the never-ending spiral in energy prices

So we got a letter today informing us of yet another huge increase in electricity prices.

My prediction is that the Abbott Government will not win a second term unless it does something to halt the insane spiral in energy prices. A spiral driven entirely by the deluded apocalyptic fantasies of the green moonbats.

The disastrous Budget may have already doomed the Abbott Government, a budget that did nothing to address the real issues of insane government spending. The ABC is to be permitted to go on wasting $1.4 billion a year of taxpayers’ money. Arts bludgers continue to live off the fat of the land on their arts grants. Money is still being wasted on environmental silliness.

If this proves to be a one-term government they will have nobody to blame but themselves.

freedom of speech and dangerous ideas

Uthman Badar, a spokesman for Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, was to given a lecture at the Sydney Opera House as part of the so-called Festival of Dangerous Ideas. The subject of his lecture was to be “Honour killings are morally justified” – certainly a provocative enough title. After predictable howls of outrage the lecture has been cancelled

What depresses me about all this is that many conservatives are expressing delight that the lecture has been cancelled. None of those who reacted with outrage to the proposed lecture know precisely what arguments Mr Badar intended to use at his lecture. The furore that erupted had nothing to do with the lecture’s content. The title was enough.
The problem with this is that we can’t have it both ways. Conservative speakers are frequently silenced by the same methods used against Mr Badar – a campaign of hysteria in the media, and more particularly on social media. If we as conservatives truly believe in freedom of speech we have to be consistent, and we have to recognise the rights of people to express views that we may find extremely repugnant. That’s what freedom of speech is all about. Freedom to express opinions that may offend, outrage, anger and provoke many people. You either believe in freedom of speech or you don’t. If you do then you have to see the silencing of Mr Badar as yet another infringement on freedom of speech.

It’s quite likely that, given the opportunity to hear his arguments, I would find myself disagreeing very strongly indeed with Mr Badar. No having been given the opportunity, I can’t say for certain. No matter how strongly I might disagree with him I still believe he has the right to be heard.

It seems that freedom of speech is still the most dangerous idea of them all.

Gregory Clark’s A Farewell to Alms

In A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World economic historian Gregory Clark confronts the key questions in economic history – why did the Industrial Revolution occur when and where it did and why has it not been replicated everywhere?
Clark argues that living standards remained substantially unchanged for 100,000 years after the appearance of anatomically modern humans. The birth of agriculture 10,000 years ago may actually have led to a decline in living standards. Until 1800 the entire world was held in the grip of what Clark calls a Malthusian Trap – every small improvement in technology merely had the effect of allowing population growth which immediately cancelled out the benefits, leaving living standards basically unchanged. 
All this suddenly changed in England around 1800. The pace of technological improvement suddenly accelerated to the point where escape from the Malthusian Trap was finally possible. Living standards increased rapidly, and have continued to increase. 
But not everywhere. The Industrial Revolution was replicated in many countries, but not others.
Economic historians have come up with many possible explanations of these events, but most of their theories fail to explain why, even when all the necessary pre-conditions for economic growth seem to be in place, some parts of the world stubbornly refuse to advance.
Clark has his own ingenious explanation for the Industrial Revolution in England. Based on  studies of wills Clark argues that the rich in England enjoyed much greater reproductive success than the poor. It is important to note that Clark is not arguing that the ruling class as a whole reproduced at a faster rate than the poor. The aristocracy, being the ones who did most of the fighting in wars during this period, enjoyed no greater reproductive success than the average. Those who did produce significantly more surviving children were the wealthy middle classes. Because of the Malthusian Trap the greater reproductive success of the rich led to downward social mobility for many of their offspring. In this way the genes of the rich middle classes slowly percolated their way downwards into the population as a whole.
And the rich middle classes were the ones who carried the genes most useful in starting an Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution came about by natural selection.
Even more interesting is Clark’s explanation for the perplexing fact that while many countries have achieved the same startling rates of economic growth that England enjoyed in the 19th century, many have not. Most curious of all is that many countries with very low wage rates have been unable to compete successfully in world markets even in industries in which such low wage rates should have offered them astronomical advantages. Clark suggests that the low wage rates in places like Africa and India were offset by the poor quality of the workforce. In the textile industry for example Indian factories typically employed eight workers to do jobs that were done quite successfully by a single worker in England, western Europe and North America.
The reason some countries are rich and others are poor is of course a subject of extreme political controversy. Clark was clearly aware that he was wandering into a political minefield and for this reason he has been very very cautious. At times perhaps too cautious. It is notable that not once does he address the most controversial consequence of natural selection – differences in intelligence. While he is prepared to argue that some countries have failed to advance because of their lower quality workforce he is reluctant to speculate on the ways in which their workforces may be deficient. 
The most important consequence of Clark’s argument is that there is very little that can be done to achieve economic takeoff in much of the Third World. No matter how much time, money and effort are expended in trying to create the right pre-conditions for growth the results are likely to be bitterly disappointing. If natural selection has not favoured some nations with the genes most suitable for economic success then those nations are likely to remain permanently backward.
The weakness of Clark’s argument is of course that not being a geneticist he is unable to offer hard evidence for most of his contentions. However, given that it is increasingly apparent as Nicholas Wade states in his book A Troublesome Inheritance that “human evolution has been recent, copious, and regional” then Clark’s argument that natural selection has played a vital role in economic history seems entirely plausible. It is to be hoped that geneticists will take up the challenge and start looking for the hard evidence.
A Farewell to Alms is an exciting and stimulating and very readable book that raises more questions than it answers, but it raises the right questions. Highly recommended.

smarter, not stronger

Most conservatives seem to be convinced that the United States needs a stronger foreign policy. In fact what the current mess in Iraq demonstrates is that the US needs a smarter foreign policy. A more realistic foreign policy. One that is based on an acceptance that democracy is not a magical solution to Third World problems. 
Democracy does not work well in countries with significant religious and/or ethnic minorities. Iraq has a significant Sunni minority and a signifiant Kurdish minority. Holding such a country together requires an authoritarian government rather like the one Saddam Hussein used to lead. In the absence of such an authoritarian regime the best answer is usually partition. Democracy will almost inevitably lead to chaos and civil war. That such an outcome is now likely should surprise no-one.
The US needs to understand that stability is more crucial than democracy.
The US also needs to accept that well-meaning interference in complex situations like Iraq and the Ukraine is more likely to do harm than good. Smarter, not stronger, is the answer.

Necessary wars, just wars and successful wars

War is a very unpleasant business but there are times when unpleasant things cannot be avoided. If a war has to be fought it is essential that it should be fought in such a way as to achieve something. The fact that there might be just cause is not enough. If the war fails in its objects it is sometimes the case that it would have been better not fought at all.
The Second World War is usually thought of as being the outstanding example of a just war. Perhaps it was, but what did it achieve? The ostensible cause was the German invasion of Poland. Britain and France declared war, presumably in order to save Poland. In fact Poland was invaded anyway and not only suffered six years of misery under the Nazis but a further four decades of misery under communist domination. If Britain and France went to war to save Poland it has to be said that this was a war that failed spectacularly to achieve its objective.
Of course it could be argued that the real aim was to stop German aggression and prevent the spread of totalitarianism. In fact the war ended with the whole of eastern Europe under the heel of totalitarianism, a situation that continued for more than forty years. The war cost sixty million lives. The subjugation of China to Maoist totalitarianism was an indirect result of the war and that subjugation added several tens of millions of additional dead. Hardly an impressive success.
If the war is regarded in terms of national self-interest the story is equally grim. The two powers that declared war in 1939, Britain and France, were as a direct consequence of the war reduced from the status of great powers to the status of third-rate powers.
The real question of course is whether not going to war would have led to worse consequences. Had Britain and France not declared war there’s no doubt that Germany and the Soviet Union would still have carved up Poland would there’s equally no doubt that Germany would eventually have gone to war with the Soviet Union. This had always been Hitler’s intention. And it was always going to be a hideously destructive conflict. The mass murders carried out by the Nazis would undoubtedly have occurred. But it is unlikely that the final death toll would have exceeded sixty million, and it might well have been considerably lower. The actual results of the war were so appalling that it is difficult to imagine how things could possibly have turned out worse.
While war with Russia was always Hitler’s intention, war with Britain and France was most certainly not his intention in 1939.
One also has to consider the possibility that while Britain and France might not have been able to avoid war an eventual war with Germany that war might have been better fought under much more favourable circumstances. The best time to have stopped Hitler would have been much earlier, in the early or mid-1930s. At that time German rearmament had only just begun on a serious scale and Germany could almost certainly have been crushed quickly and at a much lower cost. Even in 1938 when the crisis over Czechoslovakia first erupted it is likely that the war could have achieved its aims at a much lower overall cost. Czechoslovakia was a respectable mid-ranking military power with a well-equipped army and a large and modern armaments industry. British and French intervention might have had some chance of saving Czechoslovakia. In 1939 the chances of saving Poland were nil.
If you’re going to go to war it’s a very good idea to have a clear idea of what you are trying to achieve, and it’s an even better idea to have a clear notion as to whether such objectives really are achievable. In 1939 Britain and France had no such clarity of vision.
Even more importantly if you’re going to wage a war as part of an alliance it’s wise to be realistic about your allies. If their objectives are totally at variance with your own, as was obviously the case with the ill-advised alliance with the Soviet Union, you need to think very carefully about the extent to which it is wise to support that ally. Propping up the Soviet Union in 1941 was probably a good idea. Continuing to send aid once the danger of an imminent Soviet collapse was over was foolish and naïve. Giving Stalin the means to overrun eastern Europe was sheer stupidity. The Soviets overran eastern Europe with Sherman tanks and Studebaker trucks. Had Britain and the US limited their aid to Stalin eastern Europe might have been saved from decades of totalitarian misery. The British were particularly foolish in late 1941, sending Stalin the modern fighter aircraft that could have saved Singapore.
War is a horrible thing. It is even more horrible when it is waged for no useful purpose.

Rudyard Kipling’s Kim

Published in 1901, Kim is generally regarded as Kipling’s masterpiece and the novel was undoubtedly instrumental in gaining its author the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907. 
Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) remains a controversial figure but even decades of political correctness have failed to put a serious dent in his literary reputation. Despite his stature as the pre-eminent imperialist writer he remains immensely popular in India.
Kim can be read as a tale of adventure but it is in fact a complex multi-layered novel. Kipling was a complex man and this is an ambitious novel.
The background to the novel is the Great Game, the struggle or power and influence in central Asia between the British and the Russians. While the British were obsessed by the supposed threat to India the Russians were probably more interested in Persia. the problem was that both powers saw control of Afghanistan as crucial. The struggle was conducted through a mixture of espionage, bluff and attempts to gain influence over the various native rulers.
Kim is caught between two worlds, in more ways than one. The son of an Irish soldier, he grew up on the streets of Lahore believing himself to be Indian. He not only thinks in Hindustani, he dreams in that language. When he discovers the true circumstances of his birth he adapts to being white without in any way rejecting his sense of being Indian. He is capable of thinking of himself as being wholly white and wholly Indian. He is also caught between the worlds of the flesh and the spirit. He becomes an adept at the Great Game, playing the game of political intrigue and espionage with great skill. At the same time he is a devoted disciple of his lama and is drawn to the pursuit of spiritual perfection and rejection of the world.
It is no accident that Kipling chooses to make his hero an espionage agent. It is a useful metaphor. A spy is after all someone with a dual existence, a dual personality.
The India of the Raj was itself caught between two worlds. Almost everything in this novel is concerned with themes of duality. Even Kim’s lama displays this quality. He seeks to reject the world but is drawn back to it by his affection for Kim.
Kipling sees no particular need to resolve these oppositions. The world of action is as valid as the world of the spirit. 
The novel can be seen as a tale of adventure, a coming-of-age story, a spiritual quest and a very affectionate portrait of India. Kipling was born in India and his love for the country was sincere and passionate. Anyone expecting that a novel by such a renowned enthusiast for imperialism can be dismissed as racist will be sorely perplexed by Kim. Kipling’s view of imperialism was much too complex and subtle to be dismissed so glibly. The hero remains, throughout his adventures, as much Indian as British. Kipling of course saw no conflict between the two.
Kipling’s answer to the various opposing dichotomies facing his characters seems to be to embrace such oppositions rather than to try to resolve them.
Most of the non-white characters in the novel see no particular conflict of identity. The Afghan Moslem Mahbub Ali and the Bengali Hurree Babu serve the British with courage and enthusiasm, not because they are traitors to the own nations but because they believe  they are serving the interests of both their own people and the British. Of course the possibility that Indians may have been strong supporters of British rule and may have been prepared to give their lives for it will not please modern readers brought up to believe in the Cult of Gandhi. The fact that the ethnic cleansing that followed the partition of India after independence cost a million lives illustrates the reasons so many Indians supported the Raj.
Kipling was not just a highly skilled but also an innovative and daring story-teller. Kim is a fascinatingly complex novel. Highly recommended.