The Bitcoin whitepaper was published on 31 October 2008, ten years ago today.
If you were really concerned about losing national sovereignty, as the UK Leave campaign claims to be, then you would logically need to leave lots of other international organizations, not just the EC. The WTO, Inmarsat, the International Maritime Organization, Interpol, the International Criminal Court, even the International Cricket Conference all impose obligations on their members and compromise their sovereignty. What would British life be if the country were not in any of these organizations? Let us take just one example – The International Telecommunications Union, and it’s European analogue, ETSI. It it perfectly possible for a country to have its own mobile telephony standards – Japan and the Scandinavian bloc are past examples. But customer roaming between nations then becomes difficult, and costs of every component part will be higher, due to a loss of scale economies. Even just operating a common mobile standard but at a different frequencies limits roaming, as anyone alive in the 1990s and traveling between the USA and Europe will recall.
An article from the Sydney Morning Herald of 1924, about the introduction of buffaloes to Australia in 1857, an adventure involving both a great-great-grandfather and a great-great-great-grandfather of mine. I wonder if the ship mentioned below, the Florence Street, was named after a member of the illustrious Street Family of New South Wales.
To the late Captain Peverley, of Balmain, belongs the credit of having introduced the buffalo to Northern Australia, though he did so indirectly in a measure, when the good barque the Florence Street became a total wreck on the northern coast, not very far from where Wyndham now stands.
Captain Peverley, ship master and ship owner had, when he settled in Balmain, 28 ships of various sizes and capacities; he always boasted that not one was a “coffin ship”, and that he himself would sail on them in any sea, in any weather, and he would add as climax that he would give a first-rate rope’s ending to any of his crew, who dared to complain or say otherwise. He was a true type of the ship’s master of the old windjammer days, days when Sydney Harbour was crowded with sailing craft of all kinds, the days of the middle and late ‘fifties, when the gold fever had reached its crisis after the astonishing yields from Bendigo and Ballarat.
Continue reading ‘Australian Buffaloes’
Propose to an Englishman any principle, or any instrument, however admirable, and you will observe that the whole effort of the English mind is directed to find a difficulty, defect, or an impossibility in it. If you speak to him of a machine for peeling a potato, he will pronounce it impossible: if you peel a potato with it before his eyes, he will declare it useless, because it will not slice a pineapple. Impart the same principle or show the same machine to an American, or to one of our colonists, and you will observe that the whole effort of his mind is to find some new application of the principle, some new use for the instrument. ”
Charles Babbage, 1852, in a paper on taxation. Cited on page 132 of Doron Swade : The Cogwheel Brain: Charles Babbage and the Quest to Build the First Computer. London, UK: Little, Brown and Company.
This week the death was announced of The International Herald Tribune, and her replacement by the International Edition of The New York Times. Born in Paris in 1887, the deceased reached maturity in 1967, when she became jointly and equally owned by The Washington Post and The New York Times. From then to 2003 were her glory years, perhaps because neither newspaper parent was able to impose their own, provincial culture on the cosmopolitan IHT editorial team in Paris. Here is Hendrik Hertzberg:
The first time I ever went anywhere outside the United States was in 1960. I was seventeen, I was by myself, and I was in Paris. At the earliest possible moment, I did four things. I sat down at a little table at an outdoor café. I ordered a glass of red wine. I lit a Gauloises. And I opened up my copy, freshly bought, of the Herald Tribune. Only then did I no longer feel like a tourist or a high-school kid. I was suddenly something better: an American in Paris.”
But no marketing manager can stomach a brand he does not control, so the NYT broke up the marriage with The Post in order to take full control of the IHT in 2003. The IHT was never the same since. Editorial control seemed to shift from Paris to Manhattan. The content seemed suddenly to be centred on events in New York, instead of on the world itself. New Yorkers don’t like to think of themselves as provincial, but they often are. The arts section is now a mash-up of the NYT arts section, for instance.
And for all their prizes, the editors of the NYT seems to lack some basic newspaper management skills. Why change the font? Why, one has to ask, must the cartoon page shift its position in the paper from day to day, like some permanent floating crap game? Now, in just a few days under its new name, the newspaper’s op-ed page has shifted elsewere in the paper. It seems that the editors mis-understand the nature of a newspaper – indeed, THIS newspaper – in the life of its readers, if they think we don’t care about such matters.
Now, instead of a paper written for and by English-speaking readers around the world, it has become a paper written by journalists in New York City for readers from New York City. The world’s loss, alas.
UPDATE (2016-07-31): And now? From buying it every day, now, I hardly ever do. The newspaper is a poor skeleton of its former fleshy self, and shamefully provincial.
Our modern, technologically-advanced, societies require very specialized knowledge and expertise to function. In such societies, it benefits individuals to specialize. Despite the beliefs of management consultants and the old Bell System, it is not true that everyone can do anything.
In the 1950s and 1960s, for instance, the British Government successfully promoted the development of a highly-specialized cadre of nuclear energy physicists and engineers, able to design, build and operate nuclear power stations. Once that technology became mature, however, Government policy shifted and it was thought that country could purchase nuclear power technology “off the shelf”; the country had no need for the skills involved (it was argued) and thus de-skilled. The French government took a different view, with the consequence today that young French nuclear engineers are in high demand in Britain.
Just as it benefits individuals to specialize, so too with cities and regions. If there are many companies in the same industry near to one another, recruitment of specialized, skilled staff is easier, exchanges of ideas and business occurs more often, and collaborative partnerships and common campaigns are facilitated. This is why, for example, the world’s leading commercial insurance companies operate near to one another in Trinity Square, London, and have done for centuries. This is why Stamford, CT, is a similar centre for insurance companies. This is why, despite the so-called abolition of distance by the Internet, the key US companies in telemedicine all operate within a few blocks of one another in Manhattan. Michael Porter’s work on regional industrial clusters has been rightly compelling in explaining the causes and consequences of these phenomena.
But what of countries? Most national borders are historical or geographic artefacts, contingent accidents of history that could well be otherwise. So, prima facie, what is true of regions should also be true of countries: it should benefit countries to specialize. Since David Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage in 1817, economists have believed that countries gain from specialization in the production of goods for which they have relative advantage (despite the theory’s flaws). Why then do many people think it necessary for countries to NOT specialize, to have strong services sectors AND strong manufacturing industries AND a strong agricultural base? Many Marxists seem to think this – that all countries should have large manufacturing sectors – and none I have questioned has ever been able to give me a good justification as to why. (Perhaps believing that a proletarian revolution is a necessary stage of every country’s history leads one to believe that an industrial working class is also necessary, and hence a large manufacturing sector.)
Since the Great Global Recession of 2007-?, conventional public policy wisdom in Britain has been that the country’s economy needs “rebalancing” to reduce the role and proportion of financial and professional services, and increase the role of manufacturing. But why? Surely, most jobs in services are better paid, have better working conditions, and are generally more intellectually and emotionally challenging, than the repetitive, dirty, noisy, foul-smelling, physically-demanding jobs of factories. Of course, modern factories are often clean, quiet, and air-conditioned, because robots, unlike people and trades unions, refuse to work in any other conditions.
Now, according to The Economist, the British Government is planning to throw money at industrial sector strategy again – “picking winners” is the term of art. Not only did this fail last time Britain did it (in the 1960s and 1970s), but even MITI – the once all-powerful Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry – failed at it. Japanese attempts to enter the avionics industry were a bust, for example, despite MITI’s great desire, focus, power, and resources.
I can see a valuable role for government in overcoming problems of collective action – for example, when the actors lack knowledge of each other’s capabilities, beliefs or intentions, or when there are network effects or externalities associated to actions, or when it is in everyone’s interest to do something, but in no one’s interest to be the first to do that something. In these cases, government can can bring relevant actors or stakeholders together; it can convene; it can co-ordinate; it can develop common visons for the future; it can suggest, request, cajole, morally suade, and even harry participants to act for the collective good against their own self-interest. But none of these government actions or policies requires the government to choose winning companies or perhaps even winning sectors or regions. And none requires vast sums of money.
Conversations overheard on the London Underground in:
Afrikaans, Amharic, Arabic, Cantonese, Catalan, Czech, Dutch, English*, Farsi, Finnish, French, German, Gujarati, Hausa, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Lingala, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swahili, Swedish, Tagalog, Thai, Urdu, isiZulu.
* Overheard regional variants of English from: Australia, Britain (Brummie, Estuary, Geordie, Glasgow-Scottish, Mancunian, Edinburgh-Scottish, RP, Sarf Lonon, Scouse, Ulster, West Country), Canada, Eire, New Zealand, South Africa, USA (Barst’n, Bronx, Brooklyn, ‘Gisland, Midwest, Northeastern, Southern).
A reader of Andrew Sullivan’s blog notices that Bam is a post-industrial nomad:
I wish people would realize that we have a President that was born in the USA, raised in Asia and multi-cultural Hawaii, and who lived in Harlem, and went to uppity Harvard and then spent a lot of time in African-American ‘hoods. Oh, and he’s driven up and down the rural highways of Illinois hundreds of times. Furthermore, much of his life was spent in obscurity, so he had to live amongst us normal people paying back student loans. Even as a Senator he lived in a run-down apartment in D.C. This is why I never worried about Obama’s lack of experience. All he’s had is experience. Even Bill Clinton, who entered into the political upper-class networks by the time he was at Georgetown, looks provincial and cut-off from real America compared to this. Have we ever had a President who has lived in this many American worlds and cultures and succeeded in all of them?
During the Great Depression, as the Bank of England and British banks were attempting to renegotiate the terms of their loans from the USA, the British sent Sir Otto Niemeyer to Australia to prevent Australia doing the same for its loans from Britain. The injustice and unabashed hypocrisy of this – where you stood on the issue of debt repayment clearly depending on where you sat – always angered me. Had I been around in 1932, I would have supported New South Wales Premier Jack Lang’s refusal to hand over moneys from the NSW State Government owed to the Australian Commonwealth Government for its payment of interest on NSW foreign debts.
We seem to be in for more hypocrisy and hard times, as the share-owning class, having received bailouts from western taxpayers for their investments in failed and paralyzed banks, now raise a wacka wacka huna kuna against public sector debt. The plain people of Ireland, for example, will now be paying for the malfeasance and incompetence of their richer compatriots.
Two illuminating posts from Brad DeLong and Paul Krugman on our failed western political system, which seems unable to fix our failed economy, despite us knowing what should be done:
- Brad DeLong [2010-11-25]: The retreat of macroeconomic policy. Project Syndicate
- Paul Krugman [2010-11-26]: The instability of moderation. The New York Times.
And here is Barry Eichengreen on the Irish bailout:
- Barry Eichengreen [2010-12-01]: Ireland’s reparations burden. The Irish Economy blog. Originally published in Handelsblatt (in German).
Some older articles on the crisis:
- Paul Krugman : How did economists get it so wrong? The New York Times, 2009-09-06.
- J. Doyne Farmer and Duncan Foley : The economy needs agent-based modeling. Nature, 460: 685-686 (6 August 2009).
- Mark Buchanan : Economics: Meltdown modeling. Nature, 460, 680-682 (6 August 2009).
- John Kay : How Economics lost sight of the real world. Financial Times, 2009-04-21.