Idle specualtion?

This is part 2 of a two part blog entry. The first was concerned with the farmers dilemma and the traditional approaches that mitigated it. This part is now getting to the point I meant to discuss in first place. Namely, that speculation can serve an important purpose.
In the 16th century Netherlands a very different system to mitigate the dilemma has been around. Of course, by this time large scale transport was possible, so long as it involved ships and the Netherlands were the hot spot of this development – because we are talking about a market-based approach and without transport, there is no such thing as a significant market. Continue reading

Solving the Farmers Dilemma

This is part one of a two-part entry.

Farmers always complain. If the harvest has been bad, they complain about not having enough to sell. If the harvest has been good, they complain about prices being too low.

Actually, this is a kind of luxury problem. In earlier times, societies faced a very similar problem of much graver consequence. When societies were isolated from each other and transport of large quantities of goods over long distances was inconvenient in the best of places and impossible in most of the rest, the variability of harvests put a large burden on each individual society.

The most obvious problem is that of a failed harvest. When the harvest is too small to feed the society, a disaster happens. It may end up either starving or eating part of the seeds and livestock from which it will produce next years harvest, inducing another famine. Continue reading

Bloody Murder

And another head has been shot. And apparently a stomach. And two legs.

The only way to “stop Qaddafi from fleeing” from a dozen pursuers out of the confines of some “hole in the ground”, was apparently a plethora of well-aimed shots at close enough range to hear him utter his last words.

It is reminiscent of the French Revolution of 1789 or the Glorious Revolution of 1688 – although the centuries old love-affair with decapitations seems to have been replaced by head-shots. Continue reading

Opportunities and Information

Steve wrote a nice comment to my last posting, that demands a somewhat longer answer:

The thing about information is, that you can’t have it all. There can be no fairness, even if you had complete access to all information, time limits your ability to gather, interpret and act upon this information. I play the ancient Chinese game  wei-chi (better known by its Japanese name “Go”).  All the information is available to both players, but not even professional players (whose skills are scary to say the least) can act upon all the information. While the board is big compared to chess (19×19 fields), it is still infinitely less complex than real life problems … Sure, better access to information helps to improve the situation compared to one in which there is almost no information. But it is a mistake to think that this solves the problem, as even perfect access will not do that in an even slightly complex situation.

Further, there can be no equality of opportunities. I know it sounds harsh and it is. But the only way in which equality of opportunities can be achieved, is by removing the necessity of work. The agricultural and industrial revolution did this to some extent. Before that, 70% of the population were required to apply their work towards growing food, with little access to the world around them and little in the way of opportunities to follow their own desires. Continue reading

My favorite quote by Adam Smith

As you can probably tell, I’m a big fan of not talking about people, but about what they actually wrote or did. And the discrepancy between the two is especially large with Adam Smith. (As you can also tell, blogging-as-usual has now resumed.)

In my latest comment on the Economist, I could not help but drop one of my favorite quotes of him saying that the “rate of profit is[…] naturally low in rich, and high in poor countries, and it is always highest in the countries which are going fastest to ruin.”

Of course, this quote has to be read within the context of the 18th century Europe, which I alluded to in the comment. Smith was looking at what he called the past – the early and middle of the century, at a continent consisting of countries that had, roughly speaking, similar economies. Of course there were large disparities, but they were more of a quantitative than a qualitative kind, insofar as the work itself and the applied technology was concerned. (This was, of course, about to change – but those changes only came about in a significant way during the decades after Smith wrote the Wealth of Nations.) Continue reading

Rising Tides of the Oceans (update)

The BBC is running another scare story on climate change. Tuvalu is running out of drinking water.The only thing missing, in fact, is something along the lines of “nothing like that has ever happened before”. And I would not immediately doubt it. (After a bit more research, however, I would. As droughts on atolls seem to be an old concern.)

The fact of the matter is, that the rising tide mainly consists of the population of island nations that is exploding. They quadrupled in the last 60 years. It should not be surprising, that such nations are running into trouble. (Unsurprisingly for those who have read Jared Diamonds book “Collapse”.) Continue reading

On Environmentalism

(I’ve written this off-line after missing a train, so some of the facts may be off. Sorry. It is also the longest post so far.)

Environmentalism has been a major talking point for roughly half a century, certainly with a lot of justification. While concern for the conditions of the environment people are living in certainly wasn’t new and certainly isn’t strictly a 20th century phenomenon, it has certainly reached unprecedented significance.

Especially the preservation of forests in Japan and Germany has a long history, but so does concern about excrements (whether from human or horses) and other waste products.

However, the scale of industry and the proliferation of ever new poisonous chemical substances in the course of the industrialization, the relative ease with which large parts of the environment could be altered (through levees, dams, canals, strip mining or what have you) certainly brought a new quality to those concerns. In fact, they were raised to the level of becoming an “ism” – an ideological construct.
Continue reading