Barrel Strength

Over-Proof Opinion, Smoothly Aged Insight

Barrel Strength - Over-Proof Opinion, Smoothly Aged Insight

catastrophes

Try to encompass the scale of the planetary catastrophe that was the Devonian extinction. An area in Siberia the size of continental United States was flooded with molten basalt, up to several thousand feet thick, exuding sulfur dioxide, which turns into sulfuric acid. Species died over the course of a hundred thousand years.

And you are worried about a warming of a couple of degrees centigrade in a century, after a mini-ice age?

Perhaps the laziest blog posting ever, and the most complete

Day by day pontificating on the Greek crisis, the black American underclass crisis, the non existent global warming crisis, Islam, Putin, Obama, the Democrats, the Republicans, the Grits, the Tories, IQ differences among races, automation, modernity and every sort of ephemeral dispute: let me summarize.

Check how many propositions you agree with below. Send me your scores and how you counted.

1. Global warming

a) not happening, as it appears from evidence

b) solar radiation and the amount received by the planet earth drives most of the climate,most of the time.

2. Anthropogenic global warming (AGW)

a) could be happening but is not, see 1 above

b) could be happening but it is too expensive to address it directly, compared to other highly soluble environmental and social problems.

3. Anthropogenic global warming craze

a) a delusional belief system, akin to the cholesterol panic, with a roughly sixty year cycle from invention through inflation to evanescence.

4. The Pope and his recent support for AGW

a) traditional catholic anti-capitalism dressed up in new clothes

5. Taking down the confederate flag in South Carolina

a) about time. The US Civil War was about the enslavement of blacks. I do not approve of slavery, slave owners, or blaming personal or collective failures on the heritage of slavery.

6. American blacks

a) according to US Department of Justice statistics, a white person is 67 times more likely to be attacked by a black person than a black person is likely to be attacked by a white person. Handle with caution.

7. Racial differences in  IQ

a) quite real and possibly genetic in origin,  and susceptible to improvement by the imposition of academic standards.

b) the imposition of academic standards is highly difficult in times of raging desire for equality of outcomes.

8. Islam

a) a totalitarian political ideology dressed up as a religion

b) in the main, a complete waste of time, Civilizations that succumb to it have succumbed to a complete failure to advance socially, materially, or spiritually.

9. Materialism

a) a gigantic limiting assumption on whatever could be real.

b) the predominant intellectual fashion of our age.

c) To my mind, completely refuted by split screen experiments and the confirmation of the mind’s influence on the outcome of split screen experiments.

10. God

a) some kind of superintending and creative intelligence is, in this view, highly likely.

b) by definition, not subject to scientific refutation or support (if it is in the domain of material reality, it is not God)

11. Mind

a) likely to exist apart from its material substrates, such as brains.

b) intimately related in normal conditions to awareness, intention, emotion, and other states of mind.

12. Inequality

a) there is too much emphasis in contemporary on the evil consequences of inequality and too little emphasis on the degree to which inequalities are natural.

b) All men are equal, and all men are unequal, and any society that tries to suppress the truth of either proposition will end in violence.

13. The sexual revolution

a) we are heading rapidly back into a pagan attitude to sexuality. Pauline Christian ideas about with whom to have sex, in what legal constraints, and in what orifice are going out the window.

b) I am ambivalent about it, but I enjoy the changes so far as they have affected me.

c) The state has successfully substituted itself for the ancient ties of family and community, and this with immense popular support in all democracies. Most people in advanced cultures trust the state more than they trust their cousins.

14. Change

a) It is likely that 50% of the ideas expressed here will be repudiated in the next century.

b) which 50% – or larger – is impossible to determine

15. Fossil fuels

a) the advances of wealth, and with wealth, tolerance and the ability for self-expression, that have been made since 1800 are primarily the outcome of increased amounts of energy available to each person on the planet.

b) that increase of wealth is largely the result of burning fossil fuels.

c) Wind and solar energy sources should be pursued up to the limits imposed by physics and the costs of production, and no further. Large scale substitution of wind and solar for fossil fuel energy is demonstrably uneconomic and anti-ecological.

16. On male and female

a) while the Scientific Revolution of the last two centuries derives from other sources than male/female intelligence differences, it is males whose minds, procedures, and cooperation  have generated nearly the totality of scientific and technical progress in that time.

17. On science

a) science as we understand the term has proceeded from a confidence in the intelligibility of the universe as the creation of a rational God, and not otherwise.

b) Chinese, Indian and Arabic civilizations did not develop science for reasons particular to each of those civilizations and cultures. They discovered knowledge in various ways, but not in the rigorous exploration of the boundaries of what is known, and in the organized procedures of intellectual challenge, free from physical violence and the suppression of inquiry by religious authorities, that characterize most other civilizations and cultures, and which threaten ours.

 18.Obama

a) A half-black Woodrow Wilson, an academic, brought up by white Lefties, an ungifted politician, not half as smart as he thinks he is, who rode the wave of being “black”, which he is not, into power. Never bought into him, never was disappointed, never was impressed.

b) His appointment of the racist anti-white Eric Holder as Attorney General, has legitimized, and augmented, a general anti-whitism in the public discourse. White people have not yet shown signs they are collectively fed up with it.

19. The Left

a) is premised on the notion that society is wrongly constituted, that they know what is wrong, that their analysis is perfect, and that what is wrong can be cured by social, political, or economic measures, which act as external constraints on behaviour, not inward changes in man.

b) At their worst, a Godless bunch of destroyers who have been unleashed on our churches, schools and universities, and have destroyed them. By Godless I mean not merely atheistical, but narrowly and stupidly materialistic.

c) They are totally in denial about their destructive impulses and effects, and firmly believe they are morally superior to any opposition, though they deny the basis of morality in any supernatural, metaphysical basis.

d) lacking a metaphysical basis of agreement among themselves, or confidence in the constitution of material reality to cause things to turn out right, they turn politics into a series of tests of agreement on increasingly ridiculous propositions, disagreement with which is cause for expulsion, derision, calumny, and, in the extreme, death.

e) the belief in the rationality of their analysis of  the world ends in irrational politics, and the celebration of that irrationality.

20. Conservatism

a) A strong distrust of the perfectibility of man.

b) The deep suspicion that one could be wrong about many large, important things.

c) the confidence to argue for what you believe, despite a and b above.

d) A deep distaste for persecuting hypocrites, and for persecutions in general.

e) a confidence in the saving power of Jesus Christ – whatever that may mean.

f) The confidence that somehow, against many odds, and multiple sources of error, sin, passion, ignorance, and ideology, that  the human species, and not just its its living conditions, is getting better.

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Materialists, feminists, lefties, Muslims, progressives, slave holders, Confederates, and Obamanauts can vie to see who among them is the most offended.

The rest of us can get on with life, knowing that someone sane is out there.

 

 

 

 

Summer soundscape

It starts with a very low throb. The sound is apprehended about fifteen miles off in the early hours,  around one or two o’clock in the morning, and you smile to yourself as once again you have lived another year to hear it. The windows are open, the breeze has died down. Even the insects are quiet.

You can imitate the sound yourself: place your lower lip against your upper lip and let a series of breaths escape as you make sound in your throat – “hwa-hwa-hwa-hwa-hwa”. It is throb of distant diesel engines pulling a freight train. Three or four engines, a hundred cars.

It is a big one, pulling out of the east, bypassing Sherbrooke and heading up towards the pass at Mount Orford, climbing. The engine throb intensifies as the train gains height and speed. Faster throbbing: “hwa-hwa-hwa-hwa-hwa”, as fast as you can make the sound, then faster than you can make the sound. The engines are really working now, pulling a 100 boxcars, flat cars, tank cars, all the goods that landed at Halifax a few days ago are being pulled to central Canada.

As I lie in my bed, the sound is moving from my left ear, which hears best to the east, then around the north side of the house, and moves over the space of five or ten minutes to the west window. The engines are working hard. Now the locomotive’s horn blasts four times, one long, one short, a pause, and two more short blasts, as it passes roads from Rock Forest to Magog. The cycle is repeated four times: four level crossings.

In the immensity of the diesels throbbing, a new sound is heard: the clickety-clickety-clickety-clickety of the actual wheels on the steel rails, hundreds of them, coming in at a much higher frequency, overtopping the diesel engines and gradually becoming more prominent. Throbbing engines, horn blasts, clicking wheels, but still five miles away at their closest, not loud, but audible to those who listen, the sound of a railway in the summer.

The train turns west to go through the pass at Mount Orford, and just as gradually as the throbbing first appeared, it fades out. Elapsed time, maybe ten minutes. A pure soundscape has played out in your mind. You supply the visuals. Maybe you imagine the sight of a hundred railcars thundering through one of those level crossings, with the signal lights blinking and the ding ding ding of the bells working, which you cannot hear over the noise of the train.

I think of the amazing fact that, as we sleep, enormous trains are pulling goods from one end of the country to the other, goods that end up in Canadian Tire and Sears, goods that end up in machine shops where computer controlled shaping machinery folds metal into car bodies, or oranges and tangerines and olive oil end up in your food shelves. I hear that sound of the Halifax freight train in summer, and sometimes if the atmospheric conditions are right, in winter through the walls and closed windows of my cabin, and I think, some things are very right in the world.

diesels

A target rich environment

It is a week beyond satire or exaggeration in the march of folly and error.

The white woman parading as a black, and a fraud at may levels, Rachel Dolezal, former head of the NAACP in some whitebread state. Best article on the subject is Terry Glavin’s in the Post.

Pope says Mass at Easter: Catholic Church condemns capitalism, greed, off-shoring, fossil fuels and planetary destruction ensuing therefrom. I am enjoying the recent micro-surge of people objecting to the immorality of preventing the poorest 2 billion on the planet from enjoying the benefits of fossil fuels. Nigel Lawson for one, and I am proud of Moses Znaimer for presenting such people at his Idea City conference. When the ultra-hip capitalist Moses Znaimer acts like this, expect him to be six months to a year ahead of the crowd. (From my personal experience, Moses Znaimer is quite politically sensible, but he has to disguise it under a canopy of hip-ness. I apologize to Mr. Znaimer for any harm this recommendation in right wing circles may cause him).

What else? Canadian Liberals call for proportional representation or some variant so that they can govern Canada once again.The always intelligent and frequently wrong adornment of Canadian journalism, Andrew Coyne, is beside himself with glee. The better reaction came from Kelly McParland, who pointed out that, since the Liberals have been out of power for nine years, their innate conviction is that something must be the matter with Canada, and fixing the voting system will address that problem.

Now, however, the party has lost three successive elections, so something must be wrong. Not with the party, mind, but with the election system. How can anyone put their faith in a system that doesn’t reliably elect Liberals?

That appears to be the root cause of Justin Trudeau’s declaration that, if he has his way, the election in October will be the last under the first-past-the-post system, which has served Canada reliably since Confederation, and hasn’t hindered the country from attaining its present level of peace, prosperity and tolerance. The only thing wrong, it appears, is that it can no longer be counted on to assure regular, lengthy periods of Liberal rule.

Then there is the case of the Chief of Staff of the Canadian Armed Forces saying something  sort of true and politically oh-so-incorrect about males in the army wanting to rub themselves up against the sweet thighs of female underlings, or some such expression. Well yeah! Of course!

This is further proof, if any were needed, that no true fact can be asserted in public without causing a scandal.

What is a billion?

The NatPost today had an article on the subject of the London Inter-Bank Offered Rate, particularly the price-fixing engaged in a by bankers.

In it a certain Don Coxe, a “global portfolio strategist” for the Bank of Montreal in Chicago was quoted.

Coxe estimates that, overall, banks around the world have paid US$350-billion in fines “for all the frauds they are admitting to since 2008.”

$350 billion!

That is greater than the size of the spending of the Canadian federal government for the year 2015.

canada-government-spending_resized

I apologize for the fact that the numbers in the chart may appear illegible, but the topmost number in the left-hand column is 351000, standing for $351 billion Canadian dollars, or less than total bank fines since 2008, measured in US dollars.

As Coxe remarks, we have yet to see any bankers in jail.

If you are a defender of the capitalist order, as I am, then you ought to be appalled by this figure, and these behaviours.

“Floggings will continue until morale improves.” – traditional management technique

The market ideologists  need to be sent to their bedrooms without supper, for about a decade. Hopeful they will starve.

Maybe it is time you looked up the brilliant movie, Margin Call, and paid very close attention to the speech at the end of the movie by Jeremy Irons, who played the Chairman of the Board, who recites the list of market crashes, bubbles and scandals since the invention of stock markets in the mid-1600s.

Amsterdam

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Amsterdam is one of those places that challenge every libertarian’s ideas about how things should run. It is intensely left-wing in many respects: its citizens evince a strong social cohesion predicated on non-market values, the city enforces minute regulation of architecture, zoning and social behaviour, while a high level of government spending maintains social and municipal services. Yet Amsterdam also manages to show how capitalist it is in every store-front. In some ways, I thought, this place is a Potemkin village, and then thought “No” it is a Disney-like theme park maintained by millions of tourists and the willing cooperation of its citizens.

It seems to gather every hipster in Holland into one place: there are tiny stores selling electrical fixtures of the 1950s, micro-art galleries, baroque music concerts, weird antique stores of every description, ecological butcheries, and apartments which, when revealed by walking by, are contemporary art-galleries with dining room tables. Indeed, I was informed that the police check out every potential inner-city resident of Amsterdam; that to live there requires a permit. And the permit is issued if you are Dutch enough, which is to say,  willing to abide by the rules of the place, as the police may explain to you.

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Make no mistake. This place has rules, visible and invisible. Once, more than a decade ago, I was with a bunch of guys at a restaurant on one of the outer ring of canals. It was October, dark and cold. We headed out the door for a doobie, because it was a non-smoking bar. Eventually the young lady of the place came out and politely informed us that we could not smoke a joint in front of the place, because that might imply the restaurant tolerated dope smoking , but that we could smoke dope at the end of the block, at a construction site a few yards away. A Dutch compromise of behavioural zoning worked out precisely to the meter.

A place as well run as Amsterdam must run on behavioural zoning. Stuff allowed in the red-light district cannot be tolerated a block away from it. By the way, if you do not wish to find the red-light district, you can avoid it for your first seven trips  to the place, as I did. Nothing to see: move on.

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Indeed the charms and delights of Amsterdam are found in the walking around, in the architecture so carefully maintained, in the thousands of great bars and restaurants, in the amiable way the Dutch manage to live in the crowded spaces, in their friendly inhabitation of the place, in their tolerance of the tourists in their midst.

The annoyances of Amsterdam for the North American conservative are the arrogant sit-up cyclists in their damned cycling lanes whizzing by, who have rights of way against pedestrians and motor-cars;but more importantly,  in the idea that minute planning and regulation, formal and informal, could actually work, that a great capital of 17th century capitalism could actually be preserved more or less intact for centuries without  redevelopment, high rises, and modern architecture, but at the price of this regulation, that a highly capitalist people – including the hipster artists – might choose to live in a highly regulated way.

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Does this not send Ayn Rand spinning in her grave? I hope so. Amsterdam epitomizes every thing that Jane Jacobs had to say about cities, communities, and markets: that highly creative and capitalist places are one and the same, and that markets are embedded in, and contained by, societies, and that the rules of markets co-exist within non-market institutions and rules. Do yourself a favour. Read Jane Jacobs’ “Systems of Survival”, which is scarcely a hundred pages long, and see if your views of markets and society are not deepened.

Or join me for another ramble through Amsterdam, as we discourse about markets, societies, religious freedom, and how to hold them all together in some harmony. The walk will do us good.

 

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Our driverless future?

A young engineer was speaking to me about the future of cars and roads. The addition of artificial intelligence to cars is ongoing, and will soon reach the stage, he says, where it will become clear that cars in certain urban areas will not be allowed to drive with human drivers at the wheel.

Such an outcome assumes a great deal of progress in resolving a host of issues, technical, social and political.

 

The implications of increased intelligence in cars – up to the point where humans can be replaced as drivers – go on and on.

  • ownership versus renting

If cars can be rented by the hour or by the occasion, the incentives to own a car may go down. Cars usually sit in the driveway or the parking lot for most of the day. Imagine that cars are basically taxis, and that the ownership (whoever they or it may be) cleans, maintains and provides cars on much the same basis as taxis, but with no taxi driver. You would summon a car as you would an Uber taxi, and it would show up at your location, but without the driver. Step in and the car will drive you to your destination.

  • traffic signals

Your community is strewn with stop signs, lights, and painting of signals on the road. Imagine that the driving rules for every intersection are communicated by local networks to the cars within reach of the signal, and that cars communicate by networks to each other in constant Bluetooth-style to adjust momentum (direction and speed). Once cars are self-directing, if the destination has been selected by the passenger, then a huge infrastructure of visual signs would be replaced with an electronic infrastructure. As a pedestrian, you may need a sign as to where you can cross, but the governing software of cars will ensure that, within the limits of the laws of physics, cars will not be able to hit you.

  • legal compulsion

It will be argued that the full benefits of the driverless automobile system will only be realized when people are legally obliged to switch over from the human driver to local network control. The law will compel drivers in certain areas to surrender control, and in all likelihood the car will simply adjust by becoming integrated with the local network, on the supposition that there is a private automobile entering the local network space.

The sign saying “you are now entering Such and Such” municipality also acts as the point where the car – not your car but “the” car – passes from the control of one network to another, just as a cell-phone call is passed from one tower to another. The car in which you are riding has become a physical instantiation of a telephone call.

The consequences  of this driverless system are expected to be:

1) drastic reduction in the amount of society’s resources dedicated to automobiles, as the use of each car intensifies. This may mean fewer cars, or less social investment in related automobile technologies, or lowered energy consumption. It may allow for quicker transitions to newer propulsion technologies.

2) legal liability will be need to be worked out between the software makers (General Motors, Toyota, Apple whoever) that make the car control software, the cities which install the driverless networks, and insurance companies for both sides.

Some of the negative effects will be:

1) loss of autonomy and privacy, but as computer technology invades everything, the loss of autonomy will long precede the transfer to the automated driverless system spoken of here. You are already being followed by your GPS and other technologies in your car, even if you still drive it. Mandatory guidance systems will not change the trackability of cars.

2) Every car will become like a taxi. The cleanliness, appearance, and maintenance level of your car will depend on the previous occupants, and on which company owns them, and some companies will be better than others. Given the human propensity for status distinctions, people will pay for better cars by belonging to better car-cooperatives.

Cultural and social resistance will take a long time to be overcome.

First, the software to run all this must work seamlessly and efficiently to figure out the dozens of social and safety rules that govern human transactions in every driving situation. Consider four-way stops which can be a ballet of mutual recognition.  The mutual interchange of signals among cars and the successors to stop signs and traffic lights must work out in a faultless protocol. WIll drivers be allowed to assume control, and in what circumstances?

This leads to the second huge issue: trust. It is likely that failures will become as rare and nearly as deadly as airplane accidents. Imagine a breakdown of signals, or the failure of protocols, on a highway where hundreds of cars are hurtling on autopilot. It will take a long while before people can trust the state of the system to be sufficiently  faultless that getting into a car is as safe as getting into an airplane.

Inconvenience is the third major reason for resisting. Private ownership of cars may be as irrational as the private ownership of power tools, from the perspective of efficiency of use, but people do not like systems of common or collective ownership for good reason. Some people are slobs, others neatfreaks. Some use their cars as mobile filing cabinets. So private ownership will likely continue, even in the brave new world of automated driverless cars. Thus the argument for the driverless car system is not an argument for the abandonment of private ownership, but it will increasingly make private ownership look as anachronistic as a CD or record collection.

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Population reduction

The UN’s Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) believes that lowering the human population should reduce the load we impose on the planet. In 2013, Figueres had a conversation with Climate One founder Greg Dalton regarding “fertility rates in population,” as a contributor to climate change.

Ironically, she is right, but the means she proposes to get to lowered population runs through higher wealth, not lower wealth, and to get to higher wealth, we need to maintain current per capita energy consumption.

Moreover, the total human population numbers will rise to 2050, but fertility is already crashing or in the process of doing so. This is the largest unrealized LARGE FACT in the world today. Everyone seems to think global population will continue to expand, as it did in the aftermath of World War 2. But as fertility (the number of babies per woman) crashes, population cannot continue to increase.

The fact is, women choose to replicate, when they can choose at all, in competition with a mass of other incentives. They will trade the possibility of a fourth child for a sewing machine; and the prospect of a third child for a better home.

The rich have always had fewer children, and now, thanks to energy consumption, we face the same income trade-offs as 18th century aristocrats: more children, less wealth to divide among them. Infowars reports

Populations in developed countries are declining and only in third world countries are they expanding dramatically. Industrialization itself levels out population trends and even despite this world population models routinely show that the earth’s population will level out at 9 billion in 2050 and slowly decline after that. “The population of the most developed countries will remain virtually unchanged at 1.2 billion until 2050,” states a United Nations report. The UN’s support for depopulation policies is in direct contradiction to their own findings.

But keeping wealth concentrated in the countries which are rich now is not the purpose of economic development, nor is it possible. The largest fact is that globalization is allowing wealth in countries that have not experienced it: not just China and India, but Indonesia, the Philippines, and Bangladesh, even Africa.

According to the UN Report “World Population Prospects: the 2012 Revision”, whose first finding is:

In July 2013, the world population will reach 7.2 billion, 648 million more than in 2005 or an average gain of 81 million persons annually. Even assuming that fertility levels will continue to decline, the world population is still expected to reach 9.6 billion in 2050 and 10.9 billion in 2100,according to the medium-variant projection.

Under the low variant of fertility, global population starts to decrease after 2050.

The moral is clear: allow people to increase their wealth and keep the products of their labour, and they will solve the population problem (as perceived by leftist planners)  by their own actions. Wealth is the key to population control.

Is the Internet behind growing income inequality?

The MacDonald Laurier Institute held a debate last night between the Liberal trade critic Chrystia Freeland, and the Canadian-American professor of law, Frank Buckley.

The issue was “Income Inequality:  we should quit worrying about it”. The debaters were too intelligent and well-informed to disagree fundamentally. The only decision criterion in the debate arose from one’s pre-existing disposition either to worry, as distinct from being concerned. Not a single intelligent person fails to be concerned about income inequality, in the same sense as a sailor keeps a wary eye on the water level in the bilge.

Freeland’s views are here.   Frank Buckley’s views are here.

The debate turned into a massive agreement between Buckley and Freeland that the United States is doing much worse than Canada in almost every dimension of income inequality, permanent class differences, social mobility in and out of the top ten and bottom ten percent of the income deciles, and so forth.

Buckley’s views on how American government is failing are summarized here. Essentially he attributes the fundamental fault to the separation of powers: the fact that the executive is not responsible to the legislative branch, which has powerful and ramifying effects on the whole system, including irresponsibility of legislators and presidents for results.

Here is Buckley:

 

What Canada has importantly over the U.S. is reversibility, the ability to undo bad laws. That doesn’t happen so easily in America, with the gridlock built into its separation of powers, and that’s a problem Fukuyama himself has identified in two recent books that describe a sclerotic society of special interests which enact wealth-destroying laws. Once passed, Americans are stuck with bad laws. Their constitution doesn’t have a reverse gear.

What Fukuyama recognized in his recent books is James Madison’s error in The Federalist Papers. Madison argued that the separation of powers would prevent bad laws from being enacted in the first place. However, that’s an example of what Nobel laureate Friedrich Hayek called the “fatal conceit,” the idea that planners can anticipate all the problems that might arise with a well-drafted statute. More modestly, Canada’s parliamentary system assumes that, in a world of human fallibility, mistakes will be made, that “experts” are often unreliable, that dumb laws will be passed; and that what is more important is giving the legislator the ability to bring hindsight wisdom to bear in undoing laws which experience tells us were ill-planned. If American government has gotten too large, if the statutory code and the federal regulations have caught a case of elephantiasis, that’s not surprising. The know-it-all hubris of the planner was baked into the American constitution from the start.

Other faults abound. US laws are written by lobbyists for various interests – yes, this is exactly true – and then various sections are then “reconciled” with other sections written by other crews of expensive lawyers, and then, if possible, the House version is reconciled to the senate’s version. At no time is a consistent editorial or legal style enforced; no equivalent of the official of the Ministry of Justice, no specialized drafting section, touches a bill.

The Canada Health Act (RSC ch.C-6) is 22 sections long, the US Affordbale Care Act is  974 pages long. It could not have been passed without a large degree of legislative log-rolling, which are buy-offs for regions, senators, and pet-projects.

Or as Buckley says, “the Canada health Act is twelve pages long, and that includes the French”.

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Of all the forces  acting on our respective countries, Canada and the US, I see this one as decisive.

  • every action capable of being reduced to an algorithm is being turned into software,  the instructions for machines, and these machines are doing jobs formerly done by humans.
  • More, the economic productivity gains are, under modern networked conditions, able to gathered on a global scale by very few owners of the intellectual property.
  • For example, think about how Uber takes the economic rents out of taxi licences, or Netflix out of Canadian broadcasting licences, and you can see how wealth can be centralized as never before.

Every other force generating inequality: family breakdown, the Bell curve – the unequal distribution of intelligence, globalization, decline of social cohesion, acts on both sides of the Canada-US border with greater or lesser effect.  The two political systems translate these forces into different social effects. Hence the Buckley-Freeland debate swerved into US-Canada comparisons, but avoided the main cause, as I see it, of increasing inequality.

The conclusions of this effect are being felt around the world:

  • since we do not need as many people to do the jobs now able to be performed by machines, people are reproducing themselves less, and population  is crashing in most places in the world.
  • Modern networked economies permit both innovation, and new forms of accumulating wealth, on scales that were not previously possible.

 

I recognize I am entering the dangerous territory occupied by Andrew Keen. Keen argues against the Internet, in that it does not create jobs, does not increase freedom, and wrecks the middle class. Both Freeland and Buckley were, in their ways, conscious of these trends, but they had not attributed the problem squarely to the effects of the Internet.

It is a thesis well worth allowing yourself to contemplate. I am allowing myself to think negatively and will report back when my views have matured.

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Population Decline and Economics

George Friedman is a geostrategist, and he writes entertaining books: such as The Next Decade, and  the Next Hundred Years. Geostrategy looks at the  world from the perspective of how oceans and landmasses  interact with populations and states to shape how the world is controlled. You can pick his books up at airport booksellers, and they stimulate thought without commanding agreement, which for me is a compliment.

Friedman is, not incidentally, Hungarian by birth, which country has given us Edward Teller, John von Neumann, George Jonas, and a host of other geniuses and near-geniuses.

Culture, race, and religion are not the primary drivers in Friedman’s world view. His is a narrow but productive focus, comparable to that of an economist’s.

Consequently his latest piece is of interest, because he deals with the large implications of the ongoing world population crash – you hear me – crash. You may not have heard that the world population is in the process of crashing. It is. It is dealt with in many places, and I recommend David P. Goldman’s “How Civilizations Die (and why Islam is dying too)” for the facts, if not for Goldman’s gloomy interpretation of everything. (Goldman writes as “Spengler”, another notorious cultural pessimist).

Back to George Friedman, who is ever optimistic.

One of the key variables mitigating the problem of decreasing population would be continuing advances in technology to increase productivity. We can call this automation or robotics, but growths in individual working productivity have been occurring in all productive environments from the beginning of industrialization, and the rate of growth has been intensifying. Given the smooth and predictable decline in population, there is no reason to believe, at the very least, that GDP would not fall less than population. In other words, with a declining population in advanced industrial societies, even leaving immigration out as a factor, per capita GDP would be expected to grow.

Friedman’s second reason for optimism is that we would be moving into a world where capital was becoming more abundant relative to labour. Since the 1600s, or perhaps since the beginning of time, humans have been plentiful, capital scarce. He envisages a world where, as humans become ever scarcer, their relative value will rise.

The economist in me says that as humans become more valuable, they will tend to have more children, but this effect might be constrained by a comparable expense of raising them.

Friedman’s second prediction is that the distribution of wealth would change under conditions he envisages.

That would mean that in addition to rising per capita GDP, the actual distribution of wealth would shift. We are currently in a period where the accumulation of wealth has shifted dramatically into fewer hands, and the gap between the upper-middle class and the middle class has also widened. If the cost of money declined and the price of labor increased, the wide disparities would shift, and the historical logic of industrial capitalism would be, if not turned on its head, certainly reformulated.

Friedman says we might head into a period where wealth became more evenly distributed, as humans became relatively scarcer to capital.

 

The argument I am making here is that population decline will significantly transform the functioning of economies, but in the advanced industrial world it will not represent a catastrophe — quite the contrary. Perhaps the most important change will be that where for the past 500 years bankers and financiers have held the upper hand, in a labor-scarce society having pools of labor to broker will be the key. I have no idea what that business model will look like, but I have no doubt that others will figure that out.

Friedman reminds us that we have to look beyond today’s crisis in Islam to the underlying changes driving the world. Another thinker in Friedman’s stable, Ian Morris,  put it this way:

New energy sources, technologies that erode the boundaries between mind and machine, and shifts toward living in virtual rather than physical spaces may all threaten — or promise — to make the 21st century the biggest rupture in human history, dwarfing the agricultural and industrial revolutions. A century from now, trying to find the right level of inequality for a fossil fuel society might seem as irrelevant as determining the right level of inequality for Neanderthals does today.

Ian Morris is the author of “Why the West Rules, for Now”. I recommend it highly.

IanMorris book