July 30, 2017

“… sooner or later, and usually sooner, the British will be blamed”

Filed under: Books, Britain, History, India — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

In Pragati, Alex Tabarrok reviews Shashi Tharoor’s 2016 book history of the British Raj, An Era Of Darkness:

“Political Map of the Indian Empire” from Constable’s Hand Atlas of India, 1893.
(via Wikimedia)

At sophisticated dinner parties in Delhi, Calcutta, or Chennai, whenever the discussion turns to politics, one can be sure that sooner or later, and usually sooner, the British will be blamed. It’s a fine parlor game, and clever players can usually find a way to cast blame for whichever side of the debate they favor. Is India’s traditional family falling apart due to internet porn? Blame the British! Are the laws against homosexuality too strong? Blame the British! The British are an easy target because much of what they did was reprehensible. But blaming British imperialism for contemporary Indian problems is also an easy way to let India’s political class off the hook.

An excellent case against the British comes from Shashi Tharoor, bestselling author, former Under-Secretary-General at the United Nations, and current member of the Indian parliament, in his 2016 book An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India (also published this year under the title Inglorious Empire[UK title]).

Tharoor makes three claims:

  1. The British empire in India, from the seizure of Bengal by the East India Company in 1757 until the end of British government rule in 1947, was cruel, rapacious, and racist.
  2. India would be much better off today had it not been for British rule.
  3. Britain’s success and the Industrial Revolution were due to British depredation of India.

The first claim is true, the second uncertain, the third false.

The first claim is the heart of Tharoor’s book: the British empire in India was cruel, rapacious and racist. All true. But who would expect otherwise? Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The theft, the famines, the massacres, the formal and casual racism, the utter hypocrisy of suppressing independence while using hundreds of thousands of Indian soldiers to fight for democracy and freedom in two World Wars — on all this Tharoor stands on solid ground. The ground is solid in part because it has been well-trod. Tharoor brings the case against the East India Company and Britain, initiated by Edmund Burke (1774-1785) and continued by the likes of Indian nationalist Dadabhai Naoroji [PDF] (1901) and American historian Will Durant (1930), to its conclusion and climax with the Indian independence movement. In this, Tharoor is entirely successful and his work deserves to be widely read.

In his eagerness to blame Britain, however, Tharoor reaches for every possible argument in ways that are sometimes misleading and sometimes absurd.

It’s time to eliminate the ethanol fuel mandate (and all those corporate welfare subsidies)

Paul Driessen explains why now might be the best time to get rid of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) which requires a proportion of ethanol be incorporated/blended into almost all petroleum fuels in the US (Canada has similar requirements):

The laws require that refiners blend steadily increasing amounts of ethanol into gasoline, and expect the private sector to produce growing amounts of “cellulosic” biofuel, “biomass-based diesel” and “advanced” biofuels. Except for corn ethanol, the production expectations have mostly turned out to be fantasies. The justifications for renewable fuels were scary exaggerations then, and are absurd now.

Let’s begin with claims made to justify this RFS extravaganza in the first place. It would reduce pollution, we were told. But cars are already 95% cleaner than their 1970 predecessors, so there are no real benefits.

The USA was depleting its petroleum reserves, and the RFS would reduce oil imports from unstable, unfriendly nations. But the horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) revolution has given the United States at least a century of new reserves. America now exports more oil and refined products than it imports, and US foreign oil consumption is now the lowest since 1970.

Renewable fuels would help prevent dangerous manmade climate change, we were also told. This assumes climate is driven by manmade carbon dioxide – and not by changes in solar heat output, cosmic rays, ocean currents and other powerful natural forces that brought ice ages, little ice ages, warm periods, droughts and floods. It assumes biofuels don’t emit CO2, or at least not as much as gasoline; in reality, over their full life cycle, they emit at least as much, if not more, of this plant-fertilizing molecule.


A little over 15 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol were produced in 2016 – but only 143 billion gallons of gasoline were sold. That means using all the ethanol would require blends above 10% (E10 gasoline) – which is why Big Ethanol is lobbying hard for government mandates (or at least permission) for more E15 (15% ethanol) gasoline blends and pumps. Refiners refer to the current situation as the “blend wall.”

But E15 damages engines and fuel systems in older cars and motorcycles, as well as small engines for boats and garden equipment, and using E15 voids their warranties. You can already find E15 pumps, but finding zero-ethanol, pure-gasoline pumps is a tall order. Moreover, to produce ethanol, the United States is already devoting 40% of its corn crop, grown on nearly 40 million acres – along with billions of gallons of water to irrigate corn fields, plus huge amounts of fertilizer, pesticides and fossil fuels.

Much of the leftover “mash” from ethanol distillation is sold as animal feed. However, the RFS program still enriches a relatively few corn farmers, while raising costs for beef, pork, poultry and fish farmers, and for poor, minority, working class and African families. Ethanol also gets a third less mileage per gallon than gasoline, so cars cannot go as far on a tank of E10 and go even shorter distances with E15.

The problem with getting rid of targeted subsidy programs is that the benefits are highly concentrated while the costs are widely dispersed. As a whole, the North American economies would benefit greatly from eliminating the RFS mandates, lowering overall fuel costs, improving international food availability, and reducing or eliminating crony capitalist benefits to “Big Ethanol”, but most individuals’ gains would be small — too small to gain much active support — and the current beneficiaries would have vast incentives to fight to the death to keep those subsidies flowing.

US Preparation – Alien Enemies Act – Franco-Prussian War I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

Filed under: Europe, History, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 29 Jul 2017

It’s time for the Chair of Wisdom again and this week Indy talks about US Preparations before reaching the battlefield, the Alien Enemies Act for German citizens in the US and the length of the Franco-Prussian War.

The Greenback cases

Filed under: Government, History, Law, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Samizdata, Paul Marks discusses why it is so difficult to prevent governments from expanding their powers far beyond what the constitution may allow:

… a Constitution is only as good as the enforcement mechanisms to make sure it is obeyed – and as Luther Martin warned at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, trusting government appointed judges to limit the powers of the very government that appointed them is a fatally flawed idea.

This is not a recent problem. Even in the 19th century the Supreme Court often ruled that the Federal Government has powers that the Constitution does NOT give it. For example the infamous “Second Greenback Case” where the Supreme Court, with newly appointed “justices” (appointed, in part, for this corrupt purpose) overturned the “First Greenback Case” where the court had declared, quite correctly, that the Federal Government has no power to print (or have printed) money – only to “coin money” (Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution of the United States) and that only gold or silver coin (not paper money) may be “legal tender” in any State (Article One, Section Ten of the Constitution of the United States). Nothing could be plainer than that paper money is unconstitutional – indeed the very reason the United States Constitution was written in the first place was to prevent the “not worth a Continental” paper money issued by the Continental Congress to finance its government – those who support the Articles of Confederation system forget that one of its fundamental flaws was that it allowed the government to print money, as it gave no reliable source of taxation to finance the United States Armed Forces. Without a large scale and professional armed forces there is no point in having a United States of America at all – and each State might as well go its own way till conquered by European powers in the 18th century or by the People’s Republic of China in the 21st century.


To return to the Greenback Cases… – Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase (the former “slaves lawyer” famous for his anti slavery legal work before the Civil War) de facto ruled that the Treasury Secretary during the Civil War had acted unconstitutionally in having money printed, even though the the Treasury Secretary of the time was Salmon P. Chase (himself). It is not necessary to recuse yourself if you intend, de facto, to find yourself guilty. However, more “justices” were added to the court – and the judgement (and the Constitution) was overturned. The argument being that no more paper money was being printed – it would gradually go over time, so there was no need to make a fuss… still less to declare that the “United States Dollars” in the pockets of people were just bits of paper with ink on them (not “money”).

In 1935 the Supreme Court de facto ruled (by five votes to four) that the Federal Government could steal all monetary gold and void all private and public contracts that had gold (or silver) clauses in the contracts. There was no Constitutional basis for this decision (none whatever – just “lawyer’s cant”) and the Federal Reserve notes declared valid money came from an organisation (the Federal Reserve system created in 1913) that the Congress had no Constitutional power to create. The Supreme Court, led by the Chief Justice, might as well have chanted “Death to America!” and “Hail Satan!” as they announced their judgement – as some of the dissenting judges pointed out. Thus the unconstitutional Credit Bubble financial system was pushed forward. The doubts of Luther Martin at the Constitutional Convention were vindicated – government appointed judges sitting without a jury can not be trusted.

Tank Chats #14 Canal Defence Light

Filed under: Britain — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 5 Feb 2016

Mark II A12, Matilda Canal Defence Light (CDL)

Night fighting always presents problems but searchlights had been tested on tanks as early as 1919. The idea of turning them into an offensive weapon is credited to a Mr A V M Mitzakis, who devised his scheme before the war but the British authorities did not take it up until about 1940. The idea was to use a light of such power that it would dazzle the opposition, leaving them temporarily blind and disorientated.

Five British and two American battalions were trained on CDL and two of the British units went out to Egypt. In fact the CDL was never employed as intended. A few tanks were used to cover the Rhine Crossing and there were incidents in India after the war but that is all.

QotD: Orwell on climate change since Shakespeare’s day

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

To the lovers of useless knowledge (and I know there are a lot of them, from the number of letters I always get when I raise any question of this kind) I present a curious little problem arising out of the recent Pelican, Shakespeare’s England. A writer named Fynes Morrison, touring England in 1607, describes melons as growing freely. Andrew Marvell, in a very well-known poem written about fifty years later, also refers to melons. Both references make it appear that the melons grew in the open, and indeed they must have done so if they grew at all. The hot-bed was a recent invention in 1600, and glass-houses, if they existed, must have been a very great rarity. I imagine it would be quite impossible to grow a melon in the open in England nowadays. They are hard enough to grow under glass, whence their price. Fynes Morrison also speaks of grapes growing in large enough quantities to make wine. Is it possible that our climate has changed radically in the last three hundred years? Or was the so-called melon actually a pumpkin?

George Orwell, “As I Please”, Tribune, 1944-11-03.

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