Getting closer to democracy

Now that we suddenly have another General Election coming on us fast on 8 June, an interesting topic for discussion came up on Newsnight last night between an older MP — Tory or Labour I didn’t discern — and the Secretary of the National Union of Students. It was of the increasing reluctance of young people to vote for a House of Commons in which a lot of name-calling is going on — little different from boys’ play-times at junior schools.

What students don’t realise, however, is that serious discussion is also going on in several Select Committees of specialised subjects where about a quarter of the most rational, responsible MPs in the House — from all and any Party — have been selected by informal chairmen, usually already the best informed in their subject. In the last 40 years, these Committees have now built up a reputation for objectivity and fairness and such that they can invite almost anybody they wish for prolonged questioning.

And — fortunately — we don’t have a written Constitution! There is no reason in our case why the reform mentioned above shouldn’t be broadened out into the whole body politic. The civil service already carries out hundreds of Focus Groups every year tapping into English people of all ethnic origins, incomes and both sexes. The result of these help the civil service develop future policies for the most ostentatious arm of the government — the MPs. How much better it will be when the results of these Focus Groups could be revealed to the public so much more quickly than they do these days.

In that case we would be approaching a state of something near to democracy instead of the mark on the ballot paper every few years or so — which often completely misses powerful public controversies building up underneath the politicians’ noses.

A four-ways crossroad

All economists scorn attempts at describing a future world economy. As an economist manque I feel able to avoid the charge by describing an outline of the over 200 nation-states of the world registered with the United Nations in five categories:

1. The ‘Original Six’ and their consequences.  This category comprises England and the five additional countries that responded immediately when a few carpenters rigged a multi-bobbin machine in Manchester that stretched, twisted and span raw cotton into standard cotton thread. The following countries were France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany and America.

From then on, they dominated world production of cotton thread — then highly expensive — and, since then continued to dominate world trade in all high-value goods that consumers were demanding from about 1850 onwards.   It’s not surprising, therefore, that these six still have the highest standard of living in the world.

The Original Six also hold scientific enquiry, testing and measurement high in their cultural scheme of things.  Their labs cover every possible scientific potentiality and are first onto totally unexpected discoveries as they occur from time to time.  They win almost all the Nobel Prizes for scientific subjects every year.  Whether any or all of the Six maintain their present respect for science in the next 100 years only our descendants will know.

2. The ‘Might Catch Up Ten’ countries comprise the three Nordic countries, the three Baltic countries, Denmark, Israel, Taiwan, Iceland, Australia* and Canada.*.  All have great respect for high levels of education and they all have at least one or two scientific projects in which they have a leading edge and have won at least one or two Nobels — small numbers so far but already greatly disproportionate to their small populations. One or two or these — probably Israel — might well break into the ranks of the Original Six in 100 years’ time.

[*Unaccountably I missed these two from the original and have apologised in the Comments..  These have been added in postscript here for the sake of any reader in future weeks who may read this version first.]

3. The ‘Seven Long-Shots’ comprise China, Japan, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, India and Brazil. All these countries have poured vast investment into science, engineering and technology.   They are basically copiers of technology, not originators.  Scientists from all of these countries have won Nobel Prizes but only in miniscule numbers, greatly disproportionate to their large populations — relatively large when compared with those of category 2.

The chances are that this category, as with the first two, will be locked into much the same relative standard of living as they have now.  There’s unlikely to be any significant change until we finally leave the present metal-based mechanical era and move into a future biologically-based services era — in which the two main services, education and health. These will be be very highly priced — that is, needing an altogether more efficient and fairer taxation system.

As for the remaining 180 countries registered with the United Nations, what can we say? They’re likely to have a very bad time in the next 100 years, not being able to break into trading high value goods.  One or two lucky ones might acquire governments which manage to steer them gently, but swiftly, down a steep population control path. Smaller populations will help to raise their standard of living.  Also, some governments might decide seriously to conserve beautiful environments — and attendant animal life — in their domains. This could attract growing numbers of appreciative holiday-makers from the Original Six — plus, of course, accommodating many more scientific research projects than are carried out now.

The two ways children are controlled

The Biological Environment has a strict Birth Control Policy for all species.  Control by instincts.   In our case, it doesn’t restrict a male at the top of the pecking order in any culture he exists in to any number at all.  For practical, political and social reasons of his own the male concerned will ensure that these cultures will be kept out of the media of the modern nation-state.

Otherwise, males in lesser cultures in any of our advanced countries today can also be restricted by the Additional Environment — the nature and earnings of his job. For this reason, populations in the advanced countries are now taking a nose-dive. Males at the top of their profession may have, let us say, six or even a dozen children.   Those at the bottom — and indeed a growing number of those in the middling portion of the pecking order — are now choosing to have no children.

When economic good times resume, the Additional Environment will peel away and the very strong maternal instinct of the female will emerge at full strength.

Let’s get real again

Critics of gold-standard money point to the fiasco that occurred between 1926 and 1931 when the pound was re-established after the War (1914-1918). It certainly was a fiasco. As a result, this country — leading the way with 40 others excluding America — went off the gold standard for good.

The fiasco was due to one simple mistake.  During the War there had been massive inflation to printing nine banknotes for every four that had been printed before the War.  In 1931, should the value of the pound be re-established at a rate of nine to the price of one ounce of gold, or should it be four? Common sense and John Maynard Keynes said, “Let’s stay real and make it nine to one.”

However, the City of London pressured the Bank of England not to lose face — as they saw it — in order to restore their former dominance and prosperity.  The Treasury didn’t object and so, from 1931, we have had nothing but depression after depression. Each has been deeper and more complex than the last — that of 2008 being the worst yet, and still not understood, never mind resolved.

At least four of the most eminent ex-central bankers have said that they fear a worse mometary catastrophe is coming.  Is it not time we had a world trading currency that is totally out of the hands of governments’ printing machines — digitally or on paper?

Software as a second language

Never mind hackers of whatever age or intent, catastrophes will continually affect the Internet — and increasingly, too — as hard cosmic radiation from space and nuclear radiation from underground rock destroy transistors in silicon chips. As the use of robots rises so will be the need for repeated software editing by experienced software writers — a tedious job indeed — to restore the original coding and performance.

To make sure that this as fool-proof as possible it’s been proposed that modules containing suspected errors can be temporarily removed from the ‘mother’ program and then translated into ordinary language.  Formal syllogistic logic can then be applied.  If no faults are found then the module can be replaced and the next suspected area attempted.

Software of highly complex subjects are going to be particularly difficult to inspect on an ad hoc basis. In the years to come, it will pay research scientists to translate everything they do and describe in their normal ordinary language into digital language also.  Once complete fluency is gained then the inevitable error checking can be done so much more rapidly

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know that counts”.

Widely believed and cited, the first statement of the above needs amending slightly. An experienced individual who is promoted to a higher position — or who pushes himself forward — also needs a slightly more forceful personality — more testosterone — than the remainder of his group colleagues. Evolution has averaged this out over millions of years to about one every eighth or ninth male. More frequent than this, then political dissentions for leadership ensure that the friends, wives and children of the two gather behind two candidates and the tribe divides into two.

Outstandingly successful leaders need more than experience or forcefulness — they need to be influential. As they are promoted into groups of higher political and business power they will evince many more subtle qualities — responsibility, honesty, intensive work, openness to possible solutions — and, above all, versatility in socialising efficiently with all sorts of other personalities, whether friendly or hostile.

Whereas governments and business leaders can manipulate the enterprise conditions for the rise and fall of the ordinary forceful — every seventh or eighth male — they can do nothing for those who are more likely one in every 70 thousands born. Their personalities were laid down in their earliest years of life by parents, or nannies and are beyond modification.

A brutal future for many

The scrubbage and desertification of large regions of earth’s previous vast panoply of forests cannot be blamed on man alone. Our strategy is the same as all others. We have always eaten enough food to ensure that our numbers expand and thus remain a viable species.

There’s always a crunch point in every species when they start to collapse. Five of our eight billion lack sufficient nutrition to be healthy and carry out a full day’s active work, or to be actually starving. In addition, due to recent medical technology, we also have about another four billion middle-aged people who will remain alive for another 30 or 40 years, taking the total population up to about 12 billion..

Outside about a dozen advanced countries and about the same number that are almost as advanced, the bulk of the countries of the world should now be dispensing ‘next-day’ contraceptives. Otherwise, the world faces several more decades of nasty civil wars, revolutions, attempts at mass migration — and subsequent brutal repressions — and susceptibility to high infectious killer diseases, as the rest of the world imagines that the ownership of choice status goods gives us supreme happiness.

Changing Japanese culture

According to the Economist this week, bullying is rife in Japanese schools where the whole of a mixed class of about 30 sometimes gangs up on one person, boy or girl. It is the biggest cause of suicide for Japanese between the ages of 10 and 19. Teachers sometimes take part in it. The Japanese department of education have tried innumerable solutions since the 1980s but to no avail. How would an anthropologist solve the problem?

A class of 30 is not really a class but a fickle crowd, so he would divide it into three or four separate groups with — strictlyno more than seven members in any of them. Once a group exists it naturally forms a rank order and a leader emerges. Due to the long-laid evolutionary balance of genes and hormones, any group with seven, eight or more members is liable to contain two contenders — usually males — for leadership and political dissention inevitably will occur.

Given an occasional problem by the anthropologist-teacher — say, a maths problem — the satisfaction of each member having a social role under a leader and with a joint challenge soon supersedes the previous bully situation. The teacher could then set up a final contest between the groups — yet another natural activity of early human groups. It would also introduce three or four slightly different cultures into a class that, until then, only had one. That can’t be bad for Japan more generally, can it?

A closer step to death in the Labour Party?

If ever we needed a neat piece of evidence that Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party (LP) is not a liberal, nor indeed interested in the truth or reality, then we had it some weeks ago in the case of Ken Livingstone when he was kicked out of the LP. A past Mayor of London and a stalwart of the LP for decades — and well-read besides — he quoted Hitler’s own words from his Mein Kamph that he had no more evil intentions against German Jews than repatriating them to their country of origin or to Palestine or to anywhere else

Originally he did not intend slaughtering Jews and other ‘misfits’. That decision only came when he became all-powerful President and incessantly advised by Himmler to do so. Once Himmler was in total charge of the operation and propagandised the proposal throughout the country, vast gas-chamber complexes were built and Hitler, alongside a high proportion of the German adult population, went along it without a murmur.

The decision itself was trivial compared with the immense tragedy of the systematic murder of millions of individuals and families of all ages. But by raising this story amid a Labour Party which is currently pro-Muslim, and anti Semitic — and anti-black — as well as all sorts of policy lacunae — Ken Livingstone deserved to be kicked out not for misquoting history, which he wasn’t, but for grandstanding in such a provocative way during a delicate — if not a terminal — stage of the LP.

“Jaw Jaw is better than War War”

“Jaw Jaw is better than War War” — a saying of Winston Churchill that’s often repeated. But Jaw Jaw, or discussion, or even negotiation, is not the complete antidote to war. In 1939 Prime minister Chamberlain had two lengthy agreements with Hitler during personal meetings but the latter still declared war soon afterwards.

The more effective counterpoint to War War is trade. When businesses on both sides of an international argument are exchanging significant volumes of assets between them, then heads of state think more clearly of what their countries might lose in the case of war rather than what they might gain by way of conquest.

Getting to the top

“Keeping up with the Joneses” is often said in a jokesy comment about an individual or a family that’s obviously trying hard to keep up wirh the latest status fashion. It’s not really a joke, though. It’s a natural activity in which almost everyone takes part — even though some will pretend otherwise.

It’s the method by which those with relevant skills in a group, business or government — rise up through the pecking order — usually between 15 and 30 years of age — until becoming the leader of the group or at least in the small cluster of two or three or four personnel who are loyal supporters of the leader.

The resultant social elite in the leading advanced countries comprises about 15% of the total population. What qualities were required of those who make the elite? With little doubt it’s intelligence, but also with many other socialization skills — which, being so many, and subtle with it, are impossible to summarise. We can be confident in fearing nothing from artificial intelligence for a long while yet.

Are you crystalline or fluid?

A few days ago I heard someone on television whose name I have regrettably forgotten who proposed that we acquire two new sorts of intelligence in our old age. One he called ‘crystalline’ intelligence, the other, ‘fluid intelligence’. Well . . . he wasn’t suggesting that two new developments actually take place in tbe brain, but I think I understand what he means.

Being reclining-chair-bound 24/7 and often not having the energy to do much for periods of time I think a lot about the mistakes and embarrassments of my past life but also of the experiences and skills I have picked up along the way. I have been bulking up my crystalline intelligence. At the same time I often find myself with a problem. It may be an intellectual problem or it may be a matter of a book slipping away from me onto the floor at more than an arm’s distance away.

In the past twelve months or so, it seems to me that my problem solving has become more successful. Not only that but the solutions have involved the conjunction of, often, quite disparate elements. So perhaps we have fluid agents that burrow their way this way and that into relatively huge crystalline data blocks fetching out this item and that until, finally, it is able to assemble them into the unique solution to the current problem.  I like the idea.