Plainly, all empires collapse. The much more interesting and difficult questions are “Why?” and “When?”
As to the why, there is a fair bit be said for the explanation of Joseph Tainter, who in 1988 published The Collapse of Complex Societies. In short, he tested various popular explanations about why civilisations collapse against numerous case studies. The usual explanations of moral decay, disease, innovation et cetera do not stack up very well. Instead, it is when the ER0EI – as applied to social complexity – falls off that an empire is ruined. In large measure, this social complexity manifests itself in the expansion of a class of information producers and analysts who are not involved in primary resource production. Bureaucrats, in other words.
There is a thing called the Vanguard Myth. At the early stages of the development of an empire, there are benefits to be derived from increased levels of complex bureaucracy. But after a while, those benefits tail off, and then become negative. The bureaucrats, of course, do not see that; they see themselves as in the vanguard of development, and forge ahead doing more of what they have previously been doing. Eventually, a tipping point is reached. It is in this zone that the risk – which eventually becomes a certainty – arises of collapse.
What is the topicality of all of this? Well, it is to do with the “When” part of the question. Adapting an old syllogism:
- All empires collapse,
- The EU is an empire,
- The EU will collapse.
But when? There is a detailed and interesting analysis of this by Gwythian Prins, which is to be found on the Briefings for Brexit website. Gwythian Prins is a bright chap. He taught history and politics at Cambridge for over 20 years, is Emeritus Research Professor at the LSE and since 2016 has been senior academic visiting fellow at the École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr. For various detailed reasons, which he spells out, he thinks that the collapse of the EU might be coming sooner rather than later. He starts with the Tainter Continue reading
There has been some interesting archaeology coming out of Orkney, and particularly the Ness of Brodgar, recently. And some evidence that Orkney might have been at the cultural centre of Britain a few thousand years ago. Developing the technology that led to Stonehenge.
But why? It’s frigging freezing there!
But here’s the thing. In those days it was quite a bit warmer. Much warmer than today. So quite pleasant. Despite what the bat-shit crazy neo-religious scare mongers are trying to tell you, the ice core data from Greenland (quite a good proxy for the Orkneys) tell us that the Medieval Warm period (when mankind flourished) was warmer today. And the Roman period (when mankind flourished) was even warmer than that. And the Minoan period Continue reading
I am no believer in the notion that Jack is always as good as his master. Just occasionally, he might be. But far more often, the captains of industry are smarter, have trained more and now work harder than most. I have no problem with them earning, say, 20 times what the person sweeping the floor in their business earns. Or even 20 times what their average employee earns. As my old friend Will Hopper noted in his excellent book The Puritan Gift, that was pretty normal among the great companies of the Western World as they were becoming great.
But 200 times? No. That is obscene. No one needs 200 times. Not only is it grossly unjust, but it is bad for business. But it is happening, in the USA, and also in the UK. The Spectator Continue reading
I had some business in London, and decided I might as well fly home via New York and then Houston.
My own past experience of New York is that it is a hard place to like. For my money, it is too noisy, too ugly, the people (or at least some of them) are too graceless and I do not cope well with the smell of urine and vomit in the streets being never far away. But this time, surprisingly, I enjoyed myself.
Partly, of course, this was because it was such a pleasure to spend some time with my son Charlie, and to see how happy he is with his beloved. And partly it was because the Penn Club, where I stayed, was very civilised, with a decent library.
But there are things I do not understand about New York. For example, why do the immigration officials need to be so gratuitously unpleasant. Unlike Heathrow, where one is met with a smile and a, “Good morning. May I see you passport, sir?” the reception at JFK is as though one is a felon being processed for a period of incarceration. Not all New Yorkers are like this, of course. The servers in restaurants are typically helpful and charming. Then again, the servers in NY restaurants rely on tips. Perhaps they should stop paying the US immigration officials, and make them rely on tips?
It was 4th July, so we planned to go to Charlie’s girlfriend’s roof terrace to watch the fireworks. But it was raining. So we didn’t. Being 4th July – Independence Day – the New York Times back page reproduced the whole of the Declaration of Independence of 1776. Including Continue reading
I was in South America last week, so had time for a bit of plane reading whilst flying over the Pacific.
A really good read is Holger Eckhertz’ collection of interviews with German soldiers who fought on 6th June 1944: D DAY Through German Eyes.
One of the recurrent themes was the resentment that was apparently common among these German soldiers of the English. Not, surprisingly, for frying them to a crisp (often quite literally, with flame throwers and phosphorus bombs). They seemed to think that was fair enough. But because they felt that they had gone to good deal of trouble achieving – as they saw it – a United Europe, and just when they were busy fighting off the common enemy (the Russians) the English – instead of being good Europeans – were stabbing them in the back. This phrase – a United Europe – cropped up again and again.
Equally recurrent was their perception that the vast majority of the French among whom they had been living in Normandy were entirely on side with them (the Germans) and the Anglo-Saxon invasion by British, US and Canadian troops was violently unwelcome to the French. There were a few exceptions among Continue reading
The Guardian has put up a skit in which, they say, “Patrick Stewart, Adrian Scarborough and Sarah Solemani expose the problems in the Conservative plan for a UK bill of rights.”
Well, no, actually.
The Guardian is the newspaper of choice for the Watermelons, and famous for its inability to spell. It is not famous for being funny. Except inasmuch as it is the butt of long-running jokes in Private Eye.
Human rights is one of those topics like UFOs, fairies and homoeopathy – it tends (with some noble exceptions) to be those people with the greatest interest in it that are the most misguided. It sounds good, of course. But when it comes to the details, what one sees time and time again is that the protections of something like the European Convention on Human Rights are protections that are already present in a well-developed legal system like English law. And so, in the various “What has the ECHR done for us?” questions posed in the skit, it turns out that the answer is “Nothing useful at all”. The gloss that it adds to the rights that were there all along is pretty much all bad news, harming the lives of citizens, not protecting them.
In short, the ECHR does a very poor job in areas where the English law had already done rather better. The skit is wrong on every Continue reading
Donald Trump is obviously a bigot. He has earned a pile of scorn for saying that most Syrian refugees are men. He reportedly said:
When I looked at the migration, when I looked at the line … where are the women?… There look like very few women. Very few children. Strong, powerful men. Young. And people are looking at that and saying, ‘What’s going on?’
In reality, it appears that about half of the refugees are roughly equally divided between men and women. The men seem to be rather more at the front of queue, but we need to look at the whole queue. So, as usual, Trump is over-egging the pudding.
But, but, but, he is probably right about the demographic of all those refugees who participated in mass sexual molestation in Germany on New Year’s Eve. And the lefties have a fair point when they say, “Would you not prefer to run away to live in Europe rather than stay and fight for your country”. And they are also right that the refugee men are not properly equipped to fight. But there remain a couple of residual problems with that Continue reading
So, there is an agreement, of sorts, which has come out of COP21. I thought I would have a quick look to see what it says (see below for the text).
Unsurprisingly, it is away with the fairies. For example, we get this on the first page:
Recognizing that climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet…
Now there are a number of problems here, not least Continue reading
Depending on quite how you count, there were about 7 crusades from 1096 to 1254. They were all based on the same essentially potty notion of the Western Powers, that it would be a good idea to go and invade the Middle East. As dumb an idea then as it is now. There are few interesting things to note about the whole deal:
- It was driven by religious dogma. It was not OK at all to deny the conventional wisdom.
- The support for the Crusades spread across almost of all the European nations. Sure, they were being whipped along by the Pope. But it is remarkable that all of these nations, led by cynical, self-serving pragmatists, were on board.
- They kept on doing it for some 250 years. That is a long time to be doing something that did not work, and served no useful purpose.
Which brings me to COP21, the equally daft junket in Paris this week. There are some parallels with the older Crusades. The global warming/climate change scare is essentially Continue reading
I looked at my old school magazine last week, which arrived in the mail. They have obituaries, so you can check up to see if you are dead. Not yet in my case.
My eye caught this, a review of the autobiography of Lord Richards of Herstmonceux, with whom I shared a prep room and with whom I played rugby. But not a classroom – although a little older than me, he was academically in the year behind.
He was always an enthusiast, and has obviously Continue reading