Quotulatiousness

October 30, 2013

Dr. Richard Holmes – Agincourt 1415

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:46

Published on 3 Oct 2012

Dr Richard Holmes’ TV Documentary series from 1996 entitled War Walks. This episode concerns the legendary Battle of Agincourt. Unfortunately, Richard Holmes — my favourite military historian — died of Pneumonia only last year (2011).

Human Progress

Filed under: Economics, Education, Environment, Health, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:57

At Reason, Marian Tupy introduces a new website celebrating Human Progress:

In a world where we are constantly bombarded with bad news, it can sometimes be difficult to think of “progress” and “humanity” in the same sentence. Are there not wars taking place, people going hungry, children at work, women being abused, and mass poverty around the world?

In fact, for most of human history, life was very difficult for most people. People lacked basic medicines and died relatively young. They had no painkillers and people with ailments spent much of their lives in agonizing pain. Entire families lived in bug-infested dwellings that offered neither comfort nor privacy. They worked in the fields from sunrise to sunset, yet hunger and famines were commonplace. Transportation was primitive and most people never traveled beyond their native villages or nearest towns. Ignorance and illiteracy were rife. The “good old days” were, by and large, very bad for the great majority of humankind.

Average global life expectancy at birth hovered around 30 years from the Upper Paleolithic to 1900. Even in the richest countries, like those of Western Europe, life expectancy at the start of the 20th century rarely exceeded 50 years. Incomes were quite stagnant, too. At the beginning of the Christian era, annual incomes per person around the world ranged from $1,073 to $1,431. As late as 1820, average global income was only $1,274 per person. (Angus Maddison, whose income estimates I use here, gives his data in 1990 dollars. I have adjusted Maddison’s figures for inflation.)

Humanity has made enormous progress — especially over the course of the last two centuries. For example, average life expectancy in the world today is 67.9 years. In 2010, global per capita income stood at $13,037 — over 10 times what it was two centuries ago.

The new website is called Human Progress:

It is perhaps best to start by explaining what the Human Progress website is not trying to accomplish. It will not try to convince you that the world is a perfect place. As long as there are people who go hungry or die from preventable diseases, there will always be room for improvement. To that end, we all have a role to play in helping the destitute in our communities and beyond.

Our goal, then, is not to paint a rosy picture of the state of humanity, but a realistic one. A realistic account of the world should focus on long-term trends, comparing living standards between two or more generations. Crucially, it should compare the imperfect present with a much more imperfect past, rather than with an imagined utopia in the future.

As such, this website has two main aims. First is to inform you about the many ways in which the world has become a better place. Second is to allow you to search for reasons that brought that improvement about. While we think that policies and institutions compatible with freedom and openness are important factors in promoting human progress, we let the evidence speak for itself and hope the website stimulates an intelligent debate on the drivers of human progress.

The “Libertarian Moment” – or small government’s latest 15 minutes of fame

Filed under: Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:34

In Time, Nick Gillespie says that if “everyone from The Washington Post to NPR to The Atlantic are talking about some variation on ‘America’s Libertarian Moment,’ attention must be paid”.

The American Values Survey is based on responses gathered in late September and early October from a representative group of about 2,300 adults. The researchers used answers to questions about national security, economics, and “personal liberty” to create a “Libertarian Orientation Scale.” By such measures, 7 percent of Americans are “consistent libertarians” and another 15 percent “lean libertarian,” meaning they oppose increased government spending on things such as military operations and domestic surveillance, raising the minimum wage, and environmental regulations.

Such fiscal conservativism is matched by social liberalism, with libertarians in favor of legalizing marijuana, protecting abortion rights, allowing doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs, and keeping the Internet unregulated. Libertarians are much more likely than most Americans to be male, white, and under 50 years old. They are also far less likely than most Americans to be religious and to think that religion has a place in politics. This puts them at odds with “other key Republican base groups” such as the Tea Party movement and white evangelical Protestants.

As befits people who put a high value on individualism, libertarians don’t fit easily into existing political categories even as they are far more likely to pay close attention to politics than the average American (56 percent of libertarians versus just 38 percent) and to always vote in primary elections. “The Libertarian Orientation Scale and traditional measures of political ideology that run along a liberal-conservative axis are only weakly correlated,” according to the survey.

That means that the 22 percent of Americans who are consistent libertarians or lean libertarian are fully capable of throwing any election in their direction. That makes them the true wild cards of American politics. A majority of libertarians describe themselves as independent (35 percent), affiliated with a third party (15 percent), or as Democrats (5 percent), with the remaining 45 percent calling themselves Republicans.

Fertility and denial – East Asia’s demographic shift

Filed under: Asia, Japan — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:57

In sp!ked, Stuart Derbyshire looks at the unprecedented drop in total fertility rate in most of East Asia:

Fertility rates in East Asia have fallen catastrophically since the early 1970s and are now the lowest in the world. In all parts of Asia, the total fertility rate (TFR) has fallen by half or more in the past 35 years. In Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore, the TFR hovers between 1.0-1.3. For a population to replace itself, the TFR needs to be above 2.1. Thus, if these trends in fertility are not substantially reversed, the population of Asia will rapidly shrink as the continent heads into extinction. How did this happen?

Most commentators are inclined to blame the falling rate of TFR on the influence of modernity on women. Speaking in 1983, for example, Singapore’s then prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, infamously remarked that educating women and bringing them into the workforce had undermined their more traditional role as mothers: ‘It is too late for us to reverse our policies… Our women will not stand for it. And anyway, they have already become too important a factor in the economy.’

[…]

Falling fertility in Asia involves not just the rejection of motherhood but a broader rejection of intimacy and responsibility of many kinds. About two fifths to one third of women in Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan are choosing not to marry. Increasing numbers are not even bothering to date. When I ask my students why this is, they shrug and talk about the hassle and expense, as was highlighted in a recent article. Children are expensive and they are also demanding, intrusive and may not turn out how you desire. Similarly, relationships are messy and difficult, with the ever-present possibility of disappointment. It is easier to live at home, hang out with friends and avoid intimate contact.

The problem in Asia is not modernity but rather the postmodern self-conscious denial of human agency and subjectivity. Young Asian men and women deny that they can be independent and deny that they can forge meaningful intimate personal relationships and so, instead, they accept the relative comforts of living with parents and the relative ease of being single. This denial of independence, intimacy and responsibility is a problem across the world and is bound up in a disregard for human agency typical of mainstream commentary on the environment, terrorism, economics and most other scientific and social issues. The impact in Asia may be more devastating because of the relatively sudden displacement of traditional Asian values without any broader narrative of what modern Asia is. Unlike America and Europe, Asia does not have a clear continental story, no obvious heroic past, unifying welfare state or pan-Asian vision that might blunt a turn towards the denial of the self.

QotD: The career of Karl Marx

Filed under: Britain, Economics, History, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

[Karl Marx] was also an unemployed professor, a scholar in the German tradition with a first-rate brain, a vast depth of learning and considerable obscurity of thought. Of his intellect and scholarship there can be no doubt at all. He knew many languages and had read widely in many subjects. A very learned man indeed, he was admirably fitted for the life of a German university. Marx’s complete absorption in his philosophy, history and economics was quite typical of the sort of professor he should by right have become. That mixture of scholarship, vagueness, poverty and practical inexperience would have graced a chair at Heidelberg or Bonn. But for the death in 1840 of Frederick William IV, a man of strictly orthodox views on religion, Marx might have had an academic career. Barred from this, however, as an atheist, he had no class to teach, no pupils from whom he might have learned. There is a sense, of course, in which a professor lives apart from the world. But his duties, even in the mid-nineteenth century, involved some contact with other people. The most professorial of German professors would have examinations to set and appointments to keep. Sessions of Senate and Faculty might give him scope for eloquence or intrigue, and he would find for himself the need to compromise, concede and persuade. Howbeit painfully and slowly, the professor comes to know something of administration and finance. But this was the practical knowledge which Marx was denied. All the experience he had was in his own home, where his failure was catastrophic for his wife and family. Of his children some died of slow starvation and two committed suicide. Retaining and increasing all his professional learning, he became more purely theoretical than even professors are allowed to be. Of the difficulties of organizing human society he knew practically nothing. There was in fact no human society — no province or city, no school or club — of which he could be said to have been a member. His whole life was bounded by the printed page.

C. Northcote Parkinson, “Internal Contradiction”, Left Luggage, 1967.

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