No Minister

Posts Tagged ‘Capitalism

I am not a number…

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… I am a free man!

That statement is from the opening sequence of the famous 1960’s TV series, The Prisoner, one of the strangest and most off-beat shows in a strange and off-beat decade.

The assertion is shouted back at “Number Two” – the controller of the island where the Prisoner, a former government spy, is being held captive while TPTB try to figure out why he quit his job – and is a response to being labeled “Number Six”.

Of course the response to this is Number Two’s uproarious sneering laughter, something that feels entirely appropriate from our ruling classes over the last two years, a period of time when we have decidedly not been free men.

I don’t think such people are laughing anymore – and you should not laugh at fascists, especially when they turn up in the nation that created the ideology.

I wonder if she’ll be locking people in their homes, arresting them for going to the beach or park, directing the government to select which businesses will be open and which will close, shutting down much of society using the Police and “The Law”, and bringing in legal mandates that force people to do things against their will and conscience.

Because that really would be fascist.

“Why is the family an enemy? Why is the family so frightening? There is a single answer to all these questions because it defines us because it is our identity, because everything that defines us is now an enemy.

For those who would like us to no longer have an identity and to simply be perfect consumer slaves and so they attack national identity. They attack religious identity. The attack gender identity. they attack family identity.

I can’t define myself as an Italian, Christian, woman, mother. No. I must be Citizen X, gender X, parent one, parent two. I must be a number.

Because when I am only a number, when I no longer have an identity or roots, then I will be the perfect slave at the mercy of financial speculators, the perfect consumer. that’s the reason why that’s why we inspire so much fear.

That’s why this event inspires so much fear because we do not want to be numbers. We will defend the value of the human being. Every single human being because each of us has a unique genetic code that is unrepeatable. And like it or not, that it’s sacred.

We will defend it, we will defend God, country and family, those things that disgust people so much. we will do it to defend our freedom. Because we will never be slave or simple consumers at the mercy of financial speculators. That is our mission.

That is why I came here today. Chesterton wrote more than a century ago:

Fires will be kindled to testify that two and two make four.
Swords will be drawn to prove that leaves are green in summer.

That time has arrived. We are ready. Thank you.

Written by Tom Hunter

September 27, 2022 at 10:41 am

Escaping from the rest of us.

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Cool Pic. Very 2001ish. HAL’s unblinking red eye is in that small, black rectangle at the end.

It’s only one line – but a memorable one – from this report in The Guardian about various billionaires spending lots of money to prepare for something bad that may happen.

Prepping is no longer for Low Rent nutters…

Eventually, they edged into their real topic of concern: New Zealand or Alaska? Which region would be less affected by the coming climate crisis? It only got worse from there. Which was the greater threat: global warming or biological warfare? How long should one plan to be able to survive with no outside help? Should a shelter have its own air supply? What was the likelihood of groundwater contamination? Finally, the CEO of a brokerage house explained that he had nearly completed building his own underground bunker system, and asked: “How do I maintain authority over my security force after the event?” The event. That was their euphemism for the environmental collapse, social unrest, nuclear explosion, solar storm, unstoppable virus, or malicious computer hack that takes everything down.

It’s as if they want to build a car that goes fast enough to escape from its own exhaust

What’s really funny is that this group of the mega-rich actually invited this guy, Douglas Rushkoff, a self-described “Marxist media theorist for advice on where and how to configure their doomsday bunkers“, to advise them about their plans – apparently not caring that he would include all this in a book and then an article in every Lefty Luvvie’s fave news site, The Guardian (well, not every one of them – the True Believers only read Jacobin).

Of course they don’t care because their wealth insulates them from anything this guy might say “back home”. Still, it means he can write about his obsessions by leveraging off their obsessions:

Never before have our society’s most powerful players assumed that the primary impact of their own conquests would be to render the world itself unliveable for everyone else.

Eh? I’ll grant you that the IT world sucks up an incredible amount of energy – for a time the global BitCoin insanity was gobbling more power than nations the size of Argentina – but it’s traditional industries and agriculture that’s getting the blame for despoiling our world. The former for at least two hundred years if William Blake’s “dark Satanic Mills” is anything to go by. It’s a good bet that these assholes are totally behind the WEF, insects as food, ESG Investing, electric vehicles and “de-carbonising” the economy.

But like all good Marxists Rushkoff doesn’t see that because he’s onboard for most of those things and doesn’t see how badly his beloved Toiling Masses are going to be screwed by the flipside of his Scientific Inevitability. The disasters heading our way, starting with energy deprivation in Europe, stem from things that Rushkoff supports and which these guys have the wealth to be insulated from – but he blames them.

Having said that I did appreciate his social, human advice – which they scoffed at, and in doing so revealed perhaps their major weakness, which is that they don’t seem to really have a fucking clue about humanity.

One had already secured a dozen Navy Seals to make their way to his compound if he gave them the right cue. But how would he pay the guards once even his crypto was worthless? What would stop the guards from eventually choosing their own leader?

The billionaires considered using special combination locks on the food supply that only they knew. Or making guards wear disciplinary collars of some kind in return for their survival. Or maybe building robots to serve as guards and workers – if that technology could be developed “in time”.

I tried to reason with them. I made pro-social arguments for partnership and solidarity as the best approaches to our collective, long-term challenges. The way to get your guards to exhibit loyalty in the future was to treat them like friends right now, I explained. Don’t just invest in ammo and electric fences, invest in people and relationships. They rolled their eyes at what must have sounded to them like hippy philosophy.

I did have to laugh. Any professional skilled in the use of violence is probably going to want more than just access to food and water; he’s probably going to want access to the wives and any other females linked to these clowns – and that’s while things are good. When the supplies run low the “billionaires” will need to stop talking about “their” bunker and perhaps even make themselves scarce – and hope they haven’t put on too much weight.

The thing is that Rushkoff is right on that last part, although I was surprised to see him keep it micro, making only a slight reference to what I would think is his larger point as a Marxist; about expanding partnership and solidarity to a large collective in order to meet future challenges.

But these clowns can’t see that, for all the smarts that have made them fantastically rich. They also can’t see human history either, which offers the answer. Clans and kinship based groups will do well. Relationship based groups will do well. Some random former billionaire surrounded by 12 militaristic types…

It’s also a good example of how capitalists, especially the richest ones, really don’t get that Capitalism is a cooperative effort, but then Business has always been a frenemy of Capitalism.

He calls it Silicon Valley escapism – The Mindset – but read the whole thing.

Failing to Scale

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It took only a few years for me to learn that in corporate environments a lot of things just don’t scale up, despite the fact that such corporations were scaled up versions of the small businesses they had once started out as, even if a hundred years ago prior to endless takeovers, buyouts and so forth.

Centralised accounting certainly scales, as does marketing, IT and a handful of other core functions. But even then there are limits, what test pilots refer to as “the envelope”, outside of which things start breaking down. Even those centralised things are built upon smaller clones of themselves in the corporation. And corporations often stagnate precisely because the small, inventive, creative parts of themselves get stifled or outright killed off.

In fact, one of the secrets to the creation of Silicon Valley and its fantastic wealth, lay in the fact that people inside existing corporations who had ideas that got flattened or ignored, were actually encouraged internally to leave and set up their own companies to develop their ideas, and where they weren’t encouraged they did so anyway as venture capitalism also grew to supply such start-ups with seed money. This “culture” took off, with one company after another spawning new companies:

With the backing of Fairchild Camera and Instrument in Long Island, NY, eight engineers from Shockley’s lab resigned, including Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce, to form Fairchild Semiconductor in 1957. Led by Noyce, Fairchild would eventually grow into the most important company in the history of the Santa Clara Valley after Noyce independently invented the Integrated Circuit along with Texas Instrument’s Jack Kilby in 1958.

And when I say I “learned” that’s only in terms of learning what specific things did not scale in corporations: even by my early 20’s I’d seen enough of life, let alone business case-studies and history, to understand the principle that big is usually not better, and often worse.

To that end, with Three Waters specifically in mind here in NZ, but also with the gigantic beast in the US known as the Federal government, I appreciated this brief “rant” in Ace of Spades, which I’ll re-produce here in full:

An oft-heard theme from preschool classrooms to corporate meeting rooms is that one should not be afraid of failure. Failure sucks and is a miserable experience – failure hurts – but it’s also the mechanism through which one learns. Failure is a great teacher, and makes you less likely to fail next time because you’ve learned from the experience. This is true, but there are limits to the concept. Sometimes failure is catastrophic.

The higher you are, the riskier failure becomes. If you’re running a small team in a corner of a large company to try to make something new and you fail, the results are unlikely to be disastrous. You might get fired and your staff might get fired, too, but the scale of the potential damage is fairly small. If you’re a senior executive who bets the business on something and that something doesn’t pan out, the entire enterprise can fail and everyone ends up fired with the owners holding worthless paper that used to be shares.

So it is with government and its failures and boy do we have a lot of government failures to consider. Fiscal policy has failed. Monetary policy has failed. Energy policy has failed. Medical policy has failed. War policy has failed. Border policy has failed. Drug policy has failed. Environmental policy has failed. Law enforcement has failed. Intelligence has failed (in every possible interpretation). Both domestic and foreign policy, writ large and in totality, has failed. Its failure across the board and at all levels.

Sure, some of it was probably not failure but rather was deliberate destruction, but that distinction is more important in the final reckoning than it is in the day-to-day reality. Malice or incompetence (or malicious incompetence, which I think is closer to the mark) is less important than the results. The results are similar regardless of the motivator. Poor is poor, sick is sick, dead is dead.

And those failures are increasingly catastrophic as more decision-making occurs in Washington D.C.. This isn’t just because of corruption, dishonesty, malevolence and incompetence, but because of scale. We have forgotten the valuable lesson of subsidiarity. Decisions should be made at the smallest workable scale, not the largest possible scale. A town imposing some insane and destructive policy destroys only the town. When Washington imposes some insane and destructive policy, it can destroy the entire country. Subsidiarity isn’t maximally efficient, but it is highly reliable. It’s expensive but robust. Its opposite – what we have today and will have more of tomorrow – is tremendously fragile. It isn’t even efficient because the government is populated with thieves, liars and fools (and often in combination).

Totalitarianism doesn’t and can’t work for this reason. Even assuming the starry-eyed sincerity of the totalitarians (a situation we most decidedly do not have), mistakes have perfect coverage and no one is immune from the totalitarians’ decisions. Failure not only stops being a good thing from which you learn, it becomes a constant threat and source of terror. This is compounded and made infinitely worse when the totalitarians are dishonest, lying, stupid psychopaths.

Centralization and incompetence, centralization and malice, and centralization and malicious incompetence are poisonous combinations.

Written by Tom Hunter

June 9, 2022 at 2:58 pm

Engaging with a Foreign Business Culture

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Our family have bought rather a lot of electronic equipment from PB Tech here in NZ over the years, in my case mainly small stuff, in my son’s case, everything required to build a computer.

They’re well-known and New Zealand’s largest chain of stores that specialise in computer gear. This gushing Spinoff article (gushy mainly because it raved about their policy of demanding vax passes from customers before they entered a store) explains the “PB” in their name:

“In the early years, [Pat] Huo was supported in the accounts department by his wife Brenda Yu, hence the company name PB Tech.”

That would explain all the Chinese immigrants running the store in Penrose. I may have seen the occasional Indian or White chappie but they’ve been rare. I guess you go with the culture you know.

According to the blurb in the link above, they deliver lower prices by “cutting out the middleman”, doing direct deals with manufacturers and so forth. Then there’s this:

Being able to support the products we sell in-house gives PB Tech a huge advantage when it comes to rectifying faulty hardware quickly and painlessly for our customers. The scale of our in-house service operation and our team’s vast experience are the reasons why we’re an authorised repairer for leading brands such as HP, Samsung and LG, as well as top insurance companies within New Zealand.

Oh really? About six months ago my son’s two year-old PB Tech supplied monitor began glitching so he contacted them since it was still under warranty. Bit of a run-around but he finally was able to drop it off.

Then silence. No response to emails or phone calls where he left messages. Buck passing as to who to talk to and just a general run-around.

However, a couple of months later a box appeared at the door. It was “a” monitor: not the original one repaired but a replacement. No contact made to say it was on the way. Before opening the package he tried to find out via email and phonecalls what the story was. Same run-around again but worse.

Finally he opens the package and this is what he found.

They sent him an identical, replacement monitor – that’s damaged.

By now – seriously pissed – he went looking for reviews of PB Tech to see if he was an exception. He wasn’t. Click on the image to read.

There’s plenty more where those came from, and you can read about the $77,000 fine here.

I don’t understand how a company can continue to remain in business while pulling this shit on its customers – even in the wake of that fine, although given that the company is worth $280 million perhaps they don’t give a shit about such a number. Perhaps it’s simply that they sell a lot of tech gear to companies that chuck it quickly before it even hits the depreciation age and operate at such volumes that they don’t care about the occasional failure? Perhaps such business customers have … replace and fix arrangements with PB Tech that the latter accept because they’re not individual customers? Although I see some small business owners also getting screwed in those reviews.

But it’s this one that gives the clue as to the real problem with that third point.

I know a number of companies that have dealt with Chinese businesses, both here and in China, and that last one is a symptom of the real problem with their business culture:

They just assume everyone is lying and trying to rip off everyone else, so why are you complaining? In fact you’re probably lying to us now about your “problem”.

Which is exactly the experience several reviewers talk about and which my son is now experiencing; they’ve accused him of damaging the monitor. At first this might seem shocking, but that just how it be in Chinese business. Next stop is the small claims court: it seems they do respond to legal threats – which is also another aspect of Chinese business culture.

Written by Tom Hunter

June 7, 2022 at 2:49 pm

The Plastic Plinth of Capitalism

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It has taken a year but I finally completed building a new fence around the farm house after changing the layout of the track leading to it. It was only while sorting photos in the online library that I discovered how much time had passed during the Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter of Chinese Lung Rot.

However, I only lost time whereas other people lost jobs, businesses, and in some cases their homes and pretty much everything.

There are of course some businesses that thrive in good times and bad, courtesy of the fact they’re a monopoly.

Thus I introduce to you to Chorus.

Well, one of their objects anyway. That plastic plinth contains the old copper lines for the phone/internet connection. When it was put in I have no idea, but I replaced the old fence with a new one in 2001 without changing the fence line, so it could date back to the 1970’s, although I suspect it’s something that arrived with de-regulation in the late 1980’s when the local phone systems were upgraded with the arrival of Telecom NZ.

In a history of the district published a decade ago I was amused to read a chapter specifically about the phone system here over the years, starting with local farmers doing some of the work themselves, including cementing a beer bottle to the top of one large rock as an insulator to allow the line to run across a deep gorge. Who actually climbed said rock (it’s over 100 feet high), what climbing equipment and rock climbing experience they had, is not recorded. It was also interesting to read of the endless applications to government for the NZ Post Office to improve the system, something that reached high levels of frustration in the 1970’s/80’s with fuzzy, buzzy connections, hours-long drop-outs and so forth. The system just wasn’t improving, not even at the glacial pace of the past. We still had a party line in 1989 – two long tones for us, a long and short for “Y”, three shorts for “X”…. and that occasional “click” on the line that told you that someone had been listening to your conversation.

All that miraculously changed with de-regulation; no more years-long pleading with the bloody government. In the late 80’s the system was upgraded in just a couple of years in almost all ways and it would not be until the demands of the Internet arrived in the late 90’s/2000’s – meaning the actual use of farming apps and farm supplier websites – that the system began to show its age again, although I have no complaints about streaming speeds and the like now.

With the old fence and fence line now gone it was time to move the plinth so the lawn can be extended and to avoid having to mow around it. I just wanted to move this thing about 3m closer to the house, so a few weeks ago I applied to Chorus to get that done. I received their reply a couple of days ago:

Four thousand seven hundred and fifty five dollars?

AYFKM?

A.Y.F.K.M?

And twenty five cents – just to rub it in.

Even better are the list of “work” things that this cost covers:

God, I can just imagine the fees being internally charged for all the record searching and the intense design work, plus the fees charged by external agents for the “build works” paperwork.

Naturally I won’t be picking up this fabulous opportunity to enrich Chorus. What I do now is either try to move it myself (ummmmm..), put a giant pot plant over it, plant a native tree right beside it, or would there be ex-Chorus/Telecom people who would know how to do the job – for much less money?

But that’s where the monopoly status of Chorus comes into play. They own this equipment so you likely are not allowed to bugger around with it yourself or via some hired gun.

No wonder people are moving to all-cell technology or a combined model with cell tech to a local box that then mimics a landline inside the house. I know of a number of these and they work well: in all cases the telecomms company simply said it was cheaper than re-routing an old copper line or extending off an existing one to a new house – or fixing the old one. I’m guessing that those are not options for me because the line was torn up by a digger last year and was fixed in place by Chorus with no suggestion of setting up a new cell-box system.

Perhaps the same thinking applies here but in terms of just not wanting to do the job and putting a cost on it that the customer will refuse?

Still, it’s a good example of the challenges faced by businesses in this nation when even a simple job like this is converted into such an expensive “project”. One could argue that it’s just capitalism at work, in that it forces you to explore alternatives like cell-tech. But I can’t help thinking that this is just another of those false choices forced on a marketplace; if there were a plethora of Chorus competitors and rules around buggering with the cables – you assuming the risk in other words – would we see excessive cost bullshit like this?

Written by Tom Hunter

June 6, 2022 at 1:22 pm

A second answer to Why?

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Why? was the title of a post by Nick K, my co-blogger here at NM, as he grappled with the “reasoning” behind the vaccine and mask mandates here in NZ and similar approaches taken in most corners of the globe.

I came across one possible answer to that question covered in the post, One answer to Why?, which looked at the control of popular thinking via language control in the modern context of Tech companies in the Webosphere.

Here’s some background to those companies and their leaders in this article from City-Journal in 2017, The Disrupters, which is all about the new Lords of Silicon Valley:

In just ten years, Facebook built a global empire that surpassed General Electric in market value—and did it with just 4 percent of the Old Economy giant’s workforce: 12,000, compared with 300,000. Whatsapp, a recent Facebook acquisition, managed an even more impressive wealth-to-labor ratio, with a $19 billion value and just 55 employees. Combined, both companies reach roughly one-sixth of humanity. Facebook’s entertainment colleague just to the south, Netflix, crushed Blockbuster’s mammoth national network of 9,000 stores and 60,000 employees with its more nimble workforce of just 3,700 employees.

Capitalism in action. Many firms have been so destroyed in the past by new competitors. The article goes on to explore what might happen next with AI, robotics and so forth, providing examples along the way involving brilliant young people, like Michael Sayman. In doing so the writer interviewed a number of the leading lights of this IT revolution and even got an opinion poll done of them to assess where they thought it was all going.

That’s where it gets sad – and scary. For a start these founders (147 were polled) don’t like talking about inequality, probably because of this:

As far as the future of innovation and its impact on ordinary people, the most common answer I received in Silicon Valley was this: over the (very) long run, an increasingly greater share of economic wealth will be generated by a smaller slice of very talented or original people. Everyone else will increasingly subsist on some combination of part-time entrepreneurial “gig work” and government aid.

Now I’ve done pretty well out of capitalism, but to me that future sounds like it sucks ass, even with a theoretical Universal Beneficiary Income (UBI). Fully Automated Luxury Communism it is not. It’s actually Marx’s “disguised form of alms”. It’s quite clear that these “thought leaders” are very leary of what may happen when they’ve built robots that can do most things better than a human.

And what of the political and philosophical attitudes that go with all this? Well it’s not actually as obvious as you might think. First with the political:

Contrary to popular opinion, most of Silicon Valley is not a libertarian ATM. The tech industry is overwhelmingly Democratic. In 2008, 83 percent of donations from the top Internet firms went to Obama, not John McCain. Many of the Valley’s household names, including Google’s then-chairman Eric Schmidt, personally helped Obama in both presidential campaigns. Republicans rarely get much money or talent from the Valley.

Yet they’re against unions and regulations (of their industry) and big on free trade of course, which is why Bernie Sanders gets no love from these people, nor would any Democrat of the pre-1990’s. Nor Donald Trump. Bill Clinton sniffed the winds well.

Then there’s the philosophical ideas that drive their politics:

What I discovered through my survey was that Silicon Valley represents an entirely new political category: not quite liberal and not quite libertarian. They make a fascinating mix of collectivists and avid capitalists…But Silicon Valley philosophically diverges with libertarians and conservatives in a key way: they aren’t individualists. 

He gives a great example of the latter:

When the libertarian icon Rand Paul began his early run for president in 2015, in San Francisco, he expected to be greeted like a hero. During the rally that I attended, Paul got rousing applause for railing against mass government spying. But when Paul asked, “Who is a part of the leave-me-alone coalition?” expecting to hear cheers, the room went silent. “Not that many, huh?” he nervously asked.

He’s not the only one who is nervous on hearing that, and it leads straight into this:

In my survey, founders displayed a strong orientation toward collectivism. Fifty-nine percent believed in a health-care mandate, compared with just 21 percent of self-identified libertarians. They also believed that the government should coerce people into making wise personal decisions, such as whether to eat healthier foods. Sixty-two percent said that individual decisions had an impact on many other people, justifying government intervention.

That is, tech founders reject the core premise of individualism – that citizens can do whatever they want, so long as they don’t harm others.

And consider that several of these fantastically wealthy men control companies that very much can aid (or oppose) a government via their extraordinary reach into influencing the lives of hundreds of millions, probably billions, of people. This is the world of “Nudge Theory”, and it’s very applicable to the last two years of the C-19 pandemic – a period that has seen their fortunes skyrocket beyond what was even thought possible in 2017, in several cases almost doubling to $150 billion or $200 billion plus.

Hold that thought.

What has all this done to the US state that is home to almost all of this wealth and genius, California?Well, as this National Review article describes, it’s not good, The Crumbling California Model. Again it’s lengthy with a lot of links to prove its points, but basically it comes down to this:

Yet it’s time now to see what California’s “success” is all about. It reflects a new kind of economy — dominated by a few large companies, with an elite workforce, a large service class, and a population increasingly dependent on wealth redistribution. This emerging oligarchic regime, however progressive it likes to label itself, is more feudal than egalitarian, more hierarchical than competitive, financed largely by the same tech giants who help fund Newsom’s successful defeat of the recall.

Exactly what was described by that 2017 poll of those Californian tech leaders. That state was once a remarkably diverse, job-rich economy, with vibrant aerospace, oil, trade, manufacturing, business services, and agriculture sectors, as well as software and media. But aside from the IT industry those sectors have fallen away, taking with them the well-paid jobs for people who can’t program a computer. If living on wealth redistribution sounds great to you, consider this:

For most, the reality on the ground is increasingly challenging. The state is now the second-most unaffordable state for home-buyers, a particular challenge for Millennials, and it suffers the highest rate of “doubling up” — only our friend Hawaii does worse. California has the largest gap between middle and upper wage quartiles in the nation, and it has a level of inequality greater than that of Mexico and closer to that of Central American countries such as Guatemala and Honduras than to such “progressive” developed counties as Canada and Norway.

The paradox is that California Democrats, the voters as well as the politicians, adore those welfare states and wish to be more like them without recognising that there is more to “welfare” than government money.

Back to that article I linked to the other day, looking at the control of language and ideas in our modern world. It finishes with this:

During the last three decades and possibly more, Western governments working hand in glove with large corporate interests have spent enormous energy and resources on perception management techniques designed to effectively undermine citizens’ ability to oppose the policies that these same elites, in their incandescent wisdom, have decided are best for the people. 

The attacks of September 11th gave these corporate and government leaders both the additional funds and the political latitude they needed to greatly accelerate work on these culture-planning processes. The Covid crisis has put the whole game on steroids. 

We have many ways of ignoring these frightening developments, most common and intellectually lazy of these being to dismiss them without examination under the rubric of “conspiracy theories.”

Bureaucracy vs. Robber Barrons

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“When propaganda is the goal, accuracy is the victim.”

I recently came across two articles from past years that I’ve had bookmarked and which I’ve enjoyed reading again over this summer.

First up is some humour that author J K Rowling may be treating more seriously in her ongoing fight with the Trans community, especially after getting her name removed from the Harry Potter movie franchise by Warner Brothers as they launch a 20th anniversary celebration of the first HP movie.

The humour comes from an essay written in 2006 for the Michigan Law Review, which analyses what Rowling is effectively saying in her HP books about bureaucracy, government and the media, Harry Potter and the Half-Crazed Bureaucracy:

The critique is even more devastating because the governmental actors and actions in the book look and feel so authentic and familiar. Cornelius Fudge, the original Minister of Magic, perfectly fits our notion of a bumbling politician just trying to hang onto his job. Delores Umbridge is the classic small-minded bureaucrat who only cares about rules, discipline, and her own power… The Ministry itself is made up of various sub-ministries with goofy names (e.g., The Goblin Liaison Office or the Ludicrous Patents Office) enforcing silly sounding regulations (e.g., The Decree for the Treatment of Non-Wizard Part-Humans or The Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery).

Rowling even eliminates the free press as a check on government power. The wizarding newspaper, The Daily Prophet, is depicted as a puppet to the whims of Ministry of Magic.

Sounds appropriate for our times. I don’t know how many of you have read the series, likely to your kids or even grandkids, or perhaps a guilty pleasure for yourself, but you may recognise some of this from the abstract.

I did not have to re-read the books to see all this, as it had jumped out at me when I read them originally, even if it went over the heads of my kids. I was hardly the only parent who speculated on what Rowling’s experience with government and bureaucrats had been in real life as she wrote her novels in poverty. Having said that it seems that Gen Z kids themselves continue to re-read the books now as they age into their twenties and thirties, where they likely also draw similar parallels:

it seems likely that we will see a continuing uptick in distrust of government and libertarianism as the Harry Potter generation reaches adulthood.

One can only hope. Which brings me to the next article, about a world almost completely at odds with the first, the Gilded Age of America, otherwise known as the time of The Robber Barrons.

More accurately The Myth of the ‘Robber Barons’. It turns out that it was created less at the time (despite cartoons such as the one above) than in the 1930’s, just when it was needed by the US Left, as described by historian Burton W. Folsom in his book about the subject.

It will surprise nobody to find that Far Lefters were behind it and that they were very ignorant about economics – and many other things. The main culprit was one Matthew Josephson, who quite literally wrote the best-selling book, The Robber Barons, after being inspired by Charles Beard, America’s foremost progressive historian, first at varsity and then years later during the Great Depression:

Josephson, the son of a Jewish banker, grew up in New York and graduated from Columbia University, where he was inspired in the classroom by Charles Beard, America’s foremost progressive historian—and a man sympathetic to socialism…“Oh! those respectable ones,” Beard said of America’s capitalists, “oh! their temples of respectability—how I detest them, how I would love to pull them all down!” Happily for Beard, Josephson was handy to do the job for him. Josephson dedicated The Robber Barons to Beard, the historian most responsible for the book’s contents.

Writing in the inspiring times of 1932 Josephson reached back fifty years in time to explain it all, but the following comments provide a clear idea of the quality of “analysis” he brought to the subject:

In a written interview for Pravda, the Soviet newspaper, Josephson said he enjoyed watching “the breakdown of our cult of business success and optimism.” He added, “The freedom of the U.S.S.R. from our cycles of insanity is the strongest argument in the world for the reconstruction of our society in a new form that is as highly centralized as Russia’s. . . .”

One is tempted to snigger but today we live with Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Occasional-Cortex, who believe the same shite about socialism and its Siamese Twin, giant centralised government.

He did little research and mainly used secondary sources that supported his Marxist viewpoint. As he had written in the New Republic, “Far from shunning propaganda, we must use it more nobly, more skillfully than our predecessors, and speak through it in the local language and slogans.” Thus he wrote The Robber Barons with dramatic stories, anecdotes, and innuendos that demeaned corporate America and made the case for massive government intervention.

Ah yes. As with today’s “journalists” the Narrative is everything and is best supported by dramatic stories. As Folsom points out in the article, that means there are lots of mistakes: “On page 14 alone, Josephson makes at least a dozen errors in his account of Vanderbilt and the steamships.” As Folsom says, “When propaganda is the goal, accuracy is the victim.”

But the main error – actually showing up on that page – is that Josephson never differentiated between market entrepreneurs like Vanderbilt, Hill, and Rockefeller and political entrepreneurs (i.e. government subsidy harvesters) like Collins, Villard, and Gould, even as he was honest enough to praise aspects of the former and lash the latter:

He quotes “one authority” on the railroads as saying, “The Federal government seems . . . to have assumed the major portion of the risk and the Associates seem to have derived the profits”—but Josephson never pursues the implication of that passage.

While the book hit the best-seller lists for six months Josephson was running around Russia praising bloody Stalin and his system. He missed the gulags, the farm collectivisations and all their horrors, especially in the Ukraine, and saw only the factories and other “glamorous” things:

He attended official dinners and even talked with select Russian writers and artists. He was ecstatic. The Soviet Union, Josephson said, “seemed like the hope of the world—the only large nation run by men of reason.” … Josephson also never realized that the Soviet factories he saw were often directly copied from Western capitalist factories—and were funded by Stalin’s confiscatory taxation. Instead, Josephson thought he had stumbled into a workers’ paradise, the logical result of central planning and superior leaders.

This book would go on to be more than just a best-seller: it had huge influence in the worlds of high schools, academia and journalism for decades:

Historian Thomas Brewer, who in 1970 edited The Robber Barons: Saints or Sinners? observed that the majority of writers “still adhere to the ‘robber baron’ interpretation.” Historian David Shi agrees: “For well over a generation, The Robber Barons remained the standard work in its field.” For many textbook writers, it still is. In the main study guide for the Advanced Placement U.S. history exam for 2015, the writers say:

America [1877-1900] looked to have entered a period of prosperity with a handful of families having amassed unprecedented wealth, but the affluence of the few was built on the poverty of many.

2015 FFS? It’s a wonder that Silicon Valley exists at all with this sort of high school education, though perhaps it wasn’t as bad when the likes of Zuckerburg, Gates, Bezos and Steve Jobs were passing through it, and of course Musk was educated in South Africa.

Folsom explains that this success, despite all the sloppy errors in the book, comes down to two reasons.

First, it was tailor-made for the Progressives of the 1930’s eager to blame the new generation of robber barons for the Great Depression. I always laugh at those Lefties who claim that Righties pined for President Herbert Hoover: it’s even in the opening song for All In The Family because of course it is. See how this cultural shit works? In fact:

Those harmful federal policies include the Federal Reserve’s untimely raising of interest rates, making it harder to borrow money; President Hoover’s blundering Farm Board; his signing of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, the highest in U.S. history; and his disastrous Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which dispensed massive corporate bailouts to political entrepreneurs. Finally, Hoover muzzled investment by repealing the Mellon tax cuts and promoting a huge tax hike.

Including income tax rates that went up to 70%, which FDR criticised, but which he cunningly kept after getting elected. Oh yeah, we Righties love that Herbert Hoover. Actually the admiration is for “Silent Cal” Coolidge, his predecessor, who could have run for office again in 1928 and would have handled all of the above very differently (of Hoover he said, “That man has offered me unsolicited advice for six years, all of it bad.”)

The second reason is that a bunch of Marxist historians who influenced a lot of the post-WWII historical profession, loved the book and made sure it was embedded in the curriculums of their students, starting with Richard Hofstadter:

“My fundamental reason for joining [the Communist Party],” Hofstadter said, “is that I don’t like capitalism and want to get rid of it.”

He still desired that after quitting the Party. He’s also the guy who wrote the nasty little polemic about the US Right-Wing, The Paranoid Style in American Politics. Great guys communists, whatever profession they are they’re still communists, with all the toxic nastiness and fanaticism involved.

Folsum’s book, The Myth of The Robber Barrons
Also, The Forgotten Man

Written by Tom Hunter

January 4, 2022 at 6:00 am

The Bernie Sanders struggle session

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It’s been a standard part of Left-wing belief for decades now that Big Pharma is just another horrible aspect of capitalism, especially American capitalism, where huge corporations suck vast sums of money out of the pockets of The People in order to line their own, and do so with the connivance of the government, both via corrupted politicians and its bureaucrats.

Bernie Sanders, probably America’s No. 1 such thinker, was at it again the other day, Bernie Sanders Opposes Nomination Of Biden’s FDA Pick:

“We need leadership at the FDA that is finally willing to stand up to the greed and power of the pharmaceutical industry. In this critical moment, Dr. Califf is not the leader Americans need at the agency and I will oppose his nomination,” Sanders said in the tweet.

You can see his point when you look at this.

The thing is that without all that power, greed and influence with the FDA it’s unlikely that any of these C-19 vaccines would have been developed in the record-breaking time they were, especially compared with the history of such things:

This history should not be a surprise when you consider the development process for a vaccine:

Bernie’s actually been rather shocked that places like Cuba and France, indeed all of the places he lauds as having better economic and healthcare systems than the USA, failed to develop their own vaccines. If he thought about this he might consider whether the lack of Big Pharm’s “obscene” profits might have something to do with that, along with the regulatory aspects that he also rails against.

And of course it sets up a conflict with Bernie’s other long-held belief in this area; that vaccinations should be mandated across the board, although he’s flip-flopped on that issue.

Written by Tom Hunter

December 19, 2021 at 10:05 am

Taxation Fairness

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I’ve often seen data from the USA showing the proportions of income and tax but rarely in such a clean, simple format as this graph.

Mind you, if the wealthy continue to flex their privilege they’ll find increasingly little support from the GOP for tax cuts for them, on top of the GOP’s four decade efforts that have created an ever more progressive tax system that, as the graph shows, very much taxes the rich.

See also Why do Millionaires hate Billionaires? and Every Billionaire is a Policy Failure. Those people are not part of the graph since they don’t rely on “income” and are therefore untouched by income tax.

I wonder what the corresponding data for New Zealand is?

Written by Tom Hunter

November 15, 2021 at 12:18 pm

Big Metal

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One of the most basic things you learn in economics is the classic supply-and-demand graph, showing how the two things interact to produce the delicate balance that establishes the price of something, be it strawberries or cell phones.

What they don’t tell you is how useless that graph is in the practice of predicting what the price will be when demand or supply (or both) change. Behind that calculation sit super-computers and richly detailed software models, but the best they produce is a range, sometimes so broad as to be practically useless..

All one can say for certain is that supply exceeds demand the price will drop, and the greater it exceeds demand the greater the price drop will be. The supply does not even have to be in the marketplace to have an impact. For example, below is a graph of US prices for LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) over the last twenty years.

There are price spikes all the time, driven by all sorts of factors. But you’ll notice that there was a steady rise up 2005, followed by a steady drop to the present day. That’s the impact of the practice of fracking and horizontal drilling in gas fields, a technology that had been developing for decades but which only took off in the mid-2000’s. Fracking showed that the USA had vastly greater reserves of gas than had been predicted only a few years earlier. In fact, previous forecasts were that the nation would have to start importing LNG, which resulted in several giant terminals being built around the coast to unload the stuff from ships. Within a few short years that had been turned around, literally. The reserves “discovered” were so vast they amounted to hundreds of years of use and the terminals were re-configured to export the stuff.

Meanwhile the impact on the price was not just to greatly reduce it but to do so as far out into the future as could be seen, and another impact was that electrical generation companies switched large numbers of coal-fired power plants to being gas-fired. That, in turn, resulted in the USA reducing its CO2 emissions on such a scale that by 2020 it was beating the reduction targets of the 1997 Kyoto Treaty, (which its Senate had rejected), and the 2009 Waxham-Markey bill (which never passed).

So if you like reducing GHG’s (Greenhouse Gases), hug a fracker and thank them.

It’s not so easy to pull the same stunt with other commodities. Metals in particular, since it’s hard to see any revolution in mining them – although there will be steady, incremental improvements, and the planet has been well searched over the centuries for sources.

But there is one potential source that could change things in the 21st century:

Astronomers have now identified two metal-rich asteroids in orbit near the Earth, with one having a precious metal content that likely exceeds the Earth’s entire reserves.

Asteroid 1986 DA is estimated to be about 1.7 miles across, based on radar data obtained during a close Earth fly-by in 2019. The second asteroid, 2016 ED85, appears to have a similar content from spectroscopy, but no radar data has as yet been obtained of it, so much less is known.

figure 13 from the paper, illustrates the amount of precious metals available in asteroid 1986 DA, compared to the world’s entire reserves (FE=iron, Ni=nickel, Co=cobalt, Cu=copper, PGM=platinum group metals, Au=gold). From this single metal asteroid a mining operation could literally double the metal that had been previously mined on Earth.

Sure, but the technology to mine those metals and transport them to Earth does not yet exist, although there have been plenty of ideas over the decades, and the basics are understood.

But even when it’s developed there’s going to be a question of cost versus revenue, which brings us right back to that supply-and-demand graph. What would happen to the price of all these metals if such a source could be mined and added to the world’s reserves? The paradox is that the price might fall so low as to make the whole effort uneconomic.

The authors of that paper actually do try to account for this price drop, but the simple fact is that it’s as much of a guess as predicting the price of strawberries when that market is flooded. You know it’ll go down but to precisely what value?

We estimated that the amounts of Fe, Ni, Co, and the PGM present in 1986 DA could exceed the reserves worldwide. Moreover, if 1986 DA is mined and the metals marketed over 50 yr, the annual value of precious metals for this object would be ∼$233 billion.

In any case, it may well be that the metals never get to Earth because heavy industry slowly moves off the planet and there will be human colonies established in space that will need the metals right there. Getting them from asteroids certainly makes more economic sense than digging them out of the Moon or another planet. That seems to be what Jeff Bezos is thinking as he pushes forward with his Blue Origin rocket company (To rouse the spirit of the Earth, and move the rolling stars):

In Bezos’ view, dramatically reducing the cost of access to space is a key step toward those goals.

“Then we get to see Gerard O’Neill’s ideas start to come to life…

“I predict that in the next few hundred years, all heavy industry will move off planet. It will be just way more convenient to do it in space, where you have better access to resources, better access to 24/7 solar power,” 

Written by Tom Hunter

November 1, 2021 at 6:53 am