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Sunday, 18 November 2012

Geoff Claims the Prizes – or One of Them

Well, he was the first. Geoff is red and I am blue.

Re: the Pol Pot competition. Difficult to win £100m on this. I sometimes ponder on how we would rank the most evil tyrants of the past 100 years - Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. Tough one. For me, however evil he was, Pol Pot is clearly third.

I have pondered PP many times over the years. Indeed he is a fourth division baddy in terms of the absolute number of human beings done to death. But, be fair, Geoff, it was a much smaller country but he killed a third of them. Third place seems a bit mean. You could have gone for Kim Il Sung, if you had chosen to ignore the poverty, death and immiseration. Perhaps you should have read the question more carefully. Easy for me to say. Albania springs to mind and so does Cuba but both require us to ignore the details: poverty, death and immiseration. BTW, why did you not mention Mao?

I blow hot and cold on whether Stalin or Hitler takes the number one slot. Hitler is clearly a common favourite, probably because so much of his awful deeds were documented and indeed filmed. (I hope you are watching “The Dark Charisma of Hitler” currently on BBC2 on Monday nights).

The same does not apply to Stalin. However having just cruised from St Petersburg to Moscow via the Moscow Volga Canal we learnt that 80,000 Gulag prisoners died while constructing it. When the project was finished in 1937 Stalin had all of the 200 managers shot. Sadly this is just a very minor example of how evil he truly was.

What does not apply to Stalin? He was responsible for more deaths. He was as repulsive a human being as Hitler. Recent historians have hinted that his success in avoiding the authorities before the revolution was that he was in fact a Czarist agent. Very evil, yes.

On the Solyndra Challenge I feel you are on far dodgier ground and I hereby claim the £100 million which I will give to charity.

There are numerous examples of where a Government initiative in business has eventually worked out well. Take for example British Leyland. OK, so it might have all appeared a disaster at the time but we now have two of the spin offs which are very successful companies – viz Jaguar Land Rover and BMW Mini. These two companies, regardless of who now owns them, are very large UK employers and all three brands are world-leading. I fully appreciate that their survival history is complicated and messy and a lot of money was wasted but they would have disappeared if the government had not stepped in. There are of course other examples in the motor industry cases

Government take-over was not an initiative in these cases. It was a re-action. We on the Austrian side would have allowed these companies to fail – to go bankrupt. There are always entrepreneurs ready to buy up failing companies and to use their means of production, their work-in-progress and their employees. Never forget that free enterprise is a profit and loss system. You make bad decisions – you deserve to fail.

Another obvious example is Rolls Royce PLC (the aero engine company). In 1971 this company almost went to the wall because of problems with the RB211 engine and its world leading carbon fibre blade technology. The Government stepped in and the company was rescued and is now very successful indeed. The RB211 engine is still its flagship product.

See above.

Also, RBS was effectively rescued by Gordon Brown and I seem to believe that they have now fully paid back their debt.

See above.

Don’t get me wrong I’m no soppy lefty and there have been numerous examples of very poor government intervention but as I have shown above there are also ones that worked very successfully.

Never, Geoff, would I accuse you of being a soppy lefty. But, governments in the face of genuine crises always feel that they have to act. Better that they don’t.

The judge has not awarded Geoff the prize – only an honourable mention. Apologies to his charity. 


  1. Chris

    I'm afraid the prize must be mine as the Government took a majority share in British Leyland and Rolls Royce Aero in the 70's. These were technically takeovers not “reactions” as you call them. The Government completely called all the shots.

    I’m sorry to say that you “Austrians” have got it very wrong. If you had had your way there would be no Jaguar Land Rover, no BMW Mini and no Rolls Royce, all very successful companies which collectively provide employment to thousands of British (and overseas) people, loads of tax for George and millions of pounds in dividends especially to yours truly!

    If I can find another spare three minutes I'll come up with another shedload of examples.

  2. What about the Marshall Plan as an example of a monumental government sponsored business initiative that turned out pretty well? (asks Umberto)

    Does it fit the criteria to participate in you £100M competition? (-: