Where will capital come from?

I his latest book Alan Greenspan, ex-Chairman of the Fed,  writes: “[Although we are driven by many emotional propensities, our intuitions about investments are rational.] That reason persuades me and most economists to conclude that modern industrial capitalism, despite earlier excess enthusiasm of what it could accomplish, has been the most effective form of economic organisation ever devised . . .”

Repeatedly in his book, The Map and the Territory 2.0, Greenspan writes that the industrial revolution was a unique event in the history of man’s civilisation.  I would agree. It’s for this reason that I suggest that the industrial revolution was the first instance of capitalism — an oubreak of reason that pooled savings (in bank accounts) — could be used to build new developments (cotton-spinning factories).

If, for any reason, the industrial revolution were to decline, then capitalism would decline also. If this is what is starting to happen now among the advanced countries, then future investment for innovation development would not be coming from capital-from-savings but from capital-from-taxation — as suggested in my penultimate posting.  Although strictly speaking this is still capitalism — in the sense that surplus money is required —  it would be better to call the new post-industrial era by another term.

Challenging the reality of girls’ brains

Two of the Sunday Times’ journalists decided to challenge the results of a recent large survey by education data analysts, SchoolDash, which concluded that girls at single-sex schools generally achieve higher exam grades than those in mixed schools.  I wrote about this survey two days ago (“Why do some girls get better exam results”). The results of their case are in today’s paper.

What the Sunday Times duo have done is to analyse the results of girls’ scores in last year’s exam scores in the top 50 schools — whether in  girls-only or co-educational and whether in state or private.  What the journalists discovered is that of the ten best results, the top five were all from girls at mixed-sex schools.  This was then followed by four girls-only schools and then another mixed. Without actually saying so, they give the strong impression that they have thus disproved the original survey.

What they haven’t done, however, is to show the results of the next 40 schools.  I have little doubt that the 6:4 ratio in favour of girls from mixed would not have been repeated when going down the list.  I wouldn’t be surprised that the ratio would have been reversed to 4:6 long before it reached No. 50. And what about several hundred other schools in the country?  I’ve little doubt that SchoolDash’s original findings would stand.

But let us look at the top five schools.  They are King’s College School (Wimbledon), Queen Ethelburga’s College (near York), Brighton College, Cardiff Sixth Form College, Westminster School (London). They’re all private schools ! Here, unlike many hundreds of state schools in the country, the boys would not be allowed to make any distractions.

Incidentally, it’s noticeable that the Sunday Times doesn’t quote the source — SchoolDash — of the original survey.  Also incidentally, the reason I gave in my earlier piece — that girls’ minds develop years before boys — is something that hasn’t yet reached the public domain.  If any country seriously wants to reform their educational systems for tomorrow’s far more complex world then they had better start paying attention to the fact that male brains don’t reach parity with female brains until they’re about 30 years of age.

Are we going socialist or capitalist?

The main dispute in all countries is between socialists on the left who want more government and capitalists on the right who want to see more businesses and less government.  The answer is more government but it won’t be socialism.  There’ll be more business but it won’t be capitalism.

We had government long before we had business and we’ll still have government long after businesses have raced themselves into the ground and become small and medium sized non-profits.  Governments will have to tax even more than they do now because they’ll ultimately become the only source of R&D funding for some of the non-profits that have a research bent.  There’ll be no corporate taxation, of course.

Personal taxation, however, is likely to be based on the natural hierarchical order based on personal (ability) respect rather than income or wealth — in other words, intra-generational social mobility — so differentials are likely to be very much smaller.  We’ll have multi-governments, some very large for infrastructural reasons, some very small — down non-profit size.  The latter will be making products (fully recyclable) locally — ultimately all of them — using synthetic DNA-based machine tools and epigenetically-based software — the tradable (moveable) part of their production.

Living within the environment

I’ve been saying for some years on the Internet that, because the supply of uniquely new personal status goods has dried up in the advanced countries, then economic growth as we have known it, has largely come to an end.

About two years ago, and from a much more influential voice than mine, the world of economists was intrigued, if not shocked, when Larry Summers, an ex-chief economic adviser to Obama, spoke of the possibility of “secular stagnation”.

Does this mean that economic ‘progress’ will come to an end?  Not if you redefine it slightly, and change the word to ‘process’ — because scientific research will be continuing none the less.  Using synthetic DNA and algorithms, all sorts of recondite carbon-based new materials and efficient production methods will be developed.  We can design new highly efficient infrastructures that don’t compete with, subtract from, or pollute the natural environment.

Venezuela is going Dutch

The co-called Dutch Disease — coined by The Economist in 1977 — is a condition when a country has so much by way of resources that everything else is neglected.  It was applied to Holland after it had discovered the gigantic natural Groningen gas field in 1959 and started to sell the gas all round Europe.  The country became immensely prosperous very quickly, so much so that almost all other businesses were neglected as all available investment went into the gas industry.  By the mid-1970s, however, the gas started running out and Holland found itself in danger of having a far worse economy than if it had never discovered Groningen at all.

Not long afterwards, Norway had also discovered contiguous gas fields off its coast also.  With the example of Holland before it, Norway decided that all profits went into a national investment fund that would be devoted to state pensions and welfare in later years — from which they are now benefiting.

Since then, even tough fully aware of the dangers, other countries have fallen into the same trap.  Two current examples are Russia and Saudi Arabia. Neither of them has much by way of an economy that isn’t dependent on oil — no consumer goods industries of their own, for example — and they’re both suffering today.

Exactly the same — only much worse — is now happening in Venezuela.  With some of the largest oil fields in the world that could have done so much good had profits been invested wisely, it is now only a matter of time — weeks at the most — whether  Venezuela’s government or economy will completely collapse first.

Stepping into the same river twice

You can’t. By the time you take a second step, it’s not the same river. That is, unless you’re very quick indeed. Within a few years of the industrial revolution — at around 1780 — America and four or five countries of Northern Europe had copied our cotton-spinning factories and, like us, were selling the yarn to hand-loom weavers at home and abroad.

By the time other counties were copying our cotton spinning factories — or trying to — the original six countries had enormously enlarged their own production of very much cheaper yarn and effectively prevented them from finding foreign markets of their own to export to. Not only that, but the original six countries were now building cotton-weaving factories able to make cloth cheaper than other countries could make it on their hand-looms.

By the time the other countries were building cotton-weaving factories — or trying to — the original six were building steam-engines to build deep mines, and using the coal energy to make steel, and then railways — and so on and so on. Today, whenever other countries try and step into the river they find it has changed into a cataract.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for other countries to catch up, particularly as, today, the cataract consists of the by-products of scientific research institutions which cannot be copied but only built up as sophisticated cultures which take decades, if not generations, to evolve.

Playing political games with our destroyers

I suspect that the British government is playing political games with our six brand new Type-45 destroyers — sleek modern vessels that are supposedly immune to all forms of aerial or submarine attack.  Apparently, they all need to have their engines changed because they keep on cutting out. Large holes will have to be cut in their sides to replace the generators.  But all six?  And why now?

And who announced all this?  Not one of the current admirals or defence chiefs but Lord West, a long-retired Sea Lord who frequently appears on television on defence matters. He went to elaborate extents yesterday to explain to us punters that if a destroyer’s engine fails then all its electrical power is cut off, too.  And if that happens then their ballistic tracking system can’t work either.  in short, during an attack the Type-5s could be floating uselessly at sea and open to almost any sort of attack..

Normally, this would be a most embarrassing for any government as a gross  example of incompetence.  If they’re really necessary the renovations could be carried out more discreetly without all this publicity.  But somehow I can’t believe that the engines and generators were not thoroughly tested long before ever being installed on the warships.

All this happens to coincide with the biggest problem that the European Union has ever had — even larger than the monetary crisis which still continues. The foreign ministers of all 26 ‘visa-free’ countries are trying to decide what to do about an increased flow of migrants crossing into Greece and Italy once the weather gets better.

They’d already reached the obvious next step — two large reception centres to process all arrivals and send back the non-asylum migrants.  But it’s rumoured that Greece and Italy refuse to be lumbered with all this. The next obvious step is to blockade the places from which the migrants set out from Turkey and Libya.

The Type-45 would be perfect for this job.  The EU could reasonably ask for these as a quid pro quo for the concessions that Britain is now asking for regarding EU migrants into Britain — which it can’t stop as a member of the EU. Existing Tyoe-45s have had a few problems already while on exercises   and have had to call in for temporary repairs. But why this big announcement?  And why now?

So I wonder !  The manner in which this immense faux pas was announced has been so very odd.

“Mature manure” !

A friend sends me the following this morning (the mountains referred to are the Appalachians):

“Where I grew up, folks used to laugh at city people who objected to the smell of a farm.  Knowing that, John and I used to say to each other as we drove in farm country, ‘Smell that fresh country air!’

“I hadn’t thought of that for a long time until we walked to the creek this breezy morning.  The wind was coming off the mountains and swooping over the farm, catching every nuance.  John took a deep breath and said, ‘Mature manure.’ ”

Mature manure indeed !  It is lack of that plus the lack of opportunity to grub around in plain dirt in early childhood in modern antiseptic times which is causing a lot of auto-immune diseases such as debilitating allergies in childhood and quite serious diseases in adulthood– when the individual’s deficient immune system over-reacts to even trace quantities of potentially hostile bacteria or viruses.

Are the British, Scandinavians, Germanic or quasi-Americans?

A friend sends me an item from the BBC News website this morning, “Is the UK really in Scandinavia?”  I’ll adumbrate some of the points it makes:

Is England nearer to being America, or Germany (and Fance) or Scandinavia?  In terms of overseas aid almost no countries fulfilled the United Nations target of 0.7% of GDP per year — except Britain, Denmark, Norway, Sweden,  and Iceland. Exactly the same applies to the top quartile users of the Internet. Of online shopping, Britain leads the way followed by Denmark, Norway and Sweden.  A Swede living in England says that Engish people think those countries are high-spend welfare states, but they’re reforming now. The result is that both the left and the right use the Scandinavian countries as examplars !

I’ll now quote my friend’s comments:

“It will not amuse left-wing parties in this country — the Labourr Party, Plaid Cymru [in Wales], the Green Party, the Scottish National Party — to compare centre-right, free market Britain with what they conceive to be liberal Scandinavia.  But actually, Scandinavia’s economic policies are much more right-wing in many ways than they care to realise.  It is hard to get unemployment benefit in Sweden for example.  And Denmark makes people sell valuables before they can get benefits.  And Norway didn’t subsidise inefficient industries like coal mining and manufacturing in the way that Britain did in the 1980s (and still does).  Scandinavia is in many ways more Thatcherite than Thatcher ever dared to be.”

My correspondent then goes on to say: “Scotland under the SNP however, will have more in common with socialist Venezuela that the Scandinavians the Scottish National Party admires.”

My comments concern the last point only.  Under the stimulus of new scientific and artistic ideas being brought back to England in the 16th and 17th centuries by our ariistocrats making their Grand Tours of Europe — a revival of the Renaissance history of Italy particularrly — England might well have industrialised anyway.  But it would have been only slowly — as was also going on in Western Europe.

What was different in our case is that a stream of Scottish engineers and scientists was already pouring into northern England — as well as some Scottish banking practices.  The reason for this is that Scotland, with four universities in a quarter of our population — whereas our Oxford and Cambridge were theology colleges — totally outranked England in potential innovations.  It was these that caused the industrialization to become revolutionary in 1785 and onwards.

Cultures don’t die overnight — they take generations to change.   When Scottish people voted for independence in 2014 a considerable number of centre and certre-right voters must also have voted for independence as well as the Scottish Nationalist Party and  almost all the Scorttish Labour Party.Scottish desire for indpendence is more than merely political in the narrow sense.

Even though, today, the policies of the ultra-left Scottish Nationalist dominated Partiament will alsmost certainly get them into deep water before too long, there is enough Scottish pride available to make independence work sooner or later — in my view.

To answer the original question of the title I would suggest that the more you look in detail at the culture of any country the more unique to seems to be.  Britain, I suggest, because of its particular history during the Industrial Revolution is unique — although making a bad fist, so far, of adjusting to post-industrial times

Flash-in-the-pan prosperity in America and England

In the whole of history there has never been such a rapid growth in prosperity of ordinary folk as there has been in the dozen or so advanced countries — plus the two ‘copier countries’, Japan and Singapore plus the most scientifically creative country in the world, Israel — the last 60 years.

All this — except perhaps for Israel — has now come to an end because most people are now replete with the standard kit of status goods {house, car, furnishings, personal ornaments, fashion clothes, foreign holidays) — all items that only royalty or aristocracy cculd afford 300 years ago.

What has also come to an end is the social welfare state paid for out of taxation — easily afforded until recently by the advanced countries. Increasingly older populations — much more expensive to look after — and more clamorous demands from ‘democratic’ electorates.  Various parts of the welfare state are either having to be pared back — as in the Nordic countries — or governments are in danger of being financially overwhelmed.  America by its Federal debt.  This country by the National Health Service (as well as lack of an adequate state education system for modern times).

Why Google is paying the UK government

Some are saying that Google’s recent payment of £130 million to the UK is a sort of good-will compensation for the fact that the UK doesn’t charge Google any corporate tax and treats it as though it were a small business.

It is my understanding that the payment to UK’s HMRC is nothing to do with taxation of small businesses but is an ex gratia for the helpfulness of the government to various Google schemes in recent years — the last one being driverless cars. That George Osborne chose to characterise it as a tax payment because it was paid to the HMRC (but where else could it be paid?) is his silly fault. He is becoming increasingly desperate that he’s losing ground as the front-runner successor to Cameron.

The fact that small companies need not be charged for occasional small sales in foreign countries is one of the few instances where there is universal agreement by all governments. The anti-tax evasion proposals of the EU, OECD and G-20 will all come to nought because government politicians are well aware of the fundamental competitive nature of nation-states. Major warfare being increasingly expensive these days, competition in corporate taxation is an obvious fall-back that governments will never forego.

Living and working in a post-industrial society

As we, in the advanced countries, move into a post-industrial era I often wonder what its characteristic mode of habitation will be.  We have had three so far:

1. Hunter-gatherer Era — most people spent most of their time in small isolated groups in the natural environment, typically of no more than about 150 people;

2. Agrarian Era — most people spent most of their time in even smaller isolated groups — families — in semi-natural environments.  They are subsumed in large empires and taxed by powerful military leaders;

3.  Industrial Era — most people spend most of their time in larger concentrations in unnatural environments — cities — set within nation-states.  The more successful people are increasingly living and working in cities for part of their lives but also tend to have a second homes in semi-natural environments for week-end use or perhaps retire to.

There’s not a lot of choice between living in a natural environment and an unnatural one is there?  At present, most of us are stuck most of the time in the middle.  On the assumption that nation-states can no longer make war against each other because it’s mutually destructive — and costly  to governments (hence no more welfare state either) — can we make a reasonable stab at what our mode of life might be when we’re fully into a post-industrial society?

My suggestion:  Most people will be married and raise their families in cities, working there until their children want to be independent and, in turn, complete their specialist education for full-time work before finding partners of their own. Meanwhile the original parents re-locate to the countryside — as close to a natural environment as possible — and join living and (specialized) working groups there of a size tending towards those of communities of the First Era.

Nations declare war on multinationals

The leading nation-states — the G-20 — yesterday issued a declaration of war against the largest multinationals on the matter of taxation. This has undoubtedly come about since the recent so-called ‘inversion’ events.  These are when a large firm — usually America — buys another large firm in another country and moves its headquarters there in order to be taxed at a lower rate than previously.  In one case the firm concerned gave in to heavy pressure from the US government and changed its mind.  In two more recent cases the firms didn’t.

The G-20 now want to stop inversion and similar tax-dodging practices by agreeing to act in unison against multinationals.  It will only be a mild declaration of war, however, because any group above five or six finds it difficult to come to decisions — or, if they do, the decisions don’t last long — because if the group members have disparate motives also these will prevail over the common objective.  As examples, we can give the UN, WTO, OPEC, EC, NATO — all of them failing at their main purposes when it comes to the crunch.

The initiative — only slight at present — will always remain with the multinationals.  Although governments will always be necessary for their basic tasks of security for their citizens, it is business that makes the world economy go round.

The triple benefit

It has been known for some time that there’s a high genetic correlation between good looks, high intelligence and good health.  It has been assumed that rhere are overlaps between genes.  Some that are responsible for intelligence are also functioning for other purposes  — immune responses, for example.

But this has only been a statistical correlation.  However, a research team under Prof Ian Deary, director of a cognitive faculty at Edinburgh University, have now identified some of the specific genetic overlaps after analysing data from more than 100,000 people aged 44 to 70.  More to the point perhaps — since high intelligence is probably due more to the absence of bad mutations than to the presence of especially good ones — there are overllap between subpar genes.  For example, they have found evidence that individuals with more genes linked to cardiovascular disease tended to have lower reasoning ability.

All this has implications for the way jobs appear to be increasingly bifurcated in the present post-industrial society between high-skills and low skills

Why do some girls get better exam results?

Girls at single-sex secondary schools achieve higher exam grades than those in mixed schools.  This has been suspected for many years.  A large and thorough review of last year’s results has just been published by education data analysts, SchoolDash.

All sorts of flimsy reasons are being given to explain why.  “Girls are more collaborative, they like lessons to be more discussion-based,” said Caroline Jordan, president of the Girls’ School Association.  That may well be true, but it doesn’t answer the conundrum.  She was a little nearer when she added: “Girls can be more confident in themselves, they don’t have to become a particular type of girl, they’re able to relax more.”

There we almost have it.  Girls at single-sex schools are able to be more relaxed because none of them are distracted by exhibitionistic boys.  Couple this with a more fundamental reason.  At 16 years of age, the mental development of  girls is generally three or four years ahead of boys.  At mixed-sex schools girls can afford to slacken their concentration a very long way before their lack of progress becomes too noticeable. In a girls-only school this simply wouldn’t happen.  And, incidentally, this also accounts for another finding of SchoolDash.  It is not terribly significant whether boys are at boys-only schools or mixed-sex schools.  Exam results are much the same in both.

Sweden to deport migrants

Sweden is to expel up to 80,000 asylum-seekers.  The European country which, along with Germany, has been at the forefront of welcoming asylum seekers from Syria and elsewhere, has now decided that only genuine cases can stay.  Or what they believe to be genuine after interviewing.

On the basis of processing so far — with 55% acceptances — Anders Ygeman, Sweden’s interior minister, said that: “We are talking about 60,000 people but the number could climb to 80,000.”

Ygeman says that they’ll be flown out by charter plane over a number of years. I can foresee plenty of problems lying ahead until this is completed !

The biggest taxation game in the world

We have a big controversy going on at present in England involving Google, Facebook and Amazon — especially the first.  None of these — and several more American firms — pay any corporate tax based on profits earned in this country,  For some reason, Google decided that it would ‘do good’ and offered £135 million to HM Revenue and Customs.  George Osborne, the finance minister, let it be known that this was a victory for HMRC.  This has been scorned b y the Labour Party and the controversy has warmed up from being red=hot to white hot.

In my view, George Osborne, is one of the liveliest finance ministers in the world who is constantly looking for opportunities to pare down the corporate taxes paid by the largest multinational corporations.  Obviously he wants to attract more big firms here.  He has to do this very discreetly to avoid bad feelings growing among the advanced nation-states.

He crowed too much and too quickly.  It is going to be interesting to see how this story unfolds.  The increasing taxation competition between advanced countries is the biggest game in town — that is, in the world — these days.

Raising or lowering the voting age

There is quite strong pressure among left-winger politicians today to lower the voting age from 18 years-of-age to 16.  However, a speaker on BBC Politics Today suggested that it should be raised to 25. He said that some well respected voices in America are talking of 25 also.

Paying attention to what the neuroscientists tell us about the full development of the brain — by about 30 years-of-age — to mature adulthood, then I would raise the voting age to that

Is the American government in danger of default?

It would be already if there was any other creditor — such as Japan or China — willing to call in their loans to the US government.  Yet President Obama continues to spend like a man with no arms.  With large new expenditures in the offing, little is being done to rectify the country’s fiscal health.  A meltdown has never happened before in American history. Therefore “This time is no different” — to turn the title of a recent book about the payment of debts by Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff on its head.

What Reinhart and Rogoff were saying in ****This time is different is that those who say the world economy can recover from the 2008-Crash are wrong.  It will take a long time.  And if the American government is making its debts worse then either recovery will take many years longer or it will precipitate a crash that will be worse than 2008.

Is the EU now breaking up?

Yesterday the Danish Parliament by an overwhelming majority passed a package of measures in order to deter asylum refugees.  Police will be allowed to confiscate personal valuables above $1500 and their families will not be allowed to join them for three years. All this despite protests from the United Nations.

These measures follow activities in other Nordic countries.  Swedish police are ‌checking identification papers of passengers travelling between Copenhagen in Denmark and Malmo in Sweden. In the meantime, Norway is trying to send back refugees who crossed over from Russia which won’t take them back.

These are major shock waves hitting the European Union Commissioners who are already trying to prevent Austria, Hungary and Slovenia from blocking Syrian immigrants coming from Macedonia and Greece.

But what triggered my theory of post-industrial economics?

I am over 80 years of age.  I’m too old to have significant new ideas.  History tells us that almost all new ideas — whether in science, the arts or business — occur to young people.  Neuroscientists tell us that this creativity is due to many new neurons developing in the frontal lobes of our brains — something that takes place between puberty and mature adulthood at around the age of 30.  New ideas tail off steeply in creative individuals after that age (25 in the case of women — women’s minds mature earlier than men’s).

The following is an account of when my new idea occurred.  Believe it or not as to which actually triggered it.  As an adolescent, for reasons I needn’t go into,  I was intrigued about social hierarchy as being revealed by anthropologists.  Problems concerning hierarchy and how groups hold together — or fall apart, as they often do — became a background theme in my mind from adolescence onward.

Four weeks ago I feel over and broke my left hip.  I had a superb operation in the National Health Service and returned home two days later, feeling no pain and able to walk.  Two days later I tripped on a carpet and cracked my head badly against my (hard !) coffee table.  I was concussed for a few minutes before being picked up and placed in a reclining chair. For the next two days — still suffering concussion no doubt — I would see bright-coloured butterflies fly across my vision every hour or two.  Also, I found that when I wrote a posting for this blog I couldn’t spell the simplest words.  I would have to go over a sentence three or four time before being convinced it was correct.

Two days after that, when my concussion had largely subsided, Presumed reading a book of Richard Feynman’s lectures which I’d been reading before my hip accident.  I came across one of Feynman’s famous diagrams in which he illustrated the Principle (or Law) of East Effort.  He then explained that all systems automatically proceed to a condition in which minimum effort of energy is required. No-one can explain why — it just happens from the most basic sub-atomic events through to the movements of galaxies in the heavens.  It is an ineradicable product of the laws of thermodynamics — it can be derived from all the laws of physics, in fact.

Suddenly my adolescent problems of hierarchical groups  and how they carry out objectives fell into place.  The whole world’s economic system is subject to the Principle of Least Effort.  Sooner or later, it will proceed to a condition of stabilisation in which the least energy is require to keep it going. All this, when forced together, is the basis of my theory — revision 6 of which is a few days ago on this blog. Whether it was due to my concussion or re-reading Feynman I’ll leave to you to decide !

But where do ideas generally come from?

This question has fascinated me all my life.  The best explanation I have come across is the theory of ‘Bisociation’ described in his book, The Act of Creation, by Arthur Koestler.  Bisociation, he suggests, is when two quite different ideas become forced together in one mind by one circumstance or another.  Usually, Koestler maintains, one of the ideas is a problem that someone has kept in his mind week after week, month after month or perhaps year after year.  And then, one day, the long resident problem in one person’s mind becomes accidentally associated with a random perception of event.

The most famous problem that’s usually mentioned by everybody who writes books of creativity is that of how the benzene molecule of six carbon atoms could hold themselves in a ring.  Hundreds of chemists in countries all over Europe puzzled over this problem in the 19th century.  It was an important problem because benzene was the source of many of the dyes which manufacturers use when designing new clothes and fabrics. One day, August Kekule fell asleep in front of his fireplace. When he woke up he could see flames leaping about and seemingly joining together head to toe — almost like being in a ring. And suddenly, Kekule’s problem was solved.  The molecule of benzene is a ring of six carbon atoms.

The secret of significant new ideas is not so much the intelligence of their creators, but of individuals hanging onto problems fro as long as it takes another random idea, perception or events to come along and join forces.

Where did Europe’s basic innovations come from?

China is a large country, at least 2,000 miles north to south and 2,000 miles east to west.  When the Empire was first patched together from six other countries at around 240 BC by Emperor Qin, well over 20 different languages were spoken there and innumerable dialects. In order to make sure his command reached the furthest  boundaries he — being the genius he was — instructed his mandarins and scholars — on pain of death — that they all should write in the same script, however different each version of a word was in their pronunciation.

Accordingly, besides mandarins writing reports to the Emperor they would also be writing to mandarins in different parts of the country — friends they would have met during the nine days if Imperial exams they had taken in the capital when they were young ambitious men in order to become mandarins.  In such a large country, innovations such as the wheelbarrow or canal locks or gunpowder or liqueurs would be invented in one part from time to time and described in letters from one mandarin to another.

Thus at least 150 to 200 significant innovations were created in China over a period of well over 1,000 years  by the time the Great Silk Road between China and Europe was at maximum flow of merchants.  Silver mainly, would be flowing from Europe to China, and silk, porcelain — and written descriptions of innovations — would be flowing from China to Europe. These innovations gradually disseminated into all the countries of Western Europe and were developed in the Dark Ages — often by monasteries — between the departure of the Romans at around 400 AD and the Reformation in the early 1500s.

China is the place were most of the basic European ideas came from.

We can all make a profit from each other.

Some 50 years ago, Lord Stokes, then chief executive of British Leyland — a national amalgamation of several failing car firms — was asked about population growth on BBC Any Questions.  “Of course, we need population growth,” he replied.  “How would we succeed otherwise?”

This revealed one weakness and one fallacy.  The weakness is that many producers will take the easiest way out of a problem, even if it’s only of short-term benefit.  Instead of making their production methods more efficient in the 1960s order to make cheaper cars, failing car firms were grouped together in order to reduce their unit overhead costs among a larger number of customers. (British Leyland failed anyway !)

The fallacy is that Lord Stokes obviously saw car-buying consumers as a separate part of the population — to be exploited by producers — rather than part of two-way transactions in which both producer and consumer feel they’ve made a profit.

The fallacy still pervades most economic thinking. This is why most economists cannot envisage how a stabilised world economy could work.  It needs a growing number of customers all the time, they aver.  They fail to see that all consumers of some things are producers of others. Both can benefit almost whatever the size of the population above a threshold which will have a sufficient number of innovators..

But where will profits come from, and thus savings and thus investments for the future? they ask  Profits come from making production methods steadily more efficient.  Every marginal gain in efficiency is the same as increasing profits.  Nobody and nothing need be exploited.  We can all make a profit from one another.

Close to stabilisation?

Economics has been called the gloomy science, but it is not a science at all.  If it were, it would more freely call on the methods and measuring units of the real sciences  and, of course, be the origin of goods and services to keep the economic system going.   But economics does none of these things.

If economics were a science it would also make sure that it understands more about energy because this is the stuff that pushes material around and accounts for everything else that science investigates.  Economists are aware of energy, of course, and, as it happens, spend a lot of time talking about it at the present time.  But they only talk of energy — in the form of oil, coal, gas, kilowatt-hours, etc — as though they were mere commodities — such as copper or iron — that can be bought or sold and not as something rather more special — indeed, fundamental — as all the real  sciences do.

If economists did that, they would realise that it’s energy that keeps the world trading system going. Thus the basic laws of thermodynamics pervades economics — or ought to — just as much as in the real sciences.  If economists realised this then they would know that the economic system would automatically adjust to a steady-state, depending on the amount of energy that is inputted.  It could be that, at present, the world’s economic system is already close to stabilisation.

Common sense — that is, the opinion of most conventional economists — says that stabilisation is nonsense and that the world system could grow plentifully yet for a long time to come.  Science says that we don’t know, and won’t be able to give an opinion, until the present post-2008 recession has been going on long enough.

The Rock Stars of tomorrow?

Another observation James Quinn brought back with him from Davos is that: “Tech companies are the new Rock Stars”.

Well . . . ever since the 1860s or so beginning with long distance telegraphy, electrification, then the telephone, radio, television and then, finally, personal computers, tech companies have loomed larger in and larger in the shopping basket.  In retrospect, however, we tend to foreshorten the lengthy periods they took to develop and then become socially and economically significant.  Typically we’re talking of a developmental lag of between two and three generations.

So, if we consider today’s obvious Rock Stars, such as Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple iphones and so on that have been conceived, developed and then sold world-wide well within a decade, what does this mean?  Does it mean that all of these will have much wider social implications in the decade or two to come?

Or does it mean that the real Rock Stars in two or three generations’ time are much quieter projects that at present are underestimated because they’re still at research stage? I rather think that the latter will be the case. The use of synthetic DNA in ‘growing’ exotic new materials or even complete customised products, or gene-editing in replacing harmful gene mutations or brain scans in designing bespoke educational experiences for each individual or in re-wilding the world’s natural environment for sheer pleasure. All this and undoubtedly much more that we cannot conceive of is lying ahead.

Something that politicians and economists can’t face

Another impression that James Quinn brought back with him after attending the Davos conference in which many of the world’s brainiest, wisest, wealthiest, networked individuals met to discuss other serious questions beside automation and jobs. is that they had no solutions for, say, the present monetary mess, inequality of rich and poor countries,  inequality of rich and poor within rich countries, over-population and subsequent migration pressures, global warming .

What no-one there failed to appreciate — because this would harm their vanity and face — is that the world economic system would carry on whatever governments decided.  It would carry on down to zero if there were no injected energy — solar, fossil fuel, nuclear power, hydro, etc.  But with a fairly constant supply of energy, such as we have at present, then the world economic system would find its own level of activity.

In due course, this would be using least energy or, in other worlds, working with maximum efficiency.  By printing money, governments can accelerate or retard the natural adjustments to a steady-state and until politicians, senior civil servants and conventional economists — all of them usually untrained in science — learn not to do so, then the monetary mess and all the other problems will only become larger and more complex.

Why can’t robots take over the world?

Another major point that James Quinn bright back from the Davis conference is that “Robots are not going to take over”.  This seemed to be the consensus of the meeting.  However, in the six paragraphs that followed there wasn’t any explanation of why people should think that.  But they do, of course. We are programmed to be hopeful rather than despondent.

The only possible way that robots could take over is if one of them became a world-wide tyrant and made sure that his electric plug was never removed from the wall socket.  But such a robotic tyrant could only come into being if a human world-wide tyrant were to give it total power.  But such a human world-wide tyrant could never exist by definition.  Quod erat demonstrandum.


The failure of the Davos conference

The title of the same report-back from Davis by James Quinn (see my penultimate post) was “Davos: four days that failed to save the world.”  The reason why it was a failure this years is that it chose Automation as its theme.  At the end of the five days, as their own summary of the conference, the Davis people produced a rambling 2,000 essay on automation. They have no answers at all as to what will happene when automation will take care of most of the jobs still being carried out by people.

Pathetically it ends with the following: “Will companies, individual governments and society at large (including educational systems and social safety nets) be able to adapt quickly enough to this new paradigm and create an environment in which all can contribute? For this to happen, all parties will need to collaborate in order to invent a systemic, social and sustainable model for a better future of work.”

There’s little chance of such piety, I’m afraid, giveen our bellicose nature. The answer, however, is quite simple. As the bulk of the populations of advanced nation-states continue to proceed further down a lower-skill, lower-paid future they can’t afford to replenish themselves with enough children,  They’ll die out over three or four generations.

The highly educated elite will who devise, program and own the automated machinery that supplies all the food, manufactured goods and basic infrastructure services will supply themselves for what they want as well as being able to afford to have a sufficient number of children to replenish their numbers.

Another reason why multinational businesses are becoming more powerful

Another reason why multinational businesses are proving to be more effective organisations than natinal governments is that they choose far brainier executives.  When the highly contralised nation-states of Northern Europe — and set the tone for every other country —  were at their apogee about 100 uears ago they were able to choose their senior civil service by-setting competititive exams that suited the graduates of the elite universities. Being highly educated and lknowing all abour social deference in history, the sernio civil sverice devised multi-layered pyramids of control.  In England we have well over 20 such layers.

Some of the brainiest graduates, however, were engineers and scientists, and the civil service exams didn’t seelect for these. Apart from scientific research within academe the left-overs gradually found residence in bueinss and increasingly so.  Because business, unlike civil services, has to remain efficient most of the time then it has increasingly adopted a fast track method of leadership from among any brainy employee in addition to those scientists and engineers directly recruited.  Most multinational corporations now have little more than about four or five levels and bright people are thus more visible and can more easily be promoted.

The result is — in contrast to a century ago — the people at the top of multinational corporations are generally brainier than the most sernior civil servnts.

Calling the tune over governments

In my morning business supplement, one of the salient points James Quinn brought back with him from five days of the World Economic Forum at Davos was:  “Big Business has taken over”.  What he meant by that was that big business is taking over the structure of the conference itself.  Instead of, he reckons, chief executives attending the Centre with all its set-piece speeches and lectures, three-quarters of them were shuffling about in conversations between themselves and with politicians and civil servants from different countries.  Networking.

But big business has taken over — or, rather, is in the process of taking over — much more substantively than merely dominating Davos.  Multinational corporations are beginning to call the tune when dealing with governments.  Governments are still the more powerful at present, and in some ways, always will be — for example, establishing justice and some basic infrastructure — but in terms of executive economic decisions that actually sustain the world economy, big business is increasingly doing so.  By picking and choosing where they run their operations and establish  headquarters for taxation reasons, multinational nationals will increasingly decide just how much taxes they’ll pay.  From now on, governments will have to start trimming down to much smaller sizes.

Revolution in Saudi Arabia?

I’d say so !   Half its young people are on generous welfare benefits — the best in the world – paid for out of a huge rate of profit from a gas and oil industry which produces oil at $2 to $5 a barrel. For the past year or so it has been seeking to destroy the new American fracking industry by over-pumping its own oil, reducing the price and running down its government surplus. It will not be able to continue this for more than a year or two longer without a more sensible faction of the huge Saudi royal family overthrowing the 30 year-old Crown Prince Salman.

Unless a revolution intervenes because welfare benefits are already having to be reduced.

Dealing with the Middle East

What cannot be emphasised too much, and something that politicians and economists ought to have learned by now since the end of the Second World War, is that cultures can’t change unless the motivation and momentum comes from within themselves.

In this country the Romans occupied us for 400 years two millennia ago. Within 50 years of their departure, however, it might have been as if they’d never come in the first place.

As far as the Muslim countries of the Middle East are concerned, the best strategy — the only sensible strategy — is to leave them alone at governmental level but to trade with them, or give them educational or medical advice as and when they ask for it.

Theory of post-industrialism — Revision 6

Keith Hudson

[For those interested in the theory the latest revision is that of hiving off “The second stage of consumer demand” as a separate section.]


The world economic system is only capable of running efficiently at one activity level depending on the size of energy inputs no matter what political leaders want or their economic advisors suggest by way if strategies for desired economic growth. Whether the ultimate world economic activity will be significantly lower or higher than today’s level is impossible to say until we have clues as to how the present global impasse (January 2016) plays out in the coming years.


Hierarchical structure of society
Principle of Least Effort
The accident of the Industrial Revolution
The motivation for consumer goods
The second stage of consumer demand


Beyond — or possibly beneath — man’s instincts for feeding, sexual activity and membership of a social group is his propensity for novel perceptions.  A constant variety is what keeps his brain active.  Without it, the less curious person falls asleep, while the more curious person falls into a meditative mode.  As to distribution, it is severely asymmetrical — a bell curve raked towards the less curious end of the spectrum but with a long tail towards the rarer more curious end. The rarer individuals are those who are more socially ambitious — within their own kind — and may be comprised of adventurers, sports people, artists, business entrepreneurs or scientists — the last formerly known as philosophers.

Hierarchical structure of society

The asymmetry is revealed in the hierarchical structure of all societies ranging from small groups through to major nation-states or large multinational corporations. some early anthropologists of a more romantic left-wing persuasion a century ago thought they had observed some egalitarian groups but on more extensive familiarisation, or when in emergencies, or when observed by later anthropologists such turned out to be hierarchical.

The difference between seemingly egalitarian groups and very competitive ones is only one of cultural style.  The culture is usually the product of many generations and is probably — when more is known about the new scientific subject of epigenetics — built up of emotive balances of behaviours taking time to be inherited more widely in a society.  Thus it is possible for two independent societies living in similar circumstance and with similar skills and mental conceptions to have very different cultures — but hierarchical withall,

In early man, an individual male had no choice but to remain in the society in which he was born whatever his skills or inclinations.  Many a genius would have had an innovative idea which was not taken up by the others of his group and thus died with him. This accounts for the immensely long periods, sometimes of tens of thousands of years, between innovations, or even what seem to us to be modest improvements to existing innovations.

Man, as a social species, is ‘patrilocal’ in that it is the young females who travel out of her parental group to find a marital partner in order to avoid genetic in-breeding and thus the acquisition of serious mental and physical handicaps in the group. She will tend to choose a male in a similar culture and of a similar class within it, but given a chance to choose a male of higher social level will do so in order to maximise security for her children. This instinct is called sexual selection in distinction to, and additional to, general selection of the fittest. The upwards choice of the females tends to leave inept or handicapped males behind who tend to father no children and thus deleterious genes become extinguish when they die. This is our form of quality control.

But in today’s post-industrial society, males, born with different genetic proclivities and living in a world bathed in a vast variety of information, will also be adventurous. Every male, from puberty onwards, depending on his particular talents will tend to seek groups of like-minded males and females. Whereas philosophers in older times would frequently walk for days , perhaps for a few hundred miles to be with other philosophers he may have heard about, today, increasingly, young people will travel from one end of the earth to the other to join a particular group.

This usually takes place between the age of puberty and adulthood at around the age of 30 in males, and 25 in females.  This is when the skills acquired in the rear lobes of the brain are developed further in the frontal lobes of the brain. Most individuals have usually found the sort of group they prefer to identify with — if the group accepts him or her, of course! — and most ambitions have largely been played out.  In the case of exceptionally creative individuals then ideas are nowhere near as productive as those before the age of 30.

The groups chosen by individuals vary both in skilfulness and in cultural style.  Groups with exactly the same objectives will still be hierarchical but might vary between those which are easy going and where the gradations in social order are thin and the signs hardly noticeable to the other extreme in which all the members of the group are fiercely competitive — and makes sure that everybody knows it!  Thus we can have groups in which there are only subtle signs of social ranking — the choice of a suitable word in conversation perhaps — or highly ostentatious ones — such as commissioning a luxury yacht that is just a few inches longer that a rival’s yacht! But note, however, that such rivals will be members of their own group. If necessary, when faced with a common challenge, they will act as one.

Principle of Least Effort

Our economic system, being a physical system, is subject to all the known laws of physics in that, at any given level of energy inputs to keep the system going, it seeks to shed as much energy as possible. The Principle of Least Effort has been suspected by philosophers of the 16th and 17th centuries, took shape in the laws of thermodynamics mainly by Josiah Willard Gibbs in the 19th century and dramatically demonstrated in Richard Feynman’s quantum electrodynamics where he showed that sub-atomic systems, which have many modes of proceeding, always choose the modes required the least energy. Because all larger physical systems are summations of what goes on sub-atomically then even a system as large and complex as the world economy is subject to the same principle.

The same applies in all systems where there are, apparently, different modes of proceeding. Unlike those researchers and thinkers involved in the sciences who don’t seek to ignore the principle of least effort — because its inviolable —  economists since John Maynard Keynes’ time have become trapped into thinking that the ultimate size of the world’s economic system can be influenced by governmental decisions. But this cannot be just because there is wide-scale human demand for a larger economy.

Some ‘growth-economists’ are aware that economic growth cannot go on forever on a finite earth but, nevertheless, assume that the world economic system can expand a great deal yet. The fact is, we simply don’t know.  At the risk of sounding insensitive, the fact that about a dozen advanced countries have arrived at a high level of economic development — as we presently define it — and that about half-a-dozen more might do so it is possible that the majority of countries in the world may not be able to proceed much, if any, further than they are today.

The accident of the Industrial Revolution

No economic historian can give an adequate answer to how the industrial Revolution (IR) actually got started with cotton spinning factories in Manchester at around 1780 and grew explosively in England in the early 19th century.  By imitation, this was followed almost as explosively by France, Belgium and Germany in northern Europe in the mid-19th century, shortly followed by America.

The reason why IR began in Manchester and nowhere else where they were importing raw cotton (for example, Bristol, London and other ports in Europe), and exactly when it did, is difficult to describe.  It was due to a confluence of many different factors which happened to be at, or near, their peak of opportunity at that time.  All the following seem to be crucially important:

1. A surging population of redundant people in the countryside in the latter half of the 18th century able to fill as many factories as could be built in Manchester and nearby; 2. the availability of a domestic middle-class market for cotton clothes (the woollen, silk and linen interests having persuaded the government to put a high tariff on the import of coloured cotton cloth from India in 1700);

3. the suitability for growing cotton in plantations in southern America and the West Indies  and the availability of millions of slaves from Africa to do the work; 4. the availability of many water mills (to drive factory belts) in northern England (to be followed quickly by early steam engines, already being developed in the coal mines);

5. the availability of  many country banks (not available in other northern European countries due to war-torn history) and the proximity of Scottish banks who advised English bankers to widen their depositor-base; 6. a veritable stream of Scottish inventors (trained scientifically in four Scottish universities) coming south to a more prosperous England.  (At the time, England only had two universities, Oxford and Cambridge, and they were little more theological seminaries little science;

7. the availability of a large and powerful navy (the largest in the world already after recently fighting the French) used to protect foreign markets from other countries’ exports; 8. the availability of large numbers of village-based weavers in the region able to take up increasing quantities of cotton thread from the northern factories (before weaving factories started to be built in the 1830 and ’40s);

The above will do. Accidents continued to be useful in making sure that the IR explosion could be continued, principally the railways. These needed enormous amounts of capital which, from about the 1820s, were being produced as profits by cotton spinning.  There were other lucky accidents of access to coal and iron ore from which the railways could be launched and steel ships later in the century.  Railways meant that the coal industry could be vastly extended for export sales. By mid-19th century science research was expanding rapidly with the development of electricity and the telephone among many other initiatives..

England was ready for industrialisation in the late 18th century but not necessarily in the exponential way it actually happened. There were sufficient numbers of blacksmiths, engineers and carpenters in all the towns and the larger villages of England to have got the ball rolling — albeit at a much slower pace. But, once the Scientific Revolution kicked in during the latter half of the 19th century, we’d probably have developed all the consumer goods that we have now. And so would several other countries which, today, are economically advanced.  A larger and more even industrial dispersion might well have meant that, financially, the City of London wouldn’t have attained the almost complete monopoly over international finance that it did by the late 19th century.

The motivation for consumer goods

For the first three decades what drove the industrial revolution initially ever faster were (a) the available open markets at home and abroad and (b) hundreds of thousands of displaced people from the countryside with no other livelihood except the factories.  But cotton spinning was mainly for women and children and they could be exploited for six days a week labour for 12 to 15 hours a day. Yes, they had relatively modern brick-built and slated houses, heating was cheap and they could afford minimum food and clothes but the main motivation was simply survival.

By the 1830s. moves were afoot by Liberal-minded aristocrats and land-owners in the House of Commons and fears of Conservative-minded MPs that they might be smothered in their beds by rioting crowds and a revolutionary situation developing here — as were occurring all over Europe — plus the colossal profits being made by cotton spinning — life began to ease slightly all round. Workers had a little more money to spend. A second set of clothing for Sunday best, and a few pennies every week for the new Monitor Schools (also known as Victorian Schools) could be afforded plus the odd trinket that served as housewives’ first status good, such as a Wedgewood pot.

Status goods and services could only be affordable by the aristocrats and rich.  As far as goods were concerned they could, one by one, be substituted by mass produced equivalents, successively becoming cheaper and reaching lower social levels as production runs became larger. By the mid-19th century, the new middle-class could start to afford domestic servants.  All this meant that most people could aspire to go upwards socially and did so.  This would have been absolutely impossible in the previous agricultural era.

The modern status goods in advanced countries are pretty well fully comprised by a house, car, home furnishings, utility services, entertainment, personal ornaments, hobby activities and travel.  These are all public manifestations of what a person considers his social status to be. There don’t seem to be any more goods or utility services that aristocrats and the rich typically possess — albeit of higher-priced brands — that the average wage- or salary-earner doesn’t already possess and enjoy. Furthermore, the typical aristocrat and the very rich have as busy a working week as the average person.

The second stage of consumer demand

What puts the tin hat on it, however, is that the large consumer goods manufacturers have no more consumer goods on their drawing boards.  There’s a lot of talk of domestic robots but then there has been for 50 years past/ It would be very surprising if they’ll  yet be found in the home or tending the garden in 50 years’ time.

What will drive the consumer in future years and take up an increasing amount of his income is, mainly, medical and educational services — existential rather than status. Demand is such already that their price is rising steeply.  As industrial automation continues to make consumer goods and utility services more cheaply,  post-industrial services will become more expensive for two reasons.  The first is that increasingly high-level training for professional providers is necessary. The second is that higher-level services increasingly tend towards one-to-one situations for best results in both training and in delivery to customers.

Although the daily energy required by an advanced  professional doesn’t compare with that of a machine-tool making goods, the many years of training necessarily means that matters of investment are considerable — and problematical.  Parents will pay as much as possible for the education and health of their children and themselves.  But who will pay for basic scientific research?  Industries can’t afford to do so — only relatively trivial product development — and, with declining profit margins due to increasingly fierce global competition. the cost of funding research can only be left to governments, which already carry out a great deal in the advanced countries.


Advanced governments will therefore have to become increasingly efficient in order to afford funding for basic scientific research, the sine qua non of tomorrow’s world. This will mean shedding many functions that they now carry out == which will become all the more intentional as the Principle of Least Effort finally starts seeping into the consciousness of government politicians (hopefully more scientifically educated in future years). Apart from territorial security and basic scientific research, advanced governments will be wanting to leave alone anything that impinges on the economy and leave it to business.

What is also implied with this is that government that don’t fund scientific research are not going to do well at whatever optimal level the world economy settles towards in due course. The relationship between the dozen or so advanced nation-state and the 190 undeveloped countries will remain much the same as they have been since about the 1930s.  Their standard of living will remain relatively low until they reduced their populations enormously unless a few of them can discover a niche in which advanced scientific research is not yet carried out and high-value innovations traded with advanced countries.

This is not to say that all those countries that presently call themselves advanced will necessarily remain so.  It’s up to each of them as how much it can dispense with non-governmental activities and devote more taxation towards scientific funding.  Whether  world economic activity, when Least Effort, will be significantly lower or higher than today’s level is impossible to say.

The real reason for mass immigration

According to David Frum in the Mail on Sunday today, the German government has lost track of 600,000 migrants of the 1,100,000 ‘asylum seekers’ admitted into the country in the past few months. This is rather like the 3,000,000 illegal immigrants in England according to the Daily Express some two months.

In both cases you can be sure that the immigrants have been issued with sufficient official paperwork to allow them to find work.  It’s less politically dangerous for both governments to admit to ineptitude rather than confessing that they had tempted immigrants into both countries in order to make up tax-paying workers to pay for the increasing welfare bill of the old native populations in the coming years.

Economic euthanasia

One party in a conversation here yesterday said that he could never envisage British MPs voting for involuntary euthanasia legislation for a great many years.  They even turned down voluntary euthanasia (The Assisted Dying Bill) only a few weeks ago).  Another party replied that it will happen readily enough when it is much more widespread in the population than it is already.

At the present time, family doctors are injecting their senile patients, or those in great pain, at home at the request of loving relatives.  This follows the practice of a long time past of doing so with royalty and the aristocracy.  In ttheir case it has been done not so much out of kindness but for reasons of succession or inheritance.

Also, even in National Health Service hospitals these days, as well as in private ones, food is being withdrawn from some patients — where the existing nursing staff can be relied upon not to blab — in order to bring about termination all the sooner.  In these cases, because the welfare state can no longer afford to look after helpless old people, — and it’s in the culture — legislation will follow almost automatically

Honest Japan

One day, perhaps ‘racism’ can be denatured from its nasty emotive content when people more generally realize that we are all racist to a greater or lesser degree when thinking of our own group, class or culture.

In the current crisis when all countries have been asked by the United Nations to take in refugees from the Middle East, Japan has accepted just 27 people out of 7,586 applicants in 2015 according to its Justice Ministry.  Politically correct liberals in Europe and America have denounced Japan as being racist  In principle, Japan has been no more racist than any other country — just more honest and assertive than any other.

Why do zebras have stripes?

This post is by way of direct quotes from a recent item on the ScienceDaily website together with, at the end, two brief comments on why even this apparently trivial research is significant.

Stripes are not for camouflage

“Looking through the eyes of zebra predators, researchers found no evidence supporting the notion that zebras’ black and white stripes are for protective camouflage or that they provide a social advantage.

“If you’ve always thought of a zebra’s stripes as offering some type of camouflaging protection against predators, it’s time to think again, suggest scientists at the University of Calgary and UC.

” . . . They also measured the stripes’ widths and light contrast, or luminance, in order to estimate the maximum distance from which lions, spotted hyenas and zebras could detect stripes, using information about these animals’ visual capabilities.

“They found that beyond 50 meters (about 164 feet) in daylight or 30 meters (about 98 feet) at twilight, when most predators hunt, stripes can be seen by humans but are hard for zebra predators to distinguish. And on moonless nights, the stripes are particularly difficult for all species to distinguish beyond 9 meters (about 29 feet.) This suggests that the stripes don’t provide camouflage in woodland areas, where it had earlier been theorized that black stripes mimicked tree trunks and white stripes blended in with shafts of light through the trees.

” . . . Stripes also not for social purposes:

“In addition to discrediting the camouflaging hypothesis, the study did not yield evidence suggesting that the striping provides some type of social advantage by allowing other zebras to recognize each other at a distance.

“While zebras can see stripes over somewhat further distances than their predators can, the researchers also noted that other species of animals that are closely related to the zebra are highly social and able to recognize other individuals of their species, despite having no striping to distinguish them.”

The significance of the research is two-fold.  One is that this is the way science works.  We can never assume that what is ‘obvious’ — in this case stripes were thought to be for camouflage purposes — without testing. Science can never prove what is correct, only disprove what is not correct.

The second is that zebras’ stripes may be a good example of ‘genetic drift’.  That is, it results from a mutation which is neutral in evolution — it confers neither a survival advantage nor disadvantage.  Once such a mutation manages to survive for more than a few generations then it gradually breeds into the majority of the species.  Understanding of genetic drift is far from complete and so this zebra research project will add just a little more data into the matter.

Is the nation-state on the skids?

The above is the question posed by a website, the joint product of the University of Technology Sydney and the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere. The answer, srictly speaking, is Yes.  I won’t attempt to summarise Julian Cribbs’ 2,000 word article here — a catalogue of many different reasons — but to give my own key reason here.   This, I’m amused to see, is not part of Cribbs’ list.

Nation-states — as we know them today — will gradually fade away as big business pares them down to much diminished sizes. It’s already the case that advanced governments cannot possibly afford the welfare and state benefit commitments that they’ve already made to the old. Unlike private pensions, they don’t have massive invested funds.  They’re only ;paid for on a hand-to-mouth basis out of annual taxation and they’re pretty well at the limit to that out of personal income tax.

So the answer is very simple.  As multinational corporations continue to move their operations and headquarters around the world from one country to another in order to find lower corporate taxes then governments will have to compete with one another by slimming down further and further — and further — becoming more efficient.  How far they can go is impossible to forecast because automation has a lot longer to go yet. But governments will be very different from those of today.

The acceptance of social hierarchy

Left-wing politicians say that social hierarchy is the source of all evil. (At least, that’s what they say publicly.  Here in England the leaders of the Labour Party — until recently — belonged to the same sort of social elite as the Conservative Party.)

Right wing politicians are fully aware that humans are hierarchical, but they say as little as possible about the fact because they benefit from it.

When both wings of politicians — there will always be two wings of highly ambitious individuals — are more roundly educated, they will know that it’s only because women generally marry upwards that poor quality men generally don’t have children.  This is the way  that genetic quality control is established in our species (among many more).

We will always have social hierarchy.  But there can be all the difference between cultures that have small and gentle gradations between social levels (depending on ability), and those in which social differences are great and are cruelly exploitative.  Take your pick.  But until both sorts of politicians accept the basic situation we shall never have adequate and workable government.

The breakdown of the European Union is inevitable.

The European Union is breaking up.  That’s the only interpretation one can make about the breakdown in visa-free travel that has already taken place in the last two or three weeks.  On Monday next, 26 Foreign Ministers will be meeting to “consider” suspending the Schengen system for two years and re-imposing national border posts from 30 years ago.

How do they expect to bring visa-free travel back again in two years when the populations of most of the countries of sub-Saharan Africa are already bursting at the seams? And do they expect that there will be no wars in the Middle East?

Yesterday at Davos, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls warned that the crisis could bring down the entire European Union.  The “very idea of Europe” will be torn apart, he said.  But what was the “very idea”?  Was it a new empire?  If so, where is the army that could be available if necessary to subdue the colonies? Was it a United States of Europe? — in other words, a nation-state?  If so , where is the common culture? — more precisely, common language?

The EU has failed under migration pressure.  But it would have failed anyway under an inevitable breakdown of its monetary system.  The countries of the EU are now more at odds with one another than they would have been before it started.

The key to friendship

Why has Facebook been such a success?  Quite simply because it is constantly attracting a new crop of users — young people who are just beginning to practise the socialization skills necessary for adulthood. When they’ve rehearsed long enough among those whom they originally considered to be friends they leave.  They weren’t really friends.  A better term would be communicants.

In some ways Facebook was the successor to Friends Reunited, a happy concept dreamed up by Julie and Steve Pankhurst whereby those who were friends at school or university could make contact again.   FR was successful enough for the Pankhursts to sell it to ITV for £175 million.  But membership — for a fee — was already topping out — 23 million — and it was sold four years later for £25 million. It was finally sold again — back to Steve Pankhurst — and then folded.

What can we learn about friendship from the history of these two businesses?  Facebook has been a success but only because, early enough, it accidentally happened upon a different reason for its use than originally conceived.  Friends Reunited was a bang on-target success from the beginning but yet failed as a business when the reunited friends, once refreshed about life’s subsequent experiences, found that they weren’t really friends any longer — they had quite different and separate lives. They didn’t maintain their subscriptions.

Friendships can only be maintained if communications were never let go in the first place.  New friendships can only persist unless communications become regular and pivot around common interests, such as in work or leisure groups.  I am not sure that business will ever get into friendships successfully

We are all racists and will remain so

“Racism” has two entirely different meanings in my dictionary.  Here they are:

“1. The belief that each race has certain qualities or abilities, giving rise to the view that some races are better than others;
2.  Discrimination against or hostility towards other races.”

The first is true.  The second is the pejorative use to which the politically-correct use the term, though it is true enough in that sense.

If we define “race” in the usual way we use the word — that is, in large blocs — then we know that West Africans are  better at explosive sports than Europeans. We also know that Ashkenazi Jews and coastal Han Chinese are more intelligent than Europeans and Americans when measured on standard IQ tests. These differences don’t necessarily stand up when we think of intelligence in-the-round.

If we narrow down the qualities and abilities then we will find that every race has some which makes it superior to others.

Back to the first definition of “race” then we are all racists because all of us belong to a group, or a class, or a culture and all of us think that ours is best of all.  We are all too easily roused to discriminate against other groups, classes or cultures.  On occasion we can all have the most violent feelings against at least one other group, class or culture.

One day, when all children are taught some elementary biology and learn of our various strong instincts, including that of our intense loyalty to a group, or class, or culture then we will begin to learn how to so arrange our lives and organisations — well  before mature adulthood — in order to avoid the nasty events that so deeply pervade the world of 2016.

In the Green Room

The Green Room, apparently, is where the world’s biggest investors meet quietly between themselves, away from all the others attending the World Economic  Forum at Davos.

The suggestion of our BBC News Channel journalist at Davos is that, as they watch the world stock markets slide into recession they won’t be panicking like almost all other investors. As the world index has already slid 20% many of them will already be buying now — “at the bottom”.

I beg to differ.  The slide in share prices is relatively unimportant.  It’s only a symptom.  Too many aspects of the world’s economic system have been known to be too much out of kilter for too many years.  The general condition is now worse than prevailed just before the 2008 Crash. I think the situation is now so serious and the stock markets will slide to much deeper levels yet that even the long-term Green Room investors will not be buying yet and might well be quietly selling.

What happens when governments default?

“But governments don’t default,” some will say.  “Countries carry on afterwards.”  But governments do default on occasion.  Argentina does it quite frequently — yet carries on being Argentina afterwards.  But this has only been since we’ve developed the modern nation-state.   And part of the business of becoming a nation-state is that the government gives itself a name.  That never used to happen before.  Countries were usually called by the name of the people who owned them or one of the existing cultures within them. For example, in the mid-19th century both Germany and Italy had many principalities, provinces and even free (independent) cities — and thus many different names to choose from.

The more usual response to the title question is to say “Governments aren’t countries.”  Governments can and do go into total default.  Countries never.  They will always have assets.  In extremis a defaulting government or a new government could nationalize some private property and then sell it to pay off its debts.  That’s never happened in the non-communist world, even in Argentina.  Usually some worthy organisation such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) comes to its immediate rescue.

But what would happen if there’s a economic catastrophe even worse than 2008 as Alan Greenspan and others are suggesting?  With America, Europe and Japan, already deeply in debt, go down, what else can they do?  The IMF or the World Bank or anything has insufficient money to help by a very long chalk.

I’m not about to forecast anything but what I would say is that if I were the chief executive of one of the largest multinational corporations, say Google or Apple, with even now, a healthy on-going business, I’d be saying that something could be done. With the communication expertise of the dozen or so largest firms, the present level of world business could be saved by instituting a new digital currency and imposing it fan-wise downwards within days on all suppliers and customers.

Stock markets are dithering

Last night before I went to bed here in England, the opening Tokyo stock exchange for Thursday morning was in recovery mode, largely making up the big share prices slide on Wednesday.  Today, waking up on Thursday morning here but close of day in Tokyo,  the Nikkei index was in ‘bear territory’ again — a slide of more than 20% from its peak.  Shares in Shanghai and Singapore are dithering but the BBC business correspondent says that it looks as though the world as a whole is entering a bear market.

And when that happens there’s no knowing how much further shares will fall.  As Alan Greenspan says in his latest book, that is likely to be catastrophic — worse than the 2008 Crash.  This month is already the worst month since September 2008.  But if catastrophe for many millions of people happens, what else happens?

The most reactionary of the trade unions break up and, overall, wages decline.  Competition between businesses increases and efficiency within businesses increases.  Businesses that were already out of date finally collapse.  New, more efficient industries come into being.  Entrepreneurs think twice about actually launching their business.  Investors will only consider buying the least risky shares.

And governments will have egg on their face in a big way.  Let us hope that central banks, useless for the past eight years will disappear during the long — very long — recovery period.

We could have many more geniuses

Picking up from the last post as to the advantage of being average in looks, intelligence and health the reason is because such an individual has a relative paucity of deleterious genes which would otherwise disrupt the smooth development of the fetus in the mother.

A word or two about clarification of a couple of terms.  Intelligence.  The average person has an IQ score of 100.  Those who score higher than that are said to be “highly intelligent” — much more than the average person.   But the highly intelligent person is someone who scores high on one of the accepted standard intelligence tests. Such tests have a restricted number of types of problems can’t possibly grade a lot of other mental attributes which only a full life can reveal.

Many, if not most, of those whom we call “geniuses” turn out to have quite modest IQ scores.  In contrast, many of average IQ score have astonishing mental abilities.  The reason for this is that potential intelligence can be prevented from development by a lack of informational experience or badly blunted by stress and emotional circumstances in childhood . This is why there is a roughly 50:50 contribution of nature and nurture in the potentiation of intelligence.

To clarify what we mean by beauty, or lack of it, we need to know that any genes that depart from being a ‘standard’ gene will detract from beauty. Every gene, however, carries variations or mutations and every one of our 24,000 genes will carry one or more of them.  While many mutations make no difference in the functioning of a gene, particularly when in the fetus, most mutations have some effect either then or later in life.  These can vary from the trivial to the most extreme handicap or killer disease.

Take the length of a nose, for example. This will not be the result of a ‘nose’ gene in the fetus — there’s no such thing.  A dozen or so genes might have been involved, some acting sequentially, some simultaneously.  Each of the genes will have at least one mutation or variation that will affect the time that its gene will express itself.  The result of many different permutations can make all the difference between a grotesque nose and one that is hardly discernible from the average of any particular ethnic group.  Even a nose that is one or two millimetres longer than average though hardly noticeable consciously will unconsciously register as lass than perfectly beautiful.

Thus, as you can imagine, there is a high correlation between health and beauty.  A girl who ‘sleeps’ her way to the top of the social heap — or not sleeps her way as she judges each man — may not be solely to do with her beauty but also to intelligence enough able to simulate the social habits and intelligence of each social level she aspires to.

As already mentioned, there is only roughly a 50:50 correlation between intelligence and beauty because full development of the brain is so susceptible to childhood experience.  But there is also another reason for the less than perfect correlation and this is because the nerve cells that become the brain are the earliest to grow in the fetus.  This means that they associate with more genes that develop in the fetus for other aspects of the body.  They permutate with far more other genes than any other genes.

Even the few genes that have been associated with intelligence — the so-called ‘brain genes’ account for no more than 1% or 2% of IQ scores.  Hundreds, perhaps thousands of genes are involved in accounting for our intelligence.  If, say, there’s a critical number of 250 ‘brain genes’ then it means our intelligence depends on having a relatively low number of mutations in those genes, whether trivial or deleterious, compared with the same 250 genes in others’ DNA.  Also bear in in mind that intelligence is also dependent on childhood experience as well.

So perfectly average-looking people are far from having the highest possible IQ test scores !   Here’s an opportunity for a couple of thought experiments — something that Einstein was fond of doing !  Compare in your mind’s eye the beauty of the shoppers in your average supermarket and those who are dipping in and out of jewellery shops along Oxford Street. No contest!  Try a more serious thought-experiment.  Imagine a crowded supermarket in the most deprived town or city in England. You’ll be seeing an appreciable number of good-looking shoppers and some who are actually extremely good-looking.  These will be as close to being a line-up of a Miss World contest.  Size-for-size they’ll all be between a few millimetres of one another.

We could have many more geniuses that those who presently dribble out of elite universities.

On not wasting money on (some) science projects

The problem with funding science projects is that there are so many specializations these days that a particular topic becomes researched so many times and from so many different angles that an awful lot of money is being constantly wasted in re-disocvering the same things. In my time I must have come across at least half-a-dozen research projects — admittedly from socioloists — devoted to discovering what physical beauty is. Most of them arrived at specifications and formulas.  Not one touched on beauty’s significance.  How much did all that cost?

Francis Galton (1822 – 1911) discovered it a century ago.  Like many great discoveries, he came across it by accident.  This was when photographs were glass slides. One day when in a fit of nothing better to do he overlaid one portrait on top of another and looked at the joint face.  Finding it agreeable and  being a genius, he then photographed a lot of faces and began superimposing them one on the other.  He discovered that the more he superimpossed them the more beautiful the combined product became !  “Almost angelic” he described the last face of one such trial.

“Beauty” is an average face, he declared.  Not only that, but an average body — for their age and sex — was a good-looking  body.  But why was this a “great” discovery — even though Galton didn’t recognise its significance?  It is because average people, in the main, tend to be the healthiest people.  Not only that, but also the most intelligent. Why should Nature — that is, blind evolution — decide that average is best?

. . .  I’m strictly gooig to leave that to my next post because I’ve already gone off topic before I’ve properly started my original. This topic is that crowds of people — that is, when people meet together closely for one reason or another — are often stupid and sometimes dangerous.  Why do we so often leave reason behind us when gathered together in large numbers?

The reason is that for millions of years we lived in  small groups which, on any important occasion, only involved a dozen or two mature adults at any time.  We are also hierarchical, always obeying the leader — and aleader who, more often than not — of higher than average intelligence, as would be his political sidekicks. If there were ever any emotive behavioour from the lower ranks — no more than half-a-dozen — they could be kept in line.

More crowded situations would have been rare — during a drought, say, when two groups might be facing each other over a serious matter such as territory for food. Ethologists have a word for it — ‘super-stimulus’.  A super-stimulus is anything that’s rarely come across but which our genes have not built up any immunity or methods of evasion.  Not all super-stimuli are dangerous.  There are few things healthier than a crowd of supporters cheering a soccer team. But there can also be nasty fights if two sets of supporters afterwards are in a dispute.

Sugar and alcohol are also super-stimuli because early man on the African savannah scarcely ever came across beehives or fermenting fruit — and it didn’t really magtter if they gorged themselves on the rare occasions when they did. But they’re both strictly poisonous if regularly taken to excess. We have no physiological defence against them.  Nor have we any emotional  defence against a large crowd if it gets into a mood.  Even our beliefs can be changed.  It is said that if a Nazi critic ever attended any of Hitler’s mammoth Nuremberg Rallies in the the 1930s he would come out as an enthusiastic Nazi, and many intellectuals refused to go knowing this.

Anyway, this topic was sparked off by reading about a project of Daniel C. Richard, previously of the Psychology Department, at UC Santa Cruz and now at the Multimodal Lab in the Department of Cognitive, Perceptual and Brain sciences at  University College London.  He wants to do things about crowds using real people in real settings on a grand scale where people mingle and specialise, rather than in a psychology lab. He wants to “use gaze, speech and motion tracking technology to investigate how perception and cognition are embedded in the social world”.  Well, it’s not for me to criticise because I know too little about his project as a whole, but I’m suspicious that an awful lot of money is going to be wasted on this project.

Changing the culture in their way

Writing in my horrible-excellent newspaper this morning Allison Pearson makes what I think is a correct point. “Muslim women can change Islam for the better.” And yet, 22% of Muslim women in this country can’t speak English because their husbands won’t let them.  But some women, like some men, are courageous and I wouldn’t mind betting that more than 22% of Muslim wives have learned to speak English despite being forbidden.

A couple of wispy memories from about ten years ago have come back to me.  In Taliban-dominated Kabul, reading of mothers who were holding secret schools in their homes despite the death penalty.  Seeing a video of a woman driving a car in Riyadh.  Not a capital offence, but had she been found out by the Saudi religious police she’d have been given 50, or 100 lashes. And then, who is the bravest person in the world?  Malala Yousafzai, of course.  And then there’s Aung San Suu Kyi.  And a great many more we never hear about.  All strength to them all !