How excellent, so that's climate change dealt with then

Isn't this just wonderful news?

Falling costs of electric vehicles and solar panels could halt worldwide growth in demand for oil and coal by 2020, a new report has suggested.

A scenario that takes into account the latest cost reduction projections for the green technologies, and countries’ pledges to cut emissions, finds that solar power and electric vehicles are “gamechangers” that could leave fossil fuels stranded.

Polluting fuels could lose 10% of market share to solar power and clean cars within a decade, the report by the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London and the Carbon Tracker Initiative found.

As Bjorn Lomborg pointed out two decades ago all that is necessary to avoid the terrors of climate change is that non-fossil fuels become competitive with fossil. As the Ur document of the whole discussion, the Special Report on Emissions Scenarios also pointed out. If our globalised and capitalist society moves away from coal and toward those renewables then we move from the dread A1FI to A1T. The effect of this being, in their own terms, that climate change moves from being a serious problem we must do something about to one that could have been a problem but we've already done something about it.

Do note that this is all within the mainstream of that climate science. Get off coal and onto solar and we're done.

Now, we might want to cavil a little and think that maybe it won't work at night and so on but as we say, this is entirely within the mainstream of standard climate science. Get solar, and or wind, cheap enough and we're really pretty much done. Just sit back and watch as the standard technological and capital replacement cycles move from emitting to non- such energy sources.

And thus we're done.

Oddly, those at the Grantham Institute seem not to realise all of this which is why we need to remind them. As we are. All that we ever needed to do to beat climate change, from those usual and mainstream climate science sources, is get non-fossil power cheap enough. And as their report today says we've done that.

Hurrah, eh?


The European Union might be in for something of a surprise

It is of course entirely possible that the European Union are genuinely expecting this:

Sir Ivan says the European Commission genuinely expects a figure "of the order of 40-60billion euros" for leaving the EU. 

He says senior figures have said Brexit has "exploded a bomb under the multi-annual financial framework" and left a "big hole" in the EU budget.

The bill would most likely include the UK’s share of outstanding pensions liabilities, loan guarantees and spending on UK-based projects.

And they should of course, as we've mentioned before, be met with a certain amount of pushback. For example, loan guarantees are not things which are payable until the loans sour. So they can be left off said table at present. Similarly, future EU spending on UK based projects is not going to happen thus there is no need for us to pay them for that.

However, the large point here is that the EU itself has some capital value. There are parliament buildings (too many of course but still) embassies, office blocks and so on all of which belong to the institution itself. Which we have helped pay for. In fact, as nearly the only country to have consistently been a net contributor to the overall budget we've paid for most of those things.

And as we're cashing out then we'll have that capital value back, thank you very much. Shouldn't lead to the EU having to pay us too much for leaving but it really is most unlikely that the capital value is less than those accruals, isn't it? 

The album dedicated to the works of Adam Smith

It's near a decade now since we here were involved in the statue to Adam Smith in Edinburgh. So wondrous is this that it has now become part of the cover art for a new album. As Paul Walker points out:

"Silent Revolution" by The Benevolent Dictators. The first song from the upcoming album about Adam Smith.

You can listen to the first track here.

Inspired by Book 3, Chapters 2-4 of "An Inquiry into the Natures and Causes of the Wealth of Nations" by Adam Smith 

No, nothing to do with us, not so far as we know. But obviously we're going to feature it, no?

Inquiring minds are interested in how they're going to be inspired by those pages and pages about silver bullion and currency though. Even we find that bit tough going.

So what do we cut to make things better Mr. Chakrabortty?

A claim from Mr. Chakrabortty that government has been hollowed out, that the state just isn't there to save us all when we need it to:

We’re often told that the state and the market have entirely different roles. But meet any number of the people paying the price for Britain’s crash, and you’ll see that they play almost identical parts using similar language and similar bureaucracy. And far from protecting low-paid workers from the depredations of the market, the state wants to hurl more people into it under the pretence that they are shirkers.

None of this fits with how social democrats view the state. Having attended my fair share of Labour and other leftwing political meetings, I know that a staple feature is that some grey-haired man in a jumper will leap up towards the end and launch into a good-hearted defence of the state. Public investment, social security, industrial strategy: all will circle back to the state; all will be met with murmurs of approval.

The sub-head is:

In Britain, after 30 years of hollowing-out, government is now seen as invisible or hostile. And those it no longer helps are facing the awful consequences.

Hmm, can't say we're convinced but let us, for the sake of argument, say that it is.

The thing is, government spending is currently around and about 42% of everything. Outside the disasters of the late 70s, deep recessions like just recently and of course World Wars that's the highest it has been.  

Meaning that one of two things is true. Either there never was a Golden Age when the state stood behind us to catch our falls. Or, alternatively, there was and we now spend the money on things we shouldn't be, leaving none to spend on that crucial service of supporting us in times of woe and dearth.

Let us assume that it is that second, just to stick with Aditya's insistence that there was a time when we had what he desired. We'd be entirely happy to run the slide rule over what government does currently spend upon and come up with recommendations for where it should stop. So as to free up those resources for a proper safety net. 

Why, we might even be able to cut spending enough, and still leave room for that support, to leave more money to fructify in the pockets of the populace. Climate change, the arts, culture, sport, innumerable campaigning NGOs, the EU....the list of things government shouldn't be spending a penny upon is quite long. And we really would quite happily allocate at least some of such savings to the general welfare of those who can cope no other way.

For we're just fine with the idea that there should be a support network so let's stop spending where we shouldn't and redirect to where we should. Including, of course, that fructifying part.


The world is getting better

Although the news seems filled with the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind, the data points overwhelmingly to its steady improvement.  More people than ever have access to enough food, better sanitation, & health.  They lead longer, richer, less violent and better educated lives.  Senior Cato Fellow, Johan Norberg, reminds us in “Progress” (Oneworld) of how far we have come.

Consider a ten-year-old girl 200 years ago.  Wherever she had been born, she could not have expected to live longer than around thirty years.  She would have had five to seven siblings, and she would already have seen at least one or two of them die.  The chance that her mother would survive childbirth was smaller than the chance that the present generation will meet their grandparents.
She would have been brought up under conditions we consider unbearable.  Her family would not have had access to clean water or a toilet.  Chances are that they did not even have a latrine; they would have used a ditch or gone behind a tree.  Her surroundings would have been littered with garbage and faeces, contaminating water sources and devastating lives.  Her parents would live in constant fear that she would be taken away by tuberculosis, cholera, smallpox or measles – or starvation.
This little girl would have been stunted, skinny and short, since she lived in a world of chronic undernourishment and recurring famine, where people did not get the energy to grow and function properly.  This would also have halted her brain's proper development.  She would not receive any schooling, and would never learn to read and write.  She would certainly have been put to work at an early age, perhaps as a domestic servant in another family's home.  In any case she would have been blocked from almost all occupations, and would be considered the property of her father, until he married her away, at which point ownership would pass to her husband.  If he beat her or raped her, there was no law banning it…
She lived in a brutal world, where the risk of a violent death was almost three times higher than today.  England had 300 capital offences on the books, and she would see corpses displayed on gibbets.  Torture and slavery were still common.  Peacetime was an intermission between wars.

The progress was achieved by capitalism, not socialism.  It was done by people prepared to forgo present consumption and to invest instead in technologies that increased productivity.  It is one of the most benign things that people have ever done.  It has uplifted the lives of billions, and is still doing so.  Norberg’s reminder is a timely one.

Perhaps you'd like to write a little letter to the House of Commons?

Or more precisely, a little letter to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee? For it looks very like it will be possible to influence our culture by having a little sport with the media.

The background here is all this fake news being sprayed around the place. The committee is going to investigate it:

MPs are launching a parliamentary inquiry into the "growing phenomenon of fake news".

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee said it would investigate concerns about the public being swayed by propaganda and untruths.

The inquiry will examine the sources of fake news, how it is spread and its impact on democracy.

The inquiry starts here. And your opportunity to inform them here. Their first question being:

What is 'fake news'? Where does biased but legitimate commentary shade into propaganda and lies?

Which is an absolutely fascinating question, isn't it? For example, do we have to ban Polly Toynbee, scrub the web of her presence? She has been declaring to all and sundry for more than a decade that property is hardly taxed in Britain. When, in fact, we get a greater portion of our tax revenues from property taxation than any other OECD country. 11% of revenue as opposed to the average 3% in fact. Or there is that remarkable feat of making five errors of fact in one sentence.

Or to be more general about this, people who claim that rising minimum wages do not create unemployment. This is wrong, even the Low Pay Commission says it's wrong, so should we pulp any editions of The Guardian that claim it? 

Or to be more specific again, if Nick Clegg states that Brexit means, under WTO rules, that Britain must charge tariffs to imports, what should we do? Spank him, ban the story, pin a Pinnochio nose on him?

Does fakery get a special carve out if it's politics? And if it doesn't then that really is going to change our media landscape, isn't it? 

So, we think that several, a number of, people should write in asking these sorts of questions. what actually is this fake news that must be rejected. And, as a bonus question perhaps, how is this going to constrain the future public statements of members of the Culture, Sport and Media committee of the House of Commons - to say nothing of making most newspapers in breach of whatever rules there are likely to be?


Conservatives and neo-liberals must not get into bed with fascism

It should go without saying that most of Donald Trump’s campaign promises and the executive orders of his first week in office are illiberal, unconstitutional, and repugnant. Restricting entry for immigrants, refugees, and US residents based on nationality is probably illegal as well as clearly immoral, not to mention pointless and arbitrary. The Wall™ is, of course, a phenomenal waste of money and resources that may be impossible. It is also pointless. Even mooting the idea of bringing back ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ should be beyond the pale.

Nevertheless, for conservatives and free marketeers in the US and globally, there seem to be some silver linings to the Trump administration. School choice will be a major part of education policy. There’s generic Republican red meat in the form of tax cuts and deregulation. The next Supreme Court pick will likely be an originalist. Expensive, quixotic, and counter-productive foreign interventions may be as dead as the rest of Hillary Clinton’s career. And, from a British perspective, Trump may represent an opportunity for a post-Brexit trade deal.

As such, Congressional Republicans and market friendly governments should look to work with the Trump Whitehouse, and we should be cautiously optimistic for the libertarian-lite elements of the new administration.

To put it mildly, this response to President Trump is myopic, naïve, cowardly, a betrayal of principle and an abdication of responsibility. Being able to repeal Obamacare is not a fair price for a commander in chief that installs white nationalists in the National Security Council. The possibility of a (probably unfavourable and mercantilist-tinged) trade deal is not a good reason to tacitly accept the erosion of the international liberal order.

Trump’s economic agenda is, overwhelmingly, defined by economic nationalism and populism, not economic liberalism and fiscal conservatism. Any proposed tax cuts are unfunded and combined with a possible spending splurge will increase the deficit by $10 trillion. From both a neo-classical and a Keynesian perspective, this is madness. Mooted deregulation focuses on the wrong areas (targeting environmental regulations rather than, say, occupational licensing and zoning laws). Central bank independence is under threat. Self-destructive trade wars are on the cards, and the leader of the Chinese Communist Party has to explain the benefits of free trade to the purported leader of the free world.

The likely results of Trumponomics will be institutionalised rent-seeking and a capricious cronyist policy of picking winners based on the President’s whims. Multi-national companies are investing in preparations for the fall-out from possible Twitter attacks by Trump. Uncompetitive companies and sectors will be protected, subsidised, and given preferential treatment in a hare-brained attempt to reduce the current account deficit and achieve ‘national self-sufficiency’, which is neither possible nor desirable.

There is an existing term for economically illiterate, authoritarian, and ethno-nationalist governments that trample over the rule of law and value instinct and strength over rationality and co-operation. The opportunity to extend Charter Schools should not blind us to this reality.

It's amazing what people can convince themselves to believe

Our example here today is the evergreen Will Hutton. Of course, he believes that Brexit is a bad idea, thus there must be examples of why Brexit is a bad idea:

Yet misguided rightwing ideology now governs our affairs. For the British Eurosceptics, Europe has become so toxic nobody can think straight. Thus a footnote to the five-paragraph Brexit bill declares that Britain is to leave Euratom, the organisation set up in parallel with the EU to ensure safety standards in the European nuclear industry. It has the power to cut deals with countries outside the EU and is one of the linchpins of the global nuclear safety order. But none of that now matters. Britain is to compromise its nuclear safety standards, lose the world-leading research facilities in Culham and imperil an industry in which it is comparatively strong – for what? Nothing, except to appease the rightwing press, Ukip and Tory Eurosceptics.

Culham is a decent enough research institution and it's largely domestically funded. Why we would stop that is uncertain. There is indeed a Euratom/EU programme there, working on fusion.

Which might indeed stop when the current 2018 contract comes to an end. But we're really deeply unsure that the EU will raze the walls and plow the land with salt as they leave.

But there's more to it than that. Fusion research is being done by government because it's a public good. Once we know how to do it generally then everyone will know how to do it generally. It doesn't matter who finds out, once someone has then we all get power too cheap to meter. We can't even dream about the profits to be made from having found out - the entire point about the knowledge being a public good being that there are no profits to encourage the private sector to do the work that's why taxpayers are.

So, why is it that Hutton is straining as one sans Exlax to find something bad to say? Simply because Hutton knows that Brexit is bad therefore something must be found to show that it is. And standard economics be danged, who cares about that when there are political points to be made? 

Modern tomatoes have no taste - there's a curve for that

It is one of those sad truisms of modern life that tomatoes just don't taste like they used to. And this is not just the effect of ageing palates. Fortunately, there's a curve which deals with this and other such problems:

An international team of scientists claims finally to have cracked one of the most common consumer conundrums: why don’t tomatoes taste like they used to?

After conducting exhaustive taste tests of 100 tomato varieties and sequencing the genomes of nearly 400 varieties, researchers have found the 13 volatile compounds that give a tomato its inherent flavour.

By comparing traditional tomatoes with their modern descendants, the teams uncovered the properties that have been lost in the quest for improved size, yields and resistance.

The original problem was being able to grow lots and lots of tomatoes reliably, which would then keep for the requisite amount of time to get to people. OK, so we solved that and now we've got the information we need to breed back in flavour as well.

This is, when we think about it, just that Kuznets Curve kicking in again. Societies become more unequal then less as thy develop. Societies become dirtier then cleaner as they develop.

No, not because there is anything inevitable about this, but because richer people change their desires and spending habits to make it so. When we're all scrabbling for he next meal then the coal smoke which will kills us 30 years after our death can go hang. When we're well enough fed that we're likely to reach 60 then we'll try to make sure we don't cough our lungs up before then.

And when society's scarce resources are best used to make sure all children can have ketchup so they are, when we've achieved that then the work can start again on the sauce actually tasting of something.

This mass outbreak of fake news - something must be done

We do entirely agree that fake news is a bad thing. Even that Something Must Be Done. Which is why we highlight today just such a piece of fake news:

Girls as young as six years old believe that brilliance is a male trait, according research into gender stereotypes.

The US-based study also found that, unlike boys, girls do not believe that achieving good grades in school is related to innate abilities.

Andrei Cimpian, a co-author of the research from New York University, said that the work highlights how even young children can absorb and be influenced by gender stereotypes – such as the idea that brilliance or giftedness is more common in men.

“Because these ideas are present at such an early age, they have so much time to affect the educational trajectories of boys and girls,” he said. 

The fake news is not, of course, that the researchers found this result. Rather, it's the assumption that the girls are wrong to hold this view. In fact, they seem pretty switched on for it is true that brilliance is more common in men.

The variance of intelligence in men is higher than it is in women. As the House of Commons shows all too often drooling moronity is more common in men as is, as the HoC never shows, great intelligence or brilliance.

This is absolutely nothing at all to do with feminism or any other -ism - not even conservatism nor patriarchism. It's just one of the features of our species, that men are more variable than women along many axes. We are not supposed to say this of course, doing so is what cost Larry Summers his job as President of Harvard University.

But it is true all the same and the denial of it is the fake news.

All of which we think is rather fun actually. Because it is the left insistent that we must root out such fake news. And aren't a lot of shibboleths common on the left going to get hoist on that particular petard?