26 January 2012
London in the Golden Age of Freedom
More here.  Looks grim doesn’t it?  And if so, is that an argument against freedom?  I doubt it.  I think you could probably make an argument about how these people were not only the richest in the world but the richest there had ever been and that no matter how grim it might look to us it was a good deal less grim than had gone before.  Are there other ways of looking at it?
28 May 2011
Sex, Science and Politics - Terence Kealey

Really good and free to me.  And nearly free to you if you can find it remaindered.

Slightly misnamed.  It really should be called “A History of Everything” covering - as it does - history, agriculture, technology and even language. 

Central claim: markets bring forth technology; technology brings forth science.

Fun quote: “..the benefits from doing research do in fact accrue to the researchers because they - and only they - understand other people’s research.”

17 May 2011
Do assassinations work?

Lets see:

Lincoln. Didn’t make a whole heap of difference that I am aware of.

JFK.  Ditto.

McKinley.  I believe that did change things quite a lot - his replacement, Roosevelt being quite the interventionist.

I ask because I’ve been watching an excellent documentary on Yesterday about Hitler’s bodyguard.  It seems there were an extraordinary number of attempts on his life over the years.  But would it have made any difference?  Well, one way to find out is to see if any other assassinations made a difference.

Sadat.  Not really.

Rabin.  I have no idea.

Alexander III.  Again, I really don’t know.  Although didn’t the Tsarist pogroms against the Jews start soon afterwards?  And wasn’t the faked “Protocols of the Wise men of Zion” part of it?  And wasn’t that one of the main influences on Germany’s Anti-Semites?  So, maybe.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand.  Well, you’d have to say the assassins got what they wanted.  At a hell of price but they got it.

Getting back to Hitler, intuitively you feel it would have made a huge difference.  Who but Hitler had the charisma to dominate the Nazi movement?  Who but Hitler would have gambled the way he did?

Further thought.  Hitler and the Nazis are a complete outlier in history.  And therefore we can learn nothing useful by studying them and in fact the lessons we do learn are likely to be the wrong ones.

17 April 2011

I’m watching Blithe Spirit on the telly.  Seances, trances and ouija boards in the 1940s.  It’s amazing how big a thing that sort of thing was back in those days.  It crops up in Brighton Rock and Agatha Christie.  Probably a few other things too.  Arthur Conan Doyle was a firm believer.  So was Dowding.  It was one of the things they used to get rid of the guy.  I guess the death toll in the First World War was a big factor in its popularity.

30 January 2011
How does freedom come about?

There was a comment on this posting by Brian Micklethwait that annoyed me.

Ian B had written:

...you rarely get liberty at the point of a bayonet.

To which Alisdair had replied:

Magna Carta - signed cuz of good-will on King John;’s part ? Or at the pointy end of bayonet-equivalents ?

US getting out from under Lord North’s Privy Council ? Generosity on Lord North’s part ? Or at the pointy end of colonists’ weaponry (and rented mercenaries)?

Israeli democracy - Allah being the Compassionate and the Merciful ? Or at the pointy end of Irgun and Hagganah and other probably not kosher ‘persuaders’ ? (Numerous times since (and including) 1948)

European democracy post 1939 - inevitable voluntary stepping-down by Herr Schicklgruber ? Or at the pointy end of actual bayonets and other less-than-gentle persuasions ?

Are you detecting a pattern, yet ?

You see I ask the question how did particular freedoms come about?  For instance, how did freedom of speech come about in England?  Or, how did slavery end, again, in England?  Or the end of serfdom? Or freedom of religion?

The answer is that all these things came about slowly over a very long period of time.  Warfare had little to do with it.  I am not denying that warfare can be essential in defending an existing freedom but it seems to me that rarely does it extend them.

07 May 2009
The Fall of Rome v2.0

The Fall of Rome v1.0 went something like this:

1. They created for themselves a welfare state (think: bread and circuses)

2. They went bankrupt

3. Gazillions of barbarians brushed past the army which hadn’t been paid and sacked the place.

It would appear that in the West we have met Condition 1, are about to meet Condition 2 and have the barbarians (I use the term in its literal rather than pejorative sense) for Condition 3 in the form of gazillions of actual and would-be immigrants.

Can anything be done about it?  Well, if the ideas of Mancur Olsen (I believe it’s pronounced Man-Sir) are to be believed, not much.  Now you understand I haven’t actually gone to the effort of actually reading anything Olsen wrote but I am reasonably familiar with his ideas.  Or, at least what I think are his ideas.  If they are not his ideas then there’s a good chance they are my ideas which is even better.  Anyway, his argument (or, at least what I think is his argument) is that over time societies introduce ever more layers of regulation creating ever more interest groups.  These laws and interest groups form a tight web that not only stiffles progress but is highly resistant to change.  The only way it can be changed is through the total collapse of the state as in the case of the Soviet Union or Rome.

It is not difficult to think of examples of the kind of thing he’s getting at.  I sometimes imagine what it would be like to be a reforming Transport Minister.  Let’s say I wanted to liberate the railways.  I might, for instance, want to close down loss-making lines but I would be greeted with howls of protest - not to mention the considerable bureaucratic obstacles in the way.  I might wish to end price control and would get much the same response.  If I wanted, heaven forfend, to allow train operators to own the tracks on which their trains ran, first the UK would have to leave the EU - which would mean repudiating a treaty. Big stuff.

And so on and so forth.  And that is just an area I know about.  It’s bound to be repeated right the way across government.

So, a collapse of the West seems inevitable.  But is it a bad thing?  The Dark Ages do not get a great write up but that’s mainly because they didn’t get any sort of write up (great or otherwise) at the time.  It is possible that it’s inhabitants were experiencing a land of milk and honey.  Certainly, it is one of the complaints that my immigrant colleagues make that the West constantly claims how free it is but you just try building yourself a house…

The litmus test will come when the barbarians try to feed themselves.  Given the complexity of modern agriculture with its technology, financial systems and distribution networks we can only hope they succeed.

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