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August 10, 2014

McCloskey's "Great Fact" of "the Ice-Hockey Stick"




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Source of image: http://www.bombayharbor.com/productImage/Ice_Hockey_Stick/Ice_Hockey_Stick.jpg



(p. 2) Economic history has looked like an ice-hockey stick lying on the ground. It had a long, long horizontal handle at $3 a day extending through the two-hundred-thousand-year history of Homo sapiens to 1800, with little bumps upward on the handle in ancient Rome and the early medieval Arab world and high medieval Europe, with regressions to $3 afterward--then a wholly unexpected blade, leaping up in the last two out of the two thousand centuries, to $30 a day and in many places well beyond.


. . .


(p. 48) The heart of the matter is sixteen. Real income per head nowadays exceeds that around 1700 or 1800 in, say, Britain and in other countries that have experienced modern economic growth by such a large factor as sixteen, at least. You, oh average participant in the British economy, go through at least sixteen times more food and clothing and housing and education in a day than an ancestor of yours did two or three centuries ago. Not sixteen percent more, but sixteen multiplied by the old standard of living. You in the American or the South Korean economy, compared to the wretchedness of former Smiths in 1653 or Kims in 1953, have done even better. And if such novelties as jet travel and vitamin pills and instant messaging are accounted at their proper value, the factor of material improvement climbs even higher than sixteen--to eighteen, or thirty, or far beyond. No previous episode of enrichment for the average person approaches it, not the China of the Song Dynasty or the Egypt of the New Kingdom, not the glory of Greece or the grandeur of Rome.

No competent economist, regardless of her politics, denies the Great Fact.



Source:

McCloskey, Deirdre N. Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






May 22, 2014

In France "'Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité' Means that What's Yours Should Be Mine"



SantacruzGuillaumeFrenchEntrepreneurInLondon2014-04-27.jpgGuillaume Santacruz is among many French entrepreneurs now using London as their base. He said of his native France, "The economy is not going well, and if you want to get ahead or run your own business, the environment is not good." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 1) Guillaume Santacruz, an aspiring French entrepreneur, brushed the rain from his black sweater and skinny jeans and headed down to a cavernous basement inside Campus London, a seven-story hive run by Google in the city's East End.


. . .


A year earlier, Mr. Santacruz, who has two degrees in finance, was living in Paris near the Place de la Madeleine, working in a boutique finance firm. He had taken that job after his attempt to start a business in Marseille foundered under a pile of government regulations and a seemingly endless parade of taxes. The episode left him wary of starting any new projects in France. Yet he still hungered to be his own boss.

He decided that he would try again. Just not in his own country.

"A lot of people are like, 'Why would you ever leave France?' " Mr. Santacruz said. "I'll tell you. France has a lot of problems. There's a feeling of gloom that seems to be growing deeper. The economy is not going well, and if you want to get ahead or run your own business, the environment is not good."


. . .


(p. 5) "Making it" is almost never easy, but Mr. Santacruz found the French bureaucracy to be an unbridgeable moat around his ambitions. Having received his master's in finance at the University of Nottingham in England, he returned to France to work with a friend's father to open dental clinics in Marseille. "But the French administration turned it into a herculean effort," he said.

A one-month wait for a license turned into three months, then six. They tried simplifying the corporate structure but were stymied by regulatory hurdles. Hiring was delayed, partly because of social taxes that companies pay on salaries. In France, the share of nonwage costs for employers to fund unemployment benefits, education, health care and pensions is more than 33 percent. In Britain, it is around 20 percent.

"Every week, more tax letters would come," Mr. Santacruz recalled.


. . .


Diane Segalen, an executive recruiter for many of France's biggest companies who recently moved most of her practice, Segalen & Associés, to London from Paris, says the competitiveness gap is easy to see just by reading the newspapers. "In Britain, you read about all the deals going on here," Ms. Segalen said. "In the French papers, you read about taxes, more taxes, economic problems and the state's involvement in everything."


. . .


"It is a French cultural characteristic that goes back to almost the revolution and Robespierre, where there's a deep-rooted feeling that you don't show that you make money," Ms. Segalen, the recruiter, said. "There is this sense that 'liberté, égalité, fraternité' means that what's yours should be mine. It's more like, if someone has something I can't have, I'd rather deprive this person from having it than trying to work hard to get it myself. That's a very French state of mind. But it's a race to the bottom."



For the full story, see:

LIZ ALDERMAN. "Au Revoir, Entrepreneurs." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., MARCH 23, 2014): 1 & 5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 22, 2014.)




SegalenDianeFrenchEntrepreneurInLondon2014-04-27.jpg 'Diane Segalen moved most of her executive recruiting practice to London from Paris. In France, she says, "there is this sense that 'liberté, égalité, fraternité' means that what's yours should be mine."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






March 17, 2014

Margaret Thatcher Left Britain "Prosperous, Confident and Free"



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Source of book image: http://media.npr.org/assets/bakertaylor/covers/manually-added/thatchercover_custom-e43e3b7aec14140f5606737ab274110160f0c94a-s2-c85.jpg



Daniel Hannan, a European Parliament representative from Britain, discusses a favorite book of 2013:



(p. C9) We've waited a long time for the authorized biography of Margaret Thatcher, and it has been worth the wait. Through Charles Moore's vivid prose, we relive the extraordinary story of Britain's greatest peacetime leader--how she found her country bankrupt, demoralized and dishonored and left it prosperous, confident and free. Mr. Moore weaves numerous new revelations into the narrative of the single-minded, humorless, workaholic, patriotic force of nature that was Margaret Thatcher.


For the full article, see:

"12 Months of Reading; We asked 50 of our friends--from April Bloomfield to Mike Tyson--to name their favorite books of 2013." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Dec. 14, 2013): C6 & C9-C12.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Dec. 13, 2013.)


The book that Hannan praises is:

Moore, Charles. Margaret Thatcher: From Grantham to the Falklands. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013.






December 14, 2013

In Britain Right and Left Support "Libertarian Paternalism"



(p. 4) In 2010, Mr. Cameron set up the Behavioral Insights Team -- or nudge unit, as it's often called. Three years later, the team has doubled in size and is about to announce a joint venture with an external partner to expand the program.

The unit has been nudging people to pay taxes on time, insulate their attics, sign up for organ donation, stop smoking during pregnancy and give to charity -- and has saved taxpayers tens of millions of pounds in the process, said David Halpern, its director.


. . .


Creating Commitment

One morning in late May 2008, 10 copies of a little red book arrived for Rohan Silva in Norman Shaw South, the Westminster wing where the leader of the political opposition -- at the time, the Conservatives -- is traditionally housed.

The book was "Nudge," and Mr. Silva, then 27 and David Cameron's youngest adviser, piled them up on his desk. He had read the book as soon as it came out, a few weeks before. In fact, he had read deeply on behavioral economics and social psychology and met many of the American academics who specialized in the field. He was eager to spread the message in his country. "We used to joke about Ro being on commission for Thaler and Sunstein," said Steve Hilton, Mr. Cameron's former director of strategy and now a visiting scholar at Stanford.


. . .


Libertarian Paternalism


. . .


. . . , the question in Britain no longer seems to be whether, but how, to nudge. In their book, Professor Thaler and Mr. Sunstein defined their approach as steering people toward decisions deemed superior by the government but leaving them free to choose. "Libertarian paternalism," they called it, and while that term is not used much in Britain, there is broad agreement on the subject among the left and the right.

Mr. Halpern used to be policy chief for Tony Blair, the former Labour prime minister, and later wrote a report on behavioral policy-making commissioned by Mr. Blair's Labour Party successor, Gordon Brown. In one small way, the 2010 election campaign was also a race to decide which party would carry out an idea that had been percolating in the intellectual ranks of both for some years.

Wider Horizons

One of Mr. Thaler's favorite nudges is something that Schiphol Airport near Amsterdam adopted in public bathrooms: a small sticker of a fly in the center of a urinal has been shown to improve aim. It saves the airport cleaning costs.

During a recent visit to Downing Street, Mr. Thaler ran into Mr. Cameron in the men's room. There were no fly stickers.

"What's the deal?" he joked.


For the full story, see:

KATRIN BENNHOLD. "The Ministry of Nudges." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., December 8, 2013): 1 & 4.

(Note: ellipses added; bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date December 7, 2013, and has the title "Britain's Ministry of Nudges.")


The Nudge book is:

Thaler, Richard H., and Cass R. Sunstein. Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Revised & Expanded (pb) ed: Penguin Books, 2009.






October 8, 2013

Immigration to the U.S. Is the Story of Hope, Achievement, Youth, Freedom and Creation



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Source of book image: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51VTjY0xVbL.jpg




(p. C6) In his new book, "To America With Love," the British critic A. A. Gill attempts to make up for his fellow Britons' grouchiness, sending the United States a frilly, funny valentine.


. . .


Perhaps the most provocative thing in "To America With Love" is Mr. Gill's European take on our history of immigration. He argues that America over the years has been a magnet, drawing "the young and the strong from Europe; the adventurous, the clever, and the skilled."

In the United States, "immigration is the story of hope and achievement, of youth, of freedom, of creation," he writes. "But all entrances on one stage are exits elsewhere. In Europe it is loss. Every one a farewell, a failure, a sadness, a defeat." Between 1800 and 1914, he says, "more than 30 million Europeans immigrated to the New World: one in four Irishmen, one in five Swedes, three million Germans, five million Poles, four million Italians. There is not a country, a community, a village or household that wasn't affected by the lure of the West."

As Mr. Gill sees it, much of the bitterness that animates trans-Atlantic relationships (Europeans, he says, patronize America "for being a big, dumb, fat, belligerent child") can be traced back to this dynamic. "The belittling, the discounting, the mocking of the States is not about them at all," he writes. "It's about us, back here in the ancient, classical, civilized continent."

Europe's view of America, he contends, "has been formed and deformed by the truth that we are the ones who stayed behind, for all those good, bad and lazy reasons: because of caution, for comfort, for conformity and obligation, but mostly, I suspect, because of habit and fear. We didn't take the risky road."



For the full review, see:

MICHIKO KAKUTANI. "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; A Rebellious Trans-Atlantic Infatuation: Take That, Mrs. Trollope!" The New York Times (Thurs., August 22, 2013): C6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date August 21, 2013.)


The book under review is:

Gill, A.A. To America with Love. Reprint ed. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.



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"A. A. Gill" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited above.







September 20, 2013

Brazil's Cardozo Envies England's Rule of Law



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"Michael Palin." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. C11) For his most recent project in Brazil, which will go on to become a PBS series, Mr. Palin interviewed former Brazilian President Fernando Cardoso, who is often credited with the country's economic turnaround. Whereas he says most political leaders are hesitant to say anything controversial, Mr. Cardoso was refreshingly straightforward. "I asked him, 'Brazil has so many good things going for it--the people are friendly and relaxed, the economy is booming. Is there anything you envy about us in England?' " He was surprised by Mr. Cardoso's answer. "He said straight out, 'The rule of law.' He said, 'Our problem here is we have endemic corruption,' " says Mr. Palin. "I just thought it was incredibly honest for a world leader."


For the full story, see:

ALEXANDRA WOLFE. "WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Michael Palin Takes on the World; The former Monty Python performer is turning his global adventures into comic tales." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., August 31, 2013): C11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date August 30, 2013.)






September 10, 2013

Margaret Thatcher Funeral: "Suddenly from the Crowd a Great Roar"



ThatcherSupporterWithSign203-09-02.jpg "A supporter of Margaret Thatcher holds a banner outside St. Clement Danes church in London." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A15) The funeral of Margaret Thatcher was beautiful, moving, just right. It had dignity and spirit, and in that respect was just like her. It also contained a surprise that shouldn't have been a surprise. It was a metaphor for where she stood in the pantheon of successful leaders of the 20th century.


. . .


At the end of the funeral they all marched down the aisle in great procession--the family, the queen, the military pallbearers carrying the casket bearing the Union Jack. The great doors flung open, the pallbearers marched forward, and suddenly from the crowd a great roar. We looked at each other. Demonstrators? No. Listen. They were cheering. They were calling out three great hurrahs as the pallbearers went down the steps. Then long cheers and applause. It was electric.

England came. The people came. Later we would learn they'd stood 30 deep on the sidewalk, that quiet crowds had massed on the Strand and Fleet Street and Ludgate Hill. A man had held up a sign: "But We Loved Her."

. . . When they died, Ronald Reagan, John Paul II, and Margaret Thatcher were old and long past their height of power. Everyone was surprised when Reagan died that crowds engulfed the Capitol; people slept on sidewalks to view him in state. When John Paul died the Vatican was astonished to see millions converge. "Santo Subito."

And now at the end some came for Thatcher, too.

What all three had in common: No one was with them but the people.

Margaret Hilda Thatcher, rest in peace.



For the full commentary, see:

PEGGY NOONAN. "DECLARATIONS; Britain Remembers a Great Briton; Margaret Thatcher's coffin stood over he crypts that hold the tombs of Nelson and Wellington. It mattered." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., April 20, 2013): A15.

(Note: the online version of the story was updated April 22, 2013 (I did not see any update in the part I quoted above), and has the title "DECLARATIONS; Noonan: Britain Remembers a Great Briton; Mrs. Thatcher is with Wellington and Nelson now.")






August 29, 2013

Philosopher Herbert Spencer Defended Capitalism in America



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Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.






Spencer was sometimes a much better philosopher than the modern caricature portrays, a caricature exemplified by the review quoted below and, perhaps, by the book reviewed. I would like to look at this book sometime, because there may be some interesting history in it---though I am not optimistic about the book's economic assumptions, or its account of Spencer's philosophy.


(p. A11) Herbert Spencer, the 19th-century British philosopher, is remembered today as the forbidding -- almost forbidden -- father of "Social Darwinism," a school of thought declaring that the fittest prosper in a free marketplace and the human race is gradually improved because only the strong survive. In Barry Werth's satisfying "Banquet at Delmonico's," Spencer is also a querulous 62-year-old celibate whose 1882 American tour culminates in a feast to which are invited the "mostly Republican men of science, religion, business, and government" who shared and spread the Spencerian creed.

Applying Darwinian insights about evolution to political, economic and social life -- though he did not himself use the term "Social Darwinism" -- Spencer concluded that vigorous competition and unfettered capitalism conduced to the betterment of society. He predicted that the American, raised in liberty, would evolve into "a finer type of man than has hitherto existed," dazzling the world with "the highest form of government" and "a civilization grander than any the world has known."


. . .


The public clamor over the visit of a dyspeptic foreign philosopher to these shores was partly due to the indefatigable promotion of Edward Livingston Youmans, Spencer's chief American proselytizer, who called his beau ideal the most original thinker in the history of mankind. Youmans is among the several critics and apostles of Spencer and Darwin whose profiles Mr. Werth skillfully interweaves in this Gilded Age tapestry.



For the full review, see:

BILL KAUFFMAN. "BOOKSHELF; Darwin in the New World; When the father of Social Darwinism came to America, the place where the fittest were supposed to thrive." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., January 9, 2009): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added; italics in original.)


The book under review is:

Werth, Barry. Banquet at Delmonico's: Great Minds, the Gilded Age, and the Triumph of Evolution in America. New York: Random House, 2009.


For a more balanced account of Spencer, see the first review below for the mostly good in Spencer, and the second review below for the mostly bad in Spencer:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. "Spencer's Tragedy: Review of Herbert Spencer's The Principles of Ethics." Modern Age 24, no. 4 (Fall 1980): 419-421.

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. "The State of Spencer: Review of Herbert Spencer's The Man Versus the State." Modern Age 28, nos. 2-3 (Spring/Summer 1984): 286-288.






July 6, 2013

In the England of the Late 1600s, Coffeehouses Were "Crucibles of Creativity"



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Source of book image: http://www.drinkoftheweek.com/wp-content/plugins/simple-post-thumbnails/timthumb.php?src=/wp-content/thumbnails/23682.jpg&w=250&h=400&zc=1&ft=jpg



(p. 8) Like coffee itself, coffeehouses were an import from the Arab world.


. . .


Patrons were not merely permitted but encouraged to strike up conversations with strangers from entirely different walks of life. As the poet Samuel Butler put it, "gentleman, mechanic, lord, and scoundrel mix, and are all of a piece."


. . .


. . . , coffeehouses were in fact crucibles of creativity, because of the way in which they facilitated the mixing of both people and ideas. Members of the Royal Society, England's pioneering scientific society, frequently retired to coffeehouses to extend their discussions. Scientists often conducted experiments and gave lectures in coffeehouses, and because admission cost just a penny (the price of a single cup), coffeehouses were sometimes referred to as "penny universities." It was a coffeehouse argument among several fellow scientists that spurred Isaac Newton to write his "Principia Mathematica," one of the foundational works of modern science.

Coffeehouses were platforms for innovation in the world of business, too. Merchants used coffeehouses as meeting rooms, which gave rise to new companies and new business models. A London coffeehouse called Jonathan's, where merchants kept particular tables at which they would transact their business, turned into the London Stock Exchange. Edward Lloyd's coffeehouse, a popular meeting place for ship captains, shipowners and traders, became the famous insurance market Lloyd's.

And the economist Adam Smith wrote much of his masterpiece "The Wealth of Nations" in the British Coffee House, a popular meeting place for Scottish intellectuals, among whom he circulated early drafts of his book for discussion.



For the full commentary, see:

TOM STANDAGE. "OPINION; Social Networking in the 1600s." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., June 23, 2013): 8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 22, 2013.)



The author of the commentary is also the author of a related book:

Standage, Tom. A History of the World in Six Glasses. New York: Walker & Company, 2005.






May 20, 2013

"Lowest-Paid Burger Flipper" Is "Better Off than King Henry"



(p. 76) After going from room to room, skipping none except the garage (that would be a project in itself), we arrived at a total of 6,000 varieties of things in our house. Since we have multiple examples of some varieties, such as books, CDs, paper plates, spoons, socks, on so on, I estimate the total number of objects in our home, including the garage, to be close to 10,000.

Without trying very hard, our typical modern house holds a king's ransom. But in fact, we are wealthier than King Henry. In fact, the lowest-paid burger flipper working at McDonald's is in many respects (p. 77) better off than King Henry or any of the richest people living not too long ago. Although the burger flipper barely makes enough to pay the rent, he or she can afford many things that King Henry could not. King Henry's wealth--the entire treasure of England--could not have purchased an indoor flush toilet or air-conditioning or secured a comfortable ride for 500 kilometers. Any taxicab driver can afford these today. Only 100 years ago, John Rockefeller's vast fortune as the world's richest man could not have gotten him the cell phone that any untouchable street sweeper in Bombay now uses. In the first half of the 19th century Nathan Rothschild was the richest man in the world. His millions were not enough to buy an antibiotic. Rothschild died of an infected abscess that could have been cured with a three-dollar tube of neomycin today. Although King Henry had some fine clothes and a lot of servants, you could not pay people today to live as he did, without plumbing, in dark, drafty rooms, isolated from the world by impassable roads and few communication connections. A poor university student living in a dingy dorm room in Jakarta lives better in most ways than King Henry.



Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.






May 17, 2013

21st Century Person Would Be Sick in Dickens' 1850 London



NancyFromOliverTwist2013-05-04.jpg "Anderson found Dickens World to be "surprisingly grisly" for a park that markets itself to children; he noted several severed heads and a gruesome performance of "Oliver Twist" in the courtyard. Here, a mannequin of Nancy from "Oliver Twist."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 48) . . . even if it were possible to create a lavish simulacrum of 1850s London -- with its typhus and cholera and clouds of toxic corpse gas, its sewage pouring into the Thames, its (p. 49) average life span of 27 years -- why would anyone want to visit? ("If a late-20th-century person were suddenly to find himself in a tavern or house of the period," Peter Ackroyd, a Dickens biographer, has written, "he would be literally sick -- sick with the smells, sick with the food, sick with the atmosphere around him.")


For the full story, see:

SAM ANDERSON. "VOYAGES; The Pippiest Place on Earth." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., February 7, 2012): 48-53.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 7, 2012 (sic), and has the title "VOYAGES; The World of Charles Dickens, Complete With Pizza Hut.")






April 7, 2013

Confident Winner Studied Economics at Cambridge and Directed Bronson in "Death Wish"



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"Michael Winner, left, and Charles Bronson on the set of the 1974 film "Death Wish." The two collaborated on several films." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT obituary quoted and cited below.


(p. B8) Michael Winner, the brash British director known for violent action movies starring Charles Bronson including "The Mechanic" and the first three "Death Wish" films, died on Monday [January 21, 2013] at his home in London. He was 77.


. . .


Mr. Winner's films viscerally pleased crowds, largely ignored artistic pretensions and often underwhelmed critics. He directed many major stars in more than 30 films over more than four decades.


. . .


Mr. Bronson played Paul Kersey, a New York City architect who becomes a vigilante after his wife is murdered and his daughter is sexually assaulted by muggers.


. . .


Michael Robert Winner was born in London on Oct. 30, 1935. The son of a well-to-do business owner, Mr. Winner graduated from Cambridge, having studied law and economics.


. . .


He was confident on set, sometimes bordering on the dictatorial. "You have to be an egomaniac about it. You have to impose your own taste," he said. "The team effort is a lot of people doing what I say."



For the full obituary, see:

DANIEL E. SLOTNIK. "Michael Winner, 77, 'Death Wish' Director." The New York Times (Tues., January 22, 2013): B8.

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the slightly different title "Michael Winner, 'Death Wish' Director, Dies at 77.")

(Note: ellipses and bracketed date were added.)






April 3, 2013

Liver Transplant Pioneer Roy Calne Has a "Rebellious Nature"



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"Roy Y. Calne" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT interview quoted and cited below.





(p. D2) Sir Roy Calne is a pioneer of organ transplants -- the surgeon who in the 1950s found ways to stop the human immune system from rejecting implanted hearts, livers and kidneys. In 1968 he performed Europe's first liver transplant, and in 1987 the world's first transplant of a liver, heart and lung.


. . .


When you were studying medicine in early-1950s Britain, what was the prevailing attitude toward organ transplantation?

It didn't exist! While a medical student, I recall being presented with a young patient with kidney failure. I was told to make him as comfortable as possible because he would die in two weeks.

This troubled me. Some of our patients were very young, very deserving. Aside from their kidney disease, there was nothing else wrong with them. I wondered then if it might be possible to do organ transplants, because kidneys are fairly simple in terms of their plumbing. I thought in gardening terms. Might it not be possible to do an organ graft, replacing a malfunctioning organ with a healthy one? I was told, "No, that's impossible."

Well, I've always tended to dislike being told that something can't be done. I've always had a somewhat rebellious nature. Just ask my wife.



For the full interview, see:

CLAUDIA DREIFUS, interviewer. "A CONVERSATION WITH ROY Y. CALNE; "I've always tended to dislike being told that something can't be done. I've always had a somewhat rebellious nature."" The New York Times (Weds., November 27, 2012): D2.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original to indicate interviewer (Dreifus) question.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date November 26, 2012 and has the title "A CONVERSATION WITH ROY Y. CALNE; Organ Transplant Pioneer Talks About Risks and Rewards.")






December 16, 2012

EU Costs Britain $238 Billion Per Year According to Congdon Report



FarageNigelEnemyEU2012-12-08.jpg "Nigel Farage has waged a 20-year campaign to get Britain to leave the European Union." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A7) Strasbourg, France  THE floor of the European Union's cavernous and mostly vacant parliamentary chamber here is hardly known for its lively debates. At least not until Nigel Farage, the Brussels-bashing leader of Britain's fastest growing political party, gets up to speak.

The vast majority of the European Parliament's 754 members, as they process the torrent of rules and regulations that Europe bestows upon them, are not inclined to question why they are here. The pay and perks are generous for those elected to five-year terms in low-turnout elections throughout the European Union's 27 member countries. And the mission -- to extend the sweep of European federalism -- is for most a shared one.

But for Mr. Farage, who has waged a 20-year campaign to get Britain to leave the European Union, Strasbourg has become the perfect stage to disseminate his anti-European Union message by highlighting the bloc's bureaucratic absurdities and spendthrift tendencies as well as by mocking with glee the most prominent proponents of a European superstate: the head of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, and the European Council president, Herman Van Rompuy. "I said you'd be the quiet assassin of nation-state democracy," Mr. Farage has declared, as his target, Mr. Van Rompuy, squirmed in his seat just opposite, "and sure enough, in your dull and technocratic way, you've gone about your course."


. . .


Last year, in net terms, Britain paid $16 billion to the European Union. But according to a recent study by the economist Tim Congdon, himself an Independence Party member, if the cost of regulation, waste and misallocated resources is included, the annual cost of membership rises to $238 billion a year, or about 10 percent of Britain's economic output.

Perhaps the most egregious example of this profligacy is the spot where Mr. Farage has found fame: the European Parliament. As most of the legislative work is done in Brussels, the building is in use just three days each month. Analysts estimate that it costs taxpayers about $250 million a year to transport each month 754 members of Parliament, several thousand support staff members and lobbyists to this French city.

Mr. Farage lights another cigarette and shakes his head. "I just would like for my grandchildren to read some day that I did my part in saving my country from this lunacy," he said with a sigh.



For the full story, see:

LANDON THOMAS Jr. "THE SATURDAY PROFILE; An Enemy of Brussels, and Not Afraid to Say So." The New York Times (Sat., December 8, 2012): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date December 7, 2012.)


The Tim Congdon report mentioned is:

Congdon, Tim. "How Much Does the European Union Cost Britain?" UK Independence Party, 2012.

(Note: the report calculates a total cost of about 150 billion British pounds, which when converted to dollars is equal to the $238 billion reported in the article, at an exchange rate of about $1.587 per British pound.)





November 2, 2012

A Rising Tax Gathers No Rolling Stone



life-keith-richardsBK2012-10-31.jpg















Source of book image: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-Nhhn-YcP9IY/TjkQHfGGEeI/AAAAAAAAAVA/_jKMGRBm9Ac/s1600/life-keith-richards.jpg



(p. 289) The tax rate in the early '70s on the highest earners was 83 percent, and that went up to 98 percent for investments and so-called unearned income. So that's the same as being told to leave the country. ... The last thing I think the powers that be expected when they hit us with the super-super tax is that we'd say, fine, we'll leave. We'll be another one not paying tax to you. They just didn't factor that in. It made us bigger than ever, and it produced Exile on Main St., which was maybe the best thing we did. They didn't believe we'd be able to continue as we were if we didn't live in England. And in all honesty, we were very doubtful too. We didn't know if we would make it, but if we didn't try, what would we do? Sit in England and they'd give us a penny out of every pound we earned? We had no desire to be closed down. And so we upped and went to France.


Source:

Richards, Keith. Life. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2010.

(Note: I first saw the quote on the back cover of: Journal of Political Economy 119, no. 1 (Feb. 2011).)

(Note: ellipsis added.)






October 1, 2012

Global Warming Expands Range of Brown Argus Butterfly



BrownArgusButterfly2012-09-03.jpg "The brown argus butterfly has expanded its range in England." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. D3) A butterfly species in England is expanding its range, thanks to climate change.

In the current issue of Science, researchers at the University of York report that the brown argus butterfly has spread its reach in England northward by about 50 miles over 20 years as a warmer climate allows its caterpillars to feed off wild geranium plants, which are widespread in the countryside.



For the full story, see:

SINDYA N. BHANOO. "OBSERVATORY; A Butterfly Takes Wing on Climate Change." The New York Times (Tues., May 29, 2012): D3.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date May 24, 2012.)


The results summarized above are reported to the scientific community in:

Chen, Ching, Jane K. Hill, Ralf Ohlemüller, David B. Roy, and Chris D. Thomas. "Report; Rapid Range Shifts of Species Associated with High Levels of Climate Warming." Science 333, no. 6045 (August 19, 2011): 1024-1026.






September 29, 2012

How a Group of "Natural Philosophers" Created Science in a London "Full of Thieves, Murderers and Human Waste"



clockworkuniverseBK2012-09-01.jpg

















Source of book image: http://www.edwarddolnick.net/images/clockworkuniverse-cover.jpg



(p. 19) London before the mid-1600s was a general calamity. The streets were full of thieves, murderers and human waste. Death was everywhere: doctors were hapless, adults lived to about age 30, children died like flies. In 1665, plague moved into the city, killing sometimes 6,000 people a week. In 1666, an unstoppable fire burned the city to the ground; the bells of St. Paul's melted. Londoners thought that the terrible voice of God was "roaring in the City," one witness wrote, and they would do best to accept the horror, calculate their sins, pray for guidance and await retribution.

In the midst of it all, a group of men whose names we still learn in school formed the Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge. They thought that God, while an unforgiving judge, was also a mathematician. As such, he had organized the universe according to discernible, mathematical law, which, if they tried, they could figure out. They called themselves "natural philosophers," and their motto was "Nullius in verba": roughly, take no one's word for anything. You have an idea? Demonstrate it, do an experiment, prove it. The ideas behind the Royal Society would flower into the Enlightenment, the political, cultural, scientific and educational revolution that gave rise to the modern West.

This little history begins Edward Dolnick's "Clockwork Universe," so the reader might think the book is about the Royal Society and its effects. But the Royal Society is dispatched in the first third of the book, and thereafter, the subject is how the attempt to find the mathematics governing the universe played out in the life of Isaac Newton.


. . .


To go from sinful "curiositas" to productive "curiosity," from blind acceptance to open-eyed inquiry, from asking, "Why?" to answering, "How?" -- this change, of all the world's revolutions, must surely be the most remarkable.



For the full review, see:

ANN FINKBEINER. "Masters of the Universe." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., March 27, 2011): 19.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 25, 2011, and had the title "What Newton Gave Us.")


The full reference for the book under review, is:

Dolnick, Edward. The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2011.







September 19, 2012

EU Is "Infused with the Spirit of Yesterday's Future"



ThatcherMargaretIronLady2012-09-02.jpg "Mrs. Thatcher at a Conservative Party Conference in 1982." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ commentary quoted and cited below.


(p. C2) . . . , it was Mrs. Thatcher . . . , a couple of years after she left office, who identified the problem with European construction. It was, she said, "infused with the spirit of yesterday's future." It made the "central intellectual mistake" of assuming that "the model for future government was that of a centralized bureaucracy." As she concluded, "The day of the artificially constructed megastate is gone."


For the full commentary, see:

CHARLES MOORE. "What Would The Iron Lady Do? She preached a gospel of self-discipline, free enterprise and national autonomy. As Europe implodes and the West's economic woes mount, it's time to re-examine Margaret Thatcher's ambiguous legacy, writes Charles Moore." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 17, 2011): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipses added.)






August 30, 2012

"People Were Being Infantilized and Made Dependent"



JohnsonBorisLondonMayor2012-08-20.jpg









Mayor of London Boris Johnson. Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.















(p. 16) While I was reading your book "Johnson's Life of London," in which you take readers on a tour of the city while discussing some of history's most famous Londoners, I thought to myself, Being mayor of London can't be that taxing if you could find time to write such a decent book.
The job of mayor of London is unbelievably taxing, particularly in the run-up to the Olympics. It just happens I write fast and always have done. Some people play the piano, some do Sudoku, some watch television, some people go out to dinner parties. I write books.


. . .


Do you remember the moment you knew that you were a Conservative?
When I was a 22- or 23-year-old reporter in a place called Wolverhampton. I got impatient with some of the stuff I saw going on about damp and mold, about who's ultimately responsible for improving the ventilation in people's houses. I felt that people were being infantilized and made dependent by the system and that the local Labour politicians had no interest in sorting it out, were content to harvest these people's votes without improving their lives.

Wow. You were politically formed by mold.
It was the spores of damp, of mold forming on the walls in Wolverhampton.



For the full interview, see:

ANDREW GOLDMAN, interviewer. "TALK; Boris Johnson, Tory With an Attitude." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., June 3, 2012): 16.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original.)



Johnson's book is:

Johnson, Boris. Johnson's Life of London: The People Who Made the City That Made the World. New York: Riverhead Books, 2012.






July 13, 2012

Riots, Arson and Looting Returned in Spite of "State Largesse Lavished on Tottenham"



TottenhamRiotFire2012-06-22.jpg "As unrest flared in the U.K. on Aug. 7, fire raged through a building in Tottenham, north London--an area also the scene of riots 26 years ago." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A8) LONDON--After furious race riots broke out in London's Tottenham area 26 years ago, government and local authorities poured millions of pounds into the district and especially Broadwater Farm estate, a notorious housing project that was the epicenter of the 1985 unrest.

Yet last week, Tottenham returned to an unwelcome spotlight as the point of ignition for riots here--and this time the unrest spread far beyond the neighborhood, to other parts of London and distant cities like Birmingham and Manchester.

What started as a peaceful protest over the killing of a local man by police was quickly seized on as an excuse for looting, arson and other unruly behavior by roaming packs of people that gripped the country for days. The result as of Sunday night: 1,401 arrests nationwide and a debate over who is to blame and how to prevent it happening again.

Tottenham's repeat appearance in the rioting shows the sometimes limited effectiveness of urban-regeneration programs that fail to tackle the deep-seated problems of poor communities. The state largesse lavished on Tottenham has resulted in better facilities and nicer surroundings, yet the area is still blighted by high unemployment, a thriving gang culture and social breakdown, according to official data.



For the full story, see:

GUY CHAZAN And ALISTAIR MACDONALD. "State Aid Failed to Stem U.K. Unrest; Tottenham, Site of Past Violence, Saw Renewed Clashes Despite Government Efforts to Boost the Area." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., August 15, 2011): A8.





April 10, 2012

James Morrison Was a "Retailing Genius"



GeniusForMoneyBK2012-03-25.jpg











Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.








(p. A13) Morrison was not an inventor-capitalist but a retailing genius, more Sam Walton than Steve Jobs. He catered to England's growing consumer class by diversifying his wares and, in his ever-growing network of shops, introducing luxurious showrooms. He was a disciple of volume, seeking "high turnover, small profits, and quick returns." He sent his traveling men not to find buyers, as was typical, but to find the best suppliers. Advantageously purchased in bulk, goods would sell themselves. Morrison's buyers were specialists, anticipating the practices of later department stores. He kept his finger on the pulse of fashion and on "market making" events. Legendarily, he was never caught short of black crepe when a member of the royal family was ill. "The Duke of York has died most conveniently," he once quipped while tallying profits.

The "Napoleon of shopkeepers" went on to found his own merchant bank and accumulate a prodigious investment portfolio, much of it in American bonds. Strategic lending to broke aristocrats greased Morrison's way into Parliament, where he served as a "radical Whig," championing political reform and free trade.


. . .


. . . Morrison conducted both his retailing and his banking business with impeccable transparency. The investments he sold were honestly structured, and the risks he ran were his own, backed by sufficient collateral. Morrison's was an era before bailouts, an era of some moral luck but little moral hazard. Markets rose and fell with reasonably predictable effects. For him and many of his contemporaries, credit remained a personal matter of the highest consequence. In this, alas, a character such as Morrison now seems more alien than familiar.



For the full review, see:

JEFFREY COLLINS. "BOOKSHELF; King of the Shopkeepers; The lessons of a merchant prince and a brilliant retailer whose wool, linen, silk, thread and lace flew off the shelves." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., March 5, 2012): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The book under review is:

Dakers, Caroline. A Genius for Money: Business, Art and the Morrisons. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012.






January 6, 2012

In 1800 the Life of a Peasant Was Not Pleasant



(p. 12) There are people today who think life was better in the past. They argue that there was not only a simplicity, tranquility, sociability and spirituality about life in the distant past that has been lost, but a virtue too. This rose-tinted nostalgia, please note, is generally confined to the wealthy. It is easier to wax elegiac for the life of a peasant when you do not have to use a long-drop toilet. Imagine that it is 1800, somewhere in Western Europe or eastern North America. The family is gathering around the hearth in the (p. 13) simple timber-framed house. Father reads aloud from the Bible while mother prepares to dish out a stew of beef and onions. The baby boy is being comforted by one of his sisters and the eldest lad is pouring water from a pitcher into the earthenware mugs on the table. His elder sister is feeding the horse in the stable. Outside there is no noise of traffic, there are no drug dealers and neither dioxins nor radioactive fall-out have been found in the cow's milk. All is tranquil; a bird sings outside the window.

Oh please! Though this is one of the better-off families in the village, father's Scripture reading is interrupted by a bronchitic cough that presages the pneumonia that will kill him at 53 - not helped by the wood smoke of the fire. (He is lucky: life expectancy even in England was less than 40 in 1800.) The baby will die of the smallpox that is now causing him to cry; his sister will soon be the chattel of a drunken husband. The water the son is pouring tastes of the cows that drink from the brook. Toothache tortures the mother. The neighbour's lodger is getting the other girl pregnant in the hayshed even now and her child will be sent to an orphanage. The stew is grey and gristly yet meat is a rare change from gruel; there is no fruit or salad at this season. It is eaten with a wooden spoon from a wooden bowl. Candles cost too much, so firelight is all there is to see by. Nobody in the family has ever seen a play, painted a picture or heard a piano. School is a few years of dull Latin taught by a bigoted martinet at the vicarage. Father visited the city once, but the travel cost him a week's wages and the others have never travelled more than fifteen miles from home. Each daughter owns two wool dresses, two linen shirts and one pair of shoes. Father's jacket cost him a month's wages but is now infested with lice. The children sleep two to a bed on straw mattresses on the floor. As for the bird outside the window, tomorrow it will be trapped and eaten by the boy.



Source:

Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. New York: Harper, 2010.






December 1, 2011

Justice for He Who Taxed Unjustly



(p. 444) At the height of the agricultural crisis, the British government under the Liberals did an odd thing. It invented a tax designed to punish a class of people who were already suffering severely and had done nothing in particular to cause the current troubles. The class was large landowners. The tax was death duties. Life was about to change utterly for thousands of people, including our own Mr Marsham.

The designer of the new tax was Sir William George Granville Venables Vernon Harcourt, the chancellor of the exchequer, a man who seems not to have been liked much by anyone at any point in his life, including his own family. Known familiarly, if not altogether affectionately, as 'Jumbo' because of his magnificent rotundity, Harcourt was an unlikely persecutor of the landed classes since he was one of them himself. The Harcourt family home was Nuneham Park in Oxfordshire, which we have visited in this book already. Nuneham, you may remember, was where an earlier Harcourt reconfigured the estate but failed to recollect where the old village well had been, fell into it and drowned. For as long as there had been (p. 445) Tories, the Harcourts had numbered themselves among them, so William's joining of the Liberals was seen within his family as the darkest treachery. Even Liberals were startled by his tax. Lord Rosebery, the prime minister (who was himself a big landowner), wondered if some relief should at least be granted in those cases where two inheritors died in quick succession. It would be harsh, Rosebery thought, to tax an estate a second time before the legatee had had a chance to rebuild the family finances. Harcourt, however, refused all appeals for concessions.

That Harcourt stood almost no chance of inheriting his own family property no doubt coloured his principles. In fact, to his presumed surprise, he did inherit it when his elder brother's son died suddenly, but heirlessly, in the spring of 1904. Harcourt didn't get to enjoy his good fortune long, however. He expired six months later himself, which meant that his heirs were among the first to be taxed twice over in exactly the way that Rosebery had feared and he had dismissed. Life doesn't often get much neater than that.




Source:

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.





November 27, 2011

Karl Marx "Had Engels Embezzle Money for Him from His Father's Firm"



(p. 419) One of the few figures who actively sympathized with the plight of the poor was also one of the most interestingly improbable. Friedrich Engels came to England at the age of just twenty-one in 1842 to help run his father's textile factory in Manchester. The firm, Ermen & Engels, manufac-(p. 420)tured sewing thread. Although young Engels was a faithful son and a reasonably conscientious businessman - eventually
he became a partner - he also spent a good deal of his time modestly but persistently embezzling funds to support his friend and collaborator Karl Marx in London.

It would be hard to imagine two more improbable founders for a movement as ascetic as Communism. While earnestly desiring the downfall of capitalism, Engels made himself rich and comfortable from all its benefits. He kept a stable of fine horses, rode to hounds at weekends, enjoyed the best wines, maintained a mistress, hobnobbed with the elite of Manchester at the fashionable Albert Club - in short, did everything one would expect of a successful member of the gentry. Marx, meanwhile, constantly denounced the bourgeoisie but lived as bourgeois a life as he could manage, sending his daughters to private schools and boasting at every opportunity of his wife's aristocratic background.

Engels's patient support for Marx was little short of wondrous. In that milestone year of 1851, Marx accepted a job as a foreign correspondent for the New York Daily Tribune, but with no intention of actually writing any articles. His English wasn't good enough, for one thing. His idea was that Engels would write them for him and he would collect the fee, and that is precisely what happened. Even then, the income wasn't enough to support his carelessly extravagant lifestyle, so he had Engels embezzle money for him from his father's firm. Engels did so for years, at considerable risk to himself.



Source:

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.





November 18, 2011

Black Death Microbe Same as in Middle Ages But Now Does Much Less Harm



LondonMedievalMap2011-11-07.jpg







Source of map: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.






If the Black Death microbe is the same today as in the Middle Ages, maybe the difference in effects is partly due to our better nutrition, health, hygiene, and housing?



(p. D4) The agent of the Black Death is assumed to be Yersinia pestis, the microbe that causes bubonic plague today. But the epidemiology was strikingly different from that of modern outbreaks. Modern plague is carried by fleas and spreads no faster than the rats that carry them can travel. The Black Death seems to have spread directly from one person to another.

Victims sometimes emitted a deathly stench, which is not true of plague victims today. And the Black Death felled at least 30 percent of those it inflicted, whereas a modern plague in India that struck Bombay in 1904, before the advent of antibiotics, killed only 3 percent of its victims.


. . .


If Yersinia pestis was indeed the cause of the Black Death, why were the microbe's effects so different in medieval times? Its DNA sequence may hold the answer. Dr. Poinar's team has managed to reconstruct a part of the microbe's genetic endowment. Yersinia pestis has a single chromosome, containing the bulk of its genes, and three small circles of DNA known as plasmids.

The team has determined the full DNA sequence of the plasmid known as pPCP1 from the East Smithfield cemetery. But, disappointingly, it turns out to be identical to the modern-day plasmid, so it explains none of the differences in the microbe's effects.



For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS WADE. "Hunting for a Mass Killer in Medieval Graveyards." The New York Times (Tues., August 30, 2011): D4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated August 29, 2011.)





November 2, 2011

Reagan Fought "Tyranny" of Big Government



London-statue-of-Reagan-2011-08-10.jpg


















Former Secretary of State Condolezza Rice, British Foreign Secretary William Hague and London statue of Ronald Reagan. Source of photo: http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2011/7/4/1309780763409/London-statue-of-Reagan-u-001.jpg



The McCarthy mentioned in the passage quoted below is a California representative who also serves as majority whip.


(p. A9) The statue of a smiling Reagan, dressed in a crisp suit, was paid for by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation as part of a worldwide effort to promote his legacy, according to the organization's executive director.


. . .


Though Mrs. Thatcher is in poor health and did not attend, she provided a statement that was read by Mr. Hague. "Through his strength and conviction," she wrote, "he brought millions of people to freedom as the Iron Curtain finally came down."

In a speech, Mr. McCarthy described Mr. Reagan's fight not only against the forces of Communism, but against the "tyranny" of debt and big government. He and Mrs. Thatcher, he said, "did not move to the center to gather votes, they moved the center to them."



For the full story, see:

RAVI SOMAIYA. "Finding a New Perch, Americana Takes a Stand in London." The New York Times (Tues., July 5, 2011): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated July 4, 2011 and has the title "Statue of Reagan Is Unveiled in London.")





September 27, 2011

Brits Sent Low Quality Goods to American Colonists




(p. 299) It was easy - and for many agents irresistibly tempting - to offload on to Americans clothes and furnishings that were unsold because they were no longer fashionable in England. 'You cannot really form an idea of the trash that is to be found in the best shops,' an English visitor named Margaret Hall wrote home to a friend. A cheerful catchphrase of English (p. 300) factories became: 'It's good enough for America.' Being over-charged was a constant suspicion. Washington wrote furiously to Cary after one consignment that many of the products supplied were 'mean in quality but not in price, for in this they excel indeed far above any I have ever had'.


Source:

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.





September 23, 2011

Navigation Acts, Were "Insanely Inefficient, but Gratifyingly Lucrative to British Merchants and Manufacturers"




(p. 297) Many of Monticello's quirks spring from the limitations of Jefferson's workmen. He had to stick to a simple Doric style for the exterior columns because he could find no one with the skills to handle anything more complex. But the greatest problem of all, in terms of both expense and frustration, was a lack of home-grown materials. It is worth taking a minute to consider what the American colonists were up against in trying to build a civilization in a land without infrastructure.

(p. 298) Britain's philosophy of empire was that America should provide it with raw materials at a fair price and take finished products in return. The system was enshrined in a series of laws known as the Navigation Acts, which stipulated that any product bound for the New World had either to originate in Britain or pass through it on the way there, even if it had been created in, say, the West Indies, and ended up making a pointless double crossing of the Atlantic. The arrangement was insanely inefficient, but gratifyingly lucrative to British merchants and manufacturers, who essentially had a fast-growing continent at their commercial mercy. By the eve of the revolution America effectively was Britain's export market. It took 80 per cent of British linen exports, 76 per cent of exported nails, 60 per cent of wrought iron and nearly half of all the glass sold abroad. In bulk terms, America annually imported 30,000 pounds of silk, 11,000 pounds of salt and over 130,000 beaver hats, among much else. Many of these things - not least the beaver hats - were made from materials that originated in America in the first place and could easily have been manufactured in American factories - a point that did not escape the Americans.



Source:

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.





August 10, 2011

In Britain Ice Is Often Dispensed "as if It Were on Prescription"




(p. 73) In England, Wenham ice was more talked about than used. A few businesses took regular deliveries, but hardly any households (other than the royal one) did. By the 1850s not only was most ice sold in Britain not from Wenham, it wasn't from America at all. The Norwegians - not a people one normally associates with sharp practices - changed the name of Lake Oppegaard, near Oslo, to Lake Wenham so that they could tap into the lucrative market. By the 1850s most ice sold in Britain was in fact Norwegian, though it has to be said that ice never really caught on with the British. Even now, it is still often dispensed there as if it were on prescription. The real market, it turned out, was in America itself.


Source:

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.





July 10, 2011

"We Are All Dutchmen Now"



1688TheFirstModernRevolution2011-06-05.jpg
















Source of the book image: http://yalepress.yale.edu/images/full13/9780300115475.jpg



(p. A15) Samuel Pufendorf, a 17th-century German historian, described the English people as "having been ­always inclined to rebellion and intestine commotion." But England's regime change in 1688--soon called "glorious"--was a revolution with a difference. Instead of overthrowing the existing order in violent upheaval, it put "government upon its ancient and proper basis, which the measures of a mad bigot had almost ­destroyed." The "mad bigot" was, in this case, James II, the Stuart king (and a Catholic) who was deposed in ­favor of William of Orange, a Protestant from the Dutch Republic. Edmund Burke famously contrasted England's balance of change and continuity in 1688 with the ­ferocity in France a century later.

In "1688: The First Modern Revolution," Steve Pincus challenges this received account to argue that the ­Glorious Revolution marked a much greater break with history than Burke realized--and proved to be an ­emblem of the West's future. James II, Mr. Pincus notes, sought to extend state power at the expense of Parliament and the privileges of local communities. James's adversaries preferred the dynamism of commerce; they believed that wealth sprang from the limitless striving of human endeavor rather than the finite availability of land. France under Louis XIV provided James with a pattern for absolutism; the Dutch Republic provided his opponents with a commercial ideal. The Glorious ­Revolution is often seen as a clash ­between ­"popery"--the term for authoritarian ­Catholicism--and ­ancient English liberties. But Mr. Pincus persuasively describes it as the collision of two ideas about the state in society. In a sense, he implies, we are all Dutchmen now.



For the full review, see:

WILLIAM ANTHONY HAY. "Going Dutch; When a dynamic commercial ideal won out over centralized power." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., September 1, 2011): A15.

(Note: the online version of the review is dated AUGUST 31, 2009.)


The book under review is:

Pincus, Steve. 1688: The First Modern Revolution. New Haven, CT: Yale, 2009.



An alternative view is presented in a a book by Lisa Jardine (reference below). She argues that William of Orange was more interested in grabbing power than in promoting liberty. Her view is persuasively disputed in the following review by Andrew Roberts:

ANDREW ROBERTS. "A New William The Conqueror." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., August 28, 2008): A13.


The Jardine book is:

Jardine, Lisa. Going Dutch: How England Plundered Holland's Glory. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2008.





July 5, 2011

"The American Machines Did Things that the World Earnestly Wished Machines to Do"



(p. 22) . . . when the displays were erected it came as something of a surprise to discover that the American section was an outpost of wizardry and wonder. Nearly all the American machines did things that the world earnestly wished machines to do--stamp out nails, cut stone, mold candles--but with a neatness, dispatch, and tireless reliability that left other nations blinking. Elias Howe's sewing machine dazzled the ladies and held out the impossible promise that one of the great drudge pastimes of domestic life could actually be made exciting and fun. Cyrus McCormick displayed a reaper that could do the work of forty men--a claim so improbably bold that almost no one believed it until the reaper (p. 23) was taken out to a farm in the Home Counties and shown to do all that it promised it could. Most exciting of all was Samuel Colt's repeat-action revolver, which was not only marvelously lethal but made from inter-changeable parts, a method of manufacture so distinctive that it became known as "the American system." Only one homegrown creation could match these virtuoso qualities of novelty, utility, and machine-age precision--Paxton's great hall itself, and that was to disappear when the show was over. For many Europeans this was the first unsettling hint that those tobacco-chewing rustics across the water were quietly creating the next industrial colossus--a transformation so improbable that most wouldn't believe it even as It was happening.

The most popular feature at the Great Exhibition was not an exhibition at all, but rather the elegant "retiring rooms," where visitors could relieve themselves in comfort, an offer taken up with gratitude and enthusiasm by 827,000 people--11,000 of them on a single day. Public facilities in London were woefully lacking in 1851. At the British Museum, up to 30,000 daily visitors had to share just two outside privies. At the Crystal Palace the toilets actually flushed, enchanting visitors so much that It started a vogue for installing flushing toilets at home-- . . .



Source:

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.

(Note: ellipses added.)





July 1, 2011

500 Kinds of Hammers: Even Marx Knew that Capitalism Produces Variety



HammerDiversityBasallaPage4.jpg



















The diversity of hammers, part 1. Source of graphic: page 4 of the Basalla book quoted and cited aways down below.




(p. 21 of Bryson) Suddenly, for the first time In history, there was in most people's lives a lot of everything. Karl Marx, living in London, noted with a tone of wonder, and just a hint of helpless admiration, that it was possible to buy five hundred kinds of hammer In Britain. Everywhere was activity, Modern Londoners live in a great Victorian city; the Victorians lived through It, so to speak. In twelve years eight railway termini opened In London. The scale of disruption--the trenches, the tunnels, the muddy excavations, the congestion of wagons and other vehicles, the smoke, the din, the clutter--that came from filling the city with railways, bridges, sewers, pumping stations, power stations, subway lines, and all the rest meant that Victorian London was not just the biggest city in the world but the noisiest, foulest, muddiest, busiest, most choked and dug-over place the world had ever seen.

The 1851 census also showed that more people in Britain now lived in cities than in the countryside--the first time that this had happened anywhere in the world--and the most visible consequence of this was crowds on a scale never before experienced. People now worked en masse, traveled en masse, were schooled, imprisoned, and hospitalized en masse. When they went out to enjoy themselves, they did that en masse, and nowhere did they go with greater enthusiasm and rapture than to the Crystal Palace.



Source:

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.



On Marx and hammers, Bryson references p. 156 of Petroski:

Petroski, Henry. The Evolution of Useful Things: How Everyday Artifacts--from Forks and Pins to Paper Clips and Zippers--Came to Be as They Are. New York: A. Knopf, 1992.


Actually, Petroski's source on Marx on hammers clearly is Basalla who he quotes on pp. 23-24:

(p. 23 of Petroski) George Basalla, in The Evolution of Technology, suggests the great "diversity of things made by human hands" over the past two hundred years by pointing out that five million patents have been issued in America alone. . . . (p. 24) He then introduces the fundamental questions of his study:

The variety of made things is every bit as astonishing as that of living things. Consider the range that extends from stone tools to microchips, from waterwheels to spacecraft, from thumb-tacks to skyscrapers. In 1867 Karl Marx was surprised to learn . . . that five hundred different kinds of hammers were produced in Birmingham, England, each one adapted to a specific function in industry or the crafts. What forces led to the proliferation of so many variations of this ancient and common tool? Or more generally, why are there so many different kinds of things?

Basalla dismisses the "traditional wisdom" that attributes technological diversity to necessity and utility, and looks for other explanations, "especially ones that can incorporate the most general assumptions about the meaning and goals of life."


(Note: italics in original; first ellipsis added; second ellipsis in original.)


Petroski then again mentions Marx on hammers on the p. 156 that is referenced by Bryson:

(p. 156 of Petroski) In spite of Marx's astonishment that five hundred different kinds of hammers were made in Birmingham in the 1860s, this was no capitalist plot. Indeed, if there were a plot, it was to not make more. The proliferation of hammer types occurred because there were then, as now, many specialized uses of hammers, and each user wished to possess a tool that was suited as ideally as possible to the tasks he performed perhaps thousands of times each day, but seldom if ever in a formal social context. I have often reflected on the value of special hammers while using the two ordinary ones from my tool chest: a familiar carpenter's hammer with a claw, and a smaller version that fits in places the larger one does not. The tasks I've applied them to have included driving and removing nails, of course, but also opening and closing paint cans, pounding on chisels, tacking down carpets, straightening dented bicycle fenders, breaking bricks, driving wooden stakes, and on and on.



The Basalla book is:

Basalla, George. The Evolution of Technology, Cambridge Studies in the History of Science. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988.


On p. 2 of Basalla, he writes:

(p. 2 of Basalla) The variety of made things is every bit as astonishing as that of living things. Consider the range that extends from stone tools to microchips, from waterwheels to spacecraft, from thumbtacks to skyscrapers. In 1867 Karl Marx was surprised to learn, as well he might have been, that five hundred different kinds of hammers were produced in Birmingham, England, each one adapted to a specific function in industry or the crafts . . .

(Note: ellipsis added.)


In Basalla's notes to this chapter, the only Marx he mentions is the first volume of Capital. Searching volume one of Capital in Google Books for "hammer," one discovers the relevant passage on p. 375:

(p. 374 of Marx) Manufacture is characterized by the differentiation of (p. 375) the instruments of labour--a differentiation whereby implements of a given sort acquire fixed shapes, adapted to each particular application, and by the specialisation (sic) of those instruments, giving to each special instrument its full play only in the hands of a specific detail labourer. In Birmingham alone 500 varieties of hammers are produced, and not only is each adapted to one particular process, but several varieties often serve exclusively for the different operations in one and the same process. The manufacturing period simplifies, improves, and multiplies the implements of labour, by adapting them to the exclusively special functions of each detail labourer.


The Marx book is:

Marx, Karl. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. 1. New York: Modern Library, 1906 [first German edition in 1867].




HammerDiversityBasallaPage5.jpg



















The diversity of hammers, part 2. Source of graphic: page 5 of the Basalla book quoted and cited somewhere above.






June 27, 2011

"A Tax on Air and Light"



(p. 11) Paxton was very lucky in his timing, for just at the moment of the Great Exhibition glass suddenly became available in a way it never had before. Glass had always been a tricky material. It was not particularly easy to make, and really hard to make well, which is why for so much of its history it was a luxury Item. Happily, two recent technological breakthroughs had changed that. First, the French invented plate glass--so called because the molten glass was spread across tables known as plates. This allowed for the first time the creation of really large panes of glass, which made shop windows possible. Plate glass, however, had to be cooled for ten days after being rolled out, which meant that each table was unproductively occupied most of the time, and then each sheet required a lot of grinding and polishing. This naturally made it expensive. In 1838, a cheaper refinement was developed--sheet glass. This had most of the virtues of plate glass, but ¡t cooled faster and needed less polishing, and so could be made much more cheaply. Suddenly glass of a good size could be produced economically In limitless volumes.

Allied with this was the timely abolition of two long-standing taxes: the window tax and glass tax (which, strictly speaking, was an excise duty). The window tax dated from 1696 and was sufficiently punishing that (p. 12) people really did avoid putting windows in buildings where they could. The bricked-up window openings that are such a feature of man period
buildings in Britain today were once usually painted to look like windows. (It Is sometimes rather a shame that they aren't still.) The tax, sorely resented as "a tax on air and light," meant that many servants and others of constrained means were condemned to live In airless rooms.



Source:

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.





June 23, 2011

"The Century's Most Daring and Iconic Building Was Entrusted to a Gardener"



(p. 10) . . . the risks were considerable and keenly felt, yet after only a few days of fretful hesitation the commissioners approved Paxton's plan. Nothing--really, absolutely nothing--says more about Victorian Britain and its capacity for brilliance than that the century's most daring and iconic building was entrusted to a gardener. Paxton's Crystal Palace required no bricks at all--indeed, no mortar, no cement, no foundations. It was just bolted together and sat on the ground like a tent. This was not merely an (p. 11) ingenious solution to a monumental challenge but also a radical departure from anything that had ever been tried before.


Source:

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





May 24, 2011

Crushed Under Eurostar in a Desparate Dash to a Better Life



(p. 280) In recent years, police have practically barricaded the marshalling yard in Calais, France,where the elegant Eurostar train must slow down before it enters the Channel Tunnel to England. Today the Calais marshalling yard for the Channel Tunnel looks like what the military might erect around a flying-saucer wreckage--barbed wire, electric fences, armed guards, and police dogs everywhere. Yet each night as darkness falls desperate men from the developing world, Africans and Pakistanis and Afghans and others, hide throughout the marshalling yard, sprint toward the Eurostar as it slows for the tunnel, and try to cling to its side as it accelerates again. They hope to survive until the train bears (p. 281) them into the United Kingdom, for French law treats illegal immigrants harshly, while England is more liberal. Numerous indigent developing-world men have been killed when they have slipped off the sides or the couplers of Eurostar, then fallen beneath its wheels; the stylish passengers aboard the train may feel a slight bump. Yet the men keep trying, though most must know there is hardly anything on this aerodynamically sleek train to grab hold of. Many are arrested as they dash toward the train and the favored life it represents. If released, they return to dash again. If deported, they try to sneak back into the country and dash again.


Source:

Easterbrook, Gregg. The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse. Paperback ed. New York: Random House, 2004.





May 17, 2011

Patients Face Higher Costs and Less Innovation Due to FDA



CongerMartiDiskImplant2011-05-16.jpg"Marti Conger, a business consultant in Benicia, Calif., went to England in October 2009 to get an implant of a new artificial disk for her spine developed by Spinal Kinetics of Sunnyvale, Calif., a short distance from her home." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. B1) Late last year, Biosensors International, a medical device company, shut down its operation in Southern California, which had once housed 90 people, including the company's top executives and researchers.

The reason, executives say, was that it would take too long to get its new cardiac stent approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

"It's available all over the world, including Mexico and Canada, but not in the United States," said the chief executive, Jeffrey B. Jump, an American who runs the company from Switzerland. "We decided, let's spend our money in China, Brazil, India, Europe."


. . .


(p. B7) "Ten years from now, we'll all get on planes and fly somewhere to get treated," said Jonathan MacQuitty, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist with Abingworth Management.

Marti Conger, a business consultant in Benicia, Calif., already has. She went to England in October 2009 to get an implant of a new artificial disk for her spine developed by Spinal Kinetics of Sunnyvale, Calif.

"Sunnyvale is 40 miles south of my house," said Ms. Conger, who has become an advocate for faster device approvals in the United States. "I had to go to England to get my surgery."


. . .


Device companies have been seeking early approval in Europe for years because it is easier. In Europe, a device must be shown to be safe, while in the United States it must also be shown to be effective in treating a disease or condition. And European approvals are handled by third parties, not a powerful central agency like the F.D.A.

But numerous device executives and venture capitalists said the F.D.A. has tightened regulatory oversight in the last couple of years. Not only does it take longer to get approval but it can take months or years to even begin a clinical trial necessary to gain approval.

Disc Dynamics made seven proposals over three years but could not get clearance from the F.D.A. to conduct a trial of its gel for spine repair, said David Stassen, managing partner of Split Rock Partners, a venture firm that backed the company. "It got to the point where the company just ran out of cash," Mr. Stassen said. Disc Dynamics was shut down last year after an investment of about $65 million.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW POLLACK. "Medical Treatment, Out of Reach." The New York Times (Thurs., February 10, 2011): B1 & B7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated February 9, 2011.)





ArtificialDisk2011-05-16.jpg







"An artificial disk like the one Marti Conger received."
Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





May 14, 2011

Income Inequality Makes People Happy When It Gives Them Hope



(p. A19) If the royal family were to utilize Kate's background to help encourage and spread this culture of entrepreneurship, the effects in Britain--and possibly much of the world--could be incredible. The people of the United Kingdom would be much richer, and not just in material terms. "Earned success gives people a sense of meaning about their lives," writes the social scientist Arthur Brooks, who is president of the American Enterprise Institute think tank.

Indeed, studies show that in both the U.S. and U.K., many blue- and white-collar workers prefer to have the opportunity to advance, even if this means a less equal income distribution. A study of thousands of British employees by Andrew Clark, associate chair of the Paris School of Economics, found that measures of these workers' happiness actually rose as their demographic group's average income increased relative to their own.

These findings suggests that as people see members of their peer group gain wealth--even surpassing them--it gives them hope that they can improve their lot as well. As Mr. Clark put it in his study of British workers, "income inequality . . . need not be harmful for economic growth" if it "contains an aspect of opportunity."



For the full story, see:

JOHN BERLAU. "The Entrepreneurs' Princess; For centuries in Britain, commercial activities were looked down upon by the aristocracy, whose wealth lay in landownership." Wall Street Journal (Thurs., APRIL 28, 2011): A17.





April 12, 2011

Socialism Is "Morally Corrupting"



On balance, Stephen Pollard believes that Claire Berlinski's book on Thatcher is poorly written. But he does believe that Berlinski got one important point right:


(p. 22) She is quite right, . . . , to stress that Thatcher's crusade against socialism was not merely about economic efficiency and prosperity but that above all, "it was that socialism itself -- in all its incarnations, wherever and however it was applied -- was morally corrupting."


For the full review, see:

STEPHEN POLLARD. "Thatcher's Legacy." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., January 18, 2009): 22.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Norte: the online version of the review has the date January 16, 2009.)


Book reviewed:

Berlinski, Claire. There Is No Alternative: Why Margaret Thatcher Matters. New York: Basic Books, 2008.






March 29, 2011

Cars Bring Convenience, Freedom, and Personal Security



(p. 16) Two generations ago in the United States,most families lacked a car; by our parents' generation, most families had one car while the two-car lifestyle was a much-sought ideal; today a third of America's families own three cars or more. The United States now contains just shy of one automobile per licensed driver, and is on track to having more cars than licensed drivers. Cars are a mixed blessing, as a future chapter will detail: But there is no doubt they represent convenience, freedom, and, for women, personal security, when compared to standing on street corners waiting for buses or lingering on dark subway platforms. Cars would not he so infuriatingly popular if the did not make our lives easier. Today all but the bottom-most fraction of the impoverished in the United States do most of their routine traveling by car: 100 auto trips in the United States for every one trip on a bus or the subway, according to the American Public Transit Association. The portion of routine trips made in private cars is rising toward overwhelming in the European Union, too. Two generations ago, people dreamed of possessing their own cars. Now almost everyone in the Western world who desires a car has one--and vehicles that are more comfortable, better-equipped, lower-polluting, and much safer than those available only a short time ago.


Source:

Easterbrook, Gregg. The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse. Paperback ed. New York: Random House, 2004.





March 22, 2011

Scots Fear London May Delay the Dawn



InvernessScotlandDarkDawn2011-03-09.jpg

"Inverness, Scotland, at 8 a.m. Thursday. A change to year-round daylight time in Britain would make winter sunrise as late as 10 a.m. in the north." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A7) INVERNESS, Scotland -- The question was time, and whether to support legislative efforts in London to move it around in order to bring more light to the afternoons. The answer was no, said Jean Kaka, 67, a resident of this city far to the north.


. . .


"They're trying to tamper with our time," she said. "England is a different country than we are, and they're imposing this on us."


. . .


The problem is that while a clock change might bring afternoon joy to London, it would condemn Inverness in the far reaches of Scotland -- in relative terms, about 700 miles north of Montreal -- to long, dark winter mornings with sunrises as late as 10 a.m.

Even worse, many Scots feel, it would mean giving in to English politicians. Though the devolution of British politics has given Scotland its own legislature and responsibility for many of its own affairs, the clock is still controlled by Parliament in London.

"Certainly the people in London don't have any real concept of the effects further north," said Anthony Billington, 64, who was strolling through town recently. "I'm much more of a morning person, anyway."


. . .


Robin MacDonald, 63, who owns a television store in downtown Inverness, said that while Parliament's efforts to jump time ahead hardly mean that time is literally being stolen from him, he could do without having to set and reset his clocks twice a year.

When he was a child in the rural north, he said, he traveled to and from school in conditions "as dark as the inside of your hat." So he doesn't care what time legislators decide it is, as long as they decide something.

"They should make up their mind," Mr. MacDonald said, "and then they should leave it alone."



For the full story, see:


SARAH LYALL. "Inverness Journal; Scots Tell London, Hands Off Our Clocks." The New York Times (Fri., January 21, 2011): A7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated January 20, 2011.)



MacDonaldRobinAndClock2011-03-09.jpg "Robin MacDonald would rather not have to reset his clocks twice a year." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





March 20, 2011

"The Adventurous, Pioneering Spirit"



Jet_AgeBK.jpeg
















Source of book image: http://www.jetagebook.com/



(p. 30) "Jet Age" is ostensibly about the race between two companies and nations to commercialize a military technology and define a new era of air travel. There's Boeing with its back to the wall and its military contracts drying up, betting everything on passenger jets, pitted against de Havilland and the government-subsidized project meant to reclaim some of Britain's lost glory. . . .


. . .


But the book is really about the risk-taking essential for making any extreme endeavor common­place. "Jet Age" celebrates the managers, pilots, engineers, flight attendants and, yes, even passengers (for without passengers there is no business) who gambled everything so that we might cross oceans and continents in hours rather than days.

It is easy to forget, in this time of overcrowded flights, demoralizing security checks, embattled flight attendants and dwindling service, that risk was once embraced as a necessary, even desirable, part of flying. Quoted in the book, the celebrated aviator Lord Brabazon summed it up in post-accident testimony: "You know, and I know, the cause of this accident. It is due to the adventurous, pioneering spirit of our race. It has been like that in the past, it is like that in the present, and I hope it will be in the future."



For the full review, see:

MICHAEL BELFIORE. "Fatal Flaws." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., February 6, 2011): 30.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated February 4, 2011.)


The book under review is:

Verhovek, Sam Howe. Jet Age: The Comet, the 707, and the Race to Shrink the World. New York: Avery, 2010.





February 15, 2011

Luddism in 1811 England



(p. 243) The stockingers began in the town of Arnold, where weaving frames were being used to make cut-ups and, even worse, were being operated by weavers who had not yet completed the seven-year apprenticeship that the law required. They moved next to Nottingham and the weaver-heavy villages surrounding it, attacking virtually every night for weeks, a few dozen men carrying torches and using prybars and hammers to turn wooden frames--and any doors, walls, or windows that surrounded them--into kindling. None of the perpetrators were arrested, much less convicted and punished.

The attacks continued throughout the spring of' 1811, and after a brief summertime lull started up again in the fall, by which time nearly one thousand weaving frames had been destroyed (out of the 25.000 to 29,000 then in Nottingham, Leicestershire, and Derbyshire), resulting in damages of between £6,000 and £10.000. That November, a commander using the nom de sabotage of Ned Ludd (sometimes Lud)--the name was supposedly derived from an apprentice to a Leicester stockinger named Ned Ludham whose reaction to a reprimand was to hammer the nearest stocking frame to splinters--led a series of increasingly daring attacks throughout the Midlands. On November 13, a letter to the Home Office demanded action against the "2000 men, many of them armed, [who] were riotously traversing the County of Nottingham."

By December 1811, rioters appeared in the cotton manufacturing capital of Manchester, where Luddites smashed both weaving and spinning machinery. Because Manchester was further down the path to industrialization, and therefore housed such machines in large factories as opposed to small shops, the destruction demanded larger, and better organized, mobs.



Source:

Rosen, William. The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention. New York: Random House, 2010.

(Note: italics and bracketed word in original.)





January 30, 2011

Carlyle (and Rosen) on Arkwright



(p. 236) The greatest hero-worshipper of them all, Thomas Carlyle. described Arkwright as

A plain, almost gross, bag-checked, potbellied, much enduring, much inventing man and barber... . French Revolutions were a-brewing: to resist the same in any measure, imperial Kaisers were impotent without the cotton and cloth of England, and it was this man that had to give England the power of cotton.... It is said ideas produce revolutions, and truly they do; not spiritual ideas only, but even mechanical. In this clanging clashing universal Sword-dance which the European world now dances for the last half-century, Voltaire is but one choragus [leader of a movement, from the old Greek word for the sponsor of a chorus] where Richard Arkwright is another.

. . .


Arkwright was not a great inven-(p. 237)tor, but he was a visionary, who saw, better than any man alive, how to convert useful knowledge into cotton apparel and ultimately into wealth: for himself, and for Britain.



Source:

Rosen, William. The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention. New York: Random House, 2010.

(Note: internal ellipses in original; ellipsis between paragraphs added.)





January 26, 2011

REVISE THIS ONE: Patents Needed to Provide Money for "the Many Fruitless Experiments"



(p. 234) . . . ; together, Watt and Arkwright wrote a manuscript entitled "Heads of a Bill to explain and amend the laws relative to Letters Patent and grants of privileges for new inventions," essentially a reworking of Coke's Statute of 1623 that had created England's first patent law. In addition to its policy prescriptions, which were largely an unsuccessful argument against the requirement that patent applications be (p. 235) as specific as possible, the manuscript offered a remarkable insight into Watt's perspective on the life of the inventor, who should, in Watt's own (perhaps inadvertently revealing) words, "be considered an Infant, who cannot guard his own Rights":

An engineer's life without patent is not worthwhile . . . few men of ingenuity make fortunes without suffering to think seriously whether the article he manufactures might, or might not, be Improved. The man of ingenuity in order to succeed must seclude himself from Society, he must devote the whole powers of his mind to that one object, he must persevere in spite of the many fruitless experiments he makes, and he must apply money to the expenses of these experiments, which strict Prudence would dedicate to other purposes. By seclusion from the world he becomes ignorant of its manners, and unable to grapple with the more artful tradesman, who has applied the powers of his mind, not to the improvement of the commodity he deals in, but to the means of buying cheap and selling dear, or to the still less laudable purpose of oppressing such ingenious workmen as their ill fate may have thrown into his power.


Source:

Rosen, William. The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention. New York: Random House, 2010.

(Note: the second ellipsis and the italics in original; the first ellipsis added.)





December 29, 2010

"A Nation's Heroes Reveal Its Ideals"



(p. 133) Robert and John Hart were two Glasgow engineers and merchants who regarded James Watt with the sort of awe usually reserved for pop musicians, film stars, or star athletes. Or even more: They regarded him as "the greatest and most useful man who ever lived." . . .


. . .


(p. 134) . . . the hero worship of the brothers Hart is more enlightening about the explosion of inventive activity that started in eighteenth-century Britain than their reminiscences. For virtually all of human history, statues had been built to honor kings, solders, and religious figures; the Harts lived in the first era that built them to honor builders and inventors. James Watt was an inventor inspired in every way possible, right down to the neurons in his Scottish skull; but he was also, and just as significantly, the inspiration for thousands of other inventors, during his lifetime and beyond. The inscription on the statue of Watt that stood in Westminster Abbey from 125 until it was moved in 1960 reminded visitors that it was made "Not to perpetuate a name which must endure while the peaceful arts flourish, but to shew that mankind have learned to know those who best deserve their gratitude" (emphasis added).

A nation's heroes reveal its ideals, and the Watt memorial carries an impressive weight of symbolism. However, it must be said that the statue, sculpted by Sir Francis Chantrey in marble, might bear that weight more appropriately if it had been made out of the trademark material of the Industrial Revolution: iron.



Source:

Rosen, William. The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention. New York: Random House, 2010.

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)





November 27, 2010

Coke's Patent Law Motivated by Belief that Creative Craftsmen Were Source of Britain's Prosperity



William Rosen discusses the genesis and significance of the world's first patent law:


(p. 52) The Statute became law in 1624. The immediate impact was barely noticeable, like a pebble rolling down a gradual slope at the top of a snow-covered mountain. For decades, fewer than six patents were awarded annually, though still more in Britain than anywhere else. It was seventy-five years after the Statute was first drafted, on Monday, July 25, 1698, before an anonymous clerk in the employ of the Great Seal Patent Office on Southampton Row, three blocks from the present--day site of the British Museum, granted patent number 356: Thomas Savery's "new Invention for Raiseing of Water and occasioning Motion to all Sorts of Mill Work by the lmpellent Force of Fire."

Both the case law and the legislation under which the application was granted had been written by Edward Coke. Both were imperfect, as indeed was Savery's own engine. The law was vague enough (and Savery's grant wide-ranging enough; it essentially covered all ways for "Raiseing of Water" by fire) that Thomas Newcomen was compelled to form a partnership with a man whose machine scarcely resembled his own. But it is not too much to claim that Coke's pen had as decisive an impact on the evolution of steam power as any of Newcomen's tools. Though he spent most of his life as something of a sycophant to Elizabeth and James, Coke's philosophical and temperamental affinity for ordinary Englishmen, particularly the nation's artisans, compelled him to act, time and again, in their interests even when, as with his advocacy of the 1628 Petition of Right (an inspiration for the U.S. Bill of Rights) it landed him in the King's prisons. He became the greatest advocate for England's craftsmen, secure in the belief that they, not her landed gentry or her merchants, were the nation's source of prosperity. By understanding that it was England's duty, and--perhaps even more important--in England's interest, to promote the creative labors of her creative laborers, he anticipated an economic philosophy far more modern than he probably understood, and if he grew rich in the service of the nation, he also, with his creation of the world's first durable patent law, returned the favor.



Source:

Rosen, William. The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention. New York: Random House, 2010.

(Note: italics in original.)





November 23, 2010

When Inventors Could Get Patents that Were Durable and Enforceable, "the World Started to Change"



(p. 50) . . . Coke, who had . . . been made Lord Chief Justice of' England, drafted the 1623 "Act concerning Monopolies and Dispensations with penall Lawes and the Forfeyture thereof," or, as it has become known, the Statute on Monopolies. The Act was designed to promote the interests of artisans, and eliminate all traces of monopolies.

With a single, and critical, exception. Section 6 of the Statute, which forbade every other form of monopoly, carved out one area in which an exclusive franchise could still be granted: Patents could still be awarded to the person who introduced the invention to the realm--to the "first and true inventor."

This was a very big deal indeed, though not because it represented the first time inventors received patents. The Venetian Republic was offering some form of patent protection by 1471, and in 1593, the Netherlands' States-General awarded a patent to Mathys Siverts, for a new (and unnamed) navigational instrument. And, of course, Englishmen like John of Utynam had been receiving patents for inventions ever since Henry VI. The difference between Coke's statute and the customs in place before and elsewhere is that it was a law, with all that implied for its durability and its enforceability. Once only inventors could receive patents, the world started to change.



Source:

Rosen, William. The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention. New York: Random House, 2010.

(Note: italics in original; ellipses added.)





November 2, 2010

William Rosen's "The Most Powerful Idea in the World"



Most-Powerful-Idea-in-the-WorldBK2010-10-24.jpg














Source of book image: http://ffbsccn.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/the-most-powerful-idea-in-the-world.jpg




The range of William Rosen's fascinating and useful book is very broad indeed. He is interested in THE question: why did the singular improvement in living standards known as the industrial revolution happen where and when it did?

The question is not just of historical interest---if we can figure out what caused the improvement then and there, we have a better shot at continuing to improve in the here and now.

I especially enjoyed and learned from William Rosen's discussion, examples and quotations on the difficult issue of whether patents are on balance a good or bad institution.

Deirdre McCloskey taught me that the most important part of a sentence is the last word, and the most important part of a paragraph is the last sentence, and the most important part of a chapter is the last paragraph.

Here are the last couple of sentences of Rosen's book:


(p. 324) Incised in the stone over the Herbert C. Hoover Building's north entrance is the legend that, with Lincoln's characteristic brevity, sums up the single most important idea in the world:

THE PATENT SYSTEM ADDED

THE FUEL OF INTEREST

TO THE FIRE OF GENIUS



In the next few weeks I will occasionally quote a few of the more illuminating passages from Rosen's well-written account.


Book discussed:

Rosen, William. The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention. New York: Random House, 2010.





September 17, 2010

Charles II Took a Gamble on Toleration



GamblingManBK2010-09-01.jpg











Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.






(p. A19) Early in "A Gambling Man," a detailed and thoroughly engrossing examination of the Restoration's first decade, Jenny Uglow notes that Charles Stuart, upon his ascension, "wanted passionately to be seen as the healer of his people's woes and the glory of his nation." Cromwell's regime had featured constant war and constant taxes. The population was bitterly divided among Anglicans, Catholics and dissenting Protestants--Presbyterians, Puritans, Quakers, Baptists. A huge standing army had burdened the people financially and frightened them; such an army, it was not unreasonably thought, could be used to impose a tyranny.


. . .


As a result of such divisions, Charles became a "gambler," as Ms. Uglow puts it--not at cards or gaming tables but at affairs of state. His biggest gamble was on something he fervently wanted to achieve: religious toleration for all sects and the freedom for Englishmen to follow their own "tender consciences" in individual worship. He forwarded this policy in Parliament only to receive his first major defeat with the passage of the Corporation Act, a law that took the power of corporations (governing towns and businesses) away from Nonconformists and handed it back to the Church of England. Charles had gambled on "the force of reasonable argument," Ms. Uglow says, but was ultimately defeated "by the entrenched interests of the [Anglican] Church" and "the deep-held suspicions" of Parliament, which believed that England's dissenting sects posed a persistent threat. That Charles was willing to go head-to-head with Parliament for such a cause, even in failure, was especially audacious, considering his father's fate.


. . .


In his desire to be a monarch of the people, Charles was determined to make himself accessible--in the early days of his reign he threw open the palace of Whitehall to all comers. He gambled, with some success, that (in Ms. Uglow's words) "easy access would make people of all views feel they might reach him, preventing conspiracies." During the 1666 Great Fire of London he and his brother, James, duke of York, went out into the streets and put themselves alongside soldiers and workmen. They could be seen "filthy, smoke-blackened and tired," frantically creating a firebreak as the blaze consumed London like a monstrous beast.



For the full review, see:

NED CRABB. "BOOKSHELF; Risky Business; A bitterly divided nation, a monarchy splendiferously restored.." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., NOVEMBER 27, 2009): A19.

(Note: ellipses added; bracketed word in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review is dated NOVEMBER 26, 2009.)


Book being reviewed:

Uglow, Jenny. A Gambling Man: Charles II's Restoration Game. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009.





September 15, 2010

Brit Papers Survived Due to "the Gratifying Defeat of the Luddite Unions by Rupert Murdoch"



EvansHarold2010-09-01.jpg















"Evans says: "Ultimately, Mrs Thatcher was the reason I was fired, because I attacked her so much." Source of caption and photo: online version of The Independent on Sunday article quoted and cited below.



(p. 12) As a condition of acquiring both The Times and The Sunday Times in early 1981, Murdoch promised that the independence of each would be protected by a board of directors, and made other solemn guarantees.

"On this basis," Evans wrote in Good Times, Bad Times, "I accepted Rupert Murdoch's invitation to edit The Times on February 17 1981. My ambition," he admitted, "got the better of my judgement." Every assurance regarding editorial independence, he added, was blithely disregarded.

On 9 March 1982, the day after he'd come back from burying his father at Bluebell Wood cemetery in Prestatyn, Harold Evans was sacked.

"Ultimately," he says, "Mrs Thatcher was the reason I was fired. Because I was attacking her so much. When she started to dismantle the British economy, the most cogent critic of that policy which led, OK, to... a lot of things... was The Sunday Times. I wrote 70 per cent of that criticism myself. When I became editor of The Times, I continued to criticise monetarism. But I could still see some of the good things about her."

"Just remind us?"

"I'm thinking - and you probably won't agree with this because I sense that you're a firm supporter of the NUJ [National Union of Journalists] - mainly of her dealings with the unions."

"How do you feel about her now?"

"I think she is a very brave woman."

"Hitler was brave."

"Yes, but... she was right about terrorism. She was right about the IRA."

"Do you think Britain would be a better place if she'd never existed?"

"No. I think Britain benefited from her having been there. Britain was becoming so arthritic with labour restrictions."

"Good Times, Bad Times is an unforgiving portrait of Rupert Murdoch."


. . .


(p. 13) [Evans] has called Rupert Murdoch elitist, anti-democratic, and asserted that the Australian cares nothing about the opinion of others, so long as his business expands. This is the same man who refers to "the gratifying defeat of the Luddite unions by Rupert Murdoch".


. . .


"So how do you feel about the Murdoch empire now?"

Evans pauses. "I'm not that familiar with the British... OK. Let's take an alternative scenario. Murdoch never arrives. I manage to take control of The Sunday Times with the management buyout. Then I get defeated by the unions. The Independent wouldn't be here. Rival papers survived because they got the technology. Thanks to Murdoch."




For the full interview, see:

Robert Chalmers, Interviewer. "Harold Evans: 'All I tried to do was shed a little light'." The Independent on Sunday (Sun., June 13, 2010): 8 & 10-13.

(Note: free-standing ellipsis, between paragraphs, added; internal ellipses in original; italics in original; bracketed name added in place of "he.")





June 16, 2010

Global Warming Would Benefit British Sparkling Wine Growers



RobertsMikeRidgeview2010-05-19.jpg"Mike Roberts, at Ridgeview in 2007, says making wine is easier now." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) DITCHLING, England--The English invented sparkling wine in the 17th century, but failed to profit from it because their cold, dank summers yielded crummy grapes. Three decades later, a French monk named Dom Pérignon adapted the idea and devised a winning tipple, Champagne.

The Brits are starting to claw back some ground. In January, a little-known bubbly from the U.K's Nyetimber Estate was crowned "world's best sparkling wine" at a prestigious taste-off in Italy, defeating a dozen Champagnes, including Roederer, Bollinger and Pommery. Last year, when Britain hosted the G-20 meeting, another effervescent Nyetimber was served to President Barack Obama, Germany's Angela Merkel and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France.

English bubbly is on the rise partly due to better winemaking techniques. But some vintners say they're being helped by another, unexpected factor: a warming climate.

Official data indicate that the past 10 years were the warmest on record globally. In England, this led to plumper and riper grapes most seasons, especially for sparkling wines. The number of vineyards in the U.K. jumped to 416 in 2008 from 363 in 2000, according the trade group English Wine Producers

"Just 20 years ago, it was really difficult to make good wine in cooler climate areas," says Gregory Jones, who studies the effect of climate change on the (p. A18) global wine industry at Southern Oregon University. "Now it's not such a challenge."

With the help of warmer summers, "some of the risk of making sparkling wine here is gone," says Mike Roberts, founder and chief winemaker of the Ridgeview estate here, 45 miles south of London. "We have everything going for us to out-Champagne Champagne."

Last year, the fifth-hottest on record, Ridgeview's grapes ripened two weeks earlier than usual, allowing for the harvest to be brought in before the onset of wet October weather. Mr. Roberts and other English winemakers say 2009 was one of the best growing seasons they've seen.



For the full story, see:

GAUTAM NAIK. "'Warmer Climate Gives Cheer to Makers of British Bubbly; Thanks to Milder Summers, England Takes Some Air Out of France's Famous Tipple." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 11, 2010): A1 & A18.


RidgeviewEstateWine2010-05-19.jpg




















Ridgeview Estate's wine "to out-Champagne Champagne."


Source of photo: http://www.goodfoodpages.co.uk/images/listings/1580/large/ridgeview.jpg Source of quote: Mike Roberts above.






September 16, 2009

Four Month Wait for Blood Test in Brits' Government Health Care



(p. 6) Founded in 1948 during the grim postwar era, the National Health Service is essential to Britain's identity. But Britons grouse about it, almost as a national sport. Among their complaints: it rations treatment; it forces people to wait for care; it favors the young over the old; its dental service is rudimentary at best; its hospitals are crawling with drug-resistant superbugs.

All these things are true, sometimes, up to a point.


. . .


Told my husband needed a sophisticated blood test from a particular doctor, I telephoned her office, only to be told there was a four-month wait.

"But I'm a private patient," I said.

"Then we can see you tomorrow," the secretary said.

And so it went. When it came time for my husband to undergo physical rehabilitation, I went to look at the facility offered by the N.H.S. The treatment was first rate, I was told, but the building was dismal: grim, dusty, hot, understaffed, housing 8 to 10 elderly men per ward. The food was inedible. The place reeked of desperation and despair.

Then I toured the other option, a private rehabilitation hospital with air-conditioned rooms, private bathrooms and cable televisions, a state-of-the-art gym, passably tasty food and cheery nurses who made a cup of cocoa for my husband every night before bed.



For the full commentary, see:

SARAH LYALL. "An Expat Goes for a Checkup." The New York Times, Week in Review Section (Sun., August 8, 2009): 1 & 6.

(Note: the online title is "Health Care in Britain: Expat Goes for a Checkup.")

(Note: ellipsis added.)






April 2, 2009

Did Bourgeois Victorians, or Bloomsbury Rebels, Treat Servants Better?



MrsWoolfAndTheServantsBK.jpg














Source of book image: http://images.barnesandnoble.com/images/27400000/27406153.jpg



(p. W14) Like Lytton Strachey, John Maynard Keynes and others in the Bloomsbury group, Woolf came from a well-to-do Victorian family living in a large house. When her family woke in the morning, the fires were already lit; while the family was out, the house was cleaned; when the family members arrived home, dinner was served. Part of Woolf's rebellion against her patrimony was trying to free herself from the limitations placed on the education of women, on their sexual freedom, on their earning power. But another part, as Ms. Light reminds us, was trying to free herself from the strictures of a bourgeois household. As soon as possible, Virginia and her sister, Vanessa, wore simpler clothes, refused to change for dinner, had slighter meals at irregular times and rejoiced in clutter.

It's not easy so to escape one's class, however. When the daughters of Leslie and Julia Stephen left home after their father's death in 1904, they took the household cook with them. And though they pursued busy bohemian lives thereafter -- routinely challenging the legacy of Victorian propriety even as they married and set up households of their own -- they preserved at least one assumption of privilege: They always had servants, whom they often passed around among themselves as their own needs and desires changed.

One of the ironies that emerges from Ms. Light's book is that Woolf's mother, a product of the Victorian age, treated her servants with both dignity and affection, and they were in turn devoted to her. Anybody who has read in Woolf's diaries and letters, however, knows that she can be a dreadful snob, and worse. The shocking extent of her acrimonious journal entries about Nellie Boxall, her cook of 18 years -- a "mongrel" and "rubbish," according to Woolf -- partly inspired Ms. Light's book.



For the full review, see:

ALEXANDRA MULLEN. "BOOKS; Review; The Brooms of Bloomsbury." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., SEPTEMBER 13, 2008): W14.



The book under review, see:

Light, Alison. Mrs. Woolf and the Servants. Bloomsbury Press, 2008.





March 26, 2009

High Progressive Income Taxes Result in "Demoralization of Entrepreneurs"


(p. 127) High progressive and unnegotiable gouges like those in Sweden and England drive people altogether out of the country into offshore tax havens, out of income-generating activities into perks and leisure pursuits, out of money and savings into collectibles and gold, and, most important, out of small business ventures into the cosseting arms of large established corporations and government bureaucracies. The result is the demoralization of entrepreneurs and the stultification of capital. The experimental knowledge that informs and refines the process of economic growth is stifled, and the metaphysical capital in the system collapses, even while all the indices of capital formation rise.


Source:

Gilder, George. The Spirit of Enterprise. 1 ed. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984.





November 17, 2008

"Nuclear Power Provides 77 Percent of France's Electricity"



FrenchNuclearReactorFlamanville20080824.jpg "France is constructing a nuclear reactor, its first in 10 years, in Flamanville, but the country already has 58 operating reactors." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 6) FLAMANVILLE, France -- It looks like an ordinary building site, but for the two massive, rounded concrete shells looming above the ocean, like dusty mushrooms.

Here on the Normandy coast, France is building its newest nuclear reactor, the first in 10 years, costing $5.1 billion. But already, President Nicolas Sarkozy has announced that France will build another like it.

. . .

Nuclear power provides 77 percent of France's electricity, according to the government, and relatively few public doubts are expressed in a country with little coal, oil or natural gas.

With the wildly fluctuating cost of oil, anxiety over global warming from burning fossil fuels and new concerns about the impact of biofuels on the price of food for the poor, nuclear energy is getting a second look in countries like the United States and Britain. Even Germany, committed to phasing out nuclear power by 2021, is debating whether to change its mind.



For the full story, see:

STEVEN ERLANGER. "France Reaffirms Its Faith in Future of Nuclear Power." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., August 17, 2008): 6. (Also on p. 6 of the NY edition)

(Note: ellipsis added.)

FranceNukeMap20080824.jpg





Source of map: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





October 6, 2008

The Fragility of Freedom


TroublesomeYoungMenBK.jpgBloodToilTearsAndSweatBK.jpg





Source of book image on the left:                    
http://images.barnesandnoble.com/images/25780000/25788683.jpg

Source of book image on the right: http://www.churchillsociety.org/Churchill%20Book%20Discussion%20Group.htm

Several recent books support a common conclusion that freedom is fragile, and its preservation can sometimes depend on the courage of a few individuals. I recently heard discussions on C-SPAN of a couple of books (images above) on WW2 that emphasize this point. Hitler might very well have succeeded in the long-term conquest of continental Europe, and even Great Britain, if Churchill and a few others had not taken a stand.

Earlier, also on C-SPAN, I heard John Ferling make a similar point with regard to the American Revolution. (See the images of his two relevant books below.) Were it not for the actions of George Washington, and a few others, the revolution very well might have failed.

One can view this as a bad news, good news, story. In earlier entries on the blog, I have quoted articles suggesting that the French are especially bothered by how "precarious" life can be. Well, the bad news is, that on this, the French may be right.

But, on the other hand, the stories of Churchill, and Washington, also tell us that with some courage and determination and wisdom, individuals can sometimes make a big difference in how stories end. That is the good news.

(And yes, Nassim, luck matters too.)


Books referred to:

Ferling, John. Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2007.

Ferling, John. A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic. 1st ed. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2003.

Lukacs, John R. Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat: The Dire Warning: Churchill's First Speech as Prime Minister. New York: Basic Books, 2008.

Olson, Lynne. Troublesome Young Men: The Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Power and Helped Save England. 1st ed. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007.

LeapInTheDarkBK.jpg

AlmostAMiracleBK.JPG


Source of book image on the left:                     http://images.barnesandnoble.com/images/7790000/7793679.jpg
Source of book image on the right: http://images.barnesandnoble.com/images/13420000/13429252.jpg





September 21, 2008

Among Academic Economists Interest in Entrepreneurship is "A Quick Ticket Out of a Job"


From McCraw's discussion of Schumpeter's "legacy":

(p. 500) In the new world of academic economics, neither the Schumpeterian entrepreneur as an individual nor entrepreneurship as a phenomenon attracts much attention. For professors in economics departments at most major universities, particularly in the United States and Britain, a focus on these favorite issues of Schumpeter's has become a quick ticket out of a job. This development arose from a self-generated isolation of academic economics from history, sociology, and the other social sciences. It represented a trend that Schumpeter himself had glimpsed and lamented but that accelerated rapidly during the two generations after his death.


Source:

McCraw, Thomas K. Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2007.




September 12, 2008

Keynes Was Relying on the Invisible Hand of the Market in 1946


AusterityBritainBK.jpg









Source of book image:
http://www.tbpcontrol.co.uk/TWS/CoverImages_0/074/757/0747579857.jpg

(p. B7) As Mr. Kynaston sets his scene, what immediately becomes clear is that the recent past is not so recent. "Britain in 1945. No supermarkets, no motorways, no teabags, no sliced bread, no frozen food. ... No launderettes, no automatic washing machines, wash day every Monday, clothes boiled in a tub, scrubbed on the draining board. ...Abortion illegal, homosexual relationships illegal, suicide illegal, capital punishment legal. White faces everywhere." And with all those white faces was the single overwhelming, blanketing fact of deprivation, a bare-bones existence. Britain had just prevailed in a struggle for its very survival, but victory never looked so grim.

. . .

The Labor Party won the 1945 election in a landslide on a promise of national planning. The debate now was how far to take socialism, with the Laborites divided between the hell-bent nationalizers and the more market-oriented Keynesians. In 1946 Keynes himself admitted (though privately) that "I find myself more and more relying for a solution of our problems on the invisible hand" of the market, "which I tried to eject from economic thinking 20 years ago."

. . .

Almost invisible in Mr. Kynaston's sparkling panorama is a sign of what was to come. One Conservative politician was out of step not only with Labor's policies but even with the prevailing views of her own party. Margaret Roberts was just about alone in condemning the welfare state as "pernicious," destructive of the national character. In 1951, a year after Labor's second postwar electoral victory, she got married. Her husband's name was Thatcher.



For the full review, see:

Barry Gewen. "Books of The Times - In Postwar Britain, the Grim Face of Victory." The New York Times (Thurs., June 12, 2008): B7.

(Note: ellipses within the Kynaston quote are in the original; ellipses between paragraphs are added.)




June 27, 2008

The Role of the Irish Potato Famine in the Repeal of the Corn Laws


In one of his more famous, and outrageous, essays, George Stigler argued that economists do not matter, because changes in policy do not arise from changes in ideas, but from changing circumstances and special interests.

One of the cases that he briefly mentions is the repeal of the English Corn Laws that had restricted the importation of wheat (in England "corn" is what we call "wheat) into Britain. The usual account is that the free market arguments of Cobden and Bright made the difference.

The account quoted below, might be taken as support for Stigler's position. But it might also be evidence for the more optimistic position of Stigler's buddy, Milton Friedman. Friedman held that on major issues, economists' policy proposals go ignored until some crisis occurs that sends the politicians looking for policy alternatives. (Friedman thought that this is what occurred in the case of his own proposal for floating exchange rates.)

(p. A23) THE feast of Ireland's patron saint has always been an occasion for saluting the beautiful land "where the praties grow," but it's also a time to look again at the disaster that established around the world the Irish communities that today celebrate St. Patrick's Day: the Great Potato Famine of 1845-6. In its wake, the Irish left the old country, with more than half a million settling in United States. The famine and the migrations changed Irish and American history, of course, but they drastically changed Britain too.

. . .

The first intimations of Ireland's looming calamity reached the British government in August 1845. Although Britain was responsible for the social and economic iniquities which had made Ireland so susceptible, the government of the day deserves some credit for its efforts to avert mass starvation. There were political as well as logistical difficulties.

. . .

To Peel it was obvious that the Corn Laws would have to go, but his electorate of large landowners was vehemently opposed to their abolition. The Duke of Wellington, leader of the House of Lords, complained that Ireland's "rotten potatoes have done it all -- they put Peel in his damned fright." Peel drew heavily on the news from Ireland as he urged Parliament to vote for abolition:

"Are you to hesitate in averting famine which may come, because it possibly may not come? Are you to look to and depend upon chance in such an extremity? Or, good God! are you to sit in cabinet, and consider and calculate how much diarrhea, and bloody flux, and dysentery, a people can bear before it becomes necessary for you to provide them with food?"

The bill abolishing the Corn Laws was passed in May 1846 in the House of Commons, with two-thirds of Peel's party voting against it and the entire opposition voting in favor. A month later, Peel was out of office.

. . .

. . . Ireland's famine, by ending the Corn Laws, prompted the beginning of the free trade that established the success of Britain's industrial economy.



For the full commentary, see the article referenced immediately below, or see his forthcoming book Propitious Esculent: The Potato in World History:


JOHN READER. "The Fungus That Conquered Europe." The New York Times (Mon., March 17, 2008): A23.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The Stigler essay mentioned above is:

Stigler, George J. "Do Economists Matter?" Southern Economic Journal 42, no. 3 (1976): 347-54.

(I will try to dig out a reference for the Friedman position when I have more time.)




June 22, 2008

Reducing the Cost of Hotels: Prefab Rooms from China


ChinesePrefabHotelRooms.jpg "The Travelodge chain in Britain is building two hotels from stackable metal containers imported from China. One of the hotels, in Uxbridge in West London, is shown under construction at right and in a rendering at left." Source of the caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 23) TRAVELODGE, one of the largest budget hotel chains in Britain, is a company in a hurry.

. . .

Once the company finds a location, it turns to a construction partner with equally aggressive plans: Verbus Systems, a London-based company that builds rooms in metal containers in factories near Shenzhen, China, and delivers them ready to be stacked into buildings up to 16 stories tall.

Verbus Systems' commercial director, Paul Rollett, said his company "can build a 300-room hotel anywhere on the planet in 20 weeks."

. . .

When they arrive at Heathrow, the containers will be hoisted into place by crane. The containers, which are as large as 12 by 47 feet, will support one another just as they do when they are crossing the ocean by ship, Mr. Rollett said. No additional structure is necessary.

. . .

DON CARLSON, the editor and publisher of Automated Builder, a trade magazine based in Ventura, Calif., said that in hotels, "modular is definitely the wave of the future." Modular buildings, he said, are stronger, and more soundproof, because stacking units -- each a fully enclosed room -- "gives you double walls, double floors, double everything."

Mr. Rollett agreed, saying that with the steel shipping container approach, "You could have a party in your room, and people in the next room wouldn't hear a thing."

. . .

He is working with his British clients, which, he said, include a Travelodge competitor, Premier Inn, to make the best possible use of the assembly-line method. "We're increasing the degree of modularity," he said, noting that the latest units come with fully fitted bathrooms and "even the paint on the walls."

The only thing they don't have, he said, "is the girl to put a chocolate on your pillow."


For the full article, see:

FRED A. BERNSTEIN. "CHECKING IN; Arriving in London: Hotels Made in China." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., May 11, 2008): 23.

(Note: ellipses added.)




March 5, 2008

Britain's "Novel Immigration Problem": Too Few Polish Immigrants


PolishSausage.jpg "Polish women selling sausages at the Borough Market in London. The British have also grown to enjoy Polish food." Source of caption and photo: online version of the International Herald Tribune version of the article quoted and cited below.


(p. C1) LONDON, Oct. 18 -- When Piotr Farbiszewski landed here three years ago, he had enough money in his pocket to live for two weeks.

A successful technology consultant in Warsaw, he and his wife, Ela, a schoolteacher, had come to London to try it on for size; if they liked it, they would stay. To earn money, he worked as a builder while she flipped hamburgers.

They decided that they liked London, and within a year, Mr. Farbiszewski was a senior programmer at a software company. In March, the couple bought a small terraced house outside London, where they plan to raise a family.

"We're very happy here," Mr. Farbiszewski, 31, said. "The quality of life is better, the economy is stronger, there is less bureaucracy, it's a multicultural society and the lady in the supermarket will smile at me. People don't smile at each other in Poland."

The Farbiszewskis are small players in one of Europe's most successful immigration stories. Since Poland joined the European Union in 2004 and Britain, unlike France and most other members, welcomed Polish workers, an estimated 1.1 million Poles, mainly young, have come to Britain. Today, they are the third-largest group of immigrants in the country, behind (p. C5) Irish and Indians.

Britain has benefited. On Tuesday, the Home Office estimated that immigration added £6 billion ($12.3 billion) to the nation's economy last year. According to David Blanchflower of the Bank of England's monetary policy committee, East European immigration has also reduced inflation pressure by increasing the supply of goods and services.

Indeed, Britain may soon face a novel immigration problem. As Poland's economy has improved this year, immigration has slowed, which economists say could cause labor shortages in British industries.


For the full story, see:

JULIA WERDIGIER. "As the Poles Get Richer, Fewer Seek British Jobs." The New York Times (Fri., October 19, 2007): C1 & C5.





February 2, 2008

Unhappy Italians: "More Fear than Hope"

 

    "A priest passes an abandoned garage covered with graffiti in Milan. Italy's malaise, an economic, political, and social funk, was summed up in a recent poll: Italians report themselves to be the least happy people in Western Europe."  Source of caption and photo:  online verison of the NYT article quoted and cited below. 

 

(p. A1)  ROME — All the world loves Italy because it is old but still glamorous. Because it eats and drinks well but is rarely fat or drunk.  Because it is the place in a hyper-regulated Europe where people still debate with perfect intelligence what, really, the red in a stoplight might mean.

But these days, for all the outside adoration and all of its innate strengths, Italy seems not to love itself.   The word here is “malessere,” or “malaise”; it implies a collective funk — economic, political and social — summed up in a recent poll: Italians, despite their claim to have mastered the art of living, say they are the least happy people in Western Europe.

“It’s a country that has lost a little of its will for the future,” said Walter Veltroni, the mayor of Rome and a possible future center-left prime minister.  “There is more fear than hope.”

. . .

. . .   In 1987, Italy celebrated its economic parity with Britain.  Now Spain, which joined the European Union only a year earlier, may soon overtake it, and Italy has fallen behind Britain.

Italy’s low-tech way of life may enthrall tourists, but Internet use and commerce here are among the lowest in Europe, as are wages, foreign investment and growth. Pensions, public debt and the cost of government are among the highest.

. . .

(p. A18)  . . .  entrepreneurs complain that they are alone. Politicians offered little help making Italy competitive, and this remains a major impediment to making their gains grow. Businesses want less bureaucracy, more flexible labor laws and large investments in infrastructure to make moving goods around easier.

. . .  

. . .   Many worry . . . that Italy may share the same fate as the Republic of Venice, based in what many say is the most beautiful of cities, but whose domination of trade with the Near East died with no culminating event. Napoleon’s conquest in 1797 only made it official.

Now it is essentially an exquisite corpse, trampled over by millions of tourists.  If Italy does not shed its comforts for change, many say, a similar fate awaits it: blocked by past greatness, with aging tourists the questionable source of life, the Florida of Europe.

. . .  

. . .   “We have reached a point where hoping for some kind of white knight coming in saying, ‘We’ll sort you out,’ is over.”

“We Italians have our destiny in our hands more than ever before,” he said.

 

For the full story, see: 

IAN FISHER  "In a Funk, Italy Sings an Aria of Disappointment."  The New York Times  (Thurs., December 13, 2007):  A1 & A18.

(Note:  ellipses added.) 

 




December 26, 2007

"Global Warming Provides Opportunities"

 

(p. C3)  In the short term, global warming provides opportunities, . . . , especially in temperate zones. Warming trends have lengthened the golfing season in Antalya, Turkey, by over a month, said Ugur Budak, golf coordinator of Akkanat Holdings there.

Golfing used to begin in March. But tourists from Britain and Germany are now coming to Antalya in February.

“Winters are milder, so the effect on us for now is good,” Mr. Budak said. So far there had not been problems like water shortages that are experienced in other parts of the world, he said, “but we know we could be vulnerable in the future.” 

 

For the full story, see: 

ELISABETH ROSENTHAL.  "How Do You Ski if There Is No Snow?"  The New York Times  (Thurs., November 1, 2007):  C3.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 




December 8, 2007

Omaha's Westroads Mall Stops Good Guys From Shooting Back

 

John Lott earned his PhD at the University of Chicago in economics.  What he says below is not popular, or politically correct, but it is probably true.  And if it is true, and if we fail to act on its truth, then more good people will continue to be killed, who could have been saved.

 

The horrible tragedy at the Westroads Mall in Omaha, Neb. received a lot of attention Wednesday and Thursday. It should have. Eight people were killed, and five were wounded.

A Google news search using the phrase "Omaha Mall Shooting" finds an incredible 2,794 news stories worldwide for the last day. From India and Taiwan to Britain and Austria, there are probably few people in the world who haven’t heard about this tragedy.

But despite the massive news coverage, none of the media coverage, at least by 10 a.m. Thursday, mentioned this central fact: Yet another attack occurred in a gun-free zone.

Surely, with all the reporters who appear at these crime scenes and seemingly interview virtually everyone there, why didn’t one simply mention the signs that ban guns from the premises?

Nebraska allows people to carry permitted concealed handguns, but it allows property owners, such as the Westroads Mall, to post signs banning permit holders from legally carrying guns on their property.

. . .

The law-abiding, not criminals, are obeying the rules. Disarming the victims simply means that the killers have less to fear. As Wednesday's attack demonstrated yet again, police are important, but they almost always arrive at the crime scene after the crime has occurred.

The longer it takes for someone to arrive on the scene with a gun, the more people who will be harmed by such an attack.

Most people understand that guns deter criminals. If a killer were stalking your family, would you feel safer putting a sign out front announcing, "This Home Is a Gun-Free Zone"? But that is what the Westroads Mall did.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

John R. Lott, Jr.  "Media Coverage of Mall Shooting Fails to Reveal Mall's Gun-Free-Zone Status."  FOXNEWS.COM  (Thurs., December 6, 2007).

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

(Note:  I am grateful to Luis Locay, for forwarding me Lott's commentary.)

 




November 17, 2007

"Musing on the Sameness of Princes and Paupers"

 

   King Edward's suite is enjoyed by Münster, Germany resident Henriette Heussner.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. A4) MARIANSKE LAZNE, Czech Republic — Anybody with a little cash in this quaint and quiet spa town can take a bath fit for a king.

Edward VII of Britain visited this bucolic corner of Bohemia six times during his short reign and each time took a bath in the Royal Cabin, as his private bathroom at the Nove Lazne hotel is still called. For about $45, you can, too.

. . .

King Edward’s Royal Cabin, a spacious Turkish-bath-style suite, is outfitted with a metal alloy tub and a medieval-looking oaken chair that serves as a toilet and a scale.

. . .

The windows are as delicately painted as a church’s stained glass, and the walls richly decorated with a tropical mural, just as they were in Edwardian days. Angels wearing miters look down from the ceiling.

Lying in the bath, staring up at the same blue parrot that King Edward surely contemplated on the opposite wall, one cannot help musing on the sameness of princes and paupers and those who are somewhere in between.

Tiny bubbles like the carbonation on a soda straw collect on the skin, and larger bubbles percolate around the bather, producing a peculiarly pleasant sensation.

An archaic water heater in a corner of the room clanks contentedly, keeping the bath at what the hotel staff call an “optimal” 97 degrees. The smell of the water is sulfuric and slightly metallic.

Much history and many baths have passed since the king bathed here. In the end, everyone grabs the same metal handle that he did to hoist himself up and out of the tub.

 

For the full story, see: 

CRAIG S. SMITH.  "MARIANSKE LAZNE JOURNAL; This Year at Marienbad, They’re Still Taking the Waters."  The New York Times  (Tues., July 3, 2007):  A4.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

CzechMap.jpg   Source of maps:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 




November 12, 2007

Strong Global Support for Free Markets

 

FreeMarketsPositiveViewTable.gif   Source of table:  "World Publics Welcome Global Trade -- But Not Immigration." Pew Global Attitudes Project, a project of the PewResearchCenter. Released: 10.04.07 dowloaded from: http://pewglobal.org/reports/display.php?ReportID=258

 

(p. A10) WASHINGTON, Oct. 4 — Buoyed and battered by globalization, people around the world strongly view international trade as a good thing but harbor growing concerns about its side effects: threats to their cultures, damage to the environment and the challenges posed by immigration, a new survey indicates.

In the Pew Global Attitudes Project survey of people in 46 countries and the Palestinian territories, large majorities everywhere said that trade was a good thing. In countries like Argentina, which recently experienced trade-based growth, the attitude toward trade has become more positive.

But support for trade has decreased in recent years in advanced Western countries, including Germany, Britain, France and Italy — and most sharply in the United States. The number of Americans saying trade is good for the country has dropped by 19 percentage points since 2002, to 59 percent.

“G.D.P. growth hasn’t been as dramatic in these places as in Latin America or Eastern Europe,” said Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, referring to gross domestic product, the total value of the goods and services produced in a country. “But worldwide, even though some people are rich and some are poor, support for the basic tenet of capitalism is pretty strong.”

 

For the full story, see: 

BRIAN KNOWLTON. "Globalization, According to the World, Is a Good Thing. Sort Of."  The New York Times   (Fri., October 5, 2007):  A10. 

 




October 4, 2007

Global Warming is No Threat to North Atlantic Current

 

   A view of part of the Greenland ice sheet.  Source of the photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. D3) OSLO — Mainstream climatologists who have feared that global warming could have the paradoxical effect of cooling northwestern Europe or even plunging it into a small ice age have stopped worrying about that particular disaster, although it retains a vivid hold on the public imagination.

The idea, which held climate theorists in its icy grip for years, was that the North Atlantic Current, an extension of the Gulf Stream that cuts northeast across the Atlantic Ocean to bathe the high latitudes of Europe with warmish equatorial water, could shut down in a greenhouse world.

Without that warm-water current, Americans on the Eastern Seaboard would most likely feel a chill, but the suffering would be greater in Europe, where major cities lie far to the north. Britain, northern France, the Low Countries, Denmark and Norway could in theory take on Arctic aspects that only a Greenlander could love, even as the rest of the world sweltered.

All that has now been removed from the forecast. Not only is northern Europe warming, but every major climate model produced by scientists worldwide in recent years has also shown that the warming will almost certainly continue.

“The concern had previously been that we were close to a threshold where the Atlantic circulation system would stop,” said Susan Solomon, a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “We now believe we are much farther from that threshold, thanks to improved modeling and ocean measurements. The Gulf Stream and the North Atlantic Current are more stable than previously thought.”

. . .

“The ocean circulation is a robust feature, and you really need to hit it hard to make it stop,” said Eystein Jansen, a paleoclimatologist who directs the Bjerknes Center for Climate Research, also in Bergen. “The Greenland ice sheet would not only have to melt, but to dynamically disintegrate on a huge scale across the entire sheet.”

The worst imaginable collapse would likely take centuries to play out, he said. Any disruption to the North Atlantic Current — whose volume is 30 times greater than all the rivers in the world combined — would thus occur beyond the time horizon of the United Nations climate panel.

 

For the full story, see: 

WALTER GIBBS.  "Scientists Back Off Theory of a Colder Europe in a Warming World."  The New York Times  (Tues., May 15, 2007):  D3. 

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

 AtlanticWarmWaterCirculationMap.jpg  Source of the map:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

 




September 25, 2007

Hugh Laurie's Wonderful Protest Song

 

   Source of image:  screen capture from the first link below.

 

Hugh Laurie hosted Saturday Night Live (SNL) on a show re-broadcast on Sat., Aug. 11, 2007.  (I am not sure if the original broadcast was in 2006, or earlier in 2007.)

In one hilarious bit, Laurie announces he is going to sing a "protest song" and proceeds to sing one of those earnest-sounding, pompous, self-righteous save-the-world-with-a-cliché songs that were so common in the late 1960s and the 1970s.

The hilarious bit: whenever Laurie gets to the part of the song where he is going to tell us the "answer"---- he mumbles. 

After showing the clip to my principles students, I told them that to fill in the mumbling with something effective, you need to know some economics.

 

Here is a link to the SNL version:

http://myspacetv.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoid=3591518

 

The song was apparently first performed as part of a show called "A Bit of Fry and Laurie" that was broadcast in the early 1990s in Britain. Here is a link to the earlier version of the song:

http://myspacetv.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoid=14405597

 




September 3, 2007

The U.S. has Exceled at Turning Information Technology into Greater Productivity

 

To explain the experience in the United States, one would have to believe that Americans have some better way of translating the new technology into productivity than other countries. And that is precisely what Professor Van Reenen's research suggests.

His paper ''Americans Do I.T. Better: U.S. Multinationals and the Productivity Miracle,'' (with Nick Bloom of Stanford University and Raffaella Sadun of the London School of Economics) looked at the experience of companies in Britain that were taken over by multinational companies with headquarters in other countries. They wanted to know if there was any evidence that the American genius with information technology transfers to locations outside the United States. If American companies turn computers into productivity better than anyone else, can businesses in Britain do the same when they are taken over by Americans?

And in the huge service sectors -- financial services, retail trade, wholesale trade -- they found compelling evidence of exactly that. American takeovers caused a tremendous productivity advantage over a non-American alternative.

When Americans take over a business in Britain, the business becomes significantly better at translating technology spending into productivity than a comparable business taken over by someone else. It is as if the invisible hand of the American marketplace were somehow passing along a secret handshake to these firms.

. . .

But there is a chance that the 1990s represent a fundamental shift in the global economy. Perhaps the greater amount of uncertainty and churn in the world economy in the 1990s is the new norm. Perhaps the 21st century will continually favor those who adjust best to changes. As Professor Van Reenen put it, ''If the world has become one in which everyone is trying to hit a moving target, it certainly helps to be the best at changing one's aim.''

But that is, of course, the paradox of the American position. We hate experiencing major adjustments and industry transformations that force people to look for new jobs. That experience has made many skeptical about the future of the United States in the world economy. Yet the evidence seems to show that for all our dissatisfaction, we are the most flexible economy around and may be best poised to take advantage of the coming changes on a global scale precisely because we are so good at adjusting. 

 

For the full commentary, see: 

AUSTAN GOOLSBEE. "ECONOMIC SCENE; How the U.S. Has Kept the Productivity Playing Field Tilted to Its Advantage."  The New York Times  (Thurs., June 21, 2007)  C3.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

(Note:  I thank Aaron Brown for calling the above article to my attention.)

 




August 25, 2007

Must-Visit London Attraction "Was Entirely Commercially Funded"


 

The most elegant big wheel in the world, standing 443 feet high, . . .

Unlike old-style Ferris wheels, where the cars hang inside the structure as it rotates, here the pods are on the outside so as to obtain the best view. Their rotation is not dependent on gravity, but on electric motors synchronized by computerized radio signals sent from the hub. Finally, the whole wheel is hung from one side only, so as to hover over the river. This meant some nifty foundation work. Two separate forests of concrete piles -- one taking the Eye's weight, the other stopping it from toppling over sideways -- plunge 108 feet into the ground.  . . .  

As with all the best engineering structures, building it became a public spectacle. It was floated up the Thames in segments on giant barges, complete with the world's largest floating cranes in attendance. It was then assembled flat on pontoons in the river, its giant central spindle was attached to the perimeter by a skein of steel cables -- the suspension-bridge variety, but acting like bicycle spokes -- and then came an unforgettable week as the whole wheel, weighing 1,780 tons without its 32 capsules (each a further 10 tons), was hauled slowly from the horizontal to an acute angle. Where it stayed, leaning alarmingly, for several days while the final work was done to bring it to its vertical position.

. . .  

Even more remarkably at a time when ambitious architectural projects funded by a national lottery were being built all over Britain, the London Eye -- costing £85 million, or about $150 million at the time -- was entirely commercially funded. Today it is a must-visit attraction in the British capital, carrying an average of 10,000 visitors a day. Each trip is one 30-minute revolution.

It opened in late 2000 and immediately became exactly the iconic object that the Millennium Dome downstream had tried and failed to be. That was perhaps unfair -- the Dome was also a prodigious feat of engineering and architecture -- but in the end what decides these things is the public response.

And the public has always responded to a buccaneering spirit in engineering, the idea that enormous risks are being taken, that enormous reward is the prize, but that total disaster is a looming possibility. That, in short, is the achievement of Mr. Marks and Ms. Barfield's London Eye: The process of making it was every bit as compelling as the ride on the finished product. They are diffident people -- the way they tell it, it was just a matter of A following B -- but they surely fall into the category of designer as hero (and heroine). In this sense they are in the tradition of the great 19th-century British engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who with his extraordinarily ambitious railways and steamships overcame obstacles with flair and style.  . . .

 

For the full commentary, see: 

HUGH PEARMAN.  "MASTERPIECE; Anatomy of a Classic; Reinventing the Wheel; The London Eye is an engineering marvel with tourist appeal."  The Wall Street Journal  (Sat., May 26, 2007):  P14.

(Note: ellipses added.)

 




July 20, 2007

Kirkcaldy's Current Native-Son Would Do Well to Remember Kirkcaldy's 18th Century Native Son


 

In Kirckcaldy, Gordon Brown, the man on the right, tries to persuade the natives to vote for the Labor Party.  Source of the photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

Many years ago, we took the train from Edinburgh to spend a few hours in Kirkcaldy, the birthplace of Adam Smith.  I was surprised at how little there was to honor Smith in the town where he was born and raised.  There was a small cafe/theatre named after Smith.  A small crystal shop sold some shot glasses with Smith's image engraved on them.  And there was a small plaque, above a no-parking sign, on the main street, at the spot where Smith's family home had been. 

I remember asking a very polite young father with two or three small children in tow, why there was so little of Smith in Kirckaldy?  With a twinge of something like regret, he said that everyone in that part of Scotland supported Labor, and they saw Smith as supporting capitalism, and so did not like him much.

It was a crowded Saturday shopping day when Jeanette took my picture in front of the small plaque.  Incredulous passers-by turned and glanced in my direction, probably wondering why the crazy American wanted his picture taken next to a no-parking sign.  

For the sake of Kirkcaldy, and Britain, let us hope that Gordon Brown has read a bit of the work of his fellow Kirkcaldy native son:

 

(p. A10) KIRKCALDY, Scotland, April 30 — Gordon Brown, Britain’s presumed prime minister-to-be, is usually associated with a somewhat dour manner and a mastery of statistics. But here, he displays other skills — a bolt-on smile and a ready handshake to work sparse crowds between the discount stores on the High Street, asking parents with strollers whether their new babies are keeping them awake at night, and inquiring whether the men support the local Raith Rovers soccer team.

. . .

“This is a big choice on Thursday, between those who want to break up Britain and those who want to build up Scotland,” Mr. Brown, currently Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer, told students at Adam Smith College, named for the 18th-century economist who was born here.

. . .

Mr. Brown, who is not standing in these elections, came to town, alongside the choppy waters of the Firth of Forth, to support the Scottish Labor campaign and resist the nationalists.

“I do not think the Scottish people want to see the breakup of the union” that makes up Britain, he said here in Kirkcaldy (pronounced kerr-CUDDY).

But advocates of independence say it would propel Scotland to a bright future, as viable as any other small European state.

 

For the full story, see: 

ALAN COWELL.  "Elections in Britain Reveal a Scottish Line in the Sand."  The New York Times  (Weds., May 2, 2007):  A10.

(Note:  ellipses  added.)

 

 KirkcaldyScotlandMap.jpg   Source of the map:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 

   Art Diamond in Kirkcaldy in 1994 at location (I think on High Street) where  Adam Smith's boyhood home used to be.  (Photo by Jeanette Diamond.)

 




January 29, 2007

Empirical Science at Its Best


   Source of book image:  http://images.barnesandnoble.com/images/11460000/11468284.jpg

 

I have not yet read The Ghost Map, but from the review excerpted below, it sounds like a wonderful book.  One lesson from the book appears to be that much good can come from a careful collection of evidence, and that much harm can come from sticking to a theory in spite of the evidence.  It is also interesting that in this tale, the villain turns out to be the advocate of public works, whose good intentions resulted in much death and suffering. 

 

(p. P8) The sociology of error is a wonderful subject. Some university ought to endow a chair in it -- and then make Steven Johnson the first professor. Mr. Johnson last provoked the public with his counterintuitive polemic "Everything Bad Is Good For You," in which he argued that TV and videogames actually improve our cognitive skills. In "The Ghost Map" he tells the story of how for 30 years and more the medical establishment in Victorian London refused to accept what was staring them in the face, namely that cholera was a waterborne disease.

Thousands of Londoners died while doctors and public-health officials stubbornly clung to the view that the plague was an airborne miasma that hung in the foul atmosphere of the slums and was inhaled by the wretched creatures who lived there. Every kind of cure was proposed: opium, linseed oil and hot compresses, smoke, castor oil, brandy -- everything but the simple, obvious remedy of rehydration, which reduces the otherwise fatal disease to a bad case of diarrhea.

The fact that the cholera toxin tricks the cells in the lining of the colon into expelling water at a terrifying rate (victims have been known to lose 30% of their body weight in a matter of hours) should surely have alerted someone to the possibility that putting this Niagara back into the body might be worth trying. Only one doctor, Thomas Latta, hit upon the answer, in 1832, just a few months after the first outbreak ever in Britain. His mistake was not to inject enough salty water, and his lone initiative was soon overwhelmed by the brainless babble of the quacks.

Chief among the villains of Mr. Johnson's unputdownable tale was the man whom we were brought up to revere as the father of public sanitation, Edwin Chadwick. This dour, tactless, unpopular reformer laid the foundations for all the government interventions in public health that we now take for granted. Yet in this story he labored under not one but two illusions that proved catastrophic.

. . .

With the austere teetotaller and vegetarian Dr. Snow and his devoted helper in the Soho slums, the Rev. Henry Whitehead, "The Ghost Map" gains not one but two heroes. Patiently they mapped the patterns of victims and survivors and narrowed down the most likely source of the cholera plague to the Broad Street pump. But even after the pump handle was removed so that Londoners could no longer fill their buckets there and the illness subsided, the miasmatists were not convinced. Snow then tramped the streets of Battersea and Vauxhall to demonstrate that those who had their water from higher up the Thames, above the reach of the tide, remained unharmed, while those who took it from the foul tidewater perished in the hundreds. This was no easy task, since the pattern of water pipes under London's houses was as tangled as the pattern of Internet service providers are today.

Why did it take so long? Because mapping epidemics was only in its infancy, though Snow's famous map was not quite the first. Because the questions that Chadwick's public-health board researched were self-fulfilling, all having to do with the smells and personal habits of the poor and not with the water they drank. The researchers mistook correlation for causation: Nobody died on the high ground of Hampstead, where the air was purer, therefore higher was safer -- or so it seemed until a Mrs. Eley, who had retired thither, arranged to receive a jugful of water from her beloved Broad Street pump and got cholera.

But above all Chadwick and his crew were certain of themselves because the stench of the slums was so utterly disgusting and because smell acts so powerfully on our imaginations. Only the most careful and dispassionate investigators were free of the obsession with stench. Henry Mayhew, for example, noted in his "London Labour and the London Poor" (1851) that sewer-hunters, who scavenged deep underground knee-deep in muck, lived to a ripe old age. The Great Stink of 1858, which finally persuaded the government to commission Sir Joseph Bazalgette to lay down the magnificent network of sewers that have lasted to this day, did not kill a single Londoner -- yet still Chadwick did not believe.

 

For the full review, see: 

FERDINAND MOUNT.  "BOOKS; Lost in a Time of Cholera; How a doctor's search solved the mystery of an epidemic in Victorian London."  The Wall Street Journal   (Sat., October 21, 2006):  P8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

 

The reference to the book is:

Johnson, Steven. The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic - and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World. New York: Riverhead Books, 2006.  299 pages, $26.95

 

SnowJohn.jpg   Dr. John Snow.  Source of photo:  online version of the WSJ article cited above.

ChadwickEdwin.jpg   Edwin Chadwick.  Source of photo:  online version of the WSJ article cited above.

 




December 15, 2006

Bush on Entrepreneurship


Source of book image: http://www.harpercollins.com/harperimages/isbn/large/8/9780060841638.jpg

 

At lunchtime today (11/27/06) I heard part of a C-Span broadcast of a Heritage Foundation event in which Carl J. Schramm gave a presentation based on his new book (see above). It sounded as though Schramm has some useful thoughts about the impact of entrepreneurship, and on how the institutions of higher education are very unentrepreneurial.

I smiled when Schramm mentioned that George W. Bush had once said that: "The problem with the French is that they don't know the meaning of the word "entrepreneur." To those who don't "get" the joke: it is another of those Bush-is-stupid jokes, based on the word "entrepreneur" being of French origins.

A web site devoted to "urban legends" identifies the Bush quote as one of these legends:

Yet another "George W. Bush is dumb" story has been taken up by those who like their caricatures drawn in stark, bold lines.  According to scuttlebutt that emerged in the British press in July 2002, President Bush, Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair, and France's President Jacques Chirac were discussing economics and, in particular, the decline of the French economy.  "The problem with the French," Bush afterwards confided in Blair, "is that they don't have a word for entrepreneur."  

The source was Shirley Williams, also known as the Baroness Williams of Crosby, who claimed "my good friend Tony Blair" had recently regaled her with this anecdote in Brighton.

Lloyd Grove of The Washington Post was unable to reach Baroness Williams to gain her confirmation of the tale, but he did receive a call from Alastair Campbell, Blair's director of communications and strategy.  "I can tell you that the prime minister never heard George Bush say that, and he certainly never told Shirley Williams that President Bush did say it," Campbell told The Post.  "If she put this in a speech, it must have been a joke."

 

The main reference relied on by the Urban Legend web site for this entry, was: 

Grove, Lloyd. "The Reliable Source." The Washington Post. 10 July 2002 (p. C3).

 

The most obvious interpretation of the joke is that it is ridiculing W.  But, more subtly, it could be taken to be giving just a bit of a jab to the French too.  (Just because the French invented the word, doesn't mean that they couldn't have forgotten its meaning, through lack of use.)

 

The reference on the Schramm book is: 

Schramm, Carl J. The Entrepreneurial Imperative: How America's Economic Miracle Will Reshape the World (and Change Your Life). New York: Collins, 2006.

 




November 4, 2006

Hong Kong's Growth Was Due to Cowperthwaite's "Positive Noninterventionism"


In Free to Choose, Milton Friedman compared Hong Kong's free market, with India's state control of the economy.  The dynamism and growth of Hong Kong was a stark contrast to the inertia and stagnation of India.  In the decades since Free to Choose, India has become more free and, alas, Hong Kong less free:   


(p. A14) . . . it was sadly unsurprising to see Hong Kong's current leader, Donald Tsang, last month declare the death of the policy on which the territory's prosperity was built.

The really amazing phenomenon is that, for half a century, his predecessors resisted the temptation to tax and meddle.  Though a colony of socialist Britain, Hong Kong followed a laissez-faire capitalist policy, thanks largely to a British civil servant, John Cowperthwaite.  Assigned to handle Hong Kong's financial affairs in 1945, he rose through the ranks to become the territory's financial secretary from 1961-71.  Cowperthwaite, who died on Jan. 21 this year, was so famously laissez-faire that he refused to collect economic statistics for fear this would only give government officials an excuse for more meddling.  His successor, Sir Philip Haddon-Cave, coined the term "positive noninterventionism" to describe Cowperthwaite's approach.

The results of his policy were remarkable.  At the end of World War II, Hong Kong was a dirt-poor island with a per-capita income about one-quarter that of Britain's.  By 1997, when sovereignty was transferred to China, its per-capita income was roughly equal to that of the departing colonial power, even though Britain had experienced sizable growth over the same period.  That was a striking demonstration of the productivity of freedom, of what people can do when they are left free to pursue their own interests.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

MILTON FRIEDMAN.  "Hong Kong Wrong."  Wall Street Journal  (Fri., October 6, 2006):  A14.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 






November 1, 2006

Mellon Allowed Great Innovation By Restraining Intrusive Government


(p. W4) Though scarcely known today, Andrew W. Mellon was a colossus in late 19th-century and early 20th-century America.  He would come to play a major role in the management of the American economy, but first he built one of the country's great fortunes, one that would rank him today with Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.  He is now the subject of a comprehensive, if slightly grudging, biography by David Cannadine, the distinguished British historian.

Mellon is not associated with any single industry, in the way that Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller are.  He was a venture and equity-fund capitalist, one of the first to function on a major scale.  He and his younger brother, Dick, took over their father's Pittsburgh-based investment and coal-mining business and expanded it into many fields, including copper, oil,  petrochemicals and aluminum (Alcoa).

No banker was as gimlet-eyed; Mr. Cannadine shows Mellon shrewdly and coldly calculating every investment prospect.  Yet few venture capitalists were as daring.  In the 1890s, when Rockefeller was ruthlessly monopolizing the petroleum industry, Mellon didn't flinch from setting up a competing refinery.  When Mellon finally sold out to Rockefeller, he did so at a considerable profit.  Several years later he came back to oil and eventually built Gulf into an industry giant.

Original Supply-Sider

But Mellon was more than an entrepreneurial industrialist.  In his mid-60s he became a famous -- and infamous -- public servant, performing as Treasury secretary under three presidents, from 1921 to 1932.  He was the original supply-sider, pushing tax cuts under Presidents Harding and Coolidge.  He argued that the high tax rates left over from World War I were depressing economic activity; that lower rates would turn the economy around; that high-income earners would end up paying more and that low-income earners would be removed from the tax roles entirely.

His program was a fantastic success.  The top rate was cut to 25% from 77%.  The rich did indeed pay more, while low- and middle-income earners saw their tax bills shrink to nothing or next to nothing.  The economy boomed.  The U.S. outstripped more heavily taxed nations, such as Britain and France.  Mellon also pushed painstakingly for the creation of an international monetary system to replace the one shattered by World War I.  The big challenge was huge Allied war debts to the U.S. and onerous German reparations.  Mellon negotiated the easiest terms that were politically possible so that trade and economies could revive.

We sometimes forget just how dynamic the 1920s were in America.  The automobile became a commonplace item for working Americans; labor-saving devices, such as the washing machine, grew ever more common as well; movies and radio provided mass entertainment as never before (an experimental television broadcast was carried out in 1927); and stock ownership widened to include more members of the middle class.

It was a time of great innovation and inventiveness, and in a sense Mellon presided over it all by allowing it to happen without intrusive government policies.

 

For the full review, see:

STEVE FORBES.  "BOOKS; The Man Who Made the Twenties Roar."  The Wall Street Journal    (Fri., October 6, 2006):  W4.

 

Reference for the book:

David Cannadine.  MELLON.  Knopf, 2006.  779 pages, $35

 

 MellonBK.jpg  Source of book image:  online version of the WSJ article cited above.

 




October 5, 2006

Reforms Make it Easier to Start and Run a Business in Africa


(p. A12) Authors of the report, ''Doing Business,'' by the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation, the bank's private sector arm, say they hope simplifying and easing the rules of the capitalist game will entice more businesses above ground.

A team of 30 researchers found that African countries had made many incremental changes.

''The most surprising thing for me was to see the pickup of reform in Africa,'' said Simeon Djankov, a World Bank economist who four years ago developed the rankings on the ease of doing business.  ''Something has happened this year.  At least two-thirds of Africa's countries have at least one positive reform.''

Tanzania computerized its business and tax registries and reduced delays in customs inspections and the courts.

Ghana has cut the corporate tax rate to 25 percent, from 32.5 percent, and made it easier to export goods.

Rwanda scrapped a law adopted during Belgian colonial rule that had given one official a monopoly on notarizing documents for the entire country.

Ivory Coast slashed the time to register property to a month from more than a year by eliminating a requirement that the urban minister give his consent.

Wealthy donors like the World Bank, the United States and Britain, which focus on spurring economic growth and job creation, are putting heavier emphasis on such changes in deciding where to provide aid.

The Millennium Challenge Account, President Bush's aid program, explicitly uses the bank report's measure of days to start a business as one criterion for deciding who qualifies for large grants.

 

For the full story, see:

CELIA W. DUGGER.  "Africa Moves Up the Ladder of Business-Friendly Regions."   The New York Times (Weds., September 6, 2006):  A12.

(Note:  the online version of the article had this, slightly different, title:  "In Africa, a More Business-Friendly Approach.")   






May 16, 2006

British Pull Own Teeth Under Public Dental Care


KellyWilliamToothless.jpg "William Kelly, 43, extracted part of his own tooth, leaving a black stump. He plans to pull one more."  Source of caption and image:  online version of NYT article cited below.

 

ROCHDALE, England, May 2 — "I snapped it out myself," said William Kelly, 43, describing his most recent dental procedure, the autoextraction of one of his upper teeth.

Now it is a jagged black stump, and the pain gnawing at Mr. Kelly's mouth has transferred itself to a different tooth, mottled and rickety, on the other side of his mouth.  "I'm in the middle of pulling that one out, too," he said.

. . .

But the problem is serious.  Mr. Kelly's predicament is not just a result of cigarettes and possibly indifferent oral hygiene; he is careful to brush once a day, he said.  Instead, it is due in large part to the deficiencies in Britain's state-financed dental service, which, stretched beyond its limit, no longer serves everyone and no longer even pretends to try.

Every time he has tried to sign up, lining up with hundreds of others from the ranks of the desperate and the hurting — "I've seen people with bleeding gums where they've ripped their teeth out," he said grimly — he has arrived too late and missed the cutoff.

"You could argue that Britain has not seen lines like this since World War II," said Mark Pritchard, a member of Parliament who represents part of Shropshire, where the situation is just as grim.  "Churchill once said that the British are great queuers, but I don't think he meant that in connection to dental care."

Britain has too few public dentists for too many people. At the beginning of the year, just 49 percent of the adults and 63 percent of the children in England and Wales were registered with public dentists.

And now, discouraged by what they say is the assembly-line nature of the job and by a new contract that pays them to perform a set number of "units of dental activity" per year, even more dentists are abandoning the health service and going into private practice — some 2,000 in April alone, the British Dental Association says.

. . .

The system, critics say, encourages state dentists to see too many patients in too short a time and to cut corners by, for instance, extracting teeth rather than performing root canals.

Claire Dacey, a nurse for a private dentist, said that when she worked in the National Health Service one dentist in the practice performed cleanings in five minutes flat.

Moreover, she said, by the time patients got in to see a dentist, many were in terrible shape.

"I had a lady who was in so much pain and had to wait so long that she got herself drunk and had her friend take out her tooth with a pair of pliers," Ms. Dacey said.

Some people simply seek treatment abroad.

 

For the full story, see:

SARAH LYALL.  "In a Dentist Shortage, British (Ouch) Do It Themselves."  The New York Times, Section 1  (Sun., May 7, 2006):  3. 

(Note: ellipsis added.)




March 27, 2006

The Case Against Privatizing the Post Office

 

The free market can be defended with a variety of plausible philosophical arguments. But most people care more about what "works" than what is "right." So in the constant struggle between free markets and the government, it may be useful to maintain the government's monopoly in delivering first class mail. That way when someone suggests a new intervention by the government, the free marketer can refute them with two persuasive words: "post office."

 

When it comes to first-class mail, the U.S. still does things the old-fashioned way, with one Postal Service. Not so in places like New Zealand and Sweden, which have opened their mail systems to private companies. The latest is Britain, where the Royal Mail lost its 350-year monopoly on delivery. At least 14 companies are now competing to sort and transport mail. British regulators believe competition will be good for the mail system. Japan is soon to follow. With the recent rise in U.S. stamp prices, expect more calls for privatization here too.

 

Source:

Lyric Wallwork Winik. "Intelligence Report; Is the Mailman Endangered?" Parade (Sun., March 19, 2006): 25.

 




March 21, 2006

High Tech


Aqueduct1.jpg
Pontcysyllte aqueduct. Source of image: online version of WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. P12) Of all the stupendous engineering structures produced by the Industrial Revolution, the Pontcysyllte is one of the most extraordinary: a ribbon of water in the sky. A narrow cast-iron water-filled trough, over 1,000 feet long, strides out across a steep-sided Welsh valley on a series of slender stone piers. Canal boats drift across, reaching a height of 126 feet above the valley floor. I first made this trip as a child and it was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. It still is. Because while there is a towpath and handrail on one side of you, on the other there is nothing but the thin lip of the trough, rising to only a few inches above the waterline. It does not look strong enough. You feel you are going to plunge over the edge.


This is one of those marvels of engineering and architecture that really should not exist. Economically, it never made any sense. A product of Britain's canal-building mania of the 1790s, it opened in 1805 and found itself on a route that went nowhere much, and then stopped. Having been built, it should not logically have survived. It is sited on a truncated stretch of waterway, a puzzling fragment of a much larger, never-completed scheme. This was known as the Ellesmere Canal, intended to link the mighty rivers of Mersey and Severn via the coal and iron ore mines of North Wales. But no sooner had engineers Thomas Telford and William Jessop completed this hugely ambitious structure -- along with other expensive aqueducts and tunnels, piercing the hills and leaping the valleys to get to this point -- than financial reality took hold and the project was halted. Commercial boat traffic on the inconclusive sections that were built was always light, and had ceased by 1939. The waterway was officially abandoned to navigation in 1944. But salvation was at hand.

It, and its matchless aqueduct, survived for two reasons. Almost by accident, it provided a fresh water supply from the Welsh hills to the towns and cities of northwest England. And it became an early campaign victory, a symbol, for Britain's nascent waterways preservation movement in the 1940s. The canal network was being rediscovered by a generation of postwar nostalgists, alert both to industrial heritage and to the fast-vanishing gypsy-like lifestyle of the traditional boating families in their "narrow boats" (never called barges).


For the full commentary, see:

Hugh Pearman. "MASTERPIECE; A Marvel That Shouldn't Exist; In Wales, a fusion of architecture, engineering and nature." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., February 4, 2006): P12.


Aqueduct2.jpg
Source of image: online version of WSJ article cited above.




February 15, 2006

"Growing Recognition of Economic Costs" of Koyoto Protocol



Commentary on the Kyoto Protocol:

(p. 3) . . . the current stalemate is not just because of the inadequacies of the protocol. It is also a response to the world's ballooning energy appetite, which, largely because of economic growth in China, has exceeded almost everyone's expectations. And there are still no viable alternatives to fossil fuels, the main source of greenhouse gases.

Then, too, there is a growing recognition of the economic costs incurred by signing on to the Kyoto Protocol.

As Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, a proponent of emissions targets, said in a statement on Nov. 1: ''The blunt truth about the politics of climate change is that no country will want to sacrifice its economy in order to meet this challenge.''

This is as true, in different ways, in developed nations with high unemployment, like Germany and France, as it is in Russia, which said last week that it may have spot energy shortages this winter.

. . .

The only real answer at the moment is still far out on the horizon: nonpolluting energy sources. But the amount of money being devoted to research and develop such technologies, much less install them, is nowhere near the scale of the problem, many experts on energy technology said.

Enormous investments in basic research have to be made promptly, even with the knowledge that most of the research is likely to fail, if there is to be any chance of creating options for the world's vastly increased energy thirst in a few decades, said Richard G. Richels, an economist at the Electric Power Research Institute, a nonprofit center for energy and environment research.

''The train is not leaving the station, and it needs to leave the station,'' Mr. Richels said. ''If we don't have the technologies available at that time, it's going to be a mess.''



For the full commentary, see:

ANDREW C. REVKIN. "THE WORLD; On Climate Change, a Change of Thinking." The New York Times, Section 4 (Sun., December 4, 2005): 3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





January 3, 2006

Freedom in Pulsating, Vibrant Hong Kong


Source of book image: http://www.holtzbrinckpublishers.com/stmartins/Search/SearchBookDisplayLarge.asp?BookKey=3008997


Here is an excerpt from a review of a posthumously published memoir, by a well-known British author, recounting three years of childhood in the Hong Kong of the early 1950s:

(p. B12) He has written an extraordinarily happy book, filled with hilarious set-pieces and pulsating with Hong Kong's vibrant street life. Unlike monochrome Britain, with its dull diet and pinched economy, Hong Kong offered color, variety and adventure.

. . .

Most of Mr. Booth's encounters were curious rather than dramatic, like the incident of the plink-plonk man, a street musician with a monkey outfitted like a mandarin from the Ming dynasty. One day, as Martin watched, the monkey managed to bite through his leather leash. In a flash, he was up a tree, where, ignoring his master's pleading and cursing, he carefully disrobed and flung his costume to the street below. Then, in one magnificent act of repudiation, he sent a perfectly aimed stream of urine down on the man's upturned face, to the delight of the crowd that had gathered. Where in England could you see that?



WILLIAM GRIMES. "Books of The Times: Hong Kong Is Fantasy Land for a Young Adventurer." The New York Times (Weds., December 21, 2005): B12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


Information on the book reviewed:

Martin Booth. Golden Boy: Memories of a Hong Kong Childhood. St. Martin's Press, 2005. (342 pages. $25.95.)






November 14, 2005

Incentives Matter


    Traffic congestion on 7th Avenue near Times Square. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below, downloaded at: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/11/nyregion/11traffic.html



(p. A23) It is an idea that has been successful in London, and is now being whispered in the ears of City Hall officials after months of behind-the-scenes work by the Partnership for New York City, the city's major business association: congestion pricing.

The idea is to charge drivers for entering the most heavily trafficked parts of Manhattan at the busiest times of the day. By creating a financial incentive to carpool or use mass transit, congestion pricing could smooth the flow of traffic, reduce delays, improve air quality and raise the speed of crawling buses.



Source:

SEWELL CHAN. "Driving Around in Busy Manhattan? You Pay, Under Idea to Relieve Car Congestion." The New York Times (Friday, November 11, 2005): A23.




October 26, 2005

British Inventions Taken Up and Exploited in the United States



They_Made_AmericaBK.jpg   Source of book image: http://www.mikemilken.com/fincareer.taf?page=they_made_america


Was it a difference in "innovative energies" that mattered, or was it a difference in institutions and incentives?

(p. 11) This crucial difference between invention and innovation was borne in on me on my return to England in 1957. As a young science reporter, I visited the government-funded National Physical Laboratory at Teddington, and they showed where their senior researcher Robert Watson Watt had in 1935 invented the radar system that was to help the Royal Air Force win the battle of Britain. His former colleagues remarked with chagrin on how swiftly this British invention had been taken up and exploited in the United States after 1939, laying the foundation for the great electronics industry. It was the same story with antibiotics, following Alexander Fleming's 1928 discovery of penicillin; with Maurice Wilkes's pioneering efforts in developing the first commercial application of the computer at the offices of J. Lyons and Company in 1951 and with the jet engine. All of these British inventions were superseded by the innovative energies of America.

Source:

Evans, Harold. They Made America: Two Centuries of Innovators from the Steam Engine to the Search Engine. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2004.






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