinking this afternoon about the swaddling of children from the Bronze Ages through to the Middle Ages from birth and often carried on for eight or nine months thereafter,  Surely, I thought, this early cramping must have considerable effect on the growing mind of the child — its mental abilities and psychology but also on his physiology. Some swaddling is still done in many Third World countries though I don’t know which ones. It would be very interesting to know.

I did some searching on the internet.  Very little research has been done except by those who say it is physically harmful.  It might cause Sudden Death Syndrome or cause dysplasia of the hips, though it’s unproved. The first person to criticize swaddling openly was a Swiss surgeon, Felix Würtz.  He maintained that he has seen children who were twisted and lame when swaddling bandages were changed and, to his consternation, re-swaddled. But also, does eight or nine months of swaddling cause intellectual damage and psychological damage?  Their perceptual world was so much more restricted and prevented the mildest of adventures with their arms, hands and legs.. After Würtz, it took another hundred years or somewhat more for opinion to start changing.

But here’s a thing, though!  What about the awakening of intellectual thought in Galileo’s and contemporaries’ time?  Was the anti-swaddling culture change a factor in the beginning of the scientific revolution, the precursor of the industrial revolution?  Was this another reason why the industrial revolution started in Europe and nowhere else?

I wouldn’t be surprised.  But we will never know because we can’t set up controlled experiments with some children being swaddled and others not.

Let history sort out the bad ‘uns and the good ‘uns

The desire to raze Cecil Rhodes’ statue in Oxford has been an astonishing, though unsurprising, politically correct development among universities. B level students at the present time — with scarcely a more intelligent science student among them I’ll be bound.  They, the ‘liberals’ will be wanting to tear up all the text books that don’t precisely conform to everything on their check list.  The following is something I received today from a reader:

“Cecil Rhodes was an unpleasant fellow.  But he was no worse than the some of the barbaric tribal kings of Southern Africa at the time.   The Rhodes Scholar, Ntokozo Qwabe, who wants the statue pulled down says Rhodes built his fortune on the back of African labour.  Correct.  But Zulu, Matebele and other tribes empires were built and based on slavery, genocide and stealing vast tracts of land.

“There must be a level moral playing field when it comes to such issues.  If Rhodes statues in South Africa and the UK  have to be taken down, then so perhaps should those of Mahatma Ghandi, who seems to have been as racist as Rhodes?   So too then must statues of some revered African independence “heroes” some of whom were mass murderers and utterly corrupt.”

Facing reality in Afghanistan

To save face, the British government are flying more military trainers into Afghanistan, a corruption-ridden country despite its notional ‘democratic’ structure foisted on them by the west. Now that the Taliban are on the offensive again, many mothers of soldiers killed in Afghanistan in recent years are now asking: “What were they fighting for?”

They were kept quiet by much sophisticated PR from the Ministry of Defence and elaborate funeral processions in Wootton Bassett, a market town in Wiltshire — and given lots of television time by the BBC. The cleverest piece of PR in order to thank the borough for the hundreds of funerals walking down its high street over the years was for the Queen to promote the town into Royal Wootton Bassett with a splendid new heraldic device.

To try and stay the mounting anger by the mothers, the MoD said this morning that the Taliban were on the defensive in the province of Helmand and that the capital, Sanjin, was quite safe.  This evening, we learn that the Governor of Helmand has flown out and that the Taliban have almost occupied the city. When will the cultures of the Western world learn not to patronise the cultures of the Third World?  When will governments start carrying out some self-repair to their own failing systems?

As a career develops . . .

The swish $1 million renovation of a two-floor penthouse Greenwich Village apartment for the imminent residence of the present vice-chancellor (that is, head) of Oxford University is at least a three-fold indicator of the new era that is growing rapidly around us:

1. Internationalism. Prof Andrew Hamilton, FRS, English-born (Guildford) eminent research biochemist, has already been ricocheting between universities just like a career businessman.  His itinerary so far has read Exeter, British Columbia, Cambridge, Strasbourg, Princeton, Yale (as provost) and Oxford. Next month he will be president of New York University at a salary in the region of $750,000, maybe $1 million;

2. The rise of academe.  As conveyed above, Hamilton is already up there with a business-level salary.  His salary and that of maybe another half-dozen of American university heads don’t yet compare with a dozen or so chief executives of American multinational corporations or major banks but, nevertheless, there’s already been an amazing transformation of the role of universities in national pecking-orders;

3. And, with the above is also the rise of science within academe, rather than the traditional ‘mods and greats’ and other liberal arts (and the increasing attenuation of the latter). This carries with it the insinuation of scientists into the highest levels of political influence. After 500 years — let’s say since Galileo — of the slow rise of science, it is now coming into ints own as an acceptable part of the social elite.  And an increasingly important part, too. as most businesses — of the value-adding, rather than laundry-taking, sort — are becoming totally dependent on science.

There’s a lot more involved in the dawn of the new era — the rise of advanced service skills and automation, for example — but the the career of Professor Hamilton has given us a few more facets.  I can but thank him for giving me my first blog prompt of today and wish him and his family a happy life in their new surroundings.

Obama — the unilateralist climate warrior

Quote from Benny Peisner writing in today’s Wall Street Journal:

“Amid the media’s elation over the United Nations climate deal reached in Paris on Dec. 12, one significant outcome has been overlooked. The European Union failed to achieve its main objective, namely that the agreement adopt carbon-dioxide mitigation commitments that are ‘legally binding on all parties.’”

“While this may appear to be a major setback, it liberates Europe from the restrictions of the Kyoto Protocol—which runs out in 2020—and opens the way for more flexible and less damaging policies. The toothless nature of the Paris agreement finally allows EU member states to abandon unilateral de-carbonization policies that have damaged Europe’s economies and its international competitiveness. Under such circumstances, the unconditional climate policies of President Obama would be left out in the cold.”

Stonehenge will be a fascinating story one day

It is winter solstice time — last night being the longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere.  We used to have problems at winter solstice because weird Druid sects, dressed in weird clothing and head-gear would arrive at Stonehenge and carry out weird ceremonies that were supposed to recapitulate what actually went on there at the time it was built 4,500 years ago. The Department of the Environment didn’t like these Druids trampling on their patch so they used to call the police in and there were fights.  Better sense has prevailed since then.

It’s all rather ridiculous really because no-one has given a convincing explanation why such an edifice — and a colossal amount of additional landscaping round about — was actually carried out.  We know precisely why the Egyptian Pyramids were built — at about the same time — but not Stonehenge.  Our stones are as mute as stones ever could be.  At least I haven’t heard any plausible story. But I’ve a great respect for archaeologists and what they’re able to tell us about the past.  The evidence is exiguous so far but the land-works all around means that there’s probably a lot to be found ultimately. It’ll be a full and fascinating story one day.

The difficulties surrounding free will

We have a jumble of instincts in our DNA.  There’s no consistent family resemblance between them.  Each of them arose according to special circumstances at the time.  Some, if not most of them, are antagonistic to another one. Polar opposites, if you like. Sometimes, there’s a temporary paralysis caused by opposites being aroused simultaneously — the ‘fight or flight response’ for example — but the clashes don’t last long.  But only one instinct — with its uniquely associated blend of hormones — expresses itself emotionally at any one instant of time.

Most of everything we do is automatic — or at least pre-ordained. This counter-intuitive discovery by Benjamin Libet over 30 years ago was scarcely believed at the time.  But Libet’s experiments have been confirmed repeatedly since then.  Like it or not, before we are conscious of making most of our ordinary physical decisions, specialised neurons in our frontal lobes have built up strong action-potentials.  And when we are conscious of taking a ‘free will decision’ the preparation neurons will have already fired a few milliseconds beforehand.

We like to believe that we have free will, but how much do we really have? When neurons have built up preparatory action-potentials the decision that follows seems to be inevitable. Is their space and time for the ‘real you’ to decide?  It is possible that there is a little slack for the ‘real you’ to intervene.  Action-potentials can be restrained with great srrength of resolve but this happens very rarely it would seem.  And what can be done about our instincts?  There seems to be even less slack there for the decision-making ‘real you’ to jump in and stop the instinct unfolding.from our genes.

It is all very problematical.  Maybe free will will have to join consciousness and quantum physics as being never understood.

How do our pan-pipes work?

There isn’t a single man-made mechanism that nature hasn’t already invented during its almost 4 billion years of trial and error.  Or is it trail and error?  There is more than a suspicion among research biologists that many things happen in bacteria, plants and animals — including ourselves thousands of times a second — that oughtn’t to happen according to the normal laws of physics and chemistry.

Quantum intervention seems to be going on.  Of course, quantum intervention could be by random processes or by design from a deeper source than we’re aware of — but nobody knows and it’s possible the nobody will ever know.

Back to subject — “Nature hasn’t invented a wheel to get about” you may respond to my first sentence.  This is true.  But then nature didn’t give us smooth highways to run about on either.  Legs are infinitely better at all the different uses to which they’re put.

But nature has invented plenty of wheels inside our cells — cog wheels, balance wheels, what have you. And here are also conveyor belts, Archimedes’ screws, fork-lift trucks, elevators and every other device that might be found in an engineering workshop –  but very small!  There are even sausage machines — called ribosomes — which extrude long links of protein. The difference is that while we normally make half a dozen types of sausages — Cumberland sausage is my favourite — our body cells make over 100,000 entirely different proteins that will carry out entirely different tasks inside the cell.  Our ribosomes are pretty versatile!

In contrast to normal engineering workshops, there’s no space in which an engineer can walk about. That’s also crammed full of machines — machines making molecules, machine making energy and machines which move molecules around.  In the small spaces in between all the machinery it is, of course, water, not air. Unlike other events outside living cells when atoms and molecules barge around at great speed ricocheting off one another, in a cell they are gently fitted together like Lego blocks.

Research biologists are always intrigued when they come across yet another new nano-machine in our cells. One that they’ve come across recently is a protein consisting of a long single helix that regularly doubles back on itself until it resembles a set of pan-pipes. There’s a lot that’s unique about this one apparently so if you’ve any ideas about how these cellular pan-pipes work then Professor Martin Caffrey at Trinity College Dublin, and his 29 multinational researchers would be delighted to hear from you.

Our two doubly-sullied politicians

Two of our senior MPs did, in fact, offer to sell themselves for cash according to Ofcom — the broadcasting regular — in contradiction to the MPs’ in-house regulator, the Parliamentary Standards Committee (PSC).

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Tory) and Jack Straw (Labour), both former Foreign Secretaries of high reputation are now doubly sullied, despite the attempted whitewash by the PSC in between.  How this issue got to Ofcom is that the original charges of both ex-MPs being corrupt were made on a Channel 4 programme.   Journalists from both  Channel 4 and the Daily Telegraph set themselves up as Chinese businessmen and secretly video’d the offer and acceptance of high fees for access to government ministers or high civil servants.

What’s really bothersome about all this is not so much the corruption of two individuals who were trusted by the electorate — after all, “Every man has his price” — but that the government doesn’t have suitably transparent procedures in place.  Ofcom found that the undercover operation by Channel 4 and the Daily Telegraph were in the public interest.

Cultural gallimaufry

“We’re no longer allies of Germany” says the leader of Podemos, the brand new political party in Spain that came from nothing this year to winning 69 seats in last week’s general election.  Quite what he means, and precisely what will transpire in the next few weeks, no-one can possibly guess.  But that doesn’t matter,

Francois Hollande, as France gets deeper into economic trouble, realises that Germany is not inclined to help with a bail-out. Greece, after good-cop bad[cop treatment by the European Central Bank — virtually Germany — doesn’t have warm feelings either. Italy, as individualistic and Germany is disciplined never takes too much notice of what the EU says.

And then we have news from Afghanistan.  The Taliban have niw almost totally taken over Helmand province which our troops were guarding up until a year ago with a cost of 600 lives and quite as many severe injuries. As one BBC journalist said today: “British people will now be asking what we were doing there in the first place.”  Exactly.

Moral — Cultures cannot be treated lightly.  They can’t be squeezed together as the EU Commissioners intend — “ever closer union” they call it.  Mere friendship between countries is not sufficient, it would seem.  As for Afghanistan, as with Iraq in 2003, as is now being intended for Syria now by the Western powers — we simply can’t graft our political customs into their quite different cultures.
Cultures,

Is science better described as a religion?

In my view, science is as much as religion as is Christianity, Islam,  Hinduism, Taoism and a multitiude of other religions from times past.  The big difference between science and the formal religions is that while the latter change their doctrines very slowly, science does so with great celerity.

The reason is that as soon as one scientific doctrine doesn’t explain newly-found facts another doctrine is invented and the first one is aborted. Sometimes the changeover can be immediate.  At the most it has to wait a generation until an old guard of scientists dies and thus allows the new doctrine of younger scientists to hold sway.  However, in the case of the formal religions, changes of doctrines may take hundreds of years.

To  believe in science or in a formal religion requires an act of faith of faith in both cases.  In the case of a religion it is to accept the central doctrine without having any evidence. In the case of science, the act of faith is an intuitive acceptance that the human brain and the outside world both use the same logic — equally unprovable.

Both science and the formal religions have ‘ethereal beings’ with which our individual ‘souls’ or ‘spirits’ are believed to have a personal connection. In the case of a religion it is God — and sometimes ranks of angels, too.  In the case of science it is information which can travel faster than any physical object or particle — limited to the ‘speed of light’.

Our personal connection with information is demonstrated by the fact that only one photon of light, arising out of nowhere (a ‘spiritual ether’), is capable of being recorded by our eyes and, in turn, being hormonally multiplied as it travels along the optic nerve on its way to the brain. There, it can exert pressure for some decision or another.  Each of us would be entirely unconscious of the additional information and of its effect but, nevertheless, we have made the connection and, in turn, our decision may also be conveyed to the ‘spiritual ether’.

The above is weird, but no more weird than quantum physics on which all our modern economic life now depends.  And, now biological researchers are telling us, some of the most crucial and complex processes that take place if life forms could never take place under the normal laws of physics  but only with quantum effects from some ‘spiritual ether’ a trope for a quantum world that no-one understand as yet.

There’s no free market here

To an economists who imagines that we have a free job market in Britain.

You don’t have a free market when 80% of the top jobs in every important and/or highly-paid job sector in this country including business goes to 7% of private school-trained personnel.  Social groups made at Oxbridge also become job protection and promotion groups from then onwards. There’s a 20% slot available for individuals with good intelligence and/or socialization genes.

When all children are given as equal opportunities as possible up until puberty when destiny is largely fixed we’ll begin to approximate to a free society.

Is Isis planning mega attacks?

There are rumours that Isis are planning mega attacks in Europe and in this country. I’ll believe it when I see it in this country .  They’d like to, and there’s probably a lot of encrypted phone traffic between Libya — to which the headquarters of Isis have reportedly moved — and this country.  They’ve achieved several notorious attacks in France, of course, but police controls there are sloppy (initially they even sent police without guns to the Bataclan Theatre massacres!). Belgium appears to be similarly disorganised.

Despite the fear that Isis has engendered they’re a primitive and crude organisation, mainly relying on opportunism. They don’t have much by way of expertise, only that which is offered to them — penny numbers of individuals who can design blog=sites or make suicide vests or road-side bombs.  And, on the ground, they’ve been defeated several times now by Kurdish peshmeeger troops with more nous and discipline regarding ground-fighting strategy.

Mad episodes like Isis tend to run their course fairly quickly and I wouldn’t be surprised if Isis starts to lose a lot of ground in the Middle East now, particularly since Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and the Emirates have decided to mount a joint force. The problem here is that if this predominantly Sunni army mops up Isis — which it ought to be able to do — they might decide to turn against the Shia of Iran. Sunnism versus Shiaism is a 1,400 year-old enmity that has, if anything, got worse since then.

Women warriors? Why not?

Now that women are allowed to do any job, even to becoming professional soldiers, why not go that extra step and allow them to take part in “close combat”?

Why not?  There’ll probably be a mini-surge of them, just as there has been in the case of promoting women to be chief executives of major multinationals, or preferential selection of women to become MPs.  Before too long, some clever PR person in the Ministry of Defence will release a photo showing a whole platoon of women warriors marching about with their automatic rifles a-shouldered.

And then it will all settle down again to very low numbers indeed, just as it is already doing in the case of multinational business and will probably do so at the time of the next general election.

 

Mobile phones causing accidents?

The government is thinking about tougher fines for drivers who use hand-held phones while driving. The reason is that over 500 accidents occurred in 2014 to drivers using hand-held phones, a big rise since 2013. It is being proposed that the fine of £100 is raised to £150 and more penalty points are added to their driving licence.

This is unlikely to produce any difference whatsoever.  Besides, how does the government know that hand-held phones are especially culpable?  What about fixed phones?  What about the playing of radio or CDs while driving.  What about drivers having conversations with passengers?  There has been no controlled testing of the hand-held hypothesis.

The yawning gap between scientists and those in the liberal arts

When you read the biographies of the great scientists and the great artists it is very clear that while most great scientists have a love of the arts — even an expertise in one of them (Einstein was a violinist) — it is very rare indeed that those in the arts and humanities have any idea at all about the sciences. The only one I can think of off the cuff is Melvyn Bragg (now Lord Bragg).

The cat has been set among the pigeons recently by George Will who wrote a trenchant article, “American higher education is a house divided,” in  the Washington Post where he contrasts the sharpness and precision of those in engineering, mathematics and biosciences, etc. with the fuzzy minds of those in the humanities, very often tediously tautologous, given to abstractions and, these days, postmodernist stuff like gender and cultural studies.

At secondary school level any sixth-form teachers will tell you that the generality of those students who go into the science subjects are clearly more intelligent than those going into the arts subjects — although, of course, the latter always include a few very bright ones.  Half of the problems we have today with excessively politically correct students at universities is due to the predominant numbers of non-science students. There are very few science students among the demonstrators. In any case, they’ve usually got too much work to do compared with most others.

Putting nonsense like Quantitative Easing behind us

Quantitative Easing from 2009 set us back a fair way to 300 years ago when 200 families owned almost half the wealth of England of which half was owned by only a dozen families.

A pity!  This sets in reverse the steady decrease in wealth differentials that had been going on since 1066 when, of course, William the Conqueror owned the lot himself.  But, since 2009, the Bank of England (BoE)shovelled £375 billion into the economy.  Saving the banks with a cash injection in order to fill the ATMs was one thing, the additional wall of money from 2009 onwards was quite another.

It was supposed to go into the economy, of course, in order to stimulate borrowing and spending by small and medium businesses and ordinary depositors, but only about £15 billion (abut 2.5% p.a.) actually got there.  The bulk of it — £360 billion — ended up as useless money lying in the BoE or in the pockets of those who were already rich.  QE thus served no useful purpose at all, only to temporalily reverse the ‘democratisation’ of wealth’ since 1066.

It’ll only be “temporalily” and will all come out in the wash one day. Some of it has done so recently with the collapse of commodity prices.  Janet Yellen of the US Fed and Mark Carney of the BoE think that if they are able to keep on raising the basic interest rate up to, say 3% or 4%, then the rest of the surplus will be gently separated from its owners and everything will be back to normal.

It is unlikely to happen like that because there’s no great demand for money by the big manufacturers.  They’ve already got too much money to know what to do with it — no new consumer products are on the drawing boards — or they’re already insolvent and only kept alive by the protective camouflage of their accountants and blind eyes of governmental regulators.

It is more likely that prices of many other things that the rich have invested in will collapse in the same spectacular  way as commodities — property, shares, antiques and modern ‘serious’ art, luxury yachts, etc. The trend to wealth equalisation will resume– that is, among those in the advanced countries who have jobs. When it’s already been going on for a millennium at least in human history it’s hardly going to stay kin reverse mode as it has been since 2008.

Why has wealth equalisation been going on for a millennium past — and long before that, too?  It is because economic systems since the earliest days of imperial plunder have become increasingly complicated and needing more specialists.  The industrial revolution only accelerated what had been going on anyway.  Increasingly the very rich need a panoply of experts around them in order to maintain their wealth. The latest tranche of experts — to add to the more traditional lawyers and accounts — are the scientists.  They’ve been around for a long time but are only recently becoming essential in almost every economic activity.

Perhaps, when scientists come even more to the fore and start to make economics into a truly scientific subject, we might start to see government strategies that really have some constructive impact and put nonsense like Quantitative Easing behind us.

If global warming is natural then we really ought to start worrying!

If global warming is due to natural causes as yet unknown then we ought to start worrying because there might be no end to it.  Earth’s temperature might rise beyond anything that life can tolerate.

If, however, global warming is due to man-made CO2, then we will have a fair chance of surviving even if, as is certain, countries such as India and China, to mention just two, continue to burn coal and oil for 50 years longer yet.  There are good reasons for being positive:

1.  Within the next 20 to 30 years, shale gas will start to be substituted on a large scale for coal and oil.  The annual amount of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere will decline.  In 50 years’ time, with world population likely to be declining, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere might start to stabilise.  At complete substitution, say in 100 years’ time, the annual amount of CO2 emitted will be half that of today and the total amount in the atmosphere will be declining significantly;

2. Third World countries are not going to increase their use of fossil fuels very much, including shale gas, in the next 50 to 100 years because they don’t have any fundamental scientific research from which to develop innovations that will be tradable with advanced products from the First World countries;

3.  First World countries may have already reached the limits of consumers’ status goods (house, car, furniture, clothes, ornaments, entertainment, travel) they desire.  Apart from the manufacture of production goods, then the use of fossil fuels, including shale gas, may stabilise soon.  In fact, with efficiency improvements of production goods,  our use of fuel might well decline from about now onwards. We had a big surge in the conservation of energy in the 1970s and ’80s.  There is  potential for much more.

Welcoming Richard Feynman into the Pantheon of Economics?

In any progressive subject, as the periphery of understanding expands and new questions appear, new ideas and theories to answer them are constantly being thrown up.  In physics, for example, a new theory about the beginning of the universe or the nature of gravity seems to turn up at least once a month. In biology, some startling new development, requiring a correspondingly new insight, crops up about once a fortnight at the present time.

In economics, new theories are tardy– about once a generation if we’re lucky.  In the 20th century, we have had Alfred Marshall and his geometric sales-demand curves, John Maynard Keynes and his consumer demand hypothesis. Joseph Schumpeter and his waves of supply-side creative destruction, Milton Friedman and his money circulation ideas . . . and that’s just about it. All of these have turned out to be subsidiary insights that haven’t lasted as something to take us bodily forward.  None have built on top of previous theory — which is the way that scientific subjects tend to develop.

Because economics is in an impasse now — both in theory and in practice — I am beginning to think that a non-economist, but a genius in physics, Richard Feynman, might supply the answer.  Some would say that he was second only to Einstein in the last century.  Some would say that in his magnum opusFeynman Lectures on Physics — that the most significant item is the importance he gives to the Principle of Least Effort, deriving it several times from different directions.  The idea of Least Effort had been hinted at by philosophers and proto-economists for some centuries beforehand but Feynman was the first to give it fundamental value in the scheme of things..

Everything in physics, chemistry, mechanics, electro-magnetic radiation, thermodynamics and quantum tunnelling — that is, everything we know about the movements of things and can measure — can be rendered down into Least Effort.  The earth’s ecosystem and, as a subset of it — man’s economic system, are physical systems in which the Principle of Least Effort applies. Neither the earth’s ecosystem nor man’s economic system can do any other than to proceed in due course to a condition of minimum use of energy.

The complement of that is that both shed as much energy as possible when getting there.  Man’s economic system ditches surplus energy into the earth’s ecosystem and the latter, in turn, sheds its own excess energy (including man’s) as infra-red radiation, into outer space on cloudless nights.

Is world trade proceeding to such  a steady-state?  Yes!  Has mankind’s economic system reached a steady-state?   We don’t know.  But considering that Japan’s has been paralysed for 30 years, ours has been slowing down for 20, and static for 6, then we might already be very close to it after 230 years of spectacular growth. We don’t know but it’s beginning to look suspiciously like it.

Now that Janet Yellen has come out of purdah for the last 6 tears in raising the Fed’s basic interest rate by 0.25%, this might initiate significant resumption of economic growth. But if it doesn’t in the next six months then we might as well start welcoming Richard Feynman into the Pantheon of Economics as well as Physics.

Beyond nationalistic hierarchy

I see little hope for the 180 Third World countries in the next 50 to 100 years, nor do I see much hope for the bulk of the populations of the First world countries in the same period. As for the two or three Second World countries, such as China, they will be making all the physical goods for the First and Third World countries in exchange for advanced services and staple resources respectively.

Although there might be one or two exceptions, Third World countries will not be able to share in the trade of high value goods and services of the First and Second World countries because they lack any of the necessary scientific research.  The low standard of life of their populations will only begin to be eased in 50 to 100 years time as their populations start to decline significantly.

In the half-dozen First World countries where leading edge scientific research is maintained, the adequately educated elite minority of the population (15 to 20%) will continue to prosper. On the other hand, the personal incomes  of the majority will continue to decline due to automation and job de-skilling.  The consequence will be an attenuation in their incomes and numbers to low levels.

The next 50 to 100 years will be a severe test of man’s instinctive hierarchy and the severity with which the pecking order will be maintained.  We are beginning to see this in the migrations of millions of people in Africa and the Middle East who want to escape the problems of agrarian cultures and want to come to Europe to share in our standard of living. Very soon we will probably we will be dealing with this in a draconian way.  Despite all the suffering and brutality that this will entail — and will continue for at least 50 to 100 years — there’s a chance that we will have learned to accept that social ordering is a permanency.

At present, left-wing politicians are usually in denial about the instinct of social ordering and seem to think that it’s possible for all of us to treat everyone one else equally.  Right-wing politicians are aware of it full well because they take advantage of it even though they don’t publicise it.

Both sides have yet to realise that there’s no reason why hierarchy can’t continue without the present cruelty and savagery if all those who are born are given as even chances as possible — allowing for genetic variation, of course — to find their natural social level. In 100 years’ time with an adequate education in the evolutionary sciences and a rapidly declining world population — one hopes — we can live with moderate competition without the forcing the poor to the breadline or massacring them.

Big Drinks Day

In this country it’s Big Drinks Day today.  More alcohol is downed today than in any other day of the year.  The imminence of Xmas and the closing down of universities and firms is, of course, the reason for the splurge.

Ethyl alcohol is a neat molecule, easily and quickly digested, a bundle of energy.  Ir’s also small enough to evade the gate-keepers at the blood-brain barrier and affects our neurons extensively, putting those of our frontal lobes — which normally supervise our impulsive behaviour — to sleep. It also ruins our livers if drunk in quantity over the years,

Ethyl alcohol is what biologists call a super-stimulus.  Because we and our predecessors never came across drinks bars in the African savannah for millions of years, our bodies never had to develop defensive mechanisms against this dangerous molecule. “Never” is not quite accurate because we occasionally came across over-ripe fruit with the tantalising tang of it.

So what else can we say about it?  — enjoy it in moderation during the coming few days.

Man’s long relationship

Of no world-shaking importance but of great world-wide interest is where man’s best friend came from. Geographically, that is. It has been known for some time that dogs are domesticated versions of wolves.  Probably because most early geneticists were Europeans, the money was on their derivation from the grey wolves of northern Europe. And, after all, some dog breeds, such as the Alsatian, are very similar-looking to wolves.

Probably the world’s greatest expert in dog evolution is Peter Savolainen at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. His opinion is in contrast to most other researchers who plumped for European or Middle East origins.  His own research, however, convinced him that dogs originated from wolves in south-east Asia. He analysed mitochondrial DNA from dogs. comparing it with that from wolves. Mitochondria are enormously small ‘energy factories’ that work within cells and contain just a few genes.  These are not wolf-genes or dog-genes but, nevertheless, will have co-evolved with them and reflect the stages of transition from feral wolf to tame dog. Thus, he maintained, mitochondrial genes are a pretty good guide to origins.

Other geneticists, however, worked by comparing the main body of wolf- and dog-genes in the nucleus of cells and their evidence suggested that canines first split off from wolves in the Middle East, anything between 15,000 and 20,000 years ago, and others say it happened in Europe at about thee same period.  Savolainen countered their evidence by saying that they hadn’t sampled enough wolves and dogs from all around the EurAsian bloc.

The controversy has now come to an end — and Peter Savolainen’s opinion confirmed — by a recent research study of mainline dog-DNA by (appropriately!) 13 Chinese researchers and 5 Europeans, including Savolainen himself.  More relevant, though, was that they sampled 46 dogs that were much more widely dispersed throughout the double-continent than any previous project. The results are now published in the journal, Cell Research, and it is now clearly established that dogs were first domesticated from wolves in South-east Asia — and from 33,000 years ago, long before there is any evidence of dogs in the Middle East and Europe.

Thirty-five thousand years is a long time to have a relationship but we’ll probably never have a better one.

A double — triple — surprise

An opinion piece in today’s Daily Telegraph by a former head of the civil service, Bob Kerslake, is a double surprise.  It’s a surprise that he’s written at all in a newspaper for the great unwashed. Senior civil servants are usually as reticent in their retirement as when they worked in Whitehall and anything they write in retirement is more likely to be papers for high-level think tanks such as Chatham House or the Brookings Institute.

It’s also a surprise that he’s writing against one of the current campaigns of the senior civil service.  This is for the government to amend the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act by which the civil service is obliged to release hitherto private information to bona fide applicants — such as newspaper journalists — except when disclosure might inhibit future advice to ministers.

In recent years, the use of the FoI Act has exposed many glaring instances of civil service mistakes, neglect or the exercise of undue power.  In over 1,000 cases of refusal since the FoI, only 28 were subsequently assessed as reasonable by a higher independent body.  In short, the FoI Act works very well, being one of two major reforms brought about by the last Labour government — the other being the wresting away of total power over state secondary schools by the Department of Education and the beginning of Free Schools (Charter Schools in America).

Before the passing of the FoI Act, the civil service had it both ways.  They could protect any information which might embarrass them or reduce their powers — statutory and exra-statutory — but yet they could leak any information which gave them or the government an advantage against opposing viewpoints.  My colleague, Noel Newsome, and I met this unfair situation 50 years ago when we were investigating the dumping of toxic wastes from Coventry automobile factories into rivers in Warwickshire.  We knew that the Department of the Environment (DoE) analysed all the rivers regularly.  But would the DoE tell us what the resulrs were for the rivers around Coventry?  No way!

Incidentally, the article also has aa third surprise.  The author, Lord Kerslate, Head of the British Civil Service 2012-2014, signs himself as Bob Kerslake.  That’s refreshing also.

Naive Angela Merkel and brutal Donald Trump

Yesterday, a riot took place in the small town of Geldermalsen, Holland, and put paid to the building of an asylum centre for 1,500 Syrian refugees.  We can make a shrewd guess that this is a working class town where many of its inhabitants, like many indigenous people in Europe, are worried for their jobs when they hear that 4,000 immigrants a day are still entering Greece and Italy and given rail rickets for northern Europe.

Working-class people, who are human, and quite as capable of being altruistic in practice and principle as the middle-class people with secure jobs who have been helping refugees were, on this occasion, overcome with a feeling of anger. This is displaced fear about heir jobs. And so were the increased number of people who voted for Marine Le Pen and her extremist right-wing NF party in France a few days ago — and, indeed, the swelling numbers of people who are joining right-wing parties all over Europe.

Really, Angela Merkel, the German leader who, on her own initiative, opened Germany’s doors to 1 million refugees and economic migrants — none of the latter being repatriated so far because they’re young , fit , resourceful young men — saying 200,00 a year could also come, should have had more political nous.

Territorial protection in early man, and its equivalent in modern man, job protection, are instincts that are just as powerful, if not more so, than generosity, another instinct.  Job protection among professional people can be so sophisticated it’s hardly noticeable.  Ordinary folk don’t have clever methods of expressing their opposition to new entrants when they fear competition.  But both methods are quite brutal in their consequences — ‘the Devil take the Hindmost’ as we say in England.

This is also the reason why slo many Americans are flocking in support of a brutal presidential candadate.

Groping towards a nutritious diet

Vegetarians tell the rest of us — natural meat-eaters — that meat is very expensive to raise in energy terms and that the environment would benefit enormously if we all had a meat-free diet.  This isn’t so, according to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University.  If, for example, we were to replace 1 kilogram of meat in our diet by, say, broccoli we’d have to grow and eat 6.7 kilograms of it.  In energy terms the growing of broccoli would be over three times more than raising sheep or cattle.

In practice we would die on a green vegetarian diet unless it’s bolstered with fish or much more expensive nuts for the necessary protein and some essential molecules — particularly for brain development — not found in green leaves.  You can be certain that early man didn’t willingly eat a great deal of green vegetation — only when forced to during drought period when other foods, such as nuts, fruit, insects and meat ran dry.  The fact that we have sharp incisors, able to cut through meat, as well as grinding teeth shows that we’ve always been meat-eaters.

True — that we in the advanced countries ought to eat more green food because it gives us roughage and thus aids digestion.  True also — that most of us eat too much meat — that is, more meat that, on average, man has been used to eating for hundreds of thousands of years. On average, we haven’t eaten healthily for 10,000 years since we left hunter-gathering and became agricultural.  It’s only been in the last decade or so that nutritional scientists are now coming to an agreement about what constitutes a sensible diet.

(And all the above has not mentioned the two potential killer molecules that most of us imbibe much too much — sugar and alcohol — so tiny and yet so dangerous when taken in excess.)

Lampooning King Charles III

Prince Charles, it is now revealed, receives copies of confidential Cabinet documents.  This has been going on secretly for 20 years and only came out in the open as a product of the  Freedom of Information Act after a three-year battle by the campaign group Republic.

In justification, the Cabinet Office says the Queen and her heir should be “properly briefed”.  But why should they be “briefed” any more than the rest of us are?  The Queen — and ultimately him when King Charles III — has absolutely no powers to block or amend legislation.  The Queen, unlike ‘ordinary’ peers of the realm well below her in social rank, doesn’t even have powers to initiate legislation.

Some who’ve opposed the practice of secret briefing go too far, however, by saying that it enables Prince Charles to be a lobbyist on all sorts of issues.  Well, Prince Charles comes out with all sorts of strange ideas — and good ones, too — so why shouldn’t he a lobbyist and use all the inside information he can ay his hands on?  Just like the rest of us. At least it gives Prince Charles a personality.  This is something the Queen doesn’t have.  Apart from her love of horses and her lack of interest in music, that’s all we know about her. She’s almost totally cloaked in a sort of sanctimonious anonymity by the civil servants who control her.

Because the royal civil servants pushed Prince Charles into  a marriage with Diana he did not want in order for them to be supplied with heirs as soon as possible — for further control in due course — he subsequently became a rebel.  That is, with Buckingham Palace and the civil service courtiers there, not with the rest of us. Because he had been mentored for a while by a South African naturalist, whose name escapes me and who is not mentioned in a highly sterilised account in Wikipedia, Charles learned to speak his mind increasingly. Even if it made him ridiculous sometimes  — like his huggng trees — it made him very human.

Because we know a great deal about Prince Charles’s interests, cartoonists and comedians will be able to make a great deal of fun about him when he’s the King. That will be refreshing and, paradoxically, will give Charles an opportunity to be a bit more of a loose cannon if that’s what he wants to be.  We’ll be able to like him and dislike him all the more than the present Queen — and that attitude to leadership is always desirable in any civilized society.

Automatic leadership at times of change

I read today that Andrew Davies’s television version of War and Peace will start on 3 January.  Great.  Something to look forward to after much of the dreadful stuff that we’re to be shown over Xmas. We’ve heard rumours about the making of this for a year or two now. One thing disappoints, though.  It’s only going to be six instalments. Now Andrew Davies is a brilliant scriptwriter and adapter of novels. But why ever did he agree to compressing Tolstoy’s classic — surely the  greatest novel ever written? — into six instalments?  It needs a dozen at least, probably more like 16 or 20.  I have a boxed set of DVDs of the BBC’s original version in 1972 and that was 12 instalments. Even that was insufficient to bring out Napoleon’s full range of personality.

I’ve read War and Peace four times in my life.  Once as a young man in Engish.  Then again as a young man in Russian when I was learning Russian in order to do some technical translation for a tyrecord factory my employers, Courtaulds, were building in Russia.  Thirdly, in French when I’d bought a copy for one of my granddaughters who was learning French at school and I decided to have a peek at it first. Finally, a couple of years ago — in English!  My previous attempt using my school-level French had not been very successful.  My attempt in Russian was, truthfully, less than successful.  More realistically, I’ve probably read the book something like two and a half times.

Nevertheless, Tolstoy is up there, along with Jane Austen and George Elliot, as among the great novelists in my pantheon. What was he actually getting at?  He was trying to say that great historical events make great personalities — such as Napoleon in this case — rather than personalities make history, which is how historians used to write it.  Was Tolstoy correct?  The debate had gone this way and that ever since.

My own view is that Tolstoy is more nearly correct. When great economic pressures force a new historical change into existence, it’s always one personality who is pushed to take command. And that personality is of someone who has a very precise blend of talents — so precise, in fact, that they’re probably not learnable or copy-able from others.  The blend has to be there at puberty — the time when all personalities are set for life — and that means that the success of the Napoleons of this world are not self-determined but a product of parental upbringing and imposed experiences of childhood.  It’s as though the leader of a great historical change is just as much an automatic product of circumstances as the economic change itself.

Getting used to ordinariness

Some people — usually right-wingers — have a pejorative name for people like me.  We are called “Little Englanders” which implies that we like to run down our country.  When we say, for example, that we cannot possibly afford to operate two aircraft carriers when they’re finally built, or to be able to recruit enough sailors to man them, or afford enough fighter-planes to fully use their flight decks and interior hangers (or even to make our own fighter-planes any longer), then we are somehow being disloyal.  But we are only talking reality.  Top politicians haven’t got used to the idea that Great Britain, formerly the Head of the British Empire, is still running down.

If, however, we are historical as well as philosophical and think back to previous massive empires such as Spain’s in the 18th century, we know that it takes a long while to fully adjust to normality. How long do cultures take to change?  Three or four or five generations typically.  Since the end of the Second World War, when any ruminant knew that the British Empire was dead, it’s only been barely over two generations since then. We might have a more realistic idea of ourselves in 2050.

The one feature of this country that vastly interests me, though, is London.  While the rest of the country continues to run downhill economically — including the one big industry that we were formerly proud about — Rolls Royce Aero engines — London is holding its own so far.  As a major world financial centre, its earnings subsidises the remainder of the country. But how long will London’s prosperity last?  Our Chancellor, George Osborne, has chickens whenever a large bank, such as HSBC, talks about moving its headquarters elsewhere, say to Hong Kong or New York.  Others — a lot of others — could easily follow

The only big advantage London has  — and it could be a very big one in the decades to come –are four world-class universities with two more, Oxford and Cambridge, not far away.  A significant proportion of the world’s leading edge research is to be found in that triangle, particularly in digital and genetic research — two of the growth areas of tomorrow’s world when DNA-based algorithms and biological work stations will be making a new genre of carbon-based materials with advanced properties.

. . . and when, one hopes we’ll have lost our grandiose ideas about building aircraft carriers and suchlike and trying to remain a major military power in the world.

Getting it right about money and trade

It amazes me just how academics in the economics field can get things wrong.  I recently same across a book published this year which tried to show how trade and money first came about. This was written by a professor of cultural anthropology.  He obviously hasn’t read widely enough.  In an introductory essay he wrote the following:

“As people became more adept at cultivation, populations grew. And people found that they could not always grow or procure from nature the things they needed in order to survive. Trade was born.”

Man’s needs — that is, physical needs — were not the first things traded. Tribes of early man were all completely independent and self-supporting.  They didn’t need anything — except perhaps water and food during long droughts. If they wer not independent they simply died out.

The very first goods known so far that were traded were pierced cowrie shells (for necklaces — found in sites in north Africa) and hand-sized coloured rock (for drawing with and body painting — in the Blombos caves in South Africa).

Enough of these types of ornamental goods found so far — going back to about 100,000BC — suggest that there weren’t other types of goods. It’s possible to imagine that really good qualitty flint would have been traded by early man. This would have been invaluable to any tribe that only had poor quality flint in its own territory.  But there’s no evidence that flint was ever traded until comparitively modern times such as about 3,000BC when sea merchants from the Mediterranean would trade with this country. For at least almost 100,000 years of our existence trade was always ornamental goods.

How could any tribe that didn’t have coloured rocks or necklaces ever suppose that they needed them?  They got by well enough without them.  But if a tribal chief wore a shell necklace or had covered his body in coloured stripes to show his status then you could be certain that if a neighbouring tribal chief — wearing perhaps eagle’s feathers to denote his status — saw this he would want these additional signs of being a chieftain.  He would want to trade if the other was willing to sell any surpjus shells  and if he had something that the other chief wanted — say, some of those eagle’s feathers.

It would be these orhamental goods — easily carried on one’s person without hindering his normal activities — that would be traded first.  There’s be no travelling merchants in the times of early man.  The savannah was too dangerous and, besides, they couldn’t rely on safe passage by successive tribes they came across. No, goods that some tribal member happened to be carrying would be exchanged with goods that someone from another tribe happened to be carrying.  In this way, by means of infrequent accidental meetings of neigbouring tribes — always wary of one another in case of either invading the other’s territory for food — a series of informal trading sites would develop over centuries and millennia.

In due course, ornamental items such as cowrie shells could then easily be treated as money to be used in all sorts of other trade transactions. In fact, cowrie shells became the most populat forms of money ever (until silver in the 17th century and gold in the 19th century), being traded from sea shores to deep into the interior in Africa and large parts of Asia for many thousands of years.  It was even in use as money late as the 17th century between some African countries and Europe.  Banks in Amsterdam (before London took over as the predominant trading port of Europe in teh 1i8th century) had vaults full of cowrie shells that were used for trading with non-European countries.

The motivation to buy status goods by ordinary workers not only drove the industrial revolution but it appeared as a powerful motivator right at the very beginnings of man’s economic activities 100,000 years ago.  (As more evidence accumulates in due course, it may be that man was trading right at the beginning of our species 200,000 hyears ago.)

A world of new materials

In a comment to my “Just a little thought” (12 December) Arthur Cordell suggests I googled Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen (1906-1994) for someone with some insights to offer. What concerned him greatly was the prospect of running out of natural resources and of the general degradation of the earth under the weight of population and economic growth. He was also the mentor of Herman Daly.  Between them, they supplied much of the theoretical foundation for the green movement.

In principle, Georgescu-Roegen, Daly and the green movement generally are correct. A finite earth cannot possible support continuing economic growth. There must come an inevitable point when growth has to stop –when countervailing restraints become too powerful. Otherwise known as the Law of Least Effort, this was a principle long intuited by thinkers and, in fact. a derivative of the law of thermodynamics.

As for the shortage of resources which Georgescu-Roegen thought would cause collapse of our present economic system, he lived a bit too soon to realise the enormous potential of organic chemistry — the activities of molecules that are based on carbon. The effects of these varied and stupendous.  A cubic centimetre of DNA can contain thousands more data than an electronic chip. Spiders’ web material can be many times stronger than steel. Graphene (pure carbon) can conduct electricity far better than copper.

All these new superior materials are already being deeply researched and will be developed in the next few years, based on synthetic DNA.  We won’t need the intensive type of energy that is presently required for steel and copper production.  Whereas someone in 1780 might have been able to make a good stab as to what might be going on in 1880, nobody in 2015 today would have the remotest idea of what sort of economy we’ll be into in 2115 — at least some of the advanced countries — those that continue with a high level of scientific research into biology.

As for the size of this new carbon-based economy we cannot have the faintest idea. Since we don’t know where the present metals-based economy is going in size — dallying as it’s doing for now  — we’ll have even less with the new one with a far larger repertoire of materials and a more complex set of constraints.