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Sunday, 2 October 2011


GB: Well I suppose a starting point for Sam would be: believing in God. Does he? Sam?

CB: That's one for you, Sam. It's the default position. No one has shown that it is unreasonable.

Elisa (On the medicalisation of grief): Formidably successful marketing campaigns are in place to sell sickness, particularly mental sickness. It is all about condition branding, redefine an existing condition, increase its importance or create a new one for an unmet market.. and give it a spectacular name: social anxiety disorder, seasonal affective disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, premenstrual dysphoric disorder... Redefine all expressions of human emotion as psychiatric problems and then you will ensure that there is always a market for your new drugs.

Geoff: You're a young cynic but right.

CB: I agree with you both. But what about when government takes a position?

GB (On Weaponology): Well the defence industry is good for the economy. Most of the advances in electronics and many other areas of technology have been driven by defence needs.

For example, it is unlikely that Watson Watt would have persevered with the development of radar had it not been funded by the Air Ministry in view of the impending threat from Hitler. Thus, landing at Heathrow would now be a dodgy experience.

The impetus to develop the jet engine was a direct result of needing faster aircraft to combat the Luftwaffe.

We wouldn't have Satnavs if it were not for the US needing accurate positioning systems for their missiles. And this GPS technology is used for civil aircraft navigation as well as in the aircraft TCAS (Traffic alert and Collision Avoidance System) which guards against mid-air collisions.

I could go on but won't!

CB: You are absolutely right that this is how things have happened! Does this make war a good thing? Given company A with faster transatlantic crossings with jet engines and company B with slower, who will prevail – war or no war? As for RADAR, it doesn't take a Nazi threat to make consumers really enthusiastic about landing on the tarmac at Heathrow – as opposed to 10 metres below.


  1. I think the point you are missing is that in times of war the impetus to develop technology is far greater. In 1940, the Luftwaffe mounted a very concerted attack against the UK with the hope of "softening us up" for an invasion.

    It was paramount that the UK could have advance warning of these attacking aircraft. The current Radar technology was not good enough and a higher frequency system was needed. The quest to solve this problem involved immense and rapid research with the result that the Cavity Magnetron was developed. This solved the problem and as a result foiled the Luftwaffe. (Incidentally most people in the Western World possess a magnetron - in their kitchen!)

    The impetus was clearly far greater for this development than it would for say the development of an auto-landing system at airports, which in fact did take many years.

    There are countless other examples such as this.

  2. Geoff,
    You are absolutely right that this is what did happen.
    Henry Hazlitt asks us always to to look at the "unseen consequences" of any policy decision. Frederic Bastiat is his mentor.
    We are in deep shit, on a huge number of fronts. We do indeed need technology to solve many of our problems. And I believe that it can. Energy is of course foremost. Technology in the form of nuclear power and fracking - not to mention the exploitation of colossal reserves of "fossil fuels" are a case in point.
    But your implication (forgive me) is that the best thing that could happen would be another war. War always involves destruction. Destruction of wealth. When wealth is destroyed, there is less to be invested in greater wealth (and happiness) creation.
    I can't accept that the magnetron or auto-landing systems could only result from war. They are desirable in themselves. We have developed so much with and without the stimulus of war and our experience of war has been so ghastly that it is fair to ask whether war was a fair price to pay.
    At the same time, we are sometimes justified in in going to war to protect ourselves - even, perhaps to topple foreign tyrants. Every time we do, though, we divert resources from projects which would feed the world more cheaply or ...
    Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki (and Hull) reduced the world's wealth by countless billions of actual $ and by even more potential $.