Drama in English politics

Turmoil in both the main political parties in England has spiralled upwards this morning with Michael Gove’s decision to release himself from supporting Boris Johnson to strike out on his own as a contender for the Tory leadership. What with Labour Party MPs yesterday voting no-confidence in their own leader, Jeremy Corbyn — and he refusing to step down — means that both parties are taking government into new levels of confusion.

All this has been tripped off by the Referendum vote last Thursday because the vote was more than about immigration or Pariiamentary sovereignty or feelings about the EU. The very high turn-out — far higher than in previous elections for MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) — means that it contained a protest vote about the political system itself. That it isn’t doing the job it is supposed to. That there is a high level of distrust in politicians. That the political system is broken and needs repairing.

All this sounds dramatic but it won’t play itself out anytime soon. Underneath, there’s a big historical change taking place. In the advanced countries, the Industrial Revolution (IR) is subsiding into a more professional personal service type of economy.

The IR will continue to surge for a decade or two in China and maybe in India, Brazil and possibly one or two more countries but that’s about the limit unless energy production and use were to multiply several fold. A lot more evolution (more specialization) and devolution (more lateralization) needs to be going on yet. What makes this unique is that, unlike all previous historical changes, we — some of us, anyway — are conscious of what is going on and why.

[P.S. As I was writing the above, I learn that Boris Johnson, hitherto the public’s favourite by a countryside mile, has now decided to resign because he has insufficient support from fellow Tory MPs.]

The civil service taking the lead again!

The most senior civil servant in charge of the negotiating team of civil servants under the next prime minister has already been chosen this evening. I didn’t catch his name on television so I must apologise.

But who appointed him? Not David Cameron. He has already resigned because he says that the next prime minister must have been a Leaver during the Referendum. It can’t be the next prime minister because candidates haven’t even been short-listed yet. It could only have been the civil service itself — one of the prime movers for the EU 50 years ago.

So there we have it. We, like all advanced countries, have a doublet government. An elected government of politicians and a meritocratic civil service using its own selection exam. This is a perfectly rational way of proceeding. But further political reform means that as well as improving the effectiveness of politicians, the higher levels of the civil service must be more open for debate by expert spokespersons chosen by the public.

Consigning Sunniism and Shiaism to the history books

Is Isil finished as an attempt at forming a Caliphate — or, in Western terms, a new nation-state? It looks very much like it. Ever since al-Baghadi and his top officials fled to Libya three months ago — where their fate might also be in danger by now — the fight has gone out of them.

They seem to have lost any capability of co-ordinated attacks in Europe and, it would seem, only able to direct the fanatics it has left in Syria — potential suicide-bombers — to terrorise in Turkey, as in yesterday’s attack at Istanbul Airport which killed 40. Far more importantly, this attack was the latest in a series over the past three months which has largely vaporised Turkey’s attraction to European tourists.

A year ago, until Russian planes came on the scene in Syria and destroyed oil transportation between Syria and Turkey, Isil and Turkey were engaged in a highly profitable trade and all was well between them. But since Turkey had been encouraging the migration of hundreds of thousands of Syrians — and many more from elsewhere — to Greece and Europe, then the party was over. The Istanbul terrorist attack can now be regarded as revenge affairs.

If this interpretation is correct where does this leave the Middle East? To my own surprise I’ve come to the conclusion recently that all is now slowly, but steadily, being wrapped up. The amazing sight of seeing Arab fighters in the front-line side by side with Kurds — normally Kurds and Arabs despise each other — when fighting Isil in the outskirts of Mosul is a significant symptom of some big changes going on.

As to Mosul itself and the weakened condition of Isil, it is likely that it will best be left to an uprising within the city rather than an onslaught from without. This would not only minimise deaths to women and children, and devastation to property but also avoid any damage to Mosel Dam, built across the Tigris.. This is the largest dam in Iraq, responsible for wide areas of irrigation but also hydroelectricity. It is already fragile and greatly in need off renovation. Any breach of it could spell disaster downstream for hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

As to the centuries-old enmity between Sunnis and Shias in the Middle East, this will not be alleviated in the slightest by the defeat of Isil or any cessation of civil war. What may start to happen, though, is a significant change of attitude towards education in Saudi Arabia.

Its previous ruler, Abdulla, had the greatest difficulty in getting reforms past the senior Wahhabi clerics — even stricter than Sunnis — but the new clique is hell bent on educational reform, particularly as to scientific education. This will stimulate Iran — already well-disposed to science — that innovation will be the best way to compete with Saudi Arabia. The quicker that both cultures are eased towards science and secularism, the quicker that differences between Sunniism and Shiaism will finally be consigned to the history books.

Welcoming Larry Summers to the plough

I sometimes feel I’ve been ploughing a lonely furrow when I write about the drying up of new status goods — the last ones being the car and colour television — as being the cause of the economic malaise in the advanced countries.

Not so, any longer. I appear to be joined by Larry Summers, arguably the best known economist in the world. Previously chief economist at the World Bank, Treasury Secretary under Clinton, President of Harvard University, chief economic advisor to Obama — when he was frequently flying to Beijing and speaking with the Chinese government — he came out recently with his belief that the world had entered a period of “secular stagnation”.

The cause, he maintains, is that we are transiting from a manufacturing economy to a less capital intensive service economy, together with a decline in ‘consumer durables’. The last is, of course, the more orthodox economists’ term for what I call ‘status goods’ — goods such as house, car, furnishings, apparel, on which a lot of money is spent in order to show our personal or family status.

We are now increasingly into a repair and maintenance economy rather than one that’s driven by yet another exciting and uniquely new consumer durable. None has appeared in the last 50 years. The personal computer never attained mass sales and the smartphone became affordable too quickly to acquire a status label.  In short, the  industrial revolution as we understand the term has come and gone.

There are several more implications which readers of my blogs know about and which Larry Summers may well be considering. I welcome the extra hand to plough a deeper furrow that nay yet persuade others.

Carrying troublesome passengers

The real reason for Britain withdrawing from the EU is, in the EU’s oft-repeated — and never denied — its intention to become an “ever-closer union”.  This is going against the historical trend.

The plain fact of the matter is that the large empires of civilization — 50 or so in Eurasia and half-a dozen in Central America — have lasted for decreasing numbers of years before breaking up.  This trend has much to do with the increasing numbers of specializations within each empire and the increasing difficulty of its centralised power base in being able to cope with them.

Thus, in the last 8,000 years we have seen the formation, and then the break-up of civilizations into smaller regions, and, more recently — in about the last 300 years — the formation of what we presently call the nation-state. Any empires that happened to have formed during that period — the British, Russian and Japanese — didn’t last long,

The only empire still existing — the Chinese — will inevitably go the same way one supposes, but what’s of current concern is the attempt by EU bureaucrats in Brussels — and those politicians they give favours to — to actually form yet another empire.  But it’s rowing against the tide.

The EU will probably break up before the Chinese. The latter at least has a common written language and a highly deferential culture to hold it together. The EU has neither of those and, in its most recent grab for more power as its expansion has taken on board at least half-a-dozen eastern European countries that are already more troublesome than Britain has ever been. They’ll be more so when they discover that, after the initial uplifts when they join, the standard of living of the EU as a whole is now actually declining.

Modular homes from China?

George Osborne, the Chancellor got up early this morning in order to reassure the London Stock Exchange, the Frankfurt Stock Exchange and, later today, Wall Street and the US Fed.  Having proclaimed only a few days ago that we faced a financial crisis if the country voted to leave the EU, he had a hard job.

Whether he succeeded or not it is impossible to say because the value of the pound was already recovering after its plunge over the weekend. The financial market is always stronger than governments.  Led by a relatively small posse of individual investors who back up their opinions with their own money, the financial market as a whole is not only more powerful than governments but moves quicker — whether sensibly, panicky or euphorically.

But what the financial market doesn’t realise is that there’s an even greater power behind the scenes — the laws of physics.  Like all other physical systems the world’s production and trading network is automatically seeking a condition of least effort — that is, of maximum efficiency.  Thus there’s a deeper trend to an efficient stabilized state going on permanently whether or not decisions of governments or markets happen to be helpful or not at any instant of time.

The size of the ultimate stabilized state is fixed by only one physical factor — the amount of energy inputs.  The fantastic expansion of energy inputs that started with deeply mined English coal at the beginning of the industrial revolution has now largely drawn to an end for a variety of reasons.

We’ll be somewhere near reaching it when China has more completely monopolized the production of consumer goods for the whole world even as the world expansion continues to slow down.  This, probably, will include the factory production of modular homes — a growth sector of business that is now starting in America and Germany.

The future of city-states and their surrounding regions

Before the voting in the referendum began on Thursday last you could have got odds of 9 to 1 against Britain leaving the EU, so certain was everybody, including the pollsters who had recorded only a mild surge in the Leavers’ direction. However, almost as soon as the first results were announced — Newcastle, and then Sunderland —  it was apparent that the unexpected was happening. In the latter city, an expected 6% lead had actually become 22%.

Psephologists and other specialists who’ll mull over the results minutely for months to come, really ought to start thinking seriously about London. Whereas all eight of the other regions of the country voted 52% to 48% in favour of leaving, London’s figures were the other way round — and then some! — 30% to 70%. London has a culture and an economy all of its own. It is compatible with other city-states around the world, whether involved in services or manufacturing — New York, Dubai, Shenzhen, Los Angeles, Shanghai, etc — rather than the rest of england.

As nation-state governments increasingly run into difficulties and lack of credibility among their electorates, are city-states the next phase?  This is quite possible — probable in my opinion.  Kenichi Ohmae forecast this phenomenon 40 years ago. This suggests the modern advanced world taking on the form of 40 or 50 city-states around the world replacing the dozen or so advanced nation-states of today. If so, what about the regions of a much lower standard of living surrounding each city-state? Will they become environmental leisure regions for city-state workers? It’s an intriguing question.

Andrea Leadsom — our next Prime Minister?

“The European Union has 10,000 officials who earn more than the English prime minister,” MP Andrea Leadsom reminded voters, “and you’re paying for them.”

Hardly known to the general public, but highly spoken of in passing by political commentators, Andrea Leadsom is now being mentioned as a possible candidate for the Tory Party leadership — and hence Prime Minister. With a very sharp mind, particularly on financial matters, but also as an MP who has started a successful Job Club in her constituency, she would have my vote rather than Boris Johnson if I were a Tory MP.

Which countries will be among the “great players”?

“It’s not for nothing that the U.K. has been a great player on the world stage for centuries. Having declared their independence from the EU, the British people can now show the world what a determined democracy can accomplish.” – Editorial, The Wall Street Journal, 24 June 2016

Well . . . a “determined democracy” is all very well on some occasions to tell its rulers when it has been neglected but it will only be able to “show the world” what a “great player” it could be when a great deal more has been accomplished. The most important factor of all is a complete make-over of our education system.

For the past 100 years, ever since state secondary schools were imposed on the population, half our leading scientific talent has been educated in private schools — 7% of the population — the other half made up from the 93% in state schools.

In 30 years’ time, the likelihood is that China will be manufacturing and exporting all the consumer goods that the world will ever need — or, rather, can afford at any point of time — along with many production goods, too — of the sort that Germany now exports.

The only way that the advanced countries will survive in th decades to come will be by trading their latest scientific, medical and technical services with China — which is likely to remain a copycat culture rather than a creative one. As a reminder from a posting I wrote earlier this year, there will thus be increasing competition between the creative countries of the world.

These are, in order of number of Nobel prizes won in science subjects per million inhabitants: Switzerland (2.50), Austria (1.88), Sweden (1.65), Denmark (1.61), UK (1.41), Hungary (1.12), Germany (1.07), Netherlands (1.00), Norway (1.00), US (0.77),  Israel (0.75).

Which of the above will develop the superb educational system that will be required in the coming years?

In the European chaos to follow

The BBC has been non-stop all day on the domestic consequences of Britain leaving the EU. On reflection, however, it seems to me that the biggest consequences by far will be the effects it will have on the general condition of Europe. Whereas only a year or two ago, public opinion within Europe was quite strongly in favour of the EU, today the mood is quite different.

There are now extreme right-wing parties in all the north-western European countries which are totally opposed to the scale of immigration that has occurred so far. In addition, President Hollande has already been angling for subsidies from Germany — and getting short shrift — and, in Italy, the government there is fast heading towards the highest national debt in the world second only to Japan’s.

In short, the EU is already in a far worse condition, politically and economically, than anything that was threatened by David Cameron, George Osborne. Mark Carney and others if we hadn’t voted to remain in the EU yesterday. However, in the chaos that will likely follow in Europe in the next few months, this country might prove to be the catalyst, but certainly not the cause.

We’re now out of the European Union

As I began writing this posting at 6.00 am, the last necessary vote — the 17,410,000th — to give a majority wanting to leave the EU has just been counted. The next public step will be David Cameron’s acceptance of the fact outside 10 Downing Street within two or three hours.

Whether he will then decide to continue as Prime Minister — which many Tory MPs have already called for — is hardly likely, considering that he’s been fighting tooth and nail to keep the country locked into the EU.

Less publicly, Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty will be invoked and the government’s bureaucrats must now start negotiations with the Brussels bureaucrats in order to disentangle this country from EU regulations. These are expected to take two years but some changes — such as immigration control under a qualification system — can start almost immediately.

But there will be many other changes that will take years to come to fruition, the most important of which will be increased freedom for British export firms to trade with countries outside the EU.

The Referendum ‘debate’ has been a nasty, and sometimes vicious, affair. It is a great relief for it to be over and done with.

Another Referendum on the EU or will it crumble first?

It is a nonsense of those — on both sides of the debate — who say that today’s Referendum is a once-in-a-lifetime chance of voting whether to stay in the EU or leave it. That we last voted when we joined it 43 years ago is pure happenstance and doesn’t set a precedent.

If something significant enough happens in the next few years, then we could quite easily be voting in another one. What with all the bad blood spilled in this one, most of the electorate won’t be eager to have another referendum any time soon. But referendums are not difficult to organise and are relatively cheap aspects of government. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have them quite frequently as new difficult issues arise. Switzerland, for example, has many of them as a matter of course and we rate that country as being among the best-run in the world.

Today’s Referendum, with both the winning and losing votes likely to lie between 45% and 55%, is hardly going to justify itself as decisive, or even a popular result. We’ll be having another one fairly soon I judge, or else — more than likely — the EU will itself start to crumble when Italy and France start to expect the same sort of subsidies from Germany as have been available to Greece so far.

On Referendum Day what says Mervyn King?

“The tragedy of monetary union in Europe is not that it might collapse but that, given the degree of political commitment among the leaders of Europe, it might continue, bringing economic stagnation to the largest currency bloc in the world and holding back recovery of the wider world economy.” p248 The End of Alchemy, 2016, Mervyn King, ex-Governor of the Bank of England

The nasty Referendum and the basic dilemma

The EU Referendum debate on the day before the vote is as even as you can make it. That’s what the opinion polls in the last week or so have said with the faintest suggestion that there has been a slight surge in favour of Leaving. On the other hand, those who put their money on it at the bookmakers are saying that we’ll be Remaining.

This has been the most complex — and the nastiest — national vote there has been in this country. Above all, whatever the verdict tomorrow, it will have exacerbated the main dilemma that faces all aspirational governments.

It is the dilemma of the gap between a meritocratic civil service and populist politicians when the need for state welfare is growing faster than the ability of the present sort of centralised nation-state governments to supply it.

Innovating ahead of the Chinese

After writing my previous posting this morning, by coincidence I immediately came across another reference in this week’s Economist to what is obviously Chinese government encouragement to join modern street.

This is the enormous number of Chinese students, ranging from young children to post-grads, who are now being educated and trained in America — 400,000! And, I would guess, there are at least 100,000 more in Europe, mainly in England. In our case, all the top private schools have a contingent of Chinese pupils.

And this is immeasurably more important than the previous case of persuading Chinese banking managers to become good bosses — this would look after itself in due course. Not so, the Chinese educational system. The body of teachers in Chinese schools is now so large and self-reinforcing that, rather like the teachers’ unions in this country and America with respect to state schools, they would hold back educational reforms forever if they could.

For many years now, even though it meant a loss of face to say so, Chinese government officials have admitted that the traditional teacher-pupils relationship in China is so repressive that any possibility of creativity is squeezed out of students long before they go to college or university, never mind afterwards when they’re expected to be innovative — or at least, hoped to be, for the sake of the economy.

What started as a privilege to only a few of the richest billionaire-parents in China a few years ago is now becoming a flood and, considering the population of China, is probably only a modest one so far. If there’s going to be a bottleneck it’s likely to be at this end rather than Chinese. Also, with thousands of Chinese returning home every year, some of whom will be trained as teachers, then the number of Chinese private schools will be growing swiftly.

Western politicians, who normally think only a year or two ahead for the sake of their own careers, had better start thinking 20, 30 or 40 years’ ahead if the advanced countries are going to retain the leading edge in almost all sectors of scientific research.

China learning how to become modern

The most ‘impactful'(!) story I came across this morning was the video showing the public spanking of eight employees — men and women — of a Chinese bank who, apparently, had not been up to the mark while training.

This is available on BBC News website but, interestingly, it was first available on People’s Daily website. The People’s Daily is, of course, an official newspaper in China so, obviously, the bank’s spanking session was disapproved of by the Chinese government at a high level. It was thought useful to shame the two bank executives who had, in turn, been shaming the trainees. Which must mean, one would assume, that this sort of antiquated behaviour must still be widespread in China.

The big problem is — How do you change culture? The answer is — only with difficulty, and only little bit by little bit. It’s usually not the people at the bottom who are difficult — they’re amenable to almost anything — it’s the intermediate managers and officials who don’t want to lose personal power. In this case, the people at the very top — the Politburo — have decided that if they want China to become an advanced nation then their retinue had better start learning how to act as they do in the West.

Peace on earth?

All countries are at war with their immediate neighbours sooner or later — or have been throughout history. The same applies to adjacent regions, or to adjacent groups within regions right down to the original small hunter-gatherer groups in which man was a species for 200,000 years in pre-historic times.

The same doesn’t apply to democracies — so some Western politicians tell us in order to prove that our voting system is superior to, say, the Chinese mandarin system. They’re wrong, of course. France and Germany have been at war — major warfare — three times in the last 150 years. Not all neighbouring nation-states have been at war, however, but this is only because the highly centralised nation-state has only fully emerged in the last century.

There can be no more major wars — not even between France and Germany! — because they’re far too costly and would bankupt them completely. Unlike the two World Wars, America can’t afford to lend the necessary money. China wouldn’t either — it’s  amore solipsist country than most and has enough on its plate raising its total population to Western living standards.

There’ll be plenty of minor wars, particularly in the Middle East and Africa — at least if the 2016 Global Peace Index is any guide. In terms of peace, there were 81 countries in the last year that became more peaceful and 70 that became more disruptive. Unfortunately this is within a context of a decade that is less peaceful than the decade before.

Increasingly, warfare is becoming that of smaller skirmishes, civil wars and terrorism. In these cases, the ‘democracy’ of relatively cheap high-performance portable weapons such as Kalashnikoffs applies.

Considering that the smartphone — now becoming accessible to the poor — enables the rich advanced countries to show off their panoply of consumer goods while most of the world’s population still don’t earn enough to have a nutritious diet means that, like it or not, the world is likely to have civil wars and terrorism for a very long time yet.

The US Republicans and the English Tories are both in denial about an automated future

Across the water it is difficult to imagine how the Republicans can rid themselves of Donald Trump. They had the chance a few weeks ago when they called him in — but then allowed him to continue as a Republican Party member, and thus contender. Doubts are rising again among the greyheads.

This time, ominously, instead of saying nowt, Paul Ryan, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, and chairman of the forthcoming convention of the most powerful Republicans, said he would not use his position to save Trump’s nomination.

But if they ditch Trump, he will likely continue as an Independent on the ballot paper even if they choose another as the official Republican candidate. Trump would almost certainly keep the average 30% vote of the primaries — and probably more out of sympathy.

The Republicans can’t choose a winner for the real reason that they don’t have a clear set of policies that matches Trump’s for unambiguity. Like the majority of middle of the road Tory MPs in England they have no policy because they don’t realise that the era of the industrial revolution has come to an end.

What is going on now by way of ‘economic growth’ in China is the remnant of the industrial revolution. Within a decade or so, China will join the economic malaise of the rest of the world — advanced countries and the rest alike. But if the Republicans and the Tories don’t have a relevant policy neither do the Democrats and the Labour Party MPs — middle-of-the road or the left-wing extremists.

The existing political set-up has no adequate answer to an increasingly automated future. Left and right are both in denial.

We’re all saturated with . . . .

Sitting next to a stranger on a long flight — someone one has never met before and will never see again — we have all experienced the phenomenon of revealing to all sorts of shortcomings or shameful events that we would never normally reveal to anybody close to us. The latter will never know what we have confessed to — what we really think about this or that. Whatever reputation or relationship we had before will not be affected.

A fascinating variation of this is described by Matthew DeButts in a recent article in Foreign Policy, “China’s students are sharing their secrets . . . English”. He is a teacher of English in China. Once his normally ‘inscrutable’ students have reached a high degree of fluency in English, and trusting that he won’t let the conversations go any further, they will start to reveal their inner thoughts — what they think about their way of life, problems in their families, the government, etc. DeButts’ teaching colleagues reported the same effect in their students.

The students’ new English language centres in their brains are not inhibited any longer by the highly repressive nature of the Chinese culture — a higher order of Confucianism as supervised by the Chinese Communist Party, always watchful, and particularly so in the case of the highly intelligent.

This explains why so few Chinese scientists have won Nobel prizes and that, of the nine that have been won so far, only one by a Chinese researcher living and working in China. The other eight have been won either by Chinese post-grads working in America for a number of years — and who may well stay there — or by Chinese-Americans whose parents or grandparents were immigrants.

Culture runs deep in all of us — our own culture. In thousands of subtle ways in language and behaviour from parents and other adults when in childhood. Our own culture saturates each one of us just as in DeButts’s and his colleagues’ Chinese students.

Few want to be realistic about performance-enhancing drugs

Putin’s case against the ban on Russian athletes at the Olympic Games has some merit. He says: “If some members of a family are guilty, it is unfair to punish all the members.” Where his case falls down is that the ‘family’ in this case is very much a state affair and it would be impossible for the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) to know exactly which officials have been responsible for the systematic drugging of many, if not most, Russian athletes.

Once the IAAF had decided, then the International Olympics Committee (IOC) had no other course but to reject the Russian athletes. But at the side of the IAAF there is the independent World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) which actually carries out the tests. And WADA is now saying that most or all the non-track event athletes attending the Olympic Games — such as weightlifters, swimmers, etc — are likely to be on banned drugs also. Will the IOC have the courage to ban all the Russians?

It’s likely, however, that many other participants in the Brazil Olympics, besides Russians, will also be taking performance-enhancing drugs under the supervision of their coach — though without official sanction. If all participants were to give a sample between now and August, how many would be shown to be drug-free? It might be a small number indeed. Frighteningly small or realistically small — to which eye you raised your telescope.

Did the killing affect the vote?

Thomas Mair, the killer of Jo Cox MP, told the court yesterday that his name was “Death to traitors. Freedom for Britain.” He is obviously not so much a mental case as a political one — of someone who knew how to get his view into full public awareness. Jo Cox had been strongly in favour of remaining in the EU so, if the killing is going to have an effect on the vote on Thursday — which I suspect it will — then many undecideds could swing it clearly into the remain camp.

More (farcical) complications with Putin?

Russia is reported to be attacking groups in Syria which are against Isil. Now that Isil is all but finished — except in Mosul for the time being — I think we’ll find that Russia will be doing a lot of bombing against any group opposing Assad.

Now that Russia’s athletes have been excluded from the Olympic Games, I think we can take it that Western negotiators who are trying to form some sort of post civil-war government in Syria will get little short-change from Putin. A ‘mini Cold War’ is in the offing.

While Obama might want to play it down — in order to get more golf in during his remaining months — we can be certain that Hillary Clinton will make a meal of it.  What with Donald Trump’s supposed approval of Putin, then the next few months could be a real farce. Meanwhile, America’s economy continues to flounder and the inscrutable Chinese continue to quietly forge ahead!

Choosing sensible educational policies

There is a lot of pressure in America to give preferential university selection to minorities. This would proceed right up to to their proportion in the population in order to remove stereotyping them and thus restricting their career potential for the rest of their lives.

At present there are fewer African-Americans in university than perhaps there could be (13%) because their SAT scores (entrance exam) were about 20% lower than American whites. But these SAT tests correspond very highly with achievement in life whether university trained or not. To artificially increase the number of African-American students who scored even lower in their SATs would lower their average intelligence and increase their group cohesion at university. If anything, it would increase mutual animosity between the two ethnicities.

Yes, there is a lot of unnecessary stereotyping and prejudice against minority ethnicities in modern America but no more so than there were against Jewish immigrants and Chinese bond labourers 100 years ago. Both of those — whose parents normally respect scholarship — needed no assistance in getting into the most selective universities in much higher numbers than their proportions in the population.

Preferential selection is being pushed hard in Britain, too, but nothing to do with ethnicity this time but because of the low quality of state secondary schools in the poorer parts of the country which the better teachers avoid when they get the chance. Poor darker-skinned children of immigrants — whether Indian-, Pakistani-, Bangladeshi- or Caribbean-British — actually do far better at university entrance exams than white children with parents in the same low income range. What makes the difference is the parents’ attitude to education and how much encouragement they give to their children.

The key that supplies the answer in both America and England — there are relatively few immigrants in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland — are the subtleties of emotions and behaviours that each pair of parents automatically passes on to their children. This continues from one generation to the next. Biologists know this as epigenetic inheritance. Colloquially, it’s known as culture.

Preferential selection at university entrance level won’t succeed either in America or in England. What’s needed is adequate nursery and junior education to compensate for poor parental motivation and practice. This takes generations to change, so governments — and universities — will have to learn to be patient, even if they choose sensible policies for sensible reasons.

During the weekend

Parliament has been recalled for Monday when MPs will pay their respect to the memory of Jo Cox. Decency would not allow the Referendum arguments to revive on that day, so we are only to have two more days of political campaigning, sotto voce no doubt, before the vote on Thursday.

The press are observing the weekend embargo, though pure news is still appears. IMF’s report, out today, is antithetical to Britain leaving the EU, as expected. Also, but this time unexpectedly, Lord Guthrie, ex-Field Marshall and head of the Defence staff, has come out this morning against remaining in the EU since he’s learned that an EU Army is being planned.

One point that might come up during the weekend is whether Jo Cox’s assassination will have an effect on the vote. At the time, the intended Leave vote was slightly ahead of the Remain vote. Will it now swing one way or the other decisively? It could be.



The tragic death of Jo Cox, 41. takes away a conscientious and highly intelligent Member of Parliament, still only in her first year since the Election of 2015 and of whom we’d have certainly have heard more in the coming years. Leaving two young children behind her makes it a double, if not a triple, tragedy

The man who shot her and stabbed her repeatedly shouting “Put Britain first” suggests that the high fever of the Referendum shouting match going on in the country had deranged him. Both the Remainers and the Leavers have stopped their campaigning forthwith out of respect. It would be meet if the pause could be extended beyond Friday and through the week-end.

Politicians should learn the ‘Law of Ethnicity’

Watching the England versus Wales soccer match this afternoon — one supporter each in this household — and watching spectators closely whenever they were in focus, it suddenly occurred to me that there were no Caribbean-English among them. There were several blacks in the two sides, and even one Muslim in the Welsh side with a long black beard — though not as long as the Muslim’s in the English cricket team! — but not a single one among the crowd that I could see.

Why is there such a difference? The answer has to do with the fact that if an individual black ever goes to a soccer match the chances are quite high that he’ll be physically assaulted before or after the match. If a group turns up for self-protection then you can be reasonably certain that a group of whites will soon collect and attack them.

What amounts to a ‘Law of Ethnicity’ applies here. Multiracialism is acceptable when, by force of circumstances, different ethnics happen to be conjoined into one group.  Groups of upper middle- and middle-class people do this quite often — barristers, doctors, accountants, scientists, etc. accept individual foreignerseadily. One other proviso is that the group should not have more than about a dozen members. Above that and dissension will inevitably occur. This social limitation is something we’ve inherited from millions of years in our past .

This ‘Law of Ethnicity’ even applies to soccer league teams. They’re chosen by the manager. Whether or not he is middle-class — most are not — he is necessarily looking over his shoulder to the owner of the club who may have to pay out a large sum of money. Most owners are rich people and automatically much higher in the pecking order than a club’s supporters. But foreigners are welcome in a team — and as many as you like of them — if they’re skilful enough and are a bonus to help the team to its main purpose, winning matches.

Soccer has suffered a lot from race hatred in past years and, indeed, still does so from time to time Nasty taunting amounting to race hatred still breaks out among spectators in English football matches. But not among the players themselves. If foreign-born soccer player helps them to win matches then that’s fine.

Politicians and civil servants, when they frame race legislation and try to regulate without regard to the social situation in which incidents occur. This is why, for example, white police officers are sent on patrol into black districts and why, try as they might at Home Office and senior police level for many years past to recruit black policemen in proportion to their population — 3% — they still haven’t succeeded. As soon as an individual Caribbean or Indian or Pakistani joins then prejudice works against him from then onwards.

[P.S. When I started this posting Wales were winning 1-0. Just before I finished England won the game 2-1. Incidentally, some politicians have proposed from time to time that we become a British football team.. Not a chance! Culture is still older and stronger than the relatively recent innovation of nation-state governance — only about 200 years old — and we remain four teams — England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.]

Sorting out the universities, especially Oxbridge

In my youth a friend of mine, ten years older than me, took a BA from Oxford University by translating a long passage of German into English. Nothing else, No translating from English into German. No viva voce. A few years later, my brother-in=law took a BA at Oxford in Chemistry and showed me his papers, one in inorganic chemistry, one in organic chemistry and one practical.

I was interested because I was about to take a Higher National in Chemistry from the Advanced College of Technology in Coventry — a very long way down the academic league table from Oxford University.

The Oxford exam papers turned out to be fair but unhelpful to me because my exams turned out to be more difficult than his. When I remarked on this to my brother-in-law he laughed and disabused me of my notion that all undergraduates at Oxford were bright. In particular he said that the medical undergraduates he knew at Oxford — all previously educated at private schools — were “as thick as two short planks”.

Things at Oxford have changed greatly in the intervening 60 years — but not so radically as might be imagined or as desirable. Despite government’s threats to reduce funds in the last 15 years, it is still six times more difficult for a student with high honours in his A level exams from a state secondary school to be accepted at Oxford University than from a private school. The government, via the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) is still pressing Oxford and Cambridge about their woefully preferential admissions.

The QAA are also endeavouring to even up workloads and tone down some of them. The absurd differences between the German and Chemistry students no longer exist but there are still wide variations in some universities, and particularly at Oxford. Some students there are having to work more than 60 hours a week, writing too many essays in haste “clearly to the detriment of rigour, welfare and pedagogy” while other students still have a relatively leisurely passage.

My three triplet grand-daughters all graduated this year from different universities. From all accounts, one of them quite definitely worked 60 hours a week during her last year, another one not far off but the third one barely 20 I judge, spending as much time at a job outside the university as working in it

Is Hillary Clinton corrupt?

Although we are steadily becoming less corrupt in the advanced world — due mainly to the increasing power of investigative media — it will be with us for a very long time to come, no doubt, because it can be disguised by increasingly sophisticated methods which will take longer to expose.

In the less advanced countries, corruption is somewhat more physical,  involving the personal handling of cash. Here, for example, is what went on in Argentina, according to Bloomberg:

“Jose Lopez, who served as public works secretary under ex-President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her late husband, Nestor Kirchner . . . was arrested after he was caught burying . . . six . . . bags containing millions of dollars, euros, Japanese yen and Qatari riyal.”

Politicians and civil servants in the West can be corrupted more subtly by promises of consultancies or directorships after they’ve retired. These are “Honour among thieves” situations. But in the cases where the personnel are inappropriate then corrupt individuals can start charities whose activities can be dissembled.  Rumour has that these are the main vehicles that Bill Clinton and Tony Blair use as they very quickly became rich far beyond anything that their pensions could give them.

I ponder about Hillary Clinton.  She is said to have amassed a fortune already by means of lectures. Were those lectures actually given?  Journalists have been asking about her two most recent ones, said to have earned her $500,000 each, one apparently to J.P.Morgan bank.  Now that the lectures have been given, can they see the texts?  Request denied.

Getting rape into balance

For the first time I can recall — except in the case of the McCann parents appealing after their ‘kidnapped’ daughter Madeleine — a middle-class victim has spoken on television. This was Sylvia Woosely, now in her 70s, speaking today of being abused from the age of 10 by Sir Clement Freud and subsequently raped by him when she was 18.

I knew Clement Freud when he was an MP and before he was knighted, just as I knew Cyril Smith MP who prolifically abused boys from local authority care homes in several parts of the country, just as I knew Jeremy Thorpe, the homosexual Leader of the Liberal Party who was later prosecuted for the attempted murder of his boy friend.

I ‘knew’ them when I’d met them and talked with them when I was on the National Executive of the Liberal Party 45 years ago. Although they were ‘colleagues’ at the time I obviously didn’t know the slightest thing about their personalities when they were not talking and acting as politicians.

I didn’t like any of them, but then I hadn’t liked one or two more of the eminent Liberal politicians I had met at that time. But the above case and several more ‘liberals’ I have known since have subsequently confirmed in my mind that the more strongly a politician affirms his sincerity and service to the people he represents the more likely he is to be covering for a different personal agenda. Generally, I have become more wary of liberals the older I have grown.

The statement of Sylvia Woosely is, however, a symptom of something even more important.  It was hopefully a step closer to finally removing the bias against victims. Usually when victims are middle-class they refuse to be manipulated by the police or the press for dramatic performances at press conferences.  So we are often left with victims who cannot adequately articulate just exactly what has happened to them and their effect.  Many, if not most, of appeals by victims turn out to be embarrassingly emotive — and, sometimes, falsely so by the perpetrators themselves!

Today, Sylvia Woosley, clearly and quietly, sitting all by herself without a panoply of others around her, spoke about the lifelong guilt, sense of isolation and unhappiness that Freud’s attentions — more brutal, it would seem, than usual — had had on her. That brief clip has had more effect in my mind about the seriousness of power-sex and rape than anything similar I can remember.

Where from and where to

The best description I have read yet about the EU comes from Jeremy Warner in my paper today, no matter that I have already voted (postal) to leave:

“I will be voting to remain . . . . Yet I do so with a deep sense of foreboding, for despite the benefits that Britain has enjoyed in its 43 years of membership, the EU has become a dysfunctional Byzantium of paralysing political and economic complexity.”

But bear in mind that the same is beginning to happen within all advanced countries that are above, say, about 10 to 20 million people. Somehow, governments — politicians and civil services — have got to become lateralized. Perhaps the typical sizeable nation-state of today might become another sort of much smaller governmental state in which new ideas can diffuse all the quicker. It will take time, nevertheless.

The governmental problem of advanced countries that remains to be solved

Now that the Chancellor has issued more threats — higher taxation this time — if the UK leaves the EU, it has very possibly split the Tory Party irrevocably, even if we decide to remain. Both David Cameron’s and George Osborne’s position will be untenable at least.

If we remain in the EU after the 23rd and there’s a continuation of the present hard economic grind plus immigration at present high levels, then the 57 revolting Tory MPs would very likely be joined by more and the party could actually split into the two parts it already is — that is, a very hard right-wing and a softer centre party with policies that are already hardly distinguishable from most of the ‘Blairite’ Labour Party.

The hard-right part of the Tory Party could then become a separate extremist right-wing party such as those already rising in France, Germany, Denmark and others. There would then be strong calls for a General Election and Referendum combined.

Whatever the result of any new configuration of political parties in this country, or in Europe, it still doesn’t answer the main dilemma of modern government in the advanced countries — the increasing lack of credibility from electorates. And the reason for this is the perceived ‘distance’ between governance and people. That’s a problem that still remain to be solved.

Are birds brainier than us?

Those who’ve seen videos of birds successfully solving puzzles that even young children can’t — yet — solve are not surprised when researchers tell them that birds are a great deal more intelligent than they’ve been given credit for might, nevertheless, be surprised learn that they have a great deal more neurons than we have on a per cubic centimetre basis.

In short, their neurons are much smaller than ours and more closely packed together. They restrict their connections to only their closest neighbours and only a small proportion of them grow long axons that can send messages to further parts of their brains. This recent discovery by Suzana Herculano-Houzel of Vanderbilt University, Tennessee, besides being interesting in its own right will be useful to those who are attempting to design computers with human-like intelligence.

In any case, the knowledge of bird-like brains may be useful when we get onto making aircraft with flapping wings — much more efficient than fixed-wing aircraft — and also finally have the courage to dispnse entirely with a human pilot.

Islam and poverty is not a chicken and egg question

A friend asks me — “Do you think many of the poorest countries are poor because of Islam, or are they Islamic because they’re poor? Or is it a chicken and egg question?”

The answer is quite definitely the former. But not because the precepts of Islam are egregious — indeed Muslims of old were much more caring of their orphaned children and the elderly than medieval Christianity was. There were extensive almshouses attached to every mosque until relatively modern times. For several hundred years, Islam in the Middle East and all along the Great Silk Road into China was immensely prosperous.

The answer applies to any country which is still basically agricultural — and, usually, when the soil has become impoverished. They have all acquired a fatalistic religious culture — Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity — which allows them to be ruthlessly objective when faced with a poor harvest and, sometimes, a string of them. That is, not all of the population can survive in good heart, some of them will have to suffer. The natural pecking order rigidifies during those times.

It is only in countries which became prosperous that care for the poor much more fully came into its own. The highly prosperous trading cities of northern Holland in the 17th century is a good example where a new skilled working class with leisure arose — meaning that there was time for intellectuals such as Spinoza and Erasmus to philosophise — just as in prosperous Greece at around 500BC — and to spread a secular form of liberalism which transformed objectivity, even in bad times, into a sense of progress.

It was only when the Dutch King William became the English King William in 1688 that liberal ideas first became implanted in England and prepared the scene for the industrial revolution.

The Islamic countries remain poor because their religious rulers are fighting tooth and nail to prevent liberal ideas from spreading into their general population.

Women lack the confidence for top jobs?

“Yes”, says Jonathan Munro, the BBC’s Head of Newsgathering. “Very capable” women within the BBC did not feel able to put themselves forward for the most prominent positions.

Mr Munro is confused. Has he not noticed that there are many capable women heading major corporations — the CEO of Hewlett-Packard, for instance? But has he also not noticed that, in recent years, more top women are . . . well simply retiring in their 50s — something that men never do. A recent CEO of the London Stock Exchange is an example. Has he also not noticed that IVF clinics in London are now flooded with career women who’ve decided that they’d like to have children after all.

In other words, excessive Women’s Lib, which has pushed too many women into career aspirations over the past two or three decades, is now wearing off at long last. In other words, most normal women, however brilliant they may be in specific skills, don’t like the world of politics. And, as we all know, the BBC is as much a nest of vipers as is the House of Commons to which women have been going for almost a hundred years — yet still largely avoiding despite being half the population.

Women are interested in the rank ordering of men they may be interested in choosing for partners or not, but they’re not interested in taking part themselves — with all the deviousness, back-stabbing and sheer nastiness that that usually involves.

Women are built for having children and some of the saddest women I have known all through my life are those who, for some medical reason of other — or their husbands’ — cannot have children.  Now I’m old myself I’m hearing of old women who are dreadfully lonely because they gave up children for their careers. On the other hand, there is nothing quite like being a grand-parent to make one glad to have had children.

The EU — the slowly developing vegetative state

The basic problem of the EU is that it started 50 years when all economists were soaked in Keynesianism — that is, that the demand side of the economy was all-important. Never mind supply. It will look after itself.

Accordingly, those retired statesmen — still looking for status — and those very-much-alive senior civil servants who got the EU off the ground were obsessed with the size of the consumer market. Get it as large as America’s, they thought, and Europe can do just as well. Make it larger than America’s — then we can be even more prosperous.

But consumer demand can only act as a trigger at best — and when there’s a product already conceived. For example, the industrial revolution itself started as an 18th century demand by the new middle class — a product of the 1688 Glorious Revolution — for beautiful cotton clothes to wear as status goods in imitation of the silk that the very rich wore. But there was a tariff against the importation of Indian cotton cloth by the wool, linen and home-grown silk industries.

So the women in the villages all over the country started to spin cotton thread from the raw material that could be got from America, and many of their husbands started to make weaving machines to make the cloth. The problem was that one weaver required a dozen spinners to supply him. There was a bottleneck of supply almost immediately

That was the stimulant that got the automated spinning machines going in the mills of Manchester and other northern cities at around 1780. But then they had another problem! The cotton mills could supply so much more cotton yarn than the weavers could cope with. Hence, let’s export the surplus thread! Within a handful of years this country then switched from being a demand economy at home to being a supply economy sending exports abroad.

It was only as a supply economy that huge profits could be made and thus investments afforded in successive industries such as deep-mined coal, railways and a multitude of engineering products — all as domestic demands to start with very briefly but predominantly as supply  industries making export goods for countries which previously had had no demand at all because they hadn’t been able to conceive them until they saw England enjoying them.

The EU remains almost totally demand biased today with a blanket 20% tariffs against imports. This cuts out huge quantities and types of foreign products — and thus business intellectuals and thus interchange of ideas. By becoming obsessed with the size of its consumer market the EU has also committed itself into a slowly developing vegetative state.

Why the UK is 200 times more creative than China

In the past week, Chinese students have been sitting the two-day exams for entrance to national colleges and universities. They were perhaps not so onerous as the nine-day Imperial Exams of a millennium ago — which effectively chose future mandarins — the modern exams are relatively just as important in setting up a career path in government or good jobs in industry.

As previously, children will spend years in extra study to prepare for exams and parents have to spend fortunes to crammers — pretty well exactly similar to parents in the advanced countries who spend the equivalent of an average annual salary in sending a child to a private boarding school.

There’s a huge difference, however, between the expensively educated children of the two countries. The Chinese children still have to learn by rote, whether at state school during the day or with crammers in the evenings and weekends. They emerge from schools at 17 or from colleges and universities at 21 as totally conditioned creatures with little, if any. creativity.

Of the nine Nobel prizes in science that the Chinese have won only one was by a Chinese — a woman — who’d done her research in China. The other eight had won their prizes while doing research abroad and having spent years in a different liberal culture.

In contrast, children in England and America who’ve been lucky enough to go to private schools — or a handful of the 1,300 state schools who happened to be situated in highly favourable upper middle class districts — with far less discipline, much more free time and are far more creative. Products of the 7% of private schools dominate in both the arts — drama and entertainment — and the sciences — and half of the leading scientific research and engineers.

Whereas China has won 0.007 Nobel prizes in science per one million of population, the UK has won 1.5 — 200 times the rate. This is why China with a Confucian tradition will remain a copying nation — like Japan — and not a creative one for a very long time to come.

Let’s stop being so patronising

As to my posting yesterday about the mass shooting in Florida, Atanu Dey agrees with me that it isn’t guns that are the main problem. In this country where guns are harder to find, our major Isil attack — the London Underground bombings — was with home-made explosives.

The Florida attack and the previous mass shooting were opportunistically labelled on Isil after the event. They both seem to have been individually inspired by deranged minds. I don’t think that Isil are capable of organising an attack in America and the UK but only in Europe and then only in France and Belgium where the police and security forces are sloppy in the extreme.

In fact, I get the impression from the rout that’s going on in both Syria and in Libya that the headquarter staff of Isil have their own future to worry to about. Isil does seem to be on its way out now. According to reports, more of the Isil volunteers from Europe are now wanting to get back home. They do not like what they’ve seen and, besides, the money is running out to pay them!

This will still leave a chaotic Middle East and the heightened enmity between Sunnis and Shias. If only we in the West would leave them alone! — even if there’s a war between Iran and Saudi Arabia — let them sort out their own religious problem. It’s very patronising of us in the West to assume that only we have sufficient highly intelligent negotiators.

Bring out all those emergency banknotes!

I feel sure that many of those vote in the EU Referendum will rue the way they voted within a month of two..

As the economy of the EU continues to decline then immigration from EU countries will increase. There’ll be no way of stopping it until welfare benefits and state pensions will have to be reduced.

Although our exports to the EU will not be in danger — because EU firms exports far more to us — unravelling the treaties and protocols will be so onerous that the government will be able to blame our continuing poor economic performance onto the leaving process.

It almost doesn’t matter whichever way the vote goes because there’ll be no decisive changes in our economy for at least five years. By that time, the economy of the EU will either be crumbling badly or have already sunk. Unlike the untidy and protracted business of leaving the EU, the EU itself could disappear almost overnight without a trace. We can be certain that every single EU country has a warehouse full of their traditional banknotes for just such an emergency.

How much future for India?

It is shocking to read of ‘dowry deaths’ of young wives in India, a country that aspires to become an advanced nation as soon as possible. The latest one, of Somera Bibi, being burned alive and described in a Calcutta newspaper, occurred because she was too dark-skinned for the bridegroom’s family and they decided, after the event, that the dowry had been too little to compensate.

Although India has a lot going for it — many technology colleges and universities, a large English-speaking population — the world’s business and scientific language — and a highly individualist culture withal, yet it also has a Hindu culture, with a deeply impressed caste system, the product of thousands of years of an agrarian society, It will take many generations before it truly acquires the culture of advanced countries.

Hinduism is probably no more deeply impressed than, say, China’s Confucianism or, indeed many other agrarian-based cultures all round the world, such as in Africa and the Middle East. But whereas Confucianism has lent itself to an authoritarian state control of its 30 provinces for over 2,000 years, India’s 20 states are still barely controllable from Delhi. Whereas China’s caste system is relatively mild, India’s is applied strictly from birth and can be rarely changed during one’ lifetime.

If I were Indian, what would bother me is that in the next 20 or 30 years China is likely to monopolise most of the manufacture of consumer goods — and a great deal of producer goods that Germany now makes. It is still expanding its exports even in a world that is in the doldrums. Even if India were to maintain the acceleration of economic growth in the next 10 hears as what it managed in the last 10 years, it’s difficult to see how India can build up enough export trade to consolidate its standard of living, never mind increasing it.

The Florida mass shooting — what must be done now

The mass shooting in Florida, which happened 90 minutes ago, and killed over 40 people will set up yet another clamour from many Americans that guns should be heavily regulated. According to the Mass Shooting Tracker, this was the 373rd mass shooting in the past year. Some 475 people have been killed in total and 1,870 wounded.

The Florida shooting is not going to change very much. For one thing, the gun culture is still too recent and too deep in America — President Obama has already tried to do something about it more energetically than any other president. He hasn’t achieved anything apart from some trivial regulations. For another, America is the most socially troubled of all the advanced countries at a time when we are fast leaving economies based on manufacturing behind us and trying to adjust to an altogether new era with new circumstances.

It is the latter which need far more investigation — not anything to do with the legalities and sociology of gun ownership.  If it weren’t guns there are other methods, as we know in the Middle East, of terorrism. The main problem is that the new era is fast side-lining increasing tranches of the population, particularly young people. Altogether new educational methods and new patterns of social living will have to evolve in due course and it would be well to try and understand what these might be rather than to rely on what are now broken methods of governmental control.

What economics isn’t — yet!

In Bloomberg Viewpoint today there’s a pleasant article about economics by Noah Smith. In it he describes four schisms within the subject — and then makes his own! Here’s my response to him:

“Dear Mr Smith,

“I enjoyed reading your “Economics struggles to cope with reality” in the current Bloomberg. However, I found your own contribution to be just as opaque as the other four.

“What economics really ought to be — which it isn’t so far — is to be a science. If this were so then all theories, or models, or policies ought to bow down to the known laws of physics — the laws of thermodynamics among others — including the most irrefutable one of them all, Entropy, which is not doubted by a single scientist in the world.

“Entropy means — among many other things — that any system which needs additional energy to drive it will also seek — automatically — to shed as much energy a possible to the environment around. A consequence of this is that it will use as little energy as possible to drive the system itself. Richard Feynman spends a lot of time referring to this in several of his Lcctures as the Law of Least Effort. Mysterious though this is, which neither he nor any other physicist understands, this is what happens.

“This accords with the neoclassical economists’ view of the self-correcting economy. This means that, once you have designed a system to supply a product within a set of cultural, political, financial and mechanical constraints, you should then leave it alone as much as possible while it finds its own methods of achieving the objective of entropy, or least effort –whichever way you want to describe it.

“The other half of economics is, of course, human beings themselves. These have always been blamed for making economics a difficult subject. So it may be, but it doesn’t prevent many of the brightest young minds of today going deeply into evolutionary biology, including neurophysiology, genetics, anthropology and the like. Just like thermodynamics, I guess, this is also absent from the training of most economists.”

More power to your spade, John Wright !

The reason why we have a sector of the economy called funeral undertaking is an accidental conjunction of two historical circumstances. If it were possible for funerals to be carried out de novo, then as a matter of course we would probably dig a hole in the garden for a deceased relative — or call on our local handyman to do so for us.

One of the historical reasons is that, during most of the 19th century three generations of factory workers and miners were too poor to buy a plot of land to bury their dead folk in, even if it was the size of a grave.

The other reason is a revival of religion in the later years of the 19th century when the economy started to prosper for most, but prodigiously so for the new middle class. The orthodox Anglican churches also started to revive to cater for them and the big church funerals of celebrities began to filter down to the new middle classes and then further downwards.

Given some unknown entrepreneur who put the two trends together — churches always have a pecuniary interest in holding funerals — then the social fashion began in earnest. The new sector of organising ceremonial funerals for all in churches or crematoria, for the religious and the non-religious, except for the very poorest, began is now a powerful social pressure.

However, such funerals have become very expensive and, for many, have overshot anything that is reasonable. It is reported in my morning paper that one man, John Wright, 71, is now digging a hole in his back garden for his mother’s body because he is refusing to pay an undertaker £2,800 ($4,000) plus a further £2,500 ($3,500) for her to have the full religious service.

There is no legal reason to prevent him so we can but hope that John Wright doesn’t strain himself too much in wanting to get his mother’s body out of the fridge at the undertaker’s — where she is costing a daily fee — as soon as possible.

Binding the country together

The UK remains more a bureaucracy rather than a legislature, so the Birthday Honours List released today — 2,000 people supposedly honoured by the Queen — remains under the almost total control of the civil service. The Prime Minister is allowed to put forward a few names for peerages and knighthoods but that’s all.

The Honours system is a method of binding the loyalties of the more influential individuals at different social levels — though predominantly among the upper middle class — to the concept of the centralised nation-state. The number of people who actually turn down an honour is almost infinitesimally small but they’re often among the more ‘interesting’ personalities around.

The capture of Liberalism

The newspaper I have delivered to my front door every day, the strongly right-wing Daily Telegraph — mainly for its crossword and its superb business supplement — has, however, given about one third of its news and opinion space to those who want to Remain in the EU.

The Guardian, the strongly left-wing newspaper gives little space to news about the Leave lobby and no space at all in its opinion articles.

This demonstrates just how completely the courageous Liberalism of 150 years ago has been captured and subverted by trade unions and academic romantics and sociologists in the meantime — when also The Manchester Guardian became Londonised as The Guardian — leading to the quite nasty and intolerant ‘political corrcctness’ of modern times.

Why hierarchy is so efficient in nature and equality is not

Hierarchy is everywhere in biology. For example, as mentioned many times in my postings, we know why the pecking order is so important in human societies. It is because women tend to marry upwards in their own group or class. This tends to leave inept or genetically handicapped males without offspring. The result of this is that deleterious genes tend to become extinguished in due course.

But neuroscientists from the University of Wyoming and INRIA (France) led by Henok S. Mengistu have realised that there is a much deeper — and simpler — reason why hierarchy is so rampant. This is the cost, in energy terms, of making the connections.

In the human brain when a message reaches the end of its neuron it then has to jump a gap — technically called a synapse — by chemical means — before it can continue being transmitted to the next neuron. The energy-cost of this jump is far greater than the energy required by a message simply running along a neuron.

We have billions of neurons in our brains. Every neuron is capable of influencing any other neuron. However, if all neurons had actual synaptic connections with every other neuron then the energy costs of the trillions of possible connections would be enormous.

If, however, they can be connected in a hierarchical way, rather like our road systems — between major roads and progressively smaller and smaller ones branching off — then there need to be far fewer connections. The energy costs of the whole brain — already substantial in any case — is now far lower than if every neuron had a direct, physical connection with every other.

Like all great ideas it is very simple to grasp once the penny drops. In fact, the hierarchical principle is paramount everywhere in life but the neurological example can serve as the easiest one to demonstrate it.

Why the EU cannot have a future

In a discussion with a friend about the EU and Free Trade I wrote the following.   Some other readers might be interested:

Full blown free trade never did seep into Europe, especially when the English were starting to lose its export trade to European countries in the 19th century. Instead of being totally rational about it, as David Ricardo repeatedly was in the House of Commons in the 1830s, and firmly remaining free trade, the UK responded with Imperial Preference — that is, free trade with its colonies but not with other countries.

Besides, it’s to be wondered whether the UK was ever fully free trade anyway. It was able to protect its markets early in the 19th century because it had a large Navy able to prevent merchant ships from other European countries from trading with them.  As the UK became immensely prosperous during the 1820 – 1880 period, it was able to made sure that its Navy (and Army) became even larger.

When more and more gold entered the world market in large amounts (from the large gold finds in California, South Africa and Australia) and trade (always using gold) started between other countries without reference to the UK, then a world price had to be started, especially as, by about 1910. all the world trade, whether the UK was involved directly or not, began to be insured by London firms.

And what better place to have a gold exchange where a world gold price could be firmly established than in London!  And still, to some extent, under our control — though fast fading. So just at the time that our manufactured products were finding it harder going, so our financial services began finding it easier going — and even more prosperous.

The idea of free trade started to take off not in Europe but in America. By the time that China started to trade into the world economy in 1979, America was so gung-ho about free trade that it allowed its large firms to set up in China even though China itself didn’t allow its currency, the renminbi or yuan, to be free against the dollar or other currencies.r

That was the big mistake that America has made. China was able to devalue its yuan step by step as America was devaluing its dollar in order to export whatever manufactured goods it was still making at home.

Back to Europe, the EU never has been free trade even though it says it is. It is only free trade within its own borders, but setting up a 20% tariff against imports from every other country. That is why the EU is doing itself down. It is only carrying out its own version of the UK’s Imperial Preference and will likewise not succeed in due course.

The EU has only done moderately well so far because Germany, Belgium and Holland are making the advanced engineering products that China still needs. As China starts to make those in the next 20/30 years then the EU as whole will be dished — it not before then.

Gradually, the yuan will become the only trading currency in the world that could become a gold standard again. Whether it will do so is a matter of conjecture, though I am of the opinion that it will do so — there being a lot of suggestive evidence that China is building up a large official quantity of gold to rival America’s (8,000 tonnes) and Germany’s (approaching 4,000 tonnes).

‘Light footprint’ warfare!

One of the symptoms of the steady decline in the nation-state — as at its peak about 100 years ago — is that no advanced country can recruit enough young people into its professional standing army. Of those that they have — in this country — are medically unfit for fighting anyway.

The only real ‘warrior’ soldiers or sailors in advanced countries’ armed services today are small percentages of recruits who are already fit and are at IQ100 and above — just as impressionable as anybody else — who can be incentivised by being placed in ‘special’ units and given thorough training in the use of weapons. This doesn’t apply to air force pilots because, since the Second World War, they don’t face anywhere the same risk of injury or death than soldiers — mainly — or sailors.

The last grand-standing army in full operation was, of course, the American invasion of Iraq. But considering what a mess it made of it, both to itself and the recipient country — setting it back at least 100 years in almost all respects, particularly in the mutual hatred between Sunnis and Shias which Saddam had just about got under control — then no wonder that Obama, as well as Cameron and Hollande talk now of a policy of ‘light footprint’ approach to military intervention.

Saddam Hussein, nasty though he’d been in his political career had already instituted a secular Baath Party government — and a Roman Catholic foreign minister! — at the time of the 2003 invasion. He had largely retired as a dictator, spending most of his time in the restitution of buildings and features — the Hanging Gardens of Babylon — of many hundreds of years previously when Iraq — and particularly Babylon — was at the top of the world artistically and scientifically.

President Basher al-Assad of Syria was also trying to bring his country into the 20th century with his own secular Baath Party government but it wasn’t making such a good fist of it as Hussein. He, previously having been a peaceful 9 till 5 consultant opthalmologist at St Mary’s Hospital in London with no political aspirations, had to take the job of President when his father died. But when he and his Baath government started to be nasty against Sunni revolutionists and other religious groups, he was immediately cast into the same category as Hussein was.

America, Britain and France — among others — were enthusiastic that Assad had to be out down. Taking advantage of all this Isis spread like wildfire from Iraq to Syria and that is where we find ourselves today. But we haven’t sent any army into Syria. This is not because of any new wisdom about a new ‘light footprint’ policy. It’s because they didn’t have suitable armies for the old sort of warfare. I don’t know about the French, but there are British ‘special forces’ in Iraq — supposedly not fighting — and there are American ‘special forces’ in Syria. But we don’t know how effective they are for many years yet when journalists finally collect the evidence.

The solution for the Israeli problem

Yesterday’s random terrorist atack in a shopping precinct in Tel Aviv when four people died is yet another reminder of the super-fraught situation in Israel-Palestine. There can be few disputes — save the current one in Syria — over which so many politicians have laboured for so long without any resolution of the sort that politicians — and their back room negotiators — pride themselves on being able to achieving.

I think there’s no man-made solution. Whatever the Israelis may say from time to time about the possibility of a two-state solution, they are never going to give way any more than any other country when it comes to defending their territory. On the Palestinian side, whatever injustices in the past they may point to, no other Muslim country of sufficient political clout cares enough about the Palestinians to offer constructive ideas or practical help during any dispute with Israel.

If a confidential poll were undertaken in Gaza and the West Bank I am quite sure that the people there would confess that they’d like to be released from the domination of their present demagogues. They mjust be deeply envious of the standard of living of their neighbouring Israelis with a population (8.2 million), not a great deal larger than their own (3.6 million) and with depth of scholarship and innovative ability that no other country can match proportionately.

There’ll be no man-made solution, only a cultural one. When Hamas and Fatah finally lose any hope of restraining the people they ae supposed to represent and when Gazans and West Bankians quietly adopt Western values and when Israelis begin to trust them again but also — very importantly — when the Israeli government clsmps down on its own religious fanatics and learn not to be so arrogant vis-a-vis its own Arab-Israelis and to give them the same educational and business opportunities as for themselves.

Getting better acquainted with our goldfish

Those of us who are not shepherds find it difficult to believe that they know the individual faces of all the sheep in his flock. We are told this so often that we must believe it. What about the ability of sheep to recognise individual humans? When I had a dog many years ago  I carried out the experiment two or three times of hiding myself in a crowd of people. My dog was immediately able to recognise my face.

The dividing line between us and other animals, particularly the higher mammals — those wih a well-developed visual cortex — has been proved by experiment many times. But what about fish? Surely it’s madness to conceive of the possibility of their being able to recognise individual human faces.

Learn to be surprised ! A team of researchers at Oxford and at the University of Queensland (Australia) have shown that at least one species, the Archerfish, has been shown to be able to select a human face from 44 others. This fish normally feeds by squirting a jet of water at leaf insects above the water. By squirting or not squirting when shown photos of faces they demonstrated recognition in an irrefutable way.  In one series of experiments, the Archerfish were correct 81% of the time, and in a second one, 86%.

So what can we say to all this? Once again, the usual reminder that the dividing line between us, the most intelligent species on the planet — so far! — and other species is not so hard and fast as we normally assume it to be. Perhaps those of us who have a goldfish bowl at home might want to become better acquainted with its inhabitant.

Good prospects for solar power?

In the last ten years the price of solar power — its installation costs as well as electricity prices derived from it — have come down enormously. The latter will soon be comparable to electricity costs derived from fossil fuels. China is by far the largest producer and installer of PV cells not because its government have been persuaded by the man-made carbon dioxide lobby but because making them is a large and profitable exporting industry.

Even in China, where vast installations are being built in the Gobi desert, PV technology will only deliver about 10% of its electricity requirements by, say 2050, and probably no more than 20% by 2100. However, by then, China’s population should be shrinking and so, from then onwards, the proportion of solar power used in its economy ought to be able to be growing steadily.

World-wide, it is estimated that solar power will make up between 10% and 15% of power generation of the whole, particularly in those countries in equatorial latitudes with a high number of sunny days in the year. Many of these are Third World countries and it’s problematical whether they will be able to invest sufficiently in the high installation costs. True, these would pay off within about 5 to 10 years but can they afford to wait that long and how they be able to use the electricity productively by making goods for export that China or the First World countries don’t already monopolise ?

It looks dubious, at least for another 30 or 40 years. The advanced nations, which traditionally used to be able to supply large loans to undeveloped countries, can’t do so until their own governments have worked off their own large debts. This would require economic growth of at least 3% per annum — better still 4% — for at least a decade.  So far, there is little prospect of that..