Category Archives: Economics

Brexit And Trump

What do they have in common with Rob Ford?

I think this is right. I wish very much that I didn’t think this is right:

…for the people living through it, as with the World Wars, Soviet Famines, Holocaust, it must have felt inconceivable that humans could rise up from it. The collapse of the Roman Empire, Black Death, Spanish Inquisition, Thirty Years War, War of the Roses, English Civil War… it’s a long list. Events of massive destruction from which humanity recovered and move on, often in better shape.
At a local level in time people think things are fine, then things rapidly spiral out of control until they become unstoppable, and we wreak massive destruction on ourselves. For the people living in the midst of this it is hard to see happening and hard to understand. To historians later it all makes sense and we see clearly how one thing led to another. During the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme I was struck that it was a direct outcome of the assassination of an Austrian Arch Duke in Bosnia. I very much doubt anyone at the time thought the killing of a minor European royal would lead to the death of 17 million people.

My point is that this is a cycle. It happens again and again, but as most people only have a 50–100 year historical perspective they don’t see that it’s happening again. As the events that led to the First World War unfolded, there were a few brilliant minds who started to warn that something big was wrong, that the web of treaties across Europe could lead to a war, but they were dismissed as hysterical, mad, or fools, as is always the way, and as people who worry about Putin, Brexit, and Trump are dismissed now.

Then after the War to end all Wars, we went and had another one. Again, for a historian it was quite predictable. Lead people to feel they have lost control of their country and destiny, people look for scapegoats, a charismatic leader captures the popular mood, and singles out that scapegoat. He talks in rhetoric that has no detail, and drums up anger and hatred. Soon the masses start to move as one, without any logic driving their actions, and the whole becomes unstoppable.

That was Hitler, but it was also Mussolini, Stalin, Putin, Mugabe, and so many more. Mugabe is a very good case in point. He whipped up national anger and hatred towards the land owning white minority (who happened to know how to run farms), and seized their land to redistribute to the people, in a great populist move which in the end unravelled the economy and farming industry and left the people in possession of land, but starving. See also the famines created by the Soviet Union, and the one caused by the Chinese Communists last century in which 20–40 million people died. It seems inconceivable that people could create a situation in which tens of millions of people die without reason, but we do it again and again.

But at the time people don’t realise they’re embarking on a route that will lead to a destruction period. They think they’re right, they’re cheered on by jeering angry mobs, their critics are mocked. This cycle, the one we saw for example from the Treaty of Versaille, to the rise of Hitler, to the Second World War, appears to be happening again. But as with before, most people cannot see it because:

1. They are only looking at the present, not the past or future

2. They are only looking immediately around them, not at how events connect globally

3. Most people don’t read, think, challenge, or hear opposing views

Trump is doing this in America.

Yup. Read the whole thing, despite how depressing it is.

It is similar to people who think that the climate is going crazy, because they didn’t live through the 30s, or the 50s. Let alone times farther past.

Star Trek

…is far from libertarian:

The Federation isn’t just socialist in the hyperbolic sense in which some conservatives like to denounce anyone to the left of them as socialist. It’s socialist in the literal sense that the government has near-total control over the economy and the means of production. Especially by the period portrayed in The Next Generation, the government seems to control all major economic enterprises, and there do not seem to be any significant private businesses controlled by humans in Federation territory. Star Fleet characters, such as Captain Picard, boast that the Federation has no currency and that humans are no longer motivated by material gain and do not engage in capitalist economic transactions.

The supposed evils of free markets are exemplified by the Ferengi, an alien race who exemplify all the stereotypes socialists typically associate with “evil capitalists.” The Ferengi are unrelentingly greedy and exploitative. Their love of profit seems to be exceeded only by their sexism—they do not let females work outside the household, even when it would increase their profits to do so.

The problem here is not just that Star Trek embraces socialism: it’s that it does so without giving any serious consideration to the issue. For example, real-world socialist states have almost always resulted in poverty and massive political oppression, piling up body counts in the tens of millions.

But Star Trek gives no hint that this might be a danger, or any explanation of how the Federation avoided it. Unlike on many other issues, where the producers of the series recognize that there are multiple legitimate perspectives on a political issue, they seem almost totally oblivious to the downsides of socialism.

You don’t say. That episode TNG did on cryonics was extremely off putting to me.

Trump’s Acceptance Speech

I haven’t read it yet, but putatively, this is it.

I should note that I’m living in an empty house in Florida, renovating it for sale, with no access to media, other than over-the-air radio, tethering off my phone for Internet, and leaving garage door open in 90+ weather to hear Sirius on the rental-car radio. I feel like I’m living in the late 20th century.

[Update a while later]

I’m very interested in what Thiel says. I’m listening on NPR.

Puerto Rico’s Crisis

Coming soon to a state near you?

The collapse of recklessly-managed state and local finances on the mainland will create a political crisis of far greater proportions than Puerto Rico’s struggles. Congress should heed Padilla’s advice and start pressuring states and localities to get back on track. It should also develop a framework for managing these meltdowns if and when they do occur (Will assistance be available? On what terms?) as they do occur, so as to avoid extended squabbling and gridlock when the rubber meets the road.

As I’ve noted in the past, a bailout of California should be done only on condition that it revert to territory status, and not be allowed to reenter the union as a single state.

Jimmy Carter And The Space Shuttle

Did he save it? And if so, why? An interesting bit of history of which I’d been unaware. Mondale wanted to kill it, and did manage to reduce the fleet size from seven to five (including Enterprise, which never flew). Which was economically stupid, because it saved very little money. If we’d had six vehicles, we’d have still had four after the losses of Challenger and Columbia (assuming that we hadn’t built Endeavour from spares after Challenger, and those two events would have occurred in that alternate universe). A four- or five-ship fleet would have made for a slightly different calculus after the loss of the latter, because part of the reason the program was ended was that three was too small a fleet to continue to operate for long.

The Economic Development Of LEO

Yesterday, Deputy NASA Administrator Dava Newman announced with a blog post a new publication by NASA. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but given that one of the authors is Alex McDonald, I expect that it will be very good.

Speaking of which, I’m heading down to San Diego in a few minutes to attend at least the first day of the annual ISS R&D conference. So blogging may be light.

[Update Thursday morning]

I’m back from the conference. Meanwhile, I still haven’t looked at the publication, but Leonard David has.

A Modest Proposal

I’ve long said that air conditioning was the beginning of the downfall of the Republic, because it made DC habitable, and attractive to all manner of power-hungry grifters.

Well, Glenn Reynolds agrees, and has some suggestions to allow our betters in the federal government to set a good example for the rest of the benighted:

…it’s hard to expect Americans to accept changes to their own lifestyles when the very people who are telling them that it’s a crisis aren’t acting like it’s a crisis. So I have a few suggestions to help bring home the importance of reduced carbon footprints at home and abroad:

  1. Extend Smith’s bill to cover the entire federal government. We have Skype now, and Facetime. There’s no reason to fly to meetings. I’d let the President keep Air Force One for official travel, but subject to a requirement that absolutely no campaign activity or fundraisers take place on any trips in which the president travels officially.
  2. Obama makes a great point about setting the thermostat at 72 degrees. We should ban air conditioning in federal buildings. We won two world wars without air conditioning our federal employees. Nothing in their performance over the last 50 or 60 years suggests that A/C has improved things. Besides, The Washington Post informs us that A/C is sexist, and that Europeans think it’s stupid.
  3. In fact, we should probably ban air conditioning in the entire District of Columbia, to ensure that members of Congress, etc. won’t congregate in lobbyists’ air-conditioned offices.
  4. Speaking of which, members of Congress shouldn’t be allowed to fly home on the weekends. Not only does this produce halfhearted attention to their jobs — the so-called “Tuesday to Thursday Club” — but, again, it produces too much of a carbon footprint. Even if they pay for the travel out of campaign funds, instead of their own budgets, they need to set an example for the rest of us — and for those skeptical foreigners that Obama mentioned.

Exactly.