It is New Year’s Day, 2020. The newspapers are replete with remarks about the way the last decade went. Few are unwise enough to make predictions about the way the coming decade will unfold. But hey ho. Someone has to do it.
Looking back at predictions that other people have made in the past, a couple of themes emerge. The first is that predictions of impending catastrophe almost always turn out to be groundless. There is obviously something about the human psyche which is attracted, in some way, to notions of terrible times ahead. And so if you are straining in your seats waiting for awful predictions, take a step backwards.
Secondly, even when predictions are more or less right, they tend to overestimate rates of change. By and large, things happen in the world pretty slowly, and probably rather more slowly than they did century or so ago.
Trying to keep these thoughts in mind, here is my brief time capsule, to be opened in 10 years’ time. It would be hopeless to expect that they will all be right.
My guess is that there will be Continue reading
Most people (including many in the Labour Party) are hoping that Jeremy Corbyn never, ever gets into No 10. But elections have been unpredictable thing these days. If, heaven forbid, an unholy pact of EU Remainers gets him in, there will be a morbid fascination among us expats as to how long it will take him to lead the UK into financial ruin.
Venezuela is a sort of precedent. There, the socialists shifted one of the wealthiest countries in South America to disaster in around 7 years. In that time, of course, the destruction of the economy was pretty complete. That nightmare is, of course, not yet over for them.
Australia is another example. Its socialist Prime Minister Gough Whitlam managed to destroy the Australian economy in just 3 years. By the end of that time, having trashed public finances, he had engaged a dodgy agent from Pakistan to try to negotiate a secret bail-out by even dodgier Middle Eastern oil states and was unable to deliver supply. Happily for the Australian people, the Governor-General stepped in to Continue reading
It has been remarked that there is some commonality between those who advocate for British independence from the EU (Brexit) and those who are sceptical about climate change alarmism. The point might equally be put the other way around: that the more likely someone is to believe in the UK’s continued partipation in the EU project, the more likely that person is to believe in impending disaster resulting from anthropogenic global warming.
What is the link between these concepts? It is an interesting question, and the answer is by no means obvious. Certainly, it is the case that a number of the sharpest minds in Britain today (Matt Ridley, Nigel Lawson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Daniel Hannan to name a few) – let us call them the Gnostics – are in favour of Brexit, and are also sceptical about the beliefs of the climate change lobby. But then again, there are also Continue reading
…It brings on many changes
And I can take or leave it if I please
My great etc uncle Colonel George Fenwick was not only a soldier, but a member of the bar, and he was invited to sit on the bench which tried Charles I and condemned him to death. There were a few misgivings about the wisdom of regicide at the time, and Uncle George was not stupid. He declined to sit.
That was indeed wise. Come the Restoration, those members of the regicide bench who were still alive were hung, drawn and quartered. If my memory serves me well, the royalists even dug up one or two members of the bench who were by then dead, and hung, drew and quartered them!
A new sort of regicide has developed recently in Australian politics. It is quite a while since a sitting prime minister has finished his term in office without being deposed by internal revolt, and the present incumbent (just) Malcolm Turnbull looks as if he is just about to go the same way. Interestingly, he has required the regicides to sign their names to a piece of paper before he walks to his political scaffold. As I write this, it seems that Continue reading
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