Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Tuesday morning ramble [updated]

While I was off air yesterday, I was sent loads of links to so much good reading that I was in no position to post. So I figured I’d take a ramble through it all this morning.

  • How bad is the world’s economic crisis?  Take it from George Soros, who while never entirely disinterested is always worth listening to:
        “Renowned investor George Soros said the world financial system has effectively disintegrated, adding that there is yet no prospect of a near-term resolution to the crisis. Soros said the turbulence is actually more severe than during the Great Depression, comparing the current situation to the demise of the Soviet Union.”
  • Things are so bad, even God is telling us to read Atlas Shrugged
        Crikey.  Get your copy now before it sells out: As Lindsay Perigo reports, “Ayn Rand's resurgent Atlas Shrugged, the most important novel of the twentieth century, exposing the moral bankruptcy of Chavez-Obamian collectivism and its catastrophic consequences, sits at 83 on Amazon.com's best-seller list in paperback, and 124 in hard cover, fifty years after publication.” One sign of good news in the gloom, perhaps.
  • So with those earthquake warnings ringing in our ears, let’s start off with three neat films you might want to bookmark. 
    First, The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo [hat tip Justin Ptak].
  • FRS And second, here’s Money as Debt by Paul Grignon, which explains the system by which banks organise debt into currency – creating money out of thin air that’s backed only by promises to pay - the termite mound in the monetary system that underpins the present collapse. (Buy the DVD here if you’d like to show the copy further afield.)  Yes, it’s a little conspiratorial, but it explains the mechanics of fractional reserve banking, and its inherent fragility, extraordinarily well.
  • And third, and much shorter, here’s George Soros’s former partner Jim Rogers speaking recently on Dutch TV.  Part Two is particularly good.
  • And now, if you really want to thoroughly understand the present crisis right down to the root, right down to the causes of it all, then George Reisman’s new series on Capital, Saving and Our Economic Crisis is really a must-read: “a series of articles that seeks to provide the intelligent layman with sufficient knowledge of sound economic theory to enable him to understand what must be done to overcome the present financial crisis and return to the path of economic progress and prosperity. The first article in the series was “Falling Prices Are Not Deflation but the Antidote to Deflation,” which you might already have seen.  
    And now the second article is now available, in two parts.  It’s compulsory reading:

Remember, this will be in the exam.

  • DJI-240209 So is stimulus working?  Well, what do you think?  “ Market Finds 11-Year Low Despite Bank Rally ” says CNBC summing up all the post-stimuli red ink.  It’s basically been downhill all the way since the stimulus was mooted – and the pace is now accelerating.
  • Speaking of downhill, let’s move on to the Greens.  While Sue Bradford and Metiria Turei fight it out for the local Green Party’s ‘I’m-furthest-left-than-you’ award, British Greens are now actively promoting nuclear power as the best way forward.
        “The four leading environmentalists who have come out in favour of nuclear power are Stephen Tindale, former director of Greenpeace; Lord Chris Smith of Finsbury, the chairman of the Environment Agency; Mark Lynas, author of the Royal Society's science book of the year, and Chris Goodall, a Green Party activist and prospective parliamentary candidate.
        “Mr Tindale, who described his turn-around as a "religious conversion", said many more in the environment movement think ‘nuclear power is not ideal but it's better than climate change’."

  • Have you heard the one about the Al Qaeda head man who’s started trashing his mates?  It’s no joke.  Tim Blair has the story. “Attacking America has become the shortest road to fame and leadership among the Arabs and Muslims,” wrote Al-Qaida founder Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, who also goes by the nom de guerre Dr. Fadl. “But what good is it if you destroy one of your enemy’s buildings, and he destroys one of your countries? What good is it if you kill one of his people, and he kills a thousand of yours? That, in short, is my evaluation of 9/11.”  Blair comments wryly, ”Just as well al-Sharif is safely in jail. Saying those sorts of things can get you in trouble.”
  • Have you heard the one about how Corrections Minister Judith ‘Crusher’ Collins and Corrections Department Supremo Barry ‘The Man’ Matthews are going to sort out their differences?  Danyl McLauchlan has the scoop on what could be the fight of the century. 
    Read his his hilarious account at Collins challenges Corrections CEO to knife fight in showers.  Commenters are already taking bets.
  • Speaking of people snapping, Butterpaper has the account (a true one this time) of a British architect applying to council to build a farm shed, who obviously had enough of the bullshit and let his feelings show in the Planning Report he was required to complete.
        “An example, Context Analysis: ‘The use is compatible with a farm because it is a farm building… It is located where it is because it is in the most convenient place, being on the farm and near the farmhouse.’
        '”Council accepted the report, and noted that it covered all clauses: ‘As long as the architect answers all the relevant headings then it doesn’t really matter what the tone of the application is’.”

  • Capitalism Magazine has a one-two-three hit of world-class economists scything through the myths. 
      • Read Thomas Sowell on Upside Down Economics:
            ”From television specials to newspaper editorials, the media are pushing the idea that current economic problems were caused by the market and that only the government can rescue us.
            “What was lacking in the housing market, they say, was government regulation of the market's ‘greed.’ That makes great moral melodrama, but it turns the facts upside down.”
      • Read Walter Williams on the Economic Miracle:
           “The idea that even the brightest person or group of bright people, much less the U.S. Congress, can wisely manage an economy has to be the height of arrogance and conceit. Why? It is impossible for anyone to possess the knowledge that would be necessary for such an undertaking…
        ”Our economic system consists of billions of different elements that include members of our population, businesses, schools, parcels of land and homes. A list of possible relationships defies imagination and even more so if we include international relationships. Miraculously, there is a tendency for all of these relationships to operate smoothly without congressional meddling. Let's think about it.”
      • Read Ludwig von Mises on The Alleged Absence of Depressions Under Totalitarian Management:
            “Many socialist authors emphasize that the recurrence of economic crises and business depressions is a phenomenon inherent in the capitalist mode of production…
            “As has already become obvious and will be shown later again, the cyclical fluctuations of business are not an occurrence originating in the sphere of the unhampered market, but a product of government interference with business conditions designed to lower the rate of interest below the height at which the free market would have fixed it…
            “It is essential to realize that what makes the economic crisis emerge is the democratic process of the market…”

  • Another argument for property rights coming out of Australia. Australia’s water shortage, says Chris Brown, is another leading example of the tragedy of the commons.  “The government has blamed the shortage of water on drought and climate change. And while droughts may be created by a shortage of water, water shortages are created by an abundance of government rein.”  Nice pun. 
        Read the whole piece here to see why Australia urgently needs property rights in water: The Water Wizards of Oz.
  • You’ll have heard that Geert Wilders, the Dutch MP who was the director of the film Fitna has been banned from entering Britain on the basis that his film is “hate speech.”  Says a defiant Wilders in a speech in Rome [hat tip Sandi at SOLO],  
        Fitna is actually not made by me, but is made by radical Muslims, the Koran and Islam itself. If Fitna is considered to be hate speech, then what is the Koran? … Wilders: "If I am considered to be a threat to public security, then what is Islam?"
  • Owen McShane has been busy.  He’s writing four excellent essays from a Burkeian-Hayekian viewpoint on the clash between the Enlightenment and Environmentalism, and he’s just completed the third.
      • The first essay, The Rise of Urban Romanticism – or the New Road to Serfdom discussed the impact of the Romantic movement and its contemporary expression on urban planning theory, and in particular examined Smart Growth and Visioning as planning tools within this context.
      • The second essay, Beware the Dark Greens, explored the development of European environmentalism from the dark side of Romanticism as expressed in the early and mature phases of fascism. This passionate and spiritual form OF environmentalism, does not sit well within those nations still committed to the democratic tradition.
      • The third essay, The Age of Environmentalism – the American Story, explores the origins of Environmentalism in the United States during the 1960s and its rapid development during the 1970s, and implies that this form of Environmentalism… [has] determined so much of the political debate of the current “Age.”
      • The fourth essay (yet to be written) “European Communes and Urban Villages” will explore the story of the commune movement in Europe…

    Head to the index for the series here.

  • History.  History and children.  How early do children need to learn history?  Kids Need History Early says historian Scott Powell. How early? “The best time to start kids on a systematic history curriculum is when they are six or seven years old. Five is usually too young, and eight is possibly too late! Why start history at six or seven years old? Because children of that age are ready for history.”  In Montessori terms, at that age they have a ‘sensitive period’ for history that should be taken advantage of.  Don’t miss out.
  • I intended to blog this last week.  It relates to an argument I had over summer, and as TVHE explains it’s a common yet important economic misunderstanding: the difference between Average vs Marginal: The most common mistake in economics.
       To help you out in understanding the difference, from the Ideas-You-Need-To-Know file comes this beauty:  The Philosophical Mortician explains brilliantly the important economic notion of Marginal Utility, which explains among other things why diamonds are worth more than water (even though we’ll never die for lack of diamonds) and why CEOs of large companies, even bad ones, calculate their salaries by the number of zeroes at the end -- while teachers, even good ones, spend their spare time checking behind the cushions for spare coins.
  • Speaking of economic error, here’s a Finnish series of ads encouraging people to spend and not feed the recession.
  • And finally, while speaking of resistance to error, here’s a stirring call for a Chicago Tea Party: Rick Santelli’s magnificent tirade against the Obamessiah’s stimulunacy [hat tip Voices for Reason].
  •     On CNBC's "Squawk Box" Feb. 19, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange floor reporter, along with several traders, expressed his outrage about President Barack Obama's plan to "spread the wealth" for people that didn't deserve it. He said a stimulus should go to people who live responsibly rather than some sort of housing bailout to people that lived irresponsibly.
    "I tell you what, I have an idea," Santelli shouted. "The new administration is big on computers and technology - how about this, President and new administration? Why don't you put up a Web site to have people vote on the Internet as a referendum to see if we really want to subsidize the losers' mortgages, or would we like to at least buy cars and buy houses in foreclosure and give them to people that might have a change to actually prosper down the road and reward people that could carry the water instead of drink the water."



  1. 1. The environmental movement did NOT begin in the 1960s, as McShane himself seems to obliquely recognize when he mentions Thoreau - near the end of a 25 page article. It started in the 1860s and was in full flower by the boil-bursting years of Progressivism around the turn of the 20th century. Observe when TR was President, the establishment of the National Parks, the Sierra Club, etc. Has he never heard of John Muir? It certainly *accelerated* in the 1960s, as did every form of Progressivism in America, but he is talking about origins, not stages.

    2. Hippies were NOT optimistic. That is the Left's (in particular the Leftist press's) view of the people and the period, then and now -- just a bunch of misguided idealists. *Nothing* could be further from reality, as any reader of Rand should know.

    In particular, his claim that "These Hippies of the 1960s would have been horrified by the prospect of the interventions of the ‘Nanny State’ now routinely proposed as necessary to save the planet." is flat out false. Not only is total whim-worshiping subjectivism intellectually compatible with totalitarianism (in fact an outgrowth of it, as Hayek recognized in The Road to Serfdom), but those self-same hippies were at the *forefront *of pushing for exactly the kind of Fascist dictatorship which the U.S. is now moving rapidly toward. Sure, some hippies were too drugged out and dropped out to engage in any kind of political activism, but they were hardly the rule. Why does he think San Francisco is the cesspool of Leftism and political activism that it is and has been since the era McShane writes about?

    3. He claims that Rousseau would be unhappy with his 20th/21st century progeny, which is completely unsupportable, if one has actually read Rousseau's ode's to nature and the 'natural life', not to mention if one is at all familiar with Rousseau's *actual life. *Rousseau was the first hippie whose intellectual works actually gained fame and influence. Ditto Thoreau in America later.

    4. "Hair" a celebration? It is a work of pure subjectivist nihilism, the prototype of 'hippieism.' The nudity was NOT a celebration of the human form, but done for sheer shock value (and a cynical bit of opportunism, getting the middle class couple visiting New York to see a little nudity in a culturally acceptable form, as the producers themselves admitted).

    More generally, the music of the period fun and hopeful, and as evidence two (albeit highly popular) groups out of thousands? How about Cream, the Grateful Dead, Iron Butterfly, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, and on and on. Optimism ain't what is projected by any of these or dozens more I could cite off the top of my head.

    I could go on, but the whole essay reads as an apologia for the hippy mentality of the day.

    Re-boot and try again.

  2. Well, I was actually living in Berkeley through the late sixties and have a good idea of the general mood and I heard several of those groups perform free in Sproul Plaza or in Golden Gate Park.
    My wife played a female lead in Hair in Australia and the Female Head in Hair in New Zealand (Jenny Parkinson) so I take her word for the mood of the Hair Tribe.
    The US movement of the first half of the 20th century was a Conservationist Movement. The Environmental movement which developed from the sixties is quite different. The early European Green movements were more similar to the modern Environmental movement but were nationalist rather than global.
    If it suits you to say everything is the same then you can always do so. Fascism Socialism and Communism are "all the same" if you chose the right parameter, but the differences are what make them interesting.
    I said Rousseau would be unhappy with the high tax regimes and the call for World Government. IF one focuses only on his admiration of nature and village life then of course he is the forerunner of the environmental movement. But modern environmentalism is not in love with village life unless it is an urban village near a railway station.
    RE the optimism of the 60s Hippies, here is what I wrote:
    "Many of these changes in lifestyle were designed to set people free – free of possessions, free from the pressures of corporate life, free from pressures from older generations who still wanted their children to live by the old standards, and freedom from the draft to an unpopular – and inconveniently deadly – war. The Hippies and others of similar mindset were not motivated by the view that they were a threat to nature. They just wanted to get closer to nature, enjoy its ambience, and hear its voice.
    Rousseau and Thoreau would have approved.
    These Hippies of the 1960s would have been horrified by the prospect of the interventions of the ‘Nanny State’ now routinely proposed as necessary to save the planet.
    Many of these changes in lifestyle were designed to set people free – free of possessions, free from the pressures of corporate life, free from pressures from older generations who still wanted their children to live by the old standards, and freedom from the draft to an unpopular – and inconveniently deadly – war. The Hippies and others of similar mindset were not motivated by the view that they were a threat to nature. They just wanted to get closer to nature, enjoy its ambience, and hear its voice.
    Rousseau and Thoreau would have approved.
    These Hippies of the 1960s would have been horrified by the prospect of the interventions of the ‘Nanny State’ now routinely proposed as necessary to save the planet."
    The hippies never got to run San Francisco or anywhere. Arnie may see himself as many things but "Hippie" would not be one of them.
    Sorry, I lived through the sixties music revolution and it was uplifting and upbeat. But my 1970 the worm was turning along with the grim malthusiansim of seventies environmentalism.

  3. Another good link to add to this post, Peter, which I got from Mises Economic Blog.

    How the TARP actually works: http://www.calculatedriskblog.com/2009/02/tarp-visualized.html

    It's the sequence of the photos that is important :)


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