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Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Politics – Practical Morality

I have been looking at some of the earlier posts on this blog and I came upon an assertion by me that Politics is practical morality and it struck me that a statist (or progressive) and a conservative (or libertarian) could mean very different things by this phrase.

For a Statist or a Progressive it could mean that Politics is (or should be) enacting legislation or regulations which do good things, things which the well-ordered conscience of an individual would dictate. He might not understand this concept or might express it in class terms. Thus, for example, it would forbid and punish murder. In this instance no conservative would, so far, disagree. On the assumption that murder is bad, the state should discourage it, an assumption most conservatives share with most progressives. The state enacts the conscientious beliefs of all individuals.

Next example: abortion should be permitted in most cases and that the state should subsidise it with the taxes paid by all citizens, conservative and progressive.

The hitherto complacent conservative is suddenly deafened by cacophonous bells, drums and trumpets, which shriek ‘Not the same thing at all!’ There is no shared assumption.
The hitherto complacent conservative backtracks furiously: what about ‘well-ordered conscience? You can’t murder babies and with my money.

She is desperate. She can see where this is going. She has to put forward an alternative view. The view she wants to put forward is that Politics should be enacting legislation which encourages good behaviour and discourages bad behaviour. She slumps in her chair, almost terminally depressed.
Almost terminally depressed is how I feel now. I can see where this is going.

I was going to put the other case: that Politics is (or should be) enacting legislation or creating institutions which encourage individuals to behave morally and discourages them from acting immorally.

But I almost feel myself being backed into a position which I hate: theocracy. No way. Theocracy is a system where some people take it upon themselves to know the mind of God and to legislate accordingly. That’s Islam (among other things).

It is true that there are a very large number of my fellow citizens who take the view that infanticide is a right. To my mind, that is an abomination. It is the society I live in.

Something of a digression:
Suppose that I know that my neighbour is about to perform an abortion. Suppose that I do not know anything about the circumstances of the pregnancy he is about to terminate. Suppose too that I have a .38 revolver. What does my conscience tell me to do? This does not seem that difficult a moral problem. I must not sneak up behind him and put a bullet in his head without warning. That is, I must not simply execute him. I must not put his family or any third party at risk. This is the least fun post I have ever embarked upon. The truth is that, since starting this post, I have come to the conclusion that I would have to confront him and his vile objective. With my .38 I could either demand that he swear convincingly to desist or promise him that he would otherwise be disabled or die. I’d have to do it. This post has brought me to a place I had not imagined. It may have got more fun. I’m not sure.

I don’t think I am going to resolve the issue, only to restate the problem again: what has politics to do with morality? Clearly, it is agreed that there is a connection. One side believes that the state is an actor. The other side believes that the state is, at best, a context.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

EU Debate

Daniel Hannan speaks first; he says it all. He is an unparalleled orator. I mean that absolutely literally – who else in the English speaking world understands and uses rhetoric as well? When we joined the Common Market, which has (without a shred of democratic agreement) morphed into the EEC then into the EC and then into the EU, we were in a bad way, three-day week, double digit inflation, strikes, prices-and-income policies. ‘Europe’ seemed to be doing better. But, as Hannan notes, we could not have done so at a worse time. We cut our links to the Commonwealth, with which we have so much in common. The Commonwealth has grown and prospered. He cites Norway and Switzerland, both members of the European Free Trade Association (enjoying the benefits of free trade with the EU) but free from the political and bureaucratic ties of EU membership. They have all the benefits and none of the drawbacks.

Katinka Barysch (very pretty girl) starts by telling us that being in the EU gives us access to a market of half a billion people. She neglects to mention that being in the EU specifically forbids us from making a bilateral agreement with China (over one billion people and growing) or with India (over one billion people and growing), not to mention multiple other nation states.

Nigel Farage gives a welcome history lesson on how the issue has been presented to the British electorate.

Leon Brittan asks why our ‘partners’ would agree to continue to trade freely with us if we left the EU. The question answers itself. They want to continue to sell French wine and German cars to us. He admits that Harold Macmillan had conceded that the Common Market was about much more than trade. When Nigel reminded the audience that argument had been presented as being only about trade, Brittan said, ‘Not true’. Edward Heath lied and Leon Brittan is lying.
The final vote gave me hope. The swing was massively towards the motion, with the gain coming largely from the ‘don’t knows’.

The first link above is to a debate which features Nick Clegg.

As to the second debate featured here, I venture to say that the historical and factual positions put forward by Hannan and Farage were not answered by their opponents and, I think, cannot be.

What I want to claim for myself is what everyone wants to claim: that my opinions are based upon facts and logic. Rhetoric depends upon the orator’s use of both. For the Greeks, Rhetoric, was one of subjects of a proper education. Would that we gave the same respect that they did. I think that academicians in ancient Athens would have dismissed Katinka’s arguments as emotional wishful thinking and Leon Brittan’s as dyspeptic and counterfactual.

Saturday, 19 December 2015


In 2009 my heart was gladdened by the complete failure of the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit. Nothing of any substance was agreed. However, a great deal of money was wasted.

About a week ago its successor was alleged to have come up with a meaningful agreement. It did not. The final communique had two parts. The first part declared that the nations of the world were resolved that the global mean temperature would not be allowed to rise by more than 2oC (preferably 1.5oC) by the end of the century. Well done, you statesmen of the world! You have outdone King Canute! He forbade the tide to wet his feet. You have told the entire climate of the world how it must henceforth behave. Bravo! We will all sleep more easily.

The second part was vaporising about carbon dioxide emissions; but no one was prepared to commit to binding targets.

Odd, really, when you think that the whole substance of the Climate Change hysteria is that the climate is warming dangerously and that the cause is manmade emission of carbon dioxide. Perhaps it would have been a bit more convincing to say something like the following: If we keep emissions below a certain arbitrary level (and we will), the threat of warming will go away Hurrah! It wouldn’t have convinced me; but it would have been less transparently absurd.

China and India are among the greatest emitters of CO2. They are not going to stop any time soon. Or rather, they are not going to stop vastly increasing their emissions any time soon. Good luck to them! Energy is the sine qua non of economic development and rising living standards. Fossil fuels (so called[1]) provide something like 98% of the world’s energy. To achieve development, we are going to have to use a lot more of it – and we will.

The most under reported (and most cheerful) fact of our time is that since 1970 the number of people living in abject poverty (ie the number of people who do not know where they will get their next meal and who expect to see their children die of malnutrition or disease) has fallen by 80% - EIGHTY PERCENT. Globalisation and freer markets account for this; but abundant and affordable energy are also necessary for industrialisation. Industrialisation has made us in the west spectacularly rich. To deny abundant and affordable energy (and therefore industrialisation) to poor countries is wicked.
Incidentally, the use of agricultural land to produce biofuels (to replace ‘fossil fuels) is also wicked because it raises the price of food. Slightly higher food prices for western nations may be acceptable but higher food prices hurt the poorest in the world disproportionately. And there are still too many poor people in the word. And too many of the world’s population are still poor. I corrected myself because I do not subscribe to the idea that we should get rid of people. Some ‘environmentalists’ have opined that malaria has an upside – it reduces populations. Banning of DDT has killed millions of children.

I rejoice that Paris has been almost as great a failure as Copenhagen, while deploring the vast sums spent on the summit and deploring the smugness of the delegates who congratulate themselves on having ‘saved the plant’.

[1] The term ‘fossil fuels’ come from the idea that coal and crude oil and methane are the products of decaying biological material. Astronomers have detected hydrocarbons in comets. Coal, crude oil and methane are hydrocarbons. This fact undermines the idea that all hydrocarbons are fossil fuels.

Innumerable commentators attempt to give credence to the idea that Islam is ‘peaceful’ and perhaps on the verge of reformation, that thereafter ‘moderate’ Muslims will join forces with ‘moderates’ in other religions and secular ‘moderates’ to create a world of universal mutual tolerance.

Regrettably, these commentators belong to the ‘wouldn’t it be nice if’ school of ‘thought’.

Maybe it would be nice if the Islamic world abandoned the idea of converting the rest of the world to ‘God’s religion’, by force if necessary; but there are at least two good reasons for rejecting this hope as fantasy.

Firstly, fundamentalist (some say radical) Islam is growing, both in numbers and in ferocity. In other words, much as we would like to see a growing majority of ‘moderates’, we observe exactly the opposite. Once upon a time there were was the Muslim Brotherhood, a very intolerant political movement within Islam. Hardly anybody in the west had heard of them. In the last half century we have seen the increasing influence of Wahabism in Saudi Arabia – very fundamentalist and very rich. Wahabists have funded mullahs with extreme views all over the world. More recently we have experienced the fun and games of Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al-Shabab and ISIS. Everybody has heard of them. They are all closely allied to the Muslim Brotherhood, whose founders would be mightily impressed and encouraged by their emergence.

Allegedly, Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion. There seems to be no doubt that the most violent and intolerant groups within it are proliferating alarmingly and disproportionally. Complacency is less and less justified. Pious hope of the kind of reform we would like to see is not encouraged by the evidence.

Secondly, despite the supposed importance of the five pillars of Islam: Shahada (profession of faith), Salah (prayer), Sakhat (alms giving), Haj (pilgrimage) and Ramadan (fasting), the real foundations of Islam are the prophet Mohammed, the revelations he claimed to have received (the Koran) and the accounts of his doings and those of his companions (the Hadith).

The five pillars, apart from the first, are not a problem for most non-Muslims. Mohammed is a very big problem. By my standards, by the standards of the Catholic Church, by the standards of most secular westerners, Mohammed was a very bad man, a warlord, a paedophile, a murderer. And yet, he is exalted by Muslims as being the ‘excellent example’.

The Koran is another very big problem. Muslims regard the Koran as a miracle, perfect in every respect. By pretty well every objective standard the Koran is risible. It is without organisation, self-contradictory and full of nonsense, including nonsense about the physical world. It is derivative, ahistorical and absurd. Some Christians have been converted to their faith simply by reading the Bible (not my position). It is difficult to imagine a non-Muslim being startled into Islam simply by reading the Koran.

The Hadith texts are Muslim accounts of Mohammed’s behaviour. Some portray him in what we might regard as a favourable light. Many do not.

The point is this: All the vicious, violent Muslim groups causing mayhem around the world can, quite correctly, point to texts in the Koran and the Hadith which justify their activities – and they do! They cite the example of Mohammed. When someone like Robert Spencer quotes them, he is accused of hate speech.

The melancholy truth is that Islam, unlike any other faith, defines itself by hatred and contempt for other religions. An extraordinary proportion of the Koran is devoted to Allah’s hatred of non-Muslims. Moreover, and this is my opinion, the theology of Islam is surprisingly thin. Granted, Islam is fiercely monotheistic. Christianity and Judaism are also monotheistic. Christianity, I cannot speak for Judaism, is remarkably rich and textured. God’s nature is taught to be Love. Our central prayer commands us to address the Deity as Father. Central to Christianity is the doctrine of Free Will. Muslims cannot speak of the future without saying ‘inshallah’ (God willing).

Much as I would like to share the hope that Islam will be reformed and that we shall be able to leave in peace and tolerance with Muslims, some of whom are, indeed, people of good will and tolerance, I regret that, for the above reasons, the hope appears forlorn.

The Koran is divided into the Medinan suras, which contain much which is irenic, and the Meccan suras, which are alarmingly bloodthirsty. Sadly for those who urge that Islam is ‘a religion of peace’, the Meccan suras are later revelations than the Medinan and therefore, according to Muslim authorities, may abrogate them. The Koran is a miracle of perfection; but the later passages are more perfect than the earlier ones!

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Production vs Everything Else

I am not an economist – no apologies. Quantum Mechanics takes us well out of the range of common sense. In QM the equations work but nobody understands Quantum Mechanics – nobody! When it comes to Economics, we have to understand the theory because we have to make economic policy. Shall I take out this mortgage? The repayment is £1000 per month and my income is £1000 per month. Logic informs me that this is not going to work. What am I going to eat?
Every human on the planet understands that unless I increase my income, I cannot commit myself to a £1000 per month mortgage.

Regrettably, when we move into public policy (as opposed to personal policy) common sense flies out of the window. The most famous economist of the 20th century (JMK) has taught politicians (no-one else would have been stupid enough to listen) that deficit spending is OK – as a long term policy. All of us understand that an emergency loan may be necessary. All of us know that debt as a way of life leads to disaster. We are all more intelligent than Keynes and governments.

All of us know that the answer is to increase production. Get a better job, improve your skills or work longer hours. Billions of people do this every day.

All human beings are smarter than Keynes. It is true; but most of us live in societies governed by Keynesians.

The First World War (an incomparable disaster and folly) was foisted upon the people of Europe by idiotic politicians. Millions died. The consequences included WWII and the Soviet Union. For all our vaunted democracies, we were taken into a catastrophe none of us wanted.

The biggest division between right and left is: shall we increase production or shall we concern ourselves with equitable distribution? The good news is that since 1970 production has increased dramatically. A huge number of people (more than ever in history) have been raised out of desperate poverty. Some governments (China, India and many countries in Asia) have reduced regulation and have enabled their peoples to exploit their talents, thereby vastly increasing production, in the process enriching themselves and providing work for their countrymen. The leftist preoccupation with distribution has been shown to be absurd. We know how to defeat poverty – by increasing wealth. To defeat disease, increase health. What would the left recommend, redistribute health?

Economics is not normative. It doesn’t tell you what you should do. It only tells you what will happen if you act in a certain way. The central question is: and then what will happen? My favourite economists, the Austrian School, believe that the answers to this question do not depend upon collecting vast amounts of data and distilling from the data a set of laws. The Austrians do economics the way mathematicians do geometry. Mathematicians do not measure the angles of an equilateral triangle and then announce that each of them is equal to 60o. They may demonstrate the validity of their conclusions by inviting you to confirm them by measurement. You can waste the next thousand years trying to disprove them; but it isn’t going to happen. Geometrical truths are axiomatic. For Austrians, economic truths are likewise axiomatic. Therefore, all other things being equal, if supply increases, prices will fall – axiomatic!
Production is the key. A poor farmer knows this: if he produces more, his children will be better fed. He may increase production by working harder, by using fertilisers or by investing in a donkey – or better still, a tractor.

Mrs Thatcher was our greatest Prime Minister of the twentieth century. She brought to politics the common sense of a housewife, of a grocer's daughter.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Fairness – Social Justice

Here are two terms which encapsulate political divisions. The left bangs on about fairness without defining it. Obama and Corbyn and the other intellectual pigmies have a manufactured conception of ‘fairness’. What it boils down to in political terms is that if John has more and Jim has less, that is unfair and the situation needs to be redressed. This does not arise from any underlying principle. It is simply conjured out of fresh air. It bears no relation to our intuitions about the real world.

The Real World
John and Jim play tennis. When they compete against each other, John always (or usually) prevails. There may be many reasons for this. We may note that John is taller (which augments his serve). We may note that John’s mother was a formidable player in her youth and introduced the boy to the game when he was very young and did her best to pass on skills. Perhaps his dad had some success in another field but passed on a singular, but general, determination to succeed. With these advantages John has a better than average chance of becoming a club, a county, a national or even an international champion. John happens to be a Czech or a Swede. What do our intuitions tell us about the morality of John’s acquisition of silverware? Not a lot.

There was a case a few years ago of a successful female skater being physically assaulted by a rival and prevented from competing. We were all outraged. It was a moral issue. Our intuition told us so. It is unfair to resort to violence, unless, of course, the arena of competition is violence (as in boxing). Even boxers, though, don’t get to sneak up upon their rivals with a cosh.

We are talking fairness. It’s unfair for Jim to cosh John or for Jill to break Jane’s leg in pursuit of sporting success.

If John has superior skills, a better coach or trains more energetically it is not unfair that he should beat Jim. I would rather be John.

Karl’s dad ran a successful small business. Karl grew up to believe that, with hard work and initiative, he could emulate or surpass his father. His Aunty Gladys died and left Karl a few quid. He used the funds and became a billionaire.

Kevin’s father was a drunk. Young Kevin had no useful role model. He lived in slum, went to a crappy school and failed his exams. Yes, I would rather be Karl. Indeed, I would wish there to more Karls than Kevins.

John had advantages and made the most of them; so did Karl. The essence of fairness is that it is OK to make the most of what you have, provided that you do not sabotage others in making the most of what they have.

This happens all the time. Suppose that Karl’s business was a taxi firm. Suppose that Karl’s uncle was the mayor and Karl persuaded him that anyone wanting to start a new taxi firm should be obliged to get a government license, costing £100,000. Kevin is stuffed. This would be the essence of unfairness, the equivalent of breaking Kevin’s legs.

Social Justice
I hate this phrase. Justice is justice. We have looked at various instances of it. The concept of a level playing field is a commonplace. And we understand it. It is part of our intuition. To qualify ‘justice’ is obscene.

A popular use of qualified justice is ‘climate justice’. To somewhat simplify the situation, there are those who maintain that developed countries use more than their share of the earth’s resources. If you could, indeed, show that this was so (a big ‘if’), you might have a case for saying that underdeveloped countries could use natural resources (as we have done) but that we should use correspondingly less. Have you ever heard this recommended?

Be magnanimous! Rejoice in success. If you are successful, share you good fortune.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

The Duellists

I may have mentioned this in a previous post, at least in passing.

Is there a greatest poem, a greatest novel, a greatest painting? There will never be consensus; but there will always be contenders.

I think that Ridley Scott’s The Duellists is a contender for the greatest movie. I can think of others.

The film is based on a story by Joseph Conrad, a Polish contender for the title of greatest novelist writing in the English language.  Apocalypse Now is also based upon a work by Conrad.

I have just watched The Duellists for, possibly, the tenth time. It didn’t disappoint. It is stunningly beautiful. The French countryside is beautiful. Keith Carradine is beautiful. Diana Quick is beautiful.

The acting is impeccable. Harvey Keitel is better than impeccable. When I first encountered him, in this movie, in the 1980s, I was sure that he was a contender for ‘best actor of his generation’. Aside from Keitel, there are masterpieces from James Fox, Albert Finney, Tom Conti and half a dozen others. Nobody puts a foot wrong. Scott must have thought he had died and gone to heaven, to have a cast like this.

I once showed this film to someone I hoped would like it. She didn’t. She thought that the ‘honour code’, which obliged DuBarre to submit to Ferraud’s notion of honour, was stupid. Duh? That is what the film is about.

I hope you will watch it, if you haven’t already. Perhaps you will contend for another movie. Pulp Fiction (for me another contender) happens to feature Harvey Keitel.

Sunday, 13 September 2015


Obama has described this as the defining issue of our age. I thought the chattering classes believed it was anthropogenic global warming.

Suppose you were to inform me about some major problem in the world, say Malaria. You give me statistics about incidence of the disease, about mortality rates, about the nastiness of Malaria and I shrug and smirk, “I don’t care”. You would have reason to think that you were dealing with a pretty unpleasant person. You would be right. Likewise, if you were telling me about suicide bombings or beheadings or about people whose diet was life-threateningly bad. Your contempt for me would be entirely justified.

This isn’t going to happen – because I do care about these things.

OK, start again. Suppose you had written a best-selling book about the iniquity of inequality or even won a Nobel Prize for researching the pernicious effects of income inequality. I shrug and smirk and say, “I don’t care.” You tell me that some bosses earn more than 100 times as much as people they employ. “Don’t care.”

If you tell me that A does not earn enough to keep body and soul together, I will want to know if he is to blame, if he is too indolent to look after himself. If not, I will care. I will want a state safety net or private charity to provide for him or to help him get on his feet.

Another example: walking down Deansgate, I encounter a stunningly beautiful young woman. A few yards later I encounter another young woman; she is decidedly plain. Do I start hyperventilating about the injustice? Do I throw battery acid in the face of the beauty? Of course not. I wouldn’t do anything. I might approve of the plain girl losing some weight or being given some tips about skincare.

In other words, provided B has not robbed C, it is never right to disadvantage B simply to reduce the inequality between him and C.

Joseph Stiglitz has written a book about inequality and has won a Nobel Prize for his ‘thinking’. Wilkinson and Pickett have written a really nasty book, The Spirit Level purporting to show that more ‘equal’ societies are ‘better’ in every way than less ‘equal’ societies. And there is Thomas Picketty who also obsesses on this theme.

X and Y are unequal in some way. X is better, luckier, prettier, richer, brighter, happier, more talented than Y. It is almost always more difficult to bring Y up to X’s level than to bring X down: battery acid, a bang on the head, progressive taxation, which is always what the ‘equalists’ choose.
I am ugly and you are handsome. I am poor and you are rich. Let’s tax and mutilate you. Voila!
Leftists bang on incessantly about fairness. They have a definition of fairness which I do not understand.

In most democracies we have ‘progressive’ income tax. For me all taxes are iffy. But a tax which takes proportionately more from one group than from another is, by definition, unfair. 10% from everyone might be justified (it has scriptural support); but 10% from poor people and 40% from rich people is self-evidently wicked. Even more wicked was the ancient regime whereby the poor paid all the tax.

Income tax is bad enough but many leftists want ‘wealth’ taxes, which simply siphon money from those who have.

These nasty equalists base their political economy upon flouting the commandment against covetousness. If I have sufficient (and let’s face it, most English people have more than a sufficiency) why should it matter that my neighbour has more, even much more?


Monday, 17 August 2015

Executive Pay – And Then What Will Happen?

The news is full of the differential between CEOs’ remuneration and average salaries. Apparently, the best paid bosses of the biggest companies earn in the region of 180 times the average salaries of workers in these companies. It is a big difference. Perhaps Charles Murray would regard it as unseemly.

However, wages, salaries and, for that matter, all prices are simply a signal of what the market will bear. Shareholders cheerfully award what you might think are excessively generous packages to executives who, in their opinion, massively increase the value of their holdings. And who is to say that they are wrong to do so? Not you! In fact there is no defensible principle on which you can say that they are wrong. None!

Presumably, these shareholders (like all purchasers) would like to pay less than the £4.9M which the top bosses get. But they reckon that without these fabulous salaries they would not get the top bosses. They reckon that for a lower salary they would only get executives of the second, third, or fourth rank – someone who could increase the bottom line by only millions, rather than billions.

They are acting in what they perceive to be their own best interests. We all expect to be allowed to do that. They actually believe that by paying less they would be worse off. Who can say they should be forced to do so?

Suppose you took it into your head to build a house. One consideration would be the market value of the completed edifice. Your resources make it possible for you to choose between hundreds of architects. A quotes you a fee of £X pounds. His reputation and track record suggest that the value of your house would be very substantial. His nearest competitor (B) quotes you a lesser figure of £Y but his reputation and track record suggest that the value of your house would be much less substantial. By what principle should you be compelled to prefer B over A? The question answers itself.

What will guide you is not a moral principle but your subjective (perhaps educated) estimated reading of the market. Every price is based on subjective estimates. Sometimes we agree to a price and subsequently regret having done so. Sometimes we rejoice in the purchase and even make a killing. The future is notoriously hard to predict.

To drag in the wages of bricklayers, carpenters and labourers is clearly an irrelevance when considering the architects fee. They have nothing to do with it. What you agree with the architect is not a moral question, provided that you do not rob or defraud third parties to acquire the means to pay him.

This brings us to a fundamental question: is Economics about morality? No. Economics is about consequences. The question can be framed thus: And then what will happen?

Sickeningly, governments are all too eager to get involved with citizens’ economic decisions. Governmental interference distorts markets. Tax something and you will get less of it; subsidise something and you will get more of it. That is the sort of lesson that Economics teaches. Incidentally, taxing and subsidising both involve government interference, sometimes simultaneously – tax work and people will work less (axiomatic); subsidise bastardy and you will get more of it (axiomatic).

Why are the BBC and Co making such a song and dance about Executive pay? Because they find the differentials distasteful. In their pusillanimous view, something should be done. We have shown (definitively) that their distaste is an irrelevance. Shareholders must be allowed to agree whatever packages seem best to them. They must be allowed to act in what they perceive to be their own interests. The salary of a secretary or the wage of a cleaner is not the benchmark for the remuneration of a CEO. On the contrary, a hugely successful CEO, who grows the company, may well thereby increase the provision of jobs for secretaries and cleaners.

Lest you should think that I am not interested in moral questions, let me remind you that the 10 commandments are very clear about covetousness: do not do it!

In the 60s or 70s there was a character known as ‘super hod’. He was a hod carrier who went to work in a Rolls Royce. Though unskilled, but very energetic, he could supply a more than usually large number of bricklayers with the bricks and mortar they needed to do their job. Imagine the outcry if his employers had been forced to pay him no more than ordinary hod carriers.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Been Thinking about Global Warming Hysteria – Again

The Earth is about 4 billion years old. A lot has happened. Continents have slid around. Mountain ranges have emerged. Sheets of ice miles thick have periodically covered vast areas and then retreated. The atmosphere has fluctuated: sometimes more carbon dioxide, sometimes less. Whole phyla of animals have emerged. Many species of plants and animals have appeared and disappeared. It has been a turbulent 4 billion years. Every change has had a cause. Some causes can be guessed at. When it comes to long past events, we can speculate. We do have evidence of cyclical variations of temperature and atmosphere. Sometimes high concentrations of CO2 have coincided with high temperatures, sometimes with ice ages. The rest of the solar system affects our earth. The moon drags the oceans around and gives us tides. The activity of the sun (in the form of sun spots) correlates with weather, crop yields and stock market prices. Lots of things change. One change affects other phenomenon.

A series of causes (about which we can speculate) rendered the Earth in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries relatively colder than it had been. This was BAD news for people at the time. Food was harder to grow and fuel to maintain life became more expensive. History tells us that during the ‘Roman Warm Period’ and the ‘Medieval Warm Period’ European civilisation flourished. Food was relatively plentiful. Winters were lethal to relatively few.

A few decades ago some scientists speculated that we were due for another cold period. This was, indeed, a cause for some alarm. The prospect of ice fairs on the Thames did not compensate for the prospect of rising food prices. Fears of another ice age were credible – ice ages had happened before.

All of a sudden two things happened. We observed that the average temperature of the Earth had risen since the eighteenth century by a fraction of a degree Centigrade – what a relief. We also remembered that scientists had told us that certain elements of the atmosphere (most notably water vapour) had the effect of trapping heat. One of these elements was CO2, a tiny proportion of our atmosphere (0.04%). It was/is true that human beings contribute to the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, perhaps as much as 3% – the rest comes from volcanoes and other natural causes.

A third thing happened. Governments around the world took it into their heads that because human beings contribute some carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and that there had been some warming since the Little Ice Age of the eighteenth century, we were frying the Earth. This conclusion is unwarranted. The Earth would eventually resemble Venus, whose atmospheric temperature is more than 100o C. In the meantime oceans would rise and engulf low lying regions.

Al Gore’s absurd movie, An Inconvenient Truth, contained a graphic demonstrating a correlation between CO2 and temperature. It exists but the graphic also demonstrated that increases in temperature characteristically preceded rises in CO2.

In view of the fact that weather is so fantastically complex that forecasts about winds and rain and sunshine and temperature more than a few days in the future are impossible, the policy recommendations of these politicians were reckless in the extreme. We were to cut back on the exploitation of hydrocarbons, whose cheapness and abundance had enabled the western world to achieve unprecedented levels of prosperity and wellbeing, and to deny these benefits to the underdeveloped nations.

We may compare the alarmist ‘scientists’ with an astronomer whose preferred tool is a microscope.

If it were the case that temperatures were rising dramatically and that the effects in terms of sea levels were causing havoc and loss of life, we would have serious reasons for investigating the causes and for contemplating policies (if any were available) to mitigate the problem. The fact is that the increase has been on the order of 0.6o C over the past century or so – an increase which would have been regarded as benign (if niggardly) by those alive in the eighteenth century. In the real world, climate changes as a result of the sun’s behaviour, about which we can do nothing. When, as is virtually certain, the global average temperature takes another dip, we want our economies to be as robust as possible, to facilitate adaptation. Shutting down industrial civilisation is the very last thing we should be doing – suicidal, in fact.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Fracking in Lancashire

15 councillors in Preston have kyboshed fracking in one of the proposed sites on the grounds that the local roads cannot handle the traffic that would be involved. Not a triumph, I think, for the bedwetters, but evidence of the pusillanimity of the council.

No one has ever been killed by fracking, unlike all other forms of energy production. We have perfectly serviceable laws to protect the public against adverse effects of hydraulic fracturing. Does anyone doubt that there would be massive (that is to say, colossal, immense, enormous) resources available to any citizen of Lancashire who could make a half-way decent case that they or their property had been harmed by the process.

On the plus side, fracking will reduce energy costs and the cost of living of those in Lancashire. Lowered energy costs will increase employment. Indigenous supplies of energy will reduce our dependence on overseas suppliers, not (characteristically) good guys.

On the minus side, it is conceivable that aquifers will be marginally contaminated. Any one adversely affected will have the law to forbid continued fracking or to award compensation. As for seismic effects, tremors caused by fracking have been compared to dropping a bag of sugar on the floor or to a bus passing your house.

Given the chance to vote, I would abolish valve and bypass surgery before prohibiting fracking. Presumably, this is because I hate Mother Earth. Actually, no. The earth is God’s creation and we have a duty to protect the environment. The anti-fracking activists are, to a person, leftist in their thinking. They hate industry and markets, the source of our astonishing material wellbeing. They claim to care about the poor. They lie. If this technology were allowed to spread and develop, the benefits to third world countries would be spectacular. Women and children who die of respiratory diseases caused by burning wood and dung would enjoy the benefits of electricity which we enjoy and which are too numerous to mention. Clean air and water are far more plentiful in ‘capitalist’ countries.

If you hate humanity (and many 'environmentalists' do; humanity is a cancer, they say), vote against fracking. If you are in favour of ‘human flourishing’, support it with every fibre of your being.

Have you ever heard of Neodymium? It is crucial to wind farms. Most of it comes from China. Its extraction and processing is literally deadly. Wind farms kill birds and bats in huge numbers. I could live with this if the f**king things actually produced cheap, ‘sustainable’ energy. Every wind farm (because the wind either blows too hard or not hard enough) requires back-up power stations: gas or coal.

My rage against the greens leaves me gasping: is it because they are so stupid or so evil? They are both.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015


This is one of many Intelligence Squared debates on YouTube. There were some interesting points made – by those opposing the above motion. To stand up and declare that ‘Marx was Right’ is exactly analogous to declaring that Paul Ehrlich was right. PE is the word champion of being wrong about everything. The UK, according to him would have ceased to exist some thirty years ago. Industrialised societies should have perished from starvation. He continues to publish and to be lionised by the bedwetters.

The debaters were agreed on one thing: Marx admired Capitalism. He thought that it was but one step on the road to Communism. Communism is, to all intents and purposes, dead. Marxism, regrettably, survives.

Interestingly, Marxism defines itself with respect to Capitalism. This is a big mistake. Capitalism is not an ideology – it cannot have internal contradictions. Free market apologists did not invent Capitalism. We simply wish to see the state cease to intervene in normal, natural interactions between human beings. Marx was wrong about everything. At the time he was writing, predicting that wages would fall, wages were rising.

When leftist progressives attack what they call capitalism, they always get it wrong. They allege that bail-outs to banks are in some way capitalistic. Bankruptcy is capitalistic. RBS and Lloyds were bailed out by the f**king government. Our government took money (looted from us) to cushion gamblers who had made bad bets. Free market thinkers may have sympathised with those who made mistakes. Speaking for myself, sympathy is as far as we go. In every business (and I speak from experience), you make good decisions (which are and deserve to be rewarded) or you make bad decisions (which are and deserve to be punished). RBS and Lloyds should have been allowed to take the bankruptcy route – particularly in view of the fact that our banking system allows banks to create money out of thin air.

Let’s hear it for bankruptcy! A business fails; someone else buys the assets and (maybe) makes it work.

This is not an economic ideology. Leftists simply do not understand free markets.

The big division is between those who see the world as it is and those who have a conception of the world as they would like it to be.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Families of Ideas

This is one of my themes. I think it is fairly uncontroversial. An atheist, a socialist or a warmist would, I think, agree that, for example, if you take a position on subject A, it is (to some extent) predictive of your position on subject B. I hope you think that this is interesting – and a bit baffling. You tell me that, in your opinion, inequality is the major issue facing our society. Ladbrooks would give me lousy odds on correctly guessing your view on global warming. What on earth have the two to do with each other? Not a lot – superficially. If I were a confrontational sort of bloke, I might argue that stupid people have stupid opinions. Actually, this is what I think. I don’t think, though, that that would be worth blogging about. Atheists and socialists think the same.

I have been listening this afternoon to Phillip Johnson arguing against Richard Dawkins. He believes that RD takes the position he does on ‘Darwinism’ because of his world view. Dawkins gives support to this belief: he claims that Darwinism makes it possible to be ‘an intellectually fulfilled atheist’ – and that is what he wants to be. He is grateful to Darwin. Good luck to him.

Suppose I were in his camp. I would believe that space, time, matter and energy were all that exist. The surprising existence of ‘complicated beings that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose’ have to be explained in terms of space, time, matter and energy and nothing else. The Neo-Darwinists give this their best shot. Purpose is ruled out from the beginning. Any ‘apparent’ evidence of purpose or design is (by definition) illusory. QED! Having thus defined the rules of the game, I cannot lose.

I am not in his camp. There have been two camps in European intellectual history. One camp maintains that ultimate reality is matter; the other that ultimate reality is mind. The former is the tyro. For much more than two thousand years everyone believed the latter. Did I just happen to be born into camp two?

The use of the word ‘liberal’ is interesting and perhaps instructive. One meaning is ‘generous’. We like generosity; we like to be thought liberal. How comes it that in the USA political opinions are broadly categorised as liberal or conservative? It drives conservatives and (particularly) libertarians crazy that someone like Obama is called liberal. What is liberal, they ask, about compelling people to take out health insurance? What is liberal about prosecuting people for refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex marriage? What is liberal about progressive taxation, whereby the wealthy pay not just more but a higher proportion of their income? What is liberal about politically correct so-called speech codes in universities? ‘Oppressive’ would seem a more appropriate word. Leftism, statism and ‘progressivism’ have been violently oppressive in the last hundred years. Pol Pot, the Cambodian dictator, achieved the remarkable feat of murdering one third of the people in his country, sometimes for the crime of wearing spectacles – I am committing a capital crime at this very moment. Of course, Mao, Stalin and Hitler each killed more in absolute terms than PP; but proportionately he wins the gold medal.

Multiculturalism is a ‘liberal’ agenda, as is feminism. Feminists and multiculturalists find it difficult to be critical of FGM and ‘honour’ killings. To my mind, it is hard to identify practices more illiberal than these.

The issue of AGM divides people. Alarmists are frequently to be found on the ‘liberal’ left. Some have called for the imprisonment of ‘deniers’. Prison for finding the alarmist case unconvincing?

For sure, there have been cases of people who have rejected one set of beliefs and embraced another. I am comforted by the apparent fact that progressives are more likely to become libertarians or conservatives than vice versa. David Horowitz is a dramatic example. Brought up by card-carrying Marxists to be a hard-core leftist, he now espouses conservative views and campaigns for free speech on US campuses.

I have seen dozens of videos in which so-called liberals have attempted silence him (and other conservatives) by noisy demonstrations.

Why is it that conservatives and libertarians are much more likely to support Israel and that ‘liberals’ are likely to accuse Israel of genocide? Why do so-called progressives energetically campaign for the right to abort a baby for the crime of being inconvenient to the mother? Protecting the weak is surely as clear cut a moral obligation as exists.

For the record (and to nobody’s surprise), I am a libertarian conservative. I strongly support free markets and free speech. I strongly support Israelis in their resistance those who would destroy their country. I think that AGM is a crock and that policies designed to de-industrialise the west and to deny industrialisation to the developing world are wrong-headed at best and wicked at worst.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Personal Stuff (continued)

I am informed by Manchester Royal Infirmary that they want me in to a pre-admission clinic on 24th of June. Surgery is scheduled for 29th or 30th.

A man is coming tomorrow to rip out the bath and install a walk-in shower. My ablutions will then be much easier.

Wish me well!
By tomorrow I hope to have a functioning shower cubicle. I will just walk into it, instead of climbing! They will restore the ‘grab rails’. TBTG.

The Pope Has Not Been Reading My Blog

More is the pity.

Fortunately, AGW is not a matter of faith or morals.

It is a matter of the deepest regret that the head of my church has shown himself to be as ignorant as he has. Moreover, he has revealed himself, not for the first time, to be a member of the bien pensant chattering classes. Oh dear! He doesn’t know much economics. Which is to say that he has not shown himself to be even aware of economic ideas outside of the Marxist/Keynesian mainstream.

I do not think, for one moment, that he has changed any minds. Those of us with active minds were sceptical of the alarmists before he pronounced on this issue. He has, however, undermined many thoughtful Catholics. I do not, for one moment, think that all Catholics think as I do. Many do. We have suddenly been plunged into the position of anti-papists. He was wrong to do this to us. He has, and this is indubitable, given comfort to many who are viscerally anti-Catholic. Some Catholics, I suppose, are in the Al Gore camp.

One of my deepest concerns is about what I call ‘families of ideas’. Materialism, Subjectivism and Socialism are all members of the current predominant family. AGM is, at least, a cousin.

The pope is entitled to his opinion on economic issues, though his ecclesiastical role gives him no authority for his opinions. Earlier popes have been unequivocal about their opposition to socialism. I do, indeed, hate and despise socialism. For me, socialism is (like fascism) incompatible with Catholic theology. I am a five year old Catholic. My love of the church is not, has never been, a consequence of my libertarian world view. I am delighted (at the same time) to discover that my Catholicism is entirely consistent with libertarianism.

Perhaps my favourite member of the Austrian School is Tom Woods. He is a historian rather than an economist. But he knows more Economics than Paul Krugman, who has a Nobel Prize. TW has written many fine books. My favourite is The Church & the Market. He is, by the way, a Catholic.

I would like to hear Tom Woods’ take on the Holy Father’s latest encyclical.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Personal Stuff

I am informed by Manchester Royal Infirmary that they want me in to a pre-admission clinic on 24th of June. Surgery is scheduled for 29th or 30th.

A man is coming tomorrow to rip out the bath and install a walk-in shower. My ablutions will then be much easier.

Wish me well!