A bad 2017 for humans

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

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

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

A good 2017 for elephants

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

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

A pragmatic currency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to be creative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The restoration of common law

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

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

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

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

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

Waiting for sense to dawn about racism

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping up your intelligence in old age . . . !

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

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

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

Let’s grow our civil service!

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

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

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

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

Silos of potential power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In reply to James

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

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

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

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

David Trump as a useful marker

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

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

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

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

Resuming progress — but with more intelligence

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

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

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

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

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

Appropriate education

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

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

The rise and rise of Boris Johnson

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

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

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

The small usefulness of PISA tests

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

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

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

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

Betting on the environment

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

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

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

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

The better part of valour in the Supreme Court

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

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

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

The multi-governments of the future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our next type of governance?

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

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

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

Digging into a new era

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

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

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

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

Leaving a pecking-order behind us . . .

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

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

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

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

Relevant governments

Unless I’m misjudging him, George Osborne is an example of an MP who is more than usually guilty of causing resentment, even anger, of a large part of the electorate.  The  politicians  make promises to help their constituents and yet, when elected, most seem to spend most of their time in the comforts of Westminster, some even using the place as being useful in amplifying their own private affairs. .

When he was Chancellor two years ago and in order to boost his chances of being selected as the next Prime Minister after David Cameron, he proclaimed a personal ‘Northern Powerhouse’ project whereby he would rectify the economic differential between the north of England the south.

Besides promising the northern cities a High Speed rail connection with London — which would have only taken talented young people to London and not from it — he was going to substantially beef up the education system in the north. . . . Well, the leadership contest came to an end — adversely for Osborne.  What about the plan for education?

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of the educational assessors, Ofsted, reports that whereas there were 11% fewer outstanding state secondary schools in the north in 2013 than in the south, the difference for 2014 is now 12%.  Ofsted has not yet reported what the 2015 and 2016 figures will be but the chances are that they are likeely to be 13% or even 14% rather than anything lower.

Similar situations exist in all the half-dozen advanced countries.  Education is not the only policy that needs a radical overhaul. Until widespread reform happens then alienation and anger will continue to build up in all those countries until more relevant methods of selecting governments is developed for modern times.

Well done, Nestle

Nestle will soon be making chocolate with 40% less sugar.  This has got to be one of the biggest breakthroughs in modern science and will prevent the emergence of millions of cases of Diabetes-2 and associated diseases in the coming years, as well as reducing vast government medical expenditures in advanced countries.

Nestle have been reducing sugar content in items such as Aero and Kitkat for several years but this is a major step down right across its product range whatever.  The scientists involved have discovered how to alter the structure of sugar so that the 60% that remains dissolves quickly enough to deceive the taste buds.

Nestle have patented the method and no doubt it will be copied right across the industry.

Getting the subject up-to-date

When asked why the subject of economics is not a science then its exponent adopts a kindly look — as though the questioner is not as bright as he himself is — and answers along a line that goes something like this:

“Well . . . you see, economics is not just about making things, moving them about and then selling them in a voluntary exchange with a customer, it is also inextricably mixed up with a complex creature shot through with phobias, powerful instincts, sudden changes of mind and, often, full-scale panics.  One half of the subject is beyond computation and we can do little about it.”

If you then try to explain that there’s quite a raft of scientific disciplines investigating human nature and that they’re all, from different angles, defining humans pretty accurately, then a distant view appears in the economist’s eyes, his fingers start drumming and you know that, once again, you haven’t quite got through.

What is the ideal world population?

What is the ideal world population . . . that is, of humans? One quick-fire response is “Ideal for what?” All right, ideal for approximately what we are already doing.

Like all species, we had to have the ability to produce slightly more offspring than we strictly needed to in order to survive because if we had produced slightly fewer than replacement numbers then we would have faced extinction a long time ago.

The result, as in all species which overpopulate naturally sooner or later, is that there is far from sufficient food to feed to give us all a nutritious diet. We even experience regional pockets of extreme starvation. These will become larger and more numerous as we reach what is expected to be turn-around period in about 50-70 years’ time when the human population finally starts to decline.

So what’s the figure to be? The answer is that we won’t decide. The environment will take that decision according to circumstances. In every generation new mutations arise. Some are benign but some are such serious handicaps that those males tend not be be selected by young females as desirable partners and parents. It’s the balance between benign mutations and the sub-par ones that decides whether the population goes up or down — given enough food.