Democracy via opinion polls?

Fully a half of the 200-odd countries of the world have a twin system of government. One is of politicians chosen by electorates, the other is a bureaucracy chosen by a self-selecting examination of some sort.

Although the political government is the one that chooses the policies in theory it usually doesn’t have the expertise of the civil service and needs its help in the formulation of policies. Thus, in practice they are close to power equality. In extreme situations, such as wartime or monetary crisis, then the bureaucracy take over power almost completely, needing the politicians only for their PR abilities.

The big problem with this ambiguous — almost ambidextrous — situation is that it leaves open the possibility of an ultimate power take-over by the bureaucracy. Indeed, this is the big danger at the present time of the EU. The power of the people is at least three degrees remote from the policy-making power of the Brussels non-elected civil service. Bureaucracies are becoming remote from the people they need to tax.

But modern times are becoming more multifarious and specialized than ever. Leading countries will need their bureaucracies more than ever before. How is the circle to be squared?

Germany is probably leading with the answer. With the most integrated of all the twin governments in the world what its civil service does to ensure it remains close the electorate is to spend highly on opinion polling. Two years ago, under a Freedom of Information request, the German bureaucracy revealed that it commissioned over 3,000 private opinion polls and focus groups. I’ve little doubt that the civil services of the UK, US, France and several more are heading on that direction.

The political arms of advanced governments are losing credibility with tbeir electorates hand over fist because of the complexity of demands. Their bureaucracies might be gaining credibility for the same reason.

Is the universe coherent?

A small corner item in my paper this morning grabbed my attention — “One small bite for a weasel, one giant hitch for Collider”. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the largest and most sophisticated engineering works in the world, has been put out of action for weeks by a weasel biting through one of its cables.

Sometime in May it will resume its job of crashing accelerated streams of protons into one another in the hope — and the rare eventuality — of discovering yet another heavy sub-atomic particle — like the Higgs Boson — such as was formed during the Big Bang. But the LHC is still not powerful enough to discover the heaviest particles. An even larger LHC is required — something with a circumference many times larger than the earth itself !

Obviously, that is never going to be possible. So what does that mean for science — or at least its most prestigious branch, sub-atomic physics? It will probably mean that the universe itself will have to be even more closely observed. It is already seen to be full of what seem like anomalies, products of natural experiments that have happened along the way since the Big Bang and, gradually, they’ll all have to fit together coherently. Or is that too big an assumption?

Controlling, not fighting, racism

In the last day or two — without going into detail — the Labour Party in this country has been charged with the development of anti-Semitism on top of its more normal antipathy to the nation-state of Israel. Whatever may be said morally, legally or historically about the rights and wrongs of the origination of Israel and of the Palestinians, the fact of the matter is that Israel is no different from the origination of almost all the 200-odd countries registered with the United Nations Organisation. They were created with, or by, violence of some sort. As long as the 200-odd are here to stay, so is Israel.

The Labour Party’s present anti-Jewish tenor is unfortunately allied with a partiality for many Muslim organisations in England. We have over 3 million Muslims immigrants in the country — mostly brought in from Pakistan and Bangladesh by the last Labour administration (1997-2010) — and they’ve been well ‘captured’ by Labour for their vote at election times.

Labour politicians — and Tory ones for that matter — constantly talk of “fighting” racism. Racism is only another version of an immensely strong in-group out-group culture. It goes back for millions of years and is instinctive. However, it’s an instinct that is much more dangerous today than in former times.  Once we’re aware of its ever-present nature then we ought to be talking of controlling it, not fighting it.  Once we are more honest about racism then we ought to do a lot better in dealing with it.

(P.S. Later in the day, the Labour Party is now talking of “rooting-out” racism.  Unless we were able to change our standard repertoire of human genes, then prejudice against any culture outside one’s own in childhood will never be able to be rooted-out.)

Being patient for a happier future?

The world is now close to maximum production of consumer goods beyond that of food, basic apparel and something to keep the rain from your head. The evidence for this mainly involves the seizing-up 25 years ago of the most advanced economy in the world — that of Japan — and, more recently, the seizing-up of most consumer goods in the world — China’s exports.

The governments of the world can do nothing about this situation and are now in a state of despair that what has been going on since the 2008 Crisis might go on forever. Which is nonsense, of course, because man is forever inventive. Innovations of more efficient production methods and the development of highly personalized services in health care and education leading to happier lives will continue as far into the future as we are capable of imagining.

Governments need only to be advised to be patient as the present mass-production era unwinds — via total automation in due course — into a new, at present nameless, era. But that’s asking a great deal and the next 250 years are likely to be as traumatic for most of the population of the world as the last 250 years of the industrial revolution proved to be.

Good Morning 2020, ’30, ’40, ’50?

China, Japan and Saudi Arabia have America over a barrel. Slowly and steadily, America is being pulled down from its hegemonic power perch during the post-Second World War era. The three own too much of America’s debts.

However, to change the metaphor, they won’t pull the rug from under America, of course, because the whole world’s trade would crash if they did. Unless America — to change metaphors once again — can pull something out of the bag by way of a brand new technology then America is being humbled, and with it the power of the dollar as the predominant world currency.

But wait! America does have a new and awe-inspiring technology — alongside Britain, Germany and a nation coming up fast on the outside rail, Israel — and it is DNA. It is already making inroads into health concerns such as breeding better babies — via IVF — and the control of some genetic diseases.

It has a vast future ahead of it, particularly when DNA software languages are developed. It is also then when manufacturing will return to the nations that started it, this time manufacturing carbon-based materials and goods in situ from carbon dioxide in the air, rainwater and solar energy. As long as the four countries mentioned above remain at the leading edge of research then their future is reasonably secure.

Obama was putting America first

It’s a funny old world. Firstly we had President Obama earlier this week more or less telling us that Britain should remain in the EU when we vote on 23 June. And yesterday we had James Clapper, the Head of US National Intelligence telling us that the free movement of people within the EU — which the EU regards as its proudest achievement yet — means that Isil jihadists are travelling around Europe in their hundreds organising mass terror attacks in the EU and on us in particular.

To what can we attribute this glaring difference of opinion?  Only one thing fits the bill. America is into years of negotiating a free trade treaty with the EU and the latter is proving to be awkward. The EU, being a high tariff beast, is much less keen. If Britain votes to leave the EU on 23 June then it’s much less likely that the treaty will ever be finally agreed. In reading the riot act to us, Obama was only thinking of America’s interests, not ours. It also speaks of a less than a fully joined-up government in Washington.

Do we chisel down or scale down?

After the Second World War (1945), there ought to have been nothing more straightforward than to roll out the industrial revolution across the rest of the world. We knew the products that people in the advanced countries enjoyed, we knew the technologies to make them, and we had the financial intermediaries able to recycle the money from savings into investment. Above all else, there was a huge and growing world population which meant that those who became rich in the decades after the war could have become many times richer still.

But it didn’t work out that way. Had economic development been a matter of straightforward selfishness on the part of humans — as economists imagine us to be in their text books — then no doubt the roll-out would have continued. But, as we are now informed by the human sciences — and the evolutionary biologists in particular — and which a handful or so economists are just beginning to acknowledge — human nature is a great deal more complex than economics can ever be.

It turns out that we are full of proclivities which used to be called instincts until about 50 years ago when biologists had their heads chopped off by the politically correct. And many of these ‘proclivities’ are entirely at odds with one another, each of them evolving for specific occasions at different times. All that needs to be said about them is that they worked well enough when we lived in small groups for millions of years, but don’t work so well in the organisations of today.

In other words, our instincts don’t scale up. The question to be asked, therefore, is whether we set about root and branch re-engineering of our genes or learn how to scale down our gargantuan organisations into smaller more workable social structures.

And what about a predominant religion?

As noted in my previous posting, any country not among the scientific trail-blazers will have difficulties in simulating the cultural background of the countries in the high-value trade network. It can only do so by making highly concentrated efforts — and also be lucky enough to choose a research or technological area where there are discoveries and commercial innovations yet to be made.

If not having a receptive culture is bad enough, what if there’s a predominant state religion as well. It can be a double whammy. Not only is the indigenous culture passively negative to change but a powerful religion can also be actively negative. And especially so — a triple whammy? –if it’s a centrally organised religion with a powerful individual at the top whose ideology may not line jp with the new scientifically-based strategies that the country needs economically if it is to improve the lot of its people.

Confucius’ advice of two and a half thousand years ago applies here: “The King should not allow any religion within his royal court. Sooner or later it will want to take power.”

What’s a poor country to do?

Infected by the bug of mass production since the 1780s, every country in the world has got its education policy wrong. Leaving aside the particular problems of the half- dozen advanced nations in adjusting to a post-manufacturing world, what about the other 190 countries which wouldn’t at all mind getting into manufacturing for the time being in order to take a full proportionate part in high-value trade?

If such a country is serious, it had better realise that the technological expertise and the innovative abilities of the leading advanced countries goes back 500 years to Martin Luther and his act of rebellion against the Catholic Church. It was only then that fresh thinking was starting to break into the minds of European intellectuals and when a new body of knowledge and thought began building up in philosophers and scientists. Somehow, 500 years of intellectual development has to be built into the culture of any aspiring country.

It can’t be done. And it certainly can’t be done by sending all the children to school to read and write and do arithmetic. What then? How can a poor country build up the expensive and expanding educational infrastructure that would then be required? Instead, such a country should concentrate on a small number of schools, one university and then spend lavishly on attracting the very best teachers, one-to-one mentors and brilliant researchers in one particular segment of science from anywhere in the world. After a few years, it might then might have a chance of lifting one small quality corner of the high value trade going on.

America and Britain in trouble

Both America and Britain are in trouble because there is no smooth progress from what used to be manufacturing countries transiting to a new era of advanced scientifically-based services. It is mainly these which can pay for the physical goods we used to make but only import now.

There is a great wedge between good quality private schools and elite universities, and state education and a plurality of second grade colleges and universities.

Another way of saying it is that there is plenty of social mobility within an upper middle class portion of the population and also within the bulk of the population but very little between them. The upper segment is able to adjust to new circumstances as they arise. The lower segment continues to drift downwards in real earnings and anything meaningful by way of future work and skills.

The non-survival of the unfit

Between the first edition and second edition of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, a phrase slipped in which he rather regretted later. Herbert Spencer — a fervent supporter of Darwin’s theory of evolution — had written that evolution is “the survival of the fittest”. Darwin thought that the phrase was a felicitous one and adopted it himself rather too hastily.

Well . . it isn’t “the survival of the fittest”. Any number of people of varying degrees of fitness can survive. Evolution, rather, is “the non-survival of the unfittest”. More to the point, so long as an unfit person — someone with, say, a deleterious genetic mutation — doesn’t have offpsring and doesn’t pass the mutation on then this is what evolution is really about. And that’s usually done by females not selecting him as a partner.

Things change but remain much the same

The main lesson that Adam Smith wanted to teach in his great book, The Wealth of Nations is that a country doesn’t become prosperous by accruing wealth. It is only by recycling the wealth by means of trade that new ideas and different forms of wealth can enter a country — and, as a consequence, the original wealth is renewed.

Fortunately, London and half a dozen ports along the northern rim of Europe were already doing that and trade took a great leap forward when the industrial revolution started taking off at the time of Smith’s book (1776). Unfortunately — for the rest of the world — the maximum benefits of trade tends to take place between countries making goods of comparable value and complexity. Thus today — with the exception of Japan, South Korea and China — the predominant trading countries in the world are the same as those of 250 years ago.

This can change, of course — the brilliant leadership of Lee Kuan Yew (Singapore) or a new country of exceptional scholarship (Israel) — can alter things dramatically for one or two countries. But it doesn’t change the overall balance of world trade. The present situation won’t last forever obviously but it’s difficult to envisage any great change within a century or two unless something very new comes along by way of exceptional discoveries or exotic technologies.

Longevity is the worst that could happen

A topic that turns up repeatedly on the Internet and causes great excitement is some sort of anti-ageing discovery. It would, of course, be a disaster if it were true. Almost every new idea that man has come up with has been created by very rare individuals — and under 30 years of age to boot.  By that age — about 25 years in the case of women — the frontal lobes are almost fully developed with little space for new networks.

An ageing population, even if superbly fit, would gradually seize up for lack of ability to deal with problems as they arise. If longevity were prolonged for more than only a few years longer than it takes for the next generation to reach their maximum capabilities, then evolution would have adopted this strategy billions of hears ago.

Instead, in what appears to be a pursuit of higher intelligence somewhere in the system, evolution has chosen mutations to be bearers of new ideas and practices. What we have, in fact, is a mutation race between archea, viruses, bacteria, fungi, plants and animals. Some mutations are killers, some are enhancers. Within the constraints of life as a whole on earth the more that mutational battles are fought and won the better — and in as short lifetimes as possible for gains to be passed on.

From Genghis Khan and John F. Kennedy through to better human breeding in the future

Just as Genghis Khan’s personal DNA has characterised huge numbers of the Mongolian and northern Chinese population ever since around 1220 AD — something that has been known for a number of years now – we have recently learned from similar DNA evidence of the male Y chromosome that another potent ancestor also existed.

He is termed the Bronze Age King by DNA biologists and accounts for half the population of present-day Europe. There’s a fifty-fifty chance that the present writer might be carrying exactly the same mutation — hopefully a good one — that the Bronze Age King, and he alone, initiated some three or four thousand years ago at least.

On further research, it is now realised by geneticists that here have been many such DNA explosions throughout history in different parts of Europe and Asia since we left Africa at around 60,000 BC. All of these relatively sudden genetic concentrations are due to the precocity of single males, usually powerful males with large harems, whose contributions to the human gene pool have been disproportionately significant.

Just as high-ranking males within groups usually have more children than lower-ranking males in a any group or culture — leading to the elimination of deleterious genes from the lowest ranks — so would the Genghis Khans, Bronze Age Kings and many other super-privileged males of the past have been a double bonus in improving the genetic stock.

Indeed, had it not been for birth control, then America might have been benefiting from a recent example of its own. I speak of President John F Kennedy, of course, who had sex with a different female on most nights he was away from home before and during his term of office (1961-1963) — particularly latterly when his secret service agents would precede him scouting for constant supply of beautiful young ladies for his evenings. Unlike today, the media of those days and kept quiet about these events voluntarily!

These latest insights into explosive reproduction based on Y chromosomes has been due to a team led by Dr David Poznikbad, from Stanford University, California and colleagues from the Welcome Foundation. They have shown that single mutations can finally be narrowed down and dated to their first arrival thousands of years ago. Not only that, but the evolution of good genes and the devolution of inferior ones is a great deal more dramatic than the slow pace of selection as envisaged by Darwin.

When it comes to improving the human stock of genes — or at least of eliminating the inferior mutations we are constantly assailed with — it is a moot point as to whether tomorrow’s society will tolerate Genghis Khan’s behaviour or whether it will all have to be done by excision engineering in the lab as is presently done in IVF clinics. It is difficult to imagine the former at the present time but no more difficult to understand how media reticence of only 50 years ago has changed into the nasty hounding that goes on today.

A new money and taxation era

When world-wide competition in making the standard kit of consumer goods — for those who can afford them — forces profits margins down to 2% and below, it will be insufficient to complete the money cycle — personal earnings -> discretionary savings -> funding for the next wave of production — and for all the financial bodies and intermediaries to take their cut, not to mention governmental depredations at one or two stages along the way.

In short, the mass production era will be coming to an end. There are signs of this already in the increasing short-run and customised production of goods for the rich. More significant, though, both for the rich and for the general public is the increasing proportion of discretionary income being spent on personal services such as education for one’s children and health care for oneself.

Instead of the profit-driven society — enabled by business — which we are now leaving, we are gradually becoming a fee-driven one in which business profits will play a decreasing part. The money cycle will have to be quite different. Funding for basic research in individualized learning and health care can only come from government and, in turn, directly from taxpayers.

Because returns from funding in the above human sciences might be very long term — 20 to 80 years perhaps? — compared with those during the mass production era — typically 5 to 20 years — and incalculable anyway, then personal taxation is going to have to be rigorously applied and, on order to be seen to be fair, transparent.

As most peoplo spend he maximum they can afford on status goods which other people can view then taxing the value of status goods such as housing or cars, etc is fair. Even the rich won’t mind being taxed in this way. But this tax might be best left for spending on infrastructure. Taxation for scientific research funding can be based on one’s relative status within one’s specialization group — that is, on fees earned.

Less than honest Obama

In his words to us over here in order to support David Cameron’s wish for us to stay in the EU, Barack Obama has been less than honest when he spoke here yesterday. It is not that he was out-and-out dishonest — but just that he was speaking evasively of a situation which is far from being decided yet.

He was speaking of the Transatlantic Trade and investment Partnership (TTIP), presently being negotiated between the US and the EU and very far from being finalised yet. Such are the tariffs and regulatory standards to be negotiated between the products of 28 different European countries that the estimated four years of talk are now expected to last for another five or six according to some observers.

Obama said that if Britain were to take to Brexit route out of the EU on 23 June then any US-UK trade negotiations would have to wait until TTIP’s were complete. We would have to go to “the back of the queue” to use his words. What nonsense! If one of our labs produces an innovation that an American business badly wants to use, don’t the US and the UK have enough experienced civil servants that a separate agreement can’t be negotiated simultaneously? And promptly, too!

The new Venture Countries of tomorrow

If nation-states have any sense at all then they are already planning to reform their educational systems ahead of a world of increasingly sophisticated goods and services. Not mass-produced consumer goods and services. They are already maxed out for rich and poor alike. The new era is of highly customised teaching and health care methods depending on an individual’s genes and epigenes. Countries may have to turn to another method of selecting their creatve personnel, not necessarily from their own culture,

The classic case is that of Srinivasa Ramanujujan (1887-1920), considered by many to be amog the most brilliant mathematicians ever, born into poverty in India and initially self-taught, he was finally invited to Oxford by Hardy. He solved 3,900 equations, many of which were considerable to be insoluble. Tragically, he dies at an early age of tuberculosis.

Soon, however, with cheap smartphones and tablets, we will have hundreds of thousands, if not millions of sub-30 year-old intellectuals of Ramanujujan’s stature around he world, not necessarily in mathematics but anywhere in the whole scientific canon. By coincidence one of the leaders in this is also an Indian, Anant Agarwal, in charge of Massachusett’s Institute of Technology’s edX system. Many other universities are already involved in teaching over the Internet and many will follow. Some charge fees, others are free. MIT’s edX is free but will charge a small fee for a diploma.

MIT’s edX will also cater for part- or micro-qualifications. What Agarwal has discovered so far is that a great deal of the teaching and correcting is done by the students themselves. My own reading in anthropology suggests that a group of not more than six will be the most efficient self-learning group, one of their number becoming its effectual teacher — rather like the Monior Schools in Victorian England.

And there will be no shortage of methods of delivery, Google, Facebook and Amazon are three of those who are seriously developing ideas of geostationary satellites, balloons and solar-power drones to deliver the software.

In any case, with or without the support of sponsoring colleges and universities, posses of brilliant young people will be congealing around specific subjects. Even ultra shy individuals such as Ramanujan or Paul Dirac need groups of friends, supporters, sponsors and, ultimately, investors.

The new and successful countries of tomorrow will not necessarily be those that are already high in the scientific discovery game and win all the Nobel prizes so far — Germany, Britain, Netherlands and America — but those that also take a close interest in the thousands of self-learning groups that might well be springing up all around the world.

Countries of tomorrow will have to become more like Venture Capital businesses, having to assess thousands of ideas for every one that can be taken further. However, unlike Venture Capital businesses which want fully sprung management teams as well as the idea, Venture Countries are going to have to be generous in giving the young people their head without immediate expectations.

The young doctors’ strike

Knowing nothing about the details of the young doctors’ complaints against the government’s payments for weekend work in the National Health Service I’m on their side anyway. The medical profession is still a Medieval Guild system whereby the older adults seek to delay the ingress of the young generation for as as long as possible.

Mind you, entry is still heavily restricted by means of ‘understandings’ between the Royal Colleges and the approved universities. It is still very much an upper class ramp with, maybe, only a quarter of student entrants selected than we need. Also the training and experiential gaps between consultancy, doctoring and nursing are too wide.

Hierarchy of abilities and earnings is natural and only to be expected but not when the gradations are too wide and too arbitrarily maintained.

The real reason why Hillary Clinton is running

According to a recent book, First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies, by Kate Andersen Brower, is to be believed, there is little love lost between  and Michelle Obama. There’s a lot that grates between them — with many impolite comments from both of them about the competence of the other’s husband as President but the key to it all is given in a story, probably apocryphal.

Soon after becoming President as he and Hillary drove away from her parents’ home and stopped for gas at the local filling station, she recognized the man at the pump as an old boy friend and pointed him out. Bill Clinton said: “It’s a good job I came along before you married him. Otherwise, you might have been working here at a gas station.” Hillary replied: “If I’d married him he’d be the President now.”

The real story of why, at 68, having lived in the White House for eight years but still wants to be President seems to me that she felt so humiliated by Clinton’s sexual escapades and the months of public wrangling over possible impeachment that she wants to show how much better she’d be as President. Not of present Barack Obama but of Bill Clinton.

Growing beautiful forests . . . and a bonus, too

I see that at least one branch of the ‘medical’ profession is coming to its senses — silviculture. Ever since Tudor times when timber was cut down on a massive scale for ship building — our fleet being second only to the Spanish at that time but subsequently with our clippers the largest fleet in the world — and even more since then for increasing quantities needed as firewood for a growing population, pit props for deep coal mining, wooden sleepers for thousands of miles of railways and for telegraph poles, further clearance by farmers for their gigantic tractors, and yet another great surge in the 19th century for housing and fencing, our forests have become pathetic pockets, assailed further by atmospheric and fungal pollution and in turn diminishing the wild life that live in symbiosis with trees,

No wonder, therefore, with pitiably small forests, since the 1960s we have had devastations to Dutch Elm, Corsican Pine, Scots Pine, Cypress, Oak, Chestnut, Juniper, Larch, Beech, Cherry, Rowan and the current scare, Chalara Ash dieback. Living in small forest populations our trees are highly vulnerable to disease spores blown over from the continent mainly but also from Africa and North America

Prof Allan Downie, Emeritus Fellow at the John Innis Centre has searched for and identified a 200 year-old Ash tree, named “Betty”, which is resistant to Chalara. After further genetic testing, other trees have been found which have a very high or even complete resistance. So enough of them have been found and will be propagated to save the Ash. But what would happen in a few years time if another insect or virus or bacterium mutated sufficiently to produce another form of the disease — or a different disease –to which Betty and her clones were vulnerable?

And what about other trees? The chances are reasonably high that one or two among each of them, perhaps in this country or on the continent, would also have mutated sufficiently to combat their own particular killer disease. The trees would be safe but only by a hair’s breadth and in penny numbers. It would take decades to build up to former numbers.

There are really only two strategies if we really want to save beautiful variegated forests in the country. One is to have many more of them and, as often as possible, join them together in corridors. Whatever the devastation caused by one particular disease there’ll always be more than a few in any sizable forest which will have natural resistance. Any gaps that are left can be filled with a variety of other trees. The previous balance of trees may never be regained, but that is usual in the largest forests. Temporary empty areas are also the more likely opportunities for new species of trees to became established.

But for a small badly over-crowded island like Britain there’s not a lot of opportunity for growing large forests. Planting corridors between existing ones would be better until the human population is much reduced. Now that we have powerful supercomputers and good DNA sequencers there’s no reason why every tree in our forests should not be sampled. Any recurrence of a known disease would enable the vulnerable ones to be on the windward side to be cut down immediately as a ‘fire-break’ to prevent spores spreading further.

Such a database would not only be a relatively inexpensive project in order to maintain our natural woodlands. It would also be an invaluable resource when we’ll be using synthetic DNA to make exotic new carbon-based materials far superior in performance than much of the constructional steel we presently make at great expense

What about a Basic Income for all?

A reader has asked me what I think of the idea of a basic income By this is meant a uniform payment to every able-bodied adult in the population whether they’re in a job or not, sufficient to pay for basic food, lodgings and clothes, raising children and to replace any other state income support, unemployment benefits, subsidies, state pensions and other subsidies.

It seems at first to be horrendously expensive but, after dispensing with the costs of vast swathes of civil servants at central and local level, it seems perfectly feasible, according to various proponents — surprisingly on both the left and right. Furthermore, both cite the gains that might be made when large numbers of people are released from worry about the future. Some say that a great deal of creativity might be released.

My view is that a Basic Income would make very little difference because, if anything, the natural social pecking order would operate more strongly than ever. The successive exploitation by higher social groups over lower social groups goes all the way down to the lowest levels and, if anything, would be intensified. Indeed, if the condition of the lowest classes should become worse under a Basic income regime, the upper middle classes could wash their hands of any concern because, after all, it is their taxation that pays for the bulk of the Basic Income.

When money . . . and then profits . . . disappear

There’ll come a time when business — as we know it today — disappears. There’ll be so much international competition between suppliers all round the world in all possible consumer goods and services that there’ll be no money profit margins surviving.

But this is only half of what constitutes an exchange between a supplier and consumer. What about the pleasures and satisfactions that the other party previously gained from a transaction? Do they have to be forgone, too?

There’s no reason why not. We’d still want to increase — or at least maintain — our pleasures and satisfactions if possible. Otherwise, our standard of life as a whole would sink downwards.

But in a world without money — inevitable when money profits disappear — how could we claim for goods and services without paying money for it? Answer: We could barter for them from a world-wide pool — a super-Amazon-Alibaba warehouse — containing every conceivable good and service so far invented. This warehouse is, as you will have guessed, is the recent invention we call the Cloud.

But how much could we claim for at any one time? That could only depend on the personal credits measured in the software you and your working colleagues have developed and placed in the Cloud for rent. The value of the software depends on how often it is downloaded into a DNA-type machine in order to make a carbon-based product or into a brain connection to supply a new personal skill. Given the mass of biology research now going on, neither of the above will be far off.

Human nature won’t disappear, however. There’ll still be competition between software development groups for this or that desired way of life — there’ll still be pecking order within groups, but depending on ability not gewgaws — and young people will still leave their parent groups in order to find partners and then join the group that best suits their specializations.

Breivik succeeds on appeal

On 22 July 2011, Anders Breivik killed eight people by detonating a van bomb in government buildings in Oslo, then shot 69 youngest left-wingers at a summer camp. Capital punishment had been outlawed in a ‘progressive’ country like Sweden since 1910 so Breivik was given the maximum sentence of 23 out of 24 hours in isolation for 21 years.

This means that he has some human interaction. Had he been completely isolated for 24 hours a day with not even a word passed or a sound heard, then Breivik would have been totally dehumanised within weeks   However, on a thin conversational diet, there would have been enough jailors who shared his anti-Muslim immigrant and anti-left wing views who gave him quiet support and thus prevented hum going completely insane.

As it happened, he wasn’t too badly affected that he couldn’t initiate an appeal at Oslo District Court under Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights. He won. And from now onwards he’ll be given more than 23 hours or freedom, presumably of conversation out of his cell.

Breivik will now have more time to share his ideas with others and for others to signify that he’s not quite as egregious as everybody else believes. He’s thus ikely to retain fixed in his views until his old age. Thus nothing will have been achieved by long imprisonment except public protection at enormous expenses.

There are only two sensible ways of sentencing such a gross premeditated killer. Either capital punishment — retribution which would satisfy most members of the public — or to absorb him full-time in a work group which has powerful therapeutic effects in due course in bringing about profound voluntarily changes in ideas and behaviour.

Falling out with Saudi Arabia

Within an hour or two of the 9/11 attacks on the Trade Centers, Ne York, the Pentagon and the foiled attack on the White House, it as known that Osama bin Laden, the black sheep of the incredibly prosperous bin Laden building family was behind it all. Many of the family happened to be in America on holiday at the time and President G. W. Bush made sure that were flown out within hours — before all further flights into and out of America were stopped.

Within days, it was rumoured in the press that of the 19 terrorists who where involved in the four planes,15 were Saudi Arabians. Incredibly not a word ws said about American recrimination against Saudi Arabia. All went very quite for a while except that the incident was transmuted to Islamic terrorism in general and then into Iraqi terrorism in the person of Saddam Hussein. Actually Osama bin Laden despised Saddan Hussein. The American public was conned, and so was the British population, too.

Now at last, the relatives are trying to bring all the evidence out into the open with a vew to suing Saudi Arabia in due course. A reluctant President Obama is now being pressured to declassifying what information exists. A showdown with Saudi Arabia for this and all sort of other reasons is surely called for. .

What’s the use of government aid?

Angus Deaton, after a lifetime of dedicated studies into poverty — for which he received a Nobel Prize — and whose conclusions have never been questioned — came to the conclusion that the best possible form of aid is that which is defined by the recipient. The most effective aid of all are not grand schemes which big donors like to take credit for, but modest ones which at the lowest levels this can lift up individuals and families out of semi-starvation and across the threshold where some spare energy is available,

It is also well documented that almost all government aid since the Second World War has ended up the pockets of the politicians and officials in the recipient countries.
Also, a great deal of large-scale aid by the larger charities, while assuaging suffering dramatically in the short term, inevitably store up more problems a generation later.

All cultures are intractable and are fiercely resistant to change, whatever their standard of living, They can only build themselves up from their own resources and vitality — if they want to. More correctly if they if they have enough rare creative types among them with more testosterone than usual and who wishes to be a merchant or a intellectual –and, importantly are tolerated. If a counry wants to change the culture of another counry then this can only be done by encouraging the merchant by trade orf loans, ot the intellectual by advanced training,

Why does he EU need Britain?

Why are Germany and France so fearful of Britain leaving the EU? It’s because tension is already growing between then and they desperately need Britain to be the honest broker.

Otherwise, as Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy reach fhe end of any possibility of debt redemption and continued economic survival within the EU, France will be the next on the list, particularly when Marine le Pen or an equivalent ‘spend you way u of rouble’ becomes President,

Putting Shakespeare to rest

According to a YouGov poll carried out for the British Council — a high level think-tank pushing British culture abroad — has found that only 4 in 10 Britons think that Shakespeare’s works are relevant to the modern day or simple enough to grasp or enjoy. This compares with 7 in 10 from 18,000 people in 15 foreign countries. In listing all the countries in terms of positive appreciation of Shakespeare then this country came 11th out of the 15.

It’s the business of the British Council to be worried about the reputation if one of our greatest writers, but can anything be done about it? Or should anything be done about it? The answer to both is probably No. Let him settle back into history. He was a genius but was he such as genius that he should be considered to outshine many other geniuses since Elizabethan times — even a few, if we would allow it, in his own time?

A case of quasi-science

In a world in which a vast amount of biological research is being carried out a great deal of vapid projects will be funded, too. One such as had been a study at Cambridge University using the DNA data of 800,000 people. How much are genes involved when you lose your virginity, or how many children you have?

Because some — but surely not scientists — believe that these depend purely on how you were brought up in the family or due to peer pressure, then this seemed to be sufficient justification for yet another piece of research.

The so-called result — according to the project — was that 25% of sexual and fertility choice is determined by genes and 75% to family upbringing. Apart from confirming what has been obvious to many for a long time and thus not discovering anything new at all, just what do those precise percentages mean?

What if they’d turned out to be 90% and 10%, or 10% and 90% respectively. What difference would they have made? The percentages actually don’t mean anything diagnostically. They mean nothing. It would be cruel to say that it’s pseudo-science but it’s certainly quasi-science and funding would have been better invested elsewhere.

How to be a super-nation

A press camera has once again caught the typewritten lines of a document being accidently exposed by a minister entering 10 Downing Street. Apparently, the document say that some Russell Group universities — equivalent to America’s Ivy League — are not offering the quality and value for money that students expect. It also revealed that the Prime Minister’s pledge to double the number of poor children going to university by 2020, won’t be achieved.

So there’s likely to be yet another enormous row between parents and the government. Isn’t it about time that education is taken away from party politics — and particularly from the largely non-scientific civil service — and shaped along the lines that the biological sciences can tell us about ourself?

The most important lesson of all is that there an enormous variation in talent in the newly born of every generation in every income group or culture class. Any government that ignores such a bonanza — as most have done so far — will not survive in the further, much more competitive, future.

The latest pro-EU wheeze

The latest 200 page British Treasury report; bristling with statistics and looking 30 years ahead is saying that every British family will have to pay a heavy price — by about £3,000 — if we exit the EU is a farce.

Since when has any Treasury forecast, even for only short period of one or two years ahead, turned out to be accurate? The financial extrapolations of Nicholas Macpherson and his team are no more likely to be right than the prophecies of Michel de Nostredame in the 16th century.

I’m sure that Macpherson will have read the recent book of the previous Bank of England, Mervyn King’s, The end of Allchemy, and particularly Chapter Four, “Radical Uncertainty” to know that unexpected events constantly happen and upset apple carts. But that wouldn’t really wash for Nicholas Macpherson. He, like all seenior British civil servants want fervently to remain in the EU — it was theirs and their European colleagues’ creation after all.

Are blondes dull or bright?

According to folklore, blondes are pretty dumb as in the Marilyn Monroe film Gentlemen refer blondes. Not so, according to Jay Zagorsky, Prof of Economics at Ohio State University. According to the Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 those between 14 and 21 who later took the US Armed Forces IQ tests gave the following results: blondes 103.2; brown hair 102.7; redheads 101.2; black hair 100.5.

It’s a nonsense that all of the hair colours should be above 100; there should be as many below 100 as above.  Hair colour is dependent on two or three genes at the most. They have no correlation with brain genes that have multiple associations with other genes when developing in the foetus.

It is not a fact that half the population with IQ less rhan 100 have hair which has no colour at all!  The study, published in Economics Bulletin should have been returned to sender.

The return of a practical system

The gold standard broke down five times in (mainly) the 19th century — 1796, 1847, 1857, 1866 and 1915 — the first and last because of the need for war armaments (to fight Napoleon and Germany respectively) far beyond what was then available in gold reserves, the middle three due to the bankruptcy of large banks.

The first took 20 years to recover from and the gold standard restored. The middle three took no more than a couple of years. The last recovery spluttered into life for a few years before being given up in 1931. The final restitution of the gold standard is yet to be agreed –or, in my view, will be taken out of the hands of governments by a consortium of multinational corporations. .

Between times, the printed money regime broke down four times and had to be patched up in meetings in Genoa in 1922, Bretton Woods in 1944, Smithsonian Institution in 1971 and Louvre Accord in 1987. Money printing has broken down again in 2008 and has not been repaired yet. Because of the damage the American dollar has done throughout this period it will not feature in any solution.

The only two candidates that are given serious attention are the gold-backed Special Drawing Rights of the International Monetary Fund or the gold standard tout court. If the latter is initially set up with a gold price of $10,000 per ounce — it’s now $1240 — it will enable all banks to have a reserve ratio of 40% — the average of all successful banks throughout the whole period of the industrial revolution in England in the 19th century.

Appreciating our cousins’ DNA

Last night we had a Horizon programme: “Should we close our zoos?” on the BBC. t’s a sign of maturity in our appreciation of the natural world that we should now be questioning the retention of zoos for wild animals. We now now that the higher animals suffer mentally even in the best zoos. These days the accent now is on how they would normally behave if not confined behind bars — so much more interesting.

And then we are realising how close cousins we are to many species, particularly to those of the 4,000 social mammals. We are discovering how human many of them are — love, mutual care, rational thought and intuitive notions of fair transactions. In parallel we are as quite as instinctive in matters such as pecking order, fierce protection of territory and ruthless killer instincts when necessary.

It’s very much in our interests to protect as much living DNA as possible. We can never know beforehand just how vital some of their genetic secrets will be to our own future one day.

Most universities have become credential mills

Oxford University’s latest official history says that the University faces an “uncomfortable future” unless it embraces online degrees and raises billions of pounds to go private. Too true.

Children up to the age of puberty need a high degree of personal attention. The more brilliant post-grads, especially in science subjects, need personal mentors — and often a succession of them — in order to advance further.

In between, the vast majority of the learner population in all the non-lab subjects who want university training in order to get good jobs or to find good marriage partners ought to be incentivised enough to learn and qualify offline by themselves — or in small local self-help groups — as by physically attending universities. Most universities today have become mass-production factories.

It’s only a gesture in Libya

Now that we’ve sent in 250 Royal Marines to tackle the “trafficking gangs” in Libya will the expected flow of Africans across the Mediterranean cease rhis summer? It’s doubtful. There are at least 5,000 jihadists out there in Libya and they are probably already colluding with the traffickers — that is, getting a financial kick-back — in order to send more jihadists among the migrants to Italy.

It’s only a gesture. Britain and the EU will have to do better than that if it’s to stop African migrants from now onwards setting out from Libya and almost anywhere else along the north African coast.

As you were . . .

The Doha oil talks broke down yesterday. Before the week-end, economists were quietly hopeful that the oil countries would have agreed to reduce output and thereby allow the price to lift — allowing ‘normal’ world GDP growth to be resumed — but, no, Saudi Arabia and Iran couldn’t agree. Iran needs to export as much oil and gas as possible in order to recover from the American-imposed sanctions of recent years.

But even if ‘normal’ oil production had been resumed what would that achieve? Nothing. The economic progress of the world is set by the innovations of a half-dozen EuroAmerican countries and they at the moment have absolutely no brand new consumer products on the drawing boards to lead the charge with. Much as since Ocotber 2008 until an awful lot of debt around the world is taken care of. As you were.

Why can’t science have its fun moments, too?

You’d have to sit down for a long while to think up something sillier than Boaty McBoatface, as the name of a brand new vessel designed for research in the Antarctic. When the Natural Environment Research Council decided to leave the naming of the boat to a popular poll in the internet, it — the creation of one James Hand, a former BBC news presenter, in a frivolous moment — came up as the clear winner by thousands.

As is often the case, democracy’s OK so long as it suits the authorities. Already, Jo Johnson, the Science Minister, has indicated that something more decorous will be chosen. To ignore Boaty McBoatface, will hardly be the cause of a national scandal but many people — and probably the researchers who’ll be aboard the boat in future years — will be disappointed that science can’t have fun, too.

Thus far, but no further . . . thank you very much

Young women in the advanced industrialised countries in recent years — though not yet in agrarian societies — have finally gained career equality. Indeed, because women’s intellectual abilities develop naturally some three or four years ahead of men’s, they now out-earn men of the same age in most professions up until the age of between about 20 and 30 years.

During those years as women begin to take time off from their careers to have children, then men between the of ages about 35 to 40 years of age and onwards finally have a chance of catching up and gaining equality of earnings — if not. in many cases, also retaining the superiority that they used to have until recent years.

The above holds true except in professions where there is a high rate of promotion opportunities — where personality-competition is quite as important as intellectual-competition.  In those cases then women don’t fare too well. They are not happy with personality-competition, even more so when applied between themselves than when they to apply it against men.

On the other hand, men will act forcefully against competitors whether they are men or women. Thus, women tend to lose out in gaining leadership positions in politics, say, or in senior management positions in large businesses. There has been a vigorous campaign in recent years to place more women in politics and in senior positions in multinational corporations.

Beyond anecdotal level it’s difficult to nail this topic down. Some recent research by prof Sun Young Lee at University College of London, and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology tends to confirm it. Eight hundred volunteers carried out a series of tasks with same-gender groups and otherwise, and found that female participants would rather complete with male o[-workers.

Why should women confine themselves to just one career in life as men do? They have the chance of a far more skilful and satisfying career, running successively or in parallel that men can never remotely experience.

Hiving upwards, devolving downwards

In “Why global governance is making the EU irrelevant” in today’s Sunday Telegraph, Christopher Booker makes a case which is only partially true. Apparently the EU is taking credit for abolishing roaming charges in the EU — which can be as much as 38p (50 cents) a minute — when, in fact, the EU is now following the rest of the world.

The decision has been due to a gathering weight of opinion form from a series of international organisations such as the International Telephone Users Group (INTUG), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and finally the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Therefore, Booker maintains, the EU ought to get real about the way the world is governed. He’s implying that the larger an organisation the more powerful it is.

Christopher Booker is confusing size with power. Size is only one factor. A much more important one is expertise within a small repertoire of objectives. An international organisation that gathers together expertise about its own special interest from like-minded groups in different countries can become very influential in due course and individual governments will often fall into line sooner or later.

A large or international organisation with too many and too general objectives is nowhere near as influential, and thus less powerful, compared with those with a few, more specific interests.  For example, the United Nations Organisation, the same as its forerunner, the League of Nations, has fallen down miserably in its main task of keeping peace and moderating extreme national behaviour all round the world, yet its score or so specialised agencies, such as FAO, UNESCO and WHO can effectively take the lead over individual governments when necessary.

In these modern times of increasing complexity when nation-state governments are endeavouring to control too much, the hiving off of many decisions upwards to specialised international bodies is inevitable. The Brussels bureaucrats are not naive. They’ll be fully aware of this.

But many nation-states may also have to devolve power downwards to smaller entities in order to solve rather more basic, humane problems, such as welfare, crime, community satisfactions and levels of job satisfaction in an increasingly automated age. In these respects, the EU commissioners are no more alive to them than other over-large organisations such as China, India and America which, in due course, will probably turn out to be just as ungovernable and fragile as the EU is now showing itself to be.

The successor to Queen Elizabeth

It is beginning to to look as though the succession to Queen Elizabeth has now been decided.  Prince William the grandson, not Prince Charles the son. The bonus for this — from the Palace civil servants’ point of view — is that Kate, being the ‘genuine’ wife of William, will become a real Queen. If Prince Charles had become King then Camilla — someone with whom Charles had lived ‘in sin’ with for many years and thus not fully-approved by the Church of England as a wife — would still have become sort of consort. When they married they didn’t have a full cathedral job.

Earlier this year there were rumours that Prince William was kicking up about the number of official duties he was being drafted to do by the Palace civil servants. He wanted to get back to his real job — flying an east coast emergency helicopter — he said. And then here was a flurry of official jobs, and also some for Catherine on her own, even though she now has two young children.

And now, latest official duty of all, William and Catherine are now in Bhutan, meeting King Jigme Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema. It is supposed to be an official visit but it is difficult to see what possible interests we have there. We don’t even have an Ambassador there.

It looks as though Palace officials have now crossed their constitutional Rubicon by finally getting Prince William’s agreement — and, presumably, Prince Charles’ in the background. From now onwards, the longer the Queen survives, and the older Charles, now 68, becomes, the easier it will become for Palace officials to put the case to the general public

If the Queen survives another few years then Charles will be in his 70s. “After all”, Palace officials will say, we really can’t appoint a 70-year old into such an onerous job. Which is rubbish, of course. Kings or Queens of England these days needn’t have any official duties at all if they don’t want them. It’s only a ceremonial position. Their one and only constitutional act — the signing of all Acts of Parliament could easiiy be dispensed without the slightest effect.

There we are then. None of this posting is of any importance at all save to illustrate just how vacuous the ‘establishment’ of this country is — and just how credulous most of the public are.

Greenery is good for you

It is fairly well proved that living surrounded by greenery promotes good health — dramatic in the case of respiratory diseases — improves mental health, reduces mortality, and lowers depression.

All this is revealed by a research team under Peter James at the T. H. Chan School, a post-graduate department of Harvard University. They collated the medical records of 100,000 Americans between 2000 and 2008 with the amount of greenery around their homes, this being measured from satellite photos. They controlled for a lot of other factors that might have affected the results but not whether it was a case that people with a higher level of health already might have been attracted to greener environments.

Nevertheless, despite the experiment not being fully scientific, the result must have some weight. One interesting question to ask is whether a partiality exists for living in a green environment. If Carl Jung, the famous Swiss psychologist (1875-1961) were alive now he would ascribe this to ‘ancestral memory’, if not going back to early man, then to living in the countryside in pre-industrial times.

Also if Jung were alive today he might realise that evidence is building that ‘ancestral memory’ might well exist. Pleasant memories of the past — from before your lifetime — can, in fact, be activated. This is due to the recent discovery of epigenes, chemical markers that can be attached to genes and can intensify or modify the expression of emotions. These can also be inherited and can run on from generation to generation. Fear of snakes can be inherited. There is no reason, in principle, why pleasure of greenery — or at least of the colour green — should not also be heritable.

Reform or divide

Now that job specializations are growing apace, governments of advanced countries now have the option of dividing into two populations or remaining as one.

Division always happens in a large enough population of a species if opportunities for survival become differentially graded from one end of its environment to the other. One part of the population becomes more skilful in taking advantage of one set of opportunities, gradually separating itself from the majority, while the other usually remains much as it was.

Today there is a premium on intelligence in the modern, increasingly competitive world, requiring high expertise in a growing number of specializations. If a government allows separate education systems to exist — private and state — such as occurred in England and half a dozen other advanced countries in the last 150 years, in which one is superior to the other, then an elite upper middle class population is clearly separating at the present time.

In England, initiated by a previous Labour government but continued since by Tory administrations, reform has begun but it’s difficult to judge whether they will be deep enough or fast enough. Speed of reform is, of course, important, because there has never been so much scientific research — and thus innovations — as ever before.

As there are no new consumer goods on the horizon – rich and poor alike in the advanced countries seem content with what they have now — nobody has any new ideas anyway! — then innovations will be channelled into sophisticated consumer services rather than goods — particularly in health and education — but mainly into production goods and methods. Prosaic though this sounds, it will have the effect of raising overall efficiency and thus standard of living.

Furthermore, because the bulk of scientific research is now going into biology then we will be moving away from a metals-based economy requiring high-intensity energy inputs towards a carbon-based economy, increasingly based on DNA-type algorithms needing only low intensity energy.

Not only that, but because such new materials require only atmospheric carbon dioxide and water as their main resources, goods will be now be able to be ‘grown’ in most parts of the earth which are receiving reasonable quantities of solar radiation.

Educational reforms in England are now only ten years old. It is going to need at least another 50 to judge whether they are successful. In practice, the time-slot is actually rather short compared with the rate of innovations that now impinges on us.  If educational reform is not fast enough and effective enough then the a distinctly two population England is here to stay — and intensify from now onwards.

How will countries survive the coming adjustments?

In this weeks’ New Scientist, Fred Pearce, in “Fix capitalism to deliver a low-carbon world” write of some opinions that were given at a recent “sustainability summit”, Adapt or Die? held in the City of London’s Banking Hall last month. A wide variety of chief executives of large insurance companies, banks, other businesses, finance houses think tanks were there.

If there were a four degree rise in global temperature in the coming decades, one of the insurance executives said that the total cost — destruction of soil, flooding of some of the major cities, extensive storm damage — would be too expensive to be insurable. Per Boland, Sweden’s finance ministers said that sustainability from renewable technologies is making sense so far in Sweden. Some of the economists think that so long as governments keep put of the way then the free market would be able cope.

Fred Pearce, together with Steve Waygood of Aviva, one of the largest insurance companies in the world, think that unconstrained capitalism would not be able to curb or compensate for the effects. Financial structures would have to be changed.

I’m on the side of the gung-ho growth economists — but only so far. I think that the effects of global warming — whatever causes it — although deeply serious, will come along steadily enough over the 150 – 200 years contemplated to be dealt with one by one. During that time period, shale gas which, when used in power stations , produces only about half the CO2 as coal or conventional oil. Also, there’s every indication that world population will be coming down and, as it came up in the last 200 years, it will go down very fast from about 2050 to 2075 unless present trends totally reverse.

I don’t go along with Pearce and Wayood, that governments will make the running. So far, even with many governments’ belief in man-made CO2 being the cause, they’ve achieved very little by way lof reducing the carbon footprint so far.

Nor will they. They will have enough on their plate by way of coping with the effect of automation, the welfare demands of their electorates and the fierce trading competition that will be necessary in tomorrow’s world. They’ll come back into their own, no doubt much more efficient and much smaller than now when we’ve finally emerged into whatever characterises the post-industrial society.

Having tried two side-routes . . .

In my last posting I spoke of the population disbenefits of the agricultural revolution. Was it a bad mistake to leave hunter-gathering for it?  No, because it was a case of force majeure. We had already caused almost all easily available prey to go extinct, and we had reached the extremities of survival — such as living in the Arctic Circle or causing too many deserts by forest destruction or having to grow food halfway up mountain sides.

Agricultural cultures brought many disasters with it — human suffering on a vast scale by means of slavery, human sacrifices and warfare. Even in untraumatic times we suffered from fanatical religious governments and nasty oppression of women in every possible agrarian culture the whole world over.

But what about industrial cultures? We are seeing increasing social breakdown, especially from the poorer end of the social order. And, as mentioned in my previous posting, a general vulnerability to new world-wide killer mutations. Unlike the agricultural revolution, the industrial era was not inevitable. It was only an amazingly concentrated set of circumstances in the north of England that ignited it. But once ablaze, there was no stopping it for a century and a half until it started slowing down in the 1980s.

Who and what are to blame for our departures up the side routes of agriculture and then industry. It can only be mutations to brain genes which gave us a large brain and a very curious one when we broke away from ape-like ancestral stock. As well as being social mammals with a while bunch of strongly emotional instincts we are also rational with an intensive interest in what else goes on than merely our own survival. Agriculture and then industry may have been disastrous side-routes in many ways but perhaps they were necessary ones to proceed along first as we now start to adjust to a post-industrial society.

Was the industrial revolution good for us after all?

Medical science has brought about two seriously adverse effects in the modern world. Firstly, in the last 250 years it caused the world population to burst forth from a fairly stable population of about 1 billion. The constraints limiting us to that size were accidents, disease and the final running out of niches where food could be comfortably grown with manual labour.

Today, after the industrial revolution, world population is now over 7 billion — more of us being insufficiently nourished than not — with a pretty sure guarantee that we’ll reach 11 or 12 billion before topping out.

In the advanced countries in the last 20 to 30 years there is growing evidence that health costs for most of their populations are growing too high to be affordable. What with the steady decline in real earnings for most — allowing for inflation — then insurance schemes, whether state or private will not be affordable before too long.  Ironically, this is at a time when popular demands for more sophisticated methods of health care are rising remorselessly.

What makes both dilemmas even sharper is that on the bacterial disease side, because of acquired genetic immunity, we have almost run out of antibiotics that will work.  On the virological disease side, the increasing use of vaccination means that human immune systems are weaker. In the increasingly empty ecological niches in our DNA we will be increasingly unable to cope with newly mutating killer diseases.

Also, because we are increasingly living at high density in cities where both sorts of disease can spread all the more rapidly it is not surprising that epidemiologists are telling us that diseases of high mortality will be inevitable. In the years to come we are probably going to have to re-jig many of the assumptions we have made about the benefits we have gained from the industrial revolution.

Liverpool 4 Bororussia Dortmund 3

What has the above soccer score in last night’s European League Semi-Final got to do with anything outside soccer? Answer — It couldn’t possibly happen.

In the second leg of a two game match, B Doftmund were winning 3 to 1 with 33 minutes to go. You’d have to be a super-optimistic Scouse fan o imagine that your side could possibly win. With 13 minutes left, Liverpool had managed three more. There has never been a quicker turn-around in top-line soccer — nor could it possibly ever happen again. Could it?

In a crazy world where rich speculators make money by betting on the future value of one currency against another currency.  Sooner or later, even the most miniscule discrepancy would be corrected. The problem is when. But if you bet a stupendous amount of money then even the smallest fractional anomaly would repay with a win of billions.

Such was the thinking of two brilliant mathematical economists, Myron Scholes and Robert Merton — both Nobel Laureates.  Associating with a highly experienced financier, John Merriweather, they set up shop as Long-Term Capital Management (LCTM). It was hugely successful and drew in $ billions of other ‘investors’.

It couldn’t fail . . . except that Russia went bankrupt in 1998. LCTM was not speculating in roubles.  Nevertheless, the collapse of Russian finance threw all the other currencies in the world haywire for a while. All of LCTM’s clever maths were concussed — at least for the time being. Its depositors called for their money back. LCTM didn’t have any — it was all ‘invested’ in the longer term. If they were prepared to wait a few years then, when the financial world had settled down again, they might well have been satisfied.

It took a great deal of head-banging by the American government, more or less locking the chief executives of a dozen of the largest banks in a room until they agreed to re-capitalise LCTM with a big loan, pay off its depositors and wind down in an orderly way. They would all get their loan back in due source.

The statistical unlikelihood of the Liverpool-Bororussia game occurs constantly every day of the week in one important sector of life or another. And, as all important sectors involve money directly or indirectly, there is always something out of the ordinary happening somewhere in the world. And, as financial houses of all sorts, particularly banks, have become increasingly inter-connected in the last half century so mishaps have a way of spreading like a contagious disease and, in doing so, have the effect of compounding the situation and increasing the frequency of economic crashes.

Until we have an even halfway sensible monetary system in the world as a grounding for any other cultural currencies such as the dollar, or the pound, or the yuan, then we will always be at the mercy of statistically unlikely events.

Clamping down on secret tax evaders?

It’s hardly likely. The recent highly publicised meeting of finance ministers of Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Spain is no more likely to put an end to tax evasion than from at least a dozen other initiatives in recent years. Prompted by the recent release of the Panamanian Papers which caused a louder outcry than usual, Treasury Departments will no doubt placate the tax-payers in their respective countries with a few cosmetic changes and press releases.

Within each of the five countries, senior tax inspectors belong to the same upper middle class as the tax-evaders they are supposed to nail down.  Many of them, when they become knowledgeable enough about the almost impossibly complex tax codes and are networked enough within their own departments and outside, will retire early and will set up tax avoidance on their own account or become highly paid advisors to businesses.

As for international cooperation, taxation departments of different countries are as imbued with ‘my country right or wrong’ as any other social body. In any culture from hunter-gatherer groups and upwards a strong internal righteousness prevails. There are several single-issue problems when international cooperation can be achieved. There are many more issues where the cultural subtleties and financial interests of one’s own class or country are paramount and always in compeition.

Dumping Grandma on a mountainside

As someone who is 80 but not yet a vegetable — though I could be when I’m 81 — I happen to think about euthanasia quite often and that is should b back pretty soon. “Brought back?”, you might ask. Yes, because every culture in the past practised it. The prosperity resulting from the industrial revolution has pushed the necessity completely beyond our minds and closed the window in the modern culture.

I’m prompted this morning by reading in this week’s Economist of the Japanese practice of ubasute. According to the paper, ubasute was “the mythical ancient custom of dumping Grandma on a mountainside to die.” M’mm . . . there was nothing “mystical” about this sort of euthanasia in older times anymore than a multiplicity of different methods all round the world when times got too tough for feeding all of the members of one’s family or the group through a poor season.

We’re facing an avalanche of old people, now surviving because of modern medical procedures or drugs. Increasing numbers of them are becoming senile and drained of anything that can be called a personality. Some will still be human, but unbearably so as a daily burden — physically or emotionally — to be cared for by immediate relatives. We need to open the window of euthanasia so we can feel more comfortable about talking about the topic. We need to think of humane methods and the criteria of decision-making — much as most of us do about our pets.

Our increasingly grim social hierarchy

It was in the interests of parents in the agricultural era to have as many children as possible so that they could be looked after in their old age by enough children who survived diseases and the general mishaps of life.

In the early half of the industrial age, with better disease control and a cornucopia of consumer goods becoming available, parents could afford to have far fewer children — down to somewhat above two children per woman, the replenishment rate — in order to be looked after in old age and continuing to enjoy their consumer luxuries.

In the later half of the industrial age, parents with private pension funds and the state apparently providing for their old age, and affording the full kit of status goods that was available and a satisfying range of leisure activities in their increasing years of retirement from work, decided to have far fewer children than replacement rate, even though by this strategy they ought to have been aware that the population was heading for extinction in due course.

In the early half of the post-industrial age, the supposedly ‘elite’ part of the population — 15% to 20% — realising that they would probably not be able to continue to subsidise the rapidly increasing welfare demands of the rest of the population, have generally decided to become culturally independent. At the same time, they are now deciding that they might as well start to recover the joys of having replenishment-size families and are now reversing the extinction trends of the remainder of the population.

Thus, in our increasingly competitive world, our instinctive social pecking order is being forced to increasingly grim extents both within nation-states and between them.

More equal earnings perhaps, but . . .

It is still the case that Chief Executives of large EuroAmerican corporations have incomes about 200 times greater than the lowest paid in their businesses, whereas in Japan the ratio is more like 20.

The difference between them is very much to do with the culture both blocs inherited from their pre-industrial era and, in turn, the culture had much to do with terrain and the particular type of hard labour involved in farming.

In our tradition the land — mostly not mountainous — was largely owned by small number of aristocrats and their incomes were derived from the thousands of others who toiled away — not particularly skilfully — growing cereal crops on each land-owner’s estate.

The aristocrats lived prosperous leisurely lives and it didn’t matter very much if — within reason — the weather varied from years to year or if some of the tenant farmers or farm labourers who worked for them were lazy.

Japan, however, is 95% mountainous and so rice could only be grown in relatively small pockets of land. There were no aristocrats of the land-owning variety so there were only rich peasants and poorer peasants. The slightest change in the weather would produce a highly variable flow of water down the mountainsides so every farming hamlet had to pay the most careful attention to regulating the sluice gates and irrigation channels.

Any lazy or irresponsible peasant among them could cause a complete wash-out of everybody’s smallholding sending all its top-soil elsewhere or, on the other hand, deprive the community of a great deal of water to fill the terraces at crucial times when they needed to be.

All this explains the disparity in hierarchical differences between EuroAmerica and Japan. Their traditional cultures have persisted even though EuroAmerica began industrialising 250 years ago and Japan 150. No doubt in both countries, as we proceed into a post-industrial era, the income differentials will regress to something similar, but that may be hundreds of years away, such is the persistence of culture in people’s minds.

But this is too big an assumption to make just now. As we proceed into a post-industrial society, a much higher standard of education is going to be necessary. Meanwhile, competition between countries will be intensifying as products and services become increasingly sophisticated in the EuroAmerican countries.

Perhaps although income differentials between the very rich and the very poor will regress to an acceptable middle range, yet the overall cultures of advanced countries will themselves be dividing bodily. It has happened many times before in mankind’s more distant past and is called sympatry.

Whenever an environment — and in our case this includes the world economy, too — starts to span a wider range thn previously then some parts of a species will specialise in some survival activities and other parts in others. There’s more than a suggestion already in some of the EuroAmerican countries that an elite sub-population — of about 15% to 20% — is pulling itself away from the rest. Better educated — and better connected — by far than most of the population, they’re already responsible for almost all the decisions that need to be taken to keep the nation-state on the road.