When will they be sending for the men in white coats?

The American Constitution was the wisest political document of its time.  Having got rid of the British government in the 18th century, America rightly decided that the biggest problem of its time was that others would rush in to obtain absolute power.

It therefore decided that future potential power holders — the president, other elected politicians, sivil service, lawyers, military, business, church, trade unions, must be expunged permanently from the possibility of power or modifiable.  The three seen to be the safest to govern were the President, Congress and the Supreme Court.

Presidential decisions — except for declaration of war — can be modifiable by his immediate advisors, such as the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense, Congress before being instituted, or, after the event, by Congress as a cricket back-stop. Or it can also be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court as a boundary back-stop or by the shouts of the people in the streets outside the ground as an ultimate back-stop after a disastrous decision has been made.

Also, as an important point which I now haven’t the time to develop further but must be mentioned is that the highest grades of American graduates that are actively recruited by the potential power-holders and mentioned above should also, these days, include media journalism.  In condemning the media, as he has done, Trump confuses the gutter press with the quality press. In recent years, it has only been the quality press that has exposed high level corruption.

At least a dozen decisions by President Trump in his first week have greatly disturbed half of the more thoughtful Americans, as being against the whole style of American culture.    While Trump is intelligent and an expert is property transactions, he is a case of ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’.  He is already being talked about as “mad” by individuals who’ve been high in government.

The Republican Party, which must now take responsibility for allowing Trump to take their name while he was campaigning, will probably have to impeach Trump for incompetence before too long and sending for the white van.  At least a quarter, perhaps a half, of those who normally vote Democratic will support such a decision.  It seems to me that it’s just a question of when.

Solar cell plus direct electricity

Arthur Cordell writes as a Comment to my recent blog about driverless cars and all-electric ones:  “Goodbye fossil fuels, hello electric cars. Where will the electricity come from? From nuclear of course.”

Only France derives a substantial proportion of its non-transport energy needs from nuclear power, but now that the first generation of stations is experiencing an increasing number of problems, the government cannot be  confident about the reliabilitly of the next generation.

Meanwhile, world over-population, following present trends, is almost certain to start decreasing steeply in 100 to 150 years’ time. The bulk of electricity demand will be more than taken up by shale gas power stations — with half the production of CO2 from conventional fossil fuels.

Meanwhile also, the further development of solar cells, production of electricity in desert regions plus the use of direct current transmission lines — that is, not alternating current —  into the major cities will bring down the costs of energy use enormously.

Perhaps Yes to the Wall

It is sometimes said that walls are ineffective when preventing the entry of large numbers of desperate economic migrants. This isn’t so. The energy mustered by the home population when protecting their territory is more than fully equal to the task. In many species of animals and birds, opportunistic males, however powerful or desperate, seldom manage to evict a resident male from his own territory.

The EU wall, or fence, starting in the northernmost tip of Finland — to keep out migrants coming through Russia — and zig-zagging southwards through the Balkans until it reaches the Mediterranean, is a good example. Over the course of a year it is probably successful within a dozen or two individuals. The only weak spot in the EU border is the sea-borne route between Libya and Sicily used by young Africans. What are now modest numbers of them are now accumulating in Italy — and still being refused jobs in a country which is on the verge of a declining population!

The Mexico-Texas wall was partially built in President Bush’s time, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be finished off relatively quickly. Perhaps it ought to be now in order to assuage half the American electorate but mainly to allow Trump to save face and greatly modify many other of his hastily signed Executive Orders, many if which are abhorrent to any modern advanced civilization.

Hudson’s Theory of Economics in less than 300 words

The industrial revolution was a unique event taking place between about 1780 and 1980. The first five decades were driven by a new class of middle class entrepreneurs aspiring to become aristocrats, and subsequently by working class people aspiring to become the new middle class. By then also, traditional mechanical principles were giving way to new scientific discoveries that had proceeded since the times of Galileo (around 1600).

By 1980, the repertoire of status goods was exhausted and the world financial sector had become deeply complicated by the need to somehow keep high consumer demand growing at previous levels — around 3.5% per annum. It didn’t succeed and the monetary system blew up during 2007/8.

By 1980, the same seven countries that had initiated the industrial revolution — Britain, France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Germany and America — still dominated world trading in high value goods because they had a monopoly of what was by then many centres of fundamental scientific research. They still do so today, keeping one another supplied with the very latest improved version of each of the status goods in the standard repertoire.

The remaining countries of the world will industrialise as best they can, but will never be able to break into the high-value trading ring of the seven advanced countries. They will become trapped at standards of living only a little more advanced than where they are now unless massive injections of high-intensity energy can be added into the world economy. This is unlikely to say the least. Otherwise, the world economy, being a physical system, will accord to the basic laws of thermodynamics, including “the law of least effort”. Thus they’ll stay approximately at a level of where they are now. Most of the countries of the world can only aspire to a decent standard of living by reducing their populations.

The fate of two innovations

Two major innovations for future consumers have been much mentioned in the last few years. They are driverless automobiles and all-electric automobiles. However, the former has hardly been mentioned in the media in the more recent months. This is a surprise, considering that Google (Alphabet) are developing it, and I can only conclude that the original motivation behind it is declining now.

The all-electric automobile is entirely another matter. We read and see mention of this every day of the week, not merely as desirable but of the highest priority if we want to live in healthy cities and avoid breathing toxic fumes and particles. Several major manufacturers are already planning to make electric vehicles.

They’ll be expensive to start with, and batteries that are quick-chargeable — and reliable! — need a great deal more development yet, but the final days of petrol and diesel engines are already numbered, at least among the social elite in the cities they espouse for work and leisure.

A space very much to be watched

Netanyahu is nothing if not quick off the mark. No sooner had President Trump started to sign off some executive actions on Monday, overruling previous vetoes of Obama, then Israel decided to activate a plan strongly opposed by Obama — to build 566 houses in the West Bank on land sold to them by their Palestinian owners.

Yesterday, even more astonishingly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced yet more plans to build 2,500 settlements in west Jerusalem. Otherwise, without the triumphant ascent of Trump in America, these plans might not have seen the light of day for another ten or twenty years.

The Middle East is a powder keg. Could not these Israeli announcements be provocative? Start a war perhaps? It could be. The ramifications are well nigh unimaginable. A space very much to be watched from now onwards.

More transparency is required

The controversy over the failure of a Trident missile test last June is greater than might be imagined.  Did the government know the reason for the failure before the House of Commons decided a few days later on renewing funding for the system?

That’s serious enough, but there’s something far more problematical involved.  All computer systems and all electronic components are vulnerable to being degraded due to cosmic radiation from outer space or from radioactive bedrock underground.  Could this have affected the Trident system? It could well have been the case.

Everything we presently rely on by way of banking and financial systems will break down sooner or later due to radiation damage.  Indeed, it has been calculated that none of our computers will be operational well within 100 years.  Some fail-safe tandem systems will have to be developed before too long.

This is potentially going to require a great deal more transparency from government than this Trident incident.

The most puzzling US President — ever

Before today expires within half-an-hour or so I had better make mention of today’s inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of America.

I haven’t commented on him so far because it is impossible to assess just what changes he is going to be able to make — or try to. He has obviously not thought through any policy changes himself. We also have little idea about his background, personality and mental make-up. He’s contradicted almost every one of his most controversial statements within a day or two.

As far as I’m concerned, he’s the most puzzling US President — ever.

Mankind’s declining intelligence?

A recent article in ScienceAlert, “Natural selection is causing a decline in human ‘education genes’, say scientists”.

Their case is dubious on several grounds, the main one being that of the half-dozen genes that make the largest contribution to intelligence, each one of them only influence about 1% to the individual’s total IQ test score. Other gene variations [mutations] which have some small effects — positive or negative — on inherited intelligence are scattered around our DNA in their hundreds.

At present, we very likely are a little less intelligent than our neolithic forebears of 10,000 years ago because an accumulating backlog of harmful recessive genes has built up and has caused a slight dilution of intelligence-related genes.

The only way this will be reversed is when couples intending to have children will have their fertilised eggs examined as a matter of course as they do now in IVF clinics. Any fertilised eggs that that contain a duplicate example of a harmful recessive gene — one from each parent — can be removed from the possibility of re-implantation in the mother.

Another way of dealing with this is by the recently developed technique of gene editing. In this case a potentially harmful recessive gene can be removed entirely and a ‘standard gene’ substituted before re-implantation of the egg in the mother.

Both of the above solutions will be a long-haul solution to the problem in the population as a whole — but then it was long-haul aggregation of harmful recessive genes that caused it in the first place.

Let’s wait awhile

It is quite obvious to any objective observer that the global warming of the last 150 years or so has not had anywhere near the dire effects that have been forecasted by the IPCC.  For example, in the last 30 years, the melting of the Arctic sea ice during the summer has been confidently forecasted three times — and has not happened.

Yet we’ve also had several naturally warm periods during the 10,000 years since the retreat of the last Ice Age.  In the last, known as the Medieval Warm Period, at around 1300 there were Viking farms along the east cost of Greenland and development of agriculture in this country. In the previous warm period, when the Romans were here, we grew prodigious quantities of grapes.  Another previous one was in the Bronze Ages.

Global warming causes a great amount of stress, it’s true.  Species die out — but then new species arise, and some food species are giving us 15%% better crops. The signature areas of species move north — but then those of other species move south. Sea levels may rise by a metre or two — previously, mankind has had to deal with rises of 150 metres or so.

Euthanasia in tomorrow’s culture

The culture of populations in advanced countries is steadily proceeding in three stages towards euthanasia, the last stage being widely practised — if not universally — when we were hunter-gatherers.  As observed by anthropologists, the last stage — usually thoughtfully or kindly — inevitably taking place in a tribe when it could no longer afford continuing support of one of its old folk, either economically or emotionally.

In reverse, the third stage took place even with the consent of the candidate when he or she knew that, otherwise, there would be insufficient food to feed the latest baby.  If present-day knowledge of medical science proceeds as now and food is increasingly appropriated by the higher social levels then the middle and lower levels will begin practising full-scale euthanasia.  If indeed it has not already started quietly.

The preceding stage would have taken place in advanced society without the consent of the candidate, but whose personality had long since departed and totally unable to fend for himself or herself.  A great deal of this already goes on quietly in hospices and hospitals.  It was indeed formalised as the Liverpool Care Pathway. Although premature publicity has caused this to be withdrawn, it will return more widely in another form before too long.

The first stage — where we are now — is when the candidate, not others, initiates the process.  Some find willing helpers among the family or the local doctor and they set about it quietly, though some are more ostentatious by travelling to the Dignitas organisation Switzerland.

It is unfortunate that the Assisted Dying Act was thrown out of Parliament some weeks ago when it was known beforehand that there was a good majority of MPs in favour of it — as there is also in the electorate.  But its time will come in a few years’ — or even months’ — and the national culture will start changing quite rapidly.  Meanwhile, stages two and three will also be proceeding.  The prosperity of the last 80 years or so is now coming to an end, and it is the economics of the situation — the survivability of the population — that will determine the outcome.

Long live the Revolution!

Since the 2008 Crisis, and, in the seven years following it, the almost complete economic passivity of the dozen advanced countries of the world, several authors have come out with theories why and how this has happened.  My own hypothesis is that the industrial revolution in England was actually a unique occasion and has largely played put by the 1980s.  Nothing remotely like it was ever to be repeated.

But leaving my own view on one side, some think that the present lassitude is due to a drying up of creativity as a whole. In a recent op-ed,”Progress is bunk . . . “, the writer opines that nothing new is being created in modern times.  I dispute this.  The dearth of innovations since the 1980s is a falling off only of new status goods, not of everything else.

By “status goods” I mean the goods we buy at the highest price we can afford at the time in order to show our social status — homes, cars, furnishings, clothes, personal ornamentation, entertainment, etc — to our friends, colleagues, neighbous and anybody else we wish to impress.  All of us have a great need to show pretty well exactly where we are — or where we think we are! — in the pecking order.

As for all other innovations, creativity continues.  We can instance mental and physical labour-saving tools, more efficient infrastructure — particularly of energy — more pleasant environment, editing harmful genes, carbon compound equivalents to metal-based items, health care, breeding of exotic species, space travel.  All this follows from a continuing explosion of scientific research.

The Revolution is dead.  Long live the Revolution.

Finding a way forward

One of the consequences of the highly complex nation-states of the First World is the rise in the number of professional interest groups that are at once protective and equally desirous of advancing their influence at governmental level. At the same time, the number of political views is rising pari passu among the electorate.

Thus in the UK — keeping to the myth that we are a ‘united’ country — we have at least 10 distinctly different political groups already. The Tory party has two different types, the Labour party also — even more definitively — England has four — LibDems plus Ukip plus London and the provinces — Scotland three, Wales two, Northern Ireland three.

If we had proportional representation at election times we’ d have anything between 15 and 20 political parties after our votes. In Holland, a country very similar to us economically and culturally, there are 15 political parties at elections because they have proportional representation.

There are those who say that multi-party governments make for too much complexity. That/’s not a cogent argument — it is the normal exigensies of modern life which produces such a wide varietys of viewpoints in the population and indecisiveness at governmental level.

What we actually need are 10 to 20 — or more — governments, each dealing with one important area of policy-making and legislation. Like any multinational corporation, each of them can be layered into no more than four or five layers of expertise — and not well over 20 as in the present civil service.

The democratic nature of this set-up can be guaranteed for every member of the public by having the right to join at least one of the most basicgovernment groups, membership being maintained by a high standard of attendance. Periodically, each group can then elect a smaller number of their own to proceed to the next higher level where they may be joined by invited members of the civil service and by expert witnesses.

Two or three further elections and conjunctions of more and higher experts would take each government committee to the top for final legislation. Of course, in many cases, if not all of them, the findings of one government might have be merged into those of another. Thus a great deal of cross-governmental polities would have to be negotiated.

Difficult maybe, but not impossible. I commend this idea for your consideration.

David in Putinland

The latest “evidence” concerning Trump, which turns out to be stories rather than hard fact reminds me of a retired senior MI6 who spoke fleetingly on Newsnight some years ago who said: “By far the most of the guidance that the secret services present to prime ministers has been distilled from reading their [foreign country’s] press.”

Once again, I don’t want to sound as though I’m a Trump supporter — which I am not — but, as he said recently, the American CIA has completely overlooked the building up of so many serious events, that one has to be sceptical of whatever it produces, particularly when there’s a political agenda involved.

2016 — the start of the Biological Revolution

One day, some humans may have wings and fly in the air and other have gills and swim in the sea. This will be by means of gene-editing, a technque that has only been developed in the last ten years.  By this method a gene in your DNA might be identified and neatly extracted, or modified.  Perhaps also, a gene new to your DNA can be added.  When will flying or swimming humans be possible?  Who knows?   At present it certainly seems like hundreds of years away.

In the meantime, gene-editing will be used to delete or modify harmful recessive genes that gives you or your children an illness — or a propensity to it.  Thousands of such genetic diseases have already been identified with varying frequencies in the form of single copies in  individuals ranging from 1 in 20 to 1 in 100,000.  Such single copies are carried but don’t physically express themselves, only when they match up with an identical one in the other set of DNA contributed by the mother or father of the individual.

How accessible will gene-editing become?  Its benefits are so great that it will become rationed just as — if not very much more so — is already happening with present-day medical treatments. Just as aspiration for personal status incentivised the industrial revolution so will aspiration for personal good healtth incentivise the biological revolution.

A Tory prime minister introduces a Sharing Society

After being stabbed in the back in this week’s Economist for not having a strategy, Theresa May came out fighting today. In an article in the Daily Telegraph to be followed by a speech tomorrow in which she’ll go into details, May lays out a wide reform strategy aimed principally at the lives of the poor, and also those who are only just managing today. Overall, she calls it the Shared Society.

One must be forgiven for being a tad sceptical about a politician’s utterances, but she sound forceful enough and she repeats herself freqnently enough so as to leave no doubt about her sincerity.  We will await her speech with interest — and, of course, the follow-through.

Immediate retraction!

I need to retract my previous blog within hours of writing it.  I have just been listening on BBC Newsnight to the  retired head of the American CIA and also a professor ar one of the London universities who studies hacking.

The hacking emanates from a Russian Army unit containing not just hundreds, but thousands, of  specialists. It has been hacking into foreign political and diplomatic — inter alia — emails for 20 years with implicit permission from Putin — in this case explicitly so no doubt.

On Trump’s side for the moment

One doesn’t have to be a Trump supporter to believe him rather than CIA officials in suggesting that Russian hacking operations into Democratic Party emails, sanctioned by Putin,  swung the presidential election away from Hillary Clinton and towards Donald Trump.

Where’s the evidence?  Yes, there’s evidence that it was Russian hackers who breached the emails of senior Democratic campaigners.  Yes, it has had a controversial effect among US politicians and officials — albeit most of it after the election , not before it.  Yes, it has made the refined operations of the Democratic campaigners look sloppy.

But No, not one voter’s personal testimony has been produced to say that knowledge of the hack beforehand caused him or her to change his vote from the Democrat contender to the Republican.  No, no connection has been shown between the hackers and permission from Putin.

The incident would not have rated as controversial were it not for the increasingly degenerative state of the American political system — closely followed by that of the UK.

The real political power of the civil service

The resignation of Sir Ivan Rogers, the senior civil servant as the head of the Brexit negotiators, following his long email which said that our team doesn’t have a plan ready for March’s negotiations with the EU.

There’s no need to have one right now, with most of January and the whole of February remaining in which to look at all the information and putative arguments in the round.  Sir Ivan has actually let the British team down and given encouragement to the EU negotiators.

The incident has actually exposed two myths about the civil service.  One is that First Division civil servants are supposed to remain politically neutral.  Sir Ivan obviously wasn’t.  The other is that the civil service is supposed to remain in the background and let government ministers take the ‘credit’ for public discussion.  This incident shows that the (unelected) senior civil servant actually has more influence than any minister below prime minister.

The dual effect of pre-1914 Vienna

Atanu Dey has reprimanded me for not mentioning Vienna in my recent blog about the importance of the surrounding culture in fostering innovation (“How to be creative” 26 December).  Indeed !   As the imperial capital of the Habsburg Empire, it is not surprising that Vienna was a highly cosmopolitan city in which the native Austrians were joined with quite large contingents of Italians, Slovaks, Chechs, Hungarians, Moravians, Germans and Jews.  In the period from 1880 to the outbreak of World war One in 1914, Vienna turned out to be what was arguably the most creative city that has ever existed.

All of the different groups had arrived in Vienna at specific times for specific political or economic reasons and were not inclined to be pleasant to one another.  Their relationships were much as those of hunter-gatherer tribes towards their neighbours — extreme wariness at the best of times and downright venomous at their worst.

Only two things held the city in one piece.  One was the liberal-minded Emperor Franz Joseph and the other were the friendships of the intelligentsia of all the national groups as they met at afternoon tea parties, salons, university faculties, symposia and concerts.

With a few additions of my own, the list below has been taken from Democracy, the God that Failed (2001) by Hans-Herman Hoppe. There are at least half-a-dozen geniuses below and a goodly crop of Nobel prize winners.

Among philosophers:
Otto Neurath, Ludwig Boltzmann, Franz Brentano, Rudolph Camap, Edmund Husserl, Ernst Mach, Alexius Meinong, Karl Popper, Moritz Schlick, and Ludwig Wittgenstein;

Among mathematicians:
Kurt Godel, Hans Hahn, Karl Menger, and Richard von Mises ;

Among economists:
Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk, Gottfried von Haberler, Friedrich A. von Hayek, Carl Menger, Fritz Machlup, Ludwig von Mises, Oskar Morgenstern, Joseph Schumpeter, and Friedrich von Wieser ;

Among psychologists:
Sharlotte Buehler, Richard Krafft-Ebbing, Rudolph von Jhering, Hans Kelsen, Anton Menger, and Lorenz von Stein, Alfred Adler, Carl Jung, Joseph Breuer, Karl Buhler, and Sigmund Freud;

Among lawyers and legal theorists:
Max Adler, Otto Bauer, Egon Friedell, Heinrich Friedjung,

Among historians and sociologists;
Paul Lazarsfeld, Gustav Ratzenhofer, and Alfred Schutz;

Among writers and literary critics:
Hermann Broch, Franz Grillparzer, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Karl Kraus, Fritz Mauthner, Robert Musil, Arthur Schnitzler, Georg Trakl, Otto Weininger, and Stefan Zweig;

Among artists and architects:
Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, Adolf Loos, and Egon Schiele, and Alban Berg;

Among composers:
Johannes Brahms, Anton Bruckner, Franz Lehar, Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schonberg, Johann Strauss, Anton Webern, and Hugo Wolf

For the sake of historical balance it must be mentioned that, in the same period as the fecundity above, Vienna also gave birth to a right-wing anti-Semitic political party led by Georg Schoenerer.  This became a major influence in the minds of many, including a recent out-of-work immigrant to Vienna, Adolf Hitler.  In later years, anti Semitism became one of the basic creeds of the National Socialist (Nazi) Party which Hitler founded.  Most of those in the above list were Jews and escaped to live abroad, usually England and America, before certain death awaited them.

A redundant hypothesis

If global warming is due to the production of CO2 at power stations from the burning of coal and oil, it doesn’t really matter whether we continue with vain attempts to control it or not.

In 20 years’ time, once the Chinese have got their remaining 300 millions interior rural poor into factory jobs, world production of CO2 is highly likely to be heading downwards.

This will be hugely assisted by world-wide development of fracked shale gas.  The burning of shale gas produces only half the CO2 as coal or oil.  Contemporary with this is that world population will be starting to dip within the following 20 years.